Category: observations

The mega-millions lottery

Nope, I haven’t bought a ticket and I have no plans on doing so. Other than as a novelty gift for others, I’ve never purchased a lottery ticket. Not for myself, nor for part of a group venture. I can have as just much fun imaging what I’d do with $540 million without the ticket as I would with the ticket. Sure, it’s only a dollar for the ticket. But the odds are about 1-in-175 million. And besides, a dollar saved on such long odds is many dollars earned. Instead of buying a lottery ticket for the mega millions, if I invested that one dollar in a modest savings account, and simply added $1 month (the cost of a monthly lottery ticket) for the next 20 years, I’d end up with over $400! That is a sure bet.

I’ve never been a get-rich-quick person. I’ve always wanted to earn whatever money I make and feel good about it. Still, it is fun to daydream. I like what Isaac Asimov once said when asked by an interviewer what he would do with a billion dollars: “I’d take it to the IRS,” he said, “and say, ‘Here’s one billion dollars. Now never bother me again.'” That’s the kind of daydream I find most intoxicating.

Spring has sprung

I think we’ve made it through the mildest winter I’ve experienced in the nearly 10 years that I’ve lived in the metro Washington, D.C. area. I didn’t even have to break out a shovel this winter. Granted, we are still in winter for another 12 days. But I think we’ve left the winter weather behind us. It was 70 degrees here today, with warm, Santa Ana-like winds blowing. It is going to cool off a bit this weekend, but then next week, we’re back in the 60s and 70s and there is no end in sight. (And besides, I consider it spring once we enter Daylight Saving time, which we will do early this Sunday morning.)

I’m not complaining, mind you, but spring has just a little less zing to it when it follows such a mild and ineffective winter. I mean, seriously, this winter was so mild it doesn’t even deserve the appellation.

Epic “spoof-mail” FAIL

I was browsing my spam folder to see if there was anything snagged as spam that was actually legitimate and I came across this PayPal spoof mail attempt. Unfortunately, the spoofers make it way too obvious the message is spoof mail. I’ve circled the two salient parts of the message in the image below:

Click to enlarge

Epic spoof mail FAIL!


An open letter to New Scientist’s subscription department

Dear New Scientist,

I received a letter from you today that opens as follows:

Dear Mr. Rubin,

I admire the boldness of your scientific experiment. You wanted to determine how long you could go without benefiting from the insight and intelligence that New Scientist had been delivering to your door in each weekly issue.

The letter goes on for six more paragraphs before concluding with the following post script:

If you weren’t conducting a “nobel experiment,” I’d be grateful to know the reason you’re not renewing your subscription. Please use the back of the renewal form to let us know where we went wrong, and return it in the pre-stamped envelope.

The letter is signed by your editor, Jeremy Webb.

Well, Mr. Webb, the fact is that none of the circumstances listed above apply. I still receive my issues of New Scientist every week, still read them with as much interest as always. The misunderstanding seems to be with how your various systems communicate with one another.

For a year or so now, each of your issues contains a full-page ad for getting New Scientist on the iPad via the Zinio app. Back on May 21, 2011, I finally decided to take you up on the idea of reading New Scientist on the iPad. I subscribed to it via Zinio. Of course, I still received the print issue until my print subscription ran out in October. Certainly you would agree that there is no value in my having both a print and digital subscription, when the digital subscription is perfect for my needs.

It surprises me that a science-minded organization would not have its data-ducks in a row and be able to match digital subscriptions to print subscribers so that when someone switched, you’d know that you hadn’t lost a subscriber, that they had merely changed subscription methods. I don’t think it falls under my responsibility to have to make you aware of this when I do change my subscription methods. I do so here only because I’ve received half a dozen letters asking me why I haven’t renewed. I have renewed, I’ve just renewed digitally.

What is most interesting is that in your letter, you don’t even seems to consider a switch to the digital version a possibility. Instead, you write:

I must assume that your experiment has been “pure”–that you have not been picking up copies of New Scientist at a newsstand.

I have not. I have been getting them through my Zinio subscription. I still read and enjoy each issue of New Scientist. Just not the paper edition.

I hope that future version of this letter will not be necessary because you’ll be able to match data from your Zinio subscriptions to your print subscription. But in the invent that you can’t figure out a way of doing that, at least consider the possibility that some of us like reading New Scientist entirely in digital format.


Jamie Todd Rubin

Dear CBS: Here is my application to replace Andy Rooney

I wrote something earlier in the week to which my friend Lisa commented: “Is this essay going to be part of your application to replace Andy Rooney?” Well, no that one wasn’t, Lisa, but your comment gave me inspiration and because of it, I present this:

Jamie Todd Rubin: On Straws

There was a time when a straw came easily out of its wrapper. You simply jolted it against a flat surface a time or two and the end of the straw would pierce through the wrapping, making it easy to extract the straw and move on to more important things. Like using it to drink.

