Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Great Moment in My Life

I've recently won this prize from The Rachel Maddow Show. Rachel Maddow is, in my opinion, the greatest politics analyst out there right now. Her show consistantly informs in a calm and logical way while expressing the same anger I have with the course of our nation.
One of the lighter segments on her show is called "Ask Dr. Maddow" ("Rachel Maddow is a doctor, just not that kind of doctor") in which Rachel answers questions posed by listeners. Usually she answers strange or funny questions, sometimes political, mostly not. At the end of each week she selects one of teh question askers and sends them a prize from her desk and a signed glossy photograph of her assistant host Kent Jones. Some months ago I called in from NZ and asked if it was unethical to use the extra-large, extra-comfy handicap stall in the bathroom if there is no one else in the room. The answer was yes, it is unethical in the same (if lesser) way as using the handicap parking spot.
Anyway, I won and she sent me my prize but she forgot my Kent Jones picture. I called and wrote to complain and finally yesterday they sent me my picture! Here it is:

You Gotta Give it to the Buddhists

Check out this post on Boing Boing. My favorite part is the reaction of the monks.

"No problem. We didn't get despondent. We have three days more. So we will have to work harder."

It must be really frustrating for the Chinese if they can't piss these guys off.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Two Things

The first is a quick thing. Carrie showed me this cool website where you can go and sign up to receive a weekly email telling you how your representatives in Congress voted on bills that week. I signed up last week and I wanted to wait for my first email before I recommended it. I just got my first email and I have to say that it was a very simple, not flashy, useful thing. I would recommend it as a way to keep up with what the people you voted for (or not) are up to. The web site is It seems like the users of this service are mostly right wing (based on the poll results they post) but there doesn't seem to be any partisan lean to the site itself. Enjoy.

The second thing is more in depth. Mostly I happen to know that at least one vocal economist reads this blog and I want to hear what he has to say about this idea. I don't know a lot about the details of the current system but there is obviously something wrong with gas. I don't understand (in my simple econ mind) how gas companies can be registering record PROFITS while at the same time claiming that the prices we pay are a result of increased prices from the source (the middle east). My bet is that there is quite a bit of price gouging and a not trivial amount of price fixing as well.
However, it is my understanding that individual gas station owners are not sharing in these record profits. So that means that the inflation in the price must be somewhere before the gas gets to the station.
Here's my idea. As things stand, almost all gas stations are affiliated with a major oil company (Shell, BP, Exxon, etc.). What if we made that affiliation illegal. Let's make gas stations no longer franchises. Instead, each gas station would have the right and the ability to purchase their supply from any of the major oil companies. It seems that this should help to eliminate the huge mark up that the station is forced to pay.
A few issues that I can foresee right away are infrastructure and price fixing. It is probably not easy for a gas station to change their supplier every month. However, it seems like it would be in the interest of the oil companies to make this service accessible. The second issue, price fixing, is illegal anyway. I'm not sure how we can prove it but it is certainly a problem.
Ok, so I throw those two things out there in the hopes that this will help to educate me on the issue. Please, let me have it. Why is this a bad idea?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Set Your Alarms

That's right, from 3-6 AM on Wednesday mornings (or Tuesday nights for some of us), you will be able to hear the soothing sound of my voice, the indomitable sounds of the music I like, and the indeterminable sounds of music I'm forced to force you to experience. Starting next week, and until I tell you otherwise, tune into 89.3 FM, WXYC to hear my radio show. I promise to suck for a while, which is why I'll be on at a time when few will be listening. If you are not in the Chapel Hill listening area (or if you own the interwebs and don't own a radio machine) listen to it streaming here. You can submit requests at 919-962-8989 or via AOL IM at wxycrequests. If I can find it I'll play it.

Since I've been hired (not to be paid), I am now a DJ for life at WXYC. So, I need an awesome handle, as the kids say. I could also use a better show title than, `Seth Hopper and the Hour of Power.' So, hit me with your ideas!


Check This Out

Another reason to read Boing Boing.


And Another Thing...

