30 July 2006

help! superman! help superman!

it was raining yesterday for the first time in a while, and so we decided to go to the cinema (not the movies. the cinema. that's what they call it here. movies is something you watch on the tv at home.) much like good ol' Fredericksburg, we have one cinema in town, and it's kind of low-end in terms of its circa 1976 decor, the seats that haven't been upgraded since then, and the postage-size screens. plus it's inside one of those complexes they built in that late-70s/early-80s era that is 'for the kids'--it's got a bowling alley, an arcade alcove, a Toys-R-Us (yes, they're here too), a pizza place, and about two other things, scattered through this cavernous space that makes you feel like you're in the bowels of a huge stadium. only you're not. despite all of this, we thought it would be good to get out of the house, see a film with other people, and catch something relatively new.

also like F'burg in the summer, over 50% of the films showing are kids movies. three choices to us, then: Pirates of the Caribbean, roundly panned by critics and described as 'utterly lacking a plot' by a friend of ours. The Breakup, a possibility, but not hugely praised by the critics, although we like Jennifer Aniston and will probably see this sometime in the future. seems like one for dvd. and Superman Returns, which is what we saw. people liked it. they were impressed. critical praise. at least from the few sources we read.


someone must explain to me and us what is going on here. how can people say this film is good? we're not the type of people who are all: ooo, I won't see a film without subtitles. we're in support of a good summer blockbuster. Mission Impossible. Men in Black. Bourne Identity. T2. Lord of the Rings (the first one). but Superman? King Kong? these are films that love their own special effects so much that you almost see etched on the screen: look! it's digital! how cool is this! it's not impressive to me anymore. I can tell it's digital. of course it is. it's a bunch of crystals poking out of water. it's a huge moving ape. they've gotten all excited about 'what they can do' and forgotten that they actually need to 'do' something with the, oh, I don't know, story!??!

Here's superman's story. this may be a spoiler for those who haven't seen it. or it may not.

superman heart lois. lois tough reporter. jimmy make (not-so) funny. then add: airplane disaster movie! film of shuttle disaster! film of 9/11! earthquake disaster film! film of tsunami coverage! [insert gorgeous 1930s-contemporary sets for newsroom, fab boat Lex Luthor has, and a: look how cool we can make the fortress of solitude guys!] then continue with: boat sinking scene from Titanic! a barroom fight scene! add in: three references to Atlas lifting the world! a Christ/savior reference or two! a scene from ER! and close with the on-going teleological alert of the century: the paramount importance of blood and father-son bonding.

how is this a story? how is this in any way worth my time? I'm not looking for much--just a traditional blockbuster. something that isn't rehashing something I already know--like a superhero, comic book, sequel. something that assumes I have more of a brain in my head than a pea.

someone help me out. are we utterly off-base here? out of touch? old? fine. just let me know so I can start ignoring the positive reviews of these films. perhaps mark them with a new kind of warning: vapid story! effects only! something like that.

28 July 2006

self-actualisation kinda sucks

so about three weeks ago we decided that we eat too much salt. we don't add anything to our food, but between the bacon in the morning and the peanuts we eat as snacks, it was a lot. so we added in oatmeal as one of our rotations in the morning. five days ago I realised that not only had I added in the carbs of the oatmeal, but all my eating out, beer-swilling, Indian food, paratha yumminess had caused a slight rise on the scale, enough to set off faint alarm bells. and so, in measured, completely logical fashion, I went back on full atkins induction. meaning 20 grams of carbs a day, the works.

now. this is of course only partially about the weight, as we all know, it's never just about the weight. it's about the imminent and all-too-familiar loss of control that uprooting has on one's body and psyche. in addition to the weight loss thing I've been having vivid dreams the last week--the kind where you wake up feeling like you've been run over by a bus--that involve things such as: frantically packing my things because it's the Thursday before my sister's wedding and I need to have the stuff packed, already--except that I'm at the wedding location (Denver) and my current location (Wales) at the same time. oh, and the stuff I'm packing, I slowly come to realise as I wrap it in paper, is in fact stuff that I haven't seen in two years because it's already packed in a storage unit in Redlands. yikes.

