Thursday, June 20, 2024

Reston, according to The Onion

Last week's edition of satire site The Onion featured an article with a Reston, VA dateline, "Report: Every Place On Earth Has Wrong Amount Of Water," ostensibly about a report from the U.S. Geological Survey, which is headquartered in Reston.

That got me wondering: How often has The Onion featured Reston?

Searching "Reston" in The Onion archives brings up 17 results:

Of those, 7 more have Reston, VA datelines, featuring a real-life organization based in Reston or a fictional person, place, or event here:

5 featured the name "Reston" as the name of a person or street:

The last 4 mention people or places from Reston:

Monday, April 22, 2024

The Xbox 360 still works, eventually

Getting back to the raison d'ĂȘtre of this blog, I tried firing up my Xbox 360. (The older Pixel I was using for mobile gaming isn't reliably registering screen touches any more; some of it is probably just wear and tear, though I did get it caught in my tailgate and left out in the rain when I was back in New Jersey—the first dumb thing.) 

Anyway, the Xbox 360 turned on okay (once I figured out the power plug was loose), but the screen was blank; it wasn't showing any signal to the HDMI 2 input. I went down a rabbit hole diagnosing HDMI problems with Xboxes, when I finally realized that the reason why it wasn't showing up on HDMI 2 was because it was actually plugged into component video.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

52 Bits of Trivia for Age 52

As is my wont, here are the 52 pieces of trivia that I used to respond to Facebook birthday well wishers (granted, mostly from wikipedia and first pages of Google search results, but still). Also, this year, I compiled the list, then randomized the posting order of things in Google sheets, so I did not/was not able to send subtle messages to posters with my chosen response:

  1. Fort52 sells watercolor-painted playing cards and other paper goods. They're in Fort Worth.
  2. "52 hertz is equivalent to the musical note G#1, which is the 12th lowest key on a conventional 88-key piano keyboard; or, the 4th finger position on the lowest string (E1) of a double bass."
  3. The B-52s are also an iconic US band.
  4. 52 is a series of 4 albums totalling 52 songs writing by American country singer Kristian Bush.
  5. The Bell XP-52 was a WWII fighter aircraft design project with a twin boom tail and pusher propellers.
  6. US Route 52 goes from South Carolina to North Dakota, about 2,072 miles.
  7. The Q52 is a superyacht tender built by Dutch company Qnautic.
  8. 52 in Morse code is ….. ..--- (I actually knew this without having to look it up)
  9. Social 52 is a restaurant and bar in Richmond, Virginia.
  10. The atomic number of Tellurium is 52.
  11. 52 is a DC Comics limited series, published weekly in 2006 for a year.
  12. F52 is the ICD-10_CM code for "Sexual dysfunction not due to a substance or known physiological condition"
  13. The p52 protein dimerizes with RelB to translocate into the nucleus, where it regulates gene transcription.
  14. 52 factorial (52*51*50…*1) is about 8.0658e67. That link has a lot of trivia about that.
  15. 52 in binary is 110100.
  16. Seasons 52 is a US restaurant and wine bar chain.
  17. Pub 52 is the US Postal Service's publication on Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail (I actually know a little about this one.)
  18. 52 is not a prime number. The factors of 52 are 1, 2, 4, 13, 26, and 52.
  19. Title 52 of the US Code codifies voting and election laws.
  20. A B-52 cocktail is "a layered shot composed of coffee liqueur (KahlĂșa), Irish cream (Baileys Irish Cream), and Grand Marnier (in later versions replaced with triple sec or Cointreau)"
  21. 52 is the international direct dial code for Mexico.
  22. B52 is another name for The Sicilian Defence chess opening?
  23. Pliny the Elder wrote his account of the Roman Empire's German wars in AD [CE] 52.
  24. D52 is a school district in Washington, Illinois.
  25. 52 American hostages were held in the Iran hostage crisis.
  26. A modern piano has 52 white keys.
  27. The New 52 was DC Comics' lineup revamp in 2011.
  28. The 52nd day of the year is February 21.
  29. Article 52 of the Geneva Conventions covers the general protection of civilian objects.
  30. J52 was the hull number of the HMS Guysborough, a British Royal Navy minesweeper loaned to the Royal Canadian Navy and sunk by a U-boat in 1945.
  31. 1952 was a leap year that started on Tuesday.
  32. The Lenovo ThinkPad P52 was a laptop.
  33. Messier 52 or M52, also known as NGC 7654 or the Scorpion Cluster, is an open cluster of stars in the highly northern constellation of Cassiopeia.
  34. Food52 is a food website.
  35. There are 52 cards in a standard deck of playing cards.
  36. 52 is the car number of retired NASCAR driver Jimmy Means.
  37. Clay Matthews wore 52 for the Green Bay Packers.
  38. The Siemens and Halske T52 is a WWII German cipher machine and teleprinter, codenamed Sturgeon by the British.
  39. 52 is a song by British band The Royston Club (it's not bad)
  40. The movie 52 Pick-Up starred Roy Scheider and Ann Margaret.
  41. 52 is an untouchable number (a math term for "a positive integer that cannot be expressed as the sum of all the proper divisors of any positive integer.")
  42. NFPA 52 is the National Fire Protection Association's Vehicular Natural Gas Fuel Systems Code
  43. The Liga Privada T52 is a cigar by tobacco company Drew Estate and made in Nicaragua.
  44. A beehive hairdo is also (apparently) nicknamed a B-52.
  45. WMATA's Route 52 Metrobus runs between L'Enfant Plaza Station and 14th and Colorado.
  46. 52 Blue is a whale that calls at the "unusual">frequency of 52 hertz, and has been called the "world's loneliest whale."
  47. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is an iconic US bomber.
  48. There are, of course, 52 weeks in a year.
  49. A pill with imprint LILLY J52 is a white, round pill, Diethylstilbestrol 1 MG.
  50. Part 52 of the Federal Acquisition Regulations deals with Solicitation Provisions and Contract Clauses.52 was some sort of video series about a group trying to make 52 short films in 2013.
  51. 52 was some sort of video series about a group trying to make 52 short films in 2013.
  52. NGC 52 (PGC 978) is an edge-on spiral galaxy in the constellation Pegasus. It was discovered on September 18, 1784, by William Herschel. He described it as "very faint, small, extended."

