Strange Brouhaha

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

We have a word for guys like this

And it's "asshole".

Here's the scenario:

1. Driver hits and kills teenager with car
2. Driver sues parents of teenager for damage to the car

Yeah, I couldn't believe it either.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In which we are lucky

The relevant portion of this video is around 1:05, when Hugh Laurie as the monumentally stupid Prince George starts belting out "Luuuuck luck luck luck."

I woke up this morning and I was cold.

This is kind of unusual for me. I don't usually feel cold in the house; we keep it at a comfortable temperature around the clock. And even though our bedroom is a little drafty, I don't usually get cold in the middle of the night (assuming a proper level of blanket).

So something was wrong. I thought about it for a minute and decided that yes, indeed, it was a few degrees colder than usual. I'm not terribly sensitive to temperature changes as a general rule, although I've noticed recently that I can pretty reliably detect when it's around 30 degrees out.

I walked downstairs and looked at the thermostat. Set to 69 as usual...but the temperature was 64, long past the point when the furnace should have kicked in.

"How is that lucky?" you're asking. Patience, we'll get to it.

The Wife was the pleased recipient of "You'd better call HVAC Guys." (Our service place is not really called HVAC Guys.)

"I thought it was colder than usual," she said.

We eventually got a repairman out to the house. We always use HVAC Guys--they're a little more expensive, but their service is great. There was a bit of a wait, I suppose due to some crossed signals, but "My furnace is not working" is a bit of a call to action here in The Upper Midwest.

I'm reasonably fortunate that I have the kind of job where a person can work from home once in a while, because that's what I ended up doing.

At first, everything went smoothly. I bitched a bit to the wife about how these guys charge eighty-eight bucks just to show up, but it was a gentle, friendly bitching. The HVAC Guy went downstairs and came up after a few minutes and said "Just gotta get a part from the truck."

When he came back in, he said, "I'm going to replace the circuit board and that should fix it up."

That set off a little tickle in my head. "Is that the same part that we replaced a few years ago?" The blower board had had to be replaced when the furnace was practically brand new.

"Could be. I'll check."

A few minutes later, blessed warmth began flowing from the vents.

Then it stopped.

A puzzled noise wafted up from downstairs.

HVAC Guy came back up, eventually. "Gotta get another part." He explained that the board hadn't fixed the problem, and there was only one other part that could be causing it.

A few minutes, some clanging.


Clomp clomp clomp, up the basement stairs. "Uh," said HVAC Guy, "I need to go out to the truck to make a phone call. Something peculiar is going on with your furnace. I've never seen anything like it."

These are not words calculated to lower the blood pressure. By this time, he's been here nearly two hours. He's a smart guy, and he knows what he's doing, and I'm totally not complaining about him or his company. It's just that "peculiar" is not the handmaiden of "inexpensive to fix".

A little bit later, he comes back in and reports that his boss is coming out to have a look. "This is the kind of problem," he said, "that we talk about at staff meetings!" Having had that kind of problem myself in my own professional life, I know exactly how to translate that: "HOLY CRAP!"

Then he says, "It's a good thing you've got the parts and labor warranty."

Cartoon dollar bills started flying from my wallet. The real bills followed shortly thereafter.

The boss shows up, oozing experience. He looked kind of like Sam Elliot--the kind of guy who could probably fix every damn thing wrong with anything you give him. They both go downstairs, confident that Now Things Will Get Done.

Later, the boss comes up and goes outside. When he comes back in, I catch his eye.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asks.

"Is it down to that?"

It turns out that they can't quite believe the voltage readings that the first guy's meter gave him, so the boss went out to get his own. "There's no explanation for that," the boss says.

Banging noises, raised voices, puzzled sounds from the basement.

The boss comes up, goes out, comes back, goes downstairs.

After five hours, the problem is fixed. The boss goes, and the first HVAC Guy explains what was going on. It seems that they replaced the circuit board, which worked once and then died. Then they replaced the valve, which worked once and then died. They replaced the board with a new one. It worked once and died. They called the factory, and the factory told them to replace both items at the same time, which they did. Result: working furnace. Apparently the blown parts would in turn blow out the new parts if they replaced them separately.

He says, again, "You've got the parts and labor warranty, which is good," and goes out to the truck to write up the bill.