I realise that this is the same old thing we've gone through each and every summer for the last three, and the fact that the impending chaos/uprootedness of our lives should be mitigated by the theoretical light at the end of the tunnel that is the house we are trying to buy, settle into, and live in. but, in my awareness of how this all works, I know that won't be done/settled/sorted until, well, if we're lucky the first week of december.

and I also know that this is both about the impending move and about the general impending shift in our lives from nomad to sedentary--soooo 7th century, but still. and that, in turn, is about the shift I'm making from art history to politics, the shift we're both making from US to UK, from somewhat familiar (because let's face it, Virginia/Maryland was just as much of a culture shock as Wales) to always slightly unfamiliar.

what's horrid is that if I were a bit less cognisant of all of this, then perhaps someone sitting me down and telling me: hey, relax, this isn't about the house or the move, it's about this larger thing--then that would make me feel better. but I already know that. and so. 18 carbs yesterday...working on 3 thus far this morning. things I can control. and I know perfectly well why. self-actualisation. I wonder what that ignorance-bliss thing really feels like.

next: I acquiesce and add tags, including my fave: Shut up Rory!

25 July 2006

the archive

I spent the morning switching e-mail programs. again. which is fine--it actually is kind of cathartic to have a clean in-box, however falsely that was achieved. our institutional servers have been updated to a new version of whatever the evil empire is putting out these days and as a result we couldn't send mail through the SSL encryption, we needed the TSS one or something, and so Apple's Mail, otherwise loverly, wouldn't do what I wanted it to do any longer (for clarity, or to confuse this more, or to defend Mail, I should say that I could have stayed with Mail, but I wanted all my e-mail to be POP, not some exchange server evilness. hence the mail program switch)

I've settled on Gyaz mail, which I like for several reasons. one, it's written by a guy out there somewhere, not a big company. two, it rocks. three, I've used it before and liked it a lot. four, it's from japan. could not be cooler.

so I downloaded it and it found my old gyazmail archive. this is fine--I could delete it all, but I just put it into a folder marked 'archive'. but the thing is, as I was flipping through the old e-mails deciding whether to just delete the lot, I realised that this isn't the archive of my e-mails. this is my life. especially the sent-mail folders. wow. no wonder I've gone insane the last several springs.

the cheery e-mail to friends informing them of our (latest) change of address and that it's likely my employer won't approve my leave of absence, leading me to resign....
the e-mail to a colleague about (yet another) image permission we have to track down for our now-published book.
the e-mail to a job prospect accepting a conference interview
the e-mails to another job prospect deciding when to come to campus
the e-mail to family arranging meeting times when we were in Denver last
the e-mail about our storage unit getting burgled
the endless cfps, job postings, etc. etc.
the endless purchases from on-line retailers (because when one lives in the middle of nowhere...)

what struck me was how little one needs a diary any more--it's all here in our e-mail archives. at least some of it. perhaps I live too much via e-mail. I have been accused of mixing up my iLife and my iWork, for sure.

in the end I kept the messages--when will I need them? never, most likely. but it is a record of sorts--something to turn back to in more chaotic/less chaotic days and see where I was then and where I've come to now. and maybe, as I do now, sigh with relief that my in-box is empty, I'm not applying for jobs, I soon will have a home and my stuff and my dog, and I'm back on my Japanese mail program. happy to be here. irasshaimase!

23 July 2006

Best Performance in a Major. Ever?

