Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Thursday, April 22, 2010


My watch (a Skagen) stopped working a few weeks ago.

I was in a mall when I noticed it, so I stopped by a watch kiosk. I figured the battery just needed to be changed.

The kiosk operator said it would take a half hour to get a new battery, which is an awful long time to change a battery.

Since the other nearby watch shop was busy with some buyers, and the kiosk operator was a pretty young thing, I just shopped around until it was ready.

No good, she said. The battery was fine-- the watch was broken.

Skagens have a limited lifetime warranty, so I sent it in. In the interim, I was without a watch; I know kids today use their cell phones for the time, but I just don't find that convenient.

Anyway, I just got my watch back today.

Of course, the service slip said: "Replaced dead battery."


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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This Had to Be an April Fools Day Joke

I never liked April Fools Day. It encourages unfunny people to try to be funny. It never works.

This year, I had two strange episodes. Neither of them were pranks in the strict sense of the word, but I get the feeling that something was messing with me.

The first was getting an e-mail from the HR department of my former employer. It was about a soon-to-be-former employee getting his official separation date pushed back a few months. This was kind of odd, as I've been out for two-and-a-half years, and I didn't do HR stuff, anyway. As soon as I figured out it wasn't a joke or a phishing attempt, I busted out laughing.

Apparently, I'd corresponded with this person after my own layoff, and I guess my address was still in the address book, and autocomplete took care of the rest. Which explained why a joelogon.com address there sitting there in the middle of a string of corp addresses.

I got two mails before I was able to reply and tell them they should probably take me off the distro.

(Oh, and the mails didn't have one of those "if you're not the intended recipient of this mail, delete it immediately and shoot yourself in the head" disclaimer footers.)

The second episode involved a multimedia message from a phone number I didn't recognize. It is below:


Oh shit!!!!!wrong party!!!

Apparently, enough people thought it was funny that it was forwarded 11 times. I'm reaaaaally hoping I didn't get it from someone I know.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Locker Room Burrito Is a Lie

I went to the gym tonight for the first time since I hurt my back a few weeks ago. To avoid hurting myself again, I only did cardio, which I need to focus on anyway.

In the locker room, there was this flyer taped to the mirror. After reading it, I needed to take a picture. (Yes, I was that guy using a cellphone camera inside the locker room):

The burrito is a lie.

It's a flyer for the relatively new Chipotle in Reston Town Center; the promotion involves showing your Fitness First membership card there on Saturdays in March for a free burrito (or bowl, tacos, or salad); the picture features a burrito, with the caption, "More Than Worth Those Ten Extra Minutes on the Treadmill."

Now, according to the ChipotleFan.com calorie calculator, a standard chicken burrito combination clocks in at just under 1100 calories.

Using any given calorie calculator (say, this one at SparkPeople), 10 minutes on the treadmill, at a basic 10-minute mile pace (6 mph), burns about 100 calories.

Unless you can run at 60 mph (you shut up, Mr. Steve Austin), what the ad implies is off by a factor of 10. It's a lot closer to two hours than ten minutes.

This does not mean that I won't be there on Saturday to snag a free burrito. (Hey, free burrito.)

I enjoy Chipotle, but I like Baja Fresh more, mostly because I raid the salsa bar and use the extra red salsa in meatloaf, marinades, etc. (Hate the new condiment bags, by the way -- they suck. I used to be able to fit 8 salsa cups into one of the old paper bags.)

Anyway, I did 20 minutes on the treadmill (brisk walking at about 4.4 mph -- running makes my knee hurt), then followed with about 10 minutes of jumping rope.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Weekend of Crisis Fatigue and Back Spasms

I'd signed up for CrisisCampChile on Saturday, but flaked due to a combination of crisis fatigue, laziness, and despair at recognizing the futility of my own uselessness.

It's been a bad year so far for earthquakes.

Sunday morning started pretty well. The night before, had watched Duke *thump* UNC pretty soundly, and I was all set to possibly enjoy a warm-ish day outside (or at least as outside as one gets walking to and from parking lots).

I was making breakfast, when I had a particularly energetic morning coughing spell and all of a sudden felt a bolting pain over my right kidney and then folded up onto my knees on the kitchen floor.

It's happened once before, coughing my way into a back spasm after jacking my back during a workout (deadlifts this time, squats last time).

It took me a while to get back on my feet, and to limp over to the couch. It was pretty bad for a while -- I spent the afternoon trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable and watching Life, Season 2 (which I'd mentioned picking up earlier.) For a little bit, I couldn't stand up without pulling myself up on a doorframe, which involved having to pad around on my hands and knees.

The little blue pill -- Naproxen (generic Aleve) -- didn't do much for me, but fortunately, Mom had given me a bottle of Excedrin Back and Body after the last time. It's basically buffered asprin and Tylenol, and it seemed to do the trick. Either that, or I'm a rapid healer (I'm not), or it wasn't as bad as I made it seem (it was kind of bad for a while).

So here we are.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Considered Not Spamming You But Decided That Would Be Too Time Consuming

Got this e-mail from the Washington DC Online Marketing (SEO/SEM/Social Media) Group mailing list, which I apparently joined last year. I've never been to an event, and the listserv is mostly inactive, except for one bright light: a domain name broker of some sort who insists that his informative e-mails telling people which domains he's got available aren't spam.

Actually, that's what he used to claim. Now, he just says he can't be bothered to clean his lists, and you should just drive on if you're not interested. Here's the e-mail, redacted (against my better vengeance):
Hello Everyone,

I considered going through my emails one by one but decided that would be too time consuming [Emphasis added. He actually wrote this. And sent it. My interpretation: "Here's how much I care about my client communications: Fuck you."], so if after going through all my family ["Who I also used to annoy with my MLM knife sales pitches."] and vendors this email still finds you and domains do not concern you please feel free to delete or ignore this. ["I say again: Fuck you."]

Those of you who ARE in the domain industry ["Though I clearly have no idea who you are."], I will be sending out periodic lists of domains from here on out. ["I couldn't get anyone to subscribe to my ConstantContact trial account newsletter."] This will be a little unlike the other lists you receive where I will include generic domains at reasonable prices that I find but also traffic domains and websites I think are viable. ["I have no idea what I'm saying."]

Those of you who know me are familiar with my hard work and some sales such as R*******s.com, O*****g.com, F****R******.com, B****M***.com, V*****.com, F***S******.com and many more..

If you would like to be on this list please respond to this and I will add you ["Though, obviously, I won't keep track, as that would be too time consuming."], if this does not concern you or you do not care to see the domains I come across a few times a week than simply do not respond. ["In closing: Fuck you."]

Thanks for your two minutes and I hope to hear from you!


