Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Superheroes For The Economic Crisis: The Pessimist

(Note: This is part five in a six part series looking at a new breed of superheroes for the new economy. Read background here.)

The Pessimist

With his ability to control human perception, The Pessimist is perhaps the most powerful of the new breed of superheroes. Able to sway public opinion with an endless barrage of negative commentary, this wily do-gooder can trap his enemies in a cloak of impenetrable negativity.

Imagine being a disciple of evil. You're walking down the street, spreading malevolence when you're confronted with the argument that no matter what you do, it's going to make you worse off than you were before! You want to spend your money on a new Evil Club membership? That's bad because not saving enough money for a rainy day means you might not be able to afford to do evil when you need to most!

Wait, you say -- I will save that money instead of spending it on something I don't need! I'm pretty well known for my evil; that club membership isn't necessary. Too bad! Saving your money instead of spending it on useless crap means the club won't sell enough memberships and will go out of business; a net loss for evil!

So diabolical the machinations of... The Pessimist!

You Know What Would Be Great? More Snow, That's What

Our area is expected to get 8-14" of snow over the next 24 hours. This will guarantee that the last vertebrae in my back are torn asunder trying to clear the driveway. No travel is advised tonight, even in town. Once the storm finishes it's grim march of death across Fargo, we'll get a better idea of what effect the snowfall will have on the river levels. Hopefully we won't be looking at a higher crest out of this.

The Microsoft Fargo campus is now closed until at least Thursday. It's been a long time since I've been to work. I hope I still remember all my passwords.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rest In Peace, Old Friend

Tucker, my parents' black lab, passed away last week at the age of 15. He will be missed.

The Family Curse Strikes Again

Macy found out today that she needs glasses. She has been complaining about not being able to see the board very well at school. On-the-ball sort that I am, I realized that either she needed an eye exam or her teacher writes really really small.

Officially she is sitting at 20/50 vision. That's bad enough that the optometrist recommended eye shackles glasses. She tried on about ten pairs before settling on some very cute pinkish frames. Pictures will follow when we pick them up tomorrow or Wednesday.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scenes from the Red River

Macy and I took a quick trip over to the Main Avenue bridge (aka Veterans Memorial Bridge, at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and John F. Kennedy/Bishop Desmond Tutu/George Washington Carver Street) to get a look at the Red River:

So far it looks like we are good to go as far as the crest. The level has gone down a little which is a good thing, obviously. If we can avoid too much precipitation over the next few days we might be done with this whole thing. The area is slated to get some snow tomorrow and Tuesday. Just how much we get will determine how much worse things get.

We also found some time this weekend to take in a temporary boarder:

The whole thing was very taxing on me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fargo Flood Watch 2009 (part 9)

Everything is pretty quiet today. The river has actually gone down about 0.4 inches today. Anytime the water goes down, that's a good thing. They have halted snadbagging operations. I drove past the Moorhead sandbag central location and it was empty of people. This is the same place I filled sandbags for about 5 hours on Thursday. Basically we are in wait-and-see mode.

The roads are open again and I was able to get across the river to pick up Macy and bring her home, so the family is all together now.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fargo Flood Watch 2009 (part 8)

Lots of updates for everyone:
  • The Feds arrived in the region today in the form of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (for some reason). Hopefully they arrived late enough that they can't get in the way too much.
  • Parts of Moorhead and Fargo near the Red River are under evacuation orders today. Leaky dikes are to blame in Fargo; the move is being called precautionary. Moorhead is in more dire straits.
  • The river is still expected to crest sometime tonight or early tomorrow between 41 and 42 feet. If that pans out, everyone will breathe a big sigh of relief because...
  • Fargo officials are confident enough in our flood fighting prowess that they called off sandbagging operations as of 6:00 pm.
  • As far as I know, all my friends and coworkers are relatively safe, either by dint of being on higher ground or having sufficient dikes in place to protect their homes.
  • There's a ban on travel in the city today. To help give people a reason not to drive, all non essential businesses (hospitals, grocery stores) were asked to remain closed today.
  • Donna and I are good; there have been no sewage/storm drain problems which is the only thing we're really worried about in our area. Fargo mayor Dennis Wallaker stated today that the system looked normal and wasn't showing any signs of strain. Amazing if true, but we'll take it.
  • Macy is supposed to be with me tonight, but because I can't get to Moorhead to get her she is going to stay with her mother tonight. Hopefully I can get her tomorrow.
  • School has already been cancelled for all of next week because...
  • There is a big storm brewing that should hit south of us some time early next week. This is bad because the Red River has to be different and flow northward. More precipitation south of us is a bad thing. No word yet on what this means.
  • I didn't do much flood fighting today because of the travel ban. Donna and I walked to a nearby school that is being used as a temporary shelter to see if they needed help/supplies/whatever. We were turned away by the Red Cross and told to go to the main office to register and await instructions. Did I mention we can't drive anywhere?
  • Not sure what happens tomorrow; if I can help anywhere (and get there) I will go out to help. Otherwise, it's just wait-and-see.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fargo Flood Watch 2009 (part 7)

What a day. You haven't lived until you've sandbagged in a snow shower. Really, I mean that. Ted Cihak and I helped build a sandbag dike along the Rose Coulee about 300 yards from the Microsoft campus. We turned that mother out, if I may say so. Ted is a retired Technical Sergeant with the Air National Guard, so we looked pretty spiffy in our authentic military grade gear. He is also a developer on my team at Microsoft.

