Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Wonders of Technology

I am composing this post above the clouds. My Delta flight has WiFi! Soon they'll let us actually use cell-phones on these things.
Vacation log: Day two.
Day one was spent prepping for day two. Doing laundry, last minute packing, arranging a ride to the airport, and thanking my lucky stars that I'll be detached from my cellphone umbilical for a few days.
This will probably be the first and last log, depending on Internet access at the resort. Although my googling has revealed a potential WiFi hotspot at a nearby Starbucks. Internet AND caffeine. I may need to set up basecamp there. Grow a beard, drink hot chocolate (Mitch Hedberg reference... you would have had to be in the car on the way to dinner last night). It made Tina chuckle so I know it's funny.
There was a slight delay while the wings of the plane were being deiced. A moment of pity was granted to the poor sap in the boom-truck who was first up high, and then converted to the truck's bumper. A harrowing job, I'm sure. That should take the place of any corporate 'Trust' exercise. "Ok, Bob, you sit in front of the bumper while Mitch and Sally drive the truck."
Snow dunes look fantastic from up here.
We're sitting pretty close to the wing so the drone of the engines is filling my skull. However I refuse to complain... this is the most legroom I've had on ANY flight, barring that one time Allan and I got bumped to First Class. Not sure if it's a different plane or if it's because I'm technically in the exit row. Across the aisle is the steward kitchen with one of the exits. I'm sitting comfortably and I have a good two inches left for my knees. Bliss!
Note to self: Download and install Faststone while I can so that I can do any quick photo-edits to make any potential future uploads easier/quicker. 10+ megapixels are a bit excessive for a blog post.
So far so good. Only one minor thing forgotten, and we should be able to pick that up on site. Fingers crossed that that was it.
Ok, time to wrap this up. You may hear from me again, then again... maybe not until I'm back stateside. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

... Check his Pulse

... then grab his shoes!
Long time no see!
I've had the desire to vent for the past few months and have forced myself to swallow the bile back a bit. My hope was to soften the bite through the lens of hindsight. Let the truly significant details stand as pillars in my past and the unimportant crap to fade into the background. And it worked. A little too well. It's amazing just how much of our day to day lives is relatively unimportant crap. A wonderful realization for a man in his thirties. I keep wondering if maybe I should indulge an existential crisis... meh, maybe later.
Work is... I sat staring at the monitor for a few minutes. I can probably sum up the biggest issues thusly: I miss the days when, while working late, I could finish up my tasks and head home. Now when I work late I stop when I'm out of time. There is no foreseeable end. People at work have noticed and their comment is "Well, at least you have job security." I usually smile and say "If THIS is what job security feels like then I'm not sure I want it!" We laugh and they turn away and head for the door. But enough about that. A work rant could fill this page and in the end it would resolve nothing. I'm still cautiously optimistic that things will even out, but at the moment I am hitting the leading edge of the storm and the waves in the distance are looking pretty intimidating.

Lots of minor stuff happening at home:
I haven't cut my hair in a while, my plan being to achieve a 'Crazy Hobo' look before winter.
I'm on my second week with contact lenses and am trying to decide if I'm willing to shell out for a year's supply. That plus a pair of glasses with my updated prescription is almost $600. It has been nice being able to wear actual sunglasses again.
3 year anniversary happened last weekend, so the Girlfriend and I headed to Kansas City for a few days. Hotel pool + spa on one day, and Oceans of Fun on the other. It was great fun, and the sunburn was nearly worth it.
Built a new computer. I finally bit the bullet and put together a brand-spanking new system completely from scratch. Did quite a bit of shopping around and found a great balance between performance and cost. Solid manufacturers. Solid warranties. Rugged parts. And lots of headroom for future expansion. BlackBehemoth. Next step? SSD drives. Sadly the current batch available is a mixed bag of performance and features with the clear leaders still in the enthusiast price-ranges. The prices have to come down soon, but manufacturers are hell-bent to squeeze as much profit out of their old tech for as long as they can before they obsolete themselves into a corner. Blazing fast access, no moving parts, a fraction of the power use, a 10+ year theoretical lifespan vs tried and true tech that has been in use for decades now. It will take a while.
The things I've sunk time into recently include Borderlands, Battlefield Bad Company 2 (these two include a chunk of time playing online with my brother, which was quite fun for a while!), and Just Cause 2. I'm holding my breath for Civ V. That may be the first game in a long time where I am willing to pay full retail. I've owned every other core Civ game and enjoyed them immensely.