I know secondamericano's audience is minuscule. I'm betting that its sporting audience is even tinier. Still, I feel I have no choice but to attest to Tiger Woods' performance in the 2006 British Open , culminating today in a 2 shot victory over Chirs DiMarco, and giving Tiger 14 major championships.*

I watched my first major when I witnessed Nicklaus's most famous major victory - a 30 on the back 9 to win the Master's at age 46. Since then I've watched significant parts of just about every major played (that would be roughly 80 majors). And since 1997, when Tiger won his first Masters at the age of 21 by setting the tournament record and lapping the field, I've watched the vast majority of shots that Tiger has hit in a major (yes, all 4 days; I'm that pathetic).

This week he played at a level that I've never seen before. It wasn't like his wins at Augusta in 1997 and Pebble Beach in 2000 - when he was so utterly 'in the zone' that no one else was close. No, this was more impressive because Tiger didn't have to be in that zone. He simply put together a game plan that I don't think anyone has ever seen before: he hit one driver during the entire tournament. On hole after hole he was 20 to 50 yards behind his playing partner, hitting 4 irons into greens. But with that game plan he as capable of shooting 18 under (probably would have been 19 under if he'd needed it on the last hole).

In the 4 days of golf, he hit two slightly offt-target shots on the back 9 on Thursday, and had a couple of weak putts on the back 9 on Saturday. The rest was perfect. And golf is simply not a game of perfection. If you don't believe me, just watch some of the highlights from the rest of the field. Today, he shot the lowest round of the day, despite playing in the last group. He made Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, and certainly Sergio Garcia look like they didn't know how to play the game. They were not in his league, at all.

Overall it was the most impressive performance in a major championship that I've seen. And maybe it was even the best ever. My hunch is that Hogan played some majors back in his day that might compare, but I have no way to know. I also think it's clear now that Hogan is the only player to which we can compare Tiger. Again (well, it's an again if you've skipped down to the footnote), the media likes to talk about Nicklaus, because everyone knows him and they used to use his face for the TV promos, and he has the record of majors. Tiger is great in the way that Jack was great, and he's the best of his time like Jack was, but he doesn't really play like Jack. He's much more 'clinical' (the favoured word of the BBC announcers today). He is not content to try to overpower the golf course. He can do that, of course, but he figured out early on that if he wants to win 25 majors (and I think he does; he's not aiming just to eak by Jack's record) he has a better chance of he plays a systematic, thinking game. This week he did that to amazing effect, producing a performance that quickly exhuasts the sportscaster's stock of superlatives.

It's hard to even find analogies in other sports, since a single game effort is not a fair comparison (for a single game I recall Gretzsky's hat trick against Toronto in the 1993 Conference finals Game 7); what Tiger did took 4 days of 5 hours each. Perhaps one of Jordan's best finals series would be a good candidate. Perhaps a pitcher that throws multiple no-hitters in a World Series (I'm guessing that's never happened). Maybe the Dolphins perfect season (when was that, 1973?).

Sport is one of the few places in our world where we can be truly awed; where we can see something that we might actually want to name 'greatness'. Today I felt very lucky to catch a glimpse of it.

*Those in the MSM and everywhere else who say Tiger has 11 majors are, quite simply, wrong. Major championships simply must include, as they always have until a few years ago, amateur (British and US Amateur) and professional (Masters, US/British Opens, PGA championship) victories. Nicklaus had, not 18, but 20 majors, as he won the US Amateur twice before turning pro. Bobby Jones, the most important golfer of all time, won the 'grand slam' of his time by winning the US and British Amateur and the US and British Opens. Bobby Jones never turned pro, and for the longest time this was one of the crucial elements of golf tradition - it was a game to be played by professionals and amateurs. This asterisk would not have even been necessary a decade ago; and two decades ago, when Nicklaus won at Augusta, it was simply a given that it was his 20th major.

