Anachostic

My tagline, let me show you it.

Inmates Running The Asylum

Ha, you think I’m talking about the current political environment.  Nope, I’m talking about my workplace.  I’ll be honest.  I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I’m in a different generation than most of my co-workers and some of the things that are important to them are absolutely ridiculous to me.  For example, the company dress code.

Years ago, one of my co-workers lamented to me about how he couldn’t wear “a hoodie and flip-flops” every day at work.  This is important to him.  The fact he has to wear business casual clothes (which does include jeans) is a problem.  And strangely, employers now have to cater to their employees despite an overwhelming labor force eager to take those positions.

Recently, my employer conducted an experiment.  You could wear anything you wanted to work as long as it wasn’t revealing or offensive.  Personally, I didn’t change a thing, but many others broke out sandals, flip-flops, shorts, tee shirts, hats, and more casual dresses and skirts.  The workplace went from business casual to resort casual, and in my opinion, became more slobby.

The experiment went for 2 weeks and when it was announced that it was going to end, “hoodie and flip-flops” wrote to the HR director asking why it was ending if there were no complaints about how people abided by the rules.  The answer was “we’ll see.”

On the first day after the experiment’s conclusion, “hoodie” came in and announced loudly, “Fuck this place!”  He didn’t get fired or even written up for that, but did get counseled on his behavior.  He had to write an apology letter to the HR director saying he wouldn’t do anything like that again.  His letter also mentioned it was the loss of the relaxed dress code that caused the outburst.  It was a great way to make the case for keeping it, for sure.

But here we are, a couple of weeks later and great news!  For a limited time, SlobFest has returned to our workplace!  For the rest of the summer (excluding days where clients will be visiting), dress down, be comfortable (since that’s so important to you), act like you’re on vacation.  But please, if there’s anything else we can do for you, don’t hesitate to just shout out, “fuck this place!” and we’ll see how we can accommodate you.

Me, I’m outta here.  Fuck this place.

Advertisements

Get Off My Lawn, And My Beach, And My City, And My Country, And My Planet

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time at the beach and it was pleasant.  The key to that pleasantry was going early in the morning, before the large families arrived.  As I was basking in the silence, actually able to hear the waves, I thought about how nice it was right then and how it wouldn’t be so nice in a few hours.

I thought about these groups of people with screaming children and boom boxes and thought it would be really nice to not have to be around them.  But obviously, they have just as much right to any public space as I do.  It’s just that my quiet presence wouldn’t intrude on them, but their boisterous presence would intrude on mine.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. 

I thought up a label for these people.  They are “environment modifiers.”  Wherever they go, they modify their environment to suit themselves.  Natural beauty?  The sound of nature?  Unnecessary. We have children and portable stereos.  It’s just like being in our house or our back yard, only the visuals are different.

I mulled over different ways to handle this.  One idea was segmenting the beach into noisy and quiet zones.  Of course you don’t say it like that.  The beach is divided into “those who love the sound of children playing” and “those who love the sound of the sea”.  And those are truly mutually exclusive.

And sadly, this little microcosm is applicable to our society as a whole, when the loud and obnoxious drive out the polite and quiet.  When decisions are made based not on merit, but on amplitude.  Where resources are acquired sorely through aggression.  When acquired resources are resold to others at a profit, when the justification of that profit is solely getting there first.

“And the meek shall inherit the earth.”  What a wonderful, ruinous place it will be to inherit.

Just Your Everyday Millionaire

There’s rich, filthy rich, and everyday rich.  Today I faced the worst of the bunch, everyday rich.  The key indicator?  The boat.  Yeah, around here you see a lot of boats.  There are a bunch.  But there’s boats and there’s big boats.  And in the realm of big boats, there’s certain strata of features and functionality, of which people prefer or defer.

Anyway, it’s after lunch and I need to refuel my car.  WaWa is packed.  I try to drive around the pumps and I can’t because a massive truck towing a massive boat is blocking the driveway.  So I turn around and take the pump behind him.  One of the owner’s 3 teen kids/assistants comes over and say they need the room to back out when they’re done fueling.  Fucking fine. 

