Thursday, April 27, 2006

Personal Update

So, the temporal coincidence with Jane Jacobs is that just today (actually, Wednesday) I finished taking my comprehensive written exams for my Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona, and one of the essays I had to write this morning was based largely on interpreting Jacobs's Cities and the Wealth of Nations. This degree is something I've been working on since 2002, and assuming I passed all of my exams, this means I'm about 99.9% finished with my degree, with just a short oral follow-up to my written exams in a few weeks to complete the requirements.

The way the comp exams work is that Monday and Wednesday of this week we had both morning and afternoon sessions. Each session involves three hours of typing away like mad to answer essay prompts based on the core classes of the program, in a small, stuffy computer room with 13 other students doing the same thing. Since January we've had weekly meetings for study and review, and the questions were all open-book and open-note. So by and large we all knew pretty much what to expect, but still, it's a fairly tight schedule for organizing one's thoughts for an average of two essays per session, each of which have to make coherent arguments backed up by the literature. We have to get a passing grade on each section; I'm pretty confident that I did a pretty good job, except for one of the essays in which I think I really had to stretch to make my points, but from talking with the other students, it seems just about everybody was thrown for a loop by that prompt. So I feel pretty good, but I'll feel better when I found out that I passed.

If that weren't enough, this coming Sunday is my wedding day! Needless to say, there has been a ton of preparation going into this... I don't want to begin trying to calculate the man-hours involved in this thing. Not to mention the trouble of trying to please as many people as possible while keeping within a budget, trying to maintain sanity and prevent family feuds, etc. I'm sure everything will go great, but if I had known all of these headaches at the beginning, a quickie package in Las Vegas would have been awfully tempting. My one piece of advice is to make sure that the two families and/or the couple themselves clearly establish and agree upon an arrangement of who is going to pay how much for what as early in the process as possible, and to keep the lines of communication open between the various parties involved as early as possible.

One unexpected side effect of all of this is that over the course of the last year I've bought or been involved with the purchase of one diamond, three rings, and one pearl necklace. My knowledge of jewelry and the jewelry-buying process has now reached a level far beyond what it was at the beginning of last year. All the same, I still would not be able to pick out a good pair of earrings for my wife.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

R.I.P., Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs, possibly the world's best writer about urban planning, has died at the age of 89.

Update: The Toronto Star has a very nice, longer obituary that gets into some of the details of her work.

Pretend it's the '90s

Okay, for this post, let's all pretend that it's 1998 or so and parodies of Apple's "Think Different" ads are still relevant.

So, when I was searching the net for pictures of Dr. Zaius for that previous post, I came across this parody ad that brought a chuckle to my heart:

That got me thinking and I poked around some. I had seen the Charles Manson spoof, for example, but Wikipedia alluded to a Bill Gates parody of the ad, too. Intrigued, I poked around, but all I found was this:

To me, that's less funny than just a straight-up "Think Different" parody with Bill Gates. The straight-up ad would be funny in several different ways--- not the least of which is that Bill Gates is a guy who thought differently, and, antitrust suits be damned, had the vision to shepherd a product into such ubiquity that in many ways it's transformed society (and has some good philanthropy cred, too). To imagine that Apple would use him in an ad campaign presumably intended to point out their difference in spirit from Microsoft is funny precisely because he's the sort of person they would use in the ad, were he not the competition. But this lame parody is just another potshot in the Mac vs. Microsoft wars that still exists only in the heads of Mac afficionados.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Slate has an interesting feature wherein a guy named Robert Wright interviews various prominent thinkers about various big issues like God and science and life and meaning, etc. I particularly liked hearing Freeman Dyson talk about the limits of science (I heard him speak once; he was great), Omid Safi discuss the problem of evil, and Huston Smith musing on quantum weirdness. Also, this guy has a distinct "Dr.Zaius" look to him.

I should perhaps also note that none of the interviewees equate wet shaving with any kind of insight into the meaning of God or the origin of the universe.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Here's an excellent article about the "wet shaving" movement, and also about The Odyssey and the Bible. The basic idea, as espoused by shaveblog, is that it's better to ditch the cartridge razors and use old-school shaving techniques involving a shaving brush and either the classic safety razor, or, if you're really hard-core, a straight razor. It's not clear to me what exactly is "better" about this; if your beard grows at the rate mine does, even the world's greatest shave is going to look pretty much like any other shave by lunchtime. Judging from the religious fervor of shaveblog, I think the idea is that by eschewing the cartridge razor, you can evolve to some higher form of being.

I had my own run-in with "classic shaving" back when I was an undergrad and decided that it would be cool to learn how to use a straight razor. I could be just like those old British explorers, able to bring a little touch of civility to the hygiene process even deep in some 19th-century African jungle, or maybe like Teddy Roosevelt inbetween brokering a peace deal between Russia and Japan and bagging a lion. So I bought one, read up about how to use it, and promptly spent about 45 minutes in front of my mirror carving up my face trying to shave it. I looked more like somebody who had fallen into a briar patch than a man satisfied with a clean shave.