[name similar to a famous golfer]

It should be noted that I do contribute to the Network Solutions blog, and they sell domains, so this is kind of a full disclosure, but seriously, this guy is just an unrepentant douchebag.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Last Haircut and Metal Snow Shovel of 2009

The last haircut of 2009 (with bonus floating head goodness):


It's actually just inside the "too short/not short enough" range, as the sides stick up a bit. Though a few minutes of hat-wearing takes care of that (and that's not a problem right now, in this damned cold).

Ode to the Last Metal Snow Shovel:

My snow shovel, survivor of Snowpocalypse '09, broke in that bit of ice and snow we got just before New Year's:


I got it when I first moved into the house, so it lasted about 10 years. Truth be told, though, it was pretty much a few seasons past its usefulness: The blade was curled up at the sides, and rusted into a V-shape in the middle:


I was actually trying to unbend the blade when the handle snapped. Upon inspection, though, I noticed a smooth tunnel hollowed out into the handle, with a bit of shiny fuzziness inside (not visible in the picture):


This, was of course, the work of some sort of carpenter bee. And it was still in there. (Dead. Or really sleepy.) A few thumps on the ground dislodged it:


Thus, I was forced to buy a new shovel. I always swore I'd only buy metal shovels, but when I went to Sears, all I could find were these silly plastic-bladed monstrosities that'll be lucky to last a year or two. (Apparently, the metal-bladed Craftsman snow shovels sell out instantly.)

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Unfreezing My PoliSci Brain Parts and Actually Reading Some of my "PDFs to Be Read"

I'm taking this holiday break to whittle down my "Papers to Be Read" folder. (It's a topic I brought up in a NetSol blog post a few months back, Book Shame, Information Hoarding and Aspirational PDFs, about how our publicly-shared reading lists are often more aspirational than an indicator of intent.)

It's more than a little telling that I only just now added a "Read" subfolder (as in "Papers I've Actually Read"). At this point, many of the documents have been superceded and now only have value as snapshots of particular moments in history.

The first one was basically a warm-up: Speculative Fiction and National Security, a 7-pager by Adam Elkus and Crispin Burke (Starbuck, of Wings Over Iraq) for Small Wars Journal. It's fairly light look at the framework (mostly limitations) of speculative fiction and the scenarios depicted in futurism and sci-fi, concluding that their primary value isn't necessarily predictive, but instead as a way to get people to think about present problems in a different and perhaps more honest way -- because situations are presented in a fictionalized and more abstract context, we're able to look at things with fewer of our current investments and hang-ups.

The second is a lot lengthier, if not necessarily deeper: Integrating Security:
Preparing for the National Security Threats of the 21st Century
, a report from the Center for American Progress that came out a few weeks ago. It's a 60-something page recommendation for the Obama administration's National Security Strategy.

It deals in broad strategic strokes (e.g. combating extremism, engaging with adversaries, leveraging alliances), a fair amount of Bush-bashing, and also features many recommendations for bureaucratic reorganization and synchronization that will never see the light of day.

While I agree largely with the goals and methods outlined in the report, it lacks oomph. The report features nuance, deliberation, multilateralism, and an emphasis on what some call "soft power," -- non-military diplomatic and development solutions -- so it's severely disadvantaged by lacking the visceral simplicity of who to bomb next and how to better blow shit up.

("Soft power" is instantly weakened by the word "soft" -- there needs to be a better phrase. "Non-kinetic" is great, but that's really best used by the military. And improving the capabilities of governments is difficult and unsexy, even though we know that helping governments deliver essential services, especially in times of crises, is important in showing their effectiveness and keeping people from getting drawn to radical non-state actors that can get the job done.)

Also, on one hand, it does decry the militarization of stability operations and nation-building, while recognizing that in places like Afghanistan, they're sometimes the only folks who can get the job done (due to both security considerations and manpower and logistic concerns.)

The report seems to put a lot of weight into quadrennial reviews for the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, though from what I've heard (and I'm pretty far out of the loop), I've heard that the DoD's QDR is pretty much a pointless tail-chase exercise.

Personally, the report could use a little more punch, something to make key recommendations more accessible and sound biteable. The report gets pretty bogged down in bureaucratic restructure-ese, whereas I think (for example) that they could have wrapped up their international development bullets under the banner of a "Marshall Plan for Anti-Extremism." (Sure, the metaphor only goes so far, but it's accessible.)

It's pretty apparent that for the bulk of my career now, I've been too close to the marketing folks, and too far from the policy wonks.

Anyway, I'll keep working down into the pile and then see what bubbles up.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Notes From the Road

Got a late start tonight, leaving at a little after 9pm. I doing really, really well for the first 90 minutes or so, but then got hit by a corollary of Joelogon's Theorem of Turnpike Conservation, and I got slammed at the Tydings Memorial Bridge, where an accident earlier in the day combined with the usual toll plaza backup knocked me off schedule.

After that cleared out, there were the remnants of another accident at around exit 100 (the highway displays warned of 2 left lane closures, but all lanes were open by the time I passed through).

The only other trouble was that it got really foggy in spots. I kind of liked it -- the fog wrapped everything in softness and made it look ethereal . Going over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you couldn't see anything off to the sides.

Driving visibility wasn't that much worse since taillights get that halo effect, and with the lights in the fog, I could pretend I was re-enacting the Battle of the Mutara Nebula from Wrath of Khan. (No, not really. Well, maybe a little.)

For music, even though I have an iPod again, I still had to jury-rig my laptop into a really big iPod. This is because my car's cassette deck died a few weeks ago, and without it, I have no way to play my iPod through the speakers. So I was listening through my laptop's speakers, which worked out about as well as you might expect (that is, good for listening to songs you already know by heart).

I also heard a good stretch of programming from WPRB 103.3, the Princeton University station, which I'd never heard before (it's just out of reach from home).

With about 40 minutes worth of delays in just those two spots (Delaware and all through the NJ Turnpike were clean), and just taking a straight shot up the middle (no detours to 695 or 295 -> 195), it took me 4 hours and 20 minutes.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Terra Cotta Warriors in Reston

The Terra Cotta Warriors exhibition at the National Geographic Museum opened last week. I don't have any plans to go, because (I don't get to be travel snob very often, so I'm going to savor this) I saw the real deal, the whole shebang, in Xi'an, during a trip to China in 2003.

It was a family trip, as well as a group tour, so it's not like I have much to be snobby about.

To celebrate the exhibition's arrival in DC, I dusted off my official, made in China and bought in Xi'an, souvenir miniature terra cotta warriors, no doubt made with the finest locally-sourced lead and arsenic-tainted industrial byproducts available:


The set started changing color pretty much immediately after purchase. I'm actually surprised that they haven't crumbled yet.