After that we headed to Moorhead's sandbag central to fill sand bags. We originally intended to go to north Moorhead to help out there, but every route was choked. We sat on Interstate 94 at a literal standstill for about fifteen minutes before taking a handy exit and trying a different route. When that proved just as useless, we changed our plans.

The new crest forecast is for 42 feet sometime Friday, with the possibility of 43 feet on Saturday. This is a problem as the main dike was just raised to 42 feet. Not to mention all the individual homes who will need to build onto their existing defenses after thinking they were done. There is a lot of work left to do and not a lot of time to do it.

I talked to my manager Gary tonight. He is taking a boat out later to his sister-in-law's house. I was out there on Tuesday and a truck was all we needed. The water is rising fast around here.

Thankfully we are dry at our place, though I refuse to shovel the 6+ inches of snow that fell yesterday. It's supposed to get above freezing this weekend, so let the sun do some work for once. Sorry Mr. Postman.

Donna and our friend Alyssa Short (of Angel in the Kitchen fame) made a Sam's Club run and bought tons of food to donate to some of the local rallying points in the flood fight. How awesome is that?

I am exhausted right now, and I am going back out in the morning. So enough talk. Look at some pictures while I drink a beer:

As always, check out more of my pictures here, and see professional pics here.

Fargo Flood Watch 2009 (part 6)

I'm back in hte game this morning as Macy is with her mother. A coworker and I are going to try to get back up to north Moorhead this morning. It will be tough as many roads are closing, but we are going to head to Minnesota State University -- Moorhead's campus and try to hitch a ride. MSU-M is being used as a staging area.

There's still a lot of snow on the ground from yesterday's storm, so this should be fun. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Desperate Measures

The military is taking over flood operations in the area. Under the auspices of Operation Flood Stop, Army Chinook helicopter units have been spotted in the area carrying out a brilliant plan devised by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Vince Offer:

It is hoped that all the excess water can be absorbed within 72 hours. Also, any spilled soda or wine should be removed without difficulty, even if it has already soaked into the carpet.

Fargo Flood Watch (part 5)

Fargo is now under a Winter Storm Warning as the temperature has plunged below freezing. This is good in the short term as it will stop the water from rising in most places, but long term it could prove disasterous (okay, more disasterous).

Fargo and Moorhead schools are closed today because of the weather, so I am home this morning with Macy playing dad, which is pretty nice.

And for you anxious readers (all three of you) it means I will have more time today for blogging then I have the past couple of days. Lucky you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fargo Flood Watch 2009 (part 4)

Well, another day of sandbagging behind me. Courage to all those hardier, braver and cooler souls than me who are still at it. Lots of road closings all over the place, including stretches of Interstates 29 and 94.

My manager Gary and I roamed the area helping out in a few different places today. The rivers are expected to crest Friday at last report, so we should know towards the end of the week how screwed we (as a community) are. I think I mentioned this before, but if I didn't: my house is pretty safe. If we get flooded, it means Fargo can officially be renamed Atlantis.

Here are some more pictures:

Again, find more pictures at my online gallery, then check out what a real photographer can do.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fargo Flood Watch 2009 (part 3)

Whew. I was at it a lot shorter a time than a lot of people out there, but I am exhausted. It doesn't help that I'm not in as good a shape as I was in my Air Force days. I am heading back out in the morning, so blogging will be light. I'll put something up later in the day or the evening though.

As promised, here are some shots from the flood fighting front. They were taken in two basic areas: north Moorhead, MN and West Fargo, ND.

For more of my amateurish photography, check out my online gallery.

For better photography, check out my friend Dave Arntson's site (he's a professional).

Fargo Floodwatch 2009 (part 2)

Well, I got the call. I am heading out with some teammembers to sandbag a fellow Microsoft employee's house. Thankfully I am prepared. I also have my camera and if I get a chance I will snap a few.

Updates later....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back From The Ball

Macy and I just got back from the Butterfly Ball, a fathers-and-daughters-only annual party put on as a fundraiser for the Fargo Parks Department. It's an evening of dancing and picture taking and getting all dressed up.

It was a lot of fun, as Macy and I cut quite a rug to everything from "Love Shack" to "I Love Rock -n- Roll". I'll post more pictures tomorrow, but for now here's a taste:

Afterwards we went out for dinner and drinks (Macy had a Shirley Temple -- no alcohol until she's thirteen). Fun fact I learned while there: Macy loves rare steak.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Death Knell For Tree-Based Newspapers

There are a lot of newspapers out there going under, either completely or by going 100% web-based and forgoing printing paper editions. I know several people who have lost their jobs in the industry in the last year, and many more who are in danger. Obviously, to those people I say good luck.

There are a lot of reasons thrown about as to why this is happening. One idea is that the political bias exhibited by papers are turning off half the potential readers out there. You know, liberals run the newspapers and slant all the news to make conservatives look bad. I actually think there is something to that, as studies show that journalists as a general rule run a bit left of center. That said, there's no definitve way to know to what extent an individual reporter's biases find their way into individual reporting. Beyond that, if 50% of the population were pleased with the editorial slant in their local newspaper, you'd think circulation equal to half the available population would be plenty. In short, I think there are individuals out there who cancelled their subscription because of political bias (real or perceived), but not enough to explain anything but a small sliver of the decline of the print newsmedia.