So I put away the straight razor, never to use it again, and returned to my old shaving ways, the sort that would never be put in a Details magazine profile: hot water and cheap disposable razors. Yes, folks, I use no shaving cream, and the fanciest I go is when I splurge for the twin-blade-and-a-lubricating-strip generic models with the plastic handles at the supermarket. I just timed myself, and the whole shaving process takes me about two and a half minutes. It's cheap, it's fast, and I get a good enough shave.

Lately I've been considering going to a cartridge razor. I actually used to use one, and I honestly don't remember why I switched to disposables. It may have either been a problem with keeping the razor handle clean, or an issue with trying to find the right kind of blades. Any thoughts? I've tried electric razors once or twice, and those never shaved close enough for me. Or does anybody have a convincing argument for why I should spend ten minutes longer every morning and go old-school? Or a good tutorial on how to use a straight razor without bloodying myself beyond recognition?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Air Arabia rips off South Park

Air Arabia, a discount carrier based in the United Arab Emirates, is promoting itself with characters ripped off from South Park. This is a pretty weird combo when you consider how the Muslim world feels about cartoons that satirize religion.

Incidentally, it looks like this airline can really get you around for cheap. I just checked Yahoo's currency converter, and you can get 1 UAE dirham for 0.27 US dollars. So that flight from Sharjah to Aqaba will only set you back $21.60.

Joyland in Wichita

Here's an interesting story about the work done to reopen Joyland amusement park in Wichita. The guy in charge made a lot of money in Seattle real estate when he was young, discovered he'd rather save old amusement parks than turn them into shopping malls, got in a car accident, became a paraplegic, and now this park is his first since the accident. I've never been to Joyland (heck, I've never been to Kansas), but I hope he succeeds. Small-scale, independent amusement parks like this can bring a sense of wonder to kids, an outlet for thrills that's still good, clean fun.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Math and Sports Nerd Fun

From Colby Cosh:

I swear to god I just heard a newsreader on Toronto's Fan 590 AM say "...and the Milwaukee Brewers cubed the Mets 8 to 2". You're not gonna hear that one much, though it could be useful for football games that end 27-3. Or for 1-1 ties...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Gnostics and Hot Dogs

So, yesterday afternoon I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of a Wienerschnitzel in Pomona, talking on the phone with Mike Benedetti about the so-called Gospel of Judas and about gnosticism in general. The issue is not that there were a whole bunch of potentially sacred writings out there that the early Church rejected out of convenience or pusillanimity, but that the non-Canonical texts were rejected because they were considered false. The so-called Gospel of Thomas, for example, which is really just a compendium of aphorisms, not a story of the life of Jesus, changes the essential message of the Gospels from one of salvation through love and faith to one of salvation through the possession of secret knowledge. In that light, it's not hard to see why an elitist anti-Christian intellectual like Christopher Hitchens would enjoy gnostic texts. Part of the beauty of Christianity is that it is a message of salvation for the whole world. Its messages can be analyzed by theologians or understood by a small child or a mentally retarded person.

After finishing the conversation, I set down my phone, gobbled up my kraut dog (no mustard), looked up, and saw this image:

It's a sign! Literally! Okay, so it's a banner at an auto shop advertising diagnostics (same Greek root word) and air conditioning. But man, if I were a believer in Gnosticism, that would have been deep.

So, back to the issue of Wienerschnitzel, I wonder how often German or Austrian tourists visiting the U.S. get confused and walk into a Wienerschnitzel restaurant expecting to find breaded veal cutlets for sale. Do Germans eat chili dogs?

Update: Mike Benedetti says that the problem with the Gospel of Thomas is less its elitism and more its stupidity.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Beyonce's Hair

Just wondering, what does Beyoncé's natural hair look like?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Whose side d'you claim, the Pope or Hitchens?

Christopher Hitchens finally finds something religious that he likes, and surprise surprise, it's the Gospel of Judas.

Benedict disagrees.

I think it's rather fatuous to argue that just because an act ultimately enables a higher purpose, then that act is therefore a good thing. By Hitch's logic, a Roman emperor creating Christian martyrs by feeding them to lions would also be saintly. Obviously God's will is expressed by those willing to sacrifice themselves in His name, not by the people doing the killing or betraying.

Once again, Hitchens thinks he has something interesting to say about religion when all he reveals is a fundamental misunderstanding of things.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Trivia Time

Enough political stuff... here are some trivia questions for you. Try to answer these without looking up the answers.

1. What's the most populous U.S. state capital city? I'm just counting the city proper here, not the metro area. What's the 2nd-most?

2. This one sounds easy but it isn't... what's the largest carnivore on Earth? By "carnivore" here, I mean mammals classified within the order carnivora.

Jill Carroll

This blogger criticizes right-wing bloggers for jumping all over Jill Carroll for statements that she made favorable to her kidnappers while under duress that she has since disavowed now that she's been freed. I guess some of these folks didn't stop to realize that you might say something you don't really believe when you've got a gun to your head. Of course, a lot of these people think that the things captured Iraqis say when they're being tortured are valuable pieces of information.

Some morons continue to attack Carroll, apparently unable to distinguish between being critical of U.S. policies and being a supporter of terrorists. There's a big difference, folks.