Okay, back into the box.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Have No Idea What You're Talking About, so Here's a Picture of Me Wearing a Finnish Gas Mask


$10 at Cheaper Than Dirt. "New Condition Protect Against Airborne Virus and Bacteria -Flu Pandamic [sic]"... nope, no fearmongering there or anything.

The included carrying case is pretty nice (though the material is a bit thin), if you're looking for something to satisfy your ironic military-surplus hipster/artist pose while you convert the mask for fetish play:


If you have something against the Finns, there's also a Czech gas mask for $7.50.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

I Coughed So Hard, I Broke My Back

This morning, I was going through my usual cold weather coughing jag (it's an extremely pleasant and attractive sound), only this one had an extra kick because of my leftover cold. So it was especially emphatic.

It got so bad I thought I might actually yarf, when all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain in my back, just like when I occasionally mess up my back doing squats, only it was worse. It was so unexpected, I fell over and hit the floor. Literally.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, and I made it through the entire day (with minimal whining on Twitter), and now I'm flat on my back with my knees up, popping whatever NSAIDs I can mix with alcohol, and catching up on reading, TV and writing. (I'd have watched the second episode of V, the better to form an opinion of it, except it's not on the ABC site yet.)

I'm still going to go to barcampdc tomorrow, though. Hopefully it won't slow me down too much.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Nutcracker Wears ACUs and Oakleys

I was in Target yesterday. There were a few remnants of Halloween stuff clinging to the shelves, but the employees were already setting up Christmas displays.

I saw these Nutcracker-themed decorations. Nowadays, the Nutcracker wears ACU-style digital camouflage, a Kevlar helmet, and Oakleys:


I wonder why the Rat King isn't carrying an AK-47 and suicide vest

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Griefing the DARPA Network Challenge

I took a quick look at the DARPA Network Challenge site (on December 5th, they'll fly ten red 8-foot diameter moored weather balloons; the first person to register the locations of all ten will win $40,000). Also, I read the rules (which I'm not sure very many commenters have bothered to do yet, since they're in PDF), so here are a few thoughts:

* As currently structured, it's obviously a problem in game theory, behavioral economics, and group collaboration, not technology. Contestants will register as individuals, not organizations -- of course, people will collude and collaborate, but they'll have to determine not only mechanisms for intaking, validating, filtering, and crediting distributed reports (your basic crowdsourcing problems), but they'll also have to figure out the basis for distributing the prize. (And $40,000 is in the realm of "real money.")

Presumably, a large enough group to win will be in it for the bragging rights (I'm sure everyone is thinking "Anonymous"), and simply donate the money to charity, to avoid all those messy distribution issues.

However, since the registrant has to be an individual, the winner of record will still get stuck with the tax on the $40K prize, even if they donate it all to charity. Something to consider.

* The rules are only two pages right now. I'd be really surprised if the rules (which "may be modified at any time without notice") don't iterate and grow dramatically in between now and December.

Of particular concern is the potential griefing issue -- anyone with any modicum of deviousness has already said, "Hey, we should just fly a bunch of fake weather balloons to fuck up everyone else."

(The rules state that official balloons will be accompanied by DARPA representatives -- we're going to need some authentication method beyond "Some asshole wearing a navy blue polo shirt holding a clipboard." It'll have to be communicated far enough ahead of time to propagate, but not so far in advance to be easily spoofed.)

Griefing goes to the idea of motivation: You might not be able to mobilize and organize an credible nationwide team to win, but I can easily see groups of griefers -- call them "cells" -- popping up on game day:

Looking at costs, an 8-foot diameter balloon holds about 270 cubic feet of helium; with cost of balloon and tank rental, that's a few hundred bucks, which is easily spread across a few friends.

* Hopefully, no one will try shooting down balloons. That would be a bit much (as well as a violation of the contest rules). The rules cover changed locations, but I don't yet see anything about accidental or manmade balloon failure post-launch.

As to other potential hurdles (balloons in really out-of-the-way -- but still road accessible -- locations, I don't find that as interesting as the challenge of dealing with griefers, especially highly-motivated ones bent on undermining the game.

Of course, since no one ever accused DARPA of being dumb, it really depends on how they implement the Web site reporting mechanism (will it provide feedback when you submit a location, etc.)

Watch the skies.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Costume Panic, 2009

For the past few weeks, I'd been fretting about my lack of a good Halloween costume concept (last year's costume raised expectations by an unreasonable amount). Some rejected concepts:

* An ATM machine. To do it right (by my thinking), it'd have to be fully enclosed, which might make for a good costume, but doesn't sound like any fun to wear. Tabled for next year, maybe.

* Office Supply Guy. I was thinking paper-clip chain mail vest, maybe an "Easy" button and some strategically-placed Post-Its. Abandoned after determining that paper clips tangle, snag and detach, making them unsuitable for construction.

* Balloon Boy. Considered it for the briefest of moments. Even if I could do a better one than all the half-assed ones I expect to see this year (which is questionable), it seems lame.

* Chinese Drywall. Simple to build, but as previously mentioned, I don't like wordplay costumes.

* Jon Gosselin. Another brief consideration. Would have only done it if I could have rigged up 8 dolls on a harness, though I guess that's mooted now. Plus, I didn't want to buy an Ed Hardy t-shirt.

Then I got sick. (Still am, really.) It's either the flu or a sinus infection. Nothing too serious, but seeing as how my major accomplishments this week have been sweating (also sneezing), I no longer care about a silly costume, I just want to stop being sick.

So assuming I'm healthy enough for Halloween, my fallback will probably be jumpsuit-based (again), quite possibly the getup I used for this year's Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. Which was coincidentally swine-flu themed, so I guess it could work out.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Documenting My Gradual Shift to the Left

For the past few years, I've been rocking the center hair part.

However, recently, my part has been migrating back to its natural part, towards the left:


Wasn't that fascinating?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dumb Gym I Have Done Lately

I jacked my back a little yesterday as I tend to do occasionally, leaning too far forward while doing a warmup set of squats. (Somewhat ironically, I'd been concentrating on my foot position to keep my right knee happy, and didn't pay enough attention to my back posture.)

Since you can't really train around a lower back strain, it looks like I'll be taking it easy and hitting the reset button by eating pre-Halloween candy for a week or so. But it's not too much of a major loss -- after 8 weeks of medium sets (well, ostensibly medium -- when I plateau, my medium sets of 10 top out looking a lot like my heavy sets of 5), it was time to switch back to light sets of 20, anyway.

