Sunday, November 15, 2009

Me & Julie & Julia and Friends

SO.... Here in FX land, we go to the college cinema and get the cheap seats, so we are well-cinema-ed for the most part, just several months late. Last week, we were quite taken by the inimitable Ms. Streep and the film "Julie and Julia." As a fellow blogger wishing to make it 'big' as a writer, I shall repeat the effort with the Second Volume...

Just kidding. However, it did stimulate the taste buds and the culinary arts in FX land, and we decided that we would have a go at some cooking with Julia.

  • The film must have been a boon to Alfred A. Knopf's sales (and it should, in my opinion, as they have provided me with so many hours of pleasant reading...), but Ms. Julia, in two volumes, from the 24th printing, (1973) was already in the FXVA personal library.

Our choice must have come from the movie... Le Marquis, chocolate spongecake. I remember the orange-zest from the film.

Several observations may be made from this experience, but only two really stick with me.
  1. The svelte couple in that movie could not possibly have consumed these 542 recipies in the space of a year. I suspect that, in real life, they clocked in at 230 and 280 lbs each;
  2. she may have been a government secretary, but they must be paying a bundle for secretaries up in NYC, because the darned cake must have cost $25 in materials alone.

In my youth, Dean & DeLuca were on the marching list, and they were not in the habit of giving away the comestibles, as Julia might have said. We attended state schools, and, in FX land & environs, the masses are expected to do their own typing.

Insofar as the cake goes. Some of the cooking staff complained about annoying makeshift double boilers and a lot of by-hand what-have-you, and "what's wrong with the microwave?" I pointed out that this was 50's technology, we put a man on the MOON, thank your lucky stars for a ROOF over your HEAD ...

Nevertheless, a very delightful result was had. Well, I liked it, but it tasted foreign to all of the munchkins in FX Land ("Honey, can you show me where France is on the map? East of Long Island?"), and it was decided that French desserts require a full meeting of the Board prior to blowing $30 on a recipe that mixes orange with chocolate.

I utilized the endorphins from the half pound of chocolate and the associated blood sugar mania to write a blog. Now, I am going into induced insulin shock, and blogtime is over.

[Edit note:] the excess sugar may have stimulated creativity, but did little for clarity. Hopefully it is a little better now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Are you ready for a totally new type of Gaming?

Shameless promotion of commercial products time. Last spring, a tiny little company showed up at some international game software thing. Folks like Blizzard and Microsoft have erected small buildings; it's a massive show. Way off in the economic Siberia of the hall, there is this little company (according to the journalists) that has something that looks like an old Sinclair and a half-dismantled pc on a stack of old fruit crates... they have built a Better Mousetrap, and everyone is going to see this game.

The guys at the "trash heap" are showing what could be the coolest bit of technology of the Decade, designed for the Nintendo DS. The game is called ScribbleNauts. To spare the impatient with the rest of my diatribe, I have only 3 words for you:

Don't own a DS? Buy one of those, too. (There. Now you don't have to read on. )

Recalling that it was going to be released in November, I popped on by my local $$$-mart and found it before the Holiday rush got rid of it. I brought it home, promised my son extra allowance to use his DS, and cut loose.

While the journalists who reviewed it were ebullient and lavish with their praise, they undersold the game, which employs quite possibly the best overall implementation of semantic web technology ever seen. Not only does the computer know about 10,000 words and objects, it actually knows what to do with them.

Game object. The game presents you with "puzzles" that you have to solve in order to win "stars," not entirely unlike Mario stars. My daughter got a cat down from the roof of a house with:
  • a ladder
  • a fireman (who went into the house, out the window, and saved the cat)
  • shooting water at it with a hose
  • she created a Roc and flew up to get it, but the Roc ATE THE KITTEN
  • she tried to lure it down with steak, but the lady who owned it ate the steak
  • she knocked it off of the roof with a football

Are you beginning to get the picture? For you tech types, it has the objects, it knows what the objects can do (you can hold a hammer, but you drive a convertible; you can ride a Roc, but you cannot ride a robin or a wren), and it lets you do whatever you can do with them, but they never wrote the story around any of the "puzzles." When you play the game, you write the stories.

For the Sci-Fi literati among you, it is the first iteration of the learning computer game that Ender Wiggins played at the Battle School.

Ages 10 - 60. For edutainment, it passes the Mom test here in FX land. Kid has to know and spell the words when she wants to 'wish' for an object to solve the problem. She needs to know that a shovel will dig dirt but it won't cut down a tree. Neither will scissors.

