Monday, March 31, 2008

Hand Art

My 5-year-old daughter got a very cool art book for Christmas. It's about "hand art," in which you trace your hand in various poses, then glue on pompom noses & google-eyes (google eyes = Best Invention Ever!) and then color the whole thing in, to make an impressive variety of animals.

In this particular picture, we see the head of Champy, the Lake Champlain Monster. This impressive beast is featured in book 2 of my Boomer Sisters series (The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy). And ever since I wrote it, kids have been asking me to write more books about Champy. I've done some digging, and it's odd how few Champy books for kids there are, given a) how cool it is to have a Loch Ness Monster cousin living in NY and b) how much could be written about Champy and c) the enormous demand/market.

I wasn't planning to give Champy a big role in the next Boomer Sisters book (tentatively titled "The Boomer Sisters and the Pirates"), although the book will once again be set on Lake Champlain. I just might have to reconsider... but if I don't work Champy into this book, maybe I'll just write a whole new book (or series?) about the creature...

Locks...

It struck me the other day that we put locks on our doors because we trust that people with lockpicking skills will not use those skills on our locks.

How weird is that!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rev. Wright's Congregation

I suspect you've all heard the sermon excerpts from Barak Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If not, I'm sure they're on YouTube.

I heard them (again!) today, and upon the 20th hearing, something new jumped out at me. Something I hadn't really noticed before. Today, I noticed the congregation's reaction to Rev Wright's comments.

In a nutshell, they loved it. They cheered, applauded, and generally were quite vocal with their approval. They didn't sound shocked. They didn't sound like they were hearing something uncharacteristic or new or surprising. I get the impression this was the sort of thing a) they were expecting and b) they'd heard before. I say that because they were agreeing with him before he was even finished - they apparently knew where he was heading. This was not unusual rhetoric - this stuff was apparently part of his standard message. I could be wrong, but I don't think so...

My point? Senator Obama's choice of pastor is one thing. But his choice of congregation is also a relevant factor. Even the best pastor can sound a little crazy upon occasion, particularly when a long sermon is reduced to a handful of soundbites. I get that. But Sen Obama wasn't just led by a pastor who occasionally said crazy stuff (hey, we've all been there, right?). He was part of a larger group of people who cheered, clapped and shouted Amen to those crazy, inappropriate comments. That's the most disturbing part to me - that the congregation reacted the way it did, and that this is the church family Senator Obama was a part of. That's got to mean something.

Sen. Obama seems like a nice guy. But I think the world has enough people in political leadership who enjoy listening to spiritual leaders give hateful, angry sermons (and the "God damn America" sermon certainly fits in that category). And political leaders who surround themselves with lots of people who like that stuff, well, that's a dangerous combination.

Fun With Cash$Land

I did it. I called Cash$Land yesterday, and spoke with a very nice lady. I asked about their ID Theft program, wondering if it involved stealing passports and drivers licenses, or if it was primarily credit cards. She paused.
"Sir, this is an identity theft protection program."
"Oh! Right, that makes more sense than what I was thinking of. I didn't think fake passports were really legal."
"Sir, that would be very illegal."
"Right."
Pause.
"So, how much does this program cost?"
"It's $995 for a year."
"Not $95? Because the sign I'm looking at says $95."
"Really? Where is that?"
I gave her the address. She said she would call that location and let them know their sign was missing a 9.
"Also, the sign used to say $77. I was so confused."
"Oh, we had a program offering it for $777 last month."
"Not $77?"
"No, never $77"
"OK. Well, I think that answers all my questions. Thank you very much..."

Sadly, I called before I saw the suggestion of asking about the refund policy. Maybe I'll call again sometime...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ID THEFT Update!


OK, now they're just messing with me.

I took this photo yesterday, and as you can see, ID THEFT now costs $9 5. I don't know if $9 -space-space- 5 is more or less than $77. I think it's more.

Who knew the ID Theft market in Ohio was this volatile? Does the price of ID Theft change often where you live? I think I'm going to have to call these people and ask some questions. I'll let you know what I find.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Easter Snowman


While we were in NY last week, we had the opportunity to frolic in the snow (which was up to my knees in many places), even though *technically* it was Spring. And the kids made the cutest little snowman in the world. His name is Ernie. Enjoy!

