Monday
Sep122011

It should have been a day of rememberance.

Yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of a tragic day that nobody will be forgetting for a very long time.

Many of us probably attended memorial services or prayer vigils, or remembered the nation's loss in some other way.

There was, however, a part of the American people that was tasked with preventing another such disaster.  Local police, Homeland Security, FBI, emergency responders; they were all on high alert yesterday just in case the bad guys had a repeat performance in mind.

But for those of us who had no choice but to go about our day normally, these precautions turned into obstacles, at least in the D.C. area.

I'll give a personal example: Yesterday I had to go to work in Arlington.  Normally not a problem, I just hop on I-95 north, ride it past Springfield to I-395, and get off at any of 3 different exits: 7B, 8A and 8B.  On this day, however, I elected to take the HOV lanes, which are less of a hassle on weekends and move faster than the main lanes, and were especially empty that day.  The trouble with the HOV lanes is there's only 2 exits north of Springfield: Eads St., which goes to the Pentagon, and Rt. 27, which is the same as exit 8B in the main lanes. I take that exit, follow 27 to Rt. 50, hang a left onto Fillmore and finish at Columbia Pike.  Easy as cake, and a route that only has 3 traffic lights.

Not today, apparently.

For whatever reason on God's green earth, VDOT and the police decided to close the only two exits HOV has on I-395.  Eads St, I could understand, since the Pentagon is a sore spot for a lot of people on this day, but closing Washington Blvd?  Really?  And no message board to tell me ahead of time?

So I'm stuck going over the 14th Street Bridge into a city so bizarre I've actually gotten lost with a GPS.  At first I'm thinking "No problem, I'll just turn back around and be on the right track again."

Then I look to my left, where there are some police cars, and behind them not a single southbound lane is moving.  All kinds of expletives were uttered by yours truly.

Then I calm down and think "Wait, Memorial Bridge might be clear, and I know how to get to work from there.  Lemme just pull up a map on my phone..."

But no.  The cellular data connection on my phone has stopped working.  I don't know if the Feds have blocked traffic or what, but it has turned an annoyance into a serious problem.  More expletives.

I try calling everyone I know is working to tell them I'll be late, but the manager I'm taking over for is a hardass about cell phone use during work hours and none of them is answering.  Worse yet, I can't get online to look up the office number.

The next half an hour consisted of me stabbing around DC, looking for any hint of how to get to the Memorial Bridge.  Have I ever mentioned that DC was designed by a schizoid?

Finally, blind luck has gotten me near the waterfront, and with a vague sense of direction I continue to drive to what I believe is my way out.  Slowing me down is the fact that DC doesn't believe in road signs.  I only remember ever seeing one sign for the bridge.  At last I am able to visually identify the bridge I need.  But of course, this is our nation's capital, where being able to see your objective rarely means you are able to get to it as easily.  Much like how the government works, actually.

At last, after having to pass the bridge twice before actually getting on it, I finally returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia, only to find slower traffic on the only stretch of Washington Blvd that seemed to be open.  Weirdly, they also closed the exit on Rt. 27 that takes motorists back to 395.  From what I can guess, all these security measures seemed to be less about stopping terrorists and more about making it nearly impossible to go from downtown to southbound I-395.

So I finally arrived at work 20 minutes late.  Doesn't sound so bad at first, but I left my house in time to be half an hour early under normal conditions.

I'm sorry to bring my baggage to bear on a day of solace, but this is apparently the price of security that our enemies have set.

So thank-you's should go around:  Thank you VDOT for closing arbitrary roads.  Thank you to the various police departments involved for creating a roadblock on one of the major arteries OUT of the nation's capital (which is a potential target for an enemy's attack).  Thank you tourists for getting in my way on a day that makes getting into an already difficult city even harder. And thank you to the DC Planning Commission for saving money by not posting signs telling people what street they're on.

But most of all, I must thank the terrorists.  Those hate-filled, dillusional, radicalist, suicidal goat-fuckers have made an otherwise ordinary day into a nightmare for all Americans, and in more ways than one.

Thursday
Aug252011

Then how did you get here?

I work in a movie theater that has a liquor license. To all you suburbanites that have only ever been to one of the major chains, this is a strange concept, I know. The thing about liquor licenses in the proud Commonwealth of Virginia is that they're hard to acquire and even harder to get back once it's been revoked.

As such, my bosses are very protective of their ABC license, and the policy is that everyone coming in must show an ID. There are, of course, cases when we could let it slide now and then. 85-year old grandmothers, for instance, or if they're with a parent. But when it's someone who looks like they could be underage and doesn't have their ID, my policy is that they're not getting in at all. Even if someone's obviously of drinking age, I stress that they will not be consuming alcohol while they're here, and then tell their server that they can't get booze.

But what baffles me is that anyone would come to an establishment that serves alcohol without an ID. I try to give them a chance, by asking if they can run and get it, but they'll usually even harder to get in. My favorite is when they tell me "Um, I came from Maryland..."

Really? You crossed the state line without identification? Are you an idiot? Did you think I would break the state law to let you in? Or maybe you think I have access to some huge government database and all I need is your name and address? SURPRISE!! I have no such access and you're not special! Now go home, because you're not getting in here!

Idiots.

Thursday
Jul072011

It's time to let go.

Windows XP debuted on August 24, 2001.  Be honest with yourself: would you seriously consider a car that old over one from 2 years ago?

We keep hearing that businesses and end users keep hanging on to XP because it's familiar.  It runs that 8 year old accounting program, or they have a printer that, despite the best efforts of the family dog, will not die and the manufacturer didn't make a driver for Vista or 7.  Maybe they just prefer something that's familiar.

