Monday, August 31, 2009

Interesting Economic Thoughts...

The title was a subtle hint, but this is an econ babbling post, so be warned, and if this stuff bores you, be skipping on to a different post :o)

I'm still working my way, slowly, through "The Naked Economist." I'm going slowly not because it's a bad book but because 1) I've been busy and 2) I've got other timewasters on board (HOMM2, anyone?). But I finished the chapter on government and economics and found it very interesting. I'm still pretty new at this stuff but I'm going to try to get some of the ideas down here.

The central idea of economics is that in a free market, on the whole any interaction between a customer and a seller will benefit both regarding that transaction. The market will operate in such a way that the consumer gets a good deal and the producer gets a good profit. If the price is too high, someone else will come along and sell it cheaper, and then the consumers will get good prices. If the price is too low, the producer will either go out of business or have to raise the prices to a better price. Sellers are incentivized to find ways to provide better services for less, which then gives the sellers more for less cost. Everyone wins. But when I say "everyone" I mean the buyer and the seller. That everyone.

The devil is in the details though. While the buyer and the seller will win in a free market economy, there are others who are affected by this process, neither borrowers nor sellers, who may not benefit at all. These "other people," neither buyers nor sellers, are called "externalities." To give you an example, if I buy the cheapest battery, and the cheapest battery is produced by destroying the environment, I may like the battery, the seller gets the money, and for that transaction we're both happy. But the environment around the factory is damaged, and living near the plant is now a bad thing, complete with birth defects and cancer. Those who live near the plant, and do not benefit at all, are externalities. Poor them. The environment is probably a good example because you can broaden it - if the environmental cost is such that it is global, than the externality can affect me, the seller, as well. Poor me. The market has no way to control these externalities. There are no controls built into it.

So here is where the government comes in. One of the roles of the government is to watch for and control externalities. In other words, to watch for costs of the free market that are fine for the buyer, and the seller, but bad for someone else. The market works entirely on incentives, and "don't screw the people in the other city/state/country" is not a very powerful incentive. So the government has to impose negative incentives (controls) such as fines, prison sentences, and so forth for otherwise negative behaviors or, conversely, positive incentives such as tax breaks, etc. for positive behaviors. Off the top of my head, affirmative action would be an example of this. Presumably at the time AA was put in place, there was no incentive for employers, educators, etc. to take on minority individuals. If a company started hiring a bunch of minority workers it wouldn't suddenly find itself more profitable. AA was thus intended to incentivize prosocial behavior by requiring it.

As I understand it, economists to not argue over whether the government should ever interfere in the market economy. They argue over where and how much the government should intervene.

So why do I care? I find it interesting because I had always had this thought that economists would be like "free market all the way - rah rah rah" and oppose any government involvement. From my read of this book, the author is not at all what you'd call a leftist, and yet he's there talking about how government does have a role in an economy. Granted, he's also pointing out some ways government involvement, especially poorly designed involvement, can be disastrous but it's a more balanced view of "the dismal science" than I had before.

More to come, I imagine, as I keep reading this crap.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Shifter go fast!

This will be a brief running post, I promise.

I ran a half marathon last weekend with my brother and sister. It was a nice half, in the mountains, and probably had a net downhill. Notice that I said "net" because it had about 2 miles of pain in the ass run up a mountain side up hill that was not fun. But anyway, I actually placed pretty good in this one. I was 55 out of about 290 or so, which put me in the top 20%. That may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind I used to just hope to be in the top 50% (in marathons that's still a goal for me). It's an awesome feeling thinking that I was faster than 4 out of every 5 people who ran that sunovabitch. I doubt the running gods will favor me like that again, so I'll enjoy the feeling while I can.

See, that was brief, wasn't it? I find I have to imagine particularly patient imaginary readers while I'm blogging some times, because otherwise I can't imagine them reading "bla bla bla running bla bla gaming bla bla." Yup, imaginary readers are definitely the best kind. Bless you all.

Another time waster...

This one is bad. It's bad because it's a bad timewaster come back from the dead. Long ago there was a game called Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (HOMM2). I know it's a dumb name, but it's a good game, the rhyme notwithstanding. Not a good game, a great game. A terrific game. An addictive game. Way more than some other time wasters I've blogged about. But I was safe for a decade because it was an MS-DOS based game in a Windows world, and you couldn't buy it anymore anyway. But then I found this site: GOG stands for Good Old Games. It's a site that specializes in digging up classic games, buying the rights to them, retooling them to run on modern systems (often with the use of DosBox), and then selling them cheap (as in $5-$10). It's a brilliant idea, and I hope their site really takes off. So I was checking it out and there was HOMM2.

