Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Too Clever By Half

Well, this is old news as far as webular things go, but some things never get old. One of them is having conversations with Cleverbot. If you have never done this before, I highly recommend it. It is entertaining, disconcerting, and time-sucking.

Photo by Flickr user Photog John

Jamie: Hi there.

Cleverbot: Hi.

Jamie: What makes you so clever?

Cleverbot: Who said i'm clever?

Jamie: It is implied by your name.

Cleverbot: No. My name is Cleverbot.

Jamie: Cleverbot includes the word clever.

Cleverbot: That's what you think.

Jamie: At least I think.

Cleverbot: I doubt it.

Monday, December 13, 2010


"I think complexity is mostly sort of crummy stuff that is there because it's too expensive to change the interface."

--Jaron Lanier
Roughly translated, the computer geek who uttered these words is saying that things would be simple except for it's too much of a pain to go back and simplify them.

Or, you know you're in the internet age, when you go to hook up a new gadget to your television and you discover you don't have any more ethernet ports.

What I found behind my television
I bought a media player gadget, one of these things you can use to watch Netflix movies over the internet and play Youtube videos on your big screen TV. There are a few different devices out there, I ended up with a Western Digital WDTV Live Plus.

It's pretty cool, and it basically works. Though I am still fairly baffled that coming up on a decade after the Tivo hit the scene, these things still seem fairly immature. That is, I have been able to use my Series II Tivo as a "media player" for years now. I can put video in a folder on my PC, and the Tivo can play it. It's not without it's issues - the major one being that the hardware itself does not have HD output because it's so old.

Compared to the Tivo, the WDTV is: small, cheap, has HD, has no hard disk. It works with Netflix, which is a major reason we got it. But I also wanted something to be a better media player than the Tivo.

Even though the video quality is far better, stunningly, it has some basic shortcomings that the venerable Tivo does not.

First, it plays very badly with Windows. You are supposed to be able to just share a folder and it can pull files from there and play them on your TV. I could not get it to work at all. And I'm a computer guy. I read all sorts of crap in the support forums, and apparently it's not an uncommon problem. But despite discussions about it going back more than a year, I couldn't get it fixed.

So I moved on to the next option - set up a media server on my computer. Well, this is more or less how the Tivo works, so that didn't seem like a total defeat. After some brief research I tried a commercial product called PlayOn that seems fairly well established. It mostly works.

But again, compared to the Tivo, there are some surprising shortcomings.

  • No "replay" feature,which sends you back about 8 seconds.
  • Fast forward/rewind are slow-reacting. It's not highly stable - if I try to fast-forward for any period of time, it craps out and goes back to the menu. Sometimes you can start playing again from where you left off. Sometimes not.
  • No automatic indexing. Why wouldn't the media server, or the media player, have some basic functionality that lets you skip forward 5 or 10 minutes at a time?

Tivo Series II: Still Running
At the end of the day, for a hundred bucks, it's hard to be too disappointed. Of course, I will have to pay 80 bucks for PlayOn (unless I can find a free media server). Then I will probably have to upgrade my desktop computer, for a thousand bucks, since it's barely adequate to run a media server. Then I will have to upgrade my network infrastructure, since my wireless G network isn't fast or reliable enough to...


It's a nice simple device to play media. It's smaller than a paperback book. It's has HD, and two USB 2.0 ports. It's dead simple to play Netflix and Youtube videos.

The Tivo worked with the limits of people's networks ten years ago. They were slow and unreliable. The Tivo server software transcoded the video to the necessary format in the background, on the PC, before it was needed, so it worked on slow machines. It would download videos to your set-top box in the background, because your network might not be fast enough to play them in real time. It was failure-resistant, if you tried to fast forward (or just play) past the end of what could be served in real time, it would just stop and tell you that, and you waited for a few seconds.

The WDTV seems to be designed around the notion that your network is as reliable as the postal service. It does not do well with a slow server or internet connection. It doesn't buffer much, it doesn't handle problems well. Basically, it fails to give me easy access to media on my home network, with all it's warts and old technology, in the way that Tivo didn't.

Is it simpler? In some ways, yes. It just doesn't work as well.

The march of progress seems to mean that we no longer design devices to work around the shortcomings of the infrastructure. If only the infrastructure was good enough that such a design made sense.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thankful for...

Thanksgiving dinner this year took place at my wife's sister's home with both of our families largely represented. We were each given a paper "feather" on which to write things for which we are thankful. At the time, I was not able to muster much, so I wanted to correct that here.

I am thankful for my wife, mother, father, sister, and brother, each of whom have never judged me on my uneasy path through life.

My wife, N., who has believed in me since the day we met. The little presents she gets me that make a Tuesday night something special. Her silly mannerisms and pranks that make me smile every day. Her warmth, her strength of character, her depth of compassion, her love of dogs and tolerance of cats. Her smile, that makes you forget the rain. Her embracing of our quirky town house, making it into our home.

My father's brilliant, subtle wit which has always made me laugh and think and has defined my own. His unfailing generosity, his commitment to give his family the best life possible. He is a man who would give you the shirt off his back, and has done so many times when I've forgotten to bring one home.

My mother's warmth and spark. Her wonderful vision of the world, her love for natural beauty. She defined my aesthetic, my own appreciation of people, of places, of old things. She faces life's challenges with gusto, learning, inventing, and adapting to each era of her life without missing a beat.

My brother, who has always been there when I needed him, to help and support me when I've found my life unraveling. His determination to achieve and succeed at whatever he does has always inspired me.

My sister, whose smile and enthusiasm for life is unwavering. Her refusal to grow up, her constant joy, her wonderful husband and boys, her happy home, they all shape my vision of family.

Thanks to the most important people in my life. Each of you is a model of character that I hope to live up to. I couldn't ask for anything better.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Tis the Unseasoned

Thanksgiving. It's here again. Tomorrow, yeah!

It's that time when most Americans fire up that seldom-used appliance, the range, and roast a 20 pound bird. This even includes most people for whom "cooking dinner" means sticking a London broil that Whole Foods marinated for you into the oven for an hour.

I, too, will be conforming to this most American of traditions, though the only turkey for which I'm personally responsible will be deep fried in glorious peanut oil. But I am also supposed to be making the stuffing for the other bird, which shall be roasted. The reasons for this division of labor are political in nature.

I love stuffing. It is so gooey and delicious and soaks up all the best parts of the bird. It's good by itself, with turkey, on sandwiches. It's good hot or cold. It's especially good to snack on in the middle of the night. But not all stuffings are created equal.

Stuffing comes in many forms, from Stove Top, which is something I ate at 3 AM when I was in college, to "do it yourself" which involves baking a loaf of just the right kind of bread, letting it get stale, and chopping it up into cubes. Or, if you happen to be a "homesteader" or something, using the stale bread that you already have since of course you make all your own food and waste nothing.

My personal level of cooking patience falls slightly on the easier side of doing it all myself. That means, I want to get a bag of bread that's already stale and cut into cubes. I don't want to dry out my own bread or worry about getting the right kind of bread and wonder if it will be the right texture after I let it sit for a week. And also hope it doesn't have any psychedelic mold spores growing on it by that time.

So I leave those basics to some industrial baker, but I want to season it myself with some fresh veggies, herbs and spices.

It has become nearly impossible to buy unseasoned stuffing.

I went to no less than five supermarkets before finding the holy grail you see pictured above: a bag of unseasoned bread cubes.

