Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Opening Lines

Call me Ishmael.   Moby Dick

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  A Tale of Two Cities

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.   Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let Me In!

I listened to a story on immigration this morning.  So many people – people presumably just like me – seem so angry about immigrants and are dead-set about open borders.  That got me thinking as to how I got here.

I’m an average American citizen, or so I like to believe.  I was born in the USA; as were my parents and grandparents.  Before that, however, at some point every one of my ancestors arrived on this continent as an undocumented alien, but – big distinction here – with open arms.

Most of my ancestors came from Holland, Germany, England and Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Their children were instant citizens and we’re all living happily ever after.  Some of my ancestors arrived 5-10,000 years ago from Asia – so long ago that they are now considered “natives.”

Let’s face it.  Throughout all of human history, until the middle of the industrial revolution, no one ever voluntarily relocated.  Relocation is a messy and dangerous effort.  It takes an affluent society to allow voluntary relocation.  My ancestors were desperate enough to hop in boats or walk thousands of miles for a chance at a less horrific life.  My existence shows they lucked out.  Many millions did not.  Who are we to shut our borders to people who want to risk everything on a chance for a better existence when our ancestors did the same thing, just earlier?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Rule of Four

I got hit by the rule of four this afternoon. After I returned from a movie and before I even set foot in the house, I decided to replace the garage door bottom seal. It's just a U-shaped piece of rubber that rides in two channels at the bottom of the door. I already had the replacement part; how hard could it be?

I figured it would take 10-12 minutes to complete the project. If I had thought it would take any longer, I would have had lunch first.

Taking out the old was more involved than I thought because somewhere in the door's history, it hit something that pinched one of the channels. It took a while to spot that but it only took a screwdriver to fix.

Putting the new seal in would have been no big deal if I had taken the seal out of the package and let it stretch. Instead, I had a piece of recently folded rubber that wanted to stay folded, bending the little tabs that slide through the grooves. A little silicon spray and and a lot of muscle and in it went.

All told, the project took about 45 minutes. Let's see - I estimated 10-12, it took 45. Yep, smack dab inside the rule of four.

I came up with the rule of four when I was repairing the junkers I drove during my twenties. I was always replacing or repairing something and I noticed it always took about four times longer to replace that alternator or starter or do that oil change than I originally estimated. Later, in college, I noticed it took four hours to write a computer program that at first glance I thought would take one. Today, at work, cleaning customer data, keying in orders, preparing for meetings, whatever, they all take four times longer than I expect. No wonder I miss so many deadlines. Of course, I'm not the only one who does it, so I fit right in.

Even this blog post. I estimated it would take five minutes to write. It's been 20. And that folks, is the rule of four.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Destroying My House - in a Good Way

I haven't finished reassembling my downstairs powder room after its repainting last weekend (trim is still undone) but I've started to prep the upstairs bathroom for repainting.  The first thing was removing some wallpaper flower appliques near the ceiling.  I only did a little damage there.

Next, I decided to get rid of this thing. It could charitably be called a cabinet.  I've just been calling it an eyesore.

It's a standard bathroom fixture - pressed wood with two shelves covered by the doors and one shelf open.  I've always associated it - and I've seen them in dozens of bathrooms over the years - with cheap.  My house isn't crafted of the highest quality materials necessarily but it is within my power to remove this cheap cabinet so I did.

See how the room opens up without it? Maybe it's the extra four square feet of reflective area but I think the whole room is now brighter without the light-sucking wood-like veneer.  I'll have to install some open shelves or something in the future but for now, I'm enjoying the wide open space.

I was going to trash the cabinet but I think I will hang it in the garage.  One can always use more storage space in the garage, especially since the unit is already paid for.

My camera doesn't record true colors very well. The actual color of the bathroom is best described as olive and these pictures show it lighter than it really is.  What color will it be in a week?  Wait and see.

OK, it'll probably still be olive, only with areas of spackle on it.  You'll have to wait and see to find out what the new color will be - eventually.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


When I loaded some podcasts this morning, my iPod hit a milestone - 10,000 titles.

Unlike the way iTunes displays the count, I say “titles” because not every selection is a song.  I constantly cycle through a bunch of podcasts and have a few comedy albums in inventory.  Taking out the spoken-word titles, I still have 9903 songs on the unit.  That's quite a few.  Don't immediately draw a conclusion that that amount is too many - except for a few dozen new songs I'm trying out, I still like all the tunes and can identify most of them using the old “Name That Tune” starting point of seven notes.  We all have our own idea of how much music is just right.

Including the podcasts and comedy recordings, iTunes says it would take 28 days, 16 hours, 11 minutes and nine seconds to listen to the whole kit & caboodle.

I've already listened to nine podcasts today so the total is back below 10,000, but for a brief period, much like the stock market, I could say I was at a totally arbitrary and meaningless - yet cool - point.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Are These People Thinking?

Wait, wait, don't tell me. I really don't want to know.

After spending a delightful day chauffeuring my elderly parents out to the farm and back for a Thanksgiving lunch, I headed home. Traveling down 494 in Bloomington at 7:17PM, what did I see?

A line of 30-40 people at the door to Best Buy. Yes, a store that opens its doors tomorrow morning at 4:00AM.  7:17PM people.

Black Friday shopping is in and of itself nuts. But lining up to go to Best Buy nine hours or more before it opens? That's just crazy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Big Bang Theory

Tonight's Big Bang Theory was not only one of the funniest episodes of a show that is consistently very funny, it contained the intersection of three of my favorite things:

Science Friday on National Public Radio;
Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica;
the word Exothermic.

Yes, in my life, it's the simple pleasures.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's No Goldwing

My new bike. I bought it a few weeks ago, just in time to put it into storage for the Winter. I plan on giving it a lot of use next season and a few seasons after that. Until then, I'm tripping over it in my garage.

No, it won't be replacing the Goldwing.

Somebody Had a Good Time Last Night

Up until the millisecond where it stopped being fun. I found this wreck as I was returning from the store this morning. It's on my street, about 2/10ths of a mile from my house.  I don't recognize the car - it could be a neighbor's or carrying a neighbor. Both airbags deployed. They were moving pretty fast at the time of impact, especially since they were 50 feet from a T-intersection. They were headed for trouble one way or another.

I talked to the neighbor who belongs to the front yard where the car came to rest. She didn't hear anything last night. She could be a drunk for all I know, so let's assume there was some noise at the moment of impact and probably some ambulance and constabulary noises. Doesn't look like there would have been any tire screeching, though - no skid marks. I think the driver's window was down intentionally, as there is no broken glass.

That's a funny place to park a car.

The fact there is no water in this photograph is a testament to the strength of the fire hydrants in Minnetonka.

The passenger airbag broke the the windshield and knocked the rear-view mirror loose.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1000 and Still Dropping

My quest to listen to every song in my music collection is progressing nicely. Over the weekend the number remaining dropped below 1000. At the time I ran a new calculation to project when I'll hit zero and it came out as December 3, same as when I calculated on October 29. I must have picked up the pace the last couple of days as I'm down to 725 today and the new projection is December 1. Maybe with the holiday weekend in there, I might increase my burn rate even further and hit zero in late November.

Hey, it's my hobby. I don't care if I'm boring you.

The odds of who will play the last song have shifted since the last post. The artist with most songs remaining is...Kathy Mattea. Hey, where have I heard that name recently? Chicago, Debbie Gibson, Toto, the Eagles and Kylie Minogue are a little behind. Most of the remaining artists have only one or two songs left in the unplayed list.

I'm afraid “One (is the Loneliest Number)” by Three Dog Night has already played but it would be real cool if that had turned out to be the final song.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kathy Mattea

This is weird. I'm sitting here writing my movie blog and listening to music. "Summer of My Dreams" by Kathy Mattea comes on and I think, "I've got a date with her this weekend." I actually do. She's doing a concert with the Minnesota Orchestra on Saturday and playing a regular show on Sunday. I have tickets to both.

Then my phone beeps. It's a voice mail from Orchestra Hall saying that the KM shows are postponed due to illness. Postponed to next June. Wow. Shocking news.