I miss those times. These days, it seems, whenever I get a straw it takes more effort to get the straw out the wrapper than it should. Jolting it a few times on the counter top does nothing. The paper in which the straw is wrapped is stronger these days. Instinctively, this forces you to wrap it harder on the counter. Bad move. This often results in bending the straw somewhere in the middle. The bend causes a slight tear in the straw itself, so that when you do finally extract it from its encasement, you find it difficult to suck through because there is no longer a complete vacuum. The tear in the straw means you are drawing in air as well as your liquid. This results in a kind of gurling, slurping noise when you try to take in your beverage, not the normally smooth solid pull you get from an undamaged straw.

I don’t know why the paper used for wrapping straws has grown stronger over the years. I suspect it is a response to the hypochondriacs among us worried about their straw being contaminated by germs. It’s funny because you never hear those hypochondriacs complaining about the inside of the cups. The cups with which our beverages are filled are not wrapped in plastic. They sit in dispensers, one cup stacked in another. I can’t imagine they are nearly as hygienic as our straws. Someone in a straw factory realized one day that you could use stronger paper to make a straw wrapper for the same price and it was seen as an improvement. I have a hard time imagining the idea being tested. Can you imagine a room full of people representing a cross-section of the straw-using community, trying to extract straws from wrappers of different strengths? I can’t either.

Maybe this would all be easier if we had reusable straws, the way that we have Tupperware, or reusable coffee mugs. If we carried our own reusable straw around with us, there would be no need to fight a battle with a straw wrapper. It might even be good for the environment. Of course, then we’d have to spend time washing our straws. The thought of how disgusting the inside of my straw might ultimately become really turns off the hypochondriac in me.

Some cool (new?) Evernote features

Not long ago, I wrote a post in which I described some features that I wished were available on some of the apps that I use on the iPad. In the caes of Evernote, which I use constantly as my paperless filing cabinet, there were two things that I really wanted:

  1. The ability to mark a note as “offline” so that it would be available even if a Wi-Fi connection wasn’t
  2. The ability to do rich text editing in a note the way you can in the Mac and web versions.

Well, as it turns out, Evernote already had the ability to do the offline notes. It was not exactly how I’d imagined it but it suits my needs just fine. From Evernote’s settings, you can mark a notebook as “offline” and that makes all of its content available even if you have no network connection.

And just yesterday, I noticed a new version of the Evernote app that, among other things, allows me to edit existing notes inline, as opposed to appending to them, and allows me to do rich text editing. This is a wonderful improvement and I applaud the folks over at Evernote for continuing to improve an already outstanding piece of software.

Not to rant on cyclists, but…

Yesterday evening, I took the Little Man to the park and, as we always do, we walked there along the bike paths that go through Bluemont Park in Arlington. Most of the time, walking on the bike paths is no problem, the cyclists are exceptionally good at keeping an eye out for pedestrians and vice versa. They will shout, “On your left!” or ring a bell well in advance of their approach and all I have to do is lift an arm in acknowledgement to let them know I heard them. But last night was an exception.

The trails were busy with both bike and pedestrian traffic and on three separate occasions, I saw cyclists behaving badly. The first time, I saw a cyclist nearly crack up because he wasn’t looking where he was going. Instead, he’d turned his head to yell at a little girl, 8 or 9 years old I’d guess, who wasn’t wearing a helmet. Granted, this is a bad idea, but it is an equally bad idea to not look where you are going to yell at the little girl to wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet is good, but not looking where you are going (to say nothing of frightening a little girl you don’t know) is bad form and nearly cost this biker an injury.

Next, where the trail dips below Carlin Springs road, one biker had to slam on his brakes because there was a fairly large group of pedestrians walking (on the right, as they should) and other bikes coming the opposite direction. Slamming on the brakes is not so bad, although you’d think he would know better on that particular part of the trail. What was bad was his outburst, “Come on! Move out of the way!” which was completely uncalled for.

A short while later, there was a similar incident, this time with a woman riding a bike. She was coming up behind us as a jogger was passing to our left. She shouted, “On your left”, but still had to move over further than she’d have liked since the jogger was passing us. So she shouted again, “Move over! On your left!” and zipped by us. I take it she was annoyed that maybe we didn’t hear her, or that there was a jogger passing or both, but I noted that she had white ear buds in her ears so who knows what she could or couldn’t hear herself. And besides, it’s a multi-use trail and cyclists don’t own it. But last night they were acting like they did.

