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Mr. Pandakun's Neighborhood
20 most recent entries

Date:2012-08-11 20:11
Subject:The worst work travel experience, hands-down

Okay, so our company bought another company here in Boulder earlier last month. Very nice. Talked to the people out there, they're all cool people, got the gist of what needed to be installed, made all the appropriate appointments, etc.

Everything was prepared on my end when I was given a ride out to the airport on Friday, everything seemed to be in hand. Then, as I waited for my plane, I get an email from our ISP: good news, the T1 circuit is being tested on Monday and the router will be out there Tuesday! Except that was bad news, because everything hinged on things being ready on Saturday morning for the phone system install. Sent some emails back and got another router sent out for Saturday delivery, cool.

Then, I get to Denver and get my tiny ass car - fine. Show up and chat with the staff about IT plans. But, the wiring guy for the phone lines AND the wiring guy for the ISP don't show. WTF? I email the ISP again, and get "they were out there on Friday". Yes, and they tested the circuit in the basement and didn't drag the cable up to the office - like I'd asked. "okay, they'll be out there Monday"

I then call the phone company, as they have limited hours on Saturday. No dice, they have no records of my order, and I'll have to wait for.... Yes, Monday... to call back. The wiring guys I hired to fix the faceplates show up, and I have to tell them "sorry, gotta reschedule for Monday - maybe Tuesday". Which is going to suck for everyone else as that means their phones will be off during business hours.

Then, I go to Home Depot to get some fire retardant plywood for the shelf backing. They don't have it, but they can special order. I ask if anyone else has it, and they say no. I call around to some lumber yards, and lo! Success! Except they can't cut the 4x8 sheet for me, I'll have to get a truck. Fine, I can rent one from Home Depot... Except someone rented the last one right before me in line. They say a van should be back by 10:30am, and the lumberyard is open until noon. Cool, I wait. And wait. And them my guts explode from something I ate for breakfast.

Not only that, but the "decaf" mocha I ordered just an hour ago wasn't actually decaf, it was full-caf. Maybe double-caf, because I'm way high strung at this point, which made the gut problem all the more painful.

So the van doesn't get there by 11:15am, and there's no way I can get to the lumberyard in time - even if I got a UHaul, which I can't since I don't have proof of insurance (trucks are "normal vehicles"). Fine, I get it, I'll just get normal plywood and have it replaced later in the year.

I get back to work, feeling really sick and awful, and continue my work. Later, I drill anchor screws, take down a shelving system, put up a big sheet of plywood, and then get a light dinner. I get back an hour later and mount the beastly bulky shelving thing, mount the switches, plug everything back in, and promptly lose it while getting down from the ladder. Exhausted, very uncomfortable, still sick and shaky, I drive home. I managed to get things done - which surprises me still - but fuck did I just want to spend the day at the hotel curled up in bed.

Can't, though. I've got a full day tomorrow and a big scramble to do a hell of a lot of things Monday morning, all the while laying the hammer down on my vendor support for putting me in this bind, and giving out apologies for interrupting people's work for a better part of a day. My body wants to give up, but I've got three days more to go. Ugh.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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Date:2012-06-08 14:56
Subject:MY review of Prometheus (SPOILERS)
Mood: tired

I'm going into spoilers because I wanted to address some of the complaints on specifics of the film with my opinions. If you've seen the movie these will make more sense, but if you're considering seeing the movie and really want an idea of how it *feels* (especially before you outlay the $$ for Digital XD 3D) this may help.

Keep reading the spoilers, you warned me...Collapse )

Anyway, despite all the opportunities wasted and dialog problems I still very much enjoyed the movie. I hope they don't make a sequel and instead work on Bladerunner prequels or expanded world stuff. Alien(s) is now, basically, completed.

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Date:2012-01-04 14:46
Subject:"Brighter Futures Charter School" link scam

Public service message for other IT people out there, pass it on where appropriate:

One of our sister companies got an e-mail from someone claiming to be Cassandra Smith from a school called "Brighter Futures Charter School":
From: Cassandra Smith [mailto:csmith@brightfuturecs.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 04, 2012 7:19 AM
To: xxxxxxx@xxxxxx.org
Subject: Suggestion and compliments on your site, www.xxxxxxx.org!

Good morning!

My name is Ms. Smith and I am a Science teacher for some wonderful students
at Brighter Futures Charter School in California. We are currently learning
about global warming and I just wanted to let you know that we have been
using your page, http://www.kyotousa.org/index.php?p=links . It's been so
helpful for our project in class. My students just absolutely loved your

One of my students, Samantha, came to me with another resource that was very


She thought it would be a perfect addition to your site of already valuable
resources! (She is always going above and beyond...such a great kid!)

Would you mind adding it to your resource list? I, too, think it is a great
resource and I would love to show her that her hard work has paid off! I
know that if she saw it up on your page she would be delighted!

P.S. I've decided that Samantha will be rewarded with our "Student of the
Month" award for her special find and a good deed done well, so please let
me know if you decided to add it. :-)

Have a fantastic day!

Cassandra Smith

"The surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed."
-Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Okay, so the link they send is the first warning sign: wholesalecentral.com? Why would there be any useful information about global warming on a site dedicated to wholesales? Looking there, at the bottom you'll see a bunch of links to other shifty retail sites. This is search result scamming, where a shifty marketer will create a fake webpage with copied material from somewhere else, then put links to other sites within that page - usually out of site. When Google does its magic of determining what sites should get top results, one of it's methods is to look for unique and legitimate links to a site. If you can hide these links in legitimate sites (or legitimate appearing ones), then Google's engines determine that they're valid and bump the search results up higher.

