Making a “whiteboard”!

June 14, 2011

First off: It’s been almost a year since my last post.  How on earth do I expect to get better at writing like this.

For almost as long as I have thought about learning to write I have thought about constructing a whiteboard.  Specifically, I thought about turning the top of my desk into one.  It came about when I read about this awesome paint that can turn any surface into a whiteboard.  While that’s not the route I went, the idea of being able to sketch, make to-do lists, and map out ideas all over my desk surface seemed like it would be pretty fun/ useful.

After doing a lot of reading I narrowed down materials to the following

  1. Glass
  2. Lexan
  3. Pexiglass
  4. Some odd plastic like stuff

I settled on glass (real glass) and let me say: Best idea ever. Lexan and pexiglass were both very expensive (to cover all of my fairly large desk was $25 for glass, would have been around $75 for lexan).  This is what I did

  1. Measured my desk
  2. Went to home depot
  3. Bought two panes of glass to cover desk (it doesn’t quite cover the whole area but I didn’t wanna mess around with cutting glass)
  4. Put glass on my desk.
  5. Took some tape, taped all around the edges and taped along the line between the two sheets. The tape along the line doesn’t look super cool but it keeps liquid from getting in the crack and under the glass.

5a: Lest there be any doubt, I totally did not wait to tape the border of the glass until someone cut themselves on the side, nor did I wait until I had gotten cleaning fluid trapped under the glass to decide to tape the line.

Here are two of the caveats of glass:

  1. If you drop lots of heavy stuff on your desk all the time, don’t use glass.
  2. If you want a board that you mount on the wall, glass could prove harder (it is heavy, and fragile)

Here is why glass is awesome:

  1. Cheap
  2. Very hard to sratch.  Your keys, pens, pencils, and pretty much anything most people keep at their desk isn’t going to scratch glass.  This makes it ideal for a desk surface. Those of you who keep jagged chunks of quartz, topaz, emeralds, titanium bicarbonate, or diamonds at your desk….well, that’s pretty awesome but glass isn’t for you.
  3. You can write on it with almost anything

Number three is where it gets most interesting.  You can get almost anything off of glass with varying degrees of difficulty (which is actually pretty useful).

Comes off with a dry erase eraser:

  • Dry erase markers

Comes off with dry paper towel

  • Wet erase markers (firm scrubbing)
  • Fresh liquid metal marker (sargent brand)

Comes off with wet paper towel (water)

  • Wet erase marker (light motion)
  • Dried liquid metal marker

Comes off with paper towel and purell hand sanitizer (probably any alcohol based product)

  • Permanent marker (sharpie, etc) after drying for several days

Why is this useful? You can, for example, sketch a calendar outline in a sharpie, and then write stuff with a wet erase marker.  When you want the contents gone, wet a papertowl and go at it — wet erase marker gone, calendar outline still there.

A note: Dry erase and wet erase markers will smear if you run your hands/arms/lots of stuff over them, even after they have been sitting a while.  This makes permanent marker the most tempting tool — it’s easy to remove if you want it gone (purell), but it wont smear or come off with rubbing or water.

Anyone want to suggest other things I could try writing with?

–Edit 1–

More on markers! I’ve basically stopped using dry erase markers.  They wipe off wayyy to easily, and over a few days they partially evaportae and clump, making it impossible to read what you wrote.  I advise: Permanet markers for most things, and wet erase (overhead markers, or Sargent liquid metal) for things you want to get rid of more often.

Point size: Having used both fine and ultra fine (in the Bic line) I STRONGLY prefer ultrafine for writing, and fine for sketching.

AAA is STILL the best company ever –uhaul is not

July 26, 2010

I’ve moved to D.C!  Huzzah.  I partially moved down at the end of June, but the bulk of my stuff has been sitting up in Mass.  This weekend I finished the project of moving stuff by renting a Uhaul.  I flew from DC to Boston on Thursday night, packed Friday, loaded the truck Saturday and drove to DC on Sunday.  I ended up a little behind and my friends and I didn’t have the tuck unloaded until about 12:30 am on Monday.  The plan was simple — go fill up the truck, drop it off, come back to my apartment and get a solid 6 hours of sleep before I went to work and my friend flew up to Mass for an early evening exam. 

