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Finally, a use for these stupid masks

24 July 2022 16:53

I got a couple rolls of Foma 400 ISO 120 the other day and decided to try them out today. I'm new to this format, but I've learned that 120 film typically has a lick-and-stick type adhesive on the backing to prevent it from unspooling after being shot. Strangely, despite being the same stock, purchased at the same store at the same time, my two rolls of Foma were incongruent in this area: One had lick-and-stick capability, and the other did not seem to.

This caused me some anxiety as, in daylight, I fond myself without assurance that my roll would stay closed. A quick glance in my glovebox offered an immediate on-the-spot solution.

Looks better on you than me.

Turns out the ear loops on the stupid paper masks, of which we have piles upon piles, are perfect for gently preventing these loose rolls from unravelling. I tied one around the licked-and-stuck roll as well, just for good measure.

I wonder if anyone's figured out some good DIY projects for those clear plastic face visor things. Other than Repo! The Genetic Opera cosplay, of course.

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Lucky Penny

8 July 2022 21:40

Today I walked rather than biked to work, and came across a lucky penny. 1999, though as shiny as you could expect a street penny to be. That's one way to look at today. Another way is: my bike got stolen and I had to walk to work in 100 degree heat, briskly, so as not to miss my first meeting.

A penny for my troubles

I chose the penny. I could have made it a real crappy day for myself by wallowing in self pity and doubt, but it was easier to just make it a lucky penny day. It wasn't all that bad of a day when I just kept the right perspective.

I made my dentist laugh in my retelling of the story. Dentists like to laugh, so he's probably glad I chose the penny too. Always choose the penny.

I wish my bike thief well. In no way do I condone taking my property, and I would have used an appropriate amount of force to stop the theft if I had the chance. However, since I'll probably never see my bike again, I can only hope that the thief somehow uses their new vehicle to get them out of whatever situation they're in that may necessitate Class A Larceny.

And an important lesson: always take pictures of your valuable property with something a bit better than a Mavica.

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Birthday Post for Patrick

5 July 2022 23:11

I remember the first one. We didn't get to spend your birthday together that year, because I was in Oklahoma celebrating the same day with my grandfather. You and him share that day. It's a good day for you two, excellent choice.

My love

We weren't "dating" yet, were just sort of hanging out. But I was obsessed. I didn't know quite what I had found. A partner? A really good friend? A guy who encourages me to buy telephones and firearms? What was this thing I was feeling? I discussed it with my brother. We killed a bottle of Uncle Val's Botanical Gin that night. He told me that I better hang on to you.

So I did. We kept hanging out. We shared experiences. I told my mom about you. One night, after you made me another delicious meal, I finally told you that I love you.

"You do?!"

Yes.

"Well, I love you too."

We snuggled on that cane couch with the worn zebra fabric.

I love you, Patrick. Happy birthday.

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Jackbooted Agents of Walmart

30 June 2022 23:15

It's been getting rather hot in our apartment, owing to an unseasonably hot June and the fact that our apartment's window panes were built with early 20th century materials. On my way back from my photography class at the local community college, Patrick asked me to pick up a few of those wonderful little Honeywell circulator fans. It being rather late in the evening, Walmart was just about the only option at the witching hour of 10:00 PM on a Thursday.

On my way, I was joking with my mother on the phone about the kinds of things that can happen at Walmart. In her locality, there was recently a burning car in the parking lot of the Walmart there. When the fire was extinguished, the trunk was found to have contained a murder victim. I joked that if this were to happen at our Walmart, they would probably bring the car in and restock it among the rotisserie chickens, not before sticking it with a by-the-pound Deli sticker, of course.

Indeed, Walmart has achieved such massive economy of scale that a store could allow just about anything to go down on its premises, and stay in business. Oh, except let a paying customer leave with their property. Enter the Walmart Jackboot.

For stomping necks all the way down the runway.

For stomping necks all the way down the runway. Image, logo courtesy Walmart.

I paid for my three fans at the self checkout, which stares you down with a camera, bright light, and screen for you to see yourself being surveilled, as you exchange money for goods. I strolled to the store's only open egress, which had a receipt checker stationed at it. He motioned to see my receipt, and I politely declined. It was hardly a few seconds before I heard the, until now, somewhat unfamiliar sound of a purposeful loss prevention jog coming up behind me. An off duty sheriff's deputy stood in front of me and my three fans, blocking my exit. What I suppose was the manager stood beside her.

