Flying with a red feather

So I just got back from Las Vegas last week, and no, I didn’t get the red feather there. It did not drift away from a showgirl’s boa.

I flew from Roanoke to Chicago and from there to Vegas. As I got to my seat on the flight from Chicago I noticed that there was a young African-american girl sitting in the window seat. There was no-one in the middle seat and I had the aisle. She was young, in sixth grade as I found out later which would make her around eleven or twelve. In my experience kids in the States don’t have ages, they have grades.

She looked at me. “Can I sit there?” She gestured at my seat.

I laughed. “I need it so I can stretch my legs.”

“What about that one?” She pointed at the middle seat.

“I guess. Why?”

“I’m scared of heights.”

I debated a bit with myself. A middle-aged white guy. A scared black girl. She reminded me very much of my own daughters. “Sure.”

We talked. We talked a lot. She talked a lot. She was scared of heights, but not exactly of flying. She was flying by herself from Akron to Las Vegas to live with her dad for a year, after living with her mom for a year. Her aunt was in the hospital having a baby (or babies) as we flew. Her dad worked with planes and had his own (really?). Another aunt had lost a leg in a plane accident. She was so nervous and anxious that she had puked in the bathrooms after her flight from Akron. She was being monitored by the flight attendants and I presume being met in Vegas. They checked on her with a second glance at me. “That’s your seat at the window, honey.”

“She’s scared” I replied before stopping to think through what they were really asking.

She wrapped her arm around mine as we took off and tightened it ferociously.

She fell asleep.

I never knew her name. The flight attendant mangled it when checking on her.

I told her about my daughters. My youngest who loves basketball. The eldest who loves singing.

We talked about the plane. I told her all about how they couldn’t just fall out of the sky, how they work with only one engine, and how air could be bumpy. That wasn’t nearly as effective at distracting her as my being exaggeratedly grossed out by her tales while we were landing.

She told me about her dad.

Near the end she showed me a cut on her foot where she’d stepped on some glass her mother had broken in the kitchen. It looked like it needed some care.

“You didn’t see a doctor?”


She’d not been good in school, she told me with a bit of a shameful grin, as if I shouldn’t really like her, nor enjoy her company.

She showed me some beautiful paper flowers she’d made, and I met her imaginary friend.

My mind filled in too many blanks.

When the time came, we parted with few words. I left her on the plane. She looked in her bag of random things and quietly gave me the red feather as a keepsake.

I put it in a safe place.

Lord of the Rings

I’ve been re-watching The Lord of the Rings with S recently. So many things about it are wonderful, but there are definitely some bits that drive me a little crazy…of course, I’m not the first to notice these things, but after the initial joy of the movies, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Some particularly grating elements:

  1. Frodo is a complete wimp. In the books, Frodo is funny, strong, and brave. In the movies he spends most of his time fainting, shrinking in fear and being wistful. To take just one example, in Moria he’s the first to draw blood from the orcs when they’re trapped in the room. In the movie, he runs away and hides. More generally, in the books, he’s much more his own agent and in the movies, he’s much more portrayed as the victim. I was trying to decide if this was the actor’s fault, but I really think it’s a directorial decision, since there are moments where he’s explicitly rolling his eyes and going into “zombie” mode. There’s no struggle for the character. By the way, in contrast, Sam is almost perfectly in line with the character in the book.
  2. Putting on the ring is not a big “wooo” world-goes-fuzzy moment in the book. Bilbo pretty much seems to indicate that it’s a blast, and it’s just not that big a deal most of the time. It’s certainly the case that in the book whoever is wearing it can see more or less normally, and hear normally, if not more clearly (Sam in the Two Towers).
  3. The threat grows much more gradually in the book. A variety of regular people and hobbits talk to and in some cases collaborate with the Black Riders. The threat grows as the hobbits get further away from the Shire, but it’s much more like general unease earlier on.
  4. Elves are light-hearted and funny. They don’t talk ponderously and wander slowly around in gray-looking habitats. Rivendell is famous for being the “last homely house” and a place of rest and respite.

Euro 2008

Guess I’m not alone in finding Tommy Smyth’s commentary on ESPN completely infuriating. I cannot bear to hear him talk about “bulging the old onion bag.” Meanwhile Andy Gray is showing the depth and sophistication of his experience. I can’t help thinking that ESPN thought they were hiring the different Tommy Smith, since on the face of it, the one they have is completely unqualified to comment.

Users and Learners

“In general, learners are engaged primarily in structure or semistructured learning experiences, whereas end users are engaged in tool use.” (this really should not be online, but here’s the source).

I was reading this today in the course of some research and the thought that sprung to mind was that this might be a false distinction or at least not a very useful one. If it ever had some truth to it, isn’t the kind of “learning” that most people do these days done as an “end user”? Our “tools” vary, but a certain philosophical perspective would say that all human activity is some kind of tool use (including working with ideas). Isn’t it that kind of learning that we are working to shape and provide tools for?

Verizon Sucks (retro)

The whole verizonsucks thing is a bit old hat, but I came across a deeply frustrating ‘feature” on my service today.

An upfront disclaimer: I’ve generally been very happy with my service and coverage. A vast improvement over my previous provider which was SunCom.

We’ll put aside the incomprehensibly bad web site design…well, maybe I shouldn’t….here’s what happened:

I do not have a particularly fancy phone, no bluetooth, usb, or whatever. I do have a camera though. I tried to take a picture with my phone the other day and got a warning about not having enough space. So I figure I’ll download some pictures and delete them to save space. That should be easy enough, right?

How to get the pictures off the phone? To send a picture message requires an incomprehensible number of button presses, but I noticed a feature “Online Album” and chose that. Hey, cool, it uploads in two clicks. Excellent.

Wait a minute…where is the online album? Hmm…let’s head to Nope. Sign in. Nope, not there. Hmmm… Nope, not there. No sign of it either. Support section (which is not linked from the home page by the way)? Nope, no mention of it. Hmmm…data technical support FAQ. Nothing. Try a search for “Online Album” (and don’t click any of the first 10 links). Aha, I need Verizon Wireless PIX Place (although I have to google for the url – it’s not actually linked from the Verizon site). Cool.

Alright, let’s head over there. The sign up process isn’t bad. I can handle that. Let’s log in and see my picture. There it is. That’s great.

…wait a minute…that looks a bit fuzzy and small. Click it and it opens in a bigger window. Great, but wait…the file size is one third of the file size on my phone.


Now what? Well, maybe I don’t really care too much about picture quality. Maybe I can upload and then send them all somewhere else?

I test it. When you send a picture to someone else, you use a flash interface, and … wait for it…yes, the recipient gets a link back to the Verizon web site.

So, let’s summarize:

  • Phone has feature with great usability, which trumps a feature with atrocious usability
  • Linked to a site that’s nigh impossible to find
  • Which has terrible usability
  • And you can’t get your pictures out of at the quality level you took them at

Sigh…yes, verizon does indeed suck.