My Old Beater

I’m going to need a new car pretty soon. My 2006 Ford Taurus has passed the 150K mark, and survived two accidents, one that came pretty close to totaling her. But she’s been a steady commuter car for the last eight years even though now the engine roars like an approaching herd of elephants, and aesthetically the car is only a step or two above cars that are cobbled together out of different colored panels. Red Green once built a Hummer by Duct-Taping two K-Cars together. For me that might be a step up.

On the one hand I’m looking forward to a new car. We’re thinking an SUV. I like the power and maneuverability of a sedan, but an SUV will be more practical for our longterm family goals. And truthfully I’m a tall guy and it might be nice to drive not quite so close to the ground. I’m looking forward to the basic media plugins that mean I’ll finally be beyond the need to burn CD’s, and might be able to control radio stations from the steering wheel. GPS is also probably a must.

The only thing I’d wish for a new car (besides having better rear visibility than most new cars I’ve seen), is something that wasn’t so technologically complicated. As the recent Wired story shows us, we can put all sorts of fancy new features into cars, but they can also be hacked. I don’t really trust car companies to be good at software, and even with my old car there are many systems that can only be serviced at the dealer. I know it’s better for fuel efficiency and the environment to have emissions sensors, and it’s convenient to have sensors in the wheels telling you when the air pressure is too low, or when you might need an oil change. But the car is something we’ve been making for over a century, and part of me thinks that like handcrafted Amish wood furniture, the old ways are the best ways.

How about it blog-world? Got a car you’re driving that you love?


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All or None of the above

I took a half day on Friday for a dentist appointment. Afterward my wife and I enjoyed Red Robin burgers and the new movie Pixels, which was as bad as I expected, but entertaining. My wife is a very understanding person and I promise we’ll go see Trainwreck sometime this weekend.

Half days are a good opportunity to catch up on mandatory web training for work, and one training course I’d been meaning to get to for a while was A Peacock in the Land of Penguins. The full version I watched is 12 minutes but I found a 3 minute version on YouTube if you want a taste:

As funny as the video is, my favorite part of the training was the questions. The training software was obviously designed to randomize the position of the responses, one of the ways you can shake out bias in polling or test taking. The thing is, whoever wrote the software forgot to write a case for “All of the above”. This resulted in questions of the form:

  • A. All of the above
  • B. Answer 1
  • C. Answer 2
  • D. Answer 3

Or the even more confusing:

  • A. Answer 1
  • B. All of the above
  • C. Answer 2
  • D. Answer 3

From context it was pretty obvious that B actually meant A,C and D not just A. If we were taking this literally, A and B are the same. This got me to thinking on how you could construct even more confusing questions.

  • A. Answer 1
  • B. All of the above
  • C. B but not A
  • D. Answer 2

Or how about:

  • A. None of the below
  • B. Both A and C.
  • C. All of the above.
  • D. Answer 1

Or even:

  • A. Answer 1
  • B. Answer 2
  • C. All of the above
  • D. Answer 3

I imagine the test taker would more inclined to believe above meant only 1 and 2, not 3 in this case, and this could have plausibly happened with the software I was using.

Got any fun constructions of your own? 10 points for someone who comes up with a foursome in which every answer is impossible.

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Did I tell you about the new dog?


His name is Murphy (the one on the bottom of the dogpile underneath by beagle-boxer mix Riley). We’ve had him about two months now, and other than a little toy aggression on Riley’s part (used to being an only child), they get along great. Murphy is much more respectful of Dax (our cat) than Riley, who still hasn’t figured out that hissing and swatting are not a game.

On a side note my cat is a bit of a badass. About three weeks ago she came inside with a wound about the size of a quarter in her side. She didn’t meow or complain about it, even when the vet had to put three staples in her. She didn’t pick at the wound or anything, and is now well on the way to recovery. Both my wife and I have a greater respect for her, though we still have no idea how she came by such a battle scar.

And in case I didn’t mention it, Coonie, who graced our house for about three weeks was adopted from the shelter a couple months back. We would have loved to keep her, but Dax wouldn’t have it, which in the long run is for the best since Murphy came around.

So here’s how Murphy happened. I was out at Starbucks working on my sermon when I get a call from my wife telling me I had to come home immediately. She was getting Riley into the car, and was going over to the shelter to meet this new Beagle she’d spotted on the website. I wasn’t sure we had enough room in the house for two dogs (even though we have a four dog yard) but my wife has always loved purebred beagles. Truth is, though I was a bit grumpy about it for the first few weeks, Murphy has been a great addition to our home. If he’d been as energetic as Riley I might not be so thrilled, but he’s a real snuggle-bug. He’ll latch onto you on the couch and huddle close all evening. And he’s pretty tolerant of being flipped to the side so he can get some back-scratching along with Riley. And he’s adopted the laz-y-boy in my basement office as his new favorite spot.