Problem: the truck battery had died. 

This is a truck that had just been driven for a good 10 hours over two days so I was a bit lost as to how the battery had died.  The only thing I could think of is that we had left the hazards running while we unpacked.  That being said, 3 hours of hazards blinking should NOT kill a truck battery.  It is not far-fetched that someone unloading a truck (which often takes several hours) would need the hazards on, and nowhere in Uhauls prolific signage did they mention that the battery would die so easily.

Never fear, part of my overpriced Uhaul experience is 24/7 roadside assistance! So I call.  I get this friendly lady who walks me through a few steps to confirm it is the battery, then says she’ll be happy to call a tow truck for me.  Awesome!  However, in between the troubleshooting and calling the tow truck she slips in that BATTERIES ARE NOT COVERED IN THE ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE.  She will call the garage for me, but I will have to pay the cost.  EXCUSE ME! 

It’s not ok.  Not even a little.  Their battery dies as the result of completely understandable activity and it’s not covered?  So I tell her not to bother and we end the call.

1:00 am: my friend calls AAA.  Here is how the conversation goes

My friend:  Hi, I have a Uhaul and the battery just died.  It’s 1 am on a Sunday night/Monday morning and we really need the truck to be running.

Friendly, articulate, awesome AAA rep: I’m so sorry to hear that.  Let me get a truck out to you.  I’ll call you to keep you informed of the situation.  I just wanted to let you know though that sometimes tow trucks have difficulty jumping trucks, but we’ll see what we can do.

30 minutes later, they call back: I’m so sorry this taking so long, we’re having some trouble getting a truck out to ou (as it is 1:30 am on a Sunday).  The dispatcher is working on it though, an we’ll have someone out as soon as we can.

30 minutes later, they call back again:  I just wanted to apologise again, but also let you know the truck will be there in five minutes. 

And indeed five minutes later a truck arrives, and successfully jumps the truck.

AAA is awesome.  Top to bottom the company rocks.  Every time I’ve ever spoken with someone they have been polite, friendly, sympathetic to my situation, and above all helpful.  I don’t know how they do it, I really don’t.  It’s 2am and this woman spends all day talking with people who have either a) locked their keys in their car or b) drained their battery.  Yet she still manages to sound as though I’m the first person to need road help — that I am a special and unique snowflake. 

Maybe I appreciate them so much because when it’s 2am and I’m exhausted, have to go to work in a few hours, frustrated because I have to get the truck back, and pretty much fed up with the world, the idea of talking with someone rude or snide on the phone is just awful.  Knowing that I’ll make one phone call and someone will come and make it all better is kind of awesome.

Also a shout out to the fine folks at JR’s Emergency Roadside Assistance — the garage that responded to the call.  Solid people. 

In short:  AAA best people ever, Uhaul not so much.

Also the location where I picked up the uhaul gave me bogus information about where to drop it off (they gave me a location, but said “if you can find a closer one you can drop it off there.”)  If I can FIND a closer one? Why would I be able to find a closer uhaul than the uhaul rep!!  In fact I DID “find a closer one.”  Why on EARTH do I have access to a more complete list of uhaul locations (found at uhaul.com) then they do.

Also they put half the number of furniture pads that I paid for in the truck.

Also they charged me a $25 cleaning fee because there were a few coathangers in the back of the truck.

Also their stupid roadside assistance DOESNT COVER THE BATTERY.

Why can’t AAA rent trucks….and sell computers…and food….and do plumbing and electrical work…and open auto repair shops?

Every time the south holds the football I run to kick it, and every time they pull it away

April 7, 2010

I hate the South.  Today I also especially hate Mississippi.