Seth and I talked about this when I was in NC recently. Why can't power windows be hooked directly to the battery? In most cars the power windows don't work if the car is off. In some newer cars they will keep working after you shut off the car but only until you open the door. Why not just have them hooked directly to the battery like the dome light? Would they be some sort of drain on the battery even when inactive?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Adam Is Wrong

For those of you who haven't been paying attention to the heated debate taking place in the `comments' section, Adam Bee would like you to believe that paying for rides individually at amusement parks is a good idea. The alternative, which Matt and I have proposed (along with the help of the inimitable John Schaefer) is that you make a it possible for people to schedule seats on rides for specific times. This effectively eliminates lines. If you miss your seat, there is a standby line so people who don't want to bother with scheduling can still get on. I won't bother going through the numerous reasons why this idea is better than most current systems (where you pay a flat fee at the gate and have to wait in line all day) and better than Adam's plan (where you pay by ride and the price varies depending on demand). I'll simply state that Disney uses our system, almost exactly.

Adam, if I've misrepresented you, please let me know. Mostly, I'm just louder.


A Campaign Re: "Parking Lights"

Parking lights are those little orange lights on your car that come on between the off setting on your lights nob and the on setting on your lights nob. I've decided to start a one man campaign regarding them and I'm hoping that I can use the magnified voice of my blog to enlist the support of others.
Here's the trouble. People seem to use these lights when it is dusk or dawn (I'm not really ever up at dawn but I assume this to be true on occasion). I'm not sure what the logic is but I guess they figure it is not dark enough for them to need lights to see me but it is dark enough for me to need extra lights to see them. I would not have a problem with this except that then people often forget to turn their full lights on as it gets darker because their dashboard lights are on and they are in the city so things outside are illuminated anyway.
This is a somewhat dangerous situation and ever since that dumb urban legend I've had a moments concern (not quite concern but thought anyway) after I flash my lights to tell these people theirs are off. There is no advantage at all that I can think of to turning on your parking lights but not your actual lights at dusk. The actual lights are easier for other cars to see and they make it easier to see in the failing lights. I suppose the added power needed to run the headlights might decrease gas mileage a tiny tiny bit but I doubt that is the real concern of these parking lights users.
Since there doesn't seem to be any benefit to using them instead of actual headlights and they do pose a certain am mount of danger my first thought was that that option should be removed from cars. Let's just go from off to on.
Then I paid a bit more thought to the matter and realized that they are called "parking" lights. So I looked into the origin of the name. It seems that they were originally put on cars because when a car was parked it was often in the way of other traffic. Therefore, when the car was parked they would leave the parking lights on so that other drivers would see them. We no longer really need that function in everyday life because our roads mostly all have parking lanes on the sides now.
Here's my idea. We've got these lights. Their former purpose has been outdated. Let's use them in a new way. I think that these lights should be used whenever we are in the process of parking. Such situations would include when we are driving slowly looking for a parking spot, when we are stopped waiting for another car to vacate a spot, and when we have pulled past a spot and are intending to back in and parallel park. Each of these situations lack the proper signaling ability needed and can often lead to miscommunication with other drivers. If we simply used our parking lights to indicate that we are parking I think we could all be a bit better informed.
What do you think? Will you support my campaign to get parking lights to be understood as lights for parking again?


Monday, May 21, 2007

I Have Had A Good Idea

From time to time I have good ideas. I figure this is as good a place to share them as any. Here's tonight's idea:
There should be a television show in which charcters develop and plot moves forward and continues from episode to episode but for which multiple endings are filmed. Each episode would include several clues which could lead to the correct outcome but the outcome would be determined by people voting on who/what is the truth. Let me give an example because I can feel this general description getting out of hand already.
Let's say it was a show about a police unit (it could be anything but this will be simple). The police unit investigates a murder and during the investigation there are two, three, even four possible suspects. As the investigation proceeds the viewers would be watching and would be able to decided for themselves who was the actual murderer. The episode would end before it was resolved and viewers would be given 3 days (or whatever) to text in thier votes (or vote online or whatever) for who did it. Then, the begining of the next episode would be the conclusion of the previous case in which the characters on the show would choose to act based on the decision chosen by the majority of viewers. The next episode would proceed in much the same way. It would mean that over time the plot and the characters would have to change based on the input that the viewers had given. I mean, if they get it wrong over and over maybe a dectective would get fired or a villan could come back. Basically the intrest fo the viewers would be based on the excitement of actually getting to have input at the end of a who-dun-it.
That's my idea. What do you think?

p.s. It is really fun to type the word "case" case case case case. Try it.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Fireballs, Siege Weapons, and The Jelousy of Friends

We (Seth and I) have been spending our time this week very well by any standard. Ok, that's not true. From the point of view that we should all spend all of our time working towards the betterment of our fellow men and women we really didn't do shit this week. But we sure had fun. We built this:

Enjoy it several times. We sure did but then it got better (even if the video is not as good):

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

For those of you paying attention...