There's also the idea that the internet killed the print newspaper. I think this is largely to blame, though it is more a function of the migration of advertising from print to web. Profit margins at newspapers (in general) just aren't what they were five years ago.

Then there's my hometown newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. They have laid off staff three times in less than a year. The main reason that the L-E is failing has more to do with another cause of failing newspapers. Mainly, it's a terrible newspaper.

I read it a few times a year when I visit the folks down in Georgia. The Sunday edition of the paper is maybe 25 pages, with barebones AP or Reuters reprints for the National and World sections and single paragraph blurbs for local news. There's usually one big ticket story of local interest that dominates the front page and is continued throughout the paper (see "purple cats are a menace on page A3", see "tranquilizers, food dye may be answer on page A7").

This may not seem like much, but consider that the paper is riddled with misspellings, uncapitalized proper nouns, non-sequitirs and other grade school mistakes. I find at least one and usually several of these sorts of things every time I read the paper. Now consider that this is a paper that serves a city of 185,000 people*. The Fargo Forum is ten times the newspaper the L-E is. This newspaper is going under mainly because nobody with a high school education can stand to look at it.

*I don't think this number includes Fort Benning which is attached to Columbus' south side, but couldn't confirm this. If I'm right, the population increases to well over 200,000. Also, Phenix City, Alabama lies across the Chatahoochee River and is also part of the L-E's circulation area.

Other resources:
Pew Research Center report: State of the News Media 2009

Fargo Floodwatch 2009 (part 1)

Fargo is gearing up for spring flooding, as the National Weather Service is setting the upper bound on the crest of the Red River at 40 feet, well above flood stage. Volunteers are already filling sandbags around the city to help top off existing dikes and create strategic walls in needed spots. A Facebook group has also been created to help marshall volunteers.

My house is presumably safe; beyond the water we get in the basement everytime a bird dribbles I'm not expecting any flood waters to make it to my part of town. But Microsoft Fargo is already prepping for flood fighting. We have an internal online resource where people can go to volunteer to help sandbag or ask for help in sandbagging.

I myself am planning to pack a bag with clothes and tools appropriate to flood fighting so I can go at a moments notice from work if needed. It's been awhile since this sort of effort was needed (1997 to be exact) in Fargo. Hopefully the NWS will be off in its prediction and the crest will be much lower, but it's not looking that way right now.

President Obama's Special Olympics Flub (Updated)

Last night on the Tonight Show, President Obama made a remark that has caused a minor storm. When Jay Leno asked the President about his bowling acumen, Obama replied, "It was like the Special Olympics or something."

A part of me says that this is a good thing because maybe it will start the long-awaited (by me anyway) backlash against PC speech. We're not supposed to say anything that might offend anyone at anytime and if we do there are consequences.

A much bigger part of me thinks that it's common knowledge that kids who participate in the Special Olympics aren't actually good at sports. In that sense, the President didn't say anything all of us don't already know. It's not like he added, "and special needs kids should all be put down for the good of society."

Of course, as with all things nowadays, there is a political element to this. Plenty of people defending the president this morning wanted Rush Limbaugh* drawn and quartered for making his Donovan McNabb remarks. Remember, free speech isn't just for your side (whatever side that may be).

* I have not now, nor have I ever been a fan of Rush Limbaugh. My personal position on media blowhards is this: I think Michael Moore, Randi Rhoades, Al Franken and Bill Mahr should be the crew of the first manned spaceflight to Mars provided they (1) don't come back and (2) take Limbaugh, Anne Coulter and Sean Hannity with them.

Update: This, on the other hand, makes the argument that more than the President's bowling skills are fit for the Special Olympics.

Macy's Coming Home Today!

Macy has been out of town with her mother for over a week. Today she comes home and I can't wait. This weekend she and I are going to a party for dads and daughters only, so except to hear about that as well as see some pictures.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just So We're All Clear

(click on image to enlarge)

A few points:
  • Bailing out AIG (or any other bank) was a BAD IDEA.
  • The bonuses were contracturally obligated payments that were intentionally and on purpose left untouched by the bailout bill. A passage meant to rescind these payments was struck out by Senator Chris Dodd.
  • The payments amount to .094% of the money.
  • $50 billion of the money went to help out other banks (include $36 billion to European banks)
  • AIG execs were throwing money at politicians before, during and after the company was bailed out. Wonder if any bailout money found its way into a campagin coffer?
  • Did I mention that bailing out AIG (or anyone else) was a BAD IDEA?

Get mad about bailout money getting paid to executives at a failing corporation. I'm mad too. But wake up to the fact that all this manufactured outrage (by Dodd and other politicians) is just a smokescreen to keep you from questioning their policies.

Because I Have A Headache...

...and I want you to have one too. When I see this it looks (and sounds) like a Tracy Jordan sketch on 30 Rock.

"Suffering is all the sweeter when shared." -- some goth nerd

Tax Day

Today is tax day for me, as I am going to meet the lady that prepares my taxes later this morning. Hopefully I'll get a little back, but I may be on my way to a slaughter. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Superheroes For The Economic Crisis: Congress Man

(Note: This is part four in a six part series looking at a new breed of superheroes for the new economy. Read background here.)

Congress Man

Congress Man is a powerful wizard from a dimension in which magic is an every day occurrence. Not in that "any sufficiently advanced technolgy will seem like magic" way. We're talking honest-to-goodness magic, like turning straw into gold or finding a bus that doesn't smell like urine.

