Tim Sussman

If this be madness ... I need a USB port to record it

Normally I am fairly immune to con crud ... but in this case I don't seem to have been so lucky.  After the con, there was a flu bug going around.  By Saturday night last week, I began to notice that I was feeling unusually tired, like "ready to go to bed at 9:00pm" tired.  This could mean that I incubating something ... and as it turned out, Sunday afternoon I began to show symptoms of the flu.

Oh well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, they always say, even if perhaps not in this context.

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If anyone else is suffering from the con crud, I wish you well.  Thank you for reading, and thank you for watching London Weather.

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    hyper insane!
Tim Sussman

A tribute to the man who made last weekend possible

Last weekend, I was partying with friends from all around the world at a hotel in downtown San Jose, California.  We had gathered for the opportunity to join with like minds and share our mutual love for all things furry, from the art to the costumes to the OMG-I-drank-how-much.  Even with the online world always readily available, the convention is the soul of the fandom, the place where we stop being pixels and smileys on a screen and become real flesh-and-blood people.  No matter how much we may "*hug*" online, there's nothing like a real hug.

In all the hubbub of the holidays and con preparations, I missed the news that the man who made it all possible passed away a few days after Christmas.  So I'd like to pay a tribute to the man who created the furry convention as we know it: Fred Kahn.

You've never heard of him.  This is because Fred Kahn was not a known name in the fandom ... he was not a wolf or a fox or a cheetah.  He was a species alien to most of us: he was a bureaucrat.

Before Fred Kahn took over the running of the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1977, pretty much every aspect of air travel in the United States was tightly regulated.  Airlines had specifically assigned routes they could fly, specific aircraft they could use, specific schedules they had to follow even if it meant flying some planes mostly empty, and specific fares they had to charge.  This was marvelous if you were an airline, where the CAB conveniently kept competition off your assigned routes and made sure you had to charge enough to make a profit.  It also meant that air travel was very, very expensive.  There was a good reason that richer folk were called the "jet set" ... not only did it rhyme nicely, but if you weren't rich, you just didn't fly.  Family vacations involved piling into the station wagon, not into a 737.

In 1975, if you wanted to fly from New York to San Francisco and back again, you could do so if you forked over about $450.  "Big deal!", you might say ... in 2011, if you want to fly from New York to San Francisco and back again, you can still do so if you fork over about $450.  Consider, though, that in 1975 the minimum wage had just been raised to two dollars an hour, and you could buy a typical new car for about four grand.  Adjust it for inflation, and that 1975 plane ticket to get yourself from New York to Further Confusion would have set you back about $2,000.

Think about the people you met at the con.  How many of them would have been there if getting there had cost $2,000?  How much would your enjoyment of the con have been diminished had they not been there?  For that matter, would you have been there?  Or would you have been sitting at home commiserating with your friends who were also stuck with nothing but online hugs, unable to go?  Perhaps even, lacking critical mass, there wouldn't have been a con at all.

What Fred Kahn did, as the head of the CAB, was start the great experiment of airline deregulation.  What would happen if you kept the regulations related to safety and the like, and then told the airlines, "Fly where you want, when you want, charge what you want, but we're not protecting you from your competitors any more"?  Before deregulation, every route was "owned" by a certain airline: if you wanted to fly from New York to San Francisco, you were going to do so on (say) Trans World, period.  Now, if Trans World was charging too much, United or American or Delta or Eastern or Pan Am could come in and charge less.  Airfares plunged, and suddenly even people of average means could afford to fly.  The first time I ever flew in an airplane I was ten years old, and my parents wanted to give us kids the thrill of actually FLYING to Washington, DC instead of driving there (OK, they probably also wanted to avoid ten hours of tedium listening to my sister and me bicker in the back seat of the car).  That was in 1979.  Had it been a few years earlier, we would have been consigned to the car.

Of course, the end of the "jet set" era also meant the end of the romance of air travel.  Before deregulation, going to the airport was something you actually dressed in your Sunday finest to do ... we were going to meet our grandmother as she got off a PLANE.  Look nice, children!  Now one of the biggest manufacturers of aircraft is called Airbus, and no one thinks it's a funny name.  Air travel has become so taken for granted that we find it easier to complain about it than to marvel that we're doing it in the first place.  Look, I was in New York ... and six hours later I'm in San Francisco!  How cool is that?

