Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One of Those Nerds Who Names Their Cars

When I got my Ford Sienna mini-van, I jokingly tweeted that I was unsure if I would name it the Millennium Falcon or Serenity.

Well, half-jokingly.

As I've become more comfortable driving the Sienna I've come to start thinking of it as my car. My wife seems fine with this, since she still likes driving the Prius. Since it's my car, I've added a few personalizations here and there. I never minded much when Annette put election bumper stickers on the Prius, but I think she probably takes issue (if only a bit) with my choices of flair:

I recently attempted to stick another identifying emblem on my windshield:
However, it appears too cold for that now; the first time I started the windshield defroster, the decal peeled away from the glass. Maybe next spring...

Even so, I've been trying to think of a Firefly-related name for the mini-van for quite some time. I didn't want to go with the obvious "Firefly" or "Serenity". I tried the names of various crew members and settled worlds of the Firefly 'verse, but nothing really clicked. The closest I ever got was a brief flirtation with naming my ride "The Tam", since that encompasses two of the main characters who are also arguably the driving force behind the story of the Firefly crew as we know it. But that name still never felt quite right.

Sometimes, inspiration hits when you least expect it. I wasn't even thinking about my naming problem this morning as I got ready for work, but the moment I stepped out of the shower, one word entered my consciousness and took firm root there. It was, in my opinion, the perfect name for my Sienna mini-van that also pays tribute to one of my favorite TV shows.

I am now the pilot of "Siennity".

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why You're Not My Favorite

I want to take a moment to explain a certain aspect of Twitter--specifically, my method of using it: the "Favorite".

I've always been aware of a HUGE discrepancy between the amount of Favorites my tweets receive and the amount I give out. This is not in any way meant to be a brag, humble or otherwise. I don't mean to say that I get a ton of favorites, but I give out almost none. Seriously, in the six and a half years I've been using Twitter I've marked 83 tweets as Favorites.

I use the Favorite star mainly as a bookmarking function. Maybe it's something somebody linked to, and I want to look at it in more depth later. Or the link is something I want to be able to keep and quickly find as a valuable reference.

Occasionally--very occasionally--I will use the Favorite as a way of marking something that was extremely funny or profound or touched some part of my awareness in a particularly strong way.

None of this is meant to criticize the way other people use Favorites. It seems the Twitter Favorite has become the Facebook Like: a way of saying "I agree with this" or "Good one!" or "LOL" or even "I have read this." I probably don't treat it this way because I'm not Facebook-compatible.

When I first joined Facebook it was primarily as a way to stay in touch with my family, since they don't use any other social media or even e-mail--except for a few occasions a year. There were certain aspects of Facebook that seemed counter-intuitive to me, a computer programmer and fairly regular web site user. Over the years, in my opinion, they have not made it better by any stretch. In fact, I think they keep making it worse with every change they incorporate. It got to the point where I found Facebook SO counter-intuitive--even clunky--that I just couldn't use it anymore. I've since deactivated my Facebook account, which is one step away from deleting the account. (I may return at some point, but not for now.)

Anyway, any time I tried to use Twitter Favorites as a Like, it felt so forced and artificial on my part. I just couldn't do it. Since social media is a tool that everyone uses differently according to their interests and desires, I decided I wasn't going to try to force it.

However, this doesn't mean I don't want to interact with people or give kudos where appropriate. If I can think of a way to latch onto a joke to keep it going, I might reply with such. If I can't, I usually try to at least make some comment to indicate "interesting take" or even as the kids say, "laughing loudly out loud" or however that goes. If it really tickles me and I think other people might enjoy something, I'll retweet it (as long as it hasn't already been RTed a million times.)

Don't make the mistake of thinking this means I think I'm better than those that simply click the star. This just fits better into how I do things. I do enjoy seeing when people Favorite something I've tweeted, because I take that to mean that it resonated with them in some way. And often the things you write will resonate with me; I just have a different way of trying to let you know that.

