Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cougars at College Park?

City Desk reports of a possible cougar sighting on the UMD College Park campus. Okay... I am sure you can guess where this is going, and yeah, I'm going to go there. But the language of the article just left me rolling on the floor.

The possible cougar is a new threat for UMD, says Brandt. “We have never dealt with this before,” he says.

I should certainly hope not...

“Cougars are not an indigenous species of the state of Maryland. . . . They’re just not seen around here."

That was certainly my understanding. It's why the night life is so great.

"We will get the occasional report of a coyote on campus, which usually will end up just being a fox.”

And what a wonderful place it is, where the coyotes turn out to be foxes!!

"There has been no report of aggressive behavior on the part of the animal, but community members are warned that cougars are a predatory species and that, if seen, the animal should not be approached.

Nothing to argue with there.

Ahem. Soooo... moving on, then...

House Update

As you might have noticed, I've had little to say about the home improvement project. Let's just call it a summer haitus. Once I got the kitchen functioning, I thought a couple months off to let the wounds heal might not be a bad idea. Okay, that's a lie, I've just been enjoying the great weather too much to be bothered to work on the house much. I did make some progress with the kitchen windows this month, but that's about it.

As we wind into the dog days of summer -- though truth be told, the weather has generally been great this summer, with relatively few really disgusting DC days -- I expect I'll be more interested in being inside working on some project than outside in the swamp. But I wanted to reflect briefly on how far I have come in my first year.

The majority of what I did in 2007 was make the place livable. It looked a bit like a crack house when I moved in. Apropos of crack - that reminds me, while cleaning up the yard a couple weeks ago I found a crack vial. Full. Judging by the wear and tear on the plastic bottle, it looked about late '90's vintage, possibly Marion Barry era. I can't count the number of little cocaine baggies I've found before, but this is the first time I've found actual drugs back there. I guess this is proof of the old adage: "Only users lose drugs."

But moving on. I tore up about 20 contractor bags full of 50 year old, partially decomposed carpet, and found generally beautiful wood floors beneath them all. I sanded and finished one stretch in the downstairs hallway. I replaced the toilet and vanity in the bathroom, the latter of which was beyond description, having rotted into an entirely new form of life. My friends were afraid to go near it. I put in a washer and dryer; replaced the ancient boiler; upgraded the electrical panel to 250 amps. I installed a temporary sink in the "kitchen" so at least I had running water and could wash dishes. All these were necessities for basic civilized living. And once that was done, I rested for a few months.

Then, becoming restless, I began the real kitchen project in December, which is chronicled here in the archives. It started with completely tearing down the ceiling, revealing the significant plumbing issues. So I had to replace just about every inch of plumbing in the house before I could even begin construction in the kitchen. I installed cabinets, wired the thing up, fixed walls, put in the counter, and went through endless other details to get the kitchen to it's "mostly finished" state of today.

The last thing I did was replace the windows in the kitchen, also described here, which brings us to today. The kitchen has a bunch of finish work to do, which I plan to begin soon. This fall I'm going to fence in the back yard, and with any luck, install ductwork for central air conditioning over the winter. This is a task much better suited for cool weather since crawling around in the attic during the summer is as about much fun as being waterboarded by a power tripping marine.

So, to reflect upon the last year I wanted to put up a few pictures of "before."

Original kitchen, in the addition (which will be torn down and rebuilt at some point). My favorite part is the sink drain.
Original Kitchen

Where my new kitchen was built. Facing the back of the house. The original kitchen is through that door.
Kitchen Facing East

Another shot of the "new kitchen" room. This is the wall with the windows where the countertop was installed. I dismantled and rebuilt the cabinet on the opposite wall.
Kitchen built-in cabinet

Not-quite-current picture of the kitchen, after construction. I've since replaced the windows and drywalled the ceiling.
Kitchen Counter 1

Thanks for sharing

I've occasionally ranted about ridiculous emails that people in my office send to the entire company. They've been coming fast and furious lately, sometimes with as many as four or five completely irrelevant emails per day -- often, followed by the dreaded "Reply to All" dialog in which a couple people feel the need to go back and forth seven times (while cc'ing the entire company).