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

"Flight of the Valkyrie," by Charles Coombs (Boys' Life, July 1962)

I was originally going to post this to an aviation forum as a story identification question, since I only remembered some details from when I read it as a kid. But I finally found it, so I thought I'd share. 

The July, 1962 edition of Boys' Life (the magazine for Boy Scouts) featured "Flight of the Valkyrie," a short story by Charles Coombs. The entire issue is available on Google Books, and it's a time capsule of the era (don't miss the ads). 

Mind you, I'm not that old; not sure how we got hold of it; maybe from a library sale or a leave-behind from the previous owner of our house.

The story is really short, only about three magazine pages total. Also, the opening illustration practically gives away the ending. (So I cropped out the first page image here.)

It's about a test flight of a prototype US bomber, the North American XB-70 Valkyrie, a very distinctive, six-engine delta-wing with canards.

In the story, three engines flame out over Kansas, and the pilot decides to try to land on an empty stretch of highway. The crew sticks with him (though he reminds them that they can eject using their escape capsules all the way down to zero altitude), and they land successfully on the highway.

However, the XB-70 needs two miles of runway, and despite brakes, flaps, and drag chute, the plane is about to hit a curve and crash.

Spoilers ahead for a 60+ year-old short story:

At the last moment, the pilot comes up with an unconventional idea that saves the plane: He lowers the plane's folding wing tips (designed to help manage the plane during supersonic flight), which dig into the dirt on both sides of the road, slowing the plane in time.

When asked by the flight engineer (who previously doubted him due to an earlier mistake) how he thought of doing that, the pilot answers, "Had to drag something to help slow us down. And I couldn't get my feet out the window."

The wing tips are damaged, but the plane and crew are saved. The end.