I drive around the gas banks and take the pump on the other side of the big-ass boat.  I get out and one of the teens says “we’ll be done in a minute.”  What?  I look up (at least 6 feet over me) and without thinking, just exclaim, “holy shit!”  They’re filling this stupid boat with TWO pumps at the same time!  One of the pumps was supposed to be mine.  True to their word, it only took about a minute to finish up with my pump and as I fueled up, they blocked off traffic, backed the whole disaster up and got the shitshow out on the road.

The whole experience to me was stupid.  A truck and boat that large should have been filled at the dock, instead of a public gas station.  But, they would argue, it’s so expensive at the dock!  Hold on, there, poor boy.  You have three teenage sons.  The truck towing your boat is at least $60k.  The boat is easily $500k.  Even the trailer it’s on is probably $20k.  You just filled it from two pumps with non-ethanol fuel.  I don’t know anything about your living situation, but I can assume you have at least a four bedroom house with room for a truck and boat and trailer.  I’m doing pretty well for myself, but I couldn’t afford any of those things.

So, when you take your massive boat to WaWa and inconvenience all the normal people for a while to save a proportionally small amount of money and waste a bunch of everyone’s time, including your own, well, that deserves a middle finger or two.  Because you’re only playing rich. 

Maybe you’re leveraged out the ass and hoping the next recession doesn’t come along for a while.  Maybe it’s 2008 all over again and you HELOC’d your house to death since home prices have recovered.  But you still haven’t found out what it’s like to be rich.  You don’t understand time is money.  If you did, you would realize the time you’ve spent fueling your own mega-boat is a net loss for you.  Leave the WaWa alone for the poor people who have to put non-ethanol fuel in gas cans for their pathetic little boats.

It’s Good To Be A Coder

While driving over the weekend, I had a humorous thought that I think I can stretch out into an extended joke.  The base premise of the joke is simple, just recaptioning an old comic strip to change the context of the comic and the dynamic between the characters.

So, to begin this, I need the original comic strips so I can deface them and make them funny in a different way.  I found the website that was hosting the comics and looked into what effort it would take to get these comics.

Here’s a small lesson in image thievery on the internet.  The most pedestrian way to get an image off the internet is to do a screen capture with something like Snipping Tool.  That route will burn you out in a matter of minutes.

The better way is to right-click the image and choose Save As.  This preserves the original image dimensions without any possible variance from lassoing.  However, web developers have gotten smarter about this technique and will do protective coding to prevent the unwanted downloading of their files.  One way to do this is to capture the mouse’s right-button click.  Other way is to overlay a transparent image over the other so when you right-click and Save As, you save the transparent image instead of the one you really want.  The most effective way is to show the image as a CSS background.  However, the truth is, if it’s in your browser, your browser requested the file and you can do it too.

To get around these tricks, you can use the developer tools built into most browsers.  They will allow you to look at the source code and find the URL of the actual image you want.  That is the path I originally took, finding the image tag, copying the URL into a new tab, then downloading/saving the image.  That lasted for about 7 images before it was too much effort.  Coders are lazy, and they write programs to do the work for them.

Looking at the URL for the image, it was a dynamic URL, not a static one.  It was similar to:

http://thewebsite.com/content.php?file=QXJlbid0IHlvdSBjbGV2ZXI/

At first, I was discouraged, because the file parameter just seemed to be a string of random characters.  There wouldn’t be any way to turn that into a reliable sequence to cycle through.  But the more I looked at the URL, the more familiar the text seemed.  I took a guess that the string was Base64-encoded, and my guess was correct.  Decoding the string resulted in another URL, although that URL was not accessible from the internet.  It was a page that “content.php” had access to, though. (Just as an aside, this programming design screams “security issues!”)

The decoded URL had a very understandable structure that would allow cycling through comics based on date.  It’s just that I would need to construct that URL, encode it in Base64, then pass the encoded URL as a parameter to the content.php address.

