Monday, August 31, 2009

Memo

From: A Random Stranger

To: Streetlight People

re: Believing.

Don't stop doing it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cooking Problem

I tried to buy the ingredients for a Big Fat Cow this weekend, but ran into a problem. I had assumed that Weight Watchers Dream Bars would be in the "ice cream novelty" section of my grocer's freezer. They weren't, and it wasn't just because my "grocer" was Wal-Mart. I searched online and it seems like they might be lemon bars. Does anyone know for certain where I can get them (keeping in mind that I now live in Virginia and have weirdo grocery stores like Giant and Bloom and Shoppers)?

I tried just searching for "weight watchers dream bar big fat cow," figuring there might be another Maria Bamford fan who has experimented with this. The first result up is someone who is quoting my blog for an Irish recipes website, because the recipe calls for Bailey's Irish Cream.

Sorry to disappoint you Irish recipe searchers, but I don't intend to include that ingredient, what with being a teetotaler and all. On the plus side for me, though, I now have one more thing that will generate most of my blog traffic. "World's Youngest Grandma," "Pirate Nicknames," and now, "Irish Recipes."

Phantom Posts

Cristin might notice that a certain post she read is now missing. Here's what happened: I noticed that I wrote a post this morning at 12:50am and Blogger still thought I was in the Central Time Zone, so it posted it as being written at 11:50pm last night. So I started looking around in the Googlesphere for where in the myriad information they keep about me ("for my convenience," no doubt) I can change my time zone. When I thought I found it, I posted a sample blog entry to see what the time of it would be. I then forgot to remove the post afterwards.

Meanwhile, I found something new that totally sucks about Blogger: changing the time zone for my blog changes everything in the history of the blog. So when I lived in Kansas and wrote posts between 11pm and midnight, all of those have now been changed to having been written the next day, since I'm now in Virginia. So, serious bloggers, don't go moving time zones and changing your Blogger settings willy-nilly, because the effects will be blog-wide.

Water Safety

Ted Kennedy finally crossed a bridge safely.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Recipes

My wife isn't the only person in our family who can blog about recipes and crap. Here's a little something I learned from Episode 13 of The Maria Bamford Show.

Big Fat Cow

ingredients: 2 Skinny Cows / 1 Weight Watchers Dream Bar / 1 gas station travel mug / Diet Coke / Bailey's Irish Cream (if desired)

directions: shove the Skinny Cows and Weight Watchers Dream Bar into the gas station travel mug, cover with Diet Coke (and Bailey's).

I might have been attracted to this recipe because, ever since we saw "Bend It Like Beckham" five years ago or so, I tell Persephone, "I'm a stroppy cow." I want to try this recipe, but I don't have access to any Weight Watchers Dream Bars. I don't even really know what they are. Maybe I'll have to do my best with just the Skinny Cows.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Math Camp is Not Like the Movie "Space Camp"

When I was younger I wanted to see "Space Camp." My parents made my sister take me to a matinée double feature. (I can't remember the other movie.) I remember that "Space Camp" made me want to go to Space Camp, and it made me have a thing for Lea Thompson, so much so that I later sat through ALL of "Howard the Duck."

(I've got a "Howard the Duck" aside: I was watching the video and my sister's boyfriend came over. He said, "Oh, I've seen this movie," and he told me the entire plot, which was so ridiculous we thought he was making it up. He left and I kept watching the movie, and it turned out he had been completely truthful. Which is the opposite situation from when I was on YTMND and saw a Harry Potter spoiler than said Hermione died in the last book. The whole time I was reading the last book I was waiting for it to happen. I got past the last fight and thought, "How's she going to die now?" I turned to the last page and thought, "How's she going to die in so little time?" It turned out that she didn't really die.)

Anyway, today was my first experience with math camp, which is very different from "Space Camp." How are they different? Let me count the ways:

  1. We were never left alone in a dangerous situation and required to use our math knowledge to save our lives.
  2. Nothing that happened today made me even remotely interested in Lea Thompson.
  3. I didn't want to fall asleep while watching "Space Camp."