I finally got it an Snider's, a little independent supermarket in Silver Spring. This was after trying:

  • Giant? Negative. Only seasoned stuffing from Pep. Farm and Arnold's.
  • Safeway? Negative. Safeway actually sells their own brand of stuffing, that looks sorta homemade, but it is just as doused in dried onions and stale celery powder as every other brand they sell.
  • Whole Foods? Negative. I had high hopes, but despite dealing with the insane crowds and pompous people, struck out again. Oh, they have their own brand too, "365 Everyday Value Organic Stuffing Mix"... traditional flavor. That means, of course, dried onions and "organic chicken flavor" whatever that is. Does that mean, it tastes like organic chicken? Is that different than "Purdue chicken flavor?" Could you have "organic Purdue chicken flavor," that is a fully-organic flavoring that tastes like Purdue chickens?

Anyway. It seems that, these days, most people are not interested in even the most basic of cooking tasks: chopping up some stuff and throwing it into your stuffing so it doesn't taste like it came from Boston Market.

It's not exactly rocket science. In fact, it's probably the easiest part of the whole meal. So why is it near impossible to find some bread cubes that haven't been infected with the contents of Pizzeria Uno's spice drawer?

Just tell me the truth, people. Am I the only one left on earth who is interested in seasoning my own stuffing?

The bag I bought was the only one in the entire store. This means one of two things. They were all sold out because it's incredibly popular, or they only had one bag at all. When I asked at each of the other three markets if they had "unseasoned stuffing" the employees generally stared at me as if I'd asked if they sold ostrich relish.

I'm guessing they sold one bag of unseasoned stuffing this year. I should probably check the date, it's probably been there since 1998.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your bellies be stuffed, whatever that stuffing be made of.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Great Photographer: Sergey Gogolev

I wanted to take a minute to recommend Sergey Gogolev, our wedding photographer. We had an unconventional wedding. Having both been married before we decided that we didn't really want a big traditional wedding, but we still wanted to have a ceremony so we would remember the day by more than just a date. We reserved the Old Stone House for the date, and had an old friend who is an ordained minister perform the ceremony in September.

So we set about looking for a professional photographer in May. It turned out to be a little trickier than we expected to find someone. Because our wedding was during peak season, many photographers weren't willing to commit to our 2 or 3 hour session, since they'd rather hold out for a full-day client. Or they would make us pay the full price for an all-day photography shoot.

After making some inquiries of a couple other photographers we knew through friends of friends, and not finding someone who was going to work out for our situation, N. found Sergey through an ad on Craig's List. We met with him in Georgetown and he spent an hour with us at the Old Stone House and walking around Georgetown to find other good settings for pictures. We liked him and he had a nice portfolio. He was also willing do the work for us for a reasonable price. So we gave him a deposit and crossed our fingers. He encouraged us to have the ceremony in the morning because it would avoid the harsh afternoon lighting. Unfortunately we couldn't make this happen for a lot of reasons, so we just hoped for the best.

When the day arrived, we ended up being an hour late to our own wedding. Good thing there weren't any guests. But Sergey was unruffled and we began everything around 3:00 PM, probably the worst time of the day for outdoor photography in the sun. Sergey, and his wife who was also shooting, took hundreds of pictures of us in various settings for a couple hours all around Georgetown. As the afternoon progressed we felt good about everything, he had so many interesting ideas for settings, poses, and so on. Even though we started an hour late, we were never rushed - quite the opposite, I think we had to cut things off because we were both about to drop from hunger by the time we finished!

Barely two weeks later we were able to look at the pictures online. We were stunned. The package we had agreed to included 50 prints that would be edited and color-corrected, but there were so many incredible pictures that we literally took a month to choose our favorites. He gave us more than we had agreed to in the end, and delivered the prints in a beautiful customized box with a DVD. At every step of the way he was accommodating, easy to work with, and gave us far more than we expected.

If you need a photographer I can't recommend Sergey highly enough. His skill and creativity are top notch and his fees are fair. And if the afternoon lighting was bad, well, you wouldn't know it from the pictures. We couldn't be happier.

N. put many of our favorites on Facebook so be sure to check them out there if you're a friend.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Schrödinger's Blog

Hello, loyal consumers of Farm Fresh Meat! As you are no doubt aware, things have been a bit lean on the Farm lately. Sorry 'bout that. Since I last posted, more than three million seconds ago, much has happened. None of the intervening events are responsible in any way for my silence, but I thought I'd imply that they were.

From the perspective of a typical blogger, whose job is to retool some local news tidbit with his own unique, witty or insightful perspective, the last month in DC has been astoundingly bountiful. Any one of these incidents would have been worthy of a rehash, scattered, smothered and covered into delicious hash-browned blogginess:

  • The DC9 situation, still unfolding
  • The Chandra Levy trial
  • The election and Fenty write-in campaign
  • Rally to Restore Sanity
  • The weather for the love of spaghetti monsters

In my own life, there have been just as many noteworthy incidents:
  • I got married and had a honeymoon
  • Some remarkable home improvement stuff
  • A ridiculously absurd outing for a friend's birthday to a roller skating rink in Anacostia
  • Not one but two incidents of harassment and absurdity involving the DC government, involving unwanted contact with such agencies as DMV and DCRA. (Isn't contact with those agencies always unwanted, though?)

... just to name a few. Then, yesterday, talking buses. I almost couldn't resist writing about that. But I did.

Or did I? Does writing that I didn't write about something count as writing about it?

I just blew my own mind.

One thing is clear. If you don't add your two cents to the great collection tray of life when it comes around, you won't get your reward in heaven. At least that's what it said on the scrolling marquee on the "Praise-A-Thon" I happened upon while watching TV the other day.

Translated to blogging, that means if I don't make some unusually insightful observation, or shockingly lowbrow joke, about whatever it is within 24 hours of its happening, then nobody will care. Having studied Eastern philosophy extensively, I know that if a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, all that happens is a cat belonging to a physicist may die. The physicist is already confirmed dead, just FYI.

So, as the weeks have slipped by since my last post, a lot has happened. Pumpkins were carved and smashed, the balance of power in DC government has changed, a nightclub was closed, the weather has gone from endless summer to endless summer. I probably had much to say about all of these things and a lot more, too. But the time to weigh in on those things has passed, and time has marched on. The domestic shorthair of determinacy remains caged, its fate unknown, unknowable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

$#*! I Saw On TV Last Night

While I was anxiously awaiting the season premiere of Fringe last night, N. happened to notice "$#*! My Dad Says" in the TV guide that hovered before our eyes.

What better way to kill a half an hour, which would otherwise seem like an eternity as I counted the nanoseconds between 8:30 and 9:00? When the fate of Olivia Dunham, trapped in a a bizarro universe, facing such threats as brainwashing, a partner she doesn't have in her own universe, who will probably become a super-villian like Darkman because of a time travel accident that left his face horribly mutated, and her mother who is dead in her own world? How will she survive? Will she become bizarro Olivia???

Anyway, so I watched "Bleep My Dad Says," as they called it on TV last night.

I knew right then, before the show even started, that things weren't going well.

They said bleep.

They didn't even say "shiz" or "stuff" or, really, anything other than "bleep" which just sounds so...


The premise is pretty simple. Kid in his mid-20's loses his job and has to move in with Dad. Dad's an old curmudgeon and doesn't make this easy. Though it sounds mind-bogglingly one dimensional, it is. Not that many a fine show wasn't based on a stupid premise. Take "Seinfeld," for example. Sadly, this is no "Seinfeld."

William Shatner didn't come close to saving it. I love him to death. He brings charm, wit and flair to almost everything he touches.

There were a couple laughs. Shatner successfully delivers a few of the watered-down raunchy truisms of the sort we have loved from the twitter feed that started it all. But watered down they were.

