Wednesday, September 26, 2007

PowerPoint of No Return

As a public service, I present this handy guide to navigating Microsoft PowerPoint's UCU (Utter Contempt for the User) interface. Here are some common commands and what they do:

Paste--When used with copied or cut text, changes all fonts, point sizes, and text colors to those that the user has never used anywhere ever. When used on copied or cut graphics, randomly changes the size and position to only the most undesirable.

Paste Special--The PowerPoint equivalent of a slot machine. Randomly changes text characteristics to ones that have never been specified by anyone anywhere ever. Las Vegas oddsmakers have put the odds that the pasted text style will in some way resemble that which the user specified to be 5 quadrillion to 1 against.

View Master--Lets you format all the slide title and bullet styles, background images, etc., that will be ignored when creating slides.

Save As--Lets you save your presentation in any of a variety of file formats that will be unreadable by any other program.

Format > Font--Lets you spend a great deal of time selecting all the type specifications that will then be ignored.

Format > Bullets and Numbering--Applies bullets or numbers to slide text in a manner that in no way reflects user intention.

Tools > AutoCorrect Options--Turns ordinal numbers to superscripts, URLs to hot links, and other thoroughly undesirable text "corrections." Turning this feature off requires the sacrificing of a goat at the exact moment of the vernal equinox.

Insert > Text Box--Creates a frame in which text can be typed, and then placed only at random, unwanted locations on a slide.

View Show--An easy way of seeing all the things in your presentation that you will need to fix.

Help--Contains an online link to the American Psychiatric Association Web site.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mime Type Not Found

Marcel Marceau has quietly passed away.
Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, his former assistant said Sunday. He was 84.
I could make a very tasteless joke about an invisible box, but I don't think I will.

Trivia buffs and fans of ironic humor take note: in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, the only actor that speaks is...Marcel Marceau.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Well, check that last post. Today's news brought word of quite the upset indeed:
SU Beats No. 18 Louisville

Andrew Robinson threw for a career-high 423 yards and four touchdowns as Syracuse stunned No. 18 Louisville 38-35 on Saturday.

Taj Smith caught four passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns for the Orange as Syracuse ended Louisville's 20-game home winning streak by dominating the listless Cardinals.
I guess I was a bit too quick to write them off!

I should also add that since this is only Andrew Robinson's fourth game ever, phrases like "career-high" are a bit meaningless.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Now I really need to go to grad school, just to find a new college football team to support. We went out to Syracuse last weekend for a game. Never again:
The University of Illinois cranked up more heat on embattled Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, his staff and his team by rushing for 378 yards in a 41-20 rout of the Orange before 34,188 at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
SU is now 0-3. It is entirely possible that they could not have a win all season; Illinois is probably the "worst" team they'll play all season. We were going to go to the Rutgers game...I doubt we could bear the humilation of that.

Despite the "official" attendance (32,000+) there was no way even half that number in the Dome. Local hotels and businesses that depend on sports fans coming out to games are starting to hurt; we went to Chuck's (the near-campus bar that was a hangout back in the day--their cheddar fries are just as good as they ever were) and it was pretty dead. Usually the place is packed on game day.

I heard also that the scalpers are having a bad season, too, although I am decidedly less sympathetic.

Oh, basketball season is coming...

Water, Water Everywhere

A couple weekends ago, I drove down to Corning, as Ken and I were planning to head south and tour a Civil War battlefield. Alas, I had to go to Chicago the following Monday for Graph Expo (curse this vile "working" nonsense!) so we only had time to do something closer to home. So what did we decide? Niagara Falls, which I have vague recollections of having visited when I was a kid.

The drawback to this being a spur-of-the-moment trip is that we made hotel reservations on the Canadian side the day we left--but I had neglected to bring my passport with me. How strict would they be? We stopped at the visitor's center on the American side and "Dotty" was, true to her name, fairly clueless (odd that that question had never come up before). We checked with the hotel, and they said that a passport wasn't necessary, and, in fact, we picked up one of those guidebooks which explicitly stated that a passport was not necessary--my question, of course, was, "Is this a legally-binding instrument?"

As it turned out, the guy at Customs gave me grief and an attempted guilt trip, but it was essentially no problem. Odd thing about the Canadian side--Ken christened it "Nutsville" as it was more reminiscent of the Vegas strip, with casinos, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, The Guinness Book of World records Museum, lots of flashing lights and loud noises and generally psychotic behavior. The American side was a beacon of quiet dignity in comparison.

