Perfectly Safe

My wife’s friend’s pet is a female Pitbull rescued from a dog shelter. Having a 4 year old daughter and two cats I do not approve of pet Pitbulls, or in fact any large dogs bred for attack/defense duty: Rottweilers, German Shepherds, etc. There are other horse-sized dogs capable of grievous harm, but since they were bred for other purposes, like pulling sleds/rescuing people, they are somewhat safer.

But any Pitbull owner will tell you that their dog is “perfectly safe”. No amount of statistics will persuade them that “shnookums” can rip off a toddler’s face or maul a person or kill a cat. I always tell them about “Chekhov’s gun“. The genetic memory of dogs bred for attacking might be dormant most of the time, but you never know what might activate it.

Yet, there are always people out there who underestimate animals, like that woman who had a pet chimp and ended up on the front page of the Post. I’m sure that chimp used to be perfectly reasonable previously. Chimps are seemingly cuddlier than Pitbulls, aren’t they?

Even professionals are sometimes underestimating animals. You probably heard about the tragic death of Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. He made a career out of teasing dangerous animals on camera and yelling “whoa, crikey” when they lunged at him. He was done in by a stingray, a docile and non-threatening creature.

When you take an unorthodox position about safety of something, there’s alway a chance that your death will be tragically ironic.

For instance, if you rail hard against seat belt laws and die in a car accident in which everyone wearing seat belts walked away from, people will talk. Or poor ol’ Dr. Atkins, promoting the high fat diet dies of heart attack (while weighting 258 pounds). To me, these cases, while ironic, are not absolutely moronic. A lot of people became healthier on the Atkins diet, and a small number of people were killed by properly worn seatbelts.

But when it comes to dealing with wild animals, thinking that they are “perfectly safe if you know what you are doing” – there’s no such thing. If you hang out with wild animals long enough, chances are they’ll kill you. Or at least will try to.

A prime example is Roy Horn, and his tiger accident. It’s not like The Simpsons writers did not predict it. While I was not surprised that a tiger could do harm to Roy (even if he was “carrying” Roy offstage to “save” him), I was very much surprised at what level of medical treatment millions of dollars and fame can get you. They performed a decompressive craniectomy, a procedure that involves removing a quarter of a skull top and storing it in an abdominal cavity(!) for a while to relieve pressure in the brain. I doubt that an HMO patient would last long enough after a tiger attack.

The worst tiger story that comes to mind though is from the Soviet times. There was this guy by the name of Berberov, an architect. He kept a lot of animals in his apartment, but really achieved fame when he raised a lion cub. The lion, named King, lived in a city apartment with Berberov, his wife, kids and a host of other animals (including a wildcat). The lion starred in a number of Soviet films and they wrote a book titled “Don’t be afraid, it’s a lion.” The lion was shot by a policeman when it got away and tried to play with some kid’s dog.

Things were about to get worse. Like the Simpsons, the Berberovs decided to raise an new cat. The Simpsons got Snowball II, the Berberovs – King II. Mr. Berberov died of a heart attack, but his wife insisted on keeping the lion in the apartment still. It ended up badly – the lion, provoked or otherwise, attacked the wife. Her son tried to restrain the lion, which in turn, with a swat of a paw killed him by breaking his neck and scalping. Once again, a policeman shot and killed the lion. The puma, which escaped in the melee was also shot and killed.

What’s a worse idea than keeping a lion in a city apartment? Living with grizzly bears, of course. This lunatic tried to do just that and ended up mauled and half-eaten:

“In the Werner Herzog-directed documentary, Treadwell is shown singing and reading poetry to grizzlies, calling them names like Mr. Chocolate, and even petting one on the nose.

Experts say Treadwell was an example of how not to behave around these animals.”

The right to risk ironic death and/or injury, is somewhere in the Declaration of Independence. It falls under liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thank you for sticking with my rant. Here’s a song about Pitbull Teriers from one of my favorite movies – “Black Cat White Cat“:

Photoshop Disasters

Seetharaman Narayanan did more to alter reality than 99.99999999 percent of people in this world. It’s ridiculous how much the look of everything changed after Photoshop. All the ads, illustrations, all the graphics in the world look different than they did in the 70s and 80s.

If you wish, Adobe website will give you a number of useful lessons on how to use Adobe trademarks, such as:

“CORRECT: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.”

and

“CORRECT: The image was enhanced with Adobe® Photoshop® Elements software.
INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.
INCORRECT: The image was Photoshopped.
INCORRECT: The image was Adobe® Photoshopped. “

Meanwhile everything I see around me in printed form has been photoshopped to death. These days when a professional digital camera is cheaper than a copy of Adobe® Photoshop® software and the streets of major cities are full of starving young models, the photoshopers out there would rather spend hours doing unnatural things with expensive stock photos.

I could understand this if the companies who would be doing this were short on money. But you know, when the same crappy stock photo is used in an ad for Vagisil and an O’Reilly book cover? That’s ridiculous.

