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75 entries from April 2006

WHAT

About an hour left in the month of April on the West Coast. I was distressed somewhat recently when it seemed like the standard two-day weekends were rushing past almost breathlessly, then today I realized 2006 is a third over and I’ve since been in an advanced state of WTF.

The planked halibut worked out spectacularly well last night, even if we did set the plank gloriously aflame—a couple times I had to put out flames to what I’m sure was highly comical effect, with the spray bottle and turning off the gas supply and various other machinations. We’ve decided the planks need soaking for a minimum of eight hours, which gives us the desired grill effect without the worry of the flames.

Now it’s Sunday night, a change to a new month, blah blah blah. Tomorrow also marks the day the lab’s name changes, which means I have to remember to answer my phone correctly. I changed my work email signature and my voice-mail greeting Friday afternoon so at least if people leave messages, they’ll get the correct references even as I stumble over the name for the next, oh, probably several weeks at least.

Reminds me of when I first started at the lab in June 2002. It was months before I could answer the phone without having to think that I was no longer working for the managed-care company I left when I moved out of Salt Lake City. Made for a few amusingly confused moments for lab clients, I’m sure.

I like the month of May because it means the days are still getting longer, spring is in full swing, and the annoyingly muddy months of March and April are completely finished. But I can’t get over how it was just yesterday, it seems, when we were dropping off Mom at the airport after her visit for Christmas.


The injustice?

Seattle-area weather radar capture 04/29/06 16:13It’s 43° outside my front window right now, with the wind blowing (mildly) and rain splattering down everywhere. When I went to Central Market earlier I walked home in the annoying misty rain that chills everything down and when I got home I actually felt a bit cold.

(pause for collective gasp from family and friends who know I almost never feel cold)

Now, as we’re about to head south for dinner with Julie Anne and her mom, I’m thinking how cruel is Nature, with her 70° in Salt Lake City while here we’re only four degrees above the forecast low temp for the entire day. And I’m also thinking, we’re plank-grilling halibut tonight, which means I’ll be standing in the breeze and possibly some rain on Julie Anne’s balcony as I wrestle the grill.

Today started out overcast but otherwise fine, and tomorrow’s supposed to be nice—actual sunlight, even. Why couldn’t we have it tonight too?

Ah well. Here’s to an enjoyable weekend for everyone as we head into May and the warm minutes ahead for Seattle. ;-)


Links for 2006-04-28


Review calls film LDS Church basketball comedy “disrespectful” and then disrespectfully misspells church reference

In today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a review of a new movie about basketball within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as “The Mormons.” But in the review’s headline, they blatantly (and stupidly) misspell the word Mormon as Morman, even though the word is spelled correctly THREE TIMES in the story:

Disrespectful Morman spoof ‘Church Ball’ lacks a message


Clearly, Mormon movies are not what they used to be. For the past decade, Latter-day-Saints-associated or supported comedies, such as “The Singles Ward” and “It’s Latter-Day Night!” have moved away from overt moralizing and toward laughing at their own culture.

But “Church Ball” seems to be a complete break with the genre’s missionary past. Its rowdiness, bathroom humor, cast of familiar but second-rate actors and overall disrespect for organized religion make it seem like any other bad Hollywood farce.

The Utah-filmed story is about intercongregational basketball—“the brawl that starts with a prayer,” which has become so vituperative and violent over the years that the church has decided to disband the league after the current season.

But before that happens, a church bishop (played, so help me, by Fred Willard, of “Best in Show”) and an obsessed player (Andrew Wilson, brother of Owen and Luke) decide to win the last divisional title and end the epic losing streak of their team.

So, fulfilling every cog of the Hollywood sports comedy formula, they gather a motley group of Bad News Bears—including a gray-haired Gary Coleman (as unlikely a basketball star as the movies have ever produced)—and, of course, go the distance.

There’s no sex to be sure and it’s mostly innocuous and often borderline cute, but there’s also a surprising amount of cruel humor, a few toilet gags and a willingness to spoof Mormon culture that, at times, seems almost self-destructive.

Somewhere there’s a spiritual message. Coleman claims, “It’s more of a universal Christian-messaged film. They’re going for a larger commercial audience. I guess this film will appeal to Mormons, Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Baptists and Presbyterians alike.”

