Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hey Fort Myer, shut the hell up!

I have lived in peace with Fort Meyer for the last two years. This small but important base plays a vital role in housing and training soldiers for Arlington National Cemetery, including the famed Honor Guards for the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.

The relationship has been a good one... until now. You see, living near Arlington Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial, I hear the sounds of military parades, 21-gun salutes at military funerals, even taps at 11 p.m. every night, the bugle notes floating softly through the trees just behind my house as I climb into bed.

But now they've gone too far with their 6 a.m. wakeup Reveille blasted over the P.A. system for the entire apartment complex to hear. Seriously, guys? They've been doing it sans amplifier for years now, and the troops seemed to be getting up on time as far as I can tell. So why now? Because of daylight savings? Because they banned Four Loco and the troops are tired?

Come on, guys - if your job is to protect civilians, then protect us from jarring military wakeups, ok?

UPDATE: I got a call from a woman named MaryAnn who apologized, told me they have had numerous complaints, and that they were fixing the PA system ASAP. Success!!!! And she was nice, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Google posts geek comics in their bathrooms

Yes, I know I've drunk the Google Kool Aid, but here's something else I like about them: In their DC offices, they have XKCD comics hanging in their men's bathrooms.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One uncool thing about IKEA

I think almost everything about IKEA is brilliant... except for their tax status. From Wikipedia:

Despite its Swedish roots, IKEA is owned and operated by a complicated array of not-for-profit and for-profit corporations...

The IKEA corporate structure is divided into two main parts: operations and franchising. Most of IKEA's operations...are overseen by INGKA Holding, a private, for-profit Dutch company, [which is] wholly owned by the Stichting Ingka Foundation, ...a tax-exempt, not-for-profit foundation. The Ingka Foundation is controlled by a five-member executive committee that is chaired by Kamprad and includes his wife and attorney.

While most IKEA stores operate under the direct purview of Ingka Holding and the Ingka Foundation, the IKEA trademark and concept is owned by an entirely separate Dutch company, Inter IKEA Systems. Every IKEA store, including those run by Ingka Holding, pays a franchise fee of 3% of the revenue to Inter IKEA Systems. The ownership of Inter IKEA Systems is exceedingly complicated and, ultimately, uncertain. Inter IKEA Systems is owned by Inter IKEA Holding, a company registered in Luxembourg. Inter IKEA Holding, in turn, belongs to an identically named company in the former Netherlands Antilles that is run by a trust company based in Curaçao. The owners of this trust company are unknown (IKEA refuses to identify them).

If this sounds shady as hell, that's because it is.

The Economist has a great take-down article on IKEA, which it calls "an outfit that ingeniously exploits the quirks of different jurisdictions to create a charity, dedicated to a somewhat banal cause, that is not only the world's richest foundation, but is at the moment also one of its least generous. The overall set-up of IKEA minimises tax and disclosure, handsomely rewards the founding Kamprad family and makes IKEA immune to a takeover."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quote to keep in mind

Our new office that we are moving to has a Dilbert-esque and Draconian "nothing personal at all at your desk" policy, which really sucks. I had this sign hanging in my cube for the last two years. Since I can't benefit from it any more, I thought I'd share it with y'all:

Just for today:
Do not be angry

Do not worry
Be grateful
Work with integrity

Be kind to others and to yourself

- Mikao Usio, Reiki Principles

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When recycling is just too much work

I consider recycling to be an important 21st century value, just as a sensible use of resources has been for millennia.
However, there is a certain point where the effort exceeds the benefits. Yes, I might carry a can of soda for a while looking for a recycling bin, but at a certain point I realize it's just ridiculous and, reluctantly, I'll throw it away.
It makes sense mathematically - recycling (in theory, anyway) saves energy. But what if you expend more energy trying to recycle something than you gain by actually recycling it? Remember, food is energy, as are the calories you burn searching, walking, driving or even Googling for the right place to recycle something.
So, after 4 month of on-again-off-again searching for a nearby place to recycle these batteries above, and not finding anything closer than a Radio Shack on the SE side of DC in where I could recycle them, I threw those muthafuckas out today.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Paranormal State of Bad TV

It's fortunate when you share a passion with the person that you love. With Dianna and I, it's goofing on Paranormal State. This is a show on A+E about 20-year-old ghost chasers, who help "clients" who have ghost problems.

The cheap tricks they use are ripe for satire - instead of actually filming anything supernatural, they will rely on the most objective measurement of all of ghost activity - saying that you felt someone touch you. Or that you heard a noise, which may or may have bee made by the 6 ghost hunter traipsing through your house in total darkness.

