2013-12-01

About Lou Reed

Lou Reed, the rock'n'roll animal, died last month.


The first time I heard his music, was on a CD I rented at a local library. I was still a fresh immigrant to Germany, and thirsty for all the art and music that the Soviet regime blocked for seventy years. At that point, I had been unraveling the great mystery of Western culture for maybe two or three years, consuming art and photography books, fine literature, iconic films, and all kinds of music.

Reconstructing cultural references would lead me from Oscar Wilde to Aubrey Beardley, and from him, to ukio-e of Japan, pop art, and comics, and on and on. I would read books and listen to music that was named as influences on the artists and authors that I liked, and would repeat the cycle as much as I could, building this mental map of the 20th century awesomeness.

So there I was, in my room in a high-rise on the outskirts of Berlin, listening to the soundtrack CD for the movie "The Doors" -- which I still had to watch at that point -- when I heard this unearthly electric sound and a languid voice reciting "I... don't know... just where I'm going..."

It was so different from the quite accessible music of the Doors[1], so dark, and so unlike anything else I have heard to date. I had to find more of the same.


Once I got to hear one full Velvet Underground album, I was in love forever. The love continues to this day. I have been lucky enough to attend several of Lou's concerts, both in Berlin and in the United States, and of course I collected all of Lou's music, from his Velvets days to the recent stuff.

Lou's music and lyrics followed me through my early years in Berlin, through the university, my travels, my first job, all the way to today. I found that different songs and albums resonated with me, as I lived and changed and grew as a person.

Even though I never met him in person, the fact that we're no longer sharing the same planet breaks my heart. Lou is one of the few people whose art and ideas influenced me the most.

World is not the same, now that it lost your creative mind, Lou.

[1] Doors' fans, please don't hate me, but the Velvets were in a whole different league.

Look ahead. Cook ahead.

One thing about being a member of two CSAs is, that no matter what your consumption, the food just keeps coming. And if you get behind, you'll be very soon swimming in perfectly healthy, organic, uncooked food that you have no idea what to do with. And then you give it all away to people who know what to do with food, unlike yourself.

Having gone through a few of these cycles, J. and I have wised up. Now we take an evening on the weekend to turn all the fresh veggies we have in the fridge into side dishes we can reheat throughout the week. The major bonuses of that being that (1) we/I don't have to spend much time during the week preparing dinner; (2) we achieve economies of scale in food prep and cleanup; (3) we don't spoil nearly any food anymore.

Recently I have been taking inspiration from the Googley cafeteria and roasting all sorts of veggies together, like...

  • Beets, carrots, and kale
  • Cauliflower, apples, and leeks
  • Radishes, carrots, and kale
Over the holidays, I've also cooked two birds, a chicken and a duck, and after all the easily accessible meat has been carved and consumed, I did two batches of home-made bone stock. That turned out to be an awesome thing. How come nobody told me about that? You get the awesome stock that you can use to cook things with, and then you can also pick off the remaining scraps of meat from the bones and use that in salads, or as a noodle soup topping.

Soba noodles in duck broth with duck meat topping, sprinkled with toasted nori and sesame seed, and just a little bit of salt made a great "leftover" lunch.

We're in the middle of a four-week delivery break from our vegetable CSA, and I am happy to report that as the first delivery of the new season nears, we'll be done eating all the vegetables we've received before the break. That's a good feeling.

Historically I've had some trouble utilizing all kinds of lettuces. I mean, I can toss a handful of arugula into a squash and quinoa dish, or use some romaine in a salad once a week, but when you have three bags of leafy goodness, and two or three heads of different lettuces in a single box, that's just beyond me. I have always despised eating raw leaves, no two ways about it.

This is why I'm looking forward to the next delivery. Our CSA now has a "custom order" option where for an additional five dollars processing fee you can pick what goes into your weekly box. This will hopefully mean less spoiled veggies, since we'll only be getting things we eat. Whee.


2013-11-25

Enter Iron Man

This past Saturday, I went and did it. I put down a deposit for a Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. A convertible of course, why do you ask? Here is a screen shot from their car configuration app online. Looks just like Iron Man, doesn't it?

Because all the cars in the lot were looking like cars, and not like Iron Man, I ordered mine custom. That means it will be here in a few months, probably in March.

The plan is to lease it, and pay for the lease with the money I will save on gas going to and from work every week. Given that we have charging stations at work, it's going to be fairly cheap to operate.

So why this?

I test-drove a Fiat 500e, and a gasoline-powered Toyota Yaris, and of these three the Smart was the only tiny car that felt like an actual car to use. The door closes with a nice heavy "thunk" and the steering feels just heavy enough. The Smart uses it rear wheels to propel itself down the road, and that definitely helps with handling and steering wheel feedback.

Its turning radius is small enough that I could do a U-turn in the middle of the street in a residential neighborhood, with room to spare.

Also, all the other small cars didn't come with "no roof" option. Feh!

Anyways, who can resist the charm of Tony Stark?

2013-10-29

You will read the Roundel, and you will enjoy it, damnit!


From: Jane Doe [Ed. - this isn't the "Membership Services" staffer's real name, as you may guess.]
To: me

An issue of your Roundel has been returned to the mailing house because of an addressing problem. It may have been any of the following:
  • The Post Office has a Forwarding Order for you but BMW CCA doesn't have that new address.
  • The Post Office Box we are using has been closed (according to the Post Office)
  • The address is good but the Post Office doesn't have your name listed as living there.
  • Mail has been returned but the Post Office has no forwarding address on file.
Obviously, the error could be the result of a Post Office computer problem, but it could be that you've moved and forgotten to tell us.

If you have recently moved and have forgotten to let National know your new address, you can update your information online in your account profile at www.bmwcca.org, by phone at 1-800-878-9292, or by email.

Jane Doe | Membership Services
BMW Car Club of America | 640 South Main Street, Suite 201 | Greenville, SC 29601

From: me
To: Jane Doe

Jane,
I do not wish to receive a physical copy of the Roundel magazine anymore.
Thank you,
Alex

From: Jane Doe
To: me

At this time, the only way to opt out of Roundel mailings is to cancel your membership. We do not a digital only membership. Unless you can provide a valid address, we will have to automatically cancel the membership if mail continues to be returned to us.

[Ed. - This is the point where I go huh? WTF? I ask politely to not be spammed, and you threaten me with cancelation? Like, seriously dude, WTF?
But then I think, hey, I've been giving you guys money, and haven't seem much aside from spam out of you yet. Maybe this is a sign.
I'm also slightly miffed by lack of opening and closing greetings in all the above correspondence. A simple "hello" and "bye" would have sufficed; not asking for much, there.]

