Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Zen State of Mind

Sometimes the only thing standing in the way of a problem and its solution is a good night's sleep. I've often had trouble understanding certain concepts or problems and have woken up the next day to readily understand and solve them. Nothing has changed except perhaps your brain is more engaged or you've digested all the different views, but you feel sharp and focused and everything falls into place.

Woodworking is a lot like that, especially working with hand tools. Combining your focused mind with your hands allows you to enter into a zen state of mind.
Since I don't have any woodworking projects in progress, I've been practicing joinery. But earlier this week, I was practicing cutting tenons by hand in a spare hour before work with horrible results. To be fair, a 700mm length bowsaw with 9 tpi web is quite a bit larger and coarser than all but the absolute largest tenon saws. My saw drifted left and right and back and forward and produced tenons that looked like they'd been cut with a woodchipper. I was convinced the problem wasn't with me, but it was with the saw that had to have been dull.

Today I sharpened most of my saws and was putting off sharpening my bowsaw with the joinery web in it. I paused for a moment and figured that I would try cutting another tenon to see just how dull the saw was. But I cut a perfect tenon with no problem.
The only thing that changed is that I was focused on cutting the tenon instead of getting ready for work
I often experienced this problem with guitar playing when I was beginning. But once I actually started setting time aside in my day to practice, I was able to focus and get better. All the little things that I would have to obsess over became second nature so that I could focus on what the song was supposed to sound like.
The same thing's happening with woodworking; nothing's changing, I'm just entering into a zen state of mind.

Friday, December 28, 2012

How the Conquistadors Inflated Their Economy

One day I realized I had absolutely no idea how businesses, banks, or the financial world work. That annoys me. So I read an Idiot's guide to economics from the library. The book was pretty dry, but it was a down and dirty quick guide to most of the concepts of economics. Then I started reading a macroeconomics textbook, and now I truly know the meaning of dry. One of the concepts discussed in both books was fiscal and monetary policy. An IS-LM curve (Investment-Savings; Liquidity Preference [money demand]-Money Supply) was introduced which shows how equilibrium exists between the commodity market and the money market with interest rates and income plotted out on the y and x axes respectively. But another idea was introduced which is still an odd concept to me.
And that is the velocity of money.
Simply stated, velocity is equal to the nominal GDP and divided by the money supply, or V=PQ/M. 
And MV=PQ is another way of stating the formula.
So is M=PQ/V.
I remember reading about how the Spanish discovered the Americas and brought back so much silver and gold that it caused rampant inflation for their economy. But being historians, the authors never discussed why that happened. I think the simplest definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods which leads to an increase in the price based off of a supply and demand curve. 
But the equation actually shows why inflation happened. Instead of Q increasing, prices increased. Although you would get a higher nominal GDP based off of higher prices, your real GDP would deflate.
So why wouldn't velocity increase with an increased money supply? Velocity is the amount of times money changes hands in the year per unit of currency. So a huge increase in money supply wouldn't necessarily correlate with an increase in velocity.
So, if that's the case, why wouldn't Q increase instead of prices with the GDP being equal to the change of the money supply and velocity of money?
I'm not totally sure, but I think if a large amount of money were flooded into an economy it would take several years of investing in order to actually raise production of goods. If the Spanish explorers were to start buying boats and farms after coming back from the Americas it might take several years before they could start growing wheat or catching a bunch of fish with a fleet. While the money supply exceeds the demand though, prices increase with inflation as a result.
Out of all of this, the takeaway is that by controlling the money supply you can attempt to control prices to prevent a rapid inflation or deflation. 
Now my head hurts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best Christmas Songs You've Probably Never Heard

For all the bad Christmas songs we have clogging up the airwaves, there's lots of great Christmas songs out there. Only thing is you have to know where to look for them because they aren't played on the radio for God knows what reason. Some of them are irreverent, more winter-themed than Christmas-themed, or just too slow to be deemed a playable Christmas song by corporate America.
1. "I Love the Winter Weather" by Squirrel Nut Zippers.
2. "Santa Claus is Smoking Reefer" by Squirrel Nut Zippers. This was actually a secret track hidden on one of their Christmas albums.
3. "This Time of Year (When Christmas is Near)" by Etta James.
4. "The Holly and the Ivy" by George Winston.
5. "In the Bleak Midwinter"
6. "The Wexford Carol"
7. "Walking in the Air" by Nightwish.
8. "Star Carol" by John Rutter.
9. "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella"
10. "Shepherd's Pipe Carol" by John Rutter.
11. "Overture" by Duke Ellington.
12. "Arabesque Cookie" by Duke Ellington.
13. "Dance of the Floreadores" by Duke Ellington.
14. "Toyland" by Perry Como. 

The Worst Christmas Songs

We're in that time of the year where you can't escape Christmas music. Whenever you drive in the car, it comes on the radio. Whenever you turn off the radio, there's music playing in the store. Whenever you leave the store and go back home, there are holiday jingles playing on the television. Whenever you turn off the television, you have the horrible songs still bouncing around your head. I've experienced quite a bit in my life, but there are certain things that make me want to claw at my face whenever I hear them.
And just to clarify, I claw at my face every single time I hear these songs.
1. "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"
    Every little girl's dream is to have a wild, dangerous African animal for Christmas which is notorious for being extremely aggressive and flinging its feces everywhere to mark its territory. Oh? It's not? Well apparently it is for this horribly misinformed little girl. I don't understand how people think this song is cute. What the hell kind of a Christmas would they expect if this actually played out? What the hell kind of sicko parents or Santa would allow this to happen? I have a horrible image of a house with gaping holes in it, people flattened like pancakes, and feces absolutely everywhere. Street hardened policemen would poke their heads in to get a glimpse of the carnage, and immediately turn away to start puking and yell "OH THE HUMANITY!" Plus, what's with the creepy girl's voice? I know it's a child singer, but it still freaks me out. I'm pretty sure I know the reason why. After studio executives spent a day and a half of being told "that's a stupid idea for a song" by 8 year-olds, they clearly went with plan "B" and got an adult female to sing the song with a mask of helium hooked up.
2. "Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey"
   As if to differentiate that the song is NOT about a reindeer, the singer drove the message home with all the subtlety of a Mel Brooks' comedy. "HEEEEEE-YONK! HEEEE-YONK" is peppered throughout the song along with "JIGGITY JIG!" which isn't preceded by the old standard, "Home again, home again!" And then the singer can't remember the first words to each verse, so he just randomly fills empty air by yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LAAAAAA!" which apparently are sounds that only Italian Christmas donkeys make as opposed to those other jackasses. To be fair, Italy's Santa Claus legend does have him riding a donkey.  But if the Italian Santa had to ride a donkey named Dominick that sounded like an animal version of Ned Flanders ("Hidely ho! HEEYONK JIGGITY LA LA JIG!"), he would've traded him in for a Ferrari. Or a Fiat.
3. "Santa Baby" by Madonna.
   Madonna had a string of hits in the 80's and then 90's, but she's successfully transformed herself from an 80's sex icon to a real-life walking mummy these days. This song was recorded in the 80's by her, and she naturally wanted to try something different than her usual sultry approach. So she sung like a person who's just come out of a wisdom tooth extraction and still fully feeling the effects of the anesthetic. It really is different as a Christmas song, but you only listen to it halfway before you find yourself wishing that you could tell her, "Madonna, look, an 'A' for effort, but maybe you could just try singing it normally?"
4. "The Christmas Shoes"
    There's just something about this song that makes me want to crawl into bed and stay there for a week. I can't quite put my finger on it. It could be the street urchin protagonist in the song attempting to buy some sort of nice shoes, (he doesn't say what kind, but I always picture Air Jordan's or whatever Kobe Bryant's hawking these days) for his terminally ill mother, while his father is so overcome with grief that he's oblivious to everything and allowing his Oliver Twist of-a-son to roam around the city. It could be that the protagonist doesn't have enough money to buy the shoes and has to resort to begging instead of picking up aluminum cans and taking them to a recycling center. It could also be that the song sounds suspiciously like Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"
5. "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
    I understand what peace is fully. It's the absence of war. And I understand what Yoko Ono is. It's the absence of singing ability. Japanese and Chinese music sound atonal to me but that's because their musical scales are different from the western twelve note scale. And yes, the women singing do sound a tad like cats singing. But it works with their music. What doesn't work in this song is Yoko in the background warbling "WAAAAAR EEEEES OOOOOVAAAAH! EEEEEF YOUUUUUU WAAAAAAN IT! WAAAAR EEEES OOOOOVAH! NAAAAAAAAAAOOOOAAAAA!" I see it in my mind right now. John's hunched over at the console of his recording studio and the sound engineer is listening to the playback and says, "I don't understand, John! We've recorded this fifteen times and every single time once it gets to the chorus, I hear a high pitched whine in the background! It's not the equipment...but what is it?!"
6. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"
    Don't get me wrong. My issue with the song isn't the lyrics but with Brenda Lee's vocal cords which seem to be suffering the same debilitating disease as the little girl who sings "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." I mean, the Hall and Oates cover of this song was fine. Except for the video where John Oates gets all gussied up in a dress for the holidays. And the long, personal gaze that was shared between Darryl and John. That just makes me feel voyeuristic. And then I hear their cover and I start thinking about John in the dress and the stares that they gave each other. Actually, you know what, my beef is with the whole song in general, past to present and future.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Had a Dog Her Name was Pepper