"Sir, you're going to need to show me your receipt."

Once again, I politely declined.

"Sir, it's Walmart policy that you have to show your receipt before you can leave."

So I was detained, then. I made a stink about it, and in a hasty decision that I now regret, showed her the receipt.

"See, was that so hard?"

I explained to her my position. These fans were my property. I am not under obligation to show her my paperwork. She had no right to block my exit.

"You're free to go, bye sir."

Yeah. You're free to go. I'm not a free person in between the time I exchange my hard-earned money for a few fans to cool my home, and the time that I show a Walmart Jackboot my papers. Within that window, I am a man without a country, no rights, and no freedom of movement. If I do not comply, then they'll stick a deli sticker on me and stock me among the rotisserie chickens.

I joke, but this is a lesson, perhaps a window into the future. Agents of the state demanding papers to make sure we did nothing wrong. Unwarranted searches being applied as the individual Walmart Jackboot sees fit. And if you're not okay with that, then you're the Karen making a scene (both the Walmart Jackboot and the night manager had to stop themselves from calling me some sort of name, I assume either "Karen" or "bitch").

The fans cost $0.03 more at Target. Three pennies is the value you're getting from the Walmart Jackboot. Is that worth it?

(Of course, Target has their own skeletons.)

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More Spam

10 June 2022 05:00

I've been having a bit of a spam problem on this blog. I really didn't want to do a captcha when I set it up, and I still don't. Captchas are always too cumbersome, if they're effective at all. Often they're more obtrusive to humans than they are to bots. Even good captcha can often be farmed out to humans after a trivial amount of reverse engineering. It can be very cost-effective to do this.

I think RBLs will be a little more effective for my use case, and be completely unobtrusive to most users. And it only took five lines of code:

#
# Check for spam on the Usenix RBL
#
my @ipa = split('\.', $ENV{'REMOTE_ADDR'});
my @ipa_rev = reverse(@ipa);
my $dnsbl_host = join('.', @ipa_rev) . ".all.s5h.net";
if (gethostbyname("$dnsbl_host")) {
        $COMMENT = "/srv/ephemeris/comments.spam/"
}

So it still saves the comment, but in a quarantine folder that doesn't get built with the rest of the site HTML. I might check it sometimes, maybe never. The spammer does not get notified that their comment was quarantined. So if you comment something and it never shows up, you can email me and I'll check it out. You might need to get your IP cleared over here (click the "rblremove" link -- don't refresh it too many times). However, you may have been listed because you have some malware on your computer or network that's part of a botnet.

Hey, spammers, if you're reading this, why do you only spam my Birthday Post?

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Starting School

3 June 2022 08:54

I've done very well for myself in my career. I have few regrets about the path I chose in life. With no college degree, and only a barely passable high school education (thanks, bullies), I make a competitive and comfortable salary, working for a good boss and employer, doing challenging and satisfying work. It's a good spot.

"Hey, maybe now would be a good time to become a full-time student," I said to myself.

I do occasionally find situations where not having a formal education seems to have stunted me. MBAs and business professionals seem to speak a strange, unfamiliar dialect of common English that is beyond me. Marketing lingo is particularly confounding. Presentations from senior leadership, ocassionally, seem downright otherworldly. I know there is meaning to all these words, but I lack the education to truly understand them.

I'm very good at my job, I know from the feedback that I receive from my peers and supervisor. I'm also an effective communicator with my team and those in adjacent teams. Business communication is where I'm lacking. For instance, explaining "DevOps" to a senior executive in a way that makes them want to invest in it more. (My current answer: I build things that help software developers do better work, faster.)

So I've started a four-year degree program, BA in Business Administration. I'll consider the Master's after I get done with the Bachelor's, depending on how much I like (or hate) it. Beyond the business communication skills, I don't have a ton of expectations for what to get out of the program. I just hope to gain some knowledge (and a credential) that will come in handy one day.

Thanks to a particularly generous tuition assistance program with my employer, this program comes at no cost to me. It's offered through University of Arizona Global Campus, a quasi-for-profit online university. If you search around, you can find a lot of negative press about UAGC. However, I've talked to a number of higher education professionals at non-profit state universities, and they all seem to agree that this is a good opportunity for me.

UAGC even gave me a fancy schmancy student ID to print off and go laminate at the Office Depot. How about that?

