Monthly Archives: January 2009

There was a planned power outage on the block yesterday. I forgot to turn all the computers off and have apparently paid a pretty hefty price. Namely, it seems that my USB ports have gone all screwy. On all three of my desktops.

On one computer, the simply plugging in of a USB device causes the device to reboot.

On the second computer, USB devices don’t work. It thinks that there are USB devices that are not plugged in. It sends a message every few minutes telling me that a device’s drivers did not install correctly and that I may have difficulty using my device. Further, it registers a third ROM device that is not actually present. I don’t know if that’s a USB problem, but it strikes me as being possibly related (if it thinks that the non-existent USB drive is a CD-ROM).

On the third computer, plugging in a USB device disables the mouse and keyboard.

Which actually brings me to a fourth point. Not all USB is dysfunctional, cause the KVM switch is USB and I’ve not had any problems there (except on the third computer when I plug in an external drive. And a fifth point, a USB device that was plugged into a laptop has stopped working altogether.

I suspect that this would have been avoided if I’d remembered to turn my computers off or if I’d had a better surge protector or a UPS. Taking all of those mistakes as a given, does anyone else know how I can right these wrongs? Are the USB ports permanently damaged on all three computers? Holy cow would that generate a figurative obnoxious odor.

Category: Home, Server Room

I’m wondering if either the city of Soundview or state of Cascadia passed a law requiring fast food places to post their calories on their menu. I stopped by Jack in the Box on Saturday morning and they’d put stickers with the calorie count all over their drive-through menu. I’m thinking that Jack did not do this as a gesture of good will because it was pretty shocking. That fast food is unhealthy is hardly news, but I figured that Jack was about like the rest of them. Turns out that they stack up pretty poorly with McDonald’s, which is the general point-of-comparison that I make.

The biscuit sandwich I was going to get is 740 calories, compared to 570 for McDonalds. At McDonalds, you can get a sausage McMuffin with egg and cheese for 465 calories. No such tasty sandwich exists at Jack for under 500 calories except a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese biscuit (which is comparable in health content to McD’s). Roughly half of Jack’s breakfast menu is over 500 calories compared to about a third for McDonald’s.

The dinner menu is little better. McDonald’s only has one burger over 600 calories (Double Quarter Pounder, 740) and Jack in the Box had at least a dozen with half of those being over 1,000.

I’ve gotten into debates in the past over whether restaurants should be forced to put up nutritional content. Some say that the motivation behind doing so is to shame fat people and that anybody eating at fast food restaurants is obviously not worried about health content. To some extent they’re right on the latter part, but I’m not sure if that’s sufficient. Some people aren’t overly worried about counting calories, but I think that it is in general a really good idea to remind people how many calories that they’re consuming. One of the most successful dieting maneuvers in existence is simply keeping track of how much you consume in a day. People are notoriously forgetful when it comes to everything that they’ve eaten in a day but they remember better when each thing has a number value assigned to it. Even if you don’t set yourself up with limits and even if you don’t have a calculator with you, it still helps you realize where exactly your greatest dietary sins are and almost always provides easier ways to cut back.

By eating at McDonald’s rather than Jack in the Box, for instance.

It makes the really unhealthy stuff much less enjoyable. It’ll be a while before I eat another Ultimate Cheeseburger, for sure.

Category: Kitchen

Do any of you watch the show “Without A Trace”? I’ve seen a few episodes and they almost all seem to boil down to two points:





It seems like the entire tilt of the show is in the direction of providing justification and ammunition for every ounce of parental paranoia in existence. Seriously, it seems like the moral to the story, to the extent that there is one, is “Never, ever take your eyes off your child for a single instant!”

It makes me think a bit of Adam Walsh, the anti-crime crusader made famous by America’s Most Wanted whose own case has recently been closed. On the surface, no doubt Walsh’s crusade is a righteous one. Going after the bad guys, after all, is something that we can all support.

Of course, in his own way, Walsh represents more than that.

A while back, a blog was trying to make the point that as bad as things are right now, they’re not nearly as bad as are times that they are compared to. The Great Depression. The 60’s. So on. The author asked if anybody, given the choice, would return to the 1960’s. More than one person said that they would in fact go back in time because the world in general has become a darker place than it was when they could walk freely in the neighborhood without fear of getting kidnapped or molested.