Usually when I think about where puppies come from, an image of a mother dog licking her little 'uns as they nuss her forms in my mind. But when I think about where my old dog Pepper came from, a black, slimy, oily creature crawling out from a rock or a swamp is the only way I can see how she was spawned.
We first got her back in the late 90's and we fittingly named her Pepper because her coat was flecked with white and black. The first couple of days she adjusted to the new environment but I remember one night vividly because she was lonely and wouldn't stop barking. I let her inside and she slept on my chest with her head tucked under my chin the whole night. "Perhaps this isn't so bad," I thought. And indeed it wasn't.
But later that morning I noticed something was off about her. When my golden retriever came in, happy to greet me, Pepper provided her own salutation by jumping up and biting the golden's tongue. And thus started the beginning of a wonderful friendship that subjugated my golden retriever's legs for Pepper's target practice and Pepper provided...come to think of it, it was just a one way relationship with Pepper getting the most out of it.
"Oh that's so sweet! See how they're playing?" my mother cooed. My sister Hope and I shared a worried glance as Pepper did her damnedest to rip the legs off of our poor golden retriever while growling "RAWR RAWR RAWR RAWR!" and with the golden jumping to try and knock Pepper over to get away. This went on for about a year until Pepper got spayed. Then she just sort of half-heartedly attacked our golden retriever and would occasionally wrestle with her, but you could tell that her heart wasn't into it and that she was just doing it for old time's sake.

But this wasn't the only incident that tipped us off that Pepper was different. After one morning of not seeing Pepper, I asked my dad if he had seen her at all.
"No, I haven't seen her [RAWF!]. I mean I can [RAWF!] hear her pretty clearly but I don't [RAAAAAWF!] see her at all."
"Well, [RAWF RAWF RAWF!] maybe she's just up close to the house [RAWF RAWF!], right up under the windows or something."
"She [RAWF!] could be."
"You know what? [RAWF RAWF RAWF] It [RAWF] sounds [RAWF] like [RAWF] she's [RAWF] under [RAWF] the [RAWF] house! [RAWF RAWF RAWF!]"
My dad and I grabbed some flashlights and pulled off the covers to the crawlspace and saw Pepper coated in dust and dirt and happy to see us. She came running out, leaped into the air, and then ran over and started chasing our golden retriever around the yard. My dad and I didn't see any openings in the crawlspace. Hope suggested that Pepper had attempted to use her magic and teleport, but instead of winding up in a McDonald's greasetrap like she had originally planned, she wound up under the house.

It was around this time that we realized Pepper was slowly trying to communicate with us. Whenever she wanted something, she would slowly extend out her right paw, touch us with it, and continue to do this until we petted her or got her what she wanted.
"What a smart dog!" we'd exclaim, and then look outside to see Pepper running in circles, viciously trying to eat her tail.
Intelligence was completely contradictory with Pepper. If she were outside and begged for food, sometimes we would give her some just so she would stop touching us with her paw. And if she really liked the piece of food, she would rush inside as soon as we would open the door, and then immediately lay down on her back. The first time I attempted to pick her up in this position she clamped down on my hand like a vise. A vise with sharp pointy teeth. After that we just coaxed her out with food, but the end result was the same. She got an extra piece of food and we got to enjoy all of our digits for yet another day.

Her breath started getting worse. A lot worse. "Get away from me dog, you've been eating garlic!" My dad would say. Naturally we gave her rawhides and nylabones to get the plaque off of her teeth, but the chicken liver flavor wasn't agreeable to her, so she would bury these in the yard until they acquired a musty, rancid flavor. "What is she carrying in her mouth?!" "It looks like an evil root!" We could practically see the saliva flowing out of Pepper's mouth as she carried an unraveled jet black rawhide to one of her hidey holes to enjoy in private. It seems we had an answer to her foul breath.
Or so we thought. One day I saw Pepper eating something in the liriope bushes on the outer edge of our yard. "That's weird," I thought, "there's nothing over there; that's just where they use the bathroom." Of course it didn't occur to me that dog refuse is indeed something. My older sister went running out, yelling "PEPPER THAT IS SO GROSS! STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!" and Pepper did indeed stop and ran straight to Katie. Katie picked her up with the intention of putting Pepper inside so that she could get over whatever craving she was having for feces. Pepper was just really excited to see Katie and began licking her all over the face. "EEEEEEWWWWW" Katie cried and deposited Pepper on the floor while she ran to the bathroom to start pouring rubbing alcohol all over her face. Pepper looked around, saw me, and made a straight beeline for me. "AAAAAH! GET AWAY! GET AWAY!"
I took off. No way was that dog going to lick me after what she just ate. I ran from the living room to the dining room. Pepper thought it was a game and met me at the other door. "AHHH! GET AWAY! GET AWAY!" We played ring around the rosy with the piano, the dining table, the coffee table, the kitchen island, and individual chairs. Pepper was having the time of her life chasing me. I was running for my life, convinced that any part of my body that she licked with her tongue would develop some incurable fungus that would begin to rot and require immediate amputation. I finally jumped up on the kitchen table with Pepper staring up at me, convinced that we would remain like this until judgement day.
However my mom heard all the ruckus downstairs and found me biting my nails while hunched over on top of the kitchen table muttering, "humminahumminahumminahummina."
"YOU get off the kitchen table. YOU get outside right now." We both complied. But we explained what happened to our mother who suggested that we take Pepper to the veterinarian. "And make sure to clean Pepper's ears out before we take her, Trey."
I attended to the duty with a pair of Kleenexes. Pepper didn't seem to mind, but it was pretty gross considering the amount of hard, sable bits of ear wax that wound up on the tissues. My sister and mom took Pepper to the vet, and the vet suggested putting meat tenderizer on their dog food to prevent Pepper from eating her used food. Then he got down to brass tacks, muzzled Pepper, and began cleaning her ears out with a q-tip. "Oh gosh, your ears are dirty, girl!" the vet exclaimed. My mother and sister looked on in horror as q-tip after q-tip came out coated with some sort of coal tar. "I don't understand, my son said he cleaned her ears yesterday." "Well, dog ears are kind of s-shaped. The outsides of them look pretty clean."
And with that he turned to throw away all of the dirty q-tips. Pepper began shaking her head and loose ear wax flew everywhere, including on my sister's lip. "Thanks," she said, "by the way, you don't have any rubbing alcohol do you?"

I heard all about it when I got back and retold the story to Hope. Hope got a knowing look on her eyes and silently lead me to the garage where we had Pepper's chair. Pepper originally had a bed, but when my dad moved one of his old orange, green, and yellow striped upholstered chairs into the garage, Pepper claimed that as her little castle and would sleep in it every night. "It all makes sense now," Hope whispered, as if discovering the reason behind a thoughtless crime. I looked at the seat of the chair. A black, tarry substance in a Pepper-shaped ring was on the seat. I got a twig and poked at it. It was very firm but still gummy. "I think we've found an alternative for drilling crude oil," I remember thinking, as we could shear Pepper every summer and squeeze the tar out of her fur and just have that refined into asphalt and diesel fuel.

But alas, this alternative fuel was not to be. Pepper died shortly thereafter and was buried next to the legs of our gold retriever. I would often think about her fondly, remembering all the times I would pet her, and she would gently bite me to show her appreciation. Three years later, I was flipping through Popular Science and read an article about MRI research being conducted with dogs. The dog in the picture was getting a treat from a scientist, but the dog looked exactly like Pepper. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, when we interred her into the earth, she emerged from another swamp in California, looking for something stinky to eat and a pair of legs to bite.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Best Buy's Big Blunder

Have you ever opened up your google email account and delved into your spam folder to try and find an email that may have accidentally wound up there? If you've looked towards the top you can always see a bunch of google ads that feature delicious spam recipes. I've always found it a hoot that google ads will pick up on key words or phrases and not determine the context that they're in. Hence the spam folder advertising spam delicacies.
I got a kick out of it, but I didn't really think much about it in a broader scope. Say for instance if you were running an online website and you also had google ads on the pages. And for instance, if google ads picked up on your products' keywords and then started advertising for similar products on your competitors' websites. Google noticed this early on and allows you to block competitor's websites from google ads so that this doesn't happen.
However, as Best Buy found out on Friday and through the weekend, the filter only works if you turn it on.
Yep, while people were attempting to buy dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, other large household appliances, Best Buy was running ads for its competitors allowing people to determine which one had the best price or the exact product that they wanted.
I can only imagine the CMO must be thinking along the lines of "DADGUMMIT!" right about now.

