Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's that most wonderful time of the year!

It's Girl Scout Cookie Season!. Trans fats be damned, it's that time of year when everyone's your neighbor, every officemate is your buddy, and every dentist gets busy. It was only a few short weeks ago that a veritable gaggle of little girls in their brown outfits and green sashes (or was that green outfits and brown sashes...I wasn't paying attention) knocked on our door every five minutes, thrusting glossy forms filled with cookies and columns in our faces. At work, at least a dozen dads hot-glue-gunned order forms to their office doors and cubicle walls, then dragged their coworkers by the Herman Millers over to their offices, threatening to blackmail them if they didn't order thirty boxes each.

Delivery day arrived, and now the office hallways are littered with shipping cartons with the famous shamrock logo on them. Trolling through the boxes are the forlorned, hungry worker bees who at one time felt they were being pennywise and diet-conscious by not ordering any cookies, only now hoping to find a Samoa scrap or two hiding amongst the corrugated.

I feel it appropriate to mention that in the time it took for me to write the above, I consumed twenty-eight Thin Mints and a Tag-along.

This week's calorie-fest got me to thinking...where, exactly, are Girl Scout Cookies manufactured, and how? I mean, how does a factory survive by delivering a massive volume of product, all at once, and only once per year? I really wanted to know more. So, I dug out my trusty internet connection, and did my research. Here's what I found.

It seems that deep within the Arctic permafrost, south of the North Pole but north of, say, Cleveland, is a massive factory, approximately the size of twelve Wal-Marts. The factory is staffed year-round by the elderly. New employees are found by recruiters who troll the Mall of America early in the morning, looking for elderly mall-walkers who need a hobby. These recruits are promised a warm bed, all the Matlock they can watch, and a free LifeCall alert necklace in case they fall and can't get up.

Once the new staffers arrive at the factory, they go through intensive training on how to cook millions upon millions of cookies, batch by batch, so that they all look exactly the same, without losing their minds. These training courses are led by Girl Scouts from around the country whose parents think they are at Summer Camp making leather friendship bracelets and riding ponies around the lake. During the training, whipping and demoralization is permitted, all in an effort to keep the breakeven cost at $3.50 per box.

The factory workers spend countless weeks baking their batches of cookies and flash-freezing them in the Arctic permafrost. This happens year-round in an effort to ensure there are enough cookies to go around when February comes.

It's important to note that, in America, the drug trade decreases tremendously in February. This is not because of cold weather, but rather because throughout the country drug dealers are contracted to get the millions of boxes of cookies delivered to the local schools and Girl Scout packs. The reason for this is simple. The right tool for the right job. If anyone knows how to deliver product efficiently, it's the drug cartel.

Think about all this while you chomp your Trefoils, knowing that with every bite you're helping the elderly and a drug dealer is temporarily distracted from his regular job of delivering addictive product to kids. Oh, wait....

Please note that no actual Girl Scouts were harmed during the research for this story. Plenty of Thin Mints were eaten though, and I brushed my teeth eight times today.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Proof postive that Elmo is, in fact, evil.

See here. IT seems Elmo DOES, in fact, have an EVIL switch after all. Was it not only a couple of days ago I pointed out the needless folly behind Elmo Live, and how we're destined to be overcome by furry happy monsters? This is the start, people.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Total Eclipse (not of the heart)

Took these from the front porch over the past hour. Cool stuff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Man, I hope this thing has an evil-to-good switch.

Wow, this is definitely a sign of the coming apocalypse. It seems the inevitable successor to the Tickle Me Elmo bloddline (furline?) has arrived. And it's reached a point of artificial intelligence such that it puts Kevin Clash out of a job. Watch this.

I notice that this thing plugs in. That’s good because, a)we need a failsafe in case Elmo decides to kill its captors and take over the planet and b)this thing would probably eat Duracell D’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Whoda thunk that the end would come as a result of artificially intelligent and humorously ticklish fuzzy creatures that can't even speak in anything greater than a 4-year-old level of conversation? "Elmo Kill! Ha Ha Ha Ha! Elmo Crush! Ha Ha Ha Ha! Elmo very, very ticklish! Hee Hee Hee Hee!"

Note, I came across this on Engadget.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bunnies-to-gore threshold

I believe my 7-year-old is reaching a transition point in her life. This is the transition from the world of Noggin and Disney to that of "real" TV, where violence is the norm. However that transition seems to be in contradiction with her threshold for violence that is fluffy versus bloody, as demonstrated by the following graph:

The graph can best be explained through the example of our TV viewing this weekend. On Saturday night, we watched Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. If you haven't seen this movie, definitely do so. You will never see a more adorable scene of bunnies getting sucked into a swirling vortex than in this movie. We also watched an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition about a single dad with 4 kids, former Iraqi marine, who got his leg blown off while on patrol. The descriptions and video regarding his story were surprisingly graphic (even Ty Pennington squirmed).