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Writing with AI

24 May 2022 21:08

AI sucks. It might suck less one day, but so far, it sure seems like it hasn't solved any of the problems that startups, "thought leaders", futurists, and salespeople have been claiming it will. There is a book that I would like to read on this topic. I myself have seen firsthand examples of "fake AI" -- products sold as artificial intelligence that are, in fact, cheap contractors banging out the "computed" results in real time.

Not to say that real AI has absolutely no practical application. I'm sure that there's a use-case out there, with a sufficient data set, to where "sit on this heap of data, then identify and act upon abstract patterns within it" would be an effective and efficient solution. Hopefully these would be applications that wouldn't have the ability to ruin or end somebody's life, completely without oversight or recourse.

You know what AI's really good for, today? Making funny blurbs of text. I used one of my recent blogposts as a blurb to generate this beauty on NovelAI:

My husband and I got bikes recently, from a local shop located in a dilapidated Frito factory. We awkwardly peddled them back home to our home, located in a 114 year old Model T factory. The bike shop was called "The Green Machine," which is what we were looking for, but the owner insisted on calling it "The Green Machine." This was an annoyance, as he would say this every time we went into his store. He had also been trying to sell us a green bicycle seat cover that looked like a giant leaf. It was hideous. We never bought it.

We rode our bikes through the streets of our neighborhood, past the decrepit factories and abandoned warehouses. There were lots of abandoned buildings here, because most of the people who lived in this area were dead. Or maybe they just didn't want to live in a place with so many dead people. They moved out when the dead started coming back to life.

I knew I should be scared by all these dead people walking around, but I wasn't. I felt like I could handle anything now. I'd seen zombies before, and I had killed them. And not only that, but I had killed the zombie leader himself!

There were still plenty of other zombies roaming the streets, though. Some were just walking along minding their own business, while others seemed to be following someone or something.

Turns out everyone in Deep Ellum is dead. Tragic.

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Birthday Post

30 March 2022 23:30

I once again find myself at an age ending in 0. What a ride. 10 years before now, I was trying to figure out how to live my gay adult life in a big new city. 10 years before that, I was lamenting having to move yet and find new friends yet again, knowing nothing of the big adventure that lie ahead. 10 years before that, I was born into a whole new world. What will this new decade bring?

Well, to start, I'm finding that I have to put effort into looking healthy. Gone are the days where I can eat crap, do nothing, and look pretty. I've already invested in a bicycle to stave off the Dale Gribble-bod. I'm starting some resistive training as well, though perhaps I should hire a personal trainer just so as to keep me from injuring myself.

Frustratingly, though my body is beginning to slump into a King of the Hill shape, I still get breakouts of acne. I'm sure that, left untreated, the acne will combine with typical, leathery aging of skin to make my face look like the spell book from Hocus Pocus. Lest such a tragedy befall my supple face, I must take action. Time to tune up my skincare regimen.

My nightly skincare regimen

In selecting my emoilments for my beauty sleep, I looked for things that seemed to contain "natural"-type ingredients. To a certain definition of the term, "natural." Other primates certainly don't seem to concern themselves with night time moisturizers. Really what I'm looking for is an ingredients list that doesn't contain a ton of nasty solvents that will dry out my (already quite dry) skin. For now, I've settled on:

  1. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Cleanser
  2. Thayers Witch Hazel Toner (various fun scents)
  3. Ayur Tulsi Face Pack (couple nights a week, mixed with rose water)
  4. Sri Sri Rejuvenating Night Cream (for night time moisturizer)

I use the same cleanser and toner in the morning, followed by a moisturizer (looking for a new brand, right now it's some Korean crap I found) and Badger Mineral Sunscreen. So, does it work?

Eh, I dunno.

At least it makes me feel like I'm doing something for myself, which is really the main point. I will say that Thayer's stuff regularly goes on sale at TJ Maxx, and the Ayur and Sri Sri skincare products are very economical, and can be consistently found at our local Indian markets. It seems to make a difference when I stay on them, and there seems to be a detriment in my complexion when I go off the regimen for a few days.

On the other hand, it could be all placebo. It could be that I'm simply seeing benefits from having a self-care routine of any sort, and I could just as easily achieve all this with a bar of Irish Spring and a gratitude journal. Either way, I just hope it delays the Necronomicon face for another decade or two.

Do gratitude journals have sulfates?

