We report, you decide

Every day when we get Big Gulps from 7-Eleven, my sister and I walk out the door (which faces the local Fred Meyer) to see this sight:

You make the call: was Benny pantsed, or is he simply pantsless?

Tsunamis suck

Marin’s been keeping much closer tabs on the effects of Sunday’s tsunamis than I have, but the overwhelming impact of them remains: 118,000 dead. That number endlessly rises, it seems, as time passes.

Though it’s easy enough to ignore in the humdrum of my unaffected, normal life, my mind boggles when I try to actually think about what the survivors are going through.

After September 11th, both Amazon and Apple (and I’m sure other sites, though those were the two that stuck in my mind) did something that struck me as fundamentally good: they took the majority of their main pages and converted them into advertisements for organizations such as the American Red Cross.

I never actually donated anything in response to 9/11, mostly because there didn’t seem to be any real need for what I had to offer—yes, people were donating, but they were doing so because it was pretty much all they could do, and they felt the need to do something.

Now, thanks to these tsunamis, Apple and Amazon have modified their main pages again. (And this time, it seems, there is a need.) Amazon actually offers an easy way to donate using any credit card you have on file with them, and keeps a running tally of how much has been donated: in something around three days, as I write this, Amazon customers alone have donated $6.9 million to the Red Cross’ efforts.


My contribution isn’t even a drop in that total, but you might think about pitching in—if you haven’t already.

I know that I’d hope people would do the same for me, if the ocean saw fit to try and strike me down. Stupid ocean.

xMac speculation

The Mac rumor market just got extremely hot and bothered over a renewed rumor that Apple will soon announce a headless iMac that will sell for $500. The goal of such an xMac (apparently the preferred “unknown product name” title) would ostensibly be to build off of Apple’s success with the iPod—Windows users who were impressed with the design of the iPod might be willing to spring for a Mac on the side, provided that Mac didn’t cost as much as Macs today do.

Of course, the rumored specs of this rumored xMac aren’t knock-your-socks-off impressive: 1.25 GHz G4 processor, 256 MB RAM, 40 GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD drive, DVI and/or VGA out, a handful of USB and firewire ports.

I’d say that this thing, if it does exist, has potential in three directions:

1) OMG CHEAP MAC If you aren’t terribly interested in high-end tasks, you don’t actually need a G5 processor or a fancy video card. (Let’s face it: you don’t buy a Mac to play the latest games.) This would probably be Apple’s best hope to gain market share, and this (courtesy of the iPod) is probably Apple’s best time to attempt such a move. Besides, at $500 it wouldn’t cost any more than a high-end iPod.

2) OMG CHEAP SERVER I’m probably the only one in the world who thinks like this, but I’ve been longing for some Mac-compatible form of NAS for a good year or two. The xMac, save for the piddly hard drive, would make a damn fine home server. (This is where the firewire port comes in, if not one’s ability to replace small hard drives with large hard drives.)

2) OMG EXPENSIVE TIVO Put some sort of video-out port in that box—and, maybe, a larger hard drive—and you have an Apple-branded TiVo. (Confession: I don’t actually have a TiVo, or much beyond a superficial understanding of how they work.) This would also seem to be a different angle of Apple’s “digital hub” strategy.

Of course, I (and everyone else on various Mac forums) am just blowing smoke right now… but I could see potential in such a “3-in-1” device. I’d be tempted to buy one, just for the server potential.

The great time-sink

It seems the internet can be used for Great Evil (in this case, selling great evil*) as well as for Great Good. In my case, it is also used to suck the time out of my life. I’m not sure how, but lately I’ve been coming home from work, sitting down in front of my computer, and then going to bed. And the killer detail is that I’m not actually accomplishing a damn thing! (Well, it’s more like I learn about piddly little things—e.g. yesterday I learned more about the .name TLD.)

[*I enjoyed the first one; the second one was OK; the horror of the third one overpowers all good the others did; I don’t remember the fourth, although I did see it once, long ago.]

Oh, and my apologies if my snow hack-design resulted in black text on a black background. Believe it or not, I’m not so stupid as to actually intend that—but apparently I am so stupid as not to test my CSS in more than one browser.

