The idea here is to provide a working definition of my nemesis, the hipster.  But first some fun:  the other day, Dave Polak somehow got me to dress up as an ironist, ironically.  It's self-referential enough to make my head spin. 

Dave had been accused on Twitter of being a hipster, which he isn't, but he went with it and held a Hipster Funeral Party at the Happy Dog in Ohio City.  Apparently at least one person was convinced he was dead.  The party was a good time.  Dave set up Hipster Bingo cards so everyone was scanning the bar crowd for facial hair, trucker hats, and classic videogame T-shirts.  Happy Dog is one of my after-work stops where I'll get food before moving on to an evening event, and I've never been disappointed there.  I ate and drank there from 5:30 to 10:30, listened to two live bands, and somehow my bill was still under $40.
Why would Dave deny being a hipster, and why would we go to a bar to make fun of them?  Because hipsters make people miserable.  They're one of my touchstones for toxic habits.  I realize that not everybody gets the scope of the label, though, so here I'll try to explain what I mean.
The hipster archetype is Jack Black's character in High Fidelity.  He played a record store clerk who openly mocked his customers.  Staggeringly judgemental, he would happily tell someone that their favorite band sucks--and exactly why and how they suck--not caring that it hurts them and makes them hate him.  Music hipsters claim to be music fans but the truth is that they only like a few albums by a few artists and hate everything else.  Nothing is ever good enough for them.

Hipsterism extends far beyond music.  The syndrome's main components are (1) professing to have tastes too elevated to enjoy the things most people like; and (2) open disrespect for anyone who lacks (1).  This manifests itself as an irony-drenched existence.  The webcomic Cat And Girl once made the point that hipster fashion uses the tropes of 1970s males - trucker hats, PBR beer, ringneck tees, etc.  Originally, all this was authentic, but when recycled by hipsters, it becomes jeeringly ironic.  They'll make fun of any authenticity.  

Another manifestation is that hipsters overwhelmingly define themselves negatively.  When stating an opinion, it's usually "I dislike X" rather than "I like Y".  At its root, this is a fear of standing in favor of something, of having to defend something.  It's weakness.  This is why I've said that when Cleveland natives trash-talk their own town and expect nothing good to come of it, it's toxic hipster bullshit.

Being a hipster means you're never disappointed, because your expectations are rock bottom.  But you're joyless, and a buzzkill to everyone around you.

These, then, are people to avoid.  Instead, lead by example.  Be authentic, ingenuous, sincere.  Seek joy and encourage others to do the same.  Never mind the bollocks!

The magic of preferences

One of the basic differences between computers and older technologies is that a computer can remember how you like things to work.
This is a folder of files on one of my Windows computers.  Every time I've set up a user account since Windows 98, I've told it all my folders should be presented in "details" view and sorted by date modified.  My eyes automatically go to the bottom of the list for the last few things I worked on.  Sometimes I change the view, and it's kind enough to stay changed the next time I open the folder.
This is the dashboard of my car.  I consider myself lucky that it remembers I like the cruse control on all the time.  But why can't it remember what speed I was going if I shut the car off?  Why can't it remember that I close all the windows when I'm going faster than 50?

And while we're at it, why do my bank's ATMs keep asking me if I prefer English?  I already told them once - do they think I might change my mind?  Would an ATM really be the ideal place for me to practice learning a second language?

Something with preferences is customizable:  it's yours.  I'm not talking about trivial cosmetic mods like skinning a media player application, I'm talking about changing how information is presented to you.  Different learning styles are rewarded by different organizational schemes. 

In a way, it's like developing a relationship with a vendor or a customer.  At first, you're feeling each other out, just guessing what the other person needs you to tell them.  After a while, you develop a working process, and it requires a lot less effort to get work done.  Having 'preferences' in your interaction with a computer, or a car, or anything, makes it more like a partnership and less like using a tool.

The personal technology habit

Before the Internet entered people's homes, personal computers were uncommon and expensive.  The 1989 price of the Macintosh SE/30, for professional desktop publishing, was $6500.  In 1994 or so, my in-laws paid $2000 for a Pentium desktop computer and got on AOL, and at that price point the computer entered middle America's spending habits.  More recently, I bought a midrange computer for $700, but you can pay as little as $400 for a decent new machine and expect it to last three to five years.

Computers went from costing most people $2000 every few years to $400.  Where's the extra money going now?

Answer:  perhaps not coincidentally, data plans for smartphones are $30 or more a month.  Tack on $200 up front and the cost is $1000 every two years.  This, then, is what people are willing to pay for their personal technology habit.

(The Droid X has an HDMI output port, allowing it to display HD video on your TV.  Make that a monitor port, and give me a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and maybe I wouldn't need to buy another computer.  Are you listening, Motorola?)

What did people buy with that $2000 every few years before 1994?  ...Stereos, maybe?

How to: annoy rock musicians

via Allmusic:  
Def Leppard’s [lead singer] Joe Elliott will release his own beer, which will be bottled by Dublin’s Porterhouse Brewing Company and served in their bars. Elliott said, “Over the years I’ve noticed a lot of musicians putting their names to a variety of wines etc which, as nice as a glass of red or white is, well, it’s not very rock and roll is it?!”  Source.
Subtext:  "Please do not throw the bottles at my head while I'm on stage."

