What Kind of Person Gives His Neighbors Nicknames?

The creator of Pearls Before Swine does:

I don’t know any of my neighbors’ names.

I think that’s excusable when you’ve only lived next to them for three months.

My problem is that I’ve lived next to them for eight years.

It doesn’t inconvenience me. I don’t talk to them. The only time it comes up is when Staci — who does talk to them — is telling me a story.

“Doug said they haven’t had any offers on their house.”

“Who’s Doug?” I ask.

“Doug. Our neighbor.”

“The fat guy whose wife doesn’t talk to him?”

“That’s Jim. Doug is across the street.”

“Oh, the guy with all the crap on his lawn.”


I like my nicknames better.

Network Weirdness

OK, so there's this one website that we use for work travel planning. I can't get to it from either of our Macs at home. On the Macs, the site just hangs while it pretends to load. However, the site loads fine on a PC from home. I figured there was something wrong with the site.

Turns out that here in the airport, I can get to the website with my Mac.

What's up with that? What could my network be doing that would only affect Macs?

More Music for Your Head

I've been trying out Second Life this weekend to prepare for a project at work. (Honest, it's true!) I've spent most of my time trying to get my avatar right and I'm just not getting anywhere. But it made this song funny for me:

Oh, and thanks dear Sister-in-Law for getting this song stuck in my head.


Ponyo: Japanese animation with Western voice-over gives us a story about a boy who falls in love with a David Bowie's daughter, who happens to be a fish. At least, I think that's what happened.
Theater Location: Majestic 20 (Silver Spring)
Noise Level: just right
The Skinny: Someone was definitely on drugs making this movie. The art was interesting. The water sounds were awesome; the whole thing felt good and squishy. There were lots of screaming children in the theater, but they all went very very quiet when the boy runs along calling "Mom! Mommy!"

Why were there so many children in the theater for this movie anyway?

Time for a Pop Quiz

This week's subject is economics:

Which Snuggle would you choose? What if there's something awesomely special (or "sound") about the one on the left? Maybe there's a surprise inside?

Over Sea, Under Stone (Susan Cooper)

Where did that cover come from? Between trips to Kansas, I stopped by the Republican Retirement Ranch, a collection of condominiums (condominia?) populated by the "past-enriched." Leadbelly -- my great uncle on my sister's side -- has lived there for about six years now. But I hear California calling and I can't leave without my imaginary relatives. So I was bound and determined to help my dear Great Uncle prepare for relocation.

He had asked me to bring a tape measure along. When I handed it to him, his eyes lit up and he took me out into the hallway.

"Where're we going?" I asked.

"To do some measuring."

"In the hall? I thought you were packing."

He just grunted and shuffled down to the corner where his condo ended at a crossing hallway.

"Hold this here." He handed me the end of the tape and dragged the measure down the wall.

"What are you doing?" There was just the slightest touch of whine in my voice. I had this horrible image of Leadbelly tearing down the wall to get his recliner out.

"If you must know..." He paused to tap on the wall. I doubt he could hear anything with those old hearing aids. He moved his head about four inches down the hall and tapped again. "I believe there's a secret passage."

"There's no secret passage, Great Uncle. This is a modern building. And even if it were some old manor house or something, there would still probably be no secret passage. Where do you get these ideas?" He grunted. I knew exactly where he got these ideas. "Which book did you read this time?"

"Just because I happened to have recently read Over Sea, Under Stone doesn't mean it gave me any notions I didn't already have."

"It's just a coincidence that the kids in that book find a secret room with a map to the Holy Grail? You know those kids were not exactly living in an old folks' home."

He huffed. "We prefer the term 'Habitat for the Extra-Experienced."

"Whatever, there just isn't adventure around every corner." I don't ever say 'whatever' in real life, you know. I watched Great Uncle Leadbelly take out a pen and make a mark on the wall near the corner. "I remember what drove me nuts about that book, now! The little brat defaced a book!"

"What?" He looked up from the crooked line he had drawn on the wall.

