Tuesday, August 31, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Conference calling

I'm fairly certain that anyone who works in a professional environment has dealt with this issue at some point.

If you're like me, working with agencies and colleagues on both coasts in a time when conference rooms have tended to become a virtual phenomenon rather than a tangible one, it's probably far more common that you prefer.

But at least we can still joke about it.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

A tale of two cities

There's been quite a public debate of late regarding the fate of a certain parcel of land in a certain highly-prized district that also carries with it a significant emotional attachment for certain groups of people.

Now I'm not one to casually dismiss the emotional attachment people have for places, buildings, cars, or whatever. Especially when the place and buildings in questions are now so intricately woven into our collective identity.

But in cases that involve private property rights (which, really, are just an extension of personal freedom), it's helpful to take an objective look at the facts, lest we inadvertently set a precedent that we might live to regret later.

So the facts are these:
  • The property is privately owned.
  • The city has zoning codes and usage ordinances in place to ensure that any construction is appropriate for the site in question.
  • Our laws and constitution guarantee protection equally to everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.
I understand that to those with a strong emotional interest in the preserving the purity of this historical site, the proposed building project seems insensitive and inappropriate. Those people certainly should voice their opinions, as they have a constitutional right to.

But let us not use the heavy hand of government to deny those with whom we disagree the very property rights we hold dear for ourselves.

Change can be scary, but it can also be positive and is often accompanied by opportunity. Highwoods Properties and Polsinelli Shughart should be allowed to build the building they proposed*.

Let us not stand in the way of economic progress and cultural understanding. It's fine to remember the past, but not at the price of sacrificing our future.

*Perhaps they could gain public support by including an "Islamic Community Center" on one or two floors of the building.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Random Photo XXXVII: Liberty Memorial

We hit up the Liberty Memorial and the National World War I Museum last weekend. We really enjoyed ourselves, though we didn't allot enough time to tour the museum. Unfortunately, it closes at 5:00 and we didn't get there until around 3:30 p.m. An hour and a half sounds like a good amount of time, but not when you consider all there is to see.

One thing we made a priority was a trip to the top of the Liberty Memorial. That's where I snapped this shot looking down at the plaza 217 feet below.

You can tell that it was late after noon by the quality of light and the length of the tower's shadow. I also shot a pic of the tower from the bunker museum below.

If you haven't visited the WWI Museum/Liberty Memorial in a while, I highly suggest you make it an item on one of your weekend itineraries.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Empire 1900

Sometimes, all it takes it a little old-fashioned sci-fi get to you through the day.

And it doesn't get much older-fashiondier than this clip of the penultimate scene from The Empire Strikes Back (by far the best of the Star War's movies) passed through an old-timey filter and set to silent movie music.

It's like Industrial Light and Magic meets Metropolis. Anyway, not sure I'd want to watch the entire movie this way, but this scene makes for a nice distraction.

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Friday, August 20, 2010


A couple of days ago I was having The Worst Day Ever.

Overslept. Woke up with a stiff neck. Kid wouldn't eat her breakfast. Blew out my flipflop. Stepped on pop top. Cut my heel had to cruise on back home. You know the kind of day. I'm sure you been there yourself.

Anyway as per usual, later in the day I took part of my lunch hour to do a little headline scanning, a little keeping up on current events. Man was that a bad idea. Not a good day to read a bunch of depressing news.

It started with the realization that within a couple of years, all of our antibiotics will be completely useless.

Turns out that while we've been focusing our pharmaceutical R&D on longer hair, lower cholesterol and erecter penises, bacteria have been naturally selecting themselves to be more bad ass than any drug we have on the shelves.

So sometime within the next decade, medical science will be set back 60 years. Simple procedures like a tonsillectomy will carry life-or-death risk.

Then that bleak little tidbit was followed by a reminder (as if I needed it) that the United States is bankrupt, and most just haven't admitted it yet.

Decades of overspending and over promising "entitlements" in exchange for votes have left the U.S. in a gigantic fiscal hole that will have to be filled somehow. You think Greece had it bad with their "austerity" measures? Well, you can say adiós to your cushy 33% tax bracket my friend.
We have 78 million baby boomers who, when fully retired, will collect benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that, on average, exceed per-capita GDP. The annual costs of these entitlements will total about $4 trillion in today’s dollars. Yes, our economy will be bigger in 20 years, but not big enough to handle this size load year after year.

This is what happens when you run a massive Ponzi scheme for six decades straight, taking ever larger resources from the young and giving them to the old while promising the young their eventual turn at passing the generational buck.

Herb Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under U.S. President Richard Nixon, coined an oft-repeated phrase: “Something that can’t go on, will stop.” True enough. Uncle Sam’s Ponzi scheme will stop. But it will stop too late.

And it will stop in a very nasty manner.
There was still more bleak news. Deflation is here. Unemployment is getting worse. The housing market is a disaster. And perhaps the saddest report of all, that 100 year old Scotch they found in Antarctica? Yeah, nobody will be allowed to drink it. It will be wasted instead of tasted.

I tells ya, it's almost enough to make you want to watch a Lady Gaga video some days.

But then I heard something that really helped. A nice little piece of fortune cookie philosophy that, while simplistic, is amazingly pertinent and powerful. It's a single line from 30th Century philosopher and poet Phillip J. Fry, who once said to a despondent colleague
You can't give up hope just because it's hopeless. You gotta hope even more and cover your ears and go "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!"