Wait. I was listening to Kathy Mattea sing about Summer while I was daydreaming about her concerts and I get a message saying the concerts are postponed until Summer. My imagination is not so good that I could make this stuff up.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

2000 and Dropping Fast

No, I'm not talking about the NASDAQ index, but rather how many songs I have to listen to in order to have heard them all.

I built a new computer last Spring and loaded my digital music collection on it - you can read a few posts about it from the June 2009 archives. I use iTunes and an iPod to listen to the music. When I migrated to the new computer, I lost all history, so I'm taking the opportunity to listen to every song once before spooling up my usual low-effort playlist. That playlist plays songs randomly but excludes songs that haven't been played in the last four months.

I started on June 14. I don't know the exact count of songs at that time because I frequently add and delete, but today, excluding podcasts and comedy albums, I have 9875 song files. Every day when I go to work, I listen to the playlist - I named it “Breaking In” - that randomly selects songs and deletes them from the list after they've been played once. As of this morning, the count remaining was 1995.

It took me 138 days to get below 2000. At that rate of usage, it will take another 35 days to get down to zero. That's December 3. After that, I'll go back to my usual low-effort playlist. I may have to adjust it a little, because if I used it today, there would be a whopping 717 songs on it that were not played in the last four months.

What will be the last song to get its first play? Well, that's anyone's guess but I know (9875-1995=) 7880 songs that it won't be. It has the highest chance of being a song by Chicago. I have 37 Chicago songs remaining. Chicago+The Beatles+Toto equals a cool hundred, or slightly more than 5% of the 1995. Adding Debbie Gibson, Kathy Mattea, The Bangles, Bob Seger and The Eagles gives us another hundred. Those eight artists have a 10% probability of performing the final song but since it's random, it could be any of the 1995 left. I'll find out on or about December 3.

For the detail oriented, the shortest song in my collection is the closing theme to “WKRP in Cincinnati,” clocking in at 28 seconds. The longest file is “Glad” & “Freedom Rider” from a live album by Traffic, at 20:59. Traffic tends to jam on their live stuff and this file is two songs joined together that really couldn't be separated. The longest single song in the collection is “Alice's Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie, clocking in at 18:09.

I haven't just been listening to the songs that have never been played. I occasionally listen to albums and sometimes by whim. The most listened to song since June 14 is “Save it for a Rainy Day” by Minneapolis' own Jayhawks, with a playcount of six. Three songs are tied at five. Two of those are due to a saxophone jag I went on last month. “How Bad Do You Want It?” by Don Henley and “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs both have great sax. Shannon Curfman's “I Don't Make Promises (I Can't Break)” rounds out the five-count tunes. I have 20 songs with a playcount of four.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Race Against NaCl

I bought my 1995 S10 in January 1997, with 33,000 miles on it. It hit 150,000 this past summer. It was the nicest vehicle I had ever owned at the time so I began maintaining it with an eye towards getting 200,000 miles out of it.

Before I continue, let me throw a little geek at you. I keep a spreadsheet tracking gas usage, maintenance and the like. On one of the tabs is a grid of how many miles are on the odometer on the first of the month. From that, I do a calculation that projects how many miles I will drive in the next year based on miles driven in the past three years. It's just for fun, but can be quite illustrative.

When I bought the S10, I lived in Alpharetta, Georgia and worked about 25 miles away in Free Home (Next to Magnolia Interiors on Hwy 20. Hi Blake!). That 50 mile daily round trip gave me a 20,000 mile annual usage. I figured I'd hit 200k in 2005. That pace lasted only two years, as I moved back to Minnesota and, after bunking at my sister T's for half a year, I rented an apartment 0.6 miles from my employer. That lasted two years, when my employer moved their offices to a location 0.5 miles from my residence. I kept that apartment for another five years.

Having a negligible commute really cuts down on the miles so my floating annual average settled down to between 3500 and 4000. That pushes my current projected date to hit 200,000 to May 5, 2017, or as I keep track of time, Jackie Prescott's 44th birthday. Well, it will likely go past Jackie's 44th, as I have a round trip to Florida from 2007 pushing up the three-year average.


Maintaining the engine, transmission, etc, is only going to get me so far. Although I have tried to keep the body clean for the most part, I have not rigorously washed it. And in Minnesota, they coat the roads with salt to melt ice to make it safer for us to drive. While I appreciate safe roads, the sodium and chloride molecules are very sociable and like to introduce oxygen molecules to the iron molecules in the steel of the body. In other words, rust.

My S10 has the cancer.

Rust is a fatal disease for a car. It is now a matter of time before the rust is so bad that the well-maintained mechanicals are irrelevant. May 5, 2017? The rust is so bad that Jackie Prescott may still be in her child-bearing years when the S10 is ruled inoperable. Take a look, below.

Oh, and it's been since September 1994 since I've seen Jackie but she was hot enough to remember. And given how I remember minutiae, it's easy to remember someone's birthday for no particular reason. If there was, for example, a major, festive North American holiday or something on May 5, I might use that to keep track of time instead, but alas, I cannot think of one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Insulation Works

I have a very nice camera. I am a lousy photographer but I have a nice camera. Doesn't matter, since I didn't have it with me this morning. Could've used it. If I could have snapped a picture, I would just post it and save me from writing this. I'll try to keep it under 1000 words.

There was frost on the pumpkins this morning, as well as on roofs. I left for work this morning before the sun rose and before the air started warming up. The frost on the roof of my building seemed to be melting only due to the heat coming up from the living units below.

But not my unit. I had 13" of insulation added to my attic space last fall over the existing 6-8" that came with the place. I assume none of my neighbors have done likewise. While my roof had a thick layer of frost on it, except near the bathroom exhaust fan vent, my neighbors all had wet, drippy layers of dew. I assume that at some point in the night, we all started with identical layers of frost but theirs were melted by heat loss. My attic, adequately insulated, preserved the frost.

Since the insulation wasn't free, it's good to be able to see evidence that it is working. I'm saving money on heating and cooling, and presumably extending the life of my furnace and air conditioning.

But before I get all high and mighty, it's important to remember that all the insulation in the world isn't going to change the fact that I need to lose 50 lbs. It's good to have perspective even if you don't need to turn the furnace on.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Apple a Day

It is apple season in Minnesota, so I decided to buy some this morning and made a trip to my local Rainbow Foods store. Here is what I found.

Macintosh from Michigan
Courtland, also from Michigan
Pink Lady from Washington
Honey Crisp from New York

Oddly, Honey Crisps are my favorite and were created at the University of Minnesota Arboretum but we have to import them from New York? That's just wrong.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Painting, Again

For those of you that have visited me in the past six months, you're familiar with the 2'x2' patches of beige paint on the delightful lime sherbet-colored walls in my kitchen and powder room. This afternoon I took steps to turn the entire walls into the beige color. Yay me!

Step one was removing the trim. The upper trim on the kitchen wall broke as it came off, so replacing and upgrading is in store for that. Not a big deal. The baseboard trim gave me a little trouble but it's not fatal, either. When I redid the entry-way last Winter, I upgraded, so I have some pretty good lengths of spare trim which I can cannibalize.

The people that owned the house prior to me, in addition to having questionable taste in paint colors, had the original vinyl floor in the kitchen replaced with laminate at some point in their ownership and they didn't remove the baseboard trim. That means, in addition to a visible wall-to-floor joint, I had to wrestle with the small pieces of rim abutting the cupboard. The layout of the flooring and trim is not the way I would do it and I'm notorious for using shortcuts, so you know it's bad. It may accelerate my plans to put tile on the kitchen floor, or I could just get used to it. Even money on that bet.

There is a lot of surface prep to do before primer hits wall, so it will be next weekend at the earliest before I dig out the paint brushes. When this project is done, which I still hope will be in 2009, I will start the kitchen backsplash project. No guarantees though that the backsplash will be done, or even started, it 2009.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Curses! Foiled Again, for the First Time

President Obama is visiting the Twin Cities today. While I have no desire to go to the event, I live under the incoming flight paths for planes going to the Minneapolis-St Paul airport. Here in the wrong side of Fabulous Minnetonka, arriving planes fly low and slow enough to allow me to capture some good airborne photographs. I was hoping to get a few good snapshots as Air Force One flew over, but it was not to be. Incoming planes are coming in from the east today, so no flyovers in my neighborhood. I knew something was bading poorly for my photographs about 7:30 this morning, when I'd been up for 15 minutes and hadn't heard a single plane coming in.