I realize I'm probably putting way more thought into this than anyone who reads my Twitter feed. But now it's out there for anyone to read and discover why I might--mistakenly, I hope--appear to not give the same Twitter love I receive.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Feel Free to Stop at Any Time

Dear planet Earth,

Here is an off-the-cuff list of things I am tired of seeing in the news. It's not that I want the news to stop informing us of occurrences of these items, I want these items to not occur.

  • accidental shooting of self or family members due to improper handling of a firearm
  • missing females between the ages of 13 and 35
  • crap cops (a sensational minority) fomenting mistrust of good cops (a vast majority)
  • ISIS beheadings
  • ebola
  • ISIS anything
  • race-based violence
  • sexual orientation-based violence
  • perv teachers
  • Secret Service screw-ups

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Perspective at 70 MPH

Nothing like a little distance to get out of one's own headspace.

It's fairly easy for me to get overwhelmed by daily details that are, quite frankly, infinitesimally meaningless in the great big scheme o' things. The problem is that when I'm in the thick of it, it doesn't seem all that meaningless. Things at work, making sure all family members get to where there supposed to be when they're supposed to be there, things that are wrong with the house, things that I'd like to make better with the house--all these conspire to drive me insane with anxiety.

For some reason, long highway drives help me get things back into perspective. I'm not even sure why, but seeing a variety of homes all along the spectrum from "so much better than my house" to "at least my house isn't as bad as that" makes me feel better about our house. It is, after all, just a building. Things can be fixed and improved; the things that aren't yet fixed or improved are still probably fine.

I'm sure some of it has to do with what I call the Trading Spaces effect. I had never done much thinking about what the interior of our house looked like, apart from arranging furniture in a presentable/functional manner. There was a period of a few years when Annette and I would regularly watch home improvement shows, especially Trading Spaces on TLC. Shows like this made me feel like I could actually do something to spiff up rooms in my own house.

So seeing houses from the highway where I can see a tidy little garden here or a smart-looking fence there tends to give me ideas I might use later around our own home. (Confession: a large number of these ideas get filed away in a black hole, never to be accessed again. But at least they lived for a brief moment.)

But even apart from noting the condition of homes and appreciating the aesthetics of them, seeing all these homes as we're whizzing by makes me consider how tiny one house full of people, animals, and just... stuff is, in comparison to the state, the country, and even the entire planet. Each house we pass is full of people I'll never meet with problems I'll never know about and experiences I'll never share with them. And we're past them in a matter of seconds.

Then I realize that I live in one of those houses for someone else--for a lot of someone elses. My small circle of friends, co-workers, and family will know and possible care about some aspects of my life. But by and large these worries I have, these anxieties I experience, feel as if they've shrunk quite a bit in just the couple of days we've been on the road.

When we get back, there's a pretty good chance that I'll fall back into the trap of not being able to see the world beyond my own backyard, but I hope to retain at least a little of the perspective gained from hitting the road for a while.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Snippy Stylist

I tried to take my son for a haircut at Great Clips this afternoon. Here's the note I sent to customer service about why he's still shaggy.

If your stylists don't want to be there, I know I don't want to, either.

On Saturday afternoon around 1:45, May 17, I walked out of your salon due to the irritated attitude of one of your stylists, Bekah. My 12-year-old son was being shy and quiet about explaining what he wanted. When he started with  "Make it short" Bekah very tersely said, "I can't do anything with 'short.' Half-inch, one inch, what?" He's twelve, Bekah, give him a bit of a break. When I stepped in and said, "Let's just start with a trim," she said pretty much the same thing to me: "I can't do anything with 'a trim.'"

I have no idea why she got so annoyed so quickly and felt the need to be so short with us. There was only one other customer in the salon, and that person was being taken care of by the other stylist. So it's not as if she was incredibly busy. I realized there was no way we would be getting a decent haircut from this woman, so I said, "We're not doing this today" and decided to leave. I told her she was unnecessarily brusque and she was showing us attitude for no reason. She said she was sorry we felt that way, but nothing else.

I don't like making a scene; you have to understand just how frustrated I had to be for me to walk out of a situation like that. I have a pre-paid haircut card, and if I had to decide right now, I'd walk away from all of the remaining haircuts I've already paid for. I think you need to address customer service with this stylist, and especially how to talk to shy children.

