Thursday, April 24, 2014

It Costs A Lot More Than It's Worth, And Yet There Is No Substitute

Gin must really be something.  Haven't tried it myself, but Stephin Merritt's song is spot-on in every other respect.  So that got me thinking about what other things are unjustifiable and irreplaceable too.  Besides Love and a Bottle Of Gin, what else requires so much time or money or tedious effort, or has so many odious consequences, that it hardly makes sense why anyone bothers?  And yet, you know, nothing else in the world comes close.
  • children
  • marriage
  • home
  • sex
  • sleep
  • travel
  • exercise
  • democracy
  • consensus
  • salt, before 1945
  • God, after 1859
  • communication skills
  • freedom of speech and press
  • randomized, double-blind trials
  • space exploration
  • thinking
In each case, even considering the cons outcount the pros, who would wish a world without it?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We Be Social

From the Human Mirror mission,
©Improv Everywhere

Humans are social animals.  Glaring evidence is in the fact that subways work.  What creatures can you imagine packing into a metal tube, approaching the limits of breathing space, and then you shake it, and bang it around, and every one of them is like "We be cool."

First, they don't eat each other, even if most are carnivorous and some are very hungry.  That is a significant accomplishment, a vast refinement over the natural order.  There's virtually no killing or maiming.  Each comes out possessing the identical accoutrements with which they entered, a violation of this rule being rare and celebrated.  Even the most delicate etiquette of eye contact is by and large gracefully observed.

If you started reading this with a vague bristling resistance to the idea that a subway car is a paragon of civility, just think how much keener is the evidence then:  not only are humans hard-wired to get along peacefully with strangers, you are soft-wired to expect it.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mouse Pad Elves

((First written 12/13/2009, then hid on the shame shelf, behind the cringe jar. Dusted off months later, long after all the old orders were filled along with many new ones.)) 

It feels fantastic to be emerging from late-product purgatory. I put a lot of customers through some egregious tests of patience with the hexagonal mouse pads. I believe I can see the gorilla with a flashlight and it is in fact the opening of the tunnel. I've just resolved ((again this was written 12/13/2009)) the last issue with being able to manufacture the mouse pads entirely in-house. It was long and dramatic and agonizing and here is my whiny story.

If the very idea of making mouse pads from scratch strikes you as fundamentally alien to the 21st century western hemisphere, well I feel your pain more than you could know. Googling for anything related to making mouse pads unleashes a cavalcade of schwag purveyors. I suspect more than 1% of Earth Domestic Product (EDP) goes into putting logos in landfills. Search for the raw materials? Answers are flooded with all the companies bragging about the features of their schwag. Schwag braggarts. (I like saying schwag so much that I even like to type it.) As further evidence that google is not omniscient, "Barely There" is the trademark for the ultra-thin non-skid substrate I use in my mouse pads, but it's also a million times more commonly a trademark for, er, this other stuff.  Very different stuff.  And if you want you can go find out for yourself, but I warn you it could be distracting.

So why should I fight the tide, why not do it the easy way, and (pretentiously leading question alert) why pretend there's anything special about the mouse pads I make? If I would only make mouse pads as everyone else does, I could sell them for $3 each and still make mostly profit. I'd order 10,000 at a time from China and they'd have all manner of outlandish special features and I'd never run out. If you work in print at all you know the limited color gamut of the CMYK ink printing process. Well I've gone to outrageous lengths to get beyond it, and it doesn't fit the schwag "industry" at all. I tried to communicate to suppliers in Asia that I need to print the paper for the mouse pads using a custom color process, ship to them, and they'd use that paper in the mouse pad, coating the top with a clear but friction surface, and the bottom with the nonskid pantyhose stuff, and ship the result back to me. Ok be honest, did you really follow that last sentence? Now imagine if English were not your mother tongue but merely your third-cousin, twice-removed, by-marriage-only-then-divorced tongue.

I had a supplier in California (without mentioning Diran Afarian of mousepad.com by name) who had been making the mouse pads for years and doing an excellent job. But last summer he finally gave up, returned all the prints to me and politely declined to try any further. My take was that he'd automated his shop so much to keep up with competition that my jobs required too much manual intervention. (Seriously, Diran is still a hero in my book for trying, and oh yes I did change the layout on him.) Finally I located some samples of the materials and tried to make the mouse pads by hand myself. Turns out that a U.S. penny has exactly a 3/8" curve radius, just like the corner rounding I had been using. I will let you imagine why that matters, but the point is the mouse pads came out looking pretty darn good despite humble methods. Though I needed some machinery if I was ever going to keep up.

Each time I changed mouse pad manufacturer in the past I'd have to pay a hefty "die charge" a particularly apt term. I thought dies were a big deal. A die is a strip of metal with a knife-sharp edge, curved into a special shape and pressed into a slot in a carrier, usually plywood. Turns out if you find the guy who makes them, they're not such a big deal at all. However, much bigger deals are the presses that push the die into the material and make the cut. Literally, tons are involved. They are very heavy, very dangerous, and very expensive. Or so I thought, until I discovered that the crafting industry has done some amazing things in recent years. I don't know how many people use those infomercial paper cutting machines, but there seems to be a lot of them, and some of the companies (not the infomercial ones) have made some gadgets that will last more than a weekend. In fact they come with a lifetime warranty.

