Saturday, December 28, 2013

Off on the road again

So, after exactly one month in New Hampshire to get settled in the new job and find a house (we've managed both. We've rented a house in Laconia from Jan 15th); we're on the road back to Arizona to pick up our truck, trailer, stuff, and dogs.

Our original plan was to leave Thursday evening, but work had me on standby to work on site at a client in Columbus, OH next week. That was postponed, but we didn't get word til end of day Friday, so we delayed departure to tonight.

We have to get out of the northeast by tomorrow afternoon to avoid another ice storm, and to get the rental back by tuesday (which probably isn't happening because of the delay. It'll most likely be Wednesday).

We're taking the northern route, from New Hampton, NH to Mesa, AZ, via Rochester NY, Macomb IL, Colorado Springs CO, Albuquerque NM, and Flagstaff AZ, and visiting some friends and family along the way.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When is an addiction not an addiction?

Whenever anyone says so, because no-one can agree on what an addiction actually is...

Recently, it was reported that a sex research study from UCLA has reported that sex addiction isn't really an addiction.

Sweeping aside the normal misreporting, misunderstanding, and misconstrual of scientific methodology and wording endemic to popular science and health reporting, this study has some major fundamental flaws.

As close to a consensus as exists on what constitutes addiction (as opposed to habituation, compulsion, or dependency), comes down to this:

  1. Is it habituating or compulsive
  2. Is there physical or emotional dependency (or both)
  3. Does it require escalating input to reach the desired output
  4. When deprived of it, is there withdrawal and craving
  5. Is pursuing and fulfilling this thing harmful or destructive to the person or those around them

Now... read the study linked above...

This study is entirely flawed, because it is incorrect in it's basic premise.

They're measuring the wrong thing, in the wrong way, because they don't seem to understand what sex addiction really is (a lack which, unfortunately, they seem to share with most people).

The premise of this study, is that sex addicts brains should respond to sexual imagery, in the same way that substance addicts respond to imagery of, or the presence of, the substance they are addicted to.

This premise shows a complete lack of understanding as to what sex addiction (which is an expression of clinical hypersexuality, but not the only expression, as misstated in the article) is... and more importantly WHY it is, how it is expressed, and what expressing it does for the addict.

Physically, no, it isn't an addiction to the actual sex... but emotionally it every much is an addiction. Not only that, but without doubt, the brain chemistry associated with it IS an addiction. It causes physical habituation with an escalating need for stimulus to achieve the same high, it crashes after an initial high, it has a strong compulsion and craving associated with it, and it has withdrawal symptoms (which can be dramatic).

And of course, the final element that separates habituation from addiction; sex addiction can be very destructive to the addict, and those around them (in fact, that can be part of the point of it).

Sex addiction isn't about sex, it's about self medication, self punishment, self harm, and self destruction; through novelty, risk, control, pushing the edge of control; and some times, for some people, losing control.

Sex addicts binge and purge... clean up, and fall off the wagon... just like any substance abuser. The behavior is the same, the emotional landscape that drives it is the same, the feelings it engenders and the psychological responses to it are the same... the only difference is the stimulus.

It's just substituting "sex"... but more importantly those things associated with risky sex... seduction, control, risk, and release... for the needle.

Monday, December 16, 2013

No... really... no... please, just stop saying stupid things like that... it really isn't helping.

So... Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly recently said, live, and without the slightest shadow of a doubt, that Jesus and Santa were white, that it was proven...

Fox News on air personnel.... PLEASE stop saying such incredibly obviously ridiculously laughably stupid stuff while the little red light is on please? Really, it is NOT helping.

Now, that said I'm not going to jump any further down her through, or tear her up any further. Everyone else on the planet has done that well enough already.

I WOULD like to address those who have come out in the last few days saying Jesus was black, or "dark skinned" or even "Palestinian".

... cuz yeah... no... that's all just as stupidly wrong.

First thing... there were no "Palestinians" before 1947. 

There were Syrians, who had historically lived in the Syrian districts of Palestine and Gaza, and Jordanians, who had lived in the west bank district of the kingdom of Jordan.

These were a mix of ethnic arabs (both christian and muslim), ethnic jews (new settled zionists, as well as syrian jews and those who had been on the land for centuries), armenians and lebanese, and egyptians.

There was a massive "resettlement" (basically a forced "reservation" style resettlement a la native americans in this country) of the muslims, christians, and jews, that the surrounding arab dominated states found "undesirable", into "palestine" from beofore the time Britain took dominion of it as a mandate trust territory in 1922 (with the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 actually, even before the Balfour declaration of 1917), until the official partition in 1947.

This was actually predated by an earlier forced resettlement from 1840 on into the Ottoman Mutasarrifates of Mount Lebanon and Jerusalem.

Basically, for a couple hundred years, the arab dominated states in the region viewed palestine as a dumping ground for their troublemakers, criminals, malcontents, and political enemies.

The historical natives of this region by the by were not ethnic arabs as such. They're ethnically... Levantine would be the best way of putting it. They are certainly semitic, and are closest to what we would think of as Lebanese, caucasian syrian, and Armenian today; along with a racial mix of saharan and horn africans, and south and central asians.

Also, this being a crossroads territory of middleman merchant cultures, there was a lot of racial intermixing going on for thousands of years.

In the time of Christ (whether you believe in Christ or not), the area of Judea and Galilee was most definitely NOT arabic. It was a Roman dominated mix of greeks, syrians, egyptians, and the levantine natives.

So, ethnically, Jesus probably looked a lot like a stereotypical "swarthy mediterranean man".

He was most likely fairly hairy, with a tan or olive complexion, brown eyes, and black or dark brown hair, which was most likely curly.

So... Jesus looked a lot more like this (though this reconstruction has been criticized by many scholars as being too arabic looking and not sufficiently "mediterranean"):

Than like this:

... and absolutely NOTHING like this:

Jesus as most western art depicts him is basically a 16th century spaniard; with a smattering of influence from 4th through 6th century romans, and 6th through 8th century "greeks" (Byzantine christians basically, some of whom were greek but mostly they were literally caucasian, as in from the southern caucasian mountains and the countries around them). 

The "Greeks" and Romans, made him look greek and roman. For the Romans had a short beard, as that was the style for priests of their culture. The greeks added a full beard and long hair to his imagery, because that was the style of priests in their culture. 

Post 1600, the vast majority of European artwork depicting Christ (and thus creating the modern western mental imagery of him) was influenced strongly by Bronzino and most especially El Grecos paintings of Christ from about 1565 on. 

Earlier european artists generally just used the earlier Roman and Greek imagery and style. Shorter hair, short beard, still pale and gaunt, but shorter in height; and with byzantine caucasian or roman caucasian features, dark hair, and dark eyes. 

El Greco painted christ as a tall, pale skinned, gaunt man, with long reddish brown hair, blue eyes, and a full reddish brown beard. He had distinctly Castilian... in fact distinctly hidalgo, features in these paintings.

El Greco basically took the greek imagery, and grafted local spanish nobility into it (flattering his patrons). 

This is probably best typified by Christ Carrying the Cross:

El Grecos style and imagery were then widely copied for the next 200 years; firmly setting Jesus in the western mind, as a 16th century spanish nobleman. 

... of course... the history of how the spanish nobility got their looks is another interesting tale of racial mixing...

And returning to the southern caucuses...

Santa claus...


Ok so... 

Santa is a syncretion of several mythological or semi-mythological characters.

Three of those characters are of northern european ethnicity yes...

... but one is an actual historical person. An ethnically mixed greek and turkish man, (a pre-ottoman Christian bishop) of olive complexion.

... and the last three or four are basically unseleighe fae (dark elves, dwarves or "monsters") with black or dark skin.

So yeah no... not "white" there either. Not Coca-cola santa (which, seriously, is where we get the modern image. Coca Cola ad campaigns from the early 20th century, mostly in the Saturday Evening post and similar magazines). 

Friday, December 13, 2013

HGTV... I do not think that means, what you think it means...

Baen Books editor Toni Weisskopf writes:

Toni WeisskopfSince when did hideous 1950s decor become "mid-century modern." (Confessions of an HGTV addict.)

