Saturday, October 27, 2007

This amuses me

So the family iBook - the worst consumer product ever sold to an innocent public - won't take a charge anymore.

As I know all too well, we have a local Apple Store. So I was wild and crazy and paid full price for a new battery. The Apple Store did not have a charger in stock (!), but could get me one on Tuesday. (By Tuesday, I could get a half-price one through Amazon, so I did that instead.)

As long as I was down at the mall, I checked out Best Buy. Their low-end laptop is now a $400 Toshiba, one that now has DVD recording. (Last spring - the most recent occasion that the iBook had to go into the shop* - their low-end laptop was a $450 Compaq.)

Hmm, DVD recording. So I wandered over to the stand-alone DVD recorders to check them out. The Best Buy house brand was $50, marked down from $100. They had a return that they were selling for $30.

Thrty bucks for a DVD recorder. This amused me so much that I bought it, mostly with the money that I'm saving by not buying the charger at the Apple Store. I'm pretty sure that I've bought $30 DVDs already, so the idea of a $30 recorder is just hilarious.

* I think the April failure was catastrophic failure #6, possibly #7, but I've lost track without looking it up. Apple has now given me two replacement machines.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Things Found While Looking For Other Things

It's reassuring to be reminded that - despite some evidence to the contrary - I'm not THE most eccentric person in the world:

There's a "Maytag Collector's Club"!

- and I'm not a member! See, I scarcely budge the needle on the Eccentric-O-Meter.

(Maytag Collectors. I am reminded of the Bob-and-Ray "opposing viewpoint" sketch, the guy complaining that it was unrealistic to expect an ordinary working man to "save the whales": as most apartments are too small for a decent whale collection.)

Things I was looking up:

I was at the library today for their weekly book sale... and upstairs in the meeting room, the conductor of our local Symphony was introducing this week's guest star, "celebrated erhu virtuoso" Betti Xiang.

(She played on Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project).

So I stopped in and listened to some Chinese classical music on erhu for a while. I've certainly spent LESS interesting lunch hours.

She was born in Shanghai, started learning her instrument during the Cultural Revolution, did her stint in the People's Army, emigrated to Chicago ten years ago. Worked with Yo-Yo.

The path:

1) Hmm, Shanghai.
2) The Bund.
3) The extra-territorial concessions along the Chinese coast.

4) I was unclear on the German concession in China; what I knew was that up in the Northwest, the Germans had built a brewery ( can't have a German community without some drinkable beer - and Tsingtao reached America just about the time that I reached drinking age...); AND, for some obscure reason, I was under the impression that the Germans were involved with Russia's Port Arthur, across the bay.
What was the story there?

5) And so I confirm in my head that Port Arthur and Tsingtao are actually different concessions.

6) But it turns out that Tsingtao is now

a) Qingdao, a city of over seven million people (...won't be long before it's bigger than NYC...)
b) the home of appliance manufacturer Haier.

7) Haier is now a major manufacturer, $12b/year. With a factory in America.

8) Haier was beat out by Whirlpool in their bid to buy out Maytag. (We're a Maytag family, and have been ever since my parents' Bendix front-loader gave up.)

9) Whirlpool bought Maytag a year ago, and has already closed Maytag HQ in Newton Iowa (I was there with my father in the summer of 1970, on our way to Collins Radio), and has also closed the Maytag factories. The Newton factory closed TODAY, in fact. (Sic transit gloria mundi.)

Which led to

10) Maytag Collectors!

I love the Internets.


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Like a science fiction convention, but with less cosplay

(Well, with slightly less cosplay....)

I spent the weekend at an academic conference - a local history seminar funded by several agencies of NYS government, so it had both the resources to bring in some really big names in the field, AND the mandate to open attendence up to the general public. Which meant that the entire audience was self-selected to be people fascinated by the topic. There actually was a bit of cosplay, which highlighted the fact that the crowd was largely made up of types familar from SF fandom.

The audience all wanted to be there and all had some personal expertise and interest in the subject - so the difference from, say, "lectures aimed at sullen undergraduates" was remarkable. The questions were generally informed and intelligent (and only occasionally did they veer off toward the questioner's own particular "King Charles' Head" hobby horse).

On the other hand, 'lectures' really are a remarkably time-inefficient method of transmitting information: please give me the equivalent stack of articles, and please give me 90% of my time back. But sometimes interesting things really do happen in the personal exchange of ideas that can happen only at a conference. It killed the entire weekend, but I can't say that it was a waste of time.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

OK - I admit I need help

They say that's the first step.

I swore that I would buy No More Cameras until I buy myself a digital SLR.

But I'm still waiting for a Nikon DSLR that's both

a) affordable

b) compatible with my pallet of AI-S lenses.

So I've stopped going to the local Camera show, I no longer surf eBay for cameras (...well, except for the Zeiss Contessa of my dreams...).

But Friday, I stopped at the local GoodWill.

They had a Vivitar Series One lens, the famous 90mm/f2.5 Macro.
Interesting lens, but - mercifully - it was in Pentax K-mount.

So i walked away, and I was already a mile a way when it dawned on me that I could pick up a K1000 body to go with it, for about nothing. And have a low-cost knocking-around macro/portrait lens. A camera I could leave in the car, or loan to one of my kids without fear.

So I went back for the lens - and by the time I went back, the GoodWill had put out a K1000 with a working meter. (With its default 50mm/2.)

I guess it was meant to be - but, seriously now: what do I do with yet another film camera?

(PS - the camera came with an exposed roll of K64-36 in it. Have I also purchased the obligation to see that this Found Film gets developed?)

(PPS - the K1000 lacks a self-timer. So one immediate benefit is that I got to rummage around in my gadget drawer and put to use an external self-timer that my father left me. That was oddly satisfying, to have that relatively obscure bit of kit on hand.)

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Which Dead Russian Composer Are You?

If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Igor Stravinsky.

Known as a true son of the new 20th Century, my music started out melodic and folky but slowly got more dissonant and bizzare as I aged. I am a traveler and a neat freak, and very much hated those rotten eggs thrown at me after the premiere of "The Rite of Spring."

Who would you be? Dead Russian Composer Personality Test

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Monday, October 15, 2007

No surprise here, I guess

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Yeah, I've read a lot - - though, given my famously Low tastes, I hope it's not accurate to characterize me as a "book snob". And, again, given my own imperfect mastery of spelling, I'm not especially offended by others' grammatical mistakes. But, yeah, I guess I'd have to say that "obsessive-compulsive bookworm" is probably a fair cop.

(A shout-out to LJer "ecbatan" for the link.)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Stirrings from Rochester

("It's alive!")

Oct. 10, 2007: Kodak has tweaked TMAX 400:

We’ve improved both the grain and sharpness of KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX 400 Film / 400TMY. Now, in addition to being the world’s finest-grained 400-speed B&W film, T-MAX 400 is also the world’s sharpest.

(Is this an admission on Kodak's part that Fuji's Neopan 400 was actually sharper?)

Supposedly in stores in December.


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Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize

Let's see, now... Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter... and now Al Gore.

That makes four people who have been elected to the American Presidency who have gone on to be honored with a Nobel Peace Prize.