Monday, December 27, 2010

Wow, yesterday was a mess.

I took a Christmas vacation from Dec. 22 to 26 up with my family in Vermont. Maybe just one more day would have been nice, and I had some maudlin moments for reasons I'll try to talk about later, but I'd say that as vacations with my parents go, this was just right. On the 23rd I finished my shopping (I had done more shopping this year than usual, and got more of it done earlier, but still wasn't quite finished when I went north), on the 24th I wrapped my presents and otherwise did nothing at all, just sat around the house and read and picked through my things I had left in the attic and harassed my parents' pets and stuff, and on Christmas we had six or so aunts, uncles and cousins visit. We ate well, there was a little bickering but not all that much, it was nice all around.

The problem was yesterday. I had bought tickets on a flight that left Burlington at 9:46 a.m. - a bit early, especially considering that it's more than an hour's drive from my parent's house to the airport, but it would have got me home to DC by 2:15 even with a connecting flight so it seemed worth the inconvience of an early start. There was a long line at the check-in desk which I sort of cut in front of, so maybe I should regard my problems later in the day as karma. The light snowfall as I left Burlington was pretty. As my flight landed in Newark for my connecting flight, though, the snow was heavier. My Newark-DC flight was supposed to leave at 1. At 12:30 or so, we got an announcement that it was pushed back to 4. The plane meant for my flight had not yet arrived in Newark, they said; it was still in Norfolk, where the weather was even worse, but they were hoping it could leave at 2. But at 2, we were told that it had tried to take off, failed, and gave up, so they were looking for other planes. At this point there were at least 20 people in line at the Continental help desk and it had not moved in the past 20 minutes or so. Around 3 or so, there was an announcement that there was a flight about to leave for Washington-National from another terminal, which would be as good as BWI if not better for me, so I ran to the shuttle and tracked down the gate, along with five other people. Unfortunately, at the gate we were told there was only room for four. I shrugged to the two girls who were traveling together and left them behind. But on the walkway, we were told someone had miscounted, there was only room for three. They sent me back. The girls said they were going back to our original gate, but while we were going through that a plane next to the BWI flight sents its passengers back to the terminal, so I gave up on flying and decided to find a train.

Fortunately, there's a train station attached to the Newark airport. The southbound train was running a little bit late as well, but at least it was running. I got a ticket to Union Station in DC, but when I learned that the train was stopping at BWI I got off there to check on things. I learned that there had indeed been no flights from Newark that I could have used, which was nice - I had worried a bit that there would be a flight at 4:30 or something and all the trouble and expense of the train ride would have been wasted. However, it meant that my checked luggage was still in Newark. So later on today I'll have to call and see if it made it to BWI at all today (the person I talked to yesterday was uncertain) and, if so, whether I'll need to go get it or they can ship it to me or what. In the end I got home about seven and a half hours later than expected and spent about $150 to get home yesterday at all, and I don't know how to get my bag... but that still beats sleeping in a line in a Newark airport, right?

I obviously had a lot of time to think during all that. What did I learn? Well, first of all I learned not to schedule flights with connections and only one day of leeway. I'll bet there were direct flights I could have taken, but didn't just because a flight with a stopover was cheaper. A (hypothetical) direct flight that left at the same time yesterday morning would probably have made it; the weather didn't get really bad until the afternoon. If a direct flight didn't take off at all, then I'd much rather be stranded with my family until things cleared up than in some airport somewhere.

Also, I learned that there's nothing wrong with checking luggage, but I'd better be able to live out of your carryon. Despite baggage fees I usually check a bag; not having to carry around my bag while I'm in an airport is worth $25, I reason. That's even more true when carrying around includes carrying it for seven hours longer than expected and going off the beaten path, like to the train station. Unfortunately, my winter scarf and gloves were not in my carryon. And I think the ear-warmer headband I usually wear might have been too; I couldn't find it before I left for work this morning. Other than those, though, I think there was nothing in the checked luggage but dirty laundry, my toiletries bag and Christmas presents. I certainly want to get it back, of course, but it's nice to not need it.

Also, I was reminded of how much nicer trains are. No security hassle, roomier seats, you can walk around freely... too bad they're so much slower than planes.

Also, having a Droid rules. Or any other kind of smartphone would do, I guess. But I bought my train ticket online while in the skycab from the airport to the train station. While it might have been possible to do that over a normal phone, or in person at the station, the former would have been much harder without being able to look all up schedules and stuff and the latter might not have been in time; the train was full or very close to it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Office Space was a documentary.

Earlier today I got a phone call from the lawyer on a certain project team, asking me to identify where we used a certain phrase in a recent document. We had hoped that this thing would be published before a certain date, but it looks like it won't, so we now need to make sure that we didn't promise that it would be.

When he spoke to me, I was starting to dread going through the whole chain of previous versions of the document to find when and how and if we had phrased this part. Am I looking for how the public would read the implementation period, or how the teams' immediate superiors would think of it, or what the regulatory body beyond them would think? Am I looking for the phrase in the preamble of the document that establishes our authority for this, in the regulatory text that actually makes the new regulation, or what? In the text of the Word document, in comments, or both? We have been careful about tracking changes to cover everyones' asses, so there are literally 26 versions of the document (and probably more, filed in the wrong folder somewhere). I had until Friday; that seemed to be enough time, but it would take a fair amount of work to check all that.

But a few minutes after the phone call, I got an e-mail with a document attached. He just wants me to search the latest version; no need to worry about comments or previous versions of the document. And it turned out to be an easy task: the phrase "at least" does not appear there at all in relation to years, or any other lengths of time. His concern was apparently addressed during the editing process.

I was tempted to take until Friday to get around to it and claim I was reviewing all 26 documents and blame it on my misunderstanding of our phone conversation. Don't worry, I'm not enough of a Wally to actually do that; I already sent the e-mail quoting the relevant bits of the document. Still, two and a half hours elapsed between getting his e-mail and sending mine. It took me 10 or 20 minutes to search for the relevant phrases and anything else I could think of, write an e-mail, and copy-paste a few paragraphs into it. The rest of the intervening time was spent writing this, reading webcomics, triple-checking the document past the point of necessity just to cover my own ass, reading or thinking about other projects, and other non-essential stuff.

OK, so I'm not great about getting down to business diligently. We know this already. But here's something I don't get: what's the lawyer's excuse? Knowing exactly what he wanted from the start, he could have done this in the time it took him to give me the assignment. Open the document, hit Ctrl+F, search for "at least a year", add a few other related phrases to be safe, and call it a day. After that, if he wanted to be sure, he could have sent out an e-mail explaining the issue to me or other people and asking them to double-check. (The assignment e-mail was CCed to two other people on the team, as was my reply.) Half an hour at most for me if I was being responsible, 15 minutes for him. Given that he gave me more than three days to do it, I should be able to do it no matter how busy I am, so I have to assume he didn't know how long it would take. The guy apparently does not know how to use Microsoft Word. Again, to be clear, we are not talking about esoteric computer skills here, we are talking about the Find function. There are three different ways to do it in Word. It might seem "above and beyond" to search for related things and similar things as well in addition to what you actually want, but anyone who has done a Web search should know that you sometimes have to rephrase it, right? Right?

For which desk job is all of this not part of the basic skill set?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dilemma of the day: correct someone who is being stupid, or let them continue?

Someone on Facebook posted something warning people about this urban legend in earnest. If he were a real friend, I think I'd correct him, totally politely of course. An aunt had a habit of sending out e-mail forwards, as did someone I knew through my previous job. In both cases I sent them a link to Snopes saying what the "official" word on that was, whether ambiguous or not. In both cases I'm pretty sure I was civil about it, or at the very least I'm definitely sure that they accepted my e-mail with good grace and didn't send me anything else like that. However, that's an aunt and a kind of aunt-like figure. This guy, in my experience, ranges from well-meaning but annoying to just annoying. So I'd take more pleasure in correcting him, but on the other hand I don't want to remind him that I'm still alive. I don't need awkward questions about where I'm living or anything.

As it is, I'm torn on whether or not to comment on Facebook about it. However, I'd be almost certain to ignore this if not for the fact that two days ago I heard something similar and did nothing. In line at the Post Office Saturday I heard some moron telling a young kid he was with about how it's a sign of how government sucks. That's illogical at best (what, specifically, are they doing wrong? Would FedEx get through that many customers any quicker? It's stupid to use a sample size of one office on one morning; how long is the average wait overall?) and leads to politics like Tea Partiers and the Bush years. I didn't say anything because I was just picking up a form from a stack and was about to leave, why make a scene in public, a retort that wasn't sufficiently to the point would just make myself look stupid, etc. And, of course, the long wait was annoying.

So because I regret not saying anything about wingnut stupidity, I'm now more inclined to way something about stupidity of a less politicized variety.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I had a meeting yesterday which really made me wish oratory was not a lost art. Everyone who was anyone used to be deliberately taught how to speak at length in public, and while teaching methods have changed for the better since those good ole days, that subject could do with being rediscovered. People get to middle and upper management because they know the right people and have the right degrees*, and then once they're managers unless they have uncommon skill** they get put in front of a few dozen people to give a presentation and stammer and ramble and mix metaphors and demonstrate no awareness of their audience and never look up from their notes.

