Too... much... stuff.

This is going to be long, rambling, and probably boring, so be prepared. On January 18th, a day before my wife's birthday (she was so pleased), I sat myself down in a luxurious leather seat aboard a Southwest flight to Orlando, Florida for this tradeshow. If you've ever been on a Southwest flight going anywhere, you know that even if you are having sex with the pilot you have very little chance of getting a good seat, unless you happen to be having sex with him/her en route.

Why are there no good seats? Because in order to make money on an $89 fare, they have to pack three people into the space that would normally be occupied by two. And when half the people on your flight actually take up 1.6 people-worth of space, you are going to be uncomfortable no matter what you do. Luckily, the fat guy I ended up sitting next to actually wanted to sit in the middle so I was only squashed against hairy flesh on the one side.

Here's something else I discovered. There is a serious drawback to leather seats. I realize they are a great thing for the airlines -- they last a long time, they're easy to clean, they sound like they're upscale, and they don't soak up liquid. Unfortunately, there is another thing they don't soak up. Leather seats = zero fart absorption. Give me a nice, upholstered foam-filled seat any day of the week. I don't know what the fuck the guy sitting next to me ate for breakfast, but he singlehandedly polluted 110 feet of airborne aluminum tube. Or maybe he had help, I don't know. Either way, at times it was brutal. I did the only thing I could do: I went into full Unibomber mode and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, put my sunglasses on, turned toward the shaded window and tried to breath through my mouth. Oh, and I watched a movie on my nano called Wanted. Not bad if you like special effects and/or Angelina Jolie.

The first night of this conference they have a big party. It's usually just an excuse to eat bad food and drink bad beer and wine, so I usually go for a while and then bail out early since I've been awake for 17 hours. The party stretched across a beach between two hotels, and they had different bands spaced out along the way, covering different musical styles. It started with Latin (DJ), went to blues (passable) then to acoustic (bad) and finally to country (so-so). I went to the conference with one of the guys on my team that I never get to see except during our weekly video meeting. I have to say, he's a lot less pixelated in person. We were standing down on the "country end" drinking Coronas and watching two scary girls do some sort of line stomp on a plywood bar when my phone rang.

It was my wife. She was buried in 18" of snow and the snow blower wouldn't run. Actually, it would run just fine -- but it wouldn't blow snow, which means it's no longer a snow blower and is instead just a motor bolted to a hundred and fifty pound pile of shit. As I walked and tried to find a quiet place to talk away from the music, we tried a bunch of things to get it going, and were rewarded with smoke and the smell of burning rubber. At that point I knew the second stage was frozen up. We pointed a kerosene heater at it for ten minutes and even that didn't work. Finally in desperation, I told her to dump a bucket of boiling water down the chute to see if it would melt the frozen up mechanism and, believe it or not, it worked.

Still, by that time I was almost back to my room, so I figured I'd just stay there. When I had first arrived at the hotel, I changed my room to one with a balcony, having grand visions of sitting out there at night, drinking a scotch and maybe doing some writing, but that was not to be.

Due to global warming, Orlando was twenty eight fucking degrees at night for the first three nights I was there. As an added bonus, I had Coughy McCougherson in the room next to me. He was making this sound every five minutes until I couldn't stand it any more and finally had to fall asleep listening to my ipod. I think he may have died a few nights later, because something in his room started ringing at 4 am and wouldn't stop. After about 30 minutes of that, I heard security in the hall and they were banging on his door. I knew they were security because they kept yelling "SECURITY!" in between each hammer-fest. Finally they let themselves in. I guess he was just a party animal because apparently he wasn't even there. Assknob. Unless he really did die, of course. In which case I'd refer to him as the dead assknob.

The first day of the conference, other people almost died, too. There is something called the "General Session" which is basically a big rah-rah session with some famous people. This year it was Blue Man Group and Dan Aykroyd. BMG was great, Dan A, not so much. I mean, he didn't suck, but he started off with Beldar, and went downhill from there. He went for some laughs that didn't happen and that's always a little awkward. I guess you can take the actor out of the SNL, but can't take the SNL out of the actor.

