I’m a pretty big believer that team-building is important in any group that matters. Not necessarily doing corny “fall backwards and I’ll catch you” drills at a camp, but just having a good time with your coworkers and getting to know them. At work we stay late Wednesdays to have a company dinner, which also allows us to leave a bit early on Friday. Wednesday nights look more like a big family at dinner than a company dinner. Rather than timidly fearing committing some sort of faux paus in front of the boss, we’re cracking jokes and talking about each others’ personal lives. The executives consider this time so valuable that the company picks up the dinner, even though they’re paying both for the food and our time as we engage in frivolity. It helps to keep us a very tight-knit team.

We also have a ping-pong table. It’s kind of absurd, really. We’re in a small office, so the ping-pong table is out front. We have a little lobby area with a couch and a few chairs, and then a ping-pong table. (Sometimes this results in important business visitors coming in and nearly being hit by a stray ping-pong ball.) One thing I’ve noticed is that the ping-pong table’s use seems directly proportional to the amount of work we have. On the surface, this seems like a really bad thing: when we should be working the hardest, we play ping-pong the most? But I think it’s actually a good thing. After a couple hours of intense concentration, I find myself somewhat burned out. I can feel my productivity dropping. I look up and find a coworker who doesn’t look immersed in his work, and we put aside our work for 20 minutes or so. While we think we’re just having some fun, I think there’s a good business case to be made for what we’re doing. I know that if I’m really burned out, I have the potential to coast for a couple hours, doing work but not really having the energy to do it really well. But I also know that if I’m really burned out, a couple short but intense games of ping-pong will pick me back up.

So this not-a-news-story article about a basketball game in which Obama and some of his Cabinet faced off against each other brought a smile to my face. Things like this make for outstanding teams. And when you’re playing for fun, playing “against” someone, trash-talking the President or not, you’re really playing with the other team.

The one thing I regret is that it seems to be comprised mostly, if not exclusively, of Democrats. Not that basketball can solve all our problems, but if you get a few Congressional Republicans to play on Team Congress, I really think you’d be laying the seed for a bit of bipartisanship. It’s just a baby-step, surely, but you’d look across the aisle and see a few basketball buddies in a sea of what was formerly “them,” the “opposition.” You’ll be just a bit more willing to step across and try to work something out.


I not only voted for Obama, but I even spent a month campaigning for him full-time. I still give him high marks.

But I had the following conversation today:

“Did you hear your buddy won the Nobel Peace Prize?”
“For what?”
“Where is there peace?!”

Seriously, can you name one place? We’re currently waging two wars, plus there are myriad minor conflicts at home. Not to mention the threat of a nuclear Iran, crazies at the helm of a lot of other countries, and the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian saga.

Sure, it’s great to see Obama trying, but I really have to agree with the pundits saying it’s kind of absurd. Let’s wait until I can think of somewhere that’s actually at peace. Though I’ll agree with Obama’s statement, who, CNN reports, said he “viewed the decision less as a recognition of his own accomplishments and more as ‘a call to action.'”


A lot is being said these days about how incredibly nasty Americans can be. We’re seeing it in politics, the media, and really, everywhere. Most people are nice, some people are a little grumpy, but a very small minority seem to be full of seething rage. Not ticked-off rage, but foaming-at-the-mouth, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs rage.

I’ve noticed this first-hand, as lately I’ve been more involved than usual in handling comments from our users. I should note that the community I refer to is a completely free online service, so it’s not as if people have the expectation that they’re paying us big bucks so we’d better cater to their needs. Not that it would excuse some of what they’re saying, but the point is that, really, we have zero obligation to do anything at all. We’re a free service that we graciously allow them to use.

One person didn’t receive a periodic newsletter from us. She sent us an e-mail that intermittently ventured into ALL CAPS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS, and started issuing ultimatums. While it would still be inexcusably rude if we had, say, lost years worth of uploaded content and double-billed her credit card, I’ll reiterate that she didn’t receive a newsletter from our free site, which is what set her off. We recently conducted a short survey of some of our users, and, while a coworker was going over the feedback we received at a meeting, there were some that she refused to read aloud because of their contents. Another coworker today received an e-mail calling her an ignorant C-word, and it wasn’t even in response to any sort of problem we caused or confrontation they perceived.