From: Me
To: Jane Doe

I have paid for 3 years in advance Jane. But if my BMW club is so inflexible that it would rather lose a member than stop wasting paper and energy delivering a magazine a member does not want, then by all means, feel free to do so. You can refund my credit card directly.
Regards,
Alex
From: Jane Doe
To: me


Alex,
It's not that want to lose you as a member. We are a non profit organization that one of the main sources of revenue is our advertising revenue from Roundel. In order to receive the revenue that we do, our advertisers expect their ads in our mailings to reach a certain percentage of viewers. Unfortunately, with our demographics at this time, online viewing percentage is not as high as would be needed to implement a web only based membership without significantly increasing dues across the board for everyone. So at this time we must mail to all members. [Ed. - Dare I suggest, that if your online viewership is low, and people keep asking not to send them the printed copy... maybe you could improve your content? I kid, I kid. You just got stuck with the wrong members who don't know how to appreciate your publication. Stay the course.]

For the members who do not read the publication, we suggest donating it at you local doctors office or hospital or even elementary schools [Emphasis mine]. They are always in need of magazines and paper materials.

We completely understand your point of view, and this issue is always before the board. It's just a matter of weighing the pro and cons versus dues increases.

Every magazine and piece of mail we have returned, we are charged an additional .50+ return fee by the USPS. This is why we have to cancel memberships that have repeated returns without updated address info but make every effort to contact the member first. With 70k members, this also effects the club.

So again I understand your feelings,but hopefully you can see our side as well. If you decide not to provide me with an updated address I will issue your refund. I do hope you reconsider.

Best regards,
Jane Doe

From: me
To: Jane Doe

While I can appreciate how tough it may be for a non-profit organization to make ends meet, I can't help but ask myself, what kind of benefits does the club provide to me as a member that my membership dues don't cover? Because I honestly have yet to see a penny's worth of benefits out of the club for myself. And no, I don't count the extra exercise I get from carrying the Roundel to the recycling bin as a benefit.

For a moment, I will assume that someone is deriving value from the club, and my copy of the printed Roundel absolutely must be forced onto some unsuspecting bystanders to help offset the cost -- why doesn't the club staff run around the neighborhood and drop off all the unwanted copies for free? Although, being a marketing professional, I know that preschooler demographic might not be exactly what your advertisers had in mind when they bought those ads.

Either way my position remains, if the club is inflexible about serving members' communication preferences, I am fine with no longer being a member.

If you have questions about refunding my prorated membership dues, please let me know.
Warm regards,
Alex

2013-09-24

And more recruiter spam from Intelliswift


Alex to Amit

GREETINGS!!! right back at ya Amit.

Since you sent me half a novel here in job description and requirements, I figure you are a man of letters. Always happy to talk to a fellow sapient human.

Have you heard of LinkedIn.com? They have this really nifty function where you can look up your candidate and see whether they are a good fit -- before you even spend your time (and theirs) on unnecessary email. If you would have done this, you would have thought: "Gee, this community manager lady with nearly 10 years of industry experience, working at Google wouldn't leave that job for just ANY job opportunity. But boy, will she be amazed when she sees what I got in store for her: A three-month entry-level sysadmin contract!"

Since I assume that you are a hard-working professional with best intentions, I must conclude that someone misled you about the value of this opportunity, because it is not a good fit for me.

I have also heard that some lazy recruiters prefer to carpet-bomb a database and thus externalize the cost, saddling us candidates with the work of parsing the job descriptions and self-selecting of whether to respond. I am sure you are not that despicable kind of lazy recruiter.

So I'm just writing to you in hopes of clarifying that 3-months entry-level contracts aren't attractive to me.

Please remove me from the database.
For good.

Thank you!
Alex

Quoted message:
Amit Ambastha  to me

Hi Alexandra,

Greetings!!!

We have an opening that matches your profile from one of our clients in Fremont, CA. I would highly appreciate it if you could go through the job description below and send me an updated word copy of your resume with your expected hourly rates and availability details.

Please find the job description below.

Title: Sr. Staff System Administrator
Location: Fremont, CA
Duration: 3 months contract to hire

Sr. Staff System Administrator
Client is currently looking for a Senior Staff Systems Administrator with 10 - 15 years of experience to build and support our critical IT Application infrastructure. To be considered, candidates must demonstrate strong technology skills, ability to provide high levels of customer service, have built and supported enterprise IT application environment within a large corporate computing environment. Additionally, requires candidate to participate in a 24x7 rotational on-call coverage.

Requirements:

• Strong working knowledge on Linux (Cent OS, Redhat, and Oracle VM) AND/OR Microsoft Windows 2008 server
• Must have design and large scale implementation experience with Fiber channel and NFS based enterprise storage arrays (3PAR and Netapp skills are preferred) in a highly virtualized infrastructure
• Must have strong understanding and experience in VMware virtualization technology
• Good understanding of TCP/IP, DNS, network routing, and switching
• Experience in configuring and supporting network services appliances such as WAN accelerators, load balancers and firewalls preferred
• Prior experience in optimizing infrastructure components (OS, storage, virtualization and network) to support a very dynamic application environment
• Should be fluent in automating complex manual tasks using Perl, Python, Powershell and bash (at least one)
• Strong experience in designing, building, optimizing and supporting 3 tier / ERP application infrastructure
• Should be able to quickly identify the root cause and resolve critical issues by looking across multiple layers (storage, OS, network, virtualization, and application / DB stack)
• Should have good experience in building, scaling up and supporting database, web and application clusters
• Experience in supporting IT Applications with Apache & MySQL AND/OR IIS & Microsoft SQL
• Strong documentation skills

Responsibilities:

• Lead in the planning, design and implementation of 3 tier - IT application infrastructure and provide necessary support during application development life cycle and releases.
• Support the IT application infrastructure stack (OS, Storage, Network, Database, Web, and Virtualization) and ultimately accountable for the high availability of the production infrastructure
• Build and maintain IT Application - Software development environments
• Ensure company standard server technologies, proper performance and capacity standards are followed.
• Participate in planning, design and maintenance of enterprise IT infrastructure
• Lead problem resolution and coordination
• Facilitate knowledge sharing by creating and maintaining detailed and comprehensive documentation and diagrams.
• Evaluate and implement new technologies to improve the enterprise infrastructure.
• Participate in an on-call rotation for support of systems outside of normal business hours.
• Position will require being available to perform maintenance during non-business hours and over the weekends.
• Available for occasional business travel
• Strong team player with a high degree of self-motivation and the ability to manage additional technical resources to meet the project requirements.

Education:
B.S. Degree in engineering, science, mathematics, information systems or computer science.

If you are available and interested, please do send me a word copy of resume along with following details:

Linux: …years
Windows: …years
VMWare: …years
NAS:
Apache/MySQL:
Perl/Python/Powershell/Bash:


Earliest availability for the assignment:
Earliest availability for the phone interview:
Earliest availability for the in-person interview:
Current location:
Ready to relocate:
Preferred contact number:
Work Authorization:
Expected hourly rates:
Expected Annual compensation:

Thanks & Regards,

Amit | Intelliswift Software Inc | 2201 Walnut Avenue, #180, Fremont, CA 94538| Phone: 510 870 8644 | Fax: 510-578-7710

2013-09-19

Working walkstation

I've meant to try using a walking workstation ever since they first got hip a couple of years ago. The standing setup works for me both at home and at work, so hey, this must be even better, right?