I have been on a comedy kick for the past month and have spent quite a bit of time sampling and exploring the works of various stand-up comedians. Facilitating this has been the discovery of Marc Maron's podcast: WTF ( It is lewd, crude, unapologetically self-indulgent, and a wonderful exploration of the personalities behind the characters that make us laugh. Every episode he interviews a fellow comic and explores the psyche behind those that dare to stand in front of a crowd to be laughed at. It isn't a 'funny' show, but it is real. A kind of "Behind the Comedy." There will be rants about relationships, candid discussions of past and present drug use and abuse, frustration, joy, happiness, pain... at times brutally honest and at others inspirational. My favorite discovery from this show so far is actually from the latest show (episode 98) a British comedian called Stewart Lee. He has no albums released in America, but youtube has quite a few clips both past (young and manic) and present (deliberate and self-aware). The pacing and tone of the show fits right into the space in my head reserved for funny. Then again I also enjoy Doug Stanhope, so maybe I'm not the best judge of 'funny.' But I know what I like! :D
A few months ago I decided to spring for a Zune Pass membership. Maybe I've mentioned it, probably not. For the past few weeks I have been trying to determine the cost vs benefit ratio, since Zune Pass charges me whether I use it or not. But my new comedy kick has made it all worthwhile! Lots of the comedy albums are available through the pass and I can sample them at will. (It also helped me find a Monty Python album that has been in my brain since before I could speak English! Monty Python's Previous Record. Bits of this album had been dubbed to a cassette that I found years and years and years ago in my parent's stash o tapes and listened to it obsessively. I have the tone, pacing, and skits printed on my brain to this day and finding the original to hear again is such a treat! "Stand and Deliver!" :D
Ok, well it is now 6 am and I'm faced with the realization that I'll probably not be able to go back to bed. Time to make the coffee.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fragile Thread

Distractions abound, and for the last few days sinus headaches, bordering on migraines, have kept my brain from focusing on the chaos surrounding me. A brief internal summary reveals just how tenuous my situation can be when viewed through a critical lens.
The work stresses are coming down to the nitty-gritty details and there are hints of bubbling discontentment and outrage over some of the decisions that have not been officially announced yet. Contract changes. Benefit changes. Salary distribution formulas. Work-load increases. And behind all of that... the job in front of us that needs doing day to day. D-Day is July 01, and at this point I don't think anyone will have a smooth transition. We will see how it all shakes out.
On the home-front things have been relatively quiet. Relatively.
Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii is a fantastic game. Aside from the difficulty in arranging communication channels with your team it is quite possibly the best ad-hoc multiplayer game I have played on a console since Chromehounds. Luckily most of my 'team' are avid gamers and members of a teeming online community, so we have access to a donated communications server. A little trickery with configuration, and the USB station that allows me to connect an XBox wireless controller (and headset!) to my computer and I have a nearly seamless integration of Ultra-Big-Game Hunting and efficient push-to-talk communication with my fellow hunters. Sublime when it all comes together. It is a Capcom game, so there are a few odd movement conventions but the gameplay feeds right into my OCD.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Trip to the Zoo

There's a storm raging outside and the weather alert box behind me claims that there is quarter sized hail and 60 mph winds possibly converging overhead. Yay! But earlier today, while overcast, was perfect Zoo weather.
I got to try out my new Zoom Lens and Camera Backpack thingy. Both performed splendidly and I couldn't be happier with my presents!
That sentence was punctuated by a thunder-clap.
For the people playing at home: the lens is a Canon EF 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS USM, and the backpack thingy is a Lowepro Slingshot 100 AW. At this point I would comfortably recommend both products to anyone interested in that sort of thing.

Here are some of the results (cropped and/or resized to 600x800 to be used as backgrounds and screensavers on my portable devices):

This first entry is part of the long-standing 'Human Caveman' exhibit. Note the unshaven face, the scruffy hair, that 'devil-may-care' smirk. Be thankful for evolution!
And here was see a more advanced form of life. No brand-labeled marketing materials on this chap! This shot was taken through inches-thick plexi-glass. Be amazed!
A duck. I'm pretty sure it's a duck. The Aviary is never really labeled properly. This one has a house made of straw. The storks had the nest of sticks on top of one of the pagodas, but I never spotted the one made of bricks. Maybe the wolf never gets past the one of sticks. It's a pretty steep climb!
This duck(?) was making neat waves. I may not know species from a hand-cart, but I know pretty neat visuals when I see them!
Here I was trying to prove to myself that a fancy lens in manual mode can be made to focus through a chain-link fence and mesh webbing. Luckily this guy was pretty patient and let me take a few shots until I found the magic settings. I'm pretty sure it's a bird.
This guy is a polar bear. Yup. He seems pretty happy to be a polar bear. Beats being the sacrificial duck in a straw house!
This fellow was just hanging out on a guard-rail. He let me get pretty close before getting nervous, and I got quite a few lovely shots of his plumage. Since he has plumage I'm again pretty certain that this is a bird.
Maybe this was an exhibit, maybe it wasn't. But there was a meadow with a bunch of these little guys hanging out. No fences, but a few park-benches and grills... so... Uhm, Iowa Short-tailed Land Beaver?
I know this one! Hold on... I never forget a face. Uhm....
Unicorn. I shall call him Sprinkles! Sprinkles the happy Unicorn! (The name gets funnier if you've ever seen them pee.)
Zebra. Serious Zebra. Serious Zebra will get Sprinkles to maul you if you try make a joke about him or his friend Long-neck. So consider yourself warned, Buddy!
I love digital photography! In the few hours we were at the Zoo I took over 500 pictures. I couldn't even imagine doing something like that with a regular film camera. The backpack kept my new toy safe and secure, and was very happy to know that if the heavens HAD broken loose in the torrent that is currently bashing against my window, that the backpack has an integrated water-proof pouch that can be deployed and secured in seconds. :D
All in all... a good day!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Speaking of excuses...