Maybe. But this message is so subtle that it’s hard to catch. It certainly passed right over my head: I couldn’t find anything more spiritually inspiring or morally instructive in this goofy laugher than in “Dodgeball” or Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.”

I grew up in Salt Lake City and I was never a member of the LDS Church, but even in my own personal writing I’m careful to spell the church’s name correctly. Drives me nuts when this type of plainly evident mistake makes it to print—I’d expect a news source like a major daily newspaper to be even more vigilant about such things.


Links for 2006-04-26


I now know I wouldn’t lie dead for more than 24 hours before somebody went looking for me

Spent a few hours last night at Redhook in Woodinville (map). Every Tuesday they host Trivia Night, with prizes of various amounts off the tab for the top-scoring teams. So seven of us left the lab and trooped to the pub to have a pint or two with dinner and trivia, but we didn’t win—we sucked hideously at the series of The Simpsons-related questions. We kinda blew chunks through much of the second half, in fact, but had a damned good time.

We all went our separate ways after the games finished. I left Redhook last of all because I angled off to the restroom as everyone else went out the door; when I got to the parking lot several minutes later, the other six were gone. Off I went, thought nothing more about it.

I got home just after 22:00 and futzed for a while. Didn’t feel particularly wired, not particularly tired either, and under my usual “don’t go to bed until I feel tired” mantra, I finally crawled into the sack just before midnight. By then I was feeling a little droopy-eyed and thought I’d drop off in fairly short order.

Of course the minute my head hit the pillow, I was wide freakin’ awake. By 04:00 I had managed to doze for a total of probably, oh, 12 minutes or so, but I was snapping back awake at the slightest sounds or movements.

My two cats make a lot of slight sounds and movements in the night.

A little after 04:00 I threw in the towel, got out of bed to wander the house like a ghost for a while to see if that would stimulate me to sleep. I went to my office to fire up the laptop and send an email to work: Not sleeping well, I’m turning off my alarm so I expect I’ll be in no later than about 11:00. When I hit Send, the lab’s web email interface timed out as it sometimes does on my PowerBook. I thought nothing of it.

I climbed back into bed a little while later and finally I managed to doze off for good just before 07:00. I woke up a little after 09:30 and just lay there, enjoying the quiet—the cats were past their Bird Hunt hours and with most residents of the apartments already gone to work, there was very little noise, cars or otherwise. Thus it was that I got into the shower at 10:20, finished a bit after 10:30.

I was toweling off when out of nowhere came this terrific banging on my front door. Not the usual polite knock of, say, a delivery driver or the apartment management or similar—no, this was a staccato BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG, obviously meant to get my attention no matter what was happening. Towel around my waist, still dripping, I walked out of the bathroom and leaned over the stairway wall and bellowed, “WHO IS IT?”

No response, but I could hear a voice, either two people on the porch or one on a cell phone. And it sounded like Shannae, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. A few seconds later, more insistent banging at the door, another shout from me, still no response from whomever was rattling my rafters.

So I trooped down the stairs and nearly yanked the door right off its hinges in my irritation to open it and find out what the HELL was going on.

It was Shannae, with her son Austin. They’d been dispatched by Katharine and Michelle and others at the lab who thought perhaps I’d fallen and knocked myself out, or had a heart attack, or was otherwise incapacitated because I hadn’t shown up for work and I hadn’t left any message about why I wasn’t there, nor was I answering my cell phone, and no one had seen me leave the pub last night.

I’d left my cell phone on the bed when I got in the shower, didn’t hear it ringing over the running water.

Shannae was relieved to see me obviously alive and she called Michelle to tell her I was okay. I closed the door and found my cell phone to call Katharine, which is when I found out my message definitely had not made it through. Everyone at the lab had been mildly FREAKING OUT about my unannounced absence, and when I got here about 15 minutes ago I was swarmed under by Katharine and Michelle and several of the project managers in this brief celebration of my return to the land of the living.


Links for 2006-04-24


Links for 2006-04-23


It’s bird season, dammit

I can tell spring has officially arrived at Chez Don when my two cats wake me between 05:30 and 06:45 by bouncing off the bedroom window in vain attempts at catching the birds nesting under the eaves.

This year the birds arrived a little later than last year, but I know now that until August I’ll be up with the damned roosters every day.

Happy spring! ::mutter::


Links for 2006-04-22


Soul-crushing.

