Saturday, September 22, 2007

Having a Beer, Watching the Disney Channel

I am far enough into my “late twenties” that I’ve reached “almost thirty.” That puts me pretty firmly into the “adult” category. In theory.

What does that really mean? One of my friends thinks she is supposed to have all of her crazy stuff out of the way by the time she gets to thirty and recently expressed concern about how much crazy she has left to do in such a short span. I think she’s nuts. Thirty is the sort of number that scared the hippies. I’m not too concerned about it. It seems a bit young to be having a midlife crisis.

Yet there is that whole expectation of “adult” behavior. There are things that adults appreciate that children do not. I’m cool with that. But there’s also the flip side, things children enjoy that adults are not supposed to. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say there are things children, teenagers, and even young adults can get away with that adults are not supposed to do. Fie on that.

I read a number of webcomics on a regular basis (I don’t get a newspaper so I start my day with webcomics, blogs, and news sites instead). One strip from the comic xkcd captured my sentiment on this subject pretty much perfectly. You can find it here, but for those of you uninterested in pursuing the link, the relevant line is this: “I’m happy to grow up. But I won’t pretend fun things aren’t still fun out of a fear of looking silly.” They also suggest that as adults we can also add our own twist to those same childhood activities (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to blow the punch line for those of you who do check it out).

I enjoy this outlook. It means I can do things like have a beer while watching the Disney Channel. Specifically, Kim Possible.

Kim Possible meshes perfectly with my sense of humor. I cannot describe just how entertaining this show is for me. It’s glorious, just the right mix of subtlety and slapstick that I appreciate.

Consider the following:

1. There is a father/son villain team named Senor Senior Sr. and Senor Senior Jr.
2. There is an episode called “Monkey Ninjas in Space.”
3. Kim’s sidekick is named “Ron Stoppable” and the villains can never remember his name.
4. The villains have a time-share set up for their evil lairs.

Now do you see why I (with my particular brand of humor) might find this show so funny?

Also the art style is fascinating – I even went as far recently as to look up the artists’ thoughts on the way they assembled the look (I can’t tell whether that makes me a design dork, or a Kim Possible dork).

I get crap from people for watching cartoons (Penrock thinks it’s because I was never allowed to do so as a child) but I think they’re missing out. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I appreciate this show more as an adult than I would have as a teenager or a tween or whoever their real audience is supposed to be. The creators do claim that it is supposed to be enjoyable for parents and kids to watch together, so maybe I’m not so far out of the target demographic. After all, the episode where Senor Senior Sr. and Senor Senior Jr. steal animatronic animals to use as cage dancers in an evil night club does involve dialogue that consists of lyrics by the Talking Heads. I laughed pretty hard to hear Senor Senior Sr. yell at his son “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around!” Who under twenty would catch that?

Kim Possible is done, no new episodes are forthcoming. Fortunately, I still have a lot of reruns to catch up on. If they ever put the seasons on DVD I will buy them and I will share them with all of you, consider yourselves forewarned. Until then, though, there’s always Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends on the Cartoon Network…

Yeah, I’ll still be watching cartoons well past thirty.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Getting to the Point

My default writing style is pretty much the complete opposite of that recommended for research papers or other professional and academic communication. My style is, for one thing, a lot less likely to stay on track. I like qualifiers and modifiers. I like a certain goofiness. I like tangents. I like parenthetical asides. I really like parenthetical asides. You can see only a hint of it by reading my previous blog entries but you still have no idea just how many I remove in the process of editing what goes up here. Also, I'm having a very hard time not adding one now.

This particular style works fine for, say, a blog where the essential purpose (whatever else we may claim) is to show off. It's not very useful in a term paper or thesis. I can adapt, however. I don't really have any trouble writing in the style required for such papers. I just don't do it here. Nor, and this is where I'm headed with this entry, do I use a particularly concise style in emails.

I became aware some years ago that my email style was not entirely compatible with the email-reading habits of some of my friends. Only recently, however, have I come to recognize just how prevalent this discord is and, perhaps more importantly, how much it obscures my real message for people with little time.

The first indication came through an off-hand comment from a friend about five years ago. She told me, "Oh I don't usually read your whole email." This was pretty painful for me to hear, although she had no idea. I think from her perspective it was equivalent of telling me "I never quite got around to reading that article you recommended," in other words no big deal. From my end, though, it sounded more like, "I know you've been talking earnestly for the last ten minutes, but I wasn't really listening." It hurt (and clearly still bothers me, to a certain extent) but I understood it wasn't meant to be insulting. It was a fundamental difference in the way the two of us saw email.