It isn't and never will be...

The sort of garbage that she is talking about, which HGTV, and bad realtors, will often call "mid century modern", would be... Say, fake wood paneling, geometric green couches, red plastic "organic"chairs etc...

They're the cheap mass produced awful imitations of the style, with no grace, proportion etc...

They're lime green, seafoam, or "pink coral" bathroom (I bet you thought that sort of horrible bad taste came from the 1970s didn't you).

It's... whatever you would call this:

That's not really Mid century modern.

Mid Century Modern is Eames, Nakashima, the Philco Predicta etc...

Mid century modern is an aesthetic that emphasizes the fusion of clean geometric and organic shapes and lines. It's about deriving style from shape, form, and texture (and particular the textures of wood, metal, and leather); with limited, or no, ornamentation.

This is what good mid-century modern decor looks like:

It's an aesthetic I quite like in general, though it can be taken too far, and there are many poor imitations.

Monkeypod (used badly), shag, flocking, fake brass and fake chrome, are NOT mid century modern.

I like GOOD mid century modern, for it's simplicity and functionality.

Unless we're talking serious hand crafted, beautiful wood antiques, I like clean and simple design. Blending of the geometric with the organic, comfortable, functional, and with little ornamentation.

I'm not a huge Eames fan specifically; he could have a tendency to be... overly clever shall we say... but he's the only major American designer of the period most people have ever heard of, so he makes a good exemplar.

I grew up in a New England town that was founded in the 1630s, and boomed as Boston grew; and it shaped my aesthetic and architectural appreciation greatly.

The architecture I grew up with was largely Colonial, Federal, or Georgian on the older side (including two of the oldest standing homes in the united states); with a few queene anne or "victorian" (and very little gingerbread), a lot of craftsman and shingle style, and a smattering of mid century modern, and late century contemporary.

The house I grew up in was an almost prototypical Craftsman house, built in 1913. It had 12 foot plaster ceilings, knee to above head height divided light oak mullion windows, wide oak floors, plaster and lath walls with solid oak (not veneer) wainscoting and chair rails, built in cabinets and closets, baseboards and crown moldings etc...

It didn't use modern mill cut 2x4 pine studs for framing, it had BIG solid oak and california redwood timbers under the plaster and lath (I don't think any of the walls were less than 6" thick, and some were 8" or more).

The foundation of the house wasn't concrete; the back side of it was carved into a granite hillside, and the front side from the hill forward, was mortared granite block.

I LOVE that architecture. It's beautiful, warm, and organic, while still being clean and functional.

What I hate is overly decorated, gingerbready stuff. I hate odd colors or textures just for the sake of being different. Trendy colors and shapes... Style, or impact, prioritized over function.

Too often, that's what American architecture and industrial design WAS, from the late 1930s... and particularly from the late 1950s... through the early 90s.

It IS New England After All

Gotta have your afternoon Dunkies.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Google Malware Detection Being Stupid Again

As it was here:

and here:
"No, this blog is not hosting malware 
Sometimes googles malware detection gets a little stupid; and they flag completely benign sites as hosting or distributing malware. 
In this case google malware detection is reporting that I am hosting or distributing content from "cooking issues" "a known malware distributor". 
Well, first of all I'm not hosting or distributing content from them; they are (or were, I just removed it) a link in my blogroll nothing more. 
Second, they aren't a known malware distributor, they're the blog of a few instructors at a cooking school who like to mess around with unusual and interesting techniques for producing food. Very good site, I just wish they'd update more often. 
It appears they haven't updated since August... and it's entirely possible that in that time someone has snuck some malware onto their site... But much more likely is that they also have a link to a site, which has a link to a site etc... etc... 
This is the weakness of automated malware detection, automated intrusion detection etc... In fact, this can even be used as a deliberate denial of service attack, getting "content protection" services to block a site (it can be VERY difficult and annoying to get unblocked). 
Anyway, I've pulled the link off my blogroll and everything seems to be fine now, with no more false alarms."
The site in question today, is a link to the blog of Linux and security expert Eric Raymond, and it is most certainly NOT hosting malware.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I am basically Ron Swanson...

In an earlier post, I linked to a video talk with actor and professional fine woodworker, cabinetmaker, and finish carpenter, Nick Offerman.

For those who don't know, Nick Offerman, in real life, is basically a more "sane" and slightly less sociopathic version of his character Ron Swanson (who is based on Offermans own personality, interests, hobbies etc... just taken to ridiculous extremes)... only with a cooler job, and still married to "Tammy" (one of his ex-wives in the show, and played by his actual wife, Meghan Mullally).

Swanson (and largely Offerman), is a burly, blunt, confident, sometimes aggressive, plain spoken, mostly unfiltered (though able to filter and moderate when he chooses to, he just generally chooses not to), libertarian, disgruntled catholic, gun owner, meat lover, stupidity and ignorance hater, history lover, bad science debunker and skeptic, lover of fine spirits, wood and metalworker, believer in personal responsibility and self reliance etc...

For those who don't know me personally (or those who do but don't know the character)...

...I am basically Ron Swanson; except that I sport a vandyke and a high and tight (one of Ron's 3 "approved" haircuts), instead of an epic moustache and mane (though my hair does that exact thing when I let it grow), and I'm not technology hater.

...Well... and I'm slightly more sane, and less sociopathic.

... and I like fruit, as well as meat.

We even have the same red-brown wavy hair and red beard...

Hell we even wear the same clothes.

Seriously, I have a bunch of those same long sleeved collared knit shirts, rugby jerseys, golf/polo shirts, jeans, slacks, casual/dress shoes, and boots, that Ron wears. They're basically what I normally wear, every single day of the year (I never wear sneakers unless I'm working out, never sandals unless I'm at the beach; and never shorts or a shirt without a collar in public, unless I'm working out or at the beach).

...And when I say "the same", I mean not just a similar style... I mean the same shirts, in the same colors and patterns, probably from the same stores (Sadly, they most definitely did not cost him just $40 for ten years of his wardrobe... In fact they're actually damn expensive). We even wear the same styles of watch (... maybe even some of the same watches. We both wear divers and pilots chronometers and chronographs).

...And then theres these:

... and then theres this 34 minutes and 15 seconds of concentrated Swanson... the vast majority of which strikes me as entirely reasonable, and full of good ideas:

...Yeah... I'm basically Ron Swanson... ... and I'm entirely OK with that...

Two completely different things...

...only connected by both being talks@google, that if you like my blog, you MUST watch:

The first is a google talk by Joe Hall, chief technologist for the Center for Democracy and Technology, basically about how they work with regulators to stop bad laws (sorry, embedding was disabled):

The second is a talk with man I consider a true genius of common sense and basic wisdom, Nick Offerman:

Trust me on the second... it starts slow, but it's entirely worth it.

Hmm... overkill or under targeting?

A "customer service" person from DirecTV decided to treat me like a deadbeat instead of a customer today...

... and I admit, it got me a mite peeved.

So much so that I sent this EECB email directly to the CEO and SVP of customer service at DirecTV.

... and sent a trimmed (2000 character limit) version of the same thing through the "contact the president" site at DirecTV;

... and put up public facebook posts on both my timeline and theirs;

... and tweeted it (direct message and hashtagged);

... and submitted it to (who love ragging on cable companies and the like)

... and posted it on my personal blog:

So... yeah... I think that might get a reaction... maybe... 


DirecTV EECB mode: Engaged

Subject: Very difficult customer service and customer retention issue
Message body:

Dear Sirs,

I have been a DirecTV customer for almost four years, and have generally been satisfied, excepting several problems I have had over the years with customer service and billing (in fact most of these issues were early in my time with DirecTV, and were the fault of a third party telco bundling your services).

Up until now, all of these issues had eventually been resolved to my satisfaction; and I have always been very happy with the programming, content, and quality of service I received.

I am writing because I have been experiencing a very difficult and frustrating customer service problem with DirecTV, for more than four months now; which has caused me many hours of wasted time, and a great deal of frustration and irritation.

I am sorry to have to resort to direct email to deal with this problem, but at this point I have exhausted my other options.