Need I remind you that everyone hated XP when it first came out?  Oh yes, XP was the Vista of its day.

I just had to do a clean install of XP on my father's laptop, and I swear it's been a bitch. You know that XP was released before the mass popularity of DVD drives, and thus didn't come with integrated DVD decoding software?  Yeah, companies like Intervideo and Cyberlink made a mint off of people who wanted to watch movies on their laptops.

WiFi? Yeah, that came after XP, and the functionality had to be shoehorned in afterwards. So, if you wanted a wireless laptop you had to use the wireless network management software that came with your adapter's manufacturer, and it was guaranteed to be a piece of crap.

On it's own, XP is a crippled operating system these days.  Sure, once you load it up with third party software, it gets up to snuff, but by then it's so laden down it becomes nearly unusable. XP was certainly leap forward when it first released, but it's crippled by today's standards.

So to everyone out there clinging to XP for whatever reason, I say bite the bullet and buy a copy of Windows 7.  It's faster, more secure, and you might get a shiny new printer out of it.

Just don't buy a Mac. I guarantee your accounting software won't work with that.

Wednesday
Jun152011

I can never find one that fits.

I have a message for the people who design laptops: You know those 12 keys at the top of a desktop keyboard that say "F1, F2, F3, etc?" Got them? Good.  Now leave them alone!

A few months ago, my laptop was stolen.  Before my fellow geeks chastize me about the usual stuff, like backing up data and changing passwords, let me regain my geek-cred by saying my data was already backed up and I changed all my passwords.

My problem now, apart from not having enough money to buy a new one, is finding a laptop that I like.  I've never been a fan of the overly simplistic design of Apple's laptops.  (To be fair, I really don't like anything Apple does, but their design department was one of the first real gripes I had with them.)  In the process of dumbing down the user interfaces of their software, they've let the over-simplification spill into their hardware design.  When you purchase a 17" Macbook Pro, you do indeed get some decent hardware (albeit overpriced).  But in terms of where the user actually interacts with the machine, you get very little.

A mere 78-key keyboard and a touchpad with one button that's hard to find.

Given that much space, I would have tossed in a numeric keypad, some media keys or a fingerprint reader.  Hell, there's space on there for some auxiliary displays! And would it kill Apple to accept that modern mice have at least two buttons and a real scroll wheel?

My old laptop was an HP HDX-16. It had a 16" 1080p 16:9 screen, a full-size keyboard with number pad, capacitive touch media buttons along the top, Blu-Ray drive, a fingerprint reader and TWO mouse buttons!

Granted, it wasn't without its downsides.  For instance, faux chrome on ABS plastic isn't particularly durable to moderately heavy day-to-day abuse. Over two years, the hardware was having trouble keeping up with newer models, despite it being pretty zippy out of the box. And since the screen hinge was the sturdiest part, there was a bit of flex in the body that discouraged a few people from holding it with just one hand.

Of course, the biggest downside today is that I don't have it anymore, but that's a given.

For whatever reason, when I tell people I'm in the market for a new laptop, they say "Why don't you get a Mac?" I'd understand if I only got this nugget of "wisdom" from die-hard Apple fanbots, but I get the same advice from normal people on the street. (I use the term "normal" loosely, but for sake of argument it'll have to do.)

I suppose since Apple is chic now, they've become the go-to brand recommendation people think of when they need to think of something specific to sound smart.  Let's face it: no normal person is going to tell me to "Make sure you get a second-generation Sandy Bridge chipset when you do buy one," "Upgrade to the Blu-Ray drive," or "You'll need at least 4 gigs of RAM to take real advantage of a 64-bit OS." People are going to recommend what's trendy and has the most positive buzz, regardless of whether it really fits my needs.  It's the same phenomenon you see when people recommend cars.  It's always "You should get something fuel-efficient," not "If you're towing, get something with lots of torque. A diesel is good for that, but if you're in a cold climate you'll need an engine block heater."

I'm not trying to throw flame-bait out there, but I will never get a Mac for personal use. Period. They're too expensive, the design doesn't thrill me at all, and, as stated above, I hate the layout.

I liked having a set of dedicated buttons for play, stop, track skip, mute and volume.  Having them meant the music wouldn't start playing when I tried to refresh a web page, or the volume wouldn't change when I wanted to go to full screen.

Lots of laptops have now taken Apple's cue: integrating the media keys and other special functions specific to laptops into the F keys at the top of the keyboard.  Either they're media keys by default and to actually hit F5, you have to hold down another key, or they're F keys by default and changing the volume becomes a two-handed affair.

I suppose the designers will try to say it's for style's sake.  I'm sorry, but who decided that looked good? Is Apple the Armani of the tech world? No! The thing about styling is it's supposed to branch out in all directions, with each expression catering to a different person.

Anyway, I did find a laptop that's the size I need with the buttons I desire.  Problem is that it's a $2200 Alienware.  And I'm back to square one: penniless square.

Monday
Jun132011

[name here] is out of the office.

Yes, Axis of Awesome is as good in person as they are in that YouTube video, and they're as awesome as the name implies.

But besides that, I'm on vacation.  It's nice to be on vacation for a change, since my last job had me working six to seven days a week at $6.40/hour after tips and taxes, so there really wasn't any leverage for time off.  Literally, when I started my new job and I had two days off in a row, I looked around and said "Hey, this is nice!"

And here I am, out of state without cell reception and only checking my email at the end of the day and again I'm looking around saying the same thing.

Tip of the day: take a vacation.  Just don't do it at the same time as everyone else.