Monday, April 30, 2007

The Late, Late, Late Rush Hour?

You know, I understand that the eastbound on-ramps to I-66 may require ramp metering during rush hour ("One Car Per Green") to ensure that the number of cars entering is roughly equal to the number of cars exiting on the other end.

But at 12:30am? That seems unlikely.

This occurred as I was coming home from Arlington last week. And it wasn't the first time, either.

I'm no highway engineer, but I don't see the purpose, unless it's to make sure that the drunks are evenly distributed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Military-Cultural-Industrial Complex Redeploys Its Palette

I went into Target on Saturday to stock up on gum. I bought five 8-packs of Trident bubble gum. The cashier looked at me and said, "You must chew a lot of gum."

I gave her my best blank stare in return.

In addition to gum and Altoids (I also bought a 2-pack of mini-Altoids, since I needed a new tin to replace one that had fallen through a hole in my back pocket), I picked up a pair of Mossimo cargo pants in pre-faded poseur camouflage for ten bucks. They were a 32 waist, but they're supposed to be baggy and I figured I could boil them down a bit. If all else failed, I could cut them down into cargo shorts.

I wore them to work this morning. Since a 32-inch inseam enables me to clean the floors as I walk, I decided to cut them down to size. I didn't need a fancy hem, or even a clean cut, so I started with scissors and then ripped around for an authentic ragged edge.

Except on the second leg, the rip started to go up the leg, instead of around. I stopped as soon as I realized this, but I still spent the next 10 minutes stitching up the damage by hand:


As I was working the needle, I thought about camouflage, and how it's changed since I was a kid.

Growing up in the latter days of the Cold War, the military was green and black. Soldiers wore green camouflage for the fields and forests of Europe and the jungles of Asia and Latin America, and that's how they appeared on the news and in the culture.

Even fashion designers, when they appropriated military imagery (as they do from time to time), used the classic jungle camo color schemes.

Of course, that all started to change with the Persian Gulf War. Desert camo came into the collective consciousness, and stayed that way into Somalia, then Afghanistan and Iraq II.

Nowadays, when people think of soldiers, they think of shades of tan, brown and sand. Maybe one of those all-purpose digital camouflage jobs, colored for the desert.

Only paintball players wear green camo. Soldiers wear tan.

It makes me miss the days when we only had to worry about global thermonuclear annihilation (mutually assured or not). It seemed much simpler.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What the Hell Am I Going to Do With Unlimited Text Messaging?

I finally got a new cell phone. Here it is next to the old one -- can you tell which one is which? It might be harder than you think, since the external displays are both monochromatic:

Samsung M610 and the long-discontinued LG 5250

But look: When opened, the new phone dwarfs the old phone -- is this not a giant step backwards?


This is where the tricky third-dimension comes into play:

The new phone, she is the thin.

Now, I've been with Sprint since 2000, and I've been out of contract for a while; if I couldn't get a deal from Sprint that included a new phone, I was going to switch to Cingular/AT&T (honest).

In return for re-upping for 2 years, I got the phone, and I ended up keeping my current minutes (650 anytime, 500 mobile-to-mobile), plus now have unlimited 7pm night and weekends ($5 with a $5 offset), and unlimited text messaging for $8. Which brings my current bill before taxes and corporate discount to $43.99.

(On the forums, there's a whole "can-you-top-this?" culture when it comes to discussions of retention plans and other deals. I admit it, I'm not a good haggler, so I'm a little jealous, though some people practically claim they get paid to be a customer.)

My current problem now, though, is that I don't have a data plan. I thought I was getting it included with the phone, but there was no record of it, and at a la carte pricing, that's $15 extra per month, which is moving my bill decidedly in the wrong direction.

I honestly would rather give up some minutes and pay less (which is kind of heresy, even though I don't currently go anywhere near my monthly caps). So I will have to see what I can finagle.

The unlimited texting may be supreme overkill; I've hooked my phone to Twitter, but I'm still having trouble trying to figure out how I can meaningfully use hundreds and hundreds of text messages per month to justify unlimited texting (even if it's only $8/month).

I'm still pretty new with all this texting stuff, which is kind of odd for a word guy. It took me a while to get the hang of the T9, though it's pretty neat.

Anyway, I have a 1-gig MicroSD card (that's Micro, not Mini -- won't make that mistake again, though I was able to cancel the order) on the way, as well as a USB cable, so I can transfer data to and from the phone until I get a data plan.

