dglenn: Photo of clouds shaped like an eye and arched eyebrow (sky-eye)
posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 04:36pm on 2007-04-17 under ,

Whoa! A television-news weather reporter just said "average" instead of "normal" when she meant "average" with regard to historical temperature data, and the on-screen graphic used the word "average" as well! When did that change happen?

And is there any chance that other stations will follow suit?

dglenn: Close-up of my eyes+nose+moustache (i-see-you)

I'm going to take a break from a) the various things I ought to be doing and b) the more difficult political entry I'm in the middle of working on (which I want to phrase very carefully, and which I've started and abandoned three times in the past couple months), to toss out something easy to write: a complaint about my local Post Office.

Different letter carriers do the route my house is on on different days -- I'm not sure whether there's a pattern or not. At least one is conscientious, helpful, and friendly and goes out of her way to make things work right -- like seeing a pink reminder slip for a parcel waiting for me at the post office, and telling the sorter, "Oh just give me the package -- I know he'll be home today". At least one other is friendly and conscientious and does what he's supposed to do regarding parcels, and I've no idea whether he goes out of his way or simply does his job cheerfully. And at least one is a lazy clown who tries to avoid ever delivering a parcel.

I was home all day Friday, and while it is possible that I slept through the doorbell, that's rather unlikely. Still, I'll give whichever carrier left the pink "sorry we missed you" slip that day the benefit of the doubt even though I know that in the past those slips have been left without even the pretense of reaching for the doorbell button (God forbid the mailman should ever have to actually ascend anybody's front stair to reach the bell!). So I simply filled in the "please redeliver on..." section, asking for delivery today (because with the whole ride situation over the weekend I wasn't sure whether I'd be home yesterday at that point), and left it tucked into the edge of the mail slot where it could be collected when Saturday's mail was delivered. I didn't even snark about the carrier's failure to fill in the "sender" box on the slip to give me a clue what parcel it might be.

Saturday's mail was pushed right past the slip, which was still there when the rain started, and got rather beaten up by the weather. (I've had this happen before; one of the carriers on my route goes to great lengths to avoid disturbing a "please redeliver the parcel" slip while pushing letters and bills and magazines past it.)

Monday, the slip was torn and bits were missing but there was enough to make out what it was. (Breno brought it in when he came home for lunch, not realizing what it was at first.) So I sandwiched the pieces between layers of cellophane tape and attached it to a piece of stiff paper on which I wrote a note explaining that I'd left the slip there before the rain started and it had been ignored when Saturday's mail was delivered. I was careful not to make personal accusations because I didn't know whether the lazy clown was delivering mail yesterday, or one of the carriers who actually does their job. Alas, Monday's mail arrived while I was taping the slip back together, but fortunately the mail truck was still in sight. So I stuck the note to the outside of the windshielt, facing in, in front of the driver's seat, so that it could not possibly be ignored even intentionally. And I made a point to be up and ready to answer the doorbell today.

(Interestingly, more mail arrived late yesterday, hours after the first delivery. I suspect, but do not know, that a neighbour found mis-delivered mail in his mailbox and ran it over to my mail slot in the evening. The amount of mis-delivered mail that shows up here is orders of magnitude above the USPS' national average, even once you filter out the mis-sorted mail that some facility upstream of our local office has routed to the wrong zip code.)

A few minute ago I looked downstairs and saw that mail had come, though there'd been no doorbell yet. I thought that perhaps the carrierhad decided to deliver everyone's envelopes and magazines at once without carrying any parcels, then make a second trip just to houses that were getting parcels -- I've seen 'em do that sometimes.

As it turned out, the parcel was sitting just outside my front door, on my top step, where I would not have been able to see it through the door if I hadn't leaned forward a bit while picking up the flat mail from the floor. No doorbell, just dropped the package right there.

In this neighbourhood.

