Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Someone Needs To Turn Vivienne Westwood On To Some Pratchett

This Vivienne Westwood article seems to be doing the rounds of the internet lately.

The most discussed bit, it seems, is this:

Speaking after the show, Dame Vivienne said: "Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes. I mean, I know I'm lucky, I can just take things and borrow them and I'm just okay, but I hate having too many clothes. And I think that poor people should be even more careful. It doesn't mean therefore you have to just buy anything cheap. Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don't keep buying just for the sake of it. I just think people should invest in the world. Don't invest in fashion, but invest in the world."

And somehow, I feel rather vindicated that the majority of comments about this piece of advice seem to be saying, "Yes, that's all very well and good if you can afford it and feel like it, Dame Vivienne, but kindly take that piece of advice you've helpfully aimed at the 'poor' and shove it in your probably $5000 borrowed kid leather handbag, because a pair of your shoes may be half the rent". 

It's the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness, in other words. The non-Pratchett fans among you might be going "The whose theory of the what, now?" at this point.

Sure, many of us are lucky and comfortable enough that we can be choosy with how to spend our money. And the wise thing to do, if you're so inclined, is indeed to invest in better quality goods that cost more up front but are cheaper in the long run due to durability. But there's a fascinating, and quite real, economic phenomenon in which you can be too poor to save money. Not just in the "there's no money left over after paying the bills" sense, either.  You lack the resources to be able to effectively plan long term. 

You're living paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to pay your dental or medical bill early enough to reap a discount. So, you have to wait until payday and end up paying the full price.  You can't afford the Costco membership and buying in bulk, so you pay full price for those goods and make more trips when you have the money. You occasionally have to pick one bill to pay late and incur late fees, thereby spending more in the long run. You can't afford the good pair of leather boots that will last a decade, instead, you end up buying boots that cost a fifth as much but last only a tenth as long. It's something many politicians don't seem to grasp.

It's a phenomenon that cannot be explained more brilliantly and succinctly than it is by one of Terry Pratchett's characters, Samuel Vimes.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

I'm sure Vivienne Westwood meant well enough, and there's certainly a segment of the population that could probably save money and closet space over time by following her advice. You know, assuming you're also one of those people who are lucky enough to never fluctuate in size in addition to being well off enough to afford being choosy about when and where you're spending your income.

But the instant she brought the word "poor" into it, someone really should have handed her a copy of Men At Arms and suggested she read that passage.   

Sam Vimes as drawn by the brilliant Paul Kidby. Go buy all the things he sells at http://www.paulkidby.com, Vivienne Westwood be darned. Also, read the Vimes books. Start with Guards! Guards! You won't be sorry.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Many Guys Doing Manly Things

You may have picked up that I'm slightly geeky and tend to get most of my entertainment from the interwebs. If not, allow me to state the obvious and point out that when I'm not running, I'm probably doing something slightly geeky, possibly involving the interwebs. I also like video games and  sci-fi and comics and usually prefer action movies to chick flicks. 

We've been around decades, tone-deaf entertainment producers. Seriously, stop reacting like this when we keep calling you on your "Women don't buy this stuff. So we're good treating female characters like bikini-wearing pork chops, right?" malarkey. Especially when you keep acting like our money's not just as green as a teenage boy's. And more plentiful, too. Kind of side-eying you here, DC Comics and large portions of the video game industry...

I rather like web comics. There are some brilliantly drawn, engaging, and erudite comics out there. They extend beyond the well-known xkcd.

Sometimes I'm a little behind the curve in discovering something great, but one of the wonders of modern technology is the web archive. Which just means you can binge like crazy when you finally hop on board the bandwagon.

Then react like this when you reach the end and have to wait for more.
Image from the hilarious Instant No Button. For all your "Nooooooo!" needs.

I just recently discovered the web comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. The shortest way to describe it is "Imagine a sort of halfway house for all the super-macho "Stubbly McWhiteguy"s that tend to populate about 90% of popular entertainment and as they try to (re)integrate into society." It's the sort of concept that could, in the hands of the wrong person, be a very two-dimensional, one-note joke that ceases to be funny five strips in. In the hands of Kelly Turnbull, it's anything but. While a lot of the humor comes from poking a healthy dose of gentle, loving fun at the manly tropes that crop up so often in video games and movies, you're not required to be a major gamer geek to get the humor. The tropes are common enough that if you have ever consumed any popular culture whatsoever, you'll get it. If not, scroll down and she's sure to have provided some context. Google it if you have to. I swear it will be worth it. 

Additionally, the original characters are brilliantly drawn, and I'm not talking solely about the art. They have actual personalities and character arcs, romantic subplots and the occasional road trip where they sing Cyndi Lauper songs. There's a lot of very clever and subtle commentary on gender roles and solid female characters who are there for more than the wearing of the skimpy bikinis. It walks the fine line of making fun of the macho stereotypes while it celebrates them. It is, in short, awesome that way, because it doesn't shame macho men for being macho. It's fine and dandy to be macho. Macho does not automatically mean "misogynistic loudmouthed jerk". Some of us ladies just want in on the fun, too.

