29 Oct 2003


I finally investigated Friendster today. Totally cool. Very addictive. It's essentially the six-degrees-of-separation graph. I'm now obsessed with getting as many of my friends in there as I can; this is made difficult by the annoying people with no picture and insufficiently unique names---even if there's just one entry for their name, I'm not sure it's them. (Of course, I can just email them....) If you're not in their network, you should be.

Also, I'm still working my way through They Broke the Prairie. I just read the chapter about the, er, sectarian strife between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists from the town's founding through the Civil War. Amazing invective and nastiness. Airing the town's dirty laundry all over western Illinois. Impressive in its scope, really; it nearly took the College down with it. More Galesburg trivia: Jonathan Blanchard, second President of the College, brought the institution to financial solvency (to the tune of some $400K in assets in the mid-1860s, an impressive sum), was driven out by the aforementioned sectarian tussle, and went on to found and preside over Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, until his death in 1882. The Reverend Edward Beecher, a major player in the tussle, and the man for whom the former Beecher Chapel of Knox College was named, was a brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Oh, and from an earlier chapter: the Ferris family of Galesburg? Yes, those Ferrises---a grandson of Silvanus Ferris was the inventor of the Ferris Wheel.

"It is astonishing how many sides truth seems to have, even in the hands of devout Christians." --Earnest Elmo Calkins, _They Broke the Prairie_ (1937)

Posted by blahedo at 10:41pm | Comments (0)

More about my bed

It's really weird sleeping so close to the ground.

As I think back, I've slept on my loft for over eight years now, nearly a third of my life, excluding comparatively brief vacations at home or elsewhere. But now my regular bed, the one I sleep on every night, is a regular old bed, at a normal height, and feels odd. (Not to mention big---it's only a full, but I don't even know what to do with all that extra room.)

Also lethal: sleeping within reach of the alarm clock. This is something I haven't even done on vacations (since usually the alarm clock was elsewhere in the room, at least) in many years. It's making it really hard to get up in the morning. I guess I'll figure something out, but boy, I wasn't expecting my acquisition of a new bed to require so much adaptation on my part. :P

"But Ronnie is nothing if not the original Company Boy. He has been tenured into the marrow of the system; he is Hollywood's dearest, most faithful mediocre son, and last night [Oscars 2002] they gave him the party they've been tacitly promising him since 1978." --Cintra Wilson

Posted by blahedo at 12:10pm | Comments (1)

26 Oct 2003


I went to Mass today at the once-a-term Newman Mass, held in the Common Room of Old Main; there were 15 people there (including the priest). It was pretty neat. I don't think I've ever been to one with so few people, especially not a Sunday Mass. Several of the people there seemed not to be Catholic, too---I don't really know what their deal was, but they didn't take Communion. I think I was the only Catholic there who didn't participate in more than a congregational role. I'm definitely glad I went, despite worries that it would be primarily for students---there were two staff members there, and a parent, too.

In other news, I'm so sick of grading this damn midterm. Most of the class seems to have ignored my encouragement to make use of the lecture notes, homework solutions, etc, in working on their exam, and aside from making their own lives more difficult, it makes my life immensely more difficult, when they get stuff crashingly wrong. Arrghhh.

"It is very likely that you will not realize, say, that your tomboy sister is now a dyke, or that your brother's early interest in Cut 'n' Style Barbie has prepared him for considerably more than his lucrative career in the hairdressing industry, until s/he actually tells you these things." --The Plaid Adder, "The Fine Art of Being Come Out To"

Posted by blahedo at 9:25pm | Comments (1)

23 Oct 2003

Bett gekauft

I'm now the proud owner of a brand-new full-size mattress-spring-frame set, which they've just installed in my bedroom. The thing is practically a cube---the top of it is fully two and a half feet off the floor. (That'd be due to the pillowtop, and for that matter the pillowbottom.) Of course, this is somewhat lower than the seven feet I'm used to sleeping at, so not particularly bothersome in that sense. And it's not as long as I worried about (I'd been measuring from the baseboard and overestimating---the slightly shorter bed up against the wall itself gives me an extra two or three inches) so it doesn't look like I have to climb over the bed to get to the closet. Actually, the room looks like a slightly cramped but fairly normal bedroom at this point....