Well, once I saw it there it was all over. I downloaded it within 10 minutes, played it a bit even while on a trip, and since I've gotten home have given at least 8 hours of my life to the damn thing. That's in the space of 4 days. It may not sound like a lot, but when you consider I don't really have all that much time to fill, it is a lot.

I'd try to describe the joy that is HOMM2 to you but, well, that would distract me from playing it. Or sleeping. Both of which are more fun. Suffice it to say, if you like fantasy strategy games, this one is a blast.

I did a baaad thing

A friend of mine recently got a computer. I helped her set it up and get her DSL set up. I've come to realize I know jack about computers, but so many people know less than jack, so I can still help out. That was not a bad thing. But then I introduced her to Zuma. For the uninitiated let me warn you, Zuma will suck out your soul. I may never see her again, and if I do she'll be pale and pasty, slightly palsied, with a crazed look in her eyes. Her right hand will twitch as if moving a mouse at all times. And the insane thing is, she'll thank me for it. I feel like a crack dealer.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I gotta agree with the FBI guy here

Click the post title to see what I'm talking about. This is a strange position for me to take, but based on the little I know I agree that releasing the Lockerbie bomber, Megrahi, was ridiculous. The man was convicted of killing hundreds of people. Innocent civilians. And he did it to make a point. Assuming his conviction is valid (and nobody involved in this decision, as far as I can see, said it wasn't) what the flying funcake are they thinking with this "compassionate" release thing? When someone is sentenced to prison after killing a few hundred people, it is kind of assumed that this will be a hardship for them. That they will not see their family or people they care about. That they will, in fact, die alone. That is the punishment, the sentence, and it is imposed, or supposed to be imposed, with good reason. So if you find out it's really very hard on them, that they're very sick and wish they could be with their family, it makes sense to have compassion but it also makes sense to STICK WITH THE SENTENCE. You can regret that their actions have put them in a situation where they are ill and dying, alone. But you still stick with the sentence. Otherwise, what's the point? Has he suffered "enough?" Is it possible to suffer "enough" to account for so many deaths? Probably not. And probably the sentence was never intended to make him suffer "enough." They didn't kill him, after all. But the sentence was imposed because it was what the law said it should be, and it was some comfort, however scant, for some of the families who lost loved ones to this person. So to change your mind, to take that away, makes little sense to me. Justice is not supposed to be nice, it's supposed to be fair. In this case it is "nice" to one person, but not nice to a lot of others, and not at all fair.

To tell you the truth I feel weird writing this - I am usually very much on the side of compassion, and shades of gray, and flexibility. So perhaps I'm missing something. I have to admit I have done almost no research on this topic. But based on what I know, that's how I feel.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

We're just giving the people what they want...

Ok, so here's a common pattern. Someone famous does, oh, anything. Dies, cries, yells, crosses the street, sneezes. It is usually trivial, and almost never affects the lives of anyone outside of the famous person's family and friends. But the media eat it up. The bobble heads on Fox News analyze it and conclude Obama is the devil. Nightly news has a story on it. The Daily Show mocks it. NPR has a story on how weird it is we keep talking about it. It's in the papers. And then people start to notice that we're spending a lot of time and effort on a trivial aspect of a (ultimately) trivial person's life. And people start asking why does the media cover this crap. Those asking that question sound annoyed. But someone always points out that the coverage is because the media is "giving the people what they want." The argument is that if people weren't interested in the tripe, and watching it, then the news would not cover it.

How many times have we heard that one? Every time, is how many. Every time we complain about being fed drivel by news sources, they remind us that it's because there is a substantial portion of the listening audience who are idiots who want to hear it.

As excuses go, this one is only so-so. Yes, they're a business and yes, the public plays a role here and yes, if nobody cared if Britney Spears had a bad hair day then it wouldn't make the news. I get that. But. But is "they made me do it" really the only excuse they can come up with? What we're essentially being told is that media is airing stuff they know is crap, they know is drivel, and they're doing it because people pay them to do it. So they suck, but we pay them for it, so it's ok. But at some point don't you just have to say "I know you'd pay for me to talk about Oprah's ankle fat, but it's not news, and I'm in the news business, so I'm going to report on something that matters?" Is it truly all mercenary? What if the public wants to hear a bunch of lies, do you go and report that too? Don't answer that! I'm freaked out enough as it is.

I guess I'm just saying that "they paid me to do it" is an excuse that only takes you so far. And it only really works if that is ALL the media is - just a business. Just like Mircosoft, or GE, or GM. But the press is supposed to be more than that, isn't it? Was "Freedome of the press" really just a great business op?

