Un-GoogleAds

In case you hadn't noticed, I did away with Google ads on my blog pages and the Amazon advertising on the archive. I really only make money from the ads on the Fat Burning Soup Diet Results page that I made back in 1996. It apparently attracts people who like to click on ads, occasionally buying stuff, so pretty much all the ads will live there. That, and a few friends [well, as best I can tell, just Jan] click through the Amazon link to buy stuff.

I'm not trying to be a cult follower by mentioning this again, but this stems directly from Chris Guillebeau's book, The Art of Nonconformity: 279 Days to Overnight Success. He mentions that novice Internet users believe that you have approved all links on your page — and the majority of the readership is novice Internet users. This is a kind of perfect storm disaster: it sends your readers off your site, and with good odds that it will be an unpleasant experience which they attribute to you giving bad advice. I have been cautious to place ads, but I had confidence that Google would provide good ads.  However, their ads have been at best mediocre and at worst irrelevant.

I'll continue to link to Amazon when I mention book titles because I think that — despite the commercial purpose of the site (and their occasionally very questionable business practices) — Amazon is a good resource for reviews and information about a media title. Not to mention, I get a cut if anyone buys a copy … although so far, I don't think anyone has actually purchased a linked book or movie.

So hopefully JayceLand will be a better experience — especially for those who are not reading the comments in the style sheets. [Hint: nobody wins on that quip for there is nothing interesting in the style sheets, and the vast majority of users have no idea what I'm talking about anyway.]

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Nearly 15 Years of "Sassy"

Today I went to New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (2199 E. Henrietta Rd., Suburban Plaza) and surrendered the license plates to my 1994 Honda Civic that Ali dubbed "Sassy" (largely because of its temperamental handling in its old age). [And I asked, but they wouldn't let me take a picture of the ceremony.] I bought it on June 5, 1994 from John Holtz Honda (3925 W. Henrietta Rd., Henrietta) with 53 miles on it and drove it to 170,530 miles.

As I wrote earlier, the ratio between the cost of ownership and the benefits of ownership was getting worse and worse. This year, I strongly believe it would not have passed its New York State safety inspection as it has numerous problems ranging from a rusted gas filler and a semi-operational windshield wiper switch to a warped disc rotor, non-existent rear shocks, and a noise that's indicative of a failing constant-velocity joint.

So rather than wait for something to fail catastrophically (and in the process, continue to pay insurance on a vehicle that I seldom drive), I opted to take it off the road for good.

My plan is to disassemble the car piece-by-piece. Some parts I'll keep for other projects or souvenirs, but most I'll either sell them, give them away, recycle them, or — if need be — throw them away. I'd also like to maintain a blog of the process with an associated database, documenting each component part.

See, I'd like to get more experience with MySQL and this is the kind of project that has the ideal combination of sufficient complexity and low risk to conquer such an endeavor. Plus, I'd like to apply some of the things I learned from Chris Guillebeau's book, The Art of Nonconformity: 279 Days to Overnight Success … perhaps applying some of that to JayceLand someday.

But what to call it? I'll register a domain name for the project soon and I'm leaning toward something like "Goodbye Sassy" and specifically avoiding things that mention "Honda" or "Civic" in the title. So get out your creative fingers and drop a comment. With some pestering on your part, your comment makes you eligible for miscellaneous pieces and trinkets left over, or an invitation to the Airbag Detonation Experiment.

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Seeing The Visitor and Thomas McCarthy at The Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) for a last-minute addition: The Visitor, a film by Thomas McCarthy who was there to discuss it and answer questions. In short, it's about a rather emotionally-closed college professor who visits his apartment in Manhattan only to find that there are two illegal immigrants living there. As McCarthy pointed out, it's not really an illegal immigration "issue film"; I found it to be superbly warm with a bittersweet ending full of hope and possibility.

Overall, it reminded me of a time when I was at Burning Man in 2006 which I wrote about before. I was riding far past the edge of the main city one night, headed toward a light way off in the distance when I suddenly came upon the trash fence (and outer boundary) of the festival. On the one hand, I knew the entire event was bounded, but I had a much deeper and different understanding when I actually touched the gilded cage around me.

Likewise with The Visitor, it points out the same thing about America — in some ways a magical land of freedom, but in others, just a gilded cage no different from anywhere else.

