Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas vacation recap

As I write this, we are still making our way up I95 from Florida. I didn't sleep well last night so after about 3 1/2 hours on the road this morning I have relinquished the keys to Chrissy somewhere in North Carolina. We are both working tomorrow but should be home by around 3 or 4pm today so all is good.

This trip has certainly been a busy one with visits to multiple theme parks, an Aquarium, and lots of good food.  On the way down we spent a night in Richmond with one of Chrissy's friends, then a night at dad's before hitting up Disney World for the day.  We mostly went to see the magic kingdom expansion but while there I made a great discovery; I can ride (at least some) roller coasters now.

We rode Splash Mountain twice, Big Thunder Railroad once, and much to my surprise, I even fit on Space Mountain for two runs! I forgot how much I enjoyed roller coasters. We ate dinner at Epcot and headed down to Mom's.

The dogs are just as plentiful (7) and crazy as ever. Somehow Mack manages to still get around despite being as large as a horse and 10 1/2 years old.  Mom & George are doing well also.

We managed to meat up with my stepbrother Sean before he headed off to NC and get in some mini golf too. Once Heather and Stacey were in town, we had dinner with everyone (Mom, George, Heather, Stacey, Pop Pop, Chrissy and I) at Stonewood grill and it was amazing.

Heather, Stacey, Chrissy and I all went to Busch Gardens Tampa on Sunday (with my renewed love and fitting in coasters) for another day of fun. While I did need a little assistance getting the harnesses fully strapped on most of the rides, I was able to ride all of the coasters I had planned on. I'll wait until I have had the plastic surgery to hit any more amusement parks though.

Christmas Eve we had the gift exchange followed by a  nice family dinner at Mom's. Chrissy had a few too many cosmos (followed by wine at dinner) so she didn't even make it to desert that night.

Christmas morning we drove up to dad's for our gift exchange and dinner there before Chrissy and I had to hit the road for Maryland. We made it up to Santee, SC last night and left the hotel early this morning before the weather got worse down there.  So, now we are still somewhere in North Carolina and the rain has picked up. I am going to shut my eyes for a few so I can be ready to take back over behind the wheel.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tragedy and Gun Control

I wasn't originally going to write this blog post yet, but my Twitter, Facebook and Google+ feeds are blowing up with gun control ranting on both sides.  On one side is the "OMG BAN THE GUNS" and on the other side is posting of articles about people getting killed with other thing like hammers and then the person asking, "So where is all the crying for hammer legislation?"  First, my prediction: Nothing will change.  The second this happen, every strongly pro-gun person dug in for a battle even before it started.

Ok, so here is my position.  I am fine with people owning guns.  I don't own any, and I have only gone shooting once in my life (trap shooting with a shotgun).  If I did decide a buy a gun, I would choose either a handgun if I felt the need for self-protection or a shotgun if I was mostly buying it for sport (trap shooting).  I am also more moderate in my pro-gun stance in that I would be perfectly fine with the assault weapons ban coming back into place and strict licensing and registration being required for ALL firearms.

Some of the....crazier...people I know would put up VERY strong protest to that because then "the government knows who owns the guns so they know who to go after first."  If our government and political climate were more similar to that of a country that can execute you only for your religious beliefs, I would buy that argument.  If things really did start to get that bad, there would be signs that started ahead of time and those super paranoid people would probably "bug out" at that point anyway and go into hiding.

As for the the right to bear arms, it doesn't say what TYPE of arms you are allowed to own in the constitution.  Does the right to bear arms mean you should be able to buy an AR-15?  How about an F16 with heat-seeking missiles?  It is currently almost impossible to purchase an automatic weapon and not too many people scream about that, so what does an AR-15 buy you instead of a normal hunting rifle, shotgun or hand gun?  I know people who have already started buying several guns (before this recent incident) because they were worried "Obama's gonna take our guns" (which also shows a gross glossing over of the fact that Congress would have to pass something first before the President can sign it).

I am also somewhat conflicted about my opinions on requirements such as trigger guards and gun locks.  If someone has a legitimate concern for public safety and have a gun as a result of that, they wouldn't be able to respond quickly to an intruder.  But if a child lives in the house, I am MORE in support of such devices though (or a small bio-metric gun safe that can be opened quickly).

Regardless, guns and gun control is a very complicated issue that strongly divides our nation.  Personally, I think we should try and solve things like the fiscal cliff before we worry about gun control.  I have no problem with the discussion occurring, but having it occur now won't accomplish much.  Nothing happened after the Congresswoman in Arizona was shot.  Nothing happened after the movie theater shooting.  Nothing happened after the mall shooting just weeks ago.

The Connecticut Tragedy and News Coverage

First, while it seems that Morgan Freeman didn't actually say that quote that everyone is sharing on Facebook, I very much agree with the sentiment.  Here is the quote:
You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why

It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. [name removed] and [name removed] are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody

CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.
I have heard that local news outlets and the police don't release articles about people who jump of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to prevent people from doing it just to get their names in the paper.  After the Batman theater shooting, some news outlets refused to print the shooters name or photos on their front page for the first day, but then he was plastered everywhere immediately after that.  I can understand sharing some of the information in the case of public safety (for instance, if the suspect is still at large) but if the suspect is already in custody or dead, don't publish their name.  Don't publish their photo.  Write articles that are about the victims, the act, and the motive, but not the person who carried out the event in the case of these "lone gunman" style attacks.  I even went so far as to remove the two names from the quote above.

Eventually their names and photo may have to be published so that law enforcement can reach out to the public to gather more information but even then, it does not need to be front page news.  Especially if they were killed during the act, there is very little to be gained by allowing them to live on in infamy.  If they are standing trial, publish those details once the trial is underway (which can also help prevent some bias on the part of the jury).  Also, stop using these types of incidents to try and start a conversation about gun control.  It is impossible to have a rational discussion about gun control in America during normal times, but that is infinitely worse immediately after incidents such as this have occurred.  I will write up another blog post about my gun control thoughts another time.  In the mean time, I will close with this.  First, I was relieved to learn that my College roommate's daughter was in a different elementary school 20 minutes away and was safe.  Second, I am going to publish the list of victims below. (Source USAToday)
Charlotte Bacon (2/22/06), 6 years old, female
Daniel Barden (9/25/05), 7 years old, male
Rachel Davino (7/17/83), Staff member, 29 years old, female
Olivia Engel (7/18/06), 6 years old, female
Josephine Gay (12/11/05), 7 years old, female
Ana M. Marquez-Greene (4/4/06), 6 years old, female
Dylan Hockley (3/8/06), 6 years old, male
Dawn Hochsprung (6/28/65), Principal, 47 years old, female
Madeleine F. Hsu (7/10/06), 6 years old, female
Catherine V. Hubbard (6/8/06), 6 years old, female
Chase Kowalski (10/31/05), 7 years old, male
Nancy Lanza, 52 years old, female (mother of shooter)
Jesse Lewis (6/30/06), 6 years old, male
James Mattioli (03/22/06), 6 years old, male
Grace McDonnell (11/4/05), 7 years old, female
Anne Marie Murphy (7/25/60), Staff member, 52 years old, female
Emilie Parker (05/12/06), 6 years old, female
Jack Pinto (05/05/06), 6 years old, male
Noah Pozner (11/20/06), 6 years old, male
Caroline Previdi (9/07/06), 6 years old, female
Jessica Rekos (5/10/06), 6 years old, female
Avielle Richman (11/17/06) 6 years old, female
Lauren Rousseau (June 1982), Staff member, 30 years old, female
Mary Sherlach (2/11/56), Staff member, 56 years old, female
Victoria Soto (11/04/85), Staff member, 27 years old, female
Benjamin Wheeler (09/12/06), 6 years old, male
Allison N. Wyatt (07/03/06), 6 years old, female

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened at the Office Holiday Party

I attended my office "Holiday party" today and one of my interns ended up sitting at the same table as me.  At one point they started handing out door prizes by drawing names out of a hat. The person to my right won one, I won the next one, and the person to my left won either the next one or the one after that (someone at another table may have won a prize in there).  They guy who won the first door prize said to my intern "Hey, you are next."  I jokingly said "He's an intern, only 'real people' can win prizes" and we all had a good laugh. Right after I said that, the person to the left of my intern won a door prize.  That's right, it literally skipped JUST my intern.  One other person at our table ended up winning a door prize as well.  After the last person at our table won, the intern would have been next again in the trip around the table, and I said "What do you expect, you have two strikes against you.  You are an intern, and you don't have a soul" (he is a ginger).  He wasn't too happy with me for having not won a door prize.  He swears I cursed him.  Granted, the door prizes were only $5.00 gift cards, but the timing of my original comment was just incredible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Speed doesn't kill, Δv does

People always like to say "Speed Kills" but really, it isn't the speed that kills, it is the acceleration when you hit something.  If speed killed, we would probably all be dead.  The earth's rotational speed at the equator is over 1,000 mph.  Our rotation around the sun is at 67,000 mph.  Our galaxy is moving at a blistering 600 km/s relative to the universe (600 km/s is about 1.3 MILLION miles per hour)[1].  Going 85 mph is not going to suddenly kill me.  Hitting a wall at 85 mph might do it though, but that is caused by acceleration.