Certainly there are places that are a lot more dangerous than they used to be. But how much more dangerous is it in places where residents spend their time surfing the internet and commenting on political blogs? How much more dangerous is it for the types of crimes that haunted the Walsh’s for so long?

I’m not convinced very. If at all.

Walsh’s program (from the best that I can recall) focused primarily on wanted fugitives, but Walsh himself represented the dangers of the modern world. Perhaps a program that better represents that today is To Catch a Predator, which sets up pedophiles. The program has come under some scrutiny lately for glamorizing tragedy and even in some quarters for being too hard on suspects that haven’t been given a fair trial.

Part of me likes the program. I like the notion that pedophiles would live in fear of being exposed not just to the long arm of the law but on national television. High-profile stuff like that may actually make some people think twice. The effect on potential perpetrators is positive. The effect on parents and children, though, is more worthy of concern.

In my later high school years I spent significant amounts of time online talking to people. My parents didn’t know the dangers that it presented. This was, on the whole, a good thing. Otherwise they would have curtailed my activities. That would have prevented me from getting much of the socialization that I desperately needed. But to listen to critics, the room that they gave me made my parents somewhere between negligent and grossly reckless.

I’ve mentioned before that I favor a more laid back approach on the part of parents and I guess some of my trepidation with the Harbingers is that they get in the way of that. Not with calm, necessary warnings about potential dangers but with scaremongering. I’m not sure that these types of warnings do a whole lot of good. They seem more likely to create parents that alternate between frantic and exhausted. Fighting all of the little battles so that they’re too spent to keep their eye on the big ones.

Often, they seem to set parents up to set unreasonable limitations. Limitations that, when unsuccessful, leave kids unprepared to deal with the dangers that they weren’t supposed to be explosed to. It’s analogous to preaching abstinence in cases where a more level-headed discussion of the potential dangers of sex would be more appropriate. Or setting up an unreasonable curfew that leaves kids sneaking out completely unaccounted for and afraid to turn to their parents when they need help getting out of whatever situation they weren’t supposed to be in.
I can’t help but wonder if the result is an erosion of trust. Parents believing that their kids are engaging in all the worst behavior they hear about kids engaging in and kids fearing that their parents will assume the worst if they open up about even remotely problematic behavior. Not that I think everything would be perfect otherwise, but I think that the widespread anxiety caused by all of this attitudes may be more damaging than the things that this paranoia prevents.

Note that I’m not talking about all the terrible things out there that happen, but specifically the ones that would happen but don’t because their parents are scared and are instilling that fear on their kids. It’s not that bad things never happen. Of course they do. Terrible things. I’m less sure about what the appropriate level of fear is and how the reasonableness of this fear has been distorted by media sensationalism.

Category: Courthouse, Theater

“Mark my words — if we let them take away our God-given right to pickle small children in a nicotine haze, they won’t stop there. Don’t come crying to me if somebody eventually questions whether it’s wise to let children watch fourteen uninterrupted hours of television, or if tossing a baby into the air repeatedly until he throws up is harmful for his development.” –Tony Woodlief

Category: Hospital, Statehouse

I hate the very existence of inaugural poetry. Despite all the pomp and preening involved with inaugurations, it’s that which I find over-indulgent. Maybe I just can’t consider poetry beyond proto-goths dressed all in black sitting in the back of a classroom feeling so tortuously misunderstood. Obviously on some level I know that poetry is used for other things, but I swear I have difficulty ever reading poetry that doesn’t say “Hey, look at me!” or “Hey, look at me look {nature/life/God/Mother Earth/whatever}!”

I didn’t get to watch the inauguration as I was stuck in traffic when it happened, though I will shortly have the whole thing downloaded.

Mindstorm made a pretty big to-do about it. Employees (in our building, at least) were invited to watch the swearing in and speech on the TVs in the cafeteria.

I thought that it was interesting that John Paul Stevens swore in the Vice President. I figured that the VP was sworn in by the Chief Justice, too. Apparently there’s quite a bit of discretion and that they don’t even have to be sworn in by a judge (Mondale and Cheney were sworn in by the Speaker of the House, Gore and George H. Bush by associate justices). I learned something new today!

It’s rather unfortunate that the special occasions was flubbed by the Chief Justice during the oath, which caught the now-president off-guard. Took them a minute or two to get their act together, but I suppose it’s forgivable since not only is it both of their first time, but as recently as five years ago it was exceptionally unlikely that either of them would be holding the positions that they now do.