The problem I'm currently having stands as this:

I moved from my service address at the end of August, to temporary accommodations while waiting to start a new job, and complete my relocation. Knowing that I would be doing this, I called DirecTV in late July (I can't recall the exact date this point), to ask that my service be temporarily suspended from August on, while I was moving.

At that time, they informed me that my service could be suspended for up to six months, that I should just retain my DVRs, and call for installation of mini-dish hardware when I had a new permanent home.

I would like to continue using DirecTV. As I said, I have been very happy with the content, programming, and quality that I have received up 'til now. In particular, as an avid football fan, I really love NFL Sunday ticket.

I moved as planned. Some time in early August (before Sunday Ticket games started) I disconnected my DirecTV receivers and packed them up in boxes with the rest of my household. Unfortunately, for some reason, my service was never suspended.

Since September, I have spoken with your customer service or billing reps numerous times; each time explaining the situation, each time being transferred to multiple people, each time being assured that the issue would be fixed. Each time, a month would go by, and your billing people kept adding another months service charges, and I would get collection calls. In October, they added an unreturned DVR fee, and early cancellation fee of more than $300, bringing the total to over $600.

In October, I finally found out that the reason my account wasn't suspended in August as requested, was because I had an outstanding balance on the date I had requested to suspend my service.

At that time (October 30th), I was told that I could pay the balance due in August (it was appx. $150, about a months worth of services plus a late fee), and my service would be suspended for up to six months; however I couldn't do that yet, as the billing department needed to remove the box fee, early termination fee, NFL Sunday Ticket charges, and additional service and late charges.

I am perfectly happy to pay for the services I received, I just don't want to pay for services I did not receive, nor fees incurred because my account wasn't suspended as requested.

On that call, I spent over 3 hours on the phone with various service, support, billing, and retention personnel, and was transferred multiple times. I eventually lost connection while on hold for over 30 minutes. However, before the call was lost, I was told that they were working on the problem, and that my account would be fixed; that I just needed to pay the outstanding balance due in August, and that if we were disconnected they would call me back, or send me a bill at my temporary residence. I never heard back from them, but I assumed that finally, given all the time and effort, the problem was solved.

Since that time I have started my new job, and changed temporary accommodations, moving all the way across the country for the second time since August (in August I temporarily moved from Idaho to Arizona. Then, in November I moved to temporary accommodations in New Hampshire. We're looking for a house in the area now).

A few minutes ago, December 9th (at 11pm at night by the way) I received another call from DirecTV's collections department, asking me for more than $600, and stating that my account was already in collections.

I explained the situation yet again, and asked the service rep to check the notes. She did so, but said that she couldn't do anything about this problem as it was now December, and the last call was in October. She said that since I couldn't PROVE that I had called to suspend service back in August, that I would have to pay the full amount (less the early termination fee and box fee... about $350 total) to get out of collections and have my service re-instated.

After several minutes of going back and forth with her on this issue she became strident, and I became angry. I said that I wanted to talk with a customer retention representative, as this was a customer retention issue. She refused, saying "this IS the only customer retention for this account". I asked to speak with a supervisor and she told me that none were available.

At this point I was quite frustrated and I told her that unless we could resolve this issue I would be permanently canceling service with DirecTV. I asked her if DirecTV was really willing to lose a customer who wanted to pay them $150, and continue paying them more than $100 a month for the next few years, over less than $200. She said that it didn't matter because my service was already cancelled and that I was already in collections.

I repeatedly told her that I was happy to pay the balance due for services I actually received, I just was not willing to pay several hundred more for services and fees I didn't receive and shouldn't have incurred.

Finally I asked her for some way of resolving this issue short of a law suit. She informed me that I could send a letter to a PO box in Colorado and ask for a dispute investigation. I asked if there were any other way of expediting the process; if there was an electronic form, if I could email them, if I could call them on the phone, if I could fax them, even if I could get a direct address not a PO box so I could overnight a letter. She said that I could only contact the dispute resolution department by postal mail to that post office box, and that I would need to attach documentary evidence of my claims to the letter in order for a dispute to be considered.

At this point I apologized for becoming angry, and ended the call. I then immediately looked up the executive customer service contact information.

Again, I am sorry to have to contact you directly... This isn't a matter of not being able to afford it, or not having the money (though after two moves in four months, with an 8 month old baby, money isn't exactly flowing freely), it's simply a matter of not wanting to pay for services I didn't receive, and fees I shouldn't have incurred.

I sincerely hope that we can resolve this dispute to our mutual satisfaction and benefit. I really would love to continue receiving service from DirecTV.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and any assistance you can render,

Chris Byrne

Monday, December 09, 2013


Holy CRAP Moving is EXPENSIVE!

So I just totalled up the costs of the move to date...

Reimbursable expenses alone; only covering the actual trip up here, rental truck, fuel and mileage, meals, and hotels...


... damn...

That's not including any of the expenses for temporary housing, restaurants, food etc... for the 26 day house hunting trip.

... and we've still got to drive back to AZ, then back from AZ to NH again (revised est. cost $4,300).

Surprisingly, the biggest expense isn't the fuel, its the hotels and the food. Fuel is actually smaller than either.

Our original estimate of total moving costs was $8,000, so we're looking at about $1000 over budget, or about 12%.

... of course, as I said, that doesn't include the increased costs for this month, restaurants, fuel etc...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Mad Rush - Finishing the Story

To finish the story...

We got back on 81 out of Johnson city about 4pm tuesday, and headed north. We decided to make it a relatively short night, and stopped in Waynesboro VA at about 9, to actually get some rest.

We ended up sleeping in, an didn't leave Waynesboro 'til lunch, for the 10-ish hour trip remaining.

Originally we were going to stop in southwest New Jersey to visit my aunt, but she had to cancel on us, so we went direct from Waynesboro to

We wanted to avoid the 95 corridor through the DC and Baltimore areas, particularly because of bad weather. There was nasty freezing rain south of the I-78, and snow north of it.

Thankfully, there was a relatively clear corridor along the 78, and the trip through Harrisburg and Allentown was decent. For some reason though, I always forget how insane the lehigh valley gap down from Bethlehem into New Jersey can be. Especially in the dark, in the rain.

I swear to you, we saw more concentrated potentially fatal stupidity in the first 25 miles in New Jersey, than in the previous 2500 miles combined.

We decided to go straight through NYC and the surrounding areas, on the 95, thinking that doing so relatively late at night would be enough easier, that it would be better than the extra 40 miles to go around.

We were wrong.

Oh it was fast enough, just overwhelmingly painfully stupid. Not worth the aggravation.

So, we pulled into our hotel near my dads place at about 2am thanksgiving morning. Had a great holiday with my dad and family. They insisted we stay the night, and we spent much of the next day with my dad, heading up to my Aunts place in New Hampshire Friday afternoon.

I've pretty much been asleep as much as possible since then. I get on an airplane to Chicago in less than 8 hours, and I haven't really finished recovering from the trip.

All told, including detours and re-rerouting, it was 3151.5 miles, from Kearny, AZ, to New Hampton New Hampshire. Google maps says its only 2624 miles by shortest routing, and 2,864 by our chosen routing. The rest was detours etc...

I drove all but 150 of those miles; the last 150, from somewhere in CT, to our hotel near my dads place. I was too exhausted to drive any more that day and Mel took over.

We had 60 hours of "key on" time, for an average speed of 52.5 miles per hour, but about 10 hours of that was just sitting, in traffic, eating in parking lots etc... so our actual rolling average was about 63mph.

All told it took us exactly 7 days; but that included a day lost to the storm in texas, more than a full day with my dad, and a half day in tennessee with Mels family. Straight through, and without the weather and the detours, we could have done it in four long days, or five reasonable days.

Now we get to do it all again, two more times (once back to arizona, then once back from arizona with the trailer and the dogs).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mad Rush - Day 5

So... I skipped over days 3 and 4 for blog posts... basically because I skipped HAVING a day 3 and day four.

When progress out of Pecos through west and central Texas was so slow, we were presented with an unattractive set of options.