"She did. Jane, the girl. She found an old book and actually wrote in it. I nearly had a heart attack."

"Oh, horrors!" Leadbelly put his fingertips to his mouth and moaned. "A little bit of pencil scraping in a dirty old book."

"Doesn't matter." I stomped around in a little circle. "Gosh. Kids these days just have no respect."

"You're aware that book was written before you were born, lad?"

"Only just."

"Still." He stared at me for a second. "I don't know where you get that streak of rule-abiding from. It must come from your Great Aunt. You have got to embrace adventure, my boy."

"Why were you reading a middle grade book anyway?" I tried to rub the pen mark away, but I only smeared it.

"Are you pulling my cow, boy? This is the first book I've ever read with a positive portrayal of a poor, disrespected lot."

"Don't be so dramatic. Who's disrespected?"

"Great uncles." The kids in the book - two brothers and a sister -- did their adventuring under the guidance of a great uncle. I'm not so sure he was the best influence on them, to be honest.

"Disrespected? Are you kidding me? Have you ever read a negative portrayal of great uncles?"

"Aside from your little stories?"

"OK, fine. Shouldn't you be packing?"

"Look, about that."

I waited. Leadbelly looked around. Two older women were advancing down the hall, arm-in-arm, toward us with excruciating slowness. He looked at the floor. He scratched his head.

"You're stalling. What?"

"I don't want to move to California."

"What? Why not?"

"Uh. It's a blue state."

"Oh, Great Uncle, you live in a blue state already. Hasn't anybody told you about Maryland?"

"OK, OK, I'm worried I won't make any friends."

"You don't have any friends now, Great Uncle. You don't like people, remember?"

"I'm just comfortable here is all."

"Oh, dear imaginary relative. Have you lost your sense of adventure so soon? We might find caves with hidden treasure up in the Sierra Nevadas."

"Never-the-," Leadbelly started.

The women had arrived in our neck of the woods. They had spent a minute or two studying the wall. They took a deep breath in unison. "Excuse me. But have you two noticed this graffito here?" They spoke in unison, too.

"Looks like a smudge to me," Great Uncle Leadbelly replied.

"Oh, we're not so sure, are we Margaret?"

"Oh, no, Helen. By the bylaws, if it has ink, it's vandalism. We're going to have to assemble the authorities. Did you see anyone around here? You'll have to stand as a witness, of course. Let this sort of thing get out of hand and before you know it, the ATF will be in here burning down the place."

"I'm sorry," Great Uncle Leadbelly interrupted. "I'm afraid we won't be of much help to your investigation. My nephew and I were just taking a break from packing. I hear California calling, don't you know."

And we hustled back to the condo to find some boxes and prepare for adventure.

if you fall I will catch you--I'll be waiting

The Time Traveler's Wife: Science fictional account of a married man who flits through time.
Theater Location: Beltway Plaza (Greenbelt)
Noise Level: much, much too loud
The Skinny: (A movie with a book tale already written.) Not as grim or interesting as the book. Pretty skimpy.

Camera Woes

So, I mentioned earlier that my camera broke. It seems to have lost the ring that holds the lens in and also a little piece of plastic that frames the picture. I say that "it seems to have lost..." as if it had its own will and stuff. OK, so I lost those bits. The camera seems to function, but the lens drops out every so often. I'm sure I'm smearing it up and it'll eventually get scratched or lost. There's no telling what it's doing to the auto-focus.

So, I took it over to Ritz Camera to see if they could fix it. They told me they'd be sending it away and that the minimum estimate is $200, but it "would probably cost more." Wow, I can get a better camera brand new for twice that. I'd really rather not, since that seems so dang wasteful, but I'm not spending $200 to fix an old camera. Really not.

Surf's Up

The last wee toaty explorer used up all my white Makin's Clay. I ran over to the art store to get some more, but they didn't have any. They did have something from Crayola for kids, though. Hence, this surfer dude is a bit on the neon side.


