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Five questions [Nov. 26th, 2015|11:05 am]
These questions are from [personal profile] tylik.

1. I would love to hear excerpts (because I wouldn't expect more than excerpts) from a letter you could write to your fourteen year old self. (Assume both security and authentication is ensured.)

I have very little in my life that I would change. Not so much because I have never done anything regrettable, but because, current unemployment aside, I am pretty dang satisfied with where I am today, and it's my fuckups as much as my successes that have put me here. Maybe moreso my fuckups than my successes. So I'd have to avoid anything that might alter the life-path, and in the final analysis, I'd send the letter to my financial planner instead, with instructions to sell all our AMZN on or before New Year's Eve 1999, and then save the proceeds to buy it all back and then some in October of 2001 (and to keep this information secret from younger me until the date from which I sent the letter). Also with investment information about the company that was making possible written correspondence with the past.

That said, I don't really need time-traveling mail service, since thirteen-year-old me currently lives in my basement and consumes half my grocery budget.

2. Walking/hiking tour. Three weeks, any location worldwide. Where do you go?

Switzerland/Austria, through the network of Alpine huts. Hot dinner and a bed to sleep in every night, and with less food to carry, I could have more of my camera gear with me.

3. Pick a graduate career. No worries about entrance requirements, or supporting yourself in the meantime, or other pressing time commitments in your life, and assume reasonable enough faculty that you're unlikely to find yourself in need of burying any bodies.

Man, if I knew the answer to this, I'd be doing it right now. Too many interesting choices, not enough certainty of a career at the end of any of them. I mean, there's Econ, but I don't know what an economist actually does who isn't working in academia (and I'd find policy economics' active revulsion for data even more excruciating if I were deeper into the field), or Comp Sci, but I've the feeling that most of the interesting advances are actually happening outside of the schools (though if I did pick CS, I know who I'd want as my advisor; too bad he's at Syracuse), or I could go back and finish the math degree I abandoned in order to finish college earlier and get a job, but I *really* don't know how I'd make a living with a math degree. I've always been kind of interested in Poli Sci, but the constant rage would kill me.

That and I'm at a stage in my life where my tolerance for jumping through other people's hoops is very low.

4. Describe your superheropowered alter-ego.

(You've known me this long, and you still think I'd be a superhero?) Scion of Amber. The ability to manipulate probabilities would solve most of my existential issues, and think of the interesting (and literally magical) places I could visit.

5. What is your defining beverage?

Earl Grey tea, drunk from a half-liter stein. I am six kinds of beer snob (I like my beer the way I like my women--strong, full-bodied, and dark but not too bitter), but the thing I drink every day is tea.

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Hataraku Maousama / The Devil Is A Part-Timer! [Jun. 14th, 2015|09:52 pm]
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It's been years since I watched a new anime that I felt was worth reviewing. There are several reasons for that, including but not limited to: 1) me not having a job, and thus losing the big block of alone time on the ferry where I was accustomed to watching TV shows from Netflix on my laptop; 2) teh_boy being old enough to want to watch anime with me at home, which limits my choices to things I know are age-appropriate for him, which basically means re-watching things I've already seen; 3) no, those first two are the big ones. The Devil Is A Part-Timer! is a single short season, at least the part of it that's available on Hulu.

This is a weird one, tough to classify. It starts out in the end days of a world-spanning war between demons and humans in the medieval fantasy world of Ente Isla, a war that the demons have all but won when there arises a HERO from among the humans. Born of a human father and an angel mother, the hero Emilia is the only person who can wield the heavenly sword that can defeat the demonic horde. She carves a mighty swath through the demonic army, destroying three of the four generals and setting her sights on the fourth, Alciel, and his master Satan. In the final battle, she fights the two demon lords to a standstill, but before she can strike the finishing blow, Satan opens a magical portal, and with the standard "I'll be back to destroy you all/tremble in fear for my return" blather, vanishes with Alciel to...modern-day Tokyo, where the pair of them discover that Earth's low-magic environment forces them out of their demon shapes and into puny human shells.

Forced to conserve their magic, Satan and Alciel rent a small, run-down apartment in a poorer part of town, and while Alciel sets up housekeeping, Satan goes to work part-time at "MgRonalds".

From this point on, what we have is a light-hearted slice-of-life story where Satan works hard at his job, determined to improve his status from part-timer to full-time employee of MgRonalds, and someday--dare he hope?--maybe even shift manager, all the while bringing various characters into his orbit, starting with his teenage coworker, Chi, who is impressed with how earnest and nice a person he is.

