Monthly Archives: July 2010

-{For those of you unaware, DivX is video playing software that allows you to view certain types of video. It also comes with a conversion tool that allows you to easily convert video into a format that can play on the player. I found the latter useful enough at converting videos that wouldn’t otherwise play on the Pocket PC that I purchased it a couple years ago}-

Divx6: Would you like to upgrade to Divx 8.0? It comes with tons of new features and a better codec and it’s better than Divx6 in every possible way!

Me: No thanks

{one week later}

Divx6: Would you like to upgrade to Divx 8.0? It comes with tons of new features and a better codec and it’s better than Divx6 in every possible way!

Me: No thanks

{over and over again}

Divx6: Would you like to upgrade to Divx 8.0? It comes with tons of new features and a better codec and it’s better than Divx6 in every possible way!

Me: Okay, fine. I am tired of arguing about this. Upgrade.

Divx6: Yay!

{Ten minutes later}

Divx8: You have a trial period of 15 days.

Me: Trial period? What? I had a license!

Divx8: You had a license for Divx6. You have to pay for Divx8 if you want to use it. What, do you think our programmers work for free?

Me: Well, I already paid for Divx6 and Divx6 worked just fine. Uninstall.

Divx8: Noooooooo…

{After the uninstallation of Divx8 and reinstallation of Divx6}

Divx Installer: Are you sure you want to install Divx6? Divx8 is available.

Me: Install Divx6!

Divx Installer: {sigh} Okay.

{Upon opening Divx6 for the first time}

Divx6: Would you like to upgrade to Divx 8.0? It comes with tons of new features and a better codec and it’s better than Divx6 in every possible way!

Category: Server Room

Going to live music shows means dealing with audiences that are sometimes unpleasant. I have gotten frustrated with audiences in the past for one reason or another. For instance, there are the people that inexplicably decided to go to a music show in order to chat about things while the singer is trying to sing. Or cases of fan-girls going gah-gah and embarassing themselves over an attractive singer. The guy who doesn’t see the “no smoking” sign. And I’m sure there are those that would complain about me obstructing their view.

In only one instance have I been so frustrated with an audience person that I wanted to throttle them.

Shane Cooper is a folk-type singer in Delosa that I stumbled across due to a particularly clever song about Buddhist monks, bubble gum, and bad luck. I listened to more of his stuff and heard a sensitive, insightful, descriptive, and humorous singer. Despite his vocation that puts him on stage in front of crowds every night, Cooper is a serious introvert. It’s hard to get him to talk at all either in person or on stage. I wonder if he took up songwriting because it was the only way that he could communicate.

One time Cooper and this other guy named Max Knowles were doing a show at a local sit-down bar. Knowles was a songwriter who has had songs taken up by Willie Nelson, Dollie Parton, and others that you’ve heard of, though Knowles himself was a guy I’d never heard of until that night. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulder on how some of the songs that were taken up by big artists were reworked and bastardized and he was not shy talking about it. I found it all kind of interesting, but I could see how some might get irritated. Nobody ever said anything to him about it, though.

Cooper, meanwhile, chose this particular night to finally open up. He started actually talking about a song that he wrote about a family friend that took him hunting when he was 10 or so. It’s not my favorite song, but it has more depth than most. The attention to detail and sort of feel of the song told you that this was one of those that was based on something real. And there he was, at the club, actually talking about it. I couldn’t have been more excited.

Then… out of nowhere… at that precise moment, some drunkard in the audience told him to just shut up and sing. Cooper did just that, post-haste. He didn’t need any more excuse than that. The rest of the night the audience tried to prod him into talking again, but he would say “By popular request, I’m just going to shut up and sing.” And he never talked about his songs again.

Category: Downtown

This set of ads combines two topics of Hit Coffee interest. First, the tendency to make women in commercials outwit the doofus men at every corner. Second, women punishing men (or even moreso, expecting men to punish himself, though I can’t find that one) for oogling women is okay while a man trying to punish a woman is something to be thwarted.

