Saturday, March 23, 2013

More Toys for your Toys

In January, I wrote about some cable-management and gadget-management solutions I had found on the web. I hesitated to buy the Signum cable tray from IKEA, because it was larger than I really wanted. Our desk is in a rather exposed location, a loft at the top of the stairs, and the cable tray is one of the first things a viewer will see when climbing the stairs. I wanted something more understated or unobtrusive. My goal is to reduce the amount of visual clutter in my house.

So rather than purchase the Signum item, I kept looking. I found an intriguing alternative on Amazon, the Wire Tray, made by Viable Inc, or Doug Mockett & Company. The Wire Tray is made of black ABS instead of white or silver powder-coated metal. It's narrower than the Signum cable tray, by a factor of two, making it much less obvious under the desk. It can be mounted on a vertical surface like a wall, or a horizontal surface like the underside of a desktop or countertop. Installation is a cinch: you install an aluminum track, then you slide the Wire Tray elements onto the track, and finally you put end caps on the track. You can cut it shorter than 35 inches (about 1 metre), or you can make it longer by installing multiple units.

My only beef with it is that it looks like it's made in China.

NOTE: Photos are from the manufacturer's website.

Friday, March 15, 2013

MIscellaneous word peeves

I think I like this writer, Ben Yagoda. I don't have a very high opinion of the quality of writing over at (especially their Atlantic Wire articles - gag) but Ben cares about words and language. His most recent article, 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to, is definitely worth reading. And before you start pointing out all the mistakes in that title, consider for a moment that he probably put them there on purpose.

Towards the end of his article, he lists several word peeves which I'm going to quote directly. Here they are. Enjoy! - z.

  • Don't use begs the question. Instead use raises the question.
  • Don't use phenomena or criteria as singular. Instead use phenomenon or criterion.
  • Don't use cliché as an adjective. Instead use clichéd.
  • Don't use comprised of. Instead use composed of/made up of.
  • Don't use less for count nouns such people or miles. Instead use fewer.
  • Don't use penultimate (unless you mean second to last). Instead use ultimate.
  • Don't use lead as past tense of to lead. Instead use led.

I hesitate to state what should be obvious, but sometimes the obvious must be stated. So here goes: Do not use it's, you're or who's when you mean its, your or whose. Or vice versa!

Friday, March 8, 2013

American Royalty

The United States of America has always prided itself on not having a king or queen. In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, we are all equal, so they say, and there are no class distinctions.

Then what are the velvet ropes for, the ones that line the red carpets leading into the theatres and auditoriums hosting the Emmys, the Grammys, the Oscars, and all these other awards shows? The velvet ropes are to keep the common people away from the American version of nobility, the stars and starlets who we honor and worship and fawn over as if they were a cut above the rest of us.

And who are the owners of all of those fancy yachts tied to the piers in Myrtle Beach, San Diego, and hundreds of other exclusive, high-priced communities along the sunny coasts? Who are the owners of the mansions in the Hamptons, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Sausalito, Aspen, West Chester, and other high-priced enclaves from sea to shining sea? Who are these people that never have to ask how much something costs, and who carry black American Express cards? They are the American aristocracy. Not all of them live lives as public as the Kennedys, but they life lives of opulence that the rest of us cannot even imagine.

And do you know what happens to the people that we elect and send to Washington, D.C., or to those who are invited to accompany those elected ones to Washington, and never leave? They become the American royalty. Over time, they acquire all the trappings of royalty. They never leave Washington without their retinues, and they are always preceded by the 21st Century equivalent of the forerunners, crying "Make way for the king!" They gather power to themselves, becoming increasingly out of touch with the common people and eventually forgetting who sent them to Washington.

In many ways, the class distinctions of the old royalty and nobility still exist in the U.S.A., but we blindly refuse to acknowledge these distinctions. We cling to the myth of equality and equal opportunity, as voiced in our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ..." In truth, we are not even created equal, and that inequality grows larger as time passes. We may all be endowed with the same rights, but not with the same opportunities. In this country, as in every other country, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

I don't advocate class warfare, or a French revolution to bring down the upper classes. Honestly, I wouldn't mind living their lifestyle myself. And as an upper middle-class American, I don't have much to complain about. But I choose not to join in the obsession with these people, the obsession that fuels the popular media and gives us a constant flow of photos and stories about them. I would like to think that, if I were to encounter a member of the upper class, I wouldn't treat them any differently from anyone else.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey speaks about circles. Specifically, he talks about Circles of Concern, which include all the things that we worry about, and Circles of Influence, which include all the things that we can affect.

In my mind, there is a third kind of circle. This is the Circle of Things That Matter. This is a much smaller circle than the other two. Part of acquiring wisdom is learning to shrink the other two circles so they approach this one in size.

Actually, my life is full of a fourth kind of circle, multiple instances of it. These are Circles of People That Matter. In my life, most of these are BIG circles. The smallest and tightest of these circles includes used to include just my wife and our natural children. What's funny about this circle, called "family," is that we keep widening it and adding other people to it — not just children-in-law and grandchildren, but others whom we come to love so much that they become part of our family.

It's fun at Christmas time, to host an open house for the people in all of these different circles, then to sit back and observe the collisions and the intersections between the circles. Some sparkling gems are found in those intersections.

For example, my circle of former mathematics students consists of roughly 200 people. My circle of LDS young single adults currently living in our town or nearby is of about the same size. I was delighted to find three of my former math students in this YSA circle. I'm sure it doesn't mean as much to them as it does to me, and I try desperately not to make an outward show of things, but I get all, um, gleeful inside every time I see one of them.