What is up with people? I tend to be nice for a few reasons. The first and most important is that I’m not a giant douchebag. My parents raised me so that I would at least pretend to be nice to people. And then there’s the time I spent working with customers all day long when I worked at the bowling alley, when I realized that most people would merrily take out their frustrations with my employer’s policies or with credit card companies or gas prices on me, a poor high-schooler. (“Gas prices?,” you might ask. Yeah, I don’t understand, either.)

And there’s a little bit of cold, calculated game-rigging going on with how I interact with people. Somewhere in between naturally being polite and having dealt with lots of people, some polite and some not, I’ve come to realize that, even if I’m actually angry, pretending to be an easy-going nice guy practically guarantees that the person I’m talking to will come to see things the way I see them.

It’s to be expected that some people will periodically be a bit short with someone in conversation. But what’s with all of the unreasonable levels of rage? Your newsletter is delayed so you send us eight paragraphs of all-caps text? You misconstrue something in a paranoid fashion and call my coworker a cu**? Is this what we’ve come to? Is someone pumping steroids into the water supply?

Burning the Flag

I’ve ranted about burning the flag before. While I find it offensive, I tend to view the flag as a piece of cloth on a stick that implicitly has “America” written on it. I don’t care about the piece of cloth as much as what it stands for.

So I find it mind-bogglingly contradictory that anyone would propose banning the burning of the flag. If you burn the flag, you’re a jerk. But the First Amendment grants you the right to do so. Those that seek to ban flag desecration, in my opinion, are trampling the Constitution instead of the flag. The flag is ultimately just a piece of cloth, while the Constitution is the fabric that built America. This is one of the comparatively few issues where I just can’t fathom the other side of. Abortion, gun control, taxes, health care, wars, airport security, domestic wiretapping… I can understand why someone might weigh in on the other side. But this isn’t one of them.

OKCupid is one of the largest free dating sites. (Bear with me. I’ll tie this together in a minute.) Besides all the usual dating stuff, they have a lot of polls. In addition to lots of polls and lots of users, they also have some people who are as obsessed with extracting interesting statistics and trends from all the stuff sitting in their database. The survey questions are user-generated, and they’ve found that the most controversial ones tend to bring in the most responses. (This isn’t really surprising.)

So they started generating reports, state-by-state, on the answers to a lot of these questions, and posting them on their blog. [Be warned that the subject matter involves a question on rape. Not really NSFW, unless you’ve got your laptop out at a company-wide meeting and someone mentions the OKCupid blog and its data.] Most leave me feeling pretty good about living in the Northeast. There’s a question about how often you shower, and it blows my mind that anyone wouldn’t shower every day. But what really fascinates me was the question about flag-burning. There are small, dense pockets of blue (“don’t outlaw flag-burning”) amid an enormous sea of red. It’s hard to gauge actual proportions, though, because there are giant clumps but enormous numbers of scattered answers.

Actually, a second thing fascinates me about that graph. Very indirectly, it’s a graph of population density. It might not be representative of the whole US population (it’s users who answered a question about flag-burning), but I’d tend to think that the results are at least fairly representative. It doesn’t surprise me terribly that some areas are more dense than others, and I’m only mildly surprised to find that America’s borders are practically drawn on the map by increased population. Look at Florida or the Great Lakes. The sparsely-dotted terrain gives way to a nearly solid line on the oceanfront.

But what fascinates me most is that you can see the vast falloff in population density, and that it occurs nearly dead-center in America in a straight line.

My Will, Part I

In the unlikely event that I should meet an untimely demise, I hereby request that no signs, painted blankets, etc. which may be produced in my memory, be affixed to any bridges or overpasses. Furthermore, I request that no stickers or decals making reference to me be affixed to vehicles.