As there's real, direct money in this the marketer will usually spend some time carefully crafting bogus websites and well constructed e-mails above to start the campaign. The receiver of this email did some quick checking around, and thought it looked a bit off when he visited the wholesale site - which was an excellent catch. Here's the other: when you go to Brighter Future's webpage, there's something really important missing - names. Place names and people's names are just not there, nor are specifics about programs and that sort of thing. Just very generic text. For contacting them, they just have a bunch of empty fields to create a comment in. What about a mailing address, phone or fax number? Nope.

In a word, fake. Potentially harmful too, as search results for other links yielded links to hijacked and virus payloaded websites.

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Date:2011-10-26 09:31
Subject:Why enforcing regulations matters

From a wise poster on Slashdot. Really.

"Since part of my job is risk management, allow me to explain how this game works. It's very unethical and very inhuman, so if you have a tender stomach, you might want to stop reading now.

Risk management is about assessing and evaluating risk, then taking measures... or not taking measures. What matters is money. How much does it cost to mitigate or neutralize the risk? How likely is the incident going to happen? How much will it cost if it happens?

An alert reader will notice that there's nothing about the effect of an incident in that question. What about the environmental damage, the damage to human life, the long term effect? How about making an area inhabitable for centuries? All that is summed up under "how much does the incident cost".

And here's where government comes into play and how government dictates just what a company will do with the risk. If they act as they do far too often today, by not holding a company accountable for their actions, the sensible thing for a company is to carry the risk. Or rather, ignore it, since it will be carried by government and population. Again, the sensible thing to do from a risk assessment point is to simply forgo any and all safety and security measures beyond what's necessary to protect the company assets. Unless of course you may expect a bailout if your plant gets too hot to operate, then even that doesn't matter anymore.

Companies do not care about safety beyond what is necessary to protect their assets. They would rather install a full blown security camera and tripwire system to keep you from stealing a single pencil than to invest a hundred bucks to change their smoke filters to keep their chimney from blowing a few metric tons of SOx into the surroundings unless you force them to.

And remember when trying to "force" a company that fines are nothing but a risk assessment factor. If it's cheaper to pay the fine than to heed the law, fines will be paid. If risk, fine and expenses are high enough, creating a shell daughter company that will carry the risk and be promptly sunk in case of an incident is also an option.

Laws are, to a company, just part of their risk management and cost calculation. Unless it's cheaper to follow the law than to break it, it will be ignored."
- by Opportunist

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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Date:2011-10-23 20:41
Subject:Goodbye, WhiteWolf
Mood: thoughtful

I was first introduced to White Wolf with Werewolf. I had no idea Vampire existed, except - of course - it did, before Werewolf went to print. Trekking into Berkeley on a Saturday mid-morning (likely after a 'til 3am game on Friday night), I picked up a copy at Games of Berkeley. The first edition was still entirely in flimsy paper-back, but still had all the touches of a 1st edition. Somewhat sloppy copy editing, references to famous people at the time (Performance of 5's example was Lars Ulric!), and concept sketches in the back - along with some of the writer's takes on developing the product.

At home, I read it all day. Cover to cover. That weekend, I read it twice. I could not conceive of such a magnificent story telling of Werewolves - I was on fire to create characters, run a game, something! Anything! I had to get right into this game and watch it go. My first character was a run-away Black Fury Philodox, and I yearned to play. Decorating one's book covers at school was a thing to do, so I grabbed a few of the Piedmont "spirit" sheets - i.e. a glossy 80# sheet with the school's crest printed in purple ... on one side, totally blank on the other - flipped them and covered three of my text books with them. Next, I picked up some carbon copy and tracing paper from the art supply store, and over the next two weeks *painstakingly* traced the artwork from within the book on to my covers. Specifically the fight between the Black Fury and Silverfang, both in Crinos form. Fine-tipped black ballpoint pen for the outlines, red pen for the blood, and a number of black ballpoints for the Fury's fur.

Truly they were a sight to behold. People kept asking me if I drew them, and I was honest - no, I only traced them. I did other graphic art-type things in the past, like take a giant 24x36 technical blueprint of the mechs from Battletech and reduce them to 8.5x11... anyway. I was so proud of those covers, I kept them in as good of a condition I could. I repaired them, re-inked some faded parts, and transferred them to new books when the year switched.

My first attempt at running the game was with my cousins in Grass Valley, and although I don't remember any of the sessions, they checked out the book too and were totally sold on it. Later, when my cousin bought the Vampire book, I read that cover-to-cover too - surely this new gaming company was on a roll - but I just wasn't as impressed with it. I did, however, LOVE the Timothy Bradstreet art. I was a total unabashed fan. I ran into the comic store to snag the Red Sky Diaries T-Shirt, done by Timothy Bradstreet, and buy it. I had no idea what the Red Sky Diaries was, but it had to be mine. I photocopied all the really excellent chapter art in the Guide to the Sabbat book and put it in a collage (along with Cerebus) that I would take to my dorm at HSU.

A few years later, I left high school and took my Werewolf game to college - we tried all sorts of stuff there, delving into the mass of material now published by White Wolf. Trying to figure out the origins of the WoD creatures, arguing about how they came about, which tribes were really on top of things, what the next book would do with the Kitsune (whooohoo, Japan!), etc. While I was on my everything-Asian kick (especially Japan), I took a gleam to Kindred of the East. I loved the philosophy and mythology of it all, tied in nicely... minus the anime-themed art, which was unfortunate.

Then there was the LARPing. Oh, the LARPing! So much LARP did we have. Starting down in Berkeley during my first summer out from college (or maybe it was the last year of high school), I discovered the social wonder that LARPs were and decided to play. LARPing at this point was adapted entirely from the WoD books - no real published rules existed - and some really excellent ideas spawned from it. The Berkeley crowd wasn't really my cup of tea, but some of my other gaming friends knew people there pretty well, so it went ok. Later, while up at HSU, we decided to give this LARPing thing a try using the homebrewed rules I borrowed from Berkeley.