21 July 2006

we are failures! big big F

so we both just failed our first attempt at passing the driving test in the ol' GB. those of you who know us know that we drive. we have driven for many many years. we are very competent, safe, and well-rounded drivers. I was even going to take one of those fun BMW driving schools at one point to get to know my car a bit better--that kind of driver. and yet.

reasons for failing are even more frustrating than, well, failing. (oh, and the £50 each time each of us takes this thing isn't helping at all with the frustration levels)

reason #1: no MSM. what is MSM you ask? well, it's a mineral that is often included in supplements for women to help joints and bones. oh wait, no it's not--it means: mirror-signal-manoeuver. every single time. think about it. any time you signal, you need to be looking in the mirror first. so, you are in the left lane of a road (remember, you're driving on the wrong side of the road, here, for those in the non-GB/Japan/Australia/India ROW) and you are about to turn left. before you turn on your blinker to indicate this left turn, you must look in your mirror. you're not moving the car anywhere, you're just indicating your imminent left turn from the left lane. fun. and not in any way safe, either. you're in the roundabout now, and you want to make sure that you exit at the correct exit, which is the next one. should you: (1) keep your eye on the suspicious car trying to edge into the roundabout, (2) look to your right to make sure the car at your right side isn't also exiting and potentially about to cut you off, or (3) look in the rear-view mirror. answer, of course, is (3). aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!

reason #2: parking brake. one must use this all the time apparently. when you are stopped at a traffic light, you are required to put the parking brake on. this is so that if something should happen, it will take you a full extra 5 seconds to move the car to escape whatever is happening. right. that makes sense. I think that one shouldn't be in control of the car at all times. right. got it. and the $3 parking brake works so much better than the $500 worth of disc brakes I've got on the car. sure. aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!

reason #3: we're american. der. nuf said.

reason #4: milking the public for loads of money. thus far the cost has been (this is each, not both):
£38: to apply for the provisional license
£25: to take the theory test (that one we both passed with flying colours)
£48: to take the practical test
and now, another £48 to take the practical test again
oh, and the only way to know the MSM crap is to pay over £200 for 12 weeks of driving school. to learn what we already know how to do.

in principle, I'm totally behind actually making people, oh, learn to drive, say, before getting behind the wheel. but they are testing us on MSM and use of parking brake, not how we drive. I managed to avoid two reckless drivers on my test, as well as three guys getting a washing machine off of a truck on the main road; Sam had about the same.

what can I say. aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

19 July 2006

Heat Record

The heat wave throughout the UK is setting all sorts of records, and today is forecast to be the hottest day in recorded history in Wales - it could reach 36C (97F) just down the road in Cardiff. And thus I'm delighted to say that right here by the sea the high will be 29C (84F).

That's still brutally hot for us here, but we can look forward to a return to more reasonable and typical temperatures tomorrow, with a forecast high of 23C (73F).

18 July 2006

voice from Lebanon

just got off the phone with my good friend Mona who lives south of Beirut in the suburb of Saida. turns out the last bomb hit only 15 minutes' drive from her house, and she's planning to evacuate by the end of the week. tough decisions all around--Lebanon has become, according to my conversations with her over the past few years, a place where people live, work, party, and raise families once again, after a long stretch of rebuilding in the early 1990s. The last year or so, since the assassination of former prime minister Hariri, has meant that things like shopping, clubbing, and other pursuits of Beirut's middle and upper classes have slowed, although not entirely stopped. Life was normal but slightly more caution was in order. Mona said Sam and I should come and visit them, see the beach. Now that's all changed, of course. so she and her family have built a life there, and now they must uproot, again. at least they have the means and the opportunity to do so.

my mother found Beirut to be one of the most beautiful places on earth when she visited there--in the early 60s. now--after all of that rebuilding, the tourist economy, the beaches, the mountains, the lovely baklava Mona brought me when she visited. soon gone.

we kept getting cut off on the phone, which became rather comical. first: der. of course you're going to get cut off every 5 minutes. second: I had trouble getting through to her phone again each time we got cut off (see the first thing--der). You'd think these countries under attack could at least keep the phones going. sheesh! and then the inevitable jokes about the NSA tapping every call into Lebanon--at which point Mona started singing "God Bless America" and we got cut off. right then.

