Life of Megan

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tip and Explanation

Tip: Always ask how long a spinning class is before you are thinking to yourself "I thought this would be over by now."

Explanation: Well, you can probably guess. I warmed up by myself for ten minutes as I waited for the class to start. The class was 75 minutes long. At least my hair doesn't hurt.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The forgotten user group

Cautionary Note: I don't actually know what I'm talking about here. I'm just trying to bring up a problem that few people think about, talk about how it affects me, and offer my ideas about how to make things better. I am prone to making huge mistakes about usability and human factors, so you should not take any of my comments related to these as an expert opinion.

This week, my mom and I spent hours searching for right-oblique (left-handed) calligraphy nibs small enough for addressing envelopes. That's right--I'm doing my own addresses for my wedding invitations. Calligraphy nibs are generally flat across the bottom. These work well for right-handed people, but they don't work for lefties who write in the "ideal" position, with their hand falling under the line they are currently writing, neither pushing nor pulling the paper as they form letters. I happen to be one of these lefties. I have tried using standard nibs, but I cannot find a way to form letters such that the thickness varies properly (you hold the pen at an angle, so depending on how you move the pen, you get either a thick or a thin stroke). Anyhow, there are several starter sets out there for lefties, and Speedball, the primary manufacturer of dip pen nibs in this country, offers its five most common sizes to left-handers. Unfortunately, these sets and the five most common sizes are not small enough to address envelopes. It makes me wonder just what exactly people are doing with their Speedball nibs. It is important to note that top-of-the-line pens are available for left-handed people. They just cost more than $150.

I found a site in the UK some time back that I've always admired--Anything Left-Handed. They offer several calligraphy sets, but they don't report nib sizes. After some time, I found the manufacturer's web site and was able to confirm that the "fine" nib in the sets will work. I ended up ordering myself a cartridge pen set, a dip pen set, a fountain pen, and a left-handed ruler.

Maybe I shouldn't be complaining, but it doesn't seem fair that I spent hours looking for something I could buy at any arts-and-crafts store if I were right handed. Lefties are supposed to account for approximately 10% of the general worldwide population. I realize this isn't a huge percentage, but it seems big enough that I shouldn't be snubbed when I call pen manufacturers or email their customer support looking for left-handed pens. I don't mind if you charge me more. I realize that the smaller demand results in higher production expenses. I do mind if I get an email back just repeating the website blurb that "pens are available for left-handers in our five most popular sizes" (they only make 7 sizes--would it really be so hard to include the other two?) or a sales rep condescendingly remarking "we haven't carried that line for four or five years."

Lefties deal with hundreds of inconveniences per week. Everything from doorknobs to computer desks to bread knives is customized for the right-handed user. We adapt or conform to the extent that we don't really realize how annoying it all is. That is, until we get the right materials. I can tell you're all asking yourselves "How is a ruler right handed?" Well, when you draw a long line, where do you start on the page? It's generally more comfortable to start as far from your writing hand as possible. So a left-handed person using a ruler to draw a line has a choice of starting with the ruler at 12" and subtracting to get the correct line length or trying to make the line over the ruler. Neither is a good option. A left-handed ruler simply reverses the number line.

Have you ever seen the episode of the Simpsons where Ned (who owns a left-handed store) dates the actress? She came into the shop looking for a left-handed eyelash curler. I would love one of those! The eyelash curler is a fabulous invention that I don't trust myself to use; I just don't have the hand-eye coordination necessary with my right hand.

You can't even use a manual pencil sharpener left-handed.

Why don't more companies think about left-handed consumers? I can understand products that have been around for ages like knives and pencil sharpeners and peelers, etc, being geared for the right-handed. But why is it that more and more frequently I am seeing the mousepad on laptops shifting to the left side of the keyboard? I may use a standard mouse right-handed (except for drawing and occasional photoshopping), but I use the mousepad left-handed. I think a lefty designed the Mac's old round one-button mouse. I loved that thing. Having it, I switched the mouse to the left side and never looked back. Now I buy the cheapest infrared Logitech mice I can find because they are not curved to fit the right hand, so I can switch when I want to be creative.

Why don't 10% of coffee mugs have the design set to face lefties? Why not just put the designs on both sides in the first place?

Why, in a build-it-myself computer desk, can't I change which side the storage area is on?

Why don't designers remember left-handed people when they remember so many other odd groups, whose members often pale in comparison to the number of lefties out there?

One last thing I'd love to have: a refrigerator whose doors were reversed.

