Friday, September 16, 2016

The Following Preview has been rated "G" for Generic Crap

With Autumn rapidly approaching and the weather soon to turn colder, I'm turning my attention back to blogging.  After all, I'm at my most creative in the fall!

I've also dusted off the liquor cabinet, and am hoping to start my dipsomaniacal experimentation again.  A good drink helps me to think!

With that in mind, I've posted the first two entries of a thirteen part series over at Conceit  and Sociopathy.  Called Ten Famous People: A Bucket List, it's a top ten list of famous people with whom I'd like to drink, with four (now five) Honourable Mentions.  It'll run daily until Tuesday, September 27th, when I post the epilogue.  Check it out if you're remotely curious about my choice in drinking partners.

As for State of Grace, I have two spiritual sequels to Unauthorized Butter in the works.  While not dealing with the so-called Internet of Things this time, both stories will be equally dystopian in tone and presented in that same Did This Really Happen? style I seem to have developed.

Lastly, there may be a return to urbanism and design on this blog!  I'm not really committed to any sort of urbanist content... but there's enough going on in Winnipeg right now that a little commentary from a cynical-but-respectful malcontent might help balance things out.

As for design... I have a couple of home improvement projects that have moved from the Scribbles on looseleaf stage to the Shit, I could really do this! stage, and are now in the Fired up QCAD and laid out a plan stage.  Watch for more details after Spring Thaw.

Anyway, I have work to do...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cycle of Insecurity

Don't I feel like a jerk...

I did something today that I don't normally do.  I gave in to an outdated social bias and really lost out.

After a hectic, trying morning at work, I hit up the two closest thrift shops during my lunch break.  The first one yielded a beautiful vintage Underwood typewriter, fully functional and in excellent shape... unfortunately, there was no price tag, and none of the nearby staff could give me an idea of what it cost.  Rather than wait around for the one person who could help me, I left the typewriter there and headed for the next shop.

The second shop yielded a couple of possibilities, a Videophone of recent vintage, and a portable AM/FM radio which could also tune Weatheradio and CB stations, too.

I passed up the Videophone when, upon looking it up on Google, found it didn't have VOIP capabilities.  I passed up the radio when I noticed the battery compartment was badly corroded, and I didn't want another repair project.

I was getting ready to leave when a large, elderly lady walked in front of me, forcing me to take a detour down the Aisle of Discarded Consumer Goods.  Sandwiched between a decrepit microwave cart and several tattered suitcases, I spotted a bicycle tire.

It looked to be a 27" wheel, which is the same size as my road bike, so I figured I'd give it a look.  Moving aside decades-old Samsonites and well-travelled canvas carry-on bags, I was pleasantly surprised to find the bike wheel was attached to an old road bike!

There were no badges on the bike, and any decals it may once have sported had long since worn off.  It was in decent shape for its age (mid-70s-ish), but could have used a new freewheel and chainset.  New cables would help, too... all of which could be had inexpensively.  The bike was about my size, too!

Expecting an exorbitant price tag, I was floored when I saw the price: $9.99!  I grabbed the bike and started wheeling it to the checkout.  I'd barely freed the bike when my heart sank...

It was a women's bike.

I hurriedly put it back where I found it and left.

As I drove off, I started making all sorts of excuses as to why I didn't buy it.  Too much work, could've bought it for the missus but Jillian's not interested in cycling, I already have three bikes, no room in the SUV...

It's still bothering me.  I mean, is it really that weird for a guy to ride a women's bike?  Were women's bikes really women's bikes?!  In a world where we accept pretty much everything for fear of being branded an intolerant bigot, would anyone even say anything?

Isn't a bike just a bike?  Wasn't I being a little insecure?

As it turns out, yes.  And I feel foolish.

Unfortunately, by the time I returned to the store, someone else bought the bike.  It's really too bad, it looked like it would have been a decent ride and, as a few guys mentioned in the forum post I linked above, I wouldn't have to worry about damaging my "junk"... which is fine by me.

(note that I'm not a participant in that particular thread.  I go by the name Vaclav on bikeforums)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fuel the Furnace, Fuel My Fire (Part One)

Astrid woke up early this morning, and while she watched Teletubbies, I got caught up on my social media feeds.

Once I filtered out all the crap pertaining to the US Presidential candidates (which constituted 99% of my feeds), I was left with few items of interest.

This led (againnnn...) to thoughts of rounding up all the pundits and rabble-rousers, and putting them in a pit to battle to the death for my amusement.  A nice thought, to be sure...