Oh, and interspersed with that, he has to fend off attacks from forces who have followed him to Tokyo from Ente Isla to take him out. These attacks come both from demonic former underlings and also representatives of the human forces, including Emilia the hero. Who finds herself similarly magic-poor and working telephone customer support for a local company.

The major tension of the story comes from Emilia, naturally, as she finds it nearly impossible to reconcile the hard-working, slightly naive "Maou Sadao" with the monster who laid waste to her world and presided over the demonic army that murdered her father. Especially when she sees that, whenever "Sadao" *does* gain any kind of magical power (which, they learn, can be harvested from the fear and despair of Earth humans), he spends it helping people and repairing the damage caused by the repeated attacks on his person and those around him.

It's this tension that made me want to review the anime. Because they never bother to explain why there's this huge difference, and while they dance around the idea that maybe Satan wasn't all evil (one of the angels who comes to attack him routinely uses torture to get his way, even on people who are nominally on the "good" side, and the Church of Ente Isla is modeled on the worst aspects of the Inquisition), they never actually close that loop, and we are left with no substantive reason to think that the Satan of Ente Isla is anything other than a monster.

Like a harem-anime, the show collects characters around "Sadao", each with their own special relationship with him, but in a neat subversion of the trope, all those characters (so far) are either reduced-magic demon generals who live with "Sadao", or humans from Ente Isla who've come to Tokyo to kill him, but have found reasons to put off the denouement--for now.

I liked this show, and I wish there were more of it. As I mentioned above, you can watch it on Hulu. (I have a Hulu Plus subscription; I'm not sure whether it's available to non-subscribers.)

Happily, I see that the light novels on which the manga and anime are based have been licensed in the States and the first two volumes are available from Amazon.

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October 17, 1994 [Oct. 17th, 2014|09:38 am]
In 1989, I screwed up my first real adult-type relationship pretty badly. I had no idea of the complex raft of emotions I was going to experience. I was overwhelmed, and I ran away. Worse, I disappeared without a word of explanation to the other person, who thus had no idea what had happened and no way to find out. I wrecked that friendship forever.

One of the people I lost touch with...Collapse )

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Startup Weekend [Jul. 2nd, 2013|05:04 pm]
So I posted a couple of things from the Bellevue Startup Weekend, but I was too busy to go into any depth or detail. The Weekend is over now, and I've caught up (a little) on my sleep, so it seems like a good time for a trip report.

Startup Weekend is an opportunity for people with a business idea to meet folks who might be able to help them develop it into an actual product. For $99, SW provides a venue, seven meals (dinner Friday and all three meals Saturday and Sunday), and coaching.

Friday evening is dedicated to meet-and-greet and initial pitches from anybody who has an idea. The ideas I saw presented ranged from "WTF, really?" through "been there, done that, but now we're IN THE CLOUD!!!" to "Holy crap, I have to get me a piece of that!" Not every idea was profit-oriented, which surprised me a little. After the initial pitches, each person who presented stands by a sign with the name of their idea and talks to anybody who wants to learn more, and each participant, whether they pitched or not, votes for the ideas that interest them the most. The top N* vote getters are allowed to recruit members for their teams and continue to pursue and develop their ideas. (There is a backup rule where, even if you don't get enough votes to get "official" sanction, if you can recruit at least one other team member, you can continue working and will be allowed to present a pitch to the judges at the end of the weekend.)

Late Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning and afternoon are devoted to developing the idea for all that you are worth, and assembling a pitch for the judges, who are experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The judges pick the three top ideas and there are small prizes, the cash value of which probably do not add up to the initial ticket price. "But that don't matter" (Vincent Vega), because just about every project that managed to recruit a team got coaching and advice from the serial entrepreneurs roving the halls, and several of the teams went from idea all the way to a here-it-is-you-can-touch-it product in the 54 hours, and a couple even made actual sales. (Actual sales, it turned out, were a BIG plus with the judges.)

Tshirts, beer, and snacks abounded all weekend. So did hard work, active collaboration, and a level of energy I don't recall seeing since early days in NT.

I'd heard of SW before, but had zero experience with them and really didn't know what to expect. My pie-in-the-sky for the weekend goal was to find a cool startup and get them to hire me. Turns out that was unrealistic, because only new ideas were allowed at the pitch meeting; nobody with actual funding was presenting, and funding was not an allowed result of the process. The goal of SW is to teach people what they need to pull together in order to pitch their business to VCs later on.

After they brought the weekend to a close and kicked us out of the venue, most of the teams, even the ones that didn't win, even the ones I thought were particularly D-U-M dumb, were actively making plans to continue their collaboration going forward.