It doesn't help that I broke my camera. The lens keeps falling out, so I think that's part of the over-exposure in these shots.

more surfer dude

The surfer is stranded on a rock near Louisville, Colorado.

surfer on a rock

I'm afraid there's an entire mountain range between him and the sea.

mountain surfer

The Crayola material is called "Model Magic." The tag line on the bag is "Soft, Squishy Modeling Material." Squishy! It is loads easier to work with than the other stuff I've used so far. It feels a little like marshmallow, but it recombines and molds very well. The guy above dried overnight. He is lighter than the spaceman, so I might have to start embedding some weight.

No travel for a few weeks, so I'm not sure when the next one will be.


Oh, right, don't forget: Free food on Sunday night at the New Deal. There's also a cash bar. Plus, there's some art by the Brunette and me and some live music.


Hey, Mr. Spaceman

Meet the space dude.

close up of space dude

He's wandering around somewhere in Boulder, Colorado.

spaceman from up above

We can see where he's coming from, but where is he going?

spaceman and his rocks

Oh, he must be headed for that building, there.

spaceman and building

I wonder what's so interesting about the building...

Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy

How Cool is That?

You know how some companies have bins for trash and recycling paper and recycling other stuff?

My new company has these plus bins for compost.

I am Alive

It is very hard to write a blog post on my iPod touch. Well, I should say it is "tedious" I suppose. I didn't want to cart a computer out here since I'll be picking one up once I go to the actual office. I've hit the ground running and am shadowing another coach for three days at a customer. I am having a blast.

It is so chilly as I sit outside the Cafe de Paris that I'm wondering if I should have brought jacket. Life is good.

To heck with you, butterflies!

More Navel Gazing

Back in the '80s I went to university at a place called Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I chose it because I had read that it had a good aeronautical program and it was in Upstate New York. I figured it would get more snow than Georgia Tech.

But I had never met anyone who had gone there.

Students at RPI back then lived under the cloud of The Ratio, so I don't think I saw a female student my entire first day. I remember unpacking my stuff in my room and other new residents to the dorm popping their head in to say 'hi' as they went by. A string of socially awkward, near-sighted nerds tried and failed to be comfortable at meeting strangers. I know I was equally nerdy, near-sighted, and socially awkward, but I had never seen so many in one place, so they seemed like they had something wrong with them.

Then in quick succession I met my three closest neighbors. The first limped through on crutches -- he had broken his leg. The second was completely covered with burn scars left from a house explosion. And the third introduced himself as, "Bill, but my friends call me Psycho." I sat down on my little twin bed and contemplated the word "Institute" in my school's name.

Here I was 351 miles from home (which seemed a lot farther away back then than it does now) at a school that nobody I knew had ever heard of. I seriously started to wonder if I had somehow gotten mixed up and checked myself into an institution.

"Well, he seems normal enough," the doctors said to themselves. "Maybe a little bit socially phobic, but functional. On the other hand, he wouldn't have asked to be committed if he didn't have some sort of problem."

And that's when the giant mutant butterflies were born inside my stomach. They were mollified somewhat when I finally met my roommate: at an engineering school, I guess, the architect students are the artsy-almost-normal-ones.

But the butterflies are starting to kick around as I get ready to fly out to Colorado to start my new job. Every single person I met during the interview chanted the words, "create your own reality." It seemed cool at the time.

Now, I'm worried I've joined some sort of cult.

Here Come the Shrimps

District 9: Alternate reality movie: alien refugees park over South Africa in the '80s, 20 years later the government hires a company to move them. Things do not go smoothly.
Theater Location: Old Greenbelt
Noise Level: way too loud
The Skinny: One grim, misanthropic movie, full of discussion topics.

Big Hat

Here's a picture from Shorpy of Col. Fulgencio Batista, Cuba's Dictator in 1938.

What I'm thinking is: if I were a dictator (and into the whole military dress-up thing), I'd give myself I higher rank than colonel. Wouldn't you?