This be-fezzed dynamo of justice uses the ability to bend reality to fight crime. He has already made headlines in the battle against earmarks. Making this enemy disappear was as simple as denying its existence! Such is the power of Congress Man.

High taxes, his oldest foe, have been dealt defeat after defeat by our hero. Using his hamster ball-shaped Crystal of Power, Congress Man was able to turn tax hikes into tax decreases, simply by changing the nature of reality. Thanks to him, reducing a proposed tax increase is now the same thing as lowering a tax! Excelsior!

The power of Congress Man is great, and will be sorely needed in the coming Class Wars. While some claim the Class Wars are being perpetrated by Congress Man himself, he denies it, saying, "those rumors were started by some unemployed American Gladiator watcher not fit to shine my gardener's shoes".

Signs of Spring (#1)

You know spring is coming when the snow melts, the ground begins to thaw, and all the dog poop that got buried in the first snowfall of autumn resurfaces.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pressure To Coach

As some of you may know, I coach youth soccer in Moorhead. I got into it strictly as a way to spend time with Macy. I didn't know anything about the game when I started; I grew up in the south, where you play baseball or football or both. I had no exposure to soccer until high school and then only because I went to Jesus school rather than Harris County High.

I got a call tonight from a fellow coach wanting to know if I was going to get my "E" license which would basically allow me to coach travelling teams. I had been dreading this moment since I found out about the training. To make a long story short, I told him I wouldn't be attending the training.

I don't want to coach soccer that long. At some point Macy is either going to quit playing soccer or advance enough to the point that she needs coaching from someone dedicated to the game. In the former case, I would stop coaching youth soccer. In the latter, she would need a better coach than me.

Coaching at a higher level than I'm at today is not something I have the will or time to do. I feel guilty for saying that, like I'm letting youth soccer down. But it's the truth. I'm actually feeling pretty good right now. Not so long ago I would have gone to the training and committed myself to coaching indefinitely so that I wouldn't let anybody down.

This way, nobody's under any illusions about my plans and I won't be stuck doing something I might grow to loathe. I just want to coach Macy while she's young and playing the game to have fun. At some point in the next few seasons it will be time for me to get out and just watch. I've had a lot of fun on the sidelines and will continue to do so. But shooting pictures and video is going to be a blast too, and I'm looking forward to it.

Yeah, actually, I feel really good right now.

Happy St. Patrick's Day (Or: Dude, Your Sister's A Slut)

Three guys are sitting in a bar enjoying a drink when the first one says: "yeah, this is a nice bar, but where I come from, there's a better one. At Whitey's you buy a drink, you buy another drink, and Whitey himself will buy your third drink!"

The second then replies: "That sounds like a nice bar but where I come from there's a better one called Duffy's. At Duffy's, you buy a drink, Duffy buys you a drink. You buy another drink, Duffy buys you another drink."

Then the third pipes up. "You think that's good? Where I come from, there's this place called Speck's. At Speck's, they buy you your first drink, they buy you your second drink, they buy you your third drink, and then they take you in the back and get you laid!"

"Wow!" say the other two. "That sounds fantastic! Did that actually happen to you?"

"No," replies their friend, "but it happened to my sister!"

Morning Sarcasm

Good Morning America just had a story about a woman in Houston that owed $6000 on her house and was going to lose it because unexpected medical bills caused her to fall behind on her mortgage.

The good people of Houston pulled the $6000 together and paid her mortgage for her, saving her house. What I want to know is:

Shouldn't the government have simply used tax money to pay this woman's mortgage? If there are people in Houston who have extra money lying around to pay someone else's mortgage, aren't their taxes too low?

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Things I Believe

  • Hey, Travis Henry get a vasectomy, for God's sake.

  • I can't stop listening to this song.

  • This is the first Monday I haven't had Macy with me in a long, long time. I hope I remember to feed her mice tonight. We usually do it together on Mondays.

  • I'm really looking forward to turning all this snow into water by the end of the week.

  • Crap, my hair is getting long.

  • I love the word asinine, as in, "this post is asinine".

  • A shiny new nothing to the first person to identify from whose album I stole the title of this post.

Death of A City

Check out this amazing photo essay of the decaying wreckage of what used to be one of the most vital cities in America. I read recently that the median price of a home in Detroit proper (excluding the suburbs) was around $10,000. Ten thousand. I'm not forgetting any zeros. Amazing.

Superheroes For The Economic Crisis: Captain Consumer

(Note: This is part three in a six part series looking at a new breed of superheroes for the new economy. Read background here.)

Captain Consumer

With his ability to be seemingly everywhere at once, it is rumored that there is no one person donning the black makeup of Captain Consumer. This is bad news for the bad guys. An army of costumed justice-dealers spells D-O-O-M for enemies of light. Collectively, Captain Consumer's voracious appetite for justice overwhelms evil in a swirling vortex of spending. Hurling every penny he has (and using credit extended to him by his good friend Lending Lad) this crusader for awesomeness purchases the ammunition he needs to fight evil.

Giant screen plasma TVs, new cars every year (he leases!), a five-bedroom home for he and his unemployed, childless wife, jet skis, boats, RVs -- these are the weapons in Captain Consumer's aresenal of justice.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How Hard Can This Be?

I do all my banking online. State Bank is generally great. Their online system is good: I can pay bills in advance, I can schedule recurring payments, order checks, download statements directly to my financial software, yay bank.

