December 2005 Archives

I Own a Lawnmower

When you live in a house with a lawn, you have roughly three options for maintaining that lawn. You can hire someone to mow it for you, you can get a lawnmower to trim it yourself, or you can neglect the lawn completely until it dies a brown, withered death.

Since I live in a rental home, I leaned to the third option, and it's worked for me remarkably well so far. But there's only so many disapproving glaces you can collect from the neighbors before they send the Homeowners Association after you. To sidestep this problem, I changed my answer to #2 : I purchased a lawnmower at a season-end clearance sale at Sears.

Given that my lawn is so small I really could have gotten away with buying a weedwacker to do the job, my mower requirements were almost non-existent: blade that spins, preferably parallel to the ground. Therefore I got to the store with the intent of buying the cheapest model available. However, the mower upgrades were priced in attractively small increments. For instance, I realized I could get the next model up that had a higher horsepower engine for only $15 more. And then I realized I could get the next model up from that that had bigger wheels and a larger cutting radius for just another $15 more. And if it weren't enough, for just $20 on top of that, I could get a rear-discharge bagger to collect the clippings, if for some reason I felt like saving my grass for later.

The instruction book for this thing (yes, I paged through it looking for treasure maps and dirty pictures) was written for people who are completely unfamiliar with the art of yard maintenance. For example, they give helpful suggestions like "Do not attempt to stop moving blade with your hands," and "Don't cut grass when it's raining, or the grass will clump together, form gangs, and skateboard on your sidewalk." And it contained useful information like "The mower is shipped fully assembled, except for the parts that are not assembled." No I'm not making that up. I can only imagine the booklet was written by one of the designers, and the editor caught this and said "Ohhh, what about the gasoline? Don't we need to tell them to assemble the gasoline?" So that last clause was slipped in just seconds before the booklet went to the printer.

You'd be surprised I did not buy a robotic lawn mower, given my fascination with automating things, even if the automation process is more work and more costly than just doing something directly. Believe me, it was tempting, but I think I get enough of those disapproving glances from the neighbors already.

Well you know what, I still haven't actually mowed the lawn, even though I now have the mower. I feel I've made real progress here, and I don't want to wear myself out. One step at a time.

Snow Daze

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It's not quite a white Christmas, but I'll take it. We got our first snowfall last night, but it was more sleet than anything.

I think I refreshed the National Weather Service webpage about 100 times, waiting for a purple and white blob to sweep over the map of the Dallas metro. Yesterday morning they teased us with the promise of an inch of snow accumulation, but by the afternoon it was just snow flurries. Just when the disappointment set in early evening, the forecast was again updated to 1 to 2 inches of snowfall !

Well that didn't happen. In fact, there was just some frost on the grass and freezing rain sticking to the roads.

I left work early to get home before our promised snow started falling and before all the crazies were out on the road, but I wasn't early enough. A few trucks must have managed to find and slide on the only 10 square feet of ice on the highway because they were somehow able to smash into the highway divider and end up facing the wrong way on the road. I feared my entire trip home would look like that and it would take me 3 hours and 800 curse words to get home, but it wasn't nearly so bad; in fact, the traffic turned out to be closer to what it's like on Sunday at midnight.

Since most of the snowfall was predicted overnight, the first thing I did was look out my window when I woke up this morning. I expected to see a blanket of white outside and kids building snowmen and dogs building snowdogs, but there was nothing but frost. Bummer, no excuse to skip work today.

And it was one of those days that I should have just stayed home anyway. Half the office didn't show up, and lucky for them. The air conditioner was broken in the building today. So what, you say it's 16 degrees outside! That doesn't matter much in a large building with 8000 computers running. It was 91 degrees in my office, and despite being a technology company, we're not sophisticated enough to have fancy things like "windows that open" and "fans" and "snow machines" for the parking garage.

Nerd Fest 2005

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a nerd. I mean, if I wore glasses, they would probably have masking tape on them to hold the frame together. And although I don't use it (daily), I actually own a pocket protector--though it bears mentioning it was given to me as a gag gift. Not to mention I think 65536 is a nice even, round number.

But nerdiness, like attractiveness or wealth, is all relative. A few days ago my work sent me to the launch event for a new software development tool, an event I will hereafter refer to as Nerd Fest 2005. Anything away from the office is a welcome diversion even if it's work-related. Here at Nerd Fest I was surrounded by a crowd of thousands of whiny voices, neck-beards, and braided belts, all of which had the cumulative effect of making me feel very good about myself.

This event was another reminder of how my industry is predominantly male. I bet there are more girls at a Star Trek convention than what I saw at Nerd Fest. Nothing has really changed since I was in engineering school and the guidance consulars were practically begging women to enter the major by offering them full scholarships, the phone numbers of every male engineering major, and complimentary pocket protectors. Sometimes I thought a few fell for the ruse on the first day of classes, but the women always got up and hurriedly left when the professor wrote something like "Calculus for Engineers and Other Virgins" on the whiteboard.

I had to stay the whole day because the organizers of Nerd Fest were handing out software that I needed for work at the end of the event. This was very clever of them, because otherwise I would have checked in in the morning, grabbed my free stuff, and left 10 minutes later. Of course, I would have told my boss I was listening to speeches and presentations all day instead of where I really would have been: down at the bar drinking while constantly reminding myself that my company is paying me to do so.

It's a Holiday Trainwreck !

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This is the best time of year because we have so many holidays bunched up together. Just after getting off Halloween and eating 40 lbs of candy in one sitting, we can fatten our bellies on fried turkey and stuffing over Thanksgiving while watching football with a can of beer in each hand. And if that weren't enough, Christmas is right around the corner. I don't know what we fatten up on at Christmas time, but I think I can manage to put on a few pounds somehow.

When I was in the Austin metro over Thanksgiving again, I enjoyed a veritable feast of bird (Emeril-style), green bean casserole (yummy!), cranberry, Alpo, and various other sides and desserts. Some of the neighbors were also at the house to join in the festivities. These people are always interesting enough to leave me with a few stories to tell.

In particular, we have a young guy whose parents have accumulated a respectable amount of money through the time-honored and glorious tradition of swindling and suing churches. I'm told they are now in ownership of a company that exclusively produces a common household item that we all may or may not enjoy on a daily basis. I'm not sure what they're called, but as described to me, this product is a funnel-shaped thing that snaps on to aluminum cans to give them a tapering neck, so you can drink out of these cans as if they were bottles. Brilliant ! Amazing !

What, you've never seen these before ? Well, neither have I. But I have it on good authority that they're sold world-wide in touristy places, especially on beaches where glass bottles aren't allowed. I hear their sales team also has an office in Alaska to sell ice cubes to the locals. Bonus points to anyone who can find me more information on these things, including testimonial of someone who has actually purchased one.

The upshot of this guy's visit, besides his entertaining personality (serious!), was that he brought along his new XBox 360 (I wanted to write XBox 360 so I would get a bunch of page hits from people Googling that ... Xbox 360 Xbox 360 Xbox 360). He said he ordered it back in January, so he was able to pick it up at midnight the day it was released to the public. I have to say, the gaming was impressive; clearly better graphics than anything else out today. It could have been better, but my brother hasn't quite convinced his wife yet that they need a 60" HDTV for the living room. Oh well, maybe for Christmas this year.

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