You don’t REALLY know a man until you’ve spent an hour drying Pretty Pony manes with him

Dinosaur Dishwasher
Every three months (or so), it’s maintenance day at Lydia’s playschool. It’s a co-operative playschool, so the moms and dads (mostly dads) come in to spruce the place up — spread mulch, put in or take out the air conditioners, fix the bookcases, and scrub a-l-l-l-l-l the toys.

The playschool is in an old house with low ceilings, so a line of dads lumbers into the room, ducking low to avoid the paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. We pick up the plastic bins full of toys from the bookshelves lining the walls, and lumber out again in a row, taking the toys to the kitchen. It’s like an elephant parade in the tiny space, or a procession of big, friendly golems.

After running the toys through the dishwasher, they have to be sorted back into their plastic bins. That’s the hardest part, because there’s a LOT of bins, and a LOT of categories: farm animals, zoo animals, sea creatures, dinosaurs, ponies, LARGE farm animals, non-zoo pets, non-dinosaur reptiles. Every bin has a label and one or two pictures laminated on the front, which is often helpful — a picture of a dinosaur, for instance — but sometimes confusing. There’s a bin with a picture of a tiger and a picture OF A DUCK on the front. Huh? “Tigers, plus animals tigers like to think about snacking on?” I bet it makes perfect sense to the kids, but sometimes the differences seem inscrutable.

The dads, many of whom have exacting and technical jobs, have a great time coming up with new taxonomies and re-binning schemes as we stand around the 24" high table drying the toys as they come out of the dishwasher. Or just, you know, laughing when a pint of hot water pours out of a hole in the lion’s ass. (Those go in the “incontinent jungle predators” bin.)

You don’t REALLY know a man until you’ve spent an hour drying Pretty Pony manes with him

Okay, I made up my mind: I’m voting for Hillary

photo.jpgWhew, what a day! We just got back from seeing Barack’s whistle-stop tour at the Downingtown train station. My impressions, in no particular order:

* At the Hilary visit, we saw maybe two black voters. This was an actually mixed crowd, both ethnically and in age (a lot of younger people, too.) I liked Barack’s crowd.

* Unlike Hillary’s visit to a prosperous suburb, this was an actual working-class spot. Of course, Barack had just come from Wynnewood and Paoli further down the line. Unlike Wynnewood, Paoli, and West Chester, there’s no Starbucks in Downingtown (that I know of.)

* The crowd was, frankly, kind of tepid. There were moments of enthusiasm, but we weren’t seeing magic being made. I don’t normally EXPECT magic, but the lack of magic is relevant here because…

* Barack is running on an outsider platform; that he represents real change. Okay, awesome: tell me more. I’m all for change, but then the burden of proof is on you to convince me that you have a plan (besides “I am so awesome”) to accomplish the change. And if your platform is “I am so awesome”, you must BRING HUGE AMOUNTS OF AWESOME to back it up. I was ready to listen, but I really didn’t hear anything EXCEPT the no-money-from-lobbyists point. That is a big, good point, but it wasn’t sufficient for me. The amount of awesome wasn’t sufficient to bridge the remainder of the “no clearly defined plan” gap.

So I started the day tentatively voting for Obama, because on the limited amount of information I had to go on, I thought his organization was better run and had more momentum. And I like his supporters. However, after seeing Hillary, I have to come down on her side: I saw her as a seasoned, experienced, practical, and effective politician. I’d hire her to lead a big company, I’d hire her to be chief executive. If Obama were a shining magic man that I really BELIEVED could pull off a populist revolution, I’d be all for it. I mean, hey, who doesn’t like the idea of a total second-coming-of-Kennedy badass? However, I saw a competent speaker who, frankly, I thought was saying pretty stock “let’s change Washington” phrases without following them up sufficiently. And who didn’t really extract a big reaction from folks ready to listen to him.

So, on balance: two very smart, very committed people who are working VERY hard. I’d vote for either of them comfortably in the general election in November. But based on a day of direct contact with both and listening to their messages, I’m going to be voting for Hillary in the primary.

Okay, I made up my mind: I’m voting for Hillary

Hillary comes to Good Will Fire Company

Today, Hillary Clinton came to the Good Will Fire Company (the same place where I stumbled on the Robot Squad yesterday.) I overheard the CNN camera operators talking to each other: “How many firehouses have we been to?” “I dunno; this makes six or seven.” Hillary is obviously going for a blue-collar crowd, which seemed fairly ironic because the Good Will Fire Company serves the seat of one of the highest-income counties in the USA. That’s not meant to be all TELLINGLY IRONIC or anything; it’s just that the audience was filled with polished, affluent suburbanites, and so the country music over the PA system seemed a little out of place.

Barb got us past the secret service, and we got to meet Ed Rendell, who is just an awesome old-school name-remembering, flattering-story-telling politician “do you have a gym here?” he asked Good Will’s president. “Because volunteer firefighters have jobs; they move around. They don’t get fat like professional firefighters. You have to keep those guys busy!”

Then the back door opened and in came the secret service, and I was RIGHT UP AGAINST those guys, and they throw off a really intense, scary vibe, and then we shook hands with Senator Clinton, who gives off a very presidential, powerful aura. And then we all went out front and heard her speak.