So it was different in three ways, I guess.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my math camp is not as rigorous as the math camps my friends are going to at their new schools. I don't want to say anything, though, because then they'll say, "We knew that ye were lacking in judgment" (which is one of the most useful insults found in the Book of Mormon). I guess it's a good thing if my math camp isn't so hard that I fail, but it's a bad thing if my program isn't rigorous enough to get respect, and a bad thing if it's totally easy but I still fail. All I know is now I want to watch "Space Camp" again.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Internet Security

Two weeks ago Persephone went in to Local Internet Service Provider's offices and tried to set up service. Our address had a block attached to it because one of the last people who lived here ran up a big bill and then skipped town. (Mental note: you can run up big bill's with Local Internet Service Provider and then skip town.) The woman told Persephone she would have it cleared up the next business day.

A week later we finally had someone clear up the problem. He then tried to sell me on their service by saying things like, "You'll have 56 Mb/s until Data Boost kicks in, and then you'll have 76." I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "When Data Boost starts your speed will get faster." I said, "What is Data Boost?" He said, "You know, that's a really good question. I don't know exactly what that is." Then he scheduled our set up service for an additional week later.

So today we had a technician come to our house and set up our Internet service. Along the way, he inadvertently gave us some kick-ass network security. Firstly he tried to name the network with our last name and misspelled it pretty badly. For someone who likes to write inflammatory newspaper articles like I do, that's helpful. No one's going to be able to drive around with an open laptop, looking for a wireless network with my last name to hack and destroy. Secondly he told us what our password was before he left, but when we opened the network properties, the password was one character shorter than what he'd told us. (We counted the little circles.) A password not even WE know is probably the most secure password there is!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rand McNally Submits to My Powerful Anger

Like Mr. Furious, my superhero power is having strong opinions about things that don't really matter. Two days ago I was chatting on Facebook with a high school friend when he suddenly asked, apropos of nothing, "What do you think of Mumbai?" I asked, "What, you mean renaming Bombay Mumbai?" He wrote, "Yeah, I figured you'd have an opinion about it."

Of course I have an opinion about it. (My opinion: it's totally stupid. The British did NOT subject a native settlement to the colonial name of Bombay; they built a completely new settlement and named it what they wanted. The place was never called Mumbai before the Indian version of racial grievance merchants decided to turn it into a curry-flavored Freddie's Fashion Mart.) During the course of our chat, I also expressed my opinion about Facebook's chat program's spelling check feature not recognizing the word "Facebook." (I'm against it.)

I've recently written here about my attempt to buy a Thomas Guide from Rand McNally and their attempt to sell me something less. Today I got a call from a higher-up who told me he was going to have an 8th edition mailed to me, free of charge. Also, I don't have to return the 9th edition, which ups the number of coasters we own to one.

So my furious anger paid off for once. Thanks to Rand McNally for setting things right and then going beyond that. And thanks to my white-hot rage for getting me something besides angina.

Who's the Best Cat in the United States?

I realize that, by the time I see something like this, all the cool kids have known about it for weeks, but the fact is that none of the people who read my blog (hi, you five!) would qualify as "cool kids," so this is going to be brand new to you.


Rand McNally Customer Service Is As Bad As Their Maps

I wrote to Rand McNally and said: "I recently ordered your Northern Virginia and the Beltway street guide. The webpage said in two different places that it was a Thomas Guide. It is not. I wanted a Thomas Guide. The cartography is vastly superior to the standard Rand McNally street guide. Why would you take a step backwards? I was hoping the Thomas Guide look would be rolled out to more areas, not removed from where it was already used. Can I return this 9th edition and get an 8th edition, which I saw at Target tonight actually IS a Thomas Guide?"

I would share the response I got from Rand McNally to my customer complaint, but it has a disclaimer saying it is confidential and my sharing it with anyone else is illegal. My wife checked my e-mail this morning and read it before I did; does that mean she's going to the hoosegow? I hope so; from what I hear, prison chicks are pretty wild in the sack.

Is a summation an "unauthorized disclosure"? If it is, get my orange jumpsuit ready, because I'm about to disclose. After assuring me that my eyes were playing tricks on me and I was actually looking at two identical maps, the e-mailer told me I could return the map and I'd foot the shipping bill (having already paid shipping to have the wrong item mailed to me in the first place). This despite their website's pledge of 100% customer satisfaction that states, "We'll pay the return shipping cost if the return is a result of our error." I'd say calling something by the wrong name four times on one webpage might be their error.