Anyway, from the dining hall to the session was a straight shot up two separate escalators, one from the first floor to the second, and another from the second to the third. Now picture 8,000 people trying to get up these escalators and into the same room at the same time. What happened is obvious in retrospect. There was a traffic jam at the top, and the people riding the escalator had nowhere to go since there was an unending stream of people behind them. When they got to the top and hit bodies, it started a geekalanche. People were screaming, "MOVE! MOVE!" and disaster was narrowly averted by everyone except maybe Dan Aykroyd.

In a different mid-week session, I learned something else. First, I learned that due to a weak dollar, it's cheaper to fly to the states from overseas than ever before. Apparently, Germany got this memo and sent a shitload of people over. A lot of them looked like this. I believe most of them were (and probably still are) named Deiter or Hans. I think of all the whiter nationalities, Germans are the easiest to pick out. They seem very ... precise. I can tell you one thing, however. There is nothing worse than trying to listen to a presentation when two people are talking to each other in the seats behind you, except when the people are talking to each other in German. Or Hebrew. That one is good, too. It's the only language that makes you sound like you are coughing up snails.

I think I am easily annoyed, or more likely I just hate people. At another session I went to, the guy next to me was a major nose-breather. Every breath in and out was through his nose, and with a gusto usually reserved for use by perverts sniffing women's underwear.

I am also not sure they have elevators outside the U.S. I base this theory on what I experienced in the hotel after we were done for the day. I boarded the elevator to the 8th floor, and two other random gentlemen got on with me; one of apparent Chinese descent and one African American. They both pushed their buttons and we were off. At the sixth floor, the doors opened, and nobody moved. The doors started closing again. When they were maybe two feet apart, the Chinese guy ran from the back of the elevator and dove head-first out the door sideways, landing flat out on the carpet. Seriously, it was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. He wasn't wearing a hat, so there was nothing for him to reach back and grab, but the dive itself was priceless. At the point of his dive, the doors were almost contacting him on both sides of his body. That's how close it was. Since his fancy move was so fast, the doors didn't even re-open. The other guy in the elevator just looked at me as the doors shut and said, "That was some serious James Bond shit right there."

The other thing I love about Florida is that when the temperature drops below 60, people who live here lose their minds and start wearing winter clothes. We're talking parkas, gloves and scarves. And when it's 30 degrees out -- everyone who lives here dies a little inside, and goes batshit crazy with the the heater controls. The hallways in the hotel, the shuttle buses, the restaurants -- all had to be pushing 80 degrees. It was like walking towards the seventh level of Hell every time I went back to my room.

The product showcase was an experience as well. The object of the game there is for you is to get free stuff, and the object of the game for the vendors is to scan your badge at all costs so they can later bombard you with junk mail and bulk mail and faxes and phone calls for whatever crap it is that they happen to be selling.

The easiest way to ensnare an unsuspecting geek, of course, is with a hot girl offering a big-screen TV. So some vendors will stoop to this level, and hire models to hand out their literature and scan badges and ask if you'd like to "enter their giveaway." If you are a newbie, you will fall for this every time and before you know it, the 5' 10" hot model will be gone and you will be sharing a moist handshake with the sweaty, balding guy with the bad comb-over and the clip-on tie. As a seasoned professional, your job is to avoid these traps, and get the freebie without any interaction with their sales person. Talk to the model, enter the contest, say you have somewhere to be in 5 minutes and promise to stop back. Done.

Overall the conference was really very good, and some of the sessions were excellent. I did come away with some new ideas on how to tweak our infrastructure, so it was worth it, but by the end of the week you are basically the walking dead. Your head is so crammed full of stuff that you can't possibly absorb one more thing, and you are so tired from the late nights and early mornings that you are asleep on your feet. I was also studying for a certification test that I had to take on Thursday.

The morning of my exam, I had a surreal moment. I went to the dining hall and got breakfast, and sat down at a big round table, all alone because it was early. I had my iPod phones plugged into my ears, and I was doing some last minute cramming for my test. When I finally looked up from my study sheet, there were 11 Japanese guys sitting at the table with me. I must have looked surprised because when I pulled my earbuds out, they were all looking at me and laughing. I stood up, gave them a little bow and left for my exam. I don't know if that was politically correct or not, but they didn't seem to mind.