While I’m being half-facetious in drafting a will dealing with minutia that probably doesn’t belong in a will at all, I’m also completely serious.

Generic Computers

A lot of people are picky about computers. It’s gotta be a Mac, or it’s got to run Windows 7, or it’s got to have at least 6GB of RAM, or the motherboard needs to support hardware RAID…

But there are lots of times when all you really care about is having a computer to surf the web and check your e-mail. It doesn’t really matter if it’s running XP or Ubuntu or what, and you don’t care about RAM or disk speed. There’s really a lot of times when this is all you need, and I think there are even people who never need anything more. They’re not going to try to play Counterstrike or use Photoshop to edit high-resolution panoramas and apply complicated filters.

And that’s why things like the Lenovo IdeaCenter C300 or even the Acer AspireRevo are so cool in my book. Both will work fine for basic usage. Surf the web, check your e-mail, or even watch TV on Hulu. And they’re only a few hundred bucks.

Windows File Sharing

I just managed to get two Windows computers to share documents over the network. It took less than 15 minutes. This is exciting progress; with older versions of Windows, it was something that I’d spend an hour on and still not be able to get working, and then I’d ask some other computer whiz who would confess that they could never get it to work, either.

Here’s what it took: On the Windows XP machine, I had to find the folder I wanted to share, right-click on it, and select “Sharing.” It took a couple minutes to change permissions (?), but it worked. I’d have expected to set this up in Control Panel, but perhaps the way Microsoft does it actually makes much more sense and I just expected it to be harder. (I viewed a shared folder as a system-level shared resource, hence my choice to look in the Control Panel.)

The wrinkle was that the computer that was to mount this shared resource runs Vista, and, for some reason, it ships with Network Sharing turned off. This, too, was pretty smooth once I figured out what was going on. A helpful little notification was displayed when I tried accessing “Network” in the finder (err, Windows Explorer), indicating that sharing was turned off. Somewhat confusingly, it seems to link sharing your stuff on the network with being able to access other peoples’ network shares, but I pretty trivially was able to fine-tune this in the Control Panel, so that we could access one computer without sharing our stuff.

I still think it would be neat to set up a network file server, perhaps a little Atom-based machine with a few SATA disks and onboard RAID, running OpenFiler or the like, although I can’t imagine that iSCSI is necessary for a home network. There are a lot of pre-made machines for this, although some are weird. Netgear has a decent offering, and Cisco has a spiffy-looking one with product specs full of gotchas: lots of USB ports, but they seem to support “configuration backup only” as well as UPS control, support for 15 users (implying that it’s limited), and they seem to consider two 250GB drives in a NAS to mean you have 500GB of storage, which is just begging for data loss. On the other hand, it seems to support encryption, journaling filesystems, and SMART. The Thecus products seem to be pretty feature-packed and favored by geeks, but I’m still thinking that a Linux box has the ultimate advantage of allowing me to slice-and-dice across multiple volumes with different access controls. Keep some sections walled off for backup.

Truck-stop Hookers

Every now and then, a story is published granting an intimate portrait into a world wholly unfamiliar to the overwhelming majority of us. The Dallas Observer recently ran a long article called Cruising with the Whore Cop, in which reporter Jesse Hyde follows around Dallas PD’s Terry Peters, who, for reasons that aren’t quite explained, is the apparent authority in the department on prostitutes, and the shady underground economy at truck stops.

The article is careful to mention that the overwhelming majority of truckers are upstanding citizens, but that a very small number are not. It’s not so much that they hire prostitutes that causes trouble, but that they buy crystal meth and kill prostitutes. All in all, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a foreign culture.

Guetta Load of This

I’m not normally one to recommend music, since it’s highly subjective. But a couple weeks ago I was driving home and heard a great song.

First, a disclaimer: I’m going to link to a few music videos. Where possible, I’m using the official music videos. Many feature scantily-clad woman and/or lots of profanity, so if you’re sitting at work or have lots of small children crowded around your computer, it might not be a good idea to click these links. I don’t find much of a reason to watch music videos, but Youtube is a great place to listen to music. Just leave it up in a tab while you work.

