February 2004 Archives

Ginko Trees Must Die!

Trees rarely inspire hatred, but on the campus of the University of Iowa, everyone hates ginko trees. In the center of the Pentacrest, right in front of the entrance of the Registrar's office, some idiot planted a female ginko tree. Every winter, all winter long, the tree drops its seed pods all over the sidewalk. The seeds produce an incredibly foul, persistent stench, which is very difficult to get off your shoes. Everyone that trods upon the seeds tracks the stench everywhere they go. Students and faculty have campaigned for years to get rid of the trees, and today in the Des Moines Register, this story appeared:

4 ginko trees to be removed

When I was a student, I had to walk past these trees every day, and I often fantasized about pouring a gallon of herbicide on their roots, which goes completely against my nature. I used to do landscaping every summer, I've planted thousands of trees, so I'm very protective of trees in general, but these ginkos are a special case. Every landscaper and nurseryman knows that you just don't plant female ginkos. Most nurseries will kill off the females before they ever grow to maturity, there's just no market for female ginkos. And you have to kill them before they mature, when the trees are sold in the spring, there's no way to tell if they're female, the sex of the trees can only be determined in autumn.
There's a preposterous legend about how these trees came to be planted on the Pentacrest. I heard a story about a group of itinerant buddhist monks came and secretly planted little ginko twigs, sat around the twigs in a circle, chanting their sutras, and in 24 hours the trees grew to full size. What a load of rubbish. There just isn't any group of Johnny Ginkoseed monks, and besides, these trees were planted right in front of the entrance of one of the main buildings on campus, you couldn't have planted anything there without drawing attention, and a circle of orange-robed monks would have drawn quite a bit of attention back in the 1950s.
Another annoying piece of idiocy about ginkos is that nobody can agree on how to spell the name. Properly it is "ginko" since the tree is from asia and the name is written with kanji that are transliterated as "gin" and "ko." So it's most properly "ginko" and not "gingko" or "ginkgo."
There is so much to loathe about ginko trees, I can hardly contain my joy at the announcement of their removal.

Gibson Man

Guitar players usually have a specific preference, they like one brand of guitar above all others. I'm a Gibson man, they just feel right to me, and if you hand me a Fender I just can't play it right. My favorite guitar is a 1961 Gibson L-2 three-quarter size guitar, it was a hand-me-down from my sister, my parents bought it for her to take guitar lessons when she was about 8 or 9 years old. I especially like it because I have an unnaturally short pinky, and the 3/4 size fretboard makes it easy for me to hit the notes. I've looked around for many years for another suitable 3/4 size guitar, but nobody makes a decent model because 3/4 size guitars are designed for little kids, and nobody spends serious money on guitars for kids.
But today I was astonished to learn that Gibson reissued the L-2 3/4. It's a serious guitar, it retails for $2995 but sells for around $1600. Ouch! Here's a picture of the reissue, it's only made with an ugly finish they call "vintage sunburst" but is more commonly known as "tobacco." Mine is a real sunburst, which is a reddish color, and much more attractive.

Gibson L-2 3/4

The story behind the reissue is rather interesting. The L-2 3/4 is part of a set called "The Father and Son Guitars" after Woody and Arlo Guthrie. Gibson reissued a copy of Woody Guthrie's favorite Gibson Southern Jumbo guitar and also Arlo's first guitar, an L-2 3/4 given to him by his father. There's a rather heart-wrenching tale about how Arlo acquired the guitar, and how he lamented to Gibson about how the guitar had deteriorated over the years, so they made a new one and gave it to him, and repaired his original. I had no idea my little beat up guitar was a Guitar Of Legend.
There are a few problems with 3/4 size guitars. A full-size guitar fretboard is designed with "tempered tuning," every fret is mistuned a tiny bit, but overall it has good tuning. Unfortunately, at 3/4 size, the tempering is off, so it's really hard to get the strings in tune, the intonation is a bit off. The body of the guitar isn't very large, so it doesn't produce a big sound. But that could be an advantage if you just use it for practice and don't want to annoy the neighbors. For me the big advantage is that the frets are 1/4 easier to reach with my short finger, and the strings don't have as much tension so they're easier to press down than a full size guitar.
I'd sure like to own a new L-2 3/4, but since I already have a vintage model, that doesn't make much sense. So I decided to get my old axe repaired and put back into shape, it needs a little adjustment, and it wouldn't hurt to have the dent in the side fixed. But there's a limit to how much money I should sink into this guitar. To estimate its value, I searched around the web and found a 1950 L-2 3/4 for sale in a guitar shop in Tokyo, selling for almost $2500US. Mine's in better shape but not as collectible since it's not as old, so I guarantee it's not going to be worth anything like $2500, I'd be surprised if it was worth more than $250. The last time I took it into a shop for repairs, they laughed at me for liking such a junky old guitar and told me to be glad it's even playable at all.

