Archive for the ‘Thought Objects’ Category

Thoughts on Cambodia

Posted by Arlo on Feb 28, 2012 under Postcard Valet, Thought Objects, Travel

We only had about five weeks left to go in our travels when we started planning what we’d see in Southeast Asia.  We’d had more than enough time in Thailand, but that still left Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore on our to-do list.  Five weeks isn’t a lot of time even when you don’t have to factor in long hours of travel between points of interest.  Ultimately, we had removed most of Cambodia from consideration before we’d even arrived in the country.

Still, you can’t travel Southeast Asia without going to see Angkor Wat, right?  Although it meant passing up the capital, Phnom Penh, we made sure our bus from Saigon took us straight to Siem Reap so we could spend as many days as possible exploring the ruins in the area. Read the rest of this entry »

Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend

Posted by Arlo on Sep 10, 2008 under Life of Arlo, Thought Objects

Alaska Dividend Graph, 1982-2008It’s been a miserable summer in Juneau. Rain, rain, and more rain. I wonder how many people have seriously considered moving because of it. And I wonder how many of those people decided to stay because of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.

The Alaska Permanent Fund is Alaska’s way of giving back to the residents of the state. Profits from oil sales are put into a fund, only 1% of which is then invested. Every October, the average earnings over the last five years is split among us 600,000 (or so) residents. (It’s more complicated than that, but only slightly.) Our dividends dipped during the dot-com crash, but that five-year average insulted us from a huge cut. Conversely, it’ll take a few more years before we see how high these record oil prices push it back up.

Everyone’s waiting for the checks, which could arrive as soon as Friday. This year’s dividend is the biggest ever, at $2,069. Of course, our illustrious governor decided that her constituents were unfairly burdened by high oil prices this year, so she spearheaded an initiative to share a little more of the state’s wealth. Each resident will receive an extra $1,200 in “energy relief” this year. (No wonder she has such a high approval rating!) The energy relief packaged is issued by the same office, the Alaska Permanent Fund Division, so in essence we’re each receiving a $3,269 dividend this year. Think of it: A household of five will receive a bulk sum of $16,345! Sky’s the limit for Mormons and Catholics! Who wants to move now?

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The Resolution Will Not Be Televised

Posted by Arlo on Dec 20, 2007 under Life of Arlo, Thought Objects

Oksana in front of the new HDTV

Right around the holiday season last year, I noticed that HDTVs on the market were finally starting to combine all of the best features. Full 1080p resolution, low-latency/burn-in free LCD panels, built-in HDTV tuners, 1920×1200 RGB support; it looked like it was almost time for me to enter the market. Oksana always said I could get an HDTV when the price dropped to $1500…

I decided that 2007 would be the year we upgraded, but we had to wait until August 20th before we found the model with the right price/performance ratio.

Months before, Costco had sent out a mailer with upcoming coupons. There it was, finally! $200 off a 52-inch Vizio with all the features above and more. Waiting three months was torture.

I researched everything I could about the Vizio and its competitors. There were few other 52″ models on the market and the only other two I entertained buying were from Sony and Sharp. Both were probably better than the Vizio, but they both cost at least $1500 more, too.

As the magical date neared, I began seeing reviews of the Vizio appear online. Apparently some Costco warehouses were selling the TVs before the coupon went active. On Friday, August 17th, I went to my own Costco for a look-see. Sure enough, on the top shelf, four giant boxes sat wrapped in cellophane – they had the 52″ in stock three days before I could use the coupon.

I decided to see if I could pull a fast one. I talked to one of the floor managers, asked him if I could buy one that day and then “price match” it the following Monday with my coupon. In effect, I would pay $200 more, but get that $200 refunded after the weekend. Unfortunately, not only wouldn’t he do the price matching, not only wouldn’t he even sell me the TV, he wouldn’t even let me reserve one! “I’m sorry, we only have 4 of them in stock and if they’re already sold out when the coupon drops, my customers will kill me.” His suggestion? “Just be there when the doors open at 10am and you’ll be sure to get one.”

