Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Alcoholic Tradition

Among other things, 2011 has been a year of death in my family. I've written plenty here about my grandparents, but two of my more distant relatives died as well. One, Richard White, I liked a lot and wish I had known better (incidentally, I believe my grandfather was one of his favorite people). My fondest memory is a day we spent together in December 1990 exploring the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose in Long Beach, CA. The other, James Pufall, I really didn't know at all, though several times I stayed at a bed & breakfast he once had owned (the Colonial Rose Inn in Grand Detour, IL, currently closed and for sale).

When I was growing up, my grandfather's favorite drink was Absolut vodka on the rocks (before that he preferred scotch, and in his later years he drank Merlot). So in honor of those who died in 2011, this New Year's Eve I filled a shot glass with Absolut (sans rocks). Then I decided I may as well drink one for each of the departed. That was a few minutes ago. After four shots* of Absolut, I expect to be fairly smashed in the near future, probably soon after posting this.

Despite the pleasantly intoxicating potential of this new tradition, let's hope New Year's Eve 2012 is Absolut-free!


* I don't actually "do shots" -- whether it's in a shot glass or a snifter, I always sip my alcohol or at least spread it out over several gulps. Anyone can swallow booze like a pill, so doing shots doesn't impress me. If you don't really taste it, what's the point? (If the point is just to get drunk, why waste money on a brand name? Actually, vodka is a bad example because I recently taste-tested four brands (from four countries, even) and couldn't discern much of a difference between them.)

Ties to the Past

This month I've been gathering clothing and other items to donate to Goodwill. Last year I finally got rid of my suits, and this year I'm donating most of my old neckties.

It's turning out to be harder to part with them than logic would dictate. After all, I only own one suit -- only one appropriate shirt even -- so I rarely would wear a tie. Plus there aren't nearly as many occasions for wearing ties as there used to be, what with everything turning casual. I could keep five or six and have all the ties I'd need for the rest of my life.

But I used to be a tie fanatic. While most of my co-workers wore the typical solids, paisleys, and stripes, my ties were how I expressed myself. I had a bunch of ties that represented Beatles songs. I had half a dozen Christmas ties. I had Coca-Cola ties, Route 66 ties, World Wildlife Fund ties, Big Dog ties, John Lennon ties, Peanuts ties, Chicago ties, diner ties, gas station ties, and even a Beavis and Butt-head tie. I had some ties that were subtle -- a pattern of raccoons wearing little ties (tycoons) -- and many that were over-the-top: a purple tie with a big red heart shot with an arrow (the Beatles' "P.S. I Love You"), a Scrabble game board, a map of the Chicago "L" system.

My time in the corporate world wasn't that long, and even then the dress code was transitioning to some form of "business casual", so my ties represent a distinct period of my life. Going through my old ties yesterday was like revisiting my 20-something, unmarried self. Most of my interests from that time have faded for one reason or another. The city that was exciting and new to me at 23 has lost some of its luster at 41 (I still love Chicago -- can't really imagine living anywhere else -- but I probably wouldn't wear it on my chest). I still drink Coke, but I wouldn't wear a tie shilling for any brand nowadays. I still like the Beatles and John Lennon, of course, but I "discovered" them 25 years ago, and it's been a couple of years since I even listened to a whole album. My interest in Route 66, diners, gas stations, and other roadside things has mostly dried up, but in my twenties I was on the Board of Directors of the Society for Commercial Archeology (I'm not even a member anymore).

But what about the Route 66 tie that I lent to the Newberry Library for an exhibit in 1994, the one that not only got me an invitation to the opening of the exhibit, but eventually led to a late-night round of cognac at the Knickerbocker Hotel bar with keynote speaker Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road? That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I doubt that I'd ever wear it again, but I can't part with it.

Who would have thought that sorting through ties would be so nostalgic? Even some of the plainer pattern ties, while not as visually striking, remind me of important occasions. Should I give away the tie I wore for my first day of work at a "real" job? What about ties that I wore to interviews, or to weddings? I'm getting less sentimental with age, but it still seems wrong to discard tokens of those memories.

Finally, I found a reasonable compromise. Since my primary goal is to reduce clutter, and I have to keep some ties, I decided that I can keep whatever I can fit on one tie rack (I used to have three). I wound up keeping 23 and getting rid of 60. I'm proud to add that although I still have a dozen empty spots on the rack, I did not go back and take any ties out of the donation bag. If you're interested in purchasing an item from the David Johnsen Necktie Collection (I can't call it the DJWriter collection because it predates that career change), please visit the Orland Park Goodwill store. If the tie you want isn't there, you'll probably have to wait until I die (hmm, which tie should I be buried in?).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"Obama is a cracker!"