This is why crumple zones exist.  The idea of crumple zones is to make a crash last as long as possible.  That may sound counter intuitive, but velocity = acceleration x time.  If you are going from 85 mph -> 0 mph, the idea is to extend the time to reduce the amount of acceleration and thus reduce the amount of force exerted on your body (because force = mass x acceleration). These are the things you learn in physics class.  I could do more math to prove the point, but why bother?

I will say there is some point where speed can kill when that speed is sufficiently different than the surrounding particles (such as air).  For instance, having something travel at 9/10s of the speed of light at ground level is bad!  For comparison, that is 604 MILLION miles per hour.  I don't know where that threshold is where things go from ok, to painful, to deadly, but people aren't reffering to such extreme speeds when they say "Speed Kills".

The point is, next time someone tells you speed kills, let them know they are wrong in the practical sense.  Well, unless it is a police officer who pulled you over, they might not find it amusing.

While having this discussion with a co-worker, she posed an interesting question which I have told her to submit to what-if.xkcd.com, so I won't spoil that by posting it here, but I hope it is picked because I would love to read the response to that one.

[1]: http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/971028e.html

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Exclusive Rights - And Why They Tend to Screw Consumers

A recent bit of good news actually came out about Netflix streaming and their new exclusive license with Disney.  Now, that is actually somewhat good for me, since I am a Netflix subscriber.  At the same time, I am reminded how much exclusive licenses piss me off and screw consumers.  Let's rewind.

Not that long ago, there were two different licensed NFL Football Video Games available on XBox.  Madden and NFL2K5.  Madden was $49, NFL2K5 was $19.  I bought NFL2K5 despite the fact that I had been a Madden fan-boy for years.  I was amazed by how good of a product NFL2K5 was and was glad I bought that one.  Shortly after that, Electronics Arts inked an exclusive deal with the NFL and the NFLPA, eliminating their competition in both price and innovation.  EA made tons of money, the NFL made tons of money, gamers got screwed!

2K Sports responded by inking a similar deal with MLB.  Surprise, surprise, same result.  MLB and 2K sports - Happy.  Gamers - Screwed!

As different studios sign exclusive deals with different streaming services, that means people who want to stream all of the movies they may want they have to subscribe to multiple streaming services.  Want to get all of the NFL games every week?  You'll be forking over money to DirectTV, even if you are streaming them ONLINE.

So, as a Netflix subscriber I am happy they inked their deal with Disney, but I feel bad for anyone who uses any other online streaming service.  Exclusive licenses mostly suck for consumers, but since they seem to be good for studios*, don't expect them to change.  *Except for the exclusive contract between MLB and 2K Sports, that apparently didn't work out well for 2K Sports.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Memories as a Car Guy

In case you didn't catch the hint already, I'm a car guy. If you hadn't gotten the hint already....wow....you must be dense.  Read the top banner again!

Being a car guy, cars are very tied to my memories.  Any time I think of a car that has any type of connection to me, I am also flooded with memories of people, events, and funny stories.  I'll run through a few of the cars that bring up the strongest memories really quick so you can see what I mean.

1993 Dodge Ram Conversion Van - This was the first vehicle that was my "daily driver" with it's V8 and 40 Gallon tank.  At the time, gasoline was around $.89-$.99 per gallon, so it was bearable, although I was in high school at the time.  Thinking of this behemoth makes me think of Mike Bounds hitting his head on the upper part of the raised roof (the rest of that story will not be put in writing, but let's just say he wasn't exactly thinking at the time).  You know what...that is the only detail I will go into with the van in this venue, but many of you know stories or have personal experiences in the van.

1994 Ford Explorer XLT - I think of driving to a play rehearsal in high school, again with Mike Bounds, thinking the Explorer was in 4WD.  Well, it wasn't.  I made the right hand turn into the school and the back end broke loose and I rotated an additional 90 degrees clockwise.  I steered in the direction I wanted to go, but ended up over-correcting and rotating the other direction over 180 degrees.  This lined me up perfectly to pull into part of the parking lot, so much so, that Mike's sister and her friend (who were in the lane leaving the school) apparently thought I did it on purpose to show off.  I also think of Physics AP when we had to make water-powered bottle rockets because the hand-powered pump we were using failed.  We had an air compressor in the Explorer so I pulled it around behind the school so we could use the electric pump to pressurize the rockets.

1986 Cutlass Supreme Coupe - That car makes me think of the graduation gift I received from Kirk Petri - 1 gallon of Anti-freeze.  Why?  I regularly picked Kirk & Chad up on my way to school. Shortly after I got the cutlass, the heater coil failed.  It took a week to figure out what the smell was and why the windshield kept fogging up, but we eventually found coolant on the passenger-side carpet under the floor mat.  Whooops! I also think of an ill-fated date to the Riverside in Old Ellicott City.

1983 Caprice - Thinking of that car reminds me of trips up to Westminster with my grandparents at Christmas to visit my Aunts and Cousins.  Why?  On our way home from one of those, due to snow, rear wheel drive, and a hill, we almost ended up in a road-side ditch.   I also remember other times in the back of that car when I would be impressing my grandmother by figuring out what cars were coming up behind us at night by looking at their headlights.

2000 Nissan Frontier - When I think of my old truck, I think of my Uncle Frank, and by extension my Aunt Mill.  Aunt Mill had passed away a few years prior, and when Uncle Frank passed away, the money we inherited plus some money from our grandparents my sister and I were both able to get new cars (Heather's Celebrity and my Olds were both having serious issues).  I got the Frontier, my sister a 2000 Rav 4.  I also think of all the great times Matt & I had driving the unpaved back roads of Fredrick, driving on the beach in Wildwood, NJ with Chrissy, and getting stuck in "the sandbox" with Chrissy freaking out.

This list just includes SOME of the cars that either I have owned or have been in my family.  There are many more memories tied to each of these vehicles, plus many other vehicles that aren't on this list.  Sometimes I don't even know why I make a connection.  What prompted this post?  This morning I passed a 70's Chevy Camaro headed in the other direction.  That was what my mom said she had for her first car.  It is also very similar to the car her cousin, my late Uncle Bud, had as his first car. A Firebird.   So, whenever I see one of those generation Camaro/Firebirds, I think of my mother and Uncle Bud who coached me in little league one season.

So, if you mention a car to me, and I drift off into some nostalgic trip down memory lane, it's because I am a car guy.






Saturday, November 24, 2012

Privilege and Success

@awindbynight shared an interesting article called Geeks and Privilege by Tom Morris.  I shared my thoughts on the article quoted below, but I wanted to expand on those thoughts more.
I was fortunate that I had access computers from a young age as well. Commodore 64/128, IBM XT, and so on. I also had internet access to help teach myself programming and access to programming classes in school to. I also knew a lot of people with the same benefits who tried CS and just couldn't cut it, so it is part both.
I want to delve into this a bit more.  Not only did I have access to computers at home, I lived in an affluent county with a strong school system.  My high school offered Pascal and C++ classes while I was there (I took both).  I also took Computer Science AP after hours at another high school (the last year it was offered in Pascal).  Had I not been playing with computers since such a young age, I might not have had the interest to take those classes though.  It is like a geek butterfly effect.

It someone didn't have the privileges I had, it is possible for them to overcome at least a percentage of that with motivation and hard work, but if you grow up in a town where the major source of employment is a steel mill, and most people don't attain college degrees, there is probably a good chance that is where you will end up with out a lot of hard work.  If I had those hills to climb, I don't think I would have ended up where I am today.

If someone does have the privileges I had, that doesn't mean they will automatically succeed either.  I know several people who had similar backgrounds to me that attempted to enter the Computer Science field and ended up dropping out of the major in college.  Others made it through college with a CS degree but then found that they absolutely hated it.  They have the know-how, they have the degree, but not the desire.

All things being completely equal in training, background and access to supplies, there still is an aspect of privilege.  In a world where it is hard to differentiate you from others in your field, it is often more of who you know, than what you know.  If you take two identical people in every way (not possible, but work with me) except one, connections, the more "connected" person will probably end up much better off.  Even if the connected person isn't as good, they are still likely to end up better off.

The last level of privilege is that I was born a white male.  This will usually work to my benefit just be default because of the makeup of the tech workforce, but enough has been written about this subject and I won't delve into that.

I'm not going to feel guilty for any of this, though. I acknowledge that things shouldn't be like this, but they are.  There are many that have been much more privileged than I as well.  The humanitarian in me says we should do something to grant access at least to the basic tools and training to those that want it (although I think forcing everyone to take those classes is bad).  But at the same time, I don't want excessive gov't regulation and spending to accomplish this.  Companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Apple already donate computers to schools.  There are also discounted or in some cases free software for students wanting to learn the tools.  But if a kid has to work a job every day after school to help support the family (to differentiate from a prat time job to learn responsibility and spending case) they may not be able to make use of those advantages.