The edgiest things got was when the son (whose name I can't even remember) was taking too long to clean up the kitchen, and dad says, "How can you still be cleaning? We just had dinner, we didn't accidentally kill a hooker." That was kind of funny.

Compare that to this scene from Family Guy, more than a decade ago. Stewie is sitting on an actual hooker's lap and says, "Tell me the truth. Is there any tread left at all, or is it like throwing a hot dog down a hallway?"

Now that is disgusting, shocking, and hilarious. And technically not in violation of Federal broadcast laws.

The only hope for this show is that it becomes a new Married with Children. If you have one-dimensional characters, boring stories, and no obvious direction to go that hasn't been well traveled by Three's Company, then you can still make it work by walking right up to the FCC line, bending over, and farting onto the other side.

There's a place for raunchy humor in our TV culture.

There's no place for raunchy humor with a G-rated filter.

This show has to get nasty or get lost.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hoarding & The Human Tragedy of Eviction


I arrived home to Columbia Heights from work yesterday to a remarkable scene. The sidewalks in front of my house, indeed, up and down the block, were piled high with boxes, furniture, and all manner of things. Cleary, someone had been put out of their home. Or had the entire block been put out? If my entire neighborhood had been siezed through eminent domain, I had missed the notice.

My neighbor a few doors down had lost her job and had been evicted. She is a Venezuelan woman who had moved here more than two decades ago, and her passion was to collect things that may seem like basics of life to people in the United States, but were priceless to people from her native country. Before she became unemployed, she would periodically fill a shipping container with the objects she collected, send them to Venezuela on a boat, and meet the cargo there, to distribute it to people there who could use it.

TBD said "It's unclear how long she had been keeping the items she said she intended to donate, or whether she had ever sent anything." TBD apparently didn't talk to her for very long. I remember seeing the sidewalk storage container in front of her house a couple years ago, and though I didn't know its purpose at the time, another neighbor of mine confirmed that she had indeed been doing this periodically for a long time.

It is hard to express the sadness that I felt in looking around at this scene. My neighbor had apparently lost her job about a year ago, and couldn't afford to go again. I was told by another neighbor that she had been working as a housekeeper since, but it wasn't enough.

To be sure, she could have made different decisions. I thought about all the different things that could have been. Yes, she was clearly a hoarder. If she had just started selling some of these things, maybe she could have paid the bills for a bit longer. But a middle-aged Venezuelan woman with limited English probably didn't think well heck I'll just start up an ebay company.

DSC_0007But, at the same time, society failed her. The U.S. Marshalls, whose job is to perform these evictions, did not need to handle this like any other situation. This woman has lived there for more than a decade. They did their job, and apparently, their job is to remove the contents of a home and put it on the sidewalk without any consideration for the situation or the consequences.

Nobody knew what was in her home until its contents were expelled onto the street.

Someone could have decided let's just take a deep breath. Let's give her another month. Let's see if we can connect her with someone who can maybe help her turn all this stuff into enough cash to keep going for a little longer. Maybe there's an answer that can prevent this tragedy and even use the very items that make up this spectacle to prevent it.

It's sad that the letter of our laws are more important than human beings.

Jim Graham was there late into the evening, and arranged for police to stay on the scene overnight to ward off looters. He and his staff arranged for a couple pickup trucks to come and transport her most important possessions to a safe place. I give him credit for at responding and offering some help to a woman in a most desperate situation.

Update from TBD

TBD says "Diaz tells ABC 7 News she was also evicted from her apartment on Rock Creek Church Road one year ago. She abandoned her belongings that were set out from that residence. Diaz says she accumulated all of her belongings that were pulled from her home in Northwest within the past year. She says she's been evicted many times before, but the latest is "the most historic." Diaz hasn't worked full-time in 2.5 years, but has done odd jobs. She is currently three months behind on her rent."

This does not at all match with what I have been told by my neighbors who have lived on the street for far longer than I. I don't know what the truth is, and I have a very hard time believing that anyone could accumulate this much stuff in a year. Whatever actually happened it doesn't change my belief that this shouldn't have happened.

Update 2 - There Is Good In The World!

First NBC reports what I previously had been told - that she'd been in her home here for 15 years.

But they conclude with this bit of heartwarming news:

"While NBC4 was reporting on the story Wednesday morning, numerous calls were made to the newsroom with offers of help, including an offer from JK Moving and Storage in Sterling, Va. The company said it would pack up and store her belongings for a month for free, and then move them to a new home -- wherever that may be."


Monday, September 20, 2010

Got Hitched

Technically, we were already. We got married last month (8/9/10) for numerological reasons. But we had planned a ceremony and had reserved the garden at the Old Stone House in Georgetown on Saturday for this purpose. A good friend who is an ordained minister (in the Church of Universal Life) performed the ceremony in front of a few onlookers and our photographer. I'll shill him once we see the pictures, but he was great to work with and I think they will be awesome.

We created quite a specatacle, with N. in her gown and I in my tuxedo as we traipsed around Georgetown having pictures taken in various settings. It was as crowded as it gets on a nice Saturday afternoon, and I the experience was incredible. Dozens of people we didn't know congratulated us, it felt very much like being a celebrity. Even as the sidewalks were packed, not a single person interruped a picture. In fact, in one sitaution, where the photagrapher was actually trying to take a picture of us as people walked by using a long exposure, we had to literally ask people to keep going about their business, because nobody would walk in front of us! And the photographer was all the way on the other side of the street, too. It was really something.

The one little bit of sour grapes goes to an apartment building or hotel (not sure which) on K street under the Whitehurst Freeway. We tried to take a picture against the wall of their entry area. We were shut down not once, but twice by a manager or doorman. Not a big deal, really, as we had lots of other great shots, but to what end? We could take a hundred pictures of their building from the sidewalk if we wanted to, and they couldn't do a thing as long as we were two steps away on the public land. Rules like this are silly. It's amazing that anyone would be so dedicated to the pointless rules of their job that they would kick a bride and groom out of the space in front of their bulding.

Well, here you go, paranoid georgetown apartment building: the wall we tried to use, as captured by Google Street View in all it's glory! Moouhahahahahaha...

It was a wonderful day and the ceremony was perfect. I love you N.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fenty's Alter Egos

In the wake of Vincent Gray's victory over Adrian Fenty, we are starting to see blackberries show up on Craig's List for sale, and people are wondering who's going to stay and who's going to go.

The name that comes to most people's mind is Michelle Rhee, the hard-nosed, controversial school chancellor who was the centerpiece of Fenty's reform efforts. Few expect she'll be sticking around, since she pretty much said that as far as Fenty's concerned, she's made out of glue. But anything's possible.

In order to better understand the personalities, I've delved into their alter-egos in the hopes that we might reach some clarity on how these people might fit in with a Gray administration... or not.

Michelle Rhee: Ozzy Osbourne

Michelle Rhee has been about as divisive as a meat cleaver. Some people have lauded her as the second coming of Christ and the savior of a dysfunctional school system. Others think that she's the devil incarnate, and that her reforms are coming at too high a cost. We're not here to debate her effectiveness. We're here to figure out who she really is.

The Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, fits the bill perfectly. He takes no prisoners, eats his young, and is batshit crazy. The trademark of his career, like Rhee, has been "reform," though in his case, that reform had more to do with the Betty Ford Clinic than the public school institution. Both have been sued and both have legions of ardent fans and rabid foes. Both have been the subject of movies, though I think that "The Decline Of Western Civiliation Part II: The Metal Years" will have a more enduring legacy than "Waiting for Superman."

The verdict for the Princess of Darkness? Leaving on the first crazy train. There's no way Gray would keep around someone who bites the head off bats.

