Monday, February 28, 2011

Billing Time

Most people whom I've met in the computer field are not dumb. They're not genius-level, but they're not dumb. So why is it that no matter how they decide to bill for their time, there's a reason why it isn't quite right?

If they bill by the hour, there are tasks that take a significant amount of time and benefit multiple customers -- so who gets billed? If they bill by the task, how do you decide how much to charge when the task is easy for one customer and hard for another? If they bill by resources used, how do you allocate the tasks that take few computer resources but many mantime resources versus the reverse?

And then there's the customer who says that they're so big and so important, be damned to you and how you want to bill them, this is how you're gonna bill them. And here's the stuff, incidentally, that'll be free from now on. Including things that they want that they just thought up. And your management.... caves. Because their management caves.

To me, it comes down to the question about 'why do accountants use LIFO and FIFO, anyway?' Because one size doesn't necessarily fit all.


The state of Pennsylvania has one more licensed driver today.


I learned that the Alliance Francaise (which, surprisingly, does not have a branch in our town) teaches one day Immersion classes at four levels in Philadelphia. I called them, they did a brief interview in French, and, voila, I'm signed up for a class in three weeks, at their Basic level (second of four). Amazingly, the woman actually understood my garbled French. Well, mostly. She did say I was difficult to classify, as I knew some basic things but didn't know some beginner things. She said if I was willing to work hard, I could do it. She doesn't know that I spend four hours a day now on it.

Hot damn. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. I should be watching French in Action. What right have you to be so damned funny?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The first step... admitting that you have a problem.

Not only do I spend about four hours a day on French, but I start to feel guilty if I'm reading something and it's not about the language.


Found here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I tell my wife that I'm not making as much progress with French as I'd like, and that is true.

I spend about four to five hours a day on it (of which perhaps three hours is actual work, and two or so is what can I find to distract me from this?), but I do not have the skills yet. I am beginning to conclude that learning a language isn't like building a house, where you can approach it in an orderly, optimal fashion. At least, it isn't for me. I review the French in Action videos (one per day); each is a 26 minute video, and I spend about two hours on it. I run through a section of Rosetta Stone, which now seems intolerably slow to me (though I know that one of their core principles is repeat, repeat, repeat, it gets old). I listen to the Book2 phrases project when I'm at the gym, for about 20 minutes. And before I go to sleep, I leaf through a French language review book.

I know that I'm slowly getting better, but it's not like being able to say To be able to speak fluently, even with limited vocabulary, I have to be able to do A, B, and C; so far, I can do A and part of B. It's more like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and hoping to eventually see a pattern. A little grammar over here. Something resembling a possessive pronoun down there. A couple of words. Words, especially. I cannot say how many times I've muttered something that sounds like French, but isn't, just to keep the feeling of progress going. The Book2 phrases for a while used Elle et lui a lot, and I would chant that phrase as if it were my mantra. Elle et lui. Elle et lui. Elle et lui. Still, not as much progress as I want. I want to be able to string together sentences, and speak.

On the other hand, I just switched my bookmark for Google Translate so that it now comes up to the 'translate French into English' page, rather than the reverse, because I'm more likely now to have a phrase I want to try out -- does this even make a phrase, let alone, does it make sense? -- than to have a phrase in English that I want to translate into French. So that's something.

Train Station

I'm in the middle of a French in Action video where I'm not getting squat. Time for a golden oldie...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Setting A Course

From Monocle magazine, which I enjoy though don't read all that often (at ten bucks a pop, it's a bit too expensive for me) --

How to Chart A Steady Course

1. Keep focused on what lies over the horizon
2. Don't be distracted by trends or fads
3. Know what you stand for
4. Maintain a diverse talent mix
5. Invest in seeing the world
6. Be tyrannical when it comes to details.
7. Change tack the moment it's no longer fun.

And speaking of talent, we just found Talenti Gelato. Quite good!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

FIA is Reasonable

It took almost an hour, over the course of a day, of playing and replaying one specific sequence, but I now know: the phrase that the woman in the FIA course was saying was Elle est tres raisonnable. The key was figuring out that estrezz was in fact est tres, and that what sounded like zessenabluh was raisonnable. It's an hour of my life that I'll never get back, but I'm pleased nonetheless.

For a free course -- and even if it wasn't -- this French in Action is pretty good.


Even when I hadn't gone to it often, I find myself sad when a bookstore closes. I think And if you hadn't ordered from Amazon so frequently...?

