August 3, 2009

Honoring women by putting them last

This is the form on the Susan G. Komen website where, if you're giving a donation, you have to specify a title. There's several odd things about it. First up, where are the imperial titles like Sir and Dame? Do they not want the aristocracy to give money? What about religious titles? What if you were both Doctors? Or Professors? A badly coded list.

But the thing that really got me, given that this is an organization dedicated to a disease that mostly affects women, is that if you're putting two titles down, the woman's title comes last. Yes, yes, I know, that's convention, Emily Post probably says this is the way to do it, but it doesn't make it right. If any organization should put women first, it should be this one.


Posted by eroberts at 4:50 PM

June 24, 2009

The quick and the stupid? Or the clever and the slow?


Do students who finish tests quickly score better or worse? This is an interesting question for educators. For good reason there is an implicit bias towards the idea that if it's done quicker, for the same grade/mark, it's better. Yet there is a time and a place for being quick, and a time and a place for being more considered about your answers.

I had an opportunity to do some "research" on this recently. A colleague and I gave an end-of-semester test to 91 100-level (freshman) students in our American history survey. Students had up to 50 minutes to answer 70 questions, with a range of formats including short answer, multiple choice, and identifications. From our mid-semester test we had a fair idea that the median time to completion would be about 40 minutes. Our goal was a test where the challenge was the content, not rushing to finish.

Because both my colleague and I were heading out-of-town shortly after the test, the students answered the test on a single side of paper each. We collected the paper in a box at the end, and then ran all 91 tests through the scanner. This numbered the pages automatically, and all I had to do after we'd marked the tests was rank the scores on the test in Stata (when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail).

My prior belief before seeing the data was that there might be a U-shaped relationship between the ranks of completion and handing in. Students who did well would either be quick or slow, tortoises or hares winning the race in different ways. Of course, one could also have the prior belief that an inverse U-shaped relationship would hold for the students who did poorly. Some would complete quickly, either realising they didn't know anything or just rushing through the test to go [insert prejudice about under-motivated students here], while others would do poorly through failing to complete all the questions.

By way of explanation in interpreting the graph, a lower rank on completion means the student waited longer to hand in their test. The vertical line on the left side of the graph is the 12 students who all handed in their tests at the very end when we called "time". A lower rank on the test score is a worse score.

What appears to happen is that there is no discernible relationship between when students handed in their test, and the mark they received. A moving average gives us a slightly different perspective.

Recall that a lower rank of handing in the test means students waited longer, and note that the overall mean for the test was a score of 51.3 out of 75 (68.4%, a B on our grade scale).


A moving average forward and back 5 observations shows how student performance varied with submission. The 12 students who waited right until the end to submit had a slightly higher average than the grand mean for the class, but nothing that approached statistical significance. There isn't strong evidence that the slower students are more careful and thus scoring higher.

The average rises towards the middle of the order of tests being submitted, and then falls back towards the overall mean. But note what this last fact shows, the students who finish the test earliest are not doing any worse than average. At least in this class on this test, the students who finished early were not rushing to slack off.

In conclusion, there is some relationship between time to complete the test and scores, but it is not an obvious one.

Posted by eroberts at 12:59 PM

May 3, 2009

Things I don't understand

Seen on the streets of Auckland this past Friday. I guess Catholics are responsible for a lot.

Posted by eroberts at 12:28 AM

March 15, 2009

Separated at birth?

On the left, Joseph Cassano, blamed for the credit default swaps implosion at AIG that may have caused the global recession. A man just starting his journey through the justice system?

On the right, David Bain who may or may not have murdered his family in Dunedin in 1994. A man just ending his journey through the justice system?

Are they by any chance related?

Posted by eroberts at 6:19 PM

September 20, 2006

All or 4?

What determines whether an intersection where all four approaches have to stop becomes a 4 way stop or an all way stop. My mind is not supple enough to work it out ...

Posted by eroberts at 9:47 PM

August 10, 2006

Why does Susan in England have a Russian email address?

Seeing as how that whole story about Nigerians coming into money they couldn't access was getting a little bit of bad publicity, the inventive email spammers come up with this cute story about "Susan" in England by way of Canada trying to sell her artwork in the "states". But Susan, can I see some of your artwork?