I saw AF1 come in three times over the years when the pretender was in it. The plane flew so low each time I felt I could reach up and touch it. I couldn't have caught it, though, as it was moving maybe twice as fast as a regular 747 does on arrival. I guess you can fly as fast as you want when they clear the skies for you.

I'll try to get some pictures the next time President Obama is in town. Since my brother and sister-in-law live under the east side arrival patterns, I'll make arrangements to watch from their house if the skies are quiet on my side of town. Or maybe I can get CJ to take the pictures for me and I won't even have to get up. Hmm...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pizza Tonight

My Domino's Pizza delivery guy tonight was named Olexander. He had a vaguely eastern European look to him and he grunted in what could have been Russian monosyllables. That got me thinking about some of the people I worked with at Domino's in my hometown. At times, good old American mutts like myself were outnumbered by the foreign-originated guys. The university in my hometown seemed to recruit international students and many of them liked to deliver pizzas.

There was Biplab, from India.

Saleem, from Jordan, I think.

Ali, from Iran. He came to Minnesota from Germany, so his Persian accent had a distinctly German tinge.

Mikhail, from Georgia. Soviet, not peach. Actually I don't think that's how he spelled his name. It sounded exactly like Michael, but wasn't spelled that way.

Jabran. I have no idea where he was from, could have been anywhere from Bangladesh to Cypress, but his English was very good.

Park, from South Korea.  Technically, Park was his last name, but he'd rather we call him that than mangle his given name.

I think we had a Kuwaiti or UAE native at one point but I can't recall his name. There were others too, no doubt but those are the ones that stand out.

In non-foreign names, we had a Kyra, pronounced Keer-ah but everyone, employees included, called her Kye-rah. Or maybe it was the other way around. It's been a long time.

We had an Ann, but I called her Annabel. After a few months, other people started to as well. One of several reasons she ended up disliking me. A lot.

Oh, and if anyone's wondering, yes, I brought Susan amaretto sours in that 32 oz sip container on slow nights when she was running the inside. She wasn't a driver, folks, and she was, well,  hot.  What's a guy to do?

This stroll down memory lane was brought to you by my forgetfulness. I have to wait 30 minutes after taking my evening pill before eating and I remembered to take it just as Olexander was pulling in the driveway. At least the pizza won't burn the roof of my mouth tonight. Done that more than a few times in my years in the trenches.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Postal Service

People like to badmouth the US Postal Service. Well, how about this? I ordered a CD from an Amazon Marketplace seller on Friday. It was in my mailbox Monday. Two days to get a CD from Indiana to Minnesota in perfectly good shape.

Good job, mail people.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I used to be a rabid Vikings fan. All my life until January 1999, when Gary Anderson missed a field goal and the Vikings missed out on going to the Super Bowl. It broke me. I became indifferent to the sport and to the Vikings in particular.

Today, the Minnesota Vikings signed Bret Farve to be their quarterback. I officially no longer give a crap at all about the Vikings. The logic of employing their greatest rival, a guy who smacked them down at will for 16 years is totally lost on me. I just don't give a crap anymore.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why I'm in Favor of Health Care Reform

Want to know why I'm in favor of a public option for health care, preferably single-payer?

My employer selected United Health Care (UHC) as our medical insurance administrator. They've done a fine job for me so far, no complaints aside from a kludgy web site.

The CEO of UHC has cashed in over $127 million in stock options SO FAR in 2009.  He's eligible to exercise another $744 million.

I would rather have a government bureaucrat deciding my health care claims using rules set by Congress than a UHC bureaucrat deciding the claims based on a missive from a CEO trying to maximize shareholder value.

There are other reasons, no doubt, but that's the only reason I need.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Let's start using the familiar phrase "24x7" correctly. You usually hear it as "24x7x365."

The 24 refers to 24 hours in a day. No problem.

The 7 refers to the days in a week. No problem.

There are 365 days in a year. Huh? We've already gone from days to weeks, now we're back to days? That's stupid. It's also very common.

Logically, it should go from days to weeks to years - 24x7x52. It's even more logical and simpler to say 24x365.

Of course, it's even simpler to skip the cliche and just say "All the time," but people love to speak in gibberish (including me). So let's just think it through.

If you need to emphasive something that's always there, just say "24 hours."

If you want to emphasize a week, it's "24x7."

If you want to point out something that is present for an annual period, it's "24x7x52."

Let's take it to a comic extreme. Why stop at a year? Why start with an hour? 60x60x24x7x52x100x10. That's seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, centuries in a millenium.

Unless you're talking about dogs. A dog-year could be described as 24x7x365.

I'm not a dog person.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I Don't Know What I Did

But it worked. My internet service is back up.

I work in customer support, so I know firsthand that things that shouldn't break do, and things that have no business working work, but I didn't do anything to my computer that should have made a difference, yet here we are.

Since the built-in ethernet connection wasn't working, I slipped the ethernet card from my old computer into the new one. After an hour of tinkering with no success, I pulled out the card and rebooted. As soon as I enabled the on-board port, my internet connection was restored. That's right, all I did was put in a card that I really didn't think would help, then removed it. And it fixed the connection.

I'm so excited by this development that, after I post this on the blog, I'm not going to do anything that might make the connection break.

I didn't hear from the cycle shop today so I don't know how lucky I am overall, but at this moment, things are looking up.

Shhhh. Don't jinx it.

If It Weren't for Bad Luck...

I've had a string of bad luck the past couple of weeks. I still have my health, but somedays it feels like the world is out to get me.

The air conditioning in my car went out at the beginning of last summer. I've been putting off getting it repaired because of the expense, and because I usually don't use the car very much during the summer. I am using it more this summer because...

The starter went out on my Goldwing. It's in the shop right now. Hopefully, it won't be too major of a repair. It's under warranty so my pocketbook should be OK, but the Minnesota cycling season is short enough the way it is - don't want to miss too many beautiful July days.

When I built my new computer, I was never able to make it network with the old one, so I put off moving programs and data over to the new one. That's bad luck on top of the human failing of procrastination. That caused more bad luck.

The old computer died the other night. Diagnostics point to the mother board as the culprit. Fine, the hard drives survived, so I took them out and tried to make them work in the new computer. Not so easy - more bad luck. The new computer kept using an old hard drive as the boot drive. After three painful hours, I realized that the new computer's BIOS was automatically setting itself to use the most recently installed hard drive as the boot drive, even though I was setting the C: drive manually. Maddening.

I made it work and was able to copy files over after that, but...

My internet connection failed. Last night, I spent three hours diagnosing it, including 45 minutes on the phone with Comcast Tech Support. It turns out I had at least three issues at once, or maybe one issue that affected three components. The Comcast guy and I got the cable modem to connect again, then after another hour of tinkering, I was able to get the router back up, but the new computer is still not working. I can see that the computer is connected to the router but it's not connecting to the internet. Maddening.

So I've had a string of bad luck lately. Yet, it's not all bad. No one in the pre-industrial world had air conditioning in their house, like I do. No one had refrigerated food. No one had a device in their pocket that could contact another person anywhere in the world, like I do. No one had the ability to watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" at a time of their choosing, like I do. No one had a device in their other pocket that would play their 9000 favorite songs at any time, either.

I have a bunch of conveniences and I have my health. But it still sucks to not have the internet or a motorcycle.

(written and posted at work)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Day at the Office

Having trouble picturing what I do at work all day? I get e-mails like this, chock full of jargon. I'll translate below. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and avoid lawsuits filed by the guilty.

From: Mr A
Sent: Wednesday, July 01, 2009
To: ~Reroute Group
Subject: XYZ reroute

I put a skip on XYZ today as a result of troubles we are having with them. We are getting 503 messages with delay of 4 or more seconds causing PDD on the reroute. We are also getting 504 messages indicating gateway timeout after 20 seconds. The 504 messages are dead air calls if they are reported. From the hammer it looked like 10% of the calls to XYZ are having this problem. We also have a number of trouble tickets on calls trying to route to XYZ.

