Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Painting with Livestock

I would like to take this opportunity to call down a rain of toads on the person who first thought that stippled ceilings were a good idea.

The family room project continues. Thankfully, the painting is completely done at this point. The last item to receive a fresh coat was our ceiling, which is, tastefully, stippled. Textured, that is. Imagine trying to paint this:

In order to paint a stippled ceiling, one must purchase a paint roller which is made from one entire dead sheep. They have to be dead, I suppose, or you'd never get the handle inserted.

When you pour your paint into the roller pan and dip this ovine contraption into it, the sound you hear is that of a roller sucking up what amounts to a gallon of paint. You may have to refill the pan several times before the roller is actually saturated. At this point, the roller full of paint, which weighs approximately 37 pounds, has to be hoisted over your head and applied to the ceiling. You quickly learn that, if you roll this veeeery slowly, you can effectively cover a ceiling area about 8" by 18", while at the same time spattering tiny droplets of paint in a 20-foot radius, effectively polka-dotting you, your carpet, your furniture, your freshly-painted walls, and the dog. Then you must refill the roller pan and reload the roller because there's not enough paint left to cover any more. In this manner you can paint an entire 10X20 ceiling using only 30 gallons of paint in about 2 days.

You do get to work on those flabby arms, though.

Once the ceiling has been covered, then it's a simple matter of taking a brush and going around the outside edges and any light fixtures that may be in the ceiling. That is, it's "a simple matter" in much the same way that threading a needle while wearing oven mitts is "a little tricky". This is because the texture of the ceiling must now be overcome with a brush. One must get enough paint onto the brush to get into all the little nooks and crannies and, at the same time, be sparing enough with the paint to prevent it from rolling down to one's elbow.

A couple of repairs, new carpet, a new mantel and insert for the fireplace, and we'll be ready to inhabit our family room again. Watch this space for further developments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Henry Clay and Me

I'd rather be right than president.
--Henry Clay

I'm a software guy. The software that my company sells runs on several different operating systems. We had a request at one point to implement a certain feature on the AIX version of our software. If you're not familiar, AIX is to operating systems, particularly Unix-like operating systems, what Esperanto is to world languages. It sort of does what it was intended to do, but nobody really takes it seriously.

There is a gentleman who works in our main office who is very, very knowledgeable about our product, from the inside implementation to the features it offers in all of its various forms. He is highly respected in the company and is seen as the go-to guy for many issues. He was a proponent of implementing this new feature on AIX. I knew that it didn't work the way he thought it did. After a series of pretty frustrating e-mails, he requested a conference call to discuss this issue.

I was prepared. I had examined the code in question. I had read the AIX man pages on the topic in question. I had closely examined the AIX documentation online. I knew exactly how this worked. Four of us were included on the conference call. He said what he wanted. I explained how it was simply impossible. The operating system, if I may call AIX that, simply didn't provide the information for the software to determine the necessary steps. He indicated that I could do it in this fairly simple manner. I explained patiently that it wouldn't work, and here was why. He said that I could get this information from this source. I told him that the source was inadequate and might mislead us with the information it provided. This was not a difficult concept. I really couldn't understand why he couldn't see the logic. I had never dealt with this guy much, but I knew his reputation. At this point, I honestly couldn't see how he had earned it. The more we talked, the more I began to think that he really wasn't all that bright, but had apparently gotten his reputation through sheer persistence. This was so simple that any dolt with a rudimentary knowledge of the issue should be able to figure out that it simply wouldn't fly. I tried explaining it in a different way. I tried using examples. We walked through it step by step. I showed him the step where it all fell apart. For God's sake, is this guy an idiot? I was forceful. I was emphatic. I was confident in the overwhelming weight of rightitude. Just about the time I was ready to start laughing at the absurdity of it all, the answer hit me:

I was wrong.

I was utterly, totally, inarguably wrong. It would work in exactly the manner he said it would. Dammit!