Sometimes you go a little crazy at these things, I think. It's a shorter drive for some of us than others, I know. Here's a real life example that made me think maybe I was losing it:

The last day of the conference, I was standing in the bathroom taking a leak in one of the disgusting urinals, and I happened to glance down at the valve on the top. The company that manufactured this valve was Zurn. I immediately decided that Zurn was the god of all things urine. Kind of like Thor, but instead of being the god of thunder, he's Zurn, the god of pee. In the space of 30 seconds, he had a costume, a superpower (beams of yellow force he could bend to his will) He wore a yellow suit with a red lightning bolt on it, but then I thought, "No, I just gave the Green Lantern's powers to the Silver Age Flash," and that's when I realized I needed some sleep because everyone knows the Green Lantern has beams of green power. Also, I had finished peeing 20 seconds ago and there was a line.

In my next rambling and incoherent post, I will tell you about the week that followed, whereupon my lovely wife and I had the best weather ever and managed to laugh our asses off, and even got to hang with Shamus and his family for bit, which is an experience in and of itself.

Go watch his Epcot video and try not to laugh.


Vacation, all I ever wanted..

Sorry for the Go-Gos reference. I'm back. I am regrouping from a week-long geekfest and a week-long vacation. In the meantime, keep your eyes on your Mazda. I'll be back later tonight.

LAGOS (Reuters) - Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery. Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

I didn't even know goat-men could drive. And where the hell does he keep his gun?


Best Buy can suck it.

I've been shopping at Best Buy for at least a decade. I've purchased televisions, computers, 3 dvd players, monitors, digital cameras, 6 different iPods, wireless routers, computer software, and too many DVDs and CDs to count. Yesterday, I walked into the Wilton Best Buy store with an unopened Rolling Stones DVD box set that I received as a Christmas gift. All I wanted to do was switch it for a different DVD because my wife originally bought the wrong one, and pick up 100' of ethernet cable.

Simple, right?

I waited in line at the returns counter, and presented my return to the counter girl. She asked me for my name and phone number, which I gave her. She punched a few buttons, scanned the DVD, then said "I'm sorry. I can't take this back." I pointed out that it was unopened, and all I wanted to do was trade it for something else.

"Yes, but it's past our 30-day return period, so I can't take it back," she said.

"Even though it's not opened, and you can resell it?"


I politely asked her to make an exception. Talk to a manager if she had to. She told me to hold on a minute, and she went and spoke with her manager. I figured there would be no problem, since the manager at every retail establishment in existence makes exceptions like this all the time.

Incredibly, she comes back and gives me the same story again, saying that her manager refused to allow the return. For a second, I thought about tossing the DVD behind the counter and telling them to keep/shove it, but then I remember that it's worth 30 bucks so I took it and walked away. There's always e-Bay. I left, and on my way home I picked up some raw CAT5 cable at Radio Shack for 25 bucks and threw a couple of ends on it. Saved myself 30 bucks.

I guess it's lesson learned on my part. On their part, I hope not expending the effort to punch a few buttons on their cash register was worth losing me as a customer. And yes, I realize that there are store policies, and the policies are there for many good reasons, but I think in this particular case, it would have been to their benefit to suck it up and let me do the swap instead of just sucking, period.

You'd think that when their sales are in the shitter because of the economy, they'd be a little more accommodating to the good customers that they already have.

I'm sorry it had to end this way, Best Buy. It's not me, it's you.


Probably not going to win.

I apologize if anyone thinks this post is mean, but this little kid makes me laugh every time I see this ad. He has a look on his face like, "Yeah, I got no shot. Thanks, Mom."

Everyone is the cutest baby to someone, right?


Death and Taxes.

It started a few weeks ago, and it's been getting worse ever since.

Now that the political commercials are finally over, it's time for the tax prep commercials to start rearing their ugly heads. They are airing constantly, and it's really beginning to annoy me.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy getting raped by the federal and local government every year. It makes me feel good about myself; like I'm doing something to help out. Regardless, these twice hourly reminders of my exemplary civic duty do nothing to improve my mood.

There's one commercial in particular that creeps me out a little, for multiple reasons. Maybe I'm the only one. It's the new TurboTax ad, and it stars these guys:

I know the dude in the middle is supposed to be Andrew Jackson, and the one on the right is supposed to be Ben Franklin, and I am pretty sure the guy on the left is supposed to be Ulysses S. Grant.

