Let’s Just Call it Progress

Erica Noonan reports in this morning’s Boston Globe:

An era when Halloween costume shopping for girls could be confused with exploring a Victoria’s Secret lingerie trunk may be fading.  Girls between the ages of 6 and 14 and their parents seem to be gravitating away from revealing costumes this year.

Rachel [age 10] has her heart set on dressing as Hannah Montana, the schoolgirl-rock star character popularized by 15-year-old actress Miley Cyrus. Despite Cyrus’s controversial partially nude photo spread in Vanity Fair magazine earlier this year, [her mother] Britt said she has no particular objection to the Hannah Halloween theme.

But she was thoroughly unimpressed by Target’s $25 version of a costume, a barely-there swath of rayon and matching go-go boots. No way, she said.

In the words of Mrs. Judy Geller on Friends (episode 6-09, The One Where Ross Got High), “That’s a lot of information to get in 30 seconds.”

Let’s start by applauding parents who prevent their preteen daughters from wearing less total clothing mass than their pre-toddler siblings.  Speaking broadly on behalf of men — a gender that’s quite rightly notorious for its adoration of naked and nearly naked women — I’d really rather not find myself handing out Snickers bars to a ten-year-old girl in a “barely-there swath of rayon.”

I lived in Boulder in 1996 — the year that someone murdered six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey and the rest of us learned that even a child in kindergarten could win a beauty pageant.  I was confused then in the same way I find myself confused now.

In the 20 January 1997 issue of People Magazine, Mr. Bill Hewitt wrote:

There was one video that showed JonBenét, who had won a half-dozen pageants, including a 1995 Little Miss Colorado title and a 1996 America’s Royale Miss title, dancing in flirtatious—even provocative—fashion.  Photographs also surfaced of her in heavy makeup more suited to a woman at least three times her age.

Ten years and five months later, we apparently found ourselves reading about Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair, and seeing her wrapped in a blanket on the second page of the article.  Half naked?  Not really.  Partially nude?  To no greater extent than a girl on a beach in a bathing suit.

It’s a much more artful and much less tacky pose than detractors would suggest, but it’s still reminiscent of something one would find in a men’s magazine.  It didn’t take long to prove that point by unearthing a photo of Ms. Gena Lee Nolin from the pages of Maxim that carries distinct similarities.

Again speaking on behalf of men everywhere, there’s a reason Maxim has roughly the same circulation as Newsweek.  It’s not a bad thing.  I’ll just choose, if any children come to my door tonight dressed as fashion models thrice their age, to keep the door closed and keep the Reese’s to myself.

Simon SAID!

Although our entire development staff (including me) thinks it’s utterly stupid, I had to use the Zend Encoder.

[bobbojones@malahide pubph]$ zendenc pubph.php pubph.enc.php
root privileges are required in order to preserve ownerships of encoded files

That’s strange.  I own the original file, and I’m running the executable.  Shouldn’t I just naturally own its output files?  I’ll just play along for fun.

[bobbojones@malahide pubph]$ sudo zendenc pubph.php pubph.enc.php
Cannot stat pubph.php: Permission denied

Wait, what do you mean, “Permission denied?”  I said sudo!  You know, sudo?  As in, “Superuser access that authorizes me to do absolutely anything I want on this machine up to and including destroying its entire contents, your stupid executable included?”  Sudo?  Sound familiar?  Even a little?  No?


(As it turns out, the first one worked just fine.  The “root privileges are required” reprimand is apparently only a warning, and just I didn’t happen to check the output immediately.  Still, I feel as if my authority as a sudoer has been undermined.)

No, You Bring it On

All day, I planned to watch a movie when I got home tonight.  The movie I planned to watch? Becoming Jane.  This is a “biographical portrait” of Jane Austen.  It’s generally based on historical fact. The movie I actually watched?  Bring it On.  This is a story about cheerleaders.  It’s based on audiences’ enjoyment of watching cheerleaders.

I’m really not even sure how that happened.  I don’t even have that movie!  I just glanced at it on Hulu for a moment, and then 90 minutes went by.

In college I formed a theory I dubbed The Conservation of Mental Abilities.  During the summer, or at the beginning of the semester when work was light, I found myself reading mostly non-fiction, with a mix of notably long or verbose novels (e.g., Lord of the Rings).  Then, as the semester progressed and the workload got heavier, my recreational reading grew simpler, favoring simpler novels and even magazines.

Once, near the end of a particularly grueling semester, I caught myself rereading Roald Dahl’s Matilda — a book I first read at the age of nine.  Ostensibly, I’d stumbled on the 1996 movie starring Mara Wilson and wanted to read the original story.  Realistically, my brain was exhausted, and a children’s book was all the supplemental reading it could manage.