I was driving down Irving Park Road yesterday afternoon, and at the intersection with Lincoln and Damen there were two guys (at least) walking between cars and wearing anti-Obama protest messages. On one guy's back was the title statement, "Obama is a cracker!"

Now I don't really care whether you agree with that assertion (I have my doubts), but the point is that it was Christmas Eve. Even the atheists among us can appreciate that one of the nice things about Christmas, traditionally, was that, if only for a couple of days, we all got a vacation from that kind of bullshit. All that political crap was set aside on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and everybody at least pretended to get along. Heck, almost 100 years ago, even the soldiers fighting World War I took a break for Christmas!

UPDATE 12/30/2011 - Further research says that these guys were probably Larouchies. Ugh.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Google's Browser Party is Over

Google Chrome is losing some of its appeal:
[StatCounter] says Chrome topped Internet Explorer 8 in the last week of November, when Chrome took 23.6 percent of the global market and IE8 took 23.5 percent.
But maybe not quite yet:
Of course, if you combine all of the versions of Internet Explorer, it's still the browser champ. And in the United States, Internet Explorer is still on top, with 27 percent of the market.
This is not some silly, trendy hipster thing where something becomes uncool just because it's widely accepted. The problem is this: Internet Explorer has attracted more hackers and virus writers than any other browser because it was so popular (ditto for the Windows operating system). That's why Microsoft has to issue patches every week or two -- because somebody has found and exploited some obscure fault in IE's code.

Competing browsers have been inherently more secure because there are fewer bad guys out there trying to compromise them. Now that Chrome is overtaking IE, we can expect that it will be targeted much more in the future. Of course, it may turn out that Chrome is written better than IE and therefore less vulnerable, but we won't know for sure until the hackers take their best shot.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

"Don't Make Me Have to Use This!"

Here's another lovely tale from The Smoking Gun:
When Officer Michael Smith asked [Robert] Matello if he was carrying a weapon, he gave an answer never previously memorialized in a police report: “Yes, I have a pink dildo,” Matello replied.
Maybe Matello is a regular TSG reader, and he remembered this story about an Illinois woman assaulting an officer with a sex toy last year. But wait, there's more...
At that point, Matello removed the sex toy from his pants pocket and attempted to hand it to Smith, an offer apparently declined by the officer.
"Uh, no thanks."

Aphorism of the Day

Loose lips sink relationships.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Ongoing Copy Editor Crisis

The quality of publications continues to decline. Lately I've been reading a book by Marq De Villiers (author of Water, which I've also read) titled The End: Natural Disasters, Manmade Catastrophes, and the Future of Human Survival. Fun stuff, of course.

It's been a fascinating read, but I'm concerned about some of the errors I've found. I expect to find occasional misspellings or even missing words, but these go far beyond. Early on, he writes about Eratosthenes calculating the circumference of the Earth:
His notion, that the circumference of the Earth was twenty four miles, is a mere fifty miles off the modern best estimates.
Wow! How did an editor miss this? There are multiple clues that something is wrong here. First of all, 24 miles is obviously a laughably short distance, less than a marathon race. And if that were indeed the Earth's circumference, what would be so impressive about it being off by "a mere fifty miles"? Setting aside any controversy about just how accurate Eratosthenes was (though he certainly came pretty close given the resources at his disposal, which was the author's point, he may not have been that close), how could anyone confuse 24 with 24 thousand?

Later there is a similar error. De Villiers writes about the 2004 tsunami that originated near Indonesia and how the sea level change was measured as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the next page, he refers back to this:
Tsunamis may start locally, but they don't always stay local -- see the 20-inch wavelet in Halifax, which seems to have traveled 1,500 miles to get there.
Considering that it's roughly twice that distance just across the United States that number is clearly wrong. Without measuring it, I will assume that the author meant 15,000 miles, not 1,500.

I've come up with one possible reason for the errors detailed above. I am thinking perhaps the author wrote using metric units, and somebody messed up making the conversions for the American edition.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Unforgiven

To promote his new book Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Andrew Weil has put out a two-part article called "10 Ways to Have a Happier Life" (you have to go to two sites to read the whole list). Number nine on his list is "Forgive." Sorry doc, but I've held some pretty damn satisfying grudges over the years. I think I'll just try taking fish oil tablets (number three) instead.