Cut Rate ID Theft!


Earlier this month, I posted a photo of our local Cash$Land sign, offering "ID THEFT" for $777. Well, apparently ID Theft is on sale this week, 'cause the sign now advertises the same ID THEFT for a mere $77. That's quite a discount!

Is this a national trend? How much does ID Theft cost where you live now? I'm sure gas prices will follow the same pattern shortly...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Catching Up

Had a great trip to NY for my sister's baby shower, Easter, etc... and now we're back and trying to get caught up. Fortunately, I've got the whole week off, so I'm sure we'll get more than caught up. But today is the typical first-day-back, in which I try to doeverythingallatonce.

Sigh.

But now that spring is definitely here in Ohio, I'm excited (SO excited) about my little vegetable garden I'm going to plant. The seedlings in their mini greenhouse are already poking up - how cool and amazing!

And I'm doubly-excited about it all because of what I'm reading in The Omnivore's Dilemma. I'm thrilled the strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, zucchini and lettuce I'm going to grow will be free of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals, they will not have been trucked over great distances or chilled in vast warehouses (requiring tons of petroleum), and they will not have been picked by under-paid, over-worked migrant workers.

So many problems in this world would be diminished if we'd all just grow a few veggies in our backyard (or even in containers). Don't ya think? Why didn't I start this sooner?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Modern economics indeed!

I'm a huge fan of The Distributist Review blog, and I quote it here often. I think John M├ędaille, the main writer there, is some kind of genius.

In a recent posting, he quotes one of the founders of modern economics, W.S. Jevons in a way that perfectly highlights one of the fatally arrogant flaws of the modern worldview (in the philosophical sense of the word modern) - the belief that everything can be broken down to a measurable, predictable, linear and calculable structure, enabling us to be ever so exquisitely scientific in our policies and predictions.

[as] W. S. Jevons put it, "the lack of a “perfect system of statistics … is the only … obstacle in the way of making economics an exact science”; once the statistics have been gathered, the generalization of laws from them “will render economics a science as exact as many of the physical sciences.” Well, it has been more than a century since Jevons' day, and we have been gathering “statistics” in excruciating detail, yet economics seems no more “scientific” now than it was then.

For example, we were told that the sub-prime mortgages would be a boon to the economy, and when they began to fail, we were told that the damage would be contained, and then we were told that they would not lead to a recession, and now we are told that the recession, if it comes, will be mild. It would seem that such a “science” has little value for either predictive or for policy purposes.


From The Distributist Review

This sort of thinking is not limited to economics. It can be found in medicine, nutrition, management, engineering, theology, etc... And that, my friends, is why I'm a postmodernist.

On the Road

Finals are done, spring break is here, and the open road is calling. I'll be heading to NY for a few days and will probably be blogless for several of those days.

Catch ya later. Hope you have a happy Easter!

Sky-kinz

My girls recently discovered the online world of Webkinz - right around the time I accidentally dumped a cup of coffee on my laptop. So, we're a "one computer family" and we've got four people who want to use it. Sigh.

I have to admit it is kind of fun to spin the "Wheel of Wow" (or as we call it, the Wheel of Mom, 'cause it goes upside down and spells mom...). And it's fun to see them using the mouse and keyboard to play games, feed their animals, go shopping, and even get a job.

But for the Terminator fans out there, I don't think we need to worry about Skynet. No, if the machines rise up and take over the world, they'll do so in the form of little fuzzy stuffed animals and their digital doppelgangers. No doubt, the end result will be the same.

And holy cow, I just realized I may have inadvertently created Sky-kinz, by dumping that coffee on my laptop, just like the main human character in the 1984 movie Electric Dreams, who woke up his computer by spilling champagne on it! Oh no! Sky-kinz is already here!

WatchThis!


The metal band on my old watch had an annoying tendency to pop open anytime I moved my wrist just the right (wrong) way. Or if anything bumped it. Or if it just felt like it. Several times a day, I'd have to re-clasp my watch. It was a nice looking watch, but it sort of drove me crazy. So, my lovely and amazing wife got me a new watch for my birthday - and I love it.