It does mean that I'll have to cut back on my eating. I'm at about 141 now, whereas my natural tendency is about 5-10 pounds lighter. (I enjoy the medium and heavy phases, since I get to eat more, even if it ends up mostly being granola bars, egg whites, and badly-prepared chicken -- as previously noted, I don't go the whole "brown rice, steamed vegetables, and chicken breast" route -- I could probably do a lot better if I was stricter about my diet, but I guess I just don't care that much.)

In terms of physique ("buffitude," not anything like functional strength), I'm probably at my all-time best right now. (You're going to have to trust me on this.) My bench press is over 200 pounds (machine weights, not free, but still), whereas previously I'd never been able to get past that.

Cardio-wise, though, I think I hit my peak my sophomore year of high school (JV soccer) -- since then, no matter how much I try (which, admittedly, hasn't been all that consistently), I don't manage to get any better, and in fact, probably keep getting worse.

Since I'll be on the sidelines for a week or so, popping Advil and blogging on my back, here are a few observations from the gym, which I think are fairly universal:
  • When you first arrive at the gym, it will be wall-to-wall eye candy (featuring whatever gender you favor). When you emerge from the changing room, they will have been replaced by the "Seniors' Low Impact Yoga" class.

  • Speaking of the locker room, here's an observation: Say the locker room is empty, save for you and two other people. Invariably, your lockers will be immediately adjacent to each other.

  • At some point after my formative years, padlock manufacturers decided to give people color choices beyond the standard black. You will pick a color to reflect your personality and distinguish your lock from everybody else's. This color will be the exact same color that everyone else has chosen. It will be either bluish-purple, or purplish-blue.

  • At my gym, I'm probably known as "Asian Guy Who Always Wears Kickball Shirts With the Sleeves Ripped Out." This puts me in the company of "Towel Chewer" and "Gracefully Aging Cheerleading Captain," along with more general archetypes "iPhone Yakker," "Inappropriately Loud Grunter," any number of "Desperate Housewives," and so forth.
Lastly, perhaps this is a suburban thing, but some folks are really trusting about not using padlocks -- at all -- on their lockers. I know that your typical gym padlock is trivially easy to shim open, but at least it shows you're trying.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

WMV is making me upset

I'm okay with not understanding things. Happens all the time.

What I'm not okay with is not understanding things that I should understand. When I don't understand something I should understand, it frustrates me. When I get frustrated, I get upset. I get upset, I get angry.

I wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

This is what I don't understand: I have a video file, WMV. From a webinar broadcast, so nothing complicated, just audio (mono) over static Powerpoint slides. 1024x738, 48 minutes. 2.78 fps, data rate 271 kbits/sec. File size: 39 megabytes.

However, the second I touch it -- nay, look at it -- in this case, to trim a few minutes off the front and back -- and save it, the file size increases, even as the display size decreases. 640x480, 45 minutes. 2.55 fps, data rate 1704bits/sec. File size: 53.2 megabytes.

Right now, I'm using Quicktime 7 Pro to edit, with Flip4Mac Studio Pro to export to WMV (Quicktime X doesn't allow exporting); Studio Pro doesn't let you customize the default settings, though I've had the same problem using Windows Movie Maker.

I'm not adept at video, so please tell me: What am I doing wrong?

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

My New Mac Tablet (Note: Misleading Headline)

So far, here's the one hitch I've run into after upgrading to Snow Leopard: Photoshop Elements 4 stopped working, even after installing Rosetta as prompted.

This was not an incredibly big deal, though I needed it enough that I decided to buy Elements 6. And it comes bundled with the Wacom Bamboo Fun graphics tablet, which I've had my eye on for a while, so it was the perfect excuse to get one. Didn't find any good deals, so I just popped over to Best Buy and got one.


Then, I started running into problems.

* My Macbook's internal optical drive is dead, so I've been using a borrowed external DVD drive. However, it was still at work.

* Okay, no problem: It's 2009, so I download the tablet drivers and Elements 6 demo, figuring I could use the Elements serial number on the download.

* Find out that the Elements DVD serial won't work on the downloaded demo. Annoying, but I get by in 30-day trial mode.

* Get to work the next day. Insert install DVDs. The external DVD player, which I used to install Snow Leopard, doesn't see the discs.

* Look up the internet. Find that Snow Leopard not seeing external DVD drives is a known issue. Find workaround: With DVD inserted, plug and unplug the FireWire cable.

* Go to Install Elements off the DVD. Installer fails, due to critical errors reported to an error log that I can't find. Try to uninstall. Uninstall fails.

* After more searching, finally find and run CS3Clean Script to uninstall previous stuff, then finally reinstall Elements 6 off the DVD.

It was a pain in the ass.

I also had to reinstall Adobe Flash Player, but it turns out that this was a good thing, since Snow Leopard comes with an older version with security holes.

Anyway, I'm still getting used to both Elements 6 and the tablet. So far so good, though.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wanted: A Dumb Crisis Manager; Plus, Reviewing The Colony, Episodes 1 & 2

Ever since CrisisCamp, I've been mulling over ways we can leverage pop culture depictions of crises to get people thinking and doing more for their personal disaster preparedness. As we've seen, throwing preparedness guides up on Ready.gov just isn't doing it -- we can argue about why elsewhere, though I think it's because ready.gov gets us thinking about preparedness in the "scary way we prefer not to think about," as opposed to the "scary way that entertains us" that we see in pop culture.

Pop culture is awash in constant crises, ranging from earthly disasters like fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, and pandemic; celestial hazards like meteors, comets, and asteroids; and man-made disasters running the gamut from terrorist attack, dirty bomb, biological warfare, all the way up to total nuclear holocaust and post-apocalyptic aftermath.

And of course, we can't forget zombie attack, alien invasion, robot uprising and every other monster incarnation.

Because pop culture crises are ultimately entertaining and diverting, people are more willing to engage them. So what can we do to leverage the power of pop culture depictions of crises?

Enter the Dumb Crisis Manager
One thing we can do, of course, is comment on how crises, disaster preparedness, and crisis response are depicted in TV and movies. Basically, I'm talking about trying to recreate Phil Plait, whose Bad Astronomy site rose to prominence by highlighting bad (and good) depictions of science and astronomy in TV and movies, and creating a personality who can authoritatively talk about these issues.

I'm pretty sure that person isn't me. And it may not be a single person. But I'll fill in until someone else steps up.

The Colony, Episode 1 (a.k.a. Real World: Thunderdome)
Right now, I'm two episodes into The Colony on Discovery. I don't think I'll make it to the third. Originally, I thought it might be interesting way to show useful survival skills (at least for the immediate aftermath period), but it's pretty clear now that it's basically Junkyard Wars-style engineering challenges, with a some fake Mad Max thrown in.

