Culture Shock

Left over from yesterday: A bit of link-love for MIT’s OpenCourseware. ‘Cause they’re totally worth it. I was told that using my Xoom to watch MIT Chemistry courses while working out on the elliptical was a bit … nerdy. SRSLY? Oh, yeah, and bonus link for people wondering how homeopathy works: http://www.howdoeshomeopathywork.com/. I promise that’s no Rick-roll.

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So, Culture shock. How, you ask? More specifically (since the topic even needs disambiguation at Wikipedia), I’m talking about The Culture – the pre-Sublimation galaxy-spanning “civilization” spawned from the mind of Iain M. Banks. I’ve read eight books from the Culture series, from Consider Phlebas through Surface Detail. I finished the latter last night.  I enjoyed some of the books more than others, but taken as a body of work, I’m deeply impressed.

I love the depth of detail in all of the books. I especially love that I can’t always see what’s coming, but once I’m there, it’s been an obvious possible outcome all along. Mostly I’m used to authors telegraphing their moves so far ahead that all I can do is see what color the bride wears to the wedding, because that’s all the mystery that’s left.

Banks’ blend of intelligent hedonistic humanity and the post-AI Mindsof the culture surprised me at many turns, and left me thoughtful often as not. They’re in dead tree format, and they’re on the keeper shelf – I’ll be reading them again one day. There are too many books to say that about many of them. Thanks, Iain!

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Next up from the TBR stack? Some pTerry. I’ve got A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight all queued up.

Another use for the Xoom

Motorola Xoom + MIT OpenCourseware + NordicTrack mashup

Motorola Xoom + MIT OpenCourseware + NordicTrack mashup

It turns out that the Xoom fits right nicely in the book-holder slot on the elliptical machine. But I really can’t read while I’m exercising … and I’ve never gotten the knack of listening to audio books. But hey! There’s a lot of video lectures out of MIT and elsewhere. That’s one of my biggest problems with exercise – I get bored. This has possibilities! No, there’s no woman with improbably blue contacts and a glass of some liquid fiber product lurking just outside of the frame. Multi-tasking has its advantages, though.

Passages

Thursday: Oh, right, you heard from me on Thursday, at least to show you the yummy chili.

Friday: Work, then I wrote that 600 word paper that came out to 840 or so words, and turned it in. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the instructions didn’t just say must be 600 words, but also included the “must not be over 800 words” category. Really? The prose that described the topic to be addressed was 534 words. Why can’t I use as many words as I want? F#@(*U&. So I pulled the paper back, then edited down to 783 words, by dropping some impactful but ultimately unnecessary verbiage from from the introductory paragraph. It no longer read as well, but it was under the arbitrary limit.

Saturday: I weeded and mowed in front and in back. About 4 hours worth, for the first time in over a month. We’ve been getting a bit of rain recently, and the lawns had transitioned from mostly dead to zombie:Mostly dead, but with a mullet of green here and there.

Sunday: Shopping and cooking, mostly.  A bit of catch-up reading from the 18″ tall stack of periodicals that have accumulated while this database class took every non-paid waking moment. Supper (chili, duh) with Linda and Marcia, and an episode from Season 5 of Babylon 5. And in other good news, I got all the available points for that paper.And now we’re caught up.

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The duty: I’m unhappy about this. It’s going to be an f’ed up week, with that chopper downed eight days ago… Our condolences to the families and units of these forty one fallen warriors:

Sgt. Daniel J. Patron, 26, of Canton, Ohio, died Aug. 6 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr., 28, of Bakersfield, California, died Aug. 7 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Joshua J. Robinson, 29, of Omaha, Nebraska, died Aug. 7 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Alessandro L. Plutino, 28, of Pitman, New Jersey, died Aug. 8 in Paktia province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire.

Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Jonas B. Kelsall, 32, of Shreveport, Louisiana, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Master Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Louis J. Langlais, 44, of Santa Barbara, California, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Thomas A. Ratzlaff, 34, of Green Forest, Arkansas, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Senior Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Kraig M. Vickers 36, of Kokomo, Hawaii, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Brian R. Bill, 31, of Stamford, Connecticut, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) John W. Faas, 31, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Kevin A. Houston, 35, of West Hyannisport, Massachusetts, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Matthew D. Mason, 37, of Kansas City, Missouri, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Stephen M. Mills, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist/Diver) Nicholas H. Null, 30, of Washington, West Virginia, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves, 32, of Shreveport, Louisiana, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson, 34, of Detroit, Michigan, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Darrik C. Benson, 28, of Angwin, California, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Parachutist) Christopher G. Campbell, 36, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Information Systems Technician Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Jared W. Day, 28, of Taylorsville, Utah, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) John Douangdara, 26, of South Sioux City, Nebraska, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Cryptologist Technician (Collection) Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) Michael J. Strange, 25, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) Jon T. Tumilson, 35, of Rockford, Iowa, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Aaron C. Vaughn, 30, of Stuart, Florida, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jason R. Workman, 32, of Blanding, Utah, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jesse D. Pittman, 27, of Ukiah, California, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class (SEAL) Nicholas P. Spehar, 24, of Saint Paul, Minnesota, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter, 47, of Centennial, Colorado, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, 31, of Hays, Kansas, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Staff Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger, 30, of Lincoln, Nebraska, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett, 24, of Tacoma, Washington, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Spc. Spencer C. Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Kansas, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown, 33, of Tallahassee, Florida, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell, 26, of Long Beach, California, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, of York, Pennsylvania, died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.