A Haunting from John Maynard Keynes

The Richmond Times-Dispatch had an editorial today about the dreaded fiscal cliff that's coming up in January unless the dunderheads in Congress and President Obama can get the lead out and agree on something to prevent the tax increases and the slash in Federal spending.
Several writers offer differing views on the best way to tackle this problem, but five of them stood out to me.
One writer says that it's not necessarily the deficit that's the issue; it's far better to have low unemployment and high growth. That certainly echoes Keynes's argument for Great Britain in the 20's and early 30's when labor unions where striking for higher wages and the government was attempting to return the pound sterling to prewar levels. The result was very high unemployment in industrial areas which resulted in the government giving them unemployment pensions. Having a decent growth and low unemployment would allow for more taxes to be raised while reducing expenditures on unemployment insurance and other subsidized benefits.
A second says that increased military spending will create jobs but up to a point. After that point it will lead to decreasing marginal returns due to crowding out of private sector investments. I guess that makes sense; why would you try to compete with the government on research when they've already awarded out contracts to defense contracting companies?
A third writer sort of states the untold truth: the debt ceiling is just a limit. I don't know how it's decided, but apparently it's been moved up and up for years. And the fact that the government can refinance it's debt doesn't necessarily mean that there's a point of no return. However, I suppose that weighs heavily on the amount of our debt compared to other nations with similar GDP.
And the last writers hash out another argument in reference to taxation. One of them states that taxing the rich in order to redistribute it to the poor is really just a government sanctioned form of looting. And as long as the rich remain rich, there won't be a problem. That just smacks of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and it's kind of true from that viewpoint. If you're successful and created your own money because you were the best and the smartest at what you do, does it make sense for the government to continue to draw on your wealth by an income tax once you've paid your taxes like everybody else? Wouldn't that just be penalizing you for your success?
The other writer takes a differing stand point from a practical perspective. He addresses the higher tax rate for the rich as just a simple balance: having tax cuts for the middle class would create more jobs and more growth, but the only way to get to that is to have a higher tax rate for the rich.

So there you have it. Five different ideas on the fiscal cliff and five differing opinions. I think Keynes would take pleasure in trading barbs with the writers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Deep Thoughts

On Friday night last week, the missus and I went to eat at a pizza joint called Ledo's. And then all of Saturday and Sunday when I went running, I had Boz Scaggs's "Lido Shuffle" running through my head the entire time. I'm still trying to connect the dots on how I got that song in my head.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sparring Mustachioed Economists

I was listening to NPR's Planet Money in my car about 4 months ago and the host was talking to author Nicholas Wapshott about his most recent book, Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics.
He didn't go into too much depth about the substance of the differing theories presented by the two economists, but he did expound upon the debate that went through England's prominent universities with the two sides divided between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek.
But it wasn't just a debate, it was a ink based version of a tooth and nail fight between the two economists with sarcasm and acerbic wit dripping off the columns they would take out in newspapers to annoy and make fun of the other.
And something about the thought of two highly regarded economic thinkers who'd been awarded Nobel Prizes resorting to base name calling struck a funny chord with me. I had to read the book.
Ultimately the differing viewpoints and ideas boiled down into a distinct debate of high unemployment versus high inflation. Keynes was all for keeping unemployment low, while Hayek thought interference by the government could possible make things worse and generate an "artificial" inflation.
Though the two came from different Economic schools, I can't help but notice that their environments certainly had something to do with their ideas. Hayek witnessed firsthand in Austria the enormous inflation and instability caused by the war reparations the Axis powers had to pay after World War I. Keynes argued against the reparations, accurately predicting the effects if they were put into place, and witnessed politicians and economists attempting to return the pound sterling to prewar levels which resulted in unemployment coupled with the 1929 Stock Market crash. Each man had their own ideas of how to generate stability, even though they were fundamentally different.
But Mr. Wapshott doesn't finish the book with the concrete formation of the different economic theories by the two economists. Instead he continues to follow into the present while showing the different problems the theories encountered and how new theories and ideas were postulated to overcome each difficulty.
Hayek's views and theories were taken to heart by Milton Friedman who developed monetarism which is controlling the money supply through a central bank to generate price stability. Keynes's views and theories supposedly led to the boom of the 50's and 60's and then to high inflation and slow growth in the 70's, dubbed "stagflation" (a portmanteau of stagnate and inflation), and were then extrapolated into supply side economics and other sorts of ideas that caused my brain to start sputtering and smoking.
But because this book had a debate feel, constantly juxtaposing Keynes's theories against Hayek's, towards the end I found myself asking, "So who's the winner?"
As it turns out, they're both winners. Both of their ideas or at the least extrapolations of their ideas are used. The Federal Reserve raising interest rates try to get people to save more while borrowing less is one way of curbing inflation by making money less available, or by raising the reserve requirement for banks.
Stimulus packages to combat unemployment, and deficit spending to generate more jobs are both examples of Keynes's principles ("But Prof. Keynes! This will lead to enormous debts and inflation in the long run!" "In the long run we are all dead," quipped Keynes).
So although the book is a dense read, it certainly answers the questions "why" and "how" our economic institutions do what they do. And it's just plain fun to read the back and forth name calling.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Simple Stool

I'd had a couple of pieces of red oak that I'd bought out of the assumption that I'd attempt to make some sort of furniture out of it. That assumption lasted for about an entire year until during my honeymoon I got the itch to be productive and start working with my hands again. I settled on building a stool out of it, simply because it's a lot easier to make than a chair, it's good practice for cutting mortises and tenons, and it's not going to take up as much space as a chair wood.
So I cut the stock to length, prepped it, squared it, and successfully cut the mortises and tenons over the course of two days. That's probably the fastest I've worked, and it's a nice change of pace from my agonizingly slow work habits of old. However, like all problems I've encountered, everything went to h when I attempted to glue it up. I sliced my palm and the entire thing's slightly out of square.
At least I'm learning. I'd done a dry fit of each individual tenon and mortise, but I didn't do a dry fit with all the mortises and tenons assembled together to see if it was out of square or if one tenon was too long, etc.
Still, it fit together flawlessly with the exception of one post and now I know to assemble the whole thing to ensure all components mesh as they should.
Right now I'm weaving the jute seat for it. I would've liked using Shaker tape for it, but I'm afraid that I haven't been able to find that anywhere.
What's next on the agenda? Well, I'll try building another stool, but this one will be three legged with none of the mistakes repeated.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

If Youtube Comments Were Truthful.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Deep Thoughts

Whenever I attempt to grow facial hair, I want it to define my manliness and highlight my testosterone-laden fantasies I've hatched while confined to a soulless, windowless drone-like environment. Something that'll make people think of Captain Nemo sticking it to a giant, tentacled Kraken while screaming "I've got dinner reservations for two at 8 o'clock and I'll be damned if a slimy sea beast makes me late!"
But the reality is that between the five o'clock shadow phase and the Captain Nemo phase, there's an awkward teenage-beard/facial hair phase that makes people think of vans with tinted windows and John Waters.
Maybe if I forced my facial hair to go out and get a job it would grow up. But until then, I wait.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Merger