Appropriate reaction? Too much? Not enough?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Back to the Gym

I joined a gym a month ago and to the surprise of everyone--particularly myself--I've actually gone there. More than once!

I've managed to get to the gym 3-5 times every week so far. Now, I'm realistic; I'm not expecting an immediate transformation. But the scale is pissing me off something fierce. It refuses to show me anything different than it had been. Literally, not by a single pound.

I feel like I've built at least some muscle in the past few weeks. Doesn't that mean I have to have burned off some fat? At least a little bit? Please? Don't answer; that was a hypothetical. I'm going to go ahead and believe that's the case. I have to.

You know what intimidates me more than the guys grunting and banging weights around? Realizing that some of the women on the treadmills were there when I showed up and are still jogging/walking when I'm heading out the the door. And that's including shower time!

I do have to laugh at some of the guys I see there. I'm certain they're the kind to brag to their friends about spending 3 hours at the gym, but what they don't mention is that most of that time was spent wandering aimlessly around the floor, chatting with other gym members or playing with their phones. I'm pretty sure that doesn't count.

It's a little difficult to not feel out of place at the gym, especially since whenever I go there at night, it's mostly twentysomething time. I've come to terms with the fact that I'm the sole old guy most nights. I'm hoping the sentiment is mostly "good for him" and not "aw, man, why do they let in the olds this late?"

The other night, the gym staff member at the desk said something to me that almost made me cancel my membership right then and there: "Good night, sir!" Sir. I'm a sir. Blecch.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Discard Pile

Perhaps I'm becoming something of a wastrel in my old age, but I think I'm pretty much done saving things just in case they might one day come in handy.

If I use three inches of black electrical tape per year, I think I'd rather go out and buy a new roll of tape, use the required amount, and throw away the rest of the roll. Then the next time I need black electrical tape, I know my first step is to go out and buy some black electrical tape.

In terms of the amount of time spent looking for the tape each year and the ratio of "stuff we have that goes years without being used" to "amount of space we have in our house", I think I'll still come out far ahead.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Unreal Estate

I have a huge case of domicile envy.

Last night, I was feeling both a little antsy and a little sluggish, so I decided to take another nightwalk. I crossed the street into some neighborhoods where I've never been, despite living here for almost 6 years. What a difference a street makes.

Only a few minutes away from my home, the houses get big. Like, money big. It's pretty apparent where all of the luxury cars and SUVs are coming from now. I saw a lot of houses that I'd love to live in, and a lot more that I could never even dream of being able to afford.

One particular house stood out: there was a part of the house that was bigger than my entire house, then three garage doors, then even more house. I bet they think of me as living on the poor side of the street.

I have to be honest: every time a car passed, I imagined they were slowing down to size me up and determine if they should call the police on the hobo walking on their sidewalks.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Etiquette Check

So, vending machine. I'm already there, transacting my soda transaction.

You come up and need something from the fridge. Instead of waiting for me to get my crack-in-a-bottle and move, you open the fridge door while I'm right there.

Now for me to get my soda, I have to bend over sideways to reach the delivery hatch. I fumble the play and drop my soda on the floor, shaking it up nice and thoroughly.

Do you feel even a little responsible? Responsible enough to say, "Oops. Sorry, man."?

I would. He didn't.

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Two Left Feet

I broke my date's heart at the dance last Saturday night.

It was the Daddy/Daughter Sweetheart Dance for the Girl Scout troops in the area, and Cassie and I have gone to this the past two years. It's loud and seems like it goes on forever and the games and crafts are usually pretty lame, but she seems to have a good time.

The problem is that I'm not good at dancing--AT ALL--and I'm very aware of it. Honestly, the idea of dancing in public gives me more anxiety than speaking in public. I would rather address a crowd of hundreds of people than have 5 people see me try to dance. I thought it said something about what I'll do for my daughter that not only have I tried to quash this anxiety for the past two years, but a few years ago I agreed to be in the Daddy/Daughter dance number at the recital for Cassie's dance studio. This was a choreographed number on stage and everything. It went okay, but I don't think I've been more nervous in my entire life.

