Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are cats inherently optimistic?

We don't really have a cat, but there's a lovely black feline with white paws and a white throat who enjoys visiting our apartment from time to time. Well, pretty much daily. Yes, of course that implies we feed her, she's a cat, if we didn't feed her she'd dump us in a New York minute.

We've given this cat a silly name, but it is what it is, so I'll swallow my embarrassment and admit it: "Snowboots" is what we call her. The photo is of Snowboots sunning herself on the rail of our back porch.

Snowboots likes to sleep. As I said, she's a cat. She likes to sleep on chairs. That's fine, except when she's sleeping on my chair at the kitchen table and it's time for a meal, or when she's sleeping on my desk chair and I want to work there.

Naturally, as the bigger mammal, when Snowboots is sleeping where I want to sit I have the power to, um, exercise my authority. I move her. Gently, of course. Respectfully. And often to another nice, soft chair that she is free to sleep on to her little heart's content. Not that Snowboots enjoys this challenge to her absolute freedom of choice. She and I get into this sort of tussle frequently, almost every time she visits.

Snowboots also likes to sleep on our bed, which we discourage by keeping the bedroom door closed. Except when we forget, in which case Snowboots marches in straightaway and settles herself atop the down comforter, just as she pleases, queen of the world.

Sometimes when one sleep-venue possibility is foreclosed, Snowboots will race me to another. For example, if I close the bedroom door before she sneaks in, she might race to my desk chair to secure a sleeping spot there. I sometimes race after to claim my desk chair first, so I won't have to perform a chair extraction. Sometimes I catch up, win the race, and Snowboots is S.O.L. Other times Snowboots wins.

And there's the funny thing.

What does it mean to this cat to "win" a race to my desk chair?

She jumps onto it, and begins to settle herself. Then I catch up, and lift her off the chair, and set her elsewhere. Happens every time.

In the end, I'm the bigger mammal.

Still, she continues to race me for the right to sit on my chair.

Does that mean Snowboots is an indefatigable optimist?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Footgloves as video game fantasy?

Do you know what I mean when I write "footgloves"? I mean those newfangled toe shoes -- like form-fitting rubber socks -- made by Vibram. Some disoriented marketing guy branded them "FiveFingers."

They've become pretty popular in Berkeley. The manufacturer's theory of the shoes' value sounds pretty convincing:

Our revolutionary design makes feet healthier by allowing them to move more naturally and freely. The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.

People swear by this whatever-you-call-it footwear, especially runners if one judges from reviews like the ones on Amazon. Some find FiveFingers strange-looking, which I suppose they are in relation to the sorts of shoes one is used to seeing. I can't say I'm tempted to try them, they don't fit my usual style ... but it takes all kinds, right?

As I dressed after a swim at the YMCA the other day, a young guy next to me was donning a pair before heading upstairs to his workout. The shoes turned him into an oddly multi-colored lizard below the cuffs of his sweatpants, and it struck me that there's something kind of cartoonish about the things. Especially the brightly colored ones. I think the guy in the gym was wearing the KomodoSport model.

It was then that I realized I'd mostly seen men wearing these shoes in the "wild." I've seen a few rubber-skinned women too, but around Berkeley it's mostly the guys who go for these things. Then the thought crossed my mind that it's also mostly guys who play screen-based games (or at least I imagine that's true).

So, one thought leading to another, I wondered: beneath the health and comfort claims, is the allure of Vibram FiveFingers shoes especially strong for those who might be tempted to fantasize themselves as video game characters?

Conceivable? Far-fetched? What do you think?

Thanks to drazz for the image shared on Flickr.

For the record: There's nothing that really needed to be blogged about today other than the U.S. debt ceiling fiasco playing out in D.C. But the world won't miss me if I sit out this meltdown, at least this week. For prior musings on the topic, see my 7 July post, Economic outrage. Hope you enjoyed the non sequiter....or, as Freud might have diagnosed it, the displacement of focus.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Migrating Palm to iPod: a dinosaur evolves

The Cretaceous era

I'm never the first to lunge for the bright and shiny. My apartment building dates from the 1920s. My car is a '91 Subaru.

