Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Monday, December 31, 2007

Maryland Has the Bomb: Photos from the Army Ordnance Museum

I drove back from NJ on Friday. I've done the post-Christmas/pre-New Year drive from NJ-to-DC a bunch of times, and I always say I try to stop by the US Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, or the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade.

I think I've only managed it once, in the pre-digital camera era. But I did hit both museums in the same day. Not this time, though -- I got to Aberdeen a little later than I'd hoped because of traffic. And, you can't take the closest entrance -- you have to go around a bit to a visitor's entrance, show ID, sign in and get a visitor pass.

Because it was late afternoon, the light started fading pretty quickly. So I was pretty rushed and only had a chance to do a quick run through.

Here's the full set: US Army Ordnance Museum, 12/27/07. Some highlights:

M1 Abrams main battle tank

Watch out: Maryland has nukes:

"Handle With Care."

That's the tactical nuclear recoilless rifle, the M-388 Davy Crockett, often purported to have a kill radius bigger than its delivery range.

Closeup of the warhead:

"Hi there!"

Smoking kills:

Booby-trapped cigarette, lighter and cigarette pack.

Collection of Lee-Enfield rifles:


A non-ordnance-related sign:

"The Other Door is the Men's Room. This is just a closet."

Now, one good thing about it being so late in the day, the setting sun added an orange tinge -- on the desert tan-painted stuff (mostly German), it gave things a neat, reddish-pink highlight:

Panther? I don't know my panzers.

Either a Tiger or a Mark IV.

Someone had put a wreath at the base of this tank:

Wreath laid at the base of a tank.

This tank has seen better days:

The colors were still kind of neat.

A five-tube rocket artillery piece:


The T-12, a 43,000+ pound bomb:

MOAB on this.

Since Aberdeen is about 30 miles north of Baltimore, it's just far enough away to be a haul, but it's worth the visit. Check out the full set for more.

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Yahoo Messenger: Six Simultaneous Spims on Sign-on

I have a Yahoo Messenger account that I don't really use, but I have it set up in my Adium multi-IM client anyway.

Over the past couple of months, I've been noticing an uptick in SPIM -- IM Spam -- coming from Yahoo Messenger names, mostly at sign-on.

I don't use my Yahoo identity for anything except signing up for the occasional Yahoo group, and I leave my Yahoo Messenger privacy preferences open so I can get IMed by anyone.

I'm well-familiar with SPIM from my AIM & AOL names, where I'd seen plenty of password phishing attempts, as well as the usual IM spam. Between IM Catcher and other, back-end IM spam stopping measures, it seemed they had a pretty good handle on it, and it really hasn't been a problem for me for some time.

Which is why I was amused two weeks ago, when I got six simultaneous Spims to my Yahoo Messenger account on sign-on:

Yahoo Messenger IM Spam.

It was funny, but annoying.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nuke the Whopper Freakouts -- It's the Only Way to Be Sure

Consider this an early New Year's Resolution -- after extensive thought and through analysis, I have come to the conclusion that every "actual customer" who was upset by the purported discontinuation of the Whopper sandwich needs to be beaten thoroughly about the head and neck. And I'm volunteering.

Furthermore, anyone who was stupid and/or fame-seeking enough to actually sign the release to appear in the Burger King Whopper Freakout commercial needs to be stopped. By any means necessary.

Stop the Whopper Freakout.

Sure, we all have our tastes and preferences, but if a fast-food chain hamburger means that much to you, you need to be put down with extreme prejudice.

While this may be a master stroke in quasi-viral marketing, I can't watch, or even listen to the commercial, lest I get overwhelmed with rage and disgust.

On a side note, I see that the fake manager of the store is Regan Burns, formerly the host of the game show Oblivious ("The game show you don't even know you're on!"). Guess he doesn't mind getting typecast in hidden camera shows.

I actually kind of liked Oblivious, not least of all because their gimmick allowed them to pay out what was probably the smallest cash prizes out of any game show, ever.

Looking at Mr. Burns' IMDB entry, I see he was also involved in Fox News' alleged news-comedy show, The 1/2 Hour News Hour, so he must be used to projects that aren't funny and inspire loathing. Though I understand that an acting gig is an acting gig.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

This Entry Intentionally Left Blank

This is pretty much an entry about nothing. The Christmas cold I'd picked up in New York had flared up on Thursday and I'd thought it started to fade Friday afternoon, but it rallied. So I'm staying in again, since I do want to be in some sort of shape to do something fun on New Year's Eve. Though I'm not quite sure what that's going to be yet.

The Patriots/Giants game is on right now -- I can't say that I'm really watching it, since I don't particularly care if they go undefeated or not.

That's about it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Post-Christmas Roundup, Part 1

It took a grueling six hours to drive from New Jersey to Virginia this afternoon.

That includes an hour crawling on the New Jersey and Delaware Turnpikes; two pit stops (including time to brush off a "out of gas, can you help me out" hustle), and about an hour at the Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

So it actually wasn't all that bad.

Of course, I apparently brought back some sort of cold (although it's possible it's been incubating since Friday) -- I've got a sore throat and the crawly chills all over.

I've got a whole lot of pictures from Christmas Day and the surrounding events that I need to get up, though I really just want to stay horizontal right now. I just watched 300, which I picked up at the Virgin Megastore on Broadway on Christmas Day (hey, it was just about the only thing open) -- after all the buildup, all the hype, I just have to say:

What a visually interesting, overwrought piece of melodramatic crap.

The 300-inspired memes were more interesting than the movie.

Also, yet again, I bought a CD I already own -- Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister (anyone want a free CD)?

At this point, I have to add them to the "make sure you don't already own the CD" list of bands, which includes Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Stereolab, and Mazzy Star (and I've only got two of their albums).

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Smash Lab: Everybody Pile On!

I caught a little bit of the Smash Lab preview just now on Discovery. It has the distinct whiff of FAIL about it.