Reading back, I see that I have not mentioned what I did at SW. As it happens, I did have an idea I could have pitched, and based on the other ideas that were floating around and which got community interest, I probably would have gotten some traction, but (thank you, screaming introversion) I couldn't actually bring myself to stand up and be counted. No matter. The idea I did end up working on (even though it was somebody else's) is meatier, more interesting, and will require more skill, hard work, and expertise to bring off, and has completely changed the priorities for my job search. (Now I'm looking for shorter contracts to hold down the fort while we work in the background to get ready to look for funding for the startup.)

No, I'm not ready to share details, and I will likely evade the questions you ask me in person as well. ;)

The upshot, though, is that Startup Weekend was extremely inexpensive for the value it provided, and I feel strongly that, if I hadn't found a project to work on at this particular instantiation of the program, I would have gladly signed up for the next one.


*where N is a number not previously announced, but based on the judgment of the SW staff (our staffers cited a "sharp drop-off" in votes around the thirteenth idea)

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(no subject) [Jun. 4th, 2013|09:13 pm]
It seems Satan was sitting in his office when one of his lieutenants dashed in. "Boss! Boss! Something's wrong with the #6 furnace! We can't keep the temperature up!"

Satan wasn't too worried. This happened sometimes; Hell's infrastructure was over six thousand years old, and even Eternal stuff develops problems over time. But some adjustments, some tweaking, and they'd be back to roasting the wicked in no time. "I'm sure it's fine. We'll just go take a look, OK?"

But when they got to Furnace #6, it didn't look like anything was wrong. The fires were high, the valves were unclogged, but the lake of fire was visibly lower than it should have been. Still, most of the tormented souls looked to be in satisfactory agony. Except...out in the middle of the lake, there was one guy who'd stopped screaming.

"Turn this thing up all the way!" Satan called to the devils manning the furnace. "Get that lake boiling again!" The imps leaped to comply, but no matter how they worked the controls, the flames kept dropping. That guy out in the middle of the lake looked thoughtful.

"More fuel!" Satan roared, and loggers in the Amazon doubled their pace of deforestation, all to feed Furnace #6, but the lake of fire sputtered and went out. That guy out in the middle of the lake got a funny little smile on his face.

"More fuel!" Satan screamed, and around the world, a million bankers dropped dead, their black hearts scavenged to supplement the coal supply for Furnace #6, but the lava in the lake started to solidify. That guy out there started to grin.

"More fuel!" Satan shrieked, and all over the world, oil rigs ran dry as the oil fields were drained out from under them to pour life back into Furnace #6, but the lake was cool enough for the tormented souls to walk around on. Nobody was screaming anymore, and that one guy started to chuckle.

"More fuel!" Satan gasped, but there was no more fuel. Clouds formed overhead, and a single flake of snow drifted down, mockingly, in front of Satan's face. That one, solitary guy started to cheer.

Satan couldn't take it any more. He stomped through the growing snowbanks, grabbed the cheering fool by the collar, and shouted in his face. "WORM! HOW DARE YOU MOCK ME! WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?!?"

Around his chuckles, the guy managed to gasp out, "All I know is I'm a Mariners fan, and they must have just won the World Series!"

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Somebody asked me today what I think of Latvian jokes. [May. 22nd, 2013|07:45 pm]
This is how I responded:

I can't speak for Latvian jokes specifically...
but I can tell you that, as a person of Polish ancestry, I am unfond of Polack jokes, particularly since the day they almost got me killed, and I tend to extend that dislike to ethnic jokes generally.

When I was in high school, a couple of my friends took early enlistment in the Army, which meant that they palled around some with some enlisted guys, who (among other things) told them where the bars were that didn’t check IDs. Which led to a group of us—all underage—at a bar in Belltown one Friday night, back before the hipsters moved in and started getting it cleaned up. It was a scary part of town.

Dunno if you’ve ever done it, but the protocol for underage drinking in public is not to draw attention to yourself. John, however, did not get that memo, and a couple of beers in, he remembered that I’m Polish and dislike the jokes. So he starts telling them, one after another, each one louder than the last.

“How many Polacks does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
“John, shut up.”
“How does a Polack take a bubble bath?”
“John, shut up.”
“How can you tell when a Polack chick is on the rag?”
“Shut up, John.”
“Why did the Polack cross the road?”
“John, shut up.”

About this time, I noticed the guy in the corner staring at us. The BIG guy in the corner. I can see his white knuckles on his beer glass from across the room, he’s gripping it so hard, and the glare he’s giving us gets a little harder with every joke.