I daydreamed happily about this for a few minutes, until Astrid snapped me out of it.  Her show had ended, so she brought me the remote.  After hitting "repeat" so she could watch the Teletubbies' Christening Episode (!) for the umpteenth time, I went back to my social media feeds.

I follow a number of cycling, sport, and mens' health related accounts on social media.  Every so often, one will post an article with recipes for one's post-ride or post-workout replenishment.

Lately, there seems (my observation) to be a trend toward quick 'n easy recipes that can be thrown together in mere minutes.  While some of these recipes sound good, I'm a bit bothered by a trend within this trend: that there's no presence of forethought.

After a four-hour ride on a trail that kicked your ass, the last thing you want is to spend an hour in the kitchen preparing a meal over a hot stove.  Here's a quick recipe that can be thrown together in a few minutes, in a single pot, using things growing in your backyard that even the rabbits won't touch...

While a bit of an exaggeration, it seemed that each recipe was prefaced by some form of the preceeding paragraph.  This bothered me on a couple of levels.  I mean, sure, after a four-hour ride that kicked my ass (or, as I discovered later, damaged groin muscles), the last thing I'd want would be to slave over a hot stove.

You know you're going on a ride beforehand.  You know you're going to be beat when you get home.  You know you're not going to want to cook, and if you're trying to maintain a healthy body and live a healthy lifestyle, you're not going to want to resort to nuking a couple of Pizza Pops.

No, you plan ahead.

If you can spend time planning a ride, run, etc, you can prepare a meal ahead of time.  If you can spend an hour getting your equipment ready, checking your bike, etc, you can chop a couple of tomatoes or onions.

Seriously, prepare a meal beforehand and heat it up when you get home.  If you want it to be fresh, prepare the ingredients beforehand and cook it when you get home.  If you want it to be ready to eat when you return, buy a fucking slow cooker and let it cook while you're out having fun & getting your ass kicked.

It's not hard.

To be continued.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cross-pollenation, or Cross-contamination?

I've brought back my original blog, Conceit and Sociopathy, now in its sixth official version!

(technically, it's the eighth version, but let's not quibble)

For a short explanation as to why, see the newest post.

The long answer is a bit more detailed.  I made a commitment to blog more this year, and I have a few ideas I'm considering for the future.  Some of these ideas have made it to the draft stage, others are still germinating, and each idea seems to lead to more ideas.

What can I say?  It's easy to have fertile mind when you're full of shit!

I have a number of unfinished to be continued posts to bring full-circle, a few things that have been languishing in my drafts folder for years (since the last time I emptied it), and a couple of things I'd like to rewrite or polish up a bit.

I've also been dabbling in fiction again, as you may have noticed.  This is something I intend to continue.

In other words, I have a lot of work to do.

"What does this have to do with bringing your old blog back?" you might ask.

Well, I'm getting to that, keep your pants on!

The fact is, I don't want things getting buried.  Let's face it, I've never kept a regular blogging schedule and, as I haven't posted much in the last few years, my regular readers stop by only occasionally.  Much of my traffic comes from other blogs who have me in their blog rolls, which people only seem to click occasionally.  So, if I suddenly unleash a flurry of posts, chances are something is going to get missed.  It'll get shuffled onto the next page, the "older posts" link at the bottom of the page that is typically ignored by everyone.  If it's going to get missed, why bother posting it?

In other words, it's not me, it's you.

So, to avoid this for the near future, I'll be splitting my time between the two blogs, posting perhaps once or twice a week on either.  Eventually, each blog will take on its own separate life, with certain things confined to one or the other.

At any rate, please add both blogs to your readers and/or blog rolls, and I'll do my best to give you something worthwhile to read.

Or just something to read.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Unauthorized Butter

I'm a little grumpy this evening.

I've run up my credit card and run down my bank balance,  I'm waiting on a pizza delivery that's taking forever, and appliance repairpersons who are taking longer.  Both are experiencing delays due to the sheer amount of calls they've received today.

To make matters worse, I haven't even had my coffee yet.

It all started this morning.  I rolled out of bed at 5am, put my glasses on, and staggered to the kitchen.  I grabbed a coffee pod out of the cupboard, popped it into the coffee maker, hit the switch, and walked off to the bathroom to shower.

After a half hour of trying to get shampoo in and out of the accursed red mop that is my hair, I towelled off, got dressed, and made my way to the kitchen.

I didn't smell coffee as I normally would.

Turning the kitchen lights on, I noticed the coffeemaker was not turned on.

"Odd," I thought.  I was certain I'd hit the switch.

Pressing the power button again did nothing.  "Crap," I said, "I must have unplugged the coffee maker so I could charge my phone."