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The Internet

Posted by Arlo on Jul 12, 2007 under Thought Objects

A group of us were talking the other night about that online site that was taking votes for the “New 7 Wonders of the World.”  Before looking at the list, we had fun brainstorming what should be on there.  Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Teotihuacan?   The Hoover Dam, The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Panama Canal?  My best idea was one that nobody really wanted to concede: The Internet.

When I think about it – and I think about it often – I’m amazed at how the Internet has changed the world.  Or at least my world.

For instance:

  • I handle almost all my finances online now.  My paycheck is direct deposited, our monthly expenses are paid automatically by our Alaska Airlines credit card (which is, in turn, paid off by our bank account – got to get those miles!)  There are exceptions, of course.  I still have to pay rent with a check, and people will probably still be using the ATM to grab theater money in 3007.  Even so, I’d estimate that 90% of my own wealth never manifests itself as anything more than numbers in databases.

  • The Internet has also brought the world closer.  E-mail, the ubiquitous and obvious tool, has allowed me to stay in touch with friends and family the world over.  In recent years, new tools have sprung up and I find myself taking advantage of them more and more.   I remember how surreal video conferencing seemed when I first peered into my own living room from an Internet cafe in Peru; now it seems blase.  Oksana uses Skype to talk to her brother in Russia; the quality on both ends is better than any phone call, and ever since we bought a cordless Skype phone, we’re no longer tied to the computer’s clunky headset and microphone.  Even Internet Messaging, simple as it is, recently surprised me when a friend started a live chat message with me while I was at work… and he was standing in front of the Easter Island statues with his Blackberry.  (And later that week, he IM’d me from a bus in Santiago to ask me what a Spanish word meant, because, you know, it was easier than looking it up.)

  • The way in which the Internet impresses me most, though, is with its vast store of information.  I’m old enough to remember when a 26-book set of encyclopedias was the best way to get information for school.  Now to research and learn anything – anything! – all you need is a computer, a connection, and time.  Learning, learning, learning!  I use the Internet all the time to learn new things.  Photoshop tutorials, screenwriting advice, HDTV and next gen DVD formats.  Recipes, desktop publishing, video editing, astronomy, home design.  Want an answer to a question?  Want to learn something new?  It’s ALL RIGHT HERE, and it’s all FREE (and usually on Wikipedia.)

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Shopping Fantasies

Posted by Arlo on Feb 19, 2007 under Thought Objects

Sunkist is greater than Zipfizz

When shopping, have you ever noticed a product completely out of place?  I’m not talking about a display set up in a strange place – canned corn, now on sale in the bakery! – I’m talking about a single item, set among a whole shelf of different products.  You know, the kind of thing you’d see if someone decided they no longer want something they’d put in their cart.  Ideally, the poor item should have been reunited on with its brethren, but shoppers can be lazy.

Back in high school, when I worked in a supermarket, I hated that.  Now I amuse myself by reconstructing the thought processes of those thoughtless shoppers.

For instance, this weekend at Costco, I noticed a lone box of Zipfizz Liquid Shots sitting atop of an almost-full palette of Sunkist soda.  “What led to that decision?” I wondered.  My brain gave me back something like this:

    A large woman pushing a full shopping cart stops at the corner Zipfizz display.
    “Hmmm…” She thinks to herself.  “What are these liquid shot things?”
    She turns the small, plastic wrapped case over in her hands, reading the packaging. 
    “Only four fluid ounces each – how could they possibly be good for you…?  Wow!  44,667% of my daily B12 needs!”  She rubs her chin with her free hand.  “My doctor always tells me I need more B12.  I’m totally buying this!”  She wedges the case sideways into her cart.
    She begins to push the cart forward, glanceing up at the price.  “30 bucks?  That’s kind of spendy…”  The cart slows, then, as she seems to reaffirm her decision, pushes on.  “It must just taste really good.”
    Shortly afterwards…
    The cart rounds the corner and enters the frozen food aisle.  Refrigeration cases line both sides, along the middle sit a dozen palettes of soda.
    A towering stack of Sunkist cans appears on her left. “Ooo!  Sunkist!” she says out loud, exchanging the Zipfizz in her cart for a larger case of soda.  “Orangey!”
    The woman leaves, the case of Zipfizz left behind on the stack of orange.