Poking around the Smash Lab message boards (you need to choose better seed topics, guys), there seems to be a lot of negative feedback from Mythbusters fanboys, who're calling it a Mythbusters knockoff. Which is true. But just because it's a Mythbusters knockoff doesn't mean it can't also be good. It's just that this show isn't very good.

I mean, the Mythbusters pilot was pretty rough and it's a lot different from the way the show is now. But it was still good.

Primary problems with the Smash Lab premiere:

1. It was an hour-long commercial for Rhino Linings.
2. The "car bomb" used 12 pounds of TNT. Even tamping the charge with sand to direct the blast into the building makes it a laughably small car bomb.
3. They showed the effects of the "car bomb" on the "protected building." However, they didn't show the effect of the "car bomb" on an unprotected building. That's kind of important. In fact, without it, it's useless.

As to the rest of it -- some folks are ragging on the hosts, others don't like this or that -- it might get better, it might not. But if they're going to be "solving" problems instead of disproving things that are myths anyway, they're going to have to do a better job.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to All

I'm at home right now. We got back from dinner (Chinese, of course) a little while ago.

Instead of the usual full-sized tree, we've got a mini-tree up in the living room, which saved Mom & Dad (mostly Mom) some trouble.

I may have done something monumentally stupid that's unrelated to anything else, so I've been somewhat preoccupied, but Mom had a little health scare yesterday (everything's fine, thankfully -- Mom thinks the sister worries too much) that put things back into perspective.

So we'll see what happens with the stupid thing later on.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

An Ironic Friday and a Guinea Pig

At Friday's happy hour at Carpool, I experienced the textbook definition of irony, in that the actual outcome was completely different from the expected outcome. On several different, yet interrelated levels.

This is not to say that it wasn't also a pretty good day. Even though I got gnawed on by a guinea pig. Or maybe because of it. It's hard to say.

There was the playing of darts. Also foosball, as these terrible cameraphone pictures demonstrate:

Kathryn and Stephanie foos. Jeremy observes, in mid-blur.

Sibyl and Suzie.

If one suggests that I am being demonstrably more cryptic than usual, one would be absolutely right.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

I Walked into Target to Get a Can Opener...

...and I walked out $134 bucks lighter. On the plus side, I got most of the rest of my Christmas shopping done.

I had Christmas gifts on the mind, since the can opener is for Mom (she's hard to shop for). But while I was in there, I walked by a display with a few copies of Guitar Hero III for Wii, so I picked one up for for my sister and her guy.

Also, (if you are my sister, please stop reading now) I got her a Hello Kitty toaster, which, besides being pink, also burns a picture of Hello Kitty into each piece of toast.

Actually, I'd get one for myself, except:

1. It would be, well, totally gay.
2. I already have a perfectly functional toaster.
3. I don't make toast very often, and when I do, it's usually an English muffin, which would look pretty disturbing.

I have to thank the giggling college girls in the next aisle for calling it to my attention, or else I would have missed it.

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DC Blogger Meetup Runs Smack Into the DC Holiday Cop Surge

Wednesday was the December edition of the DC Blogger Meetup Group at RFD. I personally witnessed two unusual things that distinguished this meetup from previous meetups:

1. Current lead Meetup organizer Nikolas was found lurking outside:

Not typical Meetup organizer behavior.

2. We had Night Vision capability:

Photo taken through the night vision monocular, without benefit of an adapter.

The night vision came courtesy of Jadxia and friend Max (who isn't currently blogging, though he has Tumblr'd).

You can see more event photos by first-timer Andy Roth.

Also notably, we started to see more and more of a police presence outside:

What's that going on behind John Croston? (More on that in a minute.)

For my own part, I seem to recall going on a lot about various blogging and social media things, so apologies to Ross, Shashi, Matthew Martin, not-yet-blogger Tommy, and anyone else I may have cornered if I talked their ear off (though we covered a lot of topics).

Oh, and I also had a grilled cheese sandwich, largely because of this Charlotte Harris entry.

What About the DC Holiday Cop Surge?
As the night went on, we kept seeing cops going by the bar. Lots of them:

"Is there a problem, officers?"

At first, I thought they were just walking around a lot to keep warm, but once we got outside, we saw that were lot and lots of cops out -- walking around in groups of ten or more, circulating around the Verizon Center:


Evidently, the Starbucks was a popular focal point, which is kind of silly, since everybody knows that the triple murders in Starbucks happen in Georgetown:

Forget about a cop on every corner: Try 10. Maybe 20.

As far as I could see, they were just tromping around in their groups of 10 or more, trying not to run into each other or the crowds of people leaving the Wizards game.

It was kind of pointless, though I was reminded of a video I saw at the Hirshhorn last year, which featured the British Coldstream Guards marching around central London (in full regalia and following certain rules so they'd gradually all meet up and march together).

Note the reaction of the passing pedestrian in red.

Their khaki cargo pants and caps were very crisp and I didn't see any guns (though they did have reflective vests -- watch out!), so I asked one if they were auxiliaries or cadets -- he said they'd graduated but weren't full officers, so I guess they were probationary officers.

He also said there were about 250 of them that night, and it would last through the holidays. So I would assume that, once they're full officers and the holiday cop surge unpleasantness is over with, they can make their way over to the 2/3rds of the force that sits behind desks (barring any "all-hands-on-deck" weekends, of course).

Back to the Hut
Anyway, once I managed to wade through the cops (and boy, did I feel safe -- you know how rough Gallery Place right around the Verizon Center can get -- plus, since they were mostly unarmed, no chance of negligent discharges), I made it to Arlington, where I'd ditched my car.

I stopped in to Galaxy Hut for a little bit -- bartender Bill was back from his European tour. I ended up eavesdropping on some Brit guy looking for a cougar bar (which Galaxy Hut very much is not), then talking a lot of crap with two random guys -- one, a security guy for Fannie Mae, and his friend, a government contractor/spook-type.

And then when even I got tired of hearing myself, I went home.

(You can see the rest of the night's photos in the full Flickr set.)

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crashing the AOL Prom

I wasn't going to try to crash the AOL Holiday Party -- "The Prom" -- this year. (Hey, I know when I'm not wanted.)