So I thought analyze this phenomenon in a little greater detail today for you entertainment. These emails fall in several major categories:

1. Personal Assistant. Example: "Does anyone have an advil?" usually followed five minutes later by, "Thanks, got one!" Seriously. Can't you just ask someone next to you, or, god forbid, walk downstairs to the 7-11 and get your own damn advil?

Some recent subject: "need a small philips-head screwdriver," "fish bowl for trade show booth," "URGENT - help needed in 5 minutes to bring fridge doors upstairs." Don't ask.

2. Useless information. These are typically emails advising us of something that either you couldn't care less about, or about something that's already happened. Examples include: "Window washing today" (I care??), "Severe weather warning" (umm, yes, I noticed that there was a torrential downpour outside), "fire alarm testing today" (thanks for the head's up, I caught on after the third time we evacuated the building).

3. Thought you'd like to know. This is generally a link and brief "analysis" of some article online that's related to the environment. Usually, it's stupid anyway. But even if it was relevant to our industry at large, do you think I care? If you work for, say, an accounting firm, do you think that everyone in the entire office wants to hear about the latest tax code updates? Wouldn't those who give a crap about that already be reading whatever industry news sources are relevant to their job?

Priceless example:

Subject: Wikipedia. I was scared already.

Body: You are probably all familiar with the Web page Wikipedia. Really? Wikipedia? I think I've been to that "web page" before.

In doing some research yesterday, Ralph and I were pleasantly surprised by the amount of information we could find on a company, including facts and statistics. Shocker! Wikipedia has stuff about... er... stuff!

It is particularly helpful that it is all collected in one place. That's so cool! Have you heard of this "google" thingy? Someone told me it can be very useful in finding stuff on the interwebs.

Verifying the information with other sources takes a lot less time than gathering it all greenfield.Thanks!! And to think, I was getting ready to spend all day in front of the card catalog at the Library of Congress today.


4. Mule Requests. "Is anyone going to (insert client) today? I have a package to go there." Ummm... there are probably five people in the entire office who EVER go to our client sites. Figure it out.

5. Bizarro You read it, and then again to make sure, but you just can't be sure that you haven't been slipped some kind of hallucinigenic drug.

In this category, I'll leave you with this one to think about. This is an actual email.

Subject: In the ladies restroom...

Body: Did someone happen to leave a pair of jeans in there? If they are yours I have them at the front desk.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Damn you, Activision

Anyone who knows me knows that I love video games. And I'm pretty damn good at them. As a nerdy kid I became ridiculously good at Pac Man (without learning a pattern from a book, I made up my own), and from there it just went downhill. There's hardly a video game I didn't waste countless hours (and quarters) mastering.

Then, of course, console and computer video games came along. Goodbye teenage social life. It took me years to recover from that. Luckily, I more or less gave up video games in college, when beer and girls suddenly became more interesting than Ultima III. With the exception of a brief stint that began with the dawn of the first person shooter (I mean, c'mon, Doom was like nothing I'd ever seen before, how could I not get hooked on that?) and finally ended with many 4 AM session of Unreal Tournament, I cut myself off. Call it a self-intervention. I deleted all that crap from my computer and didn't play video games any more.

Until now. I got a new roommate a few weeks ago who brought an Xbox 360 into my house. Seemed innocent enough. I'm over that, I can handle it.

Enter Guitar Hero.

I'm probably the last person on earth to have gotten hooked into this craze, but it hooked me hard. I mean, it combines all my favorite things - rocking out, playing guitar (sort of), and video games. It's air guitar with a scoreboard. And believe it or not I actually believe that the finger dexterity it develops will help me when playing ACTUAL guitar (which I swear will happen again. Once I can get through Knights of Cedonia on Hard).

So anyway. I am telling you all this so you know why I haven't posted much lately. It's because I'm completely sleep deprived from staying up until all hours playing Guitar Hero, instead of thinking of things to blog about.