Probably most of my reluctance at first was that he reminded me of our previous dog, Simon, who I’d known for eight years and missed a little more than I’d realized. Still Murphy is his own dog and he’s a great companion. He’s definitely more of a mama’s boy, but both of them barrel to the door to jump on me when I come home from work.

So two dogs, a cat, and maybe in a year or two a mini-me. Life is good.

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Revision and version control

I just got back the full copy-edit of Surreality from Brian along with some really great comments. Looking at edited drafts or starting any revision process can make you feel like you’ve screwed everything up, that nothing of what you’ve written on the page is any good and you should just pack it up and go home.

You’re already home? Go crawl under your covers and don’t come out for a week.

The thing is, this way is thinking is wrong for a couple of reasons:

1) Just by sheer percentages a lot of what you wrote is actually doing just fine. Even if you get a draft back with hundreds or even thousands of edits, a novel is tens of thousands of words. Something obviously worked, and some things can be improved.

2) It’s ironic that I’m starting this (hopefully final) revision of Surreality at a moment when I’m also doing some significant editing to technical documentation at work. I’ve been working on this technical doc on and off for about a year for a software product we released a few months ago. As things change, things in the manual need to change with them. This happens for a couple of reasons: the way the software works changes OR people who’ve read the doc need some additional explanation or things said a different way to understand it.

For a technical document this is always going to happen. Hopefully, software improves, and your ability to communicate about it improves as well. Writing technical documentation benefited a lot from my work on the fractal book, and conversely, writing this doc I think will help in future projects.

The point is, revision is just part of the game. You’re a better writer, a better version of the guy who wrote the first sentence of this story God knows how long ago. There will be things to fix, and it’s okay.

3) A separate but no less important point is that you can have blind spots to your writing; areas of the draft you would never in a million years interpret one way that pretty much every one else would. You could have said something sexist, or illogical, or stupid, and it takes the right pair of eyes (often not yours) to pull the scales away and see the work for what it is or how it will be perceived. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it’s just that some sections need adjusting and it takes outside help to see that. And the change can be subtle, but vastly affect how a character is perceived. Call characters out on their bullshit. It’s okay for some characters to have shitty views, or do bad things, but don’t let them get away with it.

4) Don’t quit because you’re tired. I’ve been working on Surreality for a long time. I want it to be done, and I want to share it with all of you, but I also want it to represent the writer I am, not the writer I was. That takes work, and that’s okay. I’ve put untold thousands of hours into this project. What’s a couple hundred more to make it better?

So take a moment and be depressed, then move on and get to work.

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Tip of the white hat, wag of the cheating finger

Ashley Madison dot com is one of those corners of the internet you never knew existed, but when you find out about it, it kind of makes a sick sort of sense. Madison, whose tag-line is “Life is short. Have an affair.” has a pretty simple mission statement, help more than 37 million married people have secret and fulfilling sexual dalliances. It was perhaps only a matter of time till they were the targets of hackers. A group calling themselves “The Impact Team” posted a large quantity of client information and promised to release all the private details, photos, credit card numbers, et cetera for every cheating cheater should Madison refuse to shut down.

Image Source: NPR

Image Source: NPR

This is the kind of story that feels viscerally satisfying even though deep down all parties are a little bit icky. Even those of us without a particularly strong moral compass like the idea of people getting what’s coming to them. It’s the same satisfaction we get when Donald Trump makes an ass of himself on television. It’s a natural impulse to like to see unlikable people, or people who have done something wrong, get their comeuppance.

Thing is, it’s a little hard to defend this hack. Sure there’s some chivalrous impulses in revealing philanderers and also highlighting the ways Madison might be cheating the cheaters with phony profile deletion fees. But posting personal information is just wrong. If the credit card transactions contain info that can be used to get card numbers, then you’ve hurt the victims as well as the cheating spouses. Posting naked pictures of the users of this site is just another form of revenge porn, and isn’t born out of anything but a prurient impulse.

A white hat hacker would have taken down the site, or posted a bunch of phony profiles, or some other prank to make the users look foolish. They wouldn’t hold the site hostage. No for profit website is going to shut itself down because of a threat, even if it should.

I don’t particularly see  this hack as a sign of something more sinister, of a moral policing of the internet. Such an effort would be as ineffective as it would be fool-hardy. For every site you take down or attack, two more spring up in its place, and a dozen more in the dark net and the deep web.