I don't recall exactly what I said when this realization struck, but I'm almost certain that it was clever and glib and all-around perfect. I'm pretty sure it went something like this:


That's right. In the space of a heartbeat, I went from Daniel Webster to "oh".

The mind races at a time like this. How can I get out of this with a single shred of dignity intact? Maybe I'm not completely wrong. Maybe I can show how my way of thinking was right, but his presentation was inadequate. Maybe I got my information from an older version of AIX and the feature that would allow it all to work was brand new. Maybe.....

Nah. There was no way out. I had to tuck my tail between my legs and admit that everything that I'd been saying over e-mail for the past several days and during the last twenty minutes of highly-paid conversation with massive amounts of brain power was pretty much equivalent to arguing that Paris Hilton is "classy".

I went off and implemented the code. It was easy. Any dolt with a rudimentary knowledge of the issue could've done it. Coding, building and testing took me a total of about two hours. I was able to make an entry in our tracking system that same day that said it was done and worked like a charm.

I still don't know if the other guy was trying to be nice or just turning the screw when he responded with, "Gosh, it took less time to implement it than it did to talk about it!"


Yeah, I'd rather be right.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rockin' To The Oldies

Sometimes we get our ideas from our daily lives. Sometimes we get them from the news. Sometimes we blatantly steal them from other peoples' blogs. Sometimes we combine more than one of the above. This is one of those times.

I have written in this space about my age, music, and the time I got to meet Keith Emerson. I have read with great interest blogs from J-Money and Herb of DC about the various searches that people have used to locate some of their blog entries. This inspired me to do my own little bit of Sitemeter digging to try to see how people were finding some of my stuff.

I was pleased that people were still hitting some of my old blog entries as late as yesterday with this search:

Huh. People out there actually still look for Keith Emerson. It ain't just me. I felt good about that. Anything I can do to help out my ol' buddy and BFF Keith as his career wanes can only be a good thing.

It sort of came crashing down, however, when I noticed where the search came from:

So now I have visions of old guys in black suits, hats and prayer shawls kicking up their walkers to the tune of "Abaddon's Bolero". Old rabbis working on lessons that show parallels between Hillel and "The Sheriff". God forbid that there are old women in wheelchairs with shmattehs on their wigs crooning "Still You Turn Me On" to their hunky male nurses.

Notice the common word in each of the above sentences? Hint: It rhymes with "sold".

If I'm ever in a "Geriatric Center", will I be using Google to hunt up Black Oak Arkansas performing the innuendo-laden "Jim Dandy to the Rescue" or, assuming I can even remember Black Oak Arkansas, would I more likely listen in a hopeful fashion to "Uncle 'Lijah" which is, appropriately, about a man who lives to be 105 years old? Will the Beatles' "When I'm 64" have any meaning at all for me any more? Will Jethro Tull inspire me to sit on a park bench and eye little girls with bad intent? Will I be John Fogerty's "Old Man Down The Road"?

At least they're apparently having some fun. So let's hear it for the Google searchers at The Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center. God bless 'em. May I be as spunky as they are when my time comes. Unlike Roger Daltrey, I hope I don't die before I get old.

To the folks at Gurwin:

May God bless and keep you always.
May your wishes all come true.
May you always do for others
and let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
and climb on every rung,
and may you stay forever young.

-- Bob Dylan

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've often read that during repetitive, stressful, mind-numbing activities, your brain can go into its own little zone and sometimes startling revelations emerge. I wasn't sure I really believed that until yesterday.

As I was putting the final coat of semi-gloss white (a-baby, a-baby) on the trimwork yesterday, I was struck with such a marvelous realization that at the same time was so simple and obvious that I think I now know how Isaac Newton must've felt when the apple dropped on his head.

Or maybe it was more like Chicken Little felt when the acorn or whatever it was dropped on his head.

