Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Daily Report: Local Grub

My sleep schedule is starting to skew forward again, which I don't like. I really wish I did not sleep as much as I do, but that has been the case since I was a child: Eight hours a night has never cut it for me; more like 9 and sometimes 10.

I'm going to schedule a visit to the doctor and get back on my stop-smoking pills. Not only do the Zyban pills cut down on my cigarette use (I'm back up to 3 cigarettes daily from the typical zero or 1) but Zyban does a fantastic job at regulating my sleep cycle better, so that I can make due with just 8 hours of sleep.

This afternoon, Uncle Bob and Cousin Bobby took me to The Frosted Mug, which would be a perfect hangout if it wasn't located right on the busy Tamiami Trail.

This was my second visit there. The first visit I had chili dogs, which were fairly good. This visit, I had a mushroom cheese burger, which was the best burger I have had in years! (Yes Bob in Pattaya, sorry.) Funny thing about parts of Florida: The Frosted Mug is one of the oldest businesses and buildings in the area, built in (get this) 1957!

Tonight there was simply no work to do. Whenever there is a 3-day holiday weekend, work can get a little tight, but we don't often run out completely. That sucked. But, I did sit down in front of the TV and pedal away for a few hours on my exercise bike while watching some educational TV.

Actually, I wound up watching a bit of "Man Versus Food" on The Travel Channel. Host Adam was visiting Sarasota for one particular episode. So, I found out the three "must visit" restaurants in Sarasota:

1. The Old Salty Dog on City Island. They have the best view from a restaurant, looking over gorgeous Sarasota Bay, and their deep-fried foot-long hot dogs appear insane... especially when you add the toppings.

2. Yoders Amish Restaurant, has pressure-fried chicken that is reportedly the best fried chicken a person can get. Also, more importantly, they have the best home made pies in Florida.

3. Munchies 420 Cafe, is a late-night eatery famous for crazy 5-pound-plus dinners-on-a-bun, and what Man-Versus-Food Host Adam (a guy whose show is all about taking crazy food challenges around the nation) says is the spiciest chicken wings on the planet. (He ate only 2 wings before giving up.)

So there you go: Four great restaurants in the Sarasota area!

And by the way, in the first video above, Host Adam mentions that Sarasota is noted for having some of the whitest sand on earth. It is true: Because of Siesta Key's pure quartz sand, it is perennially listed as one of the best beaches on Planet Earth. (1. 2. 3. 4.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mathematics In Music

I've heard a lot of people say that music is based on mathematical patterns, but I've always found that a bit of a laugh: Nobody determines what notes to put in music by pulling out a calculator. Well, I was listening to one of my favorite pieces of piano music today and subsequently found an article written on the mathematical formula behind it.

Linus Kesson wrote this excellent article deconstructing Arvo Pärt's "Fratres". I hope he will excuse me for borrowing liberally his work, but this is such a great example of mathematical patterns in music, and his illustrations show so well the inherent patterns, that I really can't explain this without using them.

Fratres (the ear-wrenching minute-long violin solo at the beginning notwithstanding) is constructed of 9 "phrases" with a repeating and unchanging "bridge" separating each one. Although each phrase seems quite distinct from the others, it is only a matter of expression: structurally... mathematically they are all equal.

Each phrase is divided into 2 halves. Each half phrase has 3 measures building to a final measure of 8 chords. All chords are of 3 notes each. The first measure is in 7/4 time, and always contains 4 chords: 1 and 2, plus 7 and 8 of the final 8-chord set. The second measure is in 9/4 time, and sticks chords 3 and 6 in the middle to make 6 chords: 1-2-3 and 6-7-8. The third measure is in 11/4 time, and puts in chords 4 and 5, to create the full 1 through 8 chord set. That's the first half of the complete phrase.

For the second half of the phrase, there are 3 more measures in 7/4, 9/4, and 11/4 time. The chords are played backwards... but not as "chords 8 through 1", but instead played mathematically backwards. Keep that in mind.

So playing the 2 halves (the 3 plus 3 measures) as described above makes one of the 9 phrases. (A violin is added as a counterpoint — a narration, I like to say — on top of the phrases, but the mathematical action is always in the chords.)

Now, as mentioned, each of the chords is comprised of 3 notes. The middle note is restricted to the A-minor triad that the piece was written in. The top and the bottom notes work their way through a D-minor scale. (Stay with me on this.)

The circle to the left is the 7 notes of the D-minor scale. What Fratres did was start the bottom note of each phrase at one point of the D-minor scale and work stepwise around the circle 8 steps (arriving back at the original note), while the top note follows it two steps behind. (Halfway through the phrase, the progression skips up or down an octave, depending on which direction it is moving.)

This circle is the middle note of the 3-note chord phrases. It only plays from the triad of the A-minor chord. The mathematical reasoning behind the particular progression of tone choices between "A", "C", and "E" is explained in Linus Kesson's article, but it is bit too detailed to explain on my non-musical blog to my non-musical audience. Suffice it to say that the middle voice of the 3-note chords is always either A, C, or E.

So what you have finally are the 2 circles (the top and bottom notes on the inside, the middle note on the outside) rotating together through each phrase. Again, it is a little complicated as to how Arvo Pärt choose the starting points and the rotational direction for each of the 9 phrases, but the mathematical progression is absolutely precise and does not deviate through the whole piece.

Remember that I said that the first half (measures 1 through 3) of each phrase was chords 1 through 8, and that the second half of each phrase (measures 4 through 6) was mathematically backwards? Now you understand it when I say that the second half of the phrase is created by playing through the circles in the reverse order. Notice that there are 14 notes in the outer circle? When the second half of the phrase begins from its starting point, the middle note plays backwards a different progression of notes than it did going forward.)

