Finally! Custom backgrounds in Blogger!

At long last, we can use our own photos as backgrounds for our Blogger blogs. For the time being, I'm using a photo of the grasses outside my kitchen window; if you're reading this via RSS, click through to see it.

This post on the Blogger In Draft blog describes the feature. It's built into the Template Designer in Blogger In Draft, so you'll need to use the URL "" to edit your site instead of composing as usual on I've discussed the Template Designer previously here and on the Erie Moose test blog.

Here are Blogger's recommendations for image size and format:
For images that fill the entire background, we recommend using a resolution of 1800 pixels wide and 1600 pixels high, and file size less than 200KB to minimize the loading time of your blog pages.
I cropped my photo of grasses to 1800x1600 and compressed it to slightly over 200kB. They'll let you upload an image up to 300kB. If you like how it looks, try it on your own blog and let me know!

The Peter Principle of multitasking

The Peter Principle states that in a hierarchy, individuals are periodically promoted as long as they continue to perform adequately. When they stop, they are said to have risen to their level of incompetence.

A corollary for multitasking: an individual performing all their tasks adequately will add tasks until they can no longer do any of them well. This miserable state is called being "busy".

At this point I could pontificate about quiet, but I'll just say this: busy kills. Hang up and drive, folks.

The tangent of a relationship

The trigonometric tangent is defined as:I hereby define the tangent of a relationship as the time spent together vertical divided by the time spent together horizontal.

Table I. Tangents of common relationship types.
90 deg.___Friend, coworker, etc.
45 deg.___Friend with benefits
30 deg.___Spouse, significant other
0 deg.____Booty call you can't stand
Amusing etymology:
1590s, "meeting at a point without intersecting," from L. tangentem (nom. tangens), prp. of tangere "to touch," from PIE base *tag- "to touch, to handle" (cf. L. tactus "touch," Gk. tetagon "having seized," O.E. þaccian "stroke, strike gently"). First used by Dan. mathematician Thomas Fincke in "Geomietria Rotundi" (1583).

Harvey Pekar's death touches a chord

Many of my fellow Clevelanders have shared Anthony Bourdain's tribute to Harvey Pekar with one another. I didn't know Harvey, and to be honest I'm not that familiar with his work (the American Splendor graphic novel, which spawned an independent film). But this paragraph of Anthony's tells me that Pekar might have been my kind of guy:
A few great artists come to "own" their territory. As Joseph Mitchell once owned New York and Zola owned Paris, Harvey Pekar owned not just Cleveland but all those places in the American Heartland where people wake up every day, go to work, do the best they can--and in spite of the vast and overwhelming forces that conspire to disappoint them--go on, try as best as possible to do right by the people around them, to attain that most difficult of ideals: to be "good" people.
To be good. To keep trying. To not let down the people around you. This is the essence of the Midwest, and why I feel at home here. This tells me that Pekar, despite his reputation as a curmudgeon, probably would have agreed with me about choosing Cleveland. Which was my point in posting this.

Modern Koans

Modern pseudo-koans to use when you need to distract someone:

1. How wide is a mountain?
2. What emoticon would best represent schadenfreude?
3. What is the minimum number of PowerPoint slides necessary to convey the entire content of the Bible?
4. How could you make coffee using only a toaster, the Chicago Tribune, and a gift certificate to Home Depot?
5. If Apple Computer were to hang a plaque in your honor in their lobby, what would it say?
6. What is the secret ingredient in goulash?
7. When you thump a perfectly ripe muskmelon, what musical note does it make?
8. What television program would be most likely to air a quote from Voltaire--with attribution?
9. What are the lyrics to "Copacabana?"

Cars and driving in China

(One more China post and I'm done. I promise.) China's rapid changes in infrastructure, employment, and standard of living have led to an interesting assortment of cars on the road and driving behaviors. For the most part, Jalopniks would feel at home in China.

Driving is an active, primary task there. They haven't had time to start taking it for granted. They all drive stick shifts, and they don't talk on the phone. On the other hand, they don't drive for fun, or to see and be seen. They don't hoon. Unanimously they hate traffic. But they confront this necessary evil rather than trying to insulate themselves from it.

Westerners are often alarmed by the Chinese habit of driving down the wrong side of the road whenever it happens to be empty. (I know I giggled like a toddler on a rollercoaster my first several taxi rides there.) In the States, the double yellow line is strictly enforced, the penalties for crossing it are severe, and anyway people would look at you like you were juggling sticks of dynamite. Seen another way, a major US city's clogged inbound arteries every morning standing alongside its empty outbound lanes could be regarded as a brian-dead waste of resources. The best we ever do to correct this is to have "flex lanes" that can be swapped mid-day. The Chinese utilize their roads to the fullest. The converse of "defensive driving" might be called "opportunistic driving" and the Chinese practice both.