I fired up Visual Studio, added a datebox and a button.  I wrote 4 lines of code to construct the URL based on the date in the datebox, then download and save the image. Then I set up the button to decrement the datebox by a day and process the image.  Now, All I had to do was click a button over and over and the images would dump into a folder.  If I wanted to, I could set up a loop to cycle through images and I wouldn’t even need to click the button at all.  This was less than 15 minutes of effort.

And that is yet another example of the power that comes from being a programmer.

Long Dead Spirits In My Car… With Machine Guns

I’ve got guns in my car and they won’t go; spirits in my car and they won’t go.

I’ve had my car for about 7 years.  That’s a pretty good run.  Very soon after I bought it, I swapped out the stereo and speakers with aftermarket ones.  Then I upgraded to a dedicated amplifier for the front speakers.  This setup has given me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

Recently though, when the temperature gets high, as it does often around here, I get this small issue.  What happens is a rapid popping comes through my speakers at full volume.  It typically scares the shit out of me, but I’ve never been so scared as to be unsafe on the road.  Still, having a machine gun open fire in your car is not the most pleasant experience.

When this happens, I have to turn the stereo off completely.  Muting the speakers doesn’t help.  Moving the fader doesn’t help.  So my diagnostic conclusion is that the problem is with the amplifier I have in my trunk.  The heat must finally be killing it.

Yesterday, I finally had enough of this nonsense, so I went to the trunk and unfastened the amp from the wall.  I waited for the machine gun to start, then I started banging the amp around.  I figured if it was a loose connection, something would change.  Nothing changed.  I then removed and retightened the power lines, in case they were loose.  No change.  Some more banging.  I assume parents can understand this method of troubleshooting.  If something’s not acting right, knock it around a bit and see if it gets better.

I finally give up and disconnect the amp fully.  I go inside and immediately order a replacement.  Not bad, $60 on sale – that’s probably more than half off what I paid originally.  Then I go out to buy groceries for dinner.

POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP – WHAT THE FUCK!!!  Why are my speakers machine gunning again?  There is nothing connected to them anymore.  You can imagine my complete confusion in this scenario.  It’s like a corpse screaming after you’ve done the autopsy. (That imagery is courtesy of a death metal CD over the weekend.)  So, I’m driving and the speakers are blasting at me.  I want to find out how this is happening while I’m still driving, but I can’t take too long because it’s destroying my ears.  My brain runs through any impossible situation.  Could the speaker wires be frayed out and touching a power source anywhere along their path?  Why would that stop when the stereo was off?  No, the speaker wires are dead-ended.

Covering each speaker in turn with my hand, I found the source.  The noise is coming from my center channel speaker and the tweeters in my doors.  But how?  I didn’t connect those speakers.  Ohhhh!  Those speakers are still connected to the original factory amplifier.  That amp doesn’t get an input signal anymore, but apparently, that is the amp that is failing.  After 7 years of (non-)use.

So now, I have an order for an amp that will be arriving Wednesday that I don’t need and I have an amp that deserves profuse apologies.  Today, I’ll be able to disassemble the car and unplug that factory amp and reinstall the aftermarket amp.  While I’m at it, I might as well remove all the Zune integration.  Its time has come as well.

It Only Took Eight Years

Eight years ago, I got a motorcycle.  I’ve documented my ups and downs with it here and in the last few years, it’s been a sad story of neglect and non-involvement.

My recent attempt to revive my bike ended up being well outside my ability level.  I turned the bike over to my neighbor, who is an experienced mechanic.  He disassembled it and did a thorough cleaning of the carburetor, which worked well until his testing revealed the engine was running too lean and stalling out.  That leanness was caused by a crack in the fuel inlet, which is a non-replaceable part.  So, a replacement carburetor was purchased for about $300. 

That new part made the engine run better, but now the bike would die if you suddenly hit the throttle.  There wasn’t enough gas being delivered to the carb.  This was determined to be the fault of the aftermarket petcock I installed, which had a smaller diameter fuel line than the original.  So, another purchase of an OEM petcock for $60 was done.

A few days ago, my neighbor’s kid rang my doorbell and asked if I was ready to go for a ride.  Across the street my bike was idling next to my neighbors bike.  Great.  I haven’t been riding in years and here I am being put on the spot to test out the repair.

