Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Turn of the Century

Ken Jennings posted about the phrase 'turn of the century', wondering if it only refers to 1900 or if it now refers to 2000 as well. The FP Gal brought it to my attention and asked my opinion. My take is that it refers to 1900. For 2000, we should simply use 'the millennium'. She disagrees.
The conversation turned to how we'll refer to various upcoming decades. Will we think of 2020-2029 as 'the 20s' or do we need a new phrasing? I told her that I thought that the convention of separating out each decade and then naming it was a fairly new thing. The earliest example of it that I can think of was the Mauve Decade (1890's). Wikipedia seems to agree. Andrew, can you confirm or disprove this?
I just don't know what we'll do going forward. There have been half-hearted attempts to figure out if this decade is the 'Oughts' or the 00's or something like that. There hasn't been any kind of real consensus though.
To tell the truth, I hope we go with something else. The 20's, 30's, 40's and so on each have such a distinct character. It would be a shame to overwrite all of that.


The FP Gal wants pickles and ice cream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Sci-Fi Booker?

A couple of weeks ago, one of the bigger names in sci-fi, Kim Stanley Robinson, asked why the Booker Prize people were ignoring science fiction. The Booker Prize is awarded annually to the best English language, non-American novel published in that year. Robinson thinks that sci-fi is being unfairly shut out.
Speaking as an outsider from California and as a science fiction writer I see these very brilliant writers doing excellent work who are never in the running at all, for no reason except their genre and who their publishers are – the so-called club members. It just needs to be said," he said today. "The Booker prize is so big, the way it shapes public consciousness of what is going on in British literature, but the avant garde, the leading edge, is being ignored or shut out of the process entirely.
I don't read a lot of new fiction since I rely more on used bookstores so it's hard for me to comment specifically on the past year. But I do have a little experience here. In the past year I've read about half a dozen previous Booker winners and about twenty previous Hugo winners. The Hugos, as a class have easily been better books. They have had more mind stretching ideas and easily had more impact on the world as a whole. I'd argue that they have shown more breadth of understanding of humanity as well. Not to mention that the storytelling has been superior...
The Booker has carved out a niche for the more literary and increasing historical novels. That's fine and they shouldn't be faulted for it. I'm not even bothered that they want to consider their award as the 'best' while ignoring large sections of modern fiction. They're not the first to get lost in their own genre.
There is a risk though. If the Booker is wrong and too arrogant to correct themselves they will find their award to be marginalized. It wouldn't surprise me to find that happening.

Because I Miss the Pretty Pictures...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cool Summer

We loved the cool summer this year. We has nice pleasant nights, good stretches of cloudy, rainy days. Somehow we avoided any long go of hot suffocating weather. In fact, we didn't seem to have any long periods of relentless sunniness until September!
Two weird consequences to the cool weather, both having to do with the trees. First of all, this has been the worst allergy year in memory. Pollen counts have been very high. Noses start running early and don't stop until properly medicated.
The other thing is increased sap. At least with some trees. Specifically the one right out in front of our house. An overnight park would be enough to leave a film all over your car. I realized this back in June and worked hard to park somewhere else, sometimes down the block. The FP Gal was more brave in her parking. As a consequence, her car started to resemble a Mrs Butterworth bottle. Yuck!
Don't get me wrong, I loved the cool weather. But if we get it again next year I'm going to get a case of Claritin. And maybe a gift certificate at a car wash.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Amazing Race

The Amazing Race has begun again. It's our favorite show and we could hardly be happier. Spoilers throughout. (A quick note before the recap, my office does a betting pool each season for Survivor. We put in $5 and draw a name out of a hat. If your player wins, you get the big prize. We quickly found out how unfair it is for the first person out and decided to refund the $5 to that person. I had that unhappy honor on Survivor this time. We decided to try an Amazing Race pool this year with the same rules. First person out? Yep, I drew the unhappy couple. What are the odds of that happening?)
On to the recap! They started with a twist this season. There were twelve teams instead of the usual eleven. And one of them would be eliminated before even leaving the start area. The FP Gal and I opposed this even before we found out that it was our couple. The players are banking on having some opportunity to show some skill and win or lose based on that. This losing team didn't really get a chance. There was great disapproval on our couch.
The remaining teams flew from LA to Tokyo. This year they opened with an eating challenge that involved hot wasabi. Then they had to herd a set of local Japanese through the very busy streets. We loved this! The locals were cute and the teams that were kind seemed to do the best.
Tonight was a double episode and the last team to check in was spared elimination so they could compete again with a penalty. This particular team was a pair of ladies who are professional poker players. They decided to lie to the other teams and represent that they worked with underprivileged kids or some such. They were found out and now the others hate them. Lying really doesn't serve people well on this show.
The second leg was in Vietnam and it was probably the muddiest episode ever. The highlight was a contest where one member of each team had to herd ducks from a pen, over a bridge and back again. Again, good stuff.
There is a good mix of people this year. Last season I didn't care for any of the last four or five teams and that sucked some of the fun out of the whole deal. This one seems to have a higher proportion of likable people (including a lady who reminds me us of Pat!). There are still villains and jerks but it seems like a lot of good people overall.