There’s this blog that I’ve been reading lately called “Office Snapshots”. Recently they showed pictures of the offices of Vertrue. The seem to have spent more on a single chair than on the design of their “about us” page. Take a look: the title of the graphic boldly states “WHO WE ARE”. Judging by the graphic the answer is: “We are some smiling office drones from a crummy stock photo.”

Another fun blog that I’ve been reading is Photoshop Disasters. They mock crummy designers. After reading it I started paying a bit more attention to the small details of various ads. It’s crazy how many disturbing details there are. For instance, just now, I picked up a copy of some magazine that my wife was reading. Literally the first ad that I saw had a 6-fingered model:

Alteration of reality in photographs is not a new phenomenon, of course. There’s a great book called “The Commissar Vanishes” about the way photographs were altered in the Soviet times, especially to disappear repressed individuals. Besides sequences of photos of Stalin together with “disappearing” commissars, there’s a portrait of Stalin done by a pretty incompetent painter. Stalin, upon seeing the picture, crossed out the ear and wrote the following:

“This ear says that the artist is not well schooled in anatomy. J.Stalin.”

“The ear screams and shouts against anatomy. J.S.”

I don’t have a scan of that page, but believe you me, that ear was almost as disturbing much of the photoshopped models in today’s ads.

The Anatomy of a NYC Parade

New York City is well known for two types of public celebrations: New Year’s Eve in Time Square and Ticker-Tape parades.

New York City streets are like a 300 pound person in McDonalds: it seems that his or her arteries are so clogged with cholesterol that it’s impossible to clog them any more. Watching NYC streets during a celebration it’s like watching Homer Simpson eat 100 ribwiches. But New York City’s Finest and Strongest have crowd control down to a science, and people and garbage clots get dislodged very fast.

There are three major groups in an NYC public celebration: tourists, local shmoes, pros, and those who work there. Four major groups.

Let’s take a look at the following picture that I took out of my new workplace during the ticker tape parade thrown for the New York Giants.

Arrow with the letter A points to the actual parade: a float with football players going down the Canyon of Heroes. Number 1 denotes the group that came prepared and staked out spots right along the parade path. These are the pros: the showed up long before NYPD blocked the exits and stuck it out for the next several hours. Group number 2 is the clueless parade goers who showed up late, had to walk for a dozen of blocks that were blocked by police looking for a way to get closer to the parade, finally giving up and standing shoulder to shoulder in a humongous mass of people. They can’t see anything interesting.

During New Year’s eve this group is held in place by mounted policemen who, believe it or not pack the crowd in by backing their horses in sideways.

Group number 3 is all the people looking for a path to get into group 2 and those who are late for work and are trying to see a break in the police barricade.

Arrow B points to a more civilized way to enjoy the parade, but it required employment in one of the building next to a celebration.

NYC celebrations remind me of the Soviet times and the May Day parades. The trick was to leave from about 3/4 from the end of the parade, otherwise you reached a fenced in area and could not leave for hours having to listen to communist functionaries giving speech  after speech.

I have some advice for those who want to enjoy a ticker tape parade or an NYE celebration in Manhattan:

  • Reconsider: you will be crowded by people on all ends and freezing cold for hours. Definitely reconsider if you are claustrophobic, germophobic, have a weak bladder, or don’t like to come into contact with police horse’s ass.
  • Show up before the cops block the street. This means at least 3 hours before the start. The best way to do so is to find a restaurant and spend your time there: remember – it will likely be cold.
  • If you are a bit late, your best bet is getting out of a subway station right on the parade’s path: these get blocked off pretty late.
  • Have a meal somewhere nearby and show up when most of the people left and the cleanup crews have arrived: this is usually more fun than the main event: you can take all the pictures and watch tons of confetti and garbage cleaned up in a matter of minutes.
  • Do not reach out with your hand and scratch police horse’s ass. Just believe me on this one.

Old Photos

I borrowed some pictures from my grand-aunt for scanning. Amongst them was this awesome picture of my great-grandfather.

In the picture he looks very much like Seth Bullock. Here are for comparison pictures of great-gramps, Timothy Oliphant as Seth Bullock in HBO’s Deadwood, and the original Seth Bullock.

In reality my grand-grandfather was more of a Sol Star character. I learned from my grand-aunt that he studied to become a bridge builder, but his father refused to support him because in that profession he would have to work and study on Saturdays (great-great-grandfather was very religious). Instead, grand-grandpa was forced to enter the family business which was, just like for Seth Bullock and Sol Star – a hardware store. He became rather wealthy, owning 3 hardware stores at some point.

Then during the Bolshevik Revolution his hardware stores were nationalized and he became a lishenets. Thinking on his feet, he made a quick trip to Kiev and quickly learned the photography trade. That was a pretty good profession and it allowed him to support his large family in the Soviet times as well.

Amongst the pictures I found a photo of my dad (looking eerily similar to myself at that age) wearing a flat cap, just like an outstanding comic book character The Goon.