(Again)

A quick glance at the outlet showed that this was not the case.  The coffeemaker was plugged in.

"Oh shit," I muttered, "the fucking coffeemaker is dead."

I would have done things the old fashioned way by boiling the kettle, but it would have been pointless as I had no instant coffee in the house.  We'd tossed our traditional brewed coffeemaker years ago when we switched to the "pod" style coffeemaker.

Ultimately, I decided to go without.  I could always grab a coffee at the coffee shop on the way to work.

More than a little annoyed, I went over to the fridge to make my lunch.  Opening the door, I noticed the fridge light didn't come on... and the inside of the fridge was warm.

Fuck.

Sometime during the course of the night, the fridge conked out.  Sigh.

I ran downstairs to check the circuit breakers.  Hmmm, they're all in working order...

Well, this is a bit of a piss-off.  We'd just done our grocery shopping last night ($400!), and now everything in the fridge is on the verge of spoiling.  Fuck!  With the prices of food skyrocketing, we simply can't afford to be wasting anything!

Not wanting to wake Jillian, I grabbed a couple of coolers from the basement and filled them with snow from outside.  I loaded them up with the contents of the fridge, and thankfully had enough room for everything.

Two appliances dying in one day... "What are the odds?" I asked myself.

"Slim to none," I answered, "something has to be wrong."

Remembering that these were so-called "Connected appliances" and are part of our Internet-of-Things, I grabbed my Linux laptop so I could troubleshoot.  Hey, I'm a technical-minded guy, there might be a clue here somewhere...

I successfully ssh'd into the fridge.  This was a good sign, as it showed the fridge was getting power, and was technically still online.  I checked the system logs and found a curious entry from 0130a (this morning) indicating a "00xacb: Fatal Error: contact Technical/Service Department".

Huh. Must have been a firmware issue.  Fucking technology.

I took note of the error message and time, and set off to retrieve the warranty papers.  I keep everything, much to Jillian's chagrin.

Now, our coffeemaker was made by the same company, so in order to save time, I figured I'd check it's logs as well.  Sure enough, the log showed a failure at 0130a as well, but the error message in the log was a bit more... sinister.

"00xacb: Fatal Error: auth access denied: unrecognized response"

Was someone trying to hack my coffeemaker from the outside?

I suddenly felt queasy.  Sure, I lock my routers etc down as much as I can, and have a pretty impressive firewall, but you can't block everything.  The appliances have to tunnel through the firewall in order to relay service info to the manufacturer, was that to blame?  I hope not, or the manufacturer is going to be buying us a month's worth of groceries!

My activity in the kitchen woke Jillian up, despite my best efforts not to wake her.  She came in and asked what was going on.  I explained what had happened.

"Well, we have to get this fixed now," she said, "we can't be without a fridge!"

I told her I'd stay home from work today, just so we could get this sorted out.

I phoned the manufacturer's 1-800 number and was greeted by an automated response telling us that their offices are now closed, business hours are 10am to 4pm Pacific Time, and that online help is always available 24/7.

So, I dutifully powered my laptop back on and surfed over to the manufacturer's site, only to be told that "my browser was out of date and needed to be upgraded to the newest version in order to access all the features of their website".

Well, crap!  I had the latest version of the browser from Debian's repository (which was probably a couple of releases out of date), so I guessed I was out of luck.  I asked Jillian to hand me her iPad, and fired up Chrome.  Same error, and unfortunately her version of Chrome was the last version supported on her iPad.

So, we waited.

At noon (10am Pacific Time), I called the manufacturer.  They were experiencing higher than normal call volumes, but assured us they'd be with us in rotation.

After an hour of being reminded how my call was important to them and that they'd be right with me, I finally got through.

"Customer Service," the voice chimed, " This is Julie.  How may I help you?"

"Good morning, Julie," I said politely, "I'm having problems with two of my appliances and need to get them back up and running."

"Oh no," she said, "Which appliances are they?"

I gave her the model numbers, explained they both died simultaneously, how I'd ssh'd in, and gave her the error numbers.  She seemed somewhat impressed that I knew where to look.  I added that we had over $400 worth of groceries that we'd bought yesterday that are at risk of going bad.

"Let me check the logs from our end," she said, "won't be a minute".

I heard her typing away, clicking her mouse, and then muttering something.

"I'm, uhhh..." she said nervously, almost as if she was at a loss for words, "I'm going to have to pass you on to... security."

"Great," I thought, "We've been hacked."

I was pleasantly surprised when the line was picked up immediately.