Well, it turns out that my mom is right--I can reverse the door on my fridge. On the other hand, I was primarily concerned with refrigerators that have split doors for the freezer and fridge, and not with the fridges where the freezer is at the top or the bottom. I've read somewhere that the "best" design for the fridge is one with the freezer on the bottom--this way you are not constantly bending down to get the things you most commonly use.

At any rate, I choose to replace my frustration with refrigerators with my frustration with coffee makers. The coffee press Jud has is truly ambidextrous, but neither his nor my drip maker is. There are two problems with the coffee maker. First, the water lines are only on one side of the pot itself, which means that if I am making the coffee, I get to choose between not seeing how much water I'm putting in and not being able to pour the water with my left hand (since I have to reach over the pot). This wouldn't be much of a problem unless coffee makers also had the second (and correlated third problem): the caraffe's water lines only face you if you're holding the caraffe with your right hand. A second problem is that eight cups measured on the caraffe isn't eight cups measured in the pot. Why not? It's a mystery.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

And today, as I read the Ithaca Times while eating lunch, I came across the text of the full "I have a dream" speech. I know that I heard the speech in its entirety as a drama student my freshman year of high school, but I had forgotten how powerful and beautiful the speech is. We always remember the line "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." We remember this line because MLK was a master of parallelism and had steadily built up to it as a mini-climax. Most recordings or transcriptions we see today begin with the start of the "I have a dream..." section. If these are the only versions you know, you are missing out on some of the most interesting lines in the speech. Take, for example, "Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force." I admit that if Maya Angelou had said this on Oprah, I would have rolled my eyes. But coming from MLK, a pastor, I can see its potential. I wonder how many ministers have done sermons inspired by or based on that line. And there's much, much more. So now I give to you the text, transcribed from audio recordings, and copied from so you can read it yourself.

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

"Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

"But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

"In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

"It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

"But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

"We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

"As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

"I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

"Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

"I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

"I have a dream today.

"I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

"I have a dream today.

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

"This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

"This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'

"And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

"Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

"Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

"But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

"Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

"Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

"And when this happens, When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Observations while home, etc

There were a lot of little pieces of interest I wanted to post in the big recap that I didn't get around to mentioning, and now, as a big program compiles, seems as good a time as any.

Originally, I planned to pay attention to my interactions with Southerners to decide whether I thought they seemed more polite, but I finally realized that the general behavior that constitutes being polite just isn't something I pay any attention to. Maybe I'm a really rude person, and I have been going through life offending people, all the while ignorant of my abhorrant behavior. At any rate, there were plenty of things about Southerners that I did notice.

First, they smile all the time, for no apparent reason. I don't know if I think this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it gives people the appearance of being friendly. On the other, it's a bit unsettling, and it's harder to tell whether people genuinely appreciate nice gestures. I have a theory that the tendency of people to smile for no apparent reason is directly correlated with the amount of sunlight they are regularly exposed to. The sunniness of SC was always something I liked, until I spent months in the Northeast. When I was home, I was generally hoping for a few clouds to partially block the sky so that I could see better. As Judson put it, we have truly become Northeastern moles.

Second, I honestly missed hearing the variety of Southern accents. They sound more musical and less uneducated when you've been away for a while. And I learned a whole new ebonics expression! Here it goes: "Is thays be yohs?"

Third, Carolinians have some of the worst driving in the country. I used to think the people of Massachusetts were worse, but I am now confident that I would rather drive with even those crazy Yankees than drive around SC.

Fourth, all the roads are huge down there, and no matter how much traffic there is, people are always in the left-most lane. This is a mystery to me, as we are generally well-behaved, even though our roads (including interstates) are typically no more than two lanes in each direction. I'm sure part of it is that we drive a more consistent speed, but all in all, it remains a mystery. People may occasionally cut you off in New York, but you can be sure that they at least knew you were there.

Fifth, Zaxby's is no longer a big factor in my life. Our chicken wings are so good that I don't miss it. On the other hand, I was much bereaved to leave Bojangles territory.

Sixth, one thing that I really like about the North but hadn't noticed is that they put a lot of attention into how they pack up your groceries. You would never get a bag full of canned veggies in the North, and if you wanted them to do that intentionally, they would certainly double-bag it for you.

The nicest thing that happened to me while I was in the South that was not in any way related to my friends or family was that at Starbucks, the barista made me a sample of the new cinnamon latte by putting the syrup in regular coffee. I think this may have been because I kept asking whether it would be too sweet, but it was a nice gesture regardless of motive, and I ended up just buying the coffee rather than experimenting with the latte.

Well, the program's compiled, so I must get back to work.