Our poor QA guy had to conduct the annual “Ethics and Data Integrity Training,” which consists of roughly 12 million PowerPoint slides that must be read to the group attending each session, followed by the Ethics Policy reading, followed by the Endless Examples of Ethically Suspect Behavior, followed by the 16-second Questions and Answers session.

I will never understand why companies prepare presentations of this type specifically for the presenters to read the slides’ content to the attendees. I read better, and faster for that matter, to myself; having the material read aloud to me is just a waste of time.

Also my right hip really needs to pop, but I can’t get it to pop. So I am Gimpy Don today, limping this way and that like I need a cane.

Also it’s raining.

Bluh.


You can see the edits!

One of the amusing side effects of subscribing to RSS and Atom feeds via Bloglines is its preference which allows you to display edited feed items as new, unread items. So if the item publisher writes up, say, a brief article about how some west-coast residents have bought their cell phones on the east coast, allegedly to take advantage of the fact that east-coast “Nights and Weekends” hours begin much earlier what with the several time zones and all, you get to see the original, often dumb or plain unintelligible, headline they chose for the article.

Thus, West Side Homeys Buy East Coast Phones For Better Nights And Weekends? becomes, after the writers come to their senses, Left Coasters Buy East Coast Phones For Better Nights And Weekends?.

Consumerist does this a lot, with Engadget and Gizmodo following closely.


Links for 2006-04-20


Asleep? Restroom break? Quickie?

My faith in our air transportation systems increases with each day:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: FAA investigates 25-minute silence at Sea-Tac tower


The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating nearly a half-hour of silence at a control tower at Sea-Tac Airport.

At about 3 a.m. last Tuesday, an air-traffic controller in a tower could not be reached by radio or by phone, Port of Seattle airport spokesman Bob Parker said. During the 25-minute silence, the airport was evacuated, and a Taiwanese plane, a Boeing 747- 400 flown by EVA, was unable to land.

Finally, an airport maintenance worker went to the guard shack at the control tower and was able to contact the person inside, though Parker could not confirm the cause of the silence.

At the time, only one controller was required to be in the glassed-in part of the tower, KING/5 reported.

Starting the next day—in a change that the FAA said was already in the works—two controllers were required to be there.

I guess the subliminal arrow took it all out of them

I was trying to track a FedEx package and figured, hey, they must have a track-by-email function, right? I know UPS does, very simple too:

  1. If you are in the United States: Open your e-mail client and create an e-mail message addressed to totaltrack@ups.com.
  2. If you are tracking a single tracking number, enter it as the subject line or within the body of the e-mail message. To track multiple packages by e-mail, you can enter up to 25 UPS tracking numbers in the body of an e-mail message. There is no need to create a subject for the message.
  3. Send the message.
A detailed tracking response will be automatically returned to you.

So I imagined FedEx’s email tracking, if it existed, must be similar, right?

Well, yes and no. They do offer tracking by email, again for up to 25 tracking numbers per message. But the email has to be formatted in a stellarly idiotic and needlessly troublesome manner:

  1. Create a new e-mail message. In the “To:” area, type track@fedex.com (it is not necessary to type anything on the subject line.)
  2. In the body of the message type the word “airbill” followed by a space, followed by your shipment tracking number. Do not include dashes or spaces in the tracking number, i.e. airbill 40012345678.
  3. Follow the airbill number with a space and the destination country code (this is a two-character code developed by IATA- International Air Transport Association).
    example:
    airbill 40012345678 ca
  4. Follow the country code with a space and the ship date. This can be an approximation as we will search the date you provide and the 4 days before and after it. The date should be entered in the format MMDDYY (month day year.) The country code is required even if you are tracking a U.S. domestic shipment.
    example:
    airbill 123456789 us 021797
    airbill 40012345678 ca 030397
    airbill 4001254689 jp 010597
    airbill 40098765432 gb 031097
Remember, you can track up to 25 airbills in one e-mail, but each shipment tracking number must appear on a separate line, formatted as above. Typing the word “help” in the body of the message will retrieve an e-mail help message. Typing the word “end” will stop processing commands (useful if your mailer adds a signature).

Other than some form of error-checking or alleged privacy consideration, there’s no reason to require anything other than an airbill for tracking. The other data points (ship date, country of destination) are attached to the airbill within FedEx’s system; requiring the user to submit them for tracking purposes is needlessly time-consuming and error-prone.