From: Susan Patrick

Good day,

My name is Susan Patrick and I am an artist. I live in England, with my two kids, one dog and the love of my life. It is definitely a full house. I have been doing artwork since I was a child when I was in Canada were I took interest in arts that gives me about 23 years of experience.I majored in art in high school and took a few college art courses. Most of my work is done in either pencil or airbrush mixed with color pencils. I have recently added designing and creating artwork on the computer.I have been selling my art for the last 4 to 5 years and have had my work featured on trading cards, prints and in magazines. I have sold in galleries, museums and to private collectors from all around the world. I am always facing serious difficulties when it comes to selling my art works to Americans; they are always offering to pay with US POSTAL MONEY ORDERS, which is difficult for me to cash here in England.

I am looking for a representative in the states who will be working for me as a part time worker and I am willing to pay 10% for every transaction, which wouldn't affect your present state of work, someone who would help me receive payments from my customers in the states. I mean someone that is responsible and reliable, because the cost of coming to the states and getting payments is very expensive, I am working on setting up a branch in the state, and so for now I need a representative in the United States who will be handling the payment aspect.These payments are in money order and they would come to you in your name, so all you need do is cash the money order deduct your percentage and wire the rest back. But the problem I have is trust.But I have my way of getting anyone that gets away with our money; Imean the FBI branch in Washington gets involved. It wouldn't cost uany amount, u are to receive payments which will be sent to u by FedEx or USPS from my business partners, which would come in form of a money order then u are to cash it and send the cash to me via western union money transfer all western union charges will be deducted from themoney. If you are interested, please get back to me as soon aspossible.with your contact addres.

Posted by eroberts at 5:11 PM

July 23, 2006

Global warming

Doesn't global warming give the lie to that old phrase "there's nothing you can do about the weather"?

Posted by eroberts at 7:41 AM

May 10, 2006

How many ...

... rubber bands does the US postal service use every day?

Where do they get them all from? One big contract? Lots of suppliers? Is that what inmates make in federal prison?

Posted by eroberts at 7:40 AM

April 30, 2006

Body found in cemetery

Leading headline in the Star Tribune right now ... I imagine there are a few other bodies in the cemetery too ...

Somehow, despite the Star Tribune's self-touted makeover, they still manage to regularly come up with headlines which make you wonder "Are they trying to live up to The Onion's image of real newspapers?"

Posted by robe0419 at 11:32 PM

February 27, 2006

Why does the National Weather Service ...

... always update their Twin Cities forecasts at 53 minutes past the hour?

Posted by robe0419 at 4:18 PM

January 16, 2006

26 cents of misgivings

If you happened to buy thirteen more two cent stamps than you needed, can you buy old 37 cent stamps to use them up?

Or, should I use twelve of them on a postcard and just have one left over?

Posted by robe0419 at 12:05 PM

October 21, 2005


Why is it so hard to find a road race longer than 5km after mid-September in this town?

This marathon. And this kind of weather, on average.

But the Chicago marathon is October 22 next year, two weeks later than it has been the last few years. That is good news.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:51 PM

September 9, 2005

Simple questions

Random unrelated questions semi-worthy of public comment ...

Do any individuals buy a Chevrolet Classic new from the dealer? These cars seem to have no acceleration, no power up hills, a horrible automatic transmission, and banal color schemes. You too can rent one from any of America's fine car rental companies. But does anyone buy one new? Or do they all end up in off-airport lots?

Why does Minneapolis provide such poor pedestrian lighting on the parkways? The parkways are the equivalent of Chicago's lakefront, or Wellington's waterfront, to speak of two cities where I have run or walked late at night and never felt the slightest danger from the shadows, because there were no shadows. There was enough light. Yet along the West River Road or round Lake Calhoun you can go 100 yards between street lights. It's OK in summer when the footing is sure, and the only danger is the pot-smoking youth in the shadows, but in winter it's a menace when the footing is bad.

The magic of Google finds a city council report that calls the system "past ... useful life and failing," but gives no details on costs or timetable for new lighting. I'll probably be done with my phd by the time there are new lights.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:44 PM

May 18, 2005

Google doesn't know about demography!

Great as Google is, they have never heard of Ansley Coale, the great demographer.

I did not mean "Coal specification"!