Anyway I was so stunned I had to pause for a few seconds to gather my thoughts. Could this be real? Could it actually be so easy? I thought it through for a while, and I really can't see any problems with my conclusion.

Here it is. Are you ready? I'm now prepared to share my epiphany with the blog world. Step in just a little closer.

Unless you have freakishly tall houseguests, nobody can see the tops of your doorframes.

Huh? Huh? Admit it. For all you know, the tops of your door frames have "REDRUM" scrawled in bat's blood on them. Somebody might have pencilled in some vague national threat that could get you in BIG trouble. There might be winning lottery numbers up there. You don't know.

For me, I'm going to consider the tops of my doorframes to be some of the last unspoiled wilderness in this country. Why would I want to pave over such unspoiled majesty with latex?

I say, give the dust bunnies a fighting chance.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I See a Red Door and I Want To Paint It Black

Our hallway is still a beautiful shade of primer white. However with our short attention spans (Look! A squirrel!) we have decided to abandon that project for now and instead completely redo our family room. None of our visitors ever go upstairs anyway.

Our family room is rather small. It had two 1/2-watt ceiling lights in institutional-looking square settings in the middle of the room. The carpet is gray, '80s-vintage berber with something akin to single-ply toilet paper as a pad under it. I suppose at one time it may have been white. At some point, the previous owners installed dark brown molding around the top of the room to match the dark brown baseboard, window frame, and door frame that were already there. They must have raised Mogwais. Dracula had less fear of light than these people. The walls were a sickly yellow color. There was a ceiling fan that we haven't turned on once in the four years we've been living in the house. All in all, the effect was sort of like being in a locker room, only a little less bright and pleasant-smelling.

So we decided to call in Attila the Decorator for some advice on how to open it up and make it look bigger and brighter while spending a minimal amount of time in debtor's prison. She's been very helpful in the past, so we put ourselves in her hands, trusting lambs that we are. Here are Attila's suggestions:

Step 1: Get rid of that ceiling fan and put in some new lights. The electrician and his brother-in-law, the wallboard guy, show up bright and early one Saturday morning. In a matter of about 3 hours, we have 4 really bright pot lights, 2 ugly gray squares in the ceiling, and a little round plate where the fan used to be. After questioning the presence of the little round plate, I was told that it was actually illegal to have the hole plastered over as long as wires were still running from the wall switch to where the fan used to be. For just a few hundred dollars more, all the wiring could be removed and the wall switch could be plastered over as well as the ceiling. We decided that the little round plate in the center of the room was actually quite beautiful. All in all, this was a fairly painless step until Attila dropped by for her check.

Step 2: Pick out new carpet, wall color, and furniture patterns. Painless, but exhausting. Did you know that there are about 368 gazillion paint colors? We finally settled on something in the pale green range, reducing our choices to 62 gazillion. Then the carpet samples. Then the fabric pattern books. Did you know that there are 10^2876532 fabric patterns, and each one comes in 5 different color variations? My wife (who reads this blog and is a very forgiving person) has excellent taste and a sharply critical eye, but she has to see every single combination of carpet/paint/fabric that can possibly be put together. Given that we're getting both a new couch and a new chair, that's everything times 2. Since I've been burdened with a Y-chromosome, I tend to see the first combination, declare it good, and move on. "A purple floral couch with a yellow shag rug, blood-red walls, and pink paisley chair? I love it. What's next?" We have the same sort of issues when purchasing clothing or planning a vacation.

Step 3: Remove the hideous kitchen wallpaper that spills over into part of the family room. You may recall my previous wallpaper experience. That was an acorn falling on my head from a beautiful oak tree. This experience was more akin to what a large, diarrhetic bird in the tree would do to my head. Just before the tree fell on my head. I did take J. M. Tewkesbury's advice and scored the wallpaper before spraying on the remover, but I was still only able to remove about a 1/2 square inch at a time. It took me 3 days to remove about 1/10 as much wallpaper as my previous effort.