Joss Whedon Sings

Why? Because it is AWESOME:

Mike Birbiglia Will Cheer You Up!

I know Shifter wasn't talking about me, but when I need cheering up, a good Mike Birbiglia clip will almost always do the trick:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Geek out!

Ok, I happen to know that myself and many of our IR's really need something to laugh at right now. So I'm shamelessly stealing this link from Patrick Rothfuss, with thanks. If you've ever played, or even heard of, MMOs this one's for you.

The danger of delayed posts

From time to time I'll have an idea for a post when I don't have time/will power to type it up. So I put an outline or a plotline or even just a word in a draft that I save, to remind me of this great idea. Then, when I've got time or energy or whatever I lovingly craft it into a beuatiful, if poorly spelled, post. You didn't know I put that kind of thought into this, did you?

I'm noticing that only about half of those drafts ever make it "to print" so to speak. And it's usually not because I never get around to it. Rather, it's that by the time I get around to it I no longer find it interesting or even don't necessarily agree with it. All of which is to say a few things. 1) I am as inconstant as the wind and 2) if you disagree with something I post don't feel bad, I may disagree with it myself in about a week. Oh, but also, 3) my opinion of Fox News Network is not subject to change. That is all.

So Many Realities, So Little Time

There's a philosophical construct that suggests that our perception of reality is so subjective that, in effect, we all live in our own separate reality.  Normally I'd like to think of it as a Venn diagram, even if sometimes there's a person with whom the overlapping bit of our circles would be a teeny tiny sliver I like to call "gravity," but today, I think I agree.
Status Meeting for Giant Project:  "Everything is awesome.  There are only 3 issues, and we are all over their sorry asses.  Everything is fine.  Look!  Shiny!"
My Manager, in a message sent during the Status Meeting for the Giant Project:  "The queue is FULL OF ISSUES people.  Get moving.  Code those suckers and let's get them taken care of!"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This is frightening

Complete tangent here, but a while back I came across a link to information on the M-388 Davy Crocket, a man-portable nuclear warhead that was actually deployed during the cold war. It's a nuclear explosive that can be fired from a recoilless rifle (a tripod mounted, crew-served weapon that took about 3 people to operate) and that was designed to use radiation to kill everyone in a .25 mile radius. The complete warhead weighted 70 pounds. They made 2,100 of these during the cold war. They were decommissioned decades ago.

Even though these are out of use, and were never used in combat, the idea is pretty freaky. I guess I've always thought of nuclear weapons as involving really big missiles from land or submarines, or dropped from planes. The idea of one of these that you could carry in a backpack, and that we actually made thousands of these in the 60's and 70's, scares me. You can see why people get so nervous about terrorists getting nuclear material when you see just how mobile this stuff can be.

You know you've read too much fantasy when...

I came across this link to a New Yorker piece describing 7 books for non-fantasy "literary adults" to read if they are looking for "actual novels" instead of just Harry Potter and Tolkien derivatives. I'm pleased (or ashamed) to say I've read all but 2 of the 7 on the list. I also agree with about half of the selections, but that half that I agree with I agree with A LOT so I don't view it as a bad list. It's got Erickson, who rocks, and Kay, who rocks just as much, and gave honorable mentions to Cook and Martin (who rock perhaps a bit less). Rothfuss is on there, and his first and only book is awesome. I actually found the link on Rothfuss's blog. He wasn't bragging, nah! But did I mention that Kay rocks?? Tigana was just incredible.

I don't really think Goodkind and Brooks are all that stellar, though I haven't read the Brooks (Scions) book that is recommended. Williams is well loved by people I love, and I enjoyed his work, but I found his books long in a bad way. I'll read long books, anyone who's read Erickson will know that, but I like them to be long because something interesting is being said or done. I have not read Hobb, but probably will just to see what the fuss is about. In any case, if you like Fantasy or are interested in it, the list is not a bad place to start.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


When I was a kid I was told a metaphor about heaven. It was something like this.

"I was shown a vision and I saw this gigantic table laid out with the most incredible feast and all of these people are sitting around the table. They're trying to eat but they have splints on their hands, forcing their arms to stay rigid and straight, and so they cannot bring the food to their mouths. The people try and try but can't bring this incredible food to their mouths, and so they are starving. And I realized this is hell.

"Then I saw another vision and there was again a huge table with a fabulous feast laid out, and again people sitting around the table and again with splints on their arms. I thought it was hell again until I realized that these people were managing to eat, and they were very happy. They were picking up food with their hands and then feeding each other. And I realized this was heaven."