“Did you hear about the Cessna that crashed in the Polish cemetery?”

Finally, the guy can’t stand it any more, and blows to his feet, sending the table flying. He’s even bigger than I thought, well over six feet and two-seventy, two-eighty pounds, easy. He smashes his glass down on the floor and storms out. The barkeep comes over and starts sweeping up the glass shards, and John asks, at full volume, “Hey! What was THAT guy’s problem?”

The barkeep gives John The Look and says, “He’s Polish, and he REALLY doesn’t like Polack jokes. You kids better be gone by the time he gets back here.”

John was all, “but I haven’t finished my beer”, but we dragged him out of there anyway and headed for the cars.

Unfortunately, the big Polack apparently parked the same place we did, because as we walked around the corner, we practically ran into him—he was coming back with a full head of steam and a razor.

And I am completely convinced that I would not be here today if he’d managed to find a place to plug it in.

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Next week... [Mar. 13th, 2013|01:25 pm]
...perhaps I will tackle gun control.

I bet my position there gets fury from the kneejerks on *both* sides of the aisle. :)

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The Seattle Freeze [Jan. 18th, 2013|12:09 pm]
So a LinkedIn group*, of which I am a member, is running a thread on the "Seattle Freeze**", to wit: does it really exist, and why?

The comments are mostly people complaining that, yes it exists, and claiming that the problem is Seattle natives are unfriendly and mean. There are a few folks, both local and non-, claiming that they've never seen it, so it must not exist at all. And at least one person claiming that they grew up here and had lots of friends, then moved away and came back, and got frozen out, so the real problem must be that all the transplants have ruined the place.


The definitive answer is, yes, it exists. We know this because enough people have noticed it and commented on it that there's a name for the phenomenon. In this case, there is enough anecdotal evidence to be statistically significant.

And here, from a person who probably exemplifies the Seattle Freeze better than anyone I've ever met, is how the thing works, why the strategies for making friends elsewhere are the opposite of helpful around here, and what strategies will work instead. Sure, there might be an excess of projection (and, knowing me, a healthy dollop of pretension) happening here, but I promise, the takeaways and recommendations will be valuable anyway.

Note that the below are not really independent items; the Seattle Freeze is a messy tangle of interconnected threads. Hopefully teasing those threads out for individual examination will also make apparent the ways they aggravate and reinforce each other.

1) Introversion and seasonal-affective disorder. People in the NW have a strong tendency toward introversion, and this tendency is exacerbated by the climate and short winter days--we just don't get enough sunlight to be perky. What this means in the context of making friends is that for many of us, interacting with people burns our emotional energy, and our energy reserves are very low to begin with. As a result, we need our friendships to have a high ROI. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since human interactions are not a zero-sum game; it's very easy for a friendship to have a high ROI in both directions.)

2) Assumption of obligation. Some of the complaints I've seen on the LinkedIn thread are along the lines of, "I go out of my way to spend time with folks, and offer to help them move, and all kinds of helpful things". For a northwesterner, an offer like this comes with significant strings--if I accept help moving, I am accepting an obligation to help you move next time you need it, and thus if I don't think we're good enough friends that I would volunteer to help you move, your offer to help me is going to be off-putting. The fact that you may not expect reciprocity in this is not relevant; the obligation is part of my makeup. And in fact, if you make a point of saying you don't expect reciprocity, that just makes it worse, because what kind of advantage-taking asshole would I be to let you help me without any intention of returning the favor?

3) Motivational imbalance. Locals already have a bunch of local friends. The marginal benefit to a local of making an arbitrary new friend is considerably lower than the benefit to a transplant who doesn't know many people yet. This means the local is much less motivated to make this particular relationship blossom.

4) Requirement of common ground. This isn't really a requirement of establishing the relationship as much as it is a way to provide context for that establishment to occur. Because making friends takes more time, and because of point 3 above, locals aren't going to be interested in activities that are specifically tied to developing relationships. But if you can interact with the locals doing something they're already motivated to spend time doing, you end up with not only a captive audience, but also ready-made conversation starters.

5) Aversion to superficiality. This goes straight back to point one, but is important enough to call out separately. When side A of a potential relationship expects depth and a high ROI before accepting closeness and significant time investment, and side B expects and tries to push that closeness and time investment before depth, side A is going to feel pressured and defensive, and will slam the walls down even harder, because "obviously" side B is out to get something. Naturally, Side B (who honestly has no ulterior motive) is going to interpret this as rudeness and frigidity.