Step 4: Spackle, sand, and paint. Attila dictates that we can't just paint the walls. Oh no. If we want to really open up this room, we need to paint all the dark brown wood, too. A quick trip to the paint store nets me a couple of gallons of paint that, judging from the price, is individually mixed by hand by Christian Dior himself and contains liquefied platinum and yeti milk. I declined the Lloyd's of London insurance policy for the brief ride home. Saturday morning, bright and early, we move the ratty furniture to the middle of the room, cover it all with a drop cloth, open up the paint, and start a-slatherin'. We get the first coat on the walls, shower up, and head out for our weekend errands. Come home, second coat, shower again. Sleep like the dead. Sunday morning, mask off the baseboards, ceiling molding, window and door. Pop open the semi-gloss, and start painting the dark brown stuff white. God, is it streaky. Since the semi-gloss stuff doesn't dry nearly as fast as the flat, we have to wait a minimum of 4 hours before the second coat. The second coat looks a lot better, but it's going to take a third.

The paint we're using is enamel. It's supposed to be non-toxic, but paint fumes are the only possible reason that I can come up with for the following incidents:

A) At some point, one of us realized that the chorus of Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" fit pretty well with the materials we were using, and we spent the rest of the weekend hilariously singing

I want something else
to get me through this
semi-gloss kinda white,
a-baby, a-baby....

Really. We found this funny.

B) While putting the second coat on the walls, I was handling the brushing chores while wife was handling the roller. Admittedly, it was the second coat and it's sometimes hard to tell what's been done and what hasn't, but the following conversation took place:

Wife: Did you do this corner?
Gilahi: Yes.
Wife: All of it?
Gilahi: (pause) No Honey, I only did a third of it.

"All of it"? (Did I mention that my wife reads this blog? I love her very much.)

C) Lying in bed Saturday evening, we turn on the television. No reception whatsoever. We tried several channels, turned it off and on, wondered if we'd have to call the satellite folks. It took several minutes before we realized that the receiver box is in the family room and is currently under a sheet of plastic.

And that's where we are. Stuff piled in the middle of an unusable family room, no TV, pristine, beautiful walls edge in blue tape and molding that looks like bacon. We'll continue our saga as it progresses. Since they're no longer doing Flash Gordon serials, I'm sure many of you are just dying to see what happens in our next installment.

Will the streaky brown wood be defeated?

Will Gilahi and his wife ever be done with their house?

Will Attila the Decorator approve?

Stay tuned....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

And the sign said, "Long-haired freaky people..."

Didn't really need the "long-haired freaky people" part of that title, but I just really, really like the way it trips off the tongue. The Five Man Electrical Band is another underrated group I should've mentioned in a previous post. I understand they still reunite and tour occasionally. Great harmonies.

Anyway, that's not what this post is about. It's about a certain class of sign that I see popping up all over the place.

This may be something akin to saying, "the sky is blue" or "water is wet" but, I don't understand the DMV, or whoever it is that's responsible for these things.

First of all, they're often put up on heavily-traveled streets or even expressways. If you're flowing with traffic, how the heck are you supposed to know when the sign is indicating your speed? We were travelling last weekend in pretty heavy traffic when we passed one of these telling us that our speed was 68-72-75-77-66-80-72-71-79. If I'm doing 66 in a 65 zone, I don't much care. If I'm doing 79, I consider it pretty borderline. If I'm looking back and forth from my speedometer to the sign to try to figure out when it's pointing at me, then I'm not watching the road and I'm an accident waiting to happen, which is what I believe these signs actually accomplish.

Even if I'm in sparse traffic with one lane of traffic in either direction and it's obvious when the sign is indicating my speed, this tends to be my thought process:

  • I'm speeding (I'm always speeding).
  • Scan for a cop.
  • No cop, keep going.