So the premise is, these three guys show up where you are and give you money and tax advice. They are, ostensibly, money come to life. Or -- more precisely -- the people-who-appear-on-money come to life. However, for some reason they keep their "money-like" coloring when they accomplish this magical feat. I don't know why anyone thought this was a good idea. Maybe it's because if they didn't, they'd just look like three creepy guys dressed up for some kind of historical reenactment.

So the upshot of this decision is that they have a pale green cast to them, which is supposed to remind you that they are straight out of your wallet. There's one problem with that -- they don't look like money that has miraculously come to life. Instead, they look like walking corpses. Zombies, maybe. Somehow-or-other undead, and slightly gone-bad. Probably closing in fast on stinky, in other words.

I was hoping to find the commercial on youtube, but no luck. Instead, I had to take a few stills for your enjoyment.

Here's where Ben is asking the guy who is still alive how something so small can cost so much, and telling him that he can get big deductions for his kid. You can't see the guy's face in this snapshot, but he looks intrigued rather than horrified. I would have tucked that kid under my arm like a football and jumped head-first through the store's plate glass window to get to my car.

In this next picture, Grant tells the stroller guy that it smells like his deduction needs a diaper change, but my theory is that he finally just caught a whiff of his own decaying flesh. Also, I am pretty sure Jackson thinks he's an asshole.

In this next shot, Ben Franklin tries to convince the guy that a handy in the alley behind the store is totally deductible:

No, I'm kidding. I made that part up.

And of course this last frame is right before Ben lunges at stroller guy and tears his throat out, and then gives his fatherless infant a demo of how Turbotax can help you deal with your inheritance tax.

OK, I made that part up too.

Anyway, I've decided I'm going to use Tax Cut this year, even though that slacker guardian angel mascot of theirs is only marginally less annoying than the rotting presidents (and Ben*). Mostly because I don't want a rotting historical figure to be my backup if I get audited.

For a bar fight maybe. That'd be cool. But not for an audit.

*She's persnickety, all right.


Anti-Christ Superstar.

I think I just pissed off a LOT of people.

[update: Payback is a bitch. The morning after I posted this, I was forced to put on pants and answer the doorbell for two jehovah's witnesses who wanted to stand there in the 4- degree air and read me bible passages.]


Crap I drank yesterday.

I know that drinking this stuff is bad for me, but sometimes when I'm sitting at my desk and 2 pm rolls around, it's either drink one of these caffeinated sugar bombs or start stabbing myself repeatedly in the thigh with a ballpoint pen just so my forehead doesn't bounce off my desk. It has almost 200 milligrams of caffeine, and a bunch of other ingredients I can't pronounce and certainly don't need. I buy it because it's only one of two energy drinks they sell in the vending machine, and it has twice the caffeine of the smaller red bull for the same price.

There are multiple problems with this stuff, not the least of which is that it costs at least two bucks a can. For two bucks, I can get twenty four 200mg caffeine tablets at the dollar store, and they don't smell like cat pee and make me piss like a racehorse every ten minutes for an hour. Unfortunately, becoming a pill popper brings you face to face with your addiction, and I'm not quite ready to embrace that reality.

So yesterday afternoon, I decided to forgo my Taurine, Ginseng, Guarana, L-Carnitine, L-Arginine-laced poison and go with something healthier. Besides, the irony of an energy drink that is supposed to make you feel good but has a clearly damaged skull as its logo is not lost on me.

I scanned the vending machine and wasn't in the mood for expired milk, so my only other option was this:

Yeah, it looks like a urine sample, but it can't be that bad for you, right? I got about half way through it and decided to look at what was in Dole "100% Juice." I figured it was from concentrate and I wasn't wrong, but I did get a surprise.

After reading that, I didn't finish it. Concentrate from ten different countries? Holy crap. Looking at that list, I probably wouldn't even drink the water from seven out of the ten. Seriously, why would Pepsico need to get apple concentrate from China? Although I suppose it probably is pretty cheap to get juice from apples grown in the composted shit piles of a thousand peasants. Once you chip off the lead coating, I mean.