Here’s a taste of what it should have looked like, if you had been using Safari on Mac OS X (yes, Tiffany, you and I were the only ones who saw this):

It wasn’t hawt, but I thought it looked passable… and the only reason I did it was so that the snow would be visible. Oh well—next time I’ll nail it.

New Year’s cleaning

So, tell me: if I’m having trouble fitting all my stuff (not just Christmas loot, though that certainly doesn’t help) in my 12′ by 12′ room, is the room too small or do I have too much stuff?

I figure it’s about time to do my annual cleaning and clean-out of my room (just in time for the new year!), but I’ve been disheartened by looking around. I have a whole bunch of math texts populating my bookcase, and some can undoubtedly be removed—but which ones might be useful in the future? (Keep in mind that actuaries actually do math as part of their job; I’m not just clinging onto old textbooks for absolutely no reason.) How can I possibly fit the piles of books on my desk into my already-full bookcases?

Perhaps most importantly: how can I ever hope to win against an army of dust-bunnies that make the armies of Troy pale in comparison? (Those aren’t good odds, if you’re the man with the can of Pledge in your hands.) Cleaning this small room is going to be a major PITA—which is exactly why I’ve kept putting it off.

Merry Christmas!

(Or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas…uh… Happy Saturday.)

I don’t predict a whole lot of excitement in my holiday, but I like my holidays quiet—so I’m not complaining. Podunk, Oregon tends to shut down for Christmas, so it’s not like there’ll actually be anything to do, even if I wanted to. Maybe I’ll actually watch anime, or work on the site, or (gasp!) read something after the festivities end.

That’s crazy talk, I tell you. I mean, the fact that I modified my CSS and added a snow javascript to this page is pretty amazing, in and of itself.

¡Viva la revolución!

Two of my coworkers were today complaining about spyware on their PCs. After first pointing out that the Mac doesn’t really suffer from that problem (I do my best to help Apple), I then (more-helpfully) pointed them to Mozilla.org to download Firefox and Thunderbird.

(Okay, Thunderbird might not help with the spyware problem. Still, moving away from IE and Outlook seems like a decent—though far from foolproof—way to reduce the odds of being infected by the next virus, if nothing else.)

As they say on the internet: karma ++

Office-office party

Yesterday was the office-only Christmas celebration, complete with catered lunch (plus ornament exchange) as well as a white-elephant gift exchange (plus booze) in the evening. Yes, that’s right: for the first time evar (where “evar” is defined as the many years I’ve worked there), my coworkers drank beer and/or wine at our workplace. In an officially approved manner, even.

The best line of the evening not uttered by me: Once I start drinking, I don’t care what it is!

People brought wine, but nobody thought to bring a corkscrew. Fortunately, someone had a camping kit in their car complete with a port-a-corkscrew. Unfortunately, it really didn’t give you all that much to grab onto while trying to remove a cork. The gals of the office had thus been passing these bottles over to one of the guys to open. That Guy was sitting down, and so had held the wine bottle between his legs while yanking on the corkscrew with both hands.

This one time, however, That Guy was nowhere to be found. I was unfortunate enough to be the closest male, and so I was handed the bottle to open. I tried to leave the bottle on the counter, using one hand on the corkscrew and one hand on the bottle—and was just getting nowhere. One of the gals then suggested that I stick the bottle between my legs to open it, as That Guy had done. My response?

The best line of the evening uttered by me: No thanks; I’m secure in my sexuality.

(5 seconds pass)

[uproarious laughter]

Sass at work, Jamming with John, & more

Someone at work had been leaving my archival DVDs lying around outside of their cases—just begging for them to be scratched up. I, of course couldn’t sit idly by, and I had two emailing styles that I could employ:

1) blah blah don’t leave dvds out of cases blah blah gut you like a fish.

2) Only punks and half-wits leave DVDs out of their cases. And we aren’t punks or half-wits, are we?

Don’t answer that.

I ultimately ran with the version that didn’t imply bodily harm, and people seemed to enjoy that bit of levity. At least, I haven’t been called into the principal’s office yet.

