Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day 2004

Julian’s class was marching in the Bay Shore Memorial Day parade today. We’re getting ready to head over to the staging point at 9 AM when Cordelia suddenly pipes up that her class is marching too and she had to go. Okay, fine. I’ll load the two kids into the car, drop them at the parade, grab a couple of slammers at 7-11, and head over to the finish line to collect them at the end of the parade.

It was not to be. We get to the staging area and start looking around. Julian’s class is off to one side – they’re all wearing laminated cardboard signs with magic markered names of American troops who’ve died in Iraq. Leading this charge is the Sir Learns-A-Lot banner that some grade school alumnus donated for parades.

Cordelia’s class is out in a side street. They’re handing out the Uncle Sam hats they made out of white paper bags. Cordelia gets a small American flag, but gets upset because she wants a big American flag. Of course, she works her way to the front so that she can hold the school banner: “Don’t Go Extinct, Read A Book!” I ask a teacher where I should meet them, and I’m told that I have to walk with her. I’ve just been press ganged into the Memorial Day parade.

Of course, you know what happens in these scenarios. The kids walk for a few feet, then get tired. For much of the mile and a half, I am forcibly marched through the streets of Bay Shore holding a “Don’t Go Extinct, Read A Book!” sign, enduring the derision of the angry crowd. Main Street is littered with roadkill, thanks to the Town of Islip’s crack Dead Animal Removal division. At one point, we stepped over something with a nametag on it. $ir Win$ton, of $ir Win$ton Realty, made sure that his “God Bless America / $ir Win$ton Realty” balloons got into everyone’s hands. So now I’m marching while holding a “Don’t Go Extinct, Read A Book!” sign in one hand and a $ir Win$ton balloon in the other. Some Dr. Seussian “Proud To Be An American” song is on a continual tape loop in front of us. I don’t have my sunglasses, and it changes from overcast to that uniquely glaring sun thing that you only get when you leave your sunglasses in the car on a cloudy day.

God, sometimes I just hate America.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Granny Smith pears

I do like Diet Sierra Mist. However, I don’t like buying a 12-pack and realizing that every single can has frigging SHREK staring back at me. I honestly would not have bought it had I known in advance I’d be looking at these hideous ogres of consumerism. I just wanted a frosty lemon-lime one-calorie beverage, dammit!

Clerk of the day: I’m standing there at King Kullen, trying to bag my groceries before the Sierra Mist rolls its way down the belt and pops the top off the mac salad, when the supply line is suddenly broken. I look back up and see the checkout girl staring quizzically at a bag of Granny Smith apples. She rolls one of them around, looking for a sticker. Finally, in desperation, she turns to me and asks “What kind of pears are these?”

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Last Day of TechEd 04

Okay, last night I was up until 3:30. It would’ve been an earlier night, but we were waiting for our ham and jack sandwich to arrive. Today is the first day where my conference sleep patterns are really getting to me, and it’s also the day I get to go home. So that worked out okay.

Steve and I packed up the car and made the arduous three minute trek to the Lindbergh Field. There was a little confusion at the airport as he temporarily booked the seat next to mine, but it was all cleared up when I explained the joys of an empty middle seat in coach.

I got on the plane and made myself comfortable, looking forward to that middle seat. A few minutes later, a woman walked on and started pointing to me, asking me something in Spanish. I didn’t know what was going on, but it seemed to involve the middle seat next to me. She asked about my ticket, and when I showed it to her she said “Oh, you are in Group 5.” She then squeezed into the middle seat and started talking to HER sister, in the middle seat one row back.

Annoyed as hell, I sat there until takeoff in a grumpy fog. And to make things worse, across the aisle there seemed to be an empty middle AND aisle seat. Then just as we started taxiing, I looked at my ticket again. I was so exhausted that I’d taken the wrong seat! It turns out I was the big idiot, not the woman. Naturally, it was below me to apologize.

