The old apartment rule

This evening I had dinner with a friend who just bought a new car and consequently sold his former car, a dilapidated old second-hand BWM that had become totally unreliable. He described poignantly how sad it was to part with the old car, despite how much he’s enjoying having a new one. The sense of finality, of parting with an old friend, etc. I compared it to the dislocating feeling when you move out of a flat you’ve lived in for a few years, hand over the keys and just walk away.

I think it would be nice if there was an agreed-upon social convention whereupon you could show up at an apartment you had lived in before, explain that you were a previous resident and reasonably expect to be shown around for a few quick minutes. Not as some strange favor, but simply as a quirk of agreed-upon social convention.


Clarion Alley, San Francisco. This was the back exit of my old apartment on Sycamore Alley.

Robot Doubles

radio_shack1Spring is always the most listless semester in my teaching gig. Energy is low, weather is good, and class attendance basically collapses once the beer gardens open in mid-April. One weeknight not long ago, I was feeling uninspired to teach one of my more droopy classes, and remembered my robot doubles concept from many years ago:

Let’s say that everyone had (or could easily purchase, at least) a robot double that looks almost exactly like you and has about 70% of your mental capabilities. You could send your Robo off to take care of minor errands for you (say, picking up a package from the post office) and be pretty confident that he/she would be up for the task. There would probably be legalese written into many social transactions that forbid people from sending their Robos on their behalf and maybe even ‘No Robos’ stickers on certain storefronts (the DMV, for instance), but for the most part you could be confident that nobody would notice the switch.

But the question would be whether you would dare to send your Robo off to deal with more complex and critical tasks. I imagine people getting busted periodically for sending their Robo to work for them while they stayed home and slept in. In extreme cases, faltering marriages would collapse when one already-jaded partner detected that their husband or wife had sent their Robo home to deal with them so they could sit in a bar or have an affair. The Robo problem would crop up especially in school– I can almost imagine certain students of mine trying to pass off deficient robotic doubles of themselves if they had the chance. But then again, they also might notice that the person teaching them was, in fact, a Robo. The real question would be whether our Robos would be capable of detecting other Robos, and if so whether they would inform their Humans, or whether they would instead form a tacit alliance to keep it a secret among themselves.

Stuffed Animal Lamps

An old friend of mine has a new art project —  stuffed animal lamps.


Simple concept, elegant execution.  A grafitti artist friend adds some decoration.  There are a ton of them displayed here; I had trouble picking out my favorite one (I also like the sleeping camo guy, and the spiderman).

I like the marriage of functional and frivolous.  I’m also reminded of a case I worked on as a law clerk for a judge, about whether it is legal to copyright a Halloween costume.  The law in this area turned out to be completely incoherent, based on something called the “conceptual severability” test — the idea was that you could not copyright “functional” things, but if you could “conceptually sever” the design from the functional aspect of the object, you could copyright the design.  Of course this test posed an issue for costumes — what’s the function?  The law, of course, had an answer: masquerading!  Anyway the details were absurd — for example, some aspects of the test had to do with the “plushness” of the object, and whether it could stand on its own (hat) or needed to be on something to assume its shape (glove). 

Somewhat of a digression, but these lamps got me thinking about that — is the function just lighting, or also cuteness?

Follow-up on Grizzly Bear

elf712357fcra1Krafty recently pointed out to me that the lead singer of Grizzly Bear, Ed Droste, is actually the son of our grade school music teacher,  Diana “Ms.” Droste. This revelation immediately legitimizes in my mind the occupation of ‘grade school music teacher’, which I have to admit I’d held a skeptical attitude towards before.

I have few clear memories of Ms. Droste (as I was, like, 6 when she stopped teaching us), but they’re mainly pleasant. It’s when I think about the rogues gallery that followed her that I wonder how Will Ferrell hasn’t yet starred in an Anchorman-type role where he plays a music teacher in charge of leading small children in jocular rounds of ‘ta-ti-ti, ti-ti-ti-TAH-ti-ti-TAH-TAH!’

