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If We Are All Worms ...

Try to be a Glow Worm
-- Fortune Cookie I just opened.

I'm in NYC in the Courtyard Marriott on 3rd Ave. I'd stayed here before and I remembered there was something I didn't especially like about it when I signed up but (a) it was cheap and (b) as this is my first corporate travel for my boss I wanted to keep it basic ... and they had free WiFi and a king-sized bed. So that's something.

What they lack is room service. This isn't a critical flaw--I mean, I can deal--but today, after having eaten nothing but breakfast, I wanted something warm. I ordred Chinese food from the menu the lady at the check-in counter gave me. It came shortly and I went downstairs. I gave the guy the card.

Him: "Cash."
Me: "Has to be credit--my company doesn't reimburse cash."
Him: "Cash."
Me: "Has to be credit--I'm sorry. If they'd told me on the phone--"
Him: "You didn't say how you were paying--"
Me: "I didn't know my options were limited--"

I gave them the card over phone (his phone) and the desk lady xerox'd* the receipt ... and then he took the small one so I had to cut the big piece of paper to a size so I could fit it in my wallet. 

I got the food upstairs: no silverware. Wonderful.

I don't think he's trying to be a glow worm and the Courtyard Marriott definitely isn't.

* If you're crying over my appropriation of the trademark, blow your nose with a kleenex.

Easy come ...

I dropped my iPhone 3 on the ground two days ago. The kid had already stripped the case off it and I had not replaced it. It had dropped several times, of course, without damage--but this time it fell face down on the concrete ... and the glass broke. It still functioned but there was a crack down the face and the upper right corner was obscure cobwebs of light and dark.

On my desk was my iPhone 5 which I had ordred a couple of weeks ago and had not yet cut over too. I did: it took about 30 minutes. It's still not sycnhing with my music library but otherwise seems fully functional. I'd be pretty upset without a phone as I plan to do reading during my trip on it (no books on the plane, thanks).

I really need to get a case for it. And a car charger.

Five Little Indians

I went to my 3yr old son's day care yesterday morning for their parent's Thanksgiving deal. They did colors (each feather of the turkey had a color and they had to name it), sang some songs, and wore paper "Indian head dresses" with fake paper feathers. The kids were mostly game and it was cute. As far as it went.

Indians were probably always props in the Thanksgiving drama but now it seems they are even less iconic. The imagry of Thanksgiving is, so far as I can tell, a specific feast in preparation for Black Friday (which was, itself, also mythic--it was not the busiest day of the shopping year--but now it might be). The iconography has even been replaced: as we are now celebrating a retail event those retail outlets won't have turkeys up--or pilgrims--or even Indians. They'll have (pagan) Christmas decoration when we get to the stores and we'll hear Christmas music (which is, to be fair, sometimes somewhat more Christian).

We decided to do Thanksgiving "traditionally" (meaning a turkey, pumpkin pie, and so on) since our son is learning about it in school so we want to kind of reinforce the tradition. I'm okay with that--I think that Thanksgiving, whatever the economic drivers, is really about family emotionally and the economic drivers (today, at least) around Christmas are around hope. The holiday hiring and economic boosts, the wish to give families bonuses to stimulate shopping, and so on gives us 2 or 3 months to pretend the economy (esp: coming collapse of Europe) isn't as bad as it looks.

And I'm okay with that too: the mental aspects of morale are more important in winning a war (or turning around an economy--or healing after a divisive election) than the physical ones. If we can get two months of joy and retail therapy out of this I'm okay with throwing Native Americans under the bus and appropriating their symbols in the most naive manner possible.

Of course that's easy for me to say: my ancestors were incredible dicks which made it possible for me to blase about it.

The future of computing ...

We ran errands this weekend and part of them took us to Best Buy. I needed a new HDMI cable because when a handyman moved my TV ages ago he damaged it and it would come out enough to still send a signal but not enough to send actual TV (I think there is an HDMI feedback channel and that was what wasn't working). So periodically someone would have to go jiggle the connection to get the TV back.

It was worth replacing not to have to keep doing that.

My wife also wants a new laptop. I'd suggest a Mac but she wants to keep with Windows and, to be fair, she uses some downloaded medical software that, if it runs on Windows 8, is probably better off on a Windows platform (I know from dual booting and parallels and stuff and at the end of the day I still think she's making the right choice).

We looked at some laptops. The VIAO Win-8 machine is interesting. Slim, reasonably powerful, and touch-screen. I was unexpectedly impressed by that. My son, now 3, is just learning to use the mouse--he understood the touch-screen iPad instantly: how could you not. He kept wanting to press the computer screen, the TV, etc.

The VAIO (and the other one with touch capability: the Lenovo) is a pretty slick set up. I don't know how well it would actually work at home--but while I find Windows 8 a bit confusing, I can see how, if, for example, in bed, one might prefer a touch-screen to the touch pad. I do wonder if your screen just gets infinitely dirty though: do they make those touch-screens easier to clean?