We had an instant hit! Under the name of Little Black Pig, we started a club on campus that would show anime videos (which we had to get permission to show), but mostly funded the LARP out of what we were able to raise. It wasn't much, but we got some props out of the deal and it felt official. The LARP grew from just 8 players, our core gaming group, to about 15 regulars, and we had some excellent games and memorable moments (the Setite high priestess and her capable ghoul, the maggot infested Nosferatu, and - of course - The Bunny) out of our time running the thing. There was lots of out-of-game drama, of course; it was Humboldt. Yet it made us focus more on the games - not just on the LARP, but the tabletop ones as well - to the point we were overdosing at 8 games a week. Twice on Sunday, yes, and most of them White-Wolf based.

We then connected our LARP with a world-wide organization, and to the LARP going on in San Francisco. That connection was a bit awkward at first - with the players in SF and the political power games in character - but it worked out fairly well on the first few visits. Not too long after, I decided to leave Humboldt and go back to the Bay Area. I was out of college and my prospects up in Eureka were very, very few and not looking very good. Lots of personal stuff was going on then, and leaving was hard. Most of my friends no longer lived in the Bay Area, and I'd grown into my adult life with the people in Humboldt. It was, however, the best possible move for my future and I would continue to LARP with the S.F. group and later form our own Werewolf LARP in the very place I started LARPing.

Times, of course, change and I haven't really played a WoD game in many years. I ran a Kindred of the East game for a little while, but I'd been so out of practice it didn't really take hold. I miss the incredible depth of Werewolf, the spirit world and all its imaginative landscapes the most, though, and long to play it again.

And what got me on this topic was this:

Not so long ago, CCP (makers of Eve Online) bought White Wolf game studio... I'm guessing to get the juicy material and develop it into a MMORPG - which, as it turns out, they did. And focusing on vampires, of course. Here's the preview: here.

Now that CCP is facing tough times, they're - basically - gutting more of the White Wolf staff's publishing arm down to a few people. Yep, just a few guys to run the website and keep it on life support.

In a nutshell, the World of Darkness - as a paper/pencil RPG is gone for good.

This makes me sad. All things, of course, eventually end and the World of Darkness was long coming after the whole change-up between oWoD and nWoD. I never really thought that it'd gasp its dying breath anytime soon, but there you have it.

On the bright-side, I have a lot of hope for the new generation of RPGs that will fill this void. I really love the FATE system, Pathfinder's really working for me on the D&D evolved front, Reign's a very interesting game that has a lot of potential, etc. Some systems I would have liked seen do better - SLA Industries and Cthulhu Tech, to name a few. WhiteWolf was the first company to call GMing "storytelling" - it certainly created quite the backdrop for it! . I hope to keep gaming into the foreseeable future, and to continue to be inspired by the stories that we weave.

Goodbye, WhiteWolf. Thank you for everything. Even the cheesy Ahroun + Lupus + Stargazer combo.

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Date:2011-09-21 19:18
Subject:Of moving to Oakland

I've lived in Oakland and traveled throughout Oakland all but, eh, 10 years of my life. I've passed through a lot more neighborhoods than I've lived in, but I'm a pretty good judge of neighborhoods I grew up around. If you're considering moving into Oakland, you may have seen a lot of press about all the violence and police activity going on there. Here's some (hopefully) helpful advice:

Where's smoke, there's headlines:

Oakland is a vast city, encompassing many neighborhoods and extending itself far into different tax brackets. There is a lot of crime, just like in any major city, but if you know the neighborhoods, you can generally avoid the scary stuff. No place is truly "safe" - unless you have the money to live up in the Piedmont hills.

That being said, it's important to be choosy about the neighborhood. Go with what you can afford, of course, but understand that while you may save money, you will earn stress.

Good choices (if you can afford them):

* Up the hill on Lakeshore Ave., before the overpass. Further up Lakeshore (past the commercial shopping area) is spendy, but excellent.
* Anywhere on the west hillside of Grand by Grand Lake Theater. You're approaching Piedmont territory, that's why. The hillside of Grand after the freeway overpass is okay (Adam's Point), too, with a few exceptions.
* The grid between Piedmont Ave. to Broadway, and 40th - 51st.
*... after that point, substitute Claremont for Broadway when going north.
* Past Alcatraz (going towards Berkeley), things get better.

Decent choices:
* San Pablo & 40th and up to Alcatraz, but hugging close to San Pablo. West of San Pablo gets you into Emeryville, which is good.
* Around Lake Merrit's west side between 15th and 20th Street. Sandwich yourself between Broadway and the lake.
* "Pill Hill" is decent, but you get some spillover of crime from the 30's blocks on MLK. Stay on the hill, and don't go west of MLK.
* Jack London Square south of Broadway, but there's not much there that isn't condos.
* 40 blocks between Market and San Pablo are okay, but that gets hazy when you get into the high 50's and 60's.

"Not good" choices:
* Generally anything west of the 980. What is it about freeway overpasses?

Unknown to me:
* Anything southeast of Park Blvd. I've driven through and it doesn't "look" good, but I'm sure it's not horrible. I have seen the 90's and 100's blocks, and near Mills. Not good.

Any opinions, clarifications, telling me I'm wrong - appreciate the feedback.

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Date:2011-09-16 18:09
Subject:Wishlist 2011

I've posted some up on my Amazon wishlist, but there's some local stuff I'd like:

* Movie gift certificates (for the place down here in Hayward... the AMC?)
* Replacement handlebar grips for both my bikes. They're getting pretty funky.
* Gift certificate to EndGame - there's always something I like there
* Gift certificate to Vosges Chocolate, or a trip to the Xcolocat Bar on College Ave.
* Speaking of food, there's also gift certs to Foodoro (foodoro.com) - they've got all sorts of neato stuff there.
* I need a bunch of individual Magic cards - see next entry for details

I also have a wishlist on Amazon - but please buy things via local outlets whenever possible.

NOTE: For Castro Valley, try Ronin Games and Hobbies on Center St. They can order things and have a stock of boardgames/RPGs too.