What's the real percentage of people out there that see these signs, know when they're being clocked, realize for the first time that they're speeding, and as a result of all this, slow down? I'm betting it's pretty darn low.

This, to me, would be much more effective:

But this is really overkill. When I see the cop car, I really don't need the sign telling me how fast I'm going. My guess is that this is also true of most drivers.

Finally, though, what's up with this one?

So now I'm not only driving 55 (or more) miles per hour down the road, I'm also looking between my speedometer and craning up to see the sign. Great idea.

Oh sure, they're interesting and fun to play with, but I'm thinking they're pretty useless, and they're blockin' up the scenery, breakin' my mind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fusion Cuisine

We recently passed a restaurant that said that it offered, simply, "fusion cuisine". It occurred to me that that's not really very descriptive. This is a "fusion" of what types of cuisine?

Can I get spaghetti & matzoh balls? Maybe some nice tandoori crab cakes? A big slab of lutefisk in bearnaise sauce? A little sauerbraten au gratin? How many rolls do I get with haggis sushi?

Then again, why do I assume that we're limited to "fusing" only two kinds of cuisine?

I'd like a plate of the stir-fried herring in garam masala, please. Can I substitute refried beans for the fried okra that comes with the toad-in-the-hole? How fresh is the reindeer in the paella aspic?

Heck, since we've completely left the box here, why limit it to just the food that's being offered?

Is it acceptable to eat grits a la greque with chopsticks? Should you remove your shoes when entering Sukiyaki's Irish Pub & Deli? Do you need a lobster bib for those pickled escargot tacos?

For what it's worth, we really did see "Bill & Harry's Chinese Restaurant" on the latest excursion. Wish I'd had a camera with me. It seems to me that anyone who wants to open a Chinese restaurant and chooses to call it "Bill & Harry's" is just advertising the fact that they're not very good decision makers. Not at all sure I'd trust the food there.

It's good to be back in Washington, where every restaurant in the city, no matter the ethnicity, is serving "tapas". Except for weekends until 1:00, where the only meal available is brunch. Maybe this weekend I'll have a kippers florentine omelet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dear HR Person

Memo to: Human Resources
From: Gilahi
Re: Office Social Gatherings
Date: August 12, 2008

Dear Human-Resources-Type-Person,

To cut to the chase here, why are you so anxious for me to have a social relationship with my co-workers? In case you haven't realized it, I already spend more of my waking hours with these people than I do with my own spouse, and I like her!

A couple of times a year, you send an e-mail message telling us that we're going to celebrate the successful completion of some difficult project or that it's time for some team-building. This e-mail message inevitably includes an invitation for us to join our officemates at some place like Ned's Beer & Bowl-O-Rama or Fat Hannah's GoKart Emporium for a fun-filled afternoon away from the office partying like it's 1999.

You may believe that the sound you hear in the facility after you send one of these messages is some sort of approval. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't actually witnessed it, but that sound is in reality 50 pairs of eyes rolling upward accompanied by 50 simultaneous mouse-clicks on the "delete" icon.

You may have noticed how frequently these events actually get cancelled due to a complete lack of interest. You always express some surprise that almost no one wants to spend an afternoon shooting pool with 30 other people they barely know.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you're kidding, right? Do you honestly, in your wildest dreams, believe that if I spend 4 hours playing video games with Justin the tech writer, then I'll be a better employee, more of a team player? Do you think this is an adequate reward for the past four months of stress, long hours, abuse, frustration, unreasonable deadlines, and unrealistic expectations that the company has put me through? Are you aware that Justin picks his ears, has a collection of "Star Wars" action figures in his cubicle, and smells like Vick's Vapo-Rub?

Just in case you're missing it, here are some of the comments that I hear every time one of these events is scheduled:

  • I don't want to go if I can't take my kids.

  • I don't want to go if there are going to be any kids there.

  • Do they have vegetarian/kosher/low carb/gluten-free options?

  • I live in Virginia and it's miles out of my way to go there and then go home.