"Good evening, Mr. Wheeler,' said a stern male voice, "This is Richard with Security."

From Richard's tone, I could tell this was serious.  He reminded me of my dad, my principal, every male authority figure I'd ever had... and it sounded like I was in trouble,

"Hi, Richard," I said, "I'm having a bit of trouble with my fr-"

"Yes, you are having trouble," he tersely cut me off, "Mr. Wheeler, we have a serious situation here."

"Oh?", I said, worried.

"Mr Wheeler, you are in violation of our End User Agreement," he accused, "which automatically voids your warranty and revokes your license to operate these appliances."

"WHAT?!" I exclaimed, "What in Hell are you talking about?"

"Mr. Wheeler," he continued, "according to the information given us by our CSR Julie, and confirmed by the logs on your appliances, you violated our EUA through the use of products from an unauthorized third party company."

"That's ridiculous," I said.

"In addition," he continued, talking over me, "to unauthorized access to the devices by circumventing the appliances' standard web interfaces."

I was gobsmacked.  "What do you mean, 'Products from an unauthorized third party company'?"

"Mr. Wheeler," he said, "I am referring to RFID product code 70009-14009-008, the 1kg brick of store-brand butter placed in the fridge at approximately 2142p last night.  This is not a product from one of our authorized partners and, as such, violates our EUA."

"You're going to kill a $1200 (CAD) fridge, money we paid you, over a kilogram of butter?", I asked.

"No, Mr. Wheeler," he responsed smugly, "You killed your $1200 (CAD) fridge, and your $90 (CAD) coffeemaker by using an unauthorized, third-party refillable coffee pod."

"You're telling me I can't choose what goes into my own fridge?" I demanded.

"The terms of the EUA are spelled out in plain English," he said in his smugly fascist way, "and I might add you signed this agreement for both appliances before you activated them on February 4th, 2021."

Fuck.  He had me.  I never read the EUA... who does?  Perhaps I should have, but who would have suspected that coffee could be affected by DRM?  Either way, we were in a jam.  We couldn't afford to buy a new fridge, and, with recent legislation outlawing the sale of older, less energy-efficient (and inexpensive) appliances, we couldn't simply go find one on the used market.

I sighed.  "How can we resolve this, Richard?" I asked, defeated.

"Mr. Wheeler, " he said, "It's not as easy as that.  You're in a very serious amount of trouble."

Panic started to set in.

"You've broken several international trade agreements," he said, "and you may be subject to serious fines or imprisonment."

"Over a fucking stick of butter?" I asked, incredulous.

"Mr. Wheeler," he replied, "it doesn't matter what you did, only that you did."

"I'm not going to jail over a stick of butter or cup of coffee!" I said, "Is there anything we can do?"

"That is not my call, Mr. Wheeler," he explained, "that would be a matter for our legal department."

Violations?  Trade Agreements? Fines?  Imprisonment?  Legal Departments?  My head was spinning...

"Can... can you put me through to them?" I asked nervously.

"They're monitoring this call," Richard explained, "I'll let them chime in."

"Good afternoon, Shaun," came a reedy voice, "My name is Wendell, and I'll be looking after your case."

I'll spare you what came next, as it was basically a re-hashing of the previous conversation with Richard.  After an hour of being made to feel like a criminal for buying the butter that was on sale (and trying to save money by refilling my coffee pods with cheap coffee), I admitted my guilt and we settled out of court.  It was certainly cheaper and less exhausting than facing an international consumer goods conglomerate, Industry Canada, and various levels of government in court.  Nobody wants to be made an example...

Wendell went easy on me.  While we didn't get hit with a fine, we did have to pay them several hundred dollars (USD) for unlock codes for the two devices, and another couple of hundred for (authorized) repairpersons to apply the codes, clear the security lockout, update the firmware, and ensure everything was in proper working order.  Wendell also "convinced" us to purchase the extended warranty plan, as I didn't have the will or strength to argue.  It tapped out our bank account and credit card, but at least I avoided jail time...

In addition, I had to perform a sort-of Community Service for the manufacturer.  I agreed to be a driver for their smartphone Taxi-On-Demand service app during evenings for the next four years.  Unpaid.  Starting Monday.

He went on to explain what would have happened had I try to "jailbreak" our appliances... it wasn't pretty.

So, that was my afternoon.  I spent two hours on the phone with these people, all the while Jillian was frantically refilling the coolers with fresh snow and ice from the yard.  We're hoping those repairpeople get here soon.

Here comes our pizza... I never thought I'd be so happy to hear a delivery drone's quadcopter blades...