I still receive paper statements in the mail every month. In those monthly statements is an invitation to sign up for paperless statements. You'd think I'd want to do that, and you'd be right. Hey, I don't have to worry about my statements falling into the wrong hands and I can save what will add up to a tree over the next 847 months.

But I refuse to. Why, you ask (or maybe you didn't, whatever)? It's because for some incredibly asinine reason I can't sign up for paperless billing using my online account. I have to create a separate online account just to check a box saying "send me statements via email". I'm sure it's because the 3rd party that does their statement processing is different than the 3rd party company that does their other online functions. Here's my succint and sincere argument why this shouldn't matter:

I don't care.

I refuse to create another account for banking. Get it under one umbrella or keep wasting money mailing me statements.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gimme Gimme Good Music

I am ready to hear something new, music wise. I download music sporadically and, to any RIAA agents who may be reading, legally. Whenever I remember a song I haven't heard in awhile or on those days when I don't have my mp3 player and I'm using Pandora and hear something cool, I download.

But lately I've been running out of ideas. My only other current spawning ground is Donna's subscription to Rolling Stone, which is a hollow shell of what it used to be. For me, it hasn't been anything to get excited about in my lifetime, but I acknowlege the import bestowed upon it by all you drugged out hippies in the audience.

So I'm asking for "donations" in the form of music. If you've got a band that just kills or even just a song that you love even if the rest of the band's catalog doesn't do it for you (your own personal one-hit wonders), tell me about it in the comments section.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Those Crazy Brits

The first line of this article sums it up nicely:

Prisoners released early under a government scheme to cut jail overcrowding have been paid more than £5m in “compensation” for losing free board and lodging.

It's just what it implies. And don't think that the complete failure of a program is a reason to abandon it:

The government has already admitted that prisoners benefiting from the early release scheme have committed almost 1,000 crimes when they would have been locked up.

When will this program end?

"We will end ECL when there is sufficient prison capacity to safely do so.”

In other words, never.

Superheroes For The Economic Crisis: Lending Lad

(Note: This is part two in a six part series looking at a new breed of superheroes for the new economy. Read background here.)

Lending Lad

The origin of Lending Lad is unknown; rumors persist that he comes from the Andromeda galaxy and arrived on earth as part of a larger contingent of aliens possessed of super powers. Some say his name is Stewie Bernstein, that he lives in Passaic, New Jersey, and that he's just a kid with a dumb costume.

Either way, this is one fun-sized crusader for justice you don't want to mess with! Using his Gullibility Gaze, evil doers who look into his tiny eyes are mesmerized. Once struck dumb in this manner, Lending Lad can talk them into anything. For example, he might get them to sign loan papers that have an initial low A.P.R. Only later, when this stupefying effect wears off, do they realize their payments shoot up to unmanageable levels. But by then, it's too late... for evil!


With the storm this week I missed two days at work. Now it doesn't feel like Friday. I've gotten very little accomplished this week and now the weekend is almost here. All this, coupled with Macy being gone for over a week (her mother took her on a trip) means I'm all out-of-sorts. Hopefully this weekend will set me straight.

On the other hand, "Love Gun" just came on the mp3 player, so I've got that going for me.

Also, you may notice that the "What I'm Reading Now" section has some weird formatting going on. That's intentional. Read the book (which I've already read twice -- it's one of my favorites) and it will make sense.

Update: It occurs to me that this may also have something to do with the fact that this is the second consecutive month in which the 13th falls on a Friday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Superheroes For The Economic Crisis: Subprimus

(Note: This is part one in a six part series looking at a new breed of superheroes for the new economy. Read background here.)


Created when a records office containing mortgages in foreclosure exploded after being struck by a meteor, Subprimus stalks the night. Gazing silently from the rooftops of abandoned properties, he searches out those who do evil and does battle with his mystic power: the ability to turn a $30,000 yearly salary into a $600,000 mortgage. On those occasions he needs to travel, a majestic dirigible he refers to as the Balloon Payment does the trick. Evil beware, Subprimus is watching you!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Angels In The Snow

Well, we're dug out after the blizzard. Macy's school was closed again today owing to the fact that the streets were still being cleared. With the temperature around zero we bundled up and headed into the malestrom. The sun is out today, making it look deceptively nice from inside the house. It took us about two hours, but we cleared out all the snow. The work took its toll on Macy, however:

To see more pictures, check out my online gallery.

One Step Closer To Needing Back Surgery

I'm heading outside to start digging out after the blizzard. We've got drifts five feet high, so this is going to take a while as I don't own a snow blower. If I'm still alive afterwards, there might be some pictures. If you don't hear from me in the next several hours, send one of those St. Bernards with the cask of brandy around its neck.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Scenes From A Storm

Here are some photos Macy and I took from our porch:

The town is closed today because of the blizzard, cancelling Macy's last indoor soccer game. Microsoft is closed until at least noon tomorrow, so another half-day for me!

Snow Day!

Macy's school is closed due to a blizzard so I am staying home to play dad. In the words of Eric Cartman: nah nah nah nah naaaaah nah, I don't have to work today.

Things I will be doing on my unexpected day off:
  • Reading
  • Playing video games
  • Napping
  • Playing with Macy
  • Blogging

Things I will not be doing:

  • Working

In your face, people with reasonable climates!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Our Last And Best Hope In This Economic Crisis

The economy is in the dumper. We've tried to turn things around by throwing money at the problem; maybe you've heard of the stimulus, a.k.a. the Let's Get Out Of Debt By Spending Money At A Rate That Would Make A Drunken Frat Boy With A Trust Fund At A Strip Club Blush Sure That Might Work Act of 2009.