Posted by robe0419 at 10:49 PM

April 12, 2005

Taking the bus

Wouldn't the bus be even safer than an SUV?

A Matt Yglesias post on gas prices making less people buy SUVs makes me think of that ridiculous family-man-on-the-street argument that you can hear on the TV news regularly at the moment when they interview people who are "suffering" with the high gas prices and then claim they had to buy a gas guzzling SUV to keep their family safe in a bigger car. Ignore for a moment that this is not true.

But suppose it was true that bigger=safer. Shouldn't these people be hauling themselves only as far as the bus stop, or park and ride, or light rail station, and getting on transit? I mean, the bus is a whole lot bigger than even a Hummer ...

Posted by robe0419 at 12:32 PM

April 5, 2005

A few questions and thoughts

  1. If you're an atheist and republican (small r, small r) which is worse? The incessant coverage of Princess Diana's death or the coverage of the Pope's death.
    My answer: Princess Diana's death. No question about it. I might not be religious but Catholicism is a major and serious religion. The Pope's death is a world historical event (they'll give me a degree in this subject eventually with insights like that!). The Pope took his responsibilities seriously. One of the things that turns me off religion is its potential divisiveness, and this Pope didn't seem to promote a whole lot of religious wars. Quite the opposite. Princess Diana married into a declining royal house. She did find useful things to do with her oodles of spare time, but really, the first week of September 1997 was a self-imposed news blackout for me.
  2. Bob Dylan: Most prolific and influential American musician of the past half-century, or a guy who doesn't know when to stop touring?
    The last two albums and Fridays show at the Auditorium in Chicago make me think "C: both". Just because he doesn't know how to stop touring does not mean that he should stop .... Still excellent live performances.
    And as someone said "You just to have keep going to Bob, 'cause you don't know when his youth will catch up to him and he'll just keel over and die ..." Morbid, but probably true.
  3. What card will Pawlenty pull from the pack now to "balance" the budget?
  4. Doesn't Jesse Ventura know that auditions for the pirate in Peter Pan have closed?

Posted by robe0419 at 4:29 PM

March 23, 2005

Metreers to go

Why are there American spellings of metric measures like litre/liter and metre/meter?

Posted by robe0419 at 1:40 PM

March 19, 2005

What about Midwestern cuisine?

Foraging on the Cooking Light website for the week's recipes I noticed that amongst all the national cuisine options you can search for, there is just one regional option: Pacific Northwest.

What about Midwestern cuisine? Can the good people at Cooking Light really not make light and healthy versions of such regional, no national, treasures as Grandma's Glutinous Cream of Mushroom Soup Casserole, the Jello Salad, and tuna fish casserole?

(To say nothing of the Midwestern sheet cake ... which surely cannot be made healthy or tasty in my lifetime)

Posted by robe0419 at 1:17 PM

March 16, 2005

March 10, 2005

Weren't you always worried this could happen?

What I'd like to know is what happened to the cat ...

Perhaps it was unintentional, but the ABC News ad beside this story suggested the police response might have been a little over the top ...

Posted by robe0419 at 1:13 PM

February 21, 2005

More variations on the Nigerian spam!

This one is pretty inventive! As I noted a while back, it's strange it took so long for these people to add an Iraqi twist to the stories.

But this one is pretty cool. How does a woman from the Netherlands via way of Oman end up in a hospital in Belfast? And what is the Royal Victorial hospital. Perhaps Victorian.

What is "outstations"? Is that like out state?


Dear Beloved in Christ,

It is by the grace of God that I received
Christ,knowing the truth and the truth have set me
free.Having known the truth, I had no choice than to
do what is lawful and right in the sight of God for
eternal life and in the sight of man for witness of
Godīs mercy and glory upon my life.

I am Mrs Maureen Clarks from Netherlands.I
am married to Dr.Franklyn Clarks who worked with
Chevron/Texaco in Oman for twenty years before he
died in the year 2001.We were married for twenty-seven
years without a child.

He died during one of the riots in the
region of Iraq where he went to work outstations.
He was held hostage and slain to death by protesting
militias of the region. Before his
death we were both born again christians.