They are crazy-expensive though, so I never got around to buying one, and didn't work in an office that had these before. But at my new job, we have one of these in our building, and today after lunch I figured I'd get a few hundred steps in while catching up on email lists.

It was easy enough to adjust to, and I could still type walking up to 2 miles per hour. I tried going up to 3 mph, but that made reading uncomfortable, so I slowed back down to 2 mph.

After an hour, I have walked about two miles and was ready to return to my stationary desk. And that's when I realized that I totally confused my vestibular apparatus. To the point when I got insta-nausea from stepping back on terra firma.

Holding myself to the wall, I got to the nearest easy chair, where I still remain, forty minutes later, waiting for the world to stop swaying around me.

I get the same severity of motion sickness from reading while riding in a car, so in retrospect I should have expected this result. I mean, you're basically bobbing up and down and side-to-side the whole time, but your visual frame of reference (the screen and the desk) remain stationary.

As my nausea is ebbing, I can say through unclenched teeth "Welp, at least that took the doubt out of my mind whether I want one of those fancy-schmancy treadmill desks for myself."

Have you tried one? What's been your experience?

2013-09-12

Stationery luddite

She's a cloud-peddling internet community manager by day, and a technology luddite in her note-taking, also by day.

Is it a fountain pen? Is it a paper notebook? Yes! And it's leather-bound!

Actually, it's a standard "composition book" (for some values of standard: those of you in the US will know it) -- and it is dressed up in my new classy leather cover! And when this book is full of my deep thoughts and meeting notes, I can just put a new one in the same leather cover. How cool is that?

2013-09-10

Stateful immigrant

The wait is over. After nearly seven suspenseful years, yours truly is a permanent resident of the United States.

No, don't run to your bookmarks to change the URL to statefulimmigrant.com -- as a matter of fact I have just gotten around to registering www.statelessimmigrant.com, full six years after starting this here blog. The RSS feed still works, as far as I can tell. Is anyone still using RSS since Reader's demise? I'm still not over it. And I despise Feedly. I use it, but any company that picks a baby-talk name makes me want to scratch my eyes out more than use their product.

They did a good job migrating from Reader, and I am almost used to the new UI, but the name, that just keeps grating on my nerves.

Guess I should have called this post "apropos of nothing," seeing how much rambling there is in here, and not the previous one.

Apropos of nothing

I remember the times when reinstalling your OS used to be something you did with frightening regularity, and spent following days restoring your work environment. Back then, if you had any non-standard settings, such as mouse acceleration or taskbar location, you would have to go in, menu by menu, and restore them by hand. I don't remember being particularly upset about that. Sure, whatever nonsense led to the necessity of a reinstall was rightfully cursed, but you'd stoically go through all the steps, and even enjoy trying out new settings a bit, as one does, before returning to what has always worked for you.

These days, I catch myself being annoyed as much, or more by a browser upgrade, which makes me reopen my incognito tabs, and log into all the services, one by one.

Baselines change, the level of annoyance stays the same. What does this say about the human condition?

2013-09-08

Blam! Pow! (Okay, more like "Pop!")

A few months ago, my friends introduced me to the wonderful world of target practice. Oh boy, did I like that!

You mean, I can learn and hone a complex manual and mental skill, make a bunch of noise, put holes in things down range, and look cool doing that? Sign. Me. Up.

I need a new expensive hobby like an extra hole in my head, so I've been pacing myself so far, and only got an air gun that shoots tiny pellets. It's good enough to shoot paper targets, but not much beyond that. So: safe with a beginner like me. And legal to practice in the back yard. Which is a Good ThingTM.


Plus, it's quiet. So: no annoyed (or freaked out) neighbors, and no visits from the Santa Cruz' finest. It is waaaay quieter than a bottle of Champagne being opened. And then you have to pump the air into it all over again. For each shot. So free strength training built in.

Oh, and it's orders of magnitude cheaper to shoot than any firearm. Which is a Very Good ThingTM.

I've been spending an occasional afternoon practicing in the back yard, and got somewhat better at it, as one does, sticking paper targets on old Amazon boxes, and subsequently riddling them with holes. The best I've done is hit bullseye from about 15 meters. Double the distance, and I can hit the 20 cm paper circle half the time. Probably in part due to the air gun not having a lot of power, but mostly because of how well I shoot.

Anyways, that is that, there's no other point to this post, just that I'm learning to hit small things with much smaller things from a medium distance. Also, Yippy ka yay, etc.

2013-08-24

Idle thoughts of a freshly non-idle lady


What if Star Trek transporter made a new copy of you every time you got beamed somewhere, and the old you just got disintegrated in the energy beam? Your original consciousness terminated, never to be recovered again? For the outsiders, there would be no way to perceive that the new copy is a new individual, imbued with all your traits, experiences, and memories, so they'd just figure you got beamed up. How would we ever know?

More digital art



Another illustration made with Corel Painter, this one is for a Native American legend called Glooskap and the Baby. Here is the full text of it from Project Gutenberg:

Glooskap, having conquered the Kewawkqu', a race of giants and magicians, and the Medecolin, who were cunning sorcerers, and Pamola, a wicked spirit of the night, besides hosts of fiends, goblins, cannibals, and witches, felt himself great indeed, and boasted to a certain woman that there was nothing left for him to subdue.

But the woman laughed and said: "Are you quite sure, Master? There is still one who remains unconquered, and nothing can overcome him."

In some surprise Glooskap inquired the name of this mighty individual.

"He is called Wasis," replied the woman; "but I strongly advise you to have no dealings with him."

Wasis was only the baby, who sat on the floor sucking a piece of maple-sugar and crooning a little song to himself. Now Glooskap had never married and was quite ignorant of how children are managed, but with perfect confidence he smiled to the baby and asked it to come to him. The baby smiled back to him, but never moved, whereupon Glooskap imitated the beautiful song of a certain bird. Wasis, however, paid no heed to him, but went on sucking his maple-sugar.




Glooskap, unaccustomed to such treatment, lashed himself into a furious rage, and in terrible and threatening accents ordered Wasis to come crawling to him at once. But Wasis burst into direful howling, which quite drowned the god's thunderous accents, and for all the threatenings of the deity he would not budge.

Glooskap, now thoroughly aroused, brought all his magical resources to his aid. He recited the most terrible spells, the most dreadful incantations. He sang the songs which raise the dead, and which sent the devil scurrying to the nethermost depths of the pit. But Wasis evidently seemed to think this was all some sort of a game, for he merely smiled wearily and looked a trifle bored.

At last Glooskap in despair rushed from the hut, while Wasis, sitting on the floor, cried, "Goo, goo," and crowed triumphantly. And to this day the Indians say that when a baby cries "Goo" he remembers the time when he conquered the mighty Glooskap.

2013-08-17

Living Steel art

This year, I've seen a rekindling of two of my old passions: drawing and role-playing games. In addition to that, I have been long meaning to learn to create art on the computer, as drawing and scanning is a little cumbersome, the colors don't always come out right, and the finished pieces are already taking up much space, and I'm not too eager to add to the pile. So I am trying out Corel Painter now, with a Bamboo tablet (which is sub-optimal, but better than using a mouse or trackpad).

