Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator!

Here’s an interesting way to make yourself lose any faith you had in ever winning the lottery by playing the same numbers every week: Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator!. It lets you select five numbers, then plays them against a random drawing, simulating two tickets a week for ten years.  I just tried it and it cost me $1040 to win $116, which is better than the average rate of return on most peoples’ 401K these days, but still pretty disappointing.

As a Midwesterner from a lower-middle-class family, I’m all too familiar with the lottery.  When I was a kid, we didn’t have the lottery in Indiana, but you could drive across the border to Michigan and buy scratch-off tickets.  (Indiana offset the trade imbalance by not having a ten-cent per can deposit, so people from Michigan would drive down to buy their beer and save $2.40 a case.)  I think they may have had a pick-three or pick-five drawing then; they didn’t have the actual Lotto until the mid-eighties.  But scratch-off tickets were part of the whole Sunday routine: reluctantly attending CCD in the morning, sitting through the 11:15 mass and wondering how much of the liturgy got cribbed by George Lucas in the Star Wars movies (“may the force be with you/and also with you”), then getting a box of donuts and some scratch-off tickets at the Harding’s grocery store and then going to my grandma’s.  I recall hitting the occasional free ticket or $1 prize, but mostly remember getting silver dust underneath my fingernails.  I was also logically perplexed about those games where you scratch off one thing in each column to match three numbers.  Like, say there were nine numbers and you scratched three and did not win, what if you then scratched off all nine and found out you just uncovered the wrong three things, and a winning combination actually existed on the card?  And what if I scratched off three and won a million dollars and then my little sister got ahold of the card and blindly scratched off the whole damn thing?  Also, couldn’t Superman use his x-ray vision to look through the silver scrapeaway paint material and cash in?  I mean, I guess Superman had a lot of other fallback income opportunities that would utilize his superpowers (safecracking, dentistry, express package delivery, etc.) but that’s one that seemed to always come to mind when faced with a new stack of scratch-off tickets.

Indiana finally got a lottery when I was a senior in high school; it was a referendum in the 1988 election (I think), which I was not old enough to vote in.  (Probably for the best – I would have most likely voted for Dukakis, and that didn’t work out for anyone, unless you consider drinking rubbing alcohol ala Kitty Dukakis’s alcoholic bottoming-out a good outcome.)  I remember at the time I thought a lottery was a no-brainer; if you were dumb enough to invest the money every week in a long shot that never paid out, you essentially gave free money to the schools and roads and whatever else the program would allegedly pay for.  But I remember, at least in Elkhart, a ton of conservative backlash that I didn’t fully understand.  The moral majority types thought of the lotto as legalized gambling, and this was before the days of an Indian casino every dozen and a half miles across the Midwest, so Vegas and AC were pretty much the only games alive at that point.  I thought the whole thing was ludicrous, but I also hated how the median age in Elkhart was something like 87 and pretty much every old, cranky bastard that wrote letters to the editor and put giant stupid signs in their yard about how scratch-off tickets were the devil also ended up at my cash register every weekend at Montgomery Ward’s, yelling at me about how they wanted to talk to my manager because I wouldn’t sell them a distributor cap for their 1927 tractor and it was all my damn fault we didn’t stock parts for every single machine made by every manufacturer from the civil war to present.

If you really want to find yourself some lottery enthusiasts, go visit a factory.  The summers I spent working in factories during college, pretty much every coworker I had played the lottery like a fiend.  These were people with 19 DUIs and three child support payments to three different women who couldn’t add seven to six without counting on their (remaining, not severed in punch press) fingers, but give them a new scratch-off game and they were Albert Fucking Einstein with their theories on odds and probabilities.  If I could have bought a food truck in 1989 and sold cigarettes and lotto tickets in a mobile route that covered all of the major factories in Elkhart’s industrial park, I’d be typing this from my own god damned island right now.

And I’m not just dropping a “poor people are stupid – stop fucking your sister and go learn to read” and leaving it at that, because I realize the situation’s a lot more complicated than it appears.  For one thing, these are people with no way out, at least compared to the non-flyover state elite.  I mean, they aren’t going to land a book deal or sell their web site to Time-Warner or get rich from a startup that’s on the forefront of some new technology.  They’re not getting stock tips from college buddies, and they’re not getting tuition for law school from a trust fund that’s passed through generations going back to the Mayflower.  They’d be damn lucky to get a job unloading trucks for Mayflower for ten bucks an hour.  The only option was to keep working until they dropped dead, and maybe there was the off-chance that they could turn a dollar into a million dollars.  And money can’t buy happiness, but when you have no money, it’s not like you’re infinitely happy.  When you’re broke,  you constantly think that money magically fallen from the sky that would finally shut up the collection agencies and keep the power from going dark at the end of the money would be a great thing.