I also like how Pepsico basically disavows any responsibility for your shriveled kidneys by informing you that it's manufactured by "independent producers" under "license." They're basically telling you that you're on your own here and that they sell the Dole logo to anyone who can put some apple flavored liquid in a bottle and give them their cut of the profits.

From now on I guess I'll just have to stick to vodka.

Also, here's my coolest Christmas present (from my wife) in action:


(No, I didn't drink it, but I like to imagine that it tastes like green apple jolly ranchers.)


Is Christmas over already? Holy crap.

When I was a kid, we lived in a raised ranch style house. If you don't know what that is, here's a description. Basically, it meant that when you walked in the front door, you were on a small landing with a set of stairs going up and another set going down. In our house, the bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room were upstairs, and the "family room" was downstairs. In order to keep some heat on the bottom floor, we had a magnetic vinyl accordion door at the bottom of the stairs. In the winter, this was almost always closed. Unfortunately for us, it also made quite a racket when you opened and closed it, due to the metal track and the magnetic latch. Why am I telling you about the layout of our house? Because that door was the only thing separating The Snitch, Houdini and me from our Christmas tree and the glorious treasure Santa brought us on Christmas morning. For quite a few years, we were forbidden to go down there until our parents were awake. That wasn't really such a good plan on their part, seeing as how all three of us were usually up and out of bed at 4:30 am, and there was no way they were going to sleep through that. Finally, in an effort to get more than two hours sleep, my parents decided to simply pick what seemed to us to be an arbitrary time. It varied, and thinking about it now, I believe it was dependent upon several variables, including our behavior and how late Santa had stayed awake deciphering Korean assembly instructions on Christmas eve. Most of the time it was 7 or 8 am. If we made giant pains in the asses of ourselves, that could be pushed to 9, with threats of (gasp!) after church, and nobody (except maybe my parents) wanted that. There was some quiet whining, but for the most part we were never better-behaved than we were between the hours of 5 am and 9 am on Christmas morning. I'm still not sure which was worse -- going to church first and trying to sit still for an hour in utter anticipation, or seeing it all first, and then being forced to leave it behind and sit in church for an hour just thinking about the stuff you barely had a chance to play with. I think there were two main reasons we weren't allowed downstairs -- one, our parents wanted to witness us being surprised and two, Santa, being sort of a slacker, never wrapped anything. I've mentioned before about how we'd search to find the presents my parents had hidden under the stairs, or in the attic, but the ones we found were never from Santa. All Santa's presents appeared magically out of thin air while we slept. We could never quite figure it out. Apparently, we weren't too bright, and we never questioned why my father always showed up at my grandmother's house a little late on Christmas Eve, after "working late." I am pretty sure the words my father most dreaded to see on that night were "some assembly required" and "batteries not included." 

He would get home from work and frantically build stuff until he had to meet us, then, after we got home and went to sleep, he'd finish everything up and put it under the tree. No wonder the poor guy wanted to sleep in a little. As far as the whole Santa thing went -- I had some suspicions, but, on the other hand, I also believed in magic. I was a firm believer in Santa for a long time after all the kids in school were telling me he was fake. I distinctly remember slipping out of bed late one Christmas eve and eavesdropping on a conversation between my mother and father. They were sneaky and evil. Instead of yelling at me to get back to bed, they pretended they didn't know I was there. The conversation went something like this: "I'm starting to get a little worried." "You think he's not coming?" "I'm not sure. Normally, he'd have been here by now. Maybe he had problems with the reindeer and he's running late." "That could be. Or maybe someone upstairs isn't really asleep yet. I'd better go check." To this day, I know from experience that there really is a way to force yourself to go to sleep by sheer willpower, but I seem to have forgotten how it's done. 