Mr B/NOC is working with XYZ to resolve this problem. When they fix the problem we can increase the SIM’s on trunk group XXXX.

Mr A


My company provides long distance service to other companies at a wholesale level. We do this by connecting to several other networks, known as carriers. In this e-mail, XYZ is one of our underlying carriers.

Mr A is Translations Engineer for my employer. He decides where calls should route on our network.

Reroute group is a handful of people - like me - who need to know when we have network issues.

A skip is an override in our Lowest Cost Routing tables (LCR). The skip tells the network to treat XYZ as if it doesn't exist. The LCR is a database table that the network uses to determine the cheapest way to route a call.

A 503 message is an error code that you would see if you were logged into a Translations terminal. It means calls are talking too long to connect.

PDD is Post Dial Delay. When you dial a phone number, the amount of time after you enter the 10th digit until the destination switch sends a signal that it is ringing the call is known as the post dial interval. Ideally, the post dial interval should be measured in milliseconds. If you have to refer to the post dial interval as PDD, that's bad. PDD of four or more seconds is very bad. PDD that lasts until the timeout limit of 20 seconds is monstrously bad.

A 504 message is an error code indicating that a carrier has taken a call but hasn't connected it nor have they sent back any indication why the call isn't connecting. This is not a message you want to see. After 20 seconds, the network times out, or stops trying to connect the call.

The Hammer. I have no idea what that means.

10% means that XYZ is connecting most calls (90%) just fine but is trying to offload some of the calls to another carrier and not succeeding. The calls they are not connecting are probably ones that cost a lot to terminate. XYZ has their own LCR and it is busy trying to offload the calls to another carrier who doesn't know how much the calls cost to terminate, aka a sucker. In theory, XYZ should begin termination of all calls in a few milliseconds and do it on their network. In practice, they'll spend a few seconds trying to find another sucker to do it. That 504 error tells us they didn't find a sucker and they won't do it themselves.

A trouble ticket is a way to report and track troubles.

Mr B is the supervisor of the Network Operations Center. When stuff breaks on the network, the NOC fixes it.

SIM stands for simultaneous call. It's a measure of capacity - how many calls are being simulaneously fed into a trunk group.

A Trunk Group is a circuit going from point A to point B, in this case from our network to XYZ's.

The last paragraph can be summarized thusly: Mr Y will see if XYZ is aware of the problem or not. If it's intentional, we stop sending them calls for a while. It may be unintentional, which means that when they fix the problem on their network, Mr X will increase the number of calls we send them (remove the skip).

This is an ordinary message from an ordinary day for me. There's plenty more jargon where this came from.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cynical Marketing

We live in an age of cynical marketing and I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

I define cynical marketing as when an advertiser preys on the uninformed, the ignorant or the easily swayed.

A classic example is putting the phrase "Digital Ready" on speakers, headphones or earbuds. Sound, as perceived by the human ear, is analog. It's the relative difference between waves of air pressure. Speakers generate analog sound - it's how they work. Speakers do not know what the original source of the sound is, they just take electrons coming on from wires, generate a magnetic field and use that field to move a cone of paper or similar material which moves air to generate sound. All analog. It doesn't matter if the source of sound is a human singing into a microphone, a string vibrating, a synthesizer, a CD, a vinyl record, or computer's MIDI output, all signals feed into an analog amplifier, which connects to an analog speaker. So there is no reason to put "Digital Ready" on a speaker's packaging unless you want someone to purchase your product instead of an identical product that doesn't state it. You may even charge a little more. Cynical.

I received two examples of cynical marketing recently. One was from Xcel Energy, my electric utility, which I still call - and always will - NSP. They are marketing their appliance warranty service, which is a worthy service as far as I can tell. On their flyer, the second sentence states "Prevent unnecessary liquidation of your assets if one of your appliances breaks down." Liquidation of your assets? Liquidation is a term most commonly used when describing bankruptcy, so NSP describing the consequences of an appliance breakdown in terms of some people's worst fear. What they really mean is that you may have to write out a budget-busting check but they are saying it in a way to generate enough fear to get some people to buy. And when you buy using fear as a criteria, you aren't making rational decisions and that is what they want. See? Cynical. Legal, morally grey, but 100% cynical.

The other mailer I received was from Becker Furniture World. I've never shopped there or even know where it is. This one included a scratch-off card. You scratch off an area to determine whether you get 40%, 45% or 50% off a limited time shopping spree. Imagine my surprise when my card showed 50% off! I got news for you - all the cards said 50% off. The furniture store is trying to find people who aren't smart enough to realize that an unsolicited mailer is always going to give you the highest discount, and to snare people who play scratch-off games, who, by definition, aren't well versed in math. That's right, the store wants customers who aren't smart enough to realize that everyone is getting the same discount and that the prices are probably double what the competition lists. Legal, kinda-sorta ethical, but 100% cynical.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The UnZen of Motorcycle Maintenance

My Goldwing is on the disabled list with a coolant leak. It's not too bad - the coolant doesn't leak to the ground and the level hasn't dropped appreciably, but I can smell it after driving even the shortest of distances. I can see evidence of the leak in the form of some dried up coolant residue on the left side rear of the engine, but I can't see the offending hose or fitting or what have you.

I just tried to remove enough of the fairing to get at the leak but pulling off all that plastic is pretty complicated and after doing the easy part, I realized it's time to pay for a professional to do the rest. I'll run over to the dealer in Hopkins tomorrow to set up an appointment.

And today would be a perfect day (78°, sunny, calm) to go riding with no particular place to go. Alas.

Digital TV Changeover

I wonder how many people need to replace Panasonic digital TVs today. I ask because I have one and it almost got thrown out the window yesterday. I'll bet I wasn't the only one.

On the day of the digital TV changeover, three Twin Cities stations changed their underlying frequencies, so I had dead air on those channels. A rescan of channels was called for.

The rescan added the channels that moved but didn't delete the old ones, illustrated by scrolling up the dial and having an extra blank screen in between the functioning channels. After half an hour I was able to delete the ghosts for channels 45 and 9, but channel 5 and its secondary channel were being stubbborn. During the following hour and a half, much frustration ensued.

Now, I'm a gadget geek, have a degree in Computer Science and I read the manual carefully (despite my guy reflexes not to). If I can't figure out something like how to add and delete a channel on a Panasonic TV, then something's wrong with the design.

Long story short, I had to reset all the settings for the TV in order to clear out the old channels. Here's the stupid part. In order to reset, you have to create a PIN. Security for selecting the language, the antenna in and channel settings? Are you kidding? So anyone reading this, presumably just friends and family, the next time you're at my house (and why haven't you visited recently?) and want to reset my TV, the PIN is 0000. Be my guest.

New Computer

My new computer is up and running. For the technogeeks out there, here are the specs:

Athlon 64 dual-core processor
Four gigabytes RAM
Two one-terrabyte hard drives set up as RAID mirrors

It took a little arguing to get the drives set up as RAID. Here is a summary of the instructions: Load operating system. Use Windows to make a boot disc for the RAID drivers. Use the driver disc when prompted while loading the operating system.

Waitaminute. Fully load the OS, create a disc, use that disc to load the OS? I think the manual was written by a guy named Mobius.

Since I want to migrate all my programs and data from my old machine to the new, it would be real handy to set them up as a home network. Handy, maybe, but not possible. I spent four hours the other night trying to make it happen but they won't speak. Oddly, the new one can see the old one but when I click on it, it says the server is unavailable. I gave up and bought a new flash drive. I still have to load from the old then plug in to the new but having a 16 gig flash drive is like using a dump truck for yard work instead of a wheel barrow. I won't need to make many trips.

Moving Music is Going to Hurt

iTunes isn't designed to move music to a new computer intact. It has a back-up to disc function, but it only recognizes CD and DVD drives. Since I pulled the DVD drive from the old computer to use in the new one, the only way to off-load the data would be to CD. It would take at least 50 CDs and probably an entire day to execute. Nope, I decided to just move the music files and reinstall. Gone will be the play counts and notes in the files (notes as in "Cool Song," not "Do-Re-Mi") but there are worse things that could happen.