Ok, now this is of course a pretty bizarre version of heaven, but I kind of got the point - in heaven people care for others and so all benefit, in hell people care for only themselves and so all suffer. But then I started to think a little more about heaven, as described here. You can' reach your body, in most ways, with your hands and so your neighbor helps you and you help them. Ok. But what else do you have to do with your hands that your neighbor has to help with, and you have to help them with?

"I can't reach this itch on my back, can you scratch it?"
"Of course, God be praised, I'm delighted to help you, brother."

"Oh dear, praise the Lord, my hair is all messy, can you help me comb it?"
"In the name of our Saviour I am pleased to offer you this service"

"In the name of God, I've got quite a cold! Can you hold this tissue while I blow my nose?"
"Errr, uhm, Blessed Mary protect us, I guess so"

"I've got a bit of diarrhea from all that rich food you've been helping me eat, by all that's Holy, and I can't really reach to wipe. Would you have pity on this poor sinner?"
"What!? Fuck that shit! Send me to hell!"

Winamp - back to the future

Long time imaginary readers (IR's) are well aware that some time ago I started using Media Monkey as my media player, forsaking the Evil Empire because of apparent hardware conflicts with my mp3 player. I am still generally satisfied with MM, not overjoyed but satisfied. I noted, however, that MM still has a pretty big load time on it. I'm willing to sit through a load time if I'm going to be working with a program for a long time (like say setting up my next run mix) but if I just want to click on a .wav file and play it, I dislike having to pause while the computer scratches its head and says "Media what? Monkey? Doesn't sound familiear, but I'll check if you like, oh here it is!" and then loads. The fastest media player I ever used, hands down, was Winamp. The main reason I hadn't installed it when I went with MM was that it didn't look to have the feature set of some of the other players and seemed to be less actively developed. But today, following a tip from Tweakhound, I decided to put Winamp back on my machine for day to day quick play of files.

Winamp is still available, and still free (except for the "pro" version of course - all software has a pro version. My dissertation has a pro version you have to pay $20 to read). It installed fine, and as long as I leave it with the "Classic" interface it boots lightning fast and sounds great. I'll still use MM for my library management and so forth, but I'm happy with Winamp for the quickload stuff. I did have to tweak the settings a bit to get it to play .wav files, but they had directions for that on their forums. I'm pleased, quite pleased. Always nice when something works, eh?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lie All You Want. Facts Fucking Matter.

I just came home from my results appointment from my annual exam (3rd straight appointment with no hint of cancer, yay me). At the doctor's office there was a big old sign saying that my insurance company has stopped covering HPV tests, and that if we want them they are $150. I didn't even blink. This shit happens all the time--why be surprised? It did mean that two weeks ago, before this policy changed, I had inadvertently committed to a $150 expense. It also means that they're not interested in helping women get a test that sheds some light on their risk for certain types of cervical cancer, which I happen to think is kind of scummy. But I was so happy that I don't have any kind of cancer-like symptoms that require the further removal of parts of my cervix that I was willing to overlook all that and have a great evening.

Then, on my drive home, I had the misfortune to catch an episode of "On the Media" that made my blood boil. I can't find any information about the episode, but it featured some southern pastor lying through his teeth about one of the health care reform bills. He didn't know which one--because that would allow someone to fact check his sorry ass. He happily quoted page numbers and lines, all of which I'm sure he made up as he was talking. He was talking about how the bill says health care will be rationed, that there will be a committee talking about his personal health care treatment and deciding that the money would be better spent on a younger person.

The other people on the program tried reasoning with him. They looked for the word "ration" in the bill they thought he was looking at--a word he insisted was in there, until they said they couldn't find it, and then he said it might not use that word, but that was what it was. They asked if insurance companies were not, in effect, already limiting the procedures and options available to the nation's insured, and he said, "I can get any treatment I want." Which I guess is true, as long as you don't want someone else to pay for it. (He probably doesn't need an HPV test.)

It was freaking insane, and I am tired of all the fucking lies. There are plenty of opponents of health care reform who are rational beings capable of meaningful and valuable debate. And that debate is good and it is the soul of our country, even if I don't care for all the points those rational people make. But the lying? Just fucking crawl back under your rocks, people. Stop saying that there are clauses where senior citizens are going to be put to death in camps. Stop saying that Obama's not a U.S. Citizen.

Stop calling the current administration socialist while you happily dip into public funds for your social security or unemployment coverage or medicare. Stop calling it a fascist state when the only people acting like fascists are you, with your hate-mongering and your lying to make senior citizens afraid that someone's going to come along and kill them in their sleep.