She's fine, her family is fine. Lebanon, not so fine.

14 July 2006

knightsbridge. an ode.

yea, knightsbridge.
oh how i hate thee.
oh how you fill me with nausea.....!

yea, knightsbridge.
with your Harrods shopper
and your gaggle of ladies who lunch
(at £170 each)
and your Burberry-boutique-H&M mixing

yea knightsbridge.
where can I find a quietude?
where can i find solace?
away from the spend spend high high capitalism?

yea knightsbridge.
your huddled workers.
eating their lunches
seated, precariously, at the edge of the Zara window
gazing at the lovely vista
of the tube entrance.

mercedes to mercedes
pink stretch limo to pink stretch limo
oh knightsbridge.
how I hate thee.

10 July 2006

Writer's Block

Here's an unanticipated (by me) phenomenon: my writer's block has carried over to the blog. I've been trying to find the right line to take for the introduction to the book - the last new material that I need to draft before going into full-scale editing mode, up and until Routledge's deadline in January. It's not that I have nothing to say in the introduction - and therefore this entry is probably mistitled; my problem is never blockage but an inability to control the flow. Rather, I have about 19 things to say and I should really only say 2 or 3 of them. At any rate, I've found myself so frustrated in my writing for the book that when it occurs to me to blog I get a similar wave of naseau as the one I've been feeling every morning and so I move on to something else. As an upshot, this means I get a lot of reading done.

So...if you picked up a book titled, Troubling Politics: The Political Theory of Judith Butler (I know, that's a huge if but this is a blog and I'm entitled to my hypotheticals), what would you want to read in the introduction? Should it start with contemporary politics or with Butler? (The former seems almost random, while the latter sounds boring in a typically academic way.) Should it try to make the case for the general thesis implied in the subtitle, or should it simply direct you to the 7 substantive chapters of the book wherein that case will be made through specific interventions and arguments? (The latter looks like a copout, but the former proves impossible since that thesis is too general.)

Hmm...perhaps if I reallly wanted to reduce the readership of this blog from its current high watermark of half a dozen folks down to zero, I could just do an entry each day of the week that takes up a different prospective intro line. (Don't worry, I wouldn't.)

Next: Blogging from London!!!
Later: Great British Television -
This Life

so much sport, so little time

between the World Cup third-place and final game and Wimbledon, what were we to do this week except sit in front of the tv absorbing the world of sport via the BBC? thoughts on all the sport:
  • wow we're watching a lot of sport
  • wow neither of the women in the Wimbledon final wax their eyebrows. that's bloggable. too too much to say there, really.
  • wow what did Matarazzi say to Zidane?
  • wow they used a Goethe quote to open the end-o-world cup montage on the BBC. only on the BBC, we're told.
  • wow are tattoos really that in anymore? trending up? or trending down?
  • wow what are we going to do now that it's over?
Next: the books we're now able to read since we're not in front of the tv for hours each day!

06 July 2006

requisite post on grooming

OR: am I becoming a girl?
OR: once a year whether you need it or not

this week I bought a bra for the first time in years. taking the opportunity of my sister's wedding and the lovely dress she has chosen for us to wear (seriously--I was thinking poofy sleeves and then she went all 'classy' and 'timeless' on me. when else would I have been able to wear chiffon? well, aside from that one bridesmaid experience back in the 80s--that was teal, poofy sleeves and chiffon. the triple threat. so we're happy with the dress. anyhoo...) the strapless bra is required for this get-up and so I thought I'd get serious about this. do some research.

went to Bitch PhD's two bra posts--both great resources, fyi--did the measurements and discovered (like millions of women before me) that I've been buying the wrong size. huh. who would have thought that the size I was in high school has changed somewhat? interesting. and off to the fitting room I went, new size in hand. 15 bras later I emerged with one that (a) actually fits (b) will stay up what with the no strap thingy (this is, by the way, how all bras should fit, straps or no straps) and (c) wasn't on sale (horrors!) trusting Bitch PhD's advice, however, I decided I was worth it (*Loreal*) and bought the thing. very very exciting. so that's girl step no. 1.