As you've seen in a previous post, my playlists are generally random in nature so play counts are fairly similar based on how long the song has been in the collection. The first song officially loaded, "When Doves Cry" by Prince, went in on December 4, 2003, and has been played 12 times. In contrast, I reloaded "FM" by Steely Dan on December 4, 2008, and it has a play count of 2.

I sometimes listen to albums and special play lists or just individual songs for which I have a yen, so some songs wrack up a higher play count than their randomly heard cousins. Here are my top three:

3) Kay Hanley - Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?) -- 41 plays
Loaded March 15, 2008. Yes, it's that good of a song.

2) Debbie Gibson - Only in My Dreams -- 46 plays
Loaded March 14, 2004

1) Jim Capaldi - That's Love -- 53 plays
Loaded December 5, 2003. I didn't like this song when it came out while I was in college. I obviously misjudged it then.

Now that all my songs will be starting out with a play count of zero, I'll try to remember to post the play counts from the new computer a year from now. It's anyone's guess who'll be at the top of the list.

Do NOT Eat Your Fruits and Vegitables

I made a quick run to the grocery store this morning. My list included the usual - bananas, grapes, a couple types of apples. Hearing my parents' voice in my head that there is all kinds of goodness in the produce section, I made an impulsive purchase of some fairly attractive nectarines.

At checkout, I was punished for my impulsiveness. My three nectarines added up to 0.98 lbs. At $1.49 a pound, they should have run me $1.46. Instead, they were rung up as olives - olives! - at $7.99 a pound. The charge was $7.83. A careless checker added $6.37 to my grovery bill this morning. I don't claim to be an expert but olives and nectarines don't seem to be very similar.

There are a number of lessens one could take away from this. Yes, I could have watched closely as the checker rang up my items (unlikely). I could have reviewed my receipt on the spot (I hate it when people do that). No, the lessen here is that you can't get ripped off buying unfamiliar fruits if you don't buy any to begin with.

In summary, if you're buying produce at Rainbow on 6th Ave North in Plymouth, keep a skeptical eye on your checker, and most importantly, don't eat your fruits and vegitables!

Monday, May 25, 2009


Have you noticed how many movers and shakers have the same names as their fathers? I was going to say "successful people" but we're talking politicians and businessmen, not how I measure success. Does "success" engender naming offspring after yourself or does naming a kid after yourself give them a leg up? Simply imponderable.

Let's go back in time:

2008: Barack Hussein Obama II
Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr

The man who could never become president, John McCain III

2000-2004: George Walker Bush, son of George Herbert Walker Bush, nephew of George Herbert Walker (can you tell where the money really came from?)
Richard Cheney II

The guy who really won the 2000 election, Albert Gore, Jr

How about the guy who really won in 2004, John Kerry? Nope, but maybe if he'd been a junior, he would have had more help in proving election tampering.

1992-1996: William Jefferson Clinton was born William J Blythe, III. Bill's brother was Roger Clinton, Jr

1988-1992: We already mentioned George Bush. How about his VP, John Danforth Quayle III?

1988: Michael Dukakis? Not a junior, but running mate Lloyd Bentson, Jr was.

1984: Walter F Mondale? Nope.

1980: Ronald Reagan? Nope, but he has a son named Ron.

1976: James Earl Carter, Jr
Gerald R Ford, Jr was born Leslie King, Jr. That's gotta be a record in vanity somehow.
Nelson Rockefeller was not a Jr (a Sr, though), but his father (John D, Jr) and brother were (John D III).

1968: Neither Nixon nor Agnew was (and see what happened to them) but Hubert H Humphrey II was. He sired HHH III and HHH IV, plus the Metrodome. Quite the legacy there.

1964: Lyndon Johnson? Nope, but his brother was.

1960: John Kennedy wasn't but his brother was. In case you need reminding, JFK was a Sr.
Nixon's running mate in 1960 was Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

1952-1956: David Eisenhower II (different middle name)

That's enough for now. That's a lot of Juniors, Seniors, 2nds and 3rds. Myself, I'm an only.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Today's decision on what to have for lunch was made by the klutz who unpacked groceries at 11:50 AM and dropped a bag containing a carton of eggs. Only two eggs broke, so a nice little omelet became the main course.

It hit the spot, too. The secret to a great omelet? A few drops of Tabasco sauce.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I've Done This Before

I went to my usual neighborhood theater this afternoon (Willow Creek on Shelard Parkway in Plymouth, Minnesota). The guy at the box office looked a cut above the typical teen-to-twentysomething that normally mans the booth. I said "One for 'State of Play,'" and before he could say, "That'll be $6.25," I had laid down a fiver, a single and a quarter. He was genuinely surprised and made a comment like, "You're very prepared." "Yes," was my reply, "I've been here a few times."

That's not what I wanted to say. I keep track of the movies I see but I don't memorize my stats. If I did, I would have been able to instantly reply, "Yes, I've been here a few times. This will be my 692nd viewing of a movie at your fine establishment." The drama addict in me would love to have seen his jaw hit the floor. Unfortunately, I tallied my stats several hours after seeing the movie.

In case you're wondering, the count started in 1994. I didn't make Willow Creek my usual haunt until 2000, when I saw 49 movies there (out of 122 that year). My peak for the theater was 101 in 2005. You can thank Joss Whedon's "Serenity" for enough repeat viewings in 2005 to help me eclipse 2004's 100.

I wonder if the Manager of Willow Creek would really care if he found out that I was one of his best customers. Why not? Well, I'm also one of his worst. I almost always go to a matinee and almost never buy anything at the concession stand. Theaters pay most of the box office take to the distributors so they make next to nothing off ticket sales. Their highest profit margins come from concessions, especially pop and popcorn.

If I chatted with the Manager, I might suggest the following deal: I get a laminated unlimited access pass to the theater and I agree to purchase concessions equal to or exceeding the cost of the tickets I don't buy. It's a win-win scenario: I have the same out of pocket costs and he shifts his revenue to extremely high margin products. Like I said, win-win, except that, from the distributor's perspective, it's fraud. Except for that one little detail, it's a great plan.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Michelles

More Michelle Obama.

Less Michele Bachmann.


I'm begging.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

More Robert Plant

I'm still convinced that Apple engineers are toying with me. I'm currently at work, listening to tunages on my iPod. Five songs into a 1470-song playlist (this is the playlist that excludes songs played in the past four months), I hear a Led Zeppelin song from the early 70s (Robert Plant, lead singer). Song seven is from the Honeydrippers from the 80s (Robert Plant, lead singer). I know that statistically it's possible this was a truly random occurrance but I'd rather believe that Apple engineers toyed with the iPod random function. I'm gonna keep an eye on them because it's the kind of thing I'd do and I know that I can't be trusted.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yep, Spring Has Sprung

Well, for today.

This picture is from Sunday afternoon, April 5, 2009, 5:10PM. The picture in the previous post was taken this morning at 7:30. It was 28° and by 9:00, we had 2" of new snow (all since midnight). Now, it's 50° and there is only the slightest hint of snow in the shaded areas.

There's a chance of snow tomorrow but that should be it for the season. We hope. Not placing any bets on it or anything.

Spring Has Sprung?

Sunday morning, April 5, 2009. There was no snow on the ground yesterday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Know Something the Writers on 'Jeopardy' Don't Know

'Jeopardy' got an answer wrong and I'm happy to bore you with the right one.

I was watching the 'Jeopardy' show from Febuary 16, 2009, yesterday. Yes, I'm a little behind - so what? This was the clue: "Also the title of one of the best-selling albums of all time, it was first seen in Russian photos taken in 1959."

What is "The Dark Side of the Moon?"


While it is true that Pink Floyd's 1973 album "The Dark Side of the Moon" is one of the best selling albums of all time (I own a copy), and it is true that a Russian camera probe swung around the moon in 1959, it is not true that the dark side of the moon was first seen by human eyes or cameras in 1959. The dark side has always been visible to us on Earth.

The moon is orbit locked around Earth - it presents the same side to us at all times. The moon revolves around the Earth so at any given time, 50% of the moon is illuminated by the sun and 50% is dark. That 50% moves because the moon is constantly in motion even though the same half of the moon always faces Earth. Measured in days, the dark side and the light side swap positions 1/28th or 3.5% every day. We see that shift as the phases of the moon.

