Oh Snap, the Fuzz

One of my bosses, a guy with incredible amounts of experience, has consistently talked about how the police are really there for us, and how they’ve told him repeatedly to not hesitate to call them and just ask that they have a cruiser wait in the parking lot while we walk out to our car.

Tonight, I set the alarm, headed out the door, and saw a car with its parking lights on in the parking lot. Ordinarily, walking through a parking lot with someone else in it wouldn’t be a big deal. But when it’s 1:30 in the morning and you’re by yourself having just finished closing up a business, a car idling in the parking lot is suddenly a big deal.

So I quickly turned around and let myself back into the building. “Crap,” I thought to myself. “I can’t leave until they do!” (In the past I’ve noticed people in the parking lot and just gone and done a little more cleaning until they left, because people will stop in to change a tire or wax their car [wtf?!] more often than you’d imagine, but they’re gone in no time.) But it was 1:30 in the morning, and I really didn’t want to stay any longer.

And suddenly Brad’s advice registered. We have two numbers for the police department on speed dial (911, and the non-emergency number), and I have them in my phone, too. So I sat in front of the window with a good view of the car, and called. It began a really bizarre experience.

To start with, I was thrown off by the clearly-recorded, “Thank you for calling the Merrimack Police Department…” message that played. The “If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1” bit that came next confused me even more–if this were an emergency, I’d want you to pick up the freaking phone! But alas, it was anything but an emergency, so I stayed on the line and was connected to a dispatcher.

“Yeah, good… morning. [I was going to say good evening, but realized it was almost 1:30 am] This is Matt at [business*]. I was closing up for the night, but I have someone sitting in a car in the parking lot. Would you mind just sending an officer out as I walk to my car, just for peace of mind?”

He assured me it would be no problem, asked me for my name, what number I was calling from, and where I lived. As I was giving this information, I watched a police car drive by on the main road, which was a bit ironic. He told me someone would be right out, and that was that.

As I sat there, it occurred me that I’d only mentioned where I worked once in passing, and realized that, more than likely, he’d just dispatched a cruiser to sit in my driveway at home until I got there. So I called back, and was really impressed when he seemed amazed that I’d even think that. “Oh no, you said [business]. I’ve got someone on their way out there for you.”

The irony of the passing cruiser was raised exponentially, because, as he was saying that, I saw the car drive by again in the other direction. But my years of scanner listening taught me that they rarely dispatch whoever is closest to the call, for reasons that make no sense to anyone.

So I kind of adjusted my seat, in a place where I had a view of both the car in the lot and the entrance to the parking lot, while staying in the shadow. And a minute later, a knight in shining armor motorcycle cop rode up. I got up, set the alarm again, and walked outside.

As I walked outside, I noticed he was doing the typical police “standing behind the driver’s side door, shining his flashlight in the face of the driver” thing. And then he looked over at me, shouting, “Are you Matt?”

“Yeah.”

“Is this car the car you called about?”

I responded that it was, but that the car really hadn’t been doing anything wrong, I just wanted someone there as I walked to my car, just in case. “You’re all set. It looks like they’re just talking,” he told me. (Which was probably awkward for them, since he was standing right by their window at the time?) I thanked him again and got into my car, when I noticed he was back at their car, shining his flashlight at them some more. “I almost feel sorry for these guys,” I thought as I got in.

Right after I got in my car, though, a cruiser pulled up, drove in an awkward half-circle around their car, and then pulled up behind it, with the officer jumping out and coming to the side of the motorcycle cop. Having listened to the police at night and watched them coming home from work, it seems like it’s standard to have two officers even on routine stops. But I began to feel really bad for these people. All I wanted was a police officer around ensuring I didn’t get mugged, and now these poor people were being questioned by a second police officer.

He’d told me “You’re all set” as I came out, but now that there were two cars interrogating him, I wondered what was going on, and if they were going to want to talk to me. So I sat in my car, awkwardly arranging and rearranging things while I watched them. Eventually, I decided to leave. (And now I’m dying of curiosity to know what happened!)