So at the intersection of role-playing and art, is this here, my first attempt at using Painter to create an original drawing. Meet my Living Steel character Helga Schwan. She's a martial artist, and a little bit of a super-soldier, grown in a lab. She's not got much in the way of a value system or ethics imparted in her training, and now as she finds her home world in shambles, she has to figure out all that touchy-feely stuff in addition to surviving a zombie apocalypse.


In this drawing, I was mostly figuring out just what the different tools did. To my amazement, the brushes behaved very much like brushes, and paints and inks behaved like such IRL. I did enjoy erasing/etching outlines from a generously sketched drawing, such as the profile of her face, and the hem of her pants and the thong of her right shoe.

I stopped at some point, even though there's clearly more that needs fixing, but it was late, and my wrist was getting tired from using the tablet.

A couple of days later I have tried my hand at Painter again, this time paying more attention to simpler technique. Meet T.K. -- a character from our party who likes his guns big. He's a hefty fellow, not very bright, but has a heart in the right place. Just don't try to take away his weapons, or he may get angry.
I think the plan is right now to draw a bunch more characters and get that Painter thing figured out somewhat better. So far, I really like the ability to do illustrations in the scratchboard-like style. In the past, I have been using coated papers and scratched with various pointy things. The problem with that is that you only get one attempt at scratching, because the ink comes off with the coating, and once that is gone, you don't get clean lines anymore, even if you put a generous new coat of ink over the spot.

Also, finding just the right kind of paper for this technique is hard: not all coated matte papers are created equal when it comes to scratching, and I am not versed enough in paper industry terms to express what exactly I mean. I just know that I've had best success doing this technique on backs of advertisement posters, and the kind of paper that is used in printing posters isn't normally sold in art stores. So I just hoarded posters for a while.

Aaanyways, I never could come to terms with Photoshop for original art creation, and am quite excited about Painter. Watch this space for more adventures in digital art.

2013-08-14

Racing is not about recklessness

Let me get it out there. Just because it scares you, doesn't mean it's reckless. Racers use years of highly honed skill to perform on the race track.

Why this post? Because I am seeing a lot of people make the cognitive mistake of assuming that if something scares them because they couldn't do it, e.g. driving a car at its limit around a race track -- then that activity must be inherently reckless, and only crazy people would engage in it.

Nothing could be further from the truth though. It takes many thousands of hours of training, both on and off the track, for a driver to become comfortable in a racing situation. It would be reckless to allow someone who just drove to the racetrack for the first time to be allowed to participate in a race, but that's not what is happening.

Racing has its rules, both explicit (such as the Club Rules and Regulations) and implicit (like good sportsmanship on track), and it takes a good while to internalize them all. It's a complex social system, constantly changing and evolving, as if the driving skill alone wasn't hard to acquire.

When you see a bunch of cars negotiate a turn and trade places in a race, you may think it's all animosity and competitiveness, brute force against force, in a testosterone-drenched red mist. In many cases, that's not what's going on. Racing is more akin to chess or karate sparring than to a barroom brawl.

Just to take this analogy further: when you watch a pair of karate masters spar, do you think either of them is full of blinding anger, and is going to try to win whatever the cost to either of their health and well-being? No.

Traditionally we see martial arts as combining fine control of body and mind. You wouldn't think that just because you can't exercise such precise strikes and blocks, the two sparring opponents must be reckless idiots who have no concept of what's safe.

So next time you call one of your friends crazy just because they do something you can't imagine doing well yourself, think how much passion, effort, and pure time of their lives they poured into honing their driving skill. Then compare to yourself, and stop saying silly things like that.

2013-08-12

Oh, right. That new job thing.

Right. That job thing. You know, the one that pays money so I can go racing and do other silly stuff like pay the mortgage. Yeah, that thing. I haz one nao.

In case you wondered, it hasn't always been the case this year.

Nebula and yours truly parted ways in May, and I have applied with a handful of cool companies. Then I had a few busy weeks doing job interviews, on the phone and in person. Not all of them resulted in job offers, but that's how life is. In the end I got a really good one, one that I can feel good about accepting, and that's all that matters.

On the 5th of August, I have joined Google in a Developer Relations (DevRel) role in the Cloud Platform group.

In the intervening weeks, I have also gone on a 2-week cross country road trip (saw Mt Rushmore and drove on the Bonneville Salt Flats!), had my Mom visit from Germany (we went to LA and Vegas, among other things), and have been dealing with household stuff that I just don't have time for when I work (contractors mostly).

The first week has been like going back to school full time, what with all the training classes they signed me up for. I am learning tons about my new employer company! This week, I will even make an attempt at productivity. Whee!

2013-08-11

Rediscovering Urals folk legends

Malachite. Image Copyleft AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by London Permaculture
I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I hated school. I hated it so much, that even though I loved to read, I would do my best to avoid completing required reading. That's how much I hated it. Now, those days are long gone, thank $DEITY, and I am finding that I'm rather enjoying some of the books that I scoffed in my early years.

Take the Urals folk legends for one, compiled by Pavel Bazhov. When in soviet school, we had to read these tales and write essays about them, focusing on the plight of the Urals mountains serfs working in the copper and malachite mines. While class struggle indeed was a defining element of the historical setting, writing ideologically-correct essays in fourth or fifth grade was really not my idea of fun. So as you'd expect, I did the minimally required work and avoided reading the book by regurgitating on paper the formulaic rubbish I heard in class. Done and done. Next.

Thing is, while the socialist spin put on the legends really sucked, the legends themselves turn out to have so much more depth and richness now that I am reading them in a place and time so distant, so different than my childhood.

I've read through eight of them in one day, and fell asleep with my tablet in hand, reading the ninth last night. They all so far have been about the serf folks and some freed workers who mined copper and malachite in the late 18th century, their dealings with the gentry, and encounters with the mountain spirit called the Mistress of Copper Mountain who often protects the workers from abuse and helps them to freedom and wealth.

The Mistress has piercing black eyes, wears a malachite-green dress, and black hair in a thick braid the length of her back. She can appear as a young woman of exquisite beauty that no man can forget after seeing her, or as a green lizard with a black stripe along her spine. When she encounters good people, she's impressed with their courage, integrity, and kindness. The bad guys however, she sees right through and punishes for their evil deeds. Sort of like a magic Robin Hood.

These tales are written in a local dialect rich in words I've forgotten I knew, and much darker than the traditional fairytales, so reading them fills me both with a faint nostalgia for something I really never knew, as well as a vague wistfulness.

What I really like about these tales now that I read them with my adult eyes, is that they are so uncharacteristically devoid of sexism. The Mistress is not the only strong and independent woman in the legends: many more are featured in stories throughout the collection, taking up stone cutting craft when their man doesn't return from the mine, defending their homes and dignity from the gentry and drunk neighbors, unafraid of village gossip for not complying with the gender rules of their time.

