April 02, 2002

Happy Easter

A couple of days ago, we celebrated Easter Sunday. The church service was really good, including a great sermon from Bob (as usual) and an amazing job by four of the youth group members reading an interleaved version of the Easter story from the four gospels. (It's a little hard to explain, but basically, each one read  from a single one of the gospels, and they took turns reading, lining up the verses that went together. It was really very impressive.)

Lent (the 40 days, not counting Sundays, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday) felt a little strange to me this year. It's supposed to be a period of solemn waiting, but since Easter came relatively early this year, it followed right on the heels of Christmas, where we had just ended Advent, another period of solemn waiting. Perhaps the early church could have set the date of Christmas earlier so as to avoid the two events -- the birth and death of Jesus -- being quite so close together. OK, maybe not. 

At any rate, I wound up feeling slightly out of place or unsettled for most of Lent. In fairness, it's entirely possible that that has as much to do with things going on in my life and in the world at large as it does with the dates of Advent and Lent. There are some things at work and at home that I've been waiting for, we're all still waiting for al Qaeda to be shut down once and for all, and much of the world seems to be waiting for Sharon and Arafat to either settle down or kill each other. (My money, sadly, is on the latter.) My whole life seemed to be in waiting, but I couldn't bring myself to just let it be and accept it. Thus, the unsettledness of it all.

But Easter Sunday arrived, and afterwards, I felt a lot better. I felt a real sense of connection at the church service, and then afterwards, Meredith and I cooked Easter dinner for us and a couple of friends. We sat around, we talked -- it was fun. Things felt a lot better.

Is all the waiting over? Well, no. Christ may have risen, but Israel and Palestine are still at each other's throats, Meredith is still waiting to find full-time work, I'm still waiting for some things at work, and so on. But now, somehow, I feel re-energized and better about things. Maybe there's something to the whole season of Lent after all.

Happy Easter!

Posted by Mike at 08:34 AM

Car Dealers and assumptions

Tonight, Meredith and I went looking for a car. Meredith's Accord is starting to show its age, and Meredith is starting to get tired of having just two doors. Since almost all of her driving is around town (we tend to take my Integra on longer trips), Meredith has been especially interested in the Prius, Toyota's HEV (Hybrid-ElectricVehicle). So, after dinner (and a few quick games of Counter-Strike), it was off to the Palo Alto Toyota dealership on Middlefield road. (Warning: the Palo Alto Toyota web site likes to start out with a noisy Flash animation. Emphasis on noisy. Perhaps if I had looked at this first, I would have suggested we go to another Toyota dealership. But then I wouldn't have anything to write about tonight.)

We met one of the salesman, and explained that we were interested in looking at the Prius, the Corolla, and the Camry. He (it's always a he, isn't it?) showed us all three, then offered to let us take any of them for a test drive. He also asked if we were interested in their newest car, "The Matrix," which we weren't. (The advertising line for The Matrix is, "It's something else." Yes, something else aside from nice to look at.)

We took off down the road in the Prius. A little small, and a little unstable feeling (to me) -- probably because of the skinny tires as much as anything else. He asked where we were from. Well, actually, he asked if we had gone to Paly or Gunn for high school. Meredith said she had gone to Gunn; I said I had gone to school in Tennessee. He said something about the "Blue Mountains", then after being corrected ("Smoky Mountains") decided that he didn't really know enough about Tennessee and stopped.

When we got back from the test drive, Meredith needed to make a restroom stop, and the salesman got the Camry ready to test drive. Something happened during this brief stop; it's not quite clear what. But by the second test drive, he was no longer taking us seriously at all.

The first bad sign was when we got into the car, where the radio was tuned to a country music station. The radio in the Prius hadn't been set to country music. Here's a hint to anyone reading this: just because someone is from Tennessee, it does not necessarily follow that they like country music. (Or Elvis, but that's another rant.)

