Monday, June 27, 2005


Every now and then you discover something surprising in ordinary things. This weekend I started making Rosemary-Olive Oil Bread from Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery. When I was ready to shape the boules, I decided to reread the description since that step never seemed to work right. In the past, I'd assumed the boule (French for ball) was rolled like a ball of clay. But the directions are clearly refering to a horizontal, twisting motion. I couldn't understand how this was going to work, but this morning I tried it.

Needless to say, the twisting technique worked beautifully. And the bread is delicious.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The one that got away

I just got an email from a co-worker about his son's "matriculation from elementary school". (I'm not 100% that's the right usage. From the definition I read, it sounds like you can't matriculate from something.) It's impossible to describe the image that sprang to my mind. Mostlikely any image you think of would suffice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Is Wal-Mart exporting jobs?

I just watched a Frontline episode about Wal-Mart that suggested the company is forcing companies to manufacture in China. It's a complicated issue but one comparison the show made is clearly faulty. The focused on a town in Ohio that used to be home to a television parts manufacturer that was forced to close because of Chinese price competition. Meanwhile, a Wal-Mart opened up. Obviously the Wal-Mart jobs paid much less and offered none of the benefits of the manufacturing jobs. It would clearly be a huge step down for those people.

But why would anyone make that transition, except to stay in their hometown? In contrast, millions of Chinese workers are leaving their agricultural communities to the new industrial cities on the coast in order to get better jobs. They make nothing compared to what they could make here, but substantially better than what they could do at home. This is the same process America went through nearly two hundred years ago.

I imagine most people who lost jobs to China found equivalent or better jobs, or just went into retirement. They might have moved, or pursued more education, or done something less interesting, but I'd be surprised if too many had to work at Wal-Mart. The contrast is stark, but not really meaningful.

The real irony is that people who buy cheap, Chinese-made TVs from Wal-Mart can spend more money on other things, like contributing to PBS programming. It's a bit of a stretch, I suppose. On the other hand, we bought our TV at Wal-Mart and this summer we started a Netflix subscription so that we'll have something to watch on it. Other people pay for cable and buy TiVos, or but DVDs at Wal-Mart. Surely some of our collective disposable income is creating jobs in the US.

And it's not like stopping Wal-Mart would keep the high-paying manufacturing jobs here. Wal-Mart's an easy target, but every retailer is involved with cutting costs by importing from China. The real problem, if there is one, is that Americans have gotten used to the idea that full employment is it's own goal. Franklin Roosevelt said it best: "No Country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order." If you focus on the last sentence, employment seems to be a birthright, but the first sentence makes clear the productivity cost of unemployment. If the Chinese can make TV parts cheaper and better than we can, we need to find ways to be more productive.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Joy's old Palm m100

During my vacation to the East Coast last month, I had some time to read The Psychology of Everyday Things. The book make lots of really great points about how designers have failed users in a wide variety of everyday things, but I was especially struck by the author's desire for a device that very strongly resembles the PDA. Since the book was written in the late 1980s, the cheap, powerful, simple, connected devices that so many people rely on, didn't exist.

Joy stopped using the Palm m100 she got free when she bought her UCLA class ring. I'm not sure why, but I think it got replaced by her cell phone. At any rate, it's been sitting in our desk drawer. So I bought a few more researchable AAA batteries and started using it to see what all the fuss is about.

Some observations:

  • It's a pain to carry around. I wouldn't have done it at all except that my job forces me to carry a cell phone now, so I carry a messenger bag to work to hold the phone and I throw in the Palm too.
  • It works better than the Yahoo Messenger alarm for keeping track of meetings and appointments if only because I carry it around more.
  • The time doesn't get updated when I do a synch with my desktop. Surely this is an option on newer PDAs. Actually, a built in GPS or cell phone would solve this too.
  • It's great to be able to synch with Yahoo address, calendar and todo lists.
  • I don't bother using Graffiti or the popup keyboard if I can help it. It's easier to enter things on my desktop. Of the two, Graffiti seems to be the winner once you get over the learning curve.
  • Games are a bit slow, but that is a function of the device's age more than anything else.
  • All-in-one devices (phone, GPS, PDA, camera, etc.) will have a definite advantage for the average person.
  • I have to be sure to enter meeting times as soon as I get an email. Otherwise, I'll miss them.

"Not dead yet!"

Ok. I haven't posted anything in forever, but I've got some good excuses:

  1. New job responsibilities
  2. Two and a half week vacation
  3. Two year old son
  4. Writer's block
  5. Perfectionist streak
  6. Bad hair days
  7. Lost an hour to Daylight Savings Time
  8. Too busy trying to find HTML way to reverse order of lists
  9. Embarassed by the complete lack of new posts
  10. Been reading not writing