I'm also shopping around for a Bluetooth headset (just for car use, I swear), so I guess it's too late for me now.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Social Roundup: Kickball, Over the Rhine, Jimmy's and Liberty Tavern

Our first kickball game of the spring season was this week; I'm playing Thursday nights with the David Hasselhoff Fan Club. Our color is brown:

Jason Pitches
Jason pitches.

We didn't win.

I hung out at Carpool for a bit, then bolted for Jammin' Java in Vienna, where
Over the Rhine was playing a show rescheduled from December.

I got there a little late, a few songs into their set. It was a seated show and I was in the back, but I was eventually able to work my way up to the side of the stage:

Over the Rhine's Linford and Karin
Over the Rhine's Linford and Karin

It was a good show. I bought 2 CDs (though one was a compilation album). You can see the full Over the Rhine photoset here.

I also ran into my friend Mike, who's a photographer and shoots there a lot.

After the show, I made it back to Carpool (at about 11pm) to hang out with the holdouts.

My back and legs were really sore the next day, which is kind of sad, since I only made it to bat once, so there wasn't really any running to speak of. And, of course, it was only tonight that I realized that an over-the-counter painkiller might help with the soreness. Duh.

Friday, went to Jimmy's for the fish fry, where I had a very large piece of fish.

The crowd seemed a lot more college than I remembered, and it wasn't just because of all the Virginia Tech shirts. I'd just gone to get something to eat, so I left before the fire-breathing bartender show at midnight.

Saturday, I was woken up by the credit card company, calling to check on some suspicious charges on my card. Boy, that got me up in a hurry -- I fell out of bed going for the phone.

It turns out that my payment to my French-based domain name registrar triggered the alert, which was a bit odd, since I've used them for a few years now.

Saturday night, went to Liberty Tavern (after reading this blog review); as Metroblogging DC notes, it was very loud. Plus, the bartenders were slammed (a situation not helped because they didn't have a door guy and they had to check IDs); hopefully, both of those things were just part of the opening commotion.

I didn't take any pictures (didn't have the camera, but had the new phone, which has a 2-megapixel camera). There was lots of eye candy in the bar; there was also a lounge area that we didn't get to sit in. The space is a lot like Harry's Tap Room or Boulevard Woodgrill -- any of the newish, mostly-interchangeable places in Clarendon that cater to suburban professionals.

Sunday, just read the paper, messed around with some kickballers in the park, bought some groceries, and cooked some chili. That was about it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Little Victories at the Bowling Alley

Monday was the 13th and final week of our bowling season. This past season is one that I'd mostly like to forget, save for two events that happened this week:

* Someone, who may or may not be on our team, who may or may not have the initials "Tom Pitts," managed to let go of his ball on the backswing. It landed with a thud behind him.

That happens sometimes (not yet to me, though). However, the ball, which had a bit of topspin on it, rolled forward verrrrrry slowly into the gutter, making it halfway down the lane before stopping dead.

Oh, and did I mention that it was in the gutter of the lane next to our lane?

I was laughing so hard I cried.

(In subsequent trips down the lane, though, I think he had a death grip on the ball, which may or may not have led to a string of 4 strikes in a row. Hey, whatever works.)

* I was in the anchor position again tonight (which is pretty fitting, since I've been a drag on the team for most of this season). In the third and final game, the team scores were pretty close going into the 10th frame.

I got a strike, then knocked down 8 more. It was a split -- it was either a 6-7 or 7-9 (I'm not sure which, but the 7-9 is much harder, so it was probably the other one) -- so there were 2 pins remaining in the back: one on the left and one on the right.

I was the very last bowler of our two teams, and didn't look at the final team scores (didn't know... didn't want to know), but I figured we'd already lost, so I just went for it, starting on the right side (I bowl lefty) and aiming at the right side of the right pin.

I barely nicked it. It started wobbling. I thought it was going to stay up, until it slowly tipped over to the left. It fell over and tapped its neighbor, which also started wobbling, then fell over.

So I picked up my split. In the process, my team won by 1 pin.

If I'd known I'd needed one to tie, I would have probably gone for one (and missed).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Would You Like to Read My Play?

A few thoughts on South Korean-born (Korean! Not Chinese! And no, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference!) Virginia Tech mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui's and his plays:

* I Predict: Someone's going to read Cho's plays, stage them, and post the video up on YouTube. I give it 3 days (so, 4/20).

* Have you read the damn things? Makes Unabomber Ted Kaczynski look like Chekhov.

