Wednesday, July 08, 2015

City of Sin: London And Its Vices

I finished Catharine Arnold's City of Sin: London and its Vices this morning.  Great book.  I was less interested in the more modern vices such as the Profumo Affair and Belle de Jour, and much more interested in the bulk of the book about the period between the Romans and the Victorian era.

If there's one lesson to come away with, other than learning what chucking is and that you should stay out of Gropecunt lane unless you know why you're there, it's that all the vagaries and varieties and novelty of craziness of sex never go away no matter what laws are passed and no matter how society and government change how they feel about certain acts.  Homosexuality, transexuality, prostitution: it all flourished in London for 2000 years in all its incarnations.  The only change was in whether people hid what they did, or wore their prick (or cunt, as the Brits don't mind saying a bit more frequently than u.s.) on their sleeve.

Arnold has some real sympathy for how working women (and she distinguishes them from those who don't have any other option or are children, although The Guardian believes she doesn't stress the unfortunate side sufficiently) and gay men are punished by popular opinion and politics, often for reasons that are later proven to be specious or nonexistent and are simply useful as electoral or religious talking points.  It was a topic of conversation in the convertible on the way to lunch today when I noted that John Oliver said there were 700,000 individuals in some sort of gender crossing in the U.S. at the moment.  They didn't come out of nowhere when Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn.  They are always there, always struggling against society and government and religion to be comfortable in their transgenderism.

I'm looking forward to the other two books in Catharine's trilogy on London dealing with crime and madness.

The Fourth

We made it back from vacation in time for the fourth in Eagan. It was a little bit busier than usual as the old Lockheed Martin lot where much of Eagan used to tailgate and watch the fireworks was fenced off and under deconstruction. We usually sit up near Wells Fargo which isn't exactly close to the fireworks, but allows easy viewing, and a comfortable place to park some lawn chairs, drink root beer, and eat popcorn out of a grocery bag without being in anyone's way or having to walk a mile.

Even with the extra people, it would have been a good place to watch the fireworks this year except a guy near us felt the need to add a soundtrack.  Patriotic tunes are great, but when your soundtrack shifts to Katy Perry's Fireworks, that sort of detracts from the experience.  So when I recorded some of the fireworks I did it with stop motion so the soundtrack is left out (I guess I could have edited the sound out as well, but I like the stop motion effect better anyway).

So in the interests of showing the sky who the fuck is in charge, to quote John Oliver, here's a long clip, followed by...

the final display.

And here's John Oliver's take on fireworks last year...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Crisis One Averted

Found a hotel where there were no hotel rooms.  Just had to upsize the reservation.  I'll have a very comfortable bed for just me.  I notice the rain is rolling in on Sunday.  That's not cool - and it looks as though it may be following me. least it will be 78 and I won't freeze to death.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day

I'm a bit behind on posts, but it's not my fault for once.  Sort of.  My computer installed a Microsoft update and tanked.  Tanked good.  I had to go back to a restore point.  Twice.  So I didn't upload pictures from The Lindsey Sterling and Karmin concert (I was so happy Karmin was the opening band - it was a great concert), the tour of the Gateway area of Minneapolis with Kyle (which everyone who knows me can attest I won't shut up about), or the 106 mile ride across Wisconsin with Ming (Kyle sagging).  Maybe I'll get to them, maybe I won't.  Maybe I'll just post a lot of pictures with commentary in the world's longest post so I remember what I was up to.

Today we celebrated Father's Day by 1.) having my wife make us (me and my father) eggs, toast, and burnt bacon for breakfast, 2.) Going to the 40th Anniversary showing of Jaws at the local theater (Eryn and I went to Desk Set on Friday which was great - Mean Mr. Mustard told me at breakfast at Colossal on Grand with Greg that he'd seen it), 3.) a little bit of bicycling, 4.) a lot of the second season of Agents of SHIELD, 5.) Catan at the coffee shop in the evening (I won!) with my wife and Eryn, 6.) Boss Monster in the afternoon with my Dad and Eryn, 7.) a bunch of trash picking between all the other things, and 8.) my car washed by my wife and Eryn - for which it was long overdue but had been avoided because it leaks a bit.