no. 2: wax!

when I went to India for a month to take tourists around I didn't want to check my bag, which means no razor. so I waxed my legs. two things: it didn't hurt that badly and it lasted for about 3 weeks. having now done this several more times, I can say that the time between waxings is getting longer and longer, my skin feels better, and well, it's just more convenient. so: girly? or lazy? you be the judge. my product here

no. 3: I'm a 2.

when my friend Mona visited she had to pick something up at the Clinique counter. there was a free gift if you bought two things. she had one thing. I decided I should buy some soap (I'm simple that way). but which soap? to determine this, I had to go through a little mini questionnaire with the counter attendant person (cosmetoligist? cosmeticist?) that involved answering questions such as:
  • when you go out into the sun without sunscreen, what does your skin do?
    me: um. I never go out without sunscreen. are you insane?
    c: I mean do you freckle? do you get red? do you go brown?
    me: that one time I fried my skin so badly that I bled--does that count?

  • are you concerned about your pores?
    me: wha? should I be?
    c: I mean do you feel they're too big?
    me: what are you saying? are they? where's a mirror?
    c: let's call that a no.
it seems, after the sliders lined up, I'm a 2. and now I have a free gift of little bottles of #2 appropriate Clinique stuff. intriguing. little green boxes everywhere. it's almost like I'm a girl. hm.

05 July 2006

Turning Points:
Heat Wave Over; Book Fatigue Official

The British Media has spent the day repeatedly expressing relief that the 'heat wave' has ended. The previous three days were full of 'warnings' and 'advice' on how to cope. As I understand it, some places in south England saw temperatures over that time as high as 32 C (89 F). Here in Wales – where, I should note the heat warnings were all in effect - we never got above 27 C (80 F). Right now it's 18 and cloudy. None of this is doing much to prepare me for August in the states.

My other contribution of the day is to assert baldly that no one must be capable of reading his or her own book. I reached the threshold today, that point at which I feel genuinely sick of the book I'm working on. I wrote the first words for this book back in February of 2004, and it's due to the publisher in January 2007; for an academic text, that's a relatively short timeline. Nonetheless, I'm already ready to never have to see it again. But, I promise, I'll do my darndest not to let that attitude seep into the text.

And while I will be absolutley thrilled to see it in print, I'm currently just very grateful that there are no more substantive chapters to draft. This feeling also makes me sympathise for those academics who spend their entire careers defending, repeating, and reworking one central idea. I can't imagine being forced to write another book on the same topic.

04 July 2006

Italy to the Finals

Any Americans who still don't 'get' 'soccer' should do whatever it takes to watch the full 120 minutes of the Germany/Italy semifinal. It would be even better if you could get the British announcers. Watching this game tonight one starts to understand what it is about Football - the ITV announcers were so absolutely thrilled at the end of this game, that you would have thought they were the home team radio announcers announcing their team's victory in the Super Bowl. But they were utterly disinterested viewers in terms of which team went through. They were, though, utterly interested in seeing a great game. And what a great game it was!

03 July 2006

Mother India, 1957, only now

One of India's classic films is Mehboob's Mother India, in which the unflappable and always gorgeous Nargis struggles to raise a family in the face of money lenders, drought, corruption, and the expectations of society. Her future mother-in-law decides to mortgage her land in order to pay for a big wedding, leading Nargis and Sunil Dutt to work against crippling debt, debt which became quite literally crippling towards the end of the film. I won't give the story away, but suffice it to say that a lack of literacy compounded with a system that meant poor folks had to go to local corrupt moneylenders leads Nargis to (almost) sell herself in order to get by. The famous still from the film is of her pulling the plow as if she is the buffalo she has so recently sold.