We've tried talking China into buying more of our debt like some kind of retarded grandmother convinced that if she wires just $2500 more she'll finally get that $8 billion that nice man with the Nigerian accent named Joe Bradley has been promising her for four months now.

We're in the middle of trying to nationalize the banking sector. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict total and abysmal failure for that one as well. I know, I know -- there's that crazy blog guy going out on a limb again. Where does that leave us? In my opinion we have only one hope. One way out of this mess that won't end up with us all working for the government and calling each other "comrade":


Not just any old superhero, mind you. Superman could kick my butt in .03 seconds flat. Wonder Woman could tie me up with the lasso and do all sorts of things to me that I'll talk about on my other blog That Hurts I Didn't Say Stop. I could take Aquaman if we were on dry land, because he's basically worthless if he's not in the water. But you get my point.

No, we need a new generation of heroes to rescue us. I'll introduce them to you in the coming days (or weeks -- whatever I feel like. I'm in charge here). Pray for these brave souls that they might deliver us from evil.

Winter Ain't Through With Us Yet

After some mild weather we're right back in the soup here in Fargo. It apparently rained in the middle of the night. Since it was 25 degrees out I wasn't too concerned about warming the truck up for long. But when I finally went out and brushed the new snow off I found a thick layer of ice covering everything. The drive in wasn't horrible, but it sure wasn't fun. The weather's supposed to get worse with rain later today. This will freeze of course, turning the state into a skating rink tonight and tomorrow. Yay, North Dakota!

(At left, a picture I shot on the way to work.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

North Dakota Blue Laws Cost State Money

Donna and I had to run out to Wal-Mart today. Yeah, yeah; Wal-Mart boo. I know. Normally we're Target people, but I buy shrimp at Wal-Mart because it's good and cheap, so deal with it. Anyway, stores in Fargo generally don't open until noon because of old-timey blue laws still on the books. Certain types of stores are exempt, such as grocery stores and gas stations. Also, apparently coffee shops, as Fargo Coffee House on South University was open at 10:30 .

Kohl's? Target? Barnes & Noble? Not open till noon. To be safe, we went to the Wal-Mart in Moorhead as Minnesota doesn't care what time you open your store. I'm fairly sure the Fargo store was open too, but I didn't want to be wrong. I wonder how much business gets lost when early risers like myself (I was up by, like, 9!) want to go spend money but can't on the North Dakota side of the Red River.

I've heard stories that indicate it used to be worse; that there was a time when you could only buy "necessities" on Sundays in North Dakota. For example, you could go to a grocery store and pick up the ingredients to make bread, but if you tried to buy a bread pan the store would refuse to sell it.

This is apparently all tied to religious sensibilites about working on the Sabbath and such. I'm sure Jesus would be proud. In 2009 it just seems silly, not to mention economically inane.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Nothing Like A Good Meal

I treated Donna to dinner at Toscana tonight, an Italian restaurant (with some French leanings) in downtown Fargo. We've eaten lunch there a few times before and had good experiences.

The dinner menu is much larger and varied. I had a hard time deciding so I took a glance at the appetizer section of the menu. There mine eyes found a delicacy not often found in Fargo: escargot. SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP. To their credit, the staff didn't visibly react when I shouted that right there in the restaurant.

Donna was not impressed, but I ordered some to enjoy while I figured out what to try for dinner. They were delectable. My goodness.

Anyway, I eventually decided to try a dish to satisfy my desire to try foods not considered typical resaturant fare. It was a dish of rabbit in a tomato-based sauce of peppers, onions and black olives. Served with roasted potatoes, garlic broccoli and a nice red wine, it was delicious. Really, first rate.

Donna's experience was not as satisfactory. Her dish, chicken and asparagus in a basil and tomato cream sauce left a little to be desired. The asparagus was limp and the chicken a bit on the dry side. Not bad by any means, but not amazing.

All in all, I recommend Toscana if you're in the Fargo area and looking for Italian, despite the uneven experience we had tonight. Generally it's very good. I'm not decided if it's the best in town but it is in the running.

Did I mention I had escargot and rabbit in the same meal? Yes!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rob over at Say Anything has a picture of first lady Michelle Obama working at a homeless shelter. Below is the photo. How many things can you find wrong with it?

1. The homeless guy has money for a cell phone but not food.

2. Instances of mental illness are higher among the homeless than than the general population, but the people in line are a lot closer to the first lady than the Secret Service agent.

3. The homeless are being fed risotto.

4. Should there still be homeless people?

Dark Freaky Jesus Music Interlude: 16 Horsepower

16 Horsepower is a weird band, and one that is hard to explain exactly what the heck kind of music they play. Started by the son of a Colorado snake church preacher, 16HP officially disbanded in 2005.

Almost everything is rooted in religion, but from a place most happy shiny Christians don't visit very often. God in 16HP's universe is vengeful and likes to bring the pain to evildoers. This attitude lightens as the albums progress, but they still don't sound like anybody else. And the songs have some of the most twisted and devastating lyrics I've ever heard:

I will forgive your wrongs, I am able
And for my own I feel great shame
I would offer up a brick to the back of your head boy
If I was Cain

(from Black Soul Choir)

Each successive 16HP album became a little more radio friendly (but never got within actual shouting distance) before going ultra dark and dirge-y with Folklore. That would be their last studio album, and one that sounds way more like lead singer David Eugene Edwards other project, Woven Hand. I like a little dark and dirge-y, but Woven Hand wallows in it. I much prefer the crazy banjo/accordion/guitar/stand-up bass/single drum/other-stuff-I-don't-know-what-it-is that made up 16 Horsepower's sound.