I don't just write emails, I craft them. I like writing. If you get an email of a significant length from me (and admittedly my threshold for "significant" is probably higher than most), odds are good that I spent too much time drafting, editing, and tweaking it to get that perfect "casually witty" look (It's sort of like the idea of "artfully mussed hair"). As I pointed out above, however, I have more recently begun to realize that all that "craft" can obscure my original purpose.

In the past few years, more of my friends have made similar comments to the one I mentioned above. It took me a little while, but I finally started to generalize the concept and to realize that, as much fun as I find long emails, my readers don't always feel the same way.

Recently I have also begun following a blog called "43 Folders" which offers advice on being more productive and working more efficiently. It has an Apple focus, so I skip large parts of it, but the general non-Apple stuff is pretty useful. It's helping with my studies already. A large section of this blog is directed at email processing and also at email writing. Seeing the other point of view described there, that of the person who has to comb through all the "casual witty" to get to the actual information in the email, helped me realize just why some people are not inclined to read my whole email.

I have begun now to be more careful of my emailing efforts. If I'm writing an email with a purpose I'm dropping the clever subject in favor of the informative subject. I'm replacing the cryptic-yet-enticing first line with a sentence detailing exactly why I'm sending the email. I'm also discarding all (well almost all) of the irrelevant comments and asides I usually stick in the main body and then I'm signing off with a specific declaration of what I'm asking of them. Recipients should find it easier to figure out why I sent the email, whether they need to read it, and what I expect in return if they do. Hopefully it will make things easier for all involved (maybe now people will actually send RSVPs to my invitations, but efficiency may not actually be the real problem there).

I should point out that this new approach only goes for purposeful emails. I have no intentions of reducing my rambling if I'm just saying hi (I'm not going to let efficiency suck ALL the fun out of my life). Also, almost all B&B emails are exempt (October 27th, mark your calendars). For those we've always had the summary at the end anyway, so people can just deal.

For the rest, though, I'm cleaning up my act.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Some Useful Addons

My girlfriend recently got herself a new laptop. This is a vast improvement over the Flintstone's era thing she was using. I've seen abacuses (abaci?) with more processing power than the computer she just got rid of. Fortunately for her, this new one actually runs software.

With that in mind, for her benefit and your own edification, today I will be describing (and linking) several programs I find particularly useful. Each should offer a nice little way to improve your computing experience. Now, I don't have Vista yet, so I don't know how these programs actually interact with that system (or even if it makes some of their functionality obsolete), but they all do fine for XP. If you can make your computer do these tricks without downloading anything additional, so much the better for you. If not, well here they are. Added bonus: they're all free.

Without further ado, the programs:

This one analyzes End User License Agreements, flagging any particularly alarming clauses. It beats trying to read through those things on your own, and it certainly beats not reading them at all. I'm putting it first, since some of the programs that follow might have EULAs that you might want to test it out on.

It does just what it claims to do, blocks ads. It even prevents banner ads and those irritating pop-up ads that expand on the webpage to get in your way. I'm pleased with it, if only for the reason that I haven't seen a dancing silhouette in a long time.

This firefox addon is pretty clever. It operates on the principle that the only conceivable reason you would select text on a webpage is so you can copy it. This cuts out the Ctrl-C aspect of the operation. Just highlight text in your browser and it's automatically copied to the clipboard. It's not all that dramatic, but it is a nice feature.

Dave Click first showed me this program in 1997 and I've been using it ever since. It rotates your computer background through a set of images you select. You have control over just how often and in what order they change, among other options. addon for Firefox
This is one of my favorite new addons. I mentioned once before. Well, this addon increases its usefulness dramatically.
For starters, is a means of storing and tagging links online. The tagging system is more versatile than the folder system and having it on the web means you can access your links from multiple computers. It also has a public/private option so you can share useful inks with other people and hide those you don't want them to know about.
This addon allows you to access your links through the firefox toolbar. It has completely replaced my bookmarks toolbar. The whole system permits me to manage far more bookmarks as well. It's currently tracking over 200 links and with the addon I have no problem getting quickly to the one I want. I also installed the addon in my profile at school, so now I have a synchronized list of bookmarks that's identical on all computers I use.
The addon, upon setup, will automatically import your current bookmarks if you like (they all start off set to private). So that part won't take any effort. However, if you're new to arranging your tags will take some time, but I promise it will be worth the hassle.
If nothing else, check out my collected links. You might find something useful or amusing.