We picked it out together, which was all part of the fun. At the first shop we visited, we looked at several and I picked the one I liked best ("Do you love it?" she asked. "It's a watch," I answered. "No big deal." "Let's keep looking," she said.) So we did. And after checking out a few more watch places, I found one that really grabbed me. Yeah, you could say I love it.

The case is thick and slightly oval shaped, not a boring thin circle. The numbers on the dial have an off-kilter, almost steampunkish quality (which doesn't really come through in the photo above). The band is a slightly mottled, reddish dark brown color. It's just different enough in just enough places, while not quite looking outlandish. It's the coolest watch I've ever owned.

And the band, being leather, doesn't pop open, no matter how I move my hand. Whew!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I'm in the middle of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollen and it's amazing. It's a closeup look at the modern American food chain, which mostly begins with corn. So far, I'm only up to the chapter about beef, and the description of feedlots makes me want to look for grass-fed beef.

But the book starts with the history of corn, how it's evolved and adapted and been shaped by humans. It sort of blew my mind. I love books like this, that help explain how things work and illuminate mysteries that I wasn't even aware of as being mysterious. Did you know there is no such thing as wild corn? In fact, corn relies entirely on humans to plant it. It's incapable of reproducing itself, without intervention by someone like us (or raccoons, I guess). And did you know that feeding corn to cows increases the likelihood of e Coli contamination and makes beef less healthy for us to eat? Grass-fed beef is healthier for all involved (and I do mean ALL - the land, the cows, the people, the environment, etc).

The author talks with an Iowa corn farmer and bemoans the low price of corn. I see now that the price of corn is shooting up, largely because of ethanol. It'll be interesting to see what affect that has on a food chain (and economy) built around cheap corn.

Anyway, great book. I highly recommend it.

Irish Soda Bread


The kids helped me make this Irish Soda Bread on Friday (from a new cookbook). It's partly because I wanted to try out the cookbook & play with the kids, it's sort of a St. Patrick's Day thing, and it's also largely inspired by my desire to be more involved with my food -knowing what it is, where it comes from, producing it myself, etc. How did it come out, you might ask? Fantastic. It's really delicious - and there's only 1 loaf left!

I'm also planning on doing some gardening this year - already planted some strawberry seeds (which we'll grow inside this time!) and have purchased some vegetable seeds (broccoli, cucumbers, carrots and zuke's). It'll be interesting to see if we can grow anything in our squirrel-infested backyard. Any tips on keeping the varmints away from my veggies?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Desert - Free!

I've decided to make the eBook (PDF) version of my little book The Desert free.

That's right - it's free! How fun is that!

Why not stop on by Silly Hat Press and download your very own copy? Here's what you'll find inside:

You'll meet St. Isaac and the Silly Hatted Monks of Lafidonia. Listen to Brother Mustard tell his stories. Read what Job's life was like when he was 5. And a bunch of other stuff too.

I think you'll like it.

ID Theft at Cashland!


Sorry the angle is kinda bad on this shot (the usual excuses apply: moving car, cell phone camera, etc).

I'm just curious what exactly they're selling here at CASHLAND? ID Theft for $777? Is that a good price for an ID theft? How much does an ID Theft cost where you live?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

100 Cheap Simplicity Cycles!


I got a cool offer from Lulu.com (where I publish my books), and you're invited to take part too!

This month, Lulu is reducing the minimum order required to get their bulk rate. Normally, you have to buy 250 copies to get the discount. During March, you only have to order 100.

So that means we can get 100 copies of The Simplicity Cycle for a mere $4.55 each, plus shipping (normally they're $9 + shipping). And rather than keep that all to myself, I thought I'd invite you to join in. That's right - you can order The Simplicity Cycle at the bulk order price!

Of course, neither of us needs 100 copies of the same book. But maybe you want 5 or more (autographed) copies to give to your clients, customers, students or colleagues. And maybe you think $4.55 each is a pretty good price.

If so, drop me a note at the.dan.ward at gmail (dot) com and let me know how many you'd like to order. I'm asking for a minimum order of 5 copies per person, just to keep things simple. If you want in, let me know by March 21st, and I'll let you know what the shipping cost will be (and how to send the money).