In chatting with John earlier, I learned that he had a new wireless network complete with print server “over the litterbox.” (Ostensibly this is so you can print a document and then grab it while running out to the car.) He mentioned that he had tried to get someone with a laptop to print some random thing to their printer while his family was eating dinner, but hadn’t found anyone who had a laptop with a wireless card.

I happen to have such a laptop (in the form of an old Powerbook with an Airport card), and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let this chance for comedy gold slip through my fingers. Accordingly, Brian and I snuck over to John’s house one evening late last week.

We even created a custom document for our purposes (inspired by a webcomic that Brian had recently read). Unfortunately, John’s wireless network was password-protected.

Our backup plan? Knocking on his door with Powerbook in hand, and asking him for his password. Turns out not even John knows his password, but he seemed tickled that we had even tried.

Does it even really feel like Christmas to anyone? I started the season with some anticipation towards the holiday, but now I just want the insanity to end. (The last time I was really jazzed about Christmas was my freshman year in college, and even that was probably more due to the fact that my friends were all jazzed that year.) I tried going to the mall yesterday, and parking my car outweighed any enjoyment I could have derived from the rest of the experience.

Every year I buy more stuff through Amazon and other online stores than the year before. Every year I also head out to stores once or twice, and am reminded why I buy stuff through Amazon for Christmas. Ugh.

I bothered to fill my iPod with Christmas music, but I find myself preferring to listen to almost anything else. The Christmas tunes I do listen to are mostly from Mariah Carey (she has a handful of nonstandard, catchy songs) and the Carpenters (Karen’s voice owns). Moreso, though, I listen to my collection of west coast swing and nightclub two step music.

So, in short: Bah Humbug!

I suspect my real problem is that I’ve historically associated Christmas with a break in my life: school was done, work was slow, and I could kick back and relax for a while. Not so, this year: no school to break from, I’m quite behind at work, and—probably due to poor time management—I don’t seem to have time to take care of the odds and ends I need to address, let alone doing anything I really enjoy.

I mean, this post could have been broken into at least three posts, and spread out over the last few days. Instead, you get this.

Chronicles of triumph

So I’ve been hunched over a scanner at work and/or nursing my new (related) hunchback. How’ve you been?

My one work-related victory was in taming the new copier we have. Seems the sucker likes to make a big-ass ruckus anytime someone asks it to copy onto a paper size it doesn’t have loaded—not the best situation, but certainly not the end of the world. To illustrate the power of this noise, I present to you the output of the typical IRC denizen when presented with this copier making that noise:

OMG teh copier is on fire!!!1 BRB

As you can see, that’s one powerful alarm. And I finally figured out how to turn that “feature” off. ::puffs chest::

Outside of work I’ve been caught up by the little banners that Amazon’s been running across the top of its front page:

you fool! you only have 3 minutes to purchase stuff for Christmas before you have to pay the last minute shopper tax!*

[*I.e. pay for expedited shipping.]

Instead of turning away and picking up lumps of coal to everyone I know (which I really should have done—I mean, how good have you been this year?), I actually placed some orders.

Inspired by the need to reach free shipping levels (this time, however, at Powell’s), I also picked up a random assortment of books recommended by my old Systems Theory and Thinking professor, Dr. King. BA 350, as the class was usually referred to, was the wildest my classes got in the college of business: the course consisted entirely of reading selected articles and discussing their contents. The goal was to introduce us to new ideas, to different ways of thinking, rather than to get us to successfully regurgitate information—the idea being that things are interrelated, and you would be a fool to not pay attention to those interrelationships. (Simple example: you can raise the price of your product 20% to increase revenue—but that might also reduce the number of sales you make. Complex example: Curatiba.)

I can’t possibly do Dr. King justice in my late-night rambling, but he was (and is) a man who was clearly in love with ideas; he’d take them from any source imaginable and piece ’em together into one giant gestalt amalgam. If the world wide web were to be represented by one human, I would nominate him.