I started using a Palm T|X a little more than halfway through the gadget's 3.5 year production run. I've been using it for about four years, until last week. What happened last week? I bought an iPod Touch 4G.

(Why not a smart phone -- an iPhone or an Android? Simple. I don't like to get sucked into screens when I'm out and about, and I hate talking on the phone. So why pay a monthly data plan fee only to suffer always-on internet and always-available phone service? Look, that's a plane ticket to Paris, each and every year. Think about it. Anyway, you can run Skype on the Touch 4G over a wireless connection, if you've got one. That's good enough for me.)

When I first got a Palm T|X I migrated the data from my Palm Tungsten T, a device I used for the previous four or five year. Mostly calendar, contacts, and a categorized pile of notes, everything from poems I like to carry in my pocket, to the battery type used in my desk clock, to New York restaurants that friends recommended, to my novel manuscript.

A novel manuscript, you ask? On a PDA? What ever for? Well, backup for one. Also, I have an infrared keyboard that works with the T|X, and software from DataViz called DocumentsToGo that lets me create and edit Word documents on the device. It's a handy way to work in a cafe, lighter than a laptop.

But I'm not selling Palm PDAs today, I'm talking about getting from point A to point B.

See, migrating from an old Palm to a new Palm is one thing. Palm had me covered, it was a cakewalk. Getting data from a Palm device into an iThing? That's another story altogether.

Warning to readers: this is going to get pretty geeky. More than anything it'll be useful to folks migrating from Palm to iPod themselves.

What to migrate?

With eight or nine years of accreted information in my latest Palm device, I was determined that before I made a switch I had to know I could get the important stuff moved over without undue pain. For me the important stuff included my old calendar data (which functions, essentially, as an electronic diary -- a record of what happened when); contact info that includes personal and work-related people and businesses; and all those notes, to which I've more-or-less outsourced long term memory.

A look around the web wasn't encouraging. I found little in the way of one-stop solutions. Those who claimed to have easy-to-use synch software that would migrate everything sold it at a cost (i.e., it wasn't freeware), which would have been fine ... but the fine print revealed that the products don't quite do everything after all.

Some of the solutions were cloud solutions. I wasn't looking for a cloud solution. The "P" in "PDA" stands for "Personal." Personal Digital Assistant. I didn't put information about who I met when, what I need to tell my doctor, and so on, into my P-as-in-personal D A only to upload it to some corporate-owned server and have Sergei Brin or Steve Jobs datamine it, or hand it over to the government. Nein danke.

What I really wanted was to use my new device's built-in synchronizing capability to migrate the big ticket items, and to keep a copy of that same data current on my home computer. If I could do that I'd be happy to let the little stuff go. Setting low expectations, in my experience, is the surest path when it comes to getting machines to do one's bidding. Did I mention that I work in Information Technology? Shoot yourself in the foot enough times, you learn a thing or two.

So what were the most likely options? Outlook. iCal. Address Book.

I'd never used any of these programs before. I've owned and worked on Microsoft computers since the early DOS days, but have avoided Outlook like the plague. I'd always figured the Mac's calendar and contact tools were for those who use Apple bit boxes as their primary machines. My Macbook is far from primary, it's a carry-to-meetings machine (a plague on meetings, with or without a sleek little laptop).

Nonetheless, Outlook, iCal, and Address Book looked like the most complete, ready-to-roll options for desktop synchronization of my new iPod Touch.

Since my main machine is a Windows 7 box, it looked like Outlook was going to have to replace Palm Desktop as my home computer's repository of the stuff I carry in my pocket device. I installed Outlook 2010 reluctantly -- I'd unchecked it when I first installed the MS-Office suite, because I had no interest in using the application. So it goes.

The pain

But neither the export capabilities of any one version of Palm Desktop, nor the iPod-friendly import and synch capabilities of any one desktop app or suite were up to the task. Not solo.

Palm Desktop 6.2.2 on my Win 7 machine would happily export all my notes, and keep the categories straight; and Outlook 2010 would happily import them. But that version of the Palm software wouldn't export all my old calendar data in a single go, or my contacts either. And one-at-a-time was a non-starter.