On the other hand, Bazhov himself is a controversial figure to me. He supported the soviet revolution and thrived under Stalin, which makes me hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse his works. He also contributed to a revolutionary newspaper and was actively supporting the spread of the Soviet rule to Kazakhstan, so he gets major minus points from me there. The legends I am reading he supposedly heard as a kid and wrote down for publication later in life, so there's that. Not much ideology in there, but don't blame me if you dislike his political writings, of which there are plenty. I haven't read them, and don't intend to right now.

The work is likely in public domain, so if you know Russian you can read Bazhov's books online. If you prefer English, there's a translation available in dead-tree form. I couldn't find any previews, so couldn't tell you if they're any good, but one can hope.

Leaving Facebook

This header went live on my Facebook profile yesterday, and it said what it meant, and it meant what I said: I will be closing my Facebook account in a short time.

If you are one of those folks who follow me elsewhere or have my email address or my phone number, you shouldn't have any difficulties getting in touch with me.

If you don't have any other way to reach me, you can always visit my personal site, which has been around since before y'all got on Facebook (2004) with the exception of a few of you who used thefacebook.com, but if you're that much of an early adopter I doubt that you're still relying on FB to host your contact data.

Point being, don't fret. There's still plenty of social me to go around. Everything is linked off amaier.net for your convenience.

2013-08-10

When is a giant image too big?

I would say, right about now. As in, when you can't even see above the page break what the headline of the article is which you came to read. That's me running Chrome in a full-screen view on my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

More recruiter spam

This one arrived through LinkedIn inMail. One would think the recruiters would take more care researching their candidates when they have a limited monthly quota. [Previous spam]
From: Alex 8:52 AM (29 minutes ago)
to: Greg
Greg,
Thank you for your message.

I see that you've found me on LinkedIn. How funny you should write to me about a contract just now, when I have posted on LinkedIn that I started a new full-time job at Google.

Since I find it hard to believe that you would miss this very important detail, I wonder about reasons that made you believe this opportunity would be compelling enough to quit my new job at what is considered one of the top companies in Silicon Valley and take a contract at Wells Fargo.

I will await your response with bated breath.
Cordially yours,
Alex


On Aug 9, 2013 6:45 PM, "Greg Shelley" wrote:
Good Evening,
I have the following position available with Wells Fargo in San Francisco and wanted to see if you or someone you know might be interested. If so, please let me know and we can discuss further.

Community Manager
Long-Term W-2 Contract w/ Benefits
Front-End Development Center of Excellence
San Francisco, CA

Background:

[Redacted -- not sure his client would appreciate seeing the details of this internal project in public. Were I a more vindictive person, I would have kept them in.]

The Information Architect for the CoE is in need of a strong Community Manager to run the CoE as his direct report.

Requirements:

  • Experience serving as a Community Manager for a site similar in size and scope
  • Comfort level navigating a highly complex organization and working under very aggressive deadlines
  • Ideal candidate comes from technical (FED/UI/UX) background and is well-versed in moderating and maintaining content from a curatorial standpoint
  • Must know Confluence 

Responsibilities:

  • Moderate and maintain CoE content 
  • Work closely with FED Framework team SME’s and gurus as well as third party consulting firm
  • Work to keep site engaging, establish SLA’s, contribute to gamification of the CoE to encourage participation
  • Make sure questions are being answered and content is being updated
  • Analytics/Reporting
  • Site administration

2013-03-04

About CSA

Let me start with a platitude.

You are what you eat.

Alright. Now that I got that out of my system, let me talk about what I eat.
I love to eat good food. The real deal, not out of a package. Over the years I have developed into something of a foodie, even. Not really a snob, but I know my endives from escargot.
More recently, I have developed into a decent cook, and being part of a CSA has been an important driving force in that growth.

Local veggies are yummy

See, CSA stands for "community-supported agriculture" which in turn stands for people living in a certain area (community) buying a share of a local farm's crops and thusly supporting the farm. Fruit and vegetables from the farm are normally delivered to a volunteer's house in boxes, and you go and pick up your share every week.
There are many benefits to that model. Most important to me is that the produce is normally picked on the same day or the day before, arriving on my table fresh, and flavourful, and also quite ripe. Much riper than you can get at a supermarket, no matter how expensive and "organic" it is. I also like to imagine that growing produce during its particular season allows it to be more nutritious as opposed to stuff grown in hothouses and with hydroponics year round.

There is also something I don't really consider a benefit to myself, but it certainly doesn't harm to support small local businesses. Often CSA farms are on the small side and practice more sustainable agriculture, rotating crops, and growing a multitude of them over the year instead of focusing on mass-producing one or two.

I personally don't care much about "organic" produce, since the way the certification system is implemented only means that farmers are limited to using some chemicals and not others, instead of the bucolic back-to-nature nonsense that urban hippies like to believe. Don't be too quick to put me in the "pave the whale" camp though just because I don't buy my lentils in bulk. I believe that eating local produce results in lower emissions than moving, storing, and selling the crops grown on industrial scale. That can't be bad.

So I have signed us up for the Live Earth Farm CSA about six months ago, and it's really been great. I rarely go to the supermarket anymore, as the share we get usually lasts us until the next delivery. Every week, there is a different assortment of fruit and veggies in the box, presenting me with a challenge to learn how to cook things I never worked with before. An interesting side effect has been that both J and I have discovered new yummy foods we either never ate or never liked before. Like kale.
And chard.

I mean, seriously. Chard.

Local animals are also yummy

Our success with the produce CSA has been quite impressive, and so when I read that cattle farmers feed their cows candy I was mentally ready for the next step: signing up for a meat CSA.
As a dedicated carnivore, and a follower of a primal diet, I consider meat the most important part of every meal.

If it's not meat, it's not a meal.

--Gnolls.org

As stated right at the start of this post, I also believe that you are what you eat, and that if candy and starch make humans diabetic, they can't be terribly good for the cows. Research confirms that grass-fed pastured animals' meat features a healthier balance of fatty acids for humans to base their nutrition on. And so, once a month, we now get a box (or two, or three) of happy meat and poultry from Marin Sun Farms.I honestly did not expect to taste the difference. Sure, the meat would be "better" for me, but it would probably taste the same, or be dryer and tougher. Right?

Wrong.

The meat has blown me away. Even J who usually prefers leaner cuts, has discovered that he does not mind the occasional strip of fat on his steak as he used to.

Also, I get access to a more diverse selection of cuts of meat as well as different species. Oxtail, or organ meat, or goat. Even simple lamb is hard to get at a regular supermarket.

Show me the money!

Money-wise, I think our CSA spend is a wash with the supermarket food.

The produce CSA is slightly cheaper than regular produce, averaging $23 for a box that lasts us seven days' worth of meals. It is dramatically cheaper than what Whole Foods would want you to pay, while it's actually local and tastes better.

Eggs are a killer at six bucks a dozen, but we don't eat many, so that's not a big deal. We only get them every other week.

Meat is definitely more expensive than your regular supermarket fare. It is probably cheaper than grassfed meat at a supermarket, and definitely fresher, both due to the distribution model.

I think if you don't eat a whole lot of meat, or just want to dip your toes into the whole CSA business, try a produce CSA first. It definitely saves shopping time and money, since all you have to do is grab a box full of goodness on the way home.