I actually took an honors college class from Dr. King before I took BA 350 from him; that honors class was similarly structured, but the articles were ones that Dr. King selected because he wanted to read them. (The class, he said, was for him more than it was for us.) [Aside: it was in this class that I attained the highest mental state I will ever achieve.**]

Anyway, at the end of BA 350 Dr. King posted a list of books he recommended we read. He has since retired—causing me to think that his list had been lost to the ages—but the college hasn’t yet removed his website from their server, and so I was able to download a copy of his recommendations. At midnight last night. To then take to Amazon and pick through. The books that looked the most interested padded my order earlier today. Which is how I got here in the first place.


[**My moment of transcendence allowed me to determine the next line in the following pattern—that nobody (including the professor) knew the answer to:








It was easily one of my finest moments. Right up there with my elegantly simple disproof of a “prove or provide a counter example” problem for a linear algebra midterm, which the professor had me show to the class. Alas, I remember neither the problem nor my countexample—so y’all are spared that.]

Awesome links to pass the time

While I try to finally watch the final two episodes of Cowboy Bebop (Marin and I watched the rest of it before fall term), I will leave you with these three links, gleaned off of the Anime Jump forums.

The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time: National Lampoon style.

Solid Sharkey: Worlds of Power: Plot summaries of Scholastic books based off of Nintendo games. (No, I never read any of these.)

The Wizard: This “review” is the next-best thing to actually watching the movie. (Though it does leave out the scene where the old guy sips a beer while watching two adults beat the shit out of their cars.) I still remember this “movie” fondly—probably because I don’t watch it all that often.

Little progress; natives restless

Things haven’t been especially hectic lately—I just seem to be poorly prepared to handle what has come my way. With the end of my dance classes I seem to have reverted to a sedentary, passive lifestyle; what things I do tend to be the result of Brian calling me up. (He’s responsible for my having played snooker on Wednesday, and for my having watched Wave Twisters on Thursday.) I’m glad that Brian will call me—thanks, B!—but I’m a bit worried that I’m not calling him. Or anyone, for that matter.

Maybe part of this is related to my junky, junky sleep habits. Actually, I’m almost certain it is—there’d be darn-near perfect correlation between the amount of sleep I get and how social I want to be. There is also a strong correlation between how social I am and how happy I am, so not getting sleep can really screw me over.

Of course, I type the above at midnight. Hmm.

Work has been a PITA lately, as people have gotten tired of the moat of paper I have surrounding my castlecubicle. I now need to rid myself of that paper posthaste, which mostly involves me hunching over my scanner for a bloody eternity.

If “Quasimodo” is too complicated a name to say on a regular basis, I will also respond to “Quasi” or “Quas.”

In the semi-victory department you may now find my attempt to find a copy of “China in Your Hands” by Fusion. It seems that the Holiday Hit Mix 1999 CD (a copy of which is now mine) has the right song by the right group—in a (more) acoustic version. (At least, I remember the background being a bit more full than the copy I have.) That’s not all that big a deal, though, as this version still sounds nice and you can still dance to it—meaning that my itch for that song is mostly scratched. Mostly.

China in my hands

So there’s this extremely nice night club two step song entitled China in Your Hands that I wanted to purchase. This proved exceedingly difficult, for the following reasons:

1) Its name is quite similar to an ’80s hit by T’Pau, China in Your Hand. From 30-second sound clips I surmise that the T’Pau song sucks—yet is still found on a good number of CDs.

2) The group that sang the song is named Fusion, which is annoyingly generic when you’re staring down the Google search field.

3) Fusion is (as best I can tell) a German band. (Yes, the song itself is sung in English.)

4) Fusion is (as best I can tell) a one-hit-wonder German band.

5) The song was only released as a single, which is long out of print.

I finally succeeded in finding a copy of the song—I hope—on an import compilation CD entitled Holiday Hit Mix 1999. Yes, that CD is itself five years out of print—but that’s what Amazon’s Marketplace is for.

Hung for the holidays

Whoever decided the world needed another blight, in the form of a second William Hung CD, needs to be punished. These acts cannot go without repercussions.

Whoever titled Hung’s second CD, however, should be promoted above the drudge and misery that must be his or her life. From every account I’ve read (and, believe me, I’ve read about three accounts), the title of the album is by far the best thing about it.

