Friday, January 29, 2010

Magical Thinking

You know, it's true. When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works it sort of becomes magical...
Jony Ive
Senior VP, Design
Apple Corporation

I came across this gem in the video introduction to the iPad (link Here). I found it remarkable, even apart from the fact that Jony Ive sounds exactly like the Geico Gecko, and even further apart from all the hype and humor about the product and its name.

It got me to thinking.... What are some other things that seem or have seemed magical because of the inability to understand how they work? I've compiled an introductory list, but would really like to hear your suggestions as well. For the reader participation section of this exercise you can either post a comment to the blog (I know, you get an error message when you do that... just keep hitting the "post comment" link) or send me an email, and I'll post an update. Enjoy!

"Magical" Objects and Processes

Lightning bugs
Germ theory
Block and Tackle (the pulley contraption, not football skills, despite their being beyond the comprehension of my high school football team and the WSU Cougars)
Sewing machines (for guys)
Toilet seat lids (for guys)
Bluetooth (the high tech kind... not what you get from snow cones)
Thermos bottles (as the old joke goes, they keep hot things hot, and cold things cold... how do they know?)
Universal remotes
Evolution (especially for Texans and others whom the process may have bypassed)
Customer service
Effective application of joint compound (see my kitchen for example of opposite)

You get the idea. What would you add?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Growth industry

I was in a meeting recently where the term "growth" came up again and again -- Do we want to grow, are we ready to grow, we're not growing, we're putting ourselves in a position to grow. Later that day I listened to political debate, hearing that we need to get the economy growing again. Then I turned to the BBC World site where a recent paper that argued that we'll never be able to meet climate change goals unless we give up our current economic assumptions. The paper and its authors were quickly dismissed as "anti-growth".

Economic growth, personal growth, professional growth, church growth.

I've decided that, after years of fighting the trends, I too will embrace growth. Indeed, given my having grown up in a basketball crazy state I have long been dissatisfied with my stature. So I resolved this New Year to resume my growth. And it's working!

I've already added an inch and a half to my waistline.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is Ice Skating a Sport?

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I have singled out ice skating for particular disdain, just because I don't associate choreography and costuming with the word, "sport". Given my OCPD tendencies, creating an elaborate classification of what does and does not constitute "sport" comes quite naturally to me.

Why does ESPN televise poker? The connection is apparently this: Gamblers bet on sports. Gamblers bet on poker. Thus poker is a sport. QED.


I maintain that, to be considered a sport, physical skill must be displayed (poker is out), and scoring must be immediate and obvious. If a panel of judges has to tally the scores, it could be a beauty contest or American Idol, but it isn't sport. Any activity where points are awarded for artistic merit is not a sport.

By this reasoning, swimming is a sport, but diving is not. Greco-Roman wrestling is a sport, but boxing is not. Gymnastics involves incredible levels of physical training and performance, but so does ballet. They aren't sports.

Any activity where the French or Polish judge can impact the results of the contest by raising or lowering scores in accordance with political ideology is not sport. "Though Clemson outscored North Carolina on the court tonight, the French judge awarded 7 points to the Tarheels for artistic merit, giving them the victory."

Not sport.

I will have all this in mind as the Winter Olympic Games unfold. There will be sports events, and there will be dance contests. Thanks to my handy typology, you too will know the difference.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Random Utterances

Given the unseasonably warm temperatures yesterday, Sally, Evan and I got out the bikes and rode around a bit. We took a five mile loop up to 57th Avenue, back down to the Rocket Market to buy some chipotle hot sauce, to Rite-Aid for a button battery, and then home. It was totally delightful, and a welcome break in our cabin fever.

As much as I enjoyed the day, and am thankful for this warm, wet winter, the lack of snow pack in the mountains gives rise to serious concern. The recharge of our Spokane aquifer and the water required for agriculture in eastern Washington are heavily dependent on snow melt run-off. So we can enjoy a bike ride now, but we'll pay for it with interest later in the year.