Are you still here? Just go and get the doggoned thing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Less is more

Through some complex course of events, I found myself flying first-class to Hawaii, and I got the sense that I wasn't really flying first class.

I'm not being too pessimistic (I hope, therefore I am), but the sense that I have to re-adjust my expectations for First Class lurks just at the edge of my vision, kind of like a mild retinal detachment problem. It doesn't hold your focus, so you can't quite define what it is...but you know something is wrong with your worldview.

I wanted to upgrade from basic sardine class to Enough Room class, but I could not find a way to Do the Deed without parting with seventy bucks. Therefore, I requested an upgrade and found myself in "First Class."

When I was younger, I simply had to fly in business or first (an affectation I eventually got over), so I can claim to know somethhing of the experience. I am pretty sure this was not the First Class (with caps) of yesteryear, merely "first class," because there were no seats further forward in the plane. I could not get up from my window seat to visit the loo without making my seatmate get up. The footrest was removed from the seat (NOT the button that purported to control it, though!), and the recline was amazingly like economy - it leaned back just short of actually being "restful." I was reminded of Douglas Adams' Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser while mentally performing an ad hoc Customer Satisfaction Survey.

This reasonably new 777 would have made the Boeing designers and employees weep, with seats that strangely resembled business class from the early 1980s, both in design and wear-and-tear. At least they weren't those blue leather seats from an early Texas (say, 1975?) casualty that I continue to see through the years. Some of those were on the previous flight.

With all of the "features" unbundled and our previous high-flying expectations dashed to the floor, perhaps we can expect airlines to begin (soon) to compete as they did back in the 60's and 70's. First, bags will be "free." Then meals will be "complementary," and first class passengers won't be crawling over each other like the riff-raff in the cattle section. Maybe then, we can start calling it First Class again.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The American Problem: When is free trade not "free?"

The USA has been, for umpty zillion years, the single greatest proponent of Free Trade. Yet, under the New World Order that has been evolving, we have discovered that we are bigger losers under Free Trade than gainers. Yet, nobody wants to fiddle with this particular Nail in the cross of Capitalism. So, what happened?

Now the notion of "free" trade sort of implies that "freedom" exists on both sides of the trade fence, doesn't it? Just like "free markets" mean that everyone is free to make their own decisions about rice or wheat, wool or cotton, luxury sports cars or 6,000 square feet of housing on 5 acres.

What if one of the parties to a free trade agreement had workers with no real choice, as in southern 18th century America? People forced to make a living for subsistence wages only. People who, perhaps, did not have the right to own currency; who could not purchase and had no conceivable use for the refrigerators, barbecues, and automobile radios they built? People who had extraordinarily limited "free" choices about what they could purchase? What if they also had little say in the quality of the air they could breathe, or their water, or food, and it was systematically being poisoned all in the name of lower costs of production?

Is it right that they should suffer so that others can get cheap shirts and toasters? There's a moral question here. The theory of "Free" trade is that they will become more affluent, and everybody's wage will rise to some balance, isn't it? But perhaps, if they are not "free" in an economic sense, they cannot express their market decisions for higher income or more-and-better stuff.

Moral questions aside, what does that do to the rest of the world economy? Next, what if they produced enough stuff for the rest of the entire world to use? What sort of distortion of the economies of the other parts of the world would occur?

Well, for one thing, that sure puts a hurt on your minimum wage, doesn't it? Those workers are effectively priced out of any kind of market for their labor. Not everyone is able to get the education required to move out of that bracket - and even so, who are all of those college-educated managers going to manage, if nearly everything is made somewhere else? Is the "service" industry that big? Didn't we pretty much get rid of "servants" with our automatic dishwashers, snow blowers and whatnot?

Now, take a quick glance at the capital markets in those countries that are hopelessly undersold. What industrial investments (that employ workers) can be made? What business could be started, that would not immediately be undersold by lower cost imported knockoffs almost as soon as they found a foothold in the market? First, investments (capital) will flood to investments perceived as the next great thing, creating "bubbles." Think dot-com, here. Then, folks will start looking for investments of the mattress-stuffing variety, such as collecting valuables. The affluent will start buying more real-estate than they really need or can use, like 5 acre plots and 6,000 square foot cottages for two. As the money rushes into these markets, more bubbles form.

Pretty soon, the whole thing is just frothy with bubbles. A little more like beer than champagne, I should think.