While both shows were "family friendly", there was definitely a "spectrum" of violence and gore here. On one end we have a movie with fluffy (okay, squishy, since they are made of clay) bunnies being sucked into a glass jar and staring longingly at their freedom outside the container. Even the actual Were-Rabbit was cute and adorable in galumphy sort of way. I mean come on, Nick Parks cannot do "dark" without doing "adorable" at the same time. On the other end was a documentary with graphic descriptions of war and destruction, including hospital scenes of the dad recovering and learning to live with a missing appendage.

My daughter, despite giggling uncontrollably throughout the rabbit/vacusuck scene, insisted she didn't like W&G and in fact ran out of the room in fear when The Were-Rabbit appeared. However when the images of the Iraqi dad became so graphic that mom wanted to shut the TV off, my daughter told her to sit back and chill, because this was interesting stuff.

Does this mean she's ready to watch Star Wars with me? I can't tell. I'm guessing Return of the Jedi is out. If she runs screaming from bunnies, imagine what trouble Ewoks would cause.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Freecycle needs to discover technology

I was banned from Freecycle yesterday. And boy am I perturbed.

Freecycle is a great concept, kind of a like a free version of Craigslist. if you've got something in your house taking up space, and you know it's not worth trying to sell, you can post it on Freecycle to see if anyone wants it before you toss it in a landfill. Through our local Pittsburgh Freecycle program, I've seen everything from old gas stoves, to goldfish, to books on The Rapture, to used menstrual pads go to good homes (I'm serious about those last two).

So why was I banned?

Well, I've gotten rid of a half dozen things over the past year, including used paint cans, old kids books, and (the latest) a broken-but-fixable Kenmore clothes washer. Freecycle has a number of rules for posting. Every email you send to the list must include the word "Offer", "Taken", or "Wanted" at the beginning of the email. Additionally, you must include the name of your local town in the title of the email so people know what are of the region you are in. And of course, no spam, porn, or marketing on there. Oh, and no money can change hands in the transaction. Seems reasonable, right?

I was given three strikes. The first strike was with my very first post. I posted a "Wanted" email looking for a trash can to replace one that got mangled in a storm. That's a no-no. It seems you must give before you can receive. The second strike was when I forgot to put the name of my township in the title of the email. Oops, but easily corrected when the moderator bounced the email back to me.

But the third annoyed me After I offered up the clothes washer for grabs, I got at least two dozen interested replies. it would be a few days before anyone picked it up, so I wanted to let additional folks on the list know to stop emailing me. So I sent another message with "PPU" in the title, which means "planned pickup". Except I failed to put "taken" in the email. That's it. I'm banned from posting anything else.

Now, I'm all for security measures as well as for keeping things orderly and systematized. But SURELY in this day and age the Freecycle gurus can think of a better way to handle this. Like, I dunno...maybe just automatically bouce the email back if it's not formatted correctly, so that the writer can rewrite it? Let's see I am saving a huge hunk of steel from the garbage heap, helping out a family in need, AND even DELIVERING it to the family when he discovered his car trailer was not up to the task. And yet I'M EVIL for not including the word "TAKEN" in a fricking email!!!

I sent a couple of emails to the moderator, who essentially explained to me that rules are rules. I then emailed the overall Freecycle customer service email to tell them their rules are retarded. Now, I guess I'm going to register again under a false name so I can post again. Maybe I'll register under two names, and with the second send a bunch of spam and porn to the list in an attempt to give the moderator some REAL work to do.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A story by my four-year-old daughter.

The Butterfly Canyon/Ghostly Meadow (yes, her title has a slash)

Once upon a time there was a very pretty big butterfly. And the very big butterfly said to another butterfly who was little, “You are such a little butterfly but I’m bigger than you.” So the big butterfly flew away as fast as she can, but the little butterfly couldn’t. It was only whoosh and the biggest butterfly was like whoosh.

But then the beautiful little butterfly was beautiful and the biggest was so far away and she wasn’t even pretty enough. But then the little butterfly saw something. There was actually four butterflies and then they saw a unicorn with a very sharp horn and it was very pointy just like a pencil that was very long and then, um, uh, the lantern said “hi.”

And then the unicorn laughed but then soon they saw a beautiful light from the sun. And the sunlight was deeping down. It was very deep and no one could ever see the sun. But then the biggest butterfly thanked the little butterfly and the unicorn and the lantern. The lantern and the unicorn and the little butterfly thought that the big butterfly was funny.