Part one:

Part two:

Category: Theater

Bakadesuyo asks if writing can make someone more forgiving. The study he cites talks about writing more broadly and determines that it can indeed make people more forgiving of personal offenses. I think this makes sense from my own perspective in that when I put down my thoughts about something on paper, it makes me consider interpersonal issues more broadly and more likely to see things from the other perspective. I think this works for me in particular because I have a keen countervoice that argues against a lot that I say. It can make me a more effective and sometimes persuasive writer because, as my wife discovered during her brief stint in sales, whoever gets to the objection first wins.

When I first read the headline and hadn’t read the article, I was thinking more about writing fiction. I think the same applies there, too, much of the time. Sometimes people write fiction with a very specific axe to grind. This writing can be compelling, though it is made moreso when the writer can encapsulate the alternate point of view if only to knock it down. Swiping at strawmen is good at convincing the converted, but usually amounts to little more than a rallying cry. Taking the best opposing arguments and putting them out there with care is essentially getting to the objection first. People that are not already on your side can often latch on to anything that you missed and posit that it undermines your entire argument.

But beyond that, a good story requires three-dimensional characters from differing perspectives. Otherwise, there’s no conflict and no good story.

One of the things I take pride with in regards to my own novels written and unwritten is how well developed my characters are and how they are not simply compelling characters echoing my perspective and buffoons airing the opposite. The main characters in all of my stories do typically come from backgrounds similar to my own insofar as they are WASPy (if not always strictly WASP), but the ways that they see the world can differ greatly. They range in politics from far-right to far-left and everything in between. Most struggle with religion, though a couple (in different novels) are dedicated Baptists while a couple others are committed atheists. A couple characters who are reliable Democrats nonetheless express startlingly conservative viewpoints on particular issues and one politician who is a booster of the Religious Right is privately an atheist. And rather than being portrayed as simple hypocrites, I approach the characters with a great deal of care because I care about them. They’re complicated people. Most people are.

When you’re creating people from scratch and having basically good people holding views that you want to throttle them for, it requires a degree of forgiveness of backwards thought (however defined). It challenges assumptions on who your philosophical opponents are as people. When you have a thoughtful, honorable character with views that differ greatly from your own, it forces you to think about honorable people with very different views from yours. It becomes harder and harder to be smug and self-righteous.

Of course, writers can alternately rely on stereotypes and caricatures. Everybody that disagrees with them can be a knuckle-dragging fundie or a limp-wristed heathen. I certainly see enough movies and read (or listen to) enough books where this is the case. I am reminded of something Roger Ebert said about a movie being only as smart as its dumbest major player (usually the antagonist, but I think in the reference he was making it was someone supposed to be assisting the protagonist but whose job it was to be loudly and arrogantly wrong about everything). That’s something that gets lost along the way.

Category: Coffeehouse

Megan McArdle writes about a new breed of debt collectors:

The last decade or so has given rise to a new version of an old phenomenon: the bottom feeding debt buyer. It’s often thought of as being linked to the bad economy, and perhaps it is, a little bit–businesses in trouble are probably more willing to look to their old collections as a source of revenue. But it’s also a result of increasing improvements in computer technology. It’s easier to aggregate very small amounts–say, hundreds of unpaid co-pays from a doctor’s office. Those debts can be unloaded at pennies on the dollar to firms which then use the interwebs to find their victims debtors and dun them for cash.

Often these firms don’t bother with the abusive high-pressure tactics that are used for large sums–the hourly wage on collecting $29.99 just isn’t a good use of resources. But that’s small comfort, because instead, they file blizzards of lawsuits against people who they can’t find, resulting in default judgements against someone who may not owe the money, or may not realize they owe. And those hundreds of aggregated small debts hit the credit reports of people who probably didn’t intend to skip out on a $15.87 termination fee when they canceled some utility, but now can’t get a car loan because there’s a black mark on their credit.

We’ve been getting calls lately from a debt collector. To be more precise, Clancy has. She doesn’t answer the phone when she doesn’t recognize the number, but I answered once when I was working on her phone. There wasn’t even a live voice on the other side of the line. Just a recording saying something to the effect of “The law requires us to notify you that we are a debt collector. Please stay on the line for the next available representative.”