There’s also the issue that there’s compulsion and addiction behind gambling, even if the gambling is in the form of a lottery.  I used to work with a dude at Monkey Wards who managed us unloading trucks of furniture and electronics at 6 AM every day.  He won the Illinois state lottery, some massive prize of something like a couple million, and he took the option where they paid it out every year for 25 years or whatever it was.  And he bought a house on a golf course even though he didn’t play golf, and had a bunch of sports cars and trucks and other fun toys.  And of course he wasn’t happy.  And he would go nuts just sitting at home, so he worked as a receiving manager for $8.25 an hour or whatever the hell we made back in 1993, and drove a Lotus to work every day.  And even though he had money coming in, and he had money in the bank from this cleaning company he started and then sold, he was a lottery junkie.  He’d play a hundred pick-six tickets at a time, with insane conspiracy theory systems for numbers, and that shit worked for him once, so of course he was a damn expert at it.  And he’d go to a 7-Eleven and buy the entire roll of scratch-off tickets in one clip, several times a week.  I’d come in at 5:45 and he’d be sitting at the desk back by the loading dock, quarter in hand, scraping away at a giant line of 150 perforated cardboard rectangles, mountains of silver dust shavings everywhere.  “Hey man, look – I won $50 on this one!”  Yeah, but you spent $300.  And you need to spend $30,000 on a good stretch of in-patient therapy at an addiction center.  I’m sure he hit some big cash in small streaks and spurts, and every time probably seemed like a half-step closer to some kind of mental happiness, and of course it wasn’t, just like a little bump of coke or a line of speed is going to make your problems go away… for just a second.

So yeah, I don’t really play the lottery.  I think I bought one Indiana ticket in my freshman year of college, just to say I did, and it was about as rewarding as burning a dollar bill (I mean, if you’re not a pyro that doesn’t enjoy burning stuff.)  But I do find myself in front of the occasional slot machine on a vacation, so color me stupid there.


Sunburn oracle

Here’s the latest time machine for me: I got this stupid sunburn on Sunday, which isn’t as bad as it could be, but it’s an annoyance, mostly because I’ll be sitting here during the day, staring at a FrameMaker window, and then suddenly realize I’m scratching my arm like a crank addict trying to break out of a straitjacket, and it takes so much effort to stop, I could probably channel the same amount of energy into levitating small cars.  So I dug through the medicine cabinet, which I should probably be packing into cardboard boxes for the move, and found this Tropicana sunburn gel crap, which is a bright artificial aqua-blue, and smells like some kind of synthetic fruit punch they only sell in inner-city liquor stores for 89 cents per three liter bottle.  I hate putting the stuff on, because it’s got this horrible stickiness to it, like a bad hair product you’d use if you had one of those faux-hawk things and read a lot of Details magazine.  But it has lidocaine or benzocaine or one of the -caines, and it anesthetizes the demon itching, at least for about five minutes.

I got this stuff on my honeymoon in 07, which is why it’s such a strong memory for me.  (It’s also probably why it doesn’t work well – I’m sure it has an expiration date of 08 or 09.)  We spent a week in the Bahamas, at Atlantis, and I spent about 80% of the days on their inner tube ride, where you sit in a circular rubber inflatable oval, your ass in the water and your arms and legs sort of half-sticking in the air, as a gentle current carries you through this artificial winding rapids constructed out of cement and fake scenery.  I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for this kind of ride, especially when it’s hot out and you’re surrounded by ocean and palm trees and a small army of natives all furiously working for their share of the tourist dollar in a place where the annual per capita GNP would otherwise be about the cost of a McDonald’s Value Meal.  I guess the fact that upon egress from the ride, there was an endless number of people all willing to hand you a towel or a fruity drink or a room service-priced hamburger had little to do with why I enjoyed looping around a chlorinated whitewater rapids, but it made the experience that much better than riding the same attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm.

We spent a lot of time trying to go off the beaten path on this vacation, but the whole battle plan of the Atlantis resort is they want to contain you within their economic sphere, and they will be god damned if they want you to pay any less than five dollars for a bottle of Coke.  This worked to our great disadvantage because Sarah’s luggage got lost, and she spent the majority of the honeymoon wearing $39 t-shirts from the gift shop, with no other real options.  We did talk to the bellhops and staff about where else we could go, and everyone was insanely friendly to us.  I found it somewhat disconcerting that most of the people who brought towels to the pool had gone to the US for college, and probably got full rides on scholarships to obscure places in Oklahoma or Wyoming, but then came back to the island to work for tips, which was probably more per day than you could make in a week pulling hard labor on a construction crew.  Everyone we met had five kids to feed, and every women we met spent entire conversations telling us how they were done with men, how the Bahamian male was only interested in one thing and then quickly moved on.  We got that conversation on the first cab ride we took, a 40-minute drive across the length of the island in a right-hand-drive minivan.

I half-listened to the patter of the cab driver while looking out of the window like Captain Willard watching the river unwind in Apocalypse Now, complete devastation on either side of us.  The night was completely black, no streetlights, no house lights, just the glare of the headlights carving through darkness and revealing this winding road that was almost as poorly-kept as an Indiana county road.  We’d pass by someone riding on the wrong side of the road (well, everything was the wrong side of the road here), riding some beat-up mess of bicycles mashed together into some kind of cart/pickup truck hauling a bunch of loose pieces of junk lumber and driftwood.  We drove by this big open area where they held a fish fry, a bunch of blazing fires in the darkness, people huddled around this strange carnival setting, a bunch of single-story houses built by the old British colonists, looking like some of the guard buildings from the movie Papillion.  I’d left the country a few times before this, but it was always to places like Canada, the Netherlands, Germany – I’d never gone somewhere that still featured artesian wells instead of indoor plumbing.

