When is the last time you handwrote?

29
Apr
2011

The NY Times recently ran a piece bemoaning the demise of cursive handwriting (“The Case for Cursive“), which quickly became one of their most heavily emailed articles. Presumably there is a lot of worry over the subject by creaky handwriting instructors and nervous parents and grandparents across the land, as this is a clear sign of moral decay. And then there are the articles rebutting the demise, assuring us that cursive will always exist in one form or another, and that the reason teaching it is so important is so that we can read each other’s handwriting. I say hogwash. Cursive is going away and I can’t see a strong argument for keeping it. In fact, handwriting in general is pretty much going away if you ask me. When is the last time you actually wrote anything other than your signature? When I tried to visualize the last time I wrote something down, I was unable to do so. My notoriously bad memory notwithstanding, it is because I never write by hand anymore. Really. Letters and other correspondance to friends or clients? Email or instant message or text. Paying bills by check? Scheduled through online banking. Paying individuals? Same thing, I use online banking to send checks to anyone I need to, or paypal. Leaving a note for someone with a map or directions? Easier to send them the link to a google map route. Short stories or blogging? Via keyboard at my computer, ‘natch. Shopping list? IPhone app. Taking notes? Typed or better yet spoken and transcribed by my phone or computer. In every scenario you can think of, there is no longer a need for me to write anything by hand. I will admit that not everyone has access to the full digital life complement yet, but make no mistake it is coming. Pardon the pun, but the handwriting is on the wall. And I will admit that my handwriting has suffered in legibility because of it, but why should I care? In every way typed text is more legible and with the variety of fonts at my disposal, more pleasing to the eye. The purpose of words on a screen or page is to communicate, after all. All the handwringing about what we are losing boils down to simple nostalgia and fear of change.

The Viking travel index

28
Apr
2011

Cost of 8-day car rental, Copenhagen, Denmark to Bergen, Norway: $558

Estimated MPG for compact car: 30

Cost of a gallon of gas in Oslo, Norway: $9.28

Estimated total distance of travel if driving: 1078km

Same distance in miles: 670

Estimated gas cost: $205

Estimated tolls: $70

Cost of Eurail select pass for 3 countries (1st class, per person): $481

Cost of Eurail select saver pass for 3 countries (1st class, 2 people) $818

Cost of Eurail Scandinavia pass, per person (2nd class, per person) $351

Minimum cost of a flight from Bergen to Stockholm: $73

Minimum cost of flight from Stockholm to Hamburg: $108

 

Waiting on the station agent

25
Apr
2011

From what I can remember, I was in a strange, triangular shaped room with a small, floor to ceiling slit window at the wedge end of it to let light in. This was a room that I had built for myself while I was staying at this place (a kind of camp or school) and working the front desk. Then I found out, to my dismay, that two of the guys who had seemed so nice to me here were in fact making fun of me behind my back. Later, I was saying goodbye to a sweet old teacher as we packed up to leave for the season.  And then they ended up giving my room to one of the jerks who had been mean to me, which I was not thrilled about, but not wanting to make a stink about either. As the teacher and I left the building with lots of teary goodbyes, she stopped and picked up a wad of cash off the ground, which was curiously laying next to a wallet which she left in place. She whispered to me not to say anything because she really needed the money. I promised her that her secret was safe with me, and then I then asked for directions to someplace in Australia. She pointed me to the station, behind the bar with a lot of rowdy but nice people in it who also pointed the way for me. Then I was in a really long line at the bus station waiting to buy my ticket but the jovial guy behind the counter was really taking his time with everyone and I was worried that I would miss my bus if I didn’t get to the front of the line in time. And as the line got shorter, he took longer and longer with each person in front of me, and would hop out from behind the counter a lot to show off something or put on a little show for everyone. He seemed very sweet and generally loving his job and everyone there, and I was impressed with his attitude. Thankfully, someone then pointed out to him that the train was going to leave and  he came back behind the counter and I was able to buy a ticket to London, which was strange, even to me in the dream, because I was in Australia. And then I woke up.

Cogito ergonomics

18
Apr
2011

As you probably know, I am a web designer and developer. Since it is how I make my living, I am at my computer a hell of a lot more than most people. And much of that time is used furiously clicking and pointing with my mouse. When my right arm was out of commission last year, I learned to use my mouse with my left hand, and this was useful even after I got better to distribute the repetitive stress between my two hands. But still, I would notice after a long day that I would have aches from all the clicking and moving of the mouse. In addition, there were a number of things that were nicer about my laptop’s trackpad when I used it, such as scrolling and gestures. The problem was, I almost always keep my laptop closed and use an external keyboard, monitor and mouse.