That's all I can think of for now. There's just not much more out there I would want or need :)

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Date:2011-06-29 12:20
Subject:Updates - yeah, what are those again?
Mood: tired

A few tidbits for everyone. Warning, about 50/50 complaining, but I'll keep it mellow :)

* We moved to our new place, and in so doing I injured my right knee in a biking accident right before. Well, the move and the lack of working bike has kept that from healing, plus the left knee - which is suffering from "runner's knee". I don't think my body has had any time to heal from the crash, as it's been going at full tilt work-mode since last Wednesday... with, like, a half-day of rest so far.

* I'm thinking of taking all next week to work at home. Really work, not just "work". I've got a number of things to schedule, document and generally craft for two huge upcoming projects, so I could use some quiet time. Plus, that'll take some time off my knees and some time to schedule a massage. MMmmm, massage!

* A nasty Windows virus has been making its way around, the symptoms being disabling anti-virus programs (of course), making as many files as it can "hidden", keylogging and reporting back to a hacked website. Three people have so far fallen victim, so it's certainly making its way around. Fighting that right now.

* Trying to get our virtualization project wrapped up - specifically the network reworking. I "finally" struck out on an eBay purchase - i.e. getting IT gear from eBay, and finding out it doesn't work to the degree I need it. And of course, it's sold "as-is" with only a 7 day return policy. I got it for a very low price point, which is usually a tip-off, but sometimes I sell perfectly working stuff for real cheap 'cause I just want it OUT of my office. Anyway, a loss of about $600, but I'll try re-selling it on eBay and see if I can get at least $100 back.

* My room's almost finished, but I have a lot of odds/ends to put away and a lot of art to hang. With that in mind, I'm holding off finishing that up until I have the garage finished and the bathroom installation stuff done. Kitchen's coming along nicely, though - and that's awesome!

I'm so totally going to float through November, after the crazy that's going to be the next 4 months.

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Date:2011-04-03 20:58
Subject:Another food posting
Mood: cheerful

So last trip up to Portland wasn't really for new restaurant experiences, at least for me. Roger, however, got a treat with eating at Pazzo and Toro Bravo - my two new "favorites when money isn't a biggie" up there. Also ate at Mother's Bistro for breakfast this time, and take out at a Lebanese place for dinner (portions are absolutely huge there). Breakfast was also had at "the Original", which was attached to our hotel - the Courtyard Marriott. I like the city center Marriott, but I think I'll be trying to book that Courtyard when I can in the future. It's a bit more modern, and I like the rooms more.

What did we eat?

Pazzo --
I had the Anatra; roasted Sonoma muscovy duck breast, savoy cabbage, mustard seed and kumquat. The cabbage was a bit *too much bitter* with the kumquat, I might have paired dandelion greens or roasted leeks instead. Otherwise, quite fantastic - especially the duck meat!

We both had the Barbietola; sea-salt roasted beets, brussels sprouts, horseradish, mascarpone and pistachio. The beets & horseradish made the dish, and I can see why they added the mascarpone - to add creaminess and temper the strong horseradish - but I felt the beets smoothed out the horseradish with their sweetness and didn't need so much creamy texture. Thankfully, one could easily pare down the mascarpone to their desire.

Roger had the Gnocchi; handmade potato pillows with a wild boar sparerib ragu. The ragu was perfection, the earthiness of the meat went perfectly with the rich plum (I think) tomatoes, and everything clicked.

At the lunch carts --
We split a dressed sandwich at Wet Hot Beef - sliced Piedmontese beef au jus, housemade pickled vegetables (beets and carrot), caramelized sweet onions on a French roll. Also picked up some of their potato chips, which were absolutely wonderful - just the right amount of salt, and sliced very thin. The only downside to the sandwich was that it wasn't piled high with meat, and that's fine - the cut they used isn't cheap, and I appreciate the sacrifice of quality over quantity.

Just in case, we also picked up some teriyaki chicken at a Hawaiian BBQ place that was eh.

At Mother's Bistro --
For breakfast, I had the Migas - which was scrambled egg, tortilla, mushrooms and peppers. Basic, and very tasty as it's sort of a comfort food of mine.

Finally, Toro Bravo --
Again I had the tasting menu and encouraged Roger to get the same. He'd already had a drink, so I figured ordering a pitcher of sangria would be an excellent choice. It was, as the wine was watered down enough by fruit juice and ice that it didn't totally overpower everything.

The tasting menu consists of standards, which I'll * below, and some which are switched out depending - I'm sure - on season.

* Grilled bacon-wrapped date. Just like last time, and always a hit!
* Singing pig greens (with grilled asparagus, chopped egg and hazelnuts). The standard salad, although this time with egg and asparagus. The asparagus was delightful, as it was first steamed to al denté, then grilled. The egg I avoided, but that's a personal preference.
* Grilled Shrimp with chilies - just like the last time, again wonderful.
- Seared cauliflower with olives and salsa verde - Personally, I don't think there's a cauliflower dish out there that strikes me as anything more than "okay", this was no exception. The salsa verde, however, made it more interesting.
* Sautéed spinach - like last time, still good.
- Chorizo & Manchego with country bread - the chorizo was surprisingly mild, but the selection of manchego more than made up for the flavor there.
- Duck liver mousse terrine with morels and house made sidra mustard. THE only liver I will ever eat again, which should speak volumes to people who know me. Liver was incredibly smooth flavored, well balanced especially with the mustard (which had a just a bit more than a hint of cumin - nicely done).
- Baked polenta with roast beef, peppers and onions. I could not recommend this dish enough, so creamy and rich it'll make you wish the plate was twice the size. The roast beef complimented the polenta well, although the onions got lost in there somewhere. That's the problem, I think, with such a combination.
- Grilled Hanger Steak with arugula and potato salad - the spices used for the steak rub really pulled off the flavors of the meat, and the rarity helped here. Just enough fat, too, to help keep it juicy. The potatoes and arugula got lost underneath, and lended very little to the meal other than bulk. If they were a bit spicier, maybe... and why arugula?