When he comes back, he says, just in case I didn't get it the first time, "There's a ten-year parts and labor warranty on that furnace. That's really great; never let anyone tell you it's not."

He hands me the bill. "Those boards are seven hundred bucks each, and we used three."

I grab the wall, heart pounding.

"The valves are eight hundred bucks each, and we used two."

My vision is turning gray. I may not be as smart as I once was, but even I know that that's $3700 before we even talk about eight man-hours of labor.

"But," he says, "you've got the warranty."

Hands shaking, I glance down at the total.

Eighty-eight bucks plus tax--the amount they charge just to show up. I briefly wonder if I should offer him a BJ or something, but the moment passes and I pay him.

Luck. Luuuuuuck luck luck luck luck.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A limerick and haiku

I thought I'd try the Mad Kane Limerick/Haiku Prompt. The topic: decisions or indecision.

Try these on for size.

I know it's coming,
But I don't know the answer:
Paper or plastic?

I'm having hell of a time
Conceiving an adequate rhyme!
Please know that I tried,
but couldn't decide,
Quite how the last line should go.

The limerick, of course, is in the spirit of one of my favorite poems: "Roses are red, violets are blue. Most poems rhyme, and this one is no exception."

I like dreaming about spending money!

Over at Friday Fun, Kiki says, "I have money on the brain since I just filed our taxes for the year!

1. If you were to get a unexpected windfall, what is your first thought on what to do with the money? Were you practical or not?! My first that was indeed practical: since we will certainly owe money on our taxes this year, I would sock a windfall away in my savings account until April.

2. You have $1000 to spend on yourself. What do you buy? With $5000? I'm assuming here that this is money that I have to spend. With a thousand bucks, I'd probably buy a Kindle (not nearly as ugly as the photos make it out to be) or a Sony Reader eBook device and some books, and a new cell phone. With five thousand bucks, a digital piano. I'm not sure why, since it'd just be another thing I don't use, but I guess I have high hopes.

3. You have $1000 to spend on something for your home. What do you buy? With $5000? For a thousand bucks, a new water softener system and a new dishwasher. Our softener really needs replacing, and our dishwasher isn't that great--I want one that really is quiet. For five thousand bucks, I'd splurge on a big-screen HDTV, Blu-ray player, home stereo receiver and 5.1 sound.

4. You have your windfall and you realize your car is older than you. So what do you buy? A Prius. Although to be honest, I'm totally happy with our Ford Focus, and I'd certainly consider getting another one of those instead. (Okay, "totally happy" is a lie, because the pedal arrangement doesn't suit my feet and I'm constantly cursing it. But other than that, it's a great little car and I would indeed get another one.)

5. You decide to buy some books with your windfall at Amazon. What 5 books would you get? Hmm, this is tough. Steve Martin's new book, "Born Standing Up" for sure; I've read excerpts from it and they've been fascinating--and I don't even care that much about Steve Martin. A book for professional development, possibly Perry's "Effective Methods for Software Testing" or Black's "Pragmatic Software Testing." A book on humor writing (Kachuba, maybe, or Perret or Truman, but I'm open to suggestions), because I want to try to figure out how to be funny on purpose, and because reading about writing is far easier than actually doing it. I'd get my mother-in-law's advice on a good book about John Ford. And finally, even though I really don't like Shakespeare, a Shakespeare omnibus.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Just enough to piss you off"

Since the car I'm currently driving to and from work has no radio, I've had to spend some time thinking. Here's what I was thinking about yesterday.

It snowed today. Not a lot; in the words of someone I work with, it snowed "just enough to piss you off."

How much is that? Here's what I came up with:

...When it snows enough so that you have to start the car and get out the scraper and brush off your windows, but not enough so that the car is warm when you climb into it.

...When it snows enough so that the roads are slow, but not bad enough for the city to send out plows and salt trucks.

...When it snows enough so that your walkway needs shoveling, but not enough for the landscaping service (we live in a condominium development) to come and do it.

According to my calculations, there was indeed just enough snow to piss me off. I had to scrape off the car, but still had to sit there shivering while it warmed up. It took me over an hour to make a twenty-five minute drive. And when I got home, I had to shovel.

When we moved here, I loved the snow and the winter. Now I have won the victory over myself and have joined the ranks of people annoyed by winter.