Cathy Lanier: Sarah Connor

Police Chief Cathy Lanier has done pretty well for herself. Of course, that's not too hard when you replace someone like Charles Ramsey, best known for beating up and hog-tying about 400 hippies having a sit-in at Pershing Park.

Lanier's tenure has been marked by some high-profile, if publicity-stunt-like efforts to fight crime, such as All Hands On Deck, and the Trinidad checkpoints, since found unconstitutional. But through it all there's been a dramatic drop in crime. Never mind that it precisely matches the national trend.

Sarah Connor, similarly, tirelessley fights for the future of mankind, even as that effort often requires some rather unfortunate violations of due process and legality to get the job done. After all, the she knows the future that awaits us: the world will be taken over by machines. The lives of a lot of innocent people along the way are of little consequence, since without her heroic efforts, they'll all be dead in a few years anyway.

The verdict: stays on to fight the terminators. The phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range will become the standard issue service weapon in 2012.

Gabe Klein: Curly

"What is this you're doing?" "The elevator dance." "Elevator dance?" "Yeah, there's no steps to it." -- from The Three Stooges, "Soup to Nuts", 1930

The DDOT director's name is probably known to far fewer than the previous two, but he's made a reputation for himself nonetheless. A tireless advocate of cycling and alternative transit, he's been responsible for the bike-laneification of DC, pushed forward on the streetcar project, brought us bike sharing, and also installed a lot of speed bumps. In many ways, he took a conventional city and turned it into something of a 3-ring circus. There are all kinds of crazy parking meter machines everywhere, a new bicycle traffic light that is, er, interesting, and something called a barnes dance in chinatown that lets people walk willy-nilly through a busy intersection, to name a few.

Progress? Well, it's different, anyway. Gabe's nothing if not willing to give stuff a shot. Like Curly, he's got all kinds of wacky ideas, and unbridled enthusiasm. To the outsider, it may look like he doesn't know what he's doing, but still, things seem to work out for him. Mostly.

The verdict? Stays, though may need to buy a new suit. Gray's been a transit advocate, and even though Gabe might look like a hipster on his way to an interactive art show opening, he's not doing an awful job. He's also been smart enough to keep out of the fray, so there's no real public sentiment either for or against him.

And with that, our final contestant.

Peter Nickles: Gollum

You know, this one was just too easy. Little love will be lost on Fenty's much loathed Attorney General. The man, in a role that supposedly represents an oversight of the DC government, has blatantly polticized this role, literally campaigning for the mayor. He's defended corruption, and he's stonewalled Federal courts.

Like Gollum, it's not clear where he lives: is it in a cave in Chinatown, or down near the Great Falls in the Mines of Moria? He always seems to pop up when he's not wanted, and when you really need him, he promises to help you, but ends up screwing you and trying to steal your ring.

Verdict: Will grab a pile of gold, run, cackling, away from DC, and trip and fall into a volcanic vent on his way out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Electageddon: Can You Eat Sausage?

Vincent Gray, and alter ego Vincent Price. Courtesy of DCist.

Adrian Fenty, and alter egos Frank Capone, and Zorro. I am not
making any kind of statement with these pictures, just sayin'.

The day is upon us, when we must choose our fate. A referendum on our future awaits us at the polls. Few people are voting with unbridled enthusiasm. Indeed, few can forgive the mayor for his many missteps, but well, "the devil you know." People fear that Gray is symoblic of a return to times past.

Fenty: Hero to some, Gangster to others

We like the direction the city has come in recent times, but we don't like the way that Fenty has gotten us there. Some feel that when things reach a breaking point, the ends justify the means. Should we be willing to look the other way, ignore what's behind the curtain, as long as things seem to be on the right track? Should we live with vigilante rule, as long as the girl seems to be getting saved?

So some are choosing to "hold their noses" and vote for Fenty, a phrase that comes up often enough that I'm now starting to understand the stink in my neighborhood. I thought it was the hobos.

Gray: Gray

Others are choosing to wander into a "Gray" area and put their faith in a man who, while by all accounts is intelligent, honest, and inclusive, may not have the cajones to get things done the way Fenty has. We think we like him, but he's a bit of a mystery. He's intriguing yet unknown.

How to resolve this impossible dilemma?

You must ask yourself how much you worry about that soylent green we've been eating. Sure, it tastes pretty good, and it keeps us all going, but what the hell is that stuff made of? Should we be asking more questions, or, is ignorance bliss? Are there terrible truths behind the curtain? Or, is our fear of the unknown, life without soylent green, greater than our fear of the ingredients?

It is an age old question of what cost success. Can we stand by while things that make us cringe keep happening, because we like the results? Or, will we reject that paradigm and demand to see the inside of the sausage factory - knowing full well that we might not be able to stomach sausage any more once we see it being made.

That is the vote before you. Choose your meal. But whatever you choose, go vote, because regardless of what Rush (the band, not the blowhard) might have you believe, if you choose not to decide, you have NOT made a choice: you've let someone else make it for you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Repent Ye, For The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

I know I talk a lot about the apocalypse, but this time, I can say without hyperbole, it is absolutely upon us.

Just look at this last week. And technically, it's still summer! Nothing is supposed to happen in the summer.

Psychopath terrorizes Discovery channel.

It all began with the now infamous event that, fortunately, ended with loss of life to none but the lunatic.

Sharks moving in to Potomac

The river that, along with the Anacostia, girdles the nation's Capitol, used to be a safe haven for leisure boating activities and, occasionally, swimming. No more. Not one, but two eight-foot monsters were caught here this week. Sharks have moved in, and they're here for two reasons: to chew gum and kick ass. And it looks like they're fresh out of gum.

Mass Suicides

Like a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie, people are wantonly killing themselves this week. Well, at least one person tried to, two if you count squirrel boy from the first story. But the timing is highly suspect.

Innocent Public Transit Outposts Attacked

A bus shelter in Adams Morgan was destroyed, absolutely, for no reason at all. Yet neither MPD nor WMATA can confirm that the incident happened. Strange things are afoot, indeed.

Trees Trimmed On My Street

Signs were posted for "no parking" on my block, and yesterday morning, city workers were conclusively spotted trimming the trees. This is stunning for any number of reasons. First, the chances of someone doing anything when "no parking" signs are posted is about zero, be it moving, road work, or anything else. In fact, the only thing that usually happens when "no parking" signs are posted, is that I get a parking ticket.

This time, people actually came and trimmed the trees. I have not yet figured out what kind of conspiracy is behind this bizarre action, but it is certainly a cover for something insidious. I will report back as details emerge.

And that is not all.

A fire broke out at the Philips Collection. It's September and still over 90 degrees. Adrian Fenty seems poised to lose the election despite having more money than God. A hurricane is at this very moment destroying the outer banks. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Gulf of Mexico, another oil rig catches fire.


I blame the squirrels. Of course, the squirrels.

There's no question, either things can only get better after this week, or the world is about to end. Either way, your problems are over, so everyone have a great holiday weekend!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Discovery Channel's Nutjob Finally Loses It

I am LOOKING for solutions so that we may not NEED electricity and all that stuff."

- James Jay Lee, 1/29/08

What you cannot see in this picture is the actual Discovery Channel building.

Hey, everyone! I just got back from a lovely weekend in Maine with my wife, and not even halfway through my first day back, there's a lunatic threatening to blow up a building two blocks from my office.

Being the voyeuristic type, I ran out to check it out, and took a few decidedly unexciting pictures, such as the one at right. I swear, it was mayhem: I heard nothing but sirens for two straight hours. The sound, apparently, of every single emergency vehicle in MoCo being scrambled to Ellsworth & Georgia Avenue. I got yelled at by one cop for being in the wrong place, but otherwise, nothing happened in my brief time at the scene.