We got to JFK just before midnight. I had checked two bags – my big-ass, overweight suitcase and a TechEd conference bag full of magazine samples. The big-ass, overweight suitcase rolled off just fine, but an early trickle of TechEd bags soon became a cascade. I had cleverly put my business card into the NetIQ luggage tag so that I could identify my bag, but none of the bags had the ID on them. The belt kept going around and around. Most of the people claimed their stuff and left. There was nothing left but about five TechEd bags. I started rifling through them one by one until I found the publication-laden sack – with no nametag. It turns out that I was so exhausted, I put the card UNDERNEATH the generic “write your name here” tag that came with the bag. Good thing I’m not paid for thinking or anything.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The classiest hooker in San Diego

The days are becoming a blur now. All I know is that I leave tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that Brian Randell and Rocky Lhotka didn’t leave with that hooker at the party last night.

I looked outside the bar and saw Brian, Rocky, and a “friend” who was talking to them like she knew them. They were both trying to ignore her. I walked over to do my mingle thing. After a few seconds, she announced – and I may be paraphrasing a bit here – that she bemoaned the lack of men in this town who enjoyed anal. Well, okay! I told her that I thought there were a couple in the bar, so she went back inside to look for them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

TechEd party!

When you get to bed at 2:30, getting up at 7:30 really isn’t an optimal situation. Plus, I had to get packed to move rooms. For some reason, the Westgate decided that I needed to change rooms. Something about changing rates so they had to give me a nicer suite. It was the same damn room, but with one king bed instead of two twins. Oh, and a pair of hospital-grade slippers under the sink.

Much of the rest of the day was a wonderful blur. I saw my friend Theresa for the first time in 16 years as she sought me out at the CMP booth. (If you need consulting services, make sure to give AVI Consulting a ring.) I met a list of people too long to recount here – including people who are interested in writing for TechNet Magazine, people who want to advertise in TechNet Magazine, and people who want to subscribe to TechNet Magazine. Guess what’s been on my mind this week?

Our annual MSDN Magazine party kicked off at 9:30 PM. Every year it gets more buzz around it, and this year saw people lined up outside to get in. And that includes people who weren’t actually invited – next year we have to figure out some armband system or something. It got to be a bit messy.

Being the center of attention at a party of 150 people in a bar is an odd experience. A lot of people wanted to talk about submitting content, and about how to get involved with TechNet Magazine. The one hard part about these shows is that I really, really like a lot of people on a personal level, but I also have to find the time to talk to dozens of folks in just three hours. It’s something I’ve worked on year after year – being graceful and perhaps moving to the next person even though you still want to hear from the person you’re with. Since I’m not naturally a party guy, I do have to put on my TechEd face before doing this – it’s good to learn how to be more social in any event.

One thing I’ve spoken with Sara Williams about in the past is strategies we can adopt to improve the gender representation in our author pool. I know that there are good female authors out there, but it’s not easy to find them! I really feel that if we can sign more qualified female authors, we can help lead perceptions that we don’t have to be a male-dominated industry. Sara has done her part by introducing all the women authors she knows. I don’t have a written goal for it, but I know that we’re not there yet.

Anyway, things broke up at about 2:30 AM again. Two more days of TechEd fun.

Monday, May 24, 2004

TechEd 04, Day 1

Not only is today the first day of TechEd, it’s also the day we announce our most ambitious project to date: TechNet Magazine. I walked from the Westgate to the convention center, my rapidly fading synapses managing to recognize some of the same sites I last encountered in 1997. Or, to be exact, I walked past the Ralph’s supermarket in the middle of town.

I needed a Snapple. Ralph’s had the promise of Snapple, but they appeared to have nothing but Mango Madness and some other crap. I walked through the store, desparately searching for their Snapple repository, but found only the one cooler in the front, next to the walk-up latte stand. Using classic Eastern ingenuity, I scanned the back row and saw one Snapple cap unlike the others. YES! It was the only regular iced tea in the place.

After our morning meeting with CMP, we repaired to the exhibit floor, where a stack of TechNet Magazine cards was waiting for us. Since you asked, TechNet Magazine is a new publication we’re launching for the IT professional.