After a weekend there, we pretty much had enough of falling water. We did the Maid of the Mist (hmm...that sounds odd), the Cave of the Winds, and the Journey Behind the Falls. We stood on the American side, we stood on the Canadian side, and we pretty much saw the Falls from every conceiveable angle. I think it's safe to say, I don't need to see Niagara Falls again for a very long time.

Getting back into the U.S. was a lot easier than getting into Canada (oddly), and I suppose it's fortunate that I decided against trying to use the souvenir Maid of the Mist photo as a photo ID (I would probably end up in Gitmo).

Here Comes the Humvee

The latest video from They Might Be Giants (in Boston on October 19th!)--"The Shadow Government." Enjoy!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Anarchy in the UK: Part 8: Homeward Bound

Alas, Saturday morning I had to prepare to head back home. I can always tell the extent to which I enjoy a vacation by how much I am not looking forward to returning. And here’s the killer part: Saturday was the first beautiful, sunny day in London since I got there. Doh!

Steven drove me to Heathrow (taking another scenic route through London since there is no easy way to get from the East End to Heathrow), well in time for me to catch a 2:30 plane. Check in and security were actually much brisker than I was expecting and I thus had two hours to kill. I wandered through a few W.H. Smith’s (I had this urge to buy a Dickens novel, but they had none, strangely). I ambled over to a Harrod’s and bought some souvenirs, and still had a few pounds left. I found a pub (it was after noon), and had a couple pints of liquid courage.

The flight back was just as uneventful as the one over, although I fortunately had an aisle seat this time (although the guy in the middle seat was a member of a species that evolved into just elbows, as he was writing something in a notebook for the entire seven hours and kept jabbing me in the chest with his elbow. I did some reading, actually slept a bit, and then watched the movie Hot Fuzz (by the makers of Shaun of the Dead), which I liked a lot. I also became obsessed with the little readout that tracks where the plane is.

After circling Newark for 15 minutes (traffic was backed up, apparently), I began humming an appropriate Fountains of Wayne song:
Seatbacks and traytables up
Stow your newspapers and cups
We’re about to touch down
Midwestern town through the haze
Customs a massive expanse
And I’m digging into my pants
Is this Oklahoma
I remember this place
Trade one town for another
Delayed, now why did we bother
An X on the calendar square
New city, same stuff
Seatbacks and traytables up
Seatbacks and traytables up
We landed at about 6:00 p.m., and immigration and customs were actually quite brisk. It was the baggage claim that took rather a long time. Another Fountains of Wayne song came to mind:
Michael and Heather at the baggage claim
Tired of playing the waiting game
Every bag has got a different name
Michael and Heather may never get home again

Michael and Heather at the lost and found
Looking for luggage that's soft and brown
“Sir, I’m so sorry, it's just not around”
Michael and Heather are glad to be on the ground
I caught the ironically named AirTrain, a monorail that goes from the terminal to the New Jersey Transit station. I had just missed a Penn Station-bound train, and, it being Saturday night, it was quite a long wait until the next one. And, man, was it hot and humid—I was used to cool British weather. I had tickets for a 9:45 train back to Albany, but had hoped to make the 7:45 one. Nothing doing, alas. Arriving at Penn Station, I decided to have dinner at Houlihan’s (I had time) and finally the train was ready for boarding. And was I tired (still on British time, it was basically 2 a.m. as far as I was concerned). I really just wanted to go home but, Amtrak being Amtrak, we sat in the station for 45 minutes while, as the announcement put it, the conductor was upstairs “filling out some paperwork.” Oy. I had been pretty mellow throughout my travels, but I was getting decidedly cranky at this stage.

I ultimately got to Albany about 1:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m. to me) and drove back home. I collapsed almost immediately and slept in much the next day, although I did hunker down and spend an hour or so going through the 1200 e-mail messages I had (99% spam). Despite this article from the WSJ, I have to say, I enjoyed very much the fact that I was incommunicado for a week. (My mobile didn’t work overseas—heck, it barely works here. And I didn’t feel like trying to hook up my computer to Steven’s network.)

Were there things I wish I had done in England? Of course; I didn’t make it to The Village (a five-hour train ride—one way—requiring a pricey overnight stay, really, and more advance planning than I am into these days). I did want to get down to Stonehenge (I was told it was overrated) and/or the White Cliffs of Dover. And I would loved to have walked the zebra crossing on Abbey Road (but I forgot where it was).