Even 20% off discounts don't quite make up for the transient sense of culpability.


I never even heard of Beyblades till I came across this image, here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


When I started listening to the French in Action series, I was cheered by the thought that each video was only half an hour long. Pfft, do that standing on my head. Now I find that while the video is half an hour (actually, about 27 minutes, less the intro and closing credits), it takes me about an hour, if not longer, to go through it. I have to continually replay to hear what they said, and to understand it. There are no translations. They repeat a lot, and the sentences are simple, but still. I have to work at it. Frequently, in five minute chunks.

So when I hear Elle veut regarder la television d'abord, et travaille apres, mais sa mere ne pas d'accord -- and I get it -- I'm pleased more than the accomplishment probably warrants.

Now, if I can just get someone to say that sentence to me. In French. Slowly.

Friday, February 18, 2011


I don't think about French all the time.

I do wake up thinking about it, and remembering dreams wherein I spoke in French (and now, just a little bit, understood what I said). I buy dictionaries of French, I read simple stories in French, and I look at articles and videos that are in French and about French. When I see a new one, like these You Tube videos on the language, I perk up. (Though I get just a tad irritated when they translate Prenez-vous les cartes de credit? as May I pay with a credit card? and I think No it's not, it's Do you take credit cards? Picky, I know. ) I find myself wondering if its just as 'right' to say Je ne travaille pas as Je travaille pas (I think, no - the first is better). I have this laptop's language bar enabled so that I can switch the keyboard to the United States-International setting, thus facilitating keying in accent marks like this - é. And when I see that Google Translate has an option to remap the keyboard to the French style, I nod and smile. I don't use it, but that it's there pleases me. Oh, and I have flashcards in the car to glance at while stopped at traffic lights.

But I don't think about French all the time. Really.

Sometimes, I think about violent right wing rhetoric.

And then I dive back into French. It's safer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


There are few things as profoundly depressing as talking with our Ameriprise advisor.

He starts every yearly session with a recitation of how badly the economy is doing -- and not just here, but everywhere. Towns, cities in default. Massive deficits here, slashed governmental and local workforces there. Nobody is hiring, nobody is growing. Gloom abounds. We walk in thinking hey, we're doing pretty well, we've got a goodly amount saved and invested, and within fifteen minutes we're looking for a piece of cardboard to scratch out a Will xxxxxx for cash sign. We decided that it's his way of saying '"Look, I can guarantee you two percent, but only for a year, and maybe even three, but past that, forget it. Be lucky to stay even, keep what you got. "

I wish that he'd just say that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Learning French

Learning French? Want resources? This guy has resources out the wazoo. And so far as I can see, they're good ones, too. Most of which, I never ever heard of before -- like the free French In Action videos. Now I know where Rosetta Stone got their idea...


Found here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rats and Volts

Not intentionally funny.....

Learning to Improvise

From Seed Magazine:

"Aaron Berkowitz, a cognitive ethnomusicologist, who took on the task of demystifying improvisation as the focus of his dissertation work at Harvard, has a theory. He likens the process of learning to improvise to that of learning a second language. Initially, he says, it’s all about memorizing vocabulary words, useful phrases and verb conjugation tables. Your first day, you might learn to say: How are you? I’m fine. “These are like the baby steps beginning improvisers take. They learn the structure of the blues. They learn basic chords and get the form down,” said Berkowitz. But they’re still very limited in what they can do."

First day, huh? Still -- a fascinating article.


This person has more talent in her thumb than I have in my entire body.


What is it about his voice that makes it so easy to listen to? He could read the phone book, and I'd listen to it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some Games...

...are easier than others.

Found here.

Does JCP spell Gyp?

JC Penney manipulated the web so they'd come up tops in searches across the aboard. Or at least it looks that way. They said they didn't do it.

Believe 'em?


Found here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lingua, Cont'd

In my continued quest to speak comprehensible French, I am using multiple resources, from Rosetta Stone to a French kid's-level reader to notecards to an easy CD-based series to TV5 to online audio clips. So when I come across a site that talks about learning French, I tend to stop and read it.

Today, I came across one that is written by a professional translator, to whom the International Phonetic Alphabet is trivial. I read his examples of how to pronounce some commonly difficult words, and I can honestly say that I came away from it knowing less than when I started. Don't get me wrong, its a well-done site -- but it's aimed at professional-grade linguists, those who likely scoff at Rosetta Stone and the like. I guess there are some resources that it's better not to use. Even if I did learn what the French acronym MDR means (it's their equivilent of LOL).

