Sunlighting at Dirt Cheap Computers

Dirt Cheap ComputersI’ve been in the uncomfortable position of having to actually make money recently. I’ll admit, I’m kind of a brat about it. I expect so little from life — really. I’m pretty sure that I’m above water in the whole “what I give” versus “what I get.” But the universe is not just, so I work. A little anyway. As much as I can, actually. But my business partner, Will, doesn’t think I dress well enough. But that’s a matter for another time. For now, let me just say that it is yet more evidence of an unjust universe and the fact that in modern America, the quality of your work doesn’t matter nearly as much as the suit you wear. Don’t blame me when the empire sinks into the sea of irrelevance.

But since I am doing “work” work, I’ve finally gotten around to doing a tiny bit of work on the Dirt Cheap Computers website. I’ll be adding more over the coming days and weeks, but as for now, I’ve added a blog. I’m going to try to post something every day or so. It’s all computer and technology related. For example, yesterday, I wrote, Don’t Let Myth Drive Your Choices. It follows on the news that Aaron Sorkin is making a new Steve Jobs biopic. And today, I wrote, Hackers Could Crash Your Car — But Don’t Worry.

At least for now, the style is very much the same as it is for Frankly Curious — if somewhat more circumspect. But we will have to see how Will reacts it. He may want something a bit more “professional” — you know, the computer equivalent of a jacket and tie. But that hasn’t generally been our way in the past. And I think he’s more interested in getting things like project management and support tickets working. So he’ll probably let me slide on this stuff.

The only reason I’m bringing it up here is because I think the articles are worth reading. So you might click over there from time to time. I’m going to try to stay up on technology news — something I generally don’t do. This century may be lacking in theology and geometry but there is sadly nothing that I can do about it. And my wisdom about Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Rabelais may be profound, but it is not in demand in this debased culture. Anyway, maybe I’m wrong to be unimpressed with, Done Deal: AT&T Closes $2.5 Billion Purchase of Mexico’s Iusacell.

But don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not getting paid for that blogging. However, I suspect it will be helpful in getting more clients. And those clients will, in theory, pay me. Will and I often joke that we have a non-profit business — in practice anyway. My hope is that if the business really takes off so that we can’t even keep up and have to hire other people, then it won’t matter what I dress like. I will be able to just send out some squeaky clean novice. Then when the client complains, I can feign surprise, “Oh! I thought you just wanted someone with a good hair cut!”

Sadly, that kind of biting sarcasm will not be on display at the Dirt Cheap Computers blog. But it should still be interesting.


If you know anyone who is in the Bay Area who needs computer services. That’s especially true of business clients, because those are the only ones that I really do work for given that I’m mostly a network and database and programming kind of guy.

Origins of Don Quixote

Walter StarkieOut of a spirit of fin de siecle melancholy sprang Don Quixote, the first modern novel in the world created out of a life of disillusion, privation, and poverty by a maimed ex-soldier, survivor of a glorious Spanish victory, whose noble nature and gentle sense of humorous tolerance taught him that life is an unending dialog between a knight of the spirit who is forever striving to soar aloft, and a squire who clings to his master and strives with might and main to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.

—Walter Starkie
Introduction to his translation of Don Quixote

Mississippi Wants Bible not Faulkner

William FaulknerAfter Louisiana tried to make the Bible the official state book, it isn’t surprising that now Mississippi is trying to do the same. I wrote about this at the time, King James Bible as Cultural Signifier. In it, I argued that the choice of the Bible for the official state book was not, ultimately, a religious act. It was rather a symbolic gesture — about what all right thinking people believe and not at all about the divinity of Christ and so on. The Mississippi bill is only different in that a couple of Democrats are doing it.

Obviously, I’m not for any such act. It is exclusionary — intended to make non-Christians feel like outsiders. And the constitutional questions it raises seem pretty clear. But I’m just not that interested in the story on that level. It is really just another story about how politicians pander to their base. And who really cares about that? It’s like, “Old man yells at cloud.” As with Louisiana, this bill will likely go nowhere. And if it does, the state will be punished with a bunch of legal fees as it is challenged and defeated in court.

Old Man Yells at CloudWhat’s more interesting is the purpose of state symbols. The Mississippi state tree is the magnolia, not the sequoia, which is the California state tree. State symbols are supposed to be specific to the state. Admittedly, California does a much better job of this than Mississippi. But Mississippi still manages to pick symbols that, while usually not especially specific to the state, are specific enough. Their state insect is the honeybee and not the Lord Howe Island stick insect. So what’s up with the book?

It seems to me that the Mississippi state book should speak of the state as much as the state insect. And Mississippi just happens to have been the birth place of one of the greatest English language writers ever: William Faulkner. How about The Sound and the Fury? Okay, I know: Faulkner didn’t exactly paint the most wonderful picture of Mississippi. But that was just the way Faulkner viewed the world. Anyway, Mississippi is the only state that keeps the Confederate battle flag inside its current state flag. So if the leaders of the state care about their reputation, they might start with the flag. Regardless, the state should celebrate having created arguably the greatest American writer. (That’s not my opinion, but a good case can be made for it.)