This is not to say that I want to let philanderers off the hook. I think that cheating on someone, especially your spouse, but even your girlfriend or fiancée is terrible. Here’s why, besides the obvious. It’s a sign there is something seriously wrong in your relationship and you’re too much of a coward to fix it. “But I still love her, I just need something more.” Bull. Deal with your problems like an adult, break up, seek counseling, whatever you need to do. Do that first, then go seek other relationships.

But hacks like this one aren’t going to solve the problem. Frankly, if we’ve got 37 million people wanting to cheat on their spouses (and those are just the people who have heard of this website) then we may have some problems to deal with as a society as well. Over emphasis of the sexual part of our relationships. Lack of understanding of how our sex drives wax and wane over the course of long relationships. Over emphasis on everything being novel and new.

So maybe take a moment to be satisfied that a bunch of cheating people have at least been made nervous, then hope these hackers move on to something a little more productive.

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Things I’ve learned from moving my office

Phase 2 of the office move was a roaring success. I still have a lot of clutter, but frankly my office has always been kind of a chaotic space. Moving my office has taught me a few things and I thought I’d share them.

1) IKEA directions do not have words. I also believe they invent a step or two just so you have to use the iconic Allen wrench.

2) A shim is your friend, especially in a basement that kind of dips toward the middle. A shim can be anything, pizza box lid, wooden dividers from an old CD rack. Also “shim” is not a particularly SFW Google image search.

3) You never know how much crap you have until you have to lug it across the house, and down a winding stairwell. And you have to figure out a new place for everything, some of which is the garbage can.

4) Build the new area fan first. Yes, basements are naturally cooler, but on a 90 degree day they can still be crazy hot.

5) Empty the dehumidifier when it beeps.

6) You didn’t bring the laz-y-boy downstairs for you. It’s so your beagle can have a new favorite spot.

7) Seriously, map out a whole day for putting together furniture. I didn’t know I had to build drawers when I bought the thing.

8) The thrift store is a great place to get under the desk organizers or additional small shelves. Also trash-picking.

9) Since I’m probably never going to move this stuff again, it’s a good time to actually go through everything. There’s that Star Trek game manual I’ve been looking for for years!

10) You can go to Target to buy a new fan and a small bin, and come home with Lego Batman 3, a piggy tea-light and a lamp that has a USB charger and outlet.

11) It’s a whole other world under desk furniture. These aren’t dust bunnies, they’re dust monsters!

I still have a whole lot of crap in my closet to go through, and my comic books are still sitting in bins till they have a space downstairs. In the meantime the future nursery is the comic-book reading room! Just joking honey.

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Star Trek vs. Batman (Trivia Answer)

Trivia Question from Yesterday:

There were a number of notable actors who gave their voice talents to Batman: The Animated Series including at least 7 from the Star Trek films and movies. Can you name them all? Hint: As far as I know TOS, TNG, DS9 and VOY are represented as well as at least two actors from the movies.


The Riddler (voiced by John Glover)


Played Verad Dax in DS9’s “Invasive Procedures”


Leslie Thompkins (voiced by Diana Muldaur)


She’s actually been in two Star Trek series TOS and TNG. Her TOS episodes were “Return To Tomorrow” and more notably “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”


But she’s probably best known (if not best loved) for her role as Dr. Katherine Pulaski on Season 2 of The Next Generation. Personally I like her McCoy-like personality in the TNG-verse and think she’s underrated.


Red Claw (voiced by Kate Mulgrew). This one I didn’t know till I saw it on the Wikipedia page for Batman.


Even before she was the first female Captain in a Star Trek show, Kathryn Janeway was a tough lady.


And now she’s Red again (in Orange is the New Black).


How colorful.

Ra’s al Ghul (voiced by David Warner)


Portrayed Chancellor Gorkon in my favorite Star Trek movie “The Undiscovered Country”.


As well as Gul Madred in the two-part TNG episode “Chain of Command”. There are four lights!


Also he played an ambassador in Star Trek V, but that’s best forgotten.

Mr. Freeze (voiced by Michael Ansara)


Portrayed Kang in TOS and DS9.


But not this Kang.


Lucius Fox (voiced by Brock Peters)


Played Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV and VI.


As well as Captain Sisko’s father Joseph in DS9.


Dr. March (voiced by Rene Auberjonois). He appears in the first animated series episode “On Leather Wings”


And all the time on DS9 as Constable Odo.


Never looks very happy.

Can you name any more that I’ve missed?


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