Not sure why I felt compelled to write this, but I did, so here it is.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Maybe it is Just Me

I seem to have a cycle.  Find new office, love my job, management change happens, hate my job, start search for new office.  The question I am faced with is, it it just me?  Am I just that unable to adapt to a management change, or have I had the absolute worst luck when it comes to managers? I have tried several approaches.  I have attempted to express the reasons I am unsatisfied to change the course of events.  I have expressed these feelings to both my direct supervisor and their supervisor at times.  This occasionally leads to a temporary resolution of issues, but usually doesn't last long.  I have tried to find ways to just adapt to the changes that have occurred, which usually results in me resenting my job even more, and trying to hasten my departure.  I can't seem to keep myself in the state of mind to stay in the office after whatever change occurs.

So, am I the one who is the "problem" through my inability to adapt?  I hope not.  My desire to depart from my current office has existed for 5-6 months now, but I was trying to hold out until my project was completed.  Things continued to spiral downwards until about 2 months ago when I finally made the decision it was time to leave my office.  Several people had been trying to recruit me for one office, so I finally explored that option and decided it would be a good place for me to move to, but in the last two months, no progress has been made.  During this time, I have been wearing down more, growing weary of my current office and losing the drive that has allowed me to be so successful* the last 20 months or so.  *Successful as judged by my customers, not by my management, as was reflected in my performance review.

So, am I the problem?  Is there something about my personality, some failing, that doesn't allow me to adapt?  Maybe I am just drawn to offices that no one tends to understand and there are just few managers that are proper for the task.  I don't know, but I am burning out and need to move soon, or somehow rediscover my passion for my job until I can finally depart.  If I can't recapture that passion, and I am stuck where I am for a while still, I won't be able to produce the kind of work that I feel I should nor that my customers have come to expect, which would be the hardest change for me to adapt to.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I am a Track Rat Once Again

In the past two weeks I have spent a LOT of time on the Summit Point circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park.  Last weekend, I attended the NASA Fall Finale running in HPDE1, and on Friday I attended the final Friday at the Track of 2012 running in group 2i (group 2 with instructor).  This still means I have only attended 3 track events state-side, but all three of those occurred in the last two months.  The good, the Rabbit holds up very well on the track, especially after I updated the front brakes to R32 calipers and slotted rotors.  The bad, this is a very expensive hobby to have.  I really need to win the lottery.

Sometimes size does matter
Old rotors vs new

My goals for this year were pretty simple.  I wanted to go into next year not having to run in the lowest group because that group contains all of the people who are first-timers on the track and they don't know how to react, are very intimidated, and can't process all of the information coming to them (and thus forget to do things like point-by cars that are on their tail).  I also wanted to evaluate my skill (since it had been a few years), my car (the Rabbit had never been tracked before), and gauge how I wanted to proceed going forward with track days.  Most of that has been resolved now, it is just the "going forward" part that I am not too sure about yet.

NASA Fall Finale Day 2
Coming through Turn 10 on Summit Point Circuit

I succeeded on multiple fronts when compared to my goals.  The Rabbit handled remarkably well thanks in large part to the JOM coilover suspension, APR Carbonio Intake, Unitronic chip tune, AWE Tuning exhaust, and for the second and third events, R32 front calipers with ECS Tuning slotted rotors.  I also want to give a shout out to NGP Racing, since they did the coilover install and have done some other work on the car.  The car is still relatively under powered since it is a naturally aspirated 2.5l 5-cylinder, but unless I win the lotto, a power-train swap would not be possible.  Handling wise, I need to upgrade the front and rear sway bars to either OEM GTI sway bars, or even beefier aftermarket ones.  OEM GTI sway bars that someone has removed from their car would be the least expensive solution.  There are other modifications that should occur if I continue to track the car heavily, and I will address those at the end of this post.

Summit Point Turn 7 in the Rabbit
Notice the giant front brakes?

As for assessing my skill level, I can say that my skill level had not dropped off in any significant way in the years since my track time in Germany, and has now actually surpassed my original skill level.  While I don't have any official sign-offs for NASA events to move to HPDE2, my instructor during those events was impressed.  Given my status at Summit Point Friday at the Track events, it shouldn't be hard for me to skip to HPDE2 (or even 3) if I attend another NASA event at there. With the Summit Point Friday at the Track 2i group, I had an instructor for most of my first three runs.  I had a different instructor hop in the car during my third session, and he let me run solo for the last few minutes of session three and ALL of session 4.  With his, and my original instructor's signatures, I have been signed off to move to Group 2 SOLO in the future at Friday at the Tracks.  That also opens the opportunity to attend "Seat Time" events at Summit Point which allow me to even take a passenger along with me.  This makes Chrissy very happy.

Summit Point Friday at the Track 11-9-2012
Last run of the day solo through turn 10

Now comes the hardest part:  What are my plans going forward?  At the very least, I plan to attend many more events at Summit Point in the future, and the car will have to be able to withstand the abuse of double-duty because Chrissy will want to participate at least some in the events.  I also want to attend some NASA events at nearby tracks, such as New Jersey Motorsports Park, and Virginia International Raceway. Even a trip to Road Atlanta wouldn't be out of the question.  But how do I want to advance my "career" in NASA?  Do I want to work my way up to being an instructor (so I can get some free track-time)?  Do I want to consider competition, such as Time-trials?  Or maybe even the German Touring Car series?  Will I start competing in Autocross events? Time trials and actual racing would both actually increase my costs so I would have to hunt out some sponsors to offset my costs, and if I actually did want to compete, would I want to start over with a GTI for performance reasons ($$$$$$$$)?  Regardless of how I choose to advance, if I do plan on continuing this on a regular basis in the Rabbit, it will have to become more of a track car, and less of a street car.  It will be kept street legal though, because I still drive it on a regular basis.

Since it is a 2-door, we only use the back seat for actual people once in a blue-moon, so taking that capability away from the car is not a huge loss.  That allows for a roll cage to be installed in the rear of the car with a harness bar and racing seats with five point harnesses.  That would also help with the rigidity of the chassis going through turns.  So that brings the list of major upgrades still needed for track use to better anti-roll bars, cage, harnesses, racing seats, and upgraded rear brakes too.  Some "just barely street legal" racing tires would be good for the track events too.

So, now I need to decide where I want to go, and how I want to get there. I think becoming a NASA instructor would be awesome, but I have always wanted to be a "race car driver" so Time Trial at least gets that element of competition in there.  What to do, what to do?  Of course, I need to win the lottery first ;)

For more photos and videos, use the below links:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This was the most aggravating day I have ever had!

Quick note: I am not saying this is the worst day I have ever had, just the most aggravating.

The day began like MOST others.  The main difference was Chrissy wasn't feeling well so she was staying home.  I also had an afternoon meeting anyway so I was driving solo regardless.  I headed out early to try and make up time for having worked a short day the day before, and was having a nice, low-traffic commute to work (keep in mind, early for me means I left the house ~4:15 am).  I am MOST of the way through my commute when traffic comes to a screeching halt on Rt 32.  WTF?  I turn on the radio and find out that there is apparently an overturned car.  I spend most of the next 45 minutes IN PARK on Rt. 32.  There goes my plan for arriving early!

I get to work, have some minor annoyance emails to deal with, but then find out that someone has been accessing a page that they shouldn't have even been able to which has caused them to know 'administrivia' type information that they shouldn't.  JOY!  So, I have to lock that down, and make an apology of sorts to the people potentially affected.  This day is not looking up.  This is then followed by a chain of aggravating software development related decisions that stretch through most of the day.

At lunch, I also check my email to see if I have finally gotten the go ahead from Summit Point to register for Group 2 on November 9th.  Not only have I not received a response AT ALL, but registration is now FULL.  I even picked up an upgraded brake package for the Rabbit that I now won't be able to try on the track till at least MARCH :(  I really needed another track day to unwind, especially with how this day was already unfolding.

Now it's time to leave for my meeting.  Two of my co-workers and I are all going to the same meeting, but are going different places afterwards, so we all drive separate.  I was following one of them when I heard a loud noise as I drove over something in the road.  I hadn't seen it because I was following my coworker.  It was only later that I found out what it was I had run over.  More on that in a bit.  Due to some traffic, I pass my coworker and get down the road ahead of her a bit.  As I am driving along (at 60 mph) I notice the ride feels a little (not a lot, just a little) rough.  I am a little concerned, but it could have just been the crappy road surface, until the smell of burning rubber hits me.  I pull over (on the shoulder of 295), hear some horrendous noise from the right front, stop, and watch as smoke is rising from the wheel well.  I get out, walk around the car, and what do I see?  THIS:
Tire Down
That black clump in the bottom of the picture is rubber from my tire!