Finally, under each phrase, you place a constant left hand "A+E" foundation, and you have the entire piece.

For those of you who can read music, take a look at the first half of the first phrase and the chord pattern as described becomes instantly recognizable:

Remember, the final phrase is in the third measure. The first two are the incomplete phrase being filled.

Now we have established that, indeed, composers can create music based on very strict mathematical progressions. But, let's face it: That's an easy thing to do. I can cook dinner on mathematical progressions. The question is: will it taste any good? I can paint a picture with a mathematical progression of colors. The question is: will it look okay? The question with mathematical music is thus: How does it sound?

Well, if you ask me, I don't think a prettier piece of music has ever been written.

Daily Report: Quality

I did some grocery shopping: Fixin's for salad, soups, some extra nice lunch meat (a special ham called capocollo, some mesquite-smoked turkey breast... I love fancy viands), and a couple of different appetizers for cocktail hours. Also some nice bread and cheese, fancy mustard... all so that I can make the world's best ham and cheese sandwiches.

I went and saw the new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. It was completely wrong for the same reasons that Spiderman 3 was wrong: Not understanding why people liked the previous movies in the series.

The original Pirates Of The Caribbean movies were clever because there was spectacularly clever and flowery language used by spectacularly clever and flowery characters. The spectacularly clever and flowery special effects used to develop the spectacularly clever and twisting story line added to that foundation. This new movie doesn't really rely on the special effects very much. Worse, the story line is incredibly predictable. Unforgivable is that all but 3 of the numerous fantastic characters from the 3 original movies are gone from this movie, and all the cleverness is gone from the dialogue. And, as a final insult, Captain Jack Sparrow has muted all of his attractions: Even his flaky style of running is toned down.

The Bubba Gump project was stalled for a while as we waited for results of the first effort. (Still waiting, actually.) But hopefully soon we'll be moving into full swing with that. That will be keeping me occupied during the day.

Other than that, nothing much going on here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Wife Is Still Beautiful


Did Sarah Palin Fake Her Pregnancy?

Andrew Sullivan has maintained ever since Sarah Palin was selected to be the Vice Presidential candidate in 2008 with John McCain that the retarded child whom she gave birth to only weeks before the campaign started (named "Trig") was not her own child, but that of her daughter.

It was kind of the liberal version of "show us the birth certificate", but with surprisingly more evidence than what the right wing claimed to have against Obama: Apparently the day that Sarah Palin gave birth, she was on a plane flying from Texas to Alaska. She even admitted that her water broke (4 weeks prematurely) in Texas, and then she gave a speech, flew 12 hours to Alaska, and then went to the hospital there to give birth.

Then there's the photos:

March 14: 6½ months pregnant, 1½ months before giving birth.
March 27: 7 months pregnant, 3½ weeks before giving birth.
April 8/9: 7½ months pregnant, 2 weeks before giving birth.
April 13: 5 days after the previous picture, 5 days before giving birth.

Show us the birth certificate!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Daily Report: In The Weeds

I've been weeding the front lawn. I kept watering it and looking at the huge patches of weeds and thinking how stupid it was to just continually water and grow weeds. So, I grabbed the first patch of weed and pulled. This 3-square-foot patch of tangled bramble that the weed was a part of came out of the ground. It was a satisfying experience in some man-over-nature fashion, especially on an effort-versus-results measure. To date, I have removed almost 30 pounds of weeds from what is actually a comparatively small patch of land. Yesterday, I went to the Home Depot and bought some "weed and feed" concoction that I spread around and watered in. We'll see what happens now. I'll probably need to buy seed for the bare patches, but maybe there is still dormant grass in that dirt.

Work has been going well. When I was moved to the new account back in November, I had actually pushed to be transferred to a different account on which I often worked, which was always very busy. Now 6 months later, I have been asked to go for a week to help out on that same account I had thought I should help with back in November. The funny thing is that I now like the new account more than the old account I had originally asked for.

The mind of the old fellow across the street is slipping quite a bit lately: He keeps stopping by and asking to borrow $10 (which I have been told by everybody not to provide). I figured I would just tell him that I only use plastic; that I never have cash in the house. That would keep him from asking twice. Wrong. He still stops by every 2 days to ask. Poor guy: He's really struggling with his mental facilities and is quite hapless and, I think, getting a bit frustrated and angry with a world that no longer understands him. He'll need to be moved to full-time supervision very soon.

Uncle Bob and Cousin Paul have been coming to cocktail hour every day. I did grocery shopping yesterday and picked up all kinds of appetizers for our daily klatch. We had cheese and salami today. Tomorrow is chips and salsa.

In return for my hospitality, Cousin Paul brought me some dinner to the house tonight: A mind-blowing plate of roast beef, corn, and mashed potatoes. I couldn't get over how good it was.

I've finally invented my own cocktail. (Not a punch, like the Cagayan Cocktail, for which I am already world-famous, but a proper cocktail.) I call it "Kentucky Daisy".

1.5 ounces bourbon
0.5 ounces coconut rum, like Malibu
0.5 ounces amaretto
Garnish with a Maraschino cherry and serve on the rocks.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Daily Report: A Day At Fox Lea Farms

Uncle Bob, Truck, and Trailer

Uncle Bob watches Marian and the
kids playing games.
Today I was invited by my cousin Jon to join him and his family and his father, Uncle Bob, at Fox Lea Farms in Venice to watch his older daughter, Brooke, compete in an equestrian show being held there.