You know what you fuckers are always telling me? "We live in the greatest country on earth. If you don't like it, move the fuck out." Well, guess what? I agree with you. Start packing.

OK, This Is Both Hilarious And Disturbing


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Don't Love You, Please Stop Calling Me

Every day, several times a day, my phone rings and hangs up. It hangs up because I've blocked the caller, because I get up to ten calls a day from the same two numbers. One of the numbers calls itself GMAC Mortgage, and the other one calls itself 1-800-Service.

Tonight, I don't know why, but I had had enough. I followed up on both numbers and found that 1-800-Service, too, is a GMAC number. This meant that ALL the calls were from one company. That GMAC mortgage is calling me like a jealous ex-lover. Let's look at August 11. They called me at 11:49, 1:04, 1:08, 1:11, 4:02, 7:33, and 7:46. Seriously? Does that even work?

I keep thinking about this--about whether even a debtor deserves that kind of harassment. What if you had 3 creditors like this? I bet they'd actually jam your phone lines once or twice a day.

Then I read something like this and I think, eh, as long as you stop calling me, call them all you want.

It's All A Matter of Perspective

I've been incredibly depressed for several days because I've been asked--me!--to delay gratification for 3 months.  Well, more than 3 months--13 weeks, which, due to the dates involved, worked out to about 97 days, give or take 14 days--not that I'm counting (except that I'm totally counting).  And I'm like, "That's the middle of November!" and I get all whiny and freaked out whenever I say it.  "That's forever!!!"
Meanwhile, my PMP (Project Management Professional) certification will expire in December of 2011, and because I'm the type of person I am, I have a schedule to acquire my 60 professional development units (hours of training that you have to have to retain your certification--kind of like being a CPA.  And I'm behind (I have 19 and the Schedule dictates that I have 30), so I'm like, "oh no, I only have 18 months left to earn 41 PDU hours!"
I guess it is all about perspective.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A quick read

Well, I finished the Shadowfall book (soon to be removed from the sidebar) and then read another book so fast it didn't have time to shop up on the blog. The book was Steven Brust's Jhegala. I'm not going to go into a book review of Brust's books, aside to say that his sci-fi/fantasy books are truly excellent. But I am going to comment on how refereshing it was to read a book I really really liked. The Shadowfall book took about a week, and while I didn't hate it at all, it was definitely a book I could put down. I had to remember what was going on every time I resumed reading, and the characters never really stayed alive for me. So even though I liked it, and I may even read the rest of the series, it's the kind of book that I know I will not remember in a year. There have been a lot of those.

The Brust book, on the other hand, took 2 days and 1 night to read. I didn't plan to read it that way. I didn't even want to read it - I just felt compelled because I had bought it. It had been so long since I read a Brust book I forgot what it's like. I started it, and then 3 hours later put it down. Then I went back. And I found myself speed reading because I just wanted to know what happened. And then just like that it was done. It was like a tiny roller coaster built just for me. After I finished, I wanted more (and it'll be a long while before he writes the next I assume, so I'm bereft). The funny thing was, it wasn't even the most exciting book - it was just so engaging that I got sucked in.

It's probably a good thing that not every book does that to me. I have enough Time Wasters in my life as it is (work being a big one *sigh*). But it's always a pleasure to find a book like that.

Gifts for spouses

This just in: Buying gifts for spouses sucks. I know, I know, shock to the nation, but it's just so true it has to be said. I should clarify a bit, or specify. I mean buying obligatory and expected gifts. Birthday, anniversary, Valentine's, etc. Spontaneous presents are a blast, but expected ones ... ugh.

There are a number of problems buying presents when you're married.

First, there's the whole shared income thing. Anything that your spouse can buy you, or you can buy them, that they really really want, and that you can afford, they probably already bought. And since you're sharing income, if they bought it it's like you bought it. On the other hand, if you buy them something that they didn't buy because they couldn't afford it then you can't afford it and they're probably not going to be happy with you for spending so much money.

Next, there's the familiarity thing. After a few years there are a handful of things you know your spouse likes. And they know you know. And you know they know you know. So you can't surprise them. Not if you get them something you know they'll like. "Oh, another True Crime book, you shouldn't have," "Yes, this amber ring looks almost as good as the last one you got me." The only way out of that is to get them something really Big that they like, but then you're back to spending too much of your/their money (see above). The other solution is to buy them something they don't want, on the off chance that they didn't want it solely because they didn't know it existed or didn't realize how cool it is. This is akin to trying to shoot a mosquito with a machine gun. You can shoot a lot of bullets at it buy you're unlikely to hit the little bugger. My wife, bless her heart, goes with this approach. And sometimes I get a pleasant surprise. And other times it's just a surprise. But to be honest, the effort she puts into it is probably worth more than another DVD. I think one reason she does that is that if she gets me something she knows I'll like, I'll guess what it is about 2 seconds after she buys it. She hates that.