So, I've added Seth to this blog. Some of you know him from life. Some of you know him from my stories. Some of you only know him from the legends. Either way, he and I are fascinating people and, as such, we would like to share our cumulative greatness with the world (you [pl.]). Enjoy!

Case In Point

I just read this at Boing Boing and it really illustrated my point from this post here's the link: Link

Friday, May 11, 2007

Thoughts From 30,000 ft.

I've just finished over 24 hours of travel and I had a few thoughts during the trip. I've tried to think of how to arrange them into a coherent, paragraph-based entry but I failed. So instead I'm going with ye olde bullete liste.

  1. While approaching LAX on our flight from Auckland it occurred to me how frightening that moment must be for so many people every day. I'm not even talking about people who have a fear of flying. As the laws of the United States stand anyone entering the nation who is not a citizen can be taken into custody, put into a secret prison, labeled an "enemy combatant," tortured, and never heard from again. These things can happen without even so much as a phone call or a lawyer, let alone a trial. I cannot even begin to imagine how terrifying this makes it for anyone to travel to/through the US.
  2. Airport security is a joke and I'm really sick of the illusion of security. The first example of this from our trip was my customs experience. My trip through customs took exactly thee seconds. The man at the desk took my passport and my declaration statement, read neither, scanned my passport through the little slidey machine, stamped the form and handed it all back to me. He didn't even compare my face to that on the passport. It was ridiculous. I guess he just assumed that, being a white male with a collared shirt on I couldn't be dangerous.
  3. The next example was in the security at LAX. I don't know how many of you have been to LAX but here's me telling you not to go there ever... ever. In order to move from one terminal to the next you have to exit "security", go outside, and reenter "security" again. In order to get through security you have to stand in one of three different lines per terminal. One of the lines was so long it stretched out into a parking lot. During your time in line there are about 15 security officers who are visibly doing nothing. I'm not trying to take away from the difficult job that TSA employees have but it is really frustrating when you are waiting for 30 minutes in line and you can see people, who's job it is to make this process work, just standing around. As long as all were going for it the illusion of security perhaps they could be given some clipboards so at least they appear busy. The woman who is trying to make things work faster by giving information has to do it by cupping her hands over her mouth and shouting it as loud as she can because she doesn't have a loudspeaker. The other thing I like is how you have to show your boarding pass three times to three people while you stand in the same line. That seems like a good idea. In the end what it comes to is that there seems to be this false equivalency made between hassle and security. The idea that travel is a pain in the ass is supposed to make us all feel like we are safe.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Feeling Very Self-Important

Well, 9 months ago I was sort of anti-blog on the principle that it seems somewhat arrogant to assume that anyone would ever want to go out of their way just to come and read about what I'm thinking. I know that I have very interesting thoughts and my Mom says that I'm totally fascinating but still there was something strange about the presumption that there are other interested parties.
However, at the end of last (Northern-Hemisphere) summer my partner (Carrie) and I took off on a nine month trip to New Zealand. We wanted to be able to keep in touch with our friends and family back home and a blog seemed like the best way. Mostly the concept of a blog appealed to me because the alternative was going to be a series of mass emails to everyone we knew. I hate those emails because I'm usually not interested but I feel guilty for a second when I just delete them. So the blog seemed much more user active. If people wanted to they could come check it but if they didn't then no one would ever know. If you are one of those people who are interested you can check it out here. It is worth it if only for the many many pictures we posted.
What I wasn't really counting on happening as a result of the blog was the usefulness as a mode of communication with people we met along the way. On our trip we met many wonderful people and some of them have been keeping in touch through the blog. Now that we are arriving at the end of our trip I am posed with a problem. I certainly want to keep in touch with my kiwi friends but the "New Zealand trip" blog no longer makes sense. So here I am with an internal conflict. On the one hand I have the inherent reluctance to have my own (non-themed, not traveling) blog and on the other hand my desire to keep my friends up to date.
This blog is the result.
I don't know how often I will be posting here so it is definitely a good idea to just RSS this blog so you don't have to come back and check all the time.