Lack of snow pack also looms as a serious threat to the XXI Winter Olympic games in Vancouver, BC. That alarms me, as I have been looking forward to NBC's time-delayed broadcasts of events previously held and widely reported on the internet. Come to think of it, given the practice of time-delayed broadcasts, maybe NBC could just rebroadcast the XX Olympics from Italy. That way we won't even notice the present dearth of snow in British Columbia.

For those of you who are not from Spokane, I would have you know that we are taking part in the upcoming Olympics in a special way by playing host to the US National Figure Skating Championships, through which our US Figure Skating Team will be selected for the Winter Games. The paper yesterday featured a full-color "wrapper" around the sports section detailing the results of the Men's Championship. "Wrapper" may also be a technical term for the clothing styles associated with men's figure skating, as far as I know. I admit that I was pleased at the general lack of sequins and feathers on the winning skater's clothing. If I were to accidentally watch a men's figure skating performance, I would be more interested in axels, lutzes, and Salchow's than how the young fellow looks in the Kiss and Cry area.

I have also learned in recent days about "splinters", which is a term applied to groups that travel around watching figure skating competitions. While I know that the presence of numerous "splinter" groups at this year's contest is good for the local economy, I am taking care to avoid downtown restaurants and stores for the duration of the event. Groups of people who get incredibly excited about the quest for absolute technical perfection in any endeavor scare me a bit. I'm also wary of their harsh judgements as to the lack of sequins and feathers in my wardrobe.

Finally, for now, I am in a bit of hot water for the number of personal insults and name calling that I inserted into Sunday's sermon. I am pretty much certain that I didn't say the things I am being accused of uttering. Anyway, if I have graced any of you with a colorful sobriquet of late, I probably didn't mean to say it. Lutz.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A week later....

So much for my resolution on posting regularly.

It's been a good week. Evan and I have hung out, done some shopping, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Just before the lad came home I told Sally that there was no reason why he and I couldn't enjoy ourselves without spending money. Like my intentions on blogging, this resolution turned out to be short-lived, as Evan talked me into an update for our computer operating system within 18 hours of his stepping off the plane. Oh well.

In addition to our computer play, we endeavored to make some space in the house for a visit from Megan and a friend from the Tri-Cities, coming up to hear a band on Saturday night. This required us to sort through Evan's stuff to the extent necessary to reveal the futon against the back wall of the basement, no mean feat given that all of his worldly possessions were stacked in boxes in the center of the room.

In the midst of this sorting it became obvious to me that what we needed was a new couch. You may not immediately see the connection. I know Sally didn't. At any rate, I convinced her to join me in an outing, and we trundled off to Costco. They had exactly the couch I wanted (and
which I convinced Sally she wanted, almost), and so we bought it. The next question? How were we to get an eight-foot box of couch home from Costco? Well, they had twine and scissors, so we tied the couch onto the roof of the Subaru.

We drove home at speeds upward of 15 mph, checking every once in a while to make sure the couch was still there. And now it's here, a new addition to our weird collection of furnishings.

Given all this activity, and a spate of meetings at the Unitarian Church, you can see why I was too distracted to post to the blog. Sorry. But from now on I'm going to --

What? There's a big bike sale at REI?

I'll write more later.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Yesterday afternoon I realized that we had neglected to add an essential feature to the kitchen -- an anti-stupidity device. I was making soup, you see, and dropped a piece of potato onto the floor. I picked it up, washed it off, and then gave it a vigorous shake over the sink. Unfortunately, there was an empty can of diced tomatoes in the sink, with its lid still attached and pointing upward. My vigorously shaking hand turned the can lid into an upside-down finger guillotine. No, my finger didn't dice completely. Just enough to bleed all over everything.

I was immediately reminded of a favorite line from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, where the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, wonderfully portrayed by Alan Rickman, states his intent to cut Robin's heart out "with a spoon". His cousin asks why a spoon, which clearly doesn't sound menacing. Rickman replies that because a spoon is dull, "It will hurt more!"