Two of My Favorite People

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Scrhodinger's Sippy Cup

If there are two cups of different cups available, the parent will always choose the wrong one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where in the World Scoreboard (updated)

(Sorry this is late.)

Not a lot of answers this week.

36) Diamond Head, Honolulu Hawaii
37) Angel Falls, Venezuela (inspiration for the falls in 'Up')
38) Trafalgar Square, London
39) Boldt Castle, 1000 Islands, NY
40) Biltmore Estate, Asheville NC

The score at the moment:
Michelle 15
Hans 9
Carrie 7
T Herring 4
Jen 1

And a bunch of outstanding clues. I'll wait until next Thursday to close down the scoreboard.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Ran across something interesting today here. It's a tracker that lets you know when notable satellites are passing overhead. Just type in your zip code and you can figure out when to look for the International Space Station to go by. It also mentions where to look, both direction and elevation. (Simple elevation tip, 90 degrees is right overhead. Your fist at full outstretched arm is approximately 10 degrees.)
I mention this because the Space Station is crossing over the U.S. every night the rest of the week. Tonight was too cloudy for us but I'm hopeful for tomorrow.

Project Night Night

For the full context of today, please understand that I woke up (bang awake) at 4a this morning. Lay in bed for a half hour and then crept downstairs. Relia woke before 5a and I went up to comfort her then. Per daycare, she took an unbelievable two and a half hour nap this afternoon.

My turn to put her down tonight. We've been shooting for 7p as a bedtime. At least that's when we start the routine. And that's when we started tonight with the regular toothbrushing, etc. When book reading time came she still seemed energetic so I brought a big load of books to read. After a dozen or so I finally came to 'Goodnight Moon', our customary last book before lights out. She was cooperative to the end. Gave me a goodnight hug and kiss and said 'night night'.
I went downstairs. She gave me about two minutes before she started yelling. Another five or so before she started hitting the door. We're back to the cry-it-out method where we let her yell, only going up to calm her at intervals. After the time was up I went up to her.
When I left she was wearing pajama top and bottom, a night time diaper with panties over them. Now it was just the pajama top and she had a new (unused) diaper in her hands. Got her back arranged and dressed. Put her back in bed.
Second time up we had another costume change. This time she had on a different shirt, no pants, still the same diaper. She wanted the mousie shirt (Micky Mouse from yesterday, dirty). It needed washing but standards for nighttime wear is understandably relaxed so out it came and on it went. The pajama pants were not to be found. I asked her where they were and she shyly told me, "in the drawer". Yep, she put them away on her own.
After some brief negotiation she went back in bed. This time she fell asleep. For now. With any luck, she is now wearing the same clothes that she'll wake up in.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sand painting

(Via Althouse)

This is from 'Ukraine's Got Talent' and the subject matter is the German invasion. Absolutely incredible stuff.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where in the World 8

Pencils down, this is it!

Pic 36

Pic 37

Pic 38

Pic 39

Pic 40

At the house

We've just established that Ozzie has a full body mustache. I wonder if he feels that way too?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Highlights of the day