I've lived in places -- suburbs -- where that was a reasonable way to deliver a package that didn't require a signature. Where a parcel so placed would not be obvious to every passerby on the street, and where the general tenor of the neighbourhood was such that petty theft of parcels by someone who did happen to spot them seemed unlikely.

But this is the city. Any pedestrian walking on my side of Lombard Street -- and we get a non-trivial amount of pedestrian traffic -- has to pass within two paces of my door, and is likely to pass within arm's reach of where the package was. Where any driver who happens to glance sideways has a clear vies of my front steps. Not a place where I think leaving a package in th open without even ringing the bell to alert me that I should come take it inside seems even the least bit reasonable. Hey, if the letter carrier is in a hurry and doesn't want to stick around, I can deal with a sixty second window of vulnerability between their ringing my bell and my reaching the front door, but whichever carrier delivered my mail today was too lazy to even ascend five steps (actually, they could probably reach the button from the fourth steps) to ring the bell.

The USPS as a whole has a remarkable record. Some individual post offices, on the other hand, are truly abysmal. 21223, despite the presence of two or three competent employees, is one of them. (And the local postmaster is completely dismissive of customer complaints.) I'm also not terribly impressed with the sorting facility downtown, which keeps putting 21223 bar codes on stuff addressed to E. Lombard St, so they wind up being sent to W. Lombard St. I've no idea how much of my own mail has gotten delivered to the other side of town.

And then there's the problem of misdelivered mail that I write a correction on and instructions to please redeliver to the correct address, or return to sender (depending on the nature of the error), getting re-delivered to my house three or four times, even after I've blacked out the bar code to avoid having an automatic sorting machine just drop it back in a bundle aimed here. Systemic problem, or local? Well I don't get them back so often if I drop them off in some other zip code instead of nearby...

Completely unrelated, but as long as I'm posting at all I should probably reassure folks inclined to worry about me: today I'm doing much better than yesterday or the day before. Not exactly well, since I'm functioning only with the assistance of painkillers, but today the painkillers work well enough to enable me to walk down the stairs instead of lurching forward one or two steps at a time grunting and grimacing and trying to steel myself for the next step. Yesterday the pain was more than the drugs were able to compensate for. (A good day is one when just my regular morning & evening doses of ibuprofen + Ultram are enough to allow me to function reasonably. I still entertain some hope of experiencing one of those later this week.)

dglenn: Spaceship superimposed on a whirling vortex (departure)
posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 07:08pm on 2007-04-02 under ,

I've returned the rental car. The guy at Enterprise asked me whether there had been any problems. When I replied, "Other than the auto designers in Detroit having lost their minds and forgotten everything they learned in the '60s, '70s, and 80's?" he mentioned his own complaints about current designs, correctly predicting portions of my own rant.

Tonight, 3LF. Tomorrow, more car stuff.

dglenn: Cartoon of me playing electric guitar (debtoon)
posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 06:54pm on 2007-03-28 under ,

I don't understand today's cars. Oh, I understand as much of how they work as I ever did, and I can drive some of them[1], but the marketing, nomenclature, and design decisions confuse me.

I got into a rental car. An economy car, I think, since my insurance company is paying for it. And as one might expect from a small car, the passenger compartment is a bit cramped. But ... the outside of this car looks like it's the same size as my Accord, which is apparently one or two size categories up. And sitting in the driver's seat, it feels like I am Surrounded By Bulk -- it's just that none of the bulk is Space I Can Use; it's all just ... in my way. And that includes being in my way of seeing out of the car, though part of that is just that the rear view mirror is too small, and another part is that I'm apparently too tall for the car (the mirror is awfully low in my field of view, and for that matter the top of the windwhield isn't very high up either -- I don't bump my head on the ceiling, but there's precious little clearance there).

I'm also confused by hearing that the Accord is now a full-size. Have Accords gotten that much larger since 1990, or has the definition of "full size" gotten that much smaller than what I'm used to? (I know it has gotten smaller; I'm just not sure how much. I used to drive a 1978 Pontiac Catalina -- pretty much the same car as the Bonneville and the Cutlas Supreme of the same period -- and by 1978 standards that was considered mid-size. Today, it would be a land-yacht, and the 1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham would look like two cars.) I'm not certain which size-class my 1990 was categorized as.