None of this is to say that the Northwesterner's approach to friendships is superior to the transplant's. They are just different. If the goal is to make some freaking friends, it has to be up to the transplant to understand the culture they've entered figure out how that culture establishes relationships, and adapt their approach commensurately. It'd be the same if I moved to a place without the NW reticence--I'd need to adjust my approach to the faster speed. Changing a regional culture isn't one of the options that's available to you.

So, if you are a transplant to the Seattle area, the best way to make friends is to go do the stuff you like to do. One great thing about the area is that no matter what that thing is, from skiing to surfing to dancing to hacking, there's probably a place you can go where you can do it and be surrounded by other folks who love doing that thing. Once you meet them, let them drive the speed of the friendship, because it's easy to scare the natives off by rushing things. It might take longer than you're used to, but it's still possible, and really not even all that difficult. Just remember it's not personal--how can it be, when we don't know you yet? :)

*Linked:Seattle, in case you're interested. The thread is still active, but a lot of the activity seems to be people who've had their feelings hurt and just want to complain, instead of folks who're actively looking for a solution to the problem. (ETA: things look like they've actually gotten more productive in later comments, and I don't mean just because more people are starting to voice agreement with my point of view. :) )

**The "Seattle Freeze" is the alleged social phenomenon whereby non-locals find it difficult to make friends in the PNW, and the harder they try, the harder they find it.

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How would you test a coin-operated Coke machine? [Oct. 31st, 2012|08:21 pm]
What is your favorite interview question*? Could be one you love to ask candidates, could be one you've been asked yourself.

I'm particularly interested in the real curve balls, the questions that stop the candidate short and make them think.

For funsies (did I really just type "funsies"?), I will answer your questions**, provided I see the relevance. If I don't see the relevance, I will ask you about it until I get it, and then answer it.

Because Facebook does not support message threading, please respond here if possible. Anonymous comments are enabled, but if you do post anonymously, I ask (but do not require) that you identify yourself in your comment.

Feel free to comment on other people's questions as well.

Thanks much!

* Mine is the one in the subject line. Coke machines are ubiquitous enough that I don't have to argue back and forth about the spec, they're simple enough in concept that the test planning isn't too daunting, and there's enough discoverable complexity that this one question can keep a good candidate busy for pretty much the whole hour. I learn a lot about a potential tester from how they approach the Coke machine problem.

** Full disclosure: With hopefully a raft of interviews upcoming, I'm hoping to encounter the difficult questions here where I have a chance to rehearse my response, rather than being blindsided on the day. I call this "due diligence preparation", by the way, not "cheating". :) So feel free to tell me how I did with my answer!

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OK, so here is the deal. [Jul. 31st, 2012|07:49 pm]
In late March, a friend of mine pinged me and asked me if I'd be interested in talking with another of her friends who is a partner in a startup that was looking to get venture capital and bring on some more people beyond the two principals who were currently doing all the work. I was, and I met with the guy, and we had a nice chat about his company, what they were trying to do, how I might fit into that, and how they didn't have any money to hire anybody until they got some funding.

I kept in touch for a few months, while continuing to pursue other job openings, but you know, that gets depressing and I'm looking for a very specific kind of opportunity that is apparently in very short supply.

So when we got back from London, I dropped the startup guy a line and said, "What if I come to work for you now and you pay me if and when you get funding?" (That was, obviously, the "job offer" I teased about a couple of weeks ago.) That way, they get help right away and start the learning curve for their new employee earlier, and I get a real project to work on and I can stop looking for a freaking job, which is maybe the thing I've ever done in my life that I hate the most. Everybody wins.

Long story short, they liked the idea in principle, but there are apparently issues with deferred compensation, and wanted to know if I'd be open to some other structuring of the deal. No problem for me, I have an obligation to myself and my family to not work for free, but I am largely indifferent to how that compensation actually happens. (I am extremely fortunate that our financial situation is such that I can even make an offer like this.)

Today, I met with both principals and, after an update on the status of financing and a couple of technical-interview-type questions (they had me navigating a binary search tree, which I apparently did OK with), they hit me with their counterproposal. They want to engage me as an independent contractor and have me port their iPhone app to Android. They'll pay a lump sum for the work, and when they get their funding, the idea is they'll bring me on as an actual employee.

Works for me; I know the tax situation as an IC can be weird, but thanks to M.'s stock options, we already have a good CPA, and I am sure he can get me through that. So I accepted the offer, and now I am employed (once we sign the contract and NDA).

Of course, I've never done mobile development at all, let alone for Android. So I'm hoping the work they've already done porting from WinPhone to iPhone is relevant and helpful, and I'll be ramping up hard on the Android UI.