Oh, there were lowlights too, but that was mostly just everyday logistical stuff that happens to everyone. Oh, and this too. Advice is very welcome on that. But it was a pretty good day.
  • First good memory of the day happened late this morning. The FP Gal came how with groceries and Relia was having an orange. She loves them. And for some strange reason she calls them 'orangies'. As in, "Relia had some orangies!".
  • We had my mom over today so we could show of the new TV. Watching football in HD is a very great goodness indeed.
  • Lunch featured homemade personal pizzas. When we set up the get together with mom, she suggested that we order a pizza so that the FP Gal didn't have to cook. After agreeing to that, I remembered how much mom liked the personal ones we made when she was over once. After a brief discussion with the FP Gal we decided to go that route.
  • The above note meant that indeed, the FP Gal ended up doing the lion's share of the cooking. (Actually, that makes no sense. Lions don't cook. They eat raw stuff. Nevermind that metaphor. She did most of the cooking.)
  • The Vikings looked good. Well, they did in the second half. My sense is that they need to get the passing game humming before the running game will really cook. When that happens, as it has each of the first two games, they look pretty darn good. The defense looks very good again.
  • After the game we had part of a giant pumpkin pie. Seriously, it has a 40 in diameter (4 degrees C). Relia loved it. Especially the whipped cream.
  • After mom left we were stuck trying to figure out Relia's nap schedule. Usually she goes down right after lunch but grandparents have a way of sidetracking that. She solved the problem by crawling up on the FP Gal and falling asleep on her chest. After some maternal bliss, I transferred her up to bed. It was awfully sweet.

The rest was pretty mundane, I guess. Good family time to be sure but nothing special. Aren't those days the best?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We Need a Jedi Ruling

(Via Althouse) Religious accommodation struggles take a new twist:

Tesco [a supermarket chain] has been accused of religious discrimination after the company ordered the founder of a Jedi religion to remove his hood or leave a branch of the supermarket in north Wales.

The 23-year-old, who founded the International Church of Jediism, which has 500,000 followers worldwide, was told the hood flouted store rules.

But the grocery empire struck back, claiming that the three best known Jedi Knights in the Star Wars movies – Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker – all appeared in public without their hoods. Jones, from Holyhead, who is known by the Jedi name Morda Hehol, said his religion dictated that he should wear the hood in public places and is considering legal action against the chain.

I'd hate to be the manager of that shift. I wonder if Sears has this problem with Cylons in the toaster section? Best line of the article?

Tesco said: "He hasn't been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

"If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they'll miss lots of special offers."

No word on if they'll allow spiders or Visigoths.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Survivor again

The newest season of Survivor started again last night. The first Jeff Probst blog is up here. He writes about Russell, who has potential to be the biggest villain in Survivor history.
Two things, there is no better show on TV for capturing the sneaky side of humanity than this one. You've got backstabbing, false faith, real friendships and shocking betrayals. It's all captured on TV and you get a great view of all of it. (Any fan of Diplomacy can see the crossover appeal.)
And speaking of views (and this is the other thing) it looks absolutely incredible in HD. They decided to shoot the whole thing with the newer TVs in mind. Survivor scouts for beautiful locations. This season is shot in Samoa. They've done many other spots in the South Pacific and all of them look great. This looks like no exception.

The World is Ending

According to Hit and Run, the World project in Dubai is coming to an end. I wrote about this before. It's the project where they created a bunch of islands that would form archipelagos in the shape of Earth's land masses. It sounds like they ran into both engineering and financial problems. Only one island was really developed.
These things happen. The world is littered with the failed follies of the rich. Dubai made a bet that they could get out from under the inevitable oil crash by making their city a destination of it's own right. Kind of an Arabian Las Vegas, if you will. It sounds like the global recession has put a serious dent in that goal.
Still, it was a cool idea. I hope that some lessons were learned here that can be used for something else in the future.

Have a Great Friday

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where in the World Scoreboard

We are nearly done. This weeks's answers:

31) Devil's Tower, Wyoming
32) Lombard St, San Fran (I went with Carrie due to specificity.)
33) Bath, England
35) Xanadu (Hearst Castle) San Simeon CA (I really expected this to be a tough one. Looks like a very beautiful pool.)

And the scores are now:

Michelle 12
Hans 9
Carrie 6
T Herring 4

There are only five more new answers out there. We still need 13, 15, 25 and 34. In other words, there are plenty of points still available...

Very cute

Now that I'm the exact combination of Father of a young daughter/Baseball fan I appreciate this video much more than I would have been able to a few years ago.

The after reaction is very winning.

Nevermind, MLB pulled the video.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Every Little Thing


One of Relia's new books is a picture book that shows different scenes around Minnesota. One of the pictures is of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. When we get to that page she points and says "Daddy!".
It's better than when she thought I was a rhino...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Titles, If They Were Written Today

Very funny stuff here. My favorite:

Then: The Gospel of Matthew
Now: 40 Days and a Mule: How One Man Quit His Job and Became the Boss

The comment section is pretty good too. My contributions?