They choose to commune with spirits at 3 a.m. for some reason, a time they dramatically call "Dead Time." Rather than try and communicate with the ghosts in a rational way, they do it sensationalistic-style for the camera. "Show us your presence by making a noise." Oooh... spooky. And, as Dianna deftly noted, for some reason they always leave the short cute girl to stand guard for ghosts in the bathroom.

Whatever, that's not the point of this post. Here is it:

1. If you were illiterate and came back as a ghost, could you use a Ouija board? What if you didn't speak English?

2. On the show they always use Christian rituals to dispel the demons / ghosts, especially if someone claims to be possessed. If you weren't Christian, would you let someone use that ritual to dispel ghosts from your house? And if it worked, wouldn't you have to convert?

3. Also on the topic of possession, I think this is actually something that could be real, but not in the literal sense. It's well known that you can do almost anything to your body via psychosomatic response. So if you think you are possessed via an overactive imagination, or mental illness, maybe a priest is exactly the BEST thing to bust through your illusion. This sort of makes sense when you think of the incredible drama and intensity of an exorcism - that's enough to scare the fake mojo out of anyone. So maybe priests were the first psychologists.... or maybe that's a stretch.

Anyway, Paranormal State sucks. Stick to Poltergeist, the first Paranormal Activity, the Exorcist and the Real Ghostbusters for all your ghostly needs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What it's like at a Cobert Report taping - Part 1

Part 1: The wait
After my friend Carolyn secured our tickets, we got an email telling us to wait at 54th St. between 10th and 11th Ave. in Manhattan. The email said to get in line no later than 5:15, and no earlier than 4 p.m. We got there at 3, and we were third in line behind some VERY rabid fans. Besides having seen Stephen before, they regular had been doing the "talk show circuit" in NYC, including Letterman, Leno, the Daily Show, and that unfunny British guy, often on consecutive nights.

We waited outside the studio, which is a non-descript box with a Colbert Report awning. At about 4 or so, a member of the staff came and unlocked a fence and let us line up in this dingy alley. Fortunately, there was a wall full of graffiti fan art for Stephen that kept us entertained. There was wall love from many counties - Australia, Japan, Israel and the Middle East, UK, etc. etc. It was a loooong wait. And it was cold. And we had to pee. Using my snoozing skills, I sat on the cold concrete, pulled my hoodie over my head and managed to doze for 30 minutes or so while the crazy fans talked my friend's ear off.

At 5 p.m. or so some more staffers came out and asking for our confirmation emails and our IDs. They wrote our names down and told us we couldn't come back for 6 months so we didn't overcrowd the audience with repeat visitors. They took this pretty seriously - a girl in front of us had been there about five months ago and they had her name in their file and told her she couldn't get it. They bumped her out of line after 2 hours waiting, but they let her back in after she told them she had come from Oregon (which was partially true).

At around 5:30 they came around and handed out laminated tickets, which we couldn't keep (nuts). Note: People who had come very late - like 4:45 or even 5 p.m., were able to get a ticket and sat pretty much where we sat, so I'm not what we gained by arriving so early.

Part II: Security and the Waiting Room
After we got our tickets and, along with everyone else in line, had our photos taken holding them. we were led in groups into the front entrance. We handed our tickets, and an unsmiling security guy searched bags, purchases and camera cases. We then went through a metal detector, which seemed surprising at first, but not when I thought of how much money Stephen and the set + crew are worth.

The space inside was a 20' x 20' room with some bathrooms and a water cooler. The walls had funny pictures of Stephen that you could take pics with, and a fake fireplace like he has on his set. It also had a TV that ran clips of the show, including a lot of Better Know a District clips, and my favorite with Eleanor Holmes Norton.

The slowly room filled with 150 or so people. A group of announcers stood up and made some announcements:

1. Stephen, like all comedians, would feed on our energy, so really let him have it
2. There is no laughtrack or soundtrack - we are the soundtrack, so laugh as much as possible. If it's not funny, try and laugh anyway.
3. Stephen was going to try and do it all in one take, so please be quiet in-between jokes

All reasonable requests. My ticket said #4 on it, and I was stoked that I was going to be sitting in the front row. Before I was called, however, all the "VIP" people were called first, about 10 or so people. I was miffed at these "Eliteratti" but I said whatever - my seats were still going to rock. At the front of the line, creening my head, I could see the Captain America shield on the wall of the set!
When I got in I was miffed to see that VIPs had already filled the first three rows - about 25% of the whole theater. I got a seat in the 4th row with my friend.