This happened yesterday. There's a more or less quarterly meeting of the department, and I bring a notepad to almost any meeting even if I know it won't be needed just in case. This time, as in several others, I wound up critiquing the presentation. And it was awful. The main speaker was a Mr. S. In addition to every single one of the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph, Mr. S presented half a dozen or so awards, including one for overall achievement and service. One accomplishment cited was the recipient's attempt to implement a new file management "system... may it rest in peace". What that means is that the file management system never got off the ground. Mr. S was congratulating the subject for a failure. I'd recommend not mentioning it at all, and if that can't be avoided, I'd certainly find a better way than "may it rest in peace". Also, when Mr. S gave out awards, the recipients were standing in front of the PowerPoint projector, and I'm pretty sure they were getting blinded. That's not necessarily his fault as a speaker, but it's someone's fault as a more basic failure to consider how people will perceive things.

In fairness to Mr. S, public speaking is a learned skill. In criticism of him again, there's a point where incompetence becomes negligence*** becomes malice. How much can someone fail to think about an audience's reactions to things before it's clear that they don't think about other people at all?****

Well, to be clear, and so as not to insult my boss's boss's boss, Mr. S certainly isn't that bad. I'm sure he's a nice person and I know I've seen worse presentations than that; I've taken notes on them here, even, given by different speakers. All I'm saying is, it made me wonder.

* Or, more optimistically, because they know the field from the inside by working their way up the ladder. But realistically...

** Speech classes do exist, they just aren't generally required. And it's possible to learn this stuff on the fly, with experience. And some people are probably naturally gifted at it. I think I'm a better public speaker than average, due to a little more experience doing it than most people and a lot more time spent in audiences than most people, but I'm not all that great at it.

*** And the legal system recognizes it, going this far at least.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

If I could control my attention to detail, I'd be indispensable in any job.

Yesterday, I got back another writer's review of something I had previously edited. There were a lot of editing marks on it. As for most of it, I could pretty easily think that it's all fair enough, this was never supposed to be the final version, I made mistakes just like everyone else does, et cetera. In two instances, though, the mistakes were so blatant, such basic violations of proper style, that I was embarrassed. I've been in this job for more than two years, I've been writing since college, I really should catch it when an ampersand is used instead of the word "and" in a formal document, and pay attention to whether an abbreviation has periods between letters or not. (If some are correct and others aren't, of course, and they're all side by side within a couple pages, and so on.) I'm not worried about job security because of this one document, of course, but I've been keeping my nose clean a bit more than usual since yesterday morning.

And then, 10 minutes ago as I was leaving a meeting, I was in the elevator with the manager of a project I'm on and three other people. One of the other passengers was carrying a book with "X Publishing" written on the cover in a weird font, and she was holding the book so that the text was more upside down than not. "X" was my project manager's last name. I noticed this and pointed it to him during a four-floor elevator trip. I'm pretty sure that's unusual, but it happens to me all the time. Too bad I didn't have that attention to detail about ampersands and punctuating abbreviations on the document last week...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Wow. As I mention all the time, I'm a pretty cynical person. Basically, I tend to believe the worst of people, especially collectively rather than individually and in commerce rather than non-economic efforts. So I would assume it's unlikely that news of brazen deceit would surprise me.

Silly me.
Unicredit America Inc. agreed Tuesday to stop sending letters to consumers threatening them with arrest if they failed to respond. Erie County Judge Michael Dunlavey also ordered the mock courtroom torn down within 30 days.

The state attorney general's office says Unicredit used people appearing to be sheriff's deputies to deliver hearing notices to consumers and used fake court proceedings to get money from them. Authorities say a person dressed in black would preside from behind a raised bench at the front of the room.

The state has also filed a civil suit against Unicredit alleging unfair trade practices. That suit seeks civil penalties for hundreds of affected consumers.

So to summarize, a company was impersonating law enforcement officials for debt collection. No, not just law enforcement officials, the law enforcement process. Fake sheriffs, fake courtrooms, the whole bit. Not for some kind of "Punked" reality TV show or something, but because honest means of squeezing money from people don't have sufficient return on investment. (Or maybe because they were crazy enough to believe that this flamboyant way of doing it would get good press. Or maybe for some other reason, but it's hard to imagine any reason that's OK.) Now that they've been found out, they're getting a slap on the wrist for it. Wow.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How many black Republicans were just elected? (At least one that I know of.) Of the Congressional districts that switched from (D) to (R), how many of them are in the former Confederacy? Of the majority-black districts in the former Confederacy, how many switched districts yesterday? Democrats did bad overall yesterday, but did they do better or worse in the South than in the rest of the country?

When I happened to look at a map of Virginia's election results, I saw two big, relatively rural districts switch from (D) to (R), and I thought, "Huh, I thought all those had switched by 1994." Well, I know not all had, but you know what I mean - the Southern Strategy, explicitly and deliberately used by Republicans since Nixon's day, was a long process of using coded and not-so-coded racist appeals to win elections, and it's had mixed results but overall resulted in near-total Republican dominance in the South. Yesterday, that dominance got a little more total.

Crunching all the numbers - how many Democratic representatives are left in the south, did black Democrats do worse than white Democrats, how Democrats did in the south compared to overall - is beyond me. I could be completely wrong about it; it's no surprise that rural districts in Virginia went Republican because rural districts in other states do that pretty often as well. Like I said, I just noticed it and wondered. I'll try to watch FiveThirtyEight and see if anything about this is posted, and if anyone sees a post about this kind of thing elsewhere, feel free to leave a link in comments here.
I was looking through my archives recently and found this.
It's a bit ironic that book publishers, of all things, are getting into the intellectual property protection controversy. Audio/video media, software, merchandising, reference material - all of them really might have something to lose if it's safe and easy to get their product off the Internet. But books? I can't imagine myself reading an e-book, at least not with today's technology. For me at least, and I don't think I'm too very unusual in this, neither a desktop nor a laptop could possibly compare to a book you can carry around with you wherever, fit into some pockets, and not worry about because a paperback is only like $5-$10 and can take a fair amount of getting thrown around. (One's immobile, the other's fragile, and they both are less comfortable to read.)

It seems funny considering how much I use my e-book reader these days. Well, predictions are hard.
It figures. There are 12 House races which CNN has not called yet, and the one my girlfriend's job depends on is one of them. Being kept in suspense is annoying, but realistically this isn't all that big a deal. She has been saying since well before the election that she wants to find a new job, for personal reasons, and she has already been sending out resumes and networking, and the only difference if the election goes the wrong way is that the job hunt will be more urgent.

That's the only race that really mattered to me, really, and the employment thing is the only reason, since I don't have a very high opinion of the Congressman in question. Two months ago I moved from one safe district to another. I haven't followed local news all that closely in either district. I voted, almost party line with one exception and there was another measure on which I voted with the majority but probably for a different reason.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I think I saw the signs in the back of this particular picture personally, maybe the "use your inside voice" sign and definitely the back two, and maybe also a few others in that photo gallery. Buzzfeed also has a thread (I'm not linking to it partly because my office seems more serious than usual this week about non-work-related e-mail use and Buzzfeed seems more obviously not-work-related than most blogs, but mainly because my Internet connection sucks at the moment) with 100 pictures or something and I know I saw some of them myself. I took a few dozen pictures and I plan to download them from my phone later this week and when I do I'll put some of them up here and/or on Facebook. Yeah, I know later this week is much later than most people, but give me a break, I don't take many pictures at all and rarely upload them to anything, so this will be better than nothing.

As for my own voting plans, things are still a little up in the air (it's personal; it's a minor and probably a stupid thing to worry about but I'd still rather not put it in writing online), but I'm 90 percent sure of what I'm doing. I suppose I am too apathetic and pessimistic about this, and sure, things could definitely be worse. But still, when the optimistic case backed up by numbers is for Democrats to only lose 30 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate, things don't look good.

10 years ago and more, my political philosophy was that America had two parties, the Evil Party (R) and the Stupid Party (D). It seems like things just didn't matter that much in the late 1990s, when there was a budget surplus and the French vanilla* sex lives of incumbents was the big issue and the last two or three wars had been just wars (well, more or less) and cakewalks. Since then, obviously, a lot has changed in the world, and I've grown to dislike glib "a pox on both your houses" thought processes, and in the past couple elections Democrats seem to have been much smarter than before.

At the moment, though, I'm leaning more toward my previous stance. That Onion article I linked to a couple days ago was, as I said, basically straight news. And T. has complained frequently over the past month or more about her boss's reelection campaign being run abysmally. If even half of what she's saying is reliable (not that I doubt her, of course, but hearsay is hearsay), the people in charge of that campaign are either so incompetent that they're literally unqualified, or deliberately sabotaging it.