Tomorrow, I go back to Enterprise and trade this car for the hatchback that wasn't ready for me tonight. I'm hoping that whatever model that turns out to be doesn't wind up being much smaller on the inside than a Mazda 323 -- I know the double bass fits into one of those easily.

[1] The ones that I'm not too tall for.

dglenn: Lego-ish figure in blue dress, with beard and breasts, holding sword and electric guitar (lego-blue)
posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 03:20pm on 2007-01-05 under , ,

I've lost count of the number of times various people have told me one sweetener or another is "just as good as sugar" or that I "can't taste the difference". The folks at the clinic have urged me to switch away from sugar, and at least one nurse there has used "you can't taste the difference" and "you just have to get used to it" in the same conversation. (Uh, if I couldn't taste the difference, would there be anything to "get used to"?) My mother tries to give me things sweetened with sucralose, saying that I can't possibly taste the difference. And I've heard many people parrot to me the Splenda advertising tag that "it tastes just like sugar because it's made from sugar."

People trust an advertising slogan over the evidence of their own senses?

Look, yogurt is made from milk, but it doesn't taste just like milk. Whisky is made from grains, but it doesn't taste just like bread or breakfast cereal. (Heck, you can sample two different whiskies made from the same grain and discover they taste absolutely nothing alike.) And sucralose does not taste just like sugar. Okay, maybe it does to some people, but please stop telling me what it tastes like to me. My brain receives nerve impulses from my tongue; yours does not. (Some of you should be very grateful for that, as I know that some of the things I enjoy the taste of, various friends can't stand. But I can see how other folks tasting what I taste might be useful for leverage: "Be nice to me, or I'll bite into this habanero pepper!" Or, "If you don't stop that, I'm going to drink a wasabi daiquiri!" Heh.)

I never got around to deciding whether to worry about the dangers of cyclamates or whether I'm one of the people who gets headaches from aspartame -- I could never stand the tastes enough to consume meaningful quantities. Splenda is better than most of the others (for my taste buds), I'll give it that, but I still find the aftertaste unpleasant. The same goes for stevia (a plant extract). And I really don't like the idea of going out of my way to eat things I don't like. Yeah, if I'm really really hungry and the only food that'll be available for the next several hours is okra, I'll deal; but to deliberately make things taste bad and then work to "get used to it" strikes me as being ... wrong. I believe that increasing the amount of beauty and pleasure in the world is a moral good -- oh, there are other very important goals, some of which trump "increase beauty" when they conflict, but increasing beauty does make my list of Things One Ought To Choose; it's not something I consider morally neutral[1] -- so making nice food taste bad rubs me the wrong way even when I can easily see the long term health benefits. (If you prefer the taste of one of the artificial sweeteners or really don't have a preference, more power to you; for you, replacing sugar with something else isn't evil.)

So, for example, instead of switching to diet root beer, which tastes foul to me, I've mostly switched to lightly-flavoured seltzers, which merely taste different. If I didn't like those, I'd have to keep looking; fortunately I find them pleasant. (Unfortunately, they cost more than cheap root beer.)

But even when I do want the sweetness, all is not lost. There are sugar substitutes that I can use, depending on the quantity and what other flavours are present. Why, the just-complained-about Splenda itself works sometimes: if it's below a certain concentration, I won't notice it. That level is not enough to sweeten my morning coffee the way I like it, but the same happens to be true of stevia. And, importantly, the objectional aftertastes of sucralose and stevia are sufficiently different that if I use half-enough stevia and half-enough sucralose, I can make my coffee pleasant. (I'm also drinking it a little less sweet than I used to, but it's still within the "I like this" range, not in "I'll put up with this because I have to" territory.) And on Christmas, my mother gave me some apple pie made with sucralose that was very nice -- it was much less sweet than most people make their pies, but I liked that aspect because it let more of the appleness of the apples come through, and created a cool interplay between sweetness and tartness. When she told me it was made with sucralose instead of sugar I could detect the sucralose taste when I paid attention, but if I don't notice it without specifically looking for it then it doesn't count as making-it-taste-bad. She sent some home with me, and I quite happily enjoyed it over the next couple of days. (I know I've had other baked goods containing sucralose and found them palatable as well, but I don't recall at the moment which ones were okay and which were icky.)