The setting is conference room with five people hunched over a telephone in the center. A man in a charcoal gray suit is punching in numbers on the phone and glances nervously at the other people.
Comptroller: [whispering] "Where's Siegel? He knows this is an important teleconference meeting"
Analyst: "I saw him in the parking lot screaming his head off, 'Why God, WHY?!'"
Comptroller: "Ah, great, that's just what we n-"
Phone: "Dan, are you there?"
Comptroller: "Yes, I'm here, we're all here. I have my three financial analysts sitting with me here, and my operations analyst, and we're just waiting on our lead project manager who should be with us shortly."
Phone: "Oh. Having trouble tracking your people, huh Dan?"
Comptroller: "That's...not it at all [whispering] you lousy, no good, rotten-"
Siegel: "Hey! I'm here! Sorry I'm late! I got tied up with something."
Comptroller: [whispering] "Where the hell have you been?!"
Siegel: [whispering back] "I had to confront my fears in the parking lot! This merger is a bad idea! A BAD IDEA!"
Phone: "Ok, I thought I heard your project manager's voice. Can we please start now?"
Comptroller: "Yes, of course. Alright we're here to discuss some of the final details of the merger and prospectus for this. My regards for our CFO he couldn't make it here today."
Financial Analyst 1: [whispers] "Where is he?"
Financial Analyst 2: [whispers, points to his head] "Hospital pysch ward."
Comptroller: "The merger is still planned to take place next Friday the 28th at 10:00 AM EST. We've inventoried our product lines and bought back 20,000 shares of common stock with the expectation of selling them back once we get our new business plan implemented and in operation which should take approximately 8 months."
Siegel: [whimpers]
Comptroller: "In the mean time, my financial analysts have determined our stocks are still retaining their value and are still being traded at approximately 10% above their sticker price despite, I mean, even after the news of the proposed merger broke. Um, Ms. Longfellow do you have anything to add?"
Financial Analyst 1 holds up a picture of people jumping out of a high rise building: "No, I have nothing to add."
Comptroller: "Alright, McJames anything with regards to corporate bonds or commercial paper?"
Financial Analyst 2 holds up a picture of a smiley face with tongue hanging out and x's for the eyes.
Comptroller: "Ok! He's looking at me right now and giving me the thumbs up! Our rating's still good! Fantastic!"
Phone: "Yeah, we got their reports and looked through them and it's definitely good work. I passed them on to my team and we've decided our best plan once the merger is finalized to maximize profits on a smaller budget for your area."
Comptroller: "Ok, care to share with the rest of the class?"
Phone: "Not until the merger's complete, Dan."
Comptroller pounds the table with his fist which causes the phone receiver to jump off the hook. He scrambles to get it back on its cradle.
Phone: "What was that? Did you just drop out?"
Comptroller: "No idea. So we don't have anything to talk about the investment and debt of the company, correct?"
Phone: "Right, let's move on to operations."
Comptroller: "Right, our senior analyst has been working with your senior analyst and he's drafted up a report that's still being hashed out between the two parties, but it brings up several valid points. Peabody the floor is yours."
Operations Analyst: "Yes, thank you, we looked at the possibilities of expanding our old line to accommodate a new customer base that would come with the merger, opening up a new line, or retooling the entire factory for the new products we have scheduled to roll out with the expectation that they'll be the next generation and the old generation will be obsolete, although we still have close to three months' worth of parts which we will be distributing to help ease the transition to the next generation. Expanding our old line would require us to purchase new machinery, employ more people, and the needed rewiring to accommodate another production unit. The only way the finance team and I could determine to implement this is to issue commercial paper for the first year and corporate bonds for the next five years in order to raise the cash for-"
Phone: "Not happening. Next scenario."
Operations Analyst: "Ok, we could open up a new line and have our old one operate at about 50% with the expectation that we would have a slightly reduced demand for our old product, and we would raise the prices on our old product to try and get people to switch over to our newer offering."
Phone: "Ok, that sounds good. I like that. How are you going to pay for the new line?"
Operations Analyst: "Well, we would issue commercial paper for the first year and corporate bonds for the-"
Phone: "EHHH! WRONG! Try again!"
Operations Analyst: "Well the final scenario is that we shut the factory down and begin retooling and replacing worn equipment and get everything set up so that we can start producing in approximately 8 months to coincide with us selling back the common stock that we bought back. We would finance this by issuing-"
Phone: "Ok, I get it. I like the idea of shutting the factory down. For retooling. Let's go with that scenario. What's your predicted growth with that scenario?"
Operations Analyst: "We expect growth to remain flat because of market saturation."
Comptroller spills his coffee all over his shirt while Siegel shakes his head and begins rocking back and forth.
Phone: "Ok. That's not really what I wanted to hear. Dan, is your operations officer on the line?"
Comptroller: "He should be, let me see if I can raise him. Mr. McGillicutty, are you there?"
Operations Officer: "Oh no Ms. Penny. My stapler seems to be out of staples. Can you recharge it for me?"
Secretary: "*giggle* Why of course Mr. McGillicutty, oh darling, why do we play these silly games?"
Operations Officer: "So that we can escape in each others' arms, away from this weary drudgery and cruel, cruel world. Now, take me to the moon and back!"
Secretary: "Oh, you animal! I have to have you! [kissing noises over the phone]"
Comptroller punches out of the line and is grating his teeth.
Phone: "So I can assume your COO is busy right now? All tied up? Has his hands full?"
Comptroller: "Yep. Yep. Yep."
Siegel: "I just have to break in and say something. You thieves think you can just come in here and hand our asses to us!"
Phone: "Well, unlike your company, ours can actually afford to hand you your ass on a silver platter. Anything else to say?"
Siegel looks around and walks out.
Comptroller: "Um, I think we're all done here. Sorry, tensions are little bit high."
Phone: "That's understandable considering the personnel cuts we'll have to make for this merger to be successful."
Comptroller: [whispering] "WHAT?!"
Financial Analyst 1: [whispering] "Hey guys, I'm planning on having a severance pay party tonight at Poor Yorick's. Shots are on me."
Financial Analyst 2: "Count me in."
Operations Analyst: "I'm 78% certain I can make it."
Phone: "Dan, are you still there?"
Comptroller: "Yes, I'm still here. What do you need?"
Phone: "I still really need to talk to your Operations Officer."
Comptroller pushes the button for the COO and only heavy panting is heard.
Phone: "You guys are going to the dogs. I have all the ammo I need. Thanks Dan."
Comptroller: "Thank you too, you [phone hangs up] @!#!@#$%!"
Comptroller looks around for a second and sees the Operation Analyst has drawn a picture of a ship with a bunch of rats leaping off it.
Comptroller: "Well, that went better than I thought."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I've hit the motherlode!

In terms of tea. Good Foods Grocery in Richmond recently renovated their Stonypoint center and one of the main benefits is that they still carry the nutritional yeast that smells like locker rooms. But, they also have loose leaf tea that's selling for rock bottom prices. I stocked up on Assam, rooibos, and an oolong that I think is Dan Cong or some other sort of high fired type oolong.
On a personal note my life is just plain getting weirder and weirder. I had the most surreal and bizarre job interview today that consisted of me misunderstanding every single thing my interviewer was asking because I couldn't understand him through his thick foreign accent. When it was over, I was frustrated and angry, but at the same time I couldn't help but think, "This utterly hilarious."
Sometimes I wonder if my life were turned into a movie everyone one would be laughing, but I'd be watching it, grinding my teeth, and grimacing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Deep Thoughts

Last night I had a dream that I was riding my bike around Richmond and knocking people over with it, left and right, and every time I would knock someone over I'd yell "YES! 10 points for Slytherin!"