Fox Lea Farms is a very nice place just on the outskirts of Venice, with large paddocks, great viewing, and lovely vistas. There are also 30 sites at which one can park a camper for the night, and an on-site restaurant to pick up meals. Uncle Bob and his friend Marian stayed on the grounds in Marian's trailer, which made the day even nicer, with a big comfy cool room to return to when the heat got to be too much.

I had a member of Brooke's stable, Olivia, explain things to me a little bit so I was not too confused — this was my first horse event of any kind.

There are lots and lots of horse-based sports, from a local Rodeo all the way up to the Olympics. What Brooke would be doing was called "hunter", which is a subcategory of jumping ("show jumping", the other category, is more about speed; "hunter" is more about a horse's style), and "equitation" which is a competition in horse-riding posture, grace, and horsemanship.

It was also fun to learn all the different types of horse colors (roan, bay, pinto, appaloosa to name a few) and breeds (thoroughbred, warmblood, mustang). What was also interesting is the costs associated with riding: This is definitely not a sport for those without deep pockets.

Overall, Brooke was the best rider of the day, taking home second place in 4 out of her 5 classes (which beats a first and a bunch of thirds and fourths, like all the other competitors). So well done there.

After the competition was over, Uncle Bob cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and we had a lovely lunch. Then it was back home to have a nap and then get some work done!

It was a lot of fun going out to the show, and I appreciate the invitation!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Raptured! It Is As Predicted! The End Of The World

Today at precisely 6 p.m., in PNC baseball stadium, God raptured home his chosen: Pittsburgh Pirates Fans. In the entire 60,000 seat stadium, not a single fan was to be seen. Miraculous.

Photo credit (and apologies) to Melanie May.

A Toy Story 3 Movie Review

Subtitled: Why I'm Not A Professional Writer

I'll cut and paste the first half: You have to click to read the rest.
The third film in Pixar's Toy Story series is the most dogmatic to date. It's the story of mankind's relationship with God, and its position on how humans should relate to the almighty couldn't be clearer. The script may as well have been written by John Calvin himself.


The God in this film goes by the name of Andy, and at the beginning of the movie it's established that he is about to move on to universes new, leaving behind the realm he has ruled over up until now. AndyGod's problem is that his current universe is populated with toys that he has loved and cherished throughout his existence, and before he can leave he has to decide what to do with them. He has four choices: he can take them with him to his new domain; he can hand them over to a different god (so okay, maybe the script isn't as Calvinist as I said above); he can consign them to a worldly attic purgatory; or he can send them to Hell. He chooses the third option for all the toys except his favourite, Woody, with whom he is well-pleased.


Woody is a sanctimonious prick who spends his entire life reminding all his colleagues of AndyGod's greatness and infallibility and generally bossing people around. When AndyGod decides to send the rest of the toys to purgatory, Woody supports Him totally -- and we must assume that had AndyGod decided instead to send them to Hell, Woody would be quoting Romans 3:10 as justification and telling them to suck it up because the potter can do whatever he wants with his clay.

When, by mistake, the mother of AndyGod sets the toys on a path towards Hell, Woody rushes to save them. But why? Is it because he's concerned for his colleagues, or because the Law of his Lord has been interfered with? I think it's probably the latter, because Woody is a dick.

The Other Toys

When the toys realise that they're destined for Hell they (understandably) become angry and decide to reject AndyGod and go off to find other gods to serve. Woody remonstrates with them, telling them they should remain faithful and that it was all a mistake; but under the leadership of the Female Temptress Jesse, the others won't listen to him. As far as they're concerned whether their deity has abandoned them to Hell or Purgatory makes little difference; the issue is that they've been abandoned, while Woody has not.

When they all arrive in a kind of Paradise for toys, a place where they will be played with all day long (which after all, is what they were designed for), Woody is still griping and insisting that they return to AndyGod's house and get themselves up into Attic Purgatory where they belong, while he swans off to whatever exciting new place AndyGod is going to. The other Toys again ignore him, looking forward to a new life of hedonism...

And this, of course, proves to be their downfall.
I said click.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Daily Report: New Computer

Epril's laptop computer finally gave out. Fortunately, Mike Bird was leaving Honolulu for Manila only a few days after the death, so I was able to get a new laptop shipped overnight to Bird, who had it in Epril's hands 4 days later. It was a surprise gift for Epril, who thought she was going to be stuck in internet cafés chatting with me for the next 4 months.

Nice computer too: An HP with a brushed aluminum case with a 17.3-inch display, 6 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Your E-Mail Account Gets Hacked

From my friend Don, whose Yahoo account also got hacked recently:

The bad guys get a million yahoo.com e-mail addresses. Into those million yahoo addresses, they have a hundred computers that type in one password every hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It's not the other way around, where one e-mail account is hit with a million different attempts at a password. Nope: These guys just have their computers chugging along with the 5-to-8-letter/number combinations. Every hour, your e-mail address has a random password typed into it. Yes: Your e-mail address. Don't doubt it.

My e-mail account was on that list of one million addresses, and my old Yahoo password (comprised of lower case letters and digits) at some point came up: that exact combination of letters and numbers that I was using was randomly selected to be tried on a million e-mail accounts, and... well, a little "ding" of success sounded in some dingy office in the suburbs of Moscow when the machines got to my e-mail account.

So, for all of you: I thought my password (8 characters of 4 random lower-case letters and 4 random numbers) was secure. It was not. Chances are, neither is yours. The advice: Change your password to something secure: Use both capital and lowercase letters; stick an # or an & in the middle, stick an ! or a : on the end. And, most importantly, 8 characters minimum. Any less than that and you're asking for it.