Palm Desktop 4.2.2 on the Mac, on the other hand, would export calendar data and contacts (as vCal and vCard data sets), which could be imported into iCal and Address Book on my MacOS 10.6 laptop ... but I didn't see a way to move the notes over using the Mac software.

I needed all the bit boxes I could get my hands on. And two versions of Palm Desktop. The migration was going to be a hack. Pity the schlub trying to juggle this stuff on one operating system.

How I migrated

First I exported my data from the desktop-synched copies of what I had on my Palm device, and into desktop software to which the iPod Touch 4G could synch:

  • Calendar: From Palm Desktop 4.2.2 on MacOS 10.6, I exported all calendar items as vCal. Then I imported them into iCal (included w/ Mac OS 10.6).
  • Contacts: From Palm Desktop 4.2.2 on MacOS 10.6, I exported all contact items as vCard. Then I imported them into Address Book (also included w/ Mac OS 10.6).
  • Notes: From Palm Desktop 6.2.2 on Win 7, I exported all notes as Tab-separated values. Then I imported them into Outlook 2010. While I was there, I moved categories of notes into folders I created using the category names. This was a waste of time as far as the iPod is concerned, but it keeps the notes more organized on my desktop.

Next, I did a double-synch trick.

When I first started the new iPod Touch 4G I synched to iTunes on my Win 7 machine. That became my "home" iTunes instance, but the first synch was all about music, not about moving PDA data into the iPod.

Once I had all my Palm data exported and imported properly into iTunes-compatible desktop software, it was time to port it to the new device via synchs to iTunes on both my Mac and Win 7 computers:

  • First I synched the iPod to iTunes on the Mac. I had to be sure to specify that I did not want to overwrite the iPod with the music in my Mac instance of iTunes -- I wanted to keep my Win 7 desktop as the machine to which I would normally and primarily synch. But on the "Info" tab of iTunes, I specified that I wanted to synch Contact and Calendar data between the Mac and the iPod. VoilĂ . Palm data migrated.
  • Second, I synched again to iTunes on my Windows machine, this time specifying on the "Info" table that I wanted to sync Contact, Calendar, and Notes data with Outlook. Voila, Palm notes from Outlook to the iPod, iPod calendar and contacts from the (Mac synched) iPod to Outlook.

Then it was time to look at what got screwed up.

What I lost

Nothing worked perfectly. But, remember, I'd set my expectations low...

  • Calendar: This was the most painful migration. A lot of repeating events didn't migrate at all, I can't say why. Others migrated ... weirdly (all day events that ended up spanning two calendar days). And notes associated on my Palm T|X with repeating events that did migrate were nowhere to be found in Outlook or the iPod (they'd made it only as far as iCal). I had a fair few repeating events, many of which had notes, so that was disappointing. Repeating events are handled weakly in the iOS calendar app, so it's not so surprising that the migration dropped data at the iCal-to-iPod step. Alas. On the other hand, much of my calendar data did migrate, including future events which are the ones that matter most, so I'm just sucking it up, copy-pasting the future-essentials from Palm Desktop to Outlook, and letting the past remain archived in my Palm Desktop software. For a few more years, anyway, then it'll be bye-bye forever.
  • Contacts: So far I haven't found any lost data. On the other hand, custom fields are labeled in a pretty ugly way: X-Palm-Custom1: blah blah blah. Ditto for categories (X-Palm-Category1:...). Okay, I'll live with that. Over time, if I get really bored, I'll manually edit out the field names.
  • Notes: Notes on the iPod are weak too. There are no tags or categories, it's just a big old pile of stuff. The good news is that iOS makes it easy to search through big piles of stuff. Still. Bummer.

I didn't mention ToDo lists. I used them on the Palm, but iOS doesn't have a native ToDo app (that'll change in the Fall, it is said, with the rollout of iOS 5's "Reminders" app). I'm planning to copy-paste the ones that matter manually, assuming I upgrade to iOS 5. Yeah, I could download an app and have it now ... one friend recommended Toodledo, which is practically free at $2.99. Maybe I'll try it as I settle into the new device.