I wrote back the following:

I appreciate your response. However, it is inaccurate on a number of issues. The content of both books is NOT the same. The format of the 9th edition is NOT a Thomas Guide format. The symbols used for the legend are NOT identical. The grid on the pages are NOT the same. The 9th edition does NOT contain a ZIP code overlay. I went to Target to take pictures of an 8th edition to compare to the 9th edition I received. Please compare the legends, the page and grid systems, the labeling styles, the included features, and the map scales. You will find that the 9th edition I was sent is in no way the "Thomas Guide" the website promised when I made my purchase.

Saying that "The maps share similar features in terms of color coding to distinguish different areas" is meaningless, as all maps use color to distinguish different areas. The same can be said of noting the 9th edition "contains county names along with boundary lines." These are two different maps covering roughly the same geographic area. Had Rand McNally's website allowed me to view anything other than the cover (which no longer contains even a sample of the map inside), I would have known this was not a map I wanted to buy.

I do not want a refund; I want an 8th edition Thomas Guide. Rand McNally's website states that, when customer dis-satisfaction is the result of a Rand McNally error, the customer will not pay shipping for returning the item. Stating four different places on the product's webpage that the guide is a Thomas Guide when it, in fact, is not, is a Rand McNally error. (Three of those references have now been removed, but one remains in the product description.)

I don't think I'm being a map snob here. This isn't a case of "Everyone knows that 'Deep Space Nine' is a pale imitation of 'Next Generation.'" The only similarity between these maps is that they cover northern Virginia and use standard cartography procedures (which, according to Byron "Buster" Bluth, means using blue ink to represent land). Because this is the type of company to come after copyright violators, I will only give one example: I took the first picture in the book aisle at Target, showing the map I wanted, and the second in my kitchen, showing the map I received.

There is virtually no similarity there. They both use green for parks and blue for water, and they show the exact same neighborhood. Other than that, calling them by the same name is completely unwarranted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rand McNally Northern Virginia & The Beltway Street Guide (9th edition): Sucking the Big One, Rand McNally Style

I grew up in Southern California, completely in love with Thomas Brothers maps. At seven years old I saved my allowance and bought a Los Angeles and Ventura Counties guide. I wanted to save my money to buy a Ventura County wall map, but it was over $100 dollars and I never made it. (The happy ending to that story came 20 years later, when the city for which I worked was getting rid of their outdated wall map, which was the very edition I wanted to buy in 1985, and they gave it to me. It hung in my son's bedroom in Kansas, covering the circuit box.) When Thomas Brothers switched to digital cartography in the early 1990s I was put off by the changed page numbers, but I soon overcame that when I saw how crisp the cartography was (and when I realized idiosyncratic numbering such as that between Thousand Oaks and Reseda would be corrected).

As I grew so did my income. Early in high school, before I had a driver's license, I rode my bicycle to every grocery store in town, checking their folded map offerings, because a map company from Seattle, King of the Road, started printing Thomas Brothers maps on large sheets. I loved this because it was my first chance to get a real feel for the "bigger picture" of Southern California geography. Eventually I turned 16 and could drive to the new Barnes and Noble bookstore two towns over, where I bought every King of the Road map available.

In the fledgling days of the Internet, I discovered a company from Tustin, California, called Ceil Kirby Maps. I ordered a San Diego County guide from them, then a San Bernardino and Riverside Counties guide, then a Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties guide. When they came in the mail it was like Christmas. (Why did I buy so many maps? I am amassing a private map library that I will donate to a small town library or to Moorpark College when I die. I already have over 1,000 titles.)

According to Wikipedia, Thomas Brothers was bought by Rand McNally in 1997 and again in 1999. I had my first real exposure to Rand McNally's maps as a missionary in Wisconsin. That was where I discovered that Rand McNally will put their name on any piece of dog crap they can find. Instead of making maps, they buy maps from other companies and put their name on the outside. The first rule of buying a Rand McNally map is to open it up and see if it's in color or if it's just blue lines on white paper. Seeger Maps from Racine made a lot of their nicer ones in the area. Once I learned that Rand McNally bought Thomas Brothers, I was afraid of what might happen.

The first indication of a problem was the digital version. You could either buy the regular map, or spend more for the regular map and a CD-ROM with a marginally-useful program on it. A few years later, they took the option away, selling every guide with the digital version at the higher price.