In case you can't quite tell, that is the sidewall of the tire that has mostly separated.  YAY!  Also of note, just after I saw the tire, my coworker went zooming by.  (To her credit, she did call once she got to where our meeting was to make sure everything was ok).  I pulled out the jack and lug wrench, loosened the lugs, and started jacking up the car.  This is where my haste comes into play, as the car rolled off the jack in my first attempt.  Fortunately, the wheel was still on the car and I was able to get the jack set in place again and start over.  Ok, tire off, go pull out spare....hmm....crap...this feels a bit mushy.  Sure enough, 20 psi :-(.  I throw it on anyway, and work my way to a convenient gas station (driving a bit faster than I should have to get there, but felt safer being at speed in traffic than going slowly even with flashers).

I get to the gas station and it requires $1.00 for the air pump.  I don't have any cash, so I have to go inside, pull cash out at the ATM (with an ATM fee of $3.00 from the ATM itself), and then buy something so I can get change.  I go out, fill up the spare, and head off to my meeting.  I made it JUST on time (finally, something good for a change).  The meeting/briefing then went horribly because I was very scatterbrained, and I also had to go back to my office after the briefing.  I was talking to my coworker before I went back to the office and found out that what I drove over was a folded up umbrella.  Best I can tell it punctured the sidewall (and maybe actually made part of that full tear).  So, now I head back to the office and just as I am considering leaving find out that THE BAY BRIDGE IS CLOSED!  FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.

I finally decide to suck it up and take the LOOONG way home (via Aberdeen) and head out of the office at 4:45.  I am a few minutes out from work when my wife calls to say that the bridge is no open, so I turn around and head that way, knowing traffic will suck, but it will still be better than going the long way.  5:39-5:40 I stop at the WaWa just before the bridge for some food and a drink, back on the road really quick.  6:15 I am FINALLY on Kent Island.  I also stop at Mr. Tire, and wouldn't you know, they don't have the tire I need in stock.

7:10-ish....I FINALLY make it home.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday at the Track

When I first registered for Friday at the Track at Summit Point Raceway I was disappointed that I had to run in Group 1 with an instructor given my past track experience.  That said, it was still well worth it and my prior experience definitely did make a difference.  For starters, the instructor normally takes the first lap or two behind the wheel in the first session but mine let me jump right in behind the wheel and drive from the get-go.  Unfortunately, although I turned the camera on for the first session, I forgot to hit record :(

Summit Point Friday at the Track 10/12/12
To see all of the photos, see my flickr album.

On each run, the instructor reviews your performance on your safety, mental alertness, and handling of the car on a 1-5 scale.  The first run, the instructor gave me 3s across the board (which he said was SOP for first timers at FATT).  The second run he upgraded me to 4s.  The Rabbit has fresh pads and brake fluid but there was some green fade on the first run.  My brakes were apparently smoking visibly, but they were strong and held up.  After the first two runs, it was time for the lunch break.

After lunch, with the car still taking a break before the next session, it was time for me to hit the skid pad.  There is a circular stretch of blacktop that is wet down by sprinklers where you steer a Ford Crown Vic while the instructor works the gas and break.  The basic idea is to keep the car as close to following the inside line as possible while the instructor intentionally makes the car under- and over-steer. This was incredibly fun and challenging.  Despite the fact that you are fighting to keep the car going in the correct direction, you can't help but laugh and grin constantly.

Immediately after the skid pad session, it was time for me to hop in my car again and hit the track.  I guess I should say that the track time REALLY shows how much of the performance on the track is the driver and how much is the car.  There were many cars that would easily pull on me on the straight: Corvettes, some fast Minis, an Aston Martin, Audis, BMWs, and more.  I would often end up catching those cars and having them hold me up in the corners though.  Once the video footage has finished uploading, you will see that there were a few laps where I was almost keeping pace with a Corvette and an Audi S5, and was faster than them everywhere except the straights.

So, back to session #3 on the track.  This run I had a new instructor because my instructor from the first two runs was now running one of the skid pad cars.  The session started off with a bang with me putting down good strong laps, and then suddenly the car wigged out.  I lost all power, and the oil pressure light went on as I pulled out of turn 2 and tried to accelerate.  I pulled off the track right where I was, shut down the engine.  We were far enough off the track for me to pop the hood and check the oil.  Everything seemed fine, nothing was leaking so I turned the car over again.  It turned over and ran fine but suddenly died one more time.  I gave it one more chance to turn over and it fired up and ran smooth.  The oil pressure light stayed off and the instructor gave me the option of continuing on, or just trying to limp back to the pits.  I decided to cross my fingers, hope it was a fluke and press on.  The rest of that session, the car ran great.  I watched a car slide off track in a corner right in front of me but that was just because he locked them up in the braking zone.  He was able to get back on track and continue on, and to this point, at least in Group 1A, the day had gone well.

My instructor from Session 3 was actually surprised by how composed I was on the track until I explained to him about my past track experience in Germany.  As the checkered flag flew, he said he had no problem signing me off to advance to Group 2i, so I would just need to find another instructor for session 4 of the day and get them to sign off so I could advance.  He also filled out the last part of the review which is a rating of how much of my car's capability I was using.  The first instructor had forgotten that section.  He rated me as a 7.5-8 out of 10 for how much of my car's performance I was making use of.  I then had to track down my instructor from the first two rounds and have him check off the same value from my first two runs.  I was now one step closer to being able to move onto Group 2i!

After a break, it was time for my final session of the day.  I found an instructor, and we were off.  My run was going amazingly well.  This is the session where I was actually being held up by the Audi S5 and Corvette at times and was turning in similar lap times to them with their advantage coming from their speed and acceleration on the straights.  With just minutes left in the session, the Mustang GT driver that I had spent time talking to through the day lost it between turns 4 and 5 after dropping two tires off the track.  I didn't witness the actual spin, but I came around the corner right after it happened and the red flag came out. He can be seen off in the grass near the end of my session 4 video (which finished uploading as I write this).  Fortunately, he was OK, but I felt really bad for him.  The track was red flagged, and since I had to stop immediately rather than have a cool-down lap, smoke was coming up from my front brakes and over the hood of the car.  Once the red flag was lifted in favor of the black flag, we pulled the rest of the way around the track and into the pits to end the day.   My instructor for the fourth round also gave me 5's across the board and signed me off for group 2i!

I was ready to roll out and call it a day, but none of the scheduled drivers for the skid pad had shown interest in going down, so I jumped at the chance for another trip down to the skid pad.  This time, I was the only student in the car so I got to take advantage of the full 20 minutes, and the instructor let us have some fun.  After that, I turned in my card and called it a day.  I can't wait to go again (although I first need to get my issue from Saturday sorted out first, but a blog post about that will wait till another time.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Taking Praise for My Work - Impostor Syndrome Part III

First, for background, read Impostor Syndrome and Impostor Syndrome Part Deux.

I received some significant praise via email from someone recruiting me to work in their office.  The praise was to the effect of "getting you over here is more important than -something else important-" and my Impostor Syndrome brain freaked the fuck out. My train of thought was literally "Holy crap, holy crap, I better be as good as they think I am." I had a follow on conversation with that person and more praise and confidence in my abilities were rained down on me, but that "Holy crap" voice kept going through my head all day anyway.

I also received some other praise today at work and the person explicitly said that I take criticism better than I take praise, and I really wish that wasn't the case, but it is true.  Leading up to my gastric bypass I even had to talk to a clinical social worker (it is part of their program to make sure you are ready for such a life changing event) and when asked to describe good qualities about myself, I became very uncomfortable and had a difficult time answering the question. 

So, has anyone else out there with impostor syndrome come to grips with how to accept praise or even better, overcome the syndrome?  

Enough about that.  One more day of work this week, and then Friday I will be out on the race track having some fun doing Friday at the Track at Summit Point raceway in WV.  Expect a blog post, photos, and video of that excursion when I get a chance.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

H2O International

This was the third year I have gone to H2Oi and the first year I registered the car in the show. This is also the third different venue I have seen H2Oi at and was my FOURTH show this year. (Waterfest, Vagfair and Dubs on the Boards being the other three)

Dubs on the Boards had its problems this year with people not knowing how to park, but it didn't turn into as much of a cluster fuck as H2Oi did due to shear magnitude.

This year H2Oi was at Fort Walley outside ocean city. The BABBQ on Saturday seemed to run well, but when Sunday rolled around things got bad. The first show arrivals were given plenty of room but then later arrivals ended up with nowhere to park and they were sent to spectator parking. At least this year didn't have a field become unusable because of rain.

The organizers have solicited feedback on how to run the show better but since this will be kind of lengthy I will post it here and send them the link.

Idea 1: measure out and mark the show parking area. Chalk, paint, whatever. Mark it so cars face opposite directions with a smaller gap between trunks and a row to drive in front. This would allow for better use of whatever space there is. This goes along with idea #2.

Idea 2: park classes together. Since the parking is now marked you can direct different classes to different rows. 