Anyway, I got a horrible sunburn from this stupid inner tube ride, and it wasn’t just a uniform shade of red; I ended up with this bizarre farmer’s tan in the inverse of where you’d sit in an inner tube, pure red broken up with a band of white.  And I went to the gift store and bought this 26-dollar bottle of ointment, and spent each evening coating my arms and legs with the junk.  We did a lot of stuff on the trip, but the smell of this bright blue medication reminds me vividly of the evenings we spent in the living room of the suite, waiting for this blue gel to dry, eating giant room service meals and going through every snack and drink in the mini-bar, because the crap was just as expensive in the store downstairs, and you only get married once.  We tuned the big screen (one of the big screens – this room had two giant TVs) to the ALCS games, watching the Indians slug it out against the Red Sox amidst a sea of bugs. The Rockies already finished the NLCS right before we left, and I wanted to know who we’d be playing in the World Series.

(Weird trivia I just found out while cruising through the wikipedia article about the 2007 ALCS: Joe Buck went to Indiana University at the same time I did.)

We did a lot of other stuff on our trip – nice dinners, a couple of trips into town, some decent walks at night, looking at the ocean under the moon and peering into the giant shark tanks scattered across the resort, looking at giant manta rays bigger than my car.  And as I wait for the lidocaine to kick in, and smell this distinctive fake-fruity smell, I remember all of this again, and it seems like it was five lifetimes ago and on a different planet than the Oakland I see outside my window.

Okay, time to get to work…


Pantone is not a shampoo

I think this sunburn is fucking with my head. I went to the Rangers-A’s game yesterday and it was hotter than hell out for the end of September. I think part of it is the Oakland Coliseum is such a horrible place, all concrete and built by the same architects that turned out prisons in former Soviet republics in the mid-1960s. After a couple of innings, I retreated back to the concourse and walked a loop around to see the sights. There’s a huge void where center field is, a concrete tunnel of nothingness where they shut down all of the concession stands and restrooms, and it looks like some secret tunnel system under a major city, a place where mole-men would live, only it’s a handful of people who are looking for shade or maybe cell phone reception.

I thought I escaped with no sunburn, and my arms still looked white, but then like three hours later, almost like clockwork, I looked and everything was the color of a Coke can. Is that like how you cook a steak for a certain amount of time, and then you let it rest for a certain amount of time, and it still cooks on the inside or whatever? I never fully understood the whole resting thing. It’s sort of like how you have to rinse pasta in cold water to stop it from cooking. Why not cook it for less time and not rinse it? I can’t imagine people in 1827 cooking at a covered wagon, saying “you need to let that shit rest for two minutes!” as Indians shot flaming arrows dipped in shit at their wagon trains.

Wikipedia has this new feature (maybe it’s not that new) where you can mark a bunch of articles and then make a print book out of them. I’m tempted to find a thousand cool articles and make a nice bound book out of them, because it seems like I keep going back to the same articles and reading them over and over. Like, for example, every 17 months I feel a need to dig up as much information as possible about The Day the Clown Cried.  I don’t know why; maybe it’s because I think if I eventually google enough, I’ll find a copy of it on YouTube.  Anyway, finding a hundred or a thousand articles would be great, except I’d spent forever doing it, and never finish, because I’d always think the next cool article would be only two more clicks away.  And then I’d get into a huge thing about how to organize and order the articles.  Like, should there be a chapter on cult conspiracies, or should each cult leader be in alphabetical order in a “people” chapter?

It’s time to start work, and it’s now twilight at six AM.  I think pretty soon it will be pitch black, which means I will soon spend an hour a day googling to find the best full-spectrum light bulbs.


Moving (again)

We are moving again.  This will be the sixth time I move in five years.  But, as I said last time, this will be the last time I move for a long time.

Let me first preface this by saying I am not moving back to New York.  I work in New York, but I AM NOT moving back to New York.  For some reason, everyone thinks I am moving back to New York. I AM NOT.  I have a feeling I will repeat that eight thousand times in the next six months.  I am actually moving four doors down in the same building, which is possibly even more absurd.

Here’s the deal: we are out of space in our ~800 square foot loft, and I work from home, and I have no office, and I don’t even really have a desk.  And all of our stuff is crammed together.  And as much as I dreamed about finding a bunch of dual-purpose, European-crafted high-end boathouse furniture that would magically transform my TV center into a kitchen island or whatever the hell would give me a few extra feet, we needed more space.

First we looked into buying the place next to ours, which was in contract for a long time but then went back on the market.  It’s a near-clone of our current layout, and we thought we could just buy it, knock a hole in the wall, and double our square footage.  But this plane was full of huge issues.  One problem is that the left wall of our place can’t be cut open because it goes into the stairs and closet of the next unit, meaning you’d have to do some major surgery in moving a set of stairs or something, which would probably involve tens of thousands of dollars in engineering studies and permits and grief.  There’s also the issue that we’d just barely be able to afford two mortgages, and two HOA payments would total us.  And getting a second mortgage effectively removes all of that first time/primary residence goodness; a second mortgage would not be an FHA home loan, but would be some crazy investment property thing that would involve putting down a third of the money up front.  So no place next door.

Then the possibility came up of buying the place four doors down and selling our current place.  I thought this plan would be fraught with disaster, of me trying to work from home and getting kicked out of the house four hours at a time to show the place, having to put half of our crap in storage indefinitely, all of that.  But the new place is new, never lived in and unoccupied.  So we swung a deal where we’d move into the new place, lease it for six months, and then completely patch/paint the old place and put it on the market, and our close of the new place would be contingent on the sale of the old place.