The preceding was a true story I just made up.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Looking Up, Looking Down, Here and There, and All About...

So, I've made it through another year.

2015 had its ups and downs, but it ended on a high note.  Jillian, Astrid, and I finally moved into a new place after two years of Renovation Hell at the old place.  This brought an end to two years of anxiety, worry, and depression.

The last quarter of 2015 was a blast.  We've settled into our new digs and have gotten used to the area.  The absence of a full-service grocery store, a complaint I made in a previous post, has since been filled by a No-Frills store.  The 7-Eleven is fairly well-stocked, and everything we need is close by... at least by car.

It's still not very walkable (unless you like long walks), however the area is perfect for cycling!  It's quiet, picturesque, and is fairly low traffic until you hit Roblin Blvd.  It's also a couple of blocks from Harte Trail (part of the Trans-Canada Trail), so you can bet I'll be planning a few cycling excursions in the spring... but more on that later this year.

So, let's take a look at the year that was:
  • Target left Canada, forcing us to return to Wal-Mart. Thankfully, a nice new one opened up near Grant Park which we love. 
  • In February, I made the decision to scale back my computer hobby to concentrate on cycling, radio, and fatherhood.
  • Jillian and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary in May.
  • In May, I started writing a period piece about writing 19th century erotica.  I had intended to serialize it on my blog, but I may end up publishing it instead.
  • Our daughter Astrid celebrated her second birthday in June.
  • In July, I converted my 30-year old mountain bike into a commuter bike.  I rode a bit too hard one day and injured several muscles which have yet to heal fully.
  • In August, we got a lead on a house in Westdale/Charleswood.
  • In early September, I left Facebook for good.  Haven't been back, no intention to return.
  • We moved into the Westdale/Charleswood house over the Labour Day weekend, with the gracious assistance of friends from Jillian's church.
  • Astrid won "Cutest Hallowe'en Costume" at Jill's church's Hallowe'en party.
  • In November, Jillian and I celebrated the fifth anniversary of our first date.
  • In early December, I was diagnosed with a groin injury (from back in July), ending my plan to try Winter cycling.
  • Astrid was spoiled by everyone at Christmas.
So, pretty quiet year, all-in-all.

2016 is a blank slate.  Unlike years past, I have no overarching master plan for the new year.  I do have a few resolutions, however:

  • Spend even less time on social media (Twitter, Google+, and Instagram).
  • Hell, spend less time online unless I'm blogging.
  • Support stores in our community first.
  • Bike whenever possible, bus when not.
  • Spend more time outdoors.
  • Get to know our new neighbours.
  • Go to Mass every week.  I've been slacking.
  • Write and/or blog more often.  My writing is sloppier than ever.
I'm also going to rewrite the conclusion to Invasion of the (Wal-)Martians, as I am thoroughly disappointed in how it turned out.

So, a belated Happy New Year, folks, and all the best in 2016!


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Invasion of the (Wal)Martians (Conclusion)

As I was saying yesterday, after taking in an impressive new Wal-Mart Supercentre, I returned to the Wal-Mart I knew (literally and figuratively).  It was chaotic, dirty, and an overall stressful experience.  I left there shaking in anger.

Seven months ago, I started comparing the two locations.  I only needed to go so far before reaching a conclusion, but more on that later.  In the seven months since the last post in this series, I've been to the Wal-Mart on Taylor several more times (and to the North End location once).  My feelings on either have not changed.  The Taylor location is still well-organized, relatively clean, and the parking lot is navigable.  The North End location is still a chaotic mess.

So, what conclusion did I reach?

The long version is this:  I come from a background in warehousing and logistics, so I dislike clutter and disorganization; rude, boorish people piss me off; crowds make me anxious; anxiety makes me violent.  It seems to be the natural state of affairs at the North End Wal-Mart, which is why I hate shopping there.  The Taylor location is the exact opposite, which is why I love shopping there.

To be fair to the North End location, I've been to several other Wal-Marts in the city (Kenaston, Empress, Transcona, and St. Vital) and they're all pretty much the same hot mess as the North End location.  It's really the familiarity that fuels my dislike.  I grew up in the area, and have lived here most of my life.  Much of my anger is a result of (and directed at) the people who live in this area, and the store's disorganization (and chaotic atmosphere) only serve to compound that anger.

The short version is this:  I am a conceited jerk after all... classist, and a bit racist.

Ultimately, though, the North End Wal-Mart will no longer be a source of frustration and anger for me.  Since the last installment, Jillian and I have moved to Westdale, far far away, never to return!

Good riddance.