I have taken a LARGE bite here; I hope I can chew it. :) But even if I crash and burn, I'll have developed (see what I did there?) a new skillset and my resume won't show the extended idle time it's currently racking up.

On a side note, the names of the principals are Steve and Tyler, so I was vastly amused to get back out to my car after meeting with them to find Aerosmith playing on the radio, and if you don't know why that's funny, I don't know why we are even friends, it's like I don't even know you anymore.

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I sent this letter today [Jul. 24th, 2012|05:29 pm]
BSA National Executive Board
1325 Walnut Hill Lane
PO Box 152079
Irving, Texas 75015-2079

To Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive, and the BSA National Executive Board:

I am an Eagle Scout, and Scouting was a huge factor in my childhood. From my first den meeting as a Bobcat through my Arrow of Light award, my time as Patrol Leader and Senior Patrol Leader for Troop #425, my Eagle service project, my induction into the Order of the Arrow, and my later service with Explorer Search and Rescue Post 888, I was proud to enthusiastically uphold Scouting’s values of leadership, community service, teamwork, and togetherness.

Today, however, I write not because I am proud of Scouting, but because I am deeply disappointed. Your policy of exclusion of homosexuals is offensive, bigoted, and not in the interests of Scouts, Scouting, or the community. Overwhelming scientific evidence exists that a person’s sexual orientation is an inherent part of who they are, and there is no moral failure involved in being homosexual.

You had an opportunity this month to take a step forward, show the leadership you espouse, and embrace—or at least accept—the reality of the modern community. You utterly failed to take advantage of that opportunity and have perpetuated the perception that Scouting is backwards, fearful, and willfully blind.

I have been quietly disappointed in your policies for years, and I removed reference to my Eagle award from my resume over a decade ago because including it implied that I supported those policies, which was not helping my job search. Your decision of July 17 has pushed my disappointment to the point where I must speak out. If you believe that these policies reflect the wishes of your current and past members, I assure you that in my case at least, you could not be more wrong.

My son will not be a Scout until and unless these bigoted, exclusionary policies are changed. I dearly hope that this does not mean my son will never be a Scout. I have asked him to read this letter so that we can have a discussion about what it truly means to be “morally straight”.

George Mitchell
Formerly proud Eagle Scout

I chose not to return my Eagle award, as many other Eagles are doing, because I didn't want to give them an excuse to ignore me because I had chosen to dissociate myself from Scouting. No, I am still an Eagle, and I stand for inclusion and against bigotry.

ETA: Note that I am not criticizing those Eagles who have returned their medals; they are making their statement the way they think it should be made, and I have nothing but respect for their choice. I merely choose to make my statement slightly differently.

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A good day. [Jul. 19th, 2012|05:22 pm]
In the car on the way to day camp at his school, teh_boy was thinking about the rain cycle and speculated that there might be, somewhere on Earth, some water that had never been vapor. I said that, given that the Earth congealed out of molten rock, I thought it was pretty unlikely. He then asked me how the water got to the planet in the first place.

By the time I dropped him off, I'd gotten as far as the current estimate of the age of the Universe (~13.5 billion years), and how that age was determined, which involved a digression into Doppler shifting, from water waves through sound to light. When I picked him up this afternoon, I walked him through the stellar life cycle, fusion from hydrogen up to iron, and supernovae, and brought him home to the giant cloud-with-rocks-in that collapsed into our solar system complete with oxygen, iron and all those other elements that go into our everyday experience and started out inside stars.

Then I dug out a little battery-powered airplane I've had for like seven years but never had enough space to play with, and we flew that off the deck for a while.

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It is officially a lawn now... [Jul. 11th, 2012|06:11 pm]
...because I have mown it. Don't get me wrong, it still has a looong way to go, but the overenthusiastic bits have been brought back under control.

Between the septic tank, the drain field, and the various irrigation pieces, the yard is full of PVC pipe ends and covers. I had mentally divided these into "obviously too tall to mow over" and "short enough to mow over". Imagine my annoyance when I discovered a third classification.

Now imagine my father-in-law's annoyance as he reads this post and realizes that I made this discovery using the riding mower he loaned me.

Next stop, Home Despot for a cutoff wheel for my drill and some new pipe end caps.

Also, two freaking hours to mow it. Subsequent mowings will go more quickly, but I don't see it getting much shorter than an hour and a half. As Blackadder said, "some sort of hat is probably in order."