The past years at the Girl Scout dance, we'd usually spend some time at the games, then a few songs on the dance floor. Cassie would usually run off to be with her friends, leaving me standing there, feeling like a doofus. Then she'd run back a short while later and want me back on the dance floor, then run off again. I should mention that each time going on the dance floor meant taking off our shoes, because for some reason they keep having the dance at a junior high that is ultra-paranoid about their gym floor. (You're a junior high school--get over yourselves.) So we would have to take off our shoes and put them on again 5 - 7 times a night.

This year, something kept me from going on the dance floor; I don't know exactly what it was. Maybe part of it was that I realize Cassie is growing up, and I expected her to spend more time with her friends and not notice me that much. I think part of it might be a fear that she's getting old enough to realize what an embarrassment her father could be in front of her friends, and I was trying to head that off before it happened. It didn't help that the DJ has a weird idea of what songs make for good dancing. How do you dance to Styx's "Come Sail Away"? House of Pain's "Jump Around"? (Besides simply jumping up and down for 3 minutes, which wears me the hell out.)

So every time Cassie asked me to go out to the floor, I said not right now. When she was out with her friends, I had my Kindle out. Maybe that's odd behavior at a dance, but I am less social at this point in my life than I have ever been. Small talk drives me crazy, mostly because I suck at it. Cassie asked me to at least come on the dance floor and stand there, but that would have made me even more awkwardly self-conscious.

I knew she was disappointed, but she still seemed to have fun. I didn't know just how disappointed she was until we got home. I walked through the room where Cassie was talking to Annette, and she stopped talking. I heard enough of the last sentence to know she was sad and that it was about me. Then when Annette spent a good ten or fifteen minutes with Cassie in her room with the door closed, I knew I screwed up big. My not dancing made Cassie sad enough to cry.

So now on top of being self-conscious and awkward, I feel guilty for letting my 10-year-old daughter down in a major way. I always thought I'd be a really good father, but it turns out that's probably not the case. Not as often as I'd hope, anyway.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Disappointing Mining Expedition

The Iowa City Public Library had a Minecraft event for tweens. I think I may have had some small part in helping them decide to have it, because when they announced one for teenagers on Twitter I pointed out to them that there were probably a lot of younger Minecraft players in the area that would also enjoy a meet-up at the library.

I probably won't go out of my way to take my daughter to the next one.

Some of the problems were simply first-time kinks, caused by an uncertainty about how many kids would show up, how many wouldn't already have their own Minecraft logons, and so on. Some of the problems were technical: the whole point of the meet-up was that the library now has its own Minecraft server, but not one of the kids had any luck actually getting onto the server, as far as I'm aware.

No, my problem is with the kids. And most likely, the crappy parenting that has gone on with those kids. When Cassie connected to a world where some of the other players were, as soon as she appeared some other player started hitting her character over and over, with the goal of "killing" her. When Cassie was quietly building a simple structure, some other player immediately started destroying blocks. What the heck is point of joining a multiplayer environment when all you want to do is alienate other players?

And I was surprised at this behavior, given that everyone was sitting in the same computer lab. It wouldn't have been too difficult to figure out where any specific kid was sitting and confront them. I wish I had been in the lab when some kid told Cassie, "Fuck you!" in the chat. All she was doing was asking someone why they were killing everyone around them, and she got that little gem in response. She wasn't bothered by it; she's probably seen worse in some of the public Minecraft servers she's been on. But it bothers me that some punk kid felt comfortable doing and saying that with at least three library employees wandering around and several parents in the room. Although to be honest, I don't think the employees were doing all that much in monitoring how the kids were interacting.

Because of the number of kids, they let the first wave play for an hour and then had everyone log off to let another group of kids on the computers. I don't think Cassie got to "play" with anyone. It was pretty much chaos, with very few (if any) kids actually playing together.