If you want to see the dark side of the moon, just look to the sky. Unless it's a full moon, where the side facing Earth is fully illuminated, you will see at least a sliver of the dark side. During a new moon, you'll see ALL of the dark side, but it's sometimes tough to make out details because it's, you know, DARK.

So, what did 'Jeopardy' do wrong? They confused dark and far. That Russian camera probe was actually notable for first photographing the FAR side of the moon, not the dark side. Perhaps we can blame Pink Floyd for perpetuating a misnomer. Maybe the song and album should have been "The FAR Side of the Moon." It doesn't matter. All that matters is I'M RIGHT and THEY'RE WRONG!


What is it with the word ubiquitous? I've been seeing it everywhere lately.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cyclone Dairy

I've been seeing a catchy ad in the sponsor's section of Daily Kos the past few days. I clicked it this morning and found a web site at the other end of this link:


It's pumping the advantages of milk given by cloned cows. It's either the funniest gag web site ever (heard of reverse psychology?) or it's real and Cyclone Dairy is run by the most clueless business people in recorded history.

If you have knowledge of its veracity, leave a coment. Otherwise, enjoy!

Resurrecting "Life During Wartime"

In 1979, Talking Heads released a song called "Life During Wartime." It's a catchy ditty, but grim if you pay attention to the lyrics. It's about a guy living in a future USA complete with weapons smuggling, gunfire in major cities, roadblocks, and spying. Curiously, it is a world with parties, nightclubs and college, as well.

There's one snippet of the song that made it pure fantasy for the past seven years:

"We're tapping phone lines
I know that ain't allowed"

From 2002 until January 20, 2009, it WAS allowed in the America I live in. "Life During Wartime" was just another song.

Now, with illegal wiretapping again verbotten, "Life During Wartime" can come back as a song that could still happen.

Wait...Do we want the whole song to come true...?

Pronouncing the "T" in "Often"


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson

Every day for the past six years, I've looked at a picture of Natasha Richardson - sometimes dozens of times a day. It was six years ago this month that I started collecting posters for one of my favorite movies, the 1998 version of "The Parent Trap." I have three posters with her picture in three different rooms, so you can't get away from her in my small house.

It's hitting me a little harder than I would have thought, hearing that Ms Richardson passed away. I didn't know her after all, and I usually don't get attached to entertainers - their job is to give me a quality entertainment product and then go away. In this case, though, the entertainment product was outstanding, her character was a beacon of goodness, and I don't know that I've ever seen her in any other movies. I've seen "The Parent Trap" dozens of times and her on-screen character touches me every time. So every day I see her on one of my posters and I smile. I'll always remember her as 'Elizabeth James," the 35-year-old mother of the precocious twins in "The Parent Trap."

I'm going to let myself be a little sad for her for a while. There is the human element after all - she leaves a young family behind. Next, she was younger than me, so that's way too young to go. And it's just sad.

Natasha Richardson - Thank you for bringing a little movie magic into my life.

Monday, March 16, 2009

TV: Dollhouse

If you're not watching "Dollhouse" (Friday at 8:00, Fox network), I insist that you start. Four episodes have aired so far and each has been better than the one before.

Here's the one-paragraph synopsis: "Dollhouse" is a nickname for a lab run by a shadowy company that takes people, removes their memories and personalities, implants artificial memories and personalities, then sends the "dolls" or "actives" out into the world on "engagements" or missions. These engagements range from being consorts to assassins. Between missions, the dolls have all memories erased and they wander around the dollhouse. Our hero is Caroline, now known as Echo. She is being punished for something - we do not know what - and before her memory was erased, had a personal relationship with Ms DeWitt, who runs the lab. Every episode has Echo going out into the world as a different person and doing stuff. We've seen her be a dream date, a human hunting target, a safecracker and a hostage negotiator. So far, this is a great sci-fi concept but it gets better. Somebody, we don't know who, is feeding an FBI agent information on the Dollhouse. So are the people who run the Dollhouse. Also, even though the actives are wiped at the end of every mission, Echo and fellow hottie Sierra are retaining memories. And they aren't about to let the people who run the place know that.

And even better. "Dollhouse" was created by Joss Whedon, the guy behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Firefly"/"Serenity." And "Toy Story," if you want to go way back. Joss Whedon shows are so far beyond typical TV programs it's pathetic. There's always a sub-text; there's always a bigger picture. It's too soon to tell if he will use "The Big Bad" method that he used in "Buffy" and "Angel," but Joss will be turning "Dollhouse" upside down and shaking it before long. We already see the seeds - Echo with forbidden memories, the shield of secrecy about to be pierced by the FBI guy, and, most telling, several of the recurring characters are played by actors under the 'Guest Starring' label - you just know that they aren't long for this fictional world. It fits a pattern that Joss joked about during the commentaries on "Buffy" and "Angel": "If someone is happy or things are normal, it's time for someone to die." As interesting and fun as the concept of "Dollhouse" is, it will change and grow before long.

Just imagine the fun the actors are having. Every episode they get to be someone else and then they get to be nobody - someone with no personality. It is great television to watch them inhabit temporary characters with all the certitude of a character that has a history. In the third episode, both Echo and Sierra were imprinted with the same personality. You don't see that on your ordinary TV drama.

Eliza Dushku plays Echo. In her 15 year career, Dushku has held the screen with Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, Terence Stamp and of course, the "Buffy" and "Angel" casts. The supporting cast is all top notch. Of particular note is Harry Lennix, who plays Echo's handler. He was the military commander in the last two Matrix films. In a group of people who treat the dolls as disposable, her handler is the one lone person who actually cares about Echo. And Amy Acker, late of "Angel," pun intended, who plays a doctor with a small conscience. This doctor is no Fred.

So, I hereby order you to start watching "Dollhouse." I also recommend going back and watching the first four eps. You should be able to find them on Hulu or bit torrent. If you enjoy challenging, interesting and non-formulaic television, it's time to move into the "Dollhouse."

Not Burgandy

According to the paint can, the actual name for the color of my living room & kitchen paint is Royal Garnet. I't looks burgandy to me.

Dust, Dust Everywhere

The theme of this weekend is painting. I'm on day three of a self-imposed, four-day sanity weekend. I'm turning two walls in my kitchen/living room from olive to burgundy. The house came with olive walls, which I didn't mind, until the holiday family get together when everybody - every person I'm immediately related to, save mom & dad and a niece's husband who weren't present but including two who aren't officially family yet - everybody hated it. I decided to change up the colors. Oh, one-year old DJ didn't weigh in with an opinion.

The first project was to replace the cheap vinyl in the entry with burgandy Linoleum (tm). That two-day job took about four weeks. Next comes changing to walls to burgandy, then the powder room and a kitchen half-height wall get a contrasting sand color.

Before with get into the gritty details, I'm currently waiting for a garage door repair service. The torsion spring, the coil over the door, broke on Friday. The guy said it's about a $140 job. Not much but always more than a guy wants to spend. At the moment, the garage door is a large paperweight, as it's too heavy for me to lift. That spring seems to be rather important in the anti-gravity scheme of things.

So, back to painting. I'm a big believer in prep work. I've learned a couple of things about prep this week-end. First, taking off trim and patching dings is a lot of work. Next, nobody is going to care about the little dings. In fact, I'm sure I'll start adding new dings shortly after the final coat dries, if not before. Next, I'm very bad at repairing dings. I may be making things worse. Finally, sanding spackle and old paint creates a large amount of dust. Very fine dust that gets everywhere. My shop vac seems to be sucking up the dust, filtering out the largest particles and spewing the finest of the fine particles out into every corner of both the kitchen and living room. My house is hardly spic & span on the best of days, but I cannot envision a time when I will not have a fine layer of dust everywhere.

The primer goes on this afternoon. The first coat of burgandy tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Stuff for the Neighbors

My neighbors across the way - I call them the dog people - got brand new kitchen appliances this morning. No, the people don't resemble dogs - they have one. A big one. This dog is 50 lbs if he's an ounce, and he's an inside pet They walk him in the green space between our homes at least three times a day. I wonder who owns whom? I find it odd to see a couple with a one-year old child and a huge-ass dog in a two-bedroom townhome. I live alone in an identical unit and I find the place a little cramped at times. Well, to each their own.