QWest DSL Sucks Even More

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For the last 2 months, I've been trying to figure out why my QWest 640/512 DSL line has been performing at about 500/130. This has severely impeded my ability to serve BlogTV streaming video, aside from the general annoyance of having about 25% of my former upload speed.
The problems started when my old ISP went out of business and I suddenly had to switch to QWest.net. I told QWest to preserve my existing 640/512 account, and they said they would. But I immediately noticed a decrease in performance, and "opened a ticket" with tech support, which means they are supposed to investigate and call me back with results. They never did get back to me. I waited since December 10th, I've repeatedly tried to call their tech support line, but I've never been able to get through, I usually give up after 45 minutes.
I spent 4 hours on the phone with QWest today. I started, as usual, by spending 45 minutes on hold waiting for tech support to answer. I gave up and called the sales office, they told me my account was 640/256, which was not what I ordered. Then he made some weasely remarks about the 640/256 really being a 640/512-256 account, and that if I wasn't getting 512 I should be talking to tech support (like I hadn't already tried that). I told him I couldn't get through, so he started a conference call, we both waited on hold for about 20 minutes and finally got through. But I warned Mr. Salesguy that the tech guys were going to blame sales, just like the sales guys pointed the finger at the techs. I call this a "mutual finger-pointing exercise," everyone points the finger at everyone else. And that's exactly what happened.
The tech guy immediately said that he'd been working tech at QWest for 6 years and they had never offered 640/512k accounts. I told him they surely did, because I had one. He got really huffy and told me they don't offer them any more. I asked him, which was it, they don't offer them NOW, or they NEVER did? I insisted that they DID sell 640/512, I had it up until 60 days ago and I'd like my account restored to its previous speed. He started yelling at me about what would happen if I went into a car dealership and wanted to buy a Studebaker? WTF? I was thinking of telling him about a friend of mine, he collects Studebakers, and how there is limited production of new Studebaker Avantis, but I decided against it because that would go nowhere with Mr. Angry Tech Guy. Instead, I demanded to talk to his supervisor.
So now I get ahold of a reasonable, knowledgable tech supervisor, I could immediately tell he'd been doing this for decades, a real old telco guy. At this point, I'd been on the phone for over 3 hours. As soon as I started explaining the situation, the battery in my phone died, we got disconnected. Arghh!
Fortunately the Supervisor called me back and I picked up on my other phone with a fresh battery. He explained that QWest used to offer 640/512 with CAP protocol, but now they switched to DMT protocols, which offered more reliability but only at 256 instead of 512. I told him I'd like to switch back to CAP but he said it couldn't be done. QWest has a standing order to switch customers off CAP if they make the slightest change to their services, and that CAP is no longer available. I objected, I said that if my ISP hadn't gone under, I'd still be using CAP and I'd still have 512 upstream, so I didn't see any reason why I couldn't be restored to the old protocol. He sympathized but said this was impossible. However, he did say there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Apparently QWest has been experimenting wth a new 1500/1000 DSL protocol, and are about to offer it at the same price as the old 640/256 line, if the phone line is of sufficient quality. There is no guarantee I'll get full speed, there isn't even a guarantee they'll offer it in my neighborhood. So there is a possibility that sometime this month, I'll get new higher speed services at the same old cost. But if not, I'll have to pay twice as much for 640/640 SDSL. Gee, let me guess which of those two plans will happen.