Also, if you have the option, you really should not use any large e-mail provider which, after having had 3 or 4 incorrect passwords typed into it, does not raise a red flag of suspicion by either sending out a warning, freezing the account, or taking some other action: You can be certain that the hackers don't bother attacking accounts at those e-mail companies. And, in case you are wondering: What is the least suspicious e-mail provider of them all? Yahoo.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Your Turn To Learn This Now Gracie

Game Of Thrones On HBO

I've been reading A Song Of Fire And Ice by George R.R. Martin ("The American Tolkein", as he is nicknamed) and have just started watching the HBO series, "A Game Of Thrones" based on the books. It is really quite good. And I'm not the only one who things so: The general consensus of reviewers seems to be "the excellence you come to expect from HBO".

If you've never heard of "Game of Thrones", it is about the political/ royal/ power machinations of several great families (and several dozen minor ones) in a semi-fantasy/medieval world.

The only problem I foresee is that author Martin has not yet started writing the 6th and 7th books of the series, and it took him 11 years to write the 2 books — the 4th and the 5th books — before that.

Antique Edelbrau Beer Sign: Anybody Know?

My mother has this beer sign from the 1940's, still fully functional. The top is made from glass tubes, filled with fluid that bubbles up lava-lamp style when it is heated. Any appraisal would be appreciated.

I think she should go out to Las Vegas with it and get on Pawn Stars.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Daily Report: Blame It On The Weather

I was enjoying watching the clouds roll in. The prospect of a nice soaking rain storm and a bit of thunder and lightning always appeals to me. But when the storm suddenly and violently arrived, I was unprepared: One second, rumbling cloudy skies and a mild gust of wind here and there; the next second, all hell broke lose. I had the back porch "wall of doors" opened and a 30 mile-per-hour blast of wind tore through the house blowing everything that wasn't nailed down three or four feet eastward. First, I ran and closed the "wall of doors" through which a torrent of rain was blasting. Then I rushed through the dining room (where my wet feet wiped out on the tiles setting me on my ass) to the living room to close the windows there, knocking over my book stand and breaking that. Then I rushed to my bedroom and closed those windows. Then to my bathroom where I made to close the window in the shower, grabbing the towel rack to slow my rush and tearing that off the wall. I guess I learned my lesson about blithely looking forward to storms without any preparation.

The power got knocked out, of course. I took the time to go to Walmart and buy three propane lanterns. (They were cheap.) Now, when the big hurricane comes, I'll at least have plenty of light to fall down to.

I finally did some grocery shopping last night. I couldn't stand it anymore: I needed proper meals and peanut-butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches were wearing thin. I went to Walmart at midnight. Third time I've done that and never again: All these scary-looking single ladies do their shopping at midnight and try to strike up conversations with me. No seriously: I'm three for three with that happening.

Anyway, I bought lots of healthy food... not an ounce of fat, more or less.

Uncle Bob is out of town this weekend, across the peninsula visiting my cousin, Doctor Christine, so no cocktail hours. Quiet weekend, all told. Nothing much to report. The weeds are growing.

I finally bought the "Angry Birds" game... the most popular game in the world today. Brilliant stuff. On the whole, I don't find it to be as clever or engaging as "Plants Vs. Zombies" but it is still immensely challenging. It's a lot of fun to see a simple game incorporate adult concepts into an entertaining whole. In Angry Birds, you're using kamikaze chickens to simulate artillery fire against em-bunkered green pigs. Lots of trajectory analysis to get the birds flying just the right angle, plus lots of structure analysis to figure out just where to hit the "bunkers" with the chickens to do the most damage. For $5... really a fun little investment though.

Filed Under WTF: IMF Director Tries To Rape Maid

The director of the International Monetary Fund allegedly/apparently tried to rape a maid in his hotel room in New York City.

Now, I have an imagination. I can generally imagine what it must be like to be any number of powerful people on this planet: what it must feel like, what it must make you realize about yourself. But I really just do not have (thankfully, obviously) a part of my mind that can imagine how being the head of the IMF could allow me think to myself (let alone act upon the thought): "I can just grab some innocent lady and force her to have sex with me. No problem." I imagine most everybody else on this planet probably shares that same imaginative limitation though; I doubt I'm special in that respect.

The one thing I will never grasp about these stories: How is it that certain men can achieve such success and such power and such influence, and then throw it all away over a boner? Really: The head of the god-damn IMF... one of the most powerful bankers on the planet simply ruined his life over a boner.

It just doesn't surprise me anymore, but it is always puzzling.

Well, I suppose when you've attacked untold numbers of women in the past and gotten away with it, you might get a distorted sense of possibility: What the hell is up with the French authorities to be this aware of this man's proclivities to sexually assault people and never did anything about it?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How To Change A Sport In An Instant

Believe it or not, I had pondered of the possibility of a player doing this but figured that since it had never been done, it must be impossible.

But here it is on video: Stuffing the puck, lacrosse style.

Actually, my question is whether the shot will stay legal in the future: It's such a paradigm-changing way of maneuvering the puck that it could be construed as "handling" or "directing" for future reference. If not, man, a goalie's job just got a whole lot more complicated.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Crazy Cool Future Stuff: Mind-Reading Computers

This is some amazing stuff: Electrocorticography, or ECoG, is a tool that has been used by doctors to map the brain of epileptics for decades now... determine where the "misfires" are coming from. What ECoG does basically is create a 3-dimensional map of the brain's electrical activity.

That's the premise.

Here's the application: If you increase the number and sensitivity of the ECoG sensors in the brain, and then connect all those sensors to some sophisticated software, you literally get a computer that can read your mind.