* As I wrote elsewhere, the guy's been living in the US for 15 years, and he's still putting his family name first? Talk about alienation.

Lastly, it's comically embarrassing watching the hardcore right-wingers falling over themselves trying to tie Cho to Islamic terrorism. It's bizarre -- enough time, and they'd probably find a way to link Columbine to Osama bin Laden.

Look folks: If it turns out he's a jihadi instead of "just" a psychopathic loner wired too tight, if that Ismail Ax thing is truly the Muslim terror password, then fine. But in the meantime, you're making 9/11 truthers look positively rational with your wish fulfillment and intellectual dishonesty.

Moderately Rampant Speculations on the Virginia Tech Shootings

Obviously, we're don't know most of the facts around today's Virginia Tech shootings, which of course, never stopped anyone (from random Internet onlookers to 24/7 cable news commentators trying to fill time) from speculating rampantly.

For my part:

* Chinese guy. Why did it have to be a Chinese guy? (If true, of course.)

* A lot of the Internet Tactical Ninjas are precoming into their tactical cargo pants with the hopes that the shooter is somehow linked to Islamic terrorism, so they can further validate their worldviews (especially the credo that "We're fighting them over there in Iraq so we don't have to fight them over here in the U.S.")

In the absence of more facts, they're grasping at the linguistic straw that "Asian" includes, say, Pakistanis, who are conveniently Muslim, forgetting that Americans tend to mean "East Asian" when they say Asian, because we are not damned Brits.

I suppose they could also hope that the guy is an Indonesian, Filipino or Malaysian Muslim.

It's actually a win-win for the red-blooded tactical ninjas: even if it doesn't turn out to be Islamic terror, they can always trot out the line that more guns (in the hands of concealed carry license holders) could have stopped this.

While I don't think the "gun free zone" idea is useful in any way, I don't necessarily think that adding more guns will help (and saying this as a guy who may someday -- someday, maybe -- apply for my own CCW).

* The number of dead is just staggering, especially if it turns out if it's just one guy armed with a 9mm handgun.

Discounting the first two victims, which could be your basic, run-of-the-mill double-homicide, the guy killed 30 people and wounded about 20 more.

It's a tally you would expect from a fictional character like Jack Bauer, not a real person.

Humans are fragile, and yet, simultaneously and paradoxically, hard to kill.

The current literature suggests suggests that between 70-80% of people in the U.S. who suffer "intentional interpersonal firearms injuries" [PDF] survive.

(See also: Surveillance for Fatal and Nonfatal Firearm-Related Injuries --- United States, 1993--1998 and Lethality of firearm-related injuries in the United States population.)

And, traditionally, the ratio of wounded-to-dead in combat has been about 3:1, though in modern armies it might be as high as 8:1 (due to advances in battlefield medicine and protective gear).

Between the statistical probability of surviving a gunshot wound and the proximity of hospitals and trauma centers in the U.S., you might expect a similar ratio. But looking at some recent U.S. mass shootings, they seem deadlier than combat:

- The 1984 McDonald's massacre, with 19 wounded and 21 killed (1:1)

- The 1991 Luby's massacre, with 20 wounded and 23 killed (1:1)

- The 1993 LIRR shootings, with 19 wounded and 6 dead (3:1)

- 1999's Columbine, with 24 wounded and 13 dead (2:1)

And Virginia Tech, with a 2:3 ratio.

I guess spree killers are make things extra personal and go out of their way to kill their victims.

* The question of "Why didn't this asshole just kill himself?" after (or even before, as long as we're asking) his initial double-homicide comes to mind, of course, but rampaging on 50 random strangers takes it to another, completely horrific level.

I'm getting to the point where I think that having everyone wear explosive collars, that would be detonated by a vote of 90% of the people in the immediate area (minimum of 6 people) would be a good idea.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The NRA's National Firearms Museum Bugs Me

So as I mentioned yesterday, after I got done filing my taxes, I stopped by the National Firearms Museum, which is at NRA HQ in Fairfax (right down the road from my CPA):

NRA HQ in Fairfax

I've been there before, though not in the digital camera era. You can see my full set of 50 photos here.