It took us 'til 'round midnight to get to Dallas... but one we cleared the DFW area, we had clear roads for a couple hundred miles. We had already lost more than a full day to weather and traffic, and we were looking at either making our days VERY long in the saddle, or skipping one or both, of our visits to family.

Since I didn't want to do either, I considered a third option... Drive until I didn't feel safe to drive anymore (with Mel cross checking me).

... so that's what we did.

We ended up driving straight through from Pecos, TX, to Johnson City TN, a distance of about 1600 miles as driven (including some diversions and detours). That included hitting Memphis traffic at lunchtime, Nashville traffic at dinner time; and losing about 3 hours to the various accidents and slowdowns between Pecos and Dallas, and probably 6 hours to gas and meal stops.

... and of course that we were in high volume and pressure freezing rain, and ice fog the ENTIRE WAY...

Total time enroute... lessee... we left Pecos at noon Sunday, we rolled into Johnson city at 2am Tuesday; a total time of about 38 hours, and near as I can figure 32 hours of rolling time.

We spent a few hours with Mels family in TN yesterday, then after dealing with heavy traffic and rain all through Virginia, and having made back the day we lost, we decided to make it a short day at about 9pm, and get some rest. We slept in, and are heading to my aunts place taking the routing up around Harrisburg, for about 340 miles (and avoiding the 95 corridor through DC and BAL).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh and in case anyone missed it...

It just so happens, that today has been Mels birthday... but I have deliberately avoiding saying happy birthday or the like, until SHE has her head "ready" and into a fit state...

.... but that's what thick damn glove are for.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mad Rush - Day 3 - Stuck in the middle with you

"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you..."

As it happens, our routing on this trip, including all the detours thus far, comes out to 2,917 miles.

...Funny enough, putting the 1458.5 mile mark, in the middle of the bridge crossing the Mississippi river into Memphis.

Of course the last few days have been far harder (and slower) then we expected, but it looks to be RELATIVELY clear weather from here.

Now... We had to celebrate the half way point... And this IS Memphis.. So there was only one option...


it's a moral imperative.

For today's meat festivities we chose a pound of rib tips, and a 1/2 pound each of pulled pork and shredded brisket; from the world famous smoke joint, Toms BBQ. its on to Johnson City (7 hours or so), in time for a late dinner.

Mad Rush - Day 2.5 - Texas is a little clingy

Yaknow, its funny... for some reason, whenever I'm trying to leave Texas....Texas finds a way to hold on to me for a while.

Last time we had torrential downpours, and three flat tires in 3 days; two of them in 45 minutes, trying to leave DFW.

This time...

We entered Texas just after midnight Saturday, with a plan to be out of Texas 12 driving, 2 stopping, and 8 sleeping sleeping hours later.

It is now 1240 Monday morning, our third night in Texas, and were sitting in a truck stop, to the south of Dallas, still 160 miles from leaving Texas.

... And really, as far as today goes there was no reason for it.. The rain got heavy a few times, but other than that it was fine. Notice, no snow (we were running in between front passages).... Just lots of idiots crawling along in both lanes at -20.

I swear to god, if its not straight, flat, wide, clear, and dry; or nasty, rutted, muddy, dusty, truck eating crud.... Texans just don't know how to drive on it.

...and yes, this was almost entirely Texans, I was looking at license plates.

At this point Im fine to keep going, and we are both tired of being in Texas right now. Hell... Well be back again in 5 weeks...and then again a week after that...Texas can afford to let us go this time.

The weather is fine, the roads are clear and dry between the lines of squalls, and I'm as awake as I was when we left Pecos at noon... We're just going to push on until I feel like getting out from behind the wheel.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mad Rush - Day Two - "gang aft agley"

Robert Burns wrote the line quoted above, most often rendered as "the best laid plans of mice and men, oft go awry".

Our best laid plan was to wait it out in Pecos for the weather to clear before heading on to Dallas.

It went awry.

Oh, I was right, the weather had cleared... But the stupid hadn't.

We ended up crawling most of the 80 miles from Pecos to Odessa at 30 mph, because there were two rollovers on the westbound 20, and two jackknifed trucks on the eastbound.

They closed part of the highway off, shunting us off onto access roads, so we decided to screw it, just stop for food, gas, and some winter supplies (forgot to pack snow gloves, and hadn't bought an ice scraper or snow broom for this truck yet etc...), and wait for them to clear the road.

We left Pecos at 1145 (after a half hour wait to get to a fuel pump, with all the people stranded when they closed the interstate last night). It's now 1545, and we're about to top tanks and roll out. With the further delay,  we figure on making Shreveport or Monroe tonight instead of Jackson.

Enjoying a whataburger deep fried apple pie.... I wish McDonalds still did those.

... This is my " I just LOVE Texas. Can't you tell?" face...

Mad Rush - Day Two

Ok, so yesterday was no good... time to think about today, and the rest of the trip...

Friday night, we made it from the eastern Arizona mountains, to our hotel on the east side of El Paso, a distance of 410 miles; in about 7 hours total, but only about 5 hours of that was actually spent on the road. Average speed on the road worked out to about 80, average speed overall, a bit less than 60.

That's not bad... actually, it's pretty good. In fact it's particularly good since we had stopped more times, and for longer, than we'd originally planned, but still made a 59mph average speed.  It boded well for our progress.

Then... yesterday happened... 

Saturday we were supposed to make it from the east side of El Paso, to at least Texarkana (800 miles), with a stretch goal out to Little Rock (just over 900 miles).

Instead, we only made it to Pecos, about 200 miles... in about 7 hours of travel... for an average speed of about 28mph.

That's very bad. We would like to avoid that in future.

Overnighting in Pecos puts us at a bit under 1400 miles to Johnson city. That's way more than one driving day at the pace we want to maintain (frankly, at any pace it's more than a bit far... Even averaging 60mph with stops, that's still a 24 hour drive).

So, we're gonna have to have an intermediate stop tomorrow night.

Now, the weather hasn't fully lifted yet, and they're still clearing wrecks off the roads etc... So we're going to get a late start in the morning. Looks like if we wait 'til 10 or so, things will warm up enough, and they should have had enough time to clear things; we should be able to just push on through.

So... if we look at say 10-11 hours worth of actual drive time, a couple hours for gas and food stops...

That leaves us in Little Rock at a reasonable hour Sunday night (8pm say), instead of late Saturday night as we planned.

So, basically, we lost a day to weather and traffic...

Which is exactly why we decided to leave Friday night instead of Sunday morning... and frankly, if we had left AZ this morning, it probably would've been a lot worse. We'd've probably been trapped in El Paso anyway, not making it through before the road closing.

So, if we make it to Little Rock tomorrow night, and leave after a reasonable breakfast Monday morning, we should be in Johnson city for dinner Monday night.

Which means New Jersey for dinner Tuesday night, and a late afternoon arrival in New Hampshire Wednesday.


So we decided to hang out and wait for weather to clear a bit. As of 11 am local, we are now clear between Pecos and just west of Fort Worth, and DFW should be clear for a good while before we get into the area.

Unfortunately, the I-30 up through to the I-40 won't be. Given the current weather and weather up to midnight, we've decided to alter the route south from DFW.

We're still going to head on towards Dallas, but we're going to stay on 20, and go through Shreveport and Jackson. We'll probably stop at Jackson for the night.

This puts us in clear weather, or at worst rain, once we clear Abilene; and we don't spend the night in Little Rock, or on the 30 between Dallas and Little Rock, which is supposed to get freezing rain all night long.

Radar shows clear by the time we get to Dallas, but not if we continued on to little rock... we'd just end up driving back into the nasty.

It only adds about 50 miles and less than an hour to the travel time... and given the weather I think it might actually trim a couple hours.

Mad Rush - Day 1 - AAR

Lessons Learned--

Point one: When the voice in the back of your head says "maybe you should do this thing just in case", you should generally listen.

In this case, it was "put a CB in the rental". I have a CB for my truck, but it's not a handheld. I don't happen to own a handheld CB at the moment. I thought about getting one to take in the rental with me, but I figured... "ehhh, what the hell, I probably won't need it". I also neglected to bring my handheld amateur radio, again thinking, "ehh, we're not going off the interstates, it'd be nice to have, but I probably won't need it".