I wonder if in the age of flying cars, teleportation, personal robots, spaceship yachts and the like, someone will post a picture of me on the interplanetary network and marvel at my new-media-blue shirt, fatness (I believe by then they’ll solve this problem) and a cubicle with a primitive computer in the background.

The World Is Your Spitoon

BoingBoing writers don’t seem to be able to shut up about betel lately. This reminded me of a 4th or 5th grade report on India (great friend of the Soviet Union, emerging economy, blah, blah) that I had to do in school back in the Soviet times.

I remember the teacher get very interested about betel chewing and prematurely praise it as a great habit. Then I reminded her that importing such a thing would mean having to deal with bright red spit all over. It’s not like the Soviet Union did not have its own share of hygienically questionable customs.

Back then Soviet sci-fi writers promised us Communism with goods being teleported right into our crystal palaces for free from anywhere on the globe. I guess that (and my flying car) did not work out, but today Capitalism brings us the ability to order almost anything from almost anywhere through electronic computers.

So, if I want to try some betel all I need to do is pick between The Basement Shaman and Shaman Palace or many other fine merchants.

Who knew that there are so many stores catering to shamans. At leats now I know where the Suburban Shaman.

Hmm, I guess I could get one of these and try to rid my cubicle of the sick building syndrome.

WML: Dude, I Am Getting a Dell

Guess what? This post is going to be about microcomputers. PCs.

I never owned a computer in the Soviet times. Not even a programmable calculator. I did have access to some old Wang clones called Iskra (Spark) in an after school program, played with a programmable calculator of a neighbour, played games on a frien’d PC, played games at my father’s friend’ work computer ( also PC), paid to play games on Sinclare computers that some enterprising people set up as a pay-per-play arcade, etc. Oh, I still remember the horror in the eyes of my teacher when I found a set of programs that calculated the level of contamination from a nuclear blast given the input of wind speed, bomb yeild and some other variables. Those Iskras were donated from the Red Navy.

In the US, my father purchased a 386 for a humongous sum of $1300. It was put together in some computer shop on avenue U. That was in 1993 or 1992, I think. Since then, I’ve been upgrading my computer on the average once every three years. I think In all, I went through 3 cases, 6 motherboards and 2 monitors (not counting my wife’s computer). I never owned a brand name computer. After the second computer I’ve learned that I could be putting together myself.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, putting together my own stuff. What could be simpler? Pop in a motherboard, a videocard, a modem, some ram, some hard drives — and you’ve got a box!

I’ve become thoroughly familiar with what cuts from a ragged computer case feel like. I’ve learned how hard it is to be without the Internet when your computer is in pieces on the ground (and a driver needed to make the new hardware run is on the Internet, of course). There are very few types of flashable hardware that I did not have to flash. I accumilated a huge collection of computer screws, cables, cards and thermal processor grease.

The questions that went through my mind were:
Why are jumpers so tiny? (these days they have jumpers with little tails that can be taken out with just fingers)

Why ide cables are so hard to deal with? (there are rounded cables available now)

Why it’s so hard to find 0th pin on the hard drive connector? (newer ide cables come with a little peg that doesn’t allow it to be put in the wrong way)

Which idiot came up with PS2 plugs? (one word – USB , well, ok, three words).

And most importantly: WHY ALMOST NO PIECE OF HARDWARE, PORT OR CABLE COME WITH A LABEL THAT WOULD CARRY MANUFACTURER’S NAME AND A MODEL NUMBER????????????????????

This is all slowly changing, of course, but the much bigger problem of minor factory defects and incompatibilities between chipsets still plague individually bought components.

My last self-put together box – a dual processor PIII 1000 sucks ass. I could not get a single AGP video card to work with it. An IDE raid controller that worked ok on my previous motherboard wold cause all OS to crash. And finally, two little pegs that held the cooler on the processor broke, and I can’t keep PIIIs from overheating.

I’d like to say, that after I’ve removed the raid card and put in a PCI video card, the system ran extremely steady for a year. Now it’s time to think about the future of my computers.

So my resolution is this:

1) Throw out the crappy dual processor motherboard and the crappy coolers. Buy a nice cheap and super steady single processor PIII motherboard + a stock Intel coolers and turn that computer into a file server. Four 120 Gig 5400 RPM drives (I don’t need the speed, and those drives run much cooler) should do the trick. The case of that computer is very nice and cool looking (it’s a square. It looks like this:

Maybe I’ll even make the drives removable, but so far all removable racks that I’ve tried sucked ass.

2) Buy a nice Dell workstation. That will be used for image manipulation and coding.

3) Buy a big ass LCD monitor (or maybe one of those Sony 27″ CRT monitors) for use with the workstation.

4) Buy a tablet pc for myself and a laptop for my wife.

5) Donate or sell on eBay all the crappy hardware still sitting in my drawers.

I think all the money I saved this year on rent should easily buy me this hardware.