So I offer some simple advice that should keep everyone happy, a philosophy I borrow from Wil Wheaton:

Don’t be a dick!

Follow this rule, cyclists and pedestrians alike and we’ll all be happier.

Remaking Ferris Bueller’s Day Off


Let me begin by saying that, so far as I know, there is no remake of the classic mid-80s movie in the works. But think about it: you know it’s going to happen. You know that some young Hollywood producer without much of a sense of creativity is flipping through “old” movies to see what else can be remade. After all, they’re remaking Dirty Dancing. These days movies come in only a couple of flavors: franchise, reboot, remake, and the very occasional original stand-alone. (There are permutations, though, like franchise-reboot. Think Batman and Superman.)

And so this producer in Hollywood has already pitched the idea to someone, someone who was perhaps skeptical at first, but who, upon looking at the landscape, said, you know what, kid, you may be on to something.

I’d mentioned the idea of this cinematic abomination to a friend today and he didn’t think it would work. I agreed, it couldn’t possible work, after all, you are talking about a John Hughes movie. But my friend hit upon a thought so frightening that I almost dare not put it down in print. He said: “You know what they’ll do to make it work? All of the actors will be models. Cameron won’t be some lanky awkward guy, it will be Isaiah Mustafa.” He’s right, of course, that’s how it would go.

It sounds highly improbably and yet, if you think about it, you know that not only has the idea been pitched but young executive has asked for focus groups, demographics. They are wondering if this could be the next breakout comedy.

When this movie is announced–and it will be announced, they will get around to this one eventually–it will be, in my opinion the death of film as I have know it. No doubt the remake of Ferris Bueller won’t take place in Chicago, but it will involve a lot of 3D effects.

You can say I’m wrong all you want, but this blog post will be here when it happens, looming like an immense I Told You So.

We need a national Rosie’s Bar day

With everything going on in the world right now, I think we need a national Rosie’s Bar day. What is a “Rosie’s Bar day”? It comes from the M*A*S*H episode “A Night at Rosie’s.” Hawkeye decides to quit the war and goes to Rosie’s bar for a drink. Colonel Potter sends someone off to find him, and that person ends up staying in the bar with Hawkeye. More people are sent and Hawkeye and his friends convince them all to stay at the bar rather than go back to the war. My colleagues and I have jokingly threatened to have a Rosie’s Bar day for years now.

Given all of the tension and anxiety and frustration and fear that our politicians have caused in recent months, I think we can all use a Rosie’s Bar day. Quit the office at noon one day, head for the nearest watering hole and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking beer (or whatever you prefer), snacking, and chatting with complete strangers about things that don’t matter much. For a few hours, we can pretend that the ghastly problems with the economy and our increasingly divided (and seemingly powerless) politician don’t exist. No, it doesn’t make the problems go away but it does allow us to take a collective breath and put our minds at ease for a little while.

Heck, I’d even suggest that the President and Congress do the same. Take an afternoon off and head for the bars on Capital Hill. Buy each other drinks, chat about how hot it’s been in Washington, about the Nationals or the fact that football is right around the corner.

Then maybe we can all go back to work and get something done. Surely if we can share a drink together, we can work together, too, right?

Oh, Apple, your mousing-around is killing me!

I upgraded to OS X Lion the day after it was released (the one day delay was due to the need to add additional memory). As those who’ve upgraded know, one of the trickiest things to get used to is how scrolling with a mouse or trackpad had changed. Traditionally, you use the scroll bar to scroll through a screen. Scrolling down the scroll bar rolls the contents “up” and vice versa. While this is what we are all used to, it goes against our naturally tendency. Apple has finally changed this so that we scroll the content as opposed to the screen. Once you see it in action, it totally makes sense. It is what we do on the iPhone and iPad when we scroll there. And it does take a little getting used to.

The problem for me is, I’m now used to it, and it is killing me because I use a Windows machine at the day job and that uses traditional scrolling gestured, which are opposite of what I’ve now gotten used to. So I come into the office and try to scroll through my e-mail, and it moves the wrong way. So I adjust but then forget five minutes later and it happens again. And again. My blood pressure rises and that can’t be good.

So, while I applaud Apple’s change here, and while I find that it actually is better once you get used to it, I can’t help but think that this mousing-around of theirs is going to put me into an early grave. The frustration of having to use sloppy mouse gestures on a windows machine–and using them wrong–is going to kill me!

ETA: See Reed’s comment below for a way of emulating this behavior on Windows. I just did it on my Windows 7 machine and now scrolling works the same as in Lion.