The problem I have with reality TV in general is that it's manufactured drama, and this is especially telling with The Colony: There's no prize at stake (that we know of), no one's getting kicked off the show, and there's no "game," so why do these folks insist on acting like typical reality TV meatheads? Worse, why make a show of swinging around sticks and pipes to fend off scavengers, intruders, motorcycle marauders (a recurring theme) -- did they sign a particularly permissive waiver that said they were participating in blood sport? It's just silly.

Anyway, here are the skills they show off in the opening episode. (The participants are foot-mobile, so they have no personal supplies to speak of -- no real lessons to be learned there):

Skill: Looting, fending off other looters: Useful as it may be (in the "collapse of civilization" scenarios that gets TEOTWAWKI types all hot and bothered), I would suggest that "grab anything that's not nailed down" isn't really a skill that needs to be taught.

Skill: Water Filtration: They gave a cursory demonstration of how to filter water through buckets with alternating layers of sand and charcoal, which was good. However, they glossed right over the post-filtration boiling part, though which was bad. Very bad. And even after that, I don't know that I would trust water from the LA River.

Reality TV moment: One of the early Survivors (maybe the first?) featured a conveniently-placed "natural" container of sketchy-looking standing water. Some of the cast worried about brain parasites and such, but the gameplayers realized that the show's producers wouldn't have provided water that they couldn't drink. So the reality TV safety net is in effect. Witness the disclaimer at the end of The Colony credits:

"The participants in "The Colony" experiment are presented with situations that were created by the producers. They receive support from off-camera experts when their health or safety may be in danger. Viewers should not attempt ot engage in the activities depicted in this experiment."

Skill: Flushing a toilet with a bucket: Really? Really? This is a big deal? Not only is it completely obvious to anyone whose water's even gone out (even briefly), but wasting gallons of potable water to flush toilets, instead of setting up a latrine in a corner of that big-ass compound of theirs, is idiotic.

Reality TV moment: Picking up sticks, pipes, and other beating implements to fend off a night-time intruder. Or else, you could, you know, have the cameramen shine their lights at them?

Reality TV moment: The addition of the second group of survivors. Again, if you see a group of people with a camera crew, it's a pretty safe bet you can let them in. At least one guy (the contractor who's also an ex-con) had a pocketknife on him.

Supplies so far:
* Food: Canned, other relatively shelf-stable stuff. Could go into more detail. (e.g. how peanut butter is a good energy food). Haven't introduced any annoying food preferences or allergies, fortunately.

* Flashlight. Looked like a standard 2-D incandescent.

Skills Challenge: Lighting. Good thing they just happened to have that bank of batteries and inverter, eh?

Skills Challenge: Water cistern with semi-permanent filtration system, budgeting 1 gallon/per person/day.

Reality TV moment: The cast is really engineer / mechanic heavy. They really should have included more deadweight -- even their IT guy came up with the water filtration method.

Skills Challenge: Rainwater collection. Wow, they discovered the rainwater drain pipe just as it starts raining. Oh, no: time pressure! What a coincidence.

Reality TV moment: Wouldn't be reality TV without blurred out genitals now, would it?

Summary: The first episode set the stage -- looting, motorcycle marauders, engineers gone wild. It gets worse in the next episode...

The Colony, Episode 2:

Reality TV moment: Oh, look -- a conveniently-unopened crate. Good news: It's filled with tools. Bad news: They're cheap-ass Harbor Freight tools. I guess Survivors... er, sorry, "Colonists" can't be choosers.

WTF moment: You know, people were able to do work before power tools. I, myself, used hand saws and a hand-drill back in shop class. Just wanted to point that out, in case you're ever faced with a choice between recharging your reciprocating saw vs. keeping the lights on in a survival situation.

Reality TV moment: Yeah, they're setting up cranky old guy for a conflict / redemption arc. At least in the first episode we learned he was having coffee / booze / tobacco withdrawal.

WTF moment: They move a step beyond looting, to actually stealing from other refugees. And look, they're getting fake worked up over fake danger from the fake motorcycle marauders (who, in voiceover, we learn can't actually hurt the Survivors... er, "Colonists", but they don't know that... DUM-DUM-DAAAAA)

WTF moment: Oh look, a conveniently-placed oxy-acetylene torch.

Summary: As you can see, not much in the way of usable skills here, even more contrived Junkyard Wars projects, and even more contrived reality TV conflict. The talking head interludes add psychobabble and nothing else. And if that gassified wood-powered generator actually worked (without the magic of television), I'll drink some of that LA River water.

That's it, nothing more to see here. I'm outta here.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Teabaggers Branch Out to Lemonade Stands

Here's a roadside "Obama Wealth Redistribution Lemonade Stand" (link from a redlit Fark thread) on the route of the RAGBRAI cross-Iowa bike ride:

It's even spelled correctly and everything

Here's the price list (Hey, look, a valid use for a table):

$0 to $25K$0.25
$25K to $75K$0.50
$75K to $250K$1
Precious, right?

Now, I was wondering what kind of tax rates this pricing scheme actually uses. Since it's a lemonade stand, I'll just use a progressive sales tax, so I don't have to muck around with marginal tax rates and all that. I hope someone else gives it a shot (I've probably already screwed up the math here.)

If the after-tax price at the lowest bracket is 25 cents, let's make the pre-tax price 24 cents, for a nice, easy 1 cent tax, or 4% sales tax. Then, we'll add the other tax brackets:

IncomeTotal Price
Sales Tax PaidSales Tax Rate
$0 to $25K$0.25$0.014%
$25K to $75K$0.50$0.26108%
$75K to $250K$1.00$0.76317%
Wow, a top tax rate of nearly 2000%! What an insightful satire on the redistribution of wealth and creeping socialism. No wonder you got a mention on Hannity!

I respect smart anti-tax arguments. This is not one of them.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Meet (Busty) Christian Women, Easy

I don't usually pay attention to the ads on my Facebook profile, and they're pretty easy to ignore. But this one stood out: Not only because of the mistargeting (Christian singles is pretty far off the mark), but because it features a model with huge tracts of Bible:

Busty Christian Singles Ad Then I realized that I'd seen this particular particularly pneumatic model before -- she's busty glamour model Denise Milani (she works non-nude -- barely -- but I wouldn't call the site SFW) and she's a former SportsbyBrooks girl.

TinEye reverse image search finds the photo in larger size, used in other, decidedly non-Christian contexts.