Besides, I understand the need for cost cutting, and even moving from the Air & Space Museum to a venue from an earlier era (Westfields Marriott), but having it on a Monday night, from 6:30 to 9:30? (And "business casual," to boot.) It hardly seemed worth the effort.

But, it was going to be the first one that I missed in over a decade (well, other than the one that Jon Miller canceled in... 2002? to send another cost-cutting message). And, I had a late offer that I couldn't refuse. So I went.

I hadn't been to Westfields in a bunch of years, and the intervening time had seen some new overpasses and developments, including the Sully District police station, where two police officers were killed last year -- it's right down the street.

Despite the evening rush hour traffic, we got there early -- after all, three hours isn't much time to have to worry about lines, parking shuttles, and such nonsense. So we had to wait a bit to get in.

The tree in the lobby was pretty nice:

Things picked up pretty quickly, as these short events tend to do. It wasn't as elaborate as prior years, but it was still pretty nice, and to be honest, I was never a big fan of the stilt walkers, celebrity impersonators, and all that jazz.

I mean, they could have had it on the AOL campus and I don't think anyone would have cared, as long as there was food and an open bar, but I guess there aren't any kickbacks in that. (Note: Any mentions of kickbacks are purely speculative.)

There were a couple of bands. One of them was a country duo:

The bars were plentiful and open, which is always nice. I had to slow down after a couple of drinks -- not because I was worried about making any career-limiting moves (ha), but because I wanted to stay upright.

It was also interesting to see the varying interpretations of "business casual," which ranged from evening gowns, to a few ensembles that were a half-step removed from sweats.

I saw a lot fewer people than I'd hoped -- a Monday night, plus an October and December layoff will probably do that. I saw a few fellow involuntary alumni, some of whom had gotten back in (presumably in moments of weakness or inebriation).

Some folks were surprised to see me (not quite, "Who let you in here?"), though I wouldn't say that anyone was dismayed or horrified to see me.

I have a few people pics that didn't come out very well, and I didn't get a shot of the lady on roller skates handing out blinky rings (she was a big hit), so I mostly ended up taking pictures of the damned tree:

As predicted, they were pretty prompt in getting us out of there at 9:30. Though it took Rover from The Prisoner to get us stragglers out at 10:
"I am not a number! I am a free man!" Seriously, unless you're driving a conversion van, what the hell are you going to do with it?

We hung out in the hotel bar for a while, then moved to the nearby Blue Water Grille to hang out some more.

That's about it, other than to say I was looking at the AOL entry on Wikipedia to look at some dates, and note that some self-promoting clown calling himself "The Untouchable DJ Drastic" seems to have added himself as a "Notable person associated with AOL":

I wouldn't call "Peter Ban" particularly notable, either.

Hey, AOL has come down a lot since its heyday, but I don't think they're quite that low yet. I'd remove it, but I guess I still don't see myself as having a neutral point of view.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Socially Freeloading at the Social Times Launch Party

As part of my ongoing campaign to social network around the DC tech scene (not to mention social freeload and social mooch), I went to the launch party for Nick O'Neill's Social Times at 1223 in DC this past Thursday. (I'd seen the listing on Ross Karchner's very useful DC Tech Events site.)

I'm not the clubbing type, so the only time I get to 1223 is for launch parties and tech networking events. I highly encourage the practice.

Since I'd met Nick at BarCamp DC, I wasn't being a complete party crasher, and I did run into several familiar faces, including a few of my former AOL cow-orkers:

AOL and Revolution alum Tim O'Shaughnessy of Hungry Machine and Jen Consalvo of My AOL.

Among the night's sponsors whose displays I stopped by were widget-maker Clearspring and personal activity matching service WhyGoSolo:
DSCF3664.jpg DSCF3666.jpg

I also ran into Joseph Price, whose social media-centered play I'd seen at the Fringe Festival, and a bunch of other folks.

After the well went dry, a few of us decamped for a bite at the Daily Grill:

Nick O'Neill

And oh, look: It's Frank Gruber

Thanks to Aaron Brazell of b5media for picking up the dinner tab:


There are a few more pics in my set -- see more from Jared Goralnick's Flickr set: Social Times Launch Party

I still do need to get some calling cards made up. Probably go the VistaPrint route like everyone else, but I have to figure out what to put on it. For my event registration, I'd put my initials, "JML," as my affiliation.

I find that the dynamic tension against self-imposed restraint usually generates focused creativity. I'm thinking Joelogon Media Labs (or is that too close to the, um, other Media Lab?)

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Insidious Spread of Summary View

Is it just me, or are more blogs suddenly switching to the "summary view" (a.k.a. "more after the jump") main page display?

DCist, with the rest of the -ist network, switched over this week to a multiple-choice main page template, which defaults to Summary view (a la Metroblogging DC), which shows you the full entry (that is, barring any manually-inserted "continued" links) for the first couple of entries, then a short summary that forces you to a continued link, no matter how short the entry is.

At least they offer you a preference for "Full" view, which gives you complete entries (well, at least the portion before any manually created "continue" links), though the preference doesn't stick for me:


Like I said in my work blog back in July, I don't like the "More after the jump" construction, except for very limited cases (really long entries, spoilers, NSFW content, or pic or Flash-heavy entries). In most cases, it looks like people (and when I say people, I mean blog networks) who are trying to squeeze out an extra pageview by forcing you to click through.

There is the problem, of course, of long pages and big, empty sidebar gutters, but I think this is a problem that troubles designers more than real people. I, for one, would rather scroll a bit more than have to keep clicking. And clicking. And clicking.

Additionally, if you're going to force a truncated view of the main page entries, you could at least show more of them than you would in a flat view. Otherwise, what's the point?

It looks like Silicon Alley Insider is taking a similar tack, except they seem to be taking a giant step backwards -- they've taken the blog and made it look like an old-fashioned Web page:


The center column content, which is the main content, is all blog entries from the same blog, but they're only showing 3-line summaries, again forcing you to click through to the article. Though I think the impetus here isn't necessarily trying to squeeze out another pageview -- it's more so they can make room to cram more crap onto the page. But in doing so, they've managed to remove any of the, you know, useful bits from the page.