So we’re in escrow on the new place, we’ve entered a sales agreement on the old place, and life has been a huge ball of stress ever since.  We don’t know when we will move, because we’re waiting on them to install the floors on the new place.  When that happens, I’m not sure how we will move.  Moving companies are really big on weeks of advance warning, so calling them up and saying “get over here tomorrow” is not good.  And we don’t need a truck and a fire brigade chain of people from the street to the elevator, it’s literally a few dozen feet over.  But we also can’t just grab three dishes from the sink, walk next door, repeat 32,734 times.  And I’ll be damned if I try to move that stupid mattress myself.  So we need to get some illegal immigrants or something.

Other crap I need to do, in no particular order:

  • Pack everything, but don’t pack anything I might need in the foreseeable future, which is everything, because the second I box up the, say, printer, I will need to print some documents.
  • Buy a shit-ton of new furniture at Ikea and assemble it.
  • Figure out how the hell to switch over Comcast without ending up internet-less for seventeen days.  And I am almost certain they will make me return all of my boxes and modems to some center in Death Valley that’s only open two hours a month and charge me a $79 return fee so they can then show up and give me the same exact equipment.
  • Get drapes installed.
  • Get a sliding glass door installed.  More on that in a second.
  • Fill out roughly 742 pages of documentation for the loan company, including a seventeen-page HUD document asserting that in the event of alien invasion, we are still responsible for timely mortgage payments.
  • Write another thousand dollar check every single day for another fee or deposit I was not aware of.

So the new place: it is about 1400 square feet, or almost double our current space, at about 30% more cost.  It’s the same rough layout as our current place, with the same front windows and the same loft and pillars and all of that.  But it is HUGE compared to our current place, completely cavernous.  Other big changes include a full walk-in closet; a full bath downstairs instead of a half-bath; a more open-concept kitchen; a second bedroom downstairs (office!), and the stairs are metal instead of wood.  Minuses are there’s no closet under the stairs, and we lose our glorious skylight.  But it’s huge, and I get a god damned office.  Oh, the office area is more like a 9×12 alcove by the front entrance, three walls and open, so the first order of business is to install a set of sliding glass room divider doors, which will happen soon.

So I need to move.  And I need to sell this place.  The move could happen in a matter of weeks, depending on how soon that floor goes in.  Like I said, lots and lots of stress until then.

My desk showed up yesterday.  I can’t assemble it until we get into the new place, though.  It’s a 60″ wide Anthro Fit, with the light grey (“fog”) top, and I added one six-inch drawer.  I may add more shelves after we get situated.  If you’re in the mood for a new desk, Anthro is having a deal in September on the Fit line, 30% off.  Their desks are insanely expensive, but are built like goddamn tanks, and over-engineered in a way an engineer would love.  The one I got even came with tools, and I’m not talking those tiny l-shaped Ikea wrenches the size of a car key; I’m talking about an actual full-sized mallet and screwdriver.

Work at the new/old place is going good, too.  I am surprised at how fast the stuff is coming back to me.  Working on the kitchen table can be a bear, and I don’t have a work computer yet.  But finishing work at 3 and being done versus finishing at six and then facing an hour or two of traffic is huge.

Speaking of, gotta get to it.



I’ve been working in VMware all week, and constantly swapping virtual memory, even though this computer has four gigs of RAM.  And it’s not like I configured my virtual machine to use four gigs of memory and then wondered why I can’t run that and iTunes and iPhoto and iEverythingElse at the same time.  So I broke down and ordered eight gigs of RAM and hoped it would get here Saturday, but of course it won’t get here today, and possibly later, because our FedEx guy doesn’t understand how our door phone works.

(And all of this is stupid – I later found out that my backup software was configured to run 24/7 when I’m idle or not, and that was eating a ton of memory.  I saw this rogue Java process running, and thought it was… I don’t know what I thought it was.  But I could still use the extra memory.)

Anyway, my last OWC memory upgrade I bought was three gigs for the last laptop, which cost $150.  And when I did that back in 2007, I told a version of the same story:  in 1993, I was building this Linux computer, the first “real” computer I built.  (Prior to that, I built an 8088 with a meg of memory, but building an 8088 in 1991-1992 is a lot like building a Pentium II system today, which would probably involve a lot of shopping for lots of obsolete computer pieces.)  So I got this 486 (DX, not SX!) and I went to CompuSource and bought four one-meg SIMMS for $160.  So in 17 years, I’ve gone from 4MB for $160 to 8 GB for $220 (minus the trade-in of ~$50.)

And looking at my activity monitor, VMware’s little icon it puts in the menu bar uses 4 MB of memory.  It’s amazing to think an entire OS, with X Windows and emacs and multiple users and multiple xterms would run in that same amount of memory a few years ago.  It feels very Andy Rooney to talk about it, because I know when I was sporting the four megs of RAM, there were people talking about the old times in the same way.  I took this C335 assembly language class in 1991 with a teacher that had been hacking hardware for a generation.  We had these Atari ST computers in the lab that I think had either 512K or a meg of memory, and he would talk about the first computer he built with 32K of memory that took up a whole room and cost more than a small house.