The holiday party

Friday’s entertainment was a Soul Calibur II mega-battle with Brian and Nate, built on a foundation of the first disc of Aqua Teen Hunger Force volume 3. For whatever reason, I got on my game later in the evening and began a reign of terror. (Actually, I started using Charade to limit my powers—though I did mourn my inability to taunt at the beginning of matches.) We wrapped things up with a look at Katamari Damacy, a game where you go around rolling ordinary objects (you know: cookies, shrubs, cats, people, buildings, islands) into a giant ball to launch into space as a replacement star, since your dad (the King of All Cosmos, and an ass) got drunk and somehow destroyed all the real stars. Weird, whimsical game—we just played it far too early in the morning.

Saturday was the office holiday party. At the Country Club, the premiere place for these sorts of shin-digs. Eric and I (after I fought with my tie—it’s been a long time since I’ve bothered dressing up) showed up on time, and were darn near the first to arrive. We got to chat with our boss a bit, who made the mistake of asking us what we had done with the rest of our day. Eric’s answer included the phrase played a violent video game, which created an atmosphere not unlike the trip to Portland that my boss, Debi, and I took wherein Debi chatted about downloading MP3s of punk covers. (I, sadly, never got to tell the boss what I did with my day.)

The place itself was set up nicely, with a small wooden floor on one end of a long hall (where they served dinner and, later, would have dancing) and a few bajillion tables. At the other end was the (legendary) open bar, and beyond that was an entirely different party. People started filtering in, and soon the bulk of my coworkers arrived in a few large groups. Those groups congregated on three tables in a corner; Eric decided that he wanted to meet new people, and staked a position at a table in the center of the room. I was never convinced that would work (our table would be avoided by others, or would feature a small group congregating on the other end and chatting among themselves), and so never sat down. As the place started filling in, Eric came to the same conclusion—so we wound up sitting with the younger gals in our office. Both Eric and I were complimented on how well we cleaned up, which I guess is a good thing.

The waitresses were darn responsive, and impressed me with their ability to remember everyone’s drinks. (I wish my memory was half as good—I would have to write every order down, along with where the person who ordered it was sitting, if I wanted half a chance of getting things right.) Food was generally excellent, though people found the roast beef quite tough; some (discreetly) resorted to the so-called caveman technique to finish their meat.

As the drinks kept coming, Billie told a hilarious story about Kristina. Before you get that, however, you get my experience:

The first time I saw Kristina at a ballroom dance practice, after she started working at my office, I went over and said ‘hi’ to her. Then a west coast swing song came on, and someone asked her to dance; I returned to my usual haunt and habits (i.e. holding up the wall). At the last waltz of the evening, I asked Kristy (different gal; friend from a couple dance classes) if she wanted to dance; I was too late, however, as she had already begun packing up her shoes to leave. Right then I felt a tap on my shoulder—Kristina asking me if I’d like to dance. We did. End of evening.

Billie’s story: Kristina and Billie went out for a beer after work sometime after that. According to Billie, Kristina told her about how Brent totally wanted [Kristina], as we had danced and my hands had been shaking something fierce throughout.

Now, as I mentioned here just last week, I have an intention tremor. It is bloody annoying at times—dancing included—though most follows just assume that I’m nervous (until it comes up in conversation, and I set the record straight). Billie was aware of my tremor, courtesy of an ill-fated attempt to cut a birthday cake, and pointed that out to Kristina. Sadly, she never really told us what the response to that revelation was.

I don’t deny I liked Kristina (though I don’t think I’ve ever totally wanted someone)—but the Kristina I liked was the one I saw at work: quiet, friendly, and smart enough to keep her mouth shut around the office. Apparently that’s not necessarily her true nature—a darn shame.

After dinner ended, the dancing started. I could almost see the gears grinding in the heads of the people who built the playlist; among the chosen were such classics as YMCA, Stayin’ Alive, and Old Time Rock and Roll. The people who got up and danced were basically doing the drunk person flail, so I entertained myself (and only myself) by remaining seated at the table and informing Eric what dance one might do to each song. (Hustle and WCS dominated; WCS mostly because you can dance west coast to almost anything.)