Anyway, boo.

(Now has anyone seen my Technorati multiple tag entry box for Greasemonkey? I've lost it and I can't seem to replace it. That's annoying.)


Friday, December 14, 2007

On Consuming TV Series on DVDs

I had a Chipotle burrito for dinner tonight. It pretty much put me out of commission for the rest of the evening (heartburn), which is why I'm staying in and watching a Firefly mini-marathon on Sci-Fi channel. Which is kind of dumb, since I already own the series on DVD.

I also received the Band of Brothers boxed set this week (Amazon, $25), even though it basically runs on the History Channel in a continuous loop. So I have new additions to the evergrowing-pile of unwatched DVDs -- the one that you might think I would have whittled down during my enforced downtime. But no.

(Incidentally, I'm now fully and officially unemployed -- Friday was my official separation date from AOL -- up to this point, I've been technically on the payroll, without actually having to go to work. It was pretty sweet. I will be talking more about it and my AOL career. Eventually.)

Anyway, unless you're one of those people who've ripped their entire DVD collection to a gigantic media center hard drive, you've probably encountered this little problem with TV series DVD boxed sets -- namely, how do you go about choosing which episode to watch?

(Actually, even if you're ripped your DVD collection, it just makes consumption a little more convenient -- it doesn't solve the whole choosing side of things. I'm sure someone [Corey] will tell me about this great Linux/Open Source/Media PC/Ginormous Hard Drive solution, though there's also the problem of bonus features and such. And do they even make DVD jukeboxes that actually, you know, use the actual physical media? I'm old-fashioned that way.)

For something like Firefly, it's relatively easy, since the series tops out at 14 episodes that mostly stand alone (despite having an underlying story arc). But what about something that was actually, you know, successful, like Friends, Star Trek, Seinfeld, whatever, that ran many seasons and had hundreds of episodes? Or something where episode order really matters, and you can't just snack on individual episodes (24 being the ultimate example of this)?

Unless you're going to do your own mini-marathon, or you're actually disciplined/OCD enough to keep track and watch the episodes in order, how do you keep from just cherry-picking the best-known episodes? Especially for a series that you, say, liked well enough to buy the boxed set when it was on sale for really cheap at Best Buy, but you don't have the episode list memorized?

I guess what I'm looking for is some sort of media management system -- something like a Netflix (with a little bit of iTunes) for your personal collection, to keep track of your personal viewing to show you how many times you've viewed an episode, and what's next in the queue. Which would pretty much mean ripping the DVD and forgetting the physical media -- wouldn't really be workable any other way.

My own DVD player is a now-ancient Apex player which doesn't have many features, save for one of the least intuitive remotes ever made. It also occasionally tries to die on me. However, its saving grace is that it's a 3-disc carousel, which I find helps with serendipity and flow -- I can pre-load it with 3 discs and get around to watching them (or not) when I feel like it.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Naked Whining College Students, Donut Clerks, and Instant Celebrity

A few bits on instant celebrity in the world of social media:

* Being Overly Aware Is Not Good: You probably saw the item this week about the Dunkin' Donuts clerk in NJ who fought a robber so he'd "look good" in the inevitable YouTube video.

While bonking the robber in the head a few times with a metal tip cup may or may not have been the best course of action (the clerk didn't get hurt, though the robber got away with $290 in cash), choosing a self-defense strategy simply because you don't want to look bad on camera does not make for good long-term survival prospects. Though it might get you on a late night talk show. (Alas, we will never know, with the writer's strike and all.)

* Being Unaware Is Also Not Good: Via Obscurestore -- Tufts University has a Naked Quad Run, which is pretty much what you would expect (and similar to events at other schools).

The local paper ran a puff piece on it, and the web version features quotes, photos, and an embedded YouTube video: "Tufts Naked Run brings students together -- with a few injuries." Here's the video, which features rear nudity:

Judging by the article and video comments, there are a lot of whiny, indignant, and insulated college students who don't seem to understand that, just because you're on the grounds of a private university, doesn't mean that you're not still in public view (think "exposing yourself in a bar"), and thus fair game to journalists, citizen journalists, perverts, and perverted citizen journalists.

It's slightly puzzling, because this is supposed to be a generation raised on social media, instant fame, and content sharing. I can only guess that this charming naivete about privacy in public and the power of social video sharing comes from a stunning sense of self-entitlement, brought to you by the campus-wide, tuition-powered protective force field that surrounds many institutions of higher learning.

Anyway, in the comments, there's a lot of posturing about private property, dire warnings of potential under-18 nudity, a complaint about wikipedia plagiarism, and even some internet tough guy "smash your camera" talk, but it really just comes down to people being upset about having video of their pasty goose-fleshed buttocks wobbling around on the Web. To which the answer is simple: Don't go naked in public. Or at least wear a mask.

* Lastly, this week's Tom the Dancing Bug comic has another edition focusing on instant instant celebrity, followed by instant nostalgia (condensed version).

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Annotated Proof: Rhymes With Orange Is Horribly Drawn

Previously, I mentioned how I have an intense, almost irrational, dislike of the comic Rhymes With Orange due to its horrible art.

A commenter (sorry, Conor, throwing you under the bus on this one) pointed me to the November 15th comic as a classic example of its humor, though I'll use it as an example of why I think it sucks:

"It's not you -- it's a timing thing. I just really need to focus on my cats."

For starters, the joke is kinda "meh." But what gets me is the art. (Not how the people are drawn -- I'm not even going to get into that.)

Look, the action is taking place inside a bistro, right? See #1, where the "BISTRO" lettering in the window is reversed?

So if they're inside the bistro, why do we see the outside corner of the building (#2)? And then why are they on what appears to be a sidewalk?

I don't usually care about nitpicky mistakes like that. But combined with the lukewarm joke and the bad art -- it just bugs me.

