Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Feeling the Hand of Fate this Final Four

Shockingly, I'm currently in first place in my office NCAA pool. All of our brackets got savaged pretty badly (special thanks to Kansas and Kentucky), so no one has more than two of the Final Four, and I'm the only person (out of 40+ in our pool) who picked Duke to win it all.

Basically, my fate in the pool hangs on Duke: If Duke wins, I win. Which is the way it should be. (I'm not 100%, but I think if Duke beats West Virginia, I win.)

Speaking of fate, I kept hearing that this year's Final Four was going to be played in Lucas Oil Stadium, but I didn't realize it was in Indianapolis until a few days ago. I have a connection to the Final Four and Indianapolis...

My sophomore year at Duke, the Final Four was also in Indianapolis, and a bunch of us drove there from Durham. (As I recall, we had to make it through a snowstorm. Don't remember much more about the trip.)

Looking to kill some time (possibly between the win over UNLV and the Final), we had dinner at a Pizza Hut, which had been decorated with a big vinyl banner that kind of looked like this:


Okay, make that, looked exactly like that. (I think the statute of limitations is up.) Anyway, suffice it to say, after the first one, armed with the yellow pages, our group went around to all the Pizza Huts in the Indianapolis metro area until everyone had their own banner.

It wasn't exactly a subtle piece of work.

Anyway, I can't say that I've gotten a lot of use out of it, (although the 1992 Final Four was in Minneapolis, so I was able to reuse the banner, with some obvious edits), but I could never bring myself to toss it.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Items That Weren't Stolen From My Car in Baltimore

  • The contents of the hatchback [too numerous to mention]
  • Lightwave Tec2000 LED flashlight
  • River Rock 0.5W LED headlamp (useful for hands-free operation, like changing a tire or cutting brake lines)
  • Big-ass 5-D-cell Mag Lite with EverLED conversion (apparently thieves don't like LED lights, despite their higher efficiency and lifespan advantages)
  • Half-bottle of generic Pepcid AC antacid (Famotidine)
  • Bottle of Blink Contacts lubricating eye drops
  • Spare eyeglasses with clip-on sunglasses; contact lens case (a.k.a. the Morning After Navigation Kit)
  • Eclipse mint tin filled with Trident bubblegum
  • My E-ZPass
  • One set of Etymotic ER-20 high-fidelity earplugs
  • Air pressure gauge
  • Mileage log and repair log notebook
  • Spring-loaded center punch (Irony Alert, since I keep it in the center console in case I need to... break a window out)
  • The CDs in my side door pockets, as well as few burned CDs in the center console. Guess they didn't like my music.
  • A disposable 35mm camera.
  • My (cheap) sunglasses
  • About $8 in singles and change in the ashtray
  • Cassette audio adapter (still in the deck)
  • A couple of other sundries
Items That Were Stolen From My Car in Baltimore:
A few Saturdays ago, I was up in Baltimore for the 2009 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. I'd gotten a late start (expected for a Saturday, but also because I got to Tyson's Corner before I realized I'd forgotten my 8 gig memory card and had to go back, since I wanted to take video), but I got into town by about 11:30am and scored a street parking spot right in front of the Digital Harbor magnet high school, just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Visionary Art.

The day was great and I'll write it up in a separate post. I got back to my car about 8pm, and had just loaded up the hatch and gone around to the driver's side when I saw the mess inside:


Someone had smashed my passenger side window, and tossed my glove box (unlocked) and center console, stealing and bypassing the items above.

My iPod and GPS -- not bad for 15 seconds of work.

Of course, I'd marked myself as a target by leaving the cassette adapter cord in plain sight; I'd also had my GPS suction-cup arm mount on the dash (the GPS itself was in the glove box) with my sunglasses on it, and if that wasn't enough, I think I left the power cords on the passenger seat.

I scraped out the rest of the window and got ready to drive home. I wasn't even going to report it, but as I started to drive off, I saw a Baltimore police car parked about 50 feet in front of me -- an older couple's car had also been broken into, and they'd called the cops. So I stopped, made it a two-fer and gave a report.

Despite the security cameras out front and the group of skate rats doing the stairs nearby (witnesses or suspects, who knows), I have a feeling that this one will go unclosed.

Anyway, after I got home, I scooped the broken safety glass out and saved it. I put it in a coffee can and shook it up in small batches to break up the bigger pieces and dull the sharp edges, then washed off the glass dust and put it in the oven to dry:


Why yes, I have been watching a lot of Breaking Bad.

Yes, definitely. Too much, probably:


It's kind of pretty:


Though I have no idea what I'll use it for. It's back in the coffee can.