While it's possible, of course, that Denise Milani is a fine, upstanding Christian woman, and that her photo was licensed to this particular Christian singles site, it seems far more likely that whoever was responsible for the ad -- either the site or an affiliate -- just grabbed an eye-catching photo off the Web. *yoink*

Seems to be standard operating procedure for any dating site ads on Facebook, whether it's over 30s, Christian, or whatever -- find a pretty girl whose boobs take up 40% of the available image area. (Actually, I guess that's the SOP for pretty much any Facebook ad.)

I actually did click through to take a look at their site. (Their slogan is "The Community for [Busty] Christian Singles.")

It has a lot to offer -- for example, it has a wonderfully streamlined registration process. For example, it asks your gender, but doesn't ask what gender you're seeking. Simple!


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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Please Don't Touch Me... I'm Thinking

Cameraphone pic of a frozen touchscreen kiosk at the Harris Teeter:

Please Don't Touch Me, I'm Thinking

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Why Yes, the AOL Time Warner Retirement Plan IS Administered by "PunkRocks"

Here's the most ridiculous AOL employee password phishing e-mail ever. (The fact that I got it also shows the phisher is working off an old internal employee list and only adds to the ridiculousness):
From: [redacted]@gmail.com
Subject: Retiring yourself from AOL?
Date: June 5, 2009 8:10:43 PM EDT
To: [my old AOL business screenname]@aol.com


The depression has struck the entire nation, including us here at AOL Time Warner. Some associates may no longer be eligible for retirement plans. As the depression locks its grip on us in an unstable fashion, and we spiral toward financial disaster, there is little to do other than ride out the storm and hope for the best.

5,000 employees are no longer eligible for retirement.

To find out if your plan has been canceled, please do the following:

1. Instant Message the AIM BOT Screen Name "PunkRocks" and login to the system by IMing your credentials in this format: [ScreenName][Password][SecurityCode]
2. Your updated retirement plan file will be pulled up and displayed for your viewing.

Remember: Your plan MAY still be active. You MUST Instant Message "PunkRocks" with the above information to verify.

We apologize and have no further information at this time,
AOL Time Warner
Outside of the purpleness of the prose and the ludicrousness of the idea of an "AOL Time Warner" retirement, a few comments:
  • People still phish for AOL employee accounts. Who knew? And they say AOL is no longer relevant.
  • Sure, Gmail has always been the preferred e-mail host for AOL Time Warner benefits information.
  • Why, yes, the AOL Time Warner retirement plan has always been administered by screen name "PunkRocks" (I'm assuming it's a compromised account, of course.)
On my inaugural Facepalm Scale, I give it a five out of five -- the highest possible score! Congratulations!


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hi, We're the Replacements

Here are the replacements for almost all the items I've managed to lose recently (save for my mind and possibly my dignity):


Stolen from my car in Baltimore (in April):

* Garmin Nuvi 200 GPS, $88 (refurbished) from NewEgg.com. Same model, so a straight-across replacement.

* iPod Nano 8 gb, $104 (refurbished), from Apple. Same amount of memory, but an upgrade to the next generation. I'd been debating getting the iPod touch, but decided to see what Apple (and Sprint) decide to do next month.

Lost (possibly stolen, in January):

* Skagen 105LTX watch, $27 (used), on eBay. I blogged about this watch before. It's got a grey dial face, not a blue one, but it's the same thing. It's in good shape -- the scratches in the crystal are almost the same as mine, too. Plus, I saved $10 by resizing the band myself, using a push pin.

Lost (a few months back):

* Nitecore Defender Infinity flashlight, $70, off eBay. Probably fell out of my pocket in a parking lot somewhere as I was doing errands. Yes, $70 is a lot for a flashlight (even if it's really cool, with infinite adjustability and throwing 130 lumens on a AA battery), and I don't really need a tactical flashlight... where was I going with this?

Anyway, I'll try not to lose these. For a while, anyway.

[The headline, of course, refers to the TMBG song]

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Using My Poor Man's Steadycam to Document Our Lackluster Kickball Performance

We had a kickball game on Wednesday. Even though it wasn't cold and rainy, the team was pretty flat offensively and we lost. (I went 0 for 2 at bat, including kicking into a double play, and was accused of being a rules lawyer because I reminded a girl that she couldn't take a lead off of first base.)

It did give me a chance to finally test out the Poor Man's Steadycam that I built just over a year ago (and hadn't used since).

The results were... mixed. I didn't really try walking around with it, just doing some basic panning. Even so, there's a lot of camera shake, because instead of using the prescribed 2.5 or 5 pound counterweight at the bottom, I just used a screw-on cast-iron flange, which I thought I could get away with because my Canon powershot only weights 1/4 pound. It saved weight, but basically killed the motion-dampening action, which defeats the whole purpose of the thing (other than to make people wonder "What the heck is that guy holding in his hands?").

Also, the wind noise is really prominent in spots -- need something with an external mike and one of those fuzzy covers.

Anyway, here's the video (make sure you click the "HQ" option, I may not have picked the best file size settings):


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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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Blog Performance Anxiety and Procrastinating Your Way to Immortality

My blog drafts pile has been building up, while my actual blogging has been going down. I can only blame Twitter and posting in other blogs to a limited extent.

The actual mechanism goes something like this:

* Gather blog material into drafts.
* Procrastinate, delay, obfuscate.
* Despair at evergrowing pile of drafts, whose short half-lives are rapidly aging into irrelevance.
* Horde drafts, in the hope that events will come around that will provide hook with which to revive draft.
* Take perverse comfort in completely specious rationalization that I can't die with unfinished business, even though I know it happens all the time.

How's that working out? I'm reminded of an old Bloom County cartoon (I took the liberty of scanning it, possibly from my copy of Bloom County Classics of Western Literature):

Binkley: Ya know, Voltaire once said that there's a certain inevitable futility in indecision.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

My Brunswick Stew Is Award-Winning

[Update: 10/19/09: I am reminded by commenters that my photo was removed a few months back, though I'm leaving the post up for posterity's sake.]

I'm just going to pretend my month-long posting lull didn't happen.

A few days ago, a blog reader let me know that he was having Brunswick Stew (from a can) for lunch (via IM, not Twitter, which is how you're supposed to send your pointless lunch updates these days.)

There aren't that many brands of Brunswick Stew (from a can). I did an image search for "Mrs. Fearnow's" to take a look at the yellow-labeled can. Lo, to my surprise, I saw among the results a familiar-looking photo:


Yes, that's clearly my very own Brunswick Stew (homemade, not from a can) photo, as used in my earlier blog entry and seen below:


Naturally, I clicked through to see the image in use -- it's on the Product History page of BOST Distributing, the company that now owns the Mrs. Fearnow's brand:


Evidently, some content jockey (judging by the Web site, "Web designer" would be a stretch) needed a product photo of the Brunswick Stew (from a can) not in the can, did a Google Image Search, and grabbed my photo. (They rehosted it, so it's not hotlinked, which means I can't do any image-swap shenanigans.)

