Thursday, December 18, 2014

No Time to Inspect a Rebus

It appears I write about billboards fairly frequently. Here's another one that's currently gracing some Twin Cities highways. This is mainly a design critique.

First of all, if you buy a small billboard like this, don't try to do too much. A few words and your company name are about all that can be seen on that size at the distances involved.


Worse, in this case, is that the designer tried to make a rebus out of the message, but of the three images used, only one is instantly recognizable.

While driving past at 60 MPH and hundreds of feet away, who can identify that gray boxy thing on the left? And if you've never heard of the company, who can recognize, let alone remember, that weird name or realize that the blue side represents cooling and the red side means heat?

I didn't even notice the bottom tag line about warranties until I drove up underneath it (on the frontage road) to take a photo, and, even worse, I didn't see the red bar at the bottom with the services listed until just now when I was writing this. Aside from being small, the red bar blends into the brown frame around the billboard.

So Bonfe, stop wasting your money. If you think billboards are a good choice for you (I'm not so sure, but will give you the benefit of the doubt), narrow your message and focus on name recognition.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Hath Google Analytics Wrought?

I'm having a kind of lazy day, so I wasn't feeling super-inspired to share any of the many tabs I've got open. While looking through my blog's in-coming searches on Google Analytics, though, I came across this search string:

pics of womans yousing haroin in the feminal artery
I can assure you that this user did not find any pictures of women using heroin in their femoral arteries on my blog, let alone womans yousing haroin in the feminal artery. I have no idea why Google would lead a user with that string of almost nonsensical words to my blog.

My work for today is done, aside from reporting that there is, in truth, a website called The Feminal Artery. Clever word play in that case, rather than clueless typing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seven Years of Daughter Number Three

Seven years ago today I finally got my act together and started this blog. That's 2,677 posts, for those keeping score.

This is me at age 7, the beginning of second grade:


Note the light green dress with lace collar, made by my grandmother.

Second grade was a big year because, for the first time, a teacher took notice of me. I may even have been a bit of a teacher's pet. (Though she's also the teacher who gave the misunderstood "letter writing" test.)

My grades were generally B+, with B the second highest grade on a four-point scale. I was getting S grades (the highest) in reading and spelling by the end of the year. My lowest grades were in writing, by which they meant handwriting. It seems my daily work was not neatly written; I got minus marks for that each quarter.

I missed 23 days of school, 10 of them in the third quarter. Winter was tough in those days. That may have been the beginning of my yearly encounters with bronchitis.

Despite knowing that I liked my teacher, the incident with the letter-writing test is just about the only thing I specifically remember from second grade, other than the fact that one of my classmates' fathers was decapitated in a car accident after he ran into a train. I guess something like that takes up all of your available long-term memory space when you're only 7 years old.

Past anniversary posts, each with age-appropriate photographic evidence:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Introverted Thoughts

Jason Kottke today reprinted a list of rules for dealing with the introverts in your life. I guess it's from Fast Company. He seemed to think it was worth a notice, despite the fact that he's written about the topic himself in the past:
1. Respect their need for privacy.
2. Never embarrass them in public.
3. Let them observe first in new situations.
4. Give them time to think; don't demand instant answers.
5. Don't interrupt them.
6. Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives.
7. Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing.
8. Reprimand them privately.
9. Teach them new skills privately.
10. Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests & abilities.
11. Don't push them to make lots of friends.
12. Respect their introversion; don't try to remake them into extroverts.
But, to me, the thing with this list is that a lot of it is general advice for how to treat anyone who's a friend or even just, you know, a human being:
1. Respect their need for privacy. (While everyone needs privacy, the amount will vary from person to person; this is where being sensitive to other people comes in.)
2. Never embarrass them in public. (Number 8, Reprimand them privately, seems to go without saying after rule number 2. And even number 9, Teach them new skills privately, is just a part of number 2, and generally good advice for all people.)
4. Give them time to think; don't demand instant answers.
5. Don't interrupt them.
A few other recommendations on the list don't seem specifically like introvert needs to me. Maybe more like the needs of a person who has problems with transitions, which I don't believe goes with introversion:
6. Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives.
7. Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing.
The only rules that seem to be truly for introverts:
3. Let them observe first in new situations. (I would add the adjective "social" before "situations," unless the writer was assuming they were social situations.)
11. Don't push them to make lots of friends. (Number 10 about "enabling" them to make one best friend sounds kind of infantilizing.)
12. Respect their introversion; don't try to remake them into extroverts.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Odds of Understanding This Story Are Not in Their Favor

You may not have read the Hunger Games trilogy, but take my word for it, this poster (seen in the lobby of a theater that's showing Mockingjay Part 1) is completely inappropriate:


Let's see, where to start.