And requiring the word “airbill” before each airbill number? Stupidly repetetive. Again, their system should know the number is an airbill number, or a reference or delivery-attempt-notice number or whatever type of number it is, by its length or the start digit or whatever other methods they might use.

FedEx tracking numbers are 12 digits, UPS’s 18 digits, but a typical single-line email tracking request requires 30 characters for FedEx and the same 18 characters for UPS.

Stupid.


Things

I am part of the email distribution list that includes the information-technology workers who build and support the laboratory’s computer networks. Why I’m included in that group is beyond me, because while my job is IT-related—I do the electronic data formats and such for this lab location—I don’t provide any IT support services except incidentally to the people who work right around me.

But since I am part of the email distro, I see a lot of the emails from people in other lab locations when they need IT assistance. The company maintains no single point of contact for IT requests (no help-desk phone number or web page, for example), so it’s up to employees to figure out how to contact support folks for assistance.

A message in my email inbox this morning was typical of the dipshit way many people seek assistance for technical problems nowadays.

Seems one of the project managers in another laboratory location is having trouble with emails to a few specific clients being bounced back, in some cases as long as two days after she sends the messages. In her email to the IT distro list, she claims she’s sent these clients email successfully before, the email addresses are known good and have not changed, and a test email sent by the clients to her never arrived.

Also she proclaims two-day bounces are not acceptable.

Now, apart from the basic lack of understanding about how email works and the multiple possible sources of message bounces, I ask:

Why the HELL would you send an email to request assistance for a known problem sending and receiving email?

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

In other news—well, not new at all, in fact; it’s been in the works for more than a year now—the lab is changing its name as part of an acquisition.

This lab is located in the Seattle suburb of Bothell, which is something of a bedroom community at the north end of Lake Washington, about 15 miles (driving distance) north of downtown Seattle proper (overview map). The city name “Bothell” is of course not as well known as the city name “Seattle,” but initially The Powers That Be had decided the Bothell lab would take as its new name the corporation’s name suffixed by Bothell, the better to establish the exact location of the lab and get the city’s name out among the marketing world.

Same with our lab in the Portland, OR area; it’s actually in Beaverton (overview map), so it was to identify itself as Company Beaverton with the changing of the company name.

Apparently that’s all changed once more. Now we’re to be Company Seattle and the Beaverton lab will be Company Portland because of course we want to identify each laboratory with the well-known cities nearby.

At least they didn’t try to name the labs specifically on the business cards we received last month. This is the kind of decision that normally would be made immediately following the print run, after which would come the consternation because, damn, no one thought about the little details....


Catching up on “The West Wing”

Last night I decided to start catching up on the 12 or 13 episodes of The West Wing I had cached in my TiVo’s Now Playing list. The last episode I saw anywhere remotely close to its actual airdate was from Oct 23, 2005, the episode titled “Here Today”—ever since I got TiVo back in Dec 2003 I’ve been in the habit of letting shows I like back up by at least a couple of episodes mainly because I hated behind held to any schedules, and the time-shifting nature of the TiVo experience made it easy to let things slide for a couple or three weeks in a row.

Now, of course, it’s been close to six months, and in the interim John Spencer died, which threw the entire story line of his character Leo McGarry’s candidacy for Vice President into doubt. The last few weeks some of the entertainment blogs I follow have started discussing more and more the plots of each episode of the show as the election drew near; the last two weeks in particular have been difficult to avoid spoilers of the election itself and the episode(s) surrounding Leo’s death and the handling of that within the alternate universe of the West Wing reality.

Last night I decided I wanted to see things for myself, and be able to talk about them with my family and friends who follow the show pretty closely, so I fired up the TiVo and started with the first unwatched episode. I thought it was the live episode they did as a November sweeps stunt, the presidential candidates debating in a faux-NBC News setting, but it turns out I had one episode even older than that: “The Al Smith Dinner.”

That episode held my interest pretty closely. Another reason I’d stopped watching the show within a few days of each ep airdate was my mind would wander a bit and I’d find myself keeping track of the story lines fairly loosely, and then the Toby-leaking-secrets story happened and I thought, shrug—whatever. But “The Al Smith Dinner” and then the live-debate episode hooked me in again.