My late husband acquired a considerable sum of money
through his resourcefulness and effectiveness through
the duration of his stay in Oman and his share of the family
inheritance, These monies are currently lodged in a finance
institution in Europe. I am desperately in need of your
assistance and guidance in the dispatch of these monies
for the sole purpose of ameliorating the suffering of thousands of
sick, poor and down trodden individuals ecumenically.

I was recently diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and
the doctors have made it absolutely lucid that this
disease is terminal. The doctors were not exact about
how long I have to live but I am in the know that the
disease has ravaged my body and left me at the mercy
of endless cocktail of drugs been administered to me.
The drugs have gone a long way in alleviating the
pains, but I still feel my life gradually ebbing away.

Presently, I'm with my laptop in a hospital where I have been undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer. I have since lost my ability to talk and my doctors have told me that I have only a few weeks to live. It is my last wish to see this money distributed to victims of the Tsunami disaster in Asia and other charity organizations. Because relatives and friends have plundered so much of my wealth since my illness, I cannot live with the agony of entrusting this huge responsibility to any of them. Please,I beg you in the name of God to help me collect the deposit and the interest accrued from the company and distribute it accordingly.

I am currently recieving treatments at the Ireland hospital with the
address details below.:
BT12 6BA
ROOM 4779

I do not have any existing family member to my
knowledge to assist me in procuring these monies
before the stipulated time. I established this contact
with you solely out of need and desperation,
communication with you was completely fortuitous and

I will ask that you inform me of your decision to
assist or decline, please ensure that you make your
decision based on nobility and humanity. Your
assistance will remain forever invaluable and
beneficial to thousands of children across the world.

Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I
stated herein.

I await your urgent reply.

Yours in Christ,
Mrs Maureen Clarks

Posted by robe0419 at 5:36 PM

February 15, 2005

The spammers are confused!

The Christians-singles spam I got last week, returned. This time it was, as you can see below, mixed up with gardening advice spam. WTF?! I do, however, have more interest in gardening than Christian singles.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:16 AM

February 10, 2005

Running errands

Why does this phrase persist? -- Why does any phrase persist? -- Most of the time when people say they're running errands, they are actually driving them.

Back in the distant South Pacific atoll I grew up on I used to actually run errands quite often. It helped that the nearest stores were about a kilometre (that's kilometer for American readers, or 0.6 of a mile) away from my flat. So I was often running up the hill to end a run with bananas, redbull, or liquor as the occasion (and my flatmates) demanded.

When I moved to Minneapolis I thought I'd do more of this, as the city is way more spread out than Wellington, graduate course work puts a premium on multi-tasking, and any teensy-weensy residual embarrassment about wandering round the store or the bank in sweaty clothes would be long gone in a city where I knew many fewer people. But for whatever reason, I haven't done that.

But today I ran an errand. It actually started with driving the car over to where it get its "checkup." And then I ran home. It was great, as I got to run round Cedar Lake, where I really don't run enough. (Click on the link here to see the wonderful new google maps ...)

But the guy at the dealer thought I was crazy. We can have your car done in an hour, he assured me twice. Sure enough, there were plenty of people idling their time away in the capacious waiting room.

"Oh no," I said, "I'm going to run home, and then I'll run back tomorrow to pick it up." He looked at the address [8 miles away] and repeated the offer that the car might be ready in an hour ...

"No, really, I'm going to run home and run back tomorrow. It's much more convenient ..."

At this point he accepted that the Mr. Coffee and free magazines for an hour was less attractive than running across the city in 20 degree weather, but he still seemed to be pondering it.

While I'm not challenging the car culture as much as some, it felt good to be literally running [part of] an errand.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:59 PM

February 8, 2005

On the continents and their culture

Who knew that there was another way to do simple substraction, and that it was called "Austrian substraction". Not me.

Those Europeans do funny things with numbers. Back in the day when I worked at a supermarket NZ abolished the 1 and 2 cent coins. When you paid with cash (a rarer and rarer occurence in the land of EFTPOS) change was given out in accordance with Swedish rounding. Change of 1 and 2 cent amounts became 0 cent, change of 3, 4, 6, and 7 cent amounts became 5 cents, and 8 and 9 were rounded up to 10 cents. It's curious how most of the English language links to the term are from NZ websites ...

