Ramblings

Usually drunken.

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A[nother] Challenger Approaches

Jun 11, 2009, 8:16 pm by Paul Stiverson

A little less than a year ago I commented on Cuil, a search engine that was trying to compete with Google for a slice of that money cake that Google has been nomming on for quite some time. Now Microsoft is throwing their hat in the ring too… again (there has always been an MSN search engine which sucks). They recently unveiled a new service called Bing, which I predict—like Cuil—will not be able to squeeze out a toe-hold on the search market. Alas, Microsoft is sidestepping the primary error that Cuil made, they are advertising the shit out of Bing, and they are doing so in markets that appeal to the internet savvy—or at least internet aware—crowd. This past week they had a live Hulu broadcast of “Bing-a-thon”, which starred a hostess from G4 (Olivia Munn). I didn’t watch it because I fucking hate Microsoft (and I forgot when it was on), but the adverts made it out to be a hilarious and raucous event. I’m sure it was nothing more than a drawn out advertisement, but if Microsoft is willing to pay for me to watch Arrested Development and Stargate SG-1 by buying up ad space on Hulu then I’m not going to stop them.

Now, what does Bing have going for it? Well they make themselves out to be more than a search engine, instead it is a “Decision Engine”. I’m not entirely sure what that is supposed mean, but there is probably some functionality that facilitates decision making, how useful it is/will be is yet to be seen. Bing also features a fancy looking front page which juxtaposes the minimalist Google front page quite nicely. I really can’t help but notice how similar Cuil and Bing are in their logotype (see below), both names are short, set in sans-serif, and both feature a color changed ‘I’ glyph (or at least a color changed part), and finally they (like this site) are set entirely in lower-case. I wonder if their choices are somehow related.
Cuil logo vs Bing logo

General Motors

Jun 2, 2009, 9:30 am by Paul Stiverson

When I heard the news yesterday that General Motors had declared bankruptcy I was not terribly surprised, but when I heard that they were going to see $30 billion more in taxpayer money I was a bit disturbed. GM has never made any apologies about screwing the American people, from their plant closings preceding the collapse of several steel-belt towns so GM could find greener (cheaper) pastures, to their general disregard for consumers in continuing to produce outdated designs and hiding behind the “Buy American” banner. As far as I’m concerned the American public owes them nothing: disloyalty deserves disloyalty.

During this economic downturn we the people have given them $47 billion without even a whiff of a promise of them creating any new jobs (or rather, restoring any of the jobs they have outsourced). Instead they will take that money (amounting to 60% of their market value), restructure by selling off brands, close a slew of plants, and try to recapture some of their previous “America, fuck yeah” market share with increasingly foreign made cars.

At the risk of sounding like a “What America needs” liberal, what Americans needs right now are companies that improve the buying power of the average American consumer while offering products and services that consumers want. The only way to improve the buying power of folks is to reduce unemployment by ensuring a steady stream of new jobs that a layman is capable of performing. I’m sure many GM apologists will blame unions for causing the downfall of the American auto industry, but there is plenty of blame to go around; union greed is a factor, but it is not the straw that broke the camel’s back. Look at Toyota, they have several plants in the United States, and they have to deal with the same organized labor laws that GM has to deal with. Blaming unions for this failure is simply unacceptable.

As with most problems with the industrial economy the failures are due to inertia, companies that fail to innovate are doomed to failure, and GM is the worst of the bunch. I, for one, say let them burn. Let a strong and innovative company step up and take their place (FWI: I’m not talking about Ford, they—like GM—have failed to produce any significant innovations in auto technology since the single cast V-8).

On Matters Washingtonia

May 25, 2009, 6:49 pm by Zach

Rainier beerAs many of you may already know, I recently moved to Seattle. While I certainly miss Texas--especially the food--Seattle is a pretty nice place to live. The weather is mild and not quite the depressing constant rain that we've all undoubtedly heard so much about. The people are polite on the surface and I can go grocery shopping, get drunk, and eat great Thai food without ever leaving a few block radius of my apartment.