And finally, in a minor, irrelevant-except-that-it-confirms-my-narrative detail, Vermont's Democratic gubernatorial candidate also seems to have a stupid campaign: what does he look like? Wikipedia has no picture, and his own campaign's Web site doesn't have a picture of him on the front page either. Boneheaded, unforced error.

* "Vanilla": plain and likeable but boring.
* "French vanilla": with one or two minor, predictable deviations from otherwise being plain and boring.

Thus, sex with a spouse is vanilla and an otherwise unremarkable affair is French vanilla, whereas swingers' clubs or gay sex by a social conservative or an affair in which the other woman winds up dead are more spicy.

The "vanilla" and "French vanilla" terms are fairly common in Magic: the Gathering, to describe creatures with no abilities, or only abilities so simple and common that they have keywords, respectively, but at the last minute it occurred to me that the meaning of the terms might not be obvious in a non-gaming context.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Rally to Regain Sanity and/or Fear
10:19 a.m. Waiting for friends to join us at our place and then we'll take the metro down to the mall. T. has rice krispie treats and similar stuff for a day outside with friends. I'm wearing a t-shirt that reads "Republicans for Voldemort" and have my Halloween costume in my bag: a "V for Vendetta" Guy Fawkes disguise. Just to be ready for anything.

Liveblogging may follow. Not sure.

11:04 a.m. Metro looks very crowded, so we'll probably walk. It's less than two miles.

7:05 p.m. Obviously, liveblogging failed. When there are 100,000 or so people on the Mall, phone networks fail. Also, I'm sobering up (we went to a bar afterwards, a very nice place except for the fact that it doesn't serve food) and some of my companions have yet to do so.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Onion was dead-on about politics this week. This, for example, is just as accurate and insightful as anything in the NYT, and a good deal more honest than Fox.

But what really jumped out at me was this article:
Alumni Office Dispatches Navajo Tracker To Hunt Down Glen Schutt '98

TEMPE, AZ—Representatives in the alumni office at Arizona State University announced this week that in an effort to determine the whereabouts and current mailing address of Class of '98 graduate Glen Schutt, they are utilizing the services of longtime employee and Navajo tracker Joe Lone Tree.
Lone Tree, who has more than 10 years experience tracking ASU alums through both the spirit and waking worlds, was assigned the task after multiple attempts to contact the former engineering major and inform him of upcoming alumni events and giving opportunities failed, sources said.
"Staying up-to-date with our graduates is very important to us, and we do our best to maintain a lifelong relationship with them," ASU Alumni Association president Christine Wilkinson said. "Which is why, in the case of hard-to-reach people like Glen Schutt, Joe Lone Tree and his invaluable expertise in the areas of forest and desert terrain, weathering, and the ancient movements of the sun helps us find out where our grads are and what they've been up to."

Seriously, it's baffling how diligent my college is about this. I've moved three times since I've graduated, I'm pretty sure I've never given them money or asked for anything from them after my diploma, and still they send me stuff. I agree with Yglesias about this. I give money to some nonprofit groups (well, OK, only one regularly), and there is a long, long list of charitable organizations I'd donate to before I gave to something with the ROI of a university.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Party invitations: one of the many problems I avoided through years of being relatively asocial.

T. and I are planning a party to show off our new place. A housewarming party, basically, although we haven't called it that because we think that sounds like we expect people to bring gifts even though we don't. T. pretty easily came up with a list of more than 20 people she wanted to invite: about half a dozen friends she sees reliably at a pub crawl or similar gathering, half a dozen more friends who she doesn't see that often or predictably but still sees fairly often, one current co-worker, two or three ex-co-workers or ex-neighbors, and the cool parents of one such friend. I invited about half that many: several co-workers, my two ex-roommates, and Paul and Dave, the guys I play Magic with. My family is in another state, I'm not good at keeping in touch with people, and inviting co-workers seemed like opening a can of worms - it would be hard to invite some people but not others, I wouldn't want to seem like I was snubbing some people, etc.

And considering that we declared the moving-in and unpacking finished weeks ago, we still have quite a bit of work to do. We have several things to put up on the walls or put away in storage, including pictures bought weekend before last almost on impulse, decorations from T.'s last apartment that we haven't got around to hanging yet, and stuff she got in the mail just yesterday from her parents.

Monday, October 25, 2010

There are two ways to handle temptation: avoid the source of it, or consciously resisting it or not feeling it in the first place. The relative ease of them depends on the person doing it and what the thing in question is, and one is probably not better than the other overall.

However, a problem comes when someone who relies on avoiding the source of temptation (me) moves in with someone who doesn't feel temptation eat like a pig and/or can resist that temptation relatively easily (T.). A general, ongoing, minor problem since the move has been T.'s habit of keeping candy around as a snack. In particular, she hoards chocolate. She actually buys the stuff or collects freebies just in case some day comes when she gets hungry or depressed or otherwise feels the need, and then she'll be able to have some. The thing is, she collects it faster than she gets around to eating it. Really, this is more cute than anything else; you should see how enthusiastic she gets about Halloween and Easter, the candy-collecting holidays.

The problem is, I don't eat well. I usually order large meals, I don't eat particularly healthy food (pescatarianism is mostly an attempt to help that, but fried shrimp is still pescatarian... for better or for worse), and I snack absent-mindedly when I'm bored and something is convenient. All this is fine in theory; in my last two homes I avoided eating like a huge pig by avoiding the temptation to eat junk food in the first place. Instead, I kept healthy snack foods around, like baby carrots and fruit (not-so-healthy stuff too, occasionally, like crackers, but mostly healthy stuff), and rarely order meals that are too much for one person.

Obviously, T.'s chocolate-hoarding habit, while cute, is a problem for my absent-mindedly-snacking habit. And last night, when eating at a "restaurant week" event, I realized that I need to be better about portion control too. I mean, if I ever again order from a prix fixe menu, please slap me hard unless I'm famished. I could barely walk when we left that place.

Friday, October 22, 2010

You (whoever you are) may notice things look different. Here's what happened: every time I logged onto Blogger for the past few weeks if not months, I saw a message saying that I have "followers". I would click on that to see what that means or who they are, and it tells me that in order to find out I have to upgrade my blog. I ignored that and went on with my business.

Today, though, I decided to make a change I've long thought of: moving defunct links. For years I've added links to the sidebar as I discover new blogs, webcomics, etc. that I find worth reading, and with very few exceptions I haven't deleted any even if I've stopped reading them or they've stopped being updated with new content, I've just left them there. That's partly because a lot of them might one day come back, and partly out of a mindless packrat instinct (but so what? Of all the things to be a packrat about, digital data is pretty much definitely the least problematic), and it's also part of out of historical interest. This is, after all, partially a diary, and it might be cool to keep a record of what once interested me even if it no longer does. I let old stuff like that accumulate, never sure of what to do about them (start an offline text file with the links? Update them all meticulously? Sort them better?), but today I finally decided to create a separate list of "old links" and display it below the rest. It wouldn't be sorted, but so what? My hypothetical reader, or myself after so much time has passed that I don't remember what is what, can have fun some lazy afternoon of figuring out which links became boring and which became infuriating and which became dead links.

And that was a big enough change to justify upgrading the template. But that was a bigger job than it looks like; the sidebar came through half-broken and a lot of features came in that I don't need. So I'll be spending more time than I expected today and this weekend updating and streamlining this...

And the ironic thing is I still haven't figured out yet who my followers are. Maybe I will once I work my way around the new template or upgrade it again, but maybe not, who knows. So if you're reading this (and if you actually exist and aren't just a scam to get me to start hosting ads for Google's benefit or something...) feel free to speak up here. No pressure either way, of course, this never was that kind of blog; I'm just curious.
Apparently it's election season. I plan to vote, but beyond that, meh. I agree more with August J. Pollack than with John Cole. (Not that I'd stand by every word and nuance of the phrasing of either of them, of course.) I hope the Democrats win, and the leading Republicans are indeed horrifying to imagine in positions of power while being hilarious in their current role as mere topics of media discussion. But you know, I have to admit I'm a bit apathetic and very cynical to begin with, and the lesser of two evils is not sufficient motivation for me to donate time or substantial amounts of money.

That being said, I have a tiny, fond hope that the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear will be so big that they will narrow the enthusiasm gap a lot. Even if they don't accomplish anything concrete - and to be serious for a moment, expecting them to would be unfair - I'm sure they'll be fun. T. was interested in the Rally to Restore Sanity, but when they were being billed as separate events I wanted to go to the Rally to Keep Fear Alive for the entertainment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pet peeve of the week: books with nonindicative titles. It comes to mind at the moment because I have the Mercy Thompson series on my e-book reader and I can never tell which book is which. I read the first four pretty much continuously but happened to take a break of a couple weeks before starting the fifth and last one, and I had to open every single book with that author's name to figure out what it was. Blood Bound? Silver Borne? Iron Kissed? Every book so far has included werewolves, vampires and faeries, so blood, silver and iron are mentioned at least briefly in every story. How in the world am I supposed to tell what order those books came in or what they were about?