There are plenty of comics that have, shall we say, nontraditional drawing styles. That is, they're not great art, but they get the job done. I'm thinking Agnes, for one. Even Dilbert.

And other comics have art conventions just are just weird. Like how people's eyeglasses in Doonesbury are always below their noses, or how the dad's nose in Baby Blues is bigger than his head.

But Rhymes With Orange just bugs me.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Girls With Guns in Churches

The tactical ninjas and pro-gunners* are going to be all over this (as will the anti-gunners), and details are still emerging, but here's what USA Today is reporting about the Colorado Springs church shooting (Sunday's second Colorado shooting):
"...pastor Brady Boyd of the New Life Church said the security guard who shot the gunman was purposely stationed in the lobby of the church after hearing about the earlier shooting.

When the shots were fired "she rushed toward the attacker and took him down in the hallway," he said.

The attacker never got more than 50 feet inside the building.

"She probably saved over 100 lives," Boyd said.

He described her as a highly trained volunteer member of the church with a law enforcement background whose role was to provide security. He said she was not wearing a uniform and is licensed to carry a gun."
CNN's report adds more details, saying that the shooter is known, did both incidents, and had a prior relationship with the first church (which is no doubt be a disappointment to all the red-blooded, footstomping, Bible-banging tactical ninjas and keyboard commandos who saw "churches" and "skullcap" and were praying for this to be Islamic terrorism, instead of yet another maladjusted loner with a rifle.)

It's instructive to look at this shooting because:

* The guards (only one was armed) were posted by the second church specifically and deliberately in response to the earlier church shooting incident. They recognized they were a target (even a likely target), and developed a proactive response (with an evacuation plan and an armed guard), exercised self-defense, and stopped the threat. So kudos to them, even if it is the conservative evangelical megachurch that spawned the meth-sniffing, rentboy-using Ted Haggard.

* Even when the police are caring, competent, and close, they're still a reactive force. In nearly all of the recent mass shooting events, the police response didn't get there until well after the shooter had stopped. (In the Salt Lake City mall shooting, an off-duty cop returned fire until other police arrived.)

* Unless you want to live in a police state where there's a cop in every building and a metal detector on every door, you're either going to have to live with "acceptable losses" until the cops arrive, or do something to address your own safety. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a gun, but like it or not, the only person ultimately responsible for ensuring your personal safety is you, which is always something to keep in mind.

* Whether you feel armed guards in malls, schools, churches, etc. are appropriate or not (despite the blood-soaked coverage, these events are still rare -- I hate to talk like an economist, but there has to be a cold-blooded cost-benefit analysis somewhere), there just aren't many ways to stop an armed shooter. If you don't feel like waiting until he runs out of ammo or commits suicide, there's has to be another guy with a gun somewhere to stop him.

* Strike that -- the security guard who stopped the shooter was a woman -- not a guy with a gun, but a girl with a gun. The USA today article says she has a law enforcement background, though the CNN article says she's not an officer. Presumably she's a CCW -- a regular person licensed to carry a concealed weapon. She evidently used her handgun to take down a guy with a rifle; normally, you would expect the person with the long gun to have the advantage, so good job.

Evidently, she shot him, told him to drop his weapon, and shot him again when he appeared to reach for another weapon. Although she wasn't able to prevent the first people from getting shot, once the threat emerged, it's pretty much the best-case scenario for armed intervention, instead of the bloodlust-infused, redneck Rambo rampage picture with innocent bystanders falling in the crossfire that many anti-gunners always conjure up as the inevitable outcome.

* Pro-gun folks always think the answer is more guns; anti-gun folks always think the answer is fewer guns. I'm somewhere in the mushy middle -- I don't think having more CCW-holders will lead to a utopian polite society, though I also don't think the streets will run red with blood if more non-nutcase, non-felons are licensed to carry concealed handguns.

* I guess there is at least one example now where not banning handguns from church property turned out to be a good idea (with the general idea being, the crazed shooter wouldn't heed a gun proscription, anyway, so you're just disarming honest folk).

Like I said, I don't think the knee jerk reaction should be that more guns are better or fewer guns are better. I do tend toward the idea that since guns are here and in such large numbers, and since I don't want to live in more of a police state than we already do, and since guns are a great equalizer for the small, weak, or traditionally disempowered, that it's better to have more of them in reliable hands than to have them in none.

Like it or not, though there is a social cost to having guns in society, there's also a social benefit. I can't say to what end the scale tips, and every person is going to have his or her own personal calculus for it. But just as pro-gunners incur some social costs (assuming, say, states that don't enforce one-gun per month limits contribute to more straw purchases that lead to more illegal shootings), so do anti-gunners reap some social benefits (because some homes have guns in them, a burglar should be less likely to break into an occupied home since he wouldn't know if the homeowner was armed or not -- though there are plenty of heavy-handed "Gun-Free Home: This Home Is Unarmed" stickers if your conscience tells you not to avail yourself of that benefit.)

*I'm not nearly enough of a high-speed, low-drag wannabe to be a tactical ninja, and I'm just moderately pro-gun, which would makes me a useful idiot/appeaser to the hardcore gun nuts, and a gun-crazed lunatic to the anti-gunners. Who says being in the middle is easy?

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Teen Pregnancy Cringe Radio

I was listening to NPR's Tell Me More just now. I don't normally listen to the show, it just happened to be on. They're doing a segment on the recent rise in the teen pregnancy rate, which reverses a 15 year decline. (You can hear the whole thing here.)

Some folks theorize that the rise in teen pregnancy rates is linked to the rise in abstinence-only programs, on the crazy idea that you can't fight a biological imperative that's designed to let people make babies after they hit puberty (whether you believe in evolution or the "be fruitful and multiply" model of human development), with just a pledge and a promise ring.

However, you also have to look at the challenge. They followed up the public policy stuff with a Behind Closed Doors segment (where they talk about "sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable issues"), where host Michel Martin (who blogs here) interviews "Makaiya," a 17-year old DC-area teen who's 4 months pregnant.