Re: #7, Litterati has been having a small contest/proof of concept at my workplace this week and we've had a week to collect/photograph the most trash.  These were the rankings as of yesterday.  That's me on top at 623 pieces.  So today I collected almost another 200 wandering around the neighborhood.  I'm fully expecting someone to beat me today, but they're going to have to get their family involved and really buckle down.  I found $20 (and took a picture for Litterati), so regardless of how it turns out, I'm ahead.  As ahead as you can consider yourself after picking up around 800 pieces of trash including an open plastic container full of urine in the cul-de-sac near the house.  The fastest I was able to collect and photograph trash via Instagram was about 100 pieces/hour, so that represents 8 hours of collection this week  About 1 hour/day on average, slightly more.  That sounds about right because I had a few two hour days and a few days that I couldn't get out, not because of rain, but because of after work commitments like bicycling so I'm prepped to ride longer distances.

I should add that this is sort of par for my personality.  Short term commitments, even if they're recommitments of things I'm already doing/have done, are sort of my thing.  I once told a manager that my ability to re-start something over and over - e.g. intermittent perseverance -- was a strength.  He asked why I didn't just finish it the first time and I pointed out that given the organizational dependencies and apathy you're often faced with, that's not always a possibility, so being able to reboot, and reboot in an aggressive way (I should probably call that with leadership, or urgency, or passion so it sounds more friendly), has advantages.

I'm looking forward to the best picture portion of the contest as well.  I hope someone has better pictures than my urine bucket, $20 bill, and trash in flower fields.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

1903 Old Photos of the First Tour

I like looking at these.


I seem to be back in an exercise groove between the bike challenge (in the top 10 this month) and Litterati having a gamified POC at work.  That's good - maybe I won't die from exhaustion bicycling around the midwest.  I've noticed I'm not losing weight but I have lost more than a belt size.  That's usually related to putting on muscle, although I haven't been focusing on my abdominal and arms which is often the culprit.  But I've been putting off building up some core strength long enough.  I'm not keen on doing the lifting regiment I usually do at home, so I may try this each morning instead and see if a low impact approach works in the long run.  I have a couple things I want to sneak in during the mornings, including writing, so I'm not sure how it's going to all fit.

Man in the High Castle

I love Philip K. Dick.  And this edition by The Folio Society looks beautiful.  If I wasn't tied to getting a trackable trainer so my wife and daughter can follow me and paying my car insurance so they're safe during their ride, I'd consider getting it to put on my bookcase of Tudor/Stuart-plus-some-graphic-novels-and-misc books.  The things I'm proud to have read and kept.  Maybe someone will consider it for me when Secret Santa time rolls around for my family this year.

Monday, June 08, 2015

On Managing Developers

I love the comments in Jon Evans' On Managing Developers.  The disagreements and arguing get to the heart of why it's often a crazy job.  No two people expect the same manager as their optimal manager.  I'm often in the position where I operate under "This is what makes sense right now" for a team.  There are a few things that are common project to project, but most projects have a unique flavor and unique personalities that require flexibility, communication, and quick personal iterative cycles above other skills.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Evolution the Game

Last night was board game night at work.  I sparse turnout despite all the rain. I know one usual was out of town and another was off listening to an NSA whistleblower and one was hosting a Pathfinder card game night.  But Mike from my team showed up for the first time, and Mike and Jen (brother and sister, both work here), who taught me Terra Mystica, were there (and Kevin and the two Sean's, although we joked that Sean #2 was only around long enough to play Rock-Paper-Scissors).

So with six people in attendance we picked a game that would support everyone instead of splitting up.  Mike of Mike and Jen had Evolution (Amazon), which had been a Kickstarter project.  The basic game is that you have a critter in front of you with population 1 and body size 1.  You get three cards with traits on them and one card for each critter (so four to start with).  One card goes in the middle face down to add food to a communal watering hole (the cards have numbers in the corner, some are 0s and some negative, so you can drive down the communal food if you like) at the end of a round.  The other cards you use per their face to add traits to your critter (face down), create a new critter (discard), increase body size (discard), or increase population (discard).  Bigger body means less of a chance you'll get eaten by someone with a carnivore trait.  Bigger population means you need to eat more, but you score more points (which you hide in a bag until the end).  Traits let you hide in trees, find extra food, become a carnivore, get a shell, hunt as a pack, and more.  Some traits work with the other animals you have to reinforce each other.  And, if your trait becomes obsolete, you can replace it with a card in your hand.