Obviously, e-books are worse about this than paper books because there are no clues like cover art or descriptions on the back. But it can still happen with hard copies. I have every book in The Dresden Files series in paperback or hardcover, and I could describe from memory how vampires in that series work more easily than I could list the books in order by title. Let's see, Storm Front is easy, just because it's first book in the series; Fool Moon is the one about werewolves because they care about the moon, and the book about werewolves is the second book because Murphy doesn't trust Harry yet in it; Changes is the 12th and most recent book, because everything changes in it... and I could probably figure a few more out the same way... but overall, the names in the series are so vague that they could be any damn thing. Dead Beat? Almost every single book features ghosts, vampires and/or necromancy ("dead") and police work (that is, walking a "beat"). Turn Coat? Harry's coat is the most cool-looking thing about him (maybe the only cool-looking thing) and traitors of some kind have been big parts of half a dozen plots.

Way too vague. It can happen in any genre (Middlesex - the only clue to the story in the name is the pun), but it seems worst in urban fantasy series. Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead - which came first? Which is about what?

My best guess is that these authors feel caught between serious fantasy and modern fantasy. Serious fantasy requires avoiding titles like "The Xs Sword" or "Curse of the X" or anything with the name of a monster directly in the title. Modern fantasy, meanwhile, can't mention feudal government or medieval architecture in the titles. If the author is lucky, something like that would merely sound too old-fashioned; more likely, it comes across as pulpish and unserious and/or a Lord of the Rings ripoff.

The problem is, exclude all of that and there's not much left that has anything to do with the story. Because come on here, we're still reading about wizards, werewolves and vampires. The writing may very well be very good and the product of great skill, but it's still a lowbrow genre. So what? Why not embrace it? Who's being fooled by vague titles? Would it have really hurt the authors all that much if they had used naming schemes such that, for the sake of argument, the fourth books in the series had been called Blood of a Faerie, Harry Dresden and the Table of Stone and The Amnesiac Vampire? Accurate, and descriptive unlike the actual titles, and kind of evocative.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why am I so bored and lethargic today?

Is it because I didn't get a good night's sleep last night? Got to bed a little after the usual time, but more importantly, I was awake for at least half an hour or so starting at 4:15 a.m.

Am I sick, or getting sick? T. got a flu shot last week and found that it hurt more and longer than she expected and over this past weekend she was blowing her nose and feeling cold a lot, so she theorized that the shot was bad because she was already slightly sick. If so, then I'll probably catch it as well.

Is it because I'm annoyed by what's going on in both World of Warcraft and Magic: the Gathering at the moment? In the former, big patch today, big changes, that will probably mean no normal play tonight, and I'm coming close to the deadline to do certain things before they vanish forever. In the latter, I haven't been able to sit down and play for a couple weeks now. Still haven't made a deck that I think I'd be happy with taking to a tournament at the store. Haven't heard from Paul and Dave since they both said they'd be busy for a while. (No reason I can't try to get in touch with them again, of course, but I did it last time and maybe the time before.) So I'm spinning my wheels in both my hobbies.

Is it because dinner last night was a mess? It was a new recipe to both T. and me, and it could have been worse, but it sure could have been better too. (No, this alone pretty much definitely isn't why I'm feeling crappy now, almost 24 hours later, it's just a minor annoyance.)

Is it because this is basically Monday? Yesterday was a holiday, so this is my first day back at work. And, of course, Mondays suck.

Related to the last option, this reminds me of my personal theory that as styles of time off go, long weekends are secretly a horrible option. Aside from all the obvious stuff about how work generally isn't your real life, there are three reasons for time off from work: to unwind (catch up on sleep and/or sleep in for a while, tire yourself out in a fun way for once, deal with fewer people if you're an introverted type, etc.), to recharge (hang out with friends you don't see much of, de-habituate yourself to workplace annoyances), and to catch up on all the routine stuff that you can't easily do on workdays.

A weekend isn't long enough to either unwind or recharge, and even if it was most people wouldn't want to because they'll just have to go back, of course. A week off is long enough for both. A three-day or four-day weekend is long enough to unwind but not long enough to recharge. So when I have a four-day weekend I generally come back dopey, because I unwound by sleeping in and vegging out... but still prone to twitch when I see an annoying co-worker, because I wasn't gone long enough to forget about them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Facts about Christopher Lee
First of all, important roles he's played, in no particular order: Dracula, Bond villain Scaramanga, Saruman the White and Count Dooku. Also "Mephistoles" (the Devil in what looks like a little-known campy Italian film), Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk and Sherlock Holmes' even smarter brother Mycroft. Lee also voiced Death (from the Discworld), the Jabberwocky in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, and, in some animated movie due for release in 2012, Santa Claus. That's just a small fraction of his roles, but they look like the most recognizable ones.

And in real life? He's supposedly a descendant of Charlemagne, and has met J.R.R. Tolkien in person; he was the only Lord of the Rings cast member to do so. In World War II he served in the Royal Air Force and the Special Operations Executive, or in layman's terms, he was a spy behind enemy lines. (He consulted with Peter Jackson on his character's death scene in LotR; specifically, on what it looks like when someone is stabbed in the back. Now how would he know that?) Being knighted is kind of nice, but being knighted on Halloween is really great. He holds the world's record for appearing in the most movies, speaks five languages, and enjoys heavy metal and head-banging.

I already knew most of that, or the interesting parts (the first four roles I list, the fact that he was a spy and consulted on his death scene, his involvement with some kind of a heavy metal group, the fact that he's been in a hell of a lot of movies, and the fact that he's a knight), and today I stumbled on yet another fact about him: he's the cousin of Ian Fleming. That means he may be a partial inspiration for James Bond directly, rather than just in the general sense of having been a spy.

Christopher Lee is clearly the most awesome man there is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The move is basically done. I had yesterday off work, so I was available for an appointment with the cable guy. I got confused and worried about some stuff I had to do, but in the end the big stuff turned out OK and we have the wireless network set up. I also assembled a bookshelf we had bought at Ikea over the weekend. It's only half loaded up, and we had trouble fixing it to the wall (screws don't seem to do it), but it's upright. Or at least it was when we left for work this morning.

So we still have some unpacking and organizing to do, and some shopping, and we need to figure out how to secure the bookshelf, and we haven't put up any decorations on the walls yet... but all that can go on in the background around daily life instead of getting in the way of it. I can play WoW, we can watch TV, we can check our e-mail on regular computers instead of our phones, we don't plan to buy any more things that require cars to move or two people to carry, and we've unpacked enough boxes that they're no longer in the way of getting dressed in the morning.

Cool. Time to relax. (And it only took two weeks. Next time I move, I'll be sure that everyone who's moving takes at least four days off in a row at the same time, to get it all over with at once.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Well, the move is probably done by now. My stuff was all moved in on Saturday, thanks to T.'s cousin Dave. Saturday and Sunday we moved some of T.'s stuff and unpacked a bit. She took today off work and hired movers who presumably finished up. I say "presumably" and "probably" just because I haven't called or e-mailed her yet today, but they were scheduled to start by 9:30 and if they aren't done by now T. should ask for her money back.

We still need to do quite a bit of shopping. At least two lamps, one bookshelf and a wireless router. Along with that last, we need to sign up for cable service or something. And, of course, we need to do a lot of unpacking once we have shelves to put books on and stuff. But we're moved in and all that. Woo hoo.

Work today wasn't as bad as I expected. Those projects I said I disliked? Last month I was assigned three. Today, literally 15 minutes ahead of deadline according to my calendar, I finished the third. And I think it's OK. The one I just happened to do first seems like it was the worst; the ones I finished Friday and today seem very simple.

The problem is that my usual half-assed approach to boring unsupervised work is stressful on these projects, because that's all anyone else ever does on them either. So I can't just tell Tom "please search the database for all Xs with Y in year Z", because according to Tom, the person in charge of entering year Y into the database did it inconsistently. So I need to double-check and search in three different places for every little thing because if I search for Xs with Y using decimals I would get 3 results, but if I search using a floating-point variable (or whatever) I would get 23. And right in the supporting statement for one of the projects, it said that there weren't any examples of a, but they're assuming there was one just "to account for the possibility". Now that you mention it, that sounds like a good idea. But why do that with just this one number and not all the others in all these projects? Why assume there's only one a, rather than some other nice round number like five or 10 or half the maximum from previous years? Answer: no reason.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Only got one carload of stuff done. By the time I was done it was around quarter to five, so another load would have been right in the middle of rush hour. Oh well. I can probably fit it all in T.'s cousin's van, and if I can't, both my roommates have cars and could probably be persuaded to help me take a few boxes across town for a reasonable payment.

Busy, tiring, stressful day here. The move is a big reason for the tiring, but also, work sucks. Most of what I've been doing over the past week has been the kind of project I like least at the job, and it's been just as much of a mess as always. I just spent an hour trying to straighten something out... and in the five minutes since getting back to my desk, I don't think the next part is in any better shape.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Packing progress: well, I'm daunted by the amount I still have to do, but my stated goal was two carloads of stuff tomorrow afternoon, and I think that's plausible. It'll depend on how big the rental car is, of course; I got some kind of Civic rather than a van or something, partly to save money and partly for ease of driving. Other than on vacations, I haven't driven in two years, so I figured I should stick with something small and familiar. Maybe that's being overcautious, but anyways.