I was wrong. I needed it. Badly.

Remember that adage, better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it? Yeah...

For lack of information and preparation, we ended up stuck in the midst of literally thousands of trucks, for 5 hours, and 40 miles, of cell dead zone; with no way of getting information about what was happening, or why; and no information about the incoming weather.

The rental truck was supposed to have weather radio, and it does, sort of. Unfortunately, it's not NOAA weather radio, it's satellite weather, and is dependent on the Sirius working. For some reason, it wasn't. We got several sirius stations, but not weather or traffic; and we couldn't call them to fix it. There was no AM or FM local traffic or weather coverage either (thank you very much clear channel), just sports talk, top 40, and spanish language; with no local news, traffic, or weather.

So, I'd made myself blind and helpless, with the wave of a hand.

If I'd been able to listen to the truckers, I could've got off the highway, turned around, and taken an alternate route... or just gone back to El Paso to hang out with Rod. And when it came time for the I-20 split, I could've heard their reports about the nastiness that was coming, and continued down the I-10 down to San Antonio, which stayed clear.

Yeah, it would've added miles, but they'd have been safe and clear miles, and I would've at least been able to make Dallas (or maybe stayed south for Houston) by stop time tonight.

Point two: Internet connected apps are great. Use them, enjoy them... don't depend on them. 5 hours in a dead zone, with no information, NOT FUN.

Similarly, and related, OnStar, SyncServices and other connected vehicle systems that offer emergency assistance, information, weather, traffic etc... don't work in cell dead zones.

We were using an android weather app for weather mapping. It's awesome. We can see realtime weather maps, radar, forecasts etc...

... except when there's no data connection, for hours...

Point three:  Pack the Gear, Check the Gear, Maintain the Gear; so that when you NEED the Gear, you HAVE the Gear.

Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

When making long distance, cross country, or back country trips in rental/borrowed vehicles, make sure to prep the vehicle, with at least the critical elements, of the same gear and supplies you prep your own vehicle with.

If I get into trouble with my truck, I know that I have the gear and supplies to get out of all but the most severe situations. I can self rescue, or safely wait out to rescue. With this rental truck, as is... we've got SOME of the gear and supplies we normally have, but not enough to be confident.

Yeah, we'd be safe until rescue under normal circumstances... but what about abnormal, but reasonably possible, and easy to prepare for, circumstances?

... Like, oh, say, an ice storm in northwest Texas maybe...

So, first thing I did after we ate dinner, was hit up wally world for supplies and gear we'd neglected to transfer from our truck (just a few little things. The one thing I'm unhappy not having is some recovery gear, but it's a rental. If it needs recovery, I shouldn't be doing it, I should be calling someone from the rental company to do it).

Second thing, was to go buy a CB/weather radio, a 12v power lead, and an external magnetic mount antenna (factory rubber ducks aren't worth a damn, particularly in rough country. We radio geeks call them "portable dummy loads" or "flexible test resistors" for a reason).

I will not be blind and helpless again like that if I can avoid it.

Mad Rush - Day 1 - Bloody Hell!


That sucked.

So, we slept in a little bit this morning, thinking we'd be well ahead of the weather, and still be able to make Little Rock, or at least Hope or Texarkana, before we wanted to bed down.

.... and we would have been.

But for this:

Which, by the by, is nowhere near the full or true story. More on that in another post, another time.

What it came down to, was that we were at a dead stop, or slow crawl on I-10 for about 5 hours.

Even better, we were in in a cell and data deadzone for most of that time. Thankfully we had plenty of gas, plenty of drinks and snacks, and audiobooks (and didn't need to use the bathroom).

We first came to a stop a couple miles past Texas state road 34, mile 87. We had literally dozens of emergency vehicles, mostly border patrol, but some county sheriffs and texas highway patrol, and some local ambulance and fire; racing back and forth by us for hours... Even worse, they were inspecting trucks and trailers for the first few of those hours (which, I suspect, is WHY it was hours, not a few minutes).

... as I said, more on that another time, in another post.

After crawling our way a few hundred yards at a time, with 2-20 minutes stops in between, up to mile 107; we were shunted off I-10 onto Texas 1111 in a "town" called Sierra Blanca.

It was after 3pm at this point, with over 4.5 hours spent moving those 20-ish miles.

Even better however, was that they were not allowing access to the eastbound lanes at all. They forced us into a diversion route. It took us almost 20 minutes just to make the turns from the off ramp, onto the state road, under the highway, then onto an unmarked road paralleling the highway, for 13 miles; with a Sheriff's vehicle or Border patrol vehicle blocking all egress from the road, and all access to I-10.

So, we made those 13 miles at about 30mph, in convoy with the hundreds of trucks that had been stopped, finally making it back onto the highway at Van Horn, about 40 miles from the I-10/I-20 split.

By now it was 3:45, 5 hours from when we had first come to a stop.

Now... the whole idea of leaving Friday night, had been to get through Texas before the nasty weather hit Saturday night; then through the southeast before the nasty weather hit Tuesday; and into New England before the nasty weather hit Wednesday.

Basically, were trying to run between the storm systems.

Unfortunately, by the time we got back on the highway, and particularly by the time we hit I-20 around 4pm; the weather had overtaken us, and we started to get some pretty nasty wind, ice rain, hail, fog etc...

By 4:45, we had passed 4 major injury or multi-fatality crashes (a couple we could see directly, others... I've seen a lot of accidents... barring a miracle, they were not surviving those), and the weather map looked like this:

On the ground, it was a hell of a lot worse. We were alternating between torrential rain, frozen rain, and near whiteout conditions; with over an inch of ice, slush, and hail on the roads, high winds, driving frozen rain, and ice fog. Our windshield wipers could barely keep up (though the heater had no problem keeping us comfy... It dropped from 39 degrees to 23 degrees in a matter of minutes).

So, the second we got data signal back, we booked the next hotel we could get into (in Pecos), and white knuckled it the remaining 15 miles or so.

Between the I-10/I-20 split, and our hotel (a total distance of 43 miles), we passed a total of 7 major injury or multi-fatality accidents, including 5 rollovers, and a three car multi-rollover (with one vehicle over the guard rail between the travel lanes of an overpass, crashing down to the roadway below). That doesn't include the half dozen cars we saw off the road (including one in front of us, and one across the median) , two we saw actually spin (one in front of, one across the median from us) and the several wrecked semi's pulled off into the median.

They closed both the I-20 and I-10 behind us, a few minutes after we got off the road. A T-Dot official came into the hotel while we were checking in and told everyone. Their crews were filling up rooms quick.

Every hotel room in Pecos was full before 6pm tonight; and the 18 wheelers are filling up all the local parking lots. There's at least a dozen of them in the Wal Mart parking lot alone; and there must've been 100+ in and around the flying J.

I found out later that they had pulled so many wrecks off the road in this sector of the I-20 alone, that their tow yard couldn't handle them. They used that same local Wal Mart as an overflow. I counted 11 total writeoffs in the Wal Mart parking lot when I went by there later... and who knows how many in their local tow yard(s).

I can say without any exaggeration; that was the single worst day of travel I have ever had, that didn't involve the death of someone important to me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mad Rush - Day 1

Starting out in El Paso this morning, 410 miles down, about 2500 to go.

As soon as I finish writing this we're going to head to the car and go, so we can figure a 10am start. We slept in a bit (since neither of us managed to fall asleep 'til 3 or so), and took the time for breakfast.

We're going to decide on the road whether we're stopping, or pausing, in Dallas. If we hustle, we'll make Dallas for dinner time, depending on traffic. Unfortunately, then there's dealing with Dallas traffic.

Basically, if we stop for dinner in Dallas, we're probably stopping for the night.

Otherwise, again if we hustle, we can get to at least Hope Arkansas, and maybe as far as Little Rock. That would be nice, since it would make tomorrows run to Johnson City a much more pleasant, short day.

Meanwhile... it's nothing but 800 or so miles of Texas...

Mad Rush - Day 0.5

So, we rolled into El Paso shortly before 2am... or rather to a holiday inn on the east side of the city, so we don't have to cross town in the morning.