And the vehicles? First of all, there are genuine jalopies. The most stunning are the 2-part farm tractors converted for road use. They're hinged in the middle, making them look like genetically deformed Mad Max props. But also the pedicabs, and the scooter version that looks like a doghouse on a bicycle-wheeled sidecar.

There's a stunning variety of cars, mostly small to what we'd call medium sized. An even more stunning variety of sub-car transport: three wheels or two, motor or no. A lot of modifications and improvisation keeps these subcars on the road. There's not too much cosmetic damage on the cars, but the work trucks all look like hell. They're a lot older than the cars. There are no old cars in China for the same reason that Columbus didn't meet any white people in America.

Large and conspicuously expensive cars glide through the tumult. I saw a Bentley in Shenzhen. I saw quite a few BWM 7-series in Quanzhou. I note that BMW, Merc, and Audi all sell cars here with smaller engines than elsewhere. 730Li? S320? A8L 2.0T? Speed is not a realistic possibility there anyway.

It occurred to me that roundabouts (traffic circles) would work very well in China. They're already negotiating their position on the road all the time, anyway. Maybe that's why Americans can't get the hang of traffic circles: we take our position on the road for granted and we've stopped negotiating with each other.

Why does the carpet say Tuesday?

During my stay in China, I jotted down notes whenever I saw something unusual. It happened a lot. It started on the first day, with the title of this post: I walked into a restaurant whose 6-foot-wide plush red welcome mat was printed with a long string of Chinese characters and, below them, the English word "Tuesday" six inches high. That's all. Why did the carpet say Tuesday? None of us could guess. Here, then, are the rest of my notes. Some come with commentary, some without.

Why aren't there any old people here in Shenzhen? Answer: this is the "new part of town", built to support the factories, so it's full of the 20-40 year olds that work in them. (anybody over 30 is a manager anyway).

Three paces backwards, everything is breaking

Chocolate mouse in the dessert case

Plane flight bullshitting with seatmates: ferret furniture; long distance Depends testing

Die-cut pancakes

Five people in a doghouse bolted to the back of a moped, making an illegal left against traffic

Rotating restaurant on 24th floor of Baolilai hotel

[Obscene comment, hover mouse here to read.]

You cannot get coffee grounds in china. It's all powdered instant.

Company cantina 3 free meals a day for employees

It's lychee season

Shenzhen Train Station mall: concierges and barkers
"Real is no good" - a barker
[Obscene comment, hover mouse here to read.]

Hills with mohawks of trees

No Facebook in China

Utterly bungled service at the "Japanese" restaurant ... that offers 1.8-liter bottles of hot sake.


World cup everywhere

When I'm tired, I create new abstractions without the usual degree of editing. Like "white is the new default headphone color" after seeing a guy wearing big white over-the-ear headphones. I have no idea how true that is, but the words came to me.

Reading my friends' blogs on my day off made me homesick. I'm kind of ready for that flight back, but I'm only half done.

[Obscene comment, hover mouse here to read.]

Gorged myself on raw seafood

I tried to wait for the shuttle in the lobby, but the cigarette smoke finally got to me.

I do feel a little bit like I'm coming down with a cold.

I'm definitely sick, and this has turned into one of the worst days I've experienced in a long time. My flight was delayed after I arrived at the airport--for two hours and then indefinitely. Then, without warning, it boarded (before the two hours was up). Now I'm on the plane, but the pilot says we're delayed due to weather. So basically I've been stuck in an airport where very few people speak English, hungry and especially thirsty, saturating tissues and paper towels with my nose literally dripping, and without internet access. I'm afraid they'll decide I have bird flu and quarantine me. I've been traveling for seven hours and I've gone nowhere; I have a 80 minute flight and a 2 hour drive ahead of me. On the bright side, I was able to contact my coworker at the site I'm traveling to, so theoretically there will still be a car waiting for me.

I'm in Quanzhou. The hotel redid its restaurant since I was here last. But the rooms are the same.

The plant is still busted up, but now they only use 1 floor of the building. Downsizing.

Awesome steak au poivre sizzling on fajita platter. This is "chinese food"? More like French executed by Mexicans. The fruit that looks like lychee but smaller and dark red is tart like a berry.

There is a Shaolin temple in use and under construction. Kaiyuan is the historic one, the site dating back 1200 years. The Luoyang Bridge (aka Wanan Bridge) is equally old.