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Mountains, Autumn in Halifax, and Stone Baby at the Bug Jar

Later that night, Ali and I headed to The Bug JarMySpace link (219 Monroe Ave.) to see the bands. Starting off, Stone BabyMySpace link did some pretty good ambient noise although I got tired of it before they had finished. Likewise, the last band was Mountains who did also performed some good ambient noise — somewhat different and somewhat more engaging than Stone Baby.

Autumn In HalifaxMySpace link played in the middle. I was impressed when I first heard Dave Merulla's solo presentation, but have grown to love the band with "the Leaves" — a semi-rotating group of backup performers. On this particular night, I made a note that they "uncork my dreams and inspires me to create". The meandering melodies and the ambiguous lyrics lead my mind to a place where I contemplate my dreams, goals, and projects in life. It's really a treat.

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Ali and I Celebrate Three Years Together at Rocco

Today is the day Ali and I first met three years ago … who can believe it? Huh? You?

Anyway, we went to the new Italian place Rocco (165 Monroe Ave., formerly The Olive Tree). I saw some notes on RocWiki on challenges in getting reservations [yeah, I know — in Rochester] so we set up ours two days earlier. As it turned out, the relatively small establishment was not completely full at any time while we were there.

The food was very good. Both of us were more impressed with the lasagne that Ali got than with the penne with pepper and spinach that I got. The tomato sauce on the former was the best Rochester has to offer. We had a nice bottle of wine (off the slightly confusing page of "everything is $25").

We decided to try 3 desserts, expecting them to be quite modest in size. My favorite was the maple and almond dish, sort of like a crème brûlée, minus the crisp top. The hazelnut gellato was great too. Although the canoli's were merely tasted (before being stored at my house, and consumed before they lost their freshness on Sunday), the nice lemon zest flavor was perfect.

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Andy Lock at Eastman House

I went to see Andy Lock speak about his Orchard Park: Utopia's Ghosts exhibit at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) He said that he thought the Eastman House presentation was the best he's seen, capturing the essence of the work. The exhibit is a series of images taken at a housing project called Orchard Park just prior to its demolition; from there, he projected them onto a wall of glow-in-the-dark paint and photographed the fading result. The green tint of the paint gives it a "radioactive" feel and evidence of brushstrokes in the phosphorescent paint gives it a pastoral feel as well.

Thematically, I agree that it captures the notion of "idealism lost" — that these buildings were made to provide some kind of idealized housing to folks, but as the buildings aged, that veneer was worn off completely, leaving the stark reality of really quite basic housing. Plus, the exploration of modern ruins is a running theme in modern photography.

Since he had explored this subject so deeply, I asked him why the ephemera was so exciting while the actual inhabitants probably were not? — that an artist will seldom have interest in the people who lived there, yet be fascinated by the vague shadows of their existence.  He said that the appeal is that we can project ourselves into a fantasy of what was rather than the detailed reality of what is. So, for instance, when a couple chairs are placed at odd angles to one another, they tell a certain kind of story, but there was probably little similarity between the placement of the chairs and the relationship of the people who used them.

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Trying Out Zipcar

I borrowed a Zipcar with Ali and Christina today.

I heard about the program a couple years ago and was quite excited about it. In 2006, they introduced some cars at The University of Rochester (Elmwood Ave. at Intercampus Dr.) and I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was only for people affiliated with the university. The other week I was listening to Car Talk and they mentioned Zipcar again so, on a whim, I checked out the site.

The cars were indeed still at the UofR and I clicked to join. This time, I got as far as the page where they asked for my credit card information and noted that I had not been asked about working for the UofR. I called and they confirmed that the program is now open to anyone so I finished signing up.

Zipcar is a car sharing program. It costs about $50/year to be part of the program. In Rochester, there are 5 cars (4 parked at the UofR river campus and the other parked at The Eastman School of Music (26 Gibbs St.)) Each one costs $7 per hour or $60 per day to use — insurance, gas, and 180 miles for each calendar date the car is reserved are included.

I decided to crunch some numbers to see if that's reasonable. I've owned my now-dying Civic for 15 years now. Figuring everything I spent on it, it's cost $0.26/mile for its 170,434 miles or about $3,000 per year. On average each year, it's been about $500 for gas, $500 for insurance, and $650 for repairs and service. However, I've changed my driving habits and last year I only drove about 4,000 miles, so that works out to an ongoing cost of about $0.41/mile. If I estimate an average of 40 miles/hour overall, I only drove the Civic for about 100 hours last year.