Byron Dorgan Want To Canada-fy Prescription Drugs

An unintended consequence of my earlier correspondence with North Dakota's two senators was getting on their mailing lists. Today I received a missive from Senator Dorgan about prescription drug prices and a call to support legislation to lower drug prices:

This week I have led a group of bipartisan Senators to introduce the “Pharmaceutical Market Access and Safety Act”, which would give consumers the ability to access FDA-approved drugs for the lower prices that other consumers around the world are paying.

It is estimated we will save the American consumers over $50 billion in lower prescription drug costs in the next decade. North Dakotans alone will save more than $112 million.

The legislation provides important safeguards to ensure the safety and effectiveness of imported drugs. It provides critical funding to impose proper oversight and to make sure that counterfeit drugs cannot be brought into this country.

Wow, that sounds great. How much will all that oversight cost? The letter doesn't say. Where does that $50 billlion number come from? The letter doesn't say.

Basically, the plan seems to be to set up some government bureaucracy (the best kind of bureaucracy!) to allow Canadian drug imports. The senator is right when he says Canadians pay a lot less for drugs then us schmucks in America. Sort of. Hold up a bottle of Lipitor from Canada and one from the U.S. and the little price sticker will have a higher number on the red, white and blue bottle.

But the reason for that isn't evil phamaceutical companies. Prices are lower in Canada because Canada uses price caps to control the cost of prescription drugs. This has the effect of making the price sticker lower. But it also has the effect of stifling innovation in the Canadian drug market. After all, we're not comparing the Canadian version of Lipitor to the American one. That's because there never was a Canadian version of Lipitor. At least, not until the patent ran out and companies could use the formula at no cost to create a generic form of the drug.

Canada isn't known for it's amazing advances in drug R&D for this very reason; there's no money in developing new drugs, at least not on the scale seen in the U.S. Canada tries to offset this effect by giving subsidies to Canadian drug makers. As you are no doubt aware, subsidies are just a government euphemism for tax money.

To recap, Canada tells drug companies what they can charge for their product. This lowers profits, killing incentive to invest the billions needed to develop new drugs. The Canadian government takes tax money and gives it to the drug companies to help them stay profitable. The Canadian consumer pays less at the drug store but way more in taxes for this and other aspects of the "free" health system. It's really just a shell game.

Senator Dorgan wants me to support legislation to import generic version of drugs. The long term effect of this will be to drive down profits of the companies that shell out the initial investment to create the drugs in the first place. Guess what those companies will do in response?

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Read this article and see if you can tell what's wrong with it.

Back? Great. Did you notice? No? That's okay; here's hint #1: Read the title of the article again. Still not sure? Here's hint #2: start at the end of the article and count back three words.

Now imagine if instead of "chow" it said "pit bull". I'm guessing if that were the case you wouldn't have had to read past the headline to answer the question, "what kind of dog are we talking about".

Wanna know why it's so easy to google up an argument that pit bulls are violent killers? It's because when a pit bull attacks someone the breed appears several times within the article itself as well as in the headline.

"Family pet" is a euphemism for "dog breed other than pit bull".

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Logos

(click on image to enlarge)

The 600-Pound Gay Tiger In The Room

I just watched some reporter named Hoda(*) interview Sigfried and Roy on Good Morning America. They discussed the injury from the tiger attack and how difficult it was for Sigfried. Keep in mind that Roy was the one who was mauled by a tiger.

Anyway, the story did everything it could to shout these guys are gay without actually saying it. I mean, at this point maybe it's obvious. But I find it humorous that news reporters don't want to talk about it when it's obvious. But let Lindsay Lohan walk down the street with a girl and we get round-the-clock coverage.

Is this simply because it's only newsworthy when it's someone we don't expect? I have no idea if this is progress or not.

(*) Wasn't this some sort of acid-spitting creature on the original Star Trek series?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ways To Spend An Extra $13 A Week

With reports the stimulus will provide workers with an extra $8 to $13 a week starting in June, I've been contemplating what to do with all that extra cash:

1. Buy a Snuggie on an installment plan.

2. Trade it in for 1300 pennies, stack them, and pretend it's gold.

3. Buy a Whopper from an airport Burger King.

4. Don't spend it; save it up until I have a fat wad to flash around town.

5. One $13 hooker each week.

6. Thirteen $1 hookers each week.

7. Buy stock. Or light it on fire. Whatever.

8. Get dial-up internet service.

9. Hide it in a mattress for the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

10. Liquor. Duh.

Terminator Takes Break From Hunting John Connor, Plays Indoor Soccer

Last night some inhuman goal scoring android from the future replaced my daughter. Before this game Macy had not scored any goals and her team was on a two-game losing streak. So, like Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Bluto Blutarsky before her, she took the team on her shoulders and led them to an 11-1 win.