I hope to hear from you

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Process Loss Cost

My latest article work-in-progress is about something I'm calling Process Loss Cost (PLC).

It's basically the other side of the process equation - the costs required to produce these process-induced efficiencies. It's the "I" in ROI. It's the part process advocates don't talk about.

My hypothesis is that it is grossly underreported, largely unmeasured and virtually unmentioned... and that's not a good thing. So I'm hoping to get people to talk about it.

This past Sunday, Dilbert beat me to it.

The comic didn't use the term PLC (woulda been cool if it had!), but it definitely helps to highlight some of the costs associated with all these process "benefits."

The Economics of Free (next part)


You can probably guess how this works. Come on in, get a free movie for the kids! And hey, while you're here, you might as well (pay) to rent something for the parents too, right? I imagine most people do - in fact, I suspect very, very few come away without paying for something. (Candy? Popcorn?) So I think this is a smart approach. It definitely distinguishes it from other video shops.

As previously mentioned, brick & mortar video shops are under tremendous competitive pressure. I doubt even this approach is going to be enough to keep places like Family Video alive. I can get a kid video and one for the big people at RedBox for a total of $2 - which is probably less than I'd pay for the same combo at Family Video, even though the kid video is free. Still, it's a good try - they're not going down without a fight.

Monday, March 10, 2008

FREE!

The cover story for the latest issue of Wired is all about the economics of free things. That sort of got my attention, since I've been giving away the eBook version of some of my books for a while now, most notably The Simplicity Cycle. It's been downloaded 627 times so far! That's not a huge number, but I'm quite proud of it and am looking forward to watching it continue to climb.

And... I'm making plans for a big Simplicity Cycle give-away of sorts. More to follow soon...

(Did I mention that I dropped the price on The Radical Elements a bit?)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Need More Coffee...

Early this morning, shortly after finishing the previous blog post and moments before I planned to walk out the door and take my youngest to school, I cleverly and elegantly executed a perfectly planned, much anticipated and well-thought-out maneuver that strategically relocated a significant amount of coffee directly onto the keyboard of my laptop... my beautiful, handy, highly addictive Mac book.

Well, the mac powered itself off while I scrambled to mop up the coffee with the last two paper towels in the house. My daughter looked up with great concern in her big green eyes and said "Uh-oh, Daddy, now you'll have to make more coffee." As you might imagine, her observation helped my mood quite a bit.

So... the laptop is drying out. I don't know if it survived the encounter. I'm going to try to turn it on tomorrow morning. And since it was issued by my office, we're pretty sure their maintenance agreement / warranty will cover the repair/replace - just not sure how long that will take, if it's necessary.

And oh, what a gut wrenching feeling it was to see all that lovely coffee go to waste!

Nuts & Bolts & Broken Things

During WWII, the US designed, built and fielded large a wide variety of aircraft in remarkably short timelines... and did so without sophisticated computer models or much experience in building planes. These days, it's taken a quarter of a century to field the F-22... and we've got all these great computer tools and mountains of experience. You'd think we'd be getting faster, but we're not.

There's a reason.

It turns out that computer models and an established record of success actually slow things down and make them more expensive. They also decrease the likelihood of making a significant improvement. Why is that? Because they a) decrease our tolerance of failure and b) remove us from reality. Put them together and you've got an environment that is hostile to learning.

See, when airplanes were new, we were in a fail-fail-fail-succeed mode. We experimented, tried things that didn't work, and ultimately got something in the air. But once we had some success under our belts, we're out of that mode and became hesitant to experiment, because experimentation leads to (near-term) failures. And there's something unpalatable about the fail-succeed-fail mode. We look at one success and think it should be followed with another. So do our bosses. So we throttle back on trying things where the outcome is unknown. But learning requires failure - and fewer failures mean less learning. Ultimately, hostility to failure is hostility to learning.

And computer models? They are safe places to fail, but they remove us from reality. As a rocket scientist pointed out in the latest issue of NASA's ASK journal, "In the model, pipes never leak. In reality, they always do." So models don't teach us as much as we think they do. Combine the distaste for failure with a preference for incomplete, potentially misleading models and you end up with an aircraft that takes 25 or more years to develop.