We’ve got one issue planned right now, discussing security from the IT perspective. It’s going to be great, you’re going to have to sign up for it, and you’re going to tell your friends about it. It’s going to be the best thing you read all year. (Fiction and non-fiction not included.)

This was an unusually long day, punctuated by the exhibit floor reception in the evening. They had THREE KINDS of chicken wings! It was just fabulous. It turned out that the punctuation was just a semicolon, however, because from there I headed over to Ruth’s Chris for one of those 9:30 PM plus time zone steak dinner opportunities that only come along a few times in your life before your heart explodes. I managed to escape with just a salad before heading over to the W Hotel for what turned out to be a four-hour nightcap. It started with the media reception, then ended up huddled up in a cabana with a slowly dwindling crowd from exotic locales like Toronto and Maryland. We learned, among other things, that the Quality Inn has smoking rooms that actually smoke, and that you can upgrade to a menthol suite for just $29/night. Who says business travel isn't glamorous?

Sunday, May 23, 2004

America Is Not The World

Well, I’ve been off the blog thing lately, for reasons that will become clear at TechEd tomorrow. I’m on my way to San Diego as I type, on one of those flights that last exactly 75 minutes longer than your laptop battery. If you’re one of three people who read this before Monday, come visit us at the booth after noon tomorrow.

American has removed its “More room in coach” program except on its 767s, so try to get one when you fly cross-country. This seat isn’t that bad – 34” pitch – but I’ve set a new record in that my assbone is already in searing pain and we haven’t even closed the door and pulled back from the gate yet. I discovered SeatGuru – it lets you check the exact configuration of the plane you’re about to take domestically. I discovered that American puts underseat power in every third row and that JetBlue has smaller seats in front of the exit rows.

But back to this flight. The woman in 35H is now eating a can of Bush’s baked beans with a plastic spoon. And reading the first two chapters of a Dick Francis novel, ripped from the full paperback. I always wondered who they were addressing when they explained how to use a seatbelt, but I think I have my answer.

Dinner was chicken. Not just any chicken, mind you. That’s right! The old paradigm is gone. No more flabby chicken breast with some BBQ sauce slapped on top. Now you get little cubes of that flabby chicken breast with some BBQ sauce slapped on top, pushed right up against some burning hot red potato cubes with cheese sauce slapped on top, accompanied by some green bean cubes with, well, nothing slapped on top.

Dessert was a little cube of cake. Actually, that’s not fair – it was more of a rectangular prism of cake, except that it was opaque to light and flavor. It looked like pineapple upside-down cake, but the yellowish topping emitted more of a vague coconut burst upon entry into one’s cakehole. The roll was exquisite. In fact, airline rolls are always top-notch. They’re completely uniform in texture – not light, yet crumbly. They usually taste better dipped in the pepper ranch dressing than slathered with the fingernail-sized packet of “Now! More Buttery Taste!” spread provided for a $2 fee in coach.

Okay, here’s the next problem. I’ve got Morrissey’s new CD, “You Are The Quarry.” I turned it on, and within about 45 seconds I wanted to put a fist through his throat. He’s come up with the revelation that America is a dominant country and is driving it home through shocking lines like “America, your belly’s too big.” So not only is he repeating the bleeding obvious, fashionable opinion but he’s STEALING FROM CROWDED HOUSE.

That’s right. Morrissey, who used to write about topics that touched all of us – topics like headmaster abuse of fifth-form students and clergymen who dance ballet – has now decided to take on his least controversial topic to date – the concept that America exports gluttony. Well, duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuur.
. . .
But when the president is never black, female or gay
And until that day you’ve got nothing to say to me
To help me believe in America

Sorry, but which nation WERE you going to believe in then? The one where they filmed that Old Navy commercial with a black guy, a gay guy in a sweater, and Fran Drescher? Morrissey: his ideal nation is a TV commercial for cargo pants.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Beagle cysts

Well, the good thing is that Edina the Beagle is out of her five day "crapping on the bedroom rug" stage. However, she's entered a new stage. You might be thinking "what could be worse than a Beagle who craps, pisses, and pukes her way through life on various expensive carpets?" Well, you might want to skip ahead if you don't want to find out.