So there's a race to stay bigger or away from carnivores, or breed fast enough with big enough animals that you can feed the carnivores and not suffer too much.  If you're a carnivore, you sometimes focus on eating on the little critters so no one is scoring lots of extra points.  It's a fun game.  Very interactive, very fast, and the strategy changed quite a bit between the two games we played.  Lots of carnivores and scavengers in game one.  Lots of herbivores with protection in game two.

Boardgamegeek gave it a family game ranking on par with Smash Up, which I can definitely see.  Faster than Smash Up - with a big group it really moved.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

My Tour Placing

I've been using Strava lately as part of the National Bike Challenge, so I can use the sync feature.  One of the things I learned is that it records your performance on "segments".  I'm not sure who sets the segments, presumably other users, but Strava gives me feedback on how well I did against my past performances on those stretches as well as my performance against others who have peddled the same way in the last year and ever.

One of the segments is the 53 feet of Trapp Farm Wall.  This is a very steep short hill kids slide on in the winter.  There's a paved trail and, whenever I'm riding the Highline to get in some climbing, I go up and down once because it's good climbing practice.  10.9% grade!  Strava told me I'm the 8th fastest person up this climb ever at a blazing 7.6 mph (not on a road bike).

So I went out and compared it against Alpe d'Huez on  Alpe d'Huez averages 8.1% grade.  I can only assume that this means in a Tour de France I'd place eighth.  Or at least 8th in the competition to be King of the Mountains and wear the polka dots.  And I'm going to consider it hors categorie (for Eagan) because, despite being only 53 feet long, it's 2/3 the way through the first half of the ride.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Farscape (with spoilers, although 13 years after the fact)

All these years and I've never seen the last episode of Farscape. The final season was aired so all over the map in my area that it was hit or miss trying to catch them all and I was never sure which ones I missed.  Keep in mind, this was during the VCR era and I was never particularly good about scheduling things to record (and it was preempted anyway).  I rewatched every single one of them and I'm horrified to get to the end and find (spoiler!) John and Aeryn are disintegrated and all that's left is a pile of crystals with a wedding ring on top.

I know they have to be in The Peacekeeper Wars, which should be showing up from Amazon in a day or so because I timed it for the end of my Netflix stint, but it was amazingly depressing to know that was the last episode in the series.  I named my daughter after a pile of crystals.

Full Frontal Male Nudity

We have been to an amazing number of plays lately.  I'm not even sure how we found time to fit them in between all the movies (including some esoteric but absolutely wonderful ones like The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared as well as Avengers and Pitch Perfect 2), MS Bike rides (85 miles), MHTA Spring Conference, Code Camp, and birthday parties and band concerts.  We've been to:

  • Peter Pan at the Children's Theatre Company - beautiful staging
  • Hairspray at Simley Theatre (high school) - best Simley musical so far
  • Narnia, the Ballet at the Ames Center - beautiful, although Aslan scared me
  • Bedroom Farce at Theatre in the Round - funny
  • War With the Newts at Sandbox Theatre - yes, based on the science fiction novel
And last weekend, the regional premiere of Black Tie at Theatre in the Round.  It wasn't until we got there and were sitting down that Eryn pointed inside the program at the line that indicated we would be treated to male nudity.  She was horrified and I think for a moment she thought we'd just pack it in.  But you know, art nudity.  It's not the same as gratuitous nudity.  So she spent most of the play waiting to put her hands over her eyes.  When the nudity scene finally came and the son flashed his mother (arguing about whether he wanted to get married) Eryn tensed and....they flashed the other way.  That's the joy of a 360 degree theater experience.  Sometimes the nudity is facing away from you.  I have a sneaky suspicion they realized the only 12 year old in the audience was on our side of the theater and chose to flash the other direction on purpose.  Almost disappointing given how worried Eryn was.

It was a very enjoyable play.  The father spends the play talking to his dead father and trying to reconcile the fact that all the thought he's put into being a proper wedding host means nothing in the end.  A happy ending in that respect, as he embraces the change despite considerable angst on his part, his son's part, his dead-father's part, and less so on his wife and daughter's part. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life

Last night I biked up to the Trylon to meet Kyle for the Trash Film Debauchery movie Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life.  Unbeknownst to us, it was part of their Lifetime or After School Special series - something to that effect.  Despite watching a Lifetime movie for two hours, it was a good time and a great choice on TFD's part.  It stood on it's own without snarky commentary.  Basic story: swimmer is in a relationship with a good Christian girl who won't put out until it's something special, swimmer meets other high school students one who runs a webcam, swimmer gets obsessed and follows her cam, watches porn at friends' houses and on his girlfriend's PDA (oh yeah, PDA), with his mom's credit card, gets his little brother and brother's friend in trouble for porn (Vigin Vaginas, the bootleg CD!)'s a spiral of porn!  So he goes rock bottom.  Loses his girlfriend, gets set up for beating up the webcam girl and gets beat up himself, gets suspended, his swimming performance and school performance tank, and he ends up face down bleeding in the unattended school pool before having a slow motion epiphany.