The exhibits started to bug me after a while. And not for any political or ideological baggage -- it's a museum full of guns at NRA headquarters, so it comes with the territory. It's for other reasons [Update: A few weeks later, Philip Schreier of the NRA museum e-mailed me -- I posted his response, which addresses the issues I raised]:

* Aesthetics: The presentation for a bunch of the displays just... lacks. You've got a lot of glass display cases, relatively close together, and the lighting leads to a lot of reflections, and you've got layers of pistols in front of rifles and the like. All of which makes it really hard to get a picture where you can clearly see what's inside the case:

Japanese guns of WWII
You can sort of see the WWII-era Japanese firearms here.

Since it's a relatively small space, I don't know what they can do, but a lighting consultant couldn't hurt. The reflection problem, for example, didn't seem quite as bad in the Marine Corps Museum (I still need to get my pics up from March).

Similarly, some of the older, rarer, and presumably more valuable items in the Old Guns in a New World gallery are in a kind of display bunker, which makes it really hard to get a good view:


Okay, so asset protection is important. I get that. Then what about the diorama-ish window treatments in the Revolutionary War House display and Civil War Federal arms factory, that pretty much only serve to obstruct the view?

DSCF1064 DSCF1066
Left: Revolutionary War muskets. Right: Civil War carbines (note the revolver action on the middle one)

* Information Design: In some of the cases, the numbered labels skip around, so you have to hunt around to see what item is which. That's a minor annoyance, though, compared to the info kiosks that have the information on the bulk of the firearms. In order to find out what's what, you have to:

1. Get the number off the display case (which is pretty easily overlooked, since it's on a frosted sticker on the bottom of each case) and the tag number off the item, then...

2. ...go to the kiosk, which typically serves a bunch of display cases and is invariably a few steps away and out of view from the one you want:

Modern assault and sniper rifles.

So you have to keep going back and forth from case to kiosk.

3. Not to mention having to key it in on a number pad that looks like it was pulled off a TRS-80, that throws a modal window if you try to enter a case number after the Num Lock key gets accidentally turned off (which shouldn't even be allowed):


...and that throws the same warning dialog every time the Num Lock key gets pressed (even if you're turning it back on).

Oh, and it runs on Windows -- I saw at least one kiosk that had crashed out to the desktop. (I didn't do it, but I didn't get a picture.)

Anyway, that's the whining portion of the program. A couple more of the more notable items:

"For obvious reasons the return of this rifle after Germany is defeated would be deeply appreciated."

The story behind this rifle is here.

A strange billy club mounted on a revolver (the gun can be fired with it on), and some snub-nosed revolvers.

A closeup of assault and sniper rifes:

French FAMAS, Czech VZ.52 (not SKS, like I thought) rifle, M-16 Colt Commando (I think), M-24 sniper rifle (I think), Dragunov sniper rifle, a Valmet assault rifle, and of course, an underfolder AK-47 with bayonet.

Gyrojet carbine and rifle, which fires a mini-rocket projectile and was also mentioned in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.

Some sort of prototype:


And of course, a competition target rifle wrapped in duct tape:

Apparently the shooter needed to jerry-rig some counterweights with lead wire and duct tape and decided to keep it like that.

So that's it. See the rest of the photos here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Boring, But Productive

So, it took me a few days, but I was finally able to unfuck my home Internet connection, so I can use my work laptop at home again.

I do need to get a new personal setup, but I mostly use my laptop at home.

Apparently, some system patch from the office network messed up everything. It took me a while to get it back to normal.

It was a relatively productive Saturday for me -- I tried the sushi lunch buffet at Matsuri in Herndon, which was good but pricey -- ($19.95), then picked up my new glasses (my right eye is catching up to my left eye, and since my clip-on sunglasses are lost to history, the time was right), then stopped by my tax preparer to sign some forms; all I have to do is send in a check (I owe a bunch this year), and I'm done.

I was also going to get a new drivers license photo, but I'll get to that next week.

I also stopped by the NRA National Firearms Museum -- it's on Waples Mill Road in Fairfax, not too far from my tax preparer. I'll get some photos up, eventually.

Waples Mill leads into Fox Mill, which is a nice twisty drive (like Georgetown Pike), when it's not raining and you're not stuck behind a line of cars. I never really tear it up too bad (more worried about deer than anything else), but it's fun.

Staying in tonight, hopefully catch up on some stuff, though I'll probably just fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV (again), which explains why my back and elbow are sore right now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

If the Pews Are a' Rockin', Don't Collapse and Break My Ankles

Just a few random notes from church services on Easter Sunday.

* I hadn't been back home for Easter in a while; the church was packed to the rafters, standing room only (unlike, say Christmas).