In any event, I'd be a bit surprised if touch-screen laptops don't become more common even with other OSes. We are all growing up using smart phones now and understand touching an icon as intuitively as clicking on it. Whatever the preferred convergence on form factor, I suspect that touch will be here to stay (or maybe those air-gesture systems?).

Perhaps someone will come out with a laptop that has TWO screens: one top and one bottom. The bottom can be a keyboard if you want it. Or you can have 2 the visual real estate ...
My kid is unable to sleep because he fell asleep at 4:00 in the afternoon and slept for like 4 hours. So: Early morning for Marco. Yay, me. We took the kids on a drive through the Christmas Lights at Tradewinds park--it's a 10 minute or so (depending on car speed) drive through the (large) park and there are all kinds of Christmas-Light displays. We'd done it once before when Max was like 1 year old and he was too young to appreciate it. This time he was a lot more interested.

I've gotten over the end of Thanksgiving as a commercial holiday: in times of recession we need consumer spending and so Christmas begins the day after Halloween (which is another big consumer holiday). Make no mistake: Thanksgiving plays it's role, mostly with turkey buying and then Black Friday--which is it's own thing now--but it really doesn't even rate: 8bn for Halloween, 500bn for Christmas ("Winter Holidays").

By comparison, the 2012 election was much cheaper (est: 7bn with hard core spending of 2bn by each side).

I guess it's kind of worked on me: I'm kinda liking the Christmas displays.

Travel to NYC Booked

I just got travel approval for week-after-next to NYC. This is good since my job involves "influence" of fairly senior people to do the right things (by which I mean do the right Data Quality things like implement controls and monitoring). Once upon a time I was traveling on a weekly basis. Now I'm lucky if I travel once a quarter but it's interesting when it happens.

The downside is that due to the expansion of our group I may not get an office--which sucks. Going from my home office to a cubical, even for a week, isn't any good.

Traveling brings a focus, which I like--but being away from home now (two kids, dogs, wife) is much, much harder than it was when I was single. I also lack sufficient cold-weather gear for NYC in late November but we'll see.

Holy Crap!

So a couple of days ago I go outside with the trash--it's like 5:30 PM--and I open the big green trash container to throw the bag in and HOLY CRAP: RACCOON!!

He's in there, looking up at me, holding a food container, with a "Hey, I was here first!" look on his face. I ... stuff the bag in and leap back. I do not want to be attacked by a raccoon! But then I'm all "He's gonna die in there--it's steep, slick, and deep ..."

So I back away. I resolve to let him out in the morning--my plan is to tip over the container and then, if he doesn't bolt, lift the lid with a wooden poll. I figure with my martial arts prowess, if the raccoon charges I can defend myself with the stick ... or maybe I should get the .40 out of my office ... FEAR RABIES (note: I don' think there are any documented cases of people getting rabies from raccoon but you never know and anyway, I'd probably get like a disfiguring facial scar if the fucker attacked me. In any event, I am ridiculously scared of it for no good reason).

But then, a couple hours later, I decide I'll look. Sure, he might jump out like one of those spring-loaded snakes in the "can of mixed nuts," clinging to my face like the Alien--but he might also be on his last legs in there.

I peer in. That parkour motherfucker was gone. Sometime in the night he took my trash and left

Xfinity vs. Comcast--Fight

With the election wound down (and JAGS ... almost done) I'll try firing this up a little more. I suspect there are maybe two remaining readers anyway.

This past week we got U-Verse (AT&T) installed at the house replacing Comcast cable's Xfinity. We got the deluxe versions of both. They're remarkably similar--although the U-Verse install was painful. I made the switch, honestly, because I was mildly unhappy with Xfinity and ... wanted to try U-Verse. But the emphasis is on the mildly. As painful as the install was (two days, four people, phone isn't switched over yet) I kinda wish I'd stuck with Xfinity.

It's too late now.

1. The U-Verse interface is, to my mind, a bit better than Xfinity's. It seems more responsive.
2. The U-Verse picture seems better. Maybe it's just more HD channels but it looks better on both our TVs.
3. Xfinity seemed to have a better selection of TV and movies--but, really, neither was all that spectacular.

They couldn't get my wireless router to work with the U-Verse wireless router thing--so we disconnected it and I'm just using the U-Verse one. I now have a spare Linksys router lying around ... :-/.

The 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew

NPR is doing a special on the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew--a Cat-4 hurricane that smashed up Dade county (Miami) in 1992. I was in the national guard and activated for it. It doesn't seem like "yesterday"--but realizing that was almost half a life-time ago--that I was approximately half the age I am now is sobering.

It was quite an adventure. I had injured my ankle (broken it) in the summer's Annual Training and I had to go out and get a doctor's note to allow me to be deployed. We got to an all night medical center and the guy, without any documentation on my injury, refused to sign. I scrawled something in the form's signature area and went back to the armory and said "I'm good to go!" I went.