She scored four (!) goals including a nifty breakaway one-on-one where she actually changed direction with the ball and faked out the goalie. It was like watching Pele in Victory only with more hair. She also got some goalie time in and shut the other team out in her time in net, including a save on a hard-struck ball following a penalty where she had to catch the ball out of the air. It was like watching Sylvester Stallone in Victory only with better diction.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

North Dakota May Scuttle Law To Keep The Federal Dollars Flowing

The Fargo Fourm has an article today in which state lawmakers are worried a law currently passing through the legislature will cause North Dakota to lose out on some of that juicy federal money.

Long story short, the North Dakota House passed a measure which says any money coming from the federal government must be appropriated by the legislature. This might cause said legislature to have to work long and hard to pass spending bills for all that money, much of which comes with spend-by dates after which the money goes back to the feds.

Of course, this is causing a panic in the legislature: I mean, what if there some money on the table we can't figure out how to spend? We might lose it! So the answer of course, is to kill this sensible law before it passes the state senate so we can hurry up and spend, spend, spend! Don't worry about how the money gets spent, just use it before Uncle Sam takes it back.

You realize, of course, that this attitude is currently being displayed in 49 other states, right?

Home Improvement (aka The Redneck Toilet)

My house us falling apart. Last night I replaced the door knob on the side door as it was no longer turning correctly, mkaing it necessary to hip-check the door open. In order to keep one set of keys, I went ahead and replaced the front door lock as well with the help of my able assistant Macy.

The sink stopper broke in the bathroom so I put a new one of those in as well. That was a bit of a pain. Next came the toilet. Yes, the toilet is broken too.

I bought a new kit from Fleet Farm (think Home Depot, for those readers not in the midwest). I got the toilet partially dismantled only to realize that the piece that was broken was the rod attached to the flush handle, meaning the part I needed was not in the kit I bought.

Since the rod was now broken in two, there was no going back. But since I was lazy there was also no going back to Fleet Farm. Let's get improvisational:

That's a keychain tied to a piece of thread that goes through the hole where the flush lever should be. The other end is tied to the chain on the flapper valve. I'm either MacGyver or the world's worst plumber. I went to college specifically so that I wouldn't have to do this sort of labor.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Did Bush Accidentally Do Something Right?

From the Washington Post comes a story that made me ask a question I normally think of as borderline oxymoronic: Did one of former President Bush's policies turn out unequivically right?

Scientists have made a breakthough that may obviate the need to destroy embryos to obtain stem cells. The procedure uses a stem cell alternative based on real genetic strands, which is a big improvement over the old alternative: using potentially lethal virus strains to generate materials that mimic embryonic stem cells.

This made me think: did Bush's ban on federal funding(*) of embryonic stem cell research force scientists to find an alternative that allows avoidance of the political and moral questions surrounding their use? If federal money had been used for embryonic stem cells, I am guessing this new technique would never have been found and we'd have a new debate as polarizing as abortion has been for the past 30-plus years.

I was opposed to Bush's order. I thought at the time (and still think) that embryonic stem cell research could hold the key to everything from slowing aging to curing cancer. At the very least it seemed worth investing in. I just wonder if Bush didn't save us all a big headache in forcing scientists to innovate. Hey, it's better to be lucky than good.

(*) Contrary to popular belief, Bush's order was not an outright ban on embryonic stem cell research. It stated that federal monies could only be spent in pursuit of research using the handful of already-in-use cell lines. Private money could do whatever the heck it wanted.

Hopefully FEMA Is On The Way

I got word that my hometown was blanketed in SIX INCHES OF SNOW yesterday. Hopeful and happy cries of, "yay, snow!" turned to laments of, "when is this crap gonna melt" in about 34 seconds. I have no doubt that Columbus, GA is shut down today and may stay that way for the forseeable future, as the state's only snowplow is probably still in Atlanta.

Stay cool down there, guys.

You'd Better Hope He's Not Real

Overlawyered has a story about a man whose suit against God has been dismissed. This seems a bit like a dead end street for the guy. On the one hand, his legal arguments hinge on God's existence. For example, the plaintiff argues that He or She doesn't need to be physically served since He or She is all-knowing. If God doesn't exist, then the plaintiff's legal argument falls apart.

If, on the other hand, God does exist, would you want to be the guy to piss Him/Her off by taking Him/Her to court?

If this ever does go to trial, it must absolutely be in front of either Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown.

All Judge Judy would care about would be whether either party is living with someone without being married or has kids out of wedlock. I can't speak for the plaintiff, but God has a son (perhaps some religions believe) and I don't believe he is married. God could argue that he is married to all peoples of the world, but polygamy doesn't fly in Judge Judy's courtroom.

Verdict: plaintiff.

Judge Joe Brown only cares about one thing: do you have a Jay-Ohh-Bee? God would have to say no, unless He/She argues that being the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator is a job. "How much money do you make a week?" Judge Joe Brown would ask. "Well, er, none, Judge Joe Brown," God would be forced to reply.

Verdict: plaintiff.

Which means either that Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown are proof that God doesn't exist, or that the shows each is known for maybe aren't the greatest examples of American jurisprudence. I'll leave it to the individual to decide.

Working This Hard Is Almost Like Having A Job

I'm up against (okay, past) a deadline, so I am heads down in some C# code and InfoPath (shudder) forms. All I have time for is a couple of observations:

(1) Donna, Macy and I broke out Risk this weekend and had some fun. At least, I had fun as I won both times. I think they enjoyed it too. I hope so anyway. Macy has this weird fascination with trying to hold Europe from the outset. If it didn't work for the Nazis, it probably won't work for a 7-year-old.

(2) Macy really really likes The Golden Girls.