Under those circumstances, trying to hold an entire pew for your alleged family qualifies as a mortal sin. (For everyone else, it's a test of faith.)

* Speaking of pews, they were awfully darn rickety and squeaky. I thought they were going to collapse, leading to a legion of broken ankles.

* During the reaffirmation of the baptismal vows ("Do you reject Satan and all his works, etc."), all I could think about was that scene from The Godfather.)

Yeah, I'm going to Hell.

A $2,000 Flat Tire

Coming into work yesterday morning, I noticed that the speed bumps were feeling a mite bit bumpier, and I was getting a weird vibration in the front end.

I parked at the office and took a look, and noticed that my front left tire was a lot flatter than it was supposed to be. So I limped on over to the local car place, in the process, probably killing any chance of patching the tire.

I had to get my 60,000 mile service and state safety inspection done this month, anyway, so I figured it was a sign.

And it was. Unfortunately, the sign was a dollar sign, and there were 2,000 of them (two tires, front and rear brakes, front struts, alignment, and an overpriced (yet not quite as overpriced as the dealer) 60K service.

Driving is fun.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Partial Validation of Newspaper Hoarding

I'm whittling down my pile of unread newspapers, the first salvo in my campaign to reclaim my house from my Collyer Brothers-like tendencies and return it to something close to suitable for human habitation.

I don't mean to let them pile up, but between my inability to get through the Sunday Washington Post in a timely fashion, and getting three nearly-identical local papers (the Reston Observer, Reston Connection, and Reston Times, it adds up.

(Though nowadays, I just pick one of the local papers at random and instantly recycle the other two.)

On a good Sunday, I'll get through the A-Section of the Sunday Washington Post, the comics, the Best Buy and Circuit City flyers, and the Post Sunday Magazine. (And that's including a Saturday afternoon head start.)

As to the rest:

* The rest of the circulars go into the trash, guilt-free, after a week.

* The Travel and Book sections go into a separate pile to be read later (the Book sections are the stubbornest of the lot, since they're not at all time-sensitive, as opposed to years-old travel "bargains of the week.")

Both of these are, of course, fantastical conceits, since my unread books pile is measured now in linear feet, and I would need to take a vacation in order to go anywhere.

* Sports gets a glance-and-go.

* The rest -- Outlook, Autos, Style, Metro and Arts -- go into the Evergrowing Guilt Pile, since they may still contain useful stuff (outside of any obvious time-expired things, like event listings).

So it's probably not a good thing that I got partial validation of this strategy just now -- I was skimming an article from March 18, 'U-Turn on H Street', when I saw that the print edition featured a picture of Son (of a friend of mine), that wasn't in the online version.

Also, I note that around that particular period of time, both the Click & Clack column and one of the Reston papers made the egregious error of dubbing the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in South Carolina "Paris Island," instead of Parris Island.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Felatio wants to be your friend!

Well shit, I want felatio [sic] to be my friend, too. Not my mortal enemy like now:

MySpace profile spammer screenshot

Other notes:

* This particular spammer doesn't have anything to say about whether or not it wants kids, though one notes that felatio's heroes are "horny men who like to watch [it] show off on cam!" Yet felatio doesn't watch television, since "the commercials are dehumanizing."

A paradox for our time.

* Under Who I'd like to meet, felatio would "like to meet hard meat," so perhaps felatio should truck on over to Quiznos, since they have what real women need.

* Alas, there's a dealbreaker -- felatio professes to like Autechre; I saw them at the 9:30 Club a few years back. Didn't get it. At all.

In summary, the friend requests spams on the MySpace (which I don't really use) are quite out of hand.

On the plus side, though, that means I'm getting plenty of mail.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Short People Got No Reason

It never fails:
  • In clothing stores, the "XS" and "S" sizes are invariably on the top rack. They do this on purpose.

  • My office snail mail slot will be start in the very topmost, just beyond tippytoe position. Gradually, through attrition or addition, it will move down to a comfortable eye level, at which point we will move again.
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Monday, April 02, 2007

Ceiling River is watching you have sex.

Just a stupid little Serenity joke-graphic that surely someone has thought of by now:

Ceiling River is watching you have sex.

Idea inspired by (that is, stolen from) Ceiling Cat.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Something about sties, eyes and planks?

When talking about other people's mistakes, it behooves one to not make one of one's own. (One.)

From the CNN home page a little while ago:

CNN Tattoo Typo
Tatoo mistake can be costly to erase.