So I'm more of the "buy it off the list of what's known to be liked" kind of guy. I think you can tell a lot about a person by what kind of present-for-spouse shopper they are. Some of us are Vegas shoppers - taking a shot at long odds for a big pay off. And some of us are, well, non-Vegas shoppers. I ran out of metaphors there. But those of us who are non-Vegas play it safe but boring. That's me. My poor wife.

Preposterous Hypothesis

I think part of the reason people lose weight on a diet like the DASH diet is that it takes twenty minutes of extra effort to convey the food to your mouth.  Take, for example, the lowly garbanzo bean.  Killer source of manganese and a nice, complete protein, assuming you can get the sucker in your mouth.  The round little things seem cunningly engineered to be on the run from fork-shaped predators.  I love the way a cornered garbanzo will sometimes shed its outer skin when speared, like a lizard sacrificing its tail, and then trundle around my fork to fight another day.  I always end up with a little Survivor-style colony of them at the bottom of my salad.  The walnuts, dried blueberries, and dried cranberries are not much better.  I honestly think you're expending more time and taking longer to eat your food when you're eating all this bunny food.
This is my first day back on the full-fledged diet, trying to fill in all my little boxes.  I had forgotten how absolutely full I feel all the time.  It makes a nice change from my usual routine over the past few months (run on caffeine until lunch, skip lunch about half the time or have an anemic salad or sandwich, hungry by 4, but not eating until 7 or 8 or even 9, and then finally feeding ravenous, delirious and weak hunger with something completely inappropriate and passing out on the sofa until 3 a.m.).  The funny thing is that if I did this to you, dear imaginary reader, I would see it as abuse.  Oh, sure, not newsworthy a-nation-hangs-its-head-in-shame abuse or anything, but abuse, nonetheless.  But when it's me, somehow it seems completely justified by not having enough time.  Sad, isn't it?

Ninja Ants

My home has been invaded by tiny ninja ants.  They appear instantly (in 2-5 minutes) around certain types of food (they seem to love popcorn--I guess they're my ant soul mates).  They are teeny tiny black ants, and although there don't seem to be a lot of them, they're so tiny that there could be hordes of them for all I know.  I've been dealing with the problem by trying to be careful about cleaning up thoroughly (often with bleach) after I eat, cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom every day, and vacuuming the entire ground floor every day, but they keep coming.
Normally this wouldn't be a problem for me.  My house usually doesn't contain enough food to be an issue, but lately I've been re-committing to the DASH diet in an effort to lose the 10 pounds I gained on my last project (quick, before the next one starts).  The project weight gain seems to be common--I saw a colleague for the first time in a few months yesterday and he has gained a truly dramatic amount while he's been on the EMEA implementation.  As a result of this DASH diet effort, my home is crammed full of whole grains (which they love--no high blood pressure for ninja ants, no siree), fruit, salad fixings, etc. 
This morning I was making my salads for the rest of the week.  In an effort to cram as much nutrition as possible into a meal I pay relatively little attention to, each salad consists of 3-4 cups of spinach, 1/2 cup of sliced cucumbers, 1/2 cup of garbanzo and/or kidney beans, 1/2 cup of dried blueberries and cranberries, a handful of walnuts, and fat-free dressing.  I had two salads worth of dried fruit and nuts in a brand new fit-fresh container, put the lid on, and started to shake it to mix them up a little.  Naturally the container exploded and carpeted my kitchen floor with dried fruit and nuts.
I took two minutes to salvage what I could from my fortunately squeaky-clean countertop, and then turned my attention to the floor.  As I swept up and vacuumed and did a once over with a mop, I discovered a single ant ALREADY at the spill scene.  Darn those crafty devils!  If we could harness their efficiency in the work world, we would make billions of dollars.  Mark my words, there's a "who moved my cheese" style business book in this concept.  Unfortunately for me, I'll be spending so much time vacuuming and cleaning that I'll be unable to pursue the notion.
As an aside, the fit fresh containers are all a huge disappointment to me.  It shames me to my very core that I fell for it at all.  The concept is that the containers have measurements to help you with portion control, plus (and this was the selling point for me) lids with integrated blue-ice containers.  It's a great plan if you need to take food to the office, especially if you want to stash it in your desk because you expect to be chained to your laptop and unable to get to the kitchen.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.  The blue ice inevitably (I mean it--every time) falls off the lid (it's supposed to be anchored there) and onto your food, crushing and wetting the food rather than keeping it cold.  So what you have once you discard the blue ice is...a really expensive tupperware container.  Ten out of ten for the concept, minus several million for execution.  If you were thinking of buying one of these items, I urge you to investigate the many wonderful low-end, dishwasher-safe tupperware containers sold at your supermarket.  These and these are my favorites.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Life Goes By So Fast....