The conspiracy-mongering among liberals that Roberts screwed up on purpose so that conservatives will be able to delegitimize Obama’s presidency (“He never took the oath!”) are kind of funny. As are murmurs on the right that it is somehow “revealing” that Obama took the oath with his middle name (“Such things are unheard of if you look back at and only at Jimmy Carter!”).

It took me quite a bit of time to find a picture of Obama taking the oath that didn’t prominantly feature Roberts’s bald crown but had no luck. Roberts needs to take some Rogaine. He’s the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It’s not like anybody can badmouth him for it. Of course, perhaps being Chief Justice means that you don’t have to worry about Rogaine in the same way that being old means that you can wear your pants however darn high you please.

Obama’s speech contained what I’m pretty sure is an inaccuracy less than five sentences in. Forty-three men have taken the oath, not forty-four. But surely Obama’s speechwriters and handlers would catch a mistake before I did, wouldn’t they? Did someone take the oath but never the office? I don’t see how that’s possible. Then again, they did claim to be directing the non-existent “Office of President-Elect” when no such office exists and Obama wasn’t technically even the president-elect, so maybe such details were considered unimportant.

Bush is apparently back in Texas. The whole concept of going from the most powerful man in the world to having to move out in one day seems kind of weird to me. I’m not sure how that works. Were they living out of suitcases that last week? I like to imagine that there was luggage in the back of that helicopter.

I’m sure that Half Sigma considers it suspicious that Bristol Palin’s newborn baby wasn’t at the inauguration (almost as though she doesn’t exist! Hmmmmmm…).

ADDENDUM: Roberts and Obama decided to take another shot at it, just to be cautious. No doubt Lincoln’s Bible had been put away, but odd that they wouldn’t go to the slight inconvenience of finding another one. Did the Bushes not leave behind any? Why have the Gideons let us down? Now we get four years of some people saying “See! He didn’t take the oath on the Bible after all! Just like we said he wouldn’t!”

-{Note that while this is about a political event, I tried not to take sides. Leave comments with care.}-

Category: Statehouse

Newsome is blogging again! Actually, as near as I can tell he started blogging almost immediately after I put his blog in the “Dead Blogs” category. Interesting, in November he touched on an issue familiar to HC readers while trying to procure a Blackberry Storm*:

Much to my surprise, my quoted price was not $200, as widely advertised, but $500. I called customer service and was told that my contract was too recent to permit an upgrade and that I would, in fact, have to pay $500 if I wanted a Storm. I didn’t like this, but contracts are contracts, so I asked how much it would cost to terminate my contract early (by about a year and a half). $125 was the answer. So, I asked, “you’ll sell this phone to a stranger for $200, but an existing customer has to pay $500?” I was told that was the case. Again, not good news, but I understand the math so far. I had one more question: “But if I wanted to, I could pay $125 to terminate my contract today, come back tomorrow and pay $200, thereby achieving an actual price of $325?” I could tell the phone rep was uncomfortable, but ultimately she agreed that I could do that. “But you won’t sell me the phone for $325 without having to go through all of that?” She said she couldn’t. The cost was understandable, even if a little frustrating, but the unnecessary hoops were more than I could handle. So a wonderful thing happened.

I canceled my Verizon account, drove to the local ATT store, bought a 16G 3G iPhone and had my number ported over. At the end of the day, I have a much better phone at a lower cost. $125 is a lot of money, but amortized over the remaining 18 or so months of my Verizon contract, I’m more than happy to pay an extra $7 a month for the iPhone experience.

This is a much better example than the $60 I was talking about saving with AT&T and the Fuze! While I can’t… ahem… endorse getting an iPhone… I’m glad that Newsome is happy with his and I think Verizon got their just deserts.

On the other hand, AT&T apparently has a trick up their sleeve and now I can even better see why they are so excited about selling the phone as part of a plan! If you read the fine print, the offer is good only if you make every payment in full and on time. In other words, if you’re a day late or a dollar short, you’ll get billed for the balance of your savings on the phone (minus the initial rebate). In this case, $310. Further, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that if you were late or short and they pulled the trigger on this that you wouldn’t be let out of the two year commitment. If it’s legal for them to hold you up to your end of the bargain even when they’ve abrogated theirs, I have no doubt in my mind that’s exactly what they would do. My faith in AT&T (and its competitors) is such that my heart skipped a beat when I logged on to the account manager and discovered that they knew exactly what kind of phone I had even though I never told them. I mean, I guess abstractly I knew that they could figure such things out, but it’s still a bit disconcerting. Fortunately, there’s not much they can actually do with this information other than try to sell me unlimited data transfer.