But here’s the thing: if you were working on a wire-wrapped board for an Altair to hold 4K of RAM for a thousand bucks, and then five or seven years later, went down to your local Key-Bee toy store and dropped a few hundred bucks for a Commodore-64 with 64K of memory, the whole experience would be markedly different.  I mean, you’d go from toggling switches to enter ones and zeroes to this thing that would do 320×200 graphics in 16 colors and output straight to a TV with no additional boards and hardware, and had a built-in BASIC and a kick-ass sound chip and a real keyboard (sort of).  But if you make the jump from a circa-1993 Linux machine to a circa-2010 Linux machine, the storage and memory grows orders of magnitude, but the basic paradigm is the same.  I mean, our computers would have to read minds and have working replicator technology to make a jump like that.  I sit down at a Windows 7 machine of today, and fire up a Windows 95 machine of 15 years ago, and the underpinnings are vastly more powerful, but you’re still doing the same basic crap in the same explorer window and dragging around crap and staring at the same hourglass.  Moore’s law might be boosting the hardware, but it seems like every time they bump up the horsepower, some idiot says “hey, let’s use all of this magical power to make an animated paperclip that tries to guess that you’re making a bulleted list” or “let’s run a daemon in the background that sends this user’s private information to the mothership every five seconds, and let’s ignore the fact that 4000 other companies are going to do the same exact thing, so when the person’s computer sits idle, almost all of its CPU is going to byzantine licensing and crapware server programs.”

One big minus to the otherwise sweet MacBook Pro is I’ve gotta crack open the case to put in the memory.  Which means, I need to go find my set of jeweler’s screwdrivers for the baby phillips-head…


HD is the new SD

What happened to the allure of the HDTV?  I was thinking about this the other day, as I tried to shoehorn some more crap in my storage space and realized that the little 15″ analog CRT TV I have in there is probably never going to see service again and is just wasting a couple of cubic feet of precious space.   (Did I throw it out?  Of course not.  The second I do, our main TV will blow up and I’ll be forced to play Call of Duty by sound only.  Besides, I’d probably get sent to Guantanamo Bay as a terror suspect for chucking a TV into a dumpster here in the people’s republic.)  I mean, it took something like twenty years from the time the Japanese had (analog) HD in every home from the time they finally shut off the old systems here in the US.  And for all of that time, HD was in this virtual limbo.  It was like space travel – sure, you’ve got some Russians hanging out in a space station, drinking Tang and dissecting mouse livers in zero-G, but the time from the first space shuttle launch to the expected time when anyone can go to a United Airlines terminal, drop a credit card, and take a flight to the moon is somewhere between forever and never.

(Side note: if Virgin or United or whoever starts offering those low earth orbit flights, do you think they would give you mileage?  Because if so, you’re going to rack up something like 400,000-some miles per day.  Fly for a week, and you can turn that shit in for roughly 2500 years’ worth of Sports Illustrated subscriptions.)

I remember the first time I ever saw an HDTV set.  It was at a Magnolia hi-fi shop in Lynnwood, in like 97 or 98 – they had this big-screen, I think a rear projector, since that was about all they had back then.  And one of the local stations – I think KOMO – was broadcasting 24 hours in HD, but they only had like two hours a week of actual programming, so they ran this loop of some crap they filmed, like a news helicopter flying over the mountains, shooting the evergreen trees scrolling by, some clouds or mist in the distance, snow-covered peaks, that sort of thing.  And I was absolutely floored by the quality of the broadcast, the way it looked like much more than just doubling the number of lines or whatever.  The color depth, the richness, was simply amazing.  And then I talked to the sales guy, and of course the set cost as much as my car, and you had to buy a laserdisc player, and none of the cable systems did anything, so you had to get some rabbit ears, and they hoped that in a few years, about ten percent of shows might be in HD, and the whole thing seemed as probable as getting a working jet pack with a completely legal death ray add-on system.

I never thought about making the jump to HDTV for a while – I never had enough room or cash to buy a rear-projector system.  When I moved to Astoria in 1999, I bought the most TV $500 would buy, which was a 27″ Panasonic CRT set that lasted me ten years.  I thought about HDTV only because in New York, all of the networks started broadcasting in the early 2000s, and I couldn’t get shit with my rabbit ears hooked up to my analog set.  The rumor was a good HDTV tuner with an analog output would potentially give me clear pictures, or at least I’d trade the snow in the picture for pixelation compression errors.  But I didn’t want to drop hundreds on a box just to eat up more of my writing time on crappy network shows, so I forgot about it.  (There was also an issue that the highest point in New York City, which was the central point for all HDTV service since 1998, suddenly vanished in September of 2001.)

I did buy a HDTV in 2009, when we moved into this new place, for a few reasons.  First, I could junk that old 27″, and not have to move it or buy a bulky piece of furniture for it to sit on.  The thin-screen LCD revolution happened after the turn of the century, and after a few years of enjoying the fruits of a 20″ LCD monitor on my desktop, I got a nice Samsung TV for the house.  And then less than a year later, Samsung gave all of their employees a bigger LCD TV as a year-end gift (probably to clear out stock for their new LED TVs, which look great but are awesomely expensive right now).

I remember all of the madness about the big switch, when the evil socialist Obama government would pull the plug on the analog TV standard and leave us all without our daily doses of Judge Judy and Matlock reruns.  The whole thing seemed like a joke to me, since I first heard about the changeover something like twenty years before, and if you’ve got cable, it doesn’t even matter anyway.  But people freaked the fuck out, and the government changed the transition date and spent billions (literally!) of money on education, and coupons for converter boxes.  It’s an amazing testament to this country’s priorities that people die in the streets without healthcare, but threaten to shut off people’s TV, and we’ll organize and blow federal money like there’s an asteroid headed straight to the earth and we need to get Bruce Willis on that thing with a nuke and a drilling platform, pronto.