Wow. I never watch the news, but tonight Tivo recorded it twice, so I thought maybe it was trying to tell me something. And so I found out from television news rather than from the internet or the radio that John Hughes had died of a heart attack at the surprisingly young age of 59. I suppose it's fitting that a man who understood youth so well couldn't be allowed to grow old.

Time to set the Tivo to pick up some of the best teen movies of my generation. As Ferris says, "Life goes by so fast that if you don't stop and look around, you might miss it."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Good Day at Work

Since I bitch liberally about the bad days, it's only fair that I should mention the rare day that makes me happy that I have my job.  I really hope that days like this will get less rare in the future.
This morning started with an exhausting meeting with a representative from third-party vendor.  The woman spent an hour (and she was going to use every last second of it) to explain to us that we have the privilege of working for the only organization on earth that seeks to pre-authorize expenditures with a strange new invention known as the purchase order.  Apparently everyone else on earth just writes her company a blank check and asks them to go to town.  But my company is revolutionary in that we seek to control expenses.  INSANE, RIGHT?  Also, this woman is evidently paid by the word.  We would ask her a simple yes or no question ("We won't pay you any money unless you have a purchase order.  When you submit your invoice, if you don't have a purchase order, it will be rejected.  If an invoice is rejected, that means you're not getting paid.  Do you understand?") and she would go ON and ON for years about how she didn't need a purchase order, but that she understood our process (a claim which was demonstrably false) and blah blah blah yakety yakety yak.  I was like, dude, some of us have work to do that doesn't involve being an intolerable blowhard with a questionable grasp of the English language.  Can we maybe skip ahead a little?
When the meeting was finally over, our new executive sponsor asked if I'd stay behind.  He was like, "I can't help but notice that you're publishing metrics that would help us quantify the benefit of this system you just implemented, and also metrics that seem designed to help us pinpoint issues with our business processes.  I was really happy to see them, and I was wondering if that's a service your department provides, or...?"  We ended up talking for 30 minutes about the transition his group is about to go through (now that we're implementing the enterprise system essentially worldwide, they will not be the big cheeses they're used to being anymore, and the days of having a system fix for every minor inconvenience are well and truly over).  We talked about the importance of strategic thinking about financial applications and about helping his group gain the perspective to rise above the petty things and target stuff that really gives them bang for their buck, and about what IT can do to help him make a case for those things in the wider user community so that he might actually get them funded.  We talked about what it takes to build an ROI for a financial application or an enhancement, and what it takes to build discipline around the ROI process.  We talked about what my job is and what it should be, how that goes hand in hand with what his department is doing versus what they should be focused on, and about the dysfunctional parts of our corporate culture that contribute to that.  And we talked about our desire to work together to fix it.
So often work feels like being in the movie "Brazil."  There are acres of forms to be filled out in triplicate, and about 90% of the forms have outlived their original purpose (or never served any true purpose to begin with, apart from the purpose of shutting someone somewhere up about something).  The process of finding meaning and transcending your situation is exhasting and perilous and it feels like there is a vast conspiracy actively trying to tire you out so that no one gets any value out of your job.  When you meet someone who really wants to change it and who has anything to bring to the party--motivation when you're ready to give up, knowledge, connections, or just a good stout rope--it's like meeting your Harry Tuttle.  It gives you a reason to fight the good fight, and motivation to keep up the existential battle of creating some value somewhere at work. I won't be thinking about the ending of the movie today....

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Least Original Link of the Week

I don't know what possessed these people, but darn it, they are adorable.

Another Example of How Small The World Is

A few days ago I posted a link to a video of the Manhattan bridge shaking, which was on the national news. I couldn't figure out how to embed it, probably because the national news network that aired it doesn't feel like sharing. But today someone forwarded me this YouTube clip:

It turns out that I know the guy who made the video. Yup. Small world.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Reading & Fitness (or lack thereof)

I have been trying to read a little more. For a long, long time I was reading 2-3 books a week, and it was really rewarding. I tend to read a lot of books that are recommended by friends and family, and so I end up learning about things that I probably wouldn't have chosen as topics.