I did not stay on the line. My thinking at the time was that there was no way that it was legitimately a debt collector calling for Clancy because she almost never gave out that number to anybody. She almost never gets calls on it from anyone that isn’t family or her work. How would they have that number? Neither when I picked up nor when we let it go to voicemail did they ever identify who they were trying to collect the debt from. Or for, which is also important because we’re pretty sure we don’t owe anybody money (except for her student loans) Most likely, I reasoned, it was someone that had a wrong number.

Then I thought of a possibility where it might not be a wrong number. It would be possible, for instance, that she put her cell phone down as a backup number and that they tried calling our line in either Estacado or Cascadia and since that was disconnected, they reverted to using her cell. When I gave Clancy her new phone, I took over her old one. Next time I will stay on the line just to confirm that they’re looking for someone else. And, of course, they haven’t called since. We’ve been holding on to that phone number just so that I can take the dang calls that wouldn’t stop coming before but haven’t come in a month. So apparently I am going to have to call them about a debt we don’t think we have from parties unknown.

Several years ago I got some mail about some money I allegedly owed what it looked like was the phone company. I called the number and dealt with a young woman that was incapable of doing anything but reading from a script. Any time I asked so much as who the debt was owed to she would read the part of the script accusing me of being unwilling to pay and outlining the repercussions of failing to pay. At some point during the conversation, I noticed that my name wasn’t even on the letter. So I asked who owed the money. She actually had the gumption to claim that was confidential information and that she couldn’t tell me and that if I refused to pay the money the repercussions would be…

I finally asked to speak to her supervisor, who was less stingy with the information. Though he was not willing to tell me who I owed the debt to or who I was supposed to be, he was willing to tell me what the debt was for. Apparently, someone was willing to pay $80 for a dress catalog. That was all I needed to know in order to know that the debt was absolutely not mine. As he explained the repercussions of what would happen if I did not pay the debt, I hung up.

More from McArdle.

Category: Market

My brother Mitch, my father, and I went to a Colosse Canes baseball game. It worked out perfectly because they already had tickets and it gave Mitch and I the opportunity to spend some time together. My other brother Oliver has a wife that‘s giving birth in the next week or two has since given birth, so he’s sort of tied up at the moment.

I hadn’t realized that I would be going to a baseball game or else I would have bought down my precious Canes baseball cap (precious because it’s a size 8, difficult to find). I don’t have any shirts or anything else, but as luck would have it my father has one that he goes running in and so I was able to be appropriately attired.

I was a bit conflicted as to how to cheer. I haven’t really been a fan of the Canes since leaving Colosse or really for a while before that. I mostly bought the cap out of regional pride. I wanted to buy the cap from when I followed the team, but alas the most current was all they had available. But the real reason I was conflicted was that the starting pitcher for Queen City was a fellow alum of Southern Tech University. Not that I knew him or anything, but he pitched for our team.

The game did not stay close for long. The Trumans make a point not to get bored at baseball games and we never, ever leave early. So we entertained ourselves with talk of the league. A while back I created a spreadsheet with all of the markets for the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Mitch and I talked about where the MLB would expand to if they took my advice. I quizzed both Mitch and Dad on which market is the biggest without any teams in those three leagues and which market is the smallest to have a team in any of those leagues (anyone who wants to hazard a guess is free to do so* – using real-world city names, of course).

Dad was really proud of himself for having taken a plastic knife with him. I didn’t understand why until we got our chili dogs and I struggled to part mine up with just a fork. It’s amazing how times change. There was a day when Dad would die rather than spend $7 on a hot dog. Or I would die rather than spend $8 on a beer.

Budweiser is apparently running a deal where if you agree to be a designated driver they will buy you two free soft drinks. Dad took them up on that, but I declined. I figure I don’t get to go to games very often and a beer at a game was something I wanted to do. As with my previous experience with alcohol when I was stranded in Meriwether, it didn’t take much to get me inebriated. Mitch and I drunkenly discussed the future of college football on the way home.

* – Update: Since a couple people are actually taking a stab at the questions, I figured I would post a bit about the methodology. The answers are in the comment section, so don’t read through the comments if you intend to guess.

The most important is that if a city is within a 90-minute drive of another city with a team, it’s considered too close. That bumps up to 150 minutes if the cities do not both have teams in any league. So Green Bay and Milwaukee are considered the same market, as are Orlando and Tampa and San Jose and San Fransisco. Raleigh and Charlotte (and LA and San Diego) would be different cities.