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Yin for every Yang

Lara and I were sitting down to supper just the other night and she looked slightly worried. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Well, there's this old lady who works at the library...and she hates me for some reason. The first time I noticed it she was chatting up with some other old lady for all of about 5 minutes and then when it was my turn, she looked at me and the smile fell from her face to the floor. She grabbed my books, slammed them on the counter and didn't say a word to me the entire time. And then when I went back a few days later, she saw me again and told me to stop browsing through the books that were about to be reshelved. They were just returned! They weren't in any particular order! I don't know what I did to her or why she marked me like that!"
I reflected on that for a minute before returning to my volcanic heartburn burger and searched the recesses of my memory to see if I'd ever encountered anything like that before.
And that's when my flashback started.
Back in my halcyon days at UNC, a new dining hall, Ramshead, was opened up. Once inside its halls, you were assaulted by various forms of junk food that would guarantee a Freshman 50 instead of Freshman 15. Pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, pasta bowls, and breakfast all day long were the staples of its fare.
But it also had a decent coffee bar with two tall urns, hot water for tea, and usually hot cider or hot chocolate when it got cooler. I remember walking over to the coffee bar for the first time and seeing him. He looked like an older, uglier, and cock-eyed version of Duke Ellington who glared over the students pulling cups of coffee from the pyramid he'd stacked. I dutifully waited my turn and reached over to grab a mug from the top of the pyramid when he noticed me and spoke: "Uh uh uh. Grab one from the bottom."
I paused. Everyone else was grabbing from the top thus ensuring a stable base was present to support the other mugs. And yet this guy wanted me to grab from the bottom, for what? In the hopes that I might cause his mug pyramid to collapse and proceed to get banned from Ramshead for causing a ruckus? I was on to this guy. Using my jenga skills, I slowly slid a mug from the bottom and poured a cup of joe. My eyes met his. He looked at me. And then his bulbous eyes focused somewhere around my belt.
I got the creeps and looked down too, only to see a tiny speck of coffee that had dribbled out from the spout of the urn. Understanding what his eyes were boring holes at, I began walking away.
"EXCUSEMEEXCUSEMEEXCUSEME! You made a mess! You need to clean this up!" he hollered at me, all while other students were trying to get the spout to stop spraying coffee into their overflowing mugs.
I looked around for a napkin, and not seeing any, I used my hand to try and wipe the drop off the granite counter top, but that only succeeded in flinging tiny brown specks on the floor and the urn.
"AAAAH! Stop that! You need a sponge!" and with that he slinked off to find a wet sponge, and I hightailed it out of there. I'd be more than willing to clean up a spilled drink, an overturned tray, but c'mon, I have to draw the line somewhere or else the first thing you'd see when you walk into Ramshead is me with a bandana on my head waxing the floor with the coffee guy standing over me shouting, "I better see my face in that floor by the time you're through! And next time I won't be so nice!"
I went back to my table and enjoyed the coffee and took it over to the dishes section and felt a horrible feeling. Like icewater in my veins. Like all the happiness and sunshine and fluffy puppies in the world had disappeared. I felt something like an ember on my neck and turned to see the coffee guy over at the coffee bar staring at me with a wet sponge in his hand. He continued staring at me with his eyes, twitched his pencil thin mustache, and then slowly squeezed the water out of the sponge onto the coffee bar.
I wasn't sure whether I should piss my pants or laugh. So I did both.
Walking back to my dorm with my jacket balled up in front of my crotch, I told myself, "Eh, this guy was just looking to push people around. He'll forget all about me the next time I go in and get coffee"
which unfortunately is along the same lines of "I'm sure my ruptured appendix will heal itself," or "perhaps that hooded man with the gun running straight towards me just wants directions."
The next time I went to Ramshead I was sitting down to a quiet supper after a 5 mile swim. I had a pretty decent view of the coffee bar, and was waiting for fresh urns to be brewed and brought out. I didn't have long to wait. I got up and wandered over to pour a mug only to have the coffee nazi walk across the room and yank both urns from the bar and place them under the counter. "Why did you do that?!" I sputtered.
"We need to make more fresh coffee and then we'll start serving thirty minutes prior to securing the ranges and grills."
"But I don't have time to sit around for 45 minutes for just one cup of measly coffee!"
"Well, I just want one cup, can you do that for me?"
And with that, he sighed, grabbed my mug, and poured something into it from underneath the bar that was completely out of my sight. He handed the mug back to me, smiled and said, "Enjoy!"
"Thanks," I mumbled and walked back to my seat. I looked at the liquid in my mug. I smelled the liquid in my mug. I took a small drop and rubbed it between my fingers. All of my senses were telling me that this was either used 40W heavy machine oil or coffee that had been boiled for about three days.
"What the heck," I told myself, "I need the caffeine," and poured cream into it. Dark particulate matter began floating up, displaced by the cream, and I took a sip of the substance. It reminded me of hot asphalt tar combined with burnt toast. I gagged it back into my mug and looked around to see if anyone saw that.
The coffee nazi did and he had an utterly disgusted look on his face with mouth wide open.
I gathered my tray while my tastebuds were reeling, and put it in the dishes section when suddenly World War III broke out in my stomach reducing me to take very ginger steps back to my dorm, not failing to notice that new coffee was put out 30 minutes earlier than promised.
After several hours worth of trips to the toilet, I had plenty of time to think and piece the facts together. But nothing definitively made sense. Why had this guy marked me as his mortal enemy? Did I cut him off in traffic? Step on his toe in the Harris Teeter? Was he back in his place right now sticking pins in a voodoo doll's stomach? Maybe he was just stressed out and lashed out at people. Who knows.
After that incident I stuck to eating at Lenoir where the coffee is fresh and piping hot. But with December exams the eating hours at Lenoir were reduced with mostly Ramshead staying open later. I had no choice.
Armed with excessive facial hair, bulky clothing, and a baseball cap, I strode into Ramshead, confident that the coffee nazi wouldn't recognize me. I even passed by him, and he looked up, puzzled and with a far off gaze as if he were trying to remember something, and then shrugged and returned to filling out his timesheet with coffee rings on it.
I snickered to myself and poured a mug of coffee and went to sit in the furthest room of the dining hall and saw that the jukebox wasn't playing. I looked around cautiously and thought, "What the hell?" which is along the same lines of "I'm sure if I ski down this hill I'll miss all those rocks and trees," or "do I really need fully functioning brakes on my car?"
I starting playing Judas Priest, Molly Hatchet, and Foghat, all while sipping my coffee. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur streaming to the jukebox punching all of the motown hits. I peeked over and saw it was the coffee nazi who turned and looked at me. He had fire in his eyes and stormed back to his coffee bar and that's when it hit me. This guy just had it out for me because it was in his nature. He and I were entertwined in destiny's heartless spiderweb. He was my doppelganger, and I was the yin to his yang. And that's when a thought came to me. I marched up to him, put my cup down on the bar and barked, "This coffee is terrible!"
"I'm sorry, sir!" he whispered, to his utmost surprise. I put my dirty dishes away, leaving him puzzling over what just happened, and walked out of Ramshead, confident that I would never drink bad coffee and leave with soiled pants again.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Computer Games Stress Me Out and How I Deal with It

I recently started playing computer games again. I often go through spurts where I'll play them frequently, and lay off for a month or two. This weekend I started up again, but mostly as a stress relief on my feeble attempts of replacing my brake master cylinder on my Taurus.
"!@#!@" I'd yell as my wrench slipped off the nut.
"&*^#@" I'd scream as the new master cylinder shot pressurized brake fluid over my transmission case and engine.
"!@#!@" I'd holler as the old master cylinder sprayed fluid all over the inside of the hood and my coveralls.
"You already used that one!" Lara would helpfully add.
I gave up and tightened one of the nuts on the master cylinder and drove to a garage going 15 miles per hour with the added excitement of Death riding shotgun.
Lara brought me back and for this afternoon I've been fitfully turning from my book on Arnold Rothstein to playing a Star Wars game that I'd bought two years previously.
The game is essentially one big capture-the-flag between two large teams with explosions, Storm Troopers, weapons, and Wookies. That in and of itself isn't bad, and a person would think it's a good way to relieve stress, or at the very least relive dorky pre-teen fantasies.
But there's a slight problem with the AI (artificial intelligence) in the game.
I'd often sneak up behind the enemy and get in a good position to wreak havoc on them, only to be undone by my imbecile fellow soldiers.
"HEY! Get out of here! This is my hidey hole!" I'd yell to the blocky soldier who proved to understand what I was saying a little too well and shoved me out into the open where I was easy pickings for the insidious Storm Troopers. I began conconcting back stories to explain this whenever it would happen which usually involved me winning a large sum of money in a poker game the night before from the jackass who shoved me out of my spot. Or, I'd been sleeping with his wife and he'd found out about it and was biding his time until he could seek his revenge. Or he'd soiled his pants and just needed a private place to change.
As you can see, this happened pretty often as the game went on, and I ran out of backstories and just accepted that there was a self-preservation aspect of the AI with the weird quirk that all the other soldiers viewed me as expendable. That's understandable.
But then the dunces just started randomly walking into my line of fire. "Darth Windu? More like Darth Windon't!" I'd cackle as I'd unleash a hail of hurt on dark Jedi and Imperial goons only to be interrupted by the lone moron Republic soldier slowly, ploddingly walk straight into my sights, while the rest of the soldiers with brains went around or behind me. At first I took a sympathetic approach. This soldier clearly had heard about the Rebellion all his life, idolized it, and lied about his age to enlist, and with dewy-eyed innocence, marched straight into battle. Perhaps he was mentally revisiting all the amazing worlds that he had seen after enlisting, while being utterly oblivious to the one where I'd accidentally shot him.
"HEY! Get out of here you dummy!" I'd yell to the computer screen to try and wake the soldier up out of his daze. But either due to shellshock or some sort of deathwish, he'd veer straight into my path of blaster fire. The second time it happened, the dewy-eyed innocent I'd imagined was now just a buck-toothed Star Wars version of Gomer Pyle who went around the battlefield, drawling "SHAZAM!" and after I shot him, "GOLLLEEEEE!" The third time, I imagined that this particular soldier had some strange unexplained magnetism to blaster fire, and imagined him bouncing back and forth between sides like a pinball all the while screaming, "IT'S HAPPENING AGAAAAIN! OHHHH NOOOO! LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS! LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS!" But with the fourth happenstance, I assumed they thought I had superpowers which included a reaction time of .0005 seconds and could clearly see them in time to avert fratricide.
They thought wrong.
This incident quickly devolved into just running out into open space in full view of the enemy and then...running in place. Meanwhile, the Storm Troopers would mercilessly mow the calisthenically oriented soldier down.
The answer was pretty clear. The Storm Troopers had done their homework and watched a lot of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons and had gotten a big barrel of oil marked ACME, and proceeded to slick down certain patches of terrain. "Hah! Those rebel scum won't know what hit them!" I pictured them saying to themselves while hiding in the inky shadows.
But then I wondered if my soldiers were to blame for this nonsense. I could just see them now, huddled behind a big rock and trying to come up with a plan, "Alright, men, I'm all out of ideas except for one...we run out there...we get within five feet of 'em, and then...WE START RUNNING LIKE HELL IN PLACE!"
When I witnessed the initial event, I tried pushing the stuck/desparate soldier. This only made him start running into circles ("I'm getting dizzy! I'm getting dizzy!") so I attempted to push him again and was promptly rewarded for my efforts by him giving me a full dose of thermal detonator which made me ponder just how many soldier's wives I'd slept with in this stupid Star Wars game or if I was a really good card shark.
This is all compounded by the fact that throughout the game there are various vehicles strewn about which you can commandeer or fly. The controls to work these are rather difficult, and instead of swiftly dealing punishment to Storm Troopers while flying loop-de-loops, I drive like a little old lady with her foot on the brake pedal and the right turn signal on. "Whoops! I think those wing things were extraneous anyway," I'd murmur as I'd plow straight into the ground with my snow speeder. "Where is everybody?!" I'd wonder, as I'd attempt to turn around and slam into the ground, destroying my X-wing. "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" I'd scream as I carromed straight towards a bridge inhabited by Storm Troopers who would heed my warning and beat it, only to be replaced by my stupid soldiers, most likely screaming, "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!" right up until I'd crash into the bridge blowing myself up with most of my stupid soldiers.
Right now I'm letting my blood pressure drop back down into the triple digits and giving my hoarse voice a rest.
But what can you do? With stupid soldiers like the one in this game, who needs enemies. And with a stress relief like this game, a difficult job is a task I would gladly turn to.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How Would Rock 'n' Roll Sound without Fender Guitars?