Up next: The taping, and I wrap this long-winded shit up

Friday, November 12, 2010

What my garden has taught me about mortality

I've written before (here and here) about the unexpected joys of windowsill gardening. But I think I've made a breakthrough... into waxing philosophic.
The amount of effort I've put into these plants and herbs (especially the cilantro, at right, grown from seeds) is really unprecedented for me. I really haven't dropped this hobby for more than 6 months, I believe, which Dianna can tell you is probably a record. I have read books (including the fantastic Square Foot Garden - thanks Mel), many countless trips to home depot, spoken with old ladies for gardening tips, and this week, even done weeding for the first time in my life.
All of it is amazing - learning coupled with visible results that are, occasionally, edible too.
But as I've grown more seasoned, there was this inescapable fact sneering in the distance - winter was coming, and all my wonderful plants were going to die.
Like, all of them.
Winter isn't something that you can appeal, weasel out of, or get deferred after you get a letter from you bank. It's like a very, very large tree that is slowly falling toward that very nice shed you built. You know that no matter what you do, that shed is just toast. It's going to get leveled, and you're just going to have to pick up the pieces and start over again.
Finally, you stop struggling and looking for ways to cheat nature, and you accept it. Spring is just around the corner. Patience, please.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fluid dynamics

I'm no scientician, so I have no idea how water could possibly freeze this way (it's sticking out into the air at a 60 degree angle). There was nothing on top of the ice cube tray. I am impressed by the strange cleverness of molecules and natural forces.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My (current) beef with Marathoners

I am a simple man. And a petty one. Sometimes, I dislike people simply because they are extraordinarily better at things than me.

Like marathon runners. OK, I'm a lazy part-time runner. And perhaps, given the drive, I could do a marathon too. But I don't, and they do, and well... that's about it.

So it may be these feelings that lead into the following rant:

I was in New York yesterday for a Colbert Report taping (!). While walking around the city I couldn't help but notice people with very thick medals strolling around. I asked one person what it for and lo and behold - it had to do something with the 2010 New York City Marathon.

But as I saw more and more medals, I became confused. It became clear that there couldn't be this many winners. Aha - I told myself - maybe the race hadn't happened yet and this was a publicity stunt. Very smart. But I wrong - the race had been this previous weekend, and apparently, everyone who finishes the race receives one. Which is fine - you deserve a memento. That's not my point - read on.

Later, at the Colbert Report taping, someone in the front row was wearing his medal, and the warm up comedian asked him about it. The person, who was a VIP and was allowed to sit in the front row (despite me waiting in the cold for 4 hours) appeared shy when he talked about his medal, and his race time (4 hours, 30 minutes), but give me a fucking break - you're wearing a medal. You're not exactly humble here.

The warm-up guy asked if anyone else had run the marathon, and a Canadian man in the upper rows raised his hand. Asked what his time was, he said, "Three hours, 30 minutes." The audience clapped in approval.

"But wait a minute," the comedian said. "If you got a better time than him, why aren't you wearing a medal?"

He answered his own question. "Ah - you're Canadian. You don't need to boast like we do in the States."

And that's my rant - walking around New York City with a fucking medal around your neck from a marathon three days earlier. Yes, running the New York City marathon is probably a very big deal, but THOUSANDS of people do it every year. And it was THREE DAYS AGO.

This isn't like wearing a Yankees cap after a World Series win - it's like wearing a cap with a picture of YOU on it after your big win. I'm not a big fan of narcissism or egotism in general. You can be a runner - and even a great runner - without needing to proclaim "I am a great runner and I will communicate this loudly to strangers all day."

I really seem to hate runners a lot for some reason this week....

UPDATE: Nah, maybe it was just episode that grinded / ground my gears.

UPDATE 2: I just saw a Subway commercial which congratulated Jared for running the New York Marathon. And even for the commercial he didn't boast his medal. Thanks, Jared, for being rational and humble (if overexposed).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Unacceptable office conditions

A common topic of discussion when you work for a government agency (at least mine, anyway) is how good a value we are providing to the American taxpayer. One of the many reasons I work where I do is that people work very, very hard, often with very little, and go without so we can stand behind our public service. We collect money for people's birthday cards. We pay for our own pizza parties, and hold potlucks instead of catered affairs.