And look, I'm sorry, I'm going to beat up on the unwed DC public school system-educated non-Hispanic Black teen mother-to-be, but Makaiya's also apparently a brain donor.

She says she knows about birth control, but she thought she couldn't get pregnant. Why? Because, "We had an oops."

When asked what an oops was, "He forgot to put on a condom." (Well, he didn't really forget...)

It's a little hard to understand because she whispers a lot (though it adds to the cringeworthiness of the interview, since it draws you in) -- apparently, in an earlier "oops" encounter, she had unprotected sex, went to the doctor and found she wasn't pregnant, which made her think she couldn't get pregnant.


But it's okay, because it's a blessing, because she knows she can have kids now. Proof of concept. Even though neither really wanted to have a baby. And he didn't even really want to have sex -- she had to throw herself at him to make him give in.

Why? "Hormones." (At first, I thought she said "Homo," which would have been perversely better.)

Why couldn't she try the pill or a patch? Because she had insurance, so she couldn't go to the hospital. (Wait, what?)

As to her family situation -- her dad is uninvolved, her mom had her first child at 13, and has "up to 10 kids." (Up to? Same father, though.) Her older sisters are both single moms, and one's babydaddy tried to kill her with a homemade abortion.

She says, "I'm not going to say that I didn't protect myself" from getting pregnant (well, you don't really have to), but it's a blessing anyway.

The interview is about 10 minutes long. It feels like it lasts forever.

What makes this interview especially cringeworthy is that, unless you're some sort of arch-conservative reveling in the wrongness of this, is that even though you know it's just one person, in this one interview, this poor girl has just reinforced every negative stereotype of the undereducated, oversexed, superficially and hypocritically religious (Abstain from premarital sex? No. Get an abortion? No, it was a blessing and God's will. Get married? No.), multigenerationally dependent, urban Black experience.

In the face of these challenges, how do you reduce teen pregnancy? I have no idea, other than maybe some draconian economic disincentives; mandatory reversible sterilization (for all races and both genders, implemented immediately at puberty and lifted at age 18, after legal emancipation, or with a signed waiver of public assistance); or at the very least, an indelible glow-in-the-dark tattoo (on your location of choice) that says, "Any time you do sex -- even the first time -- could make a baby" (multilingual, of course, with little icons for the reading impaired).

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What's the Female Equivalent of a Sausagefest?

I went to a house party in Crystal City on Saturday night. I guess the operative term would be closer to "crashed", since I went with a friend who had, at best, a second-degree connection to the host.

It was a holiday theme party -- the suggested dress was "wear white," which runs you the risk of looking like you're going to a Backstreet Boys album cover shoot or a circuit party, neither of which are particularly appealing to me at this point in my life.

But hey, a party is a party, right? Especially when it's billed as having a "shortage of single men." (Sold!)

I would have worn my white jeans, which may have been acid-washed at some point but are now completely white, but fortunately they no longer fit. So I just went with a pair of light khakis and a white t-shirt.

We got to the party, which did start out with a highly favorable female ratio, though things evened out over the course of the night. Most of the folks had a connection through the Peace Corps, Foreign Service, or Columbia grad school. (Me, I took the Foreign Service exam but didn't make it past the oral interview. However, it turns out my sister knows a bunch of those folks -- additionally, she went to high school with someone there. Small world.)

It was a good party. Although at one point they -- okay, we -- were dancing, clapping, and yes, singing along with Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend (Hey. Hey. You. You.).

Okay, but What's a Female Sausagefest?

On the way there, I was trying to figure out the female equivalent of the slang term sausagefest. Outside of the obvious Seven Sisters jokes, I couldn't really think of anything, so I did a little looking around.

The question has been asked plenty of times before, but I don't think there's a consensus answer, or at least not one that rules the roost like sausagefest does. There are a few "taco" variants which are mildly amusing and seem to be in the lead.

"Hen" terms (hen house, hen party) just seem really antiquated, and they share the same problem as some of the "estrogen" suggestions, in that they don't feature any anatomical vulgarity. (Whereas a few of the "fish"-based variants have a bit too much. Yes, we're defining people by their anatomical characteristics, but we don't have to be nasty about it.)

Sampling around the internets: "Lilith Fair" was funny but it's too dated now; I don't think the ladies would go for "Clam Bake" (it gets an adolescent giggle from me, though I think the anti-Scientology people also have a claim to the term); "Box Social" is just way too obscure and anachronistic; "Pie Party" has the alliteration going for it and would seem to work, but I dunno, something just doesn't seem quite right... I will have to think about it more.

And, of course, there are a bunch of other ones that are either too vulgar or too sexualized. So I don't think we have a clear-cut winner just yet.

Part of the issue, I think, is that there are many more situations where men far outnumber women, when it's also not the desired outcome. If you're a guy, this means parties, but it also applies to, say, corporate boards of directors, or Congress, where everybody (well, nearly everybody) wants to have more chicks involved.

I'm having a hard time thinking of situations that skew heavily female that aren't self-segregated to some degree. Some professions are still predominately female -- teachers, nurses, dental hygienists, flight attendants. Also, apparently stay-at-home dads run into many situations that call to mind the female version of a sausagefest. But it's just not the same thing.

Anyway, if you have your own suggestion for a female analog to "sausagefest," I'd like to hear it.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Little Billy Is a White Supremacist and More Notes From Sunday's Comics

Uh-oh, it's on now -- the Washington Post rolled out their changes to the comics page. Expect fist-waving and angry letters from the assisted living facility that houses the 5 remaining Wizard of Id fans.

Other winners and losers:

* Pickles moves up to the front page. Sunday's comic features a joke about migrating birds -- it uses geese, but I've always heard it using ducks.

* Opus: Goes from half the front page (above the fold), shrinky-dinked down to a regular placement on page 3. Took a big hit, considering it's distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group.

* Rhymes With Orange: I dislike this comic intensely. It's rarely funny, but that would be forgiveable, or at least ignorable. It's just that the drawing style is so damned ugly. It makes my skin crawl.