Because I was unable to fall asleep thanks to a late afternoon nap, I checked the news and was kind of dismayed to read about Fender not proceeding with its Initial Public Offering (IPO). Not that I wanted them to go through with it (heck, I didn't even know they were going public), but it made me wonder why they were going public in the first place. The only reason I could think of is that they need the money for one reason or another.

But as I got further into the article, I read that a private equity firm owns a pretty good portion of Fender which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. This much I know after listening to three weeks' worth of NPR's Planet Money:  private equity firms generally work by people in the firm establishing a private equity fund. This fund is created by borrowing money from banks, money put up by investors, and also some of the firm's own money. The private equity firm will figure out what the problem is with a company, buy all of their stocks, fix the company, and then have an IPO to recoup their own investment and to repay the borrowed money to the bank. Prior to the IPO, the firm will usually go around to other investors and describe why they should own stock in the company. I think the analogy NPR used was flipping houses. It's pretty similar.
This is all fine and gravy, baby, but there's only one catch. When the company is bought by the firm, the company essentially takes on whatever debt it cost for the firm to acquire them and if nobody wants to buy their stock they go bankrupt or are sold off bit by bit.
So with all the musicians and rock fans in the world, why wouldn't Fender want to continue with its IPO?
Well, if you can't find anybody to buy your stock, that would be a pretty good reason.
CNNMoney reports that Fender chose not to continue after several investors claimed that the company was overvalued and that they didn't see a lot of growth for the company. But it could also just be that the stock market isn't that great right now and that they're holding out for the right time. Then again, their guitars that are made in the USA are a tad pricey which would be hard to justify in this economy. Who knows? Fender makes their own brands, but they also make Gretsch and Jackson. Maybe Fender can start selling off some of its lesser assets until it's just a big custom shop in California with another manufacturing plant in Mexico.
But if they do go bankrupt that would be the death of an icon for the music industry. Think of the reaction if General Motors went bankrupt. Oh wait, they already did. But think of it as if General Motors just shuttered everything, paid off whatever debt they could, and just quit making cars.
Fender guitars are the most well-known guitars all over the world, and that's no lie. Buddy Holly played a strat. So did Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, John Mayer, George Harrison, Bonnie Raitt, Eddie Van Halen, Mark Knopfler and lots of other musicians. Strats started off with the burgeoning of rock and roll in the 50's, tripped through the weird, experimental 60's, continued through the 70's with its hard rock bands, marched smartly through the 80's, grunged out in the 90's, and they're still being used to this day.
How would rock and roll sound without a Fender?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Shady MacDougal

The Shady MacDougal

There, once upon a midnight quaint, I paced around my septic tank,
over a cur'ous punchline of a joke I'd heard from the night before.
While I plodded, fingers snapping, soon there came a soft tap-tapping
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my own front door.
"Tis some hooligan," I murmured, "knocking at my own front door-
I'll grab the garden hose and run them off like I did before."

Oh yes how I can remember, it was not yet cool, dark November,
And yet the hooligans were already limber; out for Halloween,
dressed up like heroes from days of yore.

I remember encountering a shady macdougal, while I myself was perhaps too frugal,
on a kerchief sale in the department store, of the morrow before.
While I browsed the Chinese silk, the macdougal man of mischievous ilk,
crept behind me and offered to buy the kerchief at a price higher than the store's.
"Shady Macdougal, you should be frugal! There are plenty of kerchiefs to be had, and at your price, for four!"
Quoth the shady macdougal, "Nevermore!"

The macdougal man's gall caused me to think,
which caused my face to turn from tan to pink,
and my brain to screech, rattle, and clink,
as I dug through my verbal swordplay repertoire
"I find it odd a man can be as devil-may-care and full of esprit, especially when these times do deem, that man be as frugal as never before."
"That may be," the shady exclaimed, "but I received my money through ill-gotten gains, I fill my bathtub up with purple rain, and have Prince sing to me through the closed bathroom door!"
"That is preposterous!" I yelled aloud, "Is your head up in the clouds? I refuse to believe your lies that abound all over this department selling floor."
"It's not a lie, it's the stone cold truth! That's how I live my life, forsooth! I wouldn't even talk to you if you were rummaging through the free hand out booth!"
"Oh! Is that so?!"
Here we departed much post haste, from that multi-store marketplace. I thought of turning around and saving grace, but I told myself, "Nevermore!"

Late that evening after my meal, I sat down with a book and my mind began to reel from the happenings of that day, as my eyes fell upon the shiny pergo floor.

The phone rang and my heart did jump! I ran up to get it and did bump the receiver end off the hook and onto the faux hardwood floor.
"Hello? Who is this?" I did declare, and as I listened an evil air did permeate throughout the room as I heard a voice say "Nevermore"
"Shady MacDougal!" I heard myself say, "You better stay the hell away! I have mace and a baseball bat to keep you at bay!"
To which shady did say "Nevermore!"
My mouth began to spit and sputter, my heart began to twitch and flutter, my mind raced through the proverbial gutter, in short I began to turn into a nutter, with my mouth forming the words "Nevermore!"

Now I sing Prince to myself, but at least I'm in the best of health, I dance constantly to his records I keep on my shelf, and from whence I shall stop Nevermore!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

An Empty Sanctuary

It was damn near midnight when I experienced that sudden thrill that rushed from my stomach up to my spine and into my scalp. I was going over expenditures of the company, namely the costs burdened by transportation of raw materials from my province down to the ports in Bangladesh. A simple glass of port was by my left which I used to refresh my flagging spirits. The crimson hue of the liquid would continually parry my thoughts from the task at hand and thrust to the conversation I’d had previously in the day between a colleague and myself regarding rumors of gems in his province.

His province, located mostly in Rajputana, was located some 80 miles northwest of my post, but seeing as to how he had matters to attend to in the most southeastern portion, he had written me and asked if it would be agreeable to meet. I had readily agreed as I enjoyed his company, and it was tiresome to hear the native tongue from the rising sun until hot dusk. As we sat down to supper that consisted of niceties from Britannia, Reginald, who went by Reggie, made a passing reference to gems in his irrigation dam, and I implored him to continue on with his story.

“We began surveying a new outpost with the hopes that it might contain minerals or metals. Zinc and copper were found, but in such small amounts in the region that it would not be profitable to extract. Cotton or tobacco would be well suited for the place. I was called upon to finish my project in Jodhpur and to commence west for the building of a rather small irrigation dam. We began shortly I arrived, and the workers would do the damndest things imaginable with the soil. They would often take goodly sized rocks, set them aside, and strike them open with their shovels only to find more of the reddish stone inside. And often I would see them putting pebbles in their mouths to clean them, only to take them out and inspect them. I asked one of them why they were splitting the rocks open.

After a few pleas of ignorance in a simpering manner, the worker explained that the gold comes down from the mountains and that they were hoping to find some, of course with the expectation that they would be sharing part of it with the company and myself. I saw their grinning brown faces cracked wide from ear to ear when I‘d look at them, only to turn into a grimace of anger when I’d turn my head. I suspected that they were searching for something, yes, but not gold. But what then? The soil was a good mixture of dirt with clay leading down to a solid bedrock capable of supporting the irrigation dam. But the assayer and myself noted nothing extraordinary with the soil. Any precious metals would have been noted in the initial assay and extruded out.