Are you already a member of a CSA? Share your thoughts in comments.

2013-02-27

Now I can network anything!

This weekend, I repaired a network outlet. Three, to be precise.

During the remodel, the contractors have severed three network cables by mistake, and the loose ends were knotted up and stuck out of a hole in the wall.

Considering this was my first time getting all physical with networking, it did not go too bad at all.


Before starting on the project, I got some kit on Amazon.

This little set costs under 20 dollars, and contains a network cable stripping tool, a plug crimper, and a network socket punchdown tool. There was even a baggie with some RJ45 plugs in there, too.

Since all I had coming out of the wall were six ends of the cut cables, I randomly picked an end coming from the left to find out whether it was the live side. Because I was going to sacrifice at least one, and possibly two, and also I had a surplus of RJ45 plugs, I crimped one on there instead of the keystone socket, and stuck it into the network tester.

This little network tester was all of five bucks and saved me a lot of trouble. I had one part of it connected upstairs where I was performing the repair, and plugged the other one into one port on the downstairs switch after another, trying to see if this end of the cable was even live.

Luckily, I hit the jackpot on the first try: The wire I picked went to the switch. However, I made the mistake and wired the plug according to the wrong RJ45 standard. They have A and B and I picked B because that's what one of the cables I had lying around had.

It was pretty easy to figure out, because the tester sends the signal to each of the eight wires in order (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) and it comes out scrambled on on the other end.


Once that was resolved, the rest was easy. I used the punchdown tool to wire the three sockets, which had each terminal color-coded for both standards. Again, fairly obvious.

I bought the more expensive "keystone" type sockets and wall plates, because they seemed like they would be easiest to work with. The sockets in this case click into the wall plate, and can be easily removed and replaced.

Wiring the sockets individually, as opposed to dealing with short cables sticking out of the wall while trying to wire them to a plate, was definitely a more convenient option.

Since we were already dealing with cut cables, I had asked the contractor to put a hole on the other side of the wall, in my office/library, which used to be a formal dining room and did not have any network.

Now that I had sockets wired to each of the cable ends, I stuck two through the hole into the office and routed one into the living room.

Voila!


2013-02-23

Unpacking (and re-packing) my Nexus 4

My Nexus 4 phone has arrived.

It did not take long at all to get here, despite the chronic shortages. If it had taken much longer, I would be risking serious new gear anxiety attacks. But it's all good now.

Behold: the new phone.

I have spent most of last night and some of this morning getting the UI and preferences sorted, but so far it has been a very smooth experience.

The phone restored all the apps currently installed on my Nexus S, and all I had to do was put the shortcuts and the widgets where they belong.


Selecting a phone cover was a little bit of a process.

I actually do not like phone covers, screen protectors, and their ilk. Hundreds of hours spent by designers to make the device sit just right in your hand, the rounded corners, and the buttons -- all of this is completely wasted once you put a cover on your phone. Where it diminishes the looks, it adds weight and bulk. Really not my thing.

However, my phones live a life of adventure, going with me everywhere from race tracks, to restaurants, to museums, and to work. They have been known to sometimes be clumsy and fall out of my pockets at the most inopportune times, hitting concrete floors, rocks, or tarmac. Neither of these things are good for the phones, and so I have been choosing the lesser of the two evils: I have been buying covers for my phones.


This time I think, I may have finally hit the jackpot. A classy-looking slim leather case that has room for a few credit cards, and does not obscure the contours of the phone too much when open.

Since I haven't yet put a new SIM card into the phone, I haven't used it all that much yet, and the jury is still out on the cover. I hope it works out for me.

2013-02-22

Excited about Google Glass


Last June, I managed to snag a ticket to Google I|O by waking up super-early and refreshing the perpetually timed-out order form in six or so tabs at once until my order finally went through. The event sold out in the first 20 minutes, mere ten minutes after I secured my spot.

The event experience was mostly standing in lines for everything from the registration, over general sessions, to spartan lunches. I also stood in line to register for an opportunity to purchase a prototype of Google Glass.

It seems like the wait for the chance to shell out $1500 for a snazzy pair of glasses is nearing its end. I received an email saying that all of us who registered at the I|O will be first in line to receive our gear, while the company will also select up to 8000 people through the "If I had Glass" contest. Judging by the contest's Terms, those folks will be able to buy their Glasses in mid- to late March, meaning that us I|O goers also should be getting ours at about the same time.

This leaves me about a month to obsess over the decision whether Google Glass prototype is worth the money to me.

On one hand, the ability to have the next-generation heads-up display for my navigation is quite appealing. Same goes for the voice control and neat hands-free operation.

On the other hand, it's $1500.

For that kind of cash, I can have some awesome improvements done to the Mountain Lair. Tree trimming, grass mowing, gutter repair, that sort of thing.

But back on the first hand, DAYM, that's a neat piece of kit, and I think I would really get a kick out of owning it.

Are any of you, O my gentle readers, in the same position?

Even if you aren't--what do you think would you do if you were?

2013-02-20

Back in the saddle

While my carpal tunnel syndrome pain has subsided, I am tentatively typing more again. However I am also trying to use more voice entry, such as in writing this article.

This is not my first run in with this particular ailment, and it probably won't be my last. I know it is caused by typing a lot, and unless I learn a completely new trade, there is little chance that I will stop using computers as much as I do today.

For those of you interested how I treat my tendonitis and carpal tunnel pain, I wish to share my treatment strategies.
  1. First, rest, rest, rest. 
  2. Second, reduce typing to a minimum, or completely eliminate it, at least for a week. My Android devices have been very helpful in allowing me to stay up to date on my email, by dictating my responses. There are probably other voice entry solutions on the market, but considering that I carry my phone everywhere, this seems like the most effective option, since it would always be at my fingertips (pun intended). 
  3. Third, ice. Lots of ice. Every night, for three weeks, I would empty the ice bucket from my refrigerator's ice maker into a large kitchen pail, and fill it with cold water, enough to submerge my forearms all the way to my elbows. I would then dunk my forearms into the ice water for as long as I can stand stand, repeatedly. I can usually keep them in cold water for about 30 seconds, before it gets too intense. Your mileage may vary, just pay attention to not get frostbite. I usually would alternate my 30 seconds of icing with about 5 minutes of light massage, all the while watching some TV series or a movie to keep me entertained and distracted. 
  4. Finally, massage. It is very effective to have a professional massage your forearms to help relieve chronic tension, and restore healing blood flow.

This is pretty much it. While I am quite determined not to have another episode for a while, I really am glad that I have found ways to control the pain and restore my hand and arm function relatively quickly, when push comes to shove.

I hope you find this post helpful. What other methods do you use? Have I missed anything? Share it in the comments!

2013-01-23

AFK with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

I have been staying away from keyboard because I have hurt my wrists typing too much lying down, with my laptop on my belly. Silly me.

So in the meantime, I have been using voice entry a lot (Android rocks at that!) and icing my arms as much as I can stand.