Even if I manage to pack the car to its weight capacity on both trips tomorrow, I know there will be some stuff left behind. I know I'll have help with some of it on Saturday, but if for some reason it can't all go then, I still think this move will go much better than how it went last time. If I can't fit everything, then so what? I'll leave it here for a few days or, hell, a few weeks, no problem, until I can ask/hector/call in a favor to get someone with a car to help me. And it would only take them two hours or less, so it's a reasonable request.
How I procrastinated on packing this weekend: cutting down a tree limb that was hanging too low, and yes, the irony of procrastinating on packing to move with a home improvement project is not lost on me. But at least my roommates and whoever moves into my room next won't have to worry about it. Also by watching at least half a dozen episodes of Dexter and two of the Futurama movies from between the original series and the relaunch. And, of course, a few hours of Starcraft II and/or World of Warcraft.

Stuff I did that's borderline procrastination, borderline productive: I sorted my jar of change into sleeves and took it to the bank, which would have been heavy to carry to the new place. I spent more than an hour sorting my Magic cards; it would have taken 30 seconds to throw them in the box, but most of the collection is pretty well-organized so I might as well sort the loose cards now rather than later. And I cleared through my pile of paperwork accumulated over the past few months, sorting out the junk mail and bank statements from stuff that actually should probably be kept. I still could probably throw out a lot of the stuff that "should be kept", but everything that's left is a borderline case at the very least, so I don't feel too bad about putting it off yet again. And I downloaded the pictures off my old phone, which has been sitting unused since last month. I think it's now safe to throw away.

How close I am to ready: pretty close, I think, believe it or not. Four boxes full of stuff ready and waiting to be put in the rental car tomorrow, at least three more boxes partially full with room for a little more stuff or redistribution of weight as needed, and at least six more containers (two cardboard boxes, one storage ottoman, two duffel bags and a backpack) completely empty just waiting to have stuff put in them. I'm planning to get as much of my stuff as I can tomorrow with the rental car and moving the big stuff like my desk and chair on Saturday, thanks to a cousin of Teresa's who has a truck or van. It helps that I never fully unpacked in the first place here. There isn't much storage space and I didn't bother to stake a claim to it when I could have, so I've had half a dozen boxes lying around my room here for the past two years. I included them in my inventory, so maybe that's cheating a bit, but still.

All things considered, I'm confident that I'll be ready for tomorrow. Knock on wood. The parts of the move after that, though? We'll see.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Good god, I'd forgotten just how enthralled I could get in a computer game until I installed Starcraft 2. I've been playing World of Warcraft all along, but it's been months since WoW has been like this, maybe not since the current expansion was released more than a year and a half ago. These days if I'm ever in WoW for longer than I plan or "should" be, then it's almost always because I'm in a dungeon or raid with other people, the kind of thing which is aimed at some goal and quitting early means that the time spent thus far is wasted, sort of. That's time-consuming, but not in the same way the thrill of discovery can be, like right after an expansion or major content patch is released. Every minute it's something new that'll change your character or the world or both. Holy shit, that's some kind of walrus-man! Holy shit, that sea monster is bigger than anything I've ever seen, and it's talking to me! Holy shit, the reward from this simple collection quest is better than the staff I had from a raid! That's a reenactment of me when Wrath of the Lich King was released about two years ago.

Starcraft 2 has been like that, turned up to 11. There's the same "holy shit" stuff for someone who hasn't played any RTS games in years - holy shit, infantry that can jump over barriers, airships that heal and build buildings, a nonlinear single-player campaign - but not only that, there's also a cutscene and/or flashing red warning roughly every 15 seconds. Your base is under attack! Unit production complete! Your forces are under attack! Third optional mission objective found! And before I know it, it's 2 a.m.

On the bright side, I've never been very interested in competitive play. Now and then, sure, but like PvP in WoW, playing against other people just doesn't do much for me. So once I finish the single-player campaign here I'm sure I'll recover my sleep. Or at least, get back to working on stuff in WoW.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Express Sucks
A continuing series
Looking back, I'm surprised I've never posted about this specifically before. But the Express, a publication of the Washington Post and one of the two major free commuter dailies in the DC area, really sucks. Crappy, vapid, juvenile, sensationalist, drive-by reporting that starts with Broderish centrism and is always trying to lurch even further right like a kid with a learning disability who just has to be told every 90 seconds not to piss in the class fishtank. I never thought highly of the paper, but it definitely got even worse after a redesign around December 2009. I know I've complained about it in venues other than this, and I might look for links later.

So, today's example: the cover story is titled "Are you a hippy-crite?", and it's about how people drive SUVs to Whole Foods. OK, liberals are hypocrites, we get it, there's nothing individuals can do to help energy or environmental issues. Fine. The article is mostly about the psychological concept of "moral license", but doesn't have any actual point to make other than the pun on the front page. The writer found someone in a Whole Foods parking lot with an SUV who was dumb enough to talk to a reporter from the Express, and linked up three or four other the-perfect-should-be-the-enemy-of-the-good anecdotes, and given what the writer (or editor, maybe this is a good writer with a horrible editor, who knows) made of it, the paper could have been guilty here of nothing worse than argument by anecdote.

However, apparently Express policy is to maximize hack journalism, because they also found a way to throw innumeracy in there. See here, page 7. One of the two graphic elements of this story (all the graphics combined take up more space than the text) made the mistake of offering numbers, which, unfortunately for hacks, are quantifiable. According to the article, people who used high-efficiency washers report running loads of laundry 6 percent more often, and 33 percent of people who went through a green-consulting process reported seeing no improvement in their electic bills. Therefore, those systems are useless and people who say they want to make a difference in their energy consumption are unserious about it.

Wait, what the hell? As for the first, I admit I'm cheating because unlike whoever designed the graphic I'm doing some cursory research to check out whether my intuition is accurate, but 6 percent more loads of laundry is trivial. High-efficiency washing machines use 50 to 60 percent less energy than others. (The "high-efficiency" part is actually talking about water rather than energy directly, but using less water means using less energy to heat the water so it also has energy savings.) So if an old-fashioned washing machine uses twice the energy of a newer one, but people with newer washing machines run loads 6 percent more often, then the overall savings are... gets out calculator... tak tak tak... between 36 and 47 percent. I think. Could be off. But still, that's a huge reduction. People would have to run loads of laundry (not even getting out the calculator for this part, forgive me) TWICE as often to completely negate the benefit of high-energy washing machines. So what problem is the article reporting on, again?

And as for the second example, I'm not even bothering to get out the calculator for it. Do the math mentally with me: if 33 percent of people saw no reduction in bill from greening their home, than how many people saw a reduction? That's right: 67 percent. A two out of three success rate. Apparently that is too complicated for both the graphic designer and the editor of the Express to figure out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

So I read about Dave Weigel (DC reporter, libertarian but apparently moderate, reliable critic of nutty right-wingers) getting private correspondences leaked to the media and being forced to resign after that, my first thought was, "What does that say about me?" (All the previous post's disclaimers about self-centeredness still stand, of course.)

About Weigel himself, it sucks. Here's the general story, and other places say he's already resigned. By the way, in most places with posts about this - Politico, for example - nine out of 10 critics seem to accuse him of being some extreme liberal, which is moronic if not dishonest and very probably both. Just getting that out of the way. I agree with John Cole about it all, and Andrew Sullivan has made some interesting points I'll be getting to in a minute.

So, back to me. Yesterday some time, I was looking at the Facebook page of a woman I dated for a little while. I saw a link to her apparently new personal Web site aimed at drumming up business as a freelance journalism/Web designer, and I saw Weigel on her list of friends. I clicked through and read what I could see of his profile that was publically available and wondered about things for a bit. Is he a horrible person (he is, after all, a libertarian, and a good enough friend of Megan McArdle to go to her wedding, and McArdle is a horrible person), or am I a horrible person for being so judgmental and draconian, or what? Meh, 10 minutes of musing introspection, big deal. But the recent mention of and thought about him made me pay attention to today's news about him when I otherwise might have skipped it entirely.

First, early today I got nagged by my supervisors about missing some details in a recent project I really should have caught. I'd say "I got chewed out", but they weren't aggressive enough to merit that description and I'm too deferential to give someone an easy opening for that. (Deferential? Nebbish? Laid-back?) A pretty big instance of not being details-oriented enough.

And then there's Weigel, doing good and arguably influential work on political topics. And then there's Michael Hastings, an awesome reporter about whom I happened to learn a little more today. And there's even that girl I dated, who judging by that Web site has done even more impressive stuff than I knew about.

And then there's me, who gets reprimanded for not paying enough attention to a pretty simple project and still spends most of the rest of the day coming up with Magic: the Gathering deck ideas and writing this. Makes me wonder yet again if I should be doing more with myself.

