New Page!

I added a page asking for your difficult personal problems or silly goofy questions. It’s up above the banner, says “Advice” on it.

Write me something!


About two weeks ago, I was looking for a good goat image to use in Etchstar‘s custom image engraving service. (A gift for a friend, if you were wondering.) Thumbing through Google’s image search, I learned an unsettling truth: many goats are ugly, and those unfortunate goats who aren’t, have ugly pictures taken of them.

Shoot, I thought, maybe I’ll have to get her something else. Or I might even have to draw an image myself.

It was just then that I stumbled across an adorable illustration. Perfect! Now, the practical ethics of tracing  over or drawing over a photo I found might be questionable (when does a derivative work become a work unto itself?), but if I was going to use someone else’s drawing, I knew I aught to ask them. No problem, since this is, after all, the Internet, home of copyfighters, open-source heros, and generally lots of people who are just happy to have someone paying attention to them (like me!). I shot off an e-mail as quickly as I found the “contact” page and went to bed, confident I could place my order in the morning.

Or not.

Instead, I had a sternly worded e-mail explaining to me that the artist had worked very hard and generally starved quite a while to get to the point where she could actually demand payment for her work, and now that she had, she wasn’t going to let people trample on her rights (I’m paraphrasing, of course – she was a little nicer then that actually).

Who exactly had I e-mailed? Back on her site, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Turns out she’s a cartoonist for the New Yorker. Well.

It turned out, there was a slight misunderstanding. She had thought I was Etchstar, asking to use her work (for free) to print and sell lots of engraved notebooks to other people. No small wonder why she said no to that. I would have too. When I explained the truth of the situation (I’m just some dude, making only one, and at no profit) she was more understanding. Ultimately, we worked out an arrangement very similar to the one under which I am showing you the goat below (that is to say, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).

An adorable goat, no?

An adorable goat, no?

Of course, I’m grateful that she let me use her work without compensation. She would have been entitled to ask for it, regardless of how I was using her image. Instead, though, she let me off with the promise that I would do what I could to let people know it was hers. Which is what I’m doing.

Her name is Carolita Johnson. You can look at more of her stuff here, buy some of it here, or follow her blog here. So go, look at her stuff, and buy something! Tell her Zack sent you. And thanks again, Carolita!

(A quick note to would be, er, “friendly borrowers”: The arrangement Carolita agreed to with me was a personal favor, and I can’t say she would do the same again with that or any other piece of her work. At most I can tell you that anything on her blog falls under the Creative Commons license above, unless she changes her mind in the future. So if you like her stuff, then buy it, and if you can’t buy it, ask. Politely. )

(Another quick note: I find this whole story pretty hilarious, because really, the internet is so packed with amateurs and hobbyist who would do anything to get linked, looked at, or lauded, that it’s bizarre to remember that anyone successful actually uses this inter-tubes thing. Good lesson for the future though: before you e-mail someone to beg off their work, take five seconds to scan their site and figure out who they are.)


At the beginning of July, I was approached by a company to write a post recommending their company to you. First of all, I thought that was a little strange, since I’d been on something of a hiatus for, oh, two months or so. I inquired further none the less. It would seem I asked too many questions, because they stopped talking to me. I now oblige them in their request (and don’t worry, this one is free of charge).

The site was National Payday. Payday loans, for those who don’t know, are very short terms loans (usually issued one pay day to be collected on by the next). Unfortunately, the quick approval process is balanced by truly atrocious interest rates (I’ve seen them worked out at nearly 200% annually). Get Rich Slowly has more on that.

What really makes me laugh, though, is the sweet-talking spin Darell put on their product when he e-mailed me. “Most of our customers are making ends meet on a small budget and require short-term loans and may not even qualify for more traditional loans.” I fail to see how taking advantage of people falling on hard times is admirable. What good is it to be able to pay off a credit card if the loan you take out has ten times the interest?

Regardless, here’s a simple lesson for you, dear reader: Any company which has to pay people to say something nice about it, is a company you don’t want to do business with. In the case of payday loan sharks, I would call them evil, vile, and disgusting.

There you are Darell. I hope my brief post was not too “vilinizing” for you or your company. And as I said, it’s on me.

This post is to test the new networking tool I downloaded. If it works, you should be able to tell below.

If you blog with WordPress and want this tool, you can download it here.