The second bad sign came when one of us asked which trim of the Camry we were driving. He explained about all of the different trim lines. All of the different 4-cylinder trims, that is. "Isn't there a six-cylinder version of the Camry?" I asked. "Yes, but that's a lot more expensive." Anytime a car dealer tells you that something is too expensive for you, it means that you're not being taken even a little bit seriously.

Then there was the difference in the test drives themselves. In the first test drive, he encouraged us to drive the car wherever we wanted to get a feel for it -- drive it down Central, onto Castro, onto 101, wherever. The directions for the second test drive were much more confined: go down this road, make this turn, make this other turn, then turn back into the dealer.

The final sign came at the end, when we were ready to leave. Most car dealers by this point have tried to offer you their card more times than you can count. He hadn't even offered his name yet, and started to walk off. I asked him for his card just so we'd know who to avoid. He gave it to us, then couldn't walk away from us fast enough.

What made him decide what we weren't serious? We were, but he didn't see it. What made him decide we couldn't afford the pricier versions of the cars? Our dress? We weren't in dress clothes, but we were in jeans and nice shirts. Regardless, equating dress with income bracket is a dangerous assumption to make in this area.

In the end, we decided that the Prius is interesting, but maybe a little small, and the Camry is, in fact, your basic land yacht. And that whatever we end up buying, it won't be from that dealership.


Posted by Mike at 10:01 PM | Comments (3)

April 03, 2002

Communications Breakdown...

Occasionally, people will comment that it's hard to get hold of me. When I stop and think about it, this seems impossible. By my count, there are the following ways to reach me during the average day:

  • Work phone

  • Home phone

  • Cell phone

  • Email page to cell phone

  • Work email

  • Personal email (which actually has several accounts that all alias into one account)

  • E-Fax

  • Work fax

  • icb, aka fnet (to talk to meriko and Russell)

  • AOL Instant Messenger (to talk to my sister and a church friend)

  • MSN/Exchange Messenger (mostly for work)

  • Snail-mail to me at work

  • Snail-mail to me at home
That's three instant-messenging applications (and leaves out icq, another popular program), numerous email addresses, three phone numbers...
At work, I usually have two email programs running (getting work and personal email), all three IM programs, my work phone, and my cell phone. Trying to pay some attention to all of them -- and write code, which is what Microsoft actually pays me to do -- is occasionally a little nervewracking.

It would be nice if the instant messenger applications at least could be combined, but as long as AOL remains total buttheads about interoperability with any other application, that probably won't happen.

I guess the real answer is to just turn it all off from time to time.

While I'm on the subject of AOL Instant Messenger, I've noticed two rather unusual things that its installer does on Windows. One is amusing, the other less so. Windows XP has an error reporting feature so that if a program crashes, Windows will ask you if you want to send a log of the crash to Microsoft. It helps Microsoft look for problems so as to improve future versions. You can turn it off, and you can add certain programs to an exception list -- i.e., if one of those programs crashes, don't ever report the error. AIM adds itself to the exception list. That's just kind of amusing.

The second thing the installer does has to do with Internet security zones. Internet Explorer defines four different safety zones -- Internet, Intranet, Trusted Sites, and Restricted Sites. Each zone can have different security settings applied to it. Trusted Sites run with most permissive security settings. AIM's installer adds the 'free.aol.com' domain into the Trusted Sites list. Evil, evil, evil.


Posted by Mike at 11:59 PM

April 05, 2002

Week in Review

And now, the week in review.

"I've fallen, and it's all good." A Japanese electronics company has invented iGlassware, a beer mug that can electronically signal the wait staff when you�ve finished with your beer and need another. Perfect for that beer drinker who can�t stand the thought of, or is incapable of, actually walking to the bar to get a refill.

"We had a reactor leak here now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Large leak...very dangerous." The state of New Mexico or, more accurately, the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, wishes to make this announcement: the TV show �The West Wing� is fictional. As though the fact that the show has a liberal president wasn�t enough to give that away. Oh, and the fact that it's a TV show. According to an article posted on CNN.com, New Mexico officials worried that the most recent episode of The West Wing, in which a truck containing uranium fuel rods crashes in Idaho, might unnecessarily alarm people. It didn't crash in New Mexico, which might make one wonder why New Mexico was so worried about this... "But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?"