I gear up and we went out for a brief ride together.  I was rusty, but I remembered how everything worked and managed just fine.  I had a motorcycle again.

Last night, to help regain my skills and comfort on the bike, I went out for dinner.  Nothing uneventful happened until I got home.  I pulled into the driveway, shut off the engine, put down the kickstand and climbed off.  Suddenly, what the hell is going on?  The bike is moving?  The bike fell away from me and although I initially tried to hold it, you can’t stop a 500lb weight from falling while you’re standing upright. 

The motorcycle came down on its right side with a crash and a crunch – the first time I’ve ever let the bike fall.  I’ve “laid it down” softly in the grass maybe twice in the first year I owned it, but it’s never had an uncontrolled fall. Until now.

My driveway is sloped (maybe designed that way for runoff, maybe it’s just settling) and I have always been a little weirded out that the bike sat near upright when it was on its kickstand.  This time I guess it was just a tiny bit over center.  I made the decision then that I would start parking the other direction so the bike would lean with the slope of the driveway, although at a more severe angle.

New resolutions aside, I had to get the bike back up and see what the damage was.  My first evaluation was that the mirror broke off and the taillight was crushed.  I used the standard technique for raising a dropped bike, the one that you may have been taught but never have to use, like changing a car tire.  I put my back to the bike, got a firm grip on the handlebar and wheel well then walked it back upright.

Additional inspection showed that the damage was limited to the two things I had first noticed.  No paint damage, no significant chrome damage, no dents.  Considering how violently it came down, I am amazed at the limit of the damage.

To avoid any opportunity to dwell on the incident, I purchased replacement parts right away.  I decided to replace the mirrors completely even though only one mirror mount was snapped off.  It’s something I’d been kicking around for a while since they were gathering some slight surface rust.  Hopefully, I can get back on the road within a week.

May The Odds Be Forever In Your Favor

I ran across a letter recently that was addressed to the participants of a company’s retirement plan.  From what I gathered, it seemed like a pension plan.  You know, those old-fashioned things where you work X number of years and they will pay you Y dollars for the rest of your life?  Well, if you haven’t paid attention to that, (and if you haven’t, that’s excusable, because pensions are pretty rare anymore) you would find that companies are doing anything they can to avoid having to pay out those Y dollars.

I read a book a while ago that explained the multiple schemes that were being performed to avoid any sort of pension plan funding.  That book is Retirement Heist.  It’s a good book and you should read it.  This letter to pensioners was just an illustration of those exact cons, and the letter was selling it like it was the greatest thing ever.

Here’s the gist of the letter.  Because of two laws, and I need to write these laws out because they are totally insane, the Moving Ahead For Progress In The 21st Century Act and the Highway And Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (blahhhh), pension plans are allowed to calculate their numbers differently.  Differently in that they can make the badness go away.

So, in this example, before the laws, in 2016, the pension plan was short $8.3M dollars to cover the costs of the members’ retirement.  After the laws?  $0.  Percent funded before the law?  86%  After the law? 104%  The law completely fixed the problem of not having enough money!  Amazing!!!

How was this done?  The projection of how much money would be needed was based on interest rates for the last two years.  Why are they looking at interest rates?  Because that’s how the fund stays solvent while money is being withdrawn, through investments with interest.  If the plan doesn’t make enough money in interest, the corporation has to pitch in extra money to keep it going.  Hmmmmmm.

If you have a savings account in the last couple of years, you know that you’re not making any money off of it.  And a pension fund wouldn’t be making any money either.  So because the fund is not sustaining itself from its investments, that means the corporation would have to supplement it with additional money.  Corporations everywhere collectively said, “Fuck that” and instead spent the money on lobbyists to change the laws. 

They succeeded.  Now, instead of considering that interest rates in the future will be the average of two years, now it’s going to be the average of 25 years.  25 fucking years.  Fortunately that range includes the late 90’s and early 00’s, where interest rates were around 5%, instead of 0.1%

So, do you get it?  They refuse to accommodate current market conditions and instead want to pretend the future is going to be as great as the past.  But here’s the thing, if these corporations would just fucking suck it up and pay into their pension funds now, like they are supposed to, when things get awesome in the future like they CHANGED THE LAW to reflect, they wouldn’t have to pay anything then, because the funds would be fully funded or even overfunded.