Yeah, the rules are kind of arbitrary, but I needed a formula for what I was working on at the time. I was aggressive about coupling markets together, but that was to deprive the person I was debating with of an easy argument (“You list all of these potential markets but some don’t count because they’re too close to other markets and therefore I am going to conveniently ignore all of your other points!”). It was related to this.

The numbers are taken from the MSA from the census. In the event that there is an “anchor city” (Milwaukee to Green Bay, San Antonio to Austin) we’re looking at the population of the MSA. The original census numbers I was looking at were from a few years ago, though I’ve done some spot-checking to see what’s changed (ie New Orleans, Oklahoma City getting a basketball team, and so on). Feel free to challenge if you think I missed something.

Category: Downtown

As those of you who care already know, Steve Carrell is leaving The Office. So… what now?

The most apt comparison is to Phil Hartmann’s death and replacement on NewsRadio. Not just because they’re replacing (assuming they replace him, which they probably will, since NBC needs anything they can call a hit) an anchor of the show, but because Hartmann’s and Carrell’s roles were in some ways pretty similar. They were comedy relief while the real plot focused on the sexual tension between two other characters (Dave and Lisa on NewsRadio and Jim and Pam on The Office). That was the case early on moreso than it is now, though. The Michael Scott (Carrell) character has turned out to be far more three-dimensional than Bill McNeal (Hartmann) ever was. And the Jim-Pam plot has more-or-less revolved itself.

Even so, I hope that they avoid the mistake that NewsRadio made and keep Jon Lovitz as far away from this show as humanly possible! I’m no fan of Lovitz to begin with, but he was 100% wrong to replace Hartmann. He wouldn’t be quite as wrong to replace Carrell, but his over-the-top manner would not fit in well. I’m not worried about Lovitz specifically since I doubt they would bring him on, but I do hope that they don’t go the same shallow route. Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation is about the right combination of similar-but-different that they should be going for.

That’s assuming that they replace Carrell’s character with a new head-of-branch. One thing they could do is simply promote from within. After too long a wait, they finally added Edd Helms to the starting credits (he should have replaced Novak two seasons back) and so losing Carrell would simply put them back at the previous number. One commenter in the linked article at the top of this post suggested Gabe (the empty suit from Florida). That could actually be a great idea as a true foil for the rest of the cast. The character doesn’t have the depth now, but they could add to it.

One of the unfortunate things is that they’ve already played out the plots that it would be really useful to have about now. They’ve already had Jim be the boss (or co-boss) and having him replace Michael would have had some possibility. And since they’ve already more-or-less resolved the Jim-Pam romance, they can’t lean on that, either. I’m not sure who else from the office (besides Gabe) would be a suitable replacement. Dwight from earlier in the show might have been, but it wouldn’t seem quite right at this juncture. They’ve also run with the Ryan-as-a-foil plot. So… I don’t know.

They do need to figure out something if they’re going to continue the show. The ensemble cast is particular strong, but I don’t know if it’s that strong without a Michael-like anchor or a really good romantic subplot.

I say go with Gabe.

Category: Theater

In honor of my knocking around Colosse and Delosa for the past week or so…

Category: Home, Theater

ICANN and Verisign are universalizing Top-Level Domains. For those of you that don’t know what that means, the most common TLDs are .com, .net, .edu, and so on. Soon we will be able to have just about any TLD that we want.

I agree with Slate’s Farhad Manjoo. While this may have been helpful five or ten years ago, it’s not particularly helpful now. And indeed, the problem that existed worked itself out and so wasn’t even necessary then. It turns out that getting used to longer URLs was just as handy as getting used to TLDs.

When I first started getting on the Internet, I was disappointed (though not surprised) that was taken. At the time, it seemed odd to have both your first and last name as a domain name. But time moved on and first and last names are far, far, far more common than not. Indeed, a lot of people have to stick a middle initial in there cause some other guy or gal had the gumption of having the same first and last name. That might vindicate the need for more TLDs, but I don’t think it does. Is it really that much less difficult to remember than johnsmith.someothertld? The Internet has gotten large enough that we’re just as likely to google what we’re looking for anyway. The same applies to businesses except moreso. For instance, is just as easy to remember as and “Johnson Design” in Google or Bing is easier to remember still.