I don't know, though...the thought of living somewhere where it never gets like this just doesn't appeal, either.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Briefly Noted

  • "Oh somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; but there is no joy in Mudville--mighty Casey has struck out." Thanks for losing the NFC Championship, Brett. Yeah, you got the Packers there and the regular season was awesome, but the only one throwing those dumbass passes into triple coverage on Sunday was you. Right now, I feel a little bit like Hitler in this video.

    The deal with Brett Favre has always been "you have to take the bad with the good, because it's what makes him Brett Favre." But Jesus...he was supposed to be the "under control" Favre this season.

  • Give Me Five on Becca's Buzz asks for our five favorite eBay searches. I go through phases with eBay, and haven't looked for a while, but here they are: clarinets, HOn30, HOn3, X-Men comics, and Doc Savage. Why? Every so often, I believe that I could learn the clarinet; HOn30 and HOn3 are model railroad gauges, and every so often I get the itch to build something (that itch has resulted in about a dozen unbuilt kits on my workbench); every so often, I try to look up a copy of my favorite old X-Men comics, but I don't need to now that my dad has sent some of them along; and every so often I try to look up some Doc Savage magazines because Doc was awesome.

  • "Rhythm Of The Night" by DeBarge is on the XM 80s channel right now. It's noteworthy only because I remember that as being a color guard audition song one year in high school. You know, of all the things I participated in back then, that's one I kind of wish I hadn't done. At least not the second year.

  • The other day, when the high temperature was one degree below zero Fahrenheit, I was buying some groceries. When the checker asked how I was doing, I said "Well, I suppose it could be worse. But it is really cold out." She agreed with me. But the bagger said "Hey, look on the bright side. When was the last time you saw a mosquito?" I had to acknowledge the wisdom...but when I stepped out into the cold, my nostrils froze, and I would have gladly slapped away a mosquito or two instead.

  • Here's a bit of what you're missing because you're not me and you don't have the Shadow Warriors box set.

    Two things I am not bearing kindly after watching a bunch of episodes over the last few days: first, the music is ALWAYS the same, and it's starting to get on my nerves--that nice little ballad that plays when Hanzo and crew are running is ALWAYS what plays when they're out to kick ass; second, I have a strong dislike for day-for-night shooting, and that's almost all they use in this show.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I'm hungry, so the Friday Fun: Yummies Edition appealed to me.

1. What is your favorite guilty pleasure yummy food? Hmm, how guilty? I have this maybe once a year, because I think it's approximately the unhealthiest thing in the world, but I really, really love Hostess cherry pies. I don't watch my calories or anything, but I think they're about 500 calories and high in saturated fat.

2. It is snack time. What do you reach for? Chips? Ice cream? Something healthy? Fruit. An apple most of the time, but other things when they're in season. Grapes, for example, or peaches if it happens to be that one week of the year when you can get a good grocery-store peach. However, it really depends on what I'm in the mood for; second to fruit is a slice of whatever kind of cheese we have laying around.

3. What is your ideal breakfast? Spam or Portuguese sausage with rice and eggs. A close second is french toast, sausage and hash browns from Upstairs Downstairs, where The Wife and I used to go every Saturday when we first moved here. They have since closed. Sigh.

4. What are you craving right now? All the food I just talked about! Actually, I've been craving a big bowl of saimin recently, but it's tough to get good ingredients. I should see if one of the local Asian markets has char siu and kamaboko. Bok choy is easy, green onions are easy, eggs are easy. Maybe I'll go out tomorrow and look.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I do not think it means what you think it means

In Mac OS X, you can set up your network with an option called "Using DHCP with manual address."

Apparently, this does not mean what I think it means.

To me, it should mean that I get all of my networking configuration information from my router with the exception of the IP address. To me, it should mean "this is exactly like having a statically-configured host, but without having to remember the DNS server addresses." In other words, all of the convenience of DHCP plus all of the convenience of a static address.

But no. This is not what it means.

Yes, this is my fault for assuming a definition of "manual" that was incorrect.

I came to know this because my source control server has been having a problem. Ever since I switched to the new Mac, responses have been glacial (ten seconds per request, and you make a lot of requests when you use source control). Everything else on the computer has been working correctly, everything else it needs to do on my network and on the Internet has not been a problem. Only the source control has been a problem.