So, the window is fixed now (after driving around gingerly, plastic flapping, through two rainy days). I've got a refurbed, same-model GPS on order as a replacement. For the iPod, I'm not sure if I'll just get another nano or upgrade to an iPod Touch, but in the meantime, for my drive up to New Jersey for Mother's Day, here was my iPod stand-in:


I'd bought the power inverter a while back just to have on hand, so it came in handy for the laptop (it causes a pretty big hum in the speakers, though). It worked okay.

In summary, I'm a lot more careful about what I leave out nowadays.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

My Jury Duty, or Why Black Men Shouldn't Do Burglaries in Great Falls

Back in October of last year, I whined about getting a Fairfax County jury duty questionnaire. (Up until this point, I'd managed to avoid serving -- anywhere.)

I got the summons a few weeks ago, notifying me of my upcoming two-week stint. The first week, my group number didn't come up, but this week, I ran out of luck.

The Assembly
Dutifully, I reported to the Fairfax County General District Court on Wednesday, leaving my camera-equipped phone and Macbook in the car.

The Jury Assembly room was equipped with wifi, but Mac owners are either exceedingly honest (no cameras allowed), or have figured out ways of wriggling out of jury duty, since I didn't see a single Mac laptop in the room (there were several folks with various PC laptops).

My hope that my name wouldn't get called dwindled with the number of people left in the room, and sure enough, I got called. My group was about 20 people, which suggested that it was for a criminal trial (and it was).

The Selection
I made it through voir dire -- the main question asked of us was whether we'd ever been victims of crimes. Of those who said yes, the bulk were property crimes -- a few car break-ins, some credit card theft. There was an assault; also, a few folks with child care issues, plus a youngish guy with some prominent flesh tunnel earlobe piercings. Those folks didn't make it through.

Then, the case started.

The Case
The defendant was a black guy, sporting prison-issues and some gray in his hair. He was charged with three felonies: Burglary, Grand Larceny, and Credit Card Theft, all stemming from the same incident.

I'm not going to get too deep into the details of the trial. The defendant (a DC resident) was accused of pulling off a window screen to break into a house in Great Falls, stealing a Louis Vuitton wallet out of a purse sitting on the kitchen table, and using the credit cards the next morning to buy $400 worth of big-box electronic retailer gift cards... from the supermarket at which he was currently employed.

Obviously, we were not dealing with a criminal mastermind here.

The Evidence Phase

The prosecution's case was completely circumstantial, which the Commonwealth Attorney (the DA, for those of you unenlightened enough to not live in the Commonwealth of Virginia) specifically addressed in her opening statement (she called out Hollywood expectations borne out from CSI- and Law and Order).

The evidence phase of the trial was pretty brief, taking testimony from the victim, a supermarket manager, two Fairfax County detectives, plus some photos, and security camera footage of the credit card purchase.

It turns out that, when they served the search warrant of the suspect's house, 6 Fairfax County detectives, a couple of MPD detectives, and who knows how many other MPD uniforms, were present.

I understand the need to secure a scene, though 6+ detectives (that entire team) seemed a bit much.

Anyway, the defense didn't offer any evidence, so the evidence phase wrapped up that same day.

Going home, working off of my extensive working knowledge of Law and Order, I thought that the prosecution's case had some gaps -- other witnesses who could have been called, additional evidence that could have been presented. But I thought the defense attorney's case, not presenting any alternatives or explanations, was weaker. I still hadn't made up my mind.

The Deliberation
Thursday, we heard the closing arguments. The defense attorney had a better presentation, but he was arguing small things -- whether the offense occurred at night (which is apparently important to the charge of "burglary"), how the time stamps of the security camera and the transaction report didn't match exactly (well, duh).

I was leaning towards letting the defendant slide on the most serious charge -- burglary. And as it turns out, I wasn't alone -- many of the jurors were of a similar mind. That is, until we got the jury instructions, which said that the circumstantial evidence (possession of stolen goods and use of the stolen credit card) "inadequately explained or falsely denied," could go to the burglary charge.

Seeing as how the defense offered no explanation whatsoever of the credit card use (in fact, the defense attorney pretty much fingered his client on the videotape, though the supermarket manager had also ID'ed him), after about an hour of deliberation, we unanimously found the defendant guilty on all charges.

I note that some of the jurors qualified their guilty votes with sentiments along the lines of "well, because of the wording of the instructions..."

We reconvened, and the verdict was read. Because it was around 1pm, we recessed for lunch, which I found a little perverse -- "We find the defendant guilty. Now enjoy your lunch."

The Sentencing
After lunch (the Hard Times across the street for many of us, although to my knowledge, no one drank any alcoholic beverages) was the sentencing.

Up until that day, I hadn't realized that in Virginia (along with about 6 other states), the jury -- not the judge -- determines the sentence. Being felonies, the range of sentences was 5-20 years for burglary, 0-20 years for grand larceny, and 0-20 years for credit card theft.