Leaving on a Jet Plane

For most of my adult career, I have been a configuration manager. Configuration management is an engineering discipline primarily concerned with change (which might explain why Parable of the Sower is one of my favorite books), anticipating it, controlling it, tracking it. It requires a combination of technical skills (any good CMer needs to have a couple of scripting languages under his/her belt and know enough about coding to be able to troubleshoot why builds are failing) and non-technical skills (much of CM is about moving change requests from one person to another).

But really what I've liked about the role is that it tends to sit in the middle of everything. The CMer is responsible for the past, present and future of the system under development and to ensure that I get that information and manage its flow, I tend to make the role more about encouraging and supporting collaboration and knowledge flow than about a control-freakish need to lay down the law.

Over the last six years, the strictly-speaking CM part of my job has been pushed to the sidelines as I've also moved into related areas like continuous integration, software tooling, and software engineering processes. I've been a certified scrummaster for a while now and was helping roll out iterative processes with RUP for years before that. For me, it's still about helping teams communicate/collaborate and we've been calling this collection of support disciplines 'software enablement,' of which CM remains a significant part.

BowieMike asked the other day in a comment what exactly I'm doing out in Kansas. For the last few weeks, I've been here preparing them for installing or upgrading some Rational tools that help with CM and other development processes. It's a bit of an old-fashioned gig for me; most of the focus has been on getting ClearQuest up and running in a new environment. I feel a little like I'm returning to my roots.

Which is ironic because this is my last gig for my current employer.

Next week, I start for a new company. I'll be a product implementation coach for a company that provides agile project management tooling. That means that my job will be going around helping agile teams do scrum using a particular tool. There's actually still some work to do define what I'll really be doing, but I'm moving to an agile company that also likes tools. I'll get to keep playing with technology and also help people collaborate.

But I won't be doing CM any more. There'll be a little bit of defect management, but it's small enough that for the first time in nearly 20 years I don't think I could realistically call myself a configuration manager. I feel a little more nostalgic about that than I had expected, but I'm so very excited to start working again with people who I respect and who believe in sharing and collaboration, and in helping each other grow.

I guess you could say that at least I'm still an enabler.

In a good way.

Oh, and my new email address will be curmudgeon@-the company-.com. Is that cool or what?

Another Topeka Skater

I bought some Makin's Clay. I obviously have to learn how to work with it, but the structural strength of the stuff is an order of magnitude better than Play-Doh. I like that I can make smaller characters.

Like this poor dude. He seems a little lost.

little ice skater

Maybe he doesn't realize it's August. He's going to have to wait a while before he can skate.

ice skater from above

Actually, he's going to have to wait longer than I thought.

Topeka Ice Sign

That sign was there when I did a gig here two years ago. After I walked across the fabulous Rex Stout Memorial Bridge, this woman walked by the skater.

rex stout bridge

She didn't even look down.

There's a jail across the street from the Topeka Ice parking lot. It's pretty empty around there. I mean outside the jail. I don't know what it's like inside the jail.

I'm not sure that the Makin's Clay people are going to be as whimsical as the Play-Doh people were. We'll see how it goes.

You're Invited

Have I mentioned that the Brunette and I have an art show up on the walls at the New Deal Café this month? Well, we do. You've seen some of the things I've created here at the blog, but you can see them in full size mode without clicking or anything if you stop by the Café before the 24th of August. And even more exciting, you can see the Brunette's work there, too. It's all spacey and stuff. She has already sold two paintings. (I've sold one poster.)

As a further incentive, there's a reception that's free and open to the public being held at the New Deal on the 23rd from 7 to 9 pm. You can come down and see the stuff and listen to the lovely strains of live harp music.

The New Deal Café is here.

Judging Books by Their Covers

I've seen this cover a couple of places.

I'd have never guessed it was a zombie-dystopian-love story. Love story, sure. But not zombie dystopia.