Basically, it's like a big, fat love letter to manly men who have to shave twice a day, have broken noses and yet are still secure enough in their manhood to bake muffins with their toddlers. Perhaps I can put it no better than the About page.

"Sometime this is a comic about macho action heroes. Sometimes this is a slice of life comic about a time traveling Navy SEAL single dad from the nonspecific spacefuture. Really, it just depends on how things were going that day."

Get over there now. Seriously, it is so worth it.

The Commander said so.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Yay, I Won A Flipbelt From HolaBirdSports.com!

If there's one thing I love even more than finding and buying a useful product, it's winning one in a contest. Because trying new running-related products can be extremely expensive. $25 here, $50 there, before you know it, you're talking real money. Particularly when we're talking about all the various hands-free "I need to wrangle some stuff while running" products on the market.

Like most runners, I like some tunes while I'm on the move, partially to get that famous psychological and performance boost from up-tempo music, partially to drown out my pathetic and sometimes distressing huffing, puffing and wheezing. Seriously, I have no idea how people could miss hearing me coming. Also, I like knowing how far I've gone, running from imaginary zombies and being able to phone the office for a pity pick-up if need be. Obviously, this means taking your phone along. Having accidentally drowned my iPhone 4S in my own sweat while on a 14-mile treadmill run (I'm dainty.), I sprung for a Lifeproof frÄ“ case for my replacement iPhone 5. The case is pretty awesome, bar a minor complaint or two, and Lifeproof also sells an armband that's compatible with said case. 

The armband is... considerably less awesome but serviceable. But then, I've never gotten on well with armbands in general. It often seems to be so tight that you're pinching your arm or bouncing down your less-than-manly biceps and swinging wildly around your elbow. The earphone cord is in the way a lot of the time. It's easy to pinch said earphone cord in the cradle meant to... well, cradle your phone. After a certain point, the neoprene band picks up a case of runner funk and has to be washed and dried, which is easier said than done when there's a padded portion that goes behind the hard plastic cradle. It works, but it can occasionally be annoying and adjusting it for comfort is not easy, is what I'm saying.

Not too long ago, I ran across a mention of the Flipbelt. It's basically one long, stretchy pocket belt with several slits for easy access and a single short seam that eliminates the need for a buckle. You pull it on over your head or step into it and let it grip around your waist or hips. If you want to make your items more secure, you simply flip the belt over and put the slits next to your body, making it difficult for the items to fall out. If that's not enlightening enough, the Flipbelt site has a video demonstration.

I was somewhat intrigued, and put it on my "maybe someday I'll check this out when the thing I'm currently using either gives out or sufficiently annoys me" list. I also, as is my habit these days, did a quick search to see if said thing on my list was maybe being featured in a current giveaway or sweepstakes. Goodness, it was, over at http://www.holabirdsports.com and I was lucky enough to win one. 

After a bit of debating about size, I went with the Small. I figured if it was a bit snug for the hips, it would still fit my waist. For reference, I usually wear a size 4 pant/skirt. I'm somewhat kicking myself that I didn't get the neon yellow when offered a color choice, but the carbon/black combo seemed like a nice, under the radar color for those cross-training days at the gym. The neon yellow would have offered visibility and also been a great accessory for all your Wonder Woman running costume needs. Seriously. I bought a running skirt from SV Forza just because it looked like Wonder Woman's costume. I'm now on the hunt for a suitable red top.

The folks at Holabird got my choice out to me quickly and I gave it an trial run (hah!) during a race, but not during a road race. I was a participant in The Dantastic Race, a Boyle county version of The Amazing Race complete with clues, puzzles, physical challenges and driving/running from spot to spot. We didn't have the chance to coordinate the elaborate group costumes that some of the other teams sported, being late entries, but hey, The Fast And The Curious were in third for a bit (even without a challenge skip in hand) and we had a great time, which is the most important part. I'm pretty sure we had more per capita fun than anyone else.

And more awesome purple mustaches.

Participation required registering one team member's smart phone, and needless to say, mine rode in my Flipbelt when it wasn't currently in use. It was out of the way but accessible, comfortable, and not bulky at all. It was a slightly tighter fit than a naked iPhone because of the Lifeproof case, but still tucked away fairly easily. After that success, I wore it on outdoor runs ranging from 4 to 5 miles and found it equally comfy and there was zero annoying bounce. I also found the earphone cords were much easier to wrangle when they're plugged in near your waist as opposed to your bicep. You can likely get several runs in before the belt needs a wash. I'll certainly continue swapping the armband out for the Flipbelt when the belt is in the wash, but let's just say I was quite happy to see the belt make its return from the washing machine.

And I'm already enviously looking at the bright yellow one to go with that skirt and looking to see if Holabird might have a nice, bright red running top.