Idea 3: option of off site parking for spectators. This one is less likely to be implemented/have an affect unless the show is somewhere in OC proper.

Idea 4: Allow show cars a window of 1 hour before any spectator cars are allowed in.

That said, I don't envy them. They have a tough task. I didn't have any issues w/ this years show but I wasn't out getting stupid drunk Saturday night so was in place in the show car area just before 9am.
Maybe non of my ideas can work for the venue but I thought I would share my thoughts.

Monday, September 24, 2012

HELP BUILD THE GODDAMN TESLA MUSEUM!

There is a campaign going on to raise money to purchase Tesla's old lab to then turn it into a museum.  The campaign has been going on for a while and only has six more days to go.  If you haven't already, you should consider donating a few bucks to this cause.  Why?  Because it is Nikola Goddamn Tesla, that's why.  There is a pledge to match up to $33,333 of donations that occur between now and the end of the campaign, so get to.  For those who missed out on the beginning, they were attempting to raise $850,000 to go with a pledged $850,000 from NY State to put in a bid on Tesla's lab, Wardenclyffe.  The idea is to turn the lab into a Tesla museum.  They are now sitting at over $1.2 million in donated funds with any of the excess above the cost of the land purchase going towards turning it into an actual museum.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Home of the Stupid Round 2 - Fight

The same person who posted the wall post I mentioned in my last Home of the Stupid post made another wonderful gaff today.
So now the pictures from Egypt come out of those animals dragging the ambassador through the streets.... Not carrying him to the fing hospital. This administration is a God damn disgrace. Someone needs to drag them through the streets!
*sigh*  I wish people would be informed of these things called facts.  Nothing happened to the American ambassador in Egypt.  My reply was as follows:
Please get your facts straight...The ambassador that was killed was in Libya, not Egypt. And second, the Libyans in photos such as the one here in the linked article are attempting to get him to help and there weren't any ambulances around.
I then linked to an article I found online that showed one of the photos of Libyans trying to get him to safety.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stormed Out of my Performance Review

Today, I did something I have NEVER done in my career.  I stormed out of my performance review.  The thing is, it's not exactly what you think.  First, a little back story.

Let's make an imaginary rating system where you can get anywhere from a 1-5.  A 3 means you did your job, nothing more, nothing less.  A 5 means you did awesome things, and a 1 means you failed horribly.  In theory, the distribution of employees, if objectives are written properly, should be somewhat like a bell-curve, possibly skewed to the higher-end a bit (with the center around 3.2 maybe).  Ok, that's all fine and dandy.  But wait....we don't want to hurt people's feelings, so we need some rules.  If you want to give someone a one, you have to tell them months in advance, to give them a chance to do their job.  You have to repeatedly tell them "You suck" and do that over and over again until they fail or finally get motivated.  Even then, they can fight the rating and cause you headaches.  To give someone a 2, you at least have to warn them months in advance.  This all means more work for your boss, so it is easier to give people a 3 and just be done with it.

Alright, so now we have a 3-5 scale realistically....but wait....we can't give out 5s.  No one deserves a 5.  You have to walk on water to get a 5 and no one can do that, so we are down to a 3-4 scale, with 3 being everything to sucked ass->did your job and the rest of the scale (with one decimal point precision) is exceeded your expectations.  But Managers won't want to rate someone who succeeded with the same score as someone who failed, so it really becomes a micro-chasm of the overall scale from 3.0-4.0 being similar to 1-5.  Now stick a roughly bell-curve in that, and ~3.5 will become an "average" employee.  This is how the system ACTUALLY works, but not how it is supposed to work, so imagine all scores skewed to this reality.

Next, in steps a manager that is going to use the 3-4 for what they are supposed to be AND FOR THE EXTREMES.  So, if you really should get a 1-3, you get a 3.  If you should really get a 4-5, you get a 4.  Now you are lumping the employees who do their job with the worst of the worse.  This is where it gets complicated for me with my impostor syndrome, but if everyone keeps telling you that you do great things, you come to expect a score that is good (on the 3-4 with 3.5 being average scale) and you get a score that is good on the 1-5 w/ 3 being average scale, you will be disappointed and at a strategic disadvantage to those who were scored on the idea that 3.5 is the average.  So, that brings us to the first problem, wherein I found myself in this situation and my boss seemed to shrug off my concerns.

Rub # 2 was me stating that I was feeling that management didn't appreciate the work I have done (specifically the boss I was talking to, the deputy actually shows appreciation).  My boss reacted as though I was a head case that needed constant reassuring that I was doing good work.  That wasn't the point of my statement, I just want you to acknowledge I do good work, considering how much the customers say that.  If all I ever here from you is negative stuff, that will shape my opinion of you.

At this point, I was very frustrated, so I said that I was getting to the point where I was ready to head out the door (of the organization).  There are lots of people who will attest that I have done good->excellent work, and my project is where it is largely because of my hard work.  If I were to leave, there would be a significant impact on the project.  My boss reacted, not by saying "Let's talk through this" or "what can we do" but instead saying "do what you have to do."  WOW!  Feeling the love again there.  Apparently you care so little for me or my project that you don't care if I leave?  Wow.

Slight interjection - I don't handle anger and frustration well unless I have an outlet.  That outlet can be the ability to flog my car around a race track, yell at the top of my lungs, or punch something inanimate.  None of these are possible at work.  When I don't have an outlet, I tend to start shaking, my voice trembles, and my eyes tear up out of frustration as I try to hold in the massive yell I want to let out.  This is the point I was at.

With my trembling voice I said "This conversation is not going to be constructive, I need to go." and got up and started walking away.  My boss tried to stop me and I said "I have learned that when I am this happy, I need to walk away."

This was in the afternoon after I had been at work about 8 1/2 hours.  Two hours later I had a meeting that my boss was also planning on attending.  My boss showed up a bit late, and left early, but fortunately was there for the part of the meeting that was largely praise of my project, my efforts and my team.  It felt like a bit of vindication, and after one of the compliments, I am sure I had the biggest grin on my face when I said thank you as my boss looked pissed off in the back of the room.  That said, I still need to "do what [I] have to do" and am weighing my options.  It is obvious that my boss either doesn't have my project's best interest, my best interests or both in mind and it is becoming a toxic situation.  I don't want to leave my user base, but this is the last straw.  I am exploring my outs, and will be talking to the boss one level up to see if there are any tenable options that involve me staying there, but that is unlikely.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Politics Post of a Different Kind

Lots of people will write political posts about their beliefs but they are choosing the topic of their post.  I am going to do something a little different.  I will open the floor for questions from my readers.  Ask here, on twitter, on Facebook or via email and I will compile a group of them to write a post about.

UPDATE: The questions can only be about issues, not about candidates, who I plan to vote for or who I would endorse.  Example: You can ask me my opinion on public programs, legal rights, etc...

Monday, September 17, 2012

SHHHHHH!.....Can you smell that?

"SHHH!  Can you smell that?" I knew I had heard that line in a movie, but had to look it up.  That is from Ghostbusters,  Your first reaction is to laugh and think "WTF?" but in a way it makes sense.  Sometimes, humans just can't handle much multitasking.  By getting the other person to quite down, it is easier to focus on your sense of smell.  I am pretty sure I have done pretty much the exact same thing (had someone shut up so I could focus on locating a burning smell).

Another question I have heard asked before is "Why do we turn down the radio when we get near our destination?"  I have two answers for this.

  1. Speed sensitive volume is still not a feature found across that many cars.  When you are near your destination you are probably going slower and thus there is less wind/road noise, so you don't need the radio as loud
  2. If you are going somewhere you have never been before, you may not want the movie distracting you while you are looking for your final destination.  
So, next time you think you smell something and want to be sure...make sure to say "Shh! Can you smell that?" It might just help.  And this is the kind of crap that goes through my head at 5am while driving to work.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Facebook - Land of the Free, Home of the Stupid

Someone I went to high school with who I am friends with on Facebook, said something that made me cringe on many levels.  It was so bad, I even uploaded it to Failbook.  I am sure I will get some backlash for making this into a blog post, but I am at least leaving the name of the person out of it.  Here are the words he originally posted:
Its time someone flex's some good old USA power and bomb Tiananmen Square to show the Muslim Brotherhood why you don't attack the US embassy. Doubt Obama will sack up and go against his own to stand up for the USA.....typical.
I made a smart ass comment that I think said "Egyptians storm the US Embassy so let's bomb China???" but since he has deleted the original post to fix the "Tiananmen Square" double error (if you include spelling), I can't see what my exact wording was.  Anyway, I made that comment as that was the EASIEST thing to poke at in that post without having to go down the political argument black hole because that is just a geography fail.  The rest of the post still makes me angry though.  Here are the reasons why:

  1. "Doubt Obama will sack up and go against his own" appears to be a reference to the commonly spread rumor that Obama is a Muslim.  This horse is ALMOST as dead as the birth certificate crap.  
  2. Unless the attack on the embassy was orchestrated, condoned or supported in some way by the Egyptian government, why would we have any recourse against the country as a whole?  That is like saying a group of Americans attack a foreign embassy in the US and so that country can bomb Time's Square.  REALLY?  Even if it was supported by the government, how does that justify us dropping a bomb on a square that will be full of innocent civilians.  (Keep in mind that until earlier this year, my sister LIVED in Cairo).
  3. "flex's" - enough said
These types of posts, that I frequently see on Facebook, make me ashamed to say I am Republican. Granted,  "True Republicans" (whatever that means) would probably call me a RINO since I am not saying that we should run our country according to the Bible, and hold some "non-Republican" views.  