Actually, the doctors running these experiments on epilepsy patients are absolutely stunned at how much thought the computer is able to interpret via the electrical signals being put out:
In the video, Schalk is seen working with a young man sitting in a hospital bed at Albany Medical Center, staring at the image of a hand on a computer screen.

Schalk asks him to close the hand. The hand on the screen closes. Schalk asks him to open the hand. The virtual hand opens.

ECoG is also revealing things about how the brain creates speech.

Schalk and other researchers are using the technology to watch the brains of people as they speak out loud and also as they say the words silently to themselves.

"One of the surprising initial findings coming out of that research was that actual and imagined speech [are] very, very different," Schalk says.

When your brain wants you to say a word out loud, it produces two sets of signals. One has to do with moving the muscles controlling the mouth and vocal tract. The second set involves signals in the brain's auditory system.

But when a person simply thinks of a word instead of saying it, there are no muscle signals — just the activity in the parts of the brain involved in listening.

"That seems to suggest that what imagined speech actually really is, it's more like internally listening to your own voice," Schalk says.

So, he says, it should be possible to use ECoG to eavesdrop on that inner voice and decode what we're thinking.

Schalk says he hasn't quite done that yet. But he's close. In one experiment, he says, the ECoG system tried to recognize several dozen unspoken words in the minds of volunteers. It was right about half the time.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Daily Report: Right Idea Wrong Spot

I got a bunch more "failure notice" e-mails in the spam folder of my Yahoo e-mail account, meaning that another batch of click-to-get-the-virus e-mails were sent out in my name. I can say with complete certainty that my e-mail address has not been hacked further: I deleted all 700 entries in my address book after the first incident. The e-mails being sent now are coming from a source other than my own account — they only have my name on it (and thus return to me from the vacuum of cyberspace when they are undeliverable).

I put in a test "job application" for a job advertised on oDesk.com. The job was so much tailored to my skill set that the company posting the job might as well have just written, "Wanted: One Jil Wrinkle with 5 years of Jil Wrinkle experience. Must be a Jil Wrinkle kind of person, able to work Jil Wrinkle hours. Knowledge of Jil Wrinkle a bonus but not necessary." I wrote a kick-ass introduction and offered to do the job for $15 per hour. The rejection letter came back a few hours later: Price quoted was too high.

Screw that, man. I used to do the same work for $30 per hour. Back in 1999, when I first had an interest in moving out of New York, I looked around Austin, Texas, for job opportunities and the agencies there were only paying $15 per hour for that work (thus the reason I quoted $15 per hour for this job 10 years later). That low hourly rate in Austin was one of the reasons I stayed on in NYC for another 3 years.

So far, my experiment with oDesk's online contract work world has yielded me one e-mail hacking and the realization that in that world, $15 per hour is too much money for a "Photoshop/CorelDraw/PowerPoint expert with at least 5 years of experience."

On a whim, I called up one of my old agencies in New York City to see what their job market and salaries were like... to see if this "$15 is expensive" bullshit was actually the case. They didn't have as much work as they used to, but they were still paying the same rates as they were 10 years ago: $30 per hour. I chatted with my old recruiter from the 1990s for about 20 minutes.

On a second whim, I asked him if he was willing to set me up with some telecommuting work from his New York City clients. Amazingly, he said that might be a possibility.

On a third whim, I asked him what the possibility was of sending that work all the way over to my beach house in The Philippines, as compared to Florida. He said it was about the same possibility as sending the work to Florida. Wow. That really raised my eyebrows. (I probably wouldn't make that move — as I mentioned the other day — but the blithe manner in which he "no problem'ed" it was more than encouraging.)

He e-mailed me a copy of my old resumé he still had on file and I updated it and e-mailed it back to him. I don't know if it will lead to actual work, or how much, but the possibility of getting my old New York City contract work over the internet: that's about as good as I can hope for.

My new exercise bike arrived today. I got it for $200 on Amazon.com and it was exactly what I wanted: A recumbent bike that I could sit back and ride for a couple of hours in front of my TV and laptop, with an icy diet soda on the table next to me, and air conditioning blowing on me. (Check out the video below. It looks like somebody had a similar idea. To bad that wouldn't work with my job: I do need my feet to work the foot pedal when I transcribe.)

The grass/weeds project is coming along nicely. Uncle Bob says it is a bit of a waste of time because next month the rainy season will start and the grass will be growing nicely then if I would be willing to wait for it. Oh well: I want my weedy-grass turf covering now. Besides, I'm beginning to discover that my daily 10 minutes taking care of the weeds (and flowers and bushes) is something enjoyable. It was a damn nuisance when I first started it, but it's becoming more relaxing now that I just meander around the yard spraying with the hose instead of lugging and lifting a heavy watering can back and forth. It's like the exercise bike above: Once I find ways to make something enjoyable, I... well... I enjoy it. Duh.

I baked some leftover fish for supper. The freezer is almost empty. All that I have left now are pork chops and frozen green beans. If anybody out there finds a meal of pork chops and green beans appealing, give me a call and I'll have you over for dinner.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Michael Bolton Does William Shatner

Okay... the title bears a little explanation.

William Shatner was the first famous person to capitalize on the fact that he had become a bit of a joke, by taking the overacted, puffed-up image he had accidentally pigeonholed himself into, and playing along with it ("Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"), hamming it up ("TJ Hooker"), and ultimately remaking himself as... well, himself with the volume turned up to 11 (Saturday Night Live: "Get A Life"), in order to create a unique definition of "cool" (Priceline commercials), and eventually landing the coolest and greatest roles of his life 30 years after he had gone out of style ("Boston Legal"). William Shatner turned a faltering and dying career into a comedy of brilliant moves that made him the corniest-yet-coolest guy in Hollywood.