One thing stands out, however. The Northwest is home to many, many microbreweries. Alas, I can find lots of great IPAs made locally. This post is not about great IPAs. This post, gentlemen, is about Rainier beer: Washington's version of Lone Star. Note the white, red and gold color scheme. It tastes about like Lone Star, but not as good. Although I have yet to see it sold in bottles, I'm told that their bottle caps contain the same kind of puzzles found on Lone Star caps. This guy has an archive of solutions. Whether Rainier was made in the image of Lone Star, the contrary, or the two are products of convergent evolution, I'm not sure. That would require about 10 more minutes of searching and I'm due to a Memorial Day BBQ* soon.

*There will be a grill, but whether or not Northwesterners actually know their asses from their elbows when it comes to BBQ remains to be seen.

Hulu Adverts

May 25, 2009, 11:27 am by Paul Stiverson

Sprint’s Now Network

According to an interesting commercial which is appearing on Hulu these days, Sprint’s Now Network privacy policy needs some revision. Apparently they want potential customers to believe that they monitor and scan emails, text messages, tweets, locations, and… well everything else that their customers are up to. Interesting gambit, lets see if it works out.

Ketel One Vodka

Ketel One’s new ad campaign which is appearing on Hulu features a bunch of manly men (think people acting like Barney from How I Met Your Mother) purporting that drinking other vodkas is not manly because they come in “Delicately painted perfume bottles.” They end the ad by saying “Gentlemen, this is vodka”, while at the bottom of the screen they flash “DISTILLED FROM WHEAT. 40% ALC/VOL”. Yeah, real manly, vodka distilled from wheat, why don’t you ‘real men’ try drinking some real vodka made from potatoes.

Contest Awards

May 23, 2009, 10:37 am by Paul Stiverson

Recently I’ve had a couple friends ask for my endorsement toward awards for which they were nominated. In case you are unfamiliar, the granters of these awards find nominees somehow then—instead of bringing in a panel of judges to determine who is most deserving of the award—they open up the voting online and basically see who has more friends they can goad into voting for them. I, for one, will not play ball; if there is an award to be given it should be given based on merit, not on popularity (unless of course the award is actually a popularity contest, in which case the two are interchangeable).

Ben Morris and the Great American Boxcar Chorus asked me to participate in just such a contest. After fighting tooth and nail to be nominated in a number of categories they perpetually bothered me (via their mailing list) to vote for them in their quest to be named “Live Band of the Year” at the Texas Music Awards. They eventually won the award, but without my support. I probably would have lent my support to them had I seen the band perform that year (and a significant number of the other nominees so I could make a reasonable comparison) because I love “Ben and Them”, but I will not sully the award by supporting their bid for it if I, personally, cannot say that they are the best live Texas country band of the year (judging by the shows I saw last year they were not). I did attend one of their shows after the award was presented, and I will say that they were very entertaining (as is the new album), and I probably would have voted for them given that performance.

More recently a photographer friend of mine was nominated for “Best Wedding Photographer” in Dallas-Fort Worth, and despite the fact that they did not photograph my wedding (I’m not married), despite the fact that I have not attended a wedding which they photographed, despite the fact that I have not even seen any of their wedding photos or spoken to a happy, well-photographed bride, they have asked for me to vote for them. I really only have experience with one wedding photographer in the D-FW area, the elderly couple who photographed Mark’s Wedding, and by god I can’t imagine that any worse photographers exist, but that doesn’t mean that my friends are the best. In the email soliciting my support they didn’t even bother to send a photograph of a satisfied bride, they just assumed that by virtue of friendship that I would support them in this supposedly skill-based competition. If somebody needs a wedding photographer I will support my friends by suggesting them as a photographer that I know, but I will not vouch that they are the best in the area because I cannot validate such claims.