And it's sad or maybe just funny how quickly I get into "the enemy of my enemy" mode; just yesterday I was wondering if I should be ashamed of being one degree of separation from Weigel (I've also met him at a party once, FBOFW), but today he gets forced out of his job for being critical of right-wingers, so I call people who denigrate him dishonest morons (well, they are, but that's not the point).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My sister has finished college and has been looking for work for the past few months now and has been a bit worried/depressed/despondent about it. Bad economy in general, our home state of Vermont is particularly thin on young people, where my parents live now is way too rural for her to have any fun, etc. For the past couple months I've been feeling vaguely sorry for her, but not enough to actually suggest that she do as I did and move to a city. Mainly because I fear (irrationally, now that I think of it, but anyways) that saying so could be read as an invitation to move in with me. Yeah, selfish of me.

But today she called me and she was practically hysterical. Crying because the dog wasn't acting normally (the dog, a rescued abandoned dog, is always a bit "neurotic", but is not the highest maintenance pet my family has had. He's not even in the top three) and she hadn't been able to get in touch with our parents, who are on vacation. She had left at least one and probably several messages and hadn't heard back from them for hours, she said. That's right, hours. Wow, horrifying. And apparently she insisted on getting a gun before they left to go on vacation, just for home defense. To be clear, this is the house she and I grew up in, two miles from the nearest paved road. As far as I know the last uninvited intrusion of any kind was a drunk asshole college student renting a house nearby, and that was before my sister was born. Other than bees and wasps (she's allergic) and the decrepit old farmbuildings our parents haven't taken down yet, I honestly can't imagine anything dangerous this time of year within sight of the house. Trees, I guess, if she climbs one and falls down... or some rusty wire... but she apparently bought a shotgun in case some random nut starts playing "The Most Dangerous Game" or a burglar just happens to hit our house.


So now I feel even more obligated to encourage/help her move down here because I think she might literally be going crazy in rural Vermont while at the same time more leery of it because if she goes crazy anyway I do not want to be the one dealing with it.

Although now that I write this down, worrying about her moving in near or with me and us getting on each other's nerves is absurd (and, of course, like I said, selfish). Even if she thinks the way I assume she thinks, she wouldn't move to DC, she'd move to Boston. (Where she went to college, and we also have an aunt there.)
In addition to yesterday's griping, I also have been thinking about a list of little things people could do to make my job easier. Well, now that I phrase it like that it sounds pointless. Of course everyone should do things to make my job easier, right? But still, a lot of this is pretty simple stuff which seems straightforward and yet nobody does them. The two examples that came up yesterday: Given that people use the Microsoft Word "insert comment" button all the time in my office, it seems to me like people should add further comments of their own by using that, and yet yesterday I got one document with a comment inserted into someone else's comment and another document with a comment inserted directly into the text. In either case it's easy to miss, and the second way if it's missed then it would even wind up in the finished product, which would be very stupid. So why don't people do it? I can't think of any reason other than thoughtlessness. (At my last job, comments from editors were made in the text of documents. However, again, there's already a practice here of using comment bubbles, so why some people don't insert comments in bubbles, and some people only do it sometimes, is the mystery.)

And the other example from yesterday: we all have access to the same file server. If everyone worked in the same master document then version control (that is, which version of the document is the latest and incorporates all the edits made by various people) would be no problem at all; people could see what changes earlier people made and make their own next to or on top of them or make comments disagreeing. The only problem is that two people couldn't work in it at the same time, but that seems like a small problem and relatively easily circumvented. So why does almost everyone insist on e-mailing drafts of documents back and forth as e-mail attachments? This way, someone (that is, me) has to go through and combine the two documents. If I'm lucky, they were working on two different parts, so I can just copy-paste one into another. If I'm unlucky, more likely, they have made edits close to or overlapping with each other, so I have to go through and review the changes line by line and hope they were just stepping on each other's toes but not actually disagreeing. Again, I have no idea why people insist on doing this by e-mail. It's possible that they really are so busy they couldn't get their job done around someone else occasionally working in the file, but it seems far more likely to me that they just can't be bothered.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ugh. Work annoying. After one tech editor (that is, me and people doing jobs similar to mine, just assigned to different projects) is finished with a document that's at all consequential, the policy is to give it to another for a peer review. Seems simple, right? I did that with a recent project, and it hasn't turned out well. Not disastrous - I've certainly had worse - but low-key annoyance and embarrassment.

I didn't spend too much time on it. It's a relatively small and noncontroversial project, and it's an annual thing so most of the language was copied verbatim from previous projects. The designated peer reviewer happened to be a pretty laid-back guy, and he didn't find much in it that needed changing, so I was relieved. But then I was told that he had also passed it on to our supervisors, who found a lot more.

In addition to minor, trivial oversights that should be avoided of course but I can't really feel too bad about, I made two mistakes. First, I didn't compare it to a template of that exact type of document. I did compare it to a similar document to check basic formatting issues and I did catch some basic stuff that way, but there were several more things that I would have found if I had bothered to get out the right template. Oh well.

And I don't remember exactly what the second mistake was (I've been procrastinating on finishing this, of course), but if I had to guess, it had to do with one section I did correct mistakes in but shouldn't have, because a different person has final say over it than over the rest of the document. So now I've got an e-mail out there where I'm saying "no, sorry, it looks like you're still wrong about this" for the second time. Let's hope that's all the second problem was, because if there was more to it than that then tomorrow will not be fun.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I learned something new Wednesday night: Elena Kagan is really short.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The rest of the weekend: fun, there's just less to say about it. T. and I went to the zoo on Saturday, which was cool just because I've never been to the Washington zoo. We also watched some TV and ran errands and ate out and just generally hung out Friday and Saturday. I was feeling a little bit guilty because we had had plans to get together Thursday night but I cancelled at the last minute, but you know, we have been seeing quite a bit of each other lately.

Sunday afternoon was, like I said, Magic: the Gathering at Dave's place with him and Paul. I played a game or two with my Ally deck, just enough to ensure that yeah it's probably tournament-competitive or close enough to not be embarrassing if I can finally get around to going to one, and the rest of the time was spent playing multiplayer games. Those are fun (obviously, or I wouldn't still be playing) but they get weird. In probably at least half the games, I got eliminated first and Paul won after being almost ignored by both of us until the end. Very few cards in the game are so good that they make up for being ganged up on, so after one of us (usually me, like I said, but it varied) played a big threat the other two would be forced to gang up on that one. And so it goes, with the person who had been doing worst winning in a couple turns after the others had battered away at each other.

In addition to my Ally deck, I also played a couple games with my Elf deck, which is turning into a masterpiece of creative, artistic, fun deckbuilding, and with a new deck I just made between getting home and going to Dave's place. (That might have contributed to how the games went; the new deck, even more than the other decks the guys were playing with, is based on using harmless weenie creatures to get out massive ones. An Eldrazi deck, basically, but with other big creatures as well. This means that the other guys have (a) plenty of warning when something is coming and (b) one big target to focus on.)

So, it was fun. I stayed out a bit later than I wanted to, and was up even later than that watching TV on my computer after I got home, but hey, I don't have any big plans for tonight.
Last night I witnessed such a concise, compact character study that if I was still in college and submitted this blog post to a Creative Writing class, I would automatically get an A for it. I mean, this blog post wouldn't actually get a good grade just because I'm not going to waste time parsing word choices and trying to show rather than tell every little thing, but I thought it was a great "truth is stranger than fiction" moment. Just strike "stranger" and replace it with "more dramatic".

I was playing Magic with Paul and Dave yesterday afternoon. One of them mentioned a neighbor of Dave's who plays the game, so they invited him over. I forget the neighbor's name - Tom, maybe - but Paul and Dave tried to give him a nickname and make it stick: "Squirrel Boy", for his obsession with a certain Magic deck he had played on a previous visit. He had been spending time with his girlfriend and a roommate of his (or a friend of his girlfriend, I wasn't too clear on that), so while he was here they hung out and played with Dave's X-Box (or whatever). All three of them in college or I guess maybe grad school. Squirrel Boy looks like a typical surfer and acts the part (well, as far as I can tell on a quiet day indoors with no recreational drugs nearby), and both the girlfriend and the roommate were hot blonde women. The girlfiend also had huge breasts.

Apparently both the ladies were a bit frustrated to be dragged over there while Squirrel Boy played Magic. After a few minutes (we completed one four-way game and a second had just started, I think) she came over and whispered in his ear. I asked if he needed to go and they both left precipitously, grinning. Or course, the roommate was annoyed at the very least at being sexiled. Partly because she had left something or other she would want in their apartment. Especially because, she said, the girlfriend was a bit of an exhibitionist, and wouldn't mind being walked in on inadvertently.

Fine, this problem is a bit funny for the roommate to have. I made wise-ass remarks about how rough it must be to be dating a big-titted blonde exhibitionist. Squirrel Boy came back for a bit and after the roommate had got whatever she needed from the other apartment she rejoined us in Dave's for a little while. Later, though, the roommate mentioned that the girlfriend's phone was ringing and it turned out to be the girlfriend's mother and Dave mentioned to us that she is practically abusive to her daughter.