Michael Bolton might finally be taking a page from Shatner's book: Realize that you're hopelessly dorky, find a way to turn dorky into kitschy... and eventually kitschy into cool.

Here's an admittedly good start: Ruin a pimpin' video.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cost Of Car Ownership

An interesting article here.

The average American with the average job and the average car works 2 hours out of every 8 hour day paying for the ownership and operation of his or her car. Car payments, gasoline, insurance, and occasional repairs eat up 25% of Americans' income.

It's crazy when you think about it.

Working at home, I put $20 of gas in the car every month. Working at home, I have no work clothes or uniforms to buy, no suits or ties to launder. Working at home, lunch is a sandwich from the refrigerator instead of a retail meal. When you add up the money I save by working at home, I've got it pretty good.

Daily Repoort: Ghosts In The Machine

I was chatting with Dave from Kimaya (Tyson's new father), who is earning a bit of extra cash doing some writing on the internet. He gave me some pointers of where to go and what to say to get work, which I have to admit were quite helpful.

Actually, with a little bit of effort, I theoretically could move back to Asia next week. But (a) if I quit my transcription job (which, although the pay has gone down since its' heyday is still good for $20 an hour) I'd be struggling to get by on the other income (probably good for only $400 or $500 a week), and (b) my focus and interest is now on (1) my wife getting to America and getting her American citizenship, and (2) developing a proper income — not just enough to "get by and have fun" as I've been doing for the last 20 years. Once Epril has her green card, we can travel back to Asia for a month or two at a time, work permitting.

I've been watering the grass — if you can call it "grass" — for a couple of days now. The piebald collection of green weed-like plants interspersed with blades of grass is an eyesore, but adding in large swathes of brown deadness gives the place an "empty lot" look to it. So, yes, I'm trying to grow weeds to spruce up the place a bit.

My e-mail account got hacked tonight. I'm quite surprised: First time in 20 years on the internet that I've been properly hacked. I really have no idea how it happened: I've got up-to-date ISP-provided antivirus software on all 3 of my computers, and I never click on or open stupidity. I've been using monthly changed alpha-punctuo-numeric passwords since 1995 too.

Being that my e-mail address is a web-based Yahoo account that has never been opened in Outlook or any other e-mail software, it most certainly means that my password was compromised. According to my web guru, the spam/virus e-mail my account sent actually came from Yahoo servers too, so it was a bona fide hack and not an address spoof. (But, amazingly, my Sent Items list showed no sign of activity and the thieves left my account seemingly as they found it.)

Well, sorry to the 700 of you who were spammed by me. I've changed my password and deleted the contents of my address book, and hopefully that solves the problem. If not, there is always GMail.

Ah, now that I give it some thought, I'm pretty sure I know what happened: A bit of software that I downloaded from one of the online work websites is a workflow aid, and I'll bet that it was hacked at the factory into a key logger. I accidentally left it open after installing it. Won't use that again.

I discovered quite a nice drink tonight that I copied off of ABC's website (and adjusted a bit), a "Green Ghost":

2 parts gin
1 part Midori melon liquer
1 part blue curacao
1 part peach schnapps
4 parts whiskey sour mix

Quite good!

I'm almost to the point where I need to do some grocery shopping. It will eventually take me more than a month of focused eating to finish all of the leftovers mom and Paul left behind: I've only spent about $10 on groceries since they left and I still have a couple weeks' of food to make my way through.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Daily Report: GIGO

I spent all last evening crunching up all of the cardboard boxes I had received in the mail over the last few weeks and getting them ready for the trash. All the recyclables were set out, and the week's trash as well.

At noontime when I woke up today, the recyclables had been picked up, but the trash was still in the bin. There was some bubble wrap I had put on the very top... and a bit of stinky rotten food on the bottom. I figured maybe the garbage men had rejected my offering on the fact that bubble wrap should be recycled, or maybe it was just too stinky. I didn't know. I wheeled the garbage can back inside the garage and figured I would ask Uncle Bob what had gone wrong later in the day.

At 2:00 this afternoon, I was in the shower when the garbage truck came trundling around the cul-de-sac looking for my garbage. (I forgot that the recycle men and the garbage men stop by at different times of the morning... or, day on certain occasions apparently) Not wanting to go running down my driveway, naked, dripping wet, pulling a trash bin behind me... I figure the garbage will just have to wait until next week. (Though I'll probably need to buy a new garbage bin because the stink embedded in the plastic from the rotted food will be other-worldly.) Hopefully next time they won't be 8 hours late.

It was a god-awful dark gray day today. I had the lights on in the house at mid-afternoon. Got work done on editing and the Bubba Gump project. After that, Uncle Bob came over for cocktails, and then we went out to the Chinese buffet for dinner.

You're So Very Fired, Crazy Racist Pilot Guy

Pilot takes plane back to gate to kick the Muslims off his flight.

I'm assuming that nobody, not even Crazy Racist Pilot Guy himself, lives in a world where the entire airline industry, or the American people in general, or even the other people on the flight, would say, "Right on Crazy Racist Pilot Guy! Thanks for taking a stand." Therefore, this must have been an ultra-psycho, maximum-idiotic, full-flavored version of "fuck this job" that happened here... or Crazy Racist Pilot Guy just departed from sanity in an ugly, career-killing sort of way.