So I’ve had the HDTV hookup for a year and a half now, and I guess sometimes I notice the difference.  But it’s one of those news memes that seemed like the end of the universe in early 2009, but in ten years, nobody’s even going to remember a time when we didn’t have HDTV.  And the real question is, when will the next big switch happen?  NTSC in the US went from 1941 to 2009 with color TV starting in 1951 (and then stopping, and restarting in 1953).  I’m guessing the next big move to make all TVs obsolete won’t take 56 years.  The next big format war is going to be over 3D TV, and of course, every major manufacturer has their own format, and has their own hallucination that their format will prevail and that by next year, all of us will be replacing our TVs with their new crap.  If they had their way, we’d replace our TVs every year, and also buy a new cell phone every year, and a new computer.  I expect Samsung’s home appliance division to get in the game too, and come out with some new planned obsolescence strategy for their clothes washers and refrigerators too.

Now I just need Comcast to get with the digital revolution and give me a new DVR that has an actual HDMI out, so I don’t need to keep hitting the screen format button and try to figure out if a person’s face is really bloated or if I’m supposed to be watching something in 4:3 instead of 16:9.


The drive

Last week, I drove 40 miles each way to work, which is 400 miles a week, which is about 20,000 miles a year, or maybe a hair less when you count in the various holidays and days I break an arm or wreck a car or get sent to a trade show where, instead of questions about my work, idiots ask me questions about the parent company’s TV sets.  Today, I drove zero miles.  I sat at my kitchen table, with sunlight streaming in from my giant 17 foot tall wall of windows, with a cat sitting on the table next to me, and plugged away at my laptop.  It wasn’t bad.  I mean, I don’t have a work laptop yet, which meant running Windows in a VM on my Mac, and then running a VPN in that to connect back to Palo Alto, then a morning of trying to figure out how to get at servers in New York, but it worked.

I’ve done this drive for two years.  With my tiny car’s awesome mileage, that still comes out to about a thousand gallons of gas.  Add in the lunches and the dry cleaning of shirts and the cost of said shirts and pants, now that I get to sit around in jeans and a t-shirt, and I wonder how much it cost me to work.  Granted, I probably made much more than that, and it would be much worse if I cared about my appearance and spent more time in a Nordstrom’s or at a salon or going to a gym every day to obsess over my muscle tone, but it’s still freaky math the amount of money you pay to make money.  And that’s on top of essentially paying half of what you make to various forms of The Man.  So yeah, it would be cheaper for me to sit around in dirty clothes in some tea party wet dream of a borderline-anarchist land with no laws and no taxes, but it also costs money to stockpile ammunition.

I spent all day reading tech writing stuff that was my bread and butter from 2001 to 2007, and a lot of it’s still me.  Editing old work I haven’t thought about in years is a really strong and effective time machine.  I mean, the product has moved on since I left, and someone else worked on the docs, but it’s the same basic templates I created, and the bulk of the writing’s still mine, or at least a slight variation of mine.  It really pulls me back to 2003 or whatever, when I was hashing this stuff out for the first time.  And it’s somewhat stupid to get nostalgic about an era that’s largely documented on this very site, and that’s got some pretty solid coverage in my paper journals and in saved emails and all of the other crap sitting on my hard drive.

But red-penning my way through hundreds of pages of this stuff brings me back to the times I sat in the back corner of that office, hunched over a Dell, a giant second-generation iPod playing from its whopping twenty-gig hard drive, wondering what kind of fortified compound I’d build out of leftover shipping containers on my land in Colorado, what I’d do on my next big trip to Vegas, how I’d endure another weekend in Astoria, what I’d add to my Amazon shopping cart for my near-daily purchases I’d rapidly consume on the N train every day.  It makes me think of bad first dates and forgotten coworkers and random movies I saw for no reason other than the two hours of free air conditioning, even if it did cost ten bucks a pop plus a long train ride into “the city”.

And I guess I do lament the New York I resisted in that period, the people who were the status quo and how I knew I could never be them, and how I tried hard not to be.  New York is a land of old money, and a place of millions of people who come to this overpopulated ghetto of an island to somehow prove that they are old money, even if they’re tending a bar and running a receptionist desk.  It’s not like LA, where everyone is trying to get rich quick, where being a nobody from a dirt farm in Nebraska is actually a good thing, because you want to prove that you came from nothing and created everything.  I never came to New York because I wanted to be a New Yorker or because I wanted to follow some near-Parisian dream of being a bohemian but with a rich lineage. And there are millions of people who drive cabs or dig ditches or bust suds in a dish sink who have much different dreams.  But when you’re a white, single, early thirtysomething with a college degree and a desk job, it’s pretty hard to look beyond your demographic.

It’s also oddly contradictory, now that I think about it, how so much of being a status quo New Yorker is all about getting out of New York.  You spend every free second slinging shit at the “flyover states”, but almost every big status symbol requirement has to do with where you summer, how you get a share on Fire Island, how you go upstate to see the leaves turn, how you go to Europe or “do” LA or go to Rio or whatever non-New York place is supposed to make you a New Yorker.  I never built in these escapes, and being confined to a little island with no car drove me nuts.  It’s why I would get a last-second flight deal and go to Pittsburgh and absolutely love it.

I still haven’t been back to New York since I left.  I’ll probably end up going back soon, and I’m sure 100% of it has changed.  And I know I could never live there again, but I am curious if I show up at the corner of Broadway and Houston, if the whole thing will feel like I never left, or if I will be overwhelmed, or if it will all seem like a strange dream.