Real-World Epilogue

Now, while this incident is completely fictional, a few years later in June 1966, there would be an infamous and well-documented mid-air collision resulting in a fatal crash

Anyway, since there's not much in the way of search results for this short story, I just wanted to put it out there.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Personal Progression of COVID Masks as Revealed by Car Archaeology

This weekend, I needed an extra N95 mask from my car and couldn't find one. So I decided to go through the COVID supplies in my car (trunk, glove box, center console) to assess and restock.


Top left, you see components for the first batch of improvised masks: bandanas with extra filter material to fold in (cut up from reusable polypropylene grocery bags and old t-shirts), along with a few of my customizations: PVC couplings to snug the bandana up under my chin, and plastic-coated metal tabs (the kind used to seal coffee bags) to duct tape in the right spot to make moldable nose bridges, along with some extra duct tape.

Below that were the cloth masks, homemade (by others) or store-bought (with a paper clip wire inserted for a nose bridge for those that lacked).

In the upper right, surgical masks.

And then, finally, N95 and KN95 masks.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Halloween Costume Build 2022: Banana Cop & Human Target

Since I broke the seal with my blog entry yesterday, I figured I might as well pare down the blog backlog (backblog?) and keep the streak going.

There are 63 days until Halloween; here are my costumes from 2022.

Costume #1: Banana Cop

First, I had a to put together a hasty interim costume for Friday night, because I'm no longer pulling all-nighters to finish costumes. I came up with Banana Cop.


There's not a lot to it; a banana costume under a sheriff's uniform top. Though I thought the holster with a real banana in it was a nice touch. (I had to buy the banana, and I even brought the holster into Safeway to make sure I got one that fit.)

Costume #2: Human Target

The second one for Saturday was an actual build. First up was two pieces of foam core board (with a precisely cut eye slit), hot glued together and reinforced by two Home Depot yardsticks:


Next, some straps. I didn't have any nylon webbing handy, so I made some straps by folding over some duct tape. The buckles and keepers I already had:


Covering the eye hole is just some black panty hose. I had some left over from early on in the pandemic, when there was a mask hack for improving the effectiveness of surgical masks (just cut a tube of panty hose and put it over the mask to help seal gaps). The forehead pad is so I could wear my glasses; it's just some thick polyurethane foam glued to the board:


Assembly is just more duct tape and hot glue. The setup is super light, so strength isn't an issue, though I had to experiment to find the right height for the straps (around the neck and waist):


The front could be any poster sized paper, though the point of this costume was to use a silhouette shooting target (with a hole cut to match the eye slit). 

The holes aren't actually bullet holes; I started with a clean target, put a piece of scrapwood with holes drilled through it behind it, and poked a Sharpie marker through to get holes the right size. The white foam core backing shows right through. Then, I just used some spray adhesive to glue it down:


Wearing the costume:


From the side; this is clearly meant to be seen from the front only:


You can also use it after Halloween if you want to rent yourself out as half a sandwich board advertisement.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Mullet Is Back

I was deep down a Wikipedia rabbit hole when, whimmed, I popped over to the Mullet (haircut) article to see which photos were being used to show the hairstyle. This is because way back in 2008, the article's main illustration was me. (This lasted for a little while, then somewhere along the line [and after a mini-edit war], the photo was replaced. It happens.)

So, I was shocked (and not in the Casablanca, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" way) to see that my photo has made it back in, just below 1970s David Bowie and representing the 1990s:

The 1970s, 80s, and 90s section of the Wikipedia mullet article.
A man with a mullet in 1992.

According to the edit history (as if there was any doubt that I would scrub through it to pin down exactly when it happened), a user (now banned for sock puppet accounts, and again, no it wasn't me) made the change on March 2, 2022

I also note that it replaced a photo of 1980s Lou Diamond Phillips from two revisions prior.

Immediately, I checked the Facepalm article, but alas, it was not to be.

Anyway, enjoy it while it lasts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

My First Banana Bread

I don't bake much (though I do roast a fair bit), but I had a few bananas on the edge so I decided to make banana bread.