Sure, there are other factors at play... and models are useful... but if we want to really break new ground, we've got to be out in the real world of nuts and bolts and broken things. We've got to actually learn...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beowulf in 2D

As previously mentioned, the other movie I watched this weekend was Beowulf. I enjoyed the movie well enough, but have to admit it was disappointing in a few areas, probably because my expectations were pretty high.

There were several distractingly gratuitous scenes that were clearly designed with the 3-D version in mind, like a spear pointing at the screen, a handful of coins bouncing towards the viewer, etc. You get the idea. Each one made me go "Oh, right, they made a 3-D version... which I'm not watching." The funny thing is, I'm not sure the 3-D version would have been any better (does adding a third dimension actually improve a movie, or is it just a gimmick? - I'm going to say gimmick).

In the scene where Beowulf fights Grendel, he does so in the nude, which makes sense in the context of the story. But for some reason, the director decided to deal with this through the use of strategically placed sword handles, steins of mead, etc, which often fell into place at the last possible second. It was comically clunky and obvious (but not quite funny), and reminded me of something that belonged in a Leslie Nealson movie, or maybe Shrek. Quite distracting from the overall experience.

Sooooo... it was an alright movie. I enjoyed it, except for the all-too-frequent points of distraction mentioned above. Still, it was certainly worth the $1 I paid to Redbox for the rental and probably worth the 2 hours I spent watching it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mr. Bean & the Bridge



I previously mentioned that I like to watch stupid comedies and adventure flicks when Kim is out of town, as she was this past weekend. Well, one I picked was "Mr. Bean's Holiday," a delightfully silly, absurd little story that had me laughing out loud (all by myself) on several occasions.

The scene where he's in a restaurant eating langoustines (aka Norway Lobster?) is easily worth the price of admission. Holy cow that was funny.

But the reason I'm mentioning it here is because the movie was so unexpectedly and thoughtfully gorgeous. The landscapes and scenery sort of stole the show, and provided a great counterpoint to Mr. Bean's homely mug.

At one point, he's driving across a bridge in France and I had to pause the movie and google the bridge. I learned it is called the Viaduc de Millau Bridge. It's the world's tallest suspension bridge, there's a picture of it above, and isn't it amazing? I love it. Interestingly, the bridge was finished 3 months ahead of schedule, and its final cost was half (HALF!) the original estimate. That makes me love it even more. I'd love to know how they did it...

Monday, March 3, 2008

What I Watched

I know you're all dying to hear what movies I ended up picking this weekend, while Kim was away. Here's the list:

"Meet The Robinsons," an animated movie I watched with the kids. Excellent show!

"Mr. Bean's Holiday," which I loved. More on that later.

"Beowulf," which I mostly liked. More on that later too...

McRedbox

As if movie rental stores didn't have enough to worry about with stuff like NetFlix and other quick & easy DVD-in-the-mail companies... plus BitTorrent and other online delivery mechanisms for movies... plus the nearly ubiquitous DVR (aka Tivo), allowing us to easily record a high-quality copy of shows we used to skip because they were on at the same time as some other show we wanted to watch... (we hardly ever rent movies these days!)

Now McDonalds' Redbox, home of the $1/night DVD rental, is expanding and no doubt coming to a neighborhood near you (if it's not there already). And the Redbox website is pretty cool & sassy - on the log-in page, it says "Lean over the keyboard whilst entering your password to foil spies," and "Log in here, lucky redbox account holders." And in keeping with the cover story on this month's Wired, there's even a button for "Get A Free Rental" (for new customers).

The writing has been on the wall for brick-and-mortar movie rental shops for quite some time. And this McRedbox just might be the final nail in the coffin. I wonder to what extent it will eat in to NetFlix? It doesn't offer the same variety, obviously, but it's cheaper and more immediate (a formula that seems to work well for McD's food offering).

More redbox wit:
DO NOT: Place discs in direct sunlight, on a heat register, in the microwave or in the toaster like a bagel. Also, do not scratch, fold, bend, "Frisbee" at roommates or family members, use as a coaster, or try to determine its Mohs Hardness Scale number by testing with various implements.

I don't care for Big Mac's, but I think I like this RedBox thing...