We ended up leaving about an hour later than planned, then made a couple more stops than we planned (the little man was being a bit fussy this time around); so our actual drive time was about what we expected.

We found what looks like a decent place for breakfast just down the road, Bad Ass Coffee... could be interesting.

I'm used to our truck... 490 miles before I hit "e"... This brand new exploder we rented does get better mileage, but the ridiculously small tank is an irritation. It's only 16 gallons from totally topped off, to the low fuel alert. It's only 410 miles from door to door, and we had to stop twice (topped tanks in Tucson, then refueled fully outside Las Cruces NM). 

At this point we're thinking sleeping a little late, and stopping in Dallas for the night. We'll see how we feel when we wake up. 

Oh and we took what will most likely be our last opportunity to eat In-n-Out for a while...

... The boy approves. He likes the fries (he'd be one of the few. Love the burgers, but their fries aren't great).

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Mad Rush... Through a Damn Blizzard... Awww hell no...


Well, we'd planned our trip to be Sunday through mid-day Thursday, arriving in Weymouth, MA in time for Thanksgiving dinner, then heading up to my Aunt Helens place in New Hampton, NH.

Further, we were planning on staying on the 40 through to eastern Tennessee, and stopping at Mels aunt and uncle in Johnson City, so that her uncle can see the baby (he's in ill health and can't travel anymore); and stopping in to see my Aunt in New Jersey (again, so she can see the baby).

...looks like nature has other plans...

If we followed out original plan, we'd be driving up the I-95 corridor in the worst part of this weather, for three days (a 5 day total trip, of appx 2900 miles).

Yeah... no... we're not going to do that.

Well, first thing, we've decided NOT to drive up with the trailer first time up. We're going to drive up bare vehicle, leaving the trailer and the dogs, with Mels dad. This will make our trip faster, with better fuel economy, and, given the weather... not suicidal.

I REALLY do not want to try to haul 20,000lbs and 60ft by 8 foot 6" of combined vehicle on northeastern roads, on a holiday week, in that weather.

... and in the long run, it will be easier to find a house without having the trailer and the dogs to worry about.

We'll come back after Christmas, pick up the trailer and the dogs and do the trip all over again, only slower... but at least we should have a house to take the trailer and dogs too by then.

Second... we're not taking OUR truck. We rented a brand new Explorer (the company is paying for it, not me). It'll be comfortable, safe, 50% better fuel economy (using much cheaper fuel. Diesel is NOT cheap in the northeast, and can be a pain to find off the major highways), it'll save the mileage and maintenance on our truck, and it should be a faster drive in it.

Plus, we'll have it the entire month, in Boston and New Hampshire, and it'll be a lot easier to get around Boston with than the 23 foot long 7 foot tall Truck of Doom.

Third.. we're not leaving Sunday anymore. We're leaving tonight if we can manage it. We've already done all the prep work we need to do in Phoenix, we've just got to finish packing, and packing the truck.

So, tonight, we scoot out of here, and drive until we need to stop to make sure we get a rested and early start tomorrow.

This should give us all day Saturday and Sunday, and most of Monday, before the bad weather hits.

When we were going to take the trailer, our route wasn't even really a question. We were going to have to backtrack from Kearny to the I-17, then north to I-40.

Without the trailer, we're a lot more flexible. Right now, we're trying to decide if it's quicker/safer/easier trying to take the backroads through the mountains of eastern Arizona and New Mexico up to Albequerque to take I-40; adding 200+ miles to the trip backtracking to I-17 and going up to the 40 through flagstaff; or adding 150 miles and taking the southern routing across Texas.

Right now, we're leaning towards Texas; because it's been raining hard all night and all day, and 385, or 585 miles of mountain roads, in the wet, to get to ABQ, vs the broad, straight, fast highways of Texas... yeah...

If we want, and the weather is good, we can still visit Mels family in Tennessee. Depending on how far we get tonight, we could be there Sunday night, or Monday morning.

... Or we might just push straight through, take the midwestern route splitting off I-40 in OKC, straight up into New Hampshire; and try to get to New Hampton on Tuesday, instead of Weymouth mid-day Thursday... we'll decide while we're on the road, based on conditions and the time we're making.


Ok, we're definitely leaving tonight, and we've got our route and schedule planned out:

We're leaving in an hour-ish (around 1800 mountain), and will be aiming to hit somewhere around El Paso before we stop for the night on day 0.5.

Full day one (Saturday): It's on to somewhere around Hope Arkansas... we may stop in Dallas for dinner with Mels brothers (she hasn't seen them in like 4 years, and they haven't seen the baby yet). We may even stop for the night, and just accept the 4 or 5 hours lost travel time.

Day two (Sunday): We head to Johnson City TN. If we stop in Dallas for the night Saturday that's a bit far, so we may not make it to Johnson city, in which case we'd stop in Nashville, or Knoxville, and head to Johnson city in the morning, stopping there for lunch, and doing an overnight rest, making it day two or three.

Day three or four (Monday or Tuesday): It's on to Medford, NJ, and my aunt Maureen, who hasn't met the baby yet either. That's a relatively short day, for flexibility.

Day four or five, (Tuesday or Wednesday): It's just a six hour ride from NJ to New Hampton, NH., or just a four and a half hour ride to my dads place in Weymouth, MA.

If we push, it gets us off the roads entirely before the snow starts Tuesday night... and gives us a day of flexibility if we have any problems, or if we want to take some time to visit with family, before the snow gets really bad on Wednesday night. If we relax, we're still off the road before things get bad on Wednesday night.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Boston In a Mad Rush

... Well, technically Weymouth, then somewhere in New Hampshire, but very definitely in a mad rush.

So, I start the new job December 2nd with a few days in Chicago for orientation, and they're working on my first engagement already. I may be traveling right back out the following Monday to a client around DC.

Which leaves us with a difficult decision...

1. Wait to move to NH until I get a free week or so, living in AZ and flying to clients out of PHX in the mean time (which means we'll still need to move... find a six month short term rental; because we're 2 hours from the airport where we are now), then take a week PTO to do the move


2. Pack up and drive to Weymouth in the next few days, to be rested enough to fly to Chicago on Monday the 2nd.

After careful consideration we've chosen option number 2...

Which is going to be fun lemme tellya.

The GOOD news, is that we've been living out of one small room the last couple months, so it's a matter of hours to repack the truck and the trailer, and head on out.

The BAD news is that I need to put two new tires on the truck, and fix or replace a trailer tire (it's losing air... I'm probably going to do both; get a new tire, and get the old one repaired to serve as a second spare). I also need to do a full fluid change on the truck (and no, it's not something we can put off 'til after... I should have done it before the trip from Idaho to AZ), and I need to get my power steering rack inspected, because it's being wonky.

So the next few days are going to be crazy.

With a loaded trailer, it's a 4 day drive pushing hard, or a 5 day drive taking it easy... we're going to take it easy.

That means, in order to get to Weymouth in time to eat thanksgiving with my family, we need to leave Sunday morning at the latest.

... I swear, I'm not a masochist...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

As of 1pm Pacific...

I have officially accepted an offer of full time employment with a new company.

We're working on a start date now.

At first it looked like they were shooting for December 2nd, but now they may need me to start as soon as the paperwork clears (maybe as soon as the middle/end of next week). They may need me on a clients site on the east coast, for December 2nd.

Either way, Mel and I really can't wait to get moving. We've been in a holding pattern for a good long while now, and we're both really looking forward to getting back on course.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Back to the Grind

So, as we were hoping, it looks like I got a new full time job.

The final interview today went well, and the hiring manager is making me an offer. It has to be approved by the CEO, but he expects that tomorrow or Friday, Monday at the latest.

Big changes in living situation coming, as said new job will have us moving back to New England. Eventually I can be based anywhere with a hub airport, but for at least the next year or two, they want me working in the east coast from DC north market.

So, we'll be moving to southern New Hampshire some time soon (as opposed to Boston... no income tax, more freedom, lower cost, less enraging stupidity).

Not sure yet when we'll move... I will start the job immediately and just fly out of Phoenix when necessary... we may still be in Phoenix for a few more months, or we may try to move in December.

