Monday, January 30, 2006

Another road game and kicked in the nuts

More time spent on the road led to trying to concoct new, mind-expanding thought games. I'm math challenged, so I thought something based on the numbers you see on signs along the highway would be nice. Maybe "add 'em all up," where you simply add the numbers in your head as they come at you. So, "Effingham 25, Carbondale 109, and St. Louis 125 displayed on a sign would add up to 259. But that got boring pretty quickly. And besides, they kept coming pretty fast so it didn't take long to lose count.

Next I turned to a refinement of "Who lives there." I decided to get a fuller picture of people by noticing the details in their yard. "They have a horse trailer so they must ride horses. The swing set indicates young kids. Their pickup truck is new, so they probably have jobs." Then I added another level of complexity to the game: I'm visiting and spending the night with the imaginary people. I wondered what we'd talk about. This track also led to some um, interesting thoughts.

Just saw a fantastic little short film on the net called "Kicked In The Nuts." I heartily recommend it as a metaphor for modern-day America.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Road games

I burn a lot of miles on highways, planes and trains these days. Most of the time I just give in to the zen of the situation and let the time pass entertaining myself with rolling idle thoughts. In the car I seek out right-wing or Christian radio stations so I can find out what the enemy's up to. On a plane or train I listen to my iPod and read the more obscure sections of the New York Times. But I'm getting bored with those pursuits and lately I've invented some road games. Here are a few you might like to try:

Notice the details
This one's easy and hard both. Driving down the highway, mind wandering, you focus on noticing as many details as you can: All the bridge overpasses are painted blue. There are five series of lines along the highway delineating the edges and lanes. The clouds are far-off and very high in the sky. The poles holding up the little reflectors alongside the road are all rusted except for an occasional new one which means it was replaced after somebody ran it over. Or if you're sitting in a restaurant: all the light fixtures are square and hang over the centers of each of the tables. The carpet has a diagonal pattern. The sound system is bad. There's a lot of unopened mail behind the cash register. Noticing the details can lead to a lot of associations and surprise insights. You suddenly begin to see things you otherwise wouldn't.

Find the light
This one I owe to my friend Keith, an enlightened being if there ever was one. He was telling me about the Cathars, the "pure ones" of southern France branded heretics by the Catholic church in the 10th century. Keith says they always looked for the light. So I've taken to scanning the sky for the brightest spot and peering deeply into it. Seeking more light is inspiring. (OK; maybe I'm nuts.)

Imagine their lives
As you pass by neighborhoods along the highway, or fly over a city's rooftops, choose a particular house and invent people that live in it. Decide if they're young or old, have kids or not, what their names are, and what they do for a living. What do they fight about? Are they happy?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Try White Castle, Trent

Trent Lott is pissed. He doesn't like the proposed $20 limit on what a lobbyist can spend on a face-to-face meal with the rarefied and powerful like him. According to the New York Times, Trent opined, "Now we're going to say you can't have a meal for more than 20 bucks. Where are you going, to McDonald's?"

Thinking back over my life, I remember many times when I didn't even have enough cash in my pocket for lunch at McDonalds. Sometimes that meant going to White Castle instead, where hamburgers are only 37 cents. Sometimes it meant skipping lunch altogether. I'm middle class, so to speak. What about the people who can't even put dinner on the table for their kids, let alone consider a fancy restaurant for lunch?

If our media hadn't been hijacked by right-wing nutjobs like Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews who spend their “fair and balanced” blatherfests denigrating Democrats, statements like this might find their way to the masses of TV viewers. Poor people who kow-tow to their yahoo evangelist preachers and vote against their own economic interests by electing elitists like Trent Lott might choke on their baked beans. But that's about as likely as seeing Trent at McDonalds.

Thanks to my friend Detroit Gail for her blog which alerted me to this idiocy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Slow design

How I love all things design. I can't look at a building, a city, a roadway, a magazine, a sign, or a car without musing on how it might have been better designed. If I had my way with the world, it'd at least look a whole lot better.

Because books about design are my business, I spend a lot of time on design websites. One of the very best is the Design Observer. It was there I came across Michael Beirut's essay on Slow Design. Following the cultural trends of the slow food movement and the new urbanism principles about calming cities, it's no surprise that the design industry would have its equivalent response.

Beirut says, "...slow design is not just about duration or speed, but about thoughtfulness, deliberation, and — how else to put it? — tender loving care." We could use all the tender loving care we can get here in 21st Century America.

Monday, January 09, 2006

What privacy?

This isn't a Democrat/Republican issue, it's just a fact of life living in present-day big brother/corporate dominated/digital age America. It's bad enough the government is spying on us, average citizens, and there are rumors probably on reporters for newspapers and magazines too. I can hardly say I was um, shocked. Nor am I shocked about how little Americans really seem to care.

Then along comes an article in the Chicago Sun-Times about a website where you pay $110 and get a list of anybody's cell-phone calls. Wow, you don't even have to work for the FBI to do it!

Some folks posting to the Daily Kos are talking about putting up the money to get Karl Rove's information. See what K Street lobbyists he might have been ringing up over the last couple of years.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander, as my dad used to say.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

You know what I hate?

I really, really hate those f**king pull-down lists of states on websites where you're registering or ordering something. I mean, come on. They think I can't remember the two letter code for my state, but I am competent to enter the name of my city (even though it may be Lower Chatahoochee Falls)? Even I—someone who has lived in four states over the last two years (IN, PA, NJ, IL)—rarely get this wrong.

I'm on the web all day long. I buy things, I book flights, I check bank balances, and all these sites make me stop, point my mouse, drag down through a long list of other people's states, click on mine and hit OK. I've wasted mega amounts of mini chunks of time.. That adds up to a lot. Then there's the frustration—a whole other thing.

And you know the most interesting thing? A site you'd think would really deem it crucial to identify your state correctly, Mapquest trusts you to get it right by typing in your two letter abbreviation! If you somehow manage to not know the two letter abbreviation for your state, they have helpfully made the word "State" a blue link so you can click on it and scroll through. Yay Mapquest!