Now the infuriating part.  This letter says all of this.  It doesn’t hide anything.  They can tell the truth because a) lots of people won’t understand what just happened, and b) it’s the law; it’s all perfectly legal now.

Collecting, For The Eyes And Ears

A co-worker of mine has recently fallen into the rabbit hole of sci-fi novels.  Every day, it’s read, read, read.  And because of that, it’s also become buy, buy, buy.  He does his research.  He knows all the prominent authors, their styles and topics and their bibliographies.

Recently, he’s been talking about “collections” and first editions with increasing interest.  As we discussed the viability of being a sci-fi novel collector, the parallels between his book collecting and my CD collecting became ever more obvious.  Here’s some of the connections I made:

  • Novels will move around between publishers.  Albums will also move around between publishers.  In both cases, the publisher determines the quality of the end product.  The artwork may be different between different publishers.
  • First editions of popular novels are just like first pressings of albums.  They are desirable by those that care and can command higher prices.
  • Both books and albums are reprinted in special collector’s editions, which collectors of each can have a great interest in.  Because the content is usually the same, the improvements are usually better packaging and bonus material (extra songs for albums, drafts or letters or forwards by the author’s peers for books).
  • Both can be turned into compilations and churned out for quick bucks by publishers.  Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect the royalties to the writers suck in all cases.
  • You can “remaster” a book with the same expected results as remastering an album.  You’ll have purists that hate the changes and progressive modern types that embrace the changes.  In the book world, they call it “revised and expanded”.
  • The collecting of this “old technology” is a mystery to the majority of the public.  The details of the versions and editions are lost on them.  “It’s all about the music”/”It’s all about the story”
  • You can find used copies of either at specialty used stores and save a lot of money.
  • You can also find digital copies of either for free (legality aside), but for a collector, this is insufficient.  The physical product is paramount.
  • When a collector starts “talking shop”, it sounds exactly the same; only the authors/bands and titles/albums are different.  They all have exclusive details and timelines and history, but they are completely interchangeable.

On the topic of money, he and I have both been doling it out.  Him maybe a bit more because he’s been buying new, where I buy used almost exclusively.  Yesterday, I gave him the opportunity to validate himself.  I asked if he wanted to visit my usual CD haunt during lunch.  I warned him it could be dangerous for me because the last time I was there, they had some very hard-to-find albums I wanted.  Being hard-to-find also means hard-to-justify-the-price.  I’ll spend up to $10 for a used CD I want, with gold CDs being the rare exception.

We get to the store and all the CDs are still available.  Six of them, priced between $18 and $25 each.  I ask him if I really want to do this, because it’s not gonna be cheap.  He replies that he is the wrong person to ask for support.  For both of our entertainment, I ended up buying them.  As the cashier rung up my $144 purchase of CDs, my co-worker, red-faced and grinning, beamed with delight that someone was behaving just as irrationally as he does with his books.

Grow On…

A while ago, I had done a mega-run on thrift stores (28 of them!).  Last Saturday, I made another full day of shopping – 8+ hours.  Unlike my previous run with netted 4 CDs, I ended the day with, oh… 35.  Ok, wait.  Let me explain.  Of those, I really only wanted less than 10.  The majority of them were purchased for their cases.

The CD jewel case is, in my opinion, a wonder of industrial design.  The fact that its design has gone relatively unchanged in 30 years is testament to its perfection.  However, it has changed over the years.  The primary change has been to make it lighter by using thinner plastic.  A modern CD case is pathetically thin and brittle, which does little for the case of presenting a CD as a premier product.  The thin, cheap case instead affirms that CDs are cheap and disposable.

Early CD cases were heavier and instilled a sense of quality.  You can identify these cases because they have smooth sides instead of the ribbed sides of cases today.  Of course, you could also easily tell just by picking up a case.  It is a noticeable difference.