'Many men grow up so focused on following the job-wife-kids-car-condo achievement pattern that it can be years before they find themselves staring very very hard at one of those Hilfiger's ads and thinking, "It's not really the arresting graphic design that's holding my attention, is it?"' --The Plaid Adder, "The Fine Art of Being Come Out To"

Posted by blahedo at 11:17am | Comments (0)

22 Oct 2003

New money

I had occasion last night to acquire one of the new $20 bills. Kind of a letdown, really. I guess that they're trying to ease people gently into the idea of coloured money, but in fact these are just slightly-redesigned old 20s printed on coloured paper. The picture, the outlines, the numbers, they're all in monochrome black on the front and monochrome green on the back, just as they've always been. The design on the back is utterly unchanged except for a bunch of tiny yellow 20s floating around the sides. On the front the only difference is that the portrait is no longer framed by an oval---though they use the same exact engraving---and the number 20 in three corners is outline, not filled in. That's it! It's printed on paper that is a fade from green to peach to green, with a blue eagle on the left. Seen from any distance, you'd assume that any colouration was just a trick of the light. And the main purpose of coloured bills---being able to see at a glance what's in your wallet---is sort of defeated by just how muted the colours are.

Ah well. In eight years, when the next redesign rolls around, people will be sufficiently used to the idea of coloured money that we will be able to introduce bills that are actually coloured. That'll be nice.

"There's the old axiom in design that says, `Less is more.' They should have that printed on the outside of the PowerPoint box. It needs a warning label." --Larry Nighswander, director, OSU School of Visual Communications

Posted by blahedo at 10:57pm | Comments (0)

17 Oct 2003

BMW bastard

Remember the asshole I had to deal with at the BMW dealership in order to get my Mini? Turns out that on top of everything else, he lied to me about not being able to process my request for a personalised enviro plate. I found the following quote online: "The dealership where you purchase your vehicle can apply for vanity or personalized license plates on your behalf for a first-time registration." Wish I'd seen that before he fed me his line. I'm sending the following letter to my guy Chuck at the Mini dealership:

Regarding the service: I have nothing but positive things to say about you and the other people I met in the Mini dealership; but that guy at the BMW office that I had to deal with for the financing was just awful. I understand that you make more money if I finance through you, and I appreciate that, but he spent the time I was in there talking down to me, dissing my bank and condescendingly acting as if I were an idiot for not wanting to save a few bucks a month. (I remember he said, in reference to a nonrefundable fee my bank charged: "so they have you paying them to loan you money? Some racket." As if that's not what a loan is in the first place.) When he was trying to sell me the extended warranty, he refused to tell me how much its cost would go up if I bought it later---not just exactly, he wouldn't give me any estimate whatsoever. Had I walked in off the street to buy an in-stock car, I probably would have walked out at this point. And then he flat-out lied to me about my license plates, claiming that I wasn't allowed to get personalised environmental plates on a new car---which is false---and that he'd be fined if he tried it---also false---and that to get them I would turn my initial plates in and they would refund their cost---also false. I just talked to the Secretary of State's office, and apparently there's nothing I can do but wait for my initial plates, then apply for new ones and pay a replating fee.

I suppose it's possible that he actually didn't know how much the warranty would go up, and didn't know that he was allowed to let me apply for personal/enviro plates; in which case he's not shady, but merely incompetent. Not exactly a glowing recommendation.

Makes me so damn mad.

"Do you ever wonder if the "Christ of Scripture" is really worth following? I think some folks get sold on the happy-go-lucky Christ as children, on the simple premise that such a Christ is totally worth following, and then turn their thoughts to various other possibly evil Christs later in life, out of devotion to the name." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 3:24pm | Comments (0)

India stories

I just heard from Kim Plofker (hi Kim!), another former Brown Renaissance Singer, currently in India as a travelling scholar studying the history of math. Apparently my blog has inspired her to start one too---and Kim-in-India is much more interesting than mine, so go read it.