"Now, give me the twelve cents, and I'll give you the rest of your change back... And then give me the twenty..." The United States Department of the Treasury offers uncirculated dollar bills with special serial numbers for only $5.95. You can get �Year of the Horse� notes (with serial numbers beginning with 8888), Lucky 777 notes, and �Prosperity notes�, among others. The web page for the Prosperity notes points out that the �note is an ideal gift for a family member or friend that you want to extend well wishes and the hope that they will become wealthy and remain prosperous.� Perhaps it should instead note the improbability of remaining prosperous if you keep spending $6 to buy $1 bills.

"Captain, I sense ... hostility." PvP started making fun of John Edward, a television psychic who purports to contact deceased friends and relatives for people. Immediately after this, the author of the strip started getting hate mail from people pissed off at him for mocking John�s �powers�. Please. Remember, �Crossing Over with John Edward� airs on the Science Fiction channel.

"Dude, where's my car salesman?" Meredith and I went shopping for cars. We had a bad visit to a Toyota dealer, then an OK visit to a Honda dealer, and finally a good visit to a Volkswagen dealer. The Honda dealer was OK until the very end, when he reported that they had no brochures on any of their cars and that he was out of business cards. Oh, and if we came back in, just ask someone else to help us. Umm... Meredith wasn�t very impressed with the Civic (the engine noise seemed a bit much, like the car was working way too hard), and the Accord was OK. The Volkswagen dealer, though, took us seriously the whole time, and engaged both of us equally in conversation. We looked at the Passat, and were really impressed with it.

"My parents didn't need a V-chip; they had the V-belt!" As I was getting my hair cut today, I listened to the conversations of the two boys (ages 10 and 8) and their mother as they got their hair cut. (I�m normally incredibly good about not listening to conversations I just don�t care but they were more challenging to tune out than most.) Part of the conversation involved discussing various Jerry Springer episodes the three of them had watched together. I�m not sure that I�m really emotionally mature enough to deal with Jerry Springer (ok, maybe the problem isn�t not enough maturity). One of the curses of my job is the fact that I am incredibly well versed in daytime television offerings, since I work on a satellite TV receiver. Frankly, it�s all pretty bad. But Jerry Springer is still really near the bottom of the list. I just can�t even imagine letting children that young watch it.

(thanks to Chris, one of my college roommates, for the observation so many years ago on the absurdity of the V-chip)

Posted by Mike at 08:47 PM

April 11, 2002

Moving Right Along

"It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick one up." At least, that's what my wife has been saying over and over again for the past several days. Sunday night, we finally bought her new car. We wound up getting a new Volkswagen Passat from Stevens Creek Volkswagen. (Meredith says she's been waiting to use that line since she was 13.) The car is really nice. The only problem is that the CD player they installed for us doesn't seem to actually have any connection to the amplifier. Oops. At least that should be easily fixed. Stevens Creek VW (a) was pleasant to deal with, (b) had the color Meredith wanted. This is the same color that one dealer told us wasn't in stock anywhere in the Bay Area, and another dealer (Bob Lewis VW on Capitol Expressway) said didn't exist at all with the options that Meredith's car, in fact, has. The salesman we talked to at Bob Lewis VW was the personification of sleazy car salesman. Oh well. At least it's over. Now to sell her old Honda Accord...

It's a bird -- it's a plane -- it's ... on the bird The 3.5 release of the UltimateTV software finally shipped. Shipping a new rev of UTV means that it gets sent to the DirecTV satellite, where it's beamed to everyone's home to enjoy. The feedback we've gotten about the update has been very positive, which is always nice. It's always nice to ship.