We'd also learned that the defendant had a few prior run-ins with the law. He'd served 6.5 years for burglary starting in 2001, and had been out for about a year and a half before this latest offense. So much for deterrence.

I went in leaning closer to the minimum -- 5 years for burglary, 1 each for the other two, or 7 years overall. It was incrementally higher than the previous sentence (I had no illusions to a deterrent effect, this was strictly punitive), but it wasn't a violent crime (though for any home entering there's the potential for violence). It wasn't a crime of opportunity: He'd gone to Great Falls looking for a score, but I was assuming he'd looked into the window, saw a purse, saw no people, broke in, grabbed the wallet, and got out.

So I was pretty shocked, during the first polling of the jurors for the total time to stick him with, that there were a few people who said "20 years."

20 fucking years. For going in through a window, stealing a fancy wallet, and using a credit card.

I kept hearing the soundtrack from Les Miserables in my head. Granted, stealing a wallet so you can buy consumer electronics is significantly worse than stealing a loaf of bread, but 20 years still seemed, I don't know, a little excessive.

After the first polling, I was (shockingly) at the low end with 7 years; there were some 10s, 15s, 20s, and some people who abstained (as if they were checking in a game of Texas Hold-'Em, instead of dealing with a man's life).

Apparently, I am a soft-on-crime, limp-wristed liberal commie pantywaist, because I was actually forced to argue that a second offender shouldn't get 2o years for a property crime.

I guess I was hung up on the fact that many people convicted of assault, people who commit violent crimes with the intent to cause bodily harm, don't get anywhere near 15 or 20 years.

Hell, Hans fucking Reiser pled down to 15 years-to-life, and he strangled his wife and buried her in a forest.

After hearing my objections, most of the 20s (almost universally, middle-aged white ladies) immediately revised their numbers downward. When I asked why they'd chose 20 in the first place, some of them said that they were just putting a number out there. Throwing a stake into the ground, as it were.

Calling back to another experience -- back when I was at AOL.com, our biz dev guys were doing a bid for some deal or another to Microsoft -- they were trying to put out a figure, also just to throw a stake into the ground.

Apparently, they were so far off, they failed so miserably, that they were trying to throw a stake into the ground.. and they missed.

That's what I felt happened with the 20s.

Anyway, after a good deal of wrangling, a dot plot chart (on the whiteboard), and significant time pressure, we finally agreed on 10 years (8-1-1). It was a number I could live with, but I wasn't going to feel good about it.

This is what I meant when I Twittered that my jury duty experience was a little upsetting. It sucked, and universally, we jurors felt that a judge would have had more context and experience to determine a sentence.

For me, the moral of the story is, don't do burglaries in Great Falls or the more affluent areas of Fairfax County, especially if you're a minority or can't otherwise afford an ace defense attorney, because you will get fucked.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Halftime Notes From the Duke - UNC Hype Machine

It's halftime of the Duke - UNC game. Carolina is up by 12 right now, in a first half marked by a lot of dumb turnovers. Blame it on Senior Night nerves, and because ESPN has been hyping this game up like it's the end of the world.

I'd entertained the notion of going to Jimmy's or something to watch the game, but I've just been flat today. In fact, I sat on the couch and woke up about 3 hours later. (Missed an ebay auction I wanted to bid on, too). So now I'm drinking a few Blue Moons and just hanging out at home.

Anyway, Duke is down by 12. When I was in school, I didn't think we relied on the three-point shot nearly as much as we do now -- I'm troubled by the number of one-and-done quick threes we take, especially since we've never really been a strong rebounding team.

I also see that the Speedo Guy has returned. I have a VHS tape of one of the Duke - UNC game from 04 or 05, which I think was his introduction to the national viewing audience. He sits in the grad student section behind one of the baskets and tries to distract the opposing foul shooter. This new incarnation wasn't nearly as effective, probably because he wasn't nearly as... hairy.

Also, the ESPN commentators apologized for replaying Speedo Guy, because unlike the previous Speedo Guy who relied on funky dance moves, this version used some D-Generation-X-style crotch chops.

As to the whole pre-game hype -- when was the last time you saw them playing the National Anthem for a regular season college game? And then that whole thing about the support for Eve Carson, the UNC student body president who was found murdered a few days ago.

Look, I'm glad the Duke fans wore ribbons and did a moment of silence in honor of her, instead of trying to do some tasteless cheers about it. But come on -- how many Durham residents (not so much the Chapel Hill) will get murdered near the campus and just get another item in the crime briefs of the newspaper -- without the full-court media press and the candlelight vigils and the Facebook memorials?

Yeah, she was a pretty blonde co-ed and it's a shame she died a violent death, but come on.

OK, game on.

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