Sick, crashed 13h without dinner. Fever, chills

The hotel staff here seem more bookish, shy. Also, there are a lot of tall guys working here. No tall guys in Shenzhen.

Strawberry guava juice is delicious.

Tshirt: "sex & bananas & rock&roll"

Traffic in China works exactly like a high school hallway between classes. Crowded but functional. Nobody crashes because everybody pays attention. When did we forget how to do that?

Soccer is like hockey, but bigger

Imaginary soccer commercial: regular team vs. Kung Fu guys. Flying, acrobatics. Beheaded regular player: red flag for the kung fu team.

Most buildings in Quanzhou are six stories or less. Until recently, the government restricted building because they didn't want Quanzhou to compete with Taiwan.

Pear juice. Wow.

Statue of hero who took Taiwan back from Holland is made of metal!

Luoyang Bridge the tide is low. Crabs, oysters, a few cranes. A Buddhist temple at the end opposite the statue of the builder.

Tallest mountain in Quanzhou, lunch on top. Tea like flowers, famous Quanzhou product. Restaurant 480m elevation. Mountain prob higher. Dam, temples, Lao Tzu. Koi and turtles in the temple pond.

Walked the streets around the Quanzhou Hotel for about an hour. Pretty intense. I soon realized it's the first time I've ever been out alone in China. I was the ONLY white guy. The intention was to buy some small gifts, but that will have to be later. Going left out the hotel entrance and following the left wall, you curve north onto Zhongshan Middle Road, mostly a garment sales area. Right from the hotel, you are forced to turn left at a gate; you soon find yourself at a major intersection with Xinmen Street. There's a liquor store across the intersection. Come back tomorrow.

Thai restaurant in the hotel. Nice - I feel like a king. Three menus easily 50 pages total. Amazing seafood red curry, best scallops I've ever had in it. Two chef demo stands in the dining room, Indian guy spinning paper-thin dough. On the way to this restaurant, I asked a tall bellhop for directions. He pointed me on my way. Behind me, the female staffer with him clapped with glee. Congratulations on your good English! You can do it!


[Obscene comment, hover mouse here to read.]

Tea ceremony in a shop: you cannot let water sit on the tea leaves. Dump the first steeping. Steep briefly, maybe a minute. You can steep the leaves many times.

Goodbye QZ. I came away with a deeper affection for all these folks - at least the ones who are left. Anson's leaving blood on the ice. And after a week of me asking Ruby for her opinion and offering my help, I think she finally got used to the idea of being taken seriously.

The road to Xiamen looks like it was gouged through the countryside by a planetary router. They're trying a lot of different anti-erosion techniques - they've got plenty of space to experiment.

China's last attempt to rip you off: duty-free at the departure gates at Xiamen. And 35-yen Evian. That's $5 US for a bottle of water in a place where you can't drink what comes out of the tap. Chutzpah.

Five minutes of searching and concentration to figure out how to turn on and off the lights in my room at the Hong Kong Novotel Citigate. And for the first time in my whole trip, I had to use the package of power outlet adapters I bought at Radio Shack. This is a live example of poor user-interface design.

Visible wine cellar outside the hotel restaurant: Sassicaia ($200) next to Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza ($13). Marselan Big Red ($7) next to, I kid you not, Lafitte ($100).

Shoe math

Shoe math, def.: A mathematical exercise done to justify the purchase of shoes, in this case by women. Example:
These Manolo Blahniks cost $300. *
Well, they're well made, how long are you going to own them? **
How many times a year would you wear them, like to parties and maybe even work? ***
So how many dollars per wearing does that come out to?
That's totally affordable! It's like my Starbucks habit! ****
* No way, that's my car payment!
** Maybe, but they'll be unfashionable by then.
*** Farfetched. A gross exaggeration.
**** These shoes aren't cheap - and neither is your Starbucks habit.

The male version goes like this:
This bottle of Balvenie Portwood costs $140. +
Then don't mix it with Coke, dumbass. How many ounces are in a bottle? ++
How many one-ounce drinks can you get out if it? +++
So how much is it per drink? ++++
Bonus round: How much would you pay for one drink of that in a bar? +++++
That's a BARGAIN. ++++++
+ I work for a living. Most of the guys that drink this don't.
++ 25, FYI.
+++ 25, but you know that's not happening.
++++ Ahem. $5.60.
+++++ $25. I was once billed--true story--$40 for a Scotch I was told was $20. I had finished the drink but I almost returned it anyway.
++++++ Maybe, if you keep it locked in a safe whose combination you can only remember when you're sober.