I just came from a place where a few thousand people of perfectly ordinary means were able to fly in from all around the country, just for a weekend, just for a party, just to have fun, and do so at a cost that left them with enough spare change in their pockets at least to go to Pita Pit.  Beyond that, some of those people of perfectly ordinary means manage to do this again and again, several times a year, gallivanting off for something so frivolous as hanging out with friends for a weekend and putting on funny costumes.  It used to be getting on a plane meant you were either an important businessman, or you were rich.  Now, whether wolf or fox or cheetah, we are all the jet set.

Thanks, Fred.

Tim Sussman

Midwest Furfest 2010

Whenever I go to a convention now, and people ask me, "How many conventions have you been to?", the answer should be something along the lines of, "Enough so that the combined mass of all my souvenir con books is sufficient to sink the North American continent."  As such, writing a con report seems almost superfluous.  But what the heck ... I'm stuck on a plane, and my phone still has 81% on the battery meter.  Please forgive the smartphone spelling correction oddities if I don't catch them all. :)

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    happy happy
Tim Sussman

Let's just call it "legal research"

If you're like me, occasionally you enjoy a drink of something alcoholic.  If you're doing this the ideal way, this hopefully involves doing it somewhere in the company of your friends, rather than hiding in your basement and pretending you don't have a drinking problem.  And unless you live in a city with outstanding public transportation, at least some of the time this means that you drove your car to get there.

I am very conservative about handing over my keys to someone else if I drove but am not 100% sober.  The worst I've never done in that regard have been a few late-night parties where I was almost completely sobered up and where sleep was starting to overtake me, and I judged that the drive home in that condition was better than waiting another hour and then falling asleep behind the wheel.  I wouldn't even call it "tipsy driving" ... just that I wasn't 100% sure that I was 100% sober.  It certainly wasn't anything illegal.

Or was it?  The legal limit in the United States to operate a car is 0.08%.  For some reason, last night the thought crossed my mind that I wasn't entirely sure that those few late-night drives had been legal, because I honestly didn't know what 0.08% felt like.  And since I'm willing to experiment with things, I decided to find out, just to be sure.

I hit up one of those online calculators that uses the standard formula to compute blood alcohol based on drinks consumed, entered my sex and body weight, and was told that, to hit 0.08%, I'd need to consume about 2.8 US standard drinks, all at once ... since if you consume slowly your body metabolises some of it and your blood alcohol doesn't rise quite as far.  Right, so I pulled a bottle of Jäger out of the freezer, did the necessary maths based on Jäger's ABV, and determined that that meant I needed to consume about 3 1/4 shots of the stuff ... which I duly poured and put into a glass.

And I'm looking at that and thinking, "Holy crap, that's a lot ...".

Now had I been sensible, I would have stopped right there, because in practice that much alcohol would represent a pretty heavy NIGHT of drinking for me, and I would have spread it out over several hours to boot.  Thus, there was no way that my late-night drives were anywhere close to the limit.  But I was still curious what 0.08% felt like, although I recognised that if I did try to chug that much Jäger all at once, straight up, the results would probably not be all that pretty.  So I filled the rest of the glass with Coke and sat down to have myself a heck of a drink.

An hour later, as I polished off the tail end of the Coke from Hell, I realised two things: first, that I was in a state that I could describe only as "bleeping drunk"; and second, that I was falling short of 0.08% because an hour had passed.  Well, OK, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right ... so I did more maths (yes, I can do maths when bleeping drunk - I crunch numbers for a living, after all), determined the size of the little top-up drink that would be needed, and downed it.

I am appalled that the legal limit is that generous!  0.08% is seriously into non compos mentis territory ... I cannot imagine driving while that drunk.  I cannot imagine driving while half that drunk.  While I am totally reassured that I have never driven a car while anywhere near that state, I have to question how many lawmakers would support such a generous limit if they performed the same experiment that I just had.  And to think, before the campaign a while back to establish a national limit, in most states the limit was 0.10% ...

I have to wonder how many drivers on a Saturday night are out there at 0.075% being "totally legal" until they kill somebody.

I'd like to thank the people I was talking to online during my experiment, who put up with me very well.  And after the thoroughly depressing comedown from that level of intoxication, I would definitely say that I have found the level at which alcohol is no longer your friend.

I don't think I'm going to be wanting a drink for a while.

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    discontent disgusted
Tim Sussman

I sense commercial mischief here

Happy National Cappuccino Day!

What, you didn't know?  OK, I'll admit, neither did I until I got an E-mail at work that contained a poll asking us our opinions about cappuccino.  Why someone did this I have no idea, unless it is a bizarre form of corporate warfare intended to hurt our bottom line by distracting everyone in the company for a minute or two while also clogging up our E-mail servers.  Yet it was an internal E-mail ...