So, that’s what I was after.  The first stop was a pawn shop where I found a couple of CDs I would enjoy.  I asked how much they were. “25 cents.”  Well, that changes things.  I’ll take every smooth-sided CD there, including Willie Nelson and Ray Stevens.  That was all of $2.75.  At a later thrift store, I pulled out 10 smooth cases, mostly of classical music, for $1 each.  I was a little bummed because they offered 50% coupons on a mailing list and I didn’t have one.  Maybe next time?

The final stop to end my day was at a non-thrift store – my local used record store.  I treated myself to a collectible CD, a 24k gold disc for $20.  You usually can’t go wrong with these because they typically sell for $$$.  This CD has two current listings online for $94 and $133.  They haven’t sold for that amount (I’m not dumb), but still.

Sunday was spent cleaning cases and swapping out some of my more prized CDs into smooth cases.  My fingers are so sore from using my nails to pry apart cases.  Then the ripping and cataloging… My new CD tower from not too long ago is filling up at a dangerous pace.  Soon, I may need to bring the old one back into service.  And, I also need to start selling the CDs that have been replaced or upgraded to better editions.  I must have about 30 of those.

Jokebook Notebook

I often have a lot of random ideas and I typically forget the details of them later.  I should be carrying a small notebook to jot these things down.  Like this morning, I saw a billboard and a commercial idea started forming in my head.  The great thing about writing commercials is there doesn’t need to be a lot of dialog (unless that’s the joke) and it’s over in as little as 15 seconds.

So, I came up with a brief sketch for a iced tea brand.  It involves the talent of Ice-T (of rap and CSI fame), Mr. T (of 70’s A-Team fame), and Master Shake (of Aqua Teen Hunger Force semi-fame).

(At the scene of a fancy outdoor party, mingling guests on a wide lawn, white party tents and small white bistro tables set up through the area.  Ice-T is standing alone and somewhat bored at one of the tables and someone approaches.  He looks up and sees Mr. T)

Ice-T: Hey. (extending hand) I’m Ice-T.

Mr. T: (shaking hand) Hey, I’m Mr. T.

Ice-T: Huh. Nice to meet you.

Master Shake: (interrupting, not in scene) Hey, I’m also a beverage!

(Ice-T and Mr. T turn to look at Master Shake, annoyed at his interruption.)

Master Shake: I said… I’m also a beverage.  You know, like a drink.  Speaking of drinks, I could use a drink.  Nothing but teas at this place.  Iced teas, Mr. T’s  – HA!  You see what I did there?  Seriously though, I could drink like a couple dozen Fuzzy Nizzles, you know what I’m saying, dawgs?

(Master Shake continues rambling on while Ice-T and Mr. T awkwardly stare at the table, trying to ignore him.  A waiter walks by with the promoted iced tea brand on his tray and the camera follows him away from the scene Master Shake is making.)

“Promoted Tea Brand – not always inappropriate”

That idea led me to a sequel. 

(In a music studio, Ice-T and Mr. T are sitting at the mixing console listening to some of Ice-T’s new music.)

Mr. T: I can’t imagine doing this for a living.  This is awesome.

Ice-T: It’s a great creative outlet.  You can really connect with people through music.

Master Shake: I connect with people all the time.  Because I have the connections.  You guys wouldn’t know about that. You got no connections.

(Master Shake is standing in the back of the studio mixing room, not really talking to anyone.  Ice-T and Mr. T stare blankly at Master Shake)

(Master Shake reaches for something on a shelf and knocks everything off onto the floor, including awards and memorabilia.)

Master Shake: Yeah, that’s what I think of you, tchotchke’s! You can stay down on the floor, because you’re nothing.  Nothing! (Realizes Ice-T and Mr. T are staring at him angrily.)  Hey, I got this idea for a song.  A rap, if you will.  (Master Shake starts making beatbox sounds and moving in jerking motions like he’s dancing.)

Ice-T: Talking cup, you are so white.

(Shot of Master Shake freezing in place with mouth agape.)

“Promoted Tea Brand – not always inappropriate”

I have an idea for another sequel involving Carl fanboy-nagging Mr. T about his A-Team exploits, too. But since these would never see the light of day, no need to develop it.