Also apropros of the continents, my review of Giselle Byrnes book, The Waitangi Tribunal and New Zealand History, came out in History: Reviews of New Books. In the Asia section! Last time I looked, Australia and New Zealand were still somewhat distinct from Asia, but I concede that the recent earthquake may have changed things by a few centimetres. Culturally, they're still quite far apart as well ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:16 PM

February 7, 2005

Christian spam

The weird American mixture of Christian religion, commercializing much of everyday life, and a Victorian-era enthusiasm for marriage, are summed up in this spam message.

(Note: For humor only, you too can click on the image for God's help with romance ...)

Posted by robe0419 at 2:50 PM

February 3, 2005

A rather rural area

The Twin Cities have pretensions to be a major sophisticated, cosmopolitan, metropolitan area, but really, these were some of the headlines on the website of the area's major paper this morning.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:44 AM

February 1, 2005

You don't need a weatherman

Thought for the day. I noted a while back that the Strib ran an article that said 2004 was "wacky year of extremes" in Twin Cities weather.

But, actually, if you think about it a little, the summer was remarkably cool, compared to other summers; and fall was pretty warm compared to fall in years past ... which means that the temperature was less variable in 2004 than in other years.

A wacky year of moderation, not extremes.

Having grown up in a place where 50 was cold, 45 meant complaints that you had to put on liner gloves, snow was something you drove 4 hours and 200 miles to, and 75 was a scorcher, I know a little about temperate weather patterns. However moderate it was in the Twin Cities in 2004, we ain't temperate yet!

Posted by robe0419 at 2:25 PM

January 27, 2005

NigerianIraqi bank account scam

Why did it take so long for the widely known Nigerian e-mails to be updated with the names of fictitious former Iraqi officials? I received my first one today ... (below the fold, if you're interested)

Hang Seng Bank Ltd
Sai Wan Ho Branch
Hong Kong.

Let me start by introducing myself. I am Mr. Cheung Pui director of
operations of the Hang Seng Bank Ltd,Sai Wan Ho Branch.I have a
obscured business suggestion for you. Before the U.S and Iraqi war
our client Major Fadi Basem who was with the Iraqi forces and also
business man made a numbered fixed deposit for 18 calendar months,
with a value of Twenty Four millions Five Hundred Thousand United
State Dollars only in my branch. Upon maturity several notice was
sent to him, even during the war early last year. Again after the
war another notification was sent and still no response came from
him. We later find out that the Major and his family had been
killed during the war in bomb blast that hit their home.
After further investigation it was also discovered that Major Fadi
Basem did not declare any next of kin in his official papers
including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided
in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew
of his deposit in my bank. So, Twenty Four millions Five Hundred
Thousand United State Dollars is still lying in my bank and no one
will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me most is that
according to the to the laws of my country at the expiration 3
years the funds will revert to the ownership of the Hong Kong
Government if nobody applies to claim the funds. Against this
backdrop, my suggestion to you is that I will like you as a
foreigner to stand as the next of kin to Major Fadi Basem so that
you will be able to receive his funds.
I want you to know that I have had everything planned out so that
we shall come out successful. I have contacted an attorney that
will prepare the necessary document that will back you up as the
next of kin to Major Fadi Basem , all that is required from you at
this stage is for you to provide me with your Full Names and
Address so that the attorney can commence his job. After you have
been made the next of kin, the attorney will also fill in for
claims on your behalf and secure the necessary approval and letter
of probate in your favor for the move of the funds to an account
that will be provided by you. There is no risk involved at all in
the matter as we are going adopt a legalized method and the
attorney will prepare all the necessary documents. Please endeavor
to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this
issue.Once the funds have been transferred to your nominated bank
account we shall share in the ratio of 70% for me, 30% for you .
Should you be interested please send me your full names and current
residential address and I will prefers you to reach me on the email
address below (chgpui@netscape.net) and finally after that i shall
provide you with more details of this operation.
Your earliest response to this letter will be appreciated.
Respectfully Submitted
Cheung Pui

Posted by robe0419 at 10:42 AM

January 24, 2005

Round the traps

A guy called Edward Staines has a neat blog "one more cup of coffee," and has kindly linked to my own. His musical tastes and academic interests [modern history] appear quite similar to mine. Ain't the internet grand?