Then: Moby Dick by Melville
Now: A Field Guide to Whaling (Now with Bonus Observations on Revenge!)

Then: Judges (Bible)
Now: Never Trust Women or Barbers! And other short stories of Israel

Then: Les Miserables
Now: Fugitive: The Jean Valjean Story

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quick Viking Thought

Favre should be an upgrade over the quarterbacks that the Vikes had last year. But...I'm pretty sure that his bad karma will spell trouble. I'm expecting an 8-8 season with lots of close losses.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

At the Zoo

(I just realized that I forgot to blog about our trip to the zoo on Thursday. Whoops!)

Thursday is my day at home with Relia. I think it would be fair to say that the FP Gal being home this summer spoiled me a bit. We're still working on a rhythm. This week featured a string of time-outs and several clean ups on my part. Not so fun.
In the back of my head was the idea to go to Como Zoo. They open at 10a and I wanted to time it close to opening time both for parking and crowd reasons. We were in the car roughly on schedule for that and I made my way to 35W without event. Then I looked in the mirror and realized that she had fallen asleep on me. Made my way back home and started to get her out of the car so she could nap in her own bed. No luck. She woke and demanded we see the animals. After a short discussion, it seemed like she was awake enough so back on the road we went.
Got to the zoo about 1030a which was early enough. Breezed into the place and the first thing we saw was flamingos. I don't remember working on flamingos with her in any books. But she accepted the name and their defining feature (pinkness) without any problem. In with them were ducks which made both of us happy.
Next was the primate house. She rushed from section to section finding the monkeys and then moving on. At the end is the gorillas. They were outside. I told her that they weren't monkeys but 'gorillas'. She accepted this.
Then it was the hoofed African mammals. She knows zebras but not antelopes. She took my word on the ostriches. Giraffes she knows. We agreed that they're tall.
The big cats come up next and they're my favorite. The mountain lion was out pacing and we got to watch him moving. I love the similarities between them and the kitties in our house. It's like they were blown up by some awesome Xerox or something. The tiger (my very favoritest) was obviously tired. The lion was asleep in her food.
Over to the aquatics. The penguins looked happy, the polar bears are under construction. The big hit was the seals. Or possibly the sea lions. I don't really understand the difference. (The FP Gal does and has tried to explain it to me many times. Obviously it hasn't taken.) So they were all seals. She liked them.
We saw the tortoises sunning themselves. One of the zoo workers had a skink on display. (Of interest to me, blogger doesn't believe that 'skink' is an actual word.) Then a quick sit on the tortoise statue, a spin through the tropical section and we were done.
Back home for lunch and naps all around. It turned out to be a pretty good day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Memories of 9/11

Very interesting column today from Peggy Noonan. She talked with some college kids about how 9/11 effected them. The kids were only 10-13 years old and the repeated theme is that this was what popped the bubble and taught them that the world could be a dangerous place.
Eight years is both a long time and somehow impossibly short. Both my personal life and the country as a whole seems so completely changed since then. I spent part of the day at work (while on hold) reading through various people's account. Where they were when they found out mostly. Brings back some absolutely terrible memories. I don't remember anger so much as uncertainty and disbelief.
I hope that my children never have to live through such a thing though they almost certainly will. Every generation has a disaster of some sort. I'm not so naive as to think that history will somehow stop and spare the upcoming one. I hope that they're up to the challenge.
I hope they look back and decided that we were up to ours.

Weird Books

From Abe Books, here is a collection of weird books. I think Hans might need the first book in the How To section.

Have A Great Friday

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where in the World Scoreboard (updated)

Either this week's pictures were too hard, people were out of town or they've lost interest.

26) Hagia Sophia (St Sofia Mosque) Istanbul Turkey
27) Wizard Island, Crater Lake Oregon
28) Taipei 101, Taipei Taiwan
29) Hassan II Mosque Casablanca Morocco
30) Pamukkale, Turkey (and isn't that a weird looking place?)