Well, I was bemused by their behavior. I discussed the matter with my manservant during supper the second night who told me that it was sort of a local legend that centuries ago there existed a beautiful city of sandstone that was completely destroyed by the goddess Kali. Shiva upon seeing her destroying the city, unsuccessfully attempted to stop her total destruction, but in the process injured her. Her drops of blood hardened into rubies wherever they touched the sandstone as she fled into the mountains. Upon hearing that, I was ameliorated. My workers were simply believing just an old legend of some large deposit of rubies buried underneath the dirt. My mood did not last long. The next morning, the third day, the workers began digging up what I recognized as corundum and hessonite. In my line of work, you gain a knowledge of minerals…in case you discover a rich vein or pipe that had been missed by the assayer. The corundum was a dusty reddish color that they quickly tossed aside as soon as they pulled it up. The hessonite was far more valuable to the workers than the corundum, why I can’t possibly fathom.” Here I interjected, “Possibly for jewelry? If they could cut and polish it correctly…” “It would appear to be a ruby. Yes, I see what you mean. I haven’t heard of any man exporting hessonite, however. Perhaps the natives hold some value to these stones. Nevertheless, I took some of the corundum and hessonite to the mineral assayer and the surveyor. The assayer said that the corundum was practically useless, too many impurities, but he said the hessonite was of a good quality, albeit rather small. I was guaranteed a finder’s fee if the company ever decide to attempt mining in my region which I was told would be highly unlikely. They’d discovered a belt of garnets just the other year to the south east and seeing as to how it was still producing, it would be some time before they continued onto my present location. That curiously red granite’s the only thing worth being pulled out of the ground where I am anyhow.

But there it was: the end of the day, and a quite regular interval of hessonite and corundum every fifteen paces which extended the length of the dam. The workers had just finished and were running pell-mell from interval to interval running through the piles of stone and cracking them open with such a fury! A fight broke out over a large piece of a rather reddish hessonite. Something is afoot with that area around the irrigation dam and I sense there might be some truth to that lost sandstone city with its crimson rubies. At the very least, there‘s quite a substantial amount of hessonite and corundum with no geological evidence to support that it‘s a natural deposit.”

And with that the conversation quickly shifted over to the old staple of damning the heat and wondering how one could live in it. I bade Reggie farewell at a quarter past eight o’clock and rode back to my dwelling. All of the major well-kept roads passed through my station and checking in with my office was both a courtesy and a necessity. Often company men needed reimbursement for their initial traveling costs and financing for further transport of their goods. There were several ledgers I kept and if any one had found noteworthy gems or precious metals that had passed through my region, I would have annotated it. I knew a sufficient amount about minerals mostly through inspecting portaged goods and inquiring as to how one goes about finding such things. From this I knew that most corundum taken from the Rajputana region was already crushed and sifted, ready to go to work as an abrasive in some distant factory far from this country. And from this, I also knew that as of yet no one had found a pure enough piece of corundum to be deemed a gem. No, the company decided that it was best for this area to plow, harvest, and grow. Gem and precious metal mining were left to other areas that were far more conducive to placer mining. I suppose the garnet belt discovered was rich enough to be worth the company’s investment, but I had yet to see any of the garnets pass through my district.

When I reached the ledgers I was looking for, I thumbed through the entries taking note of the contents when the “from” location was Rajputana. However, most of the contents were red granite, cotton, tobacco, a few half-tons of crushed corundum and endless bushels of wheat and grain. Nothing could be gleaned to give a possible indication that immeasurable wealth was hidden anywhere near that irrigation dam. It is possible that had gems been found that they were smuggled past me, but the roads through my region were the quickest way to the ports. And besides, any gem in the rough would have been quickly driven down to one of the major cities on the coast and measured and cut and word often spread quickly to the company‘s ears about valuable gems. Several smugglers had been caught using these roads, but their contraband consisted of opium and hashish. Besides, holding on to large gems was foolhardy.

Violence had a tendency to follow them, and I as I took another sip of the ruby port I vaguely recalled hearing of a young prospector who began digging near one of the company’s sapphire claims. The claim had produced an extraordinary 22 carat purple sapphire, and a fortnight later, the young prospector was sifting through deposits right next to the company claim in the hopes of success. His labors were so successful that natives soon heard of it and butchered him like a hog in his pup tent and made off with the stones. The natives were caught and then hung in a just fashion, and the matter was taken to the court with the company declaring that the sapphires belonged to them as the young prospector had stepped over his claim’s boundaries to find the diamonds. The company was awarded the sapphires but the whole incident made bloods boil and soon it was common sight to see prospectors carrying their equipment with double rifles and carbines slung over their shoulders and often one would hear of claims disputes being settled outright by bold violence.

So no, if any gems existed in Reggie’s region, they had yet to be discovered.

I turned the matter over in my mind, thinking about the best way one could go about it, and decided the whole venture foolish and continued onto reviewing the latest transportation expenditures for the week. But every so often, a spasm would run through me at the thoughts of discovering a sandstone city with crimson rubies spilled and scattered about.

When I first came to this country, my post was quite literally in the jungle. It was originally described to me as sort of an outpost job where I would be responsible for compiling all manner of goods and arranging transportation down to the ports. I enquired as to the manner of goods and was told that procurement of precious metals and gems was preferred. However, when I arrived at the post and asked how much precious metals were pulled from the jungle, most thought I was making a jest with them. Rarely a man would come across a few small grains of gold or silver in the streams and certain parts of the rivers, but these findings were infrequent and so small that I suspect these grains were simply used in place of currency with the added reassurance that there would be no hesitation on the merchant’s behalf on accepting this form of currency at the bazaar.

The jungle was an unusual place. No law as far as I know existed in that isolation and it seemed to have a curious effect on most men that came there. No matter the color of their whiskers or the shape of their faces or the manner of their speech, there were always two types of men that existed in the jungle: those that accepted the jungle, and those that refused to accept it. The men who accepted the very fact that the jungle is hostile and forever restless developed a healthy respect for it and seemed to be the most successful. They and the jungle would continually circle each other, anticipating each others’ moves so that neither could deal a blow to the other. The men who refused to accept the jungle would either stumble fool-hardy into an early death, be blind to the fact the natives were composed of flesh and blood who would subsequently kill the white man for his prolonged unusual cruelty and arrogance, or after an extended stay would be whipped all hours of the day by demons no other man could see.

I took another sip of port and watched the blood-red drops slide from the rim of the glass down to the bottom. I sighed, breathing in the hot, dusty air.

I knew the dangers of empty idols. Men coming to my post were often told the same lie of searching for precious metals and were eager to start. I would offer to retain all their placer mining equipment in one of my storerooms while they searched for good deposits, and they would all laugh and shake their heads. But after a week of discovering nothing, some would come back to deposit their equipment and head back to the jungle and commence harvesting huge teak trees and rosewood with decent sized boles. The rest would come back and insist that I tell them were the nearest deposit was and would tower into a rage when I’d inform them that no such deposits exist in my region. They would always storm off into the jungle which gladly accepted them forever.

I changed into my pyjamas and went to bed.

A fortnight went by with no further though of lost sandstone cities with ruby spires, when I received another post from Reggie asking me to dine with him again. I readily agreed.

We met at the same bungalow and began discussing the summer monsoon season that had just started further south of us when the conversation soon turned back towards his dam and fabled lost sandstone city.

“And what of it?” Reggie asked, “The very fact that I’m still here in this country means that we haven’t uncovered priceless hundred-carat rubies in our dig.”

“But the regular intervals of hessonite and corundum? Surely that’s indicative of some sort of civilization or people living there in the past?”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. But shortly after I left you, the workers became worse in completing their work for the day. I had to sack nearly a quarter of them because they refused to obey me after fighting over a bit of plain dusty red glass. They refused to believe that it was glass until I took the butt of my revolver and smashed it to shards. At that moment, most of the workers glanced at the shards and continued their work at a steady pace, very rarely picking through the dirt to pick up a slim beauty of hessonite. But the small remainder put up such a howl that I had to sack them, like I said. And I’d heard later from some of the local policemen that they got into a brawl over the same damned stones with one of them ending up crippled. There could very well be some precious stones hidden under that dirt and sand, but the only money I can see from where I stand is my commission being paid out once the dam is finished and starts irrigating the cotton fields.”

“It’s sadly reassuring that people don’t change,” I demurred, “Would you care for a glass of port?”


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Deep Thoughts

There are a lot of panhandlers in Richmond that hold these raggedy cardboard signs. Whenever they're near me at a stoplight, I always feel like rolling down my window and saying, "Here's a dollar...go get yourself some decent card stock and indelible ink pens!"