So my main gripe here is not that Splenda is evil per se, but rather that it Really Bugs Me when people repeat the advertising bogon that "it tastes just like sugar". No, no, it really doesn't. If Mom had tried to make that pie as sweet as some commercial pies, using sucralose, the resut would have been abominable.

The same goes for the various sugar alcohols, some of which I find unpleasant when I can taste them but can be used below my 'notice this' threshold, and others of which I like when used in ways that work for my sense of taste. There are some candies made with xylitol that I like better than nearly-identical versions made with sugar! And, yes, there are also some xylitol-containing foods that taste noticeably wrong to me. In general, xylitol is the least-objectionable sugar substitute I've found so far (though I'm not sure it would taste right in coffee). Alas, it seems to be the least common. (I can deal with small amounts of sorbitol, but I tend to notice it early; I can deal with more sweetness from maltitol than from sorbitol before noticing objectionable overtones -- I don't know whether it's a greater or lesser quantity because I haven't gotten around to looking up the relative sweetness of the two chemicals.) Of course, there's the laxative effect of the sugar alcohols, which can be a problem if one consumes more candy than planned -- for me this seems to be more of a factor in chocolate than in hard candies.

So I'm willing to make changes to my diet for health reasons, including eating some of the things I like less often or in smaller quantities, and looking for healthier things-I-like, but I'm not willing to make my food taste bad. Better to eat something entirely different than to ruin something I enjoyed and then try to get used to the ruined version. Merely tasting different is okay, but bad is, well, bad.

And don't try to tell me two things taste the same when I can so easily tell them apart. Telling me that you can't taste the difference is fine, if it's true; telling me that I can't is kind of bizarre as well as being factually incorrect.

[1] So I'm basically making a hedonist argument here, but whether I'm technically a hedonist depends, I suppose, on whether I see those other moral goods that take precedence over beauty and pleasure to be inherently good and inherently more significant than beauty, or merely as worthwhile sacrifices/investments to achieve a long term increase in overall pleasure worldwide. I'll have to think about that some more, but it's probably worth an entry of its own.

dglenn: Me in poufy shirt, kilt, and Darth Vader mask, playing a bouzouki (vader)

I just caught a Christmas-themed commercial on television, with a carol as the soundtrack and images of Christmas trees and Santa. [While writing this, a second one came on.] In case anyone hasn't noticed, or is reading this weeks from now without looking at the timestamp, it is not yet Samhain (All Hallows), much less (US) Thanksgiving. I also note that a friend on the other coast described an in-person sighting of Christmas mall-decorations going up already, a few days ago.

May I please get time to enjoy the holidays ahead of it before we get into full Christmas overload (which also makes it harder, at least for me, to enjoy Christmas itself as much)? Clearly, the not-commercialized Christian holidays are getting not only shortchanged, but in the case of All Hallows (aka All Saints Day) and All Souls they're actually being obscured, papered over (in wrapping paper) by the Christmas-and-no-other-holidays crowd. Or is it that they're not-Protestant rather than not-commercial? The non-church-holiday-but-still-with-religious-overtones Thanksgiving is being denied its proper time in our attention as well, saved from being completely ignored only thanks to its football matches and ... its customary, but now apparently obsolete, role marking the start of the Commercemas Christmas shopping season. And Samhain, the Celtic New Year holiday from which we borrowed some of our older All Saints Eve (Hallow E'en) traditions and use as the inspiration excuse for most of our modern ones is clearly a major target of this War On All Holidays Other Than Christmas -- are the Catholic holidays serious targets as well, or mere "collateral damage" in this war?