Their appliances were gleaming stainless steel and looked really nice. They are doing their part to stimulate the economy. Good for them.

Here's why I bring this activity to your attention. I watched the delivery crew unload the fridge and get it on the dolly to begin carting it up the entry stairs. It was only then that the leader measured the door to see if it would fit. It must have fit, as there were no appliances sitting on the sidewalk when I got home from work but wouldn't it be funny if it hadn't fit? Well, funny to us?

Mental note: Be sure to measure doors before ordering new appliances in the future or I'll have to write a very unfunny blog posting when I have to send them back.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Twelve Rounds Update

I saw the preview for Twelve Rounds again. Here are some updates and clarifications.

The guy on the phone says "I look forward to it," not "Game on."

There are even more scenes of the wife having gotten away than I took in on the first viewing. Even less incentive to attend.

Alas, the wife is played by Ashley Scott, who is one of my favorites. I don't feel so bad missing an Ashley Scott movie though - she's made several bad ones so what's one more? I'm just sorry that she hasn't gotten her big break in a good movie yet.

Song: New Age Girl by Deadeye Dick

I heard a song the other day that reminded me of one of my favorite memories of working at Domino's Pizza in my home town way back when. It's a little juvenile and may lose something in translation but it tickled me silly at the time and still does.

There was a hit song in the early 90s by Deadeye Dick called "New Age Girl." If you're not familiar, the singer is extolling the virtues of his girlfriend, Mary Moon, who is into new agey things, like being an environmentalist, wearing crystals and even driving a wind car. In the chorus he tells us that she is, of course, a vegitarian.

About a year after "New Age Girl" was a hit, I was answering phones at Domino's Pizza. I took an order from a traveler staying at one of the city's fine motels. As was the custom, in addition to the room number, we would ask for the name under whom the room was registered. Usually the caller would give their last name and that would be that.

On this fateful night, I took a motel order. The pie had at least one type of meat on it. After taking the pie order, I asked for the address.

"Best Western, room 118."

"And the name on the room?"

"Mary Moon."

Brief pause. "I would have thought you would've ordered something vegitarian."


"We'll have that to you in 30 minutes or less. Thanks for calling."

I had to struggle to get the last part out without cracking up. When the phone was back on the hook, I took a little time to laugh my head off. You don't get perfect shots like that very often.

Maybe you had to be there. I was; I still think it was funny.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Randomness

Today. Boston's Peace of Mind followed by The Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feeling.

A few minutes later, Rock Around the Clock followed by Rock & Roll Hootchie Coo.

I'm just saying.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Apple Engineers are Screwing with Us

I don't think my iPod, when set on "random" is truly random. In fact, I think it's screwing with me.

Google "ipod," "playlist" and "random" sometime and you'll find thousands of postings from people who say something like "my iPod always plays Pink Floyd," or "it always plays the same song." We don't know who these people are - they could have no idea about the rules of statistics, like people who play the lottery or people who thought John McCain ever had a chance to win the 2008 Presidential election at ANY time after he locked up the nomination.

One must bring evidence into the discussion. Saying that your iPod always plays Pink Floyd when you have a hundred Pink Floyd songs and only 500 total gives us a "duh" moment. Likewise, if you notice the same song "all the time," we have to ask how many songs do you have in total, how many do you play each time when it repeats and how many times have you repeated the scenario? This argument usually shrinks away upon analysis.

However, when I first started using my iPod at work, I had about 4000 songs on it. I would hit random play and hear about 80 songs a day, or about 2% of the library. During the first weeks, I thought I heard several songs more often than others. Knowing a little about probability, I didn't think it significant. After all, playing 400 songs a week and restarting the play no less than five times means that the odds of repeating several songs each week would be pretty high.

It became an annoyance one week when I heard the same Bangles song three days in a row. Love the Bangles; can't listen to "Bell Jar" every day. So I created a smart playlist. Essentially, I took my entire library and used one rule: exclude songs played in the last three months. Simple. No hearing the same same song on successive days. I vary the exclusion by whim - generally from as low as 11 weeks to as high as five months. These days, I also filter out christmas songs when it's not christmastime, etc, but it's a low effort playlist. Every day, it adds about the same number of songs I listened to the day before.

Since my main playlist doesn't allow immediate repetition, here's where I get to say my iPod isn't truly random. Let's say, on average, I have 2000 songs in the playlist. I have, at most, 20 songs by any artist in the list. If any repeat during the day, the chance is 2 of 2000 in a subset of 80. Not impossible. But on recent days, I heard a song by Paul McCartney followed by a song by The Beatles (McCartney singing) followed by a song by Wings. Not statistically relevant but come on. The next day, I heard a song by Led Zeppelin (lead singer: Robert Plant) followed by a song by Robert Plant followed by a song by The Honeydripers (lead singer: Robert Plant). I can't prove it but deep down, you gotta believe the Apple engineers are screwing with us.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Playlist Blues

While I was preparing supper tonight, and listening to my iPod run a random playlist that excludes songs played in the past four months, out popped Shannon Curfman's "I Don't Make Promises I Can't Break." This is one of my favorite songs. How is it that I haven't heard this song in at least four months (since October 5, 2008, to be exact) when it's one of my all-time favorites?

The short answer is that, hey, life happens. You can't always remember that you haven't heard a certain song when the machine pumps out 80-100 tunes every day with no effort. I wish I had time to sit around and pick which favorite songs I want to hear. Nope, my music is pretty much has to be on autopilot.

I don't have to listen to the random playlist. I can play albums or non-random playlists. It's just that autopilot is so much less effort. And I'm all about less effort.

This isn't the first time I've been surprised to hear one of my favorite songs jump out at me, either. Last Tuesday, Debbie Gibson's "Only in My Dreams" and "Foolish Beat" both played within 89 minutes of eash other. I can't believe I'd go more than a week or two without seeking out one or both of those songs. Having Ambrosia's "Angola" pop up while I was visiting my sister a few years ago prompted a whole new project for me. She had never heard "Angola," or "I Don't Make Promises I Can't Break," for that matter, so I made her some CDs, "The Best Songs You've Never Heard," volumes I and II. Volume III is ready and waiting for her, but she hasn't asked for it. I guess she has less enthusiasm for listening to my favorite obscure songs than I do. Some people.

Still, I'm trying to figure out how to get my iPod to play my favorite 50% of songs twice as often as the lesser 50%*. Or maybe the top 33% three times more often than the lower 66%, and do it with no effort. As it stands now, I hear every song - over 9000 of them - about three times a year. Yes, that means I listen to hyper-favorite "I Don't Make Promises I Can't Break" just as often as the theme to "Sesame Street." Seriously. It's playing now. Everybody sing along! "Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away."

I'll figure out that playlist thing sooner or later. I've only been trying for 4.5 years.

*Right now, with every song given equal weight, it's like listening to radio station WBGN, not far up I-94 from here, serving Lake Wobegon. All the songs they play are above average.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nicki Clyne

Today is the 26th birthday of scrumptious actress Nicki Clyne, known for playing Cally on Battlestar Galactica. Very cute, very sweet. Doesn't work as much as I'd like. If you are a casting director, you know what to do.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

MPR, Here I Come

I am addicted to public radio. There, I said it. The straightforward news, the features, the lack of commercials and the variety of topics around the clock all work for me. I listen as much as practical. My local National Public Radio affiliate is KNOW 91.1, the flagship of Minnesota Public Radio. I became a member in 2000.

In 1999, I started listening to a program called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." Despite the funny name, it is a hilarious quiz show based on current events. Yes, there is a double-level oxymoron in that description. Nonetheless, "Wait, Wait" became my favorite program and my most anticipated hour of the week.

That hour was 10:00 AM Sunday. That hour became a routine. That's when I would do stuff around the house, read the paper, etc, all within earshot of the radio.