Incidentally, I'm pleased with myself. A little bit, anyway. I was able to make a teasing comment to my wife, in French. Not great French, but comprehensible. Maybe there is hope.

Cool? Yes.

I wouldn't buy one just because of this ad, but it brings me to think kindly about the brand. I imagine that's their goal.

...and some outtakes:


Found here.

Lingua Franca

I've created a couple of large (5x7) index cards with key concepts in French that I want to drill myself on while I'm waiting at stop lights, or for my daughter. One has three verbs - to be, to have, and to want - with the conjugations for past (passe composé), present, and future; at the bottom, I've got basic French possessive adjectives, which is one of my many weak points.

I was just looking at the card's source, and noted that the passe composé for you went was Vous êtes allés, which I suppose would be literally translated as You are went, or You are gone. I wondered if the êtes was pronounced ET or ETS, so I went to the Forvo site and looked it up. Apparently, it can be both, though it's more likely to be just the first. Along the way, I found these useful phrases:

Vous êtes très belle.

Vous etes d'ou ?

Êtes vous mariés ou célibataires?

Handy language, French.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Okay, you have to like Doctor Who in order to like this --


I got my application for a new passport in to the post office today -- gee, the clerk helpfully remarked, you just missed being able to just renew the existing one! And the price increase, too! -- and while I was there, I got a peek into the back room. It explained a lot.

Found here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Weird car doings.

One of the van remotes essentially stopped working more than five feet from the van. Put in new batteries, and then it wouldn't work at all. Brought the car in, and they said the remote works just fine. Which it does. Sure, guys, I'm dumb enough not to know how to push a button.

I was following my wife home and called her to say that I wasn't sure all of her tail lights were on. Boop -- her right brake light goes out.

And my neighbor got an engine overheat light, figured low coolant. Come to find that a) the radiator leaks, and b) so does the head gasket. So now she's totally without a car, and looking. I feel so badly for her. Me, I just feel stupid, but her. Man. (Its the neighbor who's husband is in prison. Like she needed more stress in her life.)


I know they don't show clips of the dull parts, but this Battle for LA flick looks pretty intense.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


When a web site mentions that the company operates a 'state of the art' facility, I always assume that means 'state of the art....five years ago'.

Last night my daughter asked me to bake some cookies, which I did. I thought the first ones were too small, though, so I upped the size for the remainders, which fit nicely into a glass jar. I put the smaller ones into a smaller jar, and labeled the big one 'Mom and Dad'. My daughter's name went on the smaller one. When she saw that, she switched the signs, as expected. I took the sign with her name off the big jar and back onto the smaller one, covering ours, and secured it with lots of visible tape. That left the big jar with no sign. When I saw it again, her name was still on the small jar, but now the big jar had a sign that said "This One Too".

Cool kid.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Saying It

My father would pronounce the word 'pizza' as pitza. I always thought that a bit funny, knowing that the correct way was peetsah.

Now I find that the French pronounce it - same spelling as us - this way: pidza.

I guess if they won't ask me how we got the T sound from a word with no Ts in it, I won't ask them where they get the D from.


Seventeen years ago this week, I got a call from a local hospital. My wife said "I know you just went home, and it's snowing, and icy, but they want to do it now, and I really don't want to go through this thing alone."

Considering the result, I'm glad I went.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Design Thought

I think that devices like the iPad should have a deal on the back that's a rigid loop to use as a handle when you're carrying it, or an easel-type rest for when you're reading from it. Ditto Kindles and such. With a non-skid rim, all 'round. Just sayin'....

Hear This

I posted a video some time ago which was an ad for, I think, Motorola and their marvelous noise cancelling Bluetooth headset. It showed a woman having a casual conversation while dozens of Santas rang loud bells near her. She was unfazed, carrying on her conversation with elan. I didn't completely believe the ad -- does anyone make totally honest ads? -- but still, I thought, that Bluetooth must be pretty cool. Well, now, with our new phone, I have BT, and I think: not bad. Not great, but not bad.

I've been delighted to find out that I could be walking down the street, or driving, and just tell the phone to call a name in my Contacts list, or to dial a specific number, and it would. Of course, I've also had the classic Did you say....Mozambique? responses a couple of times. That's the one that leads to you looking like a crazy person as you drive down the road, shouting No, dammit, I said CALL MONIQUE! Followed by Did you say Call For A Peek? Well, actually....NO, DAMMIT!!!