Layer on top of it a religious discussion (Green Day vs some Christian band and lots of discussion about going to church which culminates with the statement "I need to get radical!" which I would have never guessed anyone would have applied to church-going, ever),  a mini-morality aside about the impact of porn on a marriage, and a peer-pressure plot that focuses on how the porn spiral will quickly take you outside the realms of what jocks approve of, and there you go.

All of it much better in a theater with a crowd over popcorn and soda (and a pre-show cold press coffee to wash away the dust off Minnehaha road construction).

The worst part was that we were promised "I Married a Princess" would be next in the captions, yet it never came.

Kyle pointed me at this link I can't get to within my current firewall, but something awful is always amusing, so I'm looking forward to reading their take on it (and I'm sure it includes some fun outtakes):

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five Tribes

One of the places we went over the long weekend was up to Fantasy Flight Games to have some lunch (and coffee) and see what we could play.  Eryn was all over Alhambra again which we've played every time we go.  It's a good game, and I think we play it every time we play at Kyle's as well.  I won, but based on longest contiguous wall which is something I never do.  It was all backwards.

Five Tribes was on Table Top which is why I think Eryn picked it to play.  Now that I've played a game I'll have to watch that episode again to see what I think of their playing.  It took us a round to figure out what we were doing, but after that we had a lot of fun.  It's basically a 5x6 grid with three random meeples on each square.  When you play, you pick up the meeples in one square and drop them one at a time without immediately backtracking or going diagonal.  The last meeple you place determines the color of the meeples you pick up (all of them of that color).  Additionally, there's an action on the square (an oasis or palace worth points, a market worth goods that are worth points, and a genie which you can buy with certain meeples which is worth points and has special actions).  And, if you clear the last of the meeples off a square, you can claim it with your camel and.....score points.  That's 95% of the game.  The rest of it is half mancala and half chess and watching how all the bits interact to take advantage of the combo you're working.

This is a strange angle on my wife's part, but here's Eryn working the board.

From our scores, you can see we each took a slightly different approach.  I focused on genies.  One of them allowed me to procure additional genies, and one of those genies allowed me to steal one of the white meeples when I assassinated it, which allowed me to buy more genies.  It was a nice little feedback loop.  My wife focused on the yellow meeples (ten points for each person you have more than) and a land grab (the camels).  Eryn focused on money and palaces.  She gave  me a few points at the end which pushed me just past my wife for the win.  She was very annoyed.  Great game - I'd consider owning a copy - definitely worth repeat play.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Financial Freedom

This is depressing (How Much of Your Income Should You Save at Forbes).  And I say that as someone who's been contributing to retirement since he was 16, keeps enough savings to cover a lay off, pretends at all times - purchases and savings - like he's a single-income family, and has slowly increased his matching stock plan at work as a secondary source of savings in case there's a problem (aka college fund, new windows, and a new furnace currently being tracked as possible non-planned expenses if I can't cover them through normal budget).  I think....think...this is telling me I have 12 more years of work left before I retire with the same level of income as I have now.  So I get to step out 7 years early if I plan carefully.  I'm not sure how my pension plan (old school, eh?) fits into that economic plan.  But in general I believe it encourages me to work longer so that the plan maxes out my end income to max out my end pension.  But my expenses should be decreasing as well.  Inflation goes up, but my house will be paid for and I'll have half a rental business to dispose of unless the market totally fails again (interestingly, even though the market is recovering, the economics of millennials moving back into the core city and driving lower-income families into the first tier suburbs, impacting school funding, is driving down the value of one of the properties.  As a liberal, this creates a real tension for me.  I console myself by repeating the mantra that I'm not an absentee landlord and work to increase the overall health of my property and contribute to a better tax base).