I’ve also heard about cast members from the days of yore returning to the show for brief appearances over the next several weeks, and because The West Wing has been my all-time favorite television show in many ways, I want to see things as they actually unfold (or no more than a day or two later) over the last few weeks of the series’ run.

So each night this week I’ll be clearing at least one more backlogged episode from the TiVo list, the better to know what my sister and mom and a bunch of friends have been DYING to talk to me about for nearly six months, and then we can discuss things in nearly real time once more.


Morning drive-time baseball

Seattle Mariners logoStrange, that.

I got in my car and turned on the radio for the drive to work—my usual routine for traffic reports and whatnot—and there was a baseball game.

I had a moment of “WTF?” as I wondered if perhaps I had wildly overlsept and was going to work at the end of the business day, but no, the sun was still in the east and at that moment they did a station identification and I remembered the Mariners are in Boston and it’s a late-morning game there.


Mildly destructive weekend

Helped our friends Michelle and Shannae move into a townhouse just up the road from mine Saturday afternoon.

Helping friends move—just the way I like to spend a weekend afternoon, though this move took less than two hours, all in all not that difficult. What sucked was the rain and the hail and wind and lightning and thunder. Those kinda blew, especially the lightning with my irrational fear of the phenomenon.

It was all I could do not to dive under the truck and huddle there twitching the entire time.

And the hail—or “ice pellets” as they’re wont to call it up here—it just stung. It was driving before the wind, which I didn’t think was all that strong. But the little stinging bits of ice said otherwise.

I must, however, give props to Weather Underground’s timely weather alerts service, which informed me via text message at 16:15ish Saturday of the severe thunderstorms expected to move through Marysville and Arlington Heights within the next 30 minutes. We knew those warnings to be accurate because they said the storm was moving northeast at about 40mph, and Marysville is about 35 miles north of Seattle, and we’d just been drenched by the damned things.

After the moving came the beer and the pizza, and also the little bit of wine, followed by the walk back to my place—a four-minute jaunt at a leisurely pace, which means I could probably do it in 90 seconds at my usual walking pace. At my place there was another beer or two, and a bit of smoking substances of questionable legality, to wind out the evening. Even though it was only 21:30, the evening wound down pretty fast at that point. But I still didn’t get to bed until well after 02:00.

Sunday was nice and quiet. A few phone calls this way and that for the Easter greetings, and I did some laundry and other domestic things. Also caught up on a couple episodes of The West Wing, which I’ve been letting collect on my TiVo since, what, October. I’m now down to just 11 episodes recorded. At this rate I’ll be caught up with the show about six months after it goes off the air.

Tonight I noticed that while I was moving one of M&S’s seemingly dozen televisions, I scratched the left lens of my glasses. I did this by flinging the power cord up and over the top of the TV cabinet, but it caught me in the face when it swung over the top, and the prong scraped a gouge in my lens at just the point where I always think there’s an eyelash or something on the lens.

So much for keeping this pair relatively scratch-free through their first year. Blargh.

Now, early Monday, time to hit the sack for another work week.


Late breakfast

I spent a good chunk of last night at Pyramid’s Seattle alehouse, so I woke up this morning with a very mild hangover—more the sense of dehydration and just this side of headachy and annoying, no nausea or anything quite so grand. And as happened to me the last time I was hungover (Denver, end of Feb 2006), I was craving some particular foodstuff intensely.

Today it was oatmeal, which was just fine because I happened to buy a new package of Quaker Oats only a few weeks ago. But I also really really wanted coffee, and not coffee from the usual drip maker. I was seized by the idea to fire up the coffee press, which I haven’t used in months.

So as I type this up quickly, my coffee-to-be is happily steeping in the pot, about three minutes away from pressing, and my oatmeal is bubbling lightly on the stove, also about three minutes from completion. I don’t have any ground cinnamon so I used my coffee grinder on the stick cinnamon, came out very nicely—I really like the scent of freshly ground cinnamon, such a comforting aroma—and the brown sugar goes into the oatmeal pot in, oh, about a minute.

Must away to the stove once more.

Happy Saturday. :-)


And they’re back!

Lunch over, phones rolled back to admin, so I can go back to uninterrupted auditing of data in an electronic output file against the printed report we gave the client 18 months ago.

Oh joy!