I don't feel too awful bad for the two Muslim guys who got thrown off the plane by Crazy Racist Pilot Guy:

(1) I'm sure that the other passengers, the flight crew, the people at the airport who begged Crazy Racist Pilot Guy to reconsider... they were all equally embarrassed and apologetic... I'm sure people stood up for these two guys from all corners;

(2) being the target of (nonviolent) animosity from a single whacko who has obviously but inexplicably gone off the rails is a bit weird and potentially embarrassing, but not the worst thing that can happen to a person... its more a story for the grandkids;

(3) both gentlemen most certainly now have a platform upon which to stand and denounce anti-Muslim racism which they did not have before... their Crazy Racist Pilot Guy experience will show how much Americans have to get over;

(4) you know damn well that in exchange for having to suffer through Crazy Racist Pilot Guy, those guys will be flying first class on Delta for the rest of their lives... and probably getting a nice cash settlement too; and

(5) these two fellows can call up Crazy Racist Pilot Guy at home every day for the rest of his sad, unemployed life and say, "Can I fly with you today? No? Why is that? Is it because I'm a Muslim or because YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO FLY FOR A LIVING AGAIN DICKHEAD!?" That'll be cool.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Cold Blood"

One of the earliest "facts" revealed about the killing of Bin Laden (on that Sunday night, it was revealed) was that Bin Laden did not have a weapon in his hands when he was shot.

The first thought that immediately came to my mind was, "Twenty five of the world's best soldiers, each more deadly than Rambo, each better programmed than The Terminator, performing the most important covert military mission in world history against one of the most valuable military targets in world history, and they are 'forced to kill' their unarmed target?"

They couldn't just taser him?

Don't get me wrong: I'm perfectly happy that Bin Laden is dead. Rotting on the bottom of the Arabian Sea is a thousand times preferable to having him alive, drawing attention and infamy. But I don't doubt it for a minute: SEAL Team 6 set off to execute Bin Laden, and that is exactly what they did. Whether the White House elected to execute him with a cruise missile or a shotgun blast or a knife to the throat, they should have just said that their intention was his death right from the beginning and been done with it.

The difference between the execution of a dangerous criminal and the murder of an unarmed man is one of probity: Demonstrating moral clarity and certainty in the action is what ultimately makes it right... as compared to hiding behind half truths, evasions, and suppositions, which is nothing but the sign of a guilty conscience.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Layoff Letter

May 2, 2011

Dear Employees:

As the CEO of this organization, I have resigned myself to the fact that Barrack Obama is our President and that our taxes and government fees will increase in a BIG way. To compensate for these increases, our prices would have to increase by about 10%. But since we cannot increase our prices right now due to the dismal state of the economy, we will have to lay off sixty of our employees instead. This has really been bothering me since I believe we are family here and I didn't know how to choose who would have to go.

So, this is what I did. I walked through our parking lots and found sixty 'Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars and have decided these folks will be the ones to let go. I can't think of a more fair way to approach this problem. They voted for change. I gave it to them.

I will see the rest of you at the annual company picnic.


May 14, 2011

Dear Employees:

When I went through the parking lot the other day, laying off all of the Democrats, I failed to realize that every one of the PhD's working in our Research and Development department is a Democrat and that I accidentally laid off all of our scientific staff, about 80% of the IT department, and a good portion of our marketing department.

Don't worry though, I laid off 20 more employees (sorry... couldn't find any more "Obama" stickers in the parking lot, so I laid off people driving Japanese cars... always the sign of a liberal) and hired a fantastic Chinese research laboratory to carry on where our Obama-loving Commie R&D Liberals left off, hired an Indian firm to handle the networking that those geeky MIT Obamabot nerds were handling, and I found a nice Russian company to handle the marketing that those San Francisco Pelosi pansies were doing... all for half the price.

By the way... did you see that the price of our company stock has gone up 30% due to my awesome management skills? I made a cool $7 million! How much did you make? Good thing the stock market doesn't listen to Obama's anti-American rhetoric, eh?

Anyway, see the rest of you at the annual company picnic!


June 2, 2011

Dear Employees:

Sorry, but I've had to lay off another 50 employees. I'm spending so much time flying back and forth between China, India, Russia, and our headquarters here in Denver, that I needed to buy a private jet. I went through the parking lot and found all the cars that were newer than 3 years old, since those people obviously got involved in that un-American Cash-For-Clunkers bullshit that the Democrats suckered America with.

Now I know you remaining employees can double your output to make up for the shortfall that getting rid of those Prius-driving blue-state liberals will cause. Obviously... sorry... I can't be raising salaries with times as difficult as they are right now, but I'm sure you understand: Times are tough for everyone with the liberals in charge of things, and the cost of jet fuel is a pain.

See the rest of you at the annual company picnic!


June 16, 2011

Dear Employees:

I'm sorry that you couldn't keep up with the increased demand. I understand though, it was a bit too much to ask. Fortunately, I was able to lay off another 20 employees (they were wearing sunglasses when they pulled into the parking lot in the morning... a sure sign of hippie marijuana use), and I hired an entire Vietnamese company to take 40% of your workload off your hands to give you a break. Now you only need to work 20 hours a week (without a single Democrat in sight)... take it easy and relax! Isn't that great?

Man, you all should come for a ride with me in my new jet. It's just awesome.

Oh... on a personal note, due to the long flying times between Mumbai and London (where the kids are in school), I bought a fantastic villa in the south of France as a comfy little layover spot. If any of you make it over there on your vacation, stop by and have a drink!

See the rest of you at the annual company picnic!


July 4, 2011

Dear Employees:

As you can see, it is Independence Day. I'm writing this memo to let you know that you are now Independent Workers! Isn't that exciting? What I've done is moved our world headquarters to Beijing, and made you all independent contractors. Being an independent contractor is great. That's what I did when I was at Cornell getting my MBA, and see how things turned out for me? (And just think, you'll never have to sit down at work next to a nasty Democrat again! Double bonus!)