So, I wandered over to Hobby Lobby (a store we don't have back home) and looked through the clay options. I didn't realize until I had already made my choice that the speakers were playing Christian instrumental music. I'm a kind of proud that I didn't recognize it right off the bat. At any rate, now I'll have to make the stuff I bought into a bunch of little evil devils just to balance out my karma.

At any rate, I looked over the options. I'm switching away from Play-Doh because Play-Doh doesn't have much structural support and it dries into a crackly mess after a few hours. This project is all about keeping me busy on travel ("idle hands are the devil's workshop," you know), so portability is important, too. I want something that can be left behind and have a chance to be found by some stranger who'll (I hope) get a smile. So, it needs to be colorful, because I'm not going to be able to (or want to) cart paint onto the plane.

I like the look of that Sculpy stuff. There are so many colors available. But the vast majority of my hotel stays are going to be in rooms without an oven, so baking is right out. I also looked at the modeling clay, which seemed like a small step up from Play-Doh. But there weren't very many colors at the Hobby Lobby and I was worried that if it "never hardens" maybe it'll be too soft to stand up. That left me with Makin's Clay, "The Air Dry Clay." I got a good little set of colors, but no purple, sadly. I guess I'll start making the people have green heads.

Since I'm taking a more serious jump at this, I got a few plastic sculpting tools. I figure the metal knives wouldn't have been a good choice for air travel.

According to the instructions, I have to have an airtight container for the clay so it doesn't dry prematurely. I considered using the empty Play-Doh pots, but I'm not sure if they're really airtight. So I had to go out again, this time to the grocery store, to get some zipper bags. I got 2.5 gallon ones, so they'll be good as a working surface too. Don't want to ruin and hotel tables.

So I'm building up a little toolkit. I already had some tweezers and adhesive putty. I've also been grabbing paper clips and push pins from the office and using the straws from the hotel room's coffee service. I was so disappointed last night that the bar didn't have any little umbrellas. I really wanted my traveler to have an umbrella. But such is art on the road.

We'll see how this change turns out.

Oh, if you have any links to or tips on using Makin's Clay, especially about keeping from drying too early or just generally working with the stuff, leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Topeka Traveler

I'm about half-way through my Play-Doh pack. It really starts cracking pretty fast. I can't let it sit too long before installing and photographing, which is a shame because part of the deal is I want to imagine someone coming along later and smiling at the colorful sight.

Well, I guess the colors don't go away.

At any rate, meet the silent traveler. (In the UK, she's the "silent traveller.")  I doubt she looks much like Chang Yee.

A traveler

I don't think that's her train coming.

traveler with train

I wonder where she's going. It's clear where she is.

traveler on the platform at Topeka

Maybe she has big dreams. It's a big world.

sunshine on the tracks

Turns out the passenger trains come through Topeka only at 1 am (going west) and 5 am (going east). Maybe she should sit down for a spell.

topeka platform

I thought today would be the day that somebody tried to stop my little project. There were a few people in the parking lot, but nobody paid me any attention at all.

I'm a Ramblin' Man

Ramblin' ramblin' ramblin.

cat in a suitcase

I've been traveling a lot. I'm using the Hertz Gold club, which is cool because you just walk out and look up your name on a board which tells you which parking spot your car is in. It's so much quicker. The last two weeks, I reserved a car from the "Green" collection. I'm as environmental as the next guy, especially when it doesn't cost more than the sub-compact I usually get. What they gave me was a Toyota Camry. Not a hybrid, just a big honkin' gas guzzler. I wound up using more gas for those two weeks than in the other weeks when I drove around in a Cobalt or Yaris. And there was no aux jack for my iPod, which is a pain when driving an hour a half from the airport to the job site. So this week I switched back to the sub-compact class, figuring I wasn't helping the environment with that Camry.

They gave me a Prius.

Since I'm on the topic of travel, let me babble about seating on airplanes. So, on the Metro, I never sit in the outside of a seat if the inside seat is open, because it feels somehow passive-aggressive to take that outer seat and force someone to actually ask me to get to the open seat. Sure, I'd move, but it forces an unnecessary conversation and most folks are going to opt for the easy route -- sitting in all the other seats first. I hate when people sit in that outer seat.