He could've gone for a diced tomato can lid.

Anyway, the whole experience left me thinking about the usefulness of some type of anti-stupidity device. With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) making headlines in Las Vegas, it would seem to me such a device is possible. Here's how we get one....

We'll have Apple exec Steve Jobs hint that Apple is about to release a new product, which insiders call the iNotStupid. Apple doesn't actually need to produce such a product. The announcement will suffice.

In reaction to Jobs' announcement, Microsoft will marshall all its resources to produce the Windows Not Stupid, and will have Steve Balmer demonstrate a prototype at the CES. The prototype will pretty much look and perform like a Kindle. The masses will rush to buy the Windows Not Stupid. Amazingly enough, the mere fact that they buy it proves that the product has a glitch. While Microsoft works to develop Windows Not Stupid 2, Apple will actually release the iKnotStupid, which is a rope to tie up people who otherwise would rush off to buy electronic gewgaws right after CES.

Or who might try to cook soup.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Words...back at you

It's been said that there are three things that don't return: the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the missed opportunity. I've never tried archery, and have pretty much taken the position that a missed opportunity wasn't meant to be anyway. The spoken word? Unfortunately, words seem to come back to haunt us again and again.

Does it matter who is throwing our words back at us, spouse, partner, child, parent, or friend? Not really. It rarely feels good to have our words thrown back at us by anyone, ignoring context, intent, and any possibility of mistaken interpretation.

I have grown especially tired of being told that someone has "tried it my way" and it didn't work. Inevitably such cases are characterized by people who were looking for an easy fix rather than a new approach. Often the "my way" that was attempted was a half-assed version done without full understanding or thought about possible consequences. The verdict still comes back: we did it your way and it failed.

Upon further thought, I think understand the wisdom of the old saying. Once words have left your mouth, you never have a chance to get them back under control. Others can twist and manipulate and distort those words to their heart's content, adding insult to injury with the pronouncement, "You said it."

I'd resolve to remain mute, but there's no way I'd be able to pull it off anyway. Guess I'll stick to more pedestrian resolutions, like losing some additional weight. In that task, perhaps the bitterness of eating my words will be of some assistance.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The last game of the season...

The last game of the National Football League regular season took place earlier this evening. The final position in the upcoming playoffs was at stake. However, I didn't see the game because I was at a church meeting. I hate church meetings.

Growing up, the NFL season was a center point of my existence. I lived and figuratively died with the Green Bay Packers. Given their record in the 1960's, I lived more often than not. The weekly NFL game broadcast on Sunday was a highlight, even though it usually featured the hated Chicago Bears. At least it was football.

The problem was, I was expected to attend church on Sunday morning. Though the games didn't start until noon, the worship service often ran much longer than an hour. By the time we drove home from downtown Indianapolis, we had usually missed a significant portion of the game. I know that I was spiritually immature. I should have willingly embraced our dear pastor's rambling, 45 minute diatribes. But I didn't want to.

When I was old enough to make my own choices, I moved my membership to a church that had 45 minute services featuring 12 minute sermons. I never missed the opening kick-off, and thus became a much more willing church participant.

Through the years, being in ministry, I've missed lots of kickoffs. I've been held hostage by churches and ministers who scheduled events on Super Bowl Sunday just so people would have to choose to miss the game. Of course, the spiritually mature would choose wisely.

I have come to the conclusion that I will never mature. Some part of me will always compare the pastoral prayer and the sermon to the opening kickoff. The kickoff is more exciting.

Some new teams are in the playoffs this year, which is fun. Sadly, the same people were at the meeting tonight that attend all church meetings. In tackling the agenda we witnessed unnecessary roughness, blocks in the back, and late hits. Sadly, there were no winners in the end. When the whistle blew, the only thing agreed upon was to have another meeting. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to contract swine flu by then. After all, there might be a game on.