The joy and curse of the US, is people are free to write whatever they want (with a few exceptions, such as death threats, etc...).  A curse, because I see stuff like this pop up all the time.  A joy, because I can then tear it to pieces.  But posts like the one above also give extremists ammo in their "hate America" rhetoric, showing how we have no respect for the lives of people living anywhere but the US and only care about ourselves.  So, while I am grateful for freedom of speech, I wish some people would have a filter installed for their own well being.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Imperial March - aka the drive to work

I have a long commute. In fact some people say insanely long. The 68 miles each way still only takes 75-90 minutes which many people who live closer to where they work spend just as much time on the road. It used to be that the commute was my opportunity to get the cobwebs cleared out of my brain in the morning and let the days events sink in at the end of the day. That is not so much the case anymore.

My mornings are now usually spent dreading the day ahead and the afternoons a time to stress over what didn't get done and what messes I would have to cleanup the next day. What changed? My management, their expectations and my amount of responsibility all changed. What hasn't changed in a couple years? My pay.

I used to work in relative autonomy without management interference because I got things done. The things I got done were also the technical things I was hired to do. This lead to a Mike that looked forward to going into work and solving problems. Contrast that with management expecting me to do management type work taking away from the time doing the work I am good at. At the same time they now need to approve every schedule change, so they are micromanaging me while expecting me to manage.  The most frustrating part of the micromanagement is they don't fully understand what I do. It's like I jumped from an awesome job into a Dilbert comic strip. This is also adding onto my imposter syndrome to boot (since it makes it feel more like there is a problem with my work since they are putting me under the microscope).

A combination of imposter syndrome and dedication to my users makes it unlikely I will actually go anywhere soon, but the scales are getting close to tipping in the other direction. Instead I will just sit here and bitch about it when I know nothing will come of it (other than maybe a few more quasi job offers on top of the two I have received).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Damage Already Done

After losing 300 lbs, in theory, my body should be much happier with me. In many ways this is true: less frequent migraines, lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular health, and more energy. In other ways, too much damage had already been done over the years resulting in physical pain that has actually increased as I lost weight for various reasons.

The first to kick in was my heal spur. Ironically this one got worse because I became more active while losing weight and despite the custom orthotics still gives me regular pain when walking. My knee, which had always hurt, began hurting more recently which has lead to a diagnosis of "moderate arthritis" and a plan to inject lubricant into my knee after the cortisone shot didn't last very long. The latest to flare up in a serious way is my shoulder which gets very painful if I sleep on my side, but sleeping on my back is uncomfortable sometimes and sleeping on my stomach is also somewhat difficult because of my CPAP.

I can't undo the damage I did to my body from carrying as much weight as I did, but it certainly makes like much more difficult than it should be at my current age. I also can't take anything other than Tylenol for the pain as NSAID drugs would be too harsh on my stomach. Hopefully these lubricant injections in my knee will help that. I go for a consult with a plastic surgeon tomorrow about starting to have excess skin removed which may help as well (especially with lower back pain), but the damage is already done. At this point, it is like I am ship that sustained damage at sea but will never be able to go back to dry dock to make repairs. The crew is just working to make sure no additional damage occurs and the ship stays afloat. Some corrections may be possible, but a complete repair is not. This is also another factor in why I have been down in the dumps recently.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Freedom of Religion/Separation of Church and State

This article caught my eye "First Amendment prayer fight splits Georgia town" because as I have said, I am an atheist, but I feel people are free to believe whatever they want.  So just from that title, I figured I would read more into it.  The jist is that a school district in Georgia had "school sponsored" prayer before sporting events, much the way there is an invocation at the beginning of each NASCAR race.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school board and in response they have stopped the sanctioned prayer.  In "protest" a bunch of people had their own private prayers and prayer circles before the game.  One of the people or organized the pro-prayer t-shirts said "Everybody has their rights, but so do I, and it's not right for one person to say that I can't pray."

Guess what? No one was saying you CAN'T pray. They are only saying the school district can't sponsor it, sanction it or broadcast it over the PA system. If you want to have your own prayer, or a prayer with a group before the game, go ahead. But you can't force everyone else to participate by broadcasting it through the stadium at a government sanctioned event. You also can't punish people for not participating. I hate when people see these types of things as an attack on their freedom of religion. No one is taking away your rights, they are protection the rights of the people who don't believe in your religion. If the school prayer was an invocation to Satan, or mentioned Muhammad, it would have been met not only with threats of lawsuits, but threats of violence as well. Religious tolerance in this country might as well be really viewed as tolerance of Christian religions. Even atheists get a bad name, but we aren't viewed as "evil" as Muslims by mainstream people.

Dubs on the Boards 2012 (More Car Content)

Dubs on the Boards was the third Volkswagen show I made it to this year and was the first time I ever entered my car in a show. (I registered my car in the "Exhibition" area at Waterfest this year, but that doesn't really count).  Since I am more of the introverted type, I mostly kept to myself but I did strike up a few conversations with the event organizer Marc (@dubnutt) and had a brief conversation with one of the other guys from Maryland who has a VERY nice bagged Rabbit (even though I am not normally a fan of bags, his car is nice).  There were a lot of "clicks" there of people who have known each other from previous years or other shows, and a bunch of clubs.  I did have a few conversations with random passers-by about the show though explaining how we had all these Volkswagen family vehicles on the boardwalk and answered some questions about my car.

Given the scale of the show, it went fairly well.  The first problem was people not knowing how to park AT ALL which caused a huge delay getting on the Boardwalk which kind of set everything back the rest of the day.  The vote tallying was also very delayed due to technical difficulties but that did give Marc a chance to make some announcements.  I knew I wasn't going to be winning anything given the state of my car, but how often do you get to drive on a boardwalk anywhere?  I snapped a ton of pictures of the various cars along the boardwalk.  I would have liked to take more of the photos from the crouched position but every time I would get down in the catcher like stance, my knee was making horrible horrible noises (thank you "moderate arthritis").  In all, I have uploaded 107 photos from the show (and may throw up a few more after making another pass of my photos).

With the change in parking planned for next year, hopefully the rolling up on the boardwalk will go smoother, and a faster vote tallying process would be nice (if I come up with any wonderful ideas, I will let them know).     Chrissy told Marc she would be happy to volunteer next year.  I look forward to making Dubs on the Boards an annual trip!  Maybe next time, my car will be more "show-worthy" and I will walk away with one of those cool trophies.  Up next for Klopfer is H2O International in a few weeks.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Been Down in the Dumps Recently

First off, I had written this blog post, in its entirety, last night on my phone on the way back from my cousin's wedding, but since the Blogger Android app doesn't auto-save posts and my battery was draining faster than the charger could provide while writing the post, my phone died and I completely lost the post I had written. This is my attempt to recapture all of my thoughts from that blog post.

I have been down in the dumps recently but it isn't any single one big thing, but rather lots of smaller things.  I am only going to talk about one category of things that all center around last Thursday, or in other words, my birthday.  Birthdays are supposed to be a happy time (although after 21, there really aren't any to look forward to until the "I am able to retire" birthday).  They serve as a good excuse to get people together and see family.  Unfortunately, I also have several bad memories associated with my birthday that taint the experience.  I am going to work backwards chronologically.

My birthday in 2009 was rather nice.  We had some friends over, had steamed crabs and had a great time.  We had a LOT of leftover crabs so we took some to my grandparents' house with plans of going back there later in the week for dinner because we were going to have home-made crab soup.  The night we were supposed to go there for dinner, my grandmother called and left a voice mail for me saying they had to cancel because they were going to the funeral home for a friend who had passed.  We planned a new date but unfortunately it would not come to pass as my grandmother suffered a stroke just a few days before we were supposed to go back there for dinner.  Because of this, I think about Mom Mom around my birthday and just wish we had gotten to have that one more dinner together before she passed.  The pain from this has faded in the last two years such that I mostly just reflect on good memories, but the pain is still there.

Rolling back a ways now to 1998.  I had been dating someone a good portion of the summer who I met while we were both interning at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.  I had just moved into my dorm at University of Maryland a day or two before my birthday, which was actually closer to her house.  I was supposed to head out there and pick her up and we were going to go out for my birthday.  Before I left, she sent me an IM that she wanted me to call her, and she proceeded to break up with me on the phone.    The relationship hadn't been very long, nor serious, but it still stung because it was my birthday, and I already had a somewhat negative feeling about my birthday at that point.  This doesn't affect me anymore, it was just another one of those shitting things that happened on my birthday.