On the airplane, though, I always rush for the aisle seat, even when there's nobody already in the window or (gasp!) middle seat. Southwest Airlines (which I'll stop using next week) lets you enter the plane in order, and then you're supposed to pick your own seats. So, what's the difference between an airplane and a train? Or am I wrong to see them as different?


Nice Walk

A little sweaty, but still. I took a walk over to the Greenbelt Metro station to pick up the bus to BWI. This is my last week in Kansas, and I'm very excited to be wrapping this up.

Along the way, I walked by the lake. I saw a wee deer munching.

deer at Greenbelt Lake

Darn cell phone camera. I should have taken the real camera out of my pack. At any rate, you can read this sign that I also passed along the way today:

tree protection zone

Can't really say why that sign amuses me, but it does.


Julie and Julia: Two bio-pics in one: Julia Child learns to cook and Julie Powell learns to blog.
Theater Location: Old Greenbelt
Noise Level: fine
The Skinny: I didn't think I was going to be able to make it through all the chewing noises at the beginning, but the film drew me in. No boots this time, but Amy Adams is excellent. And Meryl Streep does a good job looking like Dan Ackroyd. I like seeing bookstores that I've visited.

In Julie Powell's blog, she spent 365 days testing all of the recipes in a Julia Child's book. That's some love of food. I've been thinking about what I could do one a day of for 365 days and I'm coming up dry -- 365 hello world programs? I guess the wee toaty explorers are sort of my commitment, but it's not going to be steady.

What do you think you'd like to write about for an entire year?

Oh, Geez

My Tilley hat has a shoestring that I could use to strap the thing to my head, in case, you know, there's some wind or something.

Just because I could have done so, doesn't mean I did. That's my hat down on Interstate 70. Poor thing. I'm standing up on the 10th Street bridge. Stupid wind.

Some Pics from Kansas

I think this humongous giant-headed Tin Man is awfully creepy. He's obviously hopped up on something; look at those eyes. Those eyes!

topeka seal

You need to stay away from those poppies, my pretty.

Maybe I'm hopped up on something, 'cause I'm starting to see skulls everywhere. Do you see it?


It's a pirate skull, I tell you.

And every time I walk over this bit of sidewalk, I swear I hear strains of Barry Manilow rapping out Copacabana.


(Sometimes I think it's Carly and Paul Simon dueting on All the Single Ladies, but James Taylor keeps trying to break in on the session.)

Man, when I drink too much, I really gotta go. And this guy knows what I'm talkin' about.

mens room sign

But some of the bathrooms in this state are just too strange for me to deal with.


It's hard to tell from this picture, but there's nothing underneath holding this up. It just sticks out from the wall. That's some cantilever there. What if it falls down?

We Live In a Country

...Where if you run over someone (like a big ole Navy Seal legally riding his bike in broad daylight) but claim that you couldn't see him, you don't get any penalty for killing him.

...But you don't really own things you "buy" and can face 10 years in jail for modifying hardware in ways that don't hurt anyone.

If actual suffered penalties are any indication, I think it's clear who it is that the people of this country care to protect.

This is dancing around in my mind because I recently heard an author claim that you don't actually buy a book (I'm talking physical paper here, not e-books), you buy a license to read the book. Ugh.

Climber Up In Topeka

I still had some Play-Doh left from last week, so I made another little urban pioneer.

Meet the climber dude. He's resting up for his next climb.


Here he is on his big climb.

climber climbing

His hands are huge.

But they're not as huge as the animals in these here parts.


Will anybody notice him from the street?

Yep. This is fun. I need to find something better than Play-Doh, though. It's too soft and crumbly. I had to give this guy a skeleton of paper-clips and coffee stirrer snippets.

Shadow Unit ep 6

There's a new episode of Shadow Unit here.

If you have an iPod with Stanza, you can also get it here.

Explanation here.

Read the whole series, then donate here.