"Because daydreaming required people to think up their own plots, as opposed to simply downloading them, it seems as quaint as paying personal visits instead of instant-messaging. But it does serve to illustrate the etiquette of multitasking. The rule is that you must not get caught." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 11:45am | Comments (0)

11 Oct 2003

Manual transmission pro

...not quite. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After I got to Chicago, I walked over and caught the El out to Harlem, where Lee and Kelly (and Loren!) picked me up and drove me out to Schaumburg. My agent met me at the door and sat me down and first off insisted on trying to get me a lower rate loan. Whatever; it seemed easier at that point to just let them run the check. In retrospect, I would've gotten out of there a lot faster otherwise....

Chuck ran over to the BMW dealer next door (same owner, and where they handle all the financing and title transfer stuff), then came back and showed me the car. So many neat features. The volume control on the stereo? On the back of the steering wheel. Also buttons to switch input types and cycle through presets (or skip tracks on CDs). The cup holders? Two for coffee cups and cans, and one big honkin' one for the mad huge 32oz cups you sometimes get.

Then we head over to the BMW dealer to wrap stuff up. I waited forever and a day (meanwhile Lee et al are still hanging out at the Mini dealer), and this greasy fellow comes out who I take an instant dislike to. But I smile and remain polite, as he tries to get me to use their financing. Which was, to be sure, cheaper; but by about $7 a month, or a few hundred across the term of the loan. I hemmed and hawed, and decided that it was worth that much to me to keep my money in Galesburg on this one (and to not have to go back and undo the loan---by paying it off right away, of course, but still, bleh). I also pointed out that this didn't account for the $75 service fee that was essentially an early payoff penalty. This guy dissed on my bank: "you're paying them money to loan you money? Some setup." Which came within a hairsbreadth of making fun of me, not to mention, that's how loans work. He continued: "Must be some bank, if you're willing to pay them $400 extra." Yeah, or maybe there are factors other than saving a buck at work here. Jerk. Anyway, at this point he says, "Oh, I made a mistake, I can save you $600 over the term of the loan." I wonder just how low I could've driven the rate, but at this point, I wasn't giving this guy a penny more than the cost of the car.

And yet he launches in on a new tack. Now he's trying to sell me extended warranty, extended maintenance, and dings and dents service. Had these been offered earlier, I might've considered them. I asked if I could add the extended warranty later---yes---and if it would cost more---yes---and how much? "I can't tell you." Yeah, I bet. So I have no idea if an extra two years on my warranty is worth what they're charging ($1800), and of course this is a hard sell to get me to spend it. Not only did I want more time to think about it, but I simply couldn't have; I had a loan for the cost of the car, and don't at the moment have the cash to pay more than that. I didn't bother to point this out to him, because it would've just launched him into another pitch for a loan.

Finally, I was able to get out of there. I got my keys, I got the registration, I'm all set. And I'm starving. We decide to get Indian food, and I try to learn to drive stick shift.

Now, the theory's fine, and I've even managed to drive sticks before on three occasions. But I must've stalled about ten times getting out of that parking spot. (I was letting out the clutch too fast.) Once I got the hang of gassing up and slowly letting off the clutch, I was golden. Well, sort of. At one point, while turning around (we'd missed a turn), I tried to U-turn in a subdivision intersection, needed to 3-point instead, and just as I went to back up, 1) I stalled, and 2) a guy drives up wanting to come through. Naturally, I'm perpendicular to traffic at this point... he starts yelling and this does not help. With I think just two tries I managed to get going, and made it to the Indian restaurant with some near-stalls but no further incident.