Either way, it's clear that the economic weight of Christmas, the 800-pound gorilla of holidays, is being used to crush other holidays, drive them into obscurity, and prevent those of us who value tradition and wish to remember the reason for every season from being permitted to properly celebrate Other Holidays as they are meant to be celebrated -- that is, as holidays in their own right, not merely as landmarks on the road to Christmas!

We who care about any of these other holidays must stand up for our rights! Do not let them diminish the rest of the holidays! We are being oppressed, and if we do not challenge this annual expansion of Christmas, stop the slide down this slippery slope, sooner or later there will be nothing left in the calendar -- no Flag Day, no Independence Day, no Easter, only Christmas, Boxing Day, and three hundred and sixty three days of Christmas Eve! Look at how Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays have already been crushed, smooshed together into a single, unremarkable (except for linen sales) "Presidents Day"! Every holiday you hold dear is at risk if you do not act.

The Jewish major holidays have been poorly represented in public consciousness for a long time, with the minor Channukah elevated to prominence as part of the backdrop for Christmas. And the Muslim calendar is so poorly understood on these shores that most people have no clue when its holidays are -- count the number of times you hear "Happy Ramadan" this December despite the month of Ramadan having ended about a week before the end of October (this year ... it'll be even funnier in years when Ramadan happens in July). I've already mentioned what happened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and to assorted Catholic Holidays that Aren't Christmas. So I say to you: Muslims, you are being oppressed; Catholics, you are being oppressed; Patriots, you are being oppressed; Jews, you are being oppressed (yet again); and Protestants who believe Easter is a more important religious holiday than Christmas (everybody has a birthday -- how many have a rebirth-day, huh?), you too are being oppressed! Old-calendar Orthodox Christians, you are being oppressed (do you think any of these Noelists are going to wish you Merry Christmas in January? But you do get to take advantage of the "after Christmas" sales for your Christmas shopping, which is some compensation...) So it's clearly not simply a "Christians gainst everybody else" thing, as some of the Christmas Over Everything people try to portray it, since even some (many!) Christians get short shrift here -- don't let them get away with this.

Protest to the shopkeepers, those craven servants of "political correctness" who have bowed to the pressure of the Noelists (or have been bribed by their shopping money) to replace these other holidays with ever more Christmas, however they try to Disguise their Christmasism with supposedly innocuous "Happy Holidays" (as if they were paying attention to any holidays not contemporaneous with Christmas -- ha!) and "Season's Greetings" (note how no other season is credited with its own greeting?). Boycott the stores, even entire malls, that start Christmas too early and trample the freedom of those who would celebrate Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving as holidays separate from Christmas, preferring to celebrate Christmas in its own season instead of in other holidays' time! Make certain that the media understand that we are tired of this War Against Holidays Other Than Christmas and that we are equally tired of being dismissed as inconsequential cranks. Remind them that we speak for countless others too cowed by commercial political correctness to give voice to their own dismay at the obscuring of the other holidays -- the lurkers support us in email!. Insist on being greeted with "The Monster Mash" instead of Christmas carols tomorrow and the next day, with "Boo!" or "Happy Hallowe'en" instead of garlands and Christmas trees. Insist that until Thanksgiving we honour the memory of those who settled this great nation , and overeating, with pretty autumnal brown and orange and gold (which make the red and green and tinsel of Christmas seem all the more special when they show up as the transition from the Thanksgiving decorations than when they've been up so long they become background noise -- the Noelists are harming their own favourite holiday in their quest to drive all other holidays down). If you enter a store before Thanksgiving and see a Santa hat, find the manager and insist it be replaced by a hat with a buckle on it. Don't let them crush our holidays!

And if anybody says anything about a so-called "War On Christmas", remind them that Christmas started it!



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