That was, until recently, when I bought one of Apple’s new input devices, something named (ridiculously) Magic Trackpad:

 

After only a short while with it, I have to admit I love it. And with all the gestures available for it, I am doing a lot less hard clicking, and my hand sits in a much more neutral position. The large surface is great, and I find I can do anything with it as well or better than my mouse, including pointing and clicking (with one finger), scrolling and scaling (with two fingers), moving windows and selecting text (with three), and switching windows (four), among other things. And at the end of a long period, my hand feels fine compared with the same period with a mouse. And because it doesn’t move like a mouse does, I don’t have to keep readjusting my arm and hand to find it. And design geek that I am, it doesn’t hurt that is matches the look of my laptop and keyboard.

The Progressive 50s

14
Apr
2011

President Obama gave an excellent speech yesterday, framing the debate about debt and revenue and the choices we face as Americans. I was particularly happy that he talked about raising taxes on the wealthiest, even if that only means a very tepid expiry of the Bush tax cuts. This will take the country back to the top rates under Clinton, which are still incredibly low by historic standards. The Republicans are always screaming about a “Golden Era” in our country’s past, one in which the American dream was a reality and productivity and the economy was booming. They usually are referring to the decade of the 1950s(*), so I thought it would be instructive to pick 1955 as an example and look at what the marginal tax rates were back then:

(click to enlarge)

As we can plainly see, the top tax rate was an astounding 91%, and there were many, many brackets in-between the lowest and the highest. This is called progressivity, and it insured a number of things such as a more equal society, a larger middle class, and most importantly funding for projects affecting the common good. Compare this 91% to the top rate under Clinton of 38.6% and you realize how galling it is that Republicans scream this is too high. Since 1932 (the year of the New Deal and the beginning of the “social compact” that Obama so eloquently mentioned in his speech yesterday), the top tax rate has only been lower than today’s 35% in four total years. And this 35% is bankrupting our country’s ability to get anything done.

The Republicans are always screaming their mantra that taxes are too high, and it plays well with people until you get into specifics about what services will be cut. But what the right wing really wants, even if they won’t say it, is to dismantle the social compact and the last vestiges of the New Deal entirely. Knowing they can’t say this directly, they have rather successfully opted to defund government until we are bankrupt and have no choice but to go back to the days of incredible income disparity and people dying on the street if they were poor. They have no concept of the common good and fail to see how investment in the public sphere, from healthcare, to roads, to research, to education, to food safety benefit them individually and society as a whole. And because they fail to see this, they are willing to destroy the fabric of this country. In their own professed “Golden Era” of the 1950s, the country raised revenue for important infrastructure projects like the highway system (among other things) which was an incredible economic boost to the entire country. We have no money these days for big thinking and infrastructure and social well being, we are devolving into the worst kind of dog-eat-dog world. This is not the vision we should accept for this country. Obama laid out some things very clearly in his speech yesterday, and framed the debate in a refreshing way. Let us hope that our lawmakers are up to the challenge of a progressive America.

*Of course, there were some horrible things about this time period as well, such as the stifling conformity and racism.

The glass is half full

11
Apr
2011

My mother was on her way back from Boston (where she was attending a conference) to her home in Indiana. She was sitting in the Boston airport when they were notified the plane had mechanical troubles and would be delayed, and finally cancelled. In the past, airlines would have had enough extra capacity or even extra planes to easily deal with a situation like this, but these days they are squeezing every dollar and overbooking routinely.  Unfortunately for my mother there were no other ways to get back to Indianapolis until the following day, and they would need to route her through Newark airport. But that gave us an opportunity for an unexpected yet lovely visit. When she first called me from Boston she sounded upset about the messed up re-routing, but quickly realized that the opportunity she had wanted to have to come see me during this short trip was in fact provided, if not exactly planned. We had a great talk and dinner yesterday at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. We will grab breakfast this morning and then I will bid farewell as she heads to the airport around 10am.

Voyeurism is a form of participation

10
Apr
2011

The title of this post comes from a line in a film I just saw for the first time, “Shortbus“. I had heard about it years ago, and had always meant to see it, but for some reason never did until very recently. The film is all about sex, with the actors and extras participating in un-simulated sex acts all though the movie. And yet, the film wasn’t about sex at all, it was about the human condition, especially as it relates to longing, fitting in, finding meaning and connection with the rest of the world. Although uneven in parts, I would still rank it as one of the most engaging films I have ever seen. It is the best example on film I have ever seen presenting sexual activity as the natural part of the world that it is, unified and central to our life stories. Most regular films (and porn for that matter) act as if sex is in one world and the rest of human activity is in another. “Shortbus” refuses to engage with this binary opposition, and presents us the sweetest themes about the variability of human experience, and the acceptance and connection to others we all strive for.