Anyhow, we had to wait for an hour for our table, so we walked upstairs to the next-door "Secret Society", listened to some (free) 20's & 30's jazz and had a drink to pass the time. Perfect!

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Date:2011-03-04 11:40
Subject:Where I've been
Mood: tired

I'm not bragging here, I'm just showing the contrast of where I seem to travel most. Also, I only included places I've been outside of the airport for a day (or more), and did more than just cross borders - i.e. actually *visited* and seen things by foot.

My US travel experience:

visited 15 states (30%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

The rest of the world:

visited 11 states (4.88%)
Create your own visited map of The World

And if it weren't for visiting Don & Al, I'd be down two states.

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Date:2011-02-11 20:40
Mood: tired

I miss my sweetie.

It's been hell on toast the last few weeks for getting this whole work conference shin-dig, and making the mistake of going out last night instead of just going home, today took a lot out of me.

The good news is that this (almost) annual event went well; the volunteers got to our office on time to help out, I directed everybody with little to no downtime, and everything got done - without error - with 15 minutes to spare. The rest of the day continued in that fashion, with a hurried and sometimes frantic pace we managed to get everything done on time and totally right. So I'm proud of that.

The not so good news is that I'm stuck here for another few hours while we do a phone system update and I wait to collect some computer hardware that's still around, and I wasn't able to borrow Mom's car last night so I have a ZipCar to return, *and* because I'm wiped out and need to get here super early tomorrow I'll be staying at a nearby hotel to make that transition easier. On top of that, I'm upgrading the phone system this evening too, while no one's using it and doesn't care it goes on and offline a bunch.

But I'll miss my sweetie, my bed, and my little twerp kitty, pretty much in that order.

At least I'm going home tomorrow :)

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Date:2011-01-28 22:29
Subject:Interesting people
Mood: amused

One day my mother and I were talking about the musicians I liked, and how she "wasn't surprised I enjoyed Laurie Anderson and Björk". I thought about that recently, about how the two of them are - the Icelandic romantic pixie and the more East-Coast Avant Garde poet.

I love Laurie Anderson's spoken word, because it speaks a lot to me in the way that I can take normal, everyday things or experiences and sort of put them on edge and think of them in different - often unorthodox - ways. Poetic, sometimes zany ways. Some people marvel at how strange the word "ketchup" sounds all by itself; that's kind of what it's like for me.

I enjoy Björk's earlier works, because they had a playfulness to them, a strong, vibrant and sometimes loud boisterous quality. Her newer work I'm not as into, but I think that's just the way an artist's sound evolves sometimes.

In both cases, I've always felt a sort of freedom involved with their spoken word and music - the freedom of observing a world in a peculiar way, and the freedom to be a playful adult. I'm weird, and I've always felt like I'm weird, and I'm okay with being weird in the way that I am. I know people who are weirder than I, or in different ways, or both, so there's no sort of contest or any want for me to ... enhance or attempt to further channel my weirdness. Lots of "I" statements here. I'm comfortable with my weirdness and seek to embrace it.

Along those lines, I recently discovered Reggie Watts. I see what I envision my creative self to be, in the way of "if I had grown up without any shyness of being weird - in front of an audience, that is, I would probably be doing what he's doing". He's the right-half of Laurie Anderson in my creative enjoyment of music and sense of humor. A song about sandwiches and using big ass bread? That's my level, right there. I grew up that kind of silly, just ask my cousins.

So Reggie has a new fan, and I have another performer I'll be seeing when he's in California. Sadly, he's down in Texas this March. Grr. Lucky Texans. On the other hand, he's based in Washington (the state), so hopefully I'll be able to see him in Oregon sometime in the near future.

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Date:2011-01-11 22:54
Subject:On the "Left" and the "Right"
Mood: discontent

I have certain members of my family who I'd call, generously, "enthusiastically politically active". Very much. In fact, I believe it has something to do with her father being conservative and not giving much attention to her opinion in the past, but I can only guess and it'd be unfair to assume that's the case.

Anyway, she's got a Facebook account (who doesn't) and like my sweetie's mother is using it to post everything she can about how the "right" is doing one thing or the other, or how certain members of the "left" are heros or shams. Normally I just filter it all out, 'cause some of the topics are preaching to the choir (like I'm not a big fan of Scalia, big surprise) and others are... well, either going a bit extreme or fawning over something not incredibly worthy of it.

My other relatives seem not to give much a care about it either, which is good - it proves to me they're sane to one degree or another. It was unsurprising, then, to see her get caught up in the shooting last week and clamor over the idea that it was "political". Now, a lot of assumptions were made on Day 1 when we didn't know about the shooter or what his motivations were - or, for that matter, if he acted alone, etc. At that point, we're reacting on gut and making assumptions come naturally. We're all biased, we'll see what we want to see and knock on the door of the usual suspects first.

However, I was willing to hold my opinion for a few days and was glad to hear that someone with a brain within the Sarah Palin media group pulled the "target map" from a website (good move, no matter what excuses were made after the fact). I agree that a lot of rhetoric out in the media is getting passionate and violent, and there's been a history of people getting riled up and doing stupid stuff like this. On the same note, there's been a history of people with mental issues doing the same regardless of political climate at the time. I am interested, like everyone else is, in the why's too.

I don't believe the shooting was political, not in the sense some writers are calling it, and going after any group or individual (like some media outlets and church groups did with KMFDM and Rammstein) after such a tragedy does any good other than to make some of those "very passionate" political activists happy because they knew something like this would happen eventually. Proving them right doesn't help anything, much like yelling "I told you so" when a house is burning down and the firefighters are working to put out the fire.