We were in a chase with looters in a Humvee, driving over everything in our path. We were running around with night-vision under black-out conditions. I had to arbitrate two guys--one with a car that was parked behind a gas station and he claimed it didn't run. The other guy owned the gas station and claimed the guy was going to steal from him if he was lurking back there in the car. I, Roland Deshane-like, armed with an under-equipped M16, decided to make Mr. Gas Station Owner help push the car to the front and down the street where it would, presumably, no longer be the crime-lair. He said he had a bad heart. I scolwed at him: "Okay--then I'll push it."

He decided to help.

A woman came and got me and another guy and said there was someone in her warehouse. We had to "clear it." There was no back up and no chain of command. We just went in there, room by room, pretending we were like special forces guys with the weapons all choked up so we could jump around corners really fast. I was scared. There was no one in there.

We came across a guy whose bar was trashed. He was grilling all the remaining burgers and handing them out. I ate two.

I got scooped up by a random Lieutenant who thought HE was an action-movie hero. I went around with him--who IS this guy!? Does my unit know where I am?!? Am I supposed to be here!?--looking for "crack houses." He had us assault an almost empty house to look for drugs--totally not our mission. No one was there (they left out the back when we arrived). He had me stand on top of the vehicle with orders to "not let ANYONE touch or approach the vehicle."

People came to tell me they were glad we were here. I voilated orders and let them approach the vehicle so I could tell them we were glad to help. Junior-SOG-guy had like backed it in so he could race out in a hurry when the bad guys showed up. Strangely that never happened.

I remember getting the call from the armory JUST before school started. I didn't even know there was a hurricane in the area. I remember standing dumbfounded when they told me to get my stuff and report immediately. ... but ... but ... I have school tomorrow. I just got all my classes ...

I took that semester off. I worked at a temp place. It was kind of like one really, really long boring summer.

Before Watchmen ...

I got a look at some of the Before Watchmen comics.

I have to say I'm disappointed and I'm no the guy you want to disappoint. There's not even a little of the fan-boy in me. I love Watchmen. I really liked the movie. I liked the DC Supers expansion that gave some backstory on the characters. I was impressed with the little touches the movie added (although not the fortunately cut scenes from the Director's Cut). 

I am down with arguing about whether Ozymandias or Rorsach is the villain. 

All of that.

So when I heard they were making Before Watchmen--several 4-issue comics, one for each major character (do they do Dr. Manhattan? I think he already got his story) I was like "Okay--if they do it right it'll be awesome! I look forward to seeing more Watchmen-verse."

The did do an adequate job on most fronts. The artwork is good. The guys they got to write them are okay--I mean, you're following up Alan Moore so you're going to suck in comparison--but, hey?

The problem is that as far as I can tell they've gotten the characters mostly wrong. Rorsarch shows up better in Nite Owl's comic than he does in his own. Ozymandias is unlikable as a cold super-genius. One of the things about his uber-genius was that he knew how to be uber-likable. Rorsach swears in his journal which I don't remember and don't think is right.

We get to see Nite Owl beat up as a school boy and his unhappy childhood wherein his father beat his mother and when he had a heart attack the young Owl-to-be and Owl-mom sat outside by a fire going "you know ... at some point we should call someone."

Now, let's be clear--by itself this isn't bad. Giving the Nite Owl a rough childhood isn't out of character--we don't know exactly what happened from his Watchmen story but it sure could've been something. And watching him play off of Rorsach is actually one of the high points of the series.

The problem is this: Watchmen was a deconstruction of supers in the 80's before it became its own stereotypical genre. It came out next to Dark Knight which gave us today's Batman in proto-form. It was shocking. The fact that these heroes all had to be slightly crazy ... for 'real' as opposed to "batman crazy" which is, to be frank, not all that crazy was an eyeopener. The fact that we saw the aftermath of their careers--which was not happy--but was also not ham-handedly tragic was startling.

Moore had a lot to say about superheroes and none of it was in simple little sentences. 

The problem here is that what these authors have to say about their characters is: And then Alan Moore Said 'X.' There is precious little room to surprise us (and, to be fair, telling a prequel removes some of the best tools). There is also little room to be ironic: Specter and Nite Owl get a pretty happy ending. Ozymandias gets the best line in comic-dom, a victory, and then a lifetime of wondering if he did the right thing ... everyone else? Not so much. It's hard to be ironic with that (we can't find out that The Comedian was really a nice guy, for example).

It also lacks the perspective that Watchmen had. In the 80's Watchmen was writing about the 60's and 70's (and, okay, earlier with the minutemen). Today it's also writing about the 60's (or so) but that's ... what? An extra two decades ago.The hippie movement that Silk Spectre teams up with has been "infected" with a little Occupy Wall Street--that doesn't fit. It needs to have counter-culture relevant to the 80's to fit in.

So, hey--looks good. Not that exciting.