It didn't help that Cassie was the only girl there at first. By the time any other girls showed up, there was no room for them and they had to wait. I regret not asking the library employee if I pulled Cassie off the computer, could she be guaranteed a spot in the next wave so she could play with some other girls. I think she probably would have enjoyed that more. Now that I think of it, I wish the library would do a Minecraft meet-up for just girls. I think it would probably be less intimidating.

There were probably some of the boys that would've been fine to play with. You could kind of spot the true Minecraft nerds who would love to spend hours exploring caves or building intricate structures. Unfortunately, they were outnumbered by the kind of jerk kid whose motto is "let's break everything and ruin it for as many people as possible." And I know not all girls would play nice just because they're girls. One of my daughter's friends is a real pain in Minecraft. She's the kind of kid that feels comfortable making demands of me and complaining to me--in Minecraft chat, never in public; she won't even talk to me when I see her at school. She also feels fine destroying not only other players' creations, but mine as well. And she knows I could simply kick her off our server for good. I can only imagine the kind of tantrums she gets away with at home.

Anyway, if the library sorts out their server problems, maybe I'll ask if the server is set up to let players outside the network in. Then next time Cassie can simply log on from home, and she won't be limited to a short time on a PC but can still interact with other local Minecraft kids. And if they start acting like jerks again, she can simply log off and go play Sims.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Freed from the Desk

Something I've thought about lately is how I am one out of four people in this household without a laptop.

I purposely avoided getting myself a laptop (more correctly: a notebook computer; laptops will fry one's lap and any important adjacent bits) the last time I replaced my computer. I still wanted a desktop with components I could swap out in in the future and something that was beefy enough, videologically speaking, to handle most current games and graphics programs.

But I have noticed that while I sit and watch a DVRed program or Netflix or HBO GO, I'm often on my phone, looking up tidbits of information or tweeting random thoughts to the world--or at least, the hundred-and-thirty-odd people that claim to follow me. So I considered getting a fairly basic laptop of my own. This wouldn't be something to replace my home desktop, since I'm still probably 3 years away from upgrading that. Rather, I thought I could make good use of a fairly inexpensive, not-all-that-robust laptop for basic writing, Internet surfing, and tweeting. I could even still use most of my desktop's programs simply by installing TeamViewer and tunneling into my PC from across the room.

Today while shopping at Best Buy for something else, I saw that they had "Laptop Bundles" which merited a closer look. For a bit over $300, I ended up with an HP laptop that supposedly has a Pentium processor--although, I didn't look too closely into what generation. It also has Windows 8, an operating system I wasn't all that keen on investigating. (After half a day, I can give it a solid "meh." It's not horrible, but I see no point in it over Windows 7--an OS I have become used to and can even admit was a good replacement for Window XP.)

At any rate, I now have a laptop that can catch my even more random thoughts whilst watching TV and movies, since I won't have to battle my phone's texting keyboard to do so. If you're interested, tonight's selection is "The Holiday". I don't know that I can identify what grabs me so much about this film, but it does. Perhaps insights into my personality will slip out into the Internet while I watch it.

For that, I probably apologize.

Friday, February 14, 2014


After a tweet in which I complained (again) about TweetDeck, a follower asked, "What do you get out of @TweetDeck anyway? [I]t seems to frustrate you often." I can't fault him for asking this, because I do. In fact, a lot of things frustrate me often, and I tweet about most of them. In fact, I'm kind of amazed anyone still follows me after all of my griping. In fact, I use "in fact" an awful lot.

First off, for me Twitter is a place for complaining. In addition to learning things and sharing bits of information and funny links and general conversation, Twitter is the first tool that has pretty much forced companies to notice and (optionally) respond to comments. Yes, 9 times out of 10 we're screaming into the wind. But once in a while a company notices and might even make some attempt to remedy the situation.