Most people interested in gay rights have been following the case of high school lesbian Constance McMillen and her desire to go with her girlfriend to their senior prom.  The school, rather than allow her to go, and in the face of a lawsuit, cancled the prom. The ACLU sued on behalf of McMillen and won. The court ruled that baring a student from attending a prom with a date of the same sex violates that persons constitutional rights.  The court did not, however, make the school reschedule the prom.  The rational for this was that the parents, in response to the prom being canceled, had planned their own prom, and the court felt that ordering the school start a second prom would only confuse things.

And for a few brief minutes my faith I felt warm thoughts about the south.  Sure the administration of her school are bigots, but the court did the right thing, and the parents did the right thing by scheduling their own prom.  Even the bulk of students, when interviewed, suggested they supported her right to go to prom.

And then this:  http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/06/national/main6367855.shtml

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.

For those of you not inclined to read the article I’ll sum it up.  The parents scheduled two proms: one for the lesbian, her girlfriend, and some special ed students…..and another for all the other students.  They didn’t tell the 7 excluded students about the secret prom for the rest of the students.  So Constance shows up to prom only to find out she’s been duped by the entire class and all of the parents.

Every time I think the south has goodness in it they pull the football up and I go flying.

P.S.

Those of you who know me are aware that my previous definition of “the south” was “everything south of The Village.”  That is now edited to “everything south of DC.”

P.P.S

I still, however, define “upstate new york” as “everything north of 110th street.”

AAA is the best company ever

March 11, 2010

I have once before raved about the wonderous company that is AAA.  It was a small part of a larger post, and as I recently had the ill-fortune to require AAA’s services again, I wanted to give them their own post.  A few weeks ago I drove to my local UPS center to pick up a package.  I got the package, got back in my car, and discovered that the key would not go into the ignition.  I also noticed the steering wheel lock had failed to activate.  After trying to jam the key in for a few minutes, I sheepishly asked various people in the parking lot if they a) knew anything about cars and if so b) what the hell is going on?  Alas nobody had any idea what was up with my car.  So, I called AAA.

I didn’t have my card, so I had to call 411 to get the AAA number.  It routed me to the NJ office (I have an NJ area code cell phone but live in New England).

Here is where the awesome starts:

1.  I am almost immediately connected to a friendly English speaking person.

2. I explain that I’m not actually in NJ and I need to be transfered to the New England office.  The nice lady asks me to hold, comes back a minute later informing me she’ll be connecting me with the New England branch.  She STAYS ON THE LINE until she’s confirmed I’m talking to the right person, none of this hangup and transfer shit everyone else does.

3. I explain to the NE person that I don’t have my card.  NOT A PROBLEM.  She is able to lookup my account using various information I provide.

4.  After hearing a description of my problem, she informs me that she’s not certain the technician will be able to help me, and that my car may need to be towed.  I tell her that my car is a Volvo, and she finds me the nearest Volvo repair center and makes a note for the driver that he should tow me there if necessary.  AWESOME! She tells me the truck will be dispatched soon, I get a case number, and we hang up.

5.  I get 2 followup calls, one from her that the truck has been dispatched, and another from the garage letting me know the truck is almost there.  AWESOME!

6. The truck arrives, and the dude fixes my ignition problem in about 30 seconds, then teaches me how to fix it myself should this ever happen again (it requires a small flathead screwdriver).

7.  I drive home!

AAA is the standard to which all other companies should be held.  Everyone who I have ever interacted with (phone, email, in person) at AAA has been smart, well spoken, helpful, and excelled at their job.   You guys rock….I (almost) look forward to having car problems.

And I get discounts on hotels?  AAA, you are too good.  If every company were a fourth as good as AAA this would be a better world.

An open letter to House Dems: The sky is falling? The sky is falling? The future of Dems, the health care bill, and America

January 20, 2010

Dear House of Representatives Dems:

A discourse in three parts

I  OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED

II Nut up or shut up

III Martyrdom is awesome.  Go for it.

I OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED

Seriously.  What happened?  How did you lose this?  One year ago we  had Ted Kennedy, the coolest guy ever. Two weeks ago we had a 20 point lead and an opponent who’s main TV ad shows him driving around in a stupid truck.  This morning we have a republican senator.

I voted for Alan Khazei in the primary.  He would have run a real campaign.  He was awesome.  But Martha was the “safe” candidate, so she won (the primary).

I’m not going to do a lengthy bit on why Martha lost.  It’s depressing and everyone else will talk about it a lot.  I don’t really like being a Monday morning QB and I’d rather think about what’s to come.

II Nut up or shut up.

Republican congress’ have historically been able to get a lot done with 50, 51, or 52 votes.  We have 59.  It has come to my attention that there are two kinds of filibuster.  There is the ye olde filibuster, where one side stands up and talks until they give up or the bill is dropped.  The other is a “procedural” filibuster.  Here, the minority party says “we have 41 votes, and could filibuster if we wanted to, so lets pretend we are.”  It is up to the senate leader then to either grant the request (in which case the bill is dropped) or make them do a traditional filibuster.

You apparently have been allowing the Republicans to do a procedural filibuster.  STOP IT.  Filibusters can be broken given sufficient time.  The longest filibuster in the US to date was by southern senators who attempted to block passage of the 1964 civil rights act. It lasted for 75 hours but failed.

In response to Republican threats of a filibuster I say BRING IT.  Sit in your seats, order some chinese food, and watch the Republicans talk.  Let them talk for a month straight if they want to.  Then pass your bills.

Want to pass a bill making an oversight panel for banks? Do it.  Let the Republicans be on TV for 5 days talking about how it’s “a bad idea to regulate Wall Street.”  Let them dig their own grave.

Nut up or shut up Dems, 59 votes is enough.

III Martyrdom is awesome.  Go for it.

Health Bill history.  House of reps passes a bill, sends it to the Senate.  The Senate amended it and sent it back to the house.  At this point the House can either make more changes (negotiate with the Senate, and make a new joint bill) to be reconsidered by both houses.  Or, it can just accept the Senate version.  If decides to make more changes, the bill is done for.  If they accept the Senate version, it’ll go to Obama’s desk without worry.

People on both sides of the isle (and in the media) are saying it would be political suicide to do this, however.  It is “obvious” that the election result means people don’t want this bill, and if the house were to pass it then they could all lose their seats in November.  Two things on this.

1) They won’t “all lose their seats” in November.  Martha losing doesn’t mean that MA has become a red state, and it doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.  We ran a bad campaign and lost, end of story. Health care reform was initially unpopular in MA but the state enacted it anyway.  Today we have 80% approval for it.

2) Even if they do lose their seats, it’s OK.  If the “only” thing you do in your one term as a US representative is pass the biggest health care reform bill in our countries history then it’s a pretty good one term.

Stop thinking worrying about reelection and DO SOMETHING.  I guarantee that if you pass this bill you’ll be in the history books.

In conclusion.  Get it done.  Now.

P.S.

Stop worrying about getting bipartisan support.  The other side of the isle consists in part of people who still think Obama is a Muslim terrorist who wasn’t born in this country.  You’re on your own.

Documentation

August 4, 2009

As someone who works in the IT field, I spend a lot of my time looking at documentation.  By documentation I mean a wide range of products: user manuals, online KB (knowledge base), FAQ’s, and forums.

At work we use a product called Symantec Ghost.  What this does is (more or less) take a picture of a computer, and then copy that picture onto another computer.  It’s a way to backup EVERYTHING on a computer so that if it crashes it can be restored quickly.  When making the image (what the picture is called) I have the option to compress it (to save space).  While usually I don’t (it slows down the process) I started doing it recently (to save space).  Well, today I went to push the image onto a machine and received a scary looking error.  After doing some research I landed on a symantec documentation page.   While I’ll put a link at the end, here is what it said, in short:

“If you are using compression to make your images, don’t.”