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Riding with Mavica

25 March 2022 21:08

My husband and I got bikes recently, from a local shop located in a dilapidated Frito factory. We awkwardly peddled them back home to our home, located in a 114 year old Model T factory.

Having not ridden a bike since middle school so many years ago, it took us some time to get used to them. Balancing and going fast aren't the problem, so much as starting and stopping.

But I've really taken to riding after work. For what Dallas lacks in nature hikes, it makes up for in bike trails. We can ride from our home in Deep Ellum all the way to White Rock Lake and the trail that encomposses it, with only a few blocks of road travel and just a few intersections.

My Retrospec Beach Cruiser against an overpass mura

Today, I thought it would be fun to bring my Sony Mavica, model MVC-FD88, along for the ride. I brought along a satchel full of 1.44 MB new-old-stock Office Depot floppy diskettes, but I only got through three of them before my long-disused battery ran out.

My Retrospec Beach Cruiser against an overpass mural, different angl

So, yes, 33% of the pictures that I took are of my bike. Though it's pretty fine-looking, if I do say so myself.

My Retrospec Beach Cruiser on some grave

Hey, it's a new toy and I want to show it off. Could you really blame me? Though the reason I pulled over on this gravel wasn't to get another shot of my bike, it was this:

Some rude, though strangely asesthetic, graffit

I'm not normally a fan of graffiti, but I would certainly rather it be done against stark slabs of cement than the natural features themselves. So, thank you for that, anonymous lady-butt drawer.

A little pond near the lak

I enjoy the limitations of the crappy digital camera... uh, format? This would be a rather mediocre picture if taken with a good camera. It's over-exposed, there's a lot of detail washed out. But the artifacts and jpeg-edness of it all make it so much mroe interesting. And I can still arrange a halfway decent composition, at least if I stare intently into the early 00s LCD technology intently enough.

A duck, or some type of waterfow

And this thing has some halfway-decent glass in it, for being a monolith without any form of changeable lens. I won't pretend this isn't a crap photo, but I'm always impressed how close I can get with the optical zoom.

Old building, big smokestack. If you're a hotel manager, contact me for prints

There are some pretty old buildings around the lake. Clubhouses, some repurposed industrial buildings. I think most of them are venue spaces now.

A weird little boat. It was chasing some college rowers

There was some sort of rowing competition. I wanted to get more pictures of it, maybe even a zoomy panning shot, but my battery was running low. All I got was this chaser boat, and perhaps the only particularly decent shot of this set:

A moody backlit picture of a fisherman

This fisherman seemed none too pleased that he chose rowing competition day to get all of his gear together and head down to the lake. Hopefully he had something to show for at the end of the day.

Not a bad day of bike riding or shooting! And I'm pleased to be re-acquainted with the good old post-workout feeling of tired/not-tired. The mostly uphill ride home was strenous, but invigorating. And I'll certainly be bringing crappy old digital cameras on future rides!

The full gallery is available here. It's interesting -- usually I throw away between 80 and 100% of the digital pictures I take. But something about the limiting nature of recording them on floppies makes me think about the ones I take more, like with film. These are all the exposures that I took today!

It's almost like it's the best of both worlds, if you can excuse the poor sensor technology and image resolution.

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Blue Planet

21 March 2022 18:05

Blue and Yellow digital watches displaying different times

These cheap knock-off Casi-faux watches remind me of something very important. We're farting around on a little spec of dust in the universe. Everything is impermanent, and in the greater scope of the universe, fairly insignificant. We don't tend to consider this, because it's a little depressing.

I've been in a weird mood for the past month. I've been dismayed about the death and destruction being caused by Putin in Ukraine. I've been worried for my friends and associates there, and trying to reach out and check on people without pestering them.

Then I feel like something of a grief-imposter, as though I'm making somebody's horrific national tragedy about myself because I saw a pretty building once. Like somebody who uses solidarity as a fashion accessory. A big ol' phony.

And all the while, I forget to live my own life. My hobbies, work, and relationships suffer, because I'm paralyzing myself with not only scrolling through pictures of bombed apartment buildings all day, but negative feedback loop of self-doubt.

I think the best thing that I can do -- other than giving what I can to Ukraine-related causes -- is live my own life and output positive energy into the universe. One day the situation may be reversed, at which time, I would only want the same from my friends an ocean and a continent away.

Please consider donating to Ukraine's military and humanitarian funds -- now accepting credit cards!

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