I think that having more than just .com and .net is a good thing, but I think that the slow and deliberate pace they were moving at before took care of it, more or less. was taken when I started this site. Though I had no real problem with taking .net, I was still disappointed. Mostly for people that wanted to just type in the name and would default to .com. Truthfully, I would have probably gone with .us if that TLD would have allowed me to maintain my anonymity. In the end, if you don’t have .com (and you’re not an educational institution with .edu, government with .gov, and so on), it really doesn’t matter what you have. Your main choice is between and perhaps simplerurl.othertdl.

I think that the .tv and .fm TLDs are great for sites offering video and audio content respectively. Those are offered because the nations that “own” those TLDs, Tuvalu and Micronesia, lease them out. So it’s a sort of win-win. I’ve often wondered why individual states didn’t offer this. Since the TLD and indeed the URL doesn’t matter all that much anymore, it gives people the opportunity to be creative or align ourselves with a particular state. Back when I thought I was going to be a lifelong Delosa resident, I would have easily taken (DA being the state’s postal code). All of the states have their own postal code under US. In fact, it used to be that cities had these complicated URLs like (CI for city, DA for Delosa) or (CO for county) and some still do. That would be kind of neat, though I think they decided it was too complicated. And the reason that they don’t offer what I wish they would is probably because most people would prefer over a really complicated URL and TLD.

In the end, though, people have generally gotten used to more and more complicated URLs and often URLs that have little to do with the name of the site itself (I considered going with with being taken, even though I was never going to name the blog eponymously). I think more than anything this is to offer the appropriate entities new revenue streams. It’ll end up being like the much-publicized .cc TLD. Some guy bought off the national TLD of Cocos Island figuring that being the fourth (at the time) major available TLD would be a big moneymaker. He may have made some money, though it never really took off even though back then there was so much more speculation and possibilities that there are now.

Tangentially, when writing my novels, I had to come up with some website names. One of the problems I had was that I didn’t want to use real website names. The ability to find unused URLs was difficult, to say the least, so I decided to invent new TLDs. Except that I wanted them to be standard sounding. What I ultimately ended up doing – a tradition that has continued throughout all of my novels – was simply shortening it to two letters. So .com became .co, .net to .nt, .org to .or, and so on. I got the idea through British websites, which use .co instead of .com (followed by the .uk country code). It was very convenient with the exception of having to refer to the .com bubble as the .co bubble and whatnot, which was kind of goofy. But I figure people got the idea.

Category: Server Room

I happened to catch wind of the Khan Academy a while back and found the lectures on the housing crisis and French Revolution to be quite interesting. Here’s an article about it. It seems to me that there could really be room for something like this to provide downward pressure on the cost of an education. They’ll never compete with Harvard or even Southern Tech, but if you can have free lectures and a cheap test-taking apparatus with rigorous standards, you could probably put a real dent in North By Northeastern State U.

Since the Trumanverse map right now tops 51 states (including Alaska and Hawaii), you better believe I’m going to use this neat tool from Slate.

RangelMD has a really good post about how current incentives are encouraging expensive medicine. But getting rid of incentives hurts medical care. So what do we do? Note that this is a question whether you think that health care should be paid for by the government or private sector.

I agree with this: Everyone should have a retail job once. Or at least a basement customer service position.

A humorous video with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett pitching Orbit gum.

Is there a cat parasite profoundly affecting human behavior? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s amazing all we don’t know about… everything, really.

An interview with Flo, that quirky pitchwoman from the Progressive Insurance ads. Last time we all had dinner together, my brothers and father and I all had a staunch debate about the merits of Flo versus the merits of the AT&T Mom. Mitch and Dad came down heavily in favor of AT&T Mom while Oliver and I argued that she couldn’t hold a candle to Flo. I’m a sucker for extremely extroverted quirk. Don’t know why.

An application that helps tell you where your CPU usage is going could be very useful. I found an app a while back that did the same for my hard drive in a very intuitive and helpful manner.

Category: Newsroom