If you are worried, don't be--it's already getting better. I've had this once before, from the same stupid behaviour, and healed myseld in a couple of weeks. Back then, I thought I had learned my lesson, but apparently I needed a reminder.

Anyways. What this means for now, is fewer posts from me while I heal. I'll be back before you know it.

2013-01-17

2014 Corvette is still ugly

Seeing how my old post about the 2014 Corvette being ugly is bubbling up in the traffic stats, I thought I should revisit the topic and reiterate that yes, indeed, I still believe that the newly-released C7 is unsightly.

Don't believe me? Have a look:

This is not a body of a car worthy of the name Stingray. This is just another middle-aged wannabe sportster. Like a retired bodybuilder, it's got muscle, but the sex appeal is gone.

I have allowed my hope to see a sleek futuristic take on the classic to rear its pretty little head, but lo! My hope was dashed as I feared it would be.

Don't believe me? Have a look at this:

This is the concept car that made its debut in the Transformers movie, and inspired me and thousands of others, giving us hope that we may have a new car to admire and lust after. What a difference to the tame diluted mishmash of a car that was unveiled this week!

While we all know that dashing concept cars rarely make it to production unchanged, I have to always wonder--why not? Why try to appeal to the lowest common denominator? Why not make a bold statement? Why so afraid?

If Chevrolet is afraid that its market of balding midlife-crazed men would reject a car that oozes style, power, and self-confidence, then it betrays that it thinks poorly of its customers. Further, it will not gain any new ones, failing to inspire and capture the aspirations of young kids like the wide-eyed kids that are still alive inside the middle-aged men, who want to own the car of their childhood dreams.

It certainly does nothing to ignite my passion, and I really wanted to fall in love with the C7.

Silly me.

2013-01-16

About recruiter spam

Alex 
1:34 PM


to Sam

Dear Sam C,

I would like to thank you for taking the time to contact me, but the thing is, you did not take the time, so the thanks are sadly not in order.

I will however take the time to personally respond to you, because I hope to make it one of those "teachable moments."

My current role is Community Director at Nebula. My previous role was called "Community Manager" at VMware. I have not held a contracting position in my entire career, and have not really had anything to do with business analysis or operations.

Wherever you found my resume, it is clear to me you have just run a search for "Eloqua" or some such, and blasted an email to every single person the search returned without spending as little as 30 seconds to make sure the position you advertise would be even remotely suitable.

30 seconds is a generous time allowance to determine how a senior marketing professional with 15+ years of experience would react to a pitch of a 8-month entry-level contract requiring relocation, but you obviously seem to be lacking in the reading comprehension department, so I am not going to be too strict.

You've got the "swift" part of Intelliswift covered, but not the "intelligence." If you want to ever reach out to me in the future, feel free to do so, once you learn to represent both components of your company's promise.

Most respectfully yours,
Alex Maier





On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 9:16 AM, Sam C <sam@intelliswift.com> wrote:
>
>
> Hi,
>
> My name is Sam  and I'm a recruiter at Intelliswift, a global staffing and
> IT consulting company. We are constantly on the lookout for professionals to
> fulfill the staffing needs of our clients and we currently have a job
> opening that may interest you. Below is a summary of the position.
>
> Job # : 2199802
> Job Title : Business Analyst
> Job Location : , Plano, TX
> Duration : 8 Month
>
> Job Description :
>
> This position resides within the Enterprise Operations department  and is
> responsible for the Eloqua marketing automation system. This position will
> be responsible for creating and maintaining documentation of all standards
> and processes used within the Eloqua system and its integration points
> Responsibilities:
> •Will be required to document the “as-is” processes in Eloqua
> •Document field level rules and validations within Eloqua
> •Create and maintain a ‘data definitions dictionary’ for critical fields and
> attributes within Eloqua
> •Maintain documentation of Eloqua data flow processes; user documentation;
> and training materials
> •Implement standardization of usage and data entry
> •Optimize data hygiene through proactive monitoring of automated programs
> and system usage
> •Perform admin tasks; adding/deleting/changing fields; editing Programs;
> adding/deleting users; etc.
> •Will be required to work with Eloqua admins to perform root cause analysis
> •Work with business users and 3rd party Eloqua agencies to understand the
> business application of Eloqua
> •Ability to translate high-level business and user requirements and
> functional requirements
> •Write UAT test cases and perform UAT
> •Work with Eloqua admin team to understand roadmap, enhancements, updates
>
>
> If you believe you're qualified for this position and are currently in the
> job market or interested in making a change, please give me a call as soon
> as possible at 510-870-3518.
>
> Note: Please allow me to reiterate that I chose to contact you either
> because your resume had been posted to one of the internet job sites to
> which we subscribe, or you had previously submitted your resume to an
> opening with Intelliswift’s client. I assumed that you are either looking
> for a new employment opportunity, or you are interested in investigating the
> current job market.
> If you are not currently seeking employment, or if you would prefer I
> contact you at some later date, please indicate your date of availability so
> that I may honor your request. In any event, I respectfully recommend you
> continue to avail yourself to the employment options and job market
> information we provide with our e-mail notices.
>
> Thanks,
> Sam
>
> IntelliSwift Software Inc.
> 2201 Walnut Ave. #180, Fremont, CA 94538
> Tel:    (510)-870-3518
> Email:   sam@intelliswift.com
> Intelliswift is ISO 9001 - TL 9000 certified company.
> Intelliswift wins award for the 4th fastest growing company in East Bay
> Intelliswift among the top 10 fastest growing companies in Bay Area
> Intelliswift Ranked No.2 by the Indus Business Journal
>
>
> California  | New Jersey | India

Of mice and rats

Mountain Lair is as far from civilization as CA-17 will allow, and I am glad we don't have to live completely off the grid. Electricity is good, as is water and the holy Internet. Everything else, we have to either truck in, such as we do with propane, or do on-site, such as waste water treatment (A.K.A. septic tank), back-up power generator (still on the list to buy).

It's really not bad, just gets expensive at times. But it's quite civilized, and we even have proper garbage pick-up, with recycling and yard waste bins, like you'd have in a city!

It being mostly wilderness though, you could have guessed that humans are outnumbered by other mammals ten- if not hundredfold. Coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, mountain lions. And rodents. Nature is constantly trying to take over and re-appropriate what humans cleared for themselves, and mice and rats are the vanguard of the constant siege.

Us being us of course, we deploy electronic surveillance and state-of-the-art traps baited with bacon and peanut butter. Bacon for the rats, PB for the mice. Okay, maybe the mousetraps have not really evolved that much in the past hundred years, but they are still the state of the mouse trapping art.

It all started with noises in the attic. Some large animal kept waking me up at around 1am with its heavy footfalls. We weren't sure whether that was a rat or maybe an opossum. The websites about rats in the attic all said that the rats would be "scurrying" -- and "scurrying" this was not. These were deliberate, slow, and not too-cautious footsteps.

We both have a soft spot for marsupials, so wanted to find out what that animal was before trying to deal with it. We would hate to kill an opossum. Opossums are neat. We'd probably want to prevent it from climbing in by closing the openings it uses, or have a professional catch and remove them. But killing? No!