At lunch today, the following suggestion was made:

Some person: Hey, you know what we should do to save the taxpayers some money? Why the heck are we paying all this money to have people empty our garbage? We can do that ourselves. Hell, I empty the garbage for my office suite at least once a week. Who's with me?

Me: Absolutely not.

That person (somewhat taken aback): Are you serious?

Me: You bet I am. We are professional and we deserve to work in a professional environment. We shouldn't be spending our time emptying the garbage - that's a fine job for someone else.

No one at the table agreed with me, which I found a little unfortunate.
What's next - we bring in our own pens?
Printer paper?
Yes, there are ways to cut corners, but an office - any office - has certain base expectations: Electricity. A fridge. Chairs. And basic sanitation services. If we are expected to produce, we should be treated as valued employees.
Call me spoiled, but in past jobs I *have* emptied the garbage in addition to my other duties, and I can tell you that it was demeaning and highly demoralizing.

Hell, if Wal-Mart can hire janitors, why can't we? (Plus, we have Unions.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Photos from where I've been lately

I'll just let these ones speak for themselves.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What an XBOX taught me about humanity

I tried to sell this old XBOX I had lying around on Craigslist. No takers, even for $30.

So I posted it on their Free section. If you've never checked it out, I recommend it.

I posted it, adding I wanted it to go to a non-profit, a hospital or a family in need. "No greedy people or college kids, I added. I then went to the bathroom, make breakfast and then rechecked my email box. In 20 minutes, I had 30 replies.

I was at first amazed, and then heartbroken. I didn't feel I had the strength to compare 30 stories of despair for the worst among them, so I picked one at random:


Saw your ad on cl. i can pick up. i was abandoned by my husband a few years ago (He lives in Australia so getting child support is a joke.) I clear 2000 a month and my rent is 1000 for an efficiency. I have no xmas present for my son who would love this. he is a great kid and we love each other. i am just financially challenged. your good will will be rewarded in prayers i can send out for you.

I was floored at the strength of this person to pour out their misery for me to compete for this XBOX. Even if 50% of these people were frauds, there was still a lot of pain out there. I quickly arranged for her to pick it up. She was a short woman with red hair, early fifties, driving a small red Volkswagen. I laid it in her front seat while she talked to me. She said she lost a lot when the market crashed and is trying to rebuild her life. She had applied for a government job but has been in waiting limbo over her security clearance.

She said the delay might be because her ex-husband was a foriegn national from Austrailia ("Another reason marrying him was the worst decision of my life,") she said with a strained smile. Her teenage son, she said, recently asked her how people became successful. He was interested because of their family's hard times, and he wanted to avoid it when he grew up. She told him that goals make people successful, so he immediately started researching colleges. She started to tear up at one point in her story, but held it back.

Later, after she had gone, I looked through the other replies. It was an awesome and humbling experience, connecting on such a personal level to strangers and their hardships. Here are a few more:

  • I would like to donate this to a youth center to a woman who runs it in woodbridge
  • Hey do you still have this game I would like it for my 2 out of my four kids (Jon note: I love this one)
  • can i get it for a friend that has 4 kids? BTW she is a single mother. cant afford much but to pay for rent and food
  • I’m a single Mom and I would love to get this for myself and daughter. Will totally understand if given to a much needer family. Thanks for posting :0
  • My mothers group is going to adopt a family this holiday and this would be perfect.
    here is the website for our group.
  • I am very needy can’t afford one right now for my 10 year old son. If possible would love to pick up
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington DC ( is opening a new house in Washington and may be interested
  • I am a single father looking for help with Christmas gifts for my children this year. I know you have had many responses. I would like to give this to my son for Xmas he wants one so bad but I'm a single parent.I have just found out that i have bone disease and not able to stand for long periods at my job and this has force me into not working. I do understand if you don't reply back but please consider my son who is 9yrs old this would help out for Xmas. Thank you
  • I would love to have this for a raffle for xmas...I am a vice pres. for a non profit and looking to raise money for our scholarship fund and other related activities for our kids
  • If not taken, I would love to have it for our older youth group room at Dulin United Methodist Church in Falls Church. I can even get you a donation letter to a non- profit for your income tax returns.
  • Is this for real ? We have a toy drive comin up and this would be great!
  • Hi! If this is still available I would love to come pick up from you. We are about to cut our TV service off because we can't afford the bill and this would give the kids something to do during the times they would usually watch TV. We are pretty flexible for pick up most of the weekend; would just need an address.
Ok, I need to stop.