It turns out that the source control server software is kind of sensitive to network configuration. While my assumption about the setting I used was, I felt, entirely reasonable, it was completely wrong. When I changed the network configuration to "Manually," even though none of the information actually changed--and I want to stress the "none" part--the source control server started responding normally.

From an engineering standpoint, I understand why "Using DHCP with manual address" is a valid menu item, since it describes what you can long as you're using certain router hardware!

From the user's perspective, this is obviously a problem. I'm not a dumb guy (although I'm by no means a networking expert), and neither are the many other people who have run into this problem, at least according to the Internets. I'm a smart guy who was probably too smart for his own good in this case.

Those of us on the engineering side of the equation would do well to remember things like this when we're designing and checking our applications. Sure, WE know what those menu items mean...but would a reasonably-educated user be making the same assumptions we are?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The least-visited top websites, huh?

This week's Sunday Seven from Patrick is sort of interesting. He links to a list of the top 500 US websites and asks us to name the first seven that we never (or hardly ever) visit.

Here are mine:

  • 3: MySpace

  • 5: Facebook

  • 10: Craigslist

  • 12: Megarotic

  • 13: AOL

  • 15: Megaupload

  • 18: Photobucket

I was unsure about a few. I don't go to itself, but I do go to I don't go to on purpose, but when I'm working and open up IE on a clean machine, is the default website and I sometimes read the news from there, if there's something interesting.

The same goes for I don't go there specifically, but since and are part of, I end up at domains every so often.

Even number 2,, I don't ever visit on purpose, but since my website for my LaTeX package is hosted at geocities, I do occasionally have to go to a yahoo subdomain.

Friday, January 11, 2008

You Will Die From Cute

I'm not a girl or anything, but I figured I'd share this incredibly cute video from CNN of a polar bear cub at the Nurenberg Zoo. This is the cub whose mother was going to eat it--they rescued it after public outcry over an incident where another polar bear ate her two cubs and zookeepers did nothing about it.

As you watch this, imagine a dozen Japanese girls standing around giggling into their hands and saying "KawaiiiiiiiIIIiiii!!" It really completes the scene.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mmm...Shadow Warriors

You wish you were me, because with some of the gift card I mentioned earlier, I bought the Shadow Warriors Season 1 set. I loved this show--I used to watch it on...shoot, I don't know, could be KIKU, could be something else...when I was in high school.

My only complaint? Dude, they make these things called dual-layer DVDs with what they call a "layer break" so that you don't have to get up and flip the fricking disc over. 1997 called and they want their tech back. Jesus.

I also recently bought the Star Trek: The Animated Series box set, so I suddenly have a ton of DVDs to watch. But I'm too busy playing Rock Band.

(How whiny and self-indulgent is that, huh? "I can't watch TV! I'm too busy playing video games!" Again: Jesus.)

Now if only they'd box up a season or two of "Tokyo Housewives," I'd be set.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Short Movie Reviews

I have seen some movies recently. Here are my thoughts.

There Will Be Blood: Yeah, but you have sit through twenty boring, largely-pretentious hours of Daniel Day-Lewis as Jed Clampett before you get to the blood. And then there's still another sixteen hours before the movie ends and there's a little bit more blood. I'm not stupid; I get the point that Paul Thomas Anderson is making. It's just that less and less seemed to be happening in this movie with every passing minute. (Plus...I have to be honest and say that I was confused by Paul Dano's dual role. I swear the first character never mentions he has a twin brother. Maybe I just missed it.) A muddled mess. Avoid it. If you can sneak into a theater and see it for free, do so for the oil rig explosion.

In the interest of fairness, I will say that the wordless portion of the movie was really cool. So see it for that, too, but like I said, only if you can see it for free.

Atonement: The title sums up perfectly what I would like to see from the director for making this thing. Again, I want to say up front that I'm not stupid, and I totally understand what the point of the movie was--but the journey is not worth taking. The structure stinks, and the ending is a horrible, horrible cheat. It worked well in the book, but this isn't a book, it's a movie and it Just Doesn't Work. The whole thing is basically an excuse to masturbate to Keira Knightley, who is hot. But nothing here is a surprise, nothing is romantic, nothing is particularly well-written or well-acted. A muddled mess. Avoid it. If you can sneak into a theater and see it for free, do so for...uh...well, I can't think of a reason. Maybe the newly-celebrated Dunkirk Tracking Shot, although frankly it did nothing for me.