In fact, as I walked back to the car, talking to my wife (and thinking about that comedian who said that now you really have to look for the earpiece to tell whether this muttering person approaching you is a crazy person or a normal one), I thought Wouldn't it be cool to be able to say UNLOCK VAN as I approached? Or even Call Home, Connect to the Computer That's On The Kitchen Table, Look up the Recipe for Meatloaf And Tell Me How Much Ground Beef I Need? And While You're There, Check My Email. (This from a guy who refused to pay for a Data Plan so that I could do it from the phone.) Still - yeah. That'd be cool.

But till then....this is okay.

Did you say Make My Day?

Sunday, February 06, 2011


I have the French Easy Reader, the history of boulangeries, the Creative Nonfiction magazine I cited the other day, Monocle magazine (a jazzy version of the Economist, more or less), Rumpole, and a kid's novel, Green Rider. Guess which I'm going to read first?

Trick question. Two are bedroom reading, one's the dining room reading, one's the kitchen reading.... and two move around.



There are days when I am convinced that I will never get the French accent right. Trying to pronounce apprendre -- which can be roughly spelled out as app-pron-duh-ruh --has caused the last 24 hours to be one of those days. Its got one of those -- I don't know the right word, I think of it as glottal stop --sounds somewhere around that first R, and it does not play nicely with my denture. I think of that sound as 'you're trying to hock up a hairball, and it's refusing to budge'. No, really -- go listen.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


"Sometimes a man buys a house in order to have a dog. A man walks a dog so that he doesn't look like a child molester when he walks in the woods. Alone and in the woods, a man is a threat. Give him a dog, though, and he becomes the symbol of American individualism. A man who lives alone is a strange neighbor, but a man with a dog is defused. The dog gives the man someone to talk with so that he seems not so crazy when he mutters to himself about the way the world works, how people betray each other, how politicians grow more corrupt and stupid. "

- Jeff Oaks, "Dog at Midlife"
- Creative Nonfiction magazine
- Winter 2011

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Windows Media Player (WMP) is a POS.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Better late than never.

As of about a week ago, I've been writing this blog for eight years.

That's, what, almost twelve actual thoughts?

Plugged In

Well, we're not the totally wired family. We don't have personal laptops (well, a little bit we do). We have no kindles or their ilk. We have a Nintendo DS.

But this week, we started using a new laptop - HP G62. Mostly not bad, except for the irritating quick-launch buttons along the left side, and the occasionally non-responsive touch pad area. But its new, and therefore has a strong hinge. Me like. And I'm getting used to Windows 7.

And today, we energised and activated three new phones, switching to a family plan with Verizon from the AT&T GoPhone. My daughter's is music-equipped, which means she won't have to get a new MP3 player to replace the one whose screen was damaged by an errant color guard bottle of shampoo. They're all camera equipped (though we did disconnect, immediately, the daughter's data plan. No web surfing, no emailing of nifty photos), and the menus work much more nicely than the old Nokias (about four-five years old, I think). The fonts are bigger, too (the daughteroid doesn't care, but us, you bet.) This is goodness.

Okaye annual cost is gonna be twice as much (easily) as the GoPhones. We can handle that. We just won't eat on Tuesdays.

So we're happy.


Last night, I woke up around 3AM, and didn't get back to sleep until almost five. No idea why.

As I lay there, I found my thoughts turning to an article whose headline I had seen via PopURLs. The headline said it all -- Charlie Sheen is getting high on booze and drugs repeatedly, trashing hotels with prostitutes - and it's well known - publicized - yet he goes free. People with small amount of drugs go to jail, sometimes for long periods. Why is that?

My wife asked, the other day, what super-power I'd want to have -- I said teleportation, though there are several, not that I ever expect to have to choose -- and I thought that the one I wanted right that moment would be a form of mind-control, to make people see how egregiously awful this state of affairs is. To bring them to vigorously reject our culture's adulation with such scummy behavior. Once they know, I thought..... Then I thought: Perhaps many of them do know; they make great masses of money from it, though, and so they don't care. Hell, they facilitate it, want more of it. While the masses treat it as the ancient Roman citizens did the food and circuses. Which lead me to thinking about swinish bankers and brokers, and their fascination with granting themselves obscene -- truly obscene -- salaries and bonuses, awash with champagne and gilded offices. I thought that perhaps the super-power ought to be the ability to make people see themselves as others saw them.

Then I went back to sleep.