I’ve seen it said that one of the main ‘reasons’ for traffic stops is a chance to look into suspicious things: that broken taillight gives officers an excuse to run your name through their databases and ask you why you’re driving at 2am. So maybe their questioning of the people in the car wasn’t entirely my doing.

But then I wished I’d had my radio with me. Did it get dispatched as a ‘safety escort’ sort of thing, or as a suspicious vehicle? I almost think it was the latter (which isn’t why I called!), given the “Is this the car you called about?” question. (Granted, sitting in your car outside a business at 1:30 a.m. while the guy inside closes up is pretty suspicious.)

* I’m omitting where I work, just because I like to be able to make occasional references to things that happen at work without having them come up on a search for us.

Obama

There’s a “Q&A Session” with Obama at UNH on Friday. I’m heavily inclined to go. I reckon that it’ll be hard to get to ask a question, and that I’d chicken out even if I had the chance, but here are a few that are kicking around in the back of my head right now:

  • “Senator, I’m a big supporter of yours, but I’m troubled by what some say about your lack of experience. Given that the next President will have huge shoes to fill, how do you, as a one-term Senator, answer this criticism?”
    • I worry that this sounds too negative, as if I’m there to attack him. Then again, it is what’s on my mind.
  • “The powers of commutation and pardons are vested in the President as a final safeguard against tyranny [I think I can find a better word]. In the past two Presidencies [wording?], many have felt that this power has been abused. What can be done to curtail future abuses of this power?”
    • Something about this question just makes it seem like it’s not the biggest deal
  • “What is your plan for the war in Afghanistan?”
    • Everyone’s talking about Iraq. 9/11 is the reason we’re in Afghanistan, not Iraq, and Afghanistan is where bin Laden was initially thought to be hiding out. People are so focused on Iraq that they seem to forget Afghanistan.
  • “A college education at many private universities costs more than $40,000 a year. This is substantially more than a minimum-wage household makes in a year. Besides reducing interest rates on college loans, what can be done to alleviate this, and to ensure that America stays competitive?”
    • I worry that this is something I can find online easily. (Maybe I should check?) I also don’t so much care about his answer as I care about him doing something about it, such as subsidizing tuition.
  • “I’ve grown up hearing that Democrats favor massive government spending, and Republicans favor reduced government spending. And yet we’re seeing Democrats criticizing the Republican Administration for the volume of its spending. If you were elected, would you increase or decrease government expenditures?”
    • This is oddly-worded, but I want to ensure an answer that doesn’t talk about the tax rate, tax breaks, or the deficit. (All of which are big, important issues!)
  • “On September 12, 2001, almost every nation in the world stood by our side. Today, it seems as if enormous parts of the world have disdain for America and all things American. How do you propose we rebuild our image?”
    • I initially said, “enormous parts of the world hate America…” but toned it down a little. Does this question work? Does it invite an answer that turns into talking about Iraq?

Eating Right

I got a copy of Body for Life, and it kind of inspired me to eat right.

Kind of.

Here’s what I had to eat at work:

  • Fried mozzarella sticks and jalepeno poppers (stuffed with fake cheese)
  • Barq’s to wash it down
  • Ritz Bitz cheese crackers later in the night
  • Smoothie Skittles still later
  • Butter Crunch ice cream, 2 scoops, in a waffle cone.

Okay, so maybe Body for Life isn’t for me.

Dean’s Boxes

Not too long ago, Dean Kamen came to Bentley as part of a panel to speak about the role of business in making the world a better place. As someone who got a lot out of FIRST, despite a roster of big-name executives, it was Dean Kamen that I was most excited about seeing.

He mentioned that he’d invented “two boxes” that could help the developing world, but that the fixed costs of production were too prohibitive; without a ‘mass market’ for them, he couldn’t move beyond prototypes.