Cpl. Nicholas S. Ott, 23, of Manchester, New Jersey, died Aug. 10 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Hospitalman Riley Gallinger-Long, 19, of Cornelius, Oregon, died Aug. 11 while conducting a dismounted patrol in the Marjah district, Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Edward J. Frank II, 26, of Yonkers, New York, died Aug. 11 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Spc. Jameel T. Freeman, 26, of Baltimore, Maryland, died Aug. 11 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Spc. Patrick L. Lay II, 21, of Fletcher, North Carolina, died Aug. 11 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Spc. Jordan M. Morris, 23, of Stillwater, Oklahoma, died Aug. 11 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Pfc. Rueben J. Lopez, 27, of Williams, California, died Aug. 11 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Ownage

Apologies – work and schoolwork have owned my days and nights. Project 3 is now in for the database class, and work remains busy. But here’s the project that required slots cut into wood: A framed cork board to substitute for someone who wanted to stick cork tiles onto the gorgeous book-matched veneer on that desk you’ll see when I can upload pictures again (/tmp is full on the server we’re on).

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Later: I executed an end-run by putting the picture on the static Orb site, then linking to it here.

An over-engineered corkboard

An over-engineered corkboard

Cowboys?

Funny, I’ve never really thought of Daniel Craig in a Western genre film until I saw the trailer for Cowboys & Aliens. The trailer is a hoot, and the movie looks like a lot of fun, too. It’s one I’m looking forward to.

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Pain: A growing pressure in the left ear indicates that I’m in for about three unpleasant days while this … whatever … runs its course. Not unusual, but it’s been maybe a year or more since I’ve had this sort of mild ear ache. That’s better than par for the course.

Pleasure: Knowing that the final results from my fifty thousand mile check-up are in, and I don’t need any more extensive work done for 5000 more miles. That’s a good thing. The removed bit was of the utterly benign and doesn’t ever exhibit pre-cancerous traits type of bits.

*    *    *

We haven’t got enough money to pay the bills … so let’s borrow more money. If I did that, it’s a problem. I understand that things are different at scale, but seriously people: Someone has to decide where to start tightening the belt. When every congresscritter says “Not Me!”, I say, “We can elect someone who CAN make sane decisions, because you ain’t it.” And, sadly, neither is Obama. If the nation’s got a problem, then do what you’ve been elected to do, and serve the nation, not your political cronies. Do the right thing, people.

Sundry

Events of the last couple of days were … relatively uneventful. That is, my ‘oscopy was much more unpleasant to prepare for than it was to sleep through. The doc reported snipping out something small, and biopsy results pend until Tuesday, but either way, it ain’t the big C. Depending on the type, I get another screening in three years, or in five. I’ll be happier with five, thanks. And Marcia’s molar extraction in the afternoon was as simple as could be hoped for: no jackhammering, and minimal pain already today.

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The summer garden

The summer garden

The summer garden is doing fine. It’s hot and humid these days – they say the heat index yesterday was in the 115 degree range. I do know that the thermometer which is in the shade after noon, peaked over 102 by mid-afternoon. This morning, it was up over 90 by 9 AM. But anything that isn’t heat tolerant in full sun ain’t doing so good. The cucumbers are almost done, the zucchini is long gone. The beans are nearly toast between the sun and the Japanese beetles (but they’re still producing). Tomatoes and peppers are coming into their own…

Second crop basil

Second crop basil

The new batch of basil is well started, as you can see. And what’s coming out of the garden now makes me very happy, even though it’s a month later than I’d hoped for…

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Two Days Off

Today and tomorrow, I’m off work. Yes, of course I checked email a few times. But that’s it. Today was all about schoolwork. I’m caught up with everything, and ahead of the game in a few things – all of this weekend’s due items are already submitted.

The downside is that all I’ve had today are clear liquids. And I just finished my first of two SUPREP rounds, before tomorrow’s “Gosh, it sucks to be 50” diagnostic test. So I’ve got a stack of magazines, and perhaps some video gaming to while away the hours this evening… while I drink another gallon of fluids. Oh, joy.

What Day Is This?