Juno: I enjoyed this movie. I think the best thing I can say about it is that I really, really tried to find something about it that I didn't like, and there wasn't much. Be forewarned that the script is not nearly as brilliant as people are claiming it is, and that the acting is not nearly as great as people are claiming it is--but both are still pretty darn good. About the only thing I wished was that they had not had Every Single Character be so damn snarky all the time. I say this as a fan of snappy dialog: stop already with the snappy dialog. I thought it was a touch sentimental about motherhood, so if you're the kind of person who wants to avoid that, perhaps you should stay away from this movie, but otherwise it was perfectly enjoyable.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Best headline ever

In yesterday's paper, I saw a headline that has to be among the best headlines ever written for a newspaper. I'm going to link to a story about the case, but understand that the linked article has a different headline.

The story in the paper: "Man sentenced for having sex with dead deer."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Yes, it was really this bad

It was very foggy here today. Driving was an adventure--I went to the market this morning on an ultimately futile trip, and I couldn't see the traffic lights until I was practically at them. At the stop light, cars appeared from and disappeared into a thick white blanket.

It doesn't get like this around here that often. I wish I had had a camera, but the CNN article should at least give you the general idea.

Note to The Wife: I guess I did end up blogging about the fog. :)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I hadn't thought of this

On a discussion site recently, I came across someone trotting out a tired old chestnut: "George W. Bush isn't really an idiot, he's just faking." It had all the standard arguments: they don't hand out the keys to fighter jets to morons; you don't become the president if you're stupid; the stupidity is an act designed to lull our enemies into a false sense of security. They even had a new element that I haven't seen before: that his SPEECHWRITERS are responsible for all of the stupid things he's said (you know, "food on your family" and OB-GYNs "practicing their love" on their patients).

One look at the deer-in-the-headlights reaction he had in that elementary school classroom on 9/11 should dispel that one.

Anyway, the cornerstone of this person's assertion was that The Decider has degrees from two of the nation's most prestigious colleges, and so he can't possibly be a moron.

One of the respondents had this to say: "There are plenty of people who, if given a pass on admissions, could get a BA in History and an MBA from an Ivy League school." I'd never thought of it quite that way, but of course it's true. (Add to that, of course, that Bush was a solid C student, and the bar is even lower.)

Besides...if you were acting, would you really want to have the results of your act be that you're universally regarded as the worst president in history.

(I should mention that the cornerstone of the person's original argument was that it's all an act that's supposed to benefit the people who bought the presidency for El Chimpacabra, and that the stupidity is supposed to be one of the things that's making it possible for him to escape accountability for all of the lawbreaking that his Administration has done. I don't get it either.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A few brief notes because I'm playing Rock Band

  • Rock Band is fun. Playing the drums is fun. I have been playing Rock Band far too much. In addition, Rock Band. Rock Band. And Rock Band.

  • Obama wins Iowa...Clinton and Edwards in a dead heat for second. On the Republican side, the ridiculously-named Mike Huckabee looks like the winner. Don't get too excited; Iowa picks eventual nominees only about half the time. I'm not sure which psychopath I'd want the Republicans to run in the general election...but I think the better jokes would happen if it was Huckabee. His name is practically a punch line: "Why did the chicken cross the road? HUCKABEE." (Okay, maybe not.)

  • Did I mention Rock Band?

  • The guys from the condo association were here on Monday, banging on the roof and presumably removing whatever ice dams had built up around our chimney. The dripping stopped shortly after that. Huzzah! Of course, it's been below twenty degrees since then, so we'll see what happens once things get a little warmer.

  • The Sugar Bowl...Hawaii was overmatched, clearly. The offensive line couldn't deal, and kept letting Georgia pressure Colt Brennan. Without time to let the receivers get wide, Hawaii had no offense. I don't blame the Warriors, though; I blame the BCS. One word: TOURNAMENT.

  • Seriously, Huckabee? What's next? Junius P. Hornswoggle? Horace McGillicuddy? I think "please have a non-ridiculous name" should be a qualification for Presidential candidates.

  • I'm liking the XBox 360 so far, but I have one complaint: holy CRAP it's LOUD!