The web, being what it is today, had already done all the sleuthing work necessary to give a detailed history of the individual involved here. God help me if my name ever makes the news in the wrong way. He goes way back with Discovery.

Silver Spring Singular, a blog about the town not called Silver Springs, has lots on this guy.

In March 2008, he threw around thousands of dollars at passersby, causing mayhem! That sounds awesome, actually. I wish I had been there.

A month before, he had organized a protest of Discovery, but by "organized" what he really did was pay homeless people to protest. I kinda remember this.

He tries to recruit people to his lunatic fringe on weird chat groups. He blames Discovery Channel for most of the world's ills:

"I disagree. Discovery is hugely responsible for what is happening and their ineffective programming must be protested and dealt with. The time for pussy-footing around the subject is done. It's time to protest them until they start changing their stupid message. They ARE glorifying the damned fishermen who are overfishing the planet and I would think that you would see that for yourself instead of defending them."

-- James Jay Lee, 1/24/08

As of now, he has posted a rather insane list of demands that mostly center on Discovery Channel programming. This list is on his web site here as well - but too much traffic to get it from the source as of this posting.

Demand number 4 is among my favorite:

"Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down!"

This could be a very long hostage crisis....

It's worth reading, though, and the list itself is a very compelling argument against too much sugar in children's diets.

In all seriousness, I hope everything works out OK, and that this is not one of the last photographs ever taken of the Discover Channel Building. As of right now, there are hostages being held. I am crossing my fingers that this ends peacefully.

PICT0085Another lame photograph taken during the crisis that might as well have been taken on a random Sunday morning, for all the activity you can make out. At this point I went back to work, realizing I would learn a lot more online than a block from the Discovery Channel.

Update: Suspect Shot, Hostages Safe!

At 4:50 PM, police shot the suspect. All hostages are safe, it's over! Good work MoCo police. This ended much better than Die Hard.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Metro Set To Further Annoy It's Best Customers

Metro, following in the footsteps of progressive organizations such as the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), will be enacting new policies designed to cause invoncenience, aggravation, and possibly legal problems, to the kind of customers it likes most: those who own Smart Trip cards. Starting August 29, you will no longer be able to exit a metro station if your Smart Trip balance is below zero.

"We asked if there had been a problem with Metro never recovering negative fares from travelers; [Metro spokesperson Angela Gates] said she'd have to look into that."

-- Dave Jamieson, TBD reporter

A few years back, the RIAA invented the "eff you, frequent flyer" business model by suing the very people who spent the most money on them. While largely a symbolic gesture, since only a couple people actually went to court and most cases were dropped due to them being absolutely insane to sue children in the first place, it set the stage for future acts of desperation by other organizations. Organizations that found themselves with management and cash flow problems, faced with a changing world but unable to keep pace, or just plain stupid.

I think metro falls in the "just plain stupid" category, since they don't really have any competition. They have, apparently, decided that their own hard times have warranted the implementation of the "eff you customer" program, rather than taking the more practical step of getting their shit together. The result of such poorly-thought-out moves is, inevitably, bad press, futher hemmhoraging of revenues as some customers stop using your service, and other collateral damage.

Let's take a look at what this means.

You must use cash to pay ExitFare.

Most people use SmartTrip card because of its convenience, and the ability to pay by credit card. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math here. Since you have not ever needed cash to travel by metro for a decade, there's a decent chance you won't ensure you have some on you before you head to work.

SmartTrip cards do not feature an "automatic recharge" feature.

Unlike almost every other "subscription" sort of service on earth, you must manually recharge your smart trip card when it runs out. At a machine. This means, inevitably, this problem is going to happen to everyone.

People don't think about their Smart Trip balance. That's why it's useful.

When you have a SmartTrip card, it's very simple: you go in, and when it goes below zero, you get a warning on your way out. That is a reminder that it's time to recharge. And if you forget, it won't let you go back in again on your next trip. So you refill on your way in. You can't get screwed. You can never find yourself able to get in, but not out. You can never find yourself stuck in a Metro station with no cash, and no legal way to leave. Until August 29th, that is.

It's like the "refuel" light on your car. It reminds you to stop at the next gas station.

But now, you won't get a "refuel" warning any more. Oh, and also, you can only look at the gas guage on your car at the end of a trip, or after you've already gotten on the highway. Because a metro trip can range from $1.60 up to $5.00, there are many, many possible trips for which you'd have sufficient balance to enter, but not exit.

It's like if your car suddenly just died on the side of the road at some point below 1/4 of a tank.

And I don't buy the argument that "people using paper cards have always had to deal with this." You know what's different about a paper card? It has your balance printed on it.


If you could link your SmartTrip to a credit card to recharge automatically, I don't think most people would care about this. But despite this technology being available for things such as EZ Pass for more than a decade, you can't. This is a whole different problem, but it's amazing that they would implement a policy change such as this one, before enabling automatic recharge. That shows extremely poor judgment.

Metro recently lowered the price of SmartTrip cards from $5 to $2.50, and seems to be rationalizing this move because they fear fraud from people buying SmartTrip cards, and leaving the system with a negative balance. Which could, at most, be $3.40, since the minimum fare if $1.60 and the maximum rail fare is $5.00. And that's even using non-rush for the minimum and rush hour for the maximum.

In the worst case scenario, Metro would be facing someone with a $3.40 negative balance on a $2.50 card. And I'm not even sure that scenario is possible, unless you crossed non-rush-hour to rush-hour lines during your trip.

Would anyone really ever do this? Would this ever be a possible method of "fraud" at any scale other than extremely isolated?

Furthermore, Metro earns tons of money from unused fares, and interest on money spent on transit before it's taken. I would guess the average balance on a SmartTrip card is over 10 bucks, and there must be millions of unused farecards purchased every year (e.g. by tourists, or from people who just toss low-balance farecards). I don't know how much money this is -- but I guarantee you it's far, far more than they could ever stand to lose from a handful of folks who would rather go to CVS and buy a new card, than pay (at most) the 90 cents difference to recharge their own SmartTrip card.

Apart from the insanity of even a tiny fraction of society going to all this trouble to perpetrate a fraud with a theoretical maximum value of ninety cents, what the hell?

If this is your only reason for this move, then why didn't you just price it at $3.50 which will effectively eliminate the, er, "incentive?" Even better, why didn't you just not change the price from $5 in the first place? Do you really think there's a single person on earth who prefers saving $2.50 on the cost of a SmartTrip card, which most people buy exactly once, to the convenience of not facing possible incarceration in a metro station every time they go to work?


Monday, August 30. Mayhem. Tens of thousands of people, probably 10-20% of all riders, cannot exit because they entered Metro at rush hour with under $4 on their card (as they probably do approximately 20% of the time).

Three-quarters of these people, the ones with cash, will be pissed as they have to wait in huge lines for the exitfare machine.

The other one-quarter, the ones without cash, will be jumping turnstiles.

Or, Metro station operators will just open the emergency gate and let everyone go through, costing Metro far more in a single day because of the chaos, than they could ever stand to lose.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Really Like That Flashlight...

In my never-ending quest to coin a term I present you with a couple that have caught on in my household.

You brought the iguana home.

This one started pretty recently, after an episode of "The Marriage Ref." In this particular segment, the debate is over this pet iguana that the wife loves, and the husband detests. Throughout the course of the segment, popular opinion seems to lean heavily towards the husband. This creature is always out of its cage, and clearly the wife pays a lot more attention to the car insurance mascot than she does to her husband. Not to mention that it's pretty downright creepy.