I have it on reliable authority that it is, in fact, Tuesday. That’s amusing, since this clearly isn’t Belgium. But with a bunch of reorg work yesterday in the data center, and fun with ZFS and the backup system today, I’m all a-whirl!

Things to do next:

  1. Move the watering over to the next flower bed.
  2. Get cracking on a final review of the database course project.
  3. Figure out why my WordPress instance insists on correcting my writing to British english.
  4. Start on the reading for the applications course.

That third item is fun, because I’ve been known exhibit Anglophilic tendencies in my writing from time to time. So I’m going to get a different set of corrections after finding and killing that configuration. But I rarely spell that word in the first paragraph “centre”,  so I think it’ll be a net win.

I would comment on more important things, but there are reasons not to, so I won’t. Politics and position don’t always converge neatly, I’m just sayin’ … anyway, Ciao!

Just Don’t Lie To Me

Karon(09:06:39): Hello. Thank you for choosing Verizon and visiting our Verizon chat service. How can I help you place your order?

You(09:07:06): Old bundle expiring, looking at new bundles… Confused by pricing, let me explain:

Karon(09:08:42): Thank you for being a valued Verizon customer.

Karon(09:08:52): Please go ahead with your question.

You(09:09:07): I select the bundle with Ultimate HD, 35/35 Internet, Freedom Essentials – price listed as 139.99. I click the button to do a 2-year deal. The next page shows the price: 139.99 (same as before), only it *ALSO* says “Price included these discounts: $5 24-Month Contract Discount”.

You(09:09:22): There’s no actual $5 discount reflected.

You(09:09:42): What is the truth?

You(09:12:00): Ping.

Karon(09:13:00): You will are seeing already discounted price for the service.

You(09:13:21): But its the same price that was displayed BEFORE the discount was offered!

Karon(09:13:56): You will be able to see Discounted price on your screen.

You(09:15:12): No, you’re not understanding. PRIOR to selecting the 2 year plan, I was shown $139.99 for a one year price. AFTER selecting the 2 year plan, it says I’m getting a $5 discount for 2 year plan, but it still says $139.99.

You(09:15:36): The discount is NOT reflected in the price.

Karon(09:16:41): I would suggest you to proceed with the customization of the service and proceed till “Review Order” page to see the detailed information on this. I am right here to assist you.

You(09:18:06): No $5 discount applied.

Karon(09:21:16): $139.99 price is already discounted price.

Karon(09:22:11): You will get 12 months price guarantee with Month to Month plan and 24 months price guarantee with 2 years contract that’s the only different with the contract.

You(09:22:19): Read above. Seriously. Your website is NOT changing the price, but claiming to have applied a discount. I can always ask the Maryland Public Service Commission to look into this for me.

You(09:23:34): The FIRST page doesn’t claim to have applied a discount and shows 139.99. The later pages claim that the $5 discount applies to 24 month contracts, but doesn’t change the price. That’s funny accounting, and is wrong.

Karon(09:25:49): If you are getting message saying “”Price included these discounts: $5 24-Month Contract Discount” it means that price is already discounted price.

Karon(09:26:04): It already includes the discount.

You(09:28:52): You’re wasting my time, and the pages for signing up for bundles are showing falsehoods. One of two things is true: (1) The language claiming a $5 discount for 24 month contracts is incorrect, or (2) the discount is true, but the discount is not being applied to the monthly price. When I read your web page, there are no other possibilities – something is wrong. Please advise.

Karon(09:28:52): Do you have anymore question I can assist you with today?

Karon(09:29:52): You can confirm this information with our Local Business office and check with them.

You(09:30:21): Good luck with that script…

Ah, the joys of life dealing with big corporations. If I can’t get a straight answer out of the local folks on the phone later today, I will refer this to the Maryland Public Service Commission, claiming to apply a discount without having done so is a problem.

Creepy Thoughts

I was in the chair at my dentist’s office on Wednesday morning. I chose not to tell them what I thought of as I was falling asleep the night before…

I’m talking to my dentist.

“You know, I was looking on the Internet, and found evidence that 90% of problems with teeth originate with the gums.”

The dentist nods in agreement, and I continue.

“So I found a couple of sites that made specific recommendations, and followed them. I got a fresh #11 X-Acto blade and cut all the gums way, way back. Once the screaming and bleeding was done, I think my mouth felt a lot cleaner, and healthier, too! See!”

I grin an awful grin, and the dentist recoils in horror.

I told you it would have been a bad idea to relate that vignette to the dentist, and especially not to his temporary hygienist (the regular Terese was gone on holiday, she ‘gets’ my oddball sense of humor).

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Tonight I finished up, I think, the second project in my database class. I’ve sent it in by email for review, on the off-chance that they’ll offer useful advise this time. It’s not due until the 24th, but better ready early than late.

G’nite!