Rendell and Hillary

So at this point, all the standard snarky-blogger stuff goes out the window. Hillary gave a REALLY great speech, mentioning a lot of things that I’m worried about (national debt, energy policy, disastrous foreign affairs, use of the military), and she seemed extremely competent and managerial. I didn’t get the Magical Kennedy Vibe from Obama that I was wondering if I’d get. I didn’t get it from senator Clinton, either: what I got was a feeling that she was experienced, focused, and capable. Regardless of her electability, I’m persuaded that she’d to an excellent job at the job of being president.

Kate and I have been really lucky about the amount of access we’ve had to the candidates to make a decision. In about twenty minutes, we’re leaving for Downingtown, where Obama’s gonna make a whistle-stop. That’ll give us a chance to hear a speech in person by both candidates. Right now, I have to say that I’m leaning towards Hillary, which I didn’t expect.

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Hillary comes to Good Will Fire Company

Why you should move to West Chester, PA #2: RESCUE ROBOTS

These are the people in your neighborhood: RESCUE ROBOT
After dropping off Lydia at playschool, but before going into the office, I was driving around the southeast side of town looking for the ice cream truck, because I want to lowjack it with a GPS unit and put it on Google Maps (I can’t believe I’m the only one to want to do this; Google doesn’t have news of others.) How come when you’re NOT looking for the ice-cream truck, you see it ALL the time, but when you ARE, you can never track it down?

Anyhow, I’m pretty sure that it parks somewhere down near Bolmar street, so I stopped in at Good Will Fire Company to ask those guys if they knew where the ice cream truck was (you never know, firefighters might be huge ice-cream truck customers, right?)

There was nobody at the front door, and nobody answered the intercom. So I walked around back; one of the big garage doors was open and two fellows — one a uniformed police officer with a grey buzzcut, and one a rangy, athletic-looking fellow in a T-shirt, were, you know, just tinkering on their ALL-PURPOSE FIBER-OPTIC-CONTROLLED RESCUE ROBOT. With caterpillar treads and a big gripping hook on the front. And spotlights. And video cameras.

They did not seem to mind being interrupted (phew!) working on a kink in the orange fiber-optic control/video cable, and said "sure" I could take a picture of it, but they were shy about being in the picture (I do not think this is because they are Secret Operatives or anything.) Anyhow, any morning when you stumble across a Rescue Robot is an awesome morning.

Then — and this is the best part of all — the officer then TOOK MY NAME AND TELEPHONE NUMBER, and promised to call me if he saw the ice cream truck. So, this morning, I:

1) Stumbled across a fiber-optic rescue robot, and
2) PUT OUT AN APB ON AN ICE CREAM TRUCK.

When people tell me "is it nice working in West Chester"? I just sputter. I mean, I cannot satisfactorially express THIS AMOUNT OF AWESOME in one sitting. MOVE TO WEST CHESTER IMMEDIATELY, everybody I know. Pretty soon, the ice cream will be easy to find!

Why you should move to West Chester, PA #2: RESCUE ROBOTS

Nerdlepoint booth progress

Here’s family friend and all around awesome guy Dave Moroz-Henry of Barking Dog Signs made up a five-foot coroplast (corrugated plastic) NERDlepoint banner with grommets in the top for my booth at the West Chester Craft Fair:

Nerdlepoint craft-show booth banner

Now all I need is to make some inventory to sell! I’ve been working on the back-end side of things (like TinyURL, except that it will let you change what the target of the URL is.) Here’s how it works; I’m trying to come up with a coherent explanation for the craft booth:

  • You buy a hand-painted needlepoint canvas at the booth. The canvas has a URL painted on to it, in the form of a 2D barcode that your cameraphone can read.
  • The URL painted on the canvas is unique — it points to “nerdlepoint.com” and an arbitrary three-letter word. The canvas you buy might have “nerdlepoint.com/cat”
  • When you buy the canvas, an envelope comes with it containing a secret password for that canvas that only you have. The password is something like “mike23melissa”.
  • You can go to the nerdlepoint.com site, and — using your secret password — set the location on the internet where your canvas goes. You can set it to your blog URL, your Flickr photostream, or make it a Rick Roll.

Let’s say you’ve done that. You’ve purchased the canvas with the url nerdlepoint.com/cat painted on it, and you’ve used the secret password to make it a Rick Roll canvas. The user experience then is:

  1. Your teenaged nephew with a jailbroken iPhone shoots your needlepoint pillow using his semacode reader.
  2. Your teenaged nephew groans in anguish as Rick Astley starts dancing in the YouTube player on his iPhone.

I think I’m going to have to make this explanation less complicated. Maybe explain it like a magic trick, with the user-experience first, then the instructions on how to make that happen, and only then the squidgy bits about what’s going on under the hood with the 302 redirects and the electrons and the gabba-gabba hey?

UPDATE: Um… teenaged nephews don’t have iPhones, do they? I guess you’ll have to substitute “…your twentysomething brother-in-law with expensive shoes and Art Director Glasses.”

Nerdlepoint booth progress