These 1950s dramas are of the past. we think this is all done--that this kind of thing only happened back then. How I wish that were true.

most recent link


01 July 2006


We are all more than familiar with the rhetoric of 'productivity' that circulates around computing software and hardware, usually as part of an argument about why we should upgrade. As many of you know, I've never needed an argument for upgrading other then the sheer joy of playing with new technology. And thus, I have always been pretty honest with myself that I wasn't buying a computer with the latest chip in it because I 'needed it to be more productive'; I was buying it because it was cool and the process of upgrading was fun.

But yesterday, after a long uninterrupted session of working in my office, I realised that I have recently made a number of upgrades that, cumulatively, have genuinely made me more productive. I honestly believe that in many ways I am either getting more work done, or spending less time to do the same tasks I had done in the past. This now-noticeable effect cannot be attributed to any single upgrade, but there are clearly discernible elements that have contributed to my new-found efficiency. Thus, in the interests of proseltyzing, here are a few:

  • A Mac with an Intel Chip
    As long as you have enough RAM - and given Rosetta this is crucial - the new Intel machines just fly. Actions on absolutely every app on my machine seem instantaneous and that includes MS Word, which is running in emulation.
  • Pages
    I've been using it for a year now. No, it's not perfect. Yes, it needs more attention from Apple developers. Still, used on the proper hardware (see above), it's nice and zippy. And, bottom line: it is a much more elegant and intuitive approach to word processing than Word. Moreover, if you're not doing huge graphics or tables, it truly is interoperable with Word: it opens word files perfectly and exports to word seamlessly. The biggest compliment I can pay Pages? It's the first word processor to help me to understand and get me to use Styles.
  • Pandora
    For some folks this might fall in the 'counterproductive' category. For me though, there seems to always be some sort of construction going on either outside my window or under my feet (in the basement). Thus, especially when I'm not trying to do serious writing, but merely catching up on the dozens of other tasks, it's great to have music in the background. And what Pandora can do in producing a customised stream based on music you like...well, that's pure genius.
  • A Large, High-Resolution, LCD
    See there, I linked to a Dell product. Proof I'm not a total Apple zealot. No, I don't own that display, but if I purchased a Mac without an integrated display, then a Dell LCD would be high on my list because of their high performance low cost ratio. Since February I have been working for the first time on a large display - the 20" LCD in my new iMac. Of all the separate items listed here, this is probably the most significant. The differences in display size that I've experienced in the past (12" to 15") just haven't been enough to really alter the way one works (i.e. it's still mostly one app at a time). But the 1680 x 1050 resolution on the iMac changes everything: one can actually be doing three things at once and see it all. I still work on my powerbook most of the time, but I'm now creeping toward that point where I feel like I need a huge screen. This is one of those paradigm shift items.
  • An RSS Feed Reader
    A huge thanks to Ryan for making me try out this sort of app again. I had looked at feed readers a while back and I didn't see the new paradigm, but the software has come a very long way indeed. Because NetNewsWire has a browser built in, you can just click through the various feeds, and then load up the pages you want to read in tabs. I probably spend 70% less time using a dedicated browser now, and I'd say that the time I spend using NetNewsWire is significantly less than the time I'd spend in a web browser locating, browsing, and reading the same content.
  • Quicksilver!
    I may have saved the best for last. I've certainly saved the hardest to describe for the last. If you are willing to take the time to fiddle with it, then quicksilver will change the way you use your computer. It's that revolutionary. To figure out what it's about, I recommend starting here. If you do some googling, there are half a dozen folks who have tried to describe how one might go about playing with Quicksilver so as to see what it really does (there's no such thing as a tutorial). All I will say is please trust me, if you take the time to check it out, it is amazing. It fundamentally changes the way you interact with your Mac. You quickly reach a point where you can't imagine not having it; taking Quicksilver away would be like taking the mouse away. And there are so many tasks that are simplified by having it around. Again, this isn't a coherent argument at all, I'm just pleading with you: go try it!