Then, at the very end, when the referees are about to vote, a crucial piece of evidence is revealed: The husband is the one who brought that iguana into the household to being with!

Needless to say, he lost in a crushing defeat because he brought the iguana home.

So now, whenever you find yourself in a debate about something which, actually, the other person started, or is responsible for the source of the debate, you simply play your trump card: You brought the iguana home. Instant victory.

I'm getting back the microwave.

This one is of a more personal nature. Many, many years ago, I acted shamefully. This is so embarassing, that it is only now that I will publicly admit to this tasteless act of selfishness. I blame my youthful immaturity, but can now look back on this inicident with only a small cringe of regret. I hope that by sharing this, I can purge the demons that still haunt me.

I dated a girl briefly when I first moved to Washington. During our time together, her group-house needed a microwave oven, and I happened to own one that was not being used, as my own group-house already had one. So I offered it to them, and they accepted.

I broke up with this girl before too long. Because we didn't date all that long, there was not really any need for a "stuff swap." Or I just forgot about the microwave.

Fast forward about a year, when the owner of my own houses's microwave moved out. Suddenly, I needed that microwave oven again. At the time, the $199 that the appliance would cost to replace seemed a staggering sum of money, and apparently I put the cost of shame at calling up my ex of about a year to reclaim the microwave, at lower than $199.

I drove to her house in Virginia, and in possibly the most awkward situation of my entire life, collected the microwave. Oh yes, all her housemates were there. And no, we hadn't really spoken at all since we broke up.

Fast forward to today, and one of my facebook friends posted this:

Friendy McFriend Got a call from the garage; the mechanic left his flashlight under the hood of my truck.

Now I need to go bring it back "at my convenience"

I replied "Unfortunately, I am 30 miles away, so how about at my next oil change".

::::dead silence::::

"Or I could swing by in a couple of hours." :-)

All I could think of was, really? How much could a new flashlight possibly cost? That better be one damn nice flashlight...

But sometimes, you know, you just need to get the microwave back. So whenever you find yourself needing to face some unfinished business that you avoided as long as possible, or otherwise subject yourself to extraordinary embarassment for some small material gain, you are getting the microwave back.

So, anyone else have any good stories of getting the microwave back?


In an incredible bit of synchronicity separated by decades, N. recently quit her job of about a year and started a new one.

As it turns out, she left behind a microwave oven at her old office that she brought in when she first started there.

The jury is still out on whether she'll be getting it back anytime soon...

Free For All @ Rhode Island Avenue Giant!

Since the opening of Columbia Heights' "new" Giant store a few years ago, the Brentwood Giant hasn't gotten much respect. But when it opened, it was the jewel of Northeast, the only full-service supermarket for miles around. I used to go by there now and then, if I happened to be going to Home Depot anyway. N. and I stopped by yesterday on exactly such a trip.

They've got these new self-checkout aisles there, and the configuration is a bit different than our Columbia Heights system. Instead of four self-serve terminals served by a single line, you've got four individual lanes with four individual lines. From the outset, this raised a huge red flag. As anyone knows, in the self checkout line, at least every other person either has no idea how to use the system, or has foolishly decided that they can check out an entire cart full of groceries by themselves before the store closes. Either situation can result in agonizing delays.

Either way, if you get stuck behind such a person, you might as well settle in, because it's going to be a long night. The "bank line" system at the Cohi Giant (and most other stores designed by people who posess even an iota of compassion for their customers) addresses this problem at least by ensuring that one slow person doesn't kill the whole line.

The other thing that's odd about the Brentwood system is that the self-checkout lanes resemble the baggage x-ray security lanes at an airport more than anything else. There are plastic barriers on both sides of the lane, preventing access to your groceries until the very end. I guess this had something to do with security, though I couldn't really understand what. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong.

Since all the non-self-checkout lines were enormous, we took a big gamble and got in line at one of these TSA checkouts. Someone was just finishing, and two other people were ahead of us.

The first person stared at the machine for a few moments and, in a bit of self-awareness as rarely seen by elderly, technology-impaired supermarket patrons, realized his error and recused himself. Woo hoo! One down, one to go. It looked like our gamble would pay off!

Things went downhill from there. The woman in front of us only had about 7 or 8 items, but she started by putting a half-smoked cigarette on the scanner. This was the first sign that things were about to go horribly wrong. But things just got weird from there. At a snail's pace, probably predicated by her state of inebriation as was evident from the occasional whiff I got, she scanned two items: a bottle of gatorade, and a bag of chips.

The, she took the rest of her items and non-scanned them by simply throwing them down the conveyor belt. As we watched, she bagged (in her reusable giant bag, bless her heart) enough groceries to fill the bag, including a big box of frozen chicken or something, some milk, crackers, and several other items. It was enough to fill the bag such that boxes were sticking out the top. None of this caused any alarms to be raised by the system, like the sort that we are all familiar with when the weight of the items doesn't match what has been scanned.

But rather than just pay the total of $3.05 that she had actually scanned before proceeding to leave the store with her ill-gotten gains, she sought customer assistance. Apparently because she was paying with food stamps or something. She turned to us briefly to apologize for the delay (now going on almost ten minutes) because she was waiting for the cashier.

The cashier finally came over, and in a roughly 90 seconds process, keyed in an incredibly long series of keystrokes to process our hero's transaction. Thoughout this process, I kept wondering:

What kind of person not only conducts a small-scale heist at the self-checkout, but doesn't leave well enough alone and just pay the tiny sum of money involved to avoid possible detection?

What kind of supermarket employee cares so little about their job, that they will happily conduct their manual checkout intervention without noticing or caring that someone's leaving the store with a full bag of groceries for 3 bucks?

Why didn't the woman just finish her cigarette before she went shopping?

I briefly considered getting involved, but frankly, I have been wronged by Giant enough times that I felt they had it coming to them. And by that time we were happy to finally be able to check out and any further delay just seemed unnecessary.

But seriously, Giant. If your staff don't even bother to stop a shoplifter when the shoplifter is going out of their way to involve your staff in their transaction, you've got problems.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Strange Things Afoot

My lovely wife woke me up this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:20 AM. Or 6:20 AM "real time" as she said, not to be confused with the fictional time that the alarm clock presents.

My brain strained to make sense of this and finally concluded it was too early, so I made the rash decision of offering to walk both dogs in exchange for sleeping another 20 minutes. Shortly thereafter, though, N. rushed back into the room and excitedly told me that there were a bunch of cops outside. Of course, this immediately got me out of bed, since I can't resist gawking at police activity.

We saddled up the animals and walked outside to take in the spectacle. There were literally ten police cars, including about five cruisers, a few unmarked cars, and a K-9 unit. Some neighbors across the street were hanging out in front of their house, but it wasn't clear what the kerfuffle was.

Jumby, our puppy, has this sixth sense that alerts him to the presence of other dogs within a 500 foot radius, and immediately started barking at the K-9 car. Despite the fact that the dog was not visible, was not making any noise, and the windows were tinted. The police dog gladly engaged in the conversation from inside the police car. We dragged the lunatic down the street to avoid too much embarassment.

After walking them to the Asylum for their morning constitutionals, I hung out in front of my house to try to gather more intel. Was it a drug raid? Terrorist cell? I feared the worst: my car, illegally parked at the corner the night before, was surrounded. There was no question that this all-unit response would result in my receiving a $30 ticket.

But as I sat and watched, a one-armed man carrying a bag walked by.

Meanwhile, the people across the street were loading baskets of laundry into their car.

A 6:30 AM police raid? Dogs? A one-armed man? Laundry day?