Country Bench Finished

A couple of updates on the country bench. The top had too much flex in it so that whenever you sat down the legs would noticeably splay out. Plus it was slightly uncomforting sitting on something that looked solid only to feel like it was a water mattress about to spring a leak. So I cut rails for legs and just nailed them using 4d nails.
The top had developed a crack at one end (no doubt due to improper kiln drying. The wood was pretty moist when I got it and warped like crazy when I cut it) so I had two options: cut a butterfly key for it, or just screw a batten on the underside. I chose the latter since I was going to paint it anyway and it was quicker.
Because of the pitch pockets in the pine, I decided to use shellac to seal it and then start painting over it. If I had to do this again, I wouldn't bother using nice shellac. I'd go to Lowe's and buy the cheapest can of Bullseye and just have at it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Country Bench

The only good things I have to say about this project is that it didn't cost very much (a 2x10 8' costs about $7.99), I proved that I can actually work somewhat fast with handtools (total time under 10 hrs spread out over 3 days), and it's good practice for cutting angled tenons. I ended up having to wedge the tenons because I wasn't happy with the fit between the sides of the tenons and the very edges of the mortises. Aaaaand the southern yellow pine I was using had varying wood density so I started off chopping mortises in fairly dense wood which transitioned to much being much softer and resulted in the other side blowing out huge chunks of wood even though I had the top clamped down to a board for support. Aaaand because the wood had varying density, when I dressed it down to thickness and trued it, it began bowing like crazy. I ended up clamping the board to my benchtop for a few days with the concave side up, but you can only do so much.
I cut off 2' from the board for the legs and then trued the 6' board and planed off 3/4" with my jack plane to a 1 1/4" thickness. I cut the legs into four 2x1.5's with a 700mm length bowsaw and then trued them with my try plane pictured below.
The mortises came next. I bored out holes for them with an auger and squared them with mortising chisels. The tenons were cut with a 5 degree angled shoulder and I had to cut a small bit off the back so that the legs would slide into the mortise without much fuss. The only thing left to do for this puppy is to cut the legs to fit and paint and seal it.
trueing the legs

lay out for the tenons
dry fit before gluing and wedging
dry fit

Muy guapo

Friday, June 1, 2012

2008 ChunyunXiang Spring cake

I can't remember when I bought this, but it's probably been over a year ago. Since that time it's been sitting in my tupperware container that's been appropriated as a tea chest (I'll eventually draft or use Sketchup to get an idea for building a tea chest). The first couple of infusions haven't produced much apart from an airy sweetness. But once the leaves unfurl and begin opening up, a taste of melon, honey, and hay persist through different infusion times. I pushed it a little too hard, and the hay taste became more pronounced, bordering on vegetal. But unlike other green teas that are oversteeped, this didn't have the horrible burnt taste.
It's a little bit different from other spring cakes I've had; it's not light with a sweet, green taste to it, but rather richer. It actually reminds me a little bit of steel barrel aged white wine. But for how hot it's been lately, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

An Ode to a Grecian Urn

In case you were wondering, the title was inspired by Keats and this is read in the style of Ernie Kovac's character Percy Dovetonsils.

"O Grecian urn! you sit there
  on your august marble plinth
  your skin is red and dusty
  and you've got numerous crackth and denth [you talk about a rhyme scheme!]
 your persons are black and flattened
 as they fight two-dimensional beasts
 paper thin swanths theem to fly away
 followed by paper thin black thable geethe
 a lonesome thought enters my mind
 as I sit in pensive reflection
 could it possibly be your artist had no visual depth perception?"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The cost of higher education

I thought the article in The Times-Dispatch was interesting and slightly alarming. One trillion dollars in debt is considerable. But considering most of the colleges I visited all had huge campuses with several facilities, something tells me that if federal funding was reduced they wouldn't just look around and say, "Welp, guess we'll have to mothball a couple of the departments and slash coaching salaries." Aaaand I think that's a good guess as to why student tuition has increased. But the most interesting point of the article was that the benefit of having an undergrad degree has diminished in that it may not prepare you adequately for a job straight out of college.
I can definitely relate to that. Getting a degree in Biology helped critical thinking skills and problem solving, but working in a lab? Data collection? Statistics that go along with data collection? Designing experiments? Managing a lab budget? Nope. The one thing it did prepare me for, unfortunately, was just going to grad school.
I think it'll be interesting to see if colleges redesign their curriculum or refocus their efforts on better preparation for after college. But the question is, will they do this before or after student debt becomes insurmountable?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Deep Thoughts

Lara and I were in Bon Air's Total Wine the other day with the muzak playing softly in the background. Phil Collins's "Easy Lover" came on and I said to myself, "Finally! It's been so long since I've heard some decent elevator music!"

Monday, April 9, 2012

Haste makes waste

It's an old saw, but it's true. Life has started moving at a slightly slower pace and I'm definitely noticing it. Instead of being given several minutes notice for some ridiculous tasking, only to have me cranking out some ill-prepared product and then be told it's no longer needed, I'm able to approach different problems and determine the best way to go about them. Instead of dreading the commute to work in the morning, I enjoy it and review what I've learned (vacuum tubes were an early way of rectifying currents, overdrive on cars allow their engines to operate at lower rpms). And I'm definitely noticing an improvement in woodworking. I'm better prepared and my technique overall is improving for sawing, planing, jointing, you name it. But it's not limited to just that. I'm no longer making mistakes that require me to go back and rework or start over again.
Sometimes if you want to speed things up, you need to slow things down.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Deep Thoughts

Whenever I drive into work, there's always a large sign with the "e" burned out that says "CONG STION AHD" and I'm always hopeful that it's really just telling me that there's a conga station ahead, but whenever I pass by the construction workers they're usually busy scratching themselves and not forming up into a dance line.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Felonious Vandalism?

I've always known that it's been a crime to vandalize buildings and such. But a felony in Richmond? To me that just seems a tad extreme!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

AAFS 2012 Convention

I just got back from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Atlanta. And I learned A LOT. I didn't actually go there with any sort of preconceived notions, but the scope that forensics covers blew my mind. It started off kind of slow, but I at least got to walk around a lot, which was nice coming directly off the ship, and see the different disciplines of forensic sciences and some of the posters that they had up. Some of the disciplines I had expected (pathologists, biologists who worked exclusively on DNA extraction and genetic fingerprinting, entomologists, ballistics guys) but there were a lot that I hadn't even thought about. Odontology, forensic anthropology, a TON of lawyers and guys with Juris Doctorates, biologists who studied plants and soil composition in different geographic areas to understand taphonomy and root action on remains, questioned documents (I kinda thought most banks had a fraud department, but these guys were experts and worked case by case), forensic veterinarians who determine if animals have been abused, behavioral sciences and psychiatrists, and digital forensics guys were all present at the convention.
Without a doubt, the largest group there were pathologists/biologists. The majority of their work was dedicated towards cause of death and DNA analysis (DNA fragments, mitochondrial DNA, trace DNA, etc), but there was one lecture that stood out in my mind that discussed a case study where a car crash victim displayed retinal hemorrhaging similar to shaken baby syndrome, but only after 24 hours had elapsed. Upon concluding his lecture, a person in the audience stood up and said semi-jokingly that he should formally document his findings and get them published by the end of the night.
Toxicology was pretty interesting to me. I managed to sneak into an open forum that they were having and was immediately seen by one of the organizers who asked me what I was doing there. "Oh, I'm actually in the Navy, but I never studied toxicology so I figured I'd use this opportunity to learn more about it." "Really?! Wow, that is great!" That scenario played out several other times, with people slightly impressed that I was making an effort to understand more about their different fields.
And I can completely understand why they were impressed. I've forgotten a pretty good portion of Biology (after all I haven't used it in 4 years or more), but going through and listening to the lectures helped jog my memory for anatomy, physiology, chemistry, anthropology, and for some reason epidemiology (hey, I was curious as to how prevalent some of these things were!). But being in the room with all these toxicologists (who had a minimum of an MS in Tox) was without a doubt the dumbest I have ever felt. The conversation went something like this:
"You know, I couldn't help but notice in my lab we were having issues with extracted 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone and its stability. When we went back later it had completely degraded." "Well, you really have to salt it out, because of the nature of these compounds they don't keep very well in the freebase form. So, you'll have to protonate that pyrrolidin type functional group." "Yes, and thank you, I think you bring up a valid point. We've had to do that with some cathinone that was being extracted from khat and sold online by some Israeli company. So, if you've had issues with that, I'd highly recommend converting it into a hydrochloride form."

At that point I was sorely tempted to turn to the person next to me and ask, "I'm sorry, but can you translate that convo into English for me?" Looking back though, what in the world did I expect? These were all highly educated, highly experienced professionals at a convention with other equally educated and experienced professionals. Oh well. I did glean a little bit from the open forum, but the most enlightening wasn't their discussion on how to keep stable compounds, but just the fact that so much of their discussion was on synthetic cannabinoids, MDMA, MDPV, and cathinones because all of these toxicologists' time were being taken up by dealing with kids who'd overdosed on these compounds, or they had so many samples that contained these compounds. And that's what really got me thinking about epidemiology and if someone was actually studying this usage in the US. But there weren't too many epidemiologists there, so I never got that question answered.

After a long day of looking at various case studies, getting tips on resumes/CV's, and listening to different lectures I went to the overpriced and trendy bar that they had in the hotel and started playing with Lara's Kindle. One of the lawyers who worked pro bono for the prosecution on the Casey Anthony case sat down and started discussing the case with me.

Overall, I thought the convention was very interesting and it definitely opened my eyes to the scope of forensic science.
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