Maybe I should be encouraged - I could be retiring by 58 instead of 65, and that's not really all that far off.  Then again, realizing 58 isn't all that far off is sort of a bummer as well (should I be wondering if I'll be having grandkids by then?)

National Bike Challenge

I've got a weekend century coming up in less than a month and a 5+ day ride to Chicago (sagged by my family with hotels, so not exactly spartan), so I thought I should try to crawl on my bike a bit more despite the cold weather.  I got in an 85 mile ride two weekends ago (with Alan, Dan, and Dan's girlfriend Julie.  Ming did the short version; we've been giving him a hard time because he said he did 25, but took the detour for the 15) when I pedaled up to the MS50 in St. Paul and back, but that was an aberration.

So I was happy when a co-worker in R&D, Jack, talked me into the National Bike Challenge as part of the work team.  Logging those 85 miles would have been nice, but that's in the past.  I'm a serious self-gamifier, despite not necessarily appearing like it externally (I think).  It helps that my gamifying goal is never to be number one - Litterati is a good example - but to make a good showing in the time frame and time available to me.  So a new way to target some time is welcome.

I've popped up to #42 already (out of 64 logging) and my goal is to break the top 20, although I know Jack is in the bottom of that category and he logs a 60-70 mile ride every weekend.  I'll have to challenge him by aiming for a lot more weekly rides.  With the long weekend available to me, I took the Highline (hills) on Friday, the lakes (up to the top of Calhoun) yesterday, and into St. Paul for breakfast at the 4 Inns (closed, I went to Keys) this morning.  So just about 80 miles if you include some mini rides to the grocery store.

The challenge lasts through July, which means I'll get to stuff a 500+ miles in one week ride in there.  You'd think that would catapult me into the top riders, but our top rider has 1133 miles in 21 days. 53 miles a day.  I think he commutes 25 miles both ways from Inver Grove Heights if I read between the lines.  That's amazing.  If he's on a good road bike, he can probably do it in an hour and a half, so maybe he's only adding 45 minutes each way to his commute by using a bike.  No gas bill, but his food bill must be out of this world.  That's like 2500 extra calories burned a day (I'm going to assume he's smaller than me, but the speed makes up for it).  No. 2 through 10 are in the 25-50 mile a day range as well.  That's a love of bicycling I can't quite match during a work week.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Line Signal

I really liked the short Line Signal that was highlighted on io9.  Although perhaps for different reasons than the plot line.  The area where she's jogging looks quite a bit like the C&O/Cumberland Trail in West Virginia/Maryland/DC.  Enough to give me a slight sense of deja vu, right down to the picnic table.  I can picture having a ghostly encounter out there all alone, even if I don't believe in ghosts.

LINE SIGNAL - Short Film from Meat Bingo on Vimeo.

Catch up (and not the blogging kind)

I think I'm almost caught up with most of the big things.  My team was at work 8-2  yesterday (Saturday) getting our product ready to go out the door and, as a non-programming manager, I took care of tracking down representatives for systems that weren't functioning properly and working on the employee awards program work I've been putting off forever because I had/have taxes to complete and rental property fences to help with and so much other work and family time.  The awards program work included fixing an Infopath form, which was the tricky bit, because I didn't have the right licensing originally and the intern who had created it wasn't around to work on it.  The very last button I pushed overrode all the historic forms and wiped the team view for five years, but the data is still there, just hidden and, like a smart person, I backed up the xsn so I can get back to a few versions.  At least I hope that's the case.

I have a bit left to do on my personal taxes, but my wife was still getting her data entered and I have them 99% of the way there.  And I have application security work to do this week (security artifacts in the backlog as part of the delivery process - I'm not even vaguely sure what documenting that looks like yet) and a product to get out the door and a dryer to replace at a rental property, but all that stuff was also there when I had other work, so it feels more under control.  I think post-Saturday work, it'll turn out to be a quiet weekend of bicycling, coffee, and treadmilling while watching the new Daredevil series on Netflix.

Ah, and I ordered the Castle Panic expansions (the Wizard one and the Dark Titan - better description from Fireside games here), although they won't get here for a few days.  I really like Castle Panic, so hopefully this will get my family reinvolved.  I don't think The Dark Titan released before yesterday (table top game day).  Klund says I should play Star Realms, but I'm a little wary of starting a semi-collectible deck-building game. Eryn has an urge to play miniatures and I can't support two hobbies at once.