A great reminder of why I purchased my phone independent of my provider. They’re not the boss of me, no.

* – Not to be confused with my employer’s product, the Stormphone.

Category: Market

I have a higher-quality copy of this video on my computer. When I have difficulty getting up in the morning, I actually play this video and it seems to actually help get me moving. I guess it’s no big surprise that a video about trying to make it to the freedom that comes at the end of the day helps me face the prospect of going to work!

Category: Office, Theater

Will makes an interesting point on the economics of buying a new cell phone, but there’s also the ever-popular question of joining up in the first place.

A few months back, I finally got a cell phone. It wasn’t the first cell phone I’d had (my first involved an incredibly bad foray into certain “all-in-one” devicedness by my former boss and Nextel’s perfect example of how service should NOT be conducted), but it was the first one I’d arranged for my own.

I’m okay with the idea of a contract term. I got my phone free, and it does what I want it to do. However, I did find my own brand of silliness.

Southern Tech University offers an employee discount on cell phones, to encourage worker connectedness. To do this initially, you need to sign up through a special “SoTech Employees” website rather than the standard one. First problem: the phone I wanted isn’t available through that web site.

So I call up… get all the info… get it processed, get the phone, pay a tidbit more for the “signup” which they promise will be refunded once the employee discount goes through. And it does go through, and I get my discount. Props to them there.

Second up… I test out how many minutes I need. The difference between “No Texting” and “500 texts/month” is $10. The difference between “500 texts/month” and “unlimited texts” is… $10. I opt for the “unlimited texts” setup. Too many friends like to text. I start out with the initial 600 minutes/month plan, to see how much I use. Through judicious measurement (and honest self-limiting) I come in 20 minutes under 600. Given that I’m using this thing at work, I opt to bump up to the 900 minute plan, to have plenty of overhead.

This is where all falls apart. I was specifically told by the monkey working their sales department that, as I requested, I was being upgraded to the 900-minute version of my calling plan. To wit: Free long distance, Free call ID, Free calls to all users in the same phone network, etc.

What they put on my account, meanwhile, was the “business” version of the plan. Costs precisely the same amount, but mysteriously omits the “Free calls to all users in the same network” portion.

So, the next month, I discovered that I had gone about 90 minutes over my new 900-minute plan. And the month after, I came in a mere 15 minutes under. The first month had involved a lot of emergency calls, so I figured the overage was legit. It was only after the second month that I went back into my bills, call by call, and realized that all the calls I had been making to a certain very beautiful woman were not being properly billed as “in-network.”.

Two very clear and informative discussions later, their customer service made a serious concession: twice as much recompense for what I was overbilled, 2000 “rollover” minutes for me to have to compensate for the lost minutes, and immediate fixing of their sales agent’s mistake to get me into the proper plan.

I haven’t had a problem since, either.

The company in question? AT&T.

Category: Market

-{Previously Installment}-




On our way to the bus stop.


Arrive at the bus stop and find the parking garage nearly empty. We wish that we had thought of the bus yesterday. The thought had actually crossed my mind after my successful adventure on the bus on the way home from the airport on Tuesday, but I figured that the chances that I could convince Clancy to haul our heavy luggage from one place of transport to another were pretty slim. On my way back from Shaston, I didn’t have the heavy luggage. She would have said that taking the bus would be completely unnecessary and really I couldn’t have disagreed with that. Neither of us saw the parking thing coming. If I had thought about parking I would almost certainly would have thought that maybe the main garage would be full, but it wouldn’t even occur to me that all of the private lots would as well. The bus was completely unnecessary.


We discover that the parking lot I parked in was only for commuters and the private lot next door was by-day only. I know that there is parking around here somewhere, but at this point I figure that the safest place to park is actually the Amtrak lot down the road. There are signs that it’s for Amtrak people only, but my experience on the Shaston trip was that they really didn’t seem to keep track of it. So I set Clancy up at the stop, drove down the road, and walked back. The bus was arriving as I was driving away. We’d catch the next one.