Ok, now we hit the way-back machine and zoom back into my early childhood.  Some of my friends know what is coming next as I know I talk/bitch about it almost every year.  I will also say up front that I DO NOT want an email/phone call follow up about this.  I know this is a request that will probably be ignored, but it is worth a shot.

So, rewind to my birthday in either 85 or 86, I can't remember.  Location? Catonsville, MD. What happened? I was dressed up and walking down the isle as a ring-bearer in my father's 3rd wedding (which, incidentally, I didn't know was his third until much later on because I hadn't realized he was married before my mother).  My sister has pointed out that in some ways I got a pretty sweet deal that year as I received birthday gifts from people I probably never saw again, but that is like getting a free lobster dinner and then never being able to eat lobster again for the rest of your life.  This now meant my father was frequently away on anniversary trips on my birthday, and also led to an incident that to this day infuriates me when I think of it.  Sometime in college, they took me out to dinner for my birthday.  After getting wished a happy birthday, my step mother then interjects "Well, don't you owe us something?" I was very confused, ask what and she replied "It's our anniversary."  In my dad's defense, he did step in and say that wasn't fair of her but that situation shouldn't have existed in the first place.

Over the years I have tried to build other good memories around my birthday, but my birthday has felt cheapened for a very long time.  If you are single, and have children, the only days you need to avoid getting remarried is on your children's birthdays, which shouldn't be a problem unless you somehow have 365 1/4 children. It may just lead to a bunch of resentment to the point that it eventually bubbles over into a blog post.  And again, I say I do not want to talk about this with either of you, I don't want an email about this blog post either.  Over the years I have kept from saying anything because I was trying to forget the bad things, but this one keeps coming back every year.  I may be airing this on my blog for the first time, but many who know me personally know about this because it comes around every year and I can't forget it.  Each person has one day a year that is reserved for celebration of them.  Having that taken away by a random event (such as the birth of a younger sibling or their own child) is fine, but having it taken away by a planned event, such as a wedding, or a planned induced birth is just crappy.

PS - It has taken me a lot of time to build up the guts to finally post this last part, but I needed to finally vent all of my thoughts on this at one time.  There may be more blog posts about crap that has been bugging me lately, but this was the most timely to publish.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rolled my own Playlist exporter

The stereo in both my Truck and the Sportwagen support SD Cards.  They don't support playlist files, so the only way to have a playlist that actually plays in order is to have all of the songs from that playlist in a single folder with a prefix of the # in the track list that is zero padded since it is using an ASCII sort.  That's a lot of words, but what does it all mean?  That means I need my songs to be named 0001_Song.mp3, 0002_Song2.mp3, etc... all in the same folder.  Since the SD card has to be formatted in FAT32, this can't be accomplished with links, so you need a copy of the file for each instance you want to use it (either in a playlist or in folder for the album).

I got tired of having my playlists be a complete jumble, so I rolled my own Perl script to read in M3U files and copy the appropriate files over.  It still needs lots of work (such as updating an existing playlist, etc...) but it got the job done for the initial copy.  I had one VERY ANNOYING BUG that was confusing the fuck out of me for a while.  I would set a variable, and unless I added a \n to the end of it, it would disappear when I tried to use it and I couldn't figure out why.  I finally realized what the hell was going on.  The playlist was generated using iTunes on a Windows machine.  The playlist was then parsed in Perl running on Cygwin (a linux environment that runs on Windows).  Either Perl or Cygwin decided the \r wasn't part of the character set to move to the next line and left it there.  That character by itself means go to the beginning of the current line, so the file name was there, but was then getting overwritten by the content after it.

Once my head finished exploding, I made a change to the script and got it done, and loaded my first playlist with the script on my SD card.  So, I will paste my crappy code here for everyone to ridicule, or possibly use.  I plan on updating this later to have better functionality, but it worked for my current need.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Warning - Heavy on the car content

For my non-car friends, this post is probably a "skip-it" since I will be talking about cars, only cars, and nothing but cars.  Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, if you are still with me, I hope you enjoy this post.

Currently, in "the garage" I have the 2007 Rabbit, the 2011 SportWagen TDI and a 2002 F150 (in reality, only the VWs are in the garage, the truck is curb-parked).  The TDI is the practical commuter, the F150 is the "I need to haul something" vehicle and the Rabbit has become the toy.  I have the modder bug pretty bad, but most of the serious modding goes into the Rabbit.  The TDI just has some added Euro-flare to it at this point, but the power train and suspension are still stock.  The only mission with the truck is to keep it running.

Since the Rabbit is the toy, I would also like to start showing it at VW shows, and have registered for Dubs on the Boards in Wildwood, NJ.  I don't see the car winning anything at this point, but I would like to in the future.  With that in mind, there are some things that it will need to have done.  First and foremost is paint!  There was a rock chip on the roof that had gone down to bare metal and was rusting a bit, so I tried my hand at repair.  The first attempt was terrible.  The second attempt is more passable after many passes with my buffer using rubbing compound then polishing compound, but it still looks like crap (in my opinion).  The roof spoiler also looks like crap now after my first AND second attempt at painting that failed, and then I just plast-dipped it to give it kind of a textured look like the lower valances and still didn't come out right.  There is also some paint flaking on the front bumper.  I can't complain too much since the car has 118,000 miles on it, but I wish it looked better.

Second is for the rims to be re-done. I did a silver wheel paint rattle can job on them for now because they had been curb rashed to hell.  They look shitty, and some of the paint already chipped off.  They really should either get polished or powder coated.  Step 3 is some Euro R32 Tail lights.

So, those are the things I have yet to do, what about things that have been done to make my car stand out?
Front and Rear fog lights
Amber rear turn signals
tinted front side markers
GTI leather seats w/ suede inserts
Votex front valence - on order
Votex side-skirts - on order
AWE Tuning Exhaust
APR Carbonio Intake
Unitronic Chip Tune
GTI Rims (the same ones that need to be refinished)
JOM Coilovers

Here is a recent photo of the car while it was still on the 16" rims.
Klopfer parked with a fellow rabbit
Unfortunately, my funds are not unlimited, so the rest of the changes will have to wait.  Unless of course, you would like to donate to my cause below and help me win a VW car show in the future ;)

PS - I highly doubt anyone will actually use this button, but I figured it was worth a shot.  Maybe some anonymous wealthy person who loves VWs will chip in....lol

UPDATE: New photos taken of Klopfer.  Granted, the car is very dirty, but the scenery is nice.
Some quick pics by the river

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why gun people get a bad name

There was an idiotic conversation at work yesterday about the Perry Hall High School shooting.  It quickly jumped the shark and went straight to ZOMG ARM ALL THE TEACHERS!  This is why gun people get a bad name.  I will admit, that I have only been shooting once, but I enjoyed it and plan to go again.  That said, I realize that giving every teacher a gun does not solve things.  Look at what happened in NYC recently.  A guy killed one former co-worker, then when police gunned him down when he opened fire outside, the nine people injured were all hit by the police, not the gunman.  I heard the same responses after the Colorado shootings too. "Oh, if more people were carrying guns, this wouldn't have happened."

Please stop using incidents like this to promote that everyone have a gun.  At the same time, please stop using incidents like this to say that guns should be banned.  Bad people will do bad things.  In the absence of a gun, there are other ways to accomplish horrendous feats that require less paperwork and money then buying a gun.  Let people mourn and heal after tragic incidents rather than make it a political rallying cry.

Monday, August 27, 2012

On religion and personal accountability

I want to extend on my "Atheist is not a Dirty Word" blog post and comment about a problem I have with many religious people when it comes to personal accountability.  This can be summed up in three words: "It's God's will."  It can also be referred to as "He has a plan" but it all amounts to the same.  The second you say something did or didn't happen because He willed it to be means you can completely absolve yourself of all consequences of your actions if you so choose.  This isn't always a two way street mind you, and I will touch on that.

Giving Him praise for your actions:  You may have worked hard all of your life, physically or mentally preparing yourself for life's challenges.  You finally achieve some level of greatness but won't acknowledge the hard work you put in saying it was only through God that you were able to achieve these things.  If God was the one who pulled off such a feet, then no matter what shape I am in, I should be able to run a 4.4 40 and bench press a VW Microbus.  And God didn't give me my programming ability either.  I have worked hard at that over the years to improve my technique and expand my knowledge.

Giving Him blame for your failings: Let's say you are in a car accident after a night of drinking and kill someone as a result.  Some would say that it was His will to show you the error of your ways and set you on the straight and narrow.  Was God the one buying you 20 shots of Whiskey? No.  Did He put you behind the wheel?  No....you fucked up....big time.  Now suck it up and take responsibility for your actions.  I got fat because I ate too much, not because God was force-feeding me Ho-Hos.  