The recipe I used (literally the first search result) only requires eight ingredients, and I had all of them except vanilla extract, which I remedied via a serendipitous Amazon sale.

I added chia seeds and unsweetened coconut powder (which I add to many things for the extra fiber). 

I'd recommend one other modification: Cut the butter down from the given 1/3 cup, which is waaaaay too much—you can't taste anything but butter.

Banana Bread

The other thing I missed was the given cook time (50—60 minutes at 350) is for an 8"x4" loaf pan; it's a few minutes shorter for an 8.5"x4.5" pan, which is what I have. So the crust came out hard.

As to the photo: Yes, I have a PVC light box; yes, I put the banana bread in it; and yes, the photo still managed to come out horribly.


Sunday, March 26, 2023

#51FactsAbout51: The Return of Birthday Factoids

Today's my 51st birthday. (Which doesn't seem right, but the math checks out.) A few years ago, I started responding to Facebook birthday well-wishers with trivia based on my new age, though I paused when the pandemic hit, when celebrating birthdays just seemed different.

51. Includes newer glasses.


Well, after a morning of french toast, hash browns, an age-appropriate level of fiber, and 80s music, here are the 51 items I posted about the number 51 (clearly, mostly taken from Wikipedia and the first few pages of Google search results):



  1. 51 is the product of 3 and 17 (both prime numbers)
  2. 51 in binary is 110011
  3. "Route 51" is a Wisconsin Public Radio show focusing on issues in the north-central Wisconsin area
  4. 51 in Morse Code is ..... .-----
  5. 51 in Roman numberals is LI
  6. 51 is the title of a 2011 sci-fi horror movie
  7. 51 is the atomic number of antimony
  8. 51% is the minimum percentage (rounded up) needed for a majority
  9. The USS Arleigh Burke is DDG-51, the lead ship of its class of guided-missile destroyers 
  10. 51 is the country dialing code for Peru
  11. 51% a men's clothing brand in Seoul, South Korea)
  12. is the number of laps in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
  13. 51 is the second solo mixtape by rapper Kool A.D., formerly of the rap group Das Racist. 
  14. Station 51 is the fire station featured in the 1970s television series Emergency! 
  15. The number of essays Alexander Hamilton wrote as part of The Federalist Papers defending the US constitution
  16. The TV show The Price Is Right is currently in its 51st season
  17. The Mustang World War II fighter aircraft is the P-51.
  18. "Fifty-One" is a fourth season episode of Breaking Bad where Walter celebrates his 51st birthday
  19. A 51% attack is when a party gains control of a majority of a network blockchain [this is a massive oversimplification, don't come at me cryptobros]
  20. The 51st day of the year is February 20
  21. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was the longest-serving US Senator at 51 years, 5 months, and 26 days 
  22. 51 degrees Fahrenheit is 10.56 degrees Celcius (and 283.706 Kelvin)
  23. IRS Publication 51 is the Agricultural Employer's Tax Guide 
  24. Title 51 of the United States Code (51 U.S.C.) is entitled "National and Commercial Space Programs"
  25. Area 51 is a US government facility that's supposed to house secret military (and even alien) technology
  26. 51 is the number of Doc Hudson in the animated movie Cars (which I've never seen)
  27. Photo 51 is an X-ray image of key importance in elucidating the structure of DNA in the 1950s 
  28. The 2023 Iditarod was the race's 51st running
  29. Pier 51 in New York City's Hudson River Park features a playground 
  30. Randy Johnson's number 51 was retired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015.
  31. The Chicago Bears' Dick Butkus wore 51.
  32. Emperor Cheng of Han was born in 51 BC 
  33. The 51st US Congress ran from 1889-1891 and saw the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act 
  34. 51 is Ichiro Suzuki's number with the Seattle Mariners
  35. The Wikipedia article for Ichiro Suzuki is available in 51 languages
  36. Telemundo 51 is a Miami-area TV station
  37. VFD Fire Station 51 is a volunteer fire station in Visalia, CA 
  38. The Whirlpool Galaxy is known as Messier 51a and M51a
  39. The M51 SLBM is a French submarine-launched ballistic missile 
  40. The M51 is a Samsung Galaxy phone released in 2020 
  41. The M51 is an M4 tank variant known as the Super Sherman 
  42. The M51 field jacket is an iconic US olive drab military jacket from 1951 
  43. Cachaca 51 is a Brazilian rum known for its mellow flavor and floral, fruity aromatic notes.
  44. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Bus 51 route runs from Reservoir Station to Forest Hills Station 
  45. Article 51 of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) specifies Supervisory Authority 
  46. The 51 for 51 campaign is a DC statehood effort
  47. Article 51 of the UN Charter is about the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence in attacks against member states.
  48. Federalist 51 is an essay by James Madison about checks and balances and separation of powers.
  49. NAICS code 51 covers information services 
  50. Article 51 of the Geneva Convention is about protection of the civilian population 
  51. Party 51 is a Canadian political party that wants Quebec to join the United States (wat?)