* Lastly, check out today's Family Circus (full comic here), wherein young Billy reveals possible white supremacist sympathies:


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My Blog Is Read by Master Criminals

More referrer fun -- this time, a criminal mastermind from the Show Me state wants to know "how do I steal money from someomes [sic] credit card":

magnify this user [IP redacted] (Xspedius Communications Co) [Label IP Address]

Missouri, O Fallon, United States,
0 returning visit

9th December 200716:22:10www.google.com/search?q=how do I steal money from someomes credit card&hl=en&start=10&sa=N

This calls for a facepalm:

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

16 Years Later and They're Still Doing the Unicorn Song

The last time I was in Ireland's Four Fields, I was throwing up in the bathroom.

Malibu rum was involved.

It was the summer of 1991, and the bar was still known as the Four Ps. I was interning at the Pentagon and staying in American University. I was also underage and without a fake ID, so the people I was with snuck me in by distracting the bouncers with two of the prettier members of our group.

It was a pretty good night. I don't remember much of it.

Fast-forward 16 years to last night's year-ending DC Blogger Happy Hour. I'd originally planned on starting at MashMeet DC at Meze DC, but I got a late start, and it was also too damned cold to be trekking up and down the Red Line, so I just went to Four Fields.

Here are some our fabulous hosts:


It was the only picture I took that came out.

As expected, the Unicorn Song was played, as well as other classic Irish pub staples, like Sweet Caroline.

It was kind of loud, though not crowded. I talked to a bunch of people. It was a good time, as usual.


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Friday, December 07, 2007

I Did Not Egg the Time Warner Center Last Week

I finally got around to posting my New York City photos from the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I arrived at Penn Station and walked uptown. It was raining just enough to spot up your glasses, but not enough to justify using an umbrella. (Even though I make a game of it -- Umbrella Joust -- on crowded sidewalks: Get your umbrella above the oncoming umbrellas, and you win. Just like in the arcade game.)

The Naked Cowboy held court in Times Square:


Please read and review this ATM user safety guide before using this street ATM:

Sometime during the 10 minutes it takes to read this, your pocket will get picked.

I went up to Columbus Circle, past the Time Warner Center. (Contrary to earlier statements that may have been made by me, I did not have any eggs on me, nor did I project any of those non-existent eggs at the building):

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It was an overcast, grey, dreary day. I didn't capture the low clouds very well.

Walking along Central Park South, there was a film shoot of some sort in progress. Here's a dog wrangler:


I first thought it was for one of the ubiquitous Law & Orders or something, but we later found out that it was for a movie, Two Lovers, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joachin Phoenix.

I didn't see anyone famous, but there were these two guys feeding a parking machine around the corner:

I don't know what the outfits were for, but they must be famous for something.

I headed over to the Parker-Meridien to meet t33p33 for a burger at the Burger Joint. Here I add to the growing pool of neon Burger Joint sign photos:

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And then, after a 20-minute wait, we get to the burger:


The cheeseburger was fine, though I would suggest a bit overhyped. As for the rest of it, the shake was solid, but the fries weren't very notable at all.

We also shared our table for a bit with a couple visiting from Sweden, then swung by CompUSA, then the mall at Columbus Circle to play with the toys at the Samsung Experience, then to get some coffee, where I saw a woman sampling aromatherapy:

For some reason, I keep thinking, "Get your ass to Mars."

There was also a holiday light show. It's a very fancy mall:


We then went to the Fifth Avenue Apple Store -- I didn't get any good pics -- after which I parted company with Paul and headed back downtown.

I thought this photo of the UNICEF snowflake and building (at 57th and 5th) came out pretty well:


As did this closeup:


I walked back down to Times Square, to see how the lights looked in the mist:


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There was also a large red lobster.

After escaping Times Square, I went down to the Blind Tiger to meet my sister and some friends:
Fancy hand dryer.

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Me with various hangers-on and layabouts. No, wait, that's me.

We stayed there for a while, then went to a seafood place to get something to eat:

That was about it. There are a few more photos, which you can see in the full set.

On an additional note, I'm very happy to be up and running with Adobe Elements again, even if it is a little quirky compared to full Photoshop.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Who Wants a Rocket-Propelled Grenade for Christmas? (I Do! I Do!)

You've seen them in action in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other Third World Cold War and post-Cold War battlegrounds: Just in time for the holidays -- RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) for sale!

Launcher not included.

Okay, fine: They're inert warheads for display purposes only. But still.

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Who Shames the Shamers?

Hey, look kids -- some of my office refrigerator note photos (it's a Flickr pool, feel free to contribute) are featured on Passive Aggressive Notes today.

My photos all came from various AOL Dulles fridges. I'd corresponded with the proprietor of Passive Aggressive notes before. There's apparently quite a community going on in the comments over there (which are threaded, or at least nested, which is nice).

Anyway, yay me.


I Knew I Should Have Gotten Out While I Had the Chance

Yes, it snowed today. No pictures -- just your standard snow scenes, maybe 3 inches or so -- some wet and heavy stuff earlier this afternoon, followed by powder.

Now, I should have gone out to get coffee and wifi this afternoon, because I've been kind of a hermit since Monday. (Well, I did meet a homeschooled kid as I was shoveling the walk today.)

I didn't go out yesterday -- I was going to do Dr. Dremo's for Psychotronic movie night, but even though they've got just over a month left in their current location, I just couldn't get psyched for Manchurian Avenger. (Life imitates the Onion yet again, perhaps: See "Aging Gen-Xer Doesn't Find Bad Movies Funny Anymore.")

So instead of cheap beer and bad movie, I stayed in and had free beer (well, paid-for, anyway) and good movie (Battlestar Galactica: Razor, plus a few episodes I'd taped around Thanksgiving).

Today, I'd planned on going to a grip-and-grin for us involuntary alumni at the outplacement center, but as little as it snowed today, I'm not going to go driving after it freezes over. (And having a drink or two is especially out.)