I believe I've taken the first step towards recovery. I'm aware that I have a problem. I also have a pulled muscle in my right arm from playing Dragon Force's "Through the Fire and Flames" on Medium last night. Badly, I might add. How the hell does anyone play this on Hard, much less Expert?

There I go again. I am going to try to care about something other than this game. To that end I decided to finally take the plunge and get a digital SLR camera. I decided on the Nikon D60, it is now officially on order and I should have it in a day or two. If it takes an expensive new toy to get me away from the life-sucking Xbox then so be it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The 911 Script

Yesterday at 11 AM, Adams Morgan again became the wild west as a Latino male was shot in broad daylight. The Prince of Petworth's story has an excellent account of the events in the comments.

There's also a bit of discussion there about the way the 911 operator handled the call. I was immediately reminded of the last time I called 911. They said the operator would not dispatch police until being given a street address. My own experience was similar. I told them I was on 11th Street NW between Park and Monroe. After negotiating about whether it was Park Place or Park Road for a while, they demanded a block number (which luckily I know because I live a couple blocks away) despite the fact that I'd told them it was halfway between two streets.

By the way there is a Park Place in DC - but it sure as hell doesn't intersect with 11th, in fact, it's parallel. If you put 11th and Park NW into Google Maps, it pulls up the right place in a second. Apparently, 911 operators don't have internet access.

I am sure there's some reason for this amount of anal retentiveness when fielding 911 calls, but whatever it is, it's not good enough. When you call 911, you're freaked out. That's why you called - because there's a crisis or all bloody hell is breaking loose. You don't have time to look for street numbers on nearby buildings, if there even were any to be found. You don't have time to go to the corner and look at the block number on a street sign, if there even is a street sign.

I understand if people give ambiguous directions or don't say the quadrant. But that is not the case in these situations. If you give a 911 operator an intersection, or a block between two streets, there should be no reason for any further discussion. This is how we tell cabs where we are going, this is how we describe locations to our friends. It works. Just. Fine.

This situation delays police response and frustrates people to no end. Why can't this be fixed?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pet Extra

Perusing the blog roll today, I saw one of my blogger friends had just lost her cat. I've always loved animals and have had cats most of my life. Her lament reminded me of how much these creatures have added to my own life. This post will be dedicated to my menagerie, past and present. There are a lot more pictures here.

My current creatures:







Creatures from my past life (alive and well):







Creatures from my past life (no longer with us):








Thursday, July 3, 2008


I just went to the slev's by my office for a couple morning necessities. You know, advil, red bull, two packs of lucky strikes, a taquito from the heat roller case, and a ten-pack of scratch-offs. All right, I'm not quite that ghetto, that's pretty much what everyone else there was getting.

After waiting in line for five minutes while the guy in front of me carefully selected his Powerball numbers by hand -- because using six non-randomly selected numbers dramatically increases your chance of matching the ping-pong-balls than six computer-selected numbers -- I handed the lady a twenty for my $6.87 purchase. She gave me back $13.10.

I stared at the palm of my hand for a minute, confused. I looked again at the register. Yes, the price was $6.87. I looked back at my hand.

Jamie: It's $6.87, right?

Clerk: Right.

Jamie: (Confused) The change is $13.13.

Clerk: Right. $13.13.

Jamie: Umm. OK. Maybe I'm missing something. This is ten cents.

Clerk: Yeah?

Jamie: Do you see the problem here?

Clerk: No.

Jamie: Umm... how can I make this any more clear? I would actually like ALL the change. This is 10 cents, not 13 cents.

Clerk: (Finally appearing to understand) Oh, ok.. umm...

I don't really care about the 3 cents, of course. In fact I despise pennies, and usually leave them in the penny tray. This is about principle. About the idea that someone thinks it perfectly fine to shortchange ANY amount of money, and not only that, when called out on it, doesn't really even see the problem. And if it had been one or two cents, I might not have said something, since at least that's rounding in the right direction. But rounding down - when the closest nickel is up - is being given the finger.

As it turns out, she doesn't actually have any pennies in the cash register. Which I suppose was her reason for shortchanging in the first place. So the incident finally ends with the cashier getting my three cents... by raiding the charity jar. Classy.