Movable Blogs After using Pivot initially with my blog, I decided to switch to Movable Type. I initially chose Pivot because my old hosting provider didn't support one of the Perl modules required for MT. My new hosting provider does, however, and Pivot, while nice (nicer in some regards than MT) has a few bizarre bugs that had been pretty annoying. So, I figured I'd try MT for a while. A lot of people I know are using Movable Type and say good things about it, so...

"It's the pedal on the left, damnit!" An empty American Airlines Boeing 767 rolled away from a maintenance hanger at LAX, stopping after going through a fence and sticking out over a nearby road. Airport officials claim that the problem stemmed from some kind of mechanical error. Sounds like the error was that someone forgot to set the brake.

"Well sir, there's nothin' on earth like a genuine, bonafide, electrified, six-car monorail! What'd I say?" What to do if you just really, really like monorails? Build your own in your backyard. I'm sure the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association would just love it if I tried this. (Not that it would fit in our postage-stamp-sized back yard. But still.) Freaky...

Posted by Mike at 10:30 AM

April 13, 2002


Which action filmstar are you?
Which action filmstar are you?
I found this site which tells you which action movie star you are. As you can see on the right, it tells me that I'm Bruce Willis. When I told Meredith, she said, "Well, duh." Hmm...

Thursday night I got together with meriko for dinner at Viognier in San Mateo. It was really nice to get together, and the food was quite good.

Today I'm off to the car dealer while Meredith is at church. It seems the dealer forgot to give us one little piece of paperwork -- specifically, the temporary proof of registration. That seems important. Meredith tried to pick it up earlier in the week, but there was no one there who knew where the paper was. And the CD player still isn't hooked up. Buying a car just can't be simple, I guess.

My favorite Counter-Strike server has been down this week because the company that was hosting the server fell over and died. I'm learning that most public Counter-Strike servers suck. The whole thing that makes the game interesting over other games is that there's such an emphasis on it being a team game. Unless, of course, you're just selfish and only care about racking up individual kills. Except that even that usually doesn't work, because you'll just end up being the lone person left camping against a squad of players that actually knows how to work as a team, and they'll hunt you down and kill you. But many people don't seem to be able to learn this. Oh well.

I was grateful for the weather this week, and the fact that I can start biking to work again. Daylight savings time helps a lot, since it means that I'm not biking home on Stevens Creek Trail in near total darkness. The other option is to bike down well-lit Shoreline Blvd., which is a mile shorter, but makes me feel afterwards like I've just spent the ten-minute ride sucking on an exhaust pipe. Or several exhaust pipes.

Posted by Mike at 12:41 PM

April 14, 2002

I am Jack's rambling blog

Al noted this morning that he hadn't realized that my blog had been updated recently because there was no mention of it on the home page. So now, in honor of Al, there is a link from the home page and the updates page that should automatically update every time I add a new entry. It's all part of the service that I, the author, try to impart for you, the faithful viewers. (Or something like that...)

The car dealer had the vehicle registration, but there was no one there on a Saturday to look at the CD player. Oh, and since they're a new dealership (i.e., small), their service department is located a bit further away. Like by the San Jose airport. No, buying a car just can't be simple, it seems.

Last night, we watched Fight Club. It's an amazing movie. Meredith hadn't seen it before. I'm not sure she loved it quite as much as I did, but she liked it. Watching centers of commerce collapse to the ground in giant explosions feels a little different now than it did before September 11, but the movie is still great.

All day yesterday, CNN.com was running "Pamela Anderson to marry Kid Rock" as one of their main headlines. Umm ... who cares?

It's been a week of accidents. A week ago, one of Meredith's classmates from Yale accidentally cut his hand while cooking. Turns out he severed some nerves, an artery, and both flexor tendons in a couple of fingers. He'll be OK, despite the whole process being "exquisitely painful". Then yesterday, a friend from church, celebrating his 15th birthday, was biking to church for a Godspell rehearsal when something happened and he veered into a parked car at at full tilt. He's not quite sure what, because he suffered a mild concussion and doesn't remember anything at all about what happened. Someone else found him as he was coming to, lying by the car. He'll be fine, and was well enough to be in church this morning. Hopefully it's not that a driver forced him off the road into the car and then didn't bother to stick around. Scary...