After we ate, I decided it was much too late to go down to Urbana (sorry Kathy), so I drove home. I made it all the way from the Woodfield area to my parents' house with just one stall. (In the middle of a major intersection, while leading up to a left turn, but what's life without drama?) And later on, when I drove to Lee and Vern and Kelly's place in Niles, entirely via surface roads (lots of stops and turns), I didn't stall even once. Coming back, I took 90, toll booth and all, again with complete success. So I'm not a pro just yet, but I'm getting there. :)

'If you assemble 100 gay and lesbian people in a room and ask them, "What's the worst experience you've ever had as a gay man or lesbian?" 95 of them will answer, "Coming out to my parents." (The other 5 will respond, "Being courtmartialed.")' --The Plaid Adder, "The Fine Art of Being Come Out To" (which, though selected according to the sequence I've been using for ages now, is topical---today is National Coming Out Day! Be cool, be tolerant.)

Posted by blahedo at 10:53pm | Comments (1)

Purington Pavers

This is not remarkable in any sense, but kind of cool: the platform at Plano is brick-paved, and the bricks are Purington Pavers. That is, produced in East Galesburg.

Posted by blahedo at 9:33am | Comments (0)

Midwestern names

We're still out in the boonies just west of Plano, but we just passed a car dealership owned by someone named "Gjøvik". This is at least slightly remarkable because the big lit-up sign outside the dealership actually said "GJØVIK".

Posted by blahedo at 9:30am | Comments (1)

All aboard!

Given a choice between planes and trains, why on earth do they take planes? I'm riding on a train from Galesburg to Chicago right now, and I have a huge window next to me, I can lean back without hitting the person behind me, and I can stretch out my legs as much as I want. The overhead bins could've held two huge suitcases easily. I can walk around and even pass people in the aisle without sitting on someone's lap. The cafe car serves a whole menu of stuff at, shockingly enough, reasonable prices---$3.50 for a cinnamon roll and a coffee is only slightly higher than Galesburg prices, and considerably lower than what I'd expect to pay in Chicago.

And I've got my laptop plugged in to the electrical outlet mounted next to my seat. Try that on a plane.

Posted by blahedo at 8:21am | Comments (0)

10 Oct 2003

Things I HATE

One of the things I really, really hate is workplace discrimination. Whether it's gender-based, or racial, or on sexual orientation, or some other ought-to-be-irrelevant criterion, it pisses me off. Now, in most areas we've passed laws against it, but they're largely ineffectual---people have lives and responsibilities, and they can't meet those responsibilities without having a job. With rare exception, people harmed by violations of these laws are not in a position to litigate against the violators. They're not even in a position to mention it to other people in their company, because that could mean their job, which of course they can't afford to lose. Even if they could afford living expenses for a while, the current state of health insurance means that if you don't get it from your job you'll pay three times as much for it, and if you don't have it at all, you'll be charged ten times as much for medical service as the insurance companies are charged, not to mention thousands of times more than the co-payment you'd normally make. Also, you lose your health insurance portability, which means that if it turns out you develop some long-term condition, even if you get health insurance again, they won't pay for it.

And of course, after years of this, when in the end they find their excuse to fire you, you need the unemployment benefits badly enough that you can't afford to fight it---not that you'd really want to win, anyway. You thought it was bad before, just wait for the warm and welcoming work environment you can expect when they're forced to give you your job back.


"Anything that spoils the polite fiction that one's coworkers possess neither sexualities nor sexual organs is likely to be inappropriate." --Gel Thelen

Posted by blahedo at 7:43pm | Comments (0)

20 more hours

I just closed on my car loan, and yesterday I got insurance (State Farm, if you care); I picked up my train ticket this morning. In somewhat less than twenty hours, assuming no intervening screwups or Acts of God, I will take possession of my Mini. I can't wait!

"As I write this, I am sipping espresso from a demitasse. I assure you, there is sufficient foof here." --Neal Groothuis

Posted by blahedo at 4:01pm | Comments (1)


Good heavens, there's some hard-core fog out there right now. Between that and the empty streets, I feel like I'm in some old early-90s video game, where the maximum rendered distance is too low. It's really cool, though. I don't even remember fog this thick in Providence.