Next time you’re shopping and you see an orphaned item, you might take a moment to think about what it was exchanged for.  For the people that are selling these things, there just might be a marketing strategy hidden away in the forensic evidence.  For you, perhaps just an entertaining yarn.

New York, New York

Posted by Arlo on Feb 8, 2007 under Thought Objects

Click for full sizeLately I’ve been thinking a lot about New York — I don’t know why — but it got to the point where I decided to jot down some ideas.  (If you haven’t noticed, I tend to write as a way of forcing myself to organize my thoughts.  What other post-high school reason is there to write essays?)  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around an elusive theme, and recently, a few happenings began lend it clarity:

  1. 1. My writing on the Alaskan mystique started an internal process of comparing and contrasting the same with New York City.
  2. 2. At dinner last week, my friend, Mike, related the story of how one of his friends referred to New York City as, simply, The City.
  3. 3. A perfectly ego-centric, 1976 “map” of New York was posted yesterday on Strange Maps. 

I find New York City, or rather the perception of New York City, very interesting.  In our media-rich culture, New York is everywhere.  Any number of movies — Spider-man, Ghostbusters, King Kong, Taxi Driver, to name a few – couldn’t be set in a different city.  There’s a peek into New York almost every night on any number television shows:  Law & Order, Friends reruns, The Apprentice, and, of course, CSI: New York.  Sex and the City pretty much makes The City a supporting character.  Dominos Pizza gives us a glimpse of New York culture with commercials touting their new Brooklyn Style Pizza.  Even popular websites like Kottke.org nonchalantly mention New York City.

That New York is on our consciousness isn’t impressive.  Sure, it’s a big, important American City; I get that.  What interests me is the matter-of-fact way in which it’s presented.

New York City is served up to us by New Yorkers, and to New Yorkers the city is forefront in their daily lives.  That’s understandable.  I can imagine that living in a city that big would have an impact on your life.  Here’s the thing, though:  By virtue of it’s media-onslaught, even though I’ve never been there¹, New York has an impact on my life, too.

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Inside Joke

Posted by Arlo on Feb 5, 2007 under Thought Objects

You see, a gamut is another word for a color space... oh, nevermind.Despite subscribing to the updates on Jane Espenson’s blog, I don’t really enjoy reading it.  It’s mostly about writing spec scripts and what she had for lunch (what’s up with that?)  The entries are short, however, and every once in awhile I pick up a worthwhile writing tip.  Besides, she’s written episodes for some of my favorite TV series (Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), so that’s interesting.

Last week she discussed the defining characteristics of high-brow and low-brow jokes.  High-brow jokes are ones that normally only high society types would understand.  She demonstrated a joke she’d seen on Frasier.  It was based on an opera I’d never heard of, Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors –

And then, of course, on the ride home that night I caught an entire NPR segment on Menotti.  I always wonder if things like that are coincidences or if they’re going on all around me and I’m just not tuned into them.  Had I heard of Menotti’s opera before the one-two punch of blog-radio that day?  Maybe I don’t remember because it wasn’t on my radar.  No way to know.

– Low-brow jokes, on the other hand, appeal to a different class of people.  She does a good job of deconstructing high- vs. low-brow.  I never really stopped to consider that the distinction has nothing to do with whether the joke is good or bad, smart or dumb.  The dividing line has to do with socio-economic boundaries.  I inferred from her writing that a good joke, high-brow or low, probably shouldn’t even be understood by the opposite group.

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