What I gained

So far I like the iPod Touch well enough. The wireless works great, and the Safari Browser is a better web experience by leagues than what the Palm T|X had to offer. The calendar is underpowered compared to the Palm device, but I'm learning to live with it. Skype can call phone numbers from the Contacts app if you have Skype credit or a subscription that pays for calling land lines: I do, and that's convenient. Handling music, of course, is what the iPod is really built for even though it's not my main interest in the device -- for me that's a nice to have. Ditto for the camera, with which I'm not impressed, but maybe I'll get the hang of it and come to depend on that more over time. The display is awesome.

Maybe the most dramatic gain is among the most mundane: because the Palm T|X is essentially a dead device, I couldn't get an up-to-date app to keep a schedule for the BART system -- the Bay Area's regional rail -- to carry in my e-pocket. Problem solved, thanks to iBART, with a big shout-out to the Pandav team.

Anybody want to buy a used Palm T|X?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Rock, Paper, Digital Preservation
Safeguarding cloud ephemera Part I: the big picture

Thanks to Stefano Palazzo for the Palm T|X image on the Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 18, 2011

An abundance of rats

I wrote a long screed about rats in January, precipitated by a stink in the anteroom between the kitchen and back porch of our apartment here in Berkeley. Here it is July, six months later. And guess what we smelled when we got home Saturday night? Yup. You got it, first guess.

Writer Leslie Larson, our down-the-street neighbor, invited her friend and fellow-author Spring Warren to write on the topic Welcome Spring (and her rats) in early April. I'd seen Leslie at a reading a couple of months before, and we'd had ourselves a chat about the rat that died in our anteroom, and rats jumping out of her compost pile in the back yard. Well, the fun has continued.

In May I found a rat on the sidewalk out front of our building. The little bugger had given up the ghost right there in the middle of everything. I got out the shovel and scooped him into the garbage bin. Didn't even flinch. I'm getting better at this...

Then I had a phone call from one of our downstairs neighbors a couple of weeks ago. They were traveling, and had just heard from their house-sitter that she walked into the bathroom and found a ginormous rat in the toilet, dead. I'd met her a few days before, she was looking for help getting onto our shared wireless network. A-- struck me as a bit high strung. Indeed, on finding the rat she left in a big big hurry, and our neighbors were calling to ask us to look after their place for a few days, until their return. Meanwhile they called our 3rd floor neighbor, who does odd jobs for our landlord, and begged him to deal with the drowned rodent rather than let the thing decay any further.

So with all that as prelude we didn't have much doubt what smelled rotten the other night. When I excavated on Sunday morning, gingerly, just like last time pulling one box or tarp at a time from the packed-in mess under the anteroom's shelves, I found just what we expected. First the long tail. Then the rest of him, kind of a little guy, a juvenile I suppose. He was lying on his belly just like the last one, looking almost alive. I assure you, however, he was thoroughly and unmistakably dead.

Out with the shovel again.

My theory (you've got to have a theory, right?) is that the unusually late and heavy rains this year have kept all kinds of things growing that feed the bottom of the food chain. There's more wildlife everywhere. In fact, I think that's probably why we saw a bobcat for the first time in thirteen years visiting Walker Creek Ranch last month, as I wrote about in Bobcat hunts gopher: a video. In the city, and Berkeley does qualify as something of a city, we have had our share of neighborhood mountain lions, but in general wildlife tilts heavily toward, well, racoons and rats.

One of these days we're going to have to figure out where the rodents are getting in, then seal up the holes. I may not get as freaked out about rats as I used to, but that doesn't mean I enjoy their company. Dead or alive.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Bobcat hunts gopher: a video

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Music, memory, nostalgia ... and the novel

The other day I was writing a note (a.k.a. "e-mail") to a very dear friend, someone I've known since I was in high school. Without diving into the details, the correspondence gave rise to the usual, banal observation that old people like myself make -- you know, how much water has passed under so many bridges since blah blah blah.

As happens for many, I think, a song popped into my head as I typed, and I made reference to it: "Queue Fairport Convention," I wrote, tongue loosely implanted in cheek, and then pasted into the message a quickly-Googled link to a lovely acoustic rendering of Sandy Denny singing Who Knows Where The Time Goes. I found it on YouTube.

(If you like this performance, you can find it on the CD Classic Convention, one of a boxed set called Fairport Unconventional.)