The ad's headline modifies one of the catch phrases from the book: "May the odds be ever in your favor." This innocuous-sounding sentence is pronounced when a young person has just been selected to fight to the death on national television. Everyone knows the odds are not in their favor, so the phrase is basically a cruel joke.

The silhouetted figure on the left is supposed to be the main character, Katniss Everdeen, as indicated by her braided hair and quiver of arrows. She's toasting some other person with a paper cup full of soda pop.

This is the same Katniss Everdeen whose home town, District 12, is full of starving people. She learned to shoot arrows because hunting was the only way to feed her family. She was the object of pity (or empathy) from another character in the book, who purposely burned bread in his family's bakery so that it would be thrown out and Katniss could take it home to her family. So it makes perfect sense to show her drinking a disposable cup full of over-priced, high-fructose-corn-syrup carbonated water.

I'm not sure what or who the other figure -- host of multiple butterflies -- is supposed to represent. Maybe Effie, the publicist who first says the words, "May the odds be ever in your favor," to Katniss. It doesn't really matter. It just adds to the absurdity of the entire piece, which is intended to sell viewers on buying a $12 card from the theater that will, over time, "pay them back" with larger servings of popcorn and soda.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Bad Example of Public Policy

I'm close to finishing the book A Midwife's Tale, which won a Pulitzer Prize back in 1991. It's a popular history, based on the life and diary of Martha Moore Ballard from 1785 to 1812 in eastern Maine. Ballard was, as the title says, a midwife. Her diary was long known to historians but was discounted as dry and lacking details until feminist historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich got ahold of it.

The book is mostly a social history of women-oriented topics, obviously, though it's as much about women's work in the home and social conditions generally as it about helping women have babies. But near the end, there's a disturbing detail about how the local municipalities were run that doesn't have anything to do with women.

Martha's husband, Ephraim, is 10 years older than her. By 1803, she is almost 70 and he is nearly 80. He has spent his career as a surveyor, working for all of the landed men in the area who want to measure parcels to sell and plat towns to build. But Ephraim, it turns out, has had a side job all along: he is also the town tax collector.

I've never thought much about how tax collection happens now, and probably less in past times. In Maine, c. 1800, this is how it was:
[Ephraim] had signed a note binding [him] to collect $4,550, the town's combined total tax bill for the year 1803. Although he had worked hard at collecting..., and had turned in his proceeds to the town treasurer every two months as the law required, his accounting on November 17 had fallen short by $800. The town had no choice but to imprison him.... No sentimental regard for the man's age or for his years of service could abrogate the law. He would be treated like other debtors (page 266).
Debtors in the town jail were not the same as felons; they could come and go to pursue their work and even eat their meals, but they couldn't go as far as their homes (unless that was near by, which Ephraim's was not). This left Martha, 70ish -- all of her children grown and with families of their own -- without a man to chop wood and do the other work customarily done by a man. This is a woman who has borne nine children herself, and who is in declining health of an unmentionable female nature, so her stress over all of the added work comes up in her diary.

But I have to say: What a stupid public policy. You take a job like tax collector, which generally isn't perceived positively in the first place, and outsource it with the penalty of prison if it's not done correctly. What a way to get someone to do the job. What a way to run a state!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Two Unrelated Follow-Ups

In my sprawling post about wage theft a few weeks ago, I mentioned an upcoming Supreme Court case where Amazon warehouse workers were asking to be paid for the time they're required to stand in lines, waiting to be searched for stolen items. Well, the Court has ruled on the case, and I'm sorry to say they found that it's okay to not pay workers for almost 2.5 hours a week.

The logic of the unanimous (!) decision, written by Clarence Thomas, is lacking. He takes to the dictionary to define terms in the federal labor law: integral and indispensable. The fact that the workers cannot refuse to spend almost 2.5 hours of their time on this non-integral and dispensable activity doesn't seem to have anything to do with whether they should be paid for it.

___

My second follow-up is more fun. Back in late September, I wrote about signs that people put up in their work spaces as a means for them to carve out a bit of mental space, especially if they deal with the public or internal clients frequently. (Kind of like the Not Always Right website, come to think of it.)

I asked at the time for other examples, and a couple of commenters responded. But yesterday I saw a redrawn version of one of the classics I remember from my summer-job days:


I guess this one isn't exactly on the topic of worker-public or worker-client interaction, related to complaints and deadlines, but it's one that circulated among workers and was posted over desks back in the day.

Aside from the fact that it's in color, this one has several additional panels that didn't exist when I used to see it: There were no beta testers or business consultants. Documentation and support weren't mentioned. I don't remember billing or operations, either, and the marketing part seems not quite as I recall...