In any event, National Cappuccino Day was apparently November 8th, which perhaps shows how long it takes to get an E-mail distributed around my office.

Still, who comes up with these things?  And is there at least some way that we can combine this with Talk Like a Pirate Day so, when I have my cappuccino, I can put some rum in it?

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    bored bored
Tim Sussman

How do I spell relief?


Election Day, specifically!  You know, it's funny ... I used to be a political junkie.  Crossfire?  I was watching it.  Talking politics with my college friends every single day?  I was there.  I used to watch the stock market every day, too, and try to figure out the source of today's half-percent drop.

Then I realised, at some point, that that was all just noise.  Now I check my investments once a month just to see how they're doing, and I ignore the day-to-day market moves.  Now I couldn't care less what today's latest poll says people think about Obama or what Outrage the blogosphere has dredged up today to show that Delaware's Republican candidate for the US Senate is still underqualified for office.  Election Day is the only poll that counts, so today I'm paying attention.

Besides, after this we get a hiatus from all those campaign ads, which is reason enough to celebrate.

So, if you're curious (and if you live outside California, you may very well not be), here's how I'm voting:

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Right, now to go and vote!

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    happy happy
Tim Sussman

My thoughts on Proposition 19

October in California is the start of two seasons: the rainy season and the proposition season.  The first is a result of Mother Nature.  The second is a result of our penchant to want to vote on everything.  I happen to think both are pretty much all wet, but that's another story.

At the top of the ballot this year will be Proposition 19, which would change California law to more-or-less make marijuana legal in the state.  With most propositions, my decision how to vote is a fairly easy one.  This one, I must admit, is hard.

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Tim Sussman

A plug for FurAffinity

If you use the Internet (and if you're reading this some other way, please let me know how), you know that all that free content comes with a curse: animated adverts.  Granted, your favourite websites have to pay the bills somehow, and a certain big company in Mountain View figured out a great way to do this fairly unobtrusively ... but other advertising firms weren't so gracious.  So we are cursed with adverts that suck up bandwidth (often far more than the page content itself), suck up processor power, and are so ubiquitous that we ignore them anyway.

Or even better, we give in and use the only tool that makes extensive websurfing even possible without a T-1 connection and a supercomputer: the ad blocker.  I run FireFox, so I use AdBlock Plus, which is pretty much the standard ad blocker for the flaming vulpine.

Ad blockers have two problems, though.  First, because they automatically opt you out of essentially any adverts hosted on any of thousands of advertising services, regardless of the page on which you're actually viewing them, they harm the revenue stream of your favourite websites.  And second, if you frequent a narrowly targeted website that insures its adverts are similarly narrowly targeted, you may miss out on stuff that you actually would want to buy.

(On the flip side, if you're stupid enough to buy car insurance from someone whose Flash advert features a row of dancing green chickens, you deserve what's coming to you).

While I was at RainFurrest and didn't have my usual computer, I pulled up FurAffinity on my smartphone ... and I was surprised to see advertisements on the page.  Remember how I said adverts are so ubiquitous that we ignore them?  Apparently we also don't even notice when there used to be adverts on a page and then they suddenly go away.  Yes, FurAffinity is now so big that it has drawn the attention of the people who manage AdBlock Plus's filter list, and ABP now blocks adverts on FurAffinity.

Of course, FA is one of those narrowly targeted websites that I happen to fancy, and I would prefer it to get all the money it can ... not to mention I probably would purchase (and indeed have purchased) things that it advertises.  So if you use ABP, I'd urge you to unblock adverts on FA.  The load on your computer and Internet connection will be small, since FA uses only animated GIFs and not Flash or HTML5 animations.

On any FA page, go to the ABP dropdown menu and select "Disable on furaffinity.net".

Then open the preferences panel and make sure the exception rule for "@@||furaffinity.net^$document" has its "enabled" checkbox checked.

It's good for the site, and it's good for you.

Tim Sussman

Kids These Days

"They're fake", one of them assured me as they both giggled.  The human "they" in that sentence was a pair of girls on bicycles to whom I caught up today while I was out for a walk, as we all waited for a traffic signal to change.  They were maybe 12 or 13 years old.

The inanimate "they" to which they were referring were two lit cigarettes.  Each of them had one.

"Naturally!", I replied with a smile.  "VERY realistic ones."

More giggles, and then the light changed.

Ah, the joys of that age, when you giggle with glee at trying out the things that your parents do that make them adults, because you know you shouldn't be.  I mean, when I was 13, I would never have done anything like that!

Oh, wait, hang on, I didn't borrow any of my parents' cigarettes.  Never mind.

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    amused giggle