I cannot blame my friends for asking for my support, they are doing what is necessary to win the contest, I can only blame the holders of the contest. If you are thinking about giving an award then please, please, seriously please find a panel of judges and look at the portfolios of the nominees to determine which is the best, don’t just put a form on the internet unless you only care about which nominee has the most unscrupulous friends.

Done.

Apr 30, 2009, 8:29 am by Paul Stiverson

So, yesterday I got the best email I’ve probably ever gotten.

Paul Stiverson:

CONGRATULATIONS! All of your manuscript corrections are done and your forms have been received. You are cleared by the Thesis Office.

Thank you.

What this means is that I am all the way done with my Master’s degree, all I have left to do is walk across the stage. If you would like to read my thesis it is available on this site.

For those who are unaware, I have been offered another summer position at Ames, so I will be leaving for California very shortly after the aforementioned stage walking. I am excited to be going back, I sort of need a vacation from school.

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, I would say that I’ve been too busy, but really I’ve been too lazy. I promise to make some good posts soon.

Party like a Texas-Country Star

Apr 8, 2009, 10:08 am by Paul Stiverson

Stoney and the brisketI have a clear memory of the following, but should the accuracy of any of the following come into question my fellow blogger, John, can be contacted for corroboration: he was there and reliably sober.

Prelude

For those who are unaware, an event by the name of Chilifest occurred last weekend. Chilifest is a fairly large 2-day Texas-Country music festival, probably about 12 bands played, 70,000 fans watched, and each of them averaged about a 24 pack of beer. It’s a pretty big deal for this area, this year I elected to stay home and not get irreparably sunburned, and I’m certain I didn’t miss too terribly much. A fair number of local businesses try very hard to cash in on the obvious cash cow that is Chilifest, and The Hall is no exception. Each year they throw an after-party to ensnare the group of people that didn’t quite get enough excitement—or that hate their livers a little more than most. This year The Hall brought in a great act, The Doug Moreland Show. The show was outstanding, but poorly attended because about three quarters of the standard demographic for the hall had collapsed from exhaustion at this point. This post is not about Chilifest, The Hall, or The Dough Moreland Show, but rather the events that unfolded after the after-party. The names have not been changed: fuck the innocent.

The Doug Moreland Show

Doug Moreland is probably one of my favorite Texas Country Acts, John, my fellow blogger, is also a fan. As you may know from reading this blog John lives in Houston, but he comes in whenever there is something cool happening, and the night in question was no exception. When he comes to town he stays with a common friend and dance partner, Mallory: an energetic, outgoing, and generally pretty fun gal, who joined us on this magical night. During Doug’s show we notice a small entourage in a nearby area, and one of us recognizes that Stoney Larue, a fairly prominent character on the Texas-Country scene, and his band are that entourage. Occasionally we would see them perk up their ears as John and Mallory would start putting on their Jitterbug routine, and we agreed that it was pretty cool that the performers were enjoying our performances.

After Doug finished up the show we resolved that it was time to go home, John went to close the bar-tab, I went to greet Doug and his band, and Mallory vanished like a fart in the wind. When John and I approach the empty table we both notice a distinct absence of Mallory and set out to find her, I find that she left her phone at the table leaving us incommunicado. I track down one of the other girls in our party and get her to check the bathrooms, no Mal is forthcoming, at this point I am a little worried. I asked the bartender, he has no idea. I decide that she must have gone out to the car, not there; at this point I realize that John is now missing too, I am very worried. The last place that hasn’t been checked is Stoney Larue’s tour bus, which is sitting in the parking lot.