Everyone who listens to music knows that it exerts a powerful pull on our emotions, and often evokes feelings and events and eras in our pasts ...with sometimes-disconcerting clarity. Nowadays, the ubiquity of MP3 players, iTunes, and the ability to find songs posted onto search-indexed sites like YouTube makes queuing up a song that pops into one's head a nearly-seamless experience. It's not even as much bother (!) as slipping a CD into the stereo, let alone setting up a vinyl disc on a turntable. Never mind the sound tracks provided to us by car radios and music-to-shop-by piped into retail stores of most every kind. Hearing recorded music is part and parcel of living in the present time, and the ability to shape one's own sound track has never been more broadly accessible.

So what does that mean to writers of fiction?

I mentioned in Monday's post, Craft and art: erasure and accent, that a question like this came up recently in my writers' critique group. One of our members referred to a singer & songwriter in a chapter she posted to the group; another of our number had never heard of the fellow (Gordon Lightfoot, if you didn't happen to read the Monday post). Others piled in, with one writer throwing lyrics to the cited Lightfoot song into our discussion thread for good measure. Some months before, that same writer included a 14-line stretch of lyrics from a song by Lily Holbrook in an early chapter of the novel-in-progress he's currently posting for critique.

I too excerpt lines from poetry, opera, and others' fiction in my own work. I already copped to inserting allusion to a painting into Consequence, my recently-completed novel manucript (check out Allusion in fiction, September 2010). Then there are the characters who chew over books or movies or TV shows they encounter, and that readers may have read or seen too.

There's much to consider here.

What's the right length of a quote from another author? Are fourteen lines from someone else's song too many? What about long runs of verse interleaved in a prose work, when the verse is the author's own creation -- as in J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, or, even more central to the work of fiction, A.S. Byatt's Possession? Does interleaved quotation distract from the flow of a story, or enhance its grounding in a culture?

I don't think there's any single answer to this sort of question. It always depends. It depends on the nature of the story, on the types of readers who will read it, on the nature and length of the quotation or allusion, on the familiarity or obscurity of the referenced material, on the smoothness or roughness of the insertion.

And to complicate matters further: How does the emergence of hyperlinked and/or multimedia e-books change the picture? As (some) books edge toward forms we now read on web pages (like blogs that link out to their subjects, or web pages that include a sound track), and readers adapt to or -- dare one imagine? -- even embrace these changes, how will the experience of reading books merge with the modern, mobile-web experience of hyperlinked life?

What do you think?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Craft and art: erasure and accent
Aleksandar Hemon on Narrative, Biography, Language
Allusion in fiction
Drafting vs. editing

Monday, July 11, 2011

Craft and art: erasure and accent

Adam Gopnik, in "Life Studies: What I learned when I learned to draw" (The New Yorker, 27 June 2011) wonders at the way a line moved a mere thirty-second of an inch can change a drawing's character, and how the change itself becomes an element of the work's finish and power.

The choice of the first line could be freely made, unbounded, improvisational. For you could always erase and remake; the eraser was the best friend a would-be artist had. And the erased line, still barely visible beneath, had an eloquence of its own, since it smudged the space in a way that suggested pentimenti, second thoughts, a hazy penumbra of light and shadow. Light leaks in to the world, and an erased line with a line above suggests that leakage. Nothing in a graduate degree in art history prepares you for the eloquence of the eraser.

Nicely said, as readers of the magazine have come to expect of articles that carry Gopnik's byline.

I took life drawing classes myself once upon a time, shortly after college. I found it's harder than it looks ... but that, as Gopnik describes, even a clumsy beginner can make a bit of headway.

In matters of erasure and remaking, it's no different for writers -- except that nowadays we have the backspace key & cut-and-paste. In my on-line writers' critique group a number of us are working our way into new projects, myself included. At an early stage of our novels, some of us are all about erasing and remaking. Others prefer to blurt it all out, saving the erasing and remaking for later.

There's also accenting. Sometimes the addition of a few words -- not even a sentence -- snaps a passage into the relief and shadow one seeks.