What?  How did anyone at Symantec think that was OK?  That isn’t a solution.  It’s as if you discovered one day that you couldn’t change the volume on your TV, and when you looked in the manual it said “If you’re trying to change the volume, stop.”

Symantec are bad people

http://service1.symantec.com/SUPPORT/ghost.nsf/ppfdocs/1998123009383425?Open&dtype=corp&src=&seg=&om=1&om_out=prod

Later that week, I was installing something in XP and received an error message that read, and I couldn’t even make this up:

“A system call, that should never fail, has failed.”

Who writes this poop?

Homelessness, School Testing, and the ‘what’ of the matter

August 4, 2009

I can’t help but feeling that sometimes people read or hear something, grasp that there is some sort of problem, and immediately enact a solution that in some sense addresses the issue but yet misses the “what” of the matter, the important part.

I’ll start with an old example, and move to a more recent one (prompted by an article I red in the New York Times).

We start with the problem of homelessness in our cities.

PROBLEM: Some politician (whose name I cannot remember and cannot find) noted that to see homelessness around our nations capital buildings was a sad commentary on the ability of the most powerful nation on earth to care for its people.  Similar statements were made by others about most every city in the country.

SOLUTION?: The seemingly universal response of the DC metro police and the police of other cities has been to arrest homeless people, and move them to other, less tourist visited parts of the city.

Now we don’t “see homeless people near the steps of our nations capital.”  Yes, I suppose in some strict sense we have addressed the issue but I can not help but feel that the “what” of the matter has been missed.

School testing:

PROBLEM:  Students in many parts of America are testing very poorly in reading, writing, and math.

SOLUTION?: Mayor Bloomberg recently announced that 66% of the cities students are effective readers, and that  82% are proficient in math (up from 29% in 2002).  It turns out, however, that Albany (and most states) have been lowering their standards for proficiency, and making the tests much easier.  A national test given to the same students showed 25% proficiency at writing.

Again, yes, I suppose that New York has fixed the problem of low test scores.  However, I would again suggest that they have missed the “what” of the matter.  It’s kind of like letting some of the mercury out of your thermometer instead of getting an AC unit.

http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/what-do-school-tests-measure/

Charter Internet and TV suck

June 11, 2009

I’m not really sure what prompted me to write this today of all days….Charter hasn’t done anything horribly offensive in the last few weeks.  Maybe its that I just found out that FiOS is “never” coming to Worcester, and so I realize I’m stuck with Charter for as long as I live here.  I’m sure that any of you who have Charter will recognize my experience, but for the uninitiated I’ll explain how this went.

I’ve been a subscriber to charter Internet for 3 years now.  Last October I decided to add TV.  I was given a price quote (a number less then $100/mo).  This was to include the basic channel list, internet, one HD receiver, and 3 non-HD receivers. (at $10/mo per box pas the first). 

I’ll note at this point that when I tried to get pricing information using their chat based service it was so shitty that neither I nor my roommates could even understand what they were writing.  On the phone I got a more understandable person who gave me the above quote.

Installation day arrives and the first thing out of the guys mouth is “I dont have the ‘real’ HD receiver, I have one that doesn’t have HDMI out….if you want the HDMI out (I do, thats why I got HD), you can go to the branch to pick it up.”

….or you could bring it here another day, because, ya know, when I ORDER things, and pay $110 in installation fees I expect CHARTER to bring the things TO MY HOUSE and set them up.

Setup goes sorta OK, some wires have to be changed and the guy does a fine job of that (its his first day on the job and Charter doesn’t send anyone to help him out). 

All is well, and then comes my bill.  It’s like a bajillion dollars (around $190).  I call charter…..wait 20 mins….and find out that charter signed me up not for the super cheap TV thing I asked for but some mega huge giant OMFG look at all the tv shows option.  I told them I wasn’t going to pay for it, and to give me what I wanted.  I also noted on my bill that each reciever (including the initial one) was being billed at a higher rate then I was originally promised.  So, instead of (0+10+10+10=30) I’m paying (5+15+15+15=50), almost double what it was supposed to be paying.