Which leaves the standings at:

Michelle 12
Hans 8
T Herring 4
Carrie 3

13 and 15 are still out there. So is 25, which I now fear might be too generic to be found.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

...And Call Me Conrad - Zelazny

There are two great things about this book. The main character is a man currently called Conrad. He isn't normal. For instance, he seems to be centuries old and somewhat magical. He plays with this, never confirming anything and always deflecting questions. Conrad also talks in the hard-boiled fashion of a noir detective.
The second great thing is the setting. Earth is post nuclear and the remaining population numbers only a few million. They live mostly on islands, specifically in this book in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas. Humanity has encountered another race and they're threatening to buy the remaining parts of Earth.
Actually there is a third great thing about this book. In the words of my favorite little stuffed bull, it's fun!
'...And Call Me Conrad' (also released as 'This Immortal') tied for the 1966 Hugo award with 'Dune'. Needless to say, it's not nearly as well remembered. This doesn't have nearly the epic feel of 'Dune' but I enjoyed it more. That's strictly personal taste, of course but there are very few post-apocalyptic novels that are fun to read. A very good book.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Free as a Bird

The new Beatles Rock Band game has caused a bunch of promotional tie-ins on TV. Earlier tonight the FP Gal got sucked into some VH1 classic show that featured concert videos of the band. At the very end they showed 'Free as a Bird', a Beatles tune that was released in '95. The video is here:

The FP Gal didn't like the camera wibbling back and forth but she did like all of the references to various Beatle songs. She caught much more than I did. (Seriously, who is Mr Kite?) We both agreed that we could use a pop up video version to clue us in on the rest. YouTube didn't seem to have such an animal.
I'm tempted to have you readers list all of them but it doesn't seem fair to Carrie (possibly the biggest Beatlephile that I know) to spring this now since she's insanely busy with filming right now. But if you want to take a swing at it anyway...

Tornado Path

I ran across this weather report of the tornado that rolled through here a couple of weeks back. Of interest is this map of the tornado path here in south Minneapolis.

If you go to the link above you can click on the picture and zoom a bit better than this picture here. Either tornado damage is concentrated on the east side of their path or the red line there is about a block too far west. Either way you can see that it was very close to our place (between Park and Portland a couple of blocks south of Lake St).
The FP Gal says that a tornado can make a neighborhood change from old looking to new. She's talking about the number of large trees. There is a section on Portland between 40th and 46th that looks this way. Eye-witness reports suggested that the funnel never landed, just hovered some 30 ft in the air or so. The damage backs that up. Big trees down everywhere, lawn ornaments untouched.
It still doesn't feel quite real.

Monday, September 07, 2009

First Star Wars Experience

A few weeks back Relia watched some Star Wars with me, specifically Empire Strikes Back. She liked the battle scenes on Hoth the best. Well, after that she didn't watch much. The first Imperial Walker is destroyed after the wrap cables around the legs and trip it. She loved that! After that, every time they showed a Walker she shouted, "Again! Again".
Very cute...for a Rebel supporter.

NaNoWriMo Reminder

This is a heads up and invitation to participate in NaNoWriMo this November. As a reminder, this is the deal where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Which works out to 1667 per day (or so). It's a bit of an effort but you can do it if you put your mind to it.
The great thing about doing this with the NaNoWriMo is that you have other people doing it at the same time that you are. It helps to have them there to talk with, share problems and celebrate at the end with. This will be my fourth year and I'm really looking forward to it!
Think about it for now. I'll put another reminder up about ten days before we start. Think about dipping your toe in the pool and try something new this year. You might just find it really rewarding.

Where in the World 6

Having fun now?

Pic 26

Pic 27

Pic 28

Pic 29

Pic 30

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Football Pool reminders

I mentioned this before, but with the season starting on Thursday I thought I'd post it again.

The first pool is the one where you pick the winner of each football game. After you select the winner, you assign confidence points to each game. Simply click here and follow the instructions to sign up. A free Yahoo account is necessary. The group ID # is 5911 and the password is 'favreless'.

The second one is a Survivor pool. Every week you pick one team. If that team wins you survive to the next week. If they lose, you're done. The last person still picking wins the pool. The sign up is similar, click here to sign up. The group ID # is 2289 and the password is 'probst'.

I find that these pools add to my football enjoyment. You might find that to be true for you too.

Save the Words!

I stumbled upon an interesting site (warning, it makes noise). The site is dedicated to Saving seldom used words. It encourages people to adopt them and use them with their friends and family in conversation.
After much deliberation I chose:

Cynicocratical which means 'rule by cynics'.