My favorite are the people who do one of these but not the other.  Specifically, if they are the type of person who talks up how much work they did, how hard they worked, or how much effort something was when they succeed, but the second they fail they say "I guess God didn't want me to succeed."

This blog post sounded a lot more organized in my head and made a lot more sense before I tried to convert it into writing.  I hope I am actually conveying what I am trying to convey here.  I guess I never fully woke back up from the nap I had in the MRI machine today.





Friday, August 24, 2012

Angry Birds Ruled Unfit Parents. Child Services Removes Eggs From Care

Ctrl-Alt-Del comic made me see Angry Birds in a whole new light yesterday morning. We assume the birds are the "good guys" but I think they are more like abusive parents whose "children" were taken away by child protective services and they are attacking protective services to get their children back.  Who else besides a raging, drunk, abusive parent would use their children as weapons in an attack to get their children back. (The white egg-launching birds)

I thought of a more evil analogy but I don't want the comments on my blog that the analogy would spawn.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why I Haven't Ditched Cable

Lots of people are ditching their cable subscriptions for Hulu, Netflix and the like. I haven't done that and there are a lot of reasons for that.  Here is a rundown.

  1. Live Sports - I like to watch Football, NASCAR and occasionally Baseball.  I want to be able to watch those in the living room in HD.  Considering streaming an already existing movie can sometimes cause buffering, I don't want to know how bad the buffering might get streaming the live sports even where I can get them.  NASCAR streaming isn't that great the one time I did it.
  2. Online Streaming keeps getting the wind knocked out of it.  I used to be able to find plenty of content on Netflix to watch.  Then the deal with Starz expired and much of it went away.  Hulu won't let you skip ads (which I can do with the FF button on my DVR) and I would need another device (or devices) on all of my TVs to be able to view the content everywhere in my house.
  3. I like the ability to switch on the TV and randomly catch some episodes of Mythbusters, Simpsons, Family Guy, etc... to have on in the background while I am doing other things.  I am not thinking "I will go out and watch x"  I am just thinking "Hey, this makes a nice background distraction."
  4. DRM - I won't buy season passes anymore from the online video vendors because I don't like the DRM lock-in.  I have a bunch of iTunes purchased video that I can only watch on Apple devices or on my desk top now.  Very annoying.
  5. And lastly - I need cable anyway.  My Cable company is my ISP.  There aren't any other options out here for internet (not even DSL) and my internet fees go up if I cancel cable TV, so might as well enjoy the cable TV as well.
I look forward to your rebuttals to my reasoning!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Impostor Syndrome Part Deux

I have done a bit more thinking off-and-on since I made my first blog post on Impostor Syndrome.  Since that time, I had to write up my performance self-appraisal at work which is a horrid experience but I powered through.  I have to write mine in the third person because it sounds more professional to me (and really my boss should be the one writing it anyway and wouldn't use "I" for my accomplishments) and it makes it easier to distance myself from the accomplishments in my own head so the impostor syndrome doesn't make me say "BULLSHIT!  You didn't do anything good"  Writing it in third person, it is almost like I am writing about someone else....some magical person who just happens to share the same name as me.

Anyway, back on topic.  I think I have tracked a lot of the basis for my impostor syndrome.  In some past positions, I have been confident and comfortable with what I was doing.  In 2006 I started getting the "You do good work, but it isn't important enough." Then, around late 2007, early 2008 my position changed and I moved to working in a language I hadn't used since college, never liked, and wasn't very comfortable in.  My work was now "more important" but I felt I had shitty output.  I still got good ratings, but I wasn't comfortable with my work.

Then I went into a job that I knew I was good at, but there wasn't enough for me to do.  The work I did was good, but I got a crappy rating (compared to all of the ones I had previously gotten).  I changed jobs again and went back to getting "good" ratings but feeling like my work was crap.  This was again "important" work, but it wasn't the work for me and I moved on.

The work I do now, I am good at (or at least like to think so) but based on promotion feedback, I have a hard time feeling like my work is worth-while at times, so it makes me feel like I don't belong and somehow fooled people into keeping me employed.

Ironically, I was thinking about this post this morning at work, and shortly thereafter two different people asked if I might be interested in another position in the somewhat near future.  Wow...I guess I fooled them too! lol

And now for something completely different.  One of my co-workers thinks my boss is afraid of me.  Not in the "he is going to kill me" sense, but in the "we need to keep him happy or he will stop working here and we are screwed" sense.  This amuses me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"How the hell am I going to fit into these?!?!?!?!?!?!"

I've come a long way since August 2010 when I reached Peak Weight™.  I have lost half of myself, people are constantly saying how amazed they are how much smaller I am, but new people that I meet still see me as a "fat guy" because I still am.  So, while I have come a long way, I still have a bit to go.  That said, with how hard a time some people have grasping my weight loss, the one having the hardest time grasping it is actually me.  I still have those moments where I forget how much weight I have lost and this morning I had just such an occurrence.  Since I will be teaching class today, I decided to actually throw on some khakis rather than my normal jeans.  They are the same size as my current jeans, and I tried them on at the store, but pulling them out and holding them up my first thought was "How the hell am I going to fit into these?!?!?!?!?!?!"

This type of event happens in other ways to, such as the way I react when walking down hallways when someone is walking the other way, or when I am trying to squeeze through narrow isles somewhere.  I still have mannerisms as though I am carrying 300lbs more because I got so used to that.  Those are hard habits to break, because they are more of a lifestyle then a habit.  Acting appropriately for the amount of space you take up is human nature.  Imagine if you are really tall and have to duck in certain situations, such as a low beam in your basement.  Now, the next morning you wake up one foot shorter and walk into your basement.  Even though you are nowhere near hitting that beam anymore, you will still duck.  It will probably take you some time, or someone else pointing it out, for you to even notice you are still ducking.  It will take even longer to break that habit.  That is where I am right now.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Planning to go have fun again on a track

This September, I hope to take advantage of a track day that AWE Tuning is holding at NJ Motorsports Park.  I haven't been on the track since Germany, and I miss it badly.  It is much more expensive over here, but since this is a sponsored event, it is less so.  This will basically be my Birthday present.  The biggest thing will be what group I end up running in.  Hopefully not novice because that is just basically pace laps, albeit fast, but with no passing.  I am hoping to end up in the intermediate class.  NJMP only allows non-members to attend one event per year and the annual dues are $2,000 + the membership start-up fee, so I unfortunately don't see that happening right now.

Before September I need to change the oil, flush the brake fluid, change the plugs, change the rear rotors, and change the pads at all four corners.  Oh, and roll the fenders (or get them rolled) so the tires stop rubbing under suspension compression.  Then I will be ready to rock out on the course.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A - My one and only post on the subject

So, immediately after I wrote my last blog post, I saw a tweet that reminded me of the other blog post I wanted to write.  This one is about the whole Chick-fil-A thing.  "Oh, no!" you say, "not another one."  Well, yeah...but this one might not goes as you expect.

Chick-fil-A is a private company, and as long as they aren't doing anything illegal, they can do whatever the fuck they want with their money.  They could pay to have live gorillas do a song and dance for the CEO if they wanted.  In that case, it would be PETA shitting a brick, but I am all for "People Eating Tasty Animals" ;)  But in reality, if the CEO wants to throw all his money towards lobbying against gay marriage, go the fuck ahead.  If they want to be even more hateful, they can hypothetically give money to the Westboro Baptist Church too....lets  group all the hate under one corporate umbrella (...ella..ella....hey, hey, hey.....DAMMIT!)

Back on topic....freedom of speech gives them that right as a company.  Chick-fil-A's CEO is very open about his beliefs and it is his freaking money.  Then all of this "Support Chick-fil-A" and "Boycott Chick-fil-A" shit started.  Well, if you feel strongly enough about the position of a company that you don't agree with them, yes, you have the right to talk with your money.  Even some politicians have taken a stand for/against Chick-fil-A in this "fight."

So, I am asking for the sake of my twitter and Facebook feeds to please, PLEASE stop posting things about Chick-fil-A over and over again unless you actually want to say something meaningful about the conversation.  Even if that something meaningful is "I agree with them because" or "I disagree with them because"  Just posting the same damn articles over and over again with no commentary is getting really fucking annoying.

So, in that train of thought, I will add my two cents.  I don't give a shit who gets married so long as no force, bribery, or minors are involved (I mean, if two 16 yr olds want to screw up their life and get married, go ahead, but 50 yr olds shouldn't be marrying 15 yr olds).  Animals probably shouldn't be involved either...unless it is a nice rack of lamb served at the reception.  Does knowing the views of a company affect if I will possibly due business with them? yes (not that I can eat Chick-fil-A anymore anyway).  I am not going to tell you to stop eating their food though, because 1) it was sooooo damn good and 2) you can make up your own mind.

Now, please excuse me...a friend may need help setting up NAMORLA - North American Man Odebenus Rosmarus Love Association. (That's a walrus btw).

PS - if this blog post stops making sense somewhere in the middle, it's because I wrote this tired, and said "Fuck it, I will post anyway"