"To all the West Coasties (IMSAn, ISUn or otherwise), who've ever made snide remarks about Midwestern conservatism in my presence, I have a brief message: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER WAS JUST ELECTED GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. SUCK IT." --Fred Iutzi

Posted by blahedo at 1:57am | Comments (1)

8 Oct 2003


As you all know, I'm getting me a Mini. Part of the preliminaries for that are getting financing, insurance, and so forth, and for that you get something called a "purchase order", with details of the car including its VIN. Now, when I ordered the car, I didn't get a printout of the details, because (he said) it would've been identical to the printout I got from the Mini site myself. When it came time to get the purchase order, I called, and I didn't need it instantly so I just had him mail it. Except, he forgot, so then he was going to fax it to me. This morning, I picked up the fax, and it occurred to me that this was the first printed documentation I'd received from Mini.

It said, among other things, "TRIM: Black".

I think my heart actually stopped.

What was I going to do? I'm sinking $20K in this thing, so I want it to be the one I ordered---blue and white. Would they have to order another one? Aagh. And today was my rep's day off. I fired off an email anyway, but couldn't worry about it because I needed to do other things.

So I got back to my office after class today and called the dealership. Got through to a manager, who said: "Oh, 'trim' means interior." I can't even express how relieved I was.

"Yeah, I never realized what fun it would be to do interviews until I remembered how neurotic, self-important and generally unable to converse in a relaxed casual way law students are." --Jonathan Wagner

Posted by blahedo at 3:34pm | Comments (1)

4 Oct 2003

Ballrooming in Galesburg

I just got back from the Rotary Harvest Ball. At $20 a ticket, I figured the worst case is I go and hear some good music and give money to a good cause. In fact, I was able to do some dancing too! Chuck (the physics prof) and Faye Schulz picked up a fair amount of ballroom in Champaign a few years back, and I danced a few times with Faye; Jackie Uhlmann in the dean's office also has some dancing experience (she claims to be rusty, but don't believe her) and I danced with her a little bit. There were also a couple other Rotarians that I asked to dance, one named Dawn who was standing there dancing in place, clearly itching to dance, and one named Marta who had complimented me on my dancing. I asked a few other women to dance, but they declined; one explicitly said she only dances with her husband. Too bad. Of course, I think I was about the only person there not part of a couple, but that just means I've got my work laid out for me, getting a dance community together. :)

Specifically, I'm now set to go on starting a ballroom group here. After weeks of crossed wires, I finally managed to reserve the auxiliary gym; the first ballroom lesson will be a week from tomorrow, Sunday the 12th, at 6pm. If you know a Knox fac, staff, or student, let them know. (I'll eventually open it to the Galesburg community, I think, but for now I'd like to keep it to Knox-ians and their partners.)

"Then came 9/11, and we all rallied. Country under attack, most horrible thing, what can we do? Ready to give blood, get out of our cars and ride bicycles, whatever. Shop, said the president. That and more tax cuts for the rich." --Molly Ivins

Posted by blahedo at 11:25pm | Comments (0)

Scarecrow festival

Galesburg has it every year, first weekend in October. People and businesses from all over town decorate scarecrows, which are then exhibited in Standish Park for a few days, with a few craft vendors and a music stage to round the thing out.

This morning, the real highlight was a folk band called Hammer and Pick, with a double bass and guitar, and one guy switching between banjo and hammer dulcimer. Awesome stuff. (Steve Martin is right, by the way---you can play a song about a train wreck and it'll sound cheery if there's a banjo involved. "Old 97" is just such a song. :) One of the dulcimer songs was called something like "Old something country down", and was almost exactly the same as a church song called "The Canticle of the Turning" with which I'm familiar. Pretty nifty.

Now I'm off to Davenport to help supervise our kids doing a practice programming contest. Not sure how much I'll have to do, so I'm taking along a book and some knitting, too. :)

"Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home. There are two ways to achieve this result. One is to hire programmers who live in extremely shabby apartments. The other is to create a nice office." --Philip Greenspun

Posted by blahedo at 10:46am | Comments (0)