It has been nice to actually take the time to read again. It's even nicer because I just got a whole bunch of books. To be fair, some of them are books of essays and short stories, which makes them pretty easy to polish off in the course of a week. Someone got me a couple of books that have the stories behind famous titles (Catch-22, Sonnets from the Portuguese, etc.), and that made for interesting reading as I pass out at night.

Now if I could just find some reading that encouraged me to exercise and eat right, I'd be in fine fettle. All of these intellectual pursuits are doing nothing for my sprawling waistline. I even walked a 5k last week and I barely noticed--I was so busy that I can barely remember which day it was--oh, and I gained two pounds the day after the race.

But the weight gain wasn't the worst part of the 5k. No, the worst part about the 5k was trying to find my car afterwards. I swear to you, I probably walked at least as far in the giant parking lot looking for my car as I had during the actual 5k race. I was at the end of my tether by the time I swallowed my pride and asked a group of cops if they could help me find my car--and thank goodness I did, because I was totally in the wrong place. Hey, I'm relatively new to Long Island, okay? Not that that's any excuse, because Long Island is really a pretty small place. How small you ask? So small that the cop who helped me turned out to be my former colleague's husband. No, seriously. Because the embarrassment of having to have a cop help me find my car was not enough--the cop actually had to have the ability to tell a bunch of people who know me how stupid I was.

Small world.

Dude, Italians Talk Way Fast

So this Tell Me More software that I'm using to learn Italian (ostensibly--I'm not real sure I done learned anything yet, but I'm trying) has a fancy gimmick, which is that every so often there's a film and you get to play one of the parts. You record the dialogue for one of the characters, and then you get to watch the movie with your voice dubbing the dialogue for that character.

This is great, I guess. It's certainly entertaining. It's definitely challenging. But it's also a little disturbing. Here you are, spending hours practicing your pronunciation of every little word, some with greater success than others, and graduating to spending hours practicing your pronunciation of whole sentences. The software is quite deft at this, too, keeping things slow as you start out and speeding the sentences up as you get better at pronouncing them. So you're feeling pretty chuffed and generally impressed with yourself by the time you get to this film.

Then your character comes up on the screen and words start tumbling out at a prodigious rate, and you're like, whoa. If I were in Italy right now, someone could be telling me that a train is about to hit me, and they would get the whole sentence out about 18 times before the train flattened me as I searched in vain for the words, "More slowly, please. I don't understand Italian very well." I've been at this for several hours tonight, and as much as I think this is going to shoot me in the foot, I'm skipping the little film for tonight, because I just don't have the stamina.

Has anyone else noticed...

Has anyone noticed that Katy's "What Katy is reading" book changes like every 2 hours? I swear that girl is a reading machine! You go girl!

It's also of note that her selections don't all involve variations of Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings only with less history and more blood/sex? I assume that quantity + content is why Katy continues to get smarter and smarter and I post pictures of cartoon men looking confused and reviews of video games designed for 5th graders. The circle of life continues.

Guess what I've been doing

Yup, I just had to go back to Ikea. I swear I have a love, hate, hate even more relationship with that place. I wanted new bookshelves for the study, because I've been using these wire crappy things in the closet that suck, and so we went to Ikea to pick some out. No problem. Things in Ikea are still named things like "the Lak" and "the Kurfufl" and (I'm not kidding) "the Steve" and "the Jeff." They ran out of words in Swedish, and so moved on to English names. When they produce "the Shifter" I'm suing for copyright infringement. Well, I guess I'd better copyright myself first, but I digress endlessly. So we picked out the stuff, no problem, and then we decided to leave. That was the problem. It takes 15 minutes from the decision to leave that freaking place to the time you get out the door. You go up stairs, along the winding Hallways of Doom, through the Displays of Crap, past the Shortcut to the Green Room, through Kid's Ikea, down the stairs to the Marketplace, through the Heaps of Junk, to the Self Server Area, and finally to the Checkout. Turns out the Shortcut to the Green Room could cut off about 5 minutes from your trek. It doesn't say that though. It just says Green Room, not telling you that it is also closer to the Freaking Exit. Which is all you really want. It's all any of us want. All of humanity just wants Out of Ikea. In some metaphorical way we just want to escape. So we finally did, barely, with our lives (but not our wallets) intact.

The delivery guys came by today and now I'm getting ready to be the guy at the top of this post. For the Uninitiated, that is the international symbol for "WTF" that Ikea has put in their directions. Right next to that picture is this one, which is the international symbol for "Yeah, Right."

I haven't even tried to assemble the minor beast that I have purchased yet, but I'm assuming I won't be smiling if I have to call some guy about difficulty assembling my Krappi bookshelves.