Edina has been blessed with several benign cysts just under her skin surface. They're anywhere from dime to quarter-sized. They've started to burst through her skin. THe first sign that a Beagle cyst has burst is that the cyst has flattened out, replaced with a hole that looks like a pitted Bing cherry. The second sign is the oozing cyst juice that mats her hair and drips off her.

Edina exchanged biz cards with the vet, and returned home with tubes of burst cyst ointment and pills that can only be hidden by deboning a chicken leg and inserting the caplet where the bone had gone. Fortunately, a Beagle can swallow a half chicken in one gulp (although for some reason it takes them five minutes to eat a single blueberry), so that's not that big a deal. The ointment however...

You think you're doing the right thing. You close your eyes, grit your teeth, and rub the ointment on the Beagle scab twice a day. But is it the right thing? No, of course not. After a few days, you're told by the vet that you're SUPPOSED to be lifting the Beagle scab and rubbing the ointment on the still-raw Beagle cyst hole. Oh, and don't let the Beagle see that you're distressed because it will hurt her self-esteem and body image.

I tried to trade her in yesterday, but her value has plummeted to the point where I can only get a lease on a Pekingese. Which seems all well and good until you see the balloon payments on one of those fuckers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004


There's nothing like the convenience of online music. Tasks that would've taken hours a few years ago now take mere days. Let's review the steps for getting a song onto an MP3 player, shall we?

I decided that I wanted to put the song "Athena" on my Archos.

1. Ask around to see if anyone has a CD of "It's Hard." No one does, because it's crap.
2. Find a copy of the song online. For this particular endeavor, I chose because it doesn't make me sign up for the Apple iTunes lifestyle, and I didn't have to look at the smirking Napster logo, now incorporated for your convenience.
3. Find the song. No big deal.
4. Pay 99 cents. Again, no big deal.
5. Download the song. Here it comes!
6. Look at what I just got. MP3? No! DRM-protected WMA file.
7. Try to play the song, but since I'm offline on the train, I can't because it can't get the license from the server.
8. Try again to play the song, and have to log on again to get the DRM license first. Okay, it plays.

So I have my song. How hard can it be to put it on my MP3 player?

9. Realize that my Archos MP3 player doesn't support WMA files.
10. Attempt to convert the file to MP3, which fails because it's rights-managed.
11. Burn an audio CD with a single song on it.
12. Rip the CD back to MP3 format.
13. Hook up my Archos to the USB 2.0 port on my laptop so I can copy the MP3.

This is where things get a bit tricky.

14. Get a message that the USB device connected to my machine has malfunctioned, so replace it.

I'm not going to replace it, and anyway I bet the port's broken or something.

15. Hook up the device to another machine, with a USB 1.1 port. This freezes the machine until I unplug it.

Things are looking down. So I

16. Head out to Best Buy and pick up a USB 2.0 PC Card.
17. Choose the one that's $10 cheaper than the brand I've heard of.
18. Fail to have the external CD drive for my laptop on hand, so...
19. Search for the drivers online. The company doesn't seem to have a Web site. But it turns out that I only need USB 2.0 Windows drivers anyway.
20. Plug the card in and let it install. For some reason, the card can't provide its own power, so I need to...
21. Connect it through a little wire to the machine's USB 1.1 port if I want the ports to be powered.

So Windows tells me everything's good to go. I'm ready to copy the MP3 to my device!

22. Plug the Archos into the new USB 2.0 port.
23. Get a message: the USB device connected to my machine has malfunctioned, so replace it.
24. Write to Archos customer support.
25. Wait three days.
26. Get no answer.

So right now there's no "Athena" on my MP3 device. There's no customer service from Archos. I'm sure they're all busy making preparations for the "Shitty Device of the Year" awards ceremony at Radio City next week. And there's no way to get files on or off of the device that I can figure out. Life is grand.