But then they saw a sparkle of the sunlight and the sunlight was shining over them and a little sparkle that was pink was in the sun. But then they thanked all of the animals in the butterfly’s canyon and they thinked they couldn’t fly but they did. But then the lantern said something really funny. And it was about hearts. What he said was, “Hearts are very funny.”

But then one of the hearts came out and said hello. But then the other heart was still stuck together. But then the lantern said, “goodbye.” That’s all.

-After reading this, I now know what it must have been like to attend a Phish concert.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Build-A-Bear and the difference between boys and girls.

Last Saturday, my daughters and I went to Build-A-Bear as part of an Adventure Princess outing. Adventure Princess, you might recall, is the father-daughter bonding club sponsored by the Y. On this day's event, siblings of the little princesses got to go as well. In total 7 girls and a boy were in attendance. I can only guess the boy had a karate class canceled on him.

If you have kids, you know from Build-A-Bear, that arch nemesis of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and of every parent a budget. What a shtick they've got going. Each kid gets to pick out an unstuffed stuffed animal, typically your basic teddy bear but occasionally something more advanced (if the parent wants to fork over the extra scratch) such as a unicorn, lobster, or fuzzy version of Zac Efron. The kids are paraded through the store to the stuffing machine, where one by one each empty bear receives its first proctology exam as it is inserted, ass-first, onto a cold, steel tube and inflated with white fluff from a giant machine that looks like a cross between a popcorn popper and an ultrasonic humidifier. Then, the kids each get to select a little fabric heart to place in the bear, they can wash their bear in a fake shower that blows air, and then...oh...then, they pick the outfit.

Let me tell you, if cell phone stores sold phone accessories the way B-A-B sells bear outfits, we'd all be carrying diamond Blackberries. This place is a bit of marketing genius. Your child can select from simple dresses, to Harry Potter costumes, to police uniforms, to cowboy outfits, to biker leather. In fact with a little creativity you could probably outfit a half dozen of them as the Village People done in bear. I noticed that the girls all picked pretty little dresses (my daughters got matching skirts with T'shirts that said LOVE on puke), but the boy in the group went with the trusty Spiderman outfit.

After the outfit is selected (basic outfits are part of the price, but they get you with the accessories), the kids sit in a circle and talk about their new members of the family. Each kid gives the bear a name. With 7 girls and one boy, most of the bears were given names such as Princess, Fluffy, Butterfly, Rainbow, and Patches. The boy? Optimus Prime.

(Look it'll get it eventually).

If you're lucky, you can get out of the B-A-B store spending only $20 per child. However, there are a few things you need to watch out for. First, there's the bear club. Constant mail barrages of sales and specials, and extra outfits for your bear. God help you if your kid sees one of those in the mail before you get a chance to toss it. Second, there's the sudden need for extra accessories. "Mom, Butterfly Princess can't ONLY wear a ball gown...what's she gonna do on days when she has to stay at the palace? She needs the bikini!" And lastly, there is of course the online experience. I discovered recently that, rather than GOING to the store and getting your own bear made in front of your eyes, you can simply assemble a virtual one on their website and have it waiting for you to pick up at your local store. It's as if you were ordering a pizza. Time to get a password on that danged computer.

Monday, February 11, 2008

When it snows, it freezes

Boy, and I thought last week started off on a sour note. After things were taken care of with my rental car Saturday morning (I'm now driving a rented PT Cruiser, which I absolutely cannot stand), I settled in for a relatively productive weekend. I tore apart and remodeled my workshop, Took the kids to Build-A-Bear for an Adventure Princess outing (that's a future post), and built a to-scale model of the ancient Hebrew Temple for my daughter's Sunday school class (okay, that sounds more impressive than it actually was really a paper cutout kit, the whole insert-tab-a-into-slot-b thing...). So the weekend went fine. But Monday was a different story.

We awoke to a frozen hot water pipe in the bathroom. This isn't the first time it's happened, and I blame the architect (my dad) because it's convenient. Actually, I'm the one who pushed for the idea of pushing out the wall of the new bathroom to make more room, so the water pipes are exposed to the elements. See "bump-out that looks like the side of an RV next to the ladder in teh pic below? That's the bathroom sink. And the pipes run through the floor of the thing, making it awfully tough to insulate properly.

After about three hours of space heaters, hair dryers, and thermostats set to 90, we got things going again...just in time for the clothes washer to crap out. Actually, it's the washer's own fault. It tried to escape. During the spin cycle, it decided to jump across the room towards the garage door with such gusto that a rather important plastic piece snapped off. I had essentially three Sears Repair to get a replacement plastic piece, go shopping for a new washer, or call my coworker who told me he had a washer in his garage he was looking to get rid of.

I went for option #3.