As we headed home, Eric and I touched on the amount of money that event must have cost. If it’s anything around what we suspect, it is both amazing and galling.

And now, some entertaining links for you to check out:

The Ad Graveyard—Advertising that wound up dead, usually for good reason.

Adventures in Advertising—Offbeat anecdotes, in the shape of a bookmark.

Scary Go Round —Webcomic featuring hilarious dialogue. (You’ll especially thank me for this last link, as I thanked Brian for introducing it to me.)

Entry #488: In which I blab incessantly on dance-related topics

(sob) That’s it. My ten weeks of dance classes are finished, and I return to the world of ordinary stiffs.

At the end of each class is a “practical exam,” which historically has always translated into a review of the moves we learned throughout the term. (They just use a different name to fulfill some silly bureaucratic requirement.) Not so, in west coast! In WCS competitions there’s a category called Jack & Jill, where partners and the music they dance to are selected randomly. A subset of the entrants take the floor, dance (and are judged), and then yield to the next subset. [If you really care: judges rate individuals in the early rounds—so you aren’t completely out of the running if you draw a poor partner—and then couples in the later.]

Our practical exam, then, was a faux Jack & Jill competition (sans judging). We had three or four pairs out on the floor at a time, which was more than enough to cause a bit of performance anxiety for everyone involved—at least before, everyone else was too involved in their own mistakes to make note of yours. Though it wound up being fun, I don’t think I’m going to voluntarily put myself in that position too often.

In my hustle class our “practical exam” turned out to be watching some taped ballroom competition and trying not to gag at some of the inane commentary given by the female host. (How do you get to host a ballroom competition without knowing one iota about ballroom dancing?) A fellow lead and I made note of the cane that one guy accessorized his suit with, and our conversation soon went out into left field: the cane should conceal a sword; duels (and, inevitably, Zell Miller); the idea that two guys should walk to the center of the MU quad one afternoon with their canes, and then draw their swords and progress into a fierce fencing match. I also suggested an awesome ballroom dance choreographed between me and Kristy: we would separate and spread about ten feet apart, and then Kristy would do an astounding leap (full of twists) high into the air, over my head, and land ten feet on the other side of me. I assured her we would win the competition: “That Brent sure sucked, but damn is Kristy good!”

Sadly, I was not in top form for the last Wednesday night practice. (This was most apparent in my one WCS dance, where I started off perpendicular to all the other dancers and proceeded to fall apart from there. I seem to need a warm-up dance before I can be any good at west coast…. There was a silver lining, though, in that I had a good follow who taught me how to get out of my mess—not that I’ll ever get into it again, mind you.) That particular disaster was mitigated by the fact that I got to see, chat, and (sometimes) dance with a good number of my friends for the rest of the evening.

The music selection was terrible, though! Jay counted some nine or ten lindy hops (in contrast to one cha-cha), and the majority of the other songs were so slow and quiet that it was quite easy to lose their beat. (Only a handful of people know how to lindy hop; the vast majority can cha-cha.) Barry and I finally planned an uprising to find better music; he suggested that he go kick the people around the MP3 player, and I change the track. I agreed to that plan quickly, as it left him holding the bag when it came to the inevitable assault and battery charges that would follow.

Thank you, business law!

In early December there are two traditions that I am aware of. First: my office will hold its annual Christmas Holiday Party the weekend before finals. Second: I will not attend said party.

Historically, my reason has always been the need to study for my exams. This is the first year that I do not have that excuse—and this is the first year that I will attend that party.

The conversation that got me into this went as follows:

Brent: So I guess I won’t be attending the office party this year, either.

Office Manager: Why’s that?

Brent: I forgot to RSVP before the deadline.

Office Manager: Oh, no problem there. I’ll add your name—and you better be there!

Brent: Shit.

Next year I learn to mouth off the day before the party, and no sooner. On the plus side, I will finally determine what constitutes “dancing” at a doctor’s holiday party. (Club-style dance doesn’t fit my image of a semi-formal event that isn’t directly related to high-school, yet I doubt that many people know how any ballroom dances. Such mystery!)

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