This sounds kind of pathetic, so I'll just say that I've got a couple things lined up through the end of the week.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beef Tendon, Chicken Feet, and Pig's Knuckles

I know no one cares what I had for lunch, but I this combination is a little different (for starters, it is very brown):

Beef tendon, chicken foot, pig's knuckles. Over rice.

I have to thank Mom for this particular combination. I brought all this -- and more -- back from home after Thanksgiving, and I'm trying to finish it before it walks away.

I don't have beef tendon all that often. It's very... chewy. And I can't say I'm that big a fan of chicken feet (too much effort, not enough payoff). But the pig's knuckles (a.k.a. pig's feet)... the way my mom makes them? Good stuff.

I don't eat it too often, though -- that stuff'll kill ya.

In other news, lots of folks are talking about the AP story on the report that says Washington Leads Metro Areas in Walkability. Ballston figures prominently, though I also enjoyed this quote:
"Leinberger attaches one major caveat to his report: The survey did not take into account the size of each walkable place. For example, midtown Manhattan is given the same weight as Reston Town Center, a lifestyle center outside Washington, even though the latter has only a tiny fraction of the office and retail space, residential units, and hotel rooms of midtown."
The only way Reston Town Center could compare to Manhattan would be if you limited the comparison to the Manhattan Mall.

My own particular pied a terre in Reston isn't really walkable (mostly because I am lazy), though that may change with the high-rises going up down the road (and if Metro ever gets out here).

The whole walkability issue is particular relevant when you look at the Tyson's Tunnel debate -- if the tunnel isn't going to be a viable solution (due to the need to secure federal funding), is there still a way to build walkable, high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods? I'm not an urban planner, but I'm hoping someone can figure out a way to do it.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

How Do You NOT Kill Yourself With a Sword?

There seems to be an uptick in suicide-by-sword attempts lately (earlier: Des Moines man slashes self -- via Fark), though the latest one, courtesy of DCist, also involves a murder most messy: "Woman Murdered With Samurai Sword In Martial Arts Academy."

They're saying the husband killed his wife and then tried to commit suicide with it (question: did he wipe the blade off first?), though I counsel that we should not rush to judgment, as it's far too early to rule out ninja involvement.

For the conspiracy-minded, I would not rule out a sinister plot to generate fear and public outrage, in an attempt by zombie sympathizers to implement new sword-control laws and deprive us of some of our most-effective anti-zombie weapons prior to the pending zombie apocalypse.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Dumb Ideas to Improve Congress: Remote Voting and Random Drug Testing

Today's Post article on the upcoming legislative calendar ("A Daunting 3 Weeks Ahead for Congress") has this gem about how the travel schedules of the presidential candidates are throwing a wrench into actual lawmaking:
"In the Senate, where schedules are famously unreliable, leaders have to jump at any opportunity to hold final votes. On Nov. 8, at 11 p.m., when such a window opened suddenly to confirm Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general, not one of the five presidential candidates was on hand to vote.


Even before the sprint to the Iowa caucuses, the senator-candidates have been increasingly absent from the chamber. McCain has missed more than 53 percent of roll call votes this year and has not cast a single vote since Oct. 24. Biden, Dodd and Obama have missed more than a third of all votes this year, according to washingtonpost.com's congressional database. Clinton has missed just 18 percent of votes, but was on hand for only three days of voting in the month leading up to the Thanksgiving recess."
This is nuts. Are we still living in a world where messages travel via horseback?

To remedy this, I suggest that we allow remote voting for members of Congress. Naturally, you'd need to enforce some kind of limits, and to ensure some measure of transparency, you might require telepresence or secure videoconferencing.

I'm sure others can tell me how many people have previously suggested this and why it's a bad idea.

In return for this revolutionary measure to ease the lives of members of Congress in the 21st century (no doubt linked to generous contributions made to me by the electric telegraph and horseless carriage lobbies), I would extract one significant concession:

Mandatory Drug-Testing for All Members of Congress.
Naturally, a testing regime would have to be ironed out, but there would be regularly scheduled drug tests, with additional random tests to keep members of Congress... honest.

If members of Congress objected to the indignities of monitored urine tests (though I don't see why any patriotic, non-drug abusing person would -- I think the American voting public has the right to know that their representatives are not voting under the influence of illegal drugs), they could make provisions for using hair tests (which have the bonus of substantially longer detection windows).

I've never had to take a drug test either for school or work, but it always irked me that the people who said mandatory drug testing was such a great idea were rarely the people who actually had to piss in cups.

So in the grander scheme of things, if you're a legislator, elected official, school administrator, athletic commissioner, senior executive, whatever -- if you're pushing for mandatory drug testing, you also have to undergo mandatory drug testing.

Mandatory drug testing in return for remote voting. What say you?

(Because of the ridiculous pre-emptive presidential primary scheduling situation, I was going to throw in a third idea about how a state's position in the primary schedule should be determined by its number of electoral votes -- with the states with the fewest votes going first -- but that's already been covered by people more politically in tune than me.)

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

NaBloPoMo Is No Mo'

This year's official edition of National Blog Posting Month is done with -- I successfully completed the quota, and while I didn't resort to any filler posts (well, maybe just one), I didn't tackle most of the more substantive entries I've been percolating on.

I do appreciate the imposed deadline, even if it was just as simple as "one a day." I usually work better with deadlines, even arbitrary ones. But it'll be good to not worry about it for a while.

I do want to do keep to at least 5 substantive entries a week. And by substantive, I mean that right now, I have probably two dozen draft Blogger entries, ranging from hot drafts that just need a litle further refinement, to rapidly cooling ones that will age out and go to the bottom of the pile until a new current event hook comes by to make them relevant again.

I also still have to process my NYC pics from last week, answer a meme I was tagged for, and recategorize my blog and pick a new template for it. (As well as deal with, you know, real life.)

The re-doing of the blog categories is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be, which is why I keep putting it off. It's a challenge that's partly taxonomic, partly aspirational. I'll will try talking it out a little bit more in the blog.


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