On the other hand, it's already been a hella productive week--we planted the bay tree and six blueberry bushes on Monday, teh_boy and I got the irrigation drips run to them on Tuesday and split a bunch more wood for the pizza oven, we picked up enough fertilizer to perk up the whole lawn (will spread that tomorrow after I fix the pipe ends), and today I got the mowing done. That, and my Vitamin D counts have to be through the roof. :)

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What. A. Day. [Jun. 6th, 2012|05:59 pm]
M. was at school all day, so the original plan was I'd stay home and "work"--Wayne Roseberry has a test-planning book I promised to review, and Mobilligy has an iPhone app I promised I'd play around with and provide feedback. Seemed like an awesome opportunity to multitask.

But. M. is putting together some lovely parting gifts for some of the retiring school board members, and the frames we bought came with "protective" plastic corners that ripped the finish off the frames when we tried to remove them, so somebody had to return them and find a replacement solution. Also, we had some work done on the car yesterday, and we discovered this morning (when M. tried to drive teh_boy to school) that only my key was working (we found the problem yesterday, but we thought they'd fixed it, and since I drove the car home from the dealership, we didn't discover the problem was still extant until they were already late leaving the house this morning). So I added "revisit the dealership" to my list of tasks.

Got the frames returned, got the new frames in process, went to the dealership, couldn't find the frakking key. I'd had it when I left home, I'd had it at school when I traded cars with M., but I didn't have it anymore. Tore the car apart with the service advisor, still didn't find it. Told the service advisor I'd be back when I found it, set off to retrace my path. Searched the parking lot at the first frame store, nothing. Asked inside about lost-and-found, got nothing. Went back out to the car, took the huge wad of receipts from my earlier errands out of my shirt pocket, checked my wallet (which I usually keep in the aforementioned shirt pocket because if I sit on it, it throws my spine out of alignment and leaves me extra-susceptible to back sprains), and underneath the wallet was the damn key. Drove back to the dealership, admitted to the service advisor that I'd had the key all along, and waited for them to reprogram the car to accept the key. Went to Lowe's to pick up some irrigation supplies that I've been putting off acquiring for too long, got a call from the second framing store--the mats were ready to be picked up. (Already? Wow. Guess we shoulda went with them in the first place, but the big chain stores are nominally cheaper.) Picked up the mats and took them and the car back up to school to deliver them to M. (The students are all going to sign the mats for the departing board members, and then we'll frame them up with a nice picture of all the kids in front of one of the school buildings.) Could have, at that point, gone home and tried to get an hour's test planning and testing in, but I was going to have to come back in a couple hours to pick up teh_boy after school so M. could get to all her meetings (for an unpaid position, they do keep her awfully busy) anyway, so I asked if there were any other errands I could run in town instead. There were, so I wandered off, had some lunch, did the other errands, and made it back to school with only a few minutes to spare before dismissal. Took teh_boy home.

And that, Wayne and Steve, is why I didn't make any progress on your projects today. :) Tomorrow M. and I are going to Seattle to pick up supplies for teh_boy's final (probably) birthday party this year which is on Saturday, but Friday is looking pretty good.

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In which we reflect on lessons learned, decades too late [Mar. 7th, 2012|03:44 pm]
My parents heat their house, at least partly, with a wood stove, and have done since the late '70s. When I was a kid, one of my chores every day was to haul a couple wheelbarrow loads of the wood my dad had cut and split from the woodyard (or the front driveway, once most of the big cottonwoods out back were gone and they started buying wood by the logging-trailer load) to the shed and stack it. I also had to haul cured wood from the shed up to the patio so it was available for use in the stove. We're talking maybe a fifty-yard haul, tops.

I freely admit that I sloughed off this duty at every opportunity, and covered up my iniquity by hauling wet wood directly from the pile to the patio, with no intervening stop in the shed. Of course, the difference between wet wood and cured wood is immediately obvious to even the dullest observer, which unfortunately for me, does not describe my parents, even on an off day.

Today, I hauled two wheelbarrow loads of maple rounds from *my* patio to the stump I'm using as a base for splitting (maybe a fifty-yard haul, tops), split the same*, and hauled it to the woodshed and stacked it to cure. (And a wheelbarrow load is a much bigger thing for me today than it was when I was twelve.)

Based on today's experience, I now believe I spent more total time getting yelled at for not hauling wood the way I was supposed to than it would have taken me to do it right in the first place. (Dad is a pretty epic yeller-at-you.)

So, yeah. Sorry about that, Mom and Dad.