Taking the $1,650 annual cost against the $7/hour cost of Zipcar, that's about 235 hours; the daily rate works out to 27 days. In other words, if I get rid of the Civic altogether, I can break-even with Zipcar as long as I stay under 235 hours in a year. As I said, I changed my driving habits and try to do as much as I can by bike — or avoid trips altogether — so it doesn't seem particularly difficult.

The idea behind car sharing is that you don't need a car per se. Almost all the time it's just moving people from one place to another — you only really need a car if you're hauling things. Of course, if you have small children, it's much more convenient to have a car, but you might be able to get away with one car instead of two in a household.

So anyway, I tried it out. I reserved the Honda Element named "Eastman" for a couple hours. Since it's generally used by college students, it was … well … a lot like a college student's car: kind of a disgusting mess inside, what with a McDonald's bag, garbage, and food all over the place. I suspect it was as bad as it gets because nobody wanted to clean it all winter.

But overall it was a pretty easy process. In the future, I'll bike to the pick-up location rather than take the 20-minute walk and just lock my bike nearby for retrieval when I return the car. (That's another thing: you can't do one-way trips — you have to return the car from the place you found it when you're done.) For now I'll hold onto the Civic (and don't forget we also have the wagon) until it fails to pass inspection later this year.

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Maira Kalman at RIT

I headed to RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map) to see Maira Kalman speak as part of The Caroline Werner Gannett Project. As far as I can tell, she's a respected artist who generally paints with a feeling of childlike innocent observation. The title of her talk was Just Looking — and I understood that to refer to the act of looking without distraction, without thinking, and without judging. Her discussion was very similar to her TED Lecture, "Maira Kalman, the illustrated woman" in case you'd like to see for yourself.

Overall I found her to be charming, witty, and kind-of irritating. She's has a disarming self-defacing kind of demeanor at this lecture — for instance, she referred to her art as "just a side thing", claiming that cleaning is her main task in life. I felt as though she gets a lot of credit for observing the small things in life that go unnoticed by the seeming majority of people. And that group, I think, finds her observations incredibly fascinating. But I, well — not so much. This kind of observation is not particularly new to me, and pretty integral to my way of life.

She also seemed to take great pride in not knowing anything — something I disliked on two levels.

First, I think it's a philosophy that attracts bad communists. By that, I mean that there is a certain kind of person who has little in the way of skills, but who feels entitled to be cared for by others. And by skills, I mean not only job-worthy skills of the day, but basic functional survival skills.

In this day and age, it's somewhat irrelevant, because despite what people who write books about winning say, this is a plentiful age. As such, "survival of the fittest" is not relevant today — we're in the equilibrium between the punctuating of the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution. It's only during those times of dramatic hardship that hoarding and winning against your neighbor is necessary.

And so these people are not "entitled" but "lucky". True: there is a certain amount of luck to surviving when a volcano erupts and causes a tremendous change in the world's climate, but knowing how to purify water, prepare food, and build reliable shelter are things that would shift your chances of surviving. "Knowing nothing" won't help you nearly as much.

Second, the whole claim to "not knowing" is a lie. She knows full well how to observe, how to paint, how to filter the finest grains of the world — all things that show in her work. I think her point might be that "knowing" is not the be-all, end-all of existence. "Doing" is another significant part of a rewarding life — for "doing" is the only success there is; "not doing" the only failure.

But by focusing on the "not knowing", there is another kind of person who irritates me who embraces that meme: those who argue that knowledge is a folly. They're frequently also lousy communists, but occasionally they're just philosophers who are too deep in the rabbit hole. The basis for their argument is irrefutable: you cannot predict the future. If you can't predict the future, then any knowledge is barely a guess as to what's going to happen — so why try with this whole "knowing" thing at all when it's just a recording of the way things happened before?

It would be a disturbing day indeed if I had a basket of six apples and put three more in, only to find there were now 4,388 apples in the basket. But until that day, there will be nine apples in the basket. So as long as metal conducts electricity, and gravity is pretty much constant, and I can catch a ball, and the Internet does what the Internet did, I'll stick with knowing.

The trick, I think — and my interpretation of Kalman's talk — is to be able to turn it all off. It's a fascinating exercise to see the world not as objects in space, but as strangely behaving colors and shapes. To look at a tree and just see it as a trunk that splits and splits and splits ultimately into tiny twigs is good. To live in that world of wonder all the time … eh, not so much.

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