To me, this put everything about her in a whole new light. Her appearance (blonde bombshell), her taste in boyfriends (it looked to me like could do much better than him), her way of acting (she couldn't kill a little time on her own? If she and Tom had plans then he was being a jerk for skipping them, but that's not the impression I got), her exhibitionism (I find the idea hot myself, forgive me if I'm oversharing, but the roommate made it sound like the girlfriend takes it too far) - every single thing I knew about her. It's because her mother if not both parents treats her like shit, so she seeks approval anywhere she can get it and/or tries to get back at her mother by living down to her expectations.

Although maybe it says more about me that I find this remarkable. Maybe a similar narrative could be found or fabricated about almost everyone and this one jumped out at me because I got to see all the elements of it in one eight-hour period. (As always, and maybe I should just put this in the banner at the top of the page, I know I'm condescending; sorry about that. Also, of course, maybe I'm completely wrong about this woman.)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Argh. I wonder how long it will take for computer illiteracy to become something that people feel the need to better themselves on, or at least shamefully hide.

I'm not talking about knowing some computer language or an in-joke of some online subculture. I'm talking about hyperlinks in e-mails. And not some esoteric or barebones e-mail program either; in this office, everyone has Microsoft Outlook. And to specify the problem yet further, the addresses in the links were not misspelled, they were badly formatted in an obvious way, and yet both the e-mail sender and someone who had been CCed with me didn't know how to fix the problem on their own.

The paths to files on the office network were typed directly into the e-mail, without the formatting that would turn them into links (that formatting requires just two more characters per link). Outlook automatically turned the first part of them into links but stopped at a space (because a URL to a Web page wouldn't have a space in it, but, again, this is a path to a file on the internal network), so the links are broken. You could still read the path as instructions and follow them to the folder, or copy-paste the part before the file name into a Windows folder and get to the folder that way and click on the file in the folder, or copy-paste the broken link into a new e-mail (or hit the Reply button, or Forward, or...) and put the formatting around them to make them into links that way.

However, the original sender of the e-mail didn't do that. She sent out an e-mail yesterday with four broken links but added a note after the last one saying that it was broken (but, apparently, never realized that the other three were too) so people could just go to the folder and look for that file name. Thoughtlessly overlooking the problem wouldn't bug me; hey, it happens. But I'm dumbfounded that someone who has used this program in this system for years wouldn't know how to fix this problem if she found it. And this afternoon, another recipient of the e-mail asked me where to find those files because of precisely the problem I'm talking about: the way the links weren't working. So I sent her a link to the folder, this time formatted correctly. Apparently she didn't know the fix for broken links either, and didn't read the note in the previous e-mail explaining how to get around it. Sad.

This is more a pet peeve than any real protest; I know I have my flaws too. And I guess it might be a bit sexist and/or ageist of me, since a while back I printed out two copies of this xkcd comic, tacked one to my wall and gave the other to a co-worker (a woman of roughly the same age as the two I was just talking about) who was always bugging me about computer problems that 90 percent of the time were really trivial and easy. I felt guilty about being rude at the time, but she hasn't bothered me since then.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It really is surprising how much time people spend traveling on a day-to-day basis. My hour-long commute isn't annoying because I more or less made a conscious choice to trade time for money and convenience (that is, using public transportation takes longer than a car would, but it's cheaper and I don't have to worry about parking or insurance or maintenance), but still, every workday I walk 10 minutes to a bus stop and take the bus to a metro stop and when I get off the metro I take a shuttle-bus to my office, and that takes between 40 minutes and an hour.

My mother commuted at least 20 minutes one way to her last job. My father... I'm not sure what his commute is right now, but I know that he has spent more than five years working at jobs with commutes of more than an hour, and those jobs also happened to be more than eight-hour days on most workdays. And both of those are worse than mine because driving pretty much demands full attention; at least I can read or talk on the phone while on a bus. And so on; 10 minutes is a short amount of time to spend on going to work and half an hour or maybe even more is probably average among everyone I know. Half an hour twice a day five times a week for a person's whole working life, while I struggle to squeeze in another hour or two a week for games with friends or whatever. And for me at the moment, it's the same amount of time to see any friends or go to most restaurants and so on. Wow.

Hoping to cut that commute down has always been a minor reason to want to move into the city, but really, maybe it should be more major. (The irony being, where I work might change, but anyways...)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ugh. Mild headache all day today. Probably just caused by a little too much beer last night and staying up too late and then getting up too early this morning. No good reason for that, I was just watching TV.

In addition to tiredness, stress or busyness more generally is probably making things a bit worse. Planning to move in with T. is going well so far - that was the lifestyle change I vaguely alluded to before, but there's no need to be vague about it now, I don't think - but it's a bit annoying how gung-ho she has been about this.

She says she doesn't mind that she's doing almost all the work of looking for a place (we've visited at least six places together, she's seen a few more on her own, and she's answered at least a dozen more ads that turned out to be scams or otherwise didn't lead to visits), and I believe her, but I mind. I don't want to be that guy - the juvenile slacker getting led around by his significant other just because he can't be bothered to contribute. The problem is, I also don't want to be gung-ho about this, both by temperament and because there's no point. She doesn't need to be out of her apartment until the end of August and I've committed to paying rent on my current house through then, to give my roommates plenty of time to look for a replacement. If we find and sign a lease on a place now, I'd be paying double rent for the next three months. And there's no reason to think there's a shortage of places to live. We've already seen one place which was almost perfect and just happened to be snapped up before we got our own applications in, and a couple more more places which aren't what we were looking for but we could put up with them.

We could find a place in a week if we were willing to settle for less than ideal and/or get our applications in right away, and we don't even want to move in until July or August, but she is still e-mailing me three times a day with links to ads and reports on places she has visited. It's annoying.

Moving in together was originally my suggestion, and it's still a good idea, but on this bad day, this process of apartment-hunting feels particularly unpleasant.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wow, this is horrible reporting. Sure, it's hardly the worst example out there, but two paragraphs in this article about Specter's primary loss really jumped out at me:
Specter is 80, but for Democrats in 2009 he was the new 60, the parliamentary crowbar Democrats needed to help muscle President Obama's policies past Republican opposition in the Senate... With Specter's loss, expect a major storyline Wednesday to be whether Obama has lost his golden political touch. His track record of late has not been so good.

Right, because someone who has been a Democrat for less than a year getting primaried and defeated from the left reflects badly on Obama. It doesn't even make any sense on its own terms; this isn't Obama's first defeat of any kind, this is way, far from Obama's biggest defeat, and this isn't a defeat at all but a positive victory for the left or liberals or whatever. If Sestak wins the general he will probably vote with Obama more than Specter did, it's too early to say whether he will win the general, and the article doesn't even try to speculate on that. I suppose there could be some kind of double-reverse-judo in this article intended to drum up support for Obama by making him appear centrist because he's opposed by the left too, but that's giving the writer too much credit for intelligence. If I was still a reporter and was trying to write an article like that or was getting input from my edit pushing me in that direction, my brain would melt out my ears.

And "expect a major storyline to be" means, of course, "we're making it a major storyline, and fuck you if you care if it's true."

Also, you know what's missing from that article? RESULTS. Sestak beat Specter 54-46, but I found that out on Wikipedia, which cites Politico. Neither the CNN article I was just complaining about, nor the one summarizing all the primaries, had those numbers in the articles. Sure, CNN probably has them somewhere, but if they aren't in the article, the site doesn't deserve the traffic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Wow. I wonder if anyone I know was here?

Well, probably. At first I couldn't name that crowded plaza in all the pictures, and I thought of two different places it could have been until I realized that the party was so big there are probably pictures of both places out there... but still, I lived in that city for a year as an exchange student, and there were 9,000 people at this apéro. Even if I can only claim to "know" someone I could still name or would recognize if I bumped into on the streets*, I know at least a dozen people from Nantes in their mid-twenties. Some probably still live in or near the city and some of those would probably have been at the party. It's almost impossible that I knew the dead guy, though, and at such a big event it's pretty unlikely even that I know anyone who knew him.

But on the other hand, OK, so someone I "know" was at this event. So what? Maybe I grasp at any hint of connection I have to distant or newsworthy events a bit too much. If I had been friends with the guy who grows the pumpkins purportedly used in the craft microbrewed beer a co-worker bought once, then yeah, I'd argue that was pretty cool. But if I just met him once or twice... maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill when I got all excited about that.

Still, I'll try to remember to check Facebook this weekend to see if I can track down Nantes people. Da dun DUNNN!

* That might seem like a broad definition of "knowing" a person, but give me a break, I have a bad memory for names, and recognizing someone on the street after all this time might be a bigger feat.

Monday, May 10, 2010

At my office there's an "X days since last bad thing Y" sign on the first floor. There are three Ys, actually. The numbers are suitably high to be impressive; the top number is in the 20s right now, the middle number is around 340 and the bottom number is in the 60s. OK, cool, good work everyone, 340 and 60 days are indeed good lengths of time to go without letting those bad things happen. But in the time the sign has been up - I'd estimate six to eight months - I've noticed something funny: the numbers never go below 10 or even 15. The counter has reset one or another of the numbers at least three times. The one on top seems to be in the 20s fully half the days I walk by. And yet I never, ever see single digits.