One of my techniques as I edge into a new work of fiction is to write short stories that are "prequels" to the time and action of the novel itself. I develop some of these to a sufficiently polished point that I consider them finished; I treat others as quick exercises, just throwaway sketches. For the most part, I don't plan to splice these prequels into the novel itself. They're backstory.

The protagonist of my new novel project is in his early thirties, but he was fourteen in the first short story I wrote about him. In the one I'm working on now he's twenty. I posted the first part of that first short story for feedback from my writers' critique group a couple of months ago. Adam Gopnik's observation about erasing and remaking reminded me of some of their critique and my subsequent revision.

The opening paragraph of the submission to my group, was this:

I squeezed under the quarry's chain-link fence where we always did, where high school kids pried it up every summer. Brad loped ahead, a tie-dyed wifebeater hanging loose on his skinny frame, unnaturally neon in the moonlight. Jocks at school called him "hippie," even though he listened to edgier tunes than the kids who taunted him. Market Conditions, Disease, Dip Stix -- all fast, messy, distorted guitar and crazy-quick drums. I was the one who listened to Phish, I just didn't advertise it.

First person, obviously. But what wasn't obvious, and what confused this first group of readers most, is that the story is told by an adult looking back on his own boyhood. There were plenty of clues to this sprinkled throughout the story, but the backward-looking point of view wasn't firmly established at the start. For this reason, many in my group found certain passages 'too adult' in language, syntax, or perspective.

One writer observed, for example, "Dan's a 14 yr old, some of the vocabulary is still older sounding to me, as an older man is remembering v. a kid living it."

Yes! I thought when I read her critique. Just what I intended!

But, no. Not how she read it. I may have achieved the right effect in the voice, but if my readers had tuned their expectations for something different the effect was worse than lost: it was counterproductive, it pulled readers out of the story.

Gotta fix that.

Another thing the group questioned was that list of band names in the penultimate sentence quoted above. Were they real bands? Why use music that's so obscure, why not something your readers will have heard of? (Interestingly, the same writer whose feedback I cited a few paragraphs back got a related response a few weeks later, about mention of Gordon Lightfoot in a chapter she posted for feedback. One of our number had never heard of Gordon Lightfoot, which erupted into something of a culture war in our virtual-discussion thread.)

Aaaaanyway, as it happened, in my story's opening the band names were made up. I love to make up band names. In fact, I love to take snatches of things I hear people say, or say myself, and file them away as names for bands I might write into a novel someday. I have this "seat-of-pants theory," as I explained to the group as exchange about my short story unfolded, that "any good idea for a band name has already been used by someone." Still, I find the exercise amusing.

I digress.

Here's the story's opening paragraph, edited in light of my group's critique:

We squeezed under the quarry's chain-link fence where we always did, where high school kids pried it up every summer, and probably still do. Brad loped ahead, a tie-dyed wifebeater hanging loose on his skinny frame, unnaturally neon in the moonlight. Jocks at school used to call him "hippie," even though he listened to edgier tunes than the kids who taunted him. Market Conditions, Disease, Dip Stix -- bands nobody ever heard of, all fast, messy, distorted guitar and crazy-quick drums. I was the one who listened to Phish back then, I just didn't advertise it.

Three short additions, of four, five, and two words each.

The first sets the voice as a character looking to an earlier time in his life right in the initial sentance. The second relieves the reader of any obligation to recognize the band names. The third cements the distance from the narrator's present time to that of the story as a considerable span. Back then, that would have been a while ago.

Sometimes a few strategic accents are just the right thing. Other times you've got to bring that eraser to bear.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Aleksandar Hemon on Narrative, Biography, Language
Does a writer need a writers' group?
Drafting vs. editing

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Economic outrage

Today the President meets with legislative leaders of both parties to continue an excruciating game of chicken over whether D.C. dithering, spin, distrust, duplicity, and cowardice will converge at the moment our national debt ceiling maxes out, and flip the U.S. government's power switch to off.

I'm no economist, so I'll spare the blogosphere One Finger Typing's opinion in its author's own words. Instead, I'm going to cherry-pick from the nation's newspaper of record, a former Secretary of Labor, and a Princeton professor of economics who won the Nobel Prize in 2008.

No, it's not Joe Sixpack's take on how things work, but Joe Sixpack can post to his own blog. This one's mine.