The Tour Bus

I snatch open the door to the bus and poke my head in to see Mal and Stoney’s bass player, Jesse, siting on the couch chatting, they notice me and invite me in where I find John sitting on the opposite couch. At this point my phone buzzes at me with a new text message from John: “In stoney’s bus” (1:50AM). Gee, thanks for the update. I sit next to John and we start in with some mindless banter. Stoney and his band are sponsored by Shiner, so Jesse offered us each a beer which we gladly accepted. There was general coolness going on as some of Doug’s band-mates and Doug himself came and went from the bus, aslo a couple groupie-type girls came on the bus and started pouring (horribly mixed) shots. Eventually Stoney himself emerged from the bowels of the bus and joined us.

There was a disposable pan on the counter that held about half a brisket—apparently donated by a fan—that Stoney was intermittently munching on and offering to the 6 of us on the bus (it is not an exaggeration when I say this is the best 2AM brisket I have ever had). At some point Stoney inexplicably took off his shirt (I think one of the groupie-type girls asked to see his tattoos or something stereotypical like that). While getting some more brisket Stoney impales the whole thing with the knife holds it up while making a pirate noise, it was pretty hilarious, but you could tell he was doing it to please himself (he was not looking at us, but rather the darkened window which was giving a small reflection). We continued talking about nonsense for a while; Stoney disappeared and re-emerged still topless but with a guitar. Now, I am not really a fan of Stoney’s music, I like it but I’m not going to go out of my way to hear it, but when he turned down the lights on the bus and started jamming out I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t come out in his stage shows, but Stoney is fairly talented on the guitar.

The Brisket

Toward the end of Stoney’s solo jam he hits the wrong fret and everybody’s ear cringe, Jesse calls him out and the two of them start joshing with each other, Jesse takes off his shirt and they—while on all fours—start circling each other like dogs trying to sniff each others asses. The pair stand up—in the process Jesse’s pants fell down, and, not one to be outdone, Stoney loses his pants too. Stoney grabs the brisket and throws it at Jesse, hitting him solidly on the chest and falling to the ground. Jesse laughs it off and hugs Stoney, the both of them are now greased up, and Stoney picks up the brisket. I though he was going to put it back in the pan, but he has a different idea: throw it at the mirror (you can see the mirror in question in the picture at the top of the post, pre brisket stain). Stoney picks up the brisket a third time, I thought one of the other people in the room was going to get a brisket to the chest, but instead he takes a bite, tearing it like a lion. One of the groupie-type girls thought this was pretty gross considering the circumstances, but everybody else saw no problem with the consumption and Stoney held it in front of everybody (one at a time) to allow us to tear a chunk off with our faces. Shortly after partaking in the brisket, Stoney passed around the salsa (which can also be seen in the image above) for everybody to take a swig from, only Stoney, Jesse, John and I were manly enough to drink it though. Also John, then later Mallory licked the brisket spot on the mirror.

Soon after the brisket incident everybody calmed down and we parted ways at about 4AM. Waking up the next morning I realized that it was not all a dream because of the chunk of brisket that was on my glasses. I can honestly say that this night was one of the strangest and most unexpected events of my life, and walking away from it I will forever be a Stoney Larue fan.
Stoney being pensive

Mountain Biking - Part 2: "The Wipe Out"

Mar 24, 2009, 7:58 am by John

So yesterday afternoon my buddy and I went riding in Terry Hershey Park here in Houston. It's basically a 7 or so mile long park following a creek with a concrete path on one side and a mountain biking/hiking dirt trail on the other. About 20 minutes into the ride we decide to switch bikes just to see how the other rode. So my buddy and I are riding along the dirt path and get to this fairly steep 10' tall hill. Neither one of us makes it up the front side and have to walk to the top of the hill. He immediately jumps on my bike and makes it down no problem. At the end of the hill was a big tree lying across the path and so he jumps off the bike to get under it, just as I take off from the top of the hill.