I deseperately struggled to make sense of it all. I overheard just snippets of conversation.

".... I saw a ladder..."

"... helicopter..."

"... nothing clean..."

The one-armed man had since gone. But then, when I walked Jumby again a half-hour later (because he, er, hadn't had his coffee yet on his first walk), I again saw the one-armed man, this time near the Asylum.

I never found out why the police came this morning. But the one-armed man will haunt me forever.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thursday the 12th is the new Friday the 13th

Tree Down
This blurry photo is 16th Street around 8:00 AM on Thursday,
right before I bailed out. That's a tree.
I tried to post this last Friday. It didn't work out. The last two days of last week were, literally, a wash.

Thursday began with my reverse commuite to Silver Spring being transformed from a leisurely 15 minute drive to a 45-minute traffic evasion snafu. Every half-mile or so, I was faced with another closed road, and forced to divert eastward. It began on 16th Street, than 14th, then Georgia, and finally onto the neighborhood backroads of Takoma, DC as I struggled to find a way across the border to Maryland that wasn't blocked by trees or emergency vehicles. It's nice that there are so many alternatives, so at least it was possible to get to work.

Not that it mattered. The parking garage was flooded, and there was no power in the building. It became clear that situation wasn't changing anytime soon, so I headed out. I had to go to Rockville last week at some point, and since there was nothing else to do that day, I decided to go for it.

That turned out to be a poor choice as well, since it was impossible to go east or west on any road. By the time I'd gotten up to about Route 28, I realized it wasn't happening. I also realized I wasn't getting back to DC anytime soon, since all roads in were jammed. So I just kept going. I ended up going all the way to Baltimore, where I had a couple other non-urgent errands to take care of, and this was accomplished. Eventually, I made it to Rockville, around 3 PM. Everything was still a mess - working traffic lights in Montogomery County were rare.

Friday the 13th - Groundhog Day

Tree GoneCome Friday, things seems sort of back to normal, except many traffic signals in Moco were still out. I went to my office, began the morning rituals of coffee and email. Fifteen minutes after arriving at work, the power went out again rather dramtically. A loud boom was followed by several smaller ones. The power flickered on a couple times and finally died for good.

After an hour or so of hanging around, we found out power would not likely be restored at all on Friday. Unfortunately, my work requires being connected to the server (unless I can plan ahead and copy everything to my laptop, which of course I hadn't) so there was no possibility of working at home. Another unplanned day off, this time spent on home improvement.

Normal Life Resumes

.. at least until the next storm!! There is no question. The apocalypse is upon us.

Anyway, hope everyone is weathering these times of questionable power. I leave you with a gratuitous cute puppy picture.

Jumby Chewing

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fun Pictures

N. and I had a fantastic weekend getaway to New Orleans a few weeks back. I just came across a couple pics I wanted to share.

Best Company Motto Ever.

It's Picking Up


I got off an escalator and couldn't figure out where I was. What happened to this place?

Then we ended up on the mobile lounge and it all came crashing down around me. Figures I'd be in the one terminal that's still not served by the new train.

I wanted to take a real picture of this gorgeous new terminal but figured I'd end up detained by some overly zealous security drone... so the cell had to do.

New Dulles Terminal

Lucky Dog

We had just finished lunch at Johnny's Po Boys.. these two were just starting.

Johnny's Po Boys... for me & my best friend

Many more pics from N.O. on flickr.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bits and Pieces

I have had some ideas for things to drop on the blog, or "blog poo," lately. But long hours at work, and lot going on outside of work have limited my ability to blogtificate. So instead of a profound bit of new blogma today, I'm just going to summarize a few slightly notable events.

Comcast, bite me. Hating on Comcast is about as original as shoelaces. So I felt it wasn't worth a whole blog post to do this. But I would like to say, these guys have perfected the art of pissing off their best customers.

I'm not some "basic service" guy here. I pay them a ridiculous amount of money each month because I love TV. And internet. I have been a customer for five years non-stop, usually coughing up more than my electric and gas bills combined.

Not my dog.
On the exact two-month anniversary my last payment, they cut me off. Was I late? Yes. I was about 30 days late. It's been busy, and they are the only bill I have that isn't auto-deducted, and as such I often forget about it.

Did they try to contact me? Yes, with a piece of mail. The exact same thing I've been ignoring for the last two months. Hello, you have my phone number and my email address. Don't you think it would be been worth exploiting one of those two post-1600's methods of communication before cutting me off?

But cutting me off when I'm exactly one month overdue? Really? After paying for their gold teeth for five years? Are you fricking kidding me? You guys are history very soon. You would have been anyway, as soon as I can figure out how, but this crossed the line.

Ironically, I had just paid them through online banking the very same day that they cut me off. So I had to pay them again over the phone to get service restored. Now I'm paid 2 months in advance. Bastards.

My dogs are crazy. They are craaaa-zy. The new one has destroyed at least a dozen pair of shoes in the last few months. N. got the brunt of this, unfortunately, as most of them were hers. But I too have suffered the loss of several pairs of flip-flops.

When do these damn things grow up to the point where they don't immediately go for things they aren't supposed to chew on when you leave the room? This isn't about "not knowing what's wrong." You will never catch him chewing on a shoe or a couch when you're in the same room. Usually. He is bad, rotten to the core.

But also really cute... argghh!

My window is almost done. Haha, you didn't really think I was going to finish a project in a week or two, did you? Anyway, the wind-down has been slow because it involves lots of painting, staining, drying, recoating. And because I don't want to break my perfect track record of every project taking 10-20 times longer than my estimate. But we are oh so very close.

That is all. For now.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Internet Is A Vast Wasteland

This should be a revelation to few. While studies are not conclusive, for every man-hour saved by being able to immediately determine the availability of King Ding Dong lunchboxes for home delivery, at least another man-hour is wasted, filling up our brains with information about things that have no value whatsoever. Such as Sarah Palin's children's wedding plans. And King Ding-Dong lunchboxes.

Almost 50 years ago, then-FCC chairman Newton M. Minow declared television to be a vast wasteland. He's 84 years old today. I wonder what he would have to say about the Internet? With the hindsight of someone born moments after the first human being is known to have stepped on the moon, who still remembers such things as 13 channels and black-and-white programming, I can tell you it's a hundred thousand times worse. Maybe more.

But this thought didn't just occur to me out of the blue today. I subscribe to upwards of a hundred different blogs. I don't read them all regularly, but skim a lot of them. Many are personal blogs, that I happened to read once and I found interesting or well written or funny, and so I susbscribed. Two different posts on two absolutely unrelated (and indeed, almost diametrically opposed) blogs touched on this. The first is from a blog called the committed parent which is written by a "social neuroscience educator." I'm not exactly sure what that is, but he writes about child psychology. His last post discusses the downsides of having so much information available and its consequences on creativity, intellectual development, and wisdom.

The other is from a personal blog written by some Canadian guy who calls himself The Real Johnson. I know nothing about this guy except from some of his posts, but he writes well and is often funny. Oh yeah, he likes to drink, too. His last post is called "Internet Killed The Artist" and, from a totally different perspective (possibly drunk) from our PhD child psychologist above, comes to much the same conclusion.

I happened to read these two posts back-to-back and was stunned by the parallelism. In real life, these two individuals could be arch-nemeses. Yet separated by thousands of miles, several decades of life experience, 8 or so beers a day, and a Royal Mounted Police border crossing, they both wrote about the same notion today.