Wait a minute, I have this magical thing called Google. Perhaps I should look it up!

And voila, the art exactly as I remember it:



From a site called businessballs.com, with other examples over the decades from various sectors.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Celebrating Pareidolia

Time for a break today from all the angst that is our world. This is my chance to appreciate the Twitter account called Faces in Things (which shows up as By Halloween Costumes in my best of Twitter roundups, but has the Twitter handle @FacesPics).

A couple of recent ones:


Caption: This moth looks like an old man wrapped in a blanket.


Caption: For the love of God, GET IT OUT!

And here's a photo I took myself yesterday while having X-rays taken of my ankle:


Possible caption: Sad cartoon cat, pressed into the service of taking X-rays.

Clearly, I will not win the New Yorker cartoon caption contest any time soon. Anyone have a better one?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture Report

Illegal, inhumane, incompetent. Ineffective and expensive, too.

I'm glad the Senate Intelligence Committee managed to release its report on torture by the CIA. There's a lot more they weren't allowed to release, so just imagine what those pages included, if "rectal feeding" was thought allowable.

MSNBC last night included several great segments:

  • Chris Hayes with multiple insiders from the Bush years who back up what the report says. One, an assistant to Colin Powell, described how he was lied to. Another, a CIA interrogator, told how he was ordered to keep interrogating a person who clearly didn't know anything.

  • Chris Hayes's personal essay on how he wonders if we really are a country of laws.

  • Rachel Maddow telling of a Soviet-era KGB agent who defected to the U.S. in 1964 and was tortured to make sure he had told the CIA all he knew. Later, they realized he had been telling the truth, and changed their policy to never allow torture again. Suddenly, as he was dying in witness protection in 2008, the CIA gave him a commendation and an apology. Just as either Barack Obama or John McCain was about to become president -- both anti-torture, and (one would have thought!) likely to prosecute people who carried out torture.

  • Lawrence O'Donnell telling how retiring Senator Jay Rockefeller was key to making the report happen.
Writing on MinnPost this morning, Dr. Steven Miles, a local but internationally known critic of doctors who participate in torture, reiterates the ineptness, ineffectiveness, and expense of the torture program. He closes with one of the many fine examples of CIA lies about the program, this one before Congress in 2006 by CIA Director Peter Goss, a CIA director who oversaw the torture program:
"This program has brought us incredible information. It's a program that could continue to bring us incredible information. It's a program that could continue to operate in a very professional way. It's a program that I think if you saw how it's operated you would agree that you would be proud that it's done right and well, with proper safeguards." Contrasting the CIA program to the abuse of prisoners in U.S. military detention at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Goss stated that the CIA program "is a professionally-operated program that we operate uniquely ... . We are not talking military, and I'm not talking about anything that a contractor might have done ... in a prison somewhere or beat somebody or hit somebody with a stick or something. That's not what this is about."
Miles concludes: "It was all lies — the CIA, our government, was lying to us."

For anyone who tries to make excuses about how it was post-9/11 and we had to use extreme measures in the face of terrorism, remember the Convention on Torture, which Ronald Reagan signed on behalf of the U.S. in 1984:



That yellow highlighted text says:
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
To get around those strictures, the Bush administration and the CIA changed its name to "enhanced interrogation" instead of torture. And got the so-called liberal media to go along with it.

The only person to serve time related to the CIA's torture program is whistleblower John Kiriakou, a CIA analyst who went on ABC News in 2007 and confirmed that a single case of waterboarding had taken place. He's still in prison. He should be released now.

To close, a few tweets from yesterday:
The two psychologists who helped the CIA create the torture techniques made over $81 million doing so.
By Alexis Goldstein

Shouldn't media organizations covering the torture report have a story on how they decided to use a euphemism vs. the word "torture"?
By § [lawremipsum]

Don't forget: Much of what is in the torture report (like death of a CIA detainee) was documented years ago by reporters who got shouted down.
By Monika Bauerlein

"They were planning an attack!" is the "He had a gun!" of national security.
By Saladin Ahmed 

Coincidentally, the only information interrogators got from waterboarding prisoners was "I can't breathe."
By Frank Conniff

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Four Tabs on a Theme

Four recent tabs related to recent news about race in America. First, a map showing implicit bias against blacks, by state:


It's notable how little this map correlates with the usual red/blue breakdown by voting or ideology. Generally, the more western you are, the less implicit bias. And for the most part, a lower the black population correlates with less implicit bias. Though, as the story points out, even the lightest blue on this map still falls in the category the researchers call "moderately prefer white." A score of .35 and up is called "strongly prefer white," and that applies to every state shown except New Mexico and Oregon.