Monday, November 02, 2020

Halloween 2020 Costume: Herndon Station Metro Pylon

I've been wanting to make a DC Metro station name pylon costume for a while, and figured that this was my last Halloween to do one as a preview of the Phase 2 Silver Line stations before they open (supposedly Summer 2021). And theoretically, it's just a painted box with letters on it, so how hard could it be?



I was originally going to do the Reston Town Center Station, but decided to go with the shorter-named Herndon Station so the letters would fit better. I didn't want to do a fully enclosed, wearable costume (though you'd just need a big appliance box), and I decided to wear it as a headpiece, since I could reuse the helmet box mount I'd used in previous years.

That was a mistake. 

It probably wouldn't have been as big of a mistake as it turned out, except I decided to make it about 4 feet tall. Great for final proportions, terrible for weight distribution and balance.

The Build

For the main structure, I went with USPS Priority Mail Flat-Rate Medium boxes. (Foam core board probably would have been smoother and lighter, but the boxes were free and I already had a bunch of them.) Instead of just stacking the boxes and gluing them together, I glued the bottom flaps of each upper box to the top flaps of the lower box, effectively doubling the height of each one. (Mistake.)


I also hot-glued braces on the inside corners.


This, in turn, led to a hot-glue injury, a small second-degree burn on my finger that I made worse by peeling off the glue, and with it, the top layer of still-forming blister. (I ended up using a series of waterproof bandages to encourage scabless healing.)


I then took apart a Home Depot yard waste brown bag and wrapped the box with it, then sprayed it with a few coats of Rustoleum Satin Dark Walnut paint:



Next, for the lettering, I checked with WMATA's brand and style guide [PDF]; they mostly use Helvetica Neue; I printed the letters out: the big Ms on regular white printer paper, and the Herndon Station letters on sticker paper. 

Cutting out the big Ms was easy; however, I made it through the first two smaller letters (from of the first of four sets I'd need) when I realized that there was no way in hell I'd be delicately Exacto-knifing out all that.


I quickly realized that going to Office Depot and getting the white letters printed on a matching dark brown background would work almost as well. (There was a side attempt to print the white letters on transparencies, which I think is possible, but my first attempt went nowhere and I didn't pursue it.)


I cut out each word as a single unit and used spray adhesive to glue them down (as well as the big Ms, which I'd reprinted on cardstock). The Silver Line band was simply duct tape (of course). The first attempt looked like this: 


The next day, I realized that it didn't look right: the "Herndon Station" labels were too small overall; plus, most of the Stations were crooked, and the station names weren't aligned with the edge of the big M on the wide sides (on the actual pylons, all four sides are equal width; my helmet box mount's sides were longer than the front and back). 

I did a re-do, going back to Office Depot to reprint the Herndon Station letters on ledger-size (11x17) cardstock, making sure to align the words and tape them together before gluing them down. (Even with multiple attempts, color, and cardstock, the total printing cost was just over $5.) 