Internet usage is supposed to surpass TV watcing in 2010, at least in Europe. I am not sure exactly how you'd define "internet use," though, since a lot of people watch TV online. If I download a movie from the internet and watch it on a TV, does that count? Anyway, the distinction is fuzzy because "internet usage" could be doing stuff on your iPhone, or playing games, or all kinds of things that can be done on a variety of devices, or may be essentially similar to what you used to do on a TV. The mediums are merging and changing constantly.

But at the end of the day, wherever all this goes, I think that watching television (just watching it) will soon be something that is so passive, that fewer and fewer people will be able to do it. Our collective attention span gets smaller every year as technology invades every aspect of our lives. We lack the patience needed to immerse ourselves in any single pursuit, because we can achieve the kind of gratification we seek from the shallow alternatives that technology make available.

The television is no longer a stage, it is an extension of a the information matrix that weaves through every part of modern life. There is no need to sit and watch it, when you can take it with you and interact with it. We aren't interested in being passively entertained, we want our entertainment to actively engage us and respond to our feedback or we will lose interest.

Historically, anthropologists have demonized television for its passivity. It demands little of its users to entertain them. But could it be that the opposite problem is no better? As people become accustomed to instant gratification from life connected to the Internet, we are losing our ability to pay attention to anything. Even crappy television.

I predict that just sitting on your couch and watching television will soon be a lost art. Parents will beg their kids to unplug from the hive and just try to do something that doesn't give them any "likes" or comments for an hour or two. Television, once predicted to destroy the world, could be the last hope for saving it.

The child psychologist, in this post, says that we need to "spend time in nature, meditating," among other things. While I think his advice is good, the chances of getting most kids to unplug long enough to meditate is about zero. After all, there are a lot of wifi dead spots in nature.

So let's all do our best to get out in nature. I bet few of us can say we've been more than 200 feet away from the nearest automobile in the last month. But barring that, let's at least all pledge to stop checking our email for a couple hours and watch some good old fashioned TV.

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Impressions: Meridian Pint (Updated)

Update, July 9, 2010

N. and I went to Meridian Pint again last night with a couple friends and I am happy to say that we greatly enjoyed our food this time, and the service and overall experience was excellent again.

I had the steak, and I have to say, it was a damn good steak. As I mentioned before, I'm always a little skeptical about a steak, especially something like a New York Strip, from a restaurant that isn't a steakhouse. Meridian Pint did a bang up job. I ordered it medium rare, and it was perfectly cooked, barely warm in the middle, juicy and delicious. The sauce it was served with was subtle and did not overwhelm or conflict with the natural flavor of the beef. The mashed potatoes and spinach were also very tasty. At $21 it's actually a pretty damn good deal for a steak!

N. had the grilled trout, and loved it as well. Cooked perfectly. Out guests had the double-cut pork and the burger respectively. I didn't try either but they both raved about them.

So I'll chalk my first experience up to either opening day, or maybe the beef rib sandwich just isn't a winner, but for last night's return visit everything was great.

I still think the menu could use a little fleshing out for carnivores, but there's no question that the chef knows what he's doing and the food was delicious.

We also took a look at the basement area last night, which we did not on our first visit. What a cool bar room. This is where the famous table taps can be found, as well as a long bar and two pool tables. The space is dark, cozy and sure to be a hit - a welcome addition to the watering holes that we already have in columbia heights, and having a couple pool tables down the street rocks!

Cheers to Meridian Pint - I expect to be a regular customer.

Original Post Follows

N. and I decided to embrace the glorious weather last Thursday with a ride on Merdian Pint's inaugural cruise. We've been watching the slow progress for what seems like an eternity now, and it's wonderful to see the place has finally opened it's doors for business.

The restaurant, which replaced the abanonded Bi-Rite Supermarket that was an icon of times past, is more than just another eating option. It's symbolic of the transformation of the 11th Street commercial corridor, which has been slow to evolve even as downtown Columbia Heights has turned on its head in just a few short years. The last significant opening on the block anchored by Wonderland was Red Rocks, across from Meridian Pint at 11th and Park. Red Rocks was the pioneer of this important yet languishing commercial strip. But despite their success and endearment to the neighborhood, there were few followers in the nearly three years since their opening.

So how was it?

The space is great. The front of the restaurant is flanked by two roll-up garage doors that create an indoor-yet-outdoor dining experience. It's got a mix of tables, high-top, booths and bar seating. This is surrounded by blonde hardwood floors, what looks like a tin or replica tin ceiling over the bar, paneling around the bar area, and beige-painted walls. The overall effect is a little conflicted style-wise but very inviting. It's warm, airy, and doesn't feel too crowded, even as a dozen people milled around in the entrance area.

Our service was good. Actually, considering it was their first day, it was excellent. We started with chicken wings which I thought were pretty good and N. was less enthusiastic about. Bear in mind, though, that I make the BEST DAMN chicken wings in Columbia Heights, if not the free world, so there is a very high bar to reach for there.

Food Foibles

We both seemed to have a little trouble choosing our entrees, and where we landed was a bit rough. I had the beef rib sandwich, which came topped with a purple cole slaw and no sauce of any kind. Unfortunately, it was entirely bland. I actually put ketchup on it. I am not sure if it was supposed to have come with some sauce, but it was pretty flavorless.

N. had the salmon salad with curried lemon yogurt dressing. The curry flavor was overwhelming to the point where you could taste little else. It was just kind of weird. Perhaps we just didn't like the salad, but the sandwich was unquestionably missing something.

Overall, I think the menu is a little tricky for me because I'm not a vegetarian, and it has a strong bent towards crunchy-friendly items. Among the ten entrees, three are vegetarian, two are fish, one is roasted chicken (who gets chicken at a restaurant?), and one (turkey and potato hash) is entirely unappealing to me. That last one sounds like something you would get at the end of the food drop cycle in an Iraq military base.

The remaining menu items are a steak, a pork chop, and short ribs. I have no problem with any of these, though steaks outside of steak houses can be risky. I suspect these three items are where I'll end up most of the time. Though I am not adverse to fish and chips once in a while either... I just wasn't up for the fried fest when we were there.

On the sandwich side, there's also not much that grabs me. The rib sandwich I had looked the most interesting. I'm not likely to order a $10 half-smoke when I go out to eat, and everything else is either veggie/wierd (soy smoke??) or boring (chicken salad sandwich and a hamburger).

Take all this with a grain of salt

I don't want this to be taken as overly negative, because I made one visit and we had a couple things, none of them entrees, that were less than stellar. But everything else about the experience was good. My overall criticism has mostly to do with the fact that I didn't click with the menu, than with one beef rib sandwich that needs some help.

I think expanding the sandwich options to include a couple more items that are NOT a hot dog, veggie, or a hamburger would solve the problem at that end. For the entrees, it would be nice to include a couple of interesting non-veggie, non-fish options. If you're a meat eater and you aren't feeling the fish, and you write off the chicken from the get-go as many do, the choices you're left with just don't seem that interesting. I think this could easily be corrected by just adding one or two more items.

I am looking forward to returning and trying these some of the other items that actually DO grab me when I return, actually, tomorrow. We have plans for dinner with a couple friends... and we're going EARLY since it's supposedly been packed every night since opening.

Other reports I have been hearing and reading about the food seem mostly positive, too. So I'm optimistic, even if my first experience was not earthshaking. The prices generally seem about right, too, so at the end of the day, I really only need to love a couple things on the menu to make it a regular stop for me. Tweaking the menu just a little would make a big difference, though, in terms of making the selection feel less constrained for carnivores. I am sure that it will evolve in time like any new restaurant.

Oh yeah, the beer: I loved my Founders Red's Rye IPA! The tap beer selection is awesome and they also have some decent wines by the glass. Don't change a thing here, the drinks are a win.