So I looked at past tweets where I mentioned TweetDeck. Not using Twitter/TweetDeck's search; that blows. No, I used SnapBird--a MUCH better Twitter search tool--and even that can only go back to last June for me. Here are most of the tweets where I directly address issues with TweetDeck:

custom timeline: TweetDeck Gripes

There are a few bug reports in there, as well as a few feature additions I'm requesting because I genuinely want to help. One major/minor issue is how the TweetDeck tab closes when the Chrome extension updates, no matter what I'm doing, and I do not have the ability to not auto-update. To tell the truth, this is more of a flaw in the Google Chrome model than TweetDeck. (My minor quibble is that TweetDeck always seems to push out updates in the middle of the day for the US.)

The vast majority of my actual complaints have to do with TweetDeck refusing to implement a pause/freeze button where I can definitively say "do not under any circumstances move the column until I scroll it myself. Do not load more tweets, do not trim the end of my column, do not close the box where I'm composing a tweet--NOTHING." They've tried to implement some half-assed solution where it tries to guess when it should be paused, but that never works consistently. It mostly fails when I'm scrolling back to see what I missed in the past couple of hours. This is the single most irritating problem I have with TweetDeck.

So the question "what do you get out of TweetDeck?" is a completely reasonable and justified one.

I really liked TweetDeck when it first came out as an Adobe Air app. It had everything I wanted in a Twitter client, and they added new features all the time. My only problem was that at the time, I only had one monitor so I couldn't leave TweetDeck fullscreen all the time!

Then Twitter bought them and everything went to hell. (By now I'm fuzzy on the timeline, so some of this might not be 100% accurate.) Not much changed right away except for being called "TweetDeck by Twitter." When they came out with v1.0 of the Adobe Air version, that's when it went downhill fast. I disliked the desktop app so much that I searched out and reinstalled the previous version. TweetDeck 0.38 was the last time the desktop app was any good.

When I got into using Google Chrome as my main browser, I decided to try out the TweetDeck Chrome extension. It was fairly close to what I liked about the original, and I still had yet to locate a viable replacement at that point. I had tried several recommendations from friends and tech web sites, but there was always at least one dealbreaker for each alternative.

So I still use TweetDeck in my Chrome browser. Here's the shocker: I actually like it--a lot, in fact. It does most of what I want it to. It's just that the one major flaw irritates the shit out of me on a daily basis. So I vent about with a tweet on move on with my day.

I think TweetDeck is a good Twitter client. I just want it to be better because I remember when it was better.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DirecTV and Twitter Spam

Sunday's viewing of the return of Sherlock on PBS was marred by my digital cable repeatedly glitching. Annoyed, I took to Twitter to briefly vent. This triggered some oily DirecTV salesperson to try to pitch me on their service. I find this entirely inappropriate, regardless of the fact that I tweeted in public about my frustration with their competition.

A few companies have figured out how to use social media, most are still fumbling about, but DirecTV has it completely wrong. And with attitudes such as the one displayed by their salespeople, I will never even consider switching to DirecTV.

(In case the embedding above doesn't work or DirecTV gets tweetdelete happy, here's the conversation: )

And to cap it all off, some keyword spambot chimes in at the end. I really hate some aspects of life on the Internet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Racial Awkwardness at the Drive-Through

I ordered a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit combo at Hardee's on my way to work this morning. When the restaurant employee--who is black*--handed me my meal, he said, "Here you go, Boss Man."

Call it white guilt or oversensitivity or insensitivity or reverse racism or racism racism, but my immediate (unexpressed, of course) reaction was, "What? No--I'm not your Boss Man. I'm just a white guy getting food from a black guy. I mean, no, it's not about colors. You can call me what you want, but--I'm not telling you how to speak, I'm just... look, I was hungry and simply wanted a breakfast biscuit, and I don't think I'm superior to you because of our skin. Why am I even thinking this; is my brain more racist than I thought? I hope he gave me a straw this time. Who still uses the term 'Boss Man' these days? Would he have said the same thing to me if I were black?"

I'm sure he gave it much less thought than I did.

*Disclaimer: I am not a racist.**

**Disclaimer disclaimer: I know this means neither that I never say racist things nor that no one will ever be racially offended by something I might say.***

***Disclaimer disclaimer note: I lost myself in the double triple multiple negatives in that sentence, but I'm sure you catch my drift. Or maybe you didn't not.