  • I live in Maryland and it's miles out of my way to go there and then go home.

  • I telecommute from Sioux Falls, so I never get to go to any of these things.

  • I don't want to go bowling/play pool/ride a ferris wheel/go spearfishing.

  • It's too hot/cold/rainy/smoggy for that activity.

Occasionally some manager will conclude that we all eat lunch, all eat at the same time, and that this would be a good way to celebrate or somehow or another inject some cohesiveness into their team. Have you ever tried to get thirty engineers to plan something?

"Where's Bob? Is Bob going? Fred, go find Bob. Who's driving? Do you know where it is? I can take 4 people, but somebody who knows where it is has to go with me. Oh, there's Bob. Where's Fred? Do we have enough cars? I can take some people but they'll have to find another way back because I'm taking the afternoon off."

It takes 45 minutes to get people into cars.

Then you get to the restaurant. It takes another 45 minutes to get everyone seated, take orders, get food, and eat it. Then comes the bill. Have you ever seen 30 engineers try to calculate something?

"What'd you have? Mine comes to $9.47 but all I have is a twenty. All I had was a salad. What's the total? How much do we have so far? Did you bring a calculator? Is the tip already included? That can't be right. Wait, we're $15.00 short. Let's start over. OK, I had the chicken feet al fredo..." Since you never attend these functions yourself, you have absolutely no idea what it's like.

Please continue to bear in mind that all of this effort is for the privilege of spending time with a group of people with whom, for the most part, we have exactly one thing in common: We work for the same company.

Do you know what we talk about at these lunches or outings? Work. Do you know what we talk about at work? Work. Our teams are built. We know who's working on what, who's good at what, who can offer good advice, who might need some extra help, how we work with each other, and where to go and what to do if there's an issue. An afternoon at Manny's Waffle World is not going to improve on that in any way, shape or form.

I'd like to take this opportunity to once again propose something of a challenge that I've proposed many times in the past, but no one from HR has seen fit to attempt. Since management has told us that you allocate the princely sum of about $20/person for one of these social gatherings, I challenge you to take a poll. I know this never occurs to most HR people, but maybe it's time to ask the employees what they want. Give them several options such as a meal, bowling, pool, a picnic in the park, an afternoon at a water park, a museum... whatever you can come up with. The challenge, though, is to make one of the options, "A nice, crisp $20 bill." If 90% of the employees don't choose the $20 bill, then I will personally eat a $20 bill.

Please don't get me wrong. For the most part, I have a great deal of respect for my coworkers and I have a pleasant, jovial, working relationship with them. Except maybe Justin. I have, on occasion, even spent some social time with some of them outside of the office when we discovered that we had a common interest. However that's the critical part of this whole equation: In my years on this planet, I have developed the capability to decide with whom I will socialize and under what circumstances.

I really don't need HR to set up play-dates for me.

So please, treat us like adults and let us decide when and with whom we'll have social relationships versus business relationships (and they are different things, despite what you constantly try to foist upon us). If you want to reward us for something, surely you can be creative enough to come up with something more creative than forcing us to spend time together as if we're friends.

Please consider the cash option.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

this is a test

Sending from my phone

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Battle Continues

Even not-so-frequent readers of this space will be familiar with my ongoing campaign against the Verizon behemoth. Judging from some of the responses that I've gotten from my post that was a direct response from good-friend-I've-never-met and fellow Verizon-hater Pedro Vera, followed closely by a post from another good-friend-I've-never-met, J. M. Tewkesbury, as well as caustic Verizon comments from Lucy, Herb of DC, and nutmeg96, I am far from alone in my opinions of this august institution.

This was recently forwarded to me, and the sender swears that they weren't even aware of who the original recipient was. Don't know who the Verizon customer was, but I'd like to meet him, shake his hand, and tell him how badly I wish I'd thought of this first.

Add to Technorati Favorites