We finally strike a deal at 115 a month.  Of course, the bill has never been 115.  Sometimes its 115, sometimes its 119, or 116, or even 120. 

Screw. You. Charter.

The people who work the phones are stupid and useless, and the internet goes down every time it snows or rains.  Sure its fast when its fast, but it disconnects often enough that playing online games is a joke. 

Don’t even get me started on their website.  Huge.  Pile. Of. Poo.

I will sell my soul if Verizon will install fiber in Worcester.

Readjusting our expectations: Thoughts on customer service

April 22, 2009

I have noticed as of late (the past six months or so) a marked increase in the level of service I receive at restaurants, stores, and on the phone.  Maybe it’s because I look less like a college student and people are nicer to adult white males then they are to college kids.  Maybe it’s because all the bad employees have been fired.  Or, maybe it’s because everyone is scared to death of losing their job and are working harder than they ever have.  Regardless, I don’t think I’ve had one unpleasant experience with a customer service rep (outside of my cable company) in the past half year – and that is amazing.  I’ll give two recent real life examples.

Story one:

My girlfriend and I were going to see a movie, but figured we would grab some food first.  We were running a bit late and sat down at the table about 20 minutes before the show started (restaurant in same complex as movie theater).  We explained the situation to our server/waitress and asked if she thought we had time.  She said yes, and gave some suggestions as to how to expidite the process (putting in food, drink, and appetizer orders at the same time, advising on which menu items took less time, etc) and promised to let the kitchen know we were in a hurry.  Our food did indeed arrive promptly – and to our pleasant surprise she brought the check out with it.  Needless to say we made the movie and she received somewhere in the area of a 33% tip. 

Story two:

I recently joined AAA  of New England (transferred from New Jersey).  At some point I went to login (for the first time) to the AAA of New England website, and found myself unable to.  I tried to make my user account, but it was taken (I always use a fairly specific user account for these kinds of things so I was skeptical it was already in use).  So, I emailed customer service.  It turns out that each region has its own account database, and my account was in use for NJ.  Because I’m a little lazy, and attached to my account, I asked if my account could be transferred from the old server to the new one.  While the answer was no, she did delete the old account and recreate it in the new database.  I should note that the woman I was in communication with over our few emails was smart, helpful, prompt, and wrote with more clarity then I’ve seen from a customer service rep in –oh—years.   AAA gets mad points in my book for this. 

After both of these instances I was somewhat elated.  Past experiences with asking comparable requests of waiters in restaurants have been met with a shrug and “I dunno if you’ll make your movie on time.  I guess we’ll find out.” Email/chat correspondence with companies had become laughably awful.  The 4 times I’ve used Charter Communcation’s (my cable company) chat based support I have EVERY time “chatted” with someone who was, for all intensive purposes, illiterate.  In each conversation there were times where it got so bad that neither I nor any of my roommates could even understand what had been written (and I do not mean in the technical sense).  I would ask a question like “does channel X come with package Z” and receive some half page gob of text lacking a single capital letter or piece of correctly placed punctuation and containing more misspelled words (to the point that I couldn’t even figure out what word he wanted) then I cared to count. 

I write this article to share my realization that at some point we as a nation collectively lowered our expectations.  The fact that when I get rude waiters and email reps who can’t write I’m not flustered, and when I get nice waiters and smart customer service reps I feel like some magical experience has just happened is, to say the least, backwards.  Shouldn’t the latter be the norm, not the exception?  Why is it that we’ve come to accept and even expect bad service? 

I pose some questions to you:

Have you also experienced an increase in service as of late?

Why do you think we started to lower our expectations?

What can we do to reinforce the notion that service matters to us?

Colons and semicolons

February 9, 2009

I use this quote to mark the creation of my new category — punctuation.  This category will feature quotes whose appeal lies in pretty usage of punctuation.  Does pretty punctuation send tingles up anyone else’s spine?

There are two ways to slide easily through life: namely, to believe everything, or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.” — Alfred Korzybski