Thanks to Shazam, I was able to identify the song as Sexy Chick by David Guetta. I’d never heard of him, but it turns out that he’s apparently a chart-topping French DJ, doing House and Electro. I’m not really sure why his music hasn’t caught on here: Sexy Chick was played once on some late-night radio program that mixes in some rarely-played songs in lieu of the normal Top 40 routine, and it was one of the few songs I’ve ever fallen in love with immediately. Europeans seem to eat up everything he does, while no one will play any of his music here. Sexy Chick even features Akon, whose songs do get featured on every Top 40 station out here. Some of his songs are a little too repetitive for my liking, but I’m positive I’ve heard his 2005 hit, The World Is Mine, before. It’s a great song, too.

The only other time I can recall blogging about music was The Black Eyed Peas, who made history by simultaneously occupying the #1 and #2 spot on the Billboard Top 100, not for a day or week, but for 26 consecutive weeks. The two songs were I Gotta Feeling and Boom Boom Pow. (The latter, by the way, is practically a different song when you play a high-quality—e.g., not Youtube—version through a set of decent speakers.)

It turns out that the Black Eyed Peas asked Guetta to produce I Gotta Feeling. And as for Boom Boom Pow? He didn’t produce that, but he did produce Boom Boom Wow and Boom Boom Guetta, two of the more popular remixes of the song.

Incidentally, Boom Boom Pow has an unreasonably high number of remixes for a recent song. There’s one with 50 Cent, and another Kid Cudi. There’s another that’s supposed to be to the beat of Pitbull’s Calle Ocho, though I’m not sure they succeeded in that. There’s even Sham Wow Now, a parody.

Compromises, Inadequate

Remember when Amazon realized that 1984 was being distributed on the Kindle by someone who didn’t have distribution rights, so they deleted it from everyone’s Kindles? They were sued, but reached an agreement in which they set a new policy to not delete books. Except that that’s not true. The policy, as I quote from the linked article, is to not delete books

“unless (a) the user consents; (b) the user seeks a refund or an electronic payment fails to clear; (c) a court orders the deletion; or (d) deletion is necessary to protect against malware.”

(a) doesn’t count. If the user consents to deletion, it’s not really anything creepy. (Well, assuming it is voluntary consent free from coercion.) (b) kind of makes sense, too: if you seek a refund, the book will be deleted.

But the list doesn’t stop there. If a court orders Amazon to delete books, they can. Granted, this is probably standard legalese. Most contracts seem to include that exception for everything, whether it makes any sense or not. But this doesn’t sit well with me. (d) raises questions, too. Malware? How can an electronic book distribute malware? If it’s possible, Amazon is doing something wrong. Sure, I can see how user-downloaded files could be crafted to exploit vulnerabilities. But these are books distributed by, and presumably formatted for the Kindle by, Amazon. It should be completely impossible.  Also, they seem to clarify that all of this only applies to US users.

I would contend that this isn’t actually progress. Amazon still owns the e-book that you just bought and grants you a license to use it. They can apparently revoke that license at any time, or modify the terms at any time. In my mind, if you pay a one-time fee to obtain something, you become the owner. There is no licensing or terms. You bought it. Copyright law still applies, of course, and is plenty restrictive.

But Amazon, here’s the thing. I’m not going to pay for an e-book if I can’t own it. Granted, your Kindle is too expensive for me anyway, and I want the ability to load my own PDFs. But I couldn’t think of a better way to undermine credibility in the Kindle. While people struggle with whether an electronic book is as good as a paper book, you seem intent on proving that electronic books are, well, Orwellian. Besides the fact that users merely purchase a revocable license to use your books, with an attached contract that you can change at any time, you’ve demonstrated that the e-book reader with wireless is, in fact, as creepy as the tinfoil hat brigade said it was.

And besides, who am I supposed to buy an e-book reader from now? Certainly not Sony.