You can tell the lunch hour has ended

by the phone volume, which has gone from one call every 31 minutes to 12 calls every five minutes in the last, well, five minutes.

Also I’ve discovered that about half of the function buttons on my phone are programmed incorrectly. When I tried to transfer a call a little while ago, I ended up with a BLOOP BLOOP BLOOP warning message about no call to retrieve and nearly hung up by mistake.

Mmm computerized phone systems. Gotta love ’em.


All quiet on the telephonic front

The phones clicked over to me at 12:03. I’ve had one incoming call since, a hang-up from someone who couldn’t be bothered to wait on hold briefly while I checked for a referral on an asbestos analysis.

All hail the mighty lunch hour. :-)


Many hats

Today I will be undertaking rather an odd collection of tasks.

First up: Our administrative group (the invoicing and accounts payable and receivable folks) is taking a group lunch break. They also cover our incoming telephone lines, so for about two hours midday I’ll be Operator Don. Takes me back to my Kmart days when I worked at the service desk and handled refunds/exchanges, customer inquiries, and incoming calls all at the same time.

If anyone asks for a refund today, there’s gonna be hurtin’ involved.

Second: While I was on the phone yesterday with Cingular, the helpful technician whose name I do not recall suggested I ask a friend or family member with a cell phone to let me use the phone with my SIM card so we can figure out if the message problems I’m having are related to my phone specifically or are something in Cingular’s text-alerts service.

This morning I geeked out briefly with Katharine’s phone, a Nokia 6620 she got under her old AT&T Wireless contract. I spent a couple minutes prying off battery covers, removing batteries, pulling SIM cards, and putting everything back together only to find that while my RAZR V3 likes Katharine’s SIM card just fine, her 6620 absolutely hates my SIM, which is Cingular’s newer “64K smartchipTM” type.

So no joy there. Instead I’ll leave my phone off through the 10:00-10:15 period and hope when I turn it back on it handles the burst of incoming messages a little more gracefully, and then I’ll turn off the burst when I get home tonight because I can’t log in to Cingular’s MEdia Net site properly at work.

Though Katharine did just suggest I could possibly try Sonya’s phone, which is the black version of the Cingular RAZR V3. Hmm....

And then: One of my staffers gave her two-week notice yesterday, so I also get to start the Recruiting Mode line of thinking while I figure out if a part-time worker would replace her adequately or if I’ll have to don the gladiator gear to fight it out over a full-time slot.

But wait, there’s more: I have in the last two weeks received a spate of job offers out of the blue, many from the insurance-sales industry, which interests me not at all. I wonder if Monster has again incorrectly classified my résumé in the “Insurance” categories since part of my job history includes the help-desk gig at a managed-care firm. And I keep forgetting I have a résumé out there anyway; must set it to “invisible” for a while at least, anyway.

Finally: It’s raining, which wasn’t supposed to happen until tomorrow and on through the weekend, according to the way-too-cheerful radio weatherdork. Kinda fits me mood, the rain does, but I would really like the sun to blind me through the window for most of the day.


Language confusion

For the second time today I am on the phone with Cingular customer service to find out why I am not receiving text messages or voice-mail alerts. I am on hold right now while the technician checks into what he thought was a problem with their text-alerts system, because I told him I first noticed a problem yesterday around 10:00, when I expected to receive a flurry of text alerts for daily trivia, daily quotation, blah blah blah. But yesterday only two messages came through and eventually I found out I had two voice messages but no voice-mail indicator at all.

Cingular logoSo like this morning, they “re-provisioned” the phone and forced the messages through, and then the technician placed me on hold while he checked further into the text-alerts problem.

The hold music is mainly Cingular propaganda and the Friendly Announcer Woman just spent 30 seconds asking, in conversational English: Did I know I could get my bill in Spanish if I chose? Because Cingular wants to bill me in the language I’m most comfortable receiving!

I was waiting for the Spanish-language version of the announcement but no dice, not even the brief “oprima el numero dos”-style announcement many phone systems rattle off immediately after the English-language “Thank you for calling BigCorp World HQ” greeting.


Spiders the size of sanitation trucks

This morning on my way to the office I had to stop at our off-site storage facility where we store project and data files for up to seven years. I needed several project files, one dating back to Oct 2004 and three from early 2005, to prepare an electronic data deliverable for a client who, it turns out, is about the nicest person in the history of the world when you speak with him on the telephone, but in email comes across like the world’s biggest ass.