I think I’m buying a new computer desk tomorrow.  The kitchen table is no AnthroCart.  And once the new laptop shows up, there won’t be room for two computers and a cat.


Obsession cycle is not a Calvin Klein-themed Harley

When I was maybe ten, I became obsessed with the Elephant Man.  I think the movie came out around then, or maybe it was the play, and Mark Hamill was playing the role of Merrick in the Broadway version, and because I was so infatuated with Star Wars at the time, I absolutely had to read everything about it, which was pretty much nothing, given that we had exactly five TV channels, and the closest thing to Google around was a Sears version of the Pong game we got that Christmas, which was so cheap it had the paddle wheels actually mounted on the top panel of the game unit, and didn’t even have wired controllers, so two people had to sit right next to each other to play.  (And I also thought that maybe there was some hidden easter egg in the game – which is odd, considering the very first easter egg in a commercial video game was probably the hidden room in Adventure for the 2600, and I never played that – so I would spend hours trying to drive up the score in the practice mode, thinking maybe if I got the score up to 99 or something a magical message would appear, like a “good job!” or a phone number you called for a free t-shirt, or something.  No luck.)

I never got to see the movie back then, the David Lynch thing, because HBO only played it once that I could remember (although they played that horrible Flash Gordon remake pretty much every other hour) and this was twenty years before the DVR and at least ten years before we got a VCR that could record, and it was at the same exact time I had to go to my stupid CCD class on a Sunday for church, and I was so pissed off and tried to talk my way out of it, but couldn’t.  I did manage to borrow the book version from someone, and it had maybe six photos in it, but that wasn’t enough.  Sometimes I wonder if these frantic obsession cycles I have got burned into my head result from a lack of media back then.  I mean, if I would’ve heard about the Elephant Man, and then jumped in a web browser and spent four hours poring over wikipedia articles, instead of just getting a tiny taste of it and then not seeing a single thing for years, maybe I would be placated and not spend inordinate amounts of time researching these memes from childhood, reading old Apple II history or 1970s fighter jets or non-Apollo 11 moon landings, because my school library had only a single book on the subject, and I probably checked that single book out 20 times and memorized every damn page.

This still happens.  Like last night, I saw that movie Benjaman Button (or whatever it’s called – Curious Case of…?) and it had a brief appearance by a fictionalized Ota Benga, who was this pygmy from Congo, who was brought over to the US and became an exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, running around a cage in a loincloth throwing spears and playing with monkeys.  (Obviously the political climate was slightly different in 1906, given that now those primates he shared a cage with can now legally drive cars and vote in 22 countries, and would probably be allowed to apply for home mortgages, had Countrywide not gone under.)  So I throw that in google, and Ota Benga links to the movie Freaks, which links to the Lobster Boy, which links to Grady Stiles, the lobster boy who was a horrible alcoholic and was killed by a (poorly) planned hit by his abused family, which brought me to some other article, which brought me to Chang and Eng Bunker, and now I’m spending my valuable day off combing the web for articles about conjoined twins, half wondering if there is either a medication I can take for this, or a way I can make enough money off of it that I can just harness this compulsion into a six-digit career.  (And no, I’m not going to start an ad-sponsored site about freaks or about Soviet attempts at Venus landings or whatever else.  I know in an hour, I will be busy googling for a new desk again.)

Some strange facts about Chang and Eng Bunker:

  • They owned slaves.
  • They lost part of their plantation in the Civil War and were extremely anti-government after that; they also had a son who fought for the Confederate Army.
  • They met a pair of sisters and fought over which of the two they wanted – they both wanted the same one, but Eng won and Chang got second pick.
  • They had 22 children between the two of them, which raises a bunch of obvious questions about how one performs the required acts to conceive a child when your brother-in-law is sitting right next to your husband as you complete said act, repeat 22 times.
  • The kids were all double first cousins with each other.  Double first cousins are technically half-siblings from a genetics standpoint, but since identical twins have the same DNA, they were more than half-siblings, but not full siblings.
  • The sisters ended up on bad terms, so they had to set up two households, and the twins would rotate between the two of them, spending three days at each house.
  • Chang had a stroke four years before they died, and he was the one that controlled their legs, so they were pretty much screwed after that.
  • Chang died in his sleep; Eng woke up one morning, connected to his dead brother.
  • A doctor offered to perform an emergency separation of them after Chang died, but Eng refused to be separated from his brother.
  • Their grandson was General Caleb Haynes, who was a prominent pilot in the Army Air Corps in WWI and WWII.  He was later a freemason, for those of you who are keeping score on how the freemasons are connected to everything.

Great, now I’m going to spend the afternoon googling how many of the people who walked on the moon were freemasons.