It's a shame, because it could really come in handy on some Sunday nights when you can't sleep and have to get up for work the next day. We had no chimney on our house that was bigger than four inches in diameter, and that one went directly into a natural gas furnace in the downstairs hall closet. I knew he wasn't getting in that way, because I had seen that thing with the door off, and unless Santa was fireproof, those solid walls of blue flame looked pretty impenetrable. I raised that particular concern one year, thinking we should maybe leave the back door unlocked for him, and it turned out that our particular version of Santa just needed a fireplace and he could magically appear. He wasn't picky about it either, because our fireplace looked like this: Every year, my father inserted tabs into slots, locked them in place with brass-headed fasteners, and paved the way for our magical back-door Santa. Behind the "logs" there was a small orange light bulb and holder for a little pinwheel. The heat from the bulb would cause the pinwheel to rotate, casting weird shadows behind the logs. VoilĂ ! Ultra-realistic "flames." I remember that it had to be wired to the wall so it didn't fall over when you hung full stockings on it, so it was completely plausible that a 400lb fat guy in a red suit with a giant sack of presents would have no problem at all simply appearing inside of it without so much as popping tab A from slot B. One Christmas morning, we decided that we'd had enough of the aforementioned iron-clad rule to stay upstairs. Do not go near the accordion door, do not even go down on the landing. Otherwise, your mean parents will take everything Santa gave you and give it to the less fortunate. And while we had nothing against the less fortunate, we knew that the big man usually did pretty good by us, and there was no reason to get carried away. Plausible deniability was always our game. We tended to follow the letter but not necessarily the spirit of the law. They said we couldn't do that, but they never said we couldn't do this. So, while we couldn't go down on the landing, there were other ways to skin a fat guy in a red suit. 

There was one thing our parents didn't count on, and that was Houdini and his really small head. Well, two things actually, since Houdini's small head was of no use to us without this: I was nothing if not a Ready Ranger. I know, that sounds really gay in retrospect. "I have an idea," I whispered. "You guys want to to see what we got from Santa?" "We'll get in trouble," Snitch said. "We can't sneak down. Daddy will hear the door." "Yeah, but I don't think we have to. Houdini, go in my room and get my Field Pack." A few moments later, he came back with the kit, and I opened it up. If you're not familiar with this piece of ultra-high tech spy/survival gear, all you need to do is look at that picture up there and figure out what the tall black thing is. I popped it free. I held the periscope through the railing and tried to angle it to point through one of the little triangular openings in the top of the accordion door, but it wouldn't work. I couldn't get the angle right. If I adjusted it so I could actually look through it, all I could see was the door. In order to tip it so I could to look through the tiny openings in the top of the door, 

I had to hold it out beyond the railing, and then I couldn't get my eye close enough to look through it. "Houdini," I whispered. "Does your head fit through the railing?" He immediately tried it, and it popped through like we had buttered the sides. I already knew mine wouldn't fit, mostly due to my fat head and ginormous ears. Also, I still had recurring nightmares about the one time I actually managed to get my head jammed between the balusters on the stairs. I screamed bloody murder for what seemed like an eternity while my mother ran around frantically trying to figure out a way to free me. Eventually, she really did butter my head, and I wasn't going there again. After he pulled his head back out, I said, "OK, now lay down and stick your head back through, and when you're set, I'm gonna give you the periscope." He laid down on the floor, stuck his head through the middle two balusters, and put his arms through the openings on either side. I handed him the periscope. "Don't drop it," I said. "I'm not gonna," he whispered defensively. Of course he wouldn't drop it. Why should he drop it? He was only lying on the floor with his head sticking through the railing, barely able to move his arms. "OK, now hang it down a little bit, and see if you can get it pointed through one of the little openings in the top of the door. Then tell us what you see." It took him a second to get situated, but then he struck the mother load. "Whoa," he said, breathlessly. "Jeez, c'mon, tell us! Whattaya see?" I said, desperately hoping for Rock'em Sock'em Robots. "I see a lot of stuff. A bozo bopper. Battling Tops. I got a big wheel, I think. Snitch, you got a bike!!" The Snitch did a little dance of joy. "What else?" I asked impatiently. "Those fighting robots you wanted," he said. Score! That was all I needed to hear. "OK, give that to me and come on back through," I said, as I sat on his back and pried the periscope from his hands. He didn't want to give it up, but he was in no position to resist. Luckily, he didn't have an "outer ear" problem like I did, and his head popped back out effortlessly. "Good job," I said, already deciding in my head that Red Rocker was going to remain undefeated forever. After we packed up the Field Kit, we immediately went back to being the best behaved kids in the world for another 3 hours, secure in the knowledge that our magical back-door Santa hadn't let us down. A belated Merry Christmas, everyone. Here's to a fantastic 2009! JV