Technically, they're using my photo without permission or proper attribution (as with most of my photos, it's licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike), but I don't care about that -- the point is that they're using my photo of Brunswick Stew (homemade, not from a can) on the product page for their commercial Brunswick Stew (from a can), which is a pretty silly thing for a company to do.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Brunswick Stew: Electric Boogaloo

The title is a lie -- this is actually my third time slow cooking a Brunswick stew.

First off, it passes the spoon test quite handily (it's thick enough so that a spoon will stay standing up):

Passing the spoon test.

It's got some heat (due to the chili paste, some cayenne and Sriracha sauce), but it's not too hot -- just enough to overwhelm the taste of the stew, which unfortunately isn't very flavorful. It's also not as sweet or tangy as my last try, since I used less cider vinegar and Sriracha.

Ingredients, this time around:
* 4 chicken drumsticks
* Some olive oil for the skillet
* Cooking spray
* Handful of garlic cloves, minced
* 2 medium sized red potatoes
* 2 onions
* 1.5 cups frozen lima beans
* 1.5 cups frozen sliced okra
* 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
* 2 cans of corn (I used 1 can creamed, 1 can kernel. Just because)
* 2-3 tablespoons of chili paste (in retrospect, a bit too much)
* Couple of squirts of ketchup
* Couple of squirts of Sriracha sauce
* 2 splashes of cider vinegar
* The rest of a mostly empty bottle of Worcestershire sauce
* Half-cup or so of chicken stock (leveling out the ingredients)
* 2 chicken bouillon cubes (for extra chicken and MSG)
* Assorted powdered spices: salt, pepper, onion, cayenne, chili -- whatever's handy. Plus a bay leaf or two. Season to taste.

* Spray nonstick cooking spray into the crock pot.
* Heat oil. Start browning the chicken in a saucepan.
* Impatiently start chopping potato, garlic, onion.
* Inefficiently dash back and forth between the cutting board and stove until the vegetables are chopped and the chicken is browned.
* Add potato, garlic, onion. Place chicken on top.
* Add rest of ingredients. Place slow cooker on high. Go to bed.
* Wake up 6 hours later, to find that the stew has reduced, by bubbling all over the kitchen counter. On the plus side, the chicken has fallen off the bone, so strip the bones and shred the chicken.
* [Optional: Level off with some more lima beans, corn and okra, steamed.]
* Cook on high for 2 more hours.
* Book it. Done.

The taste is... nontraditional, mostly due to the chili sauce. I think I used too much. On the plus side, it's plenty thick

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Who Is Pecos Bill, or How I Outsmarted Myself Yet Again

Tuesday, I took my second shot at Trivia Night at Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in Herndon.

As with last time, my tablemates were quite good in getting us past the written-answer qualifying round, where they could use their Internet-enabled cellphones to look up the answers (although I did my part in the tiebreakers), and then clammed up to the point of near-uselessness during the Jotteopardy portion, where it was my butt on the line onstage.

After a slow start, I worked my way into first place, cleaning up in the American folklore category (notably, I remembered that it was Pecos Bill who used a rattlesnake as a lasso).

And I discovered that my teammates' true role was not to help me, but rather, to hurt the other contestants, by yelling out incorrect and distracting answers ("Paul Bunyon! Paul Bunyon!", which was wrong even for the relevant question).

Going into the final round, I had a slight lead, though not enough to place a safe, boring bet. The category was "This Day in History/Magazines", so I felt pretty confident. However, the question was, "On this day [March 3] 1923, this magazine was the first weekly newsmagazine in the US."

At first, I thought Newsweek. Then I thought Time. Then I thought, "Aha! Time is far too obvious, it's got to be something more obscure... like, say, The Saturday Evening Post!" So I went with that.

Of course, the correct answer was Time. Or at least, the answer they were looking for, especially in the "This Day in History" bit of things. (One might be able to make a case for The Saturday Evening Post, though it wasn't exclusively a news magazine.)

Anyway, it was a good time. Smoky, though, which is par for the course -- we'll see how the smoking ban legislation changes things in December.

Oh, and I came up with a working name for our Spring kickball team: Package Stimulus. We'll see if it sticks.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Preparing for Your Impending Layoff From AOL

Welcome! You've got layoffs: A preparation guide for AOL employees.

joetux2005Welcome, soon-to-be-former AOL employee! I'm Joe Loong, graduate of the AOL Layoff Class of October, 2007, and I'm here to offer you a few bits of advice gleaned from my own personal layoff experience.

I hope that these items will help you prepare for your own imminent layoff, and ease your transition into the job market during this worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

This guide is primarily written for Northern Virginia worker bees. Employees from other locations and pay grades are welcome to add their advice in the comments, which I will integrate to the guide.

Things You Should Do Now
Hey, it's not personal. It's just business. Except when it's not. Regardless, whether you volunteer or are "asked" to leave, whether the layoff happens on the 24-25th of February or March or any other damn time, here are a few things you should do ahead of time:

* Update your resume and online profiles: Hopefully, you've been doing this all along, but if not, now's the time. Especially important these days is your LinkedIn account.

* Detach from your corporate e-mail address: Speaking of LinkedIn, Carles, an AOL alum now over there adds, "Add your personal email account to your LinkedIn account, and then make it your primary LinkedIn email. It is heartbreaking when people are laid off and lose access to their email, and then can't recover their LinkedIn passwords. Don't let this happen to you."

Good tip: If you were silly enough to register for any accounts or profiles using your corp.aol.com address (which you don't get to keep), make sure you update them with a personal e-mail address that you control. The same thing goes for any snail mail you got at work that you cared about. (I admit I still give my old cube address and phone extension whenever I don't want to hand out my real info, like for supermarket club cards and such.)

* Search for yourself: Google your own name -- if people are searching for you, will they be able to find you? If not, take steps to improve your own search results.

Doing a vanity search will also let you know if you need to sanitize your Facebook profile to make yourself appear more employable. (And if you're still using your Myspace page -- come on now, you're a grown-up.)

* Find your old performance evaluation forms (whatever it is they're using now, formerly GOALign, FPR, etc.), because this is the one and only time they'll come in handy -- they're useful for figuring out what the hell you did (if anything) during your career.

Thanks to the guidance of your manager, your annual evaluations should be chock-full of impressive-sounding numbers and metrics. So what if they're meaningless, or even completely made up -- you can still use them to spice up your resume. ("Programmed the AOL.com home page, where my promotions were ignored by literally billions of impression eyeballs.")