Around 2003, MPR moved "Wait, Wait" to Sunday at 2:00 PM. It was like a stab in the back. Like being told FU by your favorite teacher or best friend. 2PM??? Might as well have killed it. 2PM is the shank of the day, with plenty of other things to do, places to go, people to see. It was almost impossible to catch the program.

Don't think I didn't go to great lengths to defeat the almost impossible. For the first couple of years, I used a cassette deck with a timer. Later, I found a program called Cybercorder that records audio inputs into digital WAV files on the computer. I think of it as a VCR for radio. Until NPR-issued podcasts appeared, it was thanks to Cybercorder that I was able to time-shift "Wait, Wait" and all of my other favorite NPR programs. Loading them onto my iPod made them portable. Life became good again.

Except for my umbrage for MPR. They made many a program change over the years, but they left "Wait, Wait" buried at 2PM Sunday. When my $15 a month membership expired in 2004, I didn't renew. I vowed I would not contribute another dime to MPR until they gave "Wait, Wait" a time slot worthy of the fastest hour on radio.

Of course, I never told MPR how I felt, so maybe they didn't realize how affronted I was. Still, I considered them to be royal bastards.

Fast forward to yesterday, Febuary 7, 2009. MPR shuffled their schedule and moved "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" to Saturday at noon. Saturday at noon. You can't get much better than that. Saturday instead of Sunday, noon instead of 2:00. Right after "Car Talk." I consider the insult to be lifted.

So, it looks like I will be reversing my vow and begin sending MPR $15 a month again. They have a membership drive this month. That's as good a time as any to join. I might even get a coffee mug out of the deal. If only I drank coffee.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Don't Dread Getting Some Bills

Sometimes, being green feels good.

I got my gas bill today. My furnace and water heater are gas powered. According to Minnegasco, the billing period was colder than last year - avearge temp last year was 18, while it was 10 this year. That's a substantial difference - to drop the average that much, we endured several more days below zero this year.

My usage was a third less than last year. Let me be clear: It was colder outside for the entire month and my gas usage was quite a bit less.

Last year, the house was occupied by a married couple. I'm a single guy. I don't know where they set the thermostat. I generally keep it at 68 when the place is occupied and occasionally sneak it up to 70. I drop the temp to 60 at night but the furnace never even goes on overnight - the place only drops to 65 or so. During the day I also set the temp to 60, but even if there is the slightest bit of sun, the temp goes UP. The winter-time benefits of a southern exposure.

Let's look at what's different.

I installed a programmable thermostat last fall.

I added 13" of insulation in the attic.

I turned the temp of the water heater down about five degrees to 115.

I put a layer of foam insulation (R5) on the inside of the garage door.

That's it.

I spent a little for insulation and a smart thermostat. I saved about $25 this month. The lesson: It's not that hard to make the big gains.

I get my electric bill in a few days. Maybe I'll have a similar story to tell about the improvements I made by swapping out 25 incandescent bulbs for same-output CFLs.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Something Wickedly Slow This Way Comes

I got a new battery for my car today. When I tried to go to work, it cranked very slowly then stopped entirely. I noticed it was cranking a little slower than usual for the past few weeks but I ignored that since we were having a cold snap. Having replaced the starter less than a year ago and seeing plenty of charge on the ammeter recently, I immediately assumed battery. I checked how old the battery was. I installed it on Jennifer Brezinski's 29th birthday.

For those of you that don't track time the way I do, that would have been August 28, 2004. For those of you who don't know Jennifer, let me just say that I haven't seen her for over 11 years and I still think of her fondly. And often. Very nice, very hot and very tall.

So we're calling the battery 4 1/2 years old. That's old enough so I headed over to Sears to get a Die Hard. I selected the appropriate battery and was ready to install it myself until the guy said they would install it for $12.95. Paying a trivial amount or having to change it in an unheated garage in Minnesota in winter and have to return the core. Easy decision. But what happened wasn't so easy to swallow.

The guy said it might not get wheeled in for half an hour. Fine - it was actually about 25 minutes. Not a problem - it's a 15 minute job. 55 minutes later the guy up front went to see what was taking so long. The car suddenly appeared at the front door. After a few minutes to settle the bill, I hopped in the car and drove away just as the 1:00 news started. I wasn't upset because I was still ahead compared to doing it myself, but not as much as I would have liked. I was at the shop for 105 minutes all told.

As I was approaching home, I realized the clock was wrong. Duh, it started from 12:00 when the second battery cable was attached. The clock read 12:37. I was about four minutes from the shop, which means the power was restored about 30 minutes prior to when it was wheeled out front. If you figure it's five minutes to complete the job after you get to the point where you attach the battery cables, the question becomes, "What happened in the 25 minutes after he finished the job?" Did the guy go to lunch or something? That's 25 minutes I didn't have to be hanging around.

This was my first time using Sears Automotive - Ridgedale. I'm not sure I'll go back or not. If I dropped the car off next time, their lack of promptness wouldn't be an issue, so we'll see. The battery looks good, but for a one-hour battery change, I would've expected to get it washed or tires rotated or something.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Once Follow-Up

I told you in a previous post about my experience with "Once." You'll be happy to know the soundtrack works pretty well on its own so it will become a permanent part of my music collection.

In a funny coincidence, a co-worker came over the other day to make an unsolicited recommendation for a movie to watch. "Once." She had seen it last Saturday night on HBO, probably the same time I was watching it on DVD. I've never heard her make a movie comment before, so her watching one at the same time I'm getting blown away by it is quite unlikely. My co-worker who has been prodding me to see it for a year and I had a good laugh.

Watch "Once" with the subtitles on if you can, but just watch it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oh My God

Hey everybody! Stop referring to the water ditching of the US Air flight as miraculous or in any other way divinely affected.

There is no evidence that a deity was involved in the landing in any way. If anything, a supreme being may have directed the birds to fly into the airplane, but the landing? That was all random and fortuitous events.

This incident was a testament to the experience and training of Capt Sully and his crew, the quality of an Airbus A320 and the luck to have a clear day and calm water.

To give credit for this experience to a God is to cheapen the event. If God landed the plane, then did it matter they had an experienced pilot? Should the ferry boats have hurried to the rescue since God wasn't about to let any of the passengers die of drowning or hypothermia?

Come on people. Be precise with your language. And give credit where credit is due.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Music: Susan Tedeschi

I don't believe it! Susan Tedeschi has a new album out!

I was shopping for linoleum this afternoon and in the background music at the store I detected the faint strains of Susan Tedeschi's unmistakable voice singing "People, people," something. It was accompanied by the even less mistakable slide guitar work of Derek Trucks. I have a bunch of Susan's music but this one sounded unfamiliar.

I went home and searched my collection for any songs that might be what I heard. Nada. Since she's done a handful of songs under the Derek Trucks Band banner, I might have looked there, but instead I played a hunch, hopped on the internet machine and found a site that said a song called "People" was from her "Back to the River" CD. Didn't take long to confirm that I have no CD by that name. A quick hop over to Amazon confirmed that "Back to the River" is a new album, out only a few months.

You'd think that if they want people to buy music, they might inform us when new music from favorite artists comes out, maybe with a marketing campaign, maybe some targeted advertising of some sort. You'd think Amazon's amazing "You might like" area might pop up with new material from someone for which they have sold me CDs previously. You'd think. Their omission means they missed out on a sale.

Anyway, I went out and got a copy. I'm riping it now. I probably won't be able to listen to it until tomorrow as I have to start a movie DVD before the night gets away from me.

By the way, shopping for linoleum deserves its own post sometime. I don't yet know how the story ends, though.

Why "Three Parts Foolish?"

Somewhere around 1980, I heard an interview where the subject described an Australian phrase where a person could dismiss something as being "A quarter flash and three parts foolish." Marv and Rindy Ross appropriated the first part of the saying for their band Quarterflash. Indeed, it was Rindy Ross who was the subject of the interview. It has stuck with me all these years, much like Quarterflash, whose music is aging equisitely well.

I feel I will be lucky if many of my posts reach the threshold of being 25% flash, and, well, I'm certain to exceed 75% foolish on a regular basis.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Here I am, cutting edge, years after everyone else

On this day, the birthdate of such disparate people as Kimberly Beck, Carol Henderson and Elvis Presley, I begin my blog.