In fact, saying so will generally not win any middle-of-the-road person over to a cause, will irritate those that the further-afield-leftists are trying to win over, and make the further-afield-rightists say "see, it's that Liberal Media again".

Violence is horrible, and this incident is all sorts of awful, heart-wrenching and disgusting all at once. I'm glad that Congress took some time off to recognize the tragedy and come together for the support of those who were injured and honor those who'd died. Personally, the 9 year old who'd died is tragic, but to me it doesn't matter what age the person was - it's still horrible. No one should capitalize on the death, on trying to be on the right side of history. If anything, this shows us that we should be more vigilant to those who need help, that our system is flawed in some fashion for helping those with mental illness, and that we're all a bit inflamed in this dichotomy of political stance.

Calm down, mourn, and work for a better future.

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Date:2010-12-26 09:31
Subject:Fahte Lewts
Mood: happy

It seemed like the trend!

This Christmas turned out very small, but still very nice. For one, a 3 day weekend is something of a gift in itself! Spending some quality time with my sweetie, and not running up to Walnut Creek during the rain storm by taking a combination of bus-running-on-Sunday-schedules plus BART running on same only then to call for a pickup when I got there then repeat the whole process for returning home (except that I wouldn't have to get the bus on the way back)... *gasp*

No, instead I opted to stay in and was very happy to do so. My apologies to the family for not making it up there, but such are the hazards of living in Fremont. Hopefully when we live closer to Orinda I'll be a bit more reliable on that front.

Anyway, the gifts I got were fantastic - EndGame will certainly feel my shopping wrath on Tuesday! Got a very nifty pocket watch, something I've been wanting since I was a kid. Also, big thanks for a very nice and cozy scarf from Kim. Woot! Plus, once again I shall be visiting the Crucible for welding classes. Very nice, all told!

Sadly, the Big Gift for my sweetie did not arrive yet. Hmm. I've called the person and sent many e-mails, but I'm giving her the benefit of a doubt that, after all it is the holidays, things get very busy & shuffled around.

So yes, lots of good there. Tomorrow I help my mom to knee surgery, then help organize and clean her house so that she has to do the minimal amount of work once she's settled back in. Today, it's off to visit a friend, watch Jeff Bridges in action, and have some tasty lunch. Again, loving the 3 day weekends!

Oh, and no matter how you celebrate it, I hope everyone out there is having a festive and joyous time right now. It doesn't have to be December to do this, but when you have a large number of people in that mood, you might as well join in with the greetings giving.

Plus there's eggnog. Every day's better with eggnog.

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Date:2010-12-22 17:08
Subject:Quiet... afternoon?
Mood: optimistic

Now that we're winding down the year, I'm cleaning out all the crap we've got in the IT office. Old boxes for equipment that's been around longer than I have, some funky old desktop workstations that don't work anymore, an old Mac G5 desktop that I'll be donating, that sort of thing. I feel less stressed when there isn't a ton of crap piled around my work area, and to that end there's a feeling of liberation when I see all that junk broken down for recycling in the big bins outside. Ah, refreshing!

Looking back at 2010, a lot of bad crap happened... just in general. My life was pretty rocky there, as was a number of my friends'. I've also noticed - and had it pointed out to me - that I've become less patient, more quick to irritate, and less extroverted than I've been in the past. I certainly won't deny it, I've learned from experience in a number of situations and I have less energy to let things pass. Lots of getting mired in depressive states, too. To that end, I'm trying *not* to let things pass and be more active in addressing things or taking action. Surprisingly, that takes less energy in the long run and keeps my mind from getting bogged down.

Anyway, most of my complaining was about the start and the middle of the year. The end of the year has certainly been better, and I look forward to a much less crazy and more feel-good next year - and years to follow! Hopefully I can even reschedule things soon to make these Wednesday party things! :)

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Date:2010-12-06 21:14
Subject:Wishlist 2010
Mood: thoughtful

Okay, it's been a long time and I've wound up buying a good deal of stuff that I wanted this year anyway... but there's always *something* I could use or a cause I'd like to support.

* A good, long scarf. I don't go out in the cold much, except when I travel to Portland in the winter (like I'm probably going to do this year) or the Midwest. There I really could have used a scarf.

* Gift certificate to EndGame - they've always got cool stuff I'd like to try out. Also a gift certificate to CJ's Collectibles in Newark would be sweet; I want to support their local business, and they sell individual cards.

* Same with The Crucible - I'm itching to take a MIG welding class next year

* A distillery tour of Hangar One in Alameda

* Gift certificate to Vosges Chocolate. I'm specifically interested in trying their Collezione Italiana, the drinking chocolates (Aztec), the Blood Orange Caramel bar, and a bunch of other things.

* I'd like to experiment with more waffle mixes, like the ones from Bellegem. I've got a list of ones I've already tried a few (10 or so) entries back.

* A weekend of making ice cream. Basically, the assistance getting the kitchen ready, help buying the ingredients, assistance prepping the custards, maybe borrowing another ice cream mixer, decision-making help picking the recipes, and - of course - help sampling!

* Along the same lines, I could use some cooking classes. Sur La Table in San Francisco has some, but I'd like to wait until after the holidays to do so. Lots of them are focused on holiday-type things right now.

* Speaking of ice cream, I'd like to take some money down to Kim's place, go to the New Leaf market and buy the Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches.

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Date:2010-11-24 17:44
Subject:Why I have debt

When my dad asked me, a long while back, how much debt I was in, I said: if I totaled my credit card debt up, I'd have just over $24,000. He was shocked - how could I have got into so much debt?

I think everyone pretty much knows this answer, in one way or another. When you're making working-class income in the Bay Area ($10-15/hr, and this was back when minimum wage was $8.50 in California), your experience is generally hand-to-mouth. You get a paycheck, you pay as many bills as you can, and put off paying others until you can better afford it. You shop for food that'll cover you the next two weeks, and you buy public transportation tickets. Maybe you splurge on dinner that night.