My dream as a child was to work for Thomas Brothers. I wanted to pioneer the application of Thomas Brothers mapping standards onto new areas. I was saddened when Thomas Guides of Baltimore and the District of Columbia were introduced, because it seemed that meant my dream was being fulfilled by someone else. I had always wanted to go to the Thomas Brothers store in downtown Los Angeles, but that's the kind of sight-seeing trip I couldn't really expect anyone to take me on. When I finally had an excuse for work to be downtown one Monday, I walked to the store only to find that it had closed for good just the Friday before. Another strike against Rand McNally.

In the past 10 years, Rand McNally has taken the street guide concept and applied it to nearly every major metropolitan area of the country. The trouble is this is Rand McNally doing it. That means quality is a crap shoot. Maybe you're getting something really nice, or maybe you're getting a glorified folded map that costs four times as much. I own street guides of Houston, Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Richmond. While the cartography has been standardized lately, it is a far cry from Thomas Brothers production standards. When I saw the schlock they called a Wichita guide and the price they charged for it, I realized my cartographic dream needn't be dead yet. When it was unclear if I would have a job in Kansas, I made a street guide of Lawrence, but then I started school and got a job and I didn't have to try to start my own company, so I didn't.Sure, it's not much, but it's at least as good as a Rand McNally street guide, and I made this at night after working eight-hour days in a garage door factory.

Now that we've moved to Virginia, we realized how out-of-date our 2002 Thomas Guide is. I went to Rand McNally's website and found the latest version, which is called a Thomas Guide four different places on the page.When it came in the mail today, the first thing I noticed was that this was NOT a Thomas Guide. This is the unseemly cartography of the standard Rand McNally guide, the one that sometimes cuts off in the middle of a major city (as the Salt Lake City guide does in Provo) while including pages and pages of national forest (without any of the information that would be useful on a forest map, such as trails, campsites, or mountain peaks). Even Thomas Guide has national scenic trails. This guide, while clearly showing the empty void that is Blue Ridge on a street guide, doesn't bother to include the Appalachian Trail.

I went to Target tonight and looked at their street guide, which is a Thomas Guide. I got home and compared it to mine. Evidently the one at Target is an 8th Edition, whereas mine is a 9th Edition. So Rand McNally decided, instead of making their other guides better, they'll make their good guides worse.

I've long suspected Rand McNally just didn't care about maps anymore. It's run by a bunch of guys who went to school to run a business and when they graduated and got a business to run, discovered that it was a map business and thought, "Man, they have businesses for EVERYthing these days!" But the cover of this 9th edition guide makes it all too clear. Emblazoned across the front is, "Your in-car backup to Internet directions." Is that their corporate vision? Their target demographic is the anal-retentive worry-wort who's going somewhere he's never been? Rand McNally killed a great map company, and if they continue producing overpriced crap, I'll keep making my own maps (this past year I made maps of Chicago and Philadelphia when we thought we might move those places).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Teenagers

We were in the car with our kids the other day and the subject of teenagers came up. Articulate Joe said, "Teenagers are weird because they're like adults but they're still kids." I said, "That's the problem with teenagers; they're kids with adults' bodies." Then I said to Persephone, "That had to be one of God's worst ideas. That would make a top-five bad ideas list. Testimony meeting, Mountain Meadow massacre, Martin and Willey handcart companies, ward activities, and teenagers."

Persephone said, "I don't think He made teenagers. I think they just evolved." That seemed laughable to me at first, but she might be on to something. She explained, "It used to be you were an adult when you got an adult's body. It was society that decided to treat them like they were still kids."

So what of it, teenagers? Why don't you go get jobs?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

God Reads My Blog

Our bishop gave us callings today. He said, "We felt really strongly that we needed to call the two of you to the activities committee." I wish I were joking.

My second calling (because that's what every guy worried about doing well in graduate school needs) is the ward employment specialist. I guess I qualified for the job by not having a job. That way everyone who comes to me for advice can say, "What does that guy know about employment?"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Bank

Because our last bank doesn't have locations east of Cincinnati, we had to open new accounts here. When we were at the branch today setting up our accounts, the banker said, "What made you choose this bank?" I said, "Well, um, your bank bought the naming rights to the stadium of my favorite baseball team."