At any rate, a great trip, many thanks to my gracious hosts (and to Audrey for popping by to make sure my house was still standing while I was away), and I hope to get back over there sometime next year.

Anarchy in the UK: Part 7: Tower of Power

Towers of London
When they had built you

Did you watch over the men who fell?

Towers of London

when they had built you
Victoria's gem found in somebody’s hell
Amy had Friday off, so this was her turn to take me around. First off, a trip to a caf for a fry-up, or a traditional English breakfast. We walked the mile or so to Bethnal Green (happily it was not raining), only to find that the caf that Amy had in mind was closed. Doh! So we found one that was probably just as good. And what a meal—bacon, eggs, sausage, chips, and beans (no Spam, thankfully). Over the course of the week, I was used to the very small-ish portions they serve in Britain, compared to the supersized portions they serve in American restaurants (which could explain why the British are a comparatively svelte people, from what I have noticed). But this fry-up was immense; I’m glad we had walked there.

After breakfast, our next stop was the Tower of London, one of the things I had been looking forward to all week.
Amy loves the Tower and was a font of information—she admitted that the official guided tours tended to propagate myths and untruths (so says she).

Oh, but first, she had to send a text message to her cleaning woman.
While we’re waiting, some more of XTC’s “Towers of London”:
Pavements of gold leading to the underground
Grenadier Guardsmen walking pretty ladies around
Fog is the sweat of the never never navvies who pound
Spikes in the rails to their very own heaven
OK, so we bought tickets (£15—yikes; talk about torture...) and entered. We walked past Traitor’s Gate—the water entrance to the Tower, so-called because a number of prisoners accused of treason (such as Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More) passed through it.
The oldest parts of the Tower date back to 1066, not long after William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings. Even then. London was the heart of the country he had just conquered, so he immediately went there and had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. He then set about building a fortress to control, as it was put at the time, “the numerous and hostile inhabitants” of the city (one of the drawbacks to being a Conqueror, I should think).

The White Tower is one of the original structures. It has been worked on over the years; the turreted roofs were added in the 16th century, the window and door surrounds were added at various times in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The wooden staircase was built in 1973.

The original purpose of the White Tower (the original “Tower of London”) was defensive, residential, and ceremonial. A beautifully preserved chapel (the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist) shows off the original and intact Romanesque architecture of the Normans.
The White Tower wasn’t completed until about 1090 or so, under William Rufus, son of William I and his successor as King of England. The first major expansions of the Tower were undertaken in the 12th century by Henry I (younger brother of and successor to William Rufus) and Henry II.
In the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart enclosed the White Tower with a wall and had a moat dug around it. Odd as it may seem, the moat was not successful (though it doesn’t seem like a tough concept to grasp) until Henry III used a Dutch moat-building technique in the 13th century. (In the 19th century, the moat was filled in, for the very sensible reason that for centuries it had been, um, where the Tower’s loos--called “garderobes”--emptied.

The Tower complex was more or less completed (and is the layout that survives) by Edward I in the early 14th century. Needless to say, the Tower has been noodled with endlessly ever since, particularly by the Tudors and the Victorians.

There had at one time been a royal menagerie at the Tower, but all that remain are the ravens, which have lived at the Tower for centuries (not the same ravens, of course). John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer (remember him?) apparently complained to Charles II about the ravens and their getting in the way of his observatory. Charles instead had the observatory moved the Greenwich. No one messes with the ravens. As story goes, Charles was apprised of an old legend that has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the Monarchy and the entire Kingdom would fall. So the ravens stay to this day; there are eight of them, and their wings are clipped to prevent them from flying away, no one taking any chances with the legend, apparently.
We repeated variations on this legend over the course of thwe day--"when the pigeons leave the courtyard, the Monarchy will fall"; "when the tourists get out of the lavatory, the Monarchy will fall..." etc.

Anyway, the Tower remained a royal residence until the time of Oliver Cromwell, who demolished the old palatial buildings. Bloody Puritans.
The most popular story about the Tower concerns the Two Princes. That is, toward the end of the Wars of the Roses (the battle between the houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England), Edward IV (of York) recaptured the crown. Henry VI (Lancaster) briefly overthrew Edward, but in 1471, Edward was back and Henry was dispatched. The spot where Henry VI died is commemorated in the Wakefield Tower. It was said, probably incorrectly, that Henry got a dagger up the strap by the Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III. Yeah, this is all really confusing, so let’s all thank Henry Tudor for putting an end to the whole business.