I know, I know. Reading a certain tone into a message’s content is a bad thing, blah blah blah. But so is writing messages that always sound demanding and snippy and irritated without realizing that’s how your tone comes across.

Anyway, the off-site storage facility is about four miles from the lab and conveniently is directly along one of the main roads I can use to get to work, so stopping on the way to work is sensible and easy, but I forgot about the evile creatures that inhabit the nooks and crannies of the storage vaults.

Big spiders. BIG ones. I’m talking a good two inches across, leg-span-wise, the kind whose skittering you can hear a block away. Of course I didn’t hear the skittering until I reached into one of the file drawers and the spider leapt out at me and I did this seizure-like Evasion Dance! because I hate, hate, HATE spiders.

And my data files weren’t even there; they were recent enough projects that they’re still in our ON-SITE archive.

I faced Death By Spider for no reason!


WAY too enthusiastic

Hijacking a poll about a Washington state quarter design...?

Seattle Post-Ingelligencer: Washington quarter voting hijacked by computer mischief



OLYMPIA, Wash.—An online poll asking Washingtonians to pick their favorite design for the state’s quarter was suspended Monday, after the balloting was hijacked by robotic computer programs that pushed the tally past 1 million votes over the weekend.

Technicians were busy reworking the online poll’s computer code with hopes of restoring the voting by Tuesday, said Mark Gerth, a spokesman for the state Arts Commission.

State officials overseeing the balloting originally decided not to limit the number of votes coming from individual computers so that family members sharing a single machine could each cast a vote, Gerth said.

But that philosophy was being abandoned after the weekend’s voting, which showed some computers casting repeated votes for a quarter design faster than humanly possible.

“We hadn’t counted on, I guess, the over-enthusiasm of people,” Gerth said Monday.

Stefan Sharkansky, a computer software consultant and conservative blogger, noted the online poll’s susceptibility to such automatic voting scripts during the weekend after some readers tipped him off.

“Clearly, the votes were going up by 20 a second, which is not a plausible number,” Sharkansky said Monday.

The State Quarter Advisory Commission is shepherding the selection of a special quarter design. The finalists are:
  • A leaping salmon breaching the water in front of a conifer-trimmed Mount Rainier.
  • An American Indian-style drawing of a playful killer whale, spouting water and raising its tail flukes.
  • A salmon, apples and Mount Rainier within an outline of the state.
The two designs featuring salmon also incorporate “The Evergreen State” as a motto.

The orca design was winning in the altered voting before officials pulled the plug, and technical workers were attempting to purge the clearly invalid votes from the totals before restarting the poll, Gerth said.

I completely creeped myself out just now.

I use a plastic cup to water my plants, and I had left it at the edge of the kitchen sink earlier today. When I was in the kitchen just now refilling my water in the dark, I knocked the cup off the counter and when it hit the floor and bounced away, it sounded exactly like someone was rattling at my garage door.

Sometimes living alone really blows.


olive oil vulture

Tonight’s humourous spam message:

From: Patty Sharp <esmfamojbjkn@jvlcorp.com>
Subject: olive oil vulture
Date: April 08, 2006 20:11:14 PDT
To: Don Nunn

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Tonight’s playlist

Earlier this week I goofed and blew away the ratings for my entire 10,236-song iTunes library, so I’ve spent a few minutes each day since redoing the ratings and cleaning up ID3 tags and whatnot.

My ratings scale is a bit fluid, but in general, I use iTunes’ 5-star rating system like so.

  • 1 star: I hate these songs. They’re unchecked so they won’t play except by direct action (double-clicking in the song list, clicking and pressing Return, and similar), and they’re included in no playlists. In many cases these songs’ very existence annoys me, but I still keep the song files around. Go figure.
  • 2 stars: For non-classical genres, my “starter rating”—items I add to the library get this rating by default. Songs will play as part of my full-library or genre shuffles so I can determine if another rating is more appropriate. In addition, all videos, audiobooks, and podcasts keep this rating no matter how much I like them.
  • 3 stars: Songs I like for (sometimes very) occasional listening. Also my default rating for songs in the classical genres (Classical, Opera, Operetta, and similar); these genres are excluded from shuffle operations.
  • 4 stars: Songs I like quite a bit and will play fairly often. All genres.
  • 5 stars: Absolute favorites, songs I can hear over and over. All genres.