Edward Staines points out the hilarious "Wallography" post at Early Modern Notes. I'm allowed to find the insults hilarious since I have a Welsh name and Welsh ancestry (essays on the flawed logic of the previous sentence gladly accepted). I was particularly interested in the 1682 discussion of the Welsh language, having labored under people's persistent [English] mispronunciation of my name for the last 30 years ...

Jim obligingly takes a photo of a sign I saw while running today. At mile 15 of the run I thought it was funny. Glad to know others thought so too.

And finally, for a bit of levity, this discussion "How long is the outside lane of a 400m track" at letsrun is pretty funny. For anyone who's wondering "why not just run in lane 1?" the answer is that lane 1 is often closed to prevent excessive wear on the track. (Formulas for the correct answers are here).

Posted by robe0419 at 7:43 PM

January 22, 2005


Does anyone use their internet bookmarks anymore? My old laptop died a sudden death, and the only thing not backed up was the bookmarks. Can't say I'm too sad what with Google making it so easy to find what I need.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:34 PM

January 20, 2005

January 19, 2005

You don't a weatherman ...

I love the way the weather is part of the culture here, but is there ever a year which is not in some way "a wacky year of extremes" as the Strib calls 2004.

OTOH, I guess this is one of those stories that they can alter only with the details next year. Look at that thar weather we had in 2005!

Posted by robe0419 at 12:12 PM

January 17, 2005

Happy birthday in the bathroom

Having learned in Miesville (MN) that "other uses" of a roller towel may be dangerous, it was interesting to learn a couple of weeks (that's a fortnight for non-American readers!) ago in a bathroom in Libertyville (IL) that you should:

Wash your hands for 20 seconds. That's the time it takes to sing happy birthday twice.

My thanks to the Lake County (IL) Health Department for working that out.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:24 PM

Aphorism cookies

The triumph of the "aphorism cookie" is noted elsewhere. (and previously on this site)

Posted by robe0419 at 3:14 PM

November 24, 2004

Breaking news in the Star Tribune

A pleasing and amusing start to one's day can always be had by scanning the headline feed on the Star Tribune site for items like this...

SpongeBob SquarePants 'kidnapped' in Little Falls; ransom note demands Crabby Patties
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. -- He's big, he's yellow, and he's missing.

Police in Little Falls are searching for a blow-up figure of SpongeBob SquarePants, taken from his perch atop a Burger King restaurant.

The popular cartoon character was plugging his new movie in a joint marketing deal with Burger King.

Police found a ransom note which reads: ``We have SpongeBob. Give us ten Crabby Patties, fries and milkshakes.'' It was signed by SpongeBob's nemesis, Plankton. And the note had this postscript: ``Patrick is next,'' a reference to SpongeBob's starfish buddy.

Glad to see those AP journalists have important things to report on Thanksgiving Eve.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:38 AM

November 1, 2004


As someone with a perpetually mispronounced name, I find the recent rise in popularity of normal names with odd spellings, and odd names with odd spellings interesting. Another blogging historian tells an amusing story of the unfortunate intersection of childhood obesity and traditional names.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:32 AM

October 12, 2004

Aphorism cookies?

With a bowl of fortune cookies on the front desk at work and desperate to know about the future I took a "sample" of cookies from the bowl, and got no fortune. No fortune. All aphorisms.

There's at least one Asian food manufacturer/distributor in the Twin Cities whose cookies never have any fortunes, they just have aphorisms. Aphorisms like this:

Only the mediocre are always at their best.

Tomorrow may bee too late. Live, think, and act for today.

If you're not rejected at least three times a week, you're not trying hard enough.

It's no good. They're meant to be F-O-R-T-U-N-E cookies, not pithy saying cookies. At best these aphorism cookies tell you a method by which something might happen in the future. At worst -- like the one about mediocre people above -- they summarize historical regularities and stereotypes; nothing about the future. A fortune is a projection into the unknown future, whereas an aphorism is a coarse generalization about past life.

Don't they know white people buy Asian food for the dinner-concluding escapism? Aphorism cookies would be best suited to some hard scrabble diner or grill where all the patrons have been tutored at the school of hard knocks.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:16 PM

September 11, 2004

Fiddling while the republic burns

Oh my! The topic du jour of the election campaign seems to be whether typewriters had proportional and superscript fonts in the 1970s. Wake me when the republic falls! In the interim, some musings for y'all.