I'd vote for an openly cynicocratical politician. There wouldn't be any over-promising there!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Two deliveries

We've had a busy day on the entertainment side. We had the cable people out this morning. We've gone from basic cable back to digital. After six months we realized that the change wasn't really limiting our TV watching. It was just keeping us from watching what we really wanted.
The other delivery was for our new widescreen TV. We've noticed that more and more shows are being shot for widescreen and it was getting annoying. Sesame St is a big offender if you can believe that. They'd ask us to count four ducks but only show three. (I don't want to claim that as too big of a fig leaf. It was more annoying than problematic.) With football season coming I was afraid of missing parts of the game.
I think this is the end of our high end purchases for a bit.

Where in the World Scoreboard

This week's pictures:

21) Kilimanjaro
22) Peter the Great Statue, Moscow Russia
23) the Merlion, Singapore
24) Namdaemun, Seoul S Korea (as Hans noted, it burned down last year)

Which brings the current score to:
Hans 8
Michelle 7
T Herring 4
Carrie 3

#25 is still available and as are 13 and 15.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Farewell, Metrodome

Today the White Sox played their last game at the Metrodome and they left it in style. The Twins only have a dozen games left there and then they leave for greener pastures at Target Field. The new stadium looks very nice and I'm looking forward to seeing some real live outdoor baseball.
One of the things that makes baseball a special sport is that each stadium is unique. For football, basketball and hockey every field is the same dimension, set by rule. Old baseball stadiums has to be built in whatever space was available and that made each one different. Space is rarely a real obstacle for a modern team (especially with the common partnership with the city or state). Nevertheless, baseball architects have stayed true to the past and tried to give each place a heart of it's own.
Of course, each team also creates their own traditions down on the field. I'm hopeful that the Twins work to make some kind of unique tradition all of their own. This could be something small like a special music choice (like the Red Sox with 'Sweet Caroline' or the Yankees with 'YMCA') with something new. I want to say they could do something with 'Batdance' from Prince...
Shooting off fireworks after homeruns or after the game are a White Sox tradition but they've been so thoroughly used throughout the league that I'm sure they'll happen here too. Throwing the ball back after the opposing team hits a home run is a Cubs tradition and I hope that Twins fans stop stealing that once they move into the new park. Noisemakers have been done (those gawd-awful Thunderstix in Anaheim and boat horns in Oakland).
I've suggested in the past that they get rid of TC, their Barneyesque mascot and replace him with a school of Walleye mascots. They already have the costumes! They could release a dozen of them out into the wild and people could try and harvest them.
Ok, I don't know what they should do but I hope their marketing team has been doing some thinking.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Phone trees

Don't remember if I've written about this before or not but I need to share this with all of you: I hate speech recognition phone trees. Hate them. Can't stand them. I mean, all phone trees are a nuisance at best but the speech recognition ones are the worst. If you want me to press 2 for the reservation desk that's one thing. When you want me to say the name of the departure airline and the last name of the traveler we are clearly beyond your capabilities.
Today I had to call American about a flight. The traveler was flying from Miami to Sao Paulo and he had an Hispanic last name. The phone tree didn't recognize the flight number so it had me list the airports. With only some pain, we finally agreed on the same particular airplane. Then it wanted to know the name of the guy. We hit a complete wall. After three stabs at it, I finally just started sharply saying 'Agent!' into the phone. Eventually it connected me to an honest to Bog person who quickly (less than 20 seconds) gave me the info I needed. Frustrating to say the least.
Look, I know that phone trees are here to stay. They really do serve a sorting need that would otherwise tie up a person. But. Don't overestimate how much you can really use them. Please don't. Three questions should be an absolute maximum, then into the appropriate pool. If it takes more questions than that, you need to think about how you've divvied your labor pool. Of if you've jammed too many functions into one phone line.
There are ways around the phone trees, I know but I hate to use them. I work behind one of those trees and I hate the ten calls I get each day where I have to transfer someone to the correct place. It annoys everyone and wastes all of our time. Much better if they listen to the prompts and press the correct numbers. (On a related note, it seems that my company routes anyone who simply presses '0' into some holding limbo where they sit for a good half hour. Or at least this is what I've picked up anecdotally.)
Does anyone else think that these systems would be much better if various CEO's made a habit of calling their own company about once a month or so?

In Defense of Plot

Pretty good article from WSJ, talking about the comeback of plot in novels. I enjoy some meaty books but a well plotted novel is much more enjoyable. And anything that dials down the pretension is a good thing.
How do we break this to the avant garde?