Where's money going?

From an article titled, We knew they got raises, but this?, published by the NY Times, 2 July 2011:

The final figures show that the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million. That works out to a 23 percent gain from 2009. [...] And it’s not as if most workers are getting fat raises. The average American worker was taking home $752 a week in late 2010, up a mere 0.5 percent from a year earlier. After inflation, workers were actually making less.

Which tide lifts whose boats?

From UC Berkeley Professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Republican distortions a sign of desperation, published on 3 July 2011, in the SF Chronicle:

[...] rather than depress economic growth, higher taxes on the rich correlate with higher growth. During almost three decades spanning 1951 to 1980, when the top rate was between 70 and 91 percent, average annual growth in the American economy was 3.7 percent. Between 1983 and the start of the Great Recession, when the top rate dropped to between 35 and 39 percent, average growth was 3 percent. How to explain this? Easy. Since the early 1980s, a larger and larger share of total income has gone to the top (the richest 1 percent of Americans got 10 percent of total income in 1980 and get more than 20 percent now). That's left the vast middle class with insufficient purchasing power to boost the economy - without going deep into debt. Lower tax rates on the rich - including lower capital gains rates - have exacerbated this regressive trend.

A nation of people or a nation of corporate balance sheets?

From Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, in an op-ed titled Corporate Cash Con, published on 4 July 2011 in the NY Times:

And now trickle-down economics — specifically, the idea that anything that increases corporate profits is good for the economy — is making a comeback. On the face of it, this seems bizarre. Over the last two years profits have soared while unemployment has remained disastrously high. Why should anyone believe that handing even more money to corporations, no strings attached, would lead to faster job creation? [...] Lack of corporate cash is not the problem facing America. Big business already has the money it needs to expand; what it lacks is a reason to expand with consumers still on the ropes and the government slashing spending. What our economy needs is direct job creation by the government and mortgage-debt relief for stressed consumers. What it very much does not need is a transfer of billions of dollars to corporations that have no intention of hiring anyone except more lobbyists.

The big picture

Connecting the dots yet? No? Here, let Professor Reich show you how:

Monday, July 4, 2011

I see, you see, wee see

A student of art practice at UC Berkeley who also happens to be a cousin and one of my favorite people under twenty-five years old, posted this photo to her Tumblr the other day:

There are a couple of interesting things about the image, which has been around for a while (it's easy to find blogs and videos about it that have been posted for four, five, or six years ... sorry for the rehash if it's old news to you).

First interesting thing: it "worked." On me and on my partner both. When we first looked at it we saw two human figures, embracing.

Second, the viral claim on many blogs and websites -- that scientific research has proven young people see one thing when they look at this image while older people see another -- seems to be borrowed from the artist's website ... except that the 'scientific research' part has been grafted on. Spuriously? I can say that I haven't found any trace of scientific studies that involved this particular image, but that's not exactly proof of anything.

The piece is called Love Poem of the Dolphins, and the artist who created it is named Sandro Del-Prete. The artist has a website, advertises his gallery in Bern, Switzerland, and offers a gauzy biography that describes an epiphany with a chameleon and "his study at the Academia delle bell arte" in Florence, Italy, which you wouldn't want to confuse with the Accademia Gallery where Michelangelo's David resides.

From Del-Prete's own site:

This illustration incorporates a figure/ground perceptual reversal, and is an excellent example of one’s viewpoint being primed through experience. If one is young and innocent, they will most likely perceive a group of dolphins. Adults, on the other hand, will probably see a couple in a suggestive embrace. If one has trouble perceiving the dolphins, then simply reverse figure and ground: What normally constitutes the ground (dark areas), becomes a group of small dolphins (the figures).

I don't have kids myself, so I don't have any innocents handy to spot-check the uncorrupted half of this claim. When I look at the image now I see the dolphins, and I expect you do too. Like most optical illusions, all it takes to see through the misdirection is to see through it once. The image is a neat trick, though, even if it wasn't published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What did you see when you first glanced at the image? If you saw the dolphins first, how old are you? If you're older than eight, are you disqualified from participating in even an unscientific inquiry because you're a cetologist?