The first box, he explained, had two hoses. You fed liquid into the first, and pure water came out the second. (Not water with most contaminants removed, but 100% pure water: he told us that it met the standards for water used in injections.)

The second box would burn anything flammable and generate electricity. He talked about how, in a remote village, it led to a mini-economy: someone ran the machine, someone else provided them with manure, and someone else resold the electricity.

I think there are plenty of applications for both of these, though. Imagine:

  • RVs and boats have two tanks: one for potable water to drink / shower in, and one to collect ‘waste’ water. You, of course, have to work on emptying the waste container often, and on filling the potable water one. With Box #1, you could get potable water out of waste water, reducing how often you have to fill/empty the tanks.
  • We’ve gone through a bunch of old junk here, and I’ve been working on shredding boxes of old financial documents before we throw them out. How handy would it be to take them into the back yard, throw them into Box #2 to be incinerated, and get a little break on our electric bill in the process?
  • I’d imagine that human waste could be flammable, at least after water was extracted from it. (But I’ve never tried?) Box #2 might have its place on an RV.
    • And, if that works, why not build an awesome Port-a-Potty? You could have a sink with clean water for hand-washing, and electricity to power a fan / heat / air freshener. And you wouldn’t have to empty any tanks.
  • Do you have any idea how many places in the world don’t have clean water? It’s not a problem that only exists in a couple little ghettos. Even though you and I have an endless of clean water when we turn on our faucet, an enormous part of the world doesn’t. The machines might be expensive, but I bet entrepreneurs would love to sell clean water.
  • We have a Brita water filter at school, so that we don’t have to drink tap water. Imagine if we had a building-wide machine that would take ‘tap water’ into the building and make the water coming out of all the faucets pure. (Well, I suppose you’d have to clean out the pipes first, but I digress.)
  • We could cut down on our water usage, by ‘reusing’ water. Feed the pipe going to the septic system back into the machine. (And what doesn’t become water might be able to be burned to generate electricity.) Surely there’s some loss, but it could at least reduce your use on the water supply. Those with wells wouldn’t have to worry as much about running out, and those who had town water could see a savings in their bills.

I’m convinced that both of these machines could be pretty popular if they ever went into mass-production.

Hilarious Video Roundup

Here’s a collection of some of the most hilarious videos on YouTube and the like:

eBay

My very first auction.  (I doubt any of you guys would want it, but I felt compelled to link anyway.)

I’m testing my theory that good pictures + good descriptions + really low starting price will make it irresistible. At least to people like me.

Network Problems

PuTTY tells me “No route to host” when I try to ssh into this machine, and ping gives a similar complaint. And yet I’m viewing the site, refreshing, and now posting just fine.

What could possibly be going on to cause that? It’s not “Connection refused” as if sshd died, it’s “No route to host,” and yet I’m here at the exact same host just fine.

Organizational Strategy

After procrastinating all sorts of organizational projects by reading about organization instead, I think I’ve finally hit upon the secret to organizing.

Get a big trashcan. Use it liberally.

Seriously, though. I’ll pick through the stack of papers on my desk wondering how to organize them, and find receipts for a pack of gum from four months ago and credit card offers that I never intend to open. I go through my (digital) desktop and find drafts of things I worked on four months ago. I don’t even need the final version, much less an abandoned draft.  I won’t even comment on my Inbox.  Err, Inboxes.

The key to organizing isn’t buying lots of little boxes and cabinets. It’s of buying one big box, and it’s not just any box. It’s a dumpster. But then you have to start using it more effectively: as soon as you decide you don’t need something, throw it out. When you check your e-mail and just get a bunch of junk, before you grumble and close the program, delete the unwanted messages. When you check the snail mail and it’s just credit card offers from predatory lenders, stick them in the shredder. (It’s fun!) And when you go to neaten out that drawer, if you don’t know why you have it, just throw it out!

*off to throw away some more stuff*