But instead, we get a book that could not be less American. We get a book from the iron age about people who lived a long way away from Mississippi. It is true that the Bible is literature. I find some of it (in translation) quite beautiful. But generally, people do not read the Bible the way they read a novel. The people of Mississippi are not considering making the Iliad the state book. They can clearly see that such a move would make no sense given it doesn’t speak to what Mississippi is. The only way that the Bible makes sense as the state book is because a lot of Christians live in the state. But that’s true of every state in the union.

As an atheist, I have no problem with the Bible. But as a reader, I do. The co-sponsor of the bill, Tom Miles, said that he isn’t trying to “force religion — or even reading — on anyone.” Then what is the point of having a state book? In this case, it would just be a symbol of who some of us are and who some of us aren’t. And there are more than enough symbols of that throughout the United States — especially in Mississippi.

We Fear Ebola — It Is From a Scary Country

Scary AfricanAaron Carroll brought my attention to some alarming but unsurprising information, “As of this week, 45 children have died of influenza-related illness so far this season.” Further, during the last week of 2014, influenza and pneumonia accounted for 8% of all deaths. That’s above the “epidemic threshold” for that time of the year. So the flu is especially nasty right now. Carroll thinks we should all get flu shots and he is attacking the current claim that they are “only” 23% effective, “I’d like a list of all medicines people take, diets they go on, behaviors they change, devices they employ, and procedures they undergo which are better than 23% effective.” So get your flu shot — I can’t afford to lose any readers!

But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about why it is that people don’t care about a disease that has killed 45 children so far this season, but they freaked out because one guy died of Ebola. There are a number of issues, of course. For example, the media care about unusual stories. “One man dies of Ebola” is interesting, “lots of kids die of the flu” is not. But the media largely reflect their audiences. And so I think the fundamental issue has to do with purity.

Influenza is our disease. Ebola is their disease. Of course, this isn’t true. Both these diseases move around the global. But the perception is that Ebola is foreign. So the fear is not about death, but rather the manner of death. Death by influenza is just one of those unfortunate things that kills our kids and parents. But Ebola is like a terrorist attack. It doesn’t belong in America. It is like a knife jabbing at us from the country of Africa. (Yes, that was a joke!)

You are probably familiar with those tests where you have to associate positive and negative words with different groups to test your subconscious bias. Not long ago, I took one related to young and old people and found that I am biased quite a bit in favor of old people — unlike our society generally. But many years ago, I took this kind of test regarding the countries Japan, China, and India. I was surprised that subconsciously, I had the lowest opinion of India. It seemed strange, given how many great friends and colleagues I’ve had from India. But once I thought about it, I realized that my default image of India was of this rather dirty place. This is unfair, but that’s what’s so terrible about our brains: we aren’t in nearly as much control as we think.

It seems to me that people have this same kind of subconscious bias against Africa. I’m sure if I took the same test comparing Africa with Asia, I would end up with a strong bias toward Asia and against Africa. So it just makes sense that a virus coming from Africa would cause a far more irrational fear than a virus that came from Asia. It is more or less the same thing as the constant conservative push to make laws banning Sharia law. I don’t think most people even know what Sharia law is. But it, like Ebola, is an impurity from, as Ricky Gervais says in Ghost Town, “a scary country.”

Cary Grant

Cary GrantOn this day in 1904, the great actor Cary Grant was born. I’ve never been too clear on what a “man crush” is, but I must have one on Grant. Or more accurately, I want to be Cary Grant. Not the actual person, of course. I want to be suave and witty like the Cary Grant character. Because I’m kind of the opposite. Oh, it’s true, my “stand in the corner and flinch easily” act can, at times, be seen as charming. And I have been known to say witty things at times. But mostly, I’m just insecure and banal. I’m not even special in wanting to be Cary Grant. As the great man himself said, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

What is there to say about Cary Grant? His given name was Archie Leach. In fact, I named a drink after him. But I’m really not that interested in his life. It’s the usual: terrible childhood, crazy mother, got into acting, traveled to the United States, became a star. It was either that or be Rosemary Clooney’s cousin, get cast on ER, become a star. Oh, I’m just kidding George, but he does seem to me the only modern Cary Grant type star.

For forty years, Grant starred in some of the best movies that Hollywood made. Here is video that puts together his ten highest rated films on IMDb. I very much disagree with the ordering and even the inclusion of these films. For example, Gunga Din is not on the list yet somehow Charade is? That’s not to say that I don’t like Charade, but it is hardly great. And North by Northwest is number one? Whatever. This is all fun though.

Happy birthday Cary Grant!