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What If We’re Wrong

I’d say I fall squarely in the Global-Climate-Change-is-real-and-we-need-to-do-something-about-it camp. I’m probably more of a pragmatic environmentalist, but I worry over wasting water, drive a tiny, gas-sipping Aveo, and want to make my garden bigger every year. I support renewable power, conservation, etc. I’m also smart enough to realize I could be wrong.

The climate change we’re experiencing (I do believe it’s real, but could be wrong there too) could be caused by any number of factors. Some might be beyond our control, some might reverse themselves shortly.

Who knows? Maybe its the end times, in which case I have bigger problems then my carbon footprint.

So what if I’m wrong?

The truth is, I wouldn’t feel too horrible about the things I’m changing.

Using less energy, or renewable energy, lessens our dependence on foreign oil and saves me money. Both, i think, are pretty well good without qualification.

Eating locally, or growing my own food, in addition to saving the use of tons of pesticide and lots of fuel to bring me bananas from Chile, means I eat better tasting and more nutritious food. Besides, gardening is just fun. Have you ever grown your own tomato and eaten it fresh off the vine, warmed by the sun? Try it, and trust me, you’ll come out of it not only with a more enlightened relationship to life and food, but seriously considering tearing up part of your lawn to plant a garden.

Walking or biking more (which is actually a necessity on my campus for non-environmental reasons) makes me more fit. I know everyone says that, but it’s true, at least anecdotally. I lose a solid ten-fifteen pounds every fall when i get back to school and put away my car keys.

Protecting wild lands has plenty of benefits besides any related to climate change. For starters, there are alternatives to oil. Biodiversity is a one off product, and I for one don’t want to have to wait for the millions of years it would take new species to evolve (disregard that if you must, in respect of your religious beliefs – if anything, not believing in evolution makes biodiversity that much more significant, since once we lose one of God’s creations, it never comes back). Many of the plant and animal species potentially hold new medicines or other scientific discoveries; again, once they’re gone, they’re gone. Besides, I feel a rich natural world, and more of it, makes the world a more beautiful and interesting place. (Then again, I love the Rewilding Project, which once suggested releasing wild African elephants into the southwestern US to replace the recently [10,000 years before present, give or take] lost large herbivores and solve some invasive species problems. Is that not awesome? Okay, almost no one agrees with me.)

If nothing else, most things people tell you to do to help the planet also help our communities. They create (sustainable) jobs, encourage community, and foster learning.

Is any of that so bad? And what is there to lose?

Switching To Mac

Perhaps six months ago, my mom bought a Mac mini to replace a failing desktop we had. Since then, I’ve had a good opportunity to get accustomed to the new system, and I have a few comments on the switch.

First of all, that story about macs never freezing? Lie. True, it’s very rare for the entire operating system to freeze. Typically, only a single program will freeze, and it is actually possible to force it to quit (not usually true of my Windows platform). However, individual programs freeze all the time. True, this is probably more the mini part of the Mac mini, but it’s frustrating and difficult to deal with. Even Dell’s cheapest desktop can open BoingBoing without dying.

It doesn’t matter if their programs are nicer than Windows’, either. If you want to actually be able to do anything with your mac, you will need to buy Office.

Macs also do lots of things that I can only describe as annoying. The bouncing icons in the Dock? Obnoxious. The fact that clicking an icon in the Dock will open that program, but not close it? Weak. That it takes a special menu to select between different windows in the same program? Dumb.

And there is something that causes the Mac to keel over and refuse to be revived if it’s power supply is so much as lightly tapped by an errant foot, which no one can explain.

In short, I don’t see the big deal. I’ll stick with my sexy Alienware laptop.

But Is It Torture?

There’s been a lot of talk about water boarding, and I haven’t really brought it up. I’m not certain how pertinent an issue it still is. That said, for anyone on the fence about the “Is it torture or not?” issue, I recommend the following experiment. It’s really easy to do and I think rather effective, despite actually being a rather poor analogy for the actual interrogation technique.

The next time you take a shower, bring a washcloth with you. Make sure it’s really good and wet. Then lean your head back a little, as if you were looking up at the stars. Inhale. Lay the washcloth over your face, and exhale slowly. Feel the warm cloth billow out a little, filled with your breath. It probably feel pretty nice.

Exhale all the way, and then inhale deeply.

Then, draw your own conclusion: is it torture? Please comment.