That said, we're going to try to get back to Boston for Christmas no matter what (so the boy can have his first Christmas with the family).

I'll be a principal consultant, and as we build the team (they're trying to grow from 50 to 200 over the next two to three years) consulting manager; working primarily in governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), and enterprise security architecture.

This of course is what I've been doing for a while, I'll just be doing it for a growth phase startup now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vegas road trip

So, as I said yesterday, a company I'm interviewing with asked me to head up to Vegas to meet in person with the hiring manager... and they asked if I'd prefer to drive or fly (they'd cover it either way).


90 minutes to the airport, then 90 minutes IN the airport, then being fondled by the TSA, then a 55 minute flight (it would be shorter, but from PHX you basically climb out, then as soon as you finish climbing, you descend into LAS immediately... and all well under cruising speed... under 250 knots for much of it in fact) then 30 minutes  getting out of the airport, to get a car or a hotel shuttle, then 20 minutes to the hotel... Call it 5 hours...

Or, a 381 mile drive (6-7 hours), hotel and mileage paid for by someone else...

Did I mention that yesterday was our 8th wedding anniversary?

...Hopefully a job offer, and a free anniversary trip to Vegas out of it?

...Yeah, no brainer.

So we packed up the kidlet, loaded up the truck, pointed it northwest, and boogied.

We took the "back way" through the western Arizona mountains (which are absolutely gorgeous by the way) and just relaxed, cruising and enjoying the scenery and the quiet.

... though surprisingly, we had 3g most of the way, even 4g... so no escaping the phone or email completely...

We hit town after almost exactly 7 hours (we made 3 stops, about 90 minutes total, for gas, food, and pictures. Actual drive time about 5.5 hours, net avg 69mph, gross avg 55mph), and watched a beautiful sunset on the way in to the hotel.

As if all that wasn't nice enough, when we were checking in I told the nice young man that we were here for our anniversary, and that it was Mels first trip to Vegas (she's driven through it, never stopped).... and he did something VERY nice...

He upgraded us to a nicer room (hot tub in the room... very nice), with a great view...

...and then he comped us a second night stay.

There are times I really love Vegas.

I meet with the hiring manager in the morning. Mean time, we're relaxing and enjoying ourselves.

The Mirage has a Carnegie deli... Mels never had a REAL New York Deli Sandwich... we're correcting that now:

Update: This is the Las Vegas version of the Carnegie Deli pastrami and swiss on a kaiser. It's pretty damned good... it's not QUITE as large, and not QUITE as good as the real deal in NYC... but it's better than just about anything else (though I actually think pastrami club does better pastrami.. or at least did in the late 90s/early 2000s last time I was there).

That's gotta hurt

So I called my dad to tell him the good news about the possible new job, and he sounded like hell, so I asked him what was wrong.

He was just back from the hospital, having fallen down a flight of stairs and broken his wrist in 5 places.


He's gonna be out of work for a few days, and in painful recovery and rehab for a few months. He's in his 60s, and a master stonemason... Thankfully he's mostly a shop manager now, so it's not going to stop him from working, but still, ow.

New Job Offer Incoming

So, it looks like I've got a new gig.

I've been through three interviews with them, all went very well. Within a few minutes of the final interview they contacted me and said "the hiring manager is going to be in Vegas next week, can you go up and meet with him". Then they emailed back and said "oh and we're checking your references".

It's not 100% yet, and of course is contingent on background and reference check etc... but it looks like Wednesday morning I will be offered a job as a sr. architect and principal consultant for an information security consultancy and managed service provider.

They're based out of Chicago but have offices nationwide; and are in growth mode (currently around 50 people, targeting over 100 by end of 2014, and 150-200 by end of 2015).

They would initially want me to be based out of Boston or Seattle, but eventually I could go anywhere; and when I'm not on a client site (appx 25-50% travel generally, up to 75% at times) I can work from home.

We're still deciding what to do location wise... but if we went for Boston, we'd live in southern New Hampshire, with an official work location of my home office (no income tax that way).

I don't know what their exact offer is going to be, but we talked ranges and the money is in my range; with excellent benefits, and an ownership position and profit sharing.

Most importantly, I like the job, and I like the people, a lot; and they can really use someone with my skills and experience.

Anyway, Mel and I are driving up to Vegas today, staying overnight (on them of course), for my meeting with the hiring manager Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Metagaming, Fandom, and Gaming Theory: Acquisition, Engagement, and Retention

Boston Sports 
Since Y2K the Patriots have won 3 Super Bowls, the Red Sox have won 2 World Series, the Celtics won the NBA Championship, and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. In addition since 2000 Boston College won 4 NCAA Hockey Championships and Boston University added another. 
The above doesn't even count this year's Red Sox team which is currently leading the World Series 3 games to 2 with the Series returning to Fenway Park. 
...since Y2K every major sports team in Boston except the Red Sox has also lost in the finals of their sport. If the Red Sox end up losing you won't hear me complain. The team has already delivered way more than any fan had a right to expect his season. 
Besides - given all that has happened in recent Boston sports who would have any sympathy for us? When it comes to sports opulence - we has it.
The title of the post reflects the three primary success vectors of a game, and thus the primary missions of a game designer: player acquisition, engagement, and retention.

While they are important to any game, player acquisition is the most important success vector for "one shot" games (also called "standalone" games). These are games where you pay for the game up front, and then don't pay again, so it doesn't matter how long, or how often you play.

Of course, in these games, engagement is still important; because having a "good game" with an engaged user population means that you get good reviews and word of mouth, for a longer period of time; increasing your player acquisition (and thus sales).

With very good engagement, you may be able to create a franchise; thus increasing your success with other installments in the franchise (sequels, expansions etc...). However, in creating a franchise, you effectively change your standalone game into a persistent game.

Persistent games, are a somewhat different story. These are games where the player is expected to play many times, for an extended period, or both; and whose success depends on having a large player population These would include casino gaming (particular slot machines), free to play games (which earn money by either advertising or small in game premium purchases), "many replay" casual games (candy crush anyone?), and persistent world games like MMORPGs.

Both acquisition and retention are particularly critical to these games; and retention is achieved through engagement.

The way game designers accomplish these missions are with spectacle, and reward psychology (positive and negative reinforcement through anticipation, reward and penalty; with a very strong bias towards reward, leavened by the occasional penalty), particularly competitive reward psychology.

Something spectacular engages you for the duration of the spectacle. You are a passive participant. It attracts you, and fascinates you; but only for that moment. Retention requires maintaining engagement over time... becoming an active participant, either directly or as a metaparticipant.

So... what does that have to do with sports? Or with spectator sports fans in particular?

Simple... Sports fans are players in a metagame.

Spectator sport fandom, although passively received (the fan isn't an active participant in the games they are watching); isn't a passive, receptive, entertainment experience (like a movie or television).

However, much as television shows retain viewers by emotional engagement in the story (thus making them metaparticipants in the narrative); spectator sports retain fans by persistent emotional engagement with the sport, and particularly with their team (making them metaplayers in the game).

Sports fandom, is a kind of play by proxy; much as horse racing, and other betting games (roulette for example) where the players interaction with the game is not part of the gameplay. This makes it a metagame.

And metagames have the same success vectors as any other game.

One of the things that makes Boston sports fandom so... passionate and crazy I guess is the best way to put it... is that a Boston fan is being fed with a near perfect reward psychology cycle.

Boston teams win often enough (and often quite excitingly) to attract attention and generate spectacle. This  acquires new fans (or brings back those whose engagement has weakened); and it presses the "happy button" in existing fans, engaging their reward pleasure mechanism.

Importantly though, Boston teams don't win so often that fans get victory fatigue, and need reward escalation to maintain engagement.

When they're NOT winning, Boston teams are rarely just mediocre... they tend to alternate between "oh God so close..." and "total abject failure" (at least psychologically if not objectively). It may seem counterintuitive, but this is actually far more engaging than consistent high performance or even consistent victory.

In terms of gaming theory, this 3 point cycle (victory, near victory, failure) helps create spectacle to attract and acquire participants; and helps create, reinforce, and increase engagement.

Very importantly, it also helps maintain engagement (and thus retention) by reducing victory fatigue, anticipation fatigue, and expectation escalation.