So the path down the back side of this hill is covered in roots from rain water washing the dirt out and other mountain bikers. This usually is a bigger deal going up than down so I didn't think too much of it...yet. So I start off and go over a couple roots no problem and then I get to this one that's sticking up about 6" above the trail. I'm not sure if I didn't try to pick up the front wheel or as I did I hit the brake, all I know is that I hit the root and my front tire stopped immediately. So, this isn't the first time this has happened and usually I just jump off the seat, put my feet on the ground, and awkwardly walk down the hill. This would not be the case today.

As my front tire stopped I jump off my seat, put my feet on the ground, and said "Uh oh!," immediately catching my buddy's attention so he could watch the events unfold. As my feet hit the ground the rear tire lifted and I went straight over the bars. As I fell over the bars I tucked my right shoulder, I think I do this because of the number of times I jumped off my house and out of trees as a kid. Anyway, as I tucked my shoulder my left foot came up first and my heel caught the pedal of the bike, lifting it and sending it soaring in the air. As I landed flat on my back I looked up at a bike, that isn't mine, flying through the air. It landed about 4 feet away.

At this point my buddy is also on the ground, except he's laughing his ass off. He somehow squeezed out "are you OK?," and by this time I realized that I wasn't in too much pain. I got back up, checked his bike and our cell phones that were in my Camelback. Thankfully there were no injuries to the rider, the bike, or the phones. We continued our ride and got a solid 13 miles in.

My buddy swears it's the funniest thing he's seen in a long time. My shoulder's a little sore this morning.

Sea Town, Here I Come!

Mar 22, 2009, 10:22 pm by Zach

space needleI'm going to Seattle tomorrow morning. I'm going to be getting a physical for a job I hope to get. Don't ask me why I have to go to Seattle to get the physical--that's just what my travel orders state. Getting asked to get a physical means I'm quite a bit closer to landing my dream job, provided that I pass the physical and that at least one other person does not pass the physical, which may be the case, since they don't ask you to get it unless someone else failed or is disqualified.

Even though I'm only going to be there for a few days and it'll be mostly sitting in a doctor's office, I'm pretty excited. The only other time I was in Seattle was a far-too-long layover in the Sea-Tac airport in the middle of the night with nothing to eat but fast food. This time I might get a little time to see the city.

I'm also stoked about getting a three day extension on spring break. I need a rest from SXSW!

I’d rather be dancing ballroom

Mar 12, 2009, 10:37 am by Paul Stiverson

Last week at The Hall I realized that I am becoming increasingly frustrated with country-western dancing. I guess it isn’t specifically the dancing that I am bored with, but rather the (wait, let me get out my soapbox) relatively low quality of the average partner. There are, of course, some outstanding dancers to be found at The Hall, but they are the minority. I am usually fortunate to be surrounded by good partners, but on slow nights I find myself torn between my desire to dance, and my aversion to dancing with somebody who (a) is no good, and (b) has no desire to improve (either of the two is fine, but together it is a shitty combination).

Another infuriating aspect of C&W is the lack of dancing etiquette. There are a few simple rules that—when followed my everybody—make dancing much more pleasant, they prevent collision and reduce traffic-jams. However, folks at honky-tonks have no knowledge of these guidelines (or perhaps they know them but have no desire to follow them, either way the result is the same). These rules include: No standing on the dance-floor, slower moving couples should stay to the inside of the dance-floor allowing faster moving couples to pass by, avoid stopping (for floor moves or otherwise) in a choked area of the dance-floor, don’t attempt lifts when another couple is in striking distance, and remain vigilant of other couples so as to avoid collisions.

The Hall has also made a deliberate shift in their musical selection, this move toward Nashville Country is infuriating. The management claims it is good for business, but I don’t see how selling out your regulars and becoming exactly like your competition is a good thing.

There is no denying that there are bad dancers and people with poor etiquette at ballroom dances as well. However there is adequate social pressure to correct the etiquette problems, and it is easier to recognize good dancers.

I will continue to dance C&W because it is fun and I still enjoy the different social aspects of a honky-tonk, but there are several things that I would change given the opportunity.

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