Festivus (and the rest of 'em)

The end of year holiday season is in full swing!

Today is Festivus, or as my friends and I used to call it as children, Christmas Eve Eve. I will definitely be airing grievances during the feast, and my current feat of strength (of will) consists of keeping most of the annual disappointments out of this post. Actually, if we seriously followed this Festivus tradition, the holiday would continue year ’round; nobody pins this head of household.

A busy week for celebrations (a.k.a., “Seven Holidays for Seven Days”):

  • Sunday: Winter Solstice (7:04am local time)
  • Sunday: Hanukkah began at sunset
  • Tuesday: Festivus
  • Wednesday: Christmas Eve
  • Thursday: Christmas
  • Friday: Boxing Day
  • Friday: Kwanzaa begins

On Friday, our social soccer club also has our annual friends and family soccer game. (Since somebody actually asked: We are playing indoors at Lansing Indoor Sports Arena, and definitely NOT outdoors.)

We officially left the office last Friday for a two-week break, but unofficially I have been working extended hours every day since then. I will either quit for the year or collapse soon. In either case, I wish all of the readers of this blog a…

Happy New Year!

Thanks for your support in 2008.
Signing out until 2009.

RIP: Majel Barrett

The voice of the Star Trek computer passes away.

Yesterday, Majel Barrett, wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, died at the age of 76 after a battle with leukemia. For those unaware of her career, she played the recurring roles of Nurse Chapel on the original Star Trek series (TOS) and Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). She was also the voice of the computer on the Enterprise in ST:TNG, which is my connection to her (though we never met).

I share credits with Majel Barrett on Star Trek: The Next Generation, “A Final Unity”. I was the lead programmer for the project, and after we made the (risky, at the time) decision to ship only on CD-ROM, it was decided that the game should feature voice acting from all of the stars of the series. Unfortunately, the management at Spectrum HoloByte only counted seven actors in this group, failing to consider the voice of the computer, for which they were going to use a generic voice actress. I suspected that fans would notice the different voice, but after my wife pointed out that they would also notice the absence of Majel Barrett (or Barrett-Roddenberry) in the game credits, I went and argued the point, successfully. The computer in our game found its proper voice.

It may be interesting to see where the Star Trek universe goes from here.

For more details (and pictures), see these articles from the New York Daily News and NBC Los Angeles.

In other news, Deep Throat, the key informant in the Watergate scandal, also died yesterday, perhaps having lived long enough to see something he may have never expected in his lifetime.

To end on a positive note, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was published 165 year ago today. I celebrated by watching the TNT version, starring Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Picard on ST:TNG, including in the aforementioned game.

And Tiny Tim, “who did NOT die,” lives on to this day…

Curmudgeon Day recap

We celebrate the day after the Big Thanksgiving.

Last week, we recognized Curmudgeon Day for the umpteenth time. This important holiday, which officially started a year before anybody saddled it with the phrase ‘Black Friday’, is celebrated by staying home and doing whatever you want, and simultaneously avoiding the non-believers, most of whom are stupid and/or dangerous and, as was proven this year, some are just plain evil.

Today is the fifth consecutive year I have blogged about Curmudgeon Day here, so those new to the faith can find more background in my postings from 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

This year, staying inside on Curmudgeon Day was a given, since the holiday fell right in the middle of a huge cold. We had several guests for our Thanksgiving Day celebration, which we call “Big Thanksgiving“, but one of them was not my voice. Still, we all enjoyed Big Thanksgiving, so named because we have a sort of open door policy for friends and family and always cook enough food to comfortably feed those who may attend. Instead of only board games, this year we also broke out the Wii to play some Boom Blox (4-player competitive), which spilled over into Curmudgeon Day (along with the necessary cleanup).

While we were warm and comfy inside, the original inspiration for the holiday, avoiding the braindead crazies that roam the earth on that day, was reinforced in a tragic fashion. Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old Walmart employee, was trampled to death by the more evil elements of this group. One story about the murder appears in today’s Los Angeles Times. The event makes me sick.

Last year, I mentioned that Snopes has debunked the myth of “Black Friday”. This year, it should be noted that all of the focus on purchases the day after Thanksgiving is nothing but rubbish. I mean to debunk the idea that sales on this particular day are meaningful. The media wants to use sales traffic as an indicator of the economy, and ignorant retailers want to project one day sales volumes over the whole holiday season. The basic and obvious problem with that is the deliberate manipulation of the numbers (via prices), which is not scientific in the least. When Galileo Galilei did his (possibly apocryphal) experiment at the Tower of Piza, the balls were both dropped at the same time. He did not have one person throw the 10-pound cannonball downward and another simply drop the 1-pound weight, and then exclaim, “Aristotle was right!

The fact of the matter is that these “doorbuster” (literally, it turns out) prices skew the sales numbers into meaninglessness. There is no way to know whether (or how many of) these purchases would have been made at regular prices, and it does not take into account the actual profit on these loss leaders, so called because the profit is likely negative for the particular item, just to lure (cheap) shoppers into stores. Some reports have indicated that the actual number of “bags” is lower this year, suggesting that shoppers are primarily buying the heavily discounted items and not too much else. (Who wants to browse during a mob scene anyway?)

I suggest that high traffic on a shopping day with huge discount items is more likely to indicate a poor economy and holiday season, where people are looking to buy at the lowest possible price and may not otherwise purchase these items at all. My supposition is supported by the fact that all major retailers are reporting sales downturns, except for Walmart, which advertises based on discounted items (translation: cheap Chinese crap). It is said that one feeds the family first, and then worries about principles, and this tends to reinforce that idea. (Full disclosure: I have never myself stepped foot in a Walmart store, on principle.)

For many years, one principle that I have oft stated seems an appropriate closing here:

Avoid buying the least expensive of any particular item or service, because the primary consideration in producing that product was likely cost rather than quality.