The Result

The final result, which you can see next to the real-life Herndon Station pylon (right off Herndon Parkway) looks pretty okay (seen here with a little forced perspective):


A better size comparison:


The other pylon is over by the station entrance. Also, don't talk to me or my son ever again:


Now, as I was trying to take a selfie while wearing my costume next to the real pylon, I realized what a mistake I'd made: Just like with my JLENS blimp costume from 2015, I'd underestimated how heavy and unwieldy wearing something like this—even something that's just cardboard, paper, and paint—would be. 

The expression on my face is a grimace as I'm trying to get the angle right while the costume torques my head and drags at my scalp while the chin strap digs into my neck:


Because of the overall height, you can't really wear it indoors. In non-COVID times, it'd be more of a problem, though right now, consider it an incentive to stay outside.


The main issue is that it's just too uncomfortable to wear as a headpiece; I probably wore it for less than 10 minutes over the entire night. It'd work much better with a backpack mount (possibly a heat-gun-bent-pvc frame, bungied to a pack frame, or even just stuffed into a knapsack). I need to remember that if I'm ever tempted to do a head-mounted costume again (or at least, one that doesn't need to look like a halo neck brace). 

Other than that:

  • While the satin spray paint was a pretty good color match (with a nice glossy sheen), the lines from the paper bag were pretty prominent (even after I tried to iron them flat), so use paper from a roll or big sheet without any creases.
  • I considered spraying it with clear coat to improve durability, but decided it wasn't necessary for a single outing.
  • Printing your lettering at a print shop is pretty cheap and you can do the layout and design at home, pay online, and pick it up at the store.
  • If you want to get fancy, the big Ms on the real pylons are lighted.


Cardboard (boxes or sheets)

Craft paper (preferably rolls)

Glue (hot glue for the structure, spray for the lettering)

Spray paint (Rustoleum Satin Dark Walnut or equivalent)

Duct tape (color-matched to the Metro lines you need)

Lettering printed on cardstock or heavier paper at your print shop of choice (especially if you don't have the skill or patience to paint or cut out all those letters)

Mounting system: I velcroed the headpiece to a head mount (just a box secured to a bicycle helmet), though use a backpack unless you can really get the weight down. And test it first!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

This Is What I Look Like Now: 10 Years in Driver's Licenses

My birthday is tomorrow, and thanks to coronavirus, it's going to be damn uneventful. I doubt I'll even do birthday trivia responses on Facebook; maybe in a few months.

I will take the opportunity, though, to compare and contrast my new (redacted), REAL ID-compliant driver's license:

I went to the Sterling DMV on a Thursday morning a few weeks ago, just before the 8am opening, waiting an hour and a half before getting my shot. 15 minutes later, I walked out with a voided driver's license. I didn't realize they mail the new one to you, and I just started a new client gig in a federal building, so I had to carry my passport around until I finally got the new ID the following Wednesday.

Getting the license took 3 attempts -- the first was because the mobile DMV2Go was a no-show at the Reston Town Center (I was trying to be clever and avoid lines; instead, I ended up sideswiping a parking garage pillar going against morning traffic); the second was at a DMV Connect at the Herndon Library (got there waaaaaay too late), before I finally gave in and went to a normal brick and mortar location. At least I had all my papers.

Reston Quasi-Quarantine Walkabout, 3/22/20

This is mostly just a reminder to my future self that in the Spring of 2020 we were in the middle of dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with mandatory telework, social distancing, and shutdowns of schools, mass gatherings, and nonessential businesses.

I've been teleworking for two-and-a-half weeks now. I've made just 2 trips to the grocery store, one trip to Carpool to get takeout, and a brief stop at Jackson's in Reston Town Center before things really started shutting down.

Sunday, it was clear but cool for the peak of the cherry blossoms (a no-go due to crowding); I figured I'd take a walk around town, maybe get a photo of the local blooms and pass them off as from the Tidal Basin.