Credit card companies must love that, because they seem to have just the right credit lines for your lifestyle. You can get low range cards with, say, $500 limits on them and 20% interest, and that's great for covering that little overage you need right away that can't wait 'til next paycheck (like medical co-pays or more public transit fare).

Soon, little by little, you start owing more. If you're lucky and your salary improves over time, they'll up your credit line. Big deal, but the bit here is that your overall debt doesn't look so bad. Minimums are paid, and your debt never really gets all that smaller - or, more commonly, it bobs up and down as you adjust to your new spending limits.

In my case, I made plans to repay. I wanted to take vacation in Sweden, and I couldn't afford the cash outlay right then. I *could*, however, afford to pay off the debt it'd take within a few months. No problem! So I went, and made efforts to pay back the amount I spent, yet never really got there. So the amount I owed grew.

Then there was the siren call of balance transfers. I learned from the first few I did, and did APR savings calculations. Then again, it's simply just another siren call: yes, you have a credit line with 0 balance again - hey, can your friend use your low interest rate balance transfer and just pay you back over time?

Little things pile on more, and then there are big things - dental work, car repairs, a missed insurance payment. Co-pays for lab work. The household got an unexpected expense, we're moving and need to pay the movers, a trip to Starbucks bounced three things... all that sort of stuff.

Then I got lured into BofA's debt consolidation personal loan, which I knew was bad but did anyway. After being on the phone with a rep, I said - listen, the best of my cards has only 10% APR, and the worst is 16%. You're offering to move all this debt for a 3% fee and put me at 22% APR. How is that better for me? Well, they responded, you'd have it all in one place and it'd be easier to repay - only one bill to track! True, I thought. I then said that the APR was way too high. She told me that I could have it lowered after a few months of on-time payment above the minimum.

Always. Always. Always get that in writing. After a few months, no - I couldn't get it lowered. They "review" your account once per year, and while they were happy to do so for me just this once, they could tell that nothing about my situation had changed and that I was stuck at 22%. So I balance transferred $22,000 right back into several other cards, paying about $400 in fees (plus the initial fees) - putting me right back where I started, and even more in debt than I was before.

What credit counsellors will tell you is to cut up your cards and pay as much as you can every month, and not get any new lines of credit. This generally works. However, I just locked them away. Now I have one card that I never charge anything to, which has $18,000 of debt on (and I don't pay APR on until Oct. 2012), and another card which I rack up points on which has about $2,000 on it. I haven't really made much of a dent, at least it seems. As it stands, actually, only $18,000 of that debt is mine - thank goodness - and the rest was used to cover purchases for other people in my household (which they're repaying steadily).

Still, it's a bit daunting for me being $18,000 in debt. Although my paychecks look large, I'm only keeping about $50 a paycheck for myself. The rest is going to the house, health needs, and lots of credit card repayments. The trick, as it stands, is to stop building up more. In the meantime, it does make it difficult to dream big in the near future - buying a house, for example.

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Date:2010-11-20 10:53
Subject:Portland trip, Nov. 18-20, 2010
Mood: content

(strange, my mobile posting seemed not to have worked. Oh well.)

Another November, another trip up to Portland - this time strictly for work, and in which I interview a potential replacement IT consulting group. They're pretty slick, know the printing biz real well, and offer a lot of good advice. Pretty stoked about that. Also got a good idea of what's going on in that office, talked tech shop, did some server & workstation maintenance, etc. Also managed not to keep working until there wasn't any work to do, which is a hard habit to break. Only worked one 12 hour day, then an 8 hour! Much improved over my 16 hour standards for such work.

On to the dining, which was the only "fun" thing I had energy for this time around (still fighting a mild cold and was under-dressed for the weather).

First, I'll start with the bad:

On these trips I make effort to get "bundles" with my room to save a bit of cash, usually getting the breakfast included and parking. On a busy work-trip, it pays to have breakfast right there, then scoot off to the office for immediate get-to-workness. This time it was a mistake. The vegetables in my omlete were rotten and the salsa was spoiled. Ick! Didn't really figure that out until I'd taken a few big bites, and paid for it over the next few hours in discomfort. Combine that with shoddy, almost non-existant internet in my room and it wasn't a good stay this time. Could be worse. We could have had two basketball teams staying on our floor... never again...

The fair-to-good was having lunch at the Heathman Hotel. I'd been there before, but I wanted to try their pictured dungeoness (dungeness?) crab salad with avocado, arugala and mango. Crab was fantastic, avocado was underripe - as was the mango - and the arugala didn't impress. They combined fall crab season with unseasonal fruits and bitter greens. Oh well. The drink was nice: Stone Rose. Also on the tart & bitter side, but it went well with the crab.

The good was lunch at Mother's Bistro. Portabello mushroom scramble was excellent, paired with hot apple cider. I'd certainly go back there for breakfast, and I already know the dinner's fantastic. However, I'd been there before so no surprises.

Also good was the Evil Jungle Noodles at Thai Peacock, nearby Powell's Books. It should have been listed as a curry dish, because the noodles were buried under the curry making me wonder if I'd ordered the wrong thing. Very tasty ... "orange" curry, like a cross between red and yellow. My co-worker warned me they'd be really hot, but as it turned out "medium" spicy = my take on "mild-medium". Which means it's safe for my more gringo-mouthed friends. Thai iced tea was a bit more creamy than I'm used to, and they have no brown rice. Minor points, but there you go.

The last bit of good was breakfast at Bread & Ink - one of Terra & my favorites to have Saturday breakfast at. Showed up a bit too early at 7:40, as they don't open until 8. First one in the door, I also encountered the problem with ordering one of the specials - they were still making it, and it'd be 20 minutes until it was ready. I got the Pancetta Strata with parmesan, spinach on top of a crust of grilled polenta. Side of fruit contained mango (ripe this time), pineapple, pear and melon. Comfort food, for sure, as it contained tons of creamy goodness!