Anyway, now you get to stay at home with your kids, and we will ship all of the parts to your house, and you can assemble them there. I went through the parking lot and found 4 Humvees. Since nobody with a Humvee could possibly have voted for that Nigerian usurper, I've kept you 4 people on to help close up the plant in Denver. (Oh... Have that portrait of Andrew Carnegie that is hanging in my office over the mantel sent to my lodge in Vail.)

Those of you who can fly to my villa on the Côte d'Azur... see you at the annual company picnic! (No sorry, the jet is filled already... got the family, the household staff, and Tiger Woods flying with me.)


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Complainonline.net and FastMediate.com Gone

Harris Black, the convicted sex offender on the run from a Canadian arrest warrant for rape, hiding out in Thailand on an expired visa, has had his little foray into the extortion game last barely a month before I — with the help of hundreds of his victims whom I e-mailed warning them not to pay Harris' attempts at black mail; whom I encouraged to contact Harris' sites' service provider, SoftLayer — had it shut down.

The amazing thing is that I ultimately only have Harris Black to thank for the results I achieved. Without his help at every step of the way, none of this would have been possible:
  • Thanks to Harris Black for leaving that comment on my blog. When I mentioned that my Virtual Assistant site was up and running, Harris said he was going to be messing with my attempts to start an online business. Thus, I knew to keep an eye out for typical Harris antics.
  • Thanks to Harris Black for leading me directly to ComplainOnline.net by putting up a post about me there saying (more coarsely and with poorer grammar) that I was a bad virtual assistant.
  • Thanks to Harris Black for letting me know without any doubt that he was the one running ComplainOnline.net (instead of just having an account there and posting "complaints" and "comments" on somebody else's site) by setting up the site so that wherever anybody typed "Harris Black" into a comment box, those words were replaced with "Hulk Hogan".
  • And, of course thanks to Harris Black for so kindly publishing the e-mail addresses of every single one of the people he was trying to extort money from on ComplainOnline.net, so that I could contact them personally and warn them not to pay any money, and to instead contact the FBI, RCMP, SoftLayer, and even the Thai Police. (Based on replies to my e-mails, about 50 of you took the time to contact those entities. Hopefully many more of you did the same yet did not take the time to let me know.)
Anyway, in his defense, Harris has called me childish names, called my wife childish names, called my mother childish names... and, well... that's all.

In return for the name calling, I stopped Harris' little money-making scheme, shut down a website that was slandering hundreds of innocent people, and saved several of the more gullible people Harris contacted hundreds of dollars, and hopefully put Harris squarely on the radar of American, Canadian, and Thai law enforcement agencies in the process.

Oh, and of course, hopefully I've given Harris' cash flow such a smack that he'll be stuck eating nothing but vegetable fried rice and bottled water for the next 6 months.

Thank you to everyone who participated. Again, to each of Harris' victims, I'm sorry that you got involved in the low-brow, low-intelligence, low-yield game that Harris decided to play. But your help in spoiling it has contributed to the most entertaining and rewarding undertaking I've had in many a month.

In the end, Harris, as always: you've been unfailingly amusing, you've been utterly harmless, and you've ultimately left me with a smile. Another win.

By the way, if you were one of the victims of the "complainonline/ fastmediate" scam and ever are contacted by another website in another attempt to extort money, please leave a comment here to let me know immediately. Thanks.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Daily Report: Nickels And Dimes

I went back to the library today to renew my book ("Storm of Swords", part of the new series being played on HBO) and was told that other people wanted to borrow it and I could not take it back home.

Sigh. I'm giving up on the library: First off, I read too slowly (I like to do 1 chapter per day, and in a 90-chapter book... well, you do the math); second, I always wind up renewing my books a day or two late, and pay $3 or $4 in late fees for each book; and three, other people can't read the book when I have it out for 3 months at a time... or I get it snatched away from me halfway through.

So I went to Books-A-Million and bought "Storm of Swords" for myself. Now I'm going to go about ordering an Amazon Kindle so that I can download my books from the internet and read them that way. I used my mother's Kindle when she was here and it was quite nice: easier to hold and read than a regular book. As long as the hardware lasts for 4 years or so, I should break even on the up-front investment.

After that, I stopped by Wal-Mart. Sale on Diet Cherry Doctor Pepper today, the world's best diet soda. They were sold out. In fact, Wal-Mart was sold out of nearly every kind of diet soda they stocked. Lots of the fattening stuff though. You think they would keep better track of what was popular.

From there, I went to Target where I bought a little 4-inch skillet to fry an egg in for $6. Then I went next door to Office Depot where I spent $80 on a new wireless keyboard on which I'll do my transcription work. (The third time in 10 years that I've changed keyboards for transcribing.) My desktop is now completely wire free. Very cool.

Work was good today and this evening. I tore through 1500 lines in 4 hours. Then, I kicked the spurs into the Bubba Gump project for about an hour. After that was a bit of channel surfing and a beer. Then, into bed with my book, where I read yet another solitary chapter.

My Wife Is Still Beautiful

Actually, she just keeps getting more beautiful as time goes by.

I'm lucky.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oh Snap.

By the way, Andrew Sullivan notes an interesting coincidence:
The eighth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished." To the day. The 66th anniversary of the anouncement of the death of Adolph Hitler. To the day.
Actually, I do wonder if the date of the mission was changed... if Obama realized at some point, "Man, this day is pretty close to the 'Mission Accomplished' stunt President Bush pulled. We've been planning this for 8 months: Let's delay the mission by a day or two to tweak Bush's nose a little bit." I wouldn't discount that. Or maybe it was the Hitler connection that they were shooting for; those guys at the White House don't miss much.