It’s the Conservation of Mental Abilities.  I (i.e., we all) have a certain capacity to absorb and process information — malleable over a period of several years, but fixed over shorter periods.  After a light day, I crave knowledge and self-improvement.  After a long and difficult day, I watch Bring it On.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet?

From the Boston Globe, 22 October 2008:

It is a simple test, but has surprising power to predict a child’s future. A 4-year-old is left sitting at a table with a marshmallow or other treat on it and given a challenge: Wait to eat it until a grown-up comes back into the room, and you’ll get two. If you can’t wait that long, you’ll get just one.

Some children can wait less than a minute, others last the full 20 minutes. The longer the child can hold back, the better the outlook in later life for everything from SAT scores to social skills to academic achievement, according to classic work by Columbia University psychologist Walter Mischel, who has followed his test subjects from preschool in the late 1960s into their 40s now.

I remember failing that test like it was yesterday – sitting there with a marshmallow staring back at me was just too tempting to resist.  In fact, come to think of it… it was yesterday.  I never even took that test as a child!


They Have the Internet on Computers Now

From The Atlantic, July 1982:

When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen. For six months, I found it awkward to compose first drafts on the computer. Now I can hardly do it any other way. It is faster to type this way than with a normal typewriter, because you don’t need to stop at the end of the line for a carriage return (the computer automatically “wraps” the words onto the next line when you reach the right-hand margin), and you never come to the end of the page, because the material on the screen keeps sliding up to make room for each new line. It is also more satisfying to the soul, because each maimed and misconceived passage can be made to vanish instantly, by the word or by the paragraph, leaving a pristine green field on which to make the next attempt.

Even in an era when we all use computers on a daily basis – and I do even more than most people – it’s absolutely enthralling to read a description of how an ordinary person can really use such a thing as a personal computer.

I particularly like Mr. Fallows’ description of using BASIC to write some tax accounting software.

At the end of the year, I load the income-tax program into the computer, push the button marked “Run,” and watch as my tax return is prepared. Since it took me only about six months to learn BASIC (and the tax laws) well enough to write the program, I figure this approach will save me time by 1993.

That doesn’t sound remotely like anything I’ve ever developed.  (He says, unconvincingly.)

Going Once… Going Twice… Sold!

Self Checkout and I have always gotten along – I scan things and it beeps at me – until our little tiff today.  I scanned a bag of shredded carrots, and it told me it had no Earthly idea what it was, and that help was on its way.  I called over the supervisor.

Her: Do you remember how much this costs?
Me: Sorry, I have no idea.
Her: That’s the only way I could enter it.

Me: Oh, that’s not a problem; I’ll just get them next time.  Thank you.
Her: Well, how much do you want to pay for them?

Sweet!  Uhh… $5!  No, no, wait… $2!  No, hang on, I’ve got it… 50¢!

Somehow this reminds me of the famous Seinfeld episode where Kramer starts taking Moviefone calls.

Kramer: Using your touch-tone keypad, please enter the first three letters of the movie title now.
*beep beep beep*

You’ve selected Agent Zero.  If that’s correct, press one.  (silent pause) You’ve selected Brown Eyed Girl.  If this is correct, press one.  (silent pause) Why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you selected?

(Looking online after the fact, Peapod lists store-brand carrots for less than I actually paid, but I bought a name brand, so I probably got it about right.)

Thx, eBay!

After clicking “Buy it Now” on an eBay item, I got this message:

Congrats, you just bought this item.

Are we using the word “congrats” now?

The Best eBay Auction Ever

I’m sure I’ve spoken before about the departures board at South Station.  I love it because it’s a glorious holdover from the 1980s (and earlier). Unlike modern LED or television displays, it’s a mechanical model, where changing the information requires physically rolling over from one flap to another.

You can easily find plenty of examples of signs like this on YouTube.

Of course, the fun only really happens when it’s time for a dramatic change (e.g., moving each departure over a column to make room for more).  In truth, the sign is the one aspect of South Station I really love.  Railroad travel should carry a certain antiquity, even if you’re just catching a commuter rail train to Waltham.

Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news?  The MBTA installed a new, all-singing, all-dancing light-up sign in June, which will replace the mechanical model.  There goes my favorite part of a South Station visit.

The good news?  The Globe reports they’re selling it on eBay.  The auction is still online (here), though it looks like some form of silent auction, where potential buyers contact the seller directly, rather than placing bids on the site.  In any case, there’s no public information besides that the MBTA wants at least $500.

If only I had somewhere to put it!