The next bus arrives on schedule. We lug our stuff aboard.


This time we’re three hours early, but that works out because we have a connecting flight in Los Puertos, California, that’s through a different airline. This gives us the opportunity to wait in the Transcontinental Airlines line after getting our bags set up at our primary airline, Northern Airways. Unfortunately, Trancontinental won’t give us our seat numbers. Both the Trancontinental and Northern Airways reps say that there should be someone from Transcontinental waiting at our gate to take care of us. That seemed unlikely, though. At first this is a mild irritation, but as the morning would wear on it would become fear-inducing as the reality of the situation set in: They overbooked.




We arrive in Los Puertos and there is nobody waiting at our gate for us. When we got to the Transcontinental Airlines ticket counter, Clancy is curtly told that they were taking passengers on the late-running 9am flight and not our 12:05 one. They’d be concerning themselves with that at 10:00 or so, they tell us.


Nobody is at the kiosk. We know that there are absolutely no more flights out of Los Puertos today and that if we miss this one, we’re either going to have to connect somewhere else (with more risks) or we’re spending Christmas night in California. Clancy decides that she’s just going to stand at the counter until someone shows up and she takes her book with her.


A woman shows up and Clancy tries to flag her down, but she shrugs it off saying vaguely that the flight is overbooked but that she is sure that it will all work out. At this point, I expect nothing to work out. She’s gone as fast as she arrives. Things are not looking good. If they can’t get us on this flight, I decide that I am going to put my foot down and we are going back to Cascadia.


The curt guy from before makes a reappearance. Perhaps sensing Clancy’s anxiety, he helps her out immediately. We’ve got seats. All is right with the world.




Land. Get our luggage. My father is waiting for us at the airport. That’s one form of transportation that we have no reason whatsoever to doubt. That’s a really nice feeling.


We’re eating Christmas dinner.

-{The End}-

Category: Downtown, Home, Road

I have lost eleven straight auctions on eBay. That’s over twice as many as I’ve lost in my life, though as an irregular eBay user that’s not too remarkable. What is remarkable is that of those eleven auctions, in nine I was the runner-up. I bid $75.01 and the item went for $77.51. It doesn’t matter if I bid the item up from $25 or $69. The item had gone for as low as $54 dollars before, though I have to wonder if I had bid on that one if it, too, would have sold for $77.51. I can’t help but think that my one bid is putting me outside my own price range. I would, in all honestly, gladly pay $77.51, though I suspect that if I bid that much, it would sell for $80.01 (there’s no way of knowing what their cap was). And on and on.

There isn’t a whole lot of backstory here. Basically, there is an item I want and there are a whopping three outlets selling said item. Auctions have been streaming for three days now with this particular product. I want the product though I don’t need it. Shipping is $24.99 and I refuse to pay more than $100. Really, it’s worth more than that. Two weeks ago, if asked, I would have probably expressed a willingness to pay $150 or maybe even $200. Hypothetically, anyway. But as I watch one after another go for a little over or a little under $100, I don’t want to pay any more than I have to. The curse of capitalism is the fear of getting ripped off. Pay no more than you have to.

That got me wondering… is there some guy out there collecting as many of this thing as he can, wondering why it is that this guy – every time! – keeps pushing units up to $77.51 when he could otherwise get it for less. The answer is no. All eleven were, it turned out, purchased by different people. Each outbidding me by the cost of a hamburger. Sometimes at the last second sometimes a couple minutes before the last second.

I kept wondering each time if this was the unit that was going to be different. In one case, it was the first order of the morning. Would that one go for more or for less? It could go for more because it’s the first (of the day, at any rate). Or it could go for less because they figure “Why bid on this one when that next one down is so much cheaper?” Then I’ll run across two items that expire minutes from one another. Should I bid on the first because there might be a last minute rush on the second by everyone that didn’t win on the first? Or should I bid on the second because there isn’t enough time for everybody to scramble? How does that equation change if it’s half an hour between them? If they’re the exact same time, should I go for the one that’s priced a bit higher because the last minute rush is going to gravitate towards the lower one… or is the lower one better because there’s less a chance that whoever bid on that one has a max bid higher than my bid?

Turns out that all of this gaming does not matter in this ruthless market.


Every time.

Category: Market, Server Room