Posted by Mike at 05:54 PM

April 17, 2002


"Oh, you mean this gate key" We recently noticed that a deposit we had made during the process of refinancing our home loan hadn't yet been returned to us, despite the fact that the refinancing closed two months ago. I called the mortgage broker, who said, "wasn't that handled in your closing?" No. "Well, we probably just mailed the check back to you." No, you cashed it. "Oh, well, that's odd." The next morning, I got an voicemail saying that oh, my goodness, we don't know how that could have happened, it was a miscommunication with accounting ... blah blah blah... the check is in the mail.

"One of these things is not like the others..." The curse of a job where you work on a satellite TV receiver all day is that you're forced to watch a lot of daytime television. Today I saw the episode of Walker, Texas Ranger where Chuck Norris goes undercover as a Mexican immigrant. Umm... I know all the criminals on that show are dumber than bricks, but, umm, ...

"But you might feel better if I gave you some cash" This week, a report came out clearing a Columbine police officer who had been accused of firing the shots that killed one of the students during the massacre there. The report concludes that -- are you ready for this? -- the student was killed by Eric Harris, one of the two psycho gunmen. Well, that's certainly a shock. While the events of that day were surely a terrible tragedy, the numerous accusations and lawsuits that have followed surely form a tragedy in themselves. How long will it take to rebuild the community while lawsuits drag on for years, and money that could go to rebuilding instead goes into trial costs? Also this week, the mother of the teenage pilot who flew a Cessna into a building shortly after 9/11 last year filed suit against the manufacturer of a prescription drug he was taking, alleging that the drug made him crazy. Yeah, that's the ticket.

"Time, don't let it slip away..." This week, I had church events Monday and Wednesday nights. Meredith did (and does) Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. And Saturday morning and afternoon. I wound up skipping the thing I was supposed to go to at church Monday, in no small part because of the desire to actually see my wife for more than an hour this week. Clearly we need to do a better job of scheduling in the future.

Posted by Mike at 06:25 PM

April 19, 2002

He shoots, he scores!

Tomorrow I get to go to a San Jose Sharks playoff game. Mark, a manager at work, offered me an extra ticket. I've only managed to see the Sharks play a couple of times, and this is the first NHL playoff game I'll have gone to. Meredith unfortunately can't go, since she's tied up at church. (Or, perhaps, not so unfortunately from her perspective -- hockey isn't really her thing.)

As though I didn't have enough video games to waste time on, I got Jedi Knight II yesterday from Amazon. It looks fun so far, although the Star Wars theme music starting up every time a Storm Trooper starts shooting at you gets old by about the fifth time.

Meredith finally got the CD player hooked up in her car. She took it to the service department, who initially told her that it would take 2 1/2 hours to do the work. Then half an hour later, the service manager came up to her and said, "We have a question about your car. Ummm ... you already have a CD player installed." "Yes." "So what do you want us to do?" "Hook it up." What were they doing that half-hour? At least now, maybe she's done with the process of buying this car. If only we were done with the process of selling her old one. (Or even started with the process.)

We finally had someone come work on our lawn yesterday. With my allergies, the prospect of mowing pollen-covered tall grass didn't appeal very much. We had called a gardener a couple of weeks ago, who quickly came out, gave us an estimate, and promised to return the following week to start work. The week came and went; no gardener. I called him on Friday. No response. Called Monday: "If I don't hear from you in 24 hours, I'll assume you can't do this." That elicited a response. Oh well. It does now look about a hundred times better. Now we could walk in our back yard without fear of snakes. (Not that we have snakes here. But you could have hidden a small farm animal in parts of our back yard.)

Posted by Mike at 05:25 PM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2002

He shoots, he ... oh, wait, he didn't shoot

The Sharks game was fun, but they lost. It was a good defensive game early on, but then the Coyotes scored a goal and the Sharks got way too defensive. From that point on, even on a couple of power plays, the Sharks didn't get too many shots on the goal. The final score was 3-1. The seat I had was amazing -- 14th row, lower deck, center ice. Nice...

