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2003 (old posts, page 5)

Only two things are certain

Tax returns suck, although they're not nearly as hard as H & R Block would have you believe. The 60 page 'easy version' volume is rather daunting at first, but a cup of java and a little patience seemed to be enough.

I'm not convinced it's fair that as an employee one has to pay tax on relocation expenses paid by the employer. A place to live, a rental car, flights, all free, seemed like a great deal at the time; I guess I'll just have to keep looking for my free lunch.

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Credit cards and freedom

Busy with work again, so not as much opportunity to post as much as I'd like.

I've just received a letter informing me I'm pre-approved for a platinum credit card; my 'individual' pre-approval code turns out to be 98765-5432. Either a strange coincidence, or a dismal failure of a marketing department in an attempt to make me feel special.

The freedom fries movement seems to be gaining momentum, with the US House now serving the stuff. While France may be using their veto to protect their own financial or political interests in Iraq, it's amusing to see how they've driven the house into this self-demeaning 'symbolic gesture'.

Besides, everybody know that French Fries come from Belgium. I think I'll stick with fish and chips thanks, even though the wrapped-in-newspaper delivery seems to be a source of delightful novelty to Americans.

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Slowly going insane

There are plenty of tales about how to make a person believe they're going insane. Filing a millimetre of wood off of the bottom of their chair legs every day, switching the regular and decaf, moving furniture around ever so slightly, shrinking clothes a little bit each week. In fact, there must be a list on the internet somewhere, but I've not looked.

My own personal experience in this field is my commute. In moving to Seattle from Redmond (which was undoubtedly one of my best decisions of late), I now spent anywhere between a thirty minutes to an hour getting to and from work, each way, every day. That time, relaxing as it sometimes may be, is not what I consider to be my own. At first a novelty, then a habit, now a chore, I'm now wondering how much of my mental wellbeing is left behind while sitting in traffic of Lake Washington.

I'm fairly convinced teleworking is never quite going to cut it. Depending on day-to-day responsibilities, it may work for some, but not nearly the majority. I have all the prerequesites in place, and may very well be 'productive' working in isolation in a selfish sense, but it'll be a long time before it fills the need for face-to-face communication.

Why haven't they invented a teleporter yet?

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Jumping the shark

The phrase "jump the shark", originally referring to Happy Days, but now more generally, refers to that single instant when things really can't get any better. And they don't. The inevitable demise from that moment of greatness is sometimes well documented and painfully evident, other times there's a faint wimper and no-one notices the gap left behind.

After a long winter of series like Joe Millionaire, American Idol, Survivor and The Bachelorette but to name just a few, I can't help but think the moment of reckoning for reality TV is near.

Married by America is a perfect demonstration of how you can take a fair idea with a decent amount of potential way too far. "Marriage is a sacred union between two people who have grown together over time - FOX says %#@! that", says it all really. I don't really hold any particular religious objection to the notion of a nation picking who should spend the rest of their lives wholly devoted to each other, but I mean come on, what are they thinking?

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Join the Navy

I've just seen an ad for the US Navy on TV which depicts the action on an aircraft carrier with a rather interesting voiceover.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of all who threaten it

For good or bad, it fairly accurately sums up the current foreign policy at the moment.

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A different take on English

How to pronounce the word 'ghoti'? Easy, take a look at some other words in English, and take it from there; let's try tough, women and station. A new spelling for the word 'fish' is born.

English spelling really is in a rather polluted state. Years of geographic spread, international adoption and historic precedent have really taken their toll. I read somewhere that only 17% of native English speakers can spell the six words height, necessary, accommodation, separate, sincerely and business. One has to wonder what the red squiggle in Word is doing to help that number too.

There's already plenty of interest in making things better, from the Spelling Reform Movement to the distributed collaborative effort at Text messaging may go a long way to introduce subtle shortcuts and changes, but the adoption of SMS isn't nearly as widespread in the US as it is in Europe, so one can easily picture further divergence before improvement.

The problem of accent remains - the ambiguity in pronunciation allows for regional variety that many hold as part of their identity. Introduce a one-sound-one-symbol approach like UNIFON and everything is almost too standardized. A simple word like 'dot' is pronounced quite differently between Queens English and American English, yet it's very hard to quantify how using letters alone (daughrt would be my closest approximation to it here in the Northwest, but it doesn't even come close).

The silliness isn't just confined to spelling either. Bill Bryson, in his excellent book Mother Tongue, observes how odd it is that the Royal Mail delivers the post, and the US Post Office delivers the mail.

Despite all this, it seems things are good enough. English is the common international language and I can only consider myself fortunate to have had so many years or practice.

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The Political Compass

After a referral by Garan, I just visited the Political Compass.

Economic Left/Right: -1.75
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -1.49

I'm amazed how much I've started to pay attention to politics these days. As one who always found it rather boring and uninteresting, I'm now paying far more attention, trying to understand peoples stances and beliefs. The key problem with the system in US is that there's no third voice. Even if people aren't paying huge attention to that third take, at least it's there are a point of reference.

I'm still trying to figure out what happened in the UK Parliament this week. The reports vary from 'conclusive win confirming Britain as a nation supports the US action' (paraphased from a CNN report), to 'significant backbench rebellion with the opposition being more supportive than the PMs own party'. If nothing else, it's made me realize on thing: the overall judgment of these events happens on the streets and in homes; people who claim to know nothing have invariably heard something that gives them a point of view. Even if they're not informed or in-depth, sheer numbers of opinions help to better construct a picture of where things are at. Take that away, and you're far more inclined to believe the first report you hear.

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Who says we're better than the machine?

I've just spent the last twenty minutes trying to outwit a computer at 20 questions; I have to say I'm impressed.

Easy ones it can get no problem - keyboard, airplane, carrot. Slightly harder and it's still getting koala, ox and snowboard. After a fierce battle of raw mental horsepower, I finally scored a victory by tricking it into think magnesium to my titanium.

While I'd like to believe the system really is that smart, I've a suspicion they've got a fairly good idea of the things people will try and use, so the total answer set really isn't that large. What especially intrigued me was the way the system asks whether it's right with its guess - I'm wonder whether it's using experience to improve accuracy in the future.

Although at first glance, this seems like nothing more than a novelty, I'm beginning to think it could be much more. Since the questions are language independent (they can be localized very cheaply), it could easily be used as a foreign language translator. Given the limited option set for responses (which could presumably be reduced to yes, no and maybe) it would be very easy to integrate this into a cell phone with limited capacity. Instead of having to have a knowledge of all words in the native language, you need only store the answers (20x2 bits) and the foreign word.

Of course, cell phones now have more memory than my 2 year only PDA, so perhaps effort is better spent elsewhere.

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Buy it from the TV ad

Late night TV advertising; they're offering me a spoon. But no ordinary spoon, this one can toss salad, stir pasta, make cake mix, turn steaks on the grill and more. The only spoon you'll ever need.

But wait, call in the next ten minutes, and we'll double your order, to two of the only spoon you'll ever need, all for the amazing price of $14.99 (regularly $29.99).

A bargain, if ever I saw one.