In the course of the last week I have traveled through or to, 5 other states. This explains the lack of posts. Hopefully the 2.5 people that read this regularly have all switched to some RSS feed, and have not had to check the actual URL for my thoughts too often.

Anyhow, I have some questions and observations from my travels.

What's with all the place name repetition in America? Down US-218 in Iowa, there's scarcely a town that does not share the name of another [larger town] somewhere further east. And Cedar Falls followed by Cedar Rapids just 50 miles away. How original! In particular, there's not a lot of obviously Native American place names, which suggests to me that compared with other countries I have driven through (that would be New Zealand) settlers on the American frontier didn't have as much reciprocal contact with the original inhabitants.

There's no money in nostalgia for Mark Twain. Hannibal (MO) has a lovely setting and some once lovely old buildings. But otherwise it's a rundown little town that reminds you that poverty is white and small town more than it is black and metropolitan. Galena (IL) OTOH. Who would have predicted that President Grant would bequeath his hometown with such a prosperous and kitschy tourist legacy?

Take the mitts off outfielders in baseball! Now, I know that baseball is a pitchers game [and cricket is a batters game] but there really is so little interest in outfield catching in baseball. If the ball goes up and comes down anywhere near a fielder there is nearly no drama about whether the ball will be caught. To add a little interest [and skill] the outfielders should not be allowed to wear gloves. In my humble opinion, of course.

Do not expect to check your email at O'Hare airport. This is a public service announcement! It is a very pleasant airport to pass through if you want to have a meal, read or buy a book, or have a coffee. It is, I discovered, not the best if you want to use the time productively. There are precious few locations which have outlets located near tables. There are lots of outlets for the cleaners, you just have to rest your laptop on your lap and sweat it out ... The outlets also come in groups of two, so invariably you are sitting beside someone else seeking to eke out some more time from their phone or laptop. As for getting connected to the web, well! There are hotspots. In the Red Carpet Club. Otherwise you can pay 65Ē/minute to connect at Laptop Lane. At MSP you can connect for $6.95 for a whole day ... Cheaper than Starbucks, and in a captive market to boot.

Boston is unlike Minneapolis. Despite the similarities in the weather, the enthusiasm for ice hockey [actually, this being the east coast the Boston Globe sports section includes college field hockey results too.], and the river that runs through the city, there are many differences.

  • There is no grid system in Cambridge. Perhaps this is because many Cambridge streets predate wide knowledge of the Cartesian plane. Or maybe, it's because 'urban planning' in the 1600s sought to bend around natures curves, rather than impose a grid over them like cities did in the 1800s.
  • Downtown Boston is actually quite dirty.
  • Getting to and from the airport is kind of a drag.
  • There are no political ads on TV in Massachusetts
  • I have not seen a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker yet.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:46 PM

August 26, 2004

Walking through the leaves, falling from the trees

After the longest spring in memory--I have only lived here 4 years--which seemed to run through 'til late June for all practical purposes, the first signs of fall have arrived just two months later. Not that signs of fall in late August are a surprise or a disappointment.

Beside the Mississippi, down in Fort Snelling State Park, and round Lake Katrina, there are a non-trivial number of yellow and red-leafed trees. Not all with Dutch elm disease either ...

Posted by robe0419 at 5:07 PM

August 23, 2004

going backwards

Searching for trails to run on in Wisconsin, I came across the webpage of the 400 State Trail, which is:

named for the Chicago - Northwestern passenger train that traveled the 400 miles between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul in 400 minutes.

Amtrak now schedules the same journey for 8 hours and 5 minutes.

Is there any wonder people choose to brave the boredom and NPR deadspots that are central Wisconsin, and drive to Chicago?

Posted by robe0419 at 3:52 PM

August 8, 2004

101 ways to use a roller towel

On the roller towel in the men's bathroom of the Marathon gas station in Miesville (MN) there was a warning:

Use only for drying hands and face. Other uses may be dangerous.

Which just begs the questions, what "other uses" are there for a roller towel? And how could they be dangerous?

For what it's worth, I was always told that drying your face on the rolling linen towels was not the most hygenic, and to be avoided except in desperate circumstances.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:11 PM