"Flawed, flawed, flawed, flawed!" Our fine city's mayor has been convicted of "knowing and willful misconduct". Perhaps as disturbing as the conviction itself has been the reaction of so many of his supporters. He wasn't found guilty of a second charge of "corrupt misconduct", leading Dale Kuersten, president of the Mountain View Professional Firefighters Union, to say, "He didn't step over any moral lines. That's the most important thing." His conviction stems from the fact that he violated the hierarchy mandated by the city charter by bossing around several city employees without going through the rest of the council or the City Manager. It's a little hard for me to see how this isn't crossing any moral lines. At any rate, we'll be glad to see him gone from the Mountain View City Council.

Meredith and I went to see Changing Lanes last night. It was a really good movie. The story starts out as the two main characters, played by Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson, get into a minor car accident. The ads made it look like the rest of it was the two trying to get revenge on each other. And, indeed, that is part of the movie, but it's also about how it changes each of them. We really enjoyed it. Even if Jackson is a much better actor than Affleck. Not that Affleck was bad in this role, just that Jackson is great.

We also saw a preview (one of about six total) for the latest Tom Clancy book to become a movie, "The Sum Of All Fears", starring Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan. I am a little worried about this.

And now, for our final word: Al.

Posted by Mike at 09:06 PM

April 24, 2002

People who are different

Erin sent this link: imagine having the redneck neighbor from hell. This guy decided to document his experiences with his neighbor online. It's hilarious, in a scary, "thank God I don't have this neighbor" sort of way.

CNN.com had a story about a man who bit off his two-year-old son's thumb. Because he wanted to 'mix their DNA'. And then held the thumb in his mouth for six hours. And was finally caught because he was running naked down a street. Seems the man was on PCP. It occurs to me that every single time I see a story about someone doing something this completely insane, the story involves PCP. Always. Scary stuff, that.

Oddest search query to lead to our site: "pictures of womens feet covered in mud", which leads to Meredith's trip journal for her trip to Tonga last summer. Yeah...

Posted by Mike at 10:02 AM

April 25, 2002

It's all their fault

"Seize The Day" What possible good could come out of the current pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church? Well, if you're a right-wing demagogue, you could turn it around into a chance to blame it all on gays. Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit is quoted saying, "it's not truly a pedophilia type problem but a homosexual type problem." The "Family Research Council" has weighed in with similar logic. Good thinking! Some people never miss a chance, I guess. Presenting a view based in reality, MSNBC today had an article off their home page that takes this assertion apart and exposes the absurdity behind the argument that if the church could just weed out homosexual priests, all their problems would go away.

Posted by Mike at 12:43 AM

April 27, 2002

Newton was right!

Recently, I keep seeing a pickup truck that says 'www.gravityworks.com' on it. It's a pickup truck with a bunch of construction equipment in it, and I've seen it around some of the numerous construction sites that are currently in downtown Mountain View. I wondered what kind of construction business would have such a URL, and what it meant. Was it an affirmation? Somehow related to their particular construction specialty? I finally got around to looking, and it's an amusement park ride company. Given that none of the aforementioned construction sites involve amusement rides (so far as I know), I guess the construction company just sold the advertising space on the truck to them. Weird.

In the most recent edition of the Mountain View Voice, there's an ad for a company offering 50% off CT scans to "detect health problems". I've never heard of anyone getting a scan like this just because. What a scam. Their site does mention that insurance is "unlikely to cover the service." Duh.

Meredith and I saw Kept last night, the final TheatreWorks performance this season. It was outstanding -- easily, I think, their best performance this year. Oddly, the sound had a lot of problems, which is unusual for TheatreWorks. But the play was wonderful. Just one more weekend left in its run.

bomb blast
Further proof that Nevada is just a weird state: they've created a special license plate with a picture of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb test. Whatever...

Posted by Mike at 09:54 PM