The great was dinner at Toro Bravo, a Spanish-style tapas (Spanish & French, really) restaurant just under a mile up the block from my hotel. The location is sort of light commercial/single family homes off the main strip (MLK Jr.), and the space is nice. Sort of loud when full, and not a whole lot of seating. I got there at 6:30-40, and there was one table for 4 in the middle that wasn't empty. By 7:00, everywhere - including the bar - was full and there was a waiting list. Anyhow, for drink I got the Classic Lemoncello first. Too dry and flat for my taste, I'm used to having sharper & tarter lemon flavors. Next had a Pear Crusta, which was more my style (they blended the pear fresh) and fit better with the dishes I had.

Because they had such a wide variety of dishes, easily 30, I ordered the Chef's Taster menu ($25). You're taking a gamble, sure, but every item on the menu looked either good or something I was willing to take a risk for (duck eggs, for example) - except, perhaps, the foie-gras stuffed prunes. Sure enough, the first item I got was the French "Kisses" (brandy soaked prunes stuffed with foie-gras). I'm not an organ eater, and I'm not too pro on that sort of food, but I gave it a taste. I'm sure people who like foie-gras will enjoy them. Moving on, a much more "safe" salt cod fritters with garlic aioli. Good, and certainly Spanish - otherwise I'd use a different fish. Grilled bacon wrapped dates were fantastic, could have made a dessert out of those! They were drizzled in a molasses honey syrup, which balanced the salty, smokey flavors of the bacon and intensified the sweetness of the date. The sauteed spinach with pine nuts and golden raisins I've had many times before; good, but a rather standard dish. Also, the field greens with beets and hazelnuts... I'm sure hazelnuts were chosen for the "Europe"-ness. Good, but nothing to write more about.

Next up was the grilled shrimp (prawn, for its size) with chilies. One shrimp/prawn. For $9. I'm pretty sure there would be more if it wasn't on the tasting menu, but normally it was $9. Chili sauce, which tasted like maybe dried ancho or smoked chipotle - or a blend, did an excellent job flavoring the shrimp. Shell was still fully intact, with the legs, which is typical. No head, which I was greatful for - those you get in Spain. Not in Portland. Good! The last item on the service was the House Smoked Coppa Steak, with olive oil poached potatoes (nothing special) and chopped olives & salbitxada. I have no idea what the last item there is, but it tasted sort of like shallots. Worked very well with the olives, for sure, and the steak itself was also well tempered with the smokey flavor and the natural flavor of the meat. That seemed to be a popular item of the evening, as I'd heard many orders of that go through the kitchen from where I was - sitting right next to the order window.

Through that experience, I sat next to a couple who'd moved here from New Hampshire - John and Ann - for a 4 month stay (part of his job, I think). I'm pretty sure they'd started up a conversation with me in part because they found Portland to be very casual and relaxed, and it helped - I'm sure - that I'm a genial guy who has a warm smile. Also they had finished off a bottle of red wine. Anyway, great couple. They love to eat and have been following Yelp for places to eat on their drive from the East Coast here to Portland, so far having nothing but fantastic dining experiences. I, myself, stumbled upon this place via Chowhound forums looking for good places to dine solo. I'm glad I did!

Anyway, cupcakes were a bit hit & miss this time - for flavors my housemates would enjoy. We'll see how those go over, but it's not a trip to Portland without visiting Cupcake Jones. Lunch today will probably be nothing too special; probably the Flying Elephant because it's a tradition, although I may hit someplace in the Pearl District since I'll be there picking up the cupcakes anyway.

Happy Close Proximity to Thanksgiving Weekend, ya'll!

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Date:2010-11-03 13:32
Subject:The unenviable position of political differences at work
Mood: blah

Alas, I've found someone at work who has differences of opinion with me in regards to some political thought. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to be in favor of legislating against civil rights, but he does bring the arguments up. Like the slippery slope that if we're allowing people of the same gender to marry, that opens up the possibility for other more "extreme" relationships to become legally acceptable. Not that he accepts that argument as a reason to keep people from marrying, only that it's a valid argument.

I had said that the argument didn't address the issue at hand, to which we'd argued briefly about logical fallacies (slippery slope). To the point, he's a good speaker and is skilled beyond my means to communicate without getting ruffled, so I let that slide and went back to work. He's not a bigot, he just knows more about how to argue and understands fallacies better than I.

At the same time, it's a defensive posture I assume when anyone brings up the "soon there'll be nothing stopping a mother and daughter getting married, and people marrying their pets", and that's not fun; specifically for the sudden jolt of emotional exhaustion of having heard that so many times, and then being coddled by the more moderate who say "just wait a while longer, these things don't change overnight".

In many ways, all the arguments have been made - at this point, those who are interested have heard what they're going to hear and are feeling what they're going to feel. Only changes in their lives are going to open up the possibility of a change of mind/heart. He's arguing for the validity of the above positions - in the way that they're technically true, while I'm approaching it of the point-in-time perspective (i.e. *this* change is coming, why are we distracting that point by throwing in other variables).

Anyway, I'd enjoyed his company before and hope to in the future - we just won't talk about these things again.

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Date:2010-10-18 16:53
Subject:Challenger - 1986

I've been using the Challenger disaster as my age-group's defining "where where you when..." - for at least when we were kids in school. It's been 24 years, and I don't remember it as vividly as other news events, but it still one of those moments I'll always remember. I even watched some of the investigation footage on YouTube - including a bit by Richard Feynman.

I also remembered some other important footage I remember seeing on the news in my youth. The Berlin Wall, the attempted coup in Russia with Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank waving - er - something, and a nightly news cast where, I think, Dan Rather (or someone looking a bit like him) was standing to a backdrop of fax machines saying that this was how the protesters were getting communications out.

Anyway, interesting stuff. Thank you, YouTube!

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