It's consumer whore time!
Like I needed an excuse, but I've decided on my gift to myself this year: A few months ago I jumped on a used camera deal. An old Canon EOS digital camera body with enough megapixels to be useful and not too many megapixels to be annoying. (seriously... who needs 10 megapixel images? The space program. That's who! heh At least that's how I rationalized spending money an a camera that doesn't do 10 megapixels.)
Attached to the camera was a sweet fixed focal length lens that takes awesome low-light images, but since the camera is not a full-image sensor (few older digital cameras are) the lens takes a pretty narrow perspective image and on closer shots it's hard to fit everything into the frame.
So a few weeks ago I tried buying a decent casual level lens used. It was listed in Very Good condition and came at a decent price for the feature list. New lenses of that type are hard to find and come at a great premium. (one of the downsides of going used is that the camera bodies and lens technology has been adapted to the fact that most digital cameras aren't full frame... making newer camera lenses cheaper since they can be made smaller than full-frame lenses.)
Longer story shorter: The seller was EXTREMELY generous listing that lens as Very Good condition. Okay or barely adequate would have been more honest. The pictures came out okay (after I spent a good half-hour cleaning the lens) but the auto-focus mechanism squeaked and squealed incessantly. So I returned it.
After some introspection and contemplation I've decided to try again. But this time I'm buying new, and adding some bells and whistles. I've just received the tracking number of my lens which includes integrated image stabilization (which should VASTLY improve low-light pictures), super-silent auto-focus motor, and a decent zoom range to add some versatility to my shots. And I'm paying almost twice as much as I paid for the camera kit in the first place. :D

Keeping my fingers crossed that this will be worth it!

Out of Excuses...

So now I need a reason.
Escapism. As I get older I sometimes wonder why I spend so much time in pretend worlds, reading and playing video-games. Then I watch the news, read some political commentary, check on the latest polls, pay my bills, and dig right back into my post-apocalyptic training simulators and fantasy novels.
I'm not sure I could express my frustrations with the way things are without swearing. Heavily. Nonstop. Punctuated with rude gestures at key intervals. Spittle would be involved. And that's just about the general status-quo. Specific topics would probably involve a punch to the neck.
It sounds like I will have a job past July. That is the good news. The bad news is that no one has been able to tell me what my job will be. I may have mentioned the merger in previous posts. We are now in the layoff phase of the process and things are looking grim. Between the two agencies we have lost about two million dollars in funding due to the state-wide budget cuts. I do not know what will come out of this mess. A merger is a messy business at the best of times, sorting out redundancies and readjusting management structures. The political back-and-forth about 'whose side' will need to be cut makes for a vicious drama to begin with, but to have utter uncertainty about the future of the agency in any form makes all of this a little disheartening.
Supposedly all the cuts in staff that were going to be made have been decided by now. So maybe we'll begin hearing from the powers that be about the vision that they had when making the decisions about who to cut from where. It probably will not be satisfying, because from most accounts the cuts may as well have been random. Seniority, performance, workload, experience... none of these seemed to be an indicator as to the stability of your position.
We'll see. Again, it looks like I'll be offered a contract, but at this point I don't know how I would be able to perform the duties I've had for the last 7 years when looking at the rough outline of the new agency. The expectations of my current position fall well within my abilities, but it wouldn't take much to make my job physically impossible. Our service area will double in July. Our department has had staff-cuts, with no comparable department in the agency that we will be merging with. Workload divided by workforce is giving me a fairly daunting result at this point, so I really hope that someone soon can give me some idea of what the workload side will entail.
And for bonus points... My girlfriend will find out sometime tomorrow if she will be laid off due to outsourcing. HAPPY FUN TIMES! :P

Despite all this I'm actually pretty happy. I've finally worked my way back through all the Terry Pratchett Discworld books sequentially to get to the newest one. I'm playing a neat FPS/RPG game set in a fantasy wasteland/Russia/militarized zone thingy. Mutants, radiation storms, odd anomalies, warring factions, a mystery, and a world just open and dangerous enough to be interesting: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat. The third entry in the STALKER series. I've played the first one a bit, but ran into major technical issues with my old computer. I've played the second one for about an hour but ran into major distractions with other shiny games. I've played the third one for almost 40 hours so far... this one has the magic sauce. At first it plays almost like Nethack (gamers with roots will know what I mean). Pop into the world. Run around doing stuff. Meet an enemy. Do something stupid. Die. Rinse, repeat. Slowly you learn about the world and its dangers and live longer.
It has been a long time since I've been this engrossed in a game. The unforgiving way it drops you at the edge of the swamp with the tools but none of the knowledge to survive.

But enough rambling praise.
This was composed while at work, so I apologize in advance if the narrative seems a bit broken and disjointed. As you can imagine things are bit chaotic at the moment.