Of course, more went into it than that (I think). We looked at the results of Treasury's bank "stress test" and picked one that was "only" $2 bil. short on capitalization, instead of $54 bil. like Persephone wanted. And I didn't like how much government direction the other bank was receiving. But at the heart of it all is the name of the bank being the same as the name of my baseball team's stadium. And that seems like a sound financial decision in these troublesome times.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The All-Married Man's Club

I'm starting a club. The membership is going to be relative, meaning my fellow club-members won't be the same as the fellow club-members of my fellow club-members, see? Once a week I'm going to call a club member for a chat. If I induct you, that means you're on my list of potential calls. So far club members are as follows:

  1. me
  2. Erik
  3. JT
  4. my younger brother

That's all I've got for now. We'll have to make the by-laws and ritual handshakes later.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Our New Ward

For once in my life I was excited about Fast Sunday this morning. I figured, "What better way to immediately know who all the wack-jobs in the ward are than to have them self-identify from the pulpit?" It wasn't until we were in sacrament meeting and I saw three speakers on the stand that I realized today was the second Sunday of the month.

But our ward seems nice enough, and it's huge. Think Camarillo Third Ward pre-split huge. But the chapel is huge, too, so I guess it's not a problem.

On a sadder note, I can tell I'm going to get called as a ward missionary. I can just feel it in my bones. I've listed before the three worst ideas in the history of the church, but if I were to expand that to a list of five, the ward mission would be there.

What is the purpose of the ward mission, other than to remind you how horrible of a time your full-time mission was? Perhaps it's supposed to help you hate the current full-time missionaries when they demand you be available for splits and then waste your evening because they don't have enough work for two companionships. If that's the goal, then the ward mission is incredibly effective. But at least I don't think I'm going to get called to the activities committee, as my blogging frenemy wished.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pirate Blogging

Because we're brand new in town and the local Internet company is not customer-friendly, we've been stealing wireless for the last few days. That's why I've been mostly silent on the blogging front. I've got to check baseball scores and log off before the police kick in my door (since replacing the door will come out of the security deposit, no doubt).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Most of the Way There

Dateline: Richmond, VA

Tomorrow we actually arrive at our new place in northern Virginia. We're going to live like those pack-rat people you read about in the newspaper, who have walking trails through stacks of old newspapers in their living rooms. This is the worst idea I've ever had.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Begun the Burger Wars Have

I read recently on Cristin's blog her disparaging comments about In-N-Out Burger. Cristin should be glad I'm moving further away from her, because if I was within a ten-hour drive of her, I'd show up at her door and punch her right in her mouth.

This summer Persephone and I went to Virginia to get depressed about our prospects of surviving there. (Mission accomplished, by the way.) While we were there, I ate at Five Guys in the Dulles airport. We've had a Five Guys in Kansas for a couple years, but I hadn't eaten there yet because they have an employee with anger management issues. He rides on my bus and mutters profanity at my bus driver friend, Ali. One false move in the restaurant and I'd have a loogie in my fries.

I'd had better burgers from McDonald's, for Pete's sake. Five Guys cheats by putting bacon on their burgers. Everyone knows that bacon is the finest of all fine foods. You could put bacon on cat vomit and get glowing reviews. Comparing a Five Guys burger with bacon to an In-N-Out burger without it is not an even match-up. The burger was too greasy, also. Even with the wax-paper-lined wrapper, I got a grease stain on my lap. And the entire thing tasted like a salt shaker. Another sign of bad cooking: covering it all up with salt.

Later in the summer, we went to Utah and ate at In-N-Out in Washington City. There was no need for salt and bacon on this burger. It was exactly how a burger should taste. Instead of grease, there was the thousand-islands-dressing sauce. I could have eaten three of them.

In terms of comparing the companies, it's a wash. In-N-Out is a family-owned company, but the family members have been fighting and doing drugs for three generations. Five Guys was founded by a family, but its Starbucks-like expansion has been fueled by a franchising business, not the original founders. According to Wikipedia (which dispenses the gospel truth, in my book), Five Guys went from five locations in 2002 to over 400 locations today. That's the type of growth that killed Baja Fresh. And the deciding factor for me is price. In-N-Out is a deal, while Five Guys leaves me thinking, "I paid HOW much for this salt patty?"

Verdict: In-N-Out is better.