So making mouse pads in-house had many challenges: (1) finding the materials (2) buying less than a shipload (about a dinghy load) (3) die (4) press.

((Updated 3/30/2010)) The fifth and funnest challenge was to get the upside-down materials to line up to the die when cutting. For this I actually got to make some electronical purty lights, thrashing the work/play boundary yet further. I'll explain this contraption if more than 2.5 people actually read this post. Basically, see the teeny red and blue lights at the corners? They line up with the pink and blue bullseyes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Most Important Government Job

The most important job in the U.S. government now: Secret Service.

And I do not mean the counterfeiting guys. Though I realize they are busy too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cracking Happiness

I recall someone once drawing an analogy between writing a paper for a grade and cracking a combination lock. It's apt for so many quests: money, affection, understanding, music, health, goodwill. Perhaps happiness itself. I turn a lot of knobs. I hear a lot of clicks. Being close feels about the same as being far — qualitatively separate from being there. Winning buys a little time, and rehearses for the next gig. Among my cringe-worthy idioms is "having a life" but I guess it conjures the set of knobs I am currently working. Some pithy wisecrack belongs here to distinguish this from pathetic whining, but I'm still working that knob too. I'll let you know when something clicks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SARAH PALIN'S SECURITY CLEARANCE

(Below is a respectful and good-natured reply to a [slightly rearranged and numbered] post by John F. Wear on the Marine Open Discussion Forum on military.com, originally written by Tom W., and first forwarded to me from my strong-willed-yet-oh-so-feminine, gorgeous, mouthy, Republican sister Penny, whom I've madly adored since I was two and a half. She is affectionately known as the white sheep of our family, for some reason. The following are excerpts of John's post, and my replies.)

Before you dismiss the fact that Sarah Palin is Governor of Alaska, consider this: 1. Alaska is the first line of defense in our missile interceptor defense system, that protects the entire nation from ballistic missile attacks.
Really? We can "intercept" and "protect" the nation from ballistic missile attacks?? Are those just fancy terms for watching and yelling?
2. The Alaska National Guard is on permanent active duty, unlike other Guard units. As governor of Alaska, Palin is commander of The 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard. She is briefed on highly classified military issues, homeland security, and counterterrorism. Her exposure to classified material may rival even Biden's and certainly by far exceeds Obama's.
Have the The 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard been terribly busy lately? How about ever?
3. Palin is privy to military and intelligence secrets that are vital to the entire country's defense. Given Alaska's proximity to Russia, she may have security clearances we don't even know about.
Oh, so it's a ground issue as well, you know, a Bering Land Bridge thing? Do analysts assert that 12,000 years since anyone tried invading that way is no excuse for a lapse of vigilance?
4. She's also the commander in chief of the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF), a federally recognized militia incorporated into Homeland Security's counterterrorism plans.
Isn't it true that 93% of the actual work of the Alaska State Defense Force has been to field complaints from irate online merchants about suspicious accounts purporting to be from asdfasdfasdfasdfasdf?
5. According to the Washington Post, she first met with McCain in February, but nobody ever found out. This is a woman used to keeping secrets. She can be entrusted with our national security, because she already is.
Isn't watching the arctic skies for incoming ballistic missiles already about the most harmless conceivable federal job? It's really not much basis for the least.
: : :

(Elder sister speaks: “Love clouds your vision, little brother. The only part you have correct is strong-willed and mouthy. In real life I'm just a 61 year old disillusioned conservative Democrat that thinks the selection of candidates is so poor it's more like voting for which of your knees you want to receive a bullet. I'm not the white sheep - I'm the sheep with the more ordinary life. I don't know about the madly adoring part, but you have my love and admiration for life. You're way too sweet always. p”)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bluffing The Time Ninja

My new time management trick: pretend I'm already an expert at choosing what to do. That I always know the optimum way to spend time; and I'm always doing exactly that until inventing the next optimal task. I appreciate the positive-feedback, self-reinforcing-illusion loop:

  1. The better I do it, the more I believe in it.
  2. The more I believe it, the better I do at it.
Even while playing some bit role, of a sucker doing something I couldn't argue my way out of fast enough, I tell myself "The Ninja Knows" and pretend it's what I decided to do. Gullibility is a boon sometimes. Another example, the ninja says writing this blog entry will invest more ownership in the tactic. Rationalizations, party of two or more, your circular table is ready.

This is now the leading candidate for displacing the time management strategy I've been using for decades:

  1. Berate myself for wasting time until I work harder (at something blameless)
  2. Blame others for distractions and for not helping, or for helping poorly, at least until they leave me alone (this works eventually)
  3. Avoid and agonize over unfun undones, then do them with inner melodrama, then seek sympathies and distractions as if deserving them
The best part of bluffing the time ninja is I no longer have use for stress or resentment. I'm actually kinda serious, I've been practicing this for about forty-eight hours now, and it is actually kinda working. Use your inner ninja.