* Take screenshots. Sure, maybe not every one of the products you ever touched has been sunset. You might still want to screenshot or sitesuck some examples of things you worked on.

* Use your employee discounts. Now's the time to take advantage of your employee discounts -- the Apple store, the Philips store, etc. But, don't go too crazy -- after all, you may be losing your job.

* Take advantage of your health benefits: Make appointments for checkups and any needed health, dental and vision procedures. Sure, you've got 18 months of COBRA, but you might as well use your benefits while you still have them.

Also, regarding your
Health Care Flexible Spending Account [suggested by anonymous]: I never participated, though my paperwork said you could continue files claims against your HCFSA balance under COBRA through the end of the current calendar year (there are some costs associated with it).

reports that employees laid off in 2008 had a day to use or lose their remaining balance, though I have no additional information about that -- you're going to have to find a member of the Class of 2008 to confirm or deny that, to figure out if you're going to want to draw down what's in your account before the big day.

* On making a copy of your ID.
I'm not saying you should do this. But if you did, it should be only for sentimental reasons.

* Stock up on office supplies. I'm not advocating wholesale theft. But some of those pens are nice. Also the ubiquitous Ampad Project Planner notebooks.

* Make a copy of your Fitness Center workout chart. This will help you track your descent into sloth and give you a sense of all the ground you need to make up when you start caring about working out again.

* Backup any personal files on your work machines. This includes anything that you have on share drives (not that you should have personal files on share drives). A portable or luggable hard drive is good for this.

IMG_0667* Have a plan for your swag. You've probably accumulated a lot of AOL-branded swag over the years. Like, say, commemorative leather and brass Circuit City coasters. (Oh, the irony.)

You're going to have enough to deal with, and packing up your things on layoff day is going to be stressful enough. And you really don't want to have to take multiple trips out to your car. So have a plan for what you're going to take with you, and what you're going to leave behind. This includes consumables, like food, sodas, beers, etc. -- either consume them beforehand, or plan on leaving them behind for whoever's left.

* Planning on leaving on your own accord? [suggested by Kevin Lawver]: "...if you're planning on leaving, wait a couple months and see if they'll take volunteers. I missed out on the whole severance, outplacement stuff by about a month..." (He has more to say about upper management in his comment.)

Things You Should Do on Layoff Day (Etiquette and More):

* Assuming you know what day things are gonna get real, dress in a manner appropriate to the occasion:

Layoff day, October 2007.

* Sequester Your Laptop: Bill Kocik suggests leaving your laptop in your trunk until you know you're safe -- this is to buy yourself more time in case you were slack and didn't back up your personal files. (Also, Verisign is looking for Java devs.)

* Twittering your layoff: I wasn't on Twitter for my layoff, but a lot has changed in the intervening time. Instead of giving exclusives to bottom feeders who justify gawking at mass layoffs as an "interesting sociological event," consider using the hashtag #AOLLayoffs09 for your layoff-related tweets and mobile updates. (You can also tag your subsequent blog entries, photos, and other associated media with "AOLLayoffs09")

If you aren't yet on Twitter... well, that wouldn't surprise me. Now would be a good time to start.

* Try not to toss your cookies:

Remnants from the Dec 2006 Layoffs

* For Blackberry users [from anonymous]: If you were issued a Blackberry and ported over your personal cellphone number instead of getting a new one, see if they can do a reverse port (so you can keep your cellphone number.)

* Take your time leaving. You're not being run out of town on a rail. Take your time and make sure you have everything you need. Check your mailslot, even if you've never seen it before. Say goodbye to the people you want to say goodbye to.

* Send your farewell e-mail. Now is not the time to settle scores. Don't burn your bridges. Thank people you need to thank, and make sure they have your contact information. I offer my own valedictory e-mail as an example.

Oh, and you get to keep your screenname (unless it has something that identifies it as an AOL business screen name).

* Look behind you at least once on the way out.

* The afterparty:
First, let me know where it is. I recommend Clyde's in Ashburn. That place is huge, so don't listen to any nonsense rumors about it being closed by the Fire Marshall due to overcrowding.

If you're going to hit up your former cow-orkers for sympathy nookie, or otherwise get toasted and sloppy... hey, what are they going to do, fire you? Just try not to burn any bridges, and make sure you have a ride home -- getting a DUI is not what you need at this point.

* Call your parents. Tell them not to worry. You'll be fine.

DSCF3405.JPGSo, You've Been Laid Off -- Things to Do Afterwards:

* Read your paperwork: There are some things you'll need to sign, and dates you won't want to miss. If you need to talk to an employment lawyer, talk to a lawyer.

* Transition/Outplacement: Whatever transition assistance they offer (if they do), take it. Maybe you want to open your own consulting shop, or need resume help, or just want to get out of the house and touch base with other members of your graduating class. At least see what they have to offer.

* File for unemployment [suggested by anonymous]: I didn't try to collect unemployment. Pride, stubbornness, stupidity, something. Don't let that stop you: Virginia | Maryland | DC

* Keeping in touch: You will lose touch with your work friends. At least a little bit. That's to be expected. The question is, do you want to be the aging alumni who hangs out at the old school way too much and too long, Wooderson? ("Awright, awright, awright.")

The thing about the DC Metro area is that you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a former AOL person. And some of us aren't completely useless. You're probably networked better than you know, just by being a cog in a big machine that's lost a lot of parts.

- On Facebook, join the AOL Reunion - DC Metro Area (they just had a reunion last week), and the other AOL groups and networks.

- There's also an AOL Alumni Association group. And of course, don't forget LinkedIn, Google Groups, etc.

- If you're staying in the area, network and participate in local events, like events listed in Upcoming.org, Meetup.com, DCTechEvents.com, and GarysGuide.org.

* Join a gym: The perk I miss most was the convenient onsite fitness centers. I really let myself slide after my layoff. If you have a home setup that you actually use, or can come up with a bodyweight, biking or running routine that doesn't require a gym (and that you'll stick to), you can skip this, but for everyone else, don't wait too long -- join a gym. (Here are the Reston options I looked at -- I never considered Gold's.)

* On boomeranging: I wouldn't. I know plenty of people who have. Hey, a job's a job, right? Especially these days.

* Go have some fun: I didn't, really. Again, you might not be able to go on an around-the-world trip, but do something. You've got a window -- use it.


That's all I've got right now. I know I'm missing things. Really, I'm still in post-layoff mode myself, even though I've been out for 14 months and am half-assing it around as a social media/online community consultant, just like every other asshole out there.

If you've got tips to contribute to dealing with your AOL layoff, please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail, IM, Twitter, Facebook message or whatever and I'll add it to the appropriate spot.

Good luck with your layoff!

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