So... getting into that second and third part...

Retention is achieved through continued engagement. When engagement is weakened or broken, you lose participants (gamers, fans).

Engagement is created, reinforced, and increased; with spectacle, novelty, fascination, and competitive reward psychology as described above.

Engagement is weakened or broken and you lose participants (gamers, fans) through frustration, demoralization, boredom, and fatigue.

So, the challenge is to maintain or increase engagement over time.

In general, you deal with boredom and fatigue, through novelty. Change things up, so that a participants experience, expectations, and emotional engagement with the game are maintained, and thus they are retained.

I mentioned victory fatigue above, but didn't define it, I should probably define the three elements of "game fatigue" now.

Victory fatigue is what happens when a player receives too many rewards, or wins too much too easily. This tends to cause boredom, and frustration; because the rewards no longer feel like rewards. This weakens or breaks engagement.

In an interactive game you can deal with victory fatigue (and to a lesser extent anticipation fatigue) by varying gameplay (introducing new and different ways of earning rewards) increasing challenge (NOT just increasing difficulty, though that is one way of doing so), increasing penalty for failure (though you can't do that too much or you break engagement through frustration and demoralization), varying rewards (making the rewards new, interesting, and different), or by increasing intensity or spectacle (making the rewards bigger or more desirable). These mechanisms keep the players anticipation and pre-reward engagement high, and their reward pleasure mechanisms responding strongly to the rewards.

In most spectator sports however, you don't have those mechanisms available to you (or they are severely limited). The difficulty and rewards do escalate somewhat over the course of a season, but are basically fixed year to year (win a game, win a conference, win a division, win a playoff game, win a championship game). So, frequent and consistent victories, particularly championships, result in expectation escalation.

The three major expectations to this issue of fixed challenge and fixed rewards by the way, are motor racing, premiership style football (soccer), and NCAA football and basketball. Not surprisingly, the first two are the two most popular spectator sports in the world; and the third creates a degree of unreasoning passion far greater than any other sports in America.

Anticipation fatigue is a more interesting issue. When you get that "so close" feeling too much, it actually tends to discourage and disappoint you, which increases frustration and breaks engagement i.e. "they get our hopes up every time then disappoint us every time... what's the point".

Expectation escalation, is what happens when performance or rewards consistently exceed expectations (or consistently exceed the mean performance of a peer group).This causes people to "reset" their emotional expectation of what poor, acceptable, and excellent are, such that their median level of performance, even if it is objectively far better than average, is simply "expected".

So, a team that wins 80% of the time, year after year, will eventually be expected to do so. If that team starts to win consistently less than 80%, even if they are still better than most teams and win 60% of the time; the emotional reaction of their fans will be the same as if they had objectively poor performance, rather than simply "less good".

Lesser success can feel like failure, when you're used to greater success.

Cycling between "not quite great", and "really bad" (even if "really bad" is actually mediocre statistically, the victories and near victories redefine emotional expectations such that mediocre FEELS like abject failure), actually creates and reinforces engagement, and passion; far more, and far more intensely, than consistently high performance.

This by the way, is the exact same reinforcement cycle that creates and reinforces addiction. Reward (the high), anticipation (the process up to the high), and penalty (the come down and the jones).

So... for Boston fans, it's like vegas slot machine designers were controlling things for optimum fan acquisition, engagement, and retention.

It's an almost perfect metagame... arising without design... which is kinda neat.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Execution Failure

Many libertarians... and these days many conservatives... have a problem with public education.

I'm one of them.

But unlike a lot of libertarians, I don't have a problem with the CONCEPT of public education... or at least publicly FUNDED education.

Public education, truly is (or should be) a public good, and is of significant benefit to all in society. A free society, that respects the rights and liberties of all, requires an intelligent, educated, and productive populace. History has shown that a poorly educated populace is the largest step down the road to tyranny.

So, I have no problem with the concept of publicly funded education.

I have a HUGE problem with the execution.

Or rather, I have a number of huge problems with the execution.

Like the fact that at least 3/4 of the dollars spent on "education" don't end up in the classroom.

Like the fact that DC public schools spend $29,409 per student (for the 2009-2010 school year. 2012 info in the link below) yet are among the worst in the country.

More money won't fix the problems.

Every additional dollar we spend on education, gets soaked up by the large mass of the public education industrial complex rather than actually being spent on educating students. Just like with federal financial aid for college... the more dollars the feds pump in, the more the schools raise their tuitions.

Oh and lest my liberal friends think the source for that almost $30k number is biased, here's Huffpo talking about how D.C. lied and said they only spent $18k per student in 2012 when in fact they spent $28k... HUFFPO...

From that same article, you can see class size is NOT the problem. Staffing is NOT the problem.

In D.C. public schools (which have among the highest teacher and administrator salaries in the country), there are 11 students per teacher...

 11? What about the "if republicans had their way there would be 40 students per teacher" crap?   about "Our classes are so big students can't hear the teacher?" Absolute garbage. Pure fraud.

The 50 state average for public school spending today is $12,500. Many states spend double that. DC is spending almost $30,000 a year.

Most private schools don't cost that... Sidwell friends, the most exclusive high end private school in D.C. costs about that much actually...

Public education in this country is not UNDERfunded... it's MISfunded. The money isn't going where it needs to go. It's subsidizing failure, and punishing success.

Try signing up in Icelandic?

Removed the embed due to un-disablable autoplay, but the link is worth watching: SNL Parody of Kathleen Sebelius discussing Obamacare website

OSX Mavericks Quick Review

The one line summary:

You probably won't notice anything that's worse, and you probably WILL notice a few things are a little better... and a couple things that are a LOT better.

Those couple things are the finder (tabbed finder FTW), the activity monitor (WAY more useful now), much better power management (a little to a LOT longer battery life, and less fan time at lower speeds; though they still don't allow granular control over sleep and hibernation. I use SleepLess for that), the slightly less irritating notifications; and the slightly to considerably lower cpu, memory, and power usage, in high overhead situations (when you've got lots of stuff open and idle in the background).

It also seems to boot a tiny bit quicker, and the virtual memory access patterns seem a bit better (my disk I/O indicators aren't flashing as much in low-medium workload situations). Scratch that... after a few hours, my virtual memory utilization is WAY better, as is my overall memory utilization and management.

Oh and multi-monitor setups are WAY better and more useful now, particularly if you're using an HDTV as a monitor.

I'm an android user, so I sync my contacts with google not iCloud (and my notes with evernote, and my files with g-drive and dropbox, and my passwords and bookmarks with another multi-platform independent service etc... etc...); and I exclusively use webmail and web calendars, so the changes there don't really impact me at all, and I can't give my opinion thereof.

I use Chrome and Firefox not Safari... if Google would make a native OSX 64 bit Chrome that would support appnap and sleeping idle plugins and tabs... that would be really nice. Until then... meh.

Also, iWork for free with new Macs.. cool I guess... I don't use it, again, can't give my opinion

Oh one bad thing... 

On my wife's mid 2010 13" MBP the install was so slow, with so little feedback (it stayed at "about 7 minutes remaining" for over 20 minutes), that I thought it had frozen, and I restarted it. It turns out it was just in the middle of uncompressing a REALLY large file, and it took like 15 minutes to do so.

I figured it out because my early 2011 top end 15" MBP uncompressed the file in like 5 minutes and then moved on. So I started the install over on the 13" and watched the install log. I let it keep running and eventually it finished the install just fine.

Actually two things...

Downloading it sucked. It took 2 days to download 5 gigs, and I had to restart the download multiple times. Mac Appstore downloads in general are slow and glitchy, especially for apps over a few hundred megs.

Oh and a feature request... 

Apple, next time include a free program... in fact make it an option in the installer... to create an installation USB drive or somesuch?

I have no problem donwloading a third party app (DiskMaker X works great), using a commandline hack, or extracting the install image from the app and imaging it onto a USB drive... but I'm a technology professional. Most people don't know how to do it, and they don't want to have to download 5 gigs for every computer they own, or when their computer dies have to download the OS again from the recovery console (allowing a reload from disk there would be nice too).