Anyway, when Edward IV died in 1483, he was succeeded by 12-year-old Edward V. The Duke of Gloucester, who was Edward IV’s brother, stepped in and decided to become “Protector” and had Edward V confined in the Tower with his younger brother Richard (part of the problem is they’ve all got the same bloody names). Gloucester then declared himself King Richard III and for the details of that I recommend reading the play. As we all know, in 1485, Richard III, after pledging his kingdom for a horse, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor (not Edmund Blackadder), descendent of Edward III. Henry took the throne as Henry VII and established the Tudor dynasty.

As for the Two Princes (Edward V and Richard), no one is entirely certain what happened to them. They were last seen alive in 1483 and were murdered at some point after that. The bodies were hidden away and not found until 1674, when a 12th-century forebuilding on the White Tower was demolished and the “bones of two striplings” were uncovered. The central question is, who ordered them murdered? Richard III (Edward V laid claim to the throne)? Or Henry VII after he took power (Edward V laid claim to the throne).

In one of the exhibits, you can vote as to whether it was Richard or Henry that did them in; my vote was for Richard (even though I accidentally pushed the wrong button).

Many other people were imprisoned in the Tower over the years, and many were executed, including Anne Boleyn, who was tried for treason and went to the chopping block. One particular execution was Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and the daughter of George Plantagenet. As the story goes, she was tried and convicted of treason, and on the morning of May 27, 1541, she was scheduled for the block. She refused to confess to treason, but nonetheless was taken from her cell to the chopping block. There were about 150 witnesses, and by some accounts, Margaret, who was 67 years old, frail, and ill, was dragged to the block, but refused to put her head on it. The executioner’s first blow hit her shoulder rather than her neck and she was able to leap from the block and run away, pursued by the executioner. She had to be struck eleven times before she died. So much for death with dignity...

Other prisoners were kept in various rooms, and with little else to occupy them, carved graffiti on the walls, which is quite striking.
Sir Walter Raleigh was also a prisoner in the Tower, convicted of being involved in a lot against the life of King James I. Despite being held in the “Bloody Tower,” he actually had a rather nice room and it was here that he wrote his History of the World (later made into a movie by Mel Brooks).
Thomas More was also a prisoner there until his own execution.

During World War II, Rudolf Hess was help prisoner in the Tower for four days, and the last prisoners of the Tower were the Kray brothers, held for a couple of days in 1952 for failing to report for national service. (That would be the least of their indisrcetions...).

But...what about torture?

Despite the Tower’s reputation, there really wasn’t much actual torturing done there, although there was a major exhibit on the topic. (Oddly, on one of the walkways is a large, person-sized plushie bear in a Beefeater outfit, whom I thus dubbed “Bloody, the Torture Bear.”) Anyway, we walked up a stairway and saw, off in the distance, lurid crimson lighting, a sure bet that something cool was there.
There were really only three basic devices used for torture at the Tower: the rack (no, not the one used in the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch), the scavenger’s daughter (sort of the reverse of the rack, a compression device), and the manacles (sorry, no comfy chair). All told, less than 100 people were ever tortured at the Tower, and for the majority of them, I suspect the gift shop was more to blame (the Tower has four gift shops, all of which have different items in them, which makes it difficult to buy cheesy souvenirs you’ve seen at one shop and then can’t find at another). Oh, and the lemonade we bought, which tasted of onions—onionade?

Anyway, while we wait in line at the gift shop, the but the crypt, here is the last verse of “Towers of London”:
Bridges of muscles spanning so long and high Merchants from Stepney walking pretty ladies by Rain is the tears of the never never navvies who cry For the bridge that doesn’t go In the direction of Dublin
Speaking of bridges, the Tower also gives you a good view of the Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called London Bridge, which is another wholly unremarkable bridgerfurther down the Thames), which I think is very cool looking.
We spent a good four or five hours at the Tower and about 3:00 headed go the Tube to head to a pub that Amy had always wanted to go to: Blackfriars Pub, which was a very good pub indeed. Only very slightly peckish (despite all the walking, the immense breakfast was still with us), we had a couple pints and split an order of nachos, which were quite respectable.

By the time we were done it was getting on to about 5:30, so we headed back to Hackney to pick up the chillun. Rather than take the bus (Bella screams when she’s on the bus), we walked back about two miles from the nursery to the house. The kiddies went almost straight to bed, and I think we all pretty much passed on in our various chairs not long after.

And, sadly, I had to fly back home the next day....