This actually turned out to be a good option. It just so happened he was getting rid of a newer, cleaner version of our crappy old Kenmore, so it was simply a matter of disconnecting three hoses and reconnecting them to the new one (well, that and getting it in and out of the van, which wasn't too big a chore). Unfortunately, once connected, I tried a test load and discovered those three connections weren't quite water tight. Well, a trip to Home Depot tomorrow morning for some fresh hoses will solve that problem.

So by the time I was done with the day's events, it was eight o'clock in the evening. I sat down to the computer to discover that our internet was down. After doing the usual unplugging of stuff, I found it wasn't our problem, but Comcast's. So, I attempted to call Comcast Customer Support. I pulled out my Blackberry to make the call (our home phones are VOIP, so they're down too), and discovered that My Blackberry service (Cingular) was down as well. Well, that was odd, I thought. Someone snap another undersea cable? Terrorists taking over the grid?

I locate my wife's cell (also Cingular) and successfully called 1-800-COMCAST. That's when I learned that the number for Comcast is actually an "888" number, not "800". Dial the 800 number, and you'll get a sex line. Interesting, but not gonna solve my problem at this time, especially with the wife and kids still home.

After dialing the correct number I got the automated voice recognition at Comcast. I follow a couple of prompts to get to the point where I say, "I'm having trouble connecting to the internet". The computer voice then asks me, "Do you have a red button on your computer that says, "Install Downloads?" To which I responded, "What the fuck, are you kidding me? Is this a physical button on my CPU, an icon on my desktop, or a kay on my keyboard?? Specify, you automated wanker, and by the way I'm on a Mac!" Well, obviously realizing I was a being of greater intelligence than itself, the automated voice said it would put me on hold for the next available humanoid, but suggested that I could get faster service by going to and clicking on Support. I'm sure, at this point, all you fine readers realize the error of Comcast's ways here...I don't need to point out again that my internet is down, do I?

So I continued to wait for about two minutes. The computer voice then told me that "we are currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes, and cannot connect you with a support representative at this time. Please try your call again later. Goodbye." Then it hung up on me.

There is nothing that pisses me more completely off than a computer that says goodbye and hangs up on me. Word of advice...if you manage a customer service team and have an automated phone system, do NOT allow it to hang up on a customer. EVER.

Okay, giving Comcast the benefit of the doubt, I can understand why they would let this happen if in fact Armageddon is upon us, and the terrorists have shut down the 'Net. But you could at least let me hold for a little longer than two minutes before hanging up on me! And leave a notice on the phone system that says something like, "all our representatives are currently hiding under their desks while the bombs pass over our heads. Save yourselves while you still can!". Jeez. Where's my duct tape and my emergency wind up radio? C'mon kids, to the bomb shelter.

Good news is that about two paragraphs ago, the phones rang. That means that the internet connection is back up. Oddly, my Blackberry started working at the same time, which makes no sense. But at least I can post this to the blog instead of saving it in Notepad.

What an odd day.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Not my Autoweek

This has been somewhat of a below average week for me, especially when it comes to the world of autosports. It started on Tuesday. I was minding my own business, sitting at a red light during my commute home, when Wham! My car gets hit from behind. It turned out that some cowpoke from the rural north was behind me in his shiny new 2008 Chevy Silverado, daydreaming about getting back to the farm, when his foot slipped off the brake and he coasted into me. Okay, this doesn't sound like much of an accident, but when a Silverado meets up with a Mazda 626, the Mazda won't fare too well. Though there wasn't so much as a scratch on his cowcatcher of a bumper, I drove away with $3100 worth of damage to my ride along with a stiff neck.

Side note...Whiplash is a real phenomenon.

The good news is the insurance gods were with me...he was very apologetic, and promised me he'd take care of things with insurance ASAP. And he has. I'm currently driving a rented Nissan Versa and the Mazda is at the body shop, all on his insurance carrier's dime.

So about that Versa. Today, driving home through downtown Pittsburgh, I took a left turn a little too sharp and the rear tire met with the curb. One more steel belted radial for the landfill. Luckily I was only a block from a parking lot, so I pulled over and called Enterprise. They told me AAA would come and throw the donut on, and then I could take it to a Goodyear store and get the tire replaced. While on the phone I looked up and realized I'd pulled over into the parking lot of a Goodyear Store! The gods were with me again! But alas, it was 5:15, and Joe the garage worker had left for the day. So after asking how long I'd be waiting for AAA (within an hour, sir!), I told them not to bother and I'd just throw the donut on myself. That took two minutes. So tomorrow I get to drive back to Enterprise and trade in my Versa for rental car #2. Swell.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the Nissan Versa is a nice little car despite the tires obviously being made of crepe paper. However the horrible radio, lack of arm rest, and seats only big enough for the ass of a seven-year-old forces me to remove the Versa from my list of considerations for future transportation.