* New splitting maul, this time with a fiberglass handle, and an improved sense of where to stand in relation to the wood blank, means I actually managed to get through the job this time. I still missed a few times early on, but I missed short instead of long, which means no risk of breaking the tools. 'Course I would not be I if I had a completely unmitigated success, and I have lost one of my splitting wedges down the hollow center of the stump. Anybody got a giant magnet I can borrow? :/

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Job hunt. [Jan. 23rd, 2012|02:11 pm]
Man, it's more work finding a job than it's going to be to do the job once I get it.

Harder, too. I'm no good at networking unless there's a MAC address involved.

But since we're on the subject (see what I did there?), anybody know of an available test manager position?

I can't relocate, so Seattle-area only, and Microsoft is off-limits at least until my non-compete expires in 2013, but other than that, I am wide open to opportunities. :)

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A 2011 retrospective [Dec. 31st, 2011|08:51 pm]
Three deaths in the family, a personal brush with cancer*, the end of my great job, and the cat died.

Screw you, 2011.

*Technically, since we caught it early enough to remove it all, this should probably count as dodging a bullet, but better not to be shot at in the first place.

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"Are you familiar with the Internet?" [Oct. 21st, 2011|07:41 pm]
Because it is the only TV option available, and because my DSL tops out at an anemic 1.5 megabits, I am a Dish Network subscriber. For the most part, it is innocuous and not egregiously more expensive than the value we get from it.

But occasionally, as was the case tonight, it intrudes upon my consciousness, and neither it nor I walk away happy with the interaction.

In January, Dish decided to give us a year of the Starz package for free. This is all well and good, and we've watched two or three movies that we otherwise would not have as a result.

Tonight, they called with an offer to replace the remainder of the year of Starz with three free months of HBO and Cinemax, which is similarly fine with me, which is to say I could not care much less.

Except with the HBO package, after the three months are up, it will automatically convert to a paid subscription unless I call them and cancel. (The Starz was set to softly and suddenly vanish away when the year was up.) When I heard this, I said, no, I don't want it at all if I have to call you and cancel it.

"You don't have to call," she said. "You can go to Channel 100 and make the change there."

"No," I said. "I don't want the package if I have to cancel it myself."

I believe she thought I meant I didn't think I could figure out how to navigate to Channel 100 and manage my account, because that's when she trotted out the question in the subject line above, after which I didn't say the first six things that popped into my head, including, "I'm more familiar with the Internet than you will ever be," "Honey, I built the Internet(1)," and "Wow, what an offensively condescending question, fuck you."

No, I just reiterated my preference to not be switched to a service that I will have to try and remember to opt out of, because even that level of effort raises the cost higher than the value I'd be receiving from the service. (I also know more about economics than she probably ever will.)

And now I'm using my "familiarity with the Internet" to see if there's any new information about a timeframe for faster pipes in my area, so that streaming might actually be an option soon(2).

Lesson learned, if the caller ID says "Toll Free", let it go to voicemail.

(1) Granted, that one is a bit of an exaggeration. But given a twenty-year career in networking and network services, it's at least in the neighborhood of the ballpark of true.

(2) Also, of course, to share my annoyance with an uncaring world. :)

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What's wrong with this picture? [Oct. 21st, 2011|10:02 am]
So teh_boy's school is having their annual book fair, and as always, there is a big table of gimmicky crap for those students who still have some pocket money after buying all the books they want.

This year, one of the items is a $2.99 pen that writes in an invisible ink that phosphoresces under UV light, and has at the eraser end, a small battery-operated ("batteries not replaceable") UV LED. Which is actually pretty darned cool, and I wish this kind of thing had been available when I was a kid. Teh_boy spent some of his allowance on one, many of his friends acquired their own, and the school is apparently now awash in secret notes being passed back and forth.

However, I happened to see one of the aforementioned secret notes written by teh_boy, and across the top in black felt pen was the message, "Dear [J], read this secret note with your spy pen!!!" and an arrow pointing to the apparently-blank center of the page.

Son, I fear that you are missing the point.

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Welp, so much for Google+. [Sep. 20th, 2011|01:22 pm]
Our email host is on Comcast's blacklist forever, apparently, and the workaround we have in place just got totally, instead of somewhat, unacceptable. So I spent the morning setting us up with a Google Apps account so we could use gmail.

Turns out, though, that you can have a Google Apps account OR a Google+ account, but not both. M. got a nice little web page warning and they will set her up with a new login for her Google+ account if she so wants, but I seem unable to generate that page for myself.

So I am on an undesired Google+ hiatus, and may never bother to return to the service. Way to go, Google, I thought I'd only be annoyed at the stupidity of one Internet giant this week, but you've made it two, and it's only Tuesday.

C'mon, guys. It's about convenience, convergence, and integration. Deliberate isolation of related services isn't a win for anybody.

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