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Busy

24 September 2022 21:45

I haven't updated this blog in a while. I've been busy.

Often we think of "busy" as a lie, or a convenient excuse. It does seem that people use it as a shorthand for, "I'm prioritizing other things in favor of this." Whether those other things are a severe injury, full-time employment, a spa day, or sitting around all day playing Mario Party 64, it's not a lie.

Is that valid? Depends on who's complaining. I often find that the biggest critic of my time-management skills is myself. I get antsy if I find myself watching too much TV, a bit less so if I'm playing video games. I guess I want to feel like I'm doing something when I'm doing nothing.

Not that I feel much better if I spend every waking hour over a span of 96 hours tracking and commanding a work-related incident. 100% commitment to Quadrant I doesn't make me happy either. That didn't make anybody happy.

Well, here I am now, with work stable, school caught up (oh, school's going well, by the way), and now I'm writing in my blog. I'm sure the spam bots that read my blog will be pleased.

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Year One

21 August 2022 11:00

Happy anniversary, my love.

It was a dark and stormy Teams call

Thank you for always helping and supporting me, and yet challenging me to do better and be a better person. You changed my whole life and the way I think about everything.

Together we've build a lifestyle that is rare and special. I feel it when I look around our wonderful apartment, a space built for two curious and creative minds.

I love you. Let's get dinner or something.

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Dream Journal: The Stormy Video Call

16 August 2022 10:53

I'm no stranger to work-related dreams. I've always taken great ownership and pride in my work, which can, at times, foster stress and anxiety. My brain sloppily attempts to reconcile these feelings using metaphors and surreal narratives. Sometimes a dream can bring clarity and fresh perspective to what I've been feeling. Other times, I have no idea what I was trying to tell myself, and I am only left with further questions.

It was a dark and stormy Teams call

I was on a video conference with several coworkers. I don't remember if the coworkers in my dream were specific coworkers, or just vague entities that I identified as such. Perhaps my faceblindness extends into my dream world. I also don't remember the topic of conversation. However, I do remember that we were all based out of the same city, and we all seemed to live in historic buildings like mine (neither of which are true in real life).

A storm began to roll into town, observable by the darkening of each participant's background in succession. As the rain and thunder covered the city, its progression was seen in the grouping of meeting participants at the bottom of the screen. The storm finally came to me, the rain trickling against our own windows as the wind lightly rattled the trees outside.

The lightning and wind picked up, battering one particpant's historic windows, then the next, and the next, further darkening each particpant's video stream until reaching my own backdrop. THe rain was thick and heavy, the wind smashing it right into the windows. Our panes have been known to leak a bit, so I began checking for leaks and considering some mitigating actions against the ingress of water. My eye was drawn back to the screen.

The winds became quite extreme for the first participant in the stack, shaking his windows violently until suddenly flinging them open. My coworker was lifted from his chair and pulled out the open window. He caught the window pane and held on for dear life, his feet dangling up towards the sky as the winds visciously circulated his belongings about him.

Then I woke up. Happy Monday!

The above image was generated using OpenAI DALL-E. I guess Stupid AI is actually pretty good for generating images of my dreams.

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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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