So to be sure what it is we've got in the attic, we put up a little surveillance camera in there first. It works with ambient light and infrared, and then you can watch what it sees on a little embedded-linux box it came with. Neatness.

It did not take long until we have identified the perp. It was a giant rat. And by giant I mean about three quarters of a foot long, before the tail even starts. No wonder it was not scurrying. With heft like this, scurrying would be completely impractical and undignified. It's like imagining Bruce Willis pattering along. That's just wrong.

So J went to Home Depot and got a rat trap, baited it with bacon, and set it up in the attic. Every once in a while, we'd check the attic-cam to see if the trap was still there. It remained untouched for a couple nights, despite the rat's continued return visits. Finally it decided that the trap was safe enough, or maybe it was overcome with the aroma of bacon. Either way, it bit.

If someone tells you that the traps kill the rat in an instant, don't believe it. The rat thrashed about for maybe 30 seconds, woke both of us up, but finally everything was quiet. We weren't even sure it was dead or maybe managed to free itself, because in its final throes it moved off-camera. The next morning we confirmed the kill.

I am not big on killing animals, so this was pretty sad. On the other hand, can't have rats in the house. Sigh.

Then last night I realized that some fruit on a shelf in the kitchen was nibbled on. On closer look, there were also mouse droppings in the fruit bowl! Yuck!

All the fruit went in the trash, and four mousetraps were set, baited with peanut butter.

Guess what? The very same night, two of the traps had mice in them.

So we are preparing for the siege and buying an extra large box of mousetraps.

2013-01-15

Athletic asphyxiation

I went to buy some new exercise clothes last night. Tomorrow, I will be returning five out of the eight items I bought. Four of these items are sports tank tops, and they will be going back because I can't breathe in them.

Over the years I have begrudgingly complied with the sexualization of female bodies, which means that somehow the hint of my nipples showing through fabric is offensive, while a man's nipples are not. I've never worn a bra, and therefore the societal requirement to hide my anatomy results in having to wear layers even in summer, and most annoying of all, to exercise.

Enter sports tops.

They usually have some sort of a double fabric or padding cups in the front, and for women better endowed than myself, some sort of an integrated bra. While I don't need the support, I wear the padded tops for "modesty."

The only difficulty with them is that someone in the industry decided that a sports bra has to be constructed of high-tensile-strength elastic material that will compress my chest to the point of suffocation. Last night I was in a hurry and also it was cold, so I was wearing a coat and a jacket, and other warm things, and did not want to unpack in the store just to try on some tops. So I grabbed two of each kind and went home. When I tried them on this morning, I had problems getting into one, and out of other, which proved to be worse.

Now the thing with the integrated bra is that it is shorter than the tank top and often only attaches to the top at the straps, closing with an extra-strong elastic band at the bottom. Once I had the top on and realized that I was having difficulty breathing in it, I tried to take it off. The longer part came off fine until the point where it attached to the elastic undercarriage, which was still gripping me around the ribcage. My arms were trapped in the top, held over my head, and no way to reach the little elastic contraption to pull it off my body.

Close to panic, I briefly considered waking up J to ask him to cut me free of the evil garment, then continued the struggle. Instead of stumbling around blindfolded by the top over my head, I knelt on the floor and redoubled my efforts to wriggle my way out of the predicament. After a few panting fits and starts, I managed to escape the ties of the sports top, and sat on the floor trying to catch my breath.

Once my pulse was back to normal, I neatly folded the armored tops and put them in a bag with their receipt to take back to the store tomorrow.

Yay victory.


Photo credit: dagophir.com

2013-01-12

About paperwork

I haven't written much about my immigration status, because frankly, there hasn't been much change over the years. The process moves at a glacial pace, and two or three biometrics[1] appointments aside, I am still where I was in 2007.

While you wait for your case to be processed, there's mostly nothing to do but to wait and freak out, because the authority does not provide any real answers if you asked them about the status. Here is an example of a written response I received when I asked about the status of my application:

The status of this service request is:
A visa number is not available at this time.
XM0265

Make of it what you want. Apparently it means that maybe my case has already been adjudicated (i.e. decided) and I am now only waiting for the visa quota to become available. Maybe. I could not get further than that with the "customer service"[2] rep on the phone.

Each year, a certain number of immigrant visas (a.k.a. Green Cards) is made available for the immigration authority to hand to people like me. There are rules governing how many visas each of the many immigration categories will get. I won't bore you with the different categories and what they all mean, suffice it to say, that they hand out visas on the first come, first served basis. Your place in line is determined by the date on which you first initiated the process, which is called the priority date. Once a month, the immigration folks publish a Visa Bulletin where they list the status of each category, so you can see how much longer you have to wait.

This month, my priority date has become current, which means that maybe my case will be taken off the shelf and reviewed by someone. Or not. Apparently there are no guarantees of that happening just because your priority date is up.

From here, I may get an appointment with the friendly authority, where they will interview me to help them decide whether to let me stay. Legend has it that sometimes you just get your green card in the mail. That would be nice.

As luck would have it, my German passport is going to expire in November this year. So I figured, let's get a leg up on that and start the process of getting a new one. The Consulate is right here in San Francisco, and appointments are readily available. They also have a checklist of all the things I will need to get this started. A photo is one of them, sounds easy enough, even though they say that they have to return 90 percent of all applications because the photos aren't good enough. Being German, they provided a multi-page booklet with all the requirements and good and bad examples. Armed with it, I think I should be able to get the photo right.

Now the next requirement is not for the faint of heart. Turns out that if your passport lists a German residence address (as mine does), in order to have a consulate process my application I need a paper from the Berlin authorities saying I don't live there anymore. Which I think I got at some point. Or not. It was almost seven years ago, and I don't remember. Thankfully, the City of Berlin has a very comprehensive web presence, and I was able to download and print the un-registration application, fill it in, and physically mail it to the friendly B├╝rgeramt Steglitz in Berlin. Hopefully they will promptly stamp it and send it back, so I can get my new passport.

In the meantime, I am going to keep my appointment at the consulate to make sure that I am not missing anything else, because it would suck if the US Gummint came to me to stamp that long-awaited visa in my passport, and my passport was expired!


[1] "Biometrics" is a fancy name for having your fingerprints and your mugshot taken annually. What drastic changes in my hands and face they expect to catch, I don't know. Once taken, both pieces of data are swallowed by the authority never to be seen again, judging by the fact that I always have to provide new mugshot pictures to renew my Employment Authorization document (EAD). When the newest one arrived, it had "Not available" written in the field where my thumb print would go.

[2] I like the doublespeak of calling me a customer, when I have to use their "services" and follow their procedure under the risk of deportation. While I understand that I am here by choice, and immigration is a privilege, not a right and blah-di-blah, it's much easier to say this from the comfort of your country of citizenship. When you've lived in a foreign country for six years like I have, paid the taxes, and built a life here with real human connections, a home, and a career, you get tired of the constant vague threat of losing all of this because some bureaucrat misplaced your paperwork or decided to deny your petition.