So apparently it takes at least 10 days for word to reach HQ when these bad things happen, or for someone to get around to updating the numbers. Demonstrating this laxity is probably not the message they wanted the sign to send.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Since I mentioned work, though, I might as well vent a bit.

Two days ago, I finished a project similar to this - not the same thing, but the same type of thing and I was having the same problem with it. And yeah, I wound up doing a half-assed job on it. Oh well. The person who gave me the assignment came back to me with a few problems with it but accepted the glaring vagueness of the data without a second glance, as far as I could tell. It seems funny how it's easy for me to not worry about problems, as long as they aren't the problems I was expecting - that's happened before, and it happened here too. On the deadline day for these things I was frantically shuffling papers trying to find something, anything, that would make it clearer what I was supposed to do, and I handed it in after the last minute and was walking on eggshells, dreading that my half-assed job actually did matter and was as obvious to everyone else as it was to me. Then the following day they come back with problems - I updated a number in one place but not another, I didn't show part of my work - but even though they're arguably just as big as the ones I feared they're completely different problems, so I'm all, meh, who cares?

The other thing, from just this morning, is that I'm glad the big project I mentioned is a group thing, because if I had to work directly with some of the people we've got feedback from, I'd have a hard time not showing my contempt for those assholes. (By which I mean the reviewers, not the team members, with whom I get along great for the most part.)

For example, here's one comment: "We are following the international guidelines here but reject the... number earlier. This picking and choosing of international standards seems arbitrary." (The ellipsis elides a part that might identify where I work. Or at least it could if it wasn't misspelled. Still, can't be too careful.) This is in the context of earlier suggestions to disregard the method of choosing the number earlier, which would be a very big change, almost sending us back to square one, for no apparent reason. To the comment complaining about picking and choosing, I started to write something like, "Here, we are following a simple, generally-applicable principle, but the earlier rule doesn't apply to that situation very well. Do you think we should disregard the rule that is appropriate, or follow one that is not?" I knew before I finished the sentence that the reviewer could never be allowed to see that, of course. In blog comments, that is the picture of civility. As a question for a boss, not so much.
Nothing is hanging over my head at the moment - mailed off a Mother's Day present on time or very close to it, finished my taxes on time, completed some minor but particularly frustrating projects at work - and it feels great. I'm still keeping busy, but as far as I know I've finished all the stuff that I "need" to take care of in my personal life for at least the next month; everything I do between now and mid-June will be just for fun or self-improvement or out of the goodness of my heart. At work, I've finished up the stuff that's all on me directly, and more generally things have slowed down compared to a week ago or two. Tonight I'm planning to watch "Iron Man 2" (which should be great, if previews and the first one and the actors in it are any indication at all) and have dinner with T. and tomorrow I'm going to do touristy stuff at embassies, and the day after that I have a perfect excuse to go home early and relax without causing anyone else any problems. Good times.

I'm almost superstitious about writing this; what if I jinx it and something goes wrong and the weekend sucks? But seriously, the real reason I'm in a good mood is that I finally took care of all the stuff I needed to take care of and my plans for this weekend are just a cherry on top of all that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I wonder what it's like to have a plan for life? I know stuff happens you can't or never would plan on, but it seems like most happy and successful people have at least some kind of plan for where they want to go in life and how to get there. I don't, unless you define "plan" so broadly it becomes pointless, and I wonder if I'm missing out on something or I'm going to because of this.

Despite how that might sound, this is not me depressed. At worst, it's maudlin or maybe a little afraid of change. Life is good these days. I'm getting along with everyone, spring is here, work is boring and maybe a little worrying but that's the worst of it, things are going great with my girlfriend, and other than my taxes, the biggest problem I have faced for the past month might be trying to fit both World of Warcraft and Magic: the Gathering into my schedule.

But I'm getting ready to make some changes, and I'm wondering how that compares to where I'm "supposed" to be by now or when I was "supposed" to be making those changes, and realizing that I have no idea. (And to the extent that I do have an idea, it's close enough that the difference isn't worth worrying about. But the fact that I have to think about it is.)

Should I have one? My plan from around 2002 until mid-2008 was journalism or writing in general. Make a living by being creative with a desk job, meet lots of people, become a little famous, maybe slightly make the world a better place by exposing corruption or elucidating some thorny political problem or just entertaining people with my wit. I pursued it. After two years as a reporter, I decided that I had spent enough time for a while living in tiny towns, and would take the plunge and move to a city. I did. Since I moved to the city, though, that plan has stalled. In theory I could look for another job that stretches my creative muscles while still where I am, but it's just too easy not to. And you might notice how much was missing from it from the start. Salary? House? Kids? Wife? Hell, what kind of writing exactly? Who knows?

So I'm kind of drifting at the moment. When I had been out of college for a year or two I'd say to friends or a therapist something like, "I'm happy with my life as it is today, but if I'm still here in five years I really won't be happy at all." Well, I'm happy with my life as it is today, and I'm happy with where it seems to be going over the next few months, but I have no idea where it's going from there or where it "should" be going.

(Although I suppose now that I've written down the second paragraph of this, it demonstrates that maybe I'm getting by just fine without a plan...)

It's a little bit like this.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dilemma at work, although this time not at all work-related: this morning a right-winger circulated an e-mail about how Earth Day was a Communist plot or something like that because it's Lenin's birthday. The official explanation for this is that the first Earth day was a Wednesday, thus not in conflict with exams at any major colleges at the time it was founded or any major religious holidays, in the spring, when all kinds of nature-oriented holidays happen. It's the birthday of the Julius Morton, founder of Arbor Day, and one day after the birthday of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. It's also the day Congress voted to put "In God We Trust" on coins, and Robert Oppenheimer's birthday, and Bettie Page's.

And of course, the part about Lenin is far from the only misleading or illogical claim in the e-mail. I'm seriously considering sending everyone who got that a rebuttal to the most egregious offenses against reason. I've mostly written the e-mail and I went so far as to copy down all 57 e-mail addresses so I could send it from home.

So how paranoid should I be about this? Personal or political e-mails are contrary to the policy about e-mail use at work. The current version of my e-mail makes it clear that if the right-winger got away with it, then I should too. Should... Alternately, I'm considering sending it from a dummy e-mail account with a pseudonym. I could use my usual one, or the name "Publius" also has a good pedigree for this kind of thing. But if I do that, it seems a bit underhanded to make a big deal out of the original sender's violation of policy...

Pseudonymity is not anonymity. I've taken precautions to hide the fact that I wrote the e-mail at work, but I'm sure there's some way to figure it out if the IT people really try. Would they be asked to? Probably not, but no way to be sure. I don't know how high up on the totem pole the right-winger is in the office, but almost everyone is higher than me. A couple people in the office could probably figure out on their own that I was the sender, just from stuff I said.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kind of depressed today. The weather doesn't help - cloudy and apparently it rained during the day and it looked like it was constantly on the verge of rain while I was on my way home - and I've been short on sleep lately, blah blah blah, but part of the problem is work, of course.

The latest issue isn't a high-stress problem like the last one I talked about. It seems so minor and trivial that that is probably part of the problem itself. But the main issue is that doing this project correctly seems almost impossible. I need to compare the latest stats on something to what the stats were when it was last done a few years ago. I have the numbers from last time, but I have no idea what they are based on, because the "raw data" is very unhelpful. My best guesses for what they are based on yielded two different sums for the latest stats, one about 40 percent more than the total in the previous renewal and one about 25 percent less. As far as I know, there's no reason for variation that's anywhere near so large. (And the sum from last time is around 5,300, so the variations are like 1,000 in either direction, much greater than I think random noise could account for.)

So it seems to me that I have two options. I could work my ass off on this very minor assignment, and it's possible that no amount of work would be enough if the previous renewal's data was just plain flawed. Or that might just prove that one of my initial best guesses were right, which would be a relief but very frustrating. Alternately, I could do a half-assed job and just handwave away the huge difference in numbers and hope no one notices. And maybe they wouldn't. I don't know if anyone checks my work on this before it leaves the building, and I don't know how closely the office that we submit this to looks at it either. I'm leery of that, partly because recent comments from my supervisor make me think this will get more attention than it would have six months ago and partly, of course, because who wants to knowingly do a half-assed job? What would that say about me? And what does it say about my job that I can do a half-assed job on this and reasonably think no one would notice?

As I write this, a third option occurs to me. The incomplete, very unhelpful numbers from last time are actually less clear than from the time before that. And the numbers from the time before last are actually very close to one of my two best guesses, and the difference is in the direction one would "expect". So maybe I need to just throw out the stats from the last time this was done, pass the buck to whoever did it then, and use the time before that as my baseline.

Well, tomorrow I will put more time trying to figure out what the numbers from last time are based on, of course. But I'm glad the third option occurred to me.