And catch this:

A cautionary note: The people who have taken the IAT at the Project Implicit website are not a random sample of Americans, either nationally or on a state-by-state basis. Rather, they're people who, for some reason, chose to take an online test measuring their implicit biases -- which may actually mean they are less biased than average. (After all, at least they wanted to know how biased they are.)
(Here's an earlier post that shows the implicit bias stats from a bunch of other demographic perspectives.)

Then a short article on how watermelons came to be a recurring racist image. The fruit, though native to Africa, was not particularly associated with African-descended people until after the Civil War, when newly freed and farming black people were selling melons in southern cities.
...the fruit symbolized [these] qualities...: Uncleanliness, because eating watermelon is so messy. Laziness, because growing watermelons is so easy, and it’s hard to eat watermelon and keep working—it’s a fruit you have to sit down and eat. Childishness, because watermelons are sweet, colorful, and devoid of much nutritional value. And unwanted public presence, because it’s hard to eat a watermelon by yourself.
Yes, you're lazy if you stop and sit down to eat. Yes, that makes sense.

Next, Matt Taibbi writing in Rolling Stone about how the police are becoming an illegitimate force in our country:
There were more cops surrounding Eric Garner on a Staten Island street this past July 17th then there were surrounding all of AIG during the period when the company was making the toxic bets that nearly destroyed the world economy years ago. Back then AIG's regulator...had just one insurance expert on staff, policing a company with over 180,000 employees.

This is the crooked math that's going to crash American law enforcement if policies aren't changed. We flood poor minority neighborhoods with police and tell unwitting officers to aggressively pursue an interventionist strategy that sounds like good solid policing in a vacuum.

But the policy looks worse when a white yuppie like me can live in the same city as Garner for 15 years and never even be asked the time by someone in uniform. And at the very highest levels of society, where corruption has demonstrably been soaring in recent years, the police have almost been legislated out of existence.
And finally, from Slate, the racist, classist origins of "broken windows" policing in a book called The Unheavenly City. I think I have a copy of that (or its sequel, The Unheavenly City Revisited) in one of my basement boxes of college books.

So much of this comes down to a disagreement about where and how people want to live -- in diverse, active cities, or quiet, generic pseudo-ruralness. Or maybe that disagreement is just a cover for people who can't admit they don't want to live with people are different from them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Something to Keep in Mind

I don't favor using a draft to populate the U.S. military, but sometimes I wonder if something like a draft might not be a good way to select our police forces.

The self-selection process we currently use, it seems to me, has a pretty high likelihood of resulting in officers who are enamored of having power over other people. And then there's the thing about how at least some police forces won't hire people who are too smart.

"Too smart" doesn't mean genius-level IQ, either. In the case linked above, the applicant had scored 125 on the test. The New London, Connecticut, police department — which won in court — said that it didn't want officers who would get bored with the job.

What part of interacting with the public to protect and serve them would be boring to someone with an IQ of 125? Let me guess, it's not that part of the job that's boring, it's the bureaucracy and need for mindless followership. Where does New London get its leadership and its detectives from, I wonder? Is there no room for advancement on the force?

I'm not a fan of the marching morons vision of societal change, but it seems like the New London police department subscribed to it. I wonder how widespread this practice is across America's police departments?

_______

Note: Police departments don't administer IQ tests per se; scores on the tests they do give are correlated to IQ scores.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Giving GUM Its Due

Leafing through the Sunday papers, I saw this photo in the Pioneer Press:


The glass roof and other architectural details were a revelation, because I realized my mental image of the GUM department store in Moscow was completely wrong.

I couldn't say how I used to think of it exactly. I learned back in the Cold War, aka my childhood, that it was a hulking building, anonymous and Soviet-style with long lines of people waiting for stuff. Bread, I imagined.

When, actually, this is what it looks like:






Built in the early 1890s, it's a fine example of the naturally lit, iron-boned arcades that were prominent at that time, like the Metropolitan Building in Minneapolis, the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, the Pension Building (National Building Museum) in Washington, or the Market Arcade in Buffalo. Buildings that didn't need artificial light most of the day, and that had grand open spaces for people to mix and mingle.

Okay, maybe GUM used to be nice, but during the Soviet years it must have been ugly, right? Well, I couldn't find a lot of photos from that time, and they're all black and white, which automatically makes them look drab, but these don't seem too bad:




Aside from falling sway to what I'm now sure was overt anti-Soviet propaganda, my childhood self also had a big bias against old buildings. I preferred modernism, even brutalism, at the time. This was the era of "urban renewal," remember, when buildings like the Metropolitan or GUM were thought to be monstrosities.

Like the city of Minneapolis, I wanted to tear it all down and start over. Preferably in generic concrete.