My friend Jessica had her IM status set to “MACHETE DON’T TEXT” from the movie Machete, and it instantly turned into a game I could probably play all day:

(11:21:07 AM) jessicalyn1124: machete dont use coupons when he grocery shops
(11:22:05 AM) jessicalyn1124: machete don’t vote in the primaries
(11:23:53 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t need car insurance
(11:25:34 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t break for yard sales
(11:27:07 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t contribute to his 401k
(11:28:13 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t return library books, eveer!
(11:28:45 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete fucks with Wu Tang Clan
(11:29:25 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t recycle
(11:30:15 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete dont floss
(11:32:08 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t use a target card to save 10% on today’s purchase
(11:33:18 AM) jessicalyn1124: Machete don’t call ahead to order pizza


iOS 4.1, semi-portable computing

iOS 4.1 came out yesterday, and I updated my iPhone 3G, which has been plagued with slowdowns and randomness since I updated it to 4.0.  It was almost so bad that I thought I was running a high-end Windows Mobile phone.  (Okay, not that bad.)  But it appears that the fixes in 4.1 alleviate any of the problems I was having, and everything is back to normal.  I can’t use the new game service, and it doesn’t multitask, both of which are not deal-breakers for me, since I need fewer things to waste time with, and I don’t care much about multitasking as long as I can switch between apps smoothly.  (Like for example, my Windows Mobile phone multitasked, but switching between applications was clunky and involved the virtual equivalent of the phone saying “oh yeah, hang on a second dude…” Switching between email and the web browser is faster on the iPhone, even if both of the applications are running and in memory in WM, the only difference being that in WM, you’re burning through the battery twice as fast.  And I used to constantly do stuff like switch out of Google Maps but not exit it, so it would still be running but not be visible, and by lunch my battery was dead.)

One of the things that enticed me though, and I can’t find any good information on it, is that you can supposedly use a bluetooth keyboard now with the iPhone.  I don’t know if you can on the 3G, or if the performance is decent, but if so, that gets me a step closer to the ideal travel computer setup.  I’ve always wanted some kind of thing where you had an iPhone-sized palm-based computer that you could pull out of your pocket to take a picture or play a song or jot down a note, but then when you sat down at a desk, you could pop it in a cradle or stand and hook up a keyboard and maybe a monitor, and you’d be able to work.

I think my obsession with this model was fueled by a week I spent in San Diego for a conference in 2000, when I only had my Palm Pilot IIIx with me.  It was before I owned a laptop, and probably the main reason I shelled out $5000 for a Dell Latitude in the beginning of 2001.  But this was when the Palm was a big deal, and every suit you see tooling around the airport with an iPad today was tooling around the airport with a Palm Pilot back in 2000.  You could actually go to a CompUSA and buy software for the Palm Pilot – actual shrinkwrapped, boxed, on-disk software.  I think back then, they had entire aisles of software, plus all of the cases, screen protectors, cables, docks, and other add-ons you could buy.  I did a lot of reading on the Palm, a lot of eBooks (which was ten years before the eBook was invented, according to current news reports).  I also played many, many rounds of Dope Wars, and found many hits of acid on a dead dude in the subway, when I happened to actually be on the subway.  But I never really wrote much on the Palm, because the stylus and the graffiti inking language never completely jived with me.  I can barely read my own handwriting, so learning a new handwriting system was out of the question.

I did no writing on the trip – I found a Borders instead and bought an armful of Philip K. Dick books to keep me busy.  But when I got home, I saw this little keyboard at CompUSA and immediately bought it.  The thing unfolded and you plugged your Palm Pilot into the lid, sort of like a makeshift cradle, and then typed away.  This thing was an awesome novelty for me for about three days, until I got bored of trying to write on the Palm Pilot and decided to start gardening in my kitchen or trying to collect crossbow parts off of eBay or whatever the hell else I did at that point in 2000.  This keyboard looked neat, and the folding lid was nifty, but the keys were like 95% sized, and my fat fingers kept hitting the wrong things.  Plus there was some weird delay of a tenth of a microsecond that made the user experience a bit sloppy.  And there were various ergonomic issues with having the keyboard immediately under a three inch screen, and the joined assembly bouncing around as you typed, unless you had a perfectly flat and stable surface to rest the whole thing on.

So would a bluetooth keyboard and an iPhone solve any of these problems?  I’m guessing you would have the same ergo issues unless you pumped the iPhone video into a big monitor.  And it’s not like I can run emacs on my phone, so I’m not going to be writing a 300,000 word book in the notes application.  Also, there’s the issue that the 3G is not a powerhorse cpu-wise, so even my lowly netbook is going to outpace it for desktop application performance.  And then I have the various sync issues; I can’t keep all of my writing on my home computer in a phone’s tiny flash memory.  I suppose I could concoct some scheme where all of my data lived in the cloud somewhere, but that doesn’t help me much at 40,000 feet with no cell tower in sight.  (Side note: man, I hate the term “in the cloud”.  It reeks of MBAism, something that was invented by a suit to describe a long-existing service and wrap it up in some hip and smarmy term that could be resold for more money. I mean, was my VAXNotes conference back in 1989 “in the cloud”? )

Maybe the iPad is part of that solution – you have a big screen, you can haul it around easy, you can plug in that keyboard cradle thing or pair up a bluetooth keyboard and write.  And everything I write here, even though it isn’t my primary writing repository, lives in a remote server and can be accessed by any machine with a reasonable web browser and a functional connection to the internet.  Wordpress has a halfway decent app on the iPhone, and if the iPhone glass keyboard wasn’t so slow for me, I could write on there.  (It works perfectly fine for web surfing, googling things, and the occasional two-sentence email message, but I can’t hack out a thousand words on it unless you gave me like eight hours and four Ativan tablets.)  All of this is much less important starting next week when my office is my home and my Mac is always within arm’s reach.  But it might be more important the first time I have to make a trip back east for work.

Speaking of, last day of the old job is today.  I thought about writing something giant and grand to sum up my feelings about that whole situation, but it’s complicated, so maybe later.  Probably not tomorrow though, given what happened nine years ago and all.