Fortnightly check-in

This blog is two weeks old today, which suggests the following info-graphic:


Blog: 14

Son: 10

For better or for worse, this blog seems to be lacking two types of content that are staples of the blogosphere:

1. Embedded youtube videos

2. Sex

Maybe the lack of such gives this blog a refreshing, distinctive personality. Or maybe it gives it a stick-in-the-mud, stuck-at-home-on-the-Sabbath feeling, as I suppose neither multimedia nor promiscuity has any role in a properly-observed Sabbath either. We’re beginning to stray into the territory of Pennsylvania!: my imagined comedic musical about a community of Amish manning a power plant outside of Philadelphia.

Lastly, since the blog is 14 days old, I can link to this Grizzly Bear performance of ‘Two Weeks’ on Letterman in good conscience without feeling like it’s a complete non sequitur.


List of company name etymologies

Fascinating list here. This is a really great resource if you were wondering where companies had realised their names and trademarks.

Some very interesting ones:

  1. A&M Records – named after founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (Actually, I believed it had to do with sound)
  2. Coleco – began as the Connecticut Leather Company. (who knew that!)
  3. Starbucks – named after Starbuck, a character in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick (NOT Battlestar Galactic)



I ran into the same friend two days in a row on the street. It’s interesting how you have a physiological reaction to seeing someone familiar – the ‘flashbulb of recognition’- a split-second before you even realize what you’re reacting to. It’s a bit like the way birds seem to move in an absolutely instantaneous way without any time for forethought or conscious processing.

What’s amazing is how good the brain is at remembering faces. Someone whom we haven’t seen for years is instantly recognized (before we even realize we’ve recognized them) on account of millimeter distinctions in facial structure. Imagine if it were not this way and we had to fumble around in order to recognize somebody we hadn’t seen for an hour or so. I suppose it would be socially acceptable to peer confusedly at, or even grope with our fingers, the facial features of people we know well, depending on the situation.

In all fairness…

mcescherI didn’t mean to suggest in my last post that Czech is somehow any more insane than English. My fascination with aspects of Czech is the way that there’s often an underlying logic applied (as in the Island vs. Not Island example), but the logic turns out to be sort vague and applied in a half-assed manner. Many aspects of English, meanwhile, make no pretense towards logic whatsoever.

1. Our irregular spellings. Widely despised, mocked, railed against. Interestingly, it turns out that we have one man to blame for these. His name was William Caxton. In the early days of book printing in the late 15th century, England was lagging behind much of Europe in the field. Also, the English language was in flux with individual regions speaking their own highly individualized dialect. Caxton was the first prolific English printer; he also happened to hail from the part of England with all the awful ‘th’-y and ‘ough’-y spellings. Hence, he managed to codify the language, but in all the wrong ways.

2. Past-perfect-subjective-purple-monkey-dishwasher tense. Really, our past verb tenses are insane (‘would have had I known’, etc) and the part of the language that seem to inspire the most dread in foreign learners. (I used to work at an agency that had quasi-mandatory English lessons, and the ashen expressions of my Czech co-workers as they emerged from the teacher’s office after trying to learn past conditional led me to dub her ‘the dentist’ and her office ‘the dentist office’. That was fun.) Why not just have an international standardized, simplified version of English? When you consider how many conversations are happening every second in English among two non-native speakers, and how much time is wasted tripping and bumbling over these tenses, it really seems massively cruel and wasteful. And it seems to me that you could fully express yourself if you just used past perfect for everything. “I would have come earlier if I had known you were thinking about coming’ doesn’t express much more than ‘I would came earlier if I know that you thinked about coming’, which is basically the same sentence transposed into Czech grammar.


beardsleyOne thing I like about the web is encountering people who have the same name as you. Every now and then, another Dan Mayer will contact me about the site asking to purchase it. One wrote, “I’m Dan Mayer, too… let’s chat!’ and left an AIM handle, but I didn’t think we’d have that much to talk about beyond than whether we like/dislike our mutual name, so I demurred. 

Even my just-born son, Felix Mayer, already has a young virtual nemesis.