Here's an upskirt shot of 1900 Reston Metro Plaza (I refrained from using that phrase in the Flickr description... didn't want to attract any more Flickr pervs than I already have. It's 2020 and people are still using Flickr to feed their fetishes. I don't even check my notifications any more; it's just Flickr pervs favoriting photos of feet and belly buttons from 12 years ago.)

Dark underside of Reston.

Anyway, I went through Wiehle Metro station, which was deserted, as was Plaza America. Also took a few photos of blooms and bushes with my Pixel 3A in Portrait mode to get some depth of field, but apparently when I deleted the unused photos in the burst, I somehow deleted the photos from my camera roll. Annoying.

After going down Sunset Hills to Reston Parkway, I stopped by Halley Rise, home of the future Wegman's.

Then, I picked up some chicken pad thai at the new Thai place in Reston Heights, My Home Thai Bistro. Bad time to open a restaurant. The noodles were vermicelli-style, not flat, which was unexpected but okay, and they did cut steam vent holes in the box.

Is this your baggie?
For the last image, I saw a baggie of weed in the street by the curb (not saying where) and actually did a double take when I saw it. Assuming it wasn't a hidden camera YouTube prank, it probably fell out of a pocket when getting out of a car.

Having just taken a piss test (first one that wasn't for a physical) for a new client gig, I maintained social distance while taking the photo.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Requiem for My 25-Year-Old Rollerblades

I hadn't used my Rollerblades in a few years when I dusted them off on Memorial Day 2019. I was a few miles in on my preferred W&OD Trail route, just getting my skating legs back, when I felt my right skate boot go loose. Cracked. I turned around, hoping to baby my way back, when the skate shell went kablooey.

I ended up calling an Uber to get back to my car.
My Rollerblade Coolblades from the mid-90s died Memorial Day, 2019.

They were Coolblades, bought back in 1994 or '95, at a Blades store in New York City. I forget if it was one of their downtown or uptown stores. In any case, their last location in SoHo just closed last month.

I remember taking them around the loop in Central Park with MindVoxers (including going up and bombing down the Great Hill; we just called it the big hill); on the streets of downtown; over to Kansas City for Cornmeet; even outside of the country on the trails of Niagara Falls.

Eventually, they made it downtown to DC for July 4th and Rolling Thunder, all around Baltimore shadowing the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, and up and down the W&OD trail more times than I can count.

Even though they spent most of the last few years in trunk of my car, then just inside the foyer closet, I think I got my money's worth (even though they were probably like $300 in 1995 dollars). After all, they did last about 25 years.

And when they finally gave up the ghost, it gave me an excuse to buy some discounted K2s:

K2 Flat 84 Pro skates

Yes, even though inline skating is apparently dead, I bought a pair of K2 Mens F.I.T. 84 Pro skates. I tried them out on our recent January 80-degree-Fahrenheit day. (The wheels are 84mm, taller than I'm used to, and I think the speed lace fastening system is lame. Change my mind.)

Let's see how long these last. Wonder how far they'll take me?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

#20YearsAgoOnAOLcom: Jan. 11, 2000 -- My Calendar, AOL Time Warner Merger, a Redesign, and a Wrapup

January 11, 2000: Well, this is it -- we've reached the end of the line: This is last day of screenshots I have of the home page for this series. I'd continue to program the home page for a good long while more; I just stopped taking regular screenshots, for reasons which will become clear shortly.

For the morning lineup, the top promo is the same My Calendar promo we'd used before, with a "Be Fiscally Fit" item for good measure.

However, if you look below in the corporate links, you'll see, "AOL & Time Warner Will Merge -- Listen To and View Archive Files of the Analysts' Call and Press Conference." The AOL Time Warner merger (*cough* acquisition) was actually announced January 10 after market close, though I only had a preview of that page. But I guess that's as good a one as any to close on:

But Wait, There's More!

I was all set to end this on a pretty anticlimactic note. But then I was in my office looking for something, and found the reason why I stopped screenshotting the home page: It was because Tuesday, Jan. 11 was the launch of our new redesign! And I have full screenshots, printed on ledger paper, from launch day!