Cool thing of the day: Fordite

The word Fordite induces cognitive dissonance, doesn't it?  It sounds like a combination of cars and rocks.  Well, the alternate term "motor agate" does too, and it piqued my curiosity.
According to the Fordite history page, this manmade mineralesque material was formed in the paint booths of Detroit.  Early car-painting techniques were pretty wasteful, and every floor, wall, and fixture accumulated baked-on overspray until it had to be chiseled off. 

These paints were epoxies, or basically oil paint:  pigments in simple mixtures of thinners and oils that polymerize (turn to plastic) via oxidation.  In this case they were very thoroughly cured by repeated baking in the paint booth.  Many of the pigments were toxic--you only need to think about lead-based paints--so I don't know how I'd feel about my wife wearing a necklace of the stuff against her skin.  A ring, like the example above, is perfectly safe.

* * *

As a follow-up to the metallurgical display case post, I've just discovered that they're making rings out of ceramic.  They're not exciting structural ceramics like silicon nitride, but they're the real thing and characteristic of the breed:  lightweight, hard as hell, and brittle.  The ceramic used seems to be zirconium oxide, familiar to jewelers in single crystal form as fake diamonds (yttria-stabilized cubic zirconia) and to dentists as fake teeth.  They're available in white, black, and a couple pastel colors.  And they're cheap!

A perpetual fuddle

The World Atlas of Wine contains this gem noting that for much of recorded history, wine was the only liquid that was always safe to drink:
Europe drank wine on a scale it is difficult to conceive of; our ancestors must have been in a perpetual fuddle. 
Johnson and Robinson go on to say that with the later inventions of beer and tea, wine finally had some competition.  And that's all fine information about the history of wine, but today we have a word for someone who gets all their liquid in the form of wine:  an alcoholic.

Were our ancestors used to a constantly elevated BAC?  Sure.  Did it affect their productivity?  I would guess that it did.  I can't see how it couldn't have.  Which brings me to my point:

Did the invention of purified municipal water supplies lead to the acceleration of technology that characterizes the modern age?  After millenia of inebriation, did western society have a nice greasy lunch and get to work one Monday?

Jared Diamond would say no, no, it had everything to do with Europe's grains and large mammals and so on, but I prefer my theory.

How to: repair speakers with blown woofers

In college I bought a pair of Polk Monitor 5 speakers for $200.  They were probably built in 1981, which now makes them old enough to vote but not quite old enough to be elected U.S. President.  They were in my living room until a few years ago, and I still listen to them in my basement when I'm exercising.  Or at least I did until my cat puked in my amplifier (below) and blew them up.
I'd made the tactical error of placing my power amplifier on top of the preamplifier.  The power amp has vents and I wanted it to breathe freely.  Well, power amps are nice warm places for cats to lay, and cats occasionally get hairballs.  It must have scared the crap out of him when the caughed one up and the speakers made a mighty BLATT.  It blew a fuse in the amp and toasted one of the woofer voicecoils.  I popped another fuse in the amp (and vacuumed the hair out of it!) and it worked fine.  But the speakers needed new woofers.

Polk sold this woofer, the MW6500, to technicians for many years to make repairs.  Then they made a near-equivalent replacement, the MW6502, for even longer - people were still buying them in 2008.  But after 30 years it's not reasonable to expect a company to continue to offer replacement parts.  They recommended I contact the good folks at Madisound for a substitute.  We settled on the house brand Madisound 6102 woofer (the left pair below) as the only one that would fit the highly constrained front panel of the speaker.  It sure does fit - even the screw holes are in the same places.
What does the inside of a speaker look like?  CLOUDS!
The white stuff is a fibrous filler often put in speakers to reduce internal echoes.  And the larger cone at the bottom isn't a woofer, it's called a "passive radiator".  No power gets delivered to it.  As you can see, I soldered the leadwires to the new woofers and...
THEY WORK!  They even sound pretty decent!  OK, I haven't run them with a sound level meter to make sure the tonal balance is right, but this is not bad for $50 worth of parts!

Easily overused but don't throw them away

Things I own that I would like to put in a box and store in my attic:
  • My righeous indignation
  • My territorialism
  • My libido

The metallurgical display case

Dave Cunix looked at my hand at the Blogger 11th Birthday Fiesta and commented that my rings seemed to be multiplying. They weren't - I'd just moved one from my right hand to my left - but as of today I have a new one.
On the left is my platinum wedding band, with a few dings because platinum, a noble metal like silver and gold, is soft. Platinum shares its face-centered cubic arrangement of atoms with other soft metals such as aluminum and copper.

In the middle is my tungsten carbide ring. It's not pure tungsten carbide, because that material is really a ceramic and can't be shaped by bending or cutting like metals can. The material we call tungsten carbide is really tungsten carbide powder held together with the metal cobalt, like concrete is pebbles held together with cement. Cemented tungsten carbide is used to cut steel, and is certainly harder than almost anything I'm likely to grab - that's why it's unscratched.

The ring on the right is my new titanium one. They're all the same size, but the titanium one is much lighter than the others because it's only about a quarter as dense. This makes the Metal Guessing Game a lot more interesting, even though I don't wear the silver ring any more. This lightness, together with its resistance to corrosion, is earning titanium some inroads into the world of jewelry. Its strength also makes it a great structural material, but its Achilles' heel is that machinists hate it: its terrible friction and wear properties cause it to weld itself to cutting tools.