Some ratings I apply based solely on artist name. Barbra Streisand, for whose presence in my music library I blame Katharine, automatically gets one star, while a handful of artists/groups get 3 or more stars solely by virtue of who they are: Steve Winwood, the Natalie Merchant-era 10,000 Maniacs, Eastmountainsouth, Vienna Teng, The Fat Lady Sings, among others. But even among the higher-rated artists, some songs get 2-star or 1-star ratings.

Otherwise, the ratings are most often based on snap judgments the first time I hear given songs. I’ve found over the years that such quick judgments tend to be most accurate for the way I rate songs.

Upshot: Tonight I have a 470-song list shuffling. I created it via a Smart Playlist that matches checked songs rated 3 stars and higher with duplicates and the majority of songs in the classical genres removed.

Songs appear in the shuffle-play order iTunes generated when I started playing the list. The list totals 1.3 days of play time, so I won’t hear all the songs in a single playing session; instead I used iTunes’ Copy To Play Order function (control-click the Smart Playlist to find this option on the contextual menu) to preserve this order across iTunes sessions.

Song – Rating – Artist, Album

Continue reading "Tonight’s playlist" »


Trivia: Apr 08, 2006

  • Today in history: 1973 Pablo Picasso died—1974 Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record
  • News of the weird: ARCADIA, CA—The coach of a girls’ softball team has been charged with verbally abusing and belittling his team of 12-year-olds. (AP)
  • Strange fact: The total number of Internet searches increased by more than 50% from December 2004 to December 2005.
  • Daily quote: The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good.—Abigail Van Buren
  • Daily word: diulte—to thin out, to diminish in strength or density
  • Daily trivia: The planet Neptune is named after the Roman god of the sea.
  • Celebrity birthdays: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is 68. Singer Julian Lennon is 43. Actor Patricia Arquette is 38.

Trivia: Apr 07, 2006

  • Today in history: 1947 Henry Ford died—1948 World Health Organization founded
  • News of the weird: COPENHAGEN, Denmark—Security guards at a hospital were nabbed stealing toys that were intended for critically ill children. (Reuters)
  • Strange fact: According to the U.S. Census, 3.4 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry.
  • Daily quote: Of course I’m ambitious. What’s wrong with that? Otherwise you sleep all day.—Ringo Starr
  • Daily word: anfractuous—full of complex windings and turnings
  • Daily trivia: Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic Party.
  • Celebrity birthdays: Director Francis Ford Coppola is 61. Actor Jackie Chan is 51. Actor Russell Crowe is 41.

Approved for dunking!

I find this story both appalling and intriguing, because I am a dyed-in-the-wool Oreo dunker. The sexual-orientation angle in the Consumerist source post was new to me, but then I’ve been out of junior high school for, what, 20 years now:

Crain’s Chicago Business: Kraft to try oblong version of Oreo made for dunking

Oreos have been orange, they’ve been chocolate-covered, they’ve even been Shrek Green. Now they’re going to be something other than round.

In a bid to capitalize on the dunk portion of the longtime “Twist, Lick, Dunk” theme for its Nabisco sandwich cookie, Kraft Foods this June will introduce a six-week limited-edition version of the typically O-shaped treat that is oblong and marked with messages including “soaked,” “soggy,” and “dry” lines for fun and easy dunking.

“We know the Oreo and milk ritual is vital” for the brand, said Kraft spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati, explaining the reasoning behind the launch of Oreo Dunkers.

Like with any limited edition, Dunkers’ success in the market during June and July will be the deciding factor whether to turn it into a permanent item, she said.

The debut of Dunkers will come without dedicated advertising but will coincide with the return of Kraft’s Oreo & Milk Jingle promotion, in which consumers can submit videos of themselves singing the song about the classic combination.

Got phone!

Yep, phone was right where I remembered leaving it, between my keyboard and desk phone. Five text messages and three missed calls (one even left a message, woo).

I’m always afraid the rare times when I leave my phone at work or at home will be the times someone (or everyone) absolutely MUST GET HOLD OF ME RIGHT NOW!!! but that hasn’t happened yet, thank God.

Happy Friday. I’ll call people back this afternoon.