I say "screenshots," because there are two versions of the page: a non-logged in view (including external browsers... that is, browsers not integrated with the AOL client); you can tell it's the non-authenticated view because of the AOL screenname and password fields, which were real, functioning fields:

And a logged-in view. At least, I think this is the logged-in view. I may have my timelines mixed up, but because we started really integrating AOL Mail into the homepage, and getting identity information from the AOL client, that's when the member and non-member (or non-authenticated member) views of the page really started to diverge:
The external view of the homepage, which included people using external browsers -- non-AOL members and AOL members who hadn't signed in with their AOL credentials -- would eventually feature big, billboard style TRY AOL 10 ZILLION HOURS FREE ads that basically replaced the top half of the right column. But I don't remember if we launched with that here. (Unless these screenshots were doctored [which is always possible], these were screenshots using the AOL client browser -- you can tell because of the AOL Favorite Places heart in the upper right corner.)

I seem to remember that we made you enter your screen name and password to access your AOL Webmail, even from within the AOL client. Some time later, we made it so that if you were using the AOL client's browser, it would automatically identify and authenticate you into AOL Mail with the screen name you were using. Convenient, right? NO! The users howled at us, because we hadn't taken into account the following use case: AOL members, logged into their AOL client, using and AOL Webmail to log in and check the mailboxes of their other AOL Screen Names. (They could have five, later seven, total screen names.) For them, AOL Webmail was their way of easily checking mail from other their accounts, without having to log in and out of the client. Lesson learned.

Anyway, you can see the other major design changes:

  • The colored block sections, of course. We really gave Community features short shrift here (though to be fair, many of those features weren't yet available outside the AOL client)
  • "AOL Anytime, Anywhere" branding (we'd later rebrand the site to be "AOL Anywhere," per executive whim.)
  • Four small ad spots up top-- four times the impressions compared to a single banner ad! --  except that when they showed duplicate ads, it really looked like a slot machine jackpot payoff
  • A text ad above the top nav bar
  • The My News news feed headlines up high
  • An auto-generated date field (removing at least one potential source of human error)
  • The new, ridiculous postage-stamp sized promo block. Seriously, that was basically it, and it was a weird, non-standard size. I think 63x63?
  • The Shopping block went from categories to brands.
  • The super-truncated Web Centers listings.

And, down below, you can see a link to a note about the redesign launch, as well as the item about the merger.

Closing Thoughts

So, to wrap things up: Publishing the home page was a grind (in addition to doing a bunch of other things for the site that I'm sure were very worthwhile), and doing this series of blog entries and Twitter posts brought back a little of that. I specifically scheduled the blog posts to publish at 3AM ET, because that's when the promos updated for each new day.

I could have gone more under the hood, talking about Shark and Shakespeare, promo rotators, push tools, include files, staging servers, tracking redirects, etc, but you get the picture.

I'd continue to do the home page for a year or two more, through a few redesigns and aborted launches (two in a row, including one that was ahead of its time, with integrated AIM Express Buddy List right there on the page!). We did more segmentation (in-client and out-of-client views), though they didn't go to dynamic programming and more dayparts until after I switched groups.

I may have other screenshots tucked away on hard drives or CD-ROMs (some of which I can't get to anymore), though I think this is it for the hard copies. I'm pretty sure I have a 9/11 screenshot somewhere, too.

Anyway, here we are, 20 years later. I hope this archive is useful to someone, even if it's just for nostalgia purposes. For me, it was part memory job, part writing prompt to get me posting online again. So we'll see what happens with that.

[Series note: In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary under the tag #20YearsAgoOnAOLcom.]

Friday, January 10, 2020

#20YearsAgoOnAOLcom: Jan. 10, 2000 -- Almost at the End, with AOL Mail

January 10, 2000: Well, we're getting near the end of this feature; tomorrow's will be the last screenshot printout scan that I have. But for today, we have another AOL Mail promo, along with greetings (e-cards) and web chats. (There's no PM update for some reason, even though this was a regular Monday):
[Series note: In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary under the tag #20YearsAgoOnAOLcom.]