Wise words indeed.

Probably the best thing to do is kick back, watch some reality TV, keep my credit card debt paid off, try to enjoy the tumble down the cultural decline we're all in the midst of and hope it gets better.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Door dingbat

Rewind to the spring of, say, 2004. It's a few days after I just bought my first (and probably last) brand new car.

Nothing flashy. Just a 2004 Nissan Altima, with enough extra features to allow me to ride in comfort, but nothing garish or unaffordable. The important thing for this anecdote is that the car was new. Not a scratch. Only the miles I put on it during a test drive. New car smell and everything.

So the pride of driving a new car was still with me three days later, as I drove to the very top of the parking garage to park waaaay far away from all the inconsiderate jerkholes who had no respect for other peoples' brand new personal property. I was worried, of course, about the all-too common phenomenon of the door ding — those small dents in your car caused by the careless opening of a door by the occupant of the car parked next to you.

And sure enough, when I returned to my car for the commute home, there was a large divot in the side panel of my formerly new car — just THREE DAYS AFTER I BOUGHT IT!

Pissed? I was. Enraged, even. But it made sense. Buy a new car, put too much emotional energy into the idea of having a new car and fate pretty much demands that you be brought back down to the hard pavement.

To paraphrase John Lennon, instant carma's gonna get you.

Over the past few years I've acquired quite a collection of door dings. Large ones, small ones, long ones, short ones, round ones, deep ones, shallow ones. Sometimes I wonder if it helps my fuel economy, the way the dimples on a golf ball help it slip through the air.

Now whenever I see a new dent, sure, I'm ticked off. Well, disappointed is more the word. The point is, I'm used to it. I've come to accept that it's just a fact of life in the urban environment.

But not everyone has come to that realization.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I'm out running errands on a Saturday afternoon. My Supermodel Wife calls and invites me to beat the heat with her and our two daughters at our favorite used book store in JoCo. By the time I arrive, my SMW has already parked and taken the kids inside. I meet up with them, browse for awhile, pick out a few books, read to my 7-year-old for a while. You know, we're having a nice time.

About half an hour into our excursion, a fit-looking 60s-ish woman approaches my SMW and asks if she drives a gray Toyota. SMW says yes. The woman replies that "we have a problem with a door ding" and asks SMW to come outside.

I stay with the kids inside where it's cool. SMW's not too upset. She's also used to getting door dings and anyway it's nice of the lady to come in and report it to us.

Ten minutes later SMW returns to the store. Now she is pissed. The woman hadn't come to confess to denting our car, she came to accuse SMW of denting their car. During the discussion, the woman tells my wife that their Lexus SUV is "the only car we have, and we're always careful not to park where any other cars are…"

Well, SMW said she saw a small scratch in the clear coat, but couldn't conclusively say that it was from our car. Nevertheless, she gave the Lexus owner our phone number. Not sure why she wanted it. If she asked, I'd apologize and say I feel bad about it, but I'm not paying to fix a door ding.

This happened a few weeks ago, and we never heard from the Lexus owners. I'm a bit bummed about that. Because I'd love to get on the phone and explain the realities of driving a car in an urban (suburban) area, and that if your priorities are so far out of whack, you shouldn't be driving such a fine automobile.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Day in a life

Today's edition of YouTube Tuesday features a short film, Maybe One Day, that kind of reminded me, on a meta level, of the Beatles song A Day in the Life.

The film takes a brief look at a universal sentiment that everyone comes to at one point. Here's a blurb from its YouTube page:
This film conveys a sense of life and experience, extreme and heightened feelings as well as pensive and quiet moments. It is reminiscence, a visual diary and a document of a day. This is achieved through the journey of one man.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

The Hunt, Part 2: The Trap

I previously vowed to capture an image of the elusive White Squirrel at any costs. Little Moby seemed somehow to have sensed this, and his appearances became more rare in the days following my utterance bloggerance.

On the occasions when he would show up, he seemed jittery, even for a squirrel, and more wary of his surroundings. However, even as he became more careful, he seemed to extend his range. And a couple of times I found him foraging for nuts and grubs in my own front yard.
Thus, I added a tactic to my arsenal. If I could find a way to confine him, it would be an easier thing to photograph him. So I stopped by my local outfitter's store to procure a steel trap that would do the trick.

It was of a rectangular steel cage design, a trap door at either end triggered by tip plate in the center.
I masterfully baited the trap with wheat bran cereal held in place with a mortar of peanut butter. I placed it behind some shrubbery in our front yard and waited.

In the morning, a few days later, I received an excited message from my first mate. She said I need to go and check the trap.

It had been sprung.
Finally, I thought, putting on shirt as I made my way to the front yard... finally I'll have my chance. At long last I'll shoot a picture of the white squirrel and prove to the world (well, my immediate acquaintances anyway) that it exists.
When I Arrived in the front yard and inspected the sprung trap, I was surprised and disappointed. It did contain a varmint, and the beast was white(ish).

But rather than the White Squirrel, I found myself face to snout with a ghastly, coarse-haired, rat-tailed opossum.

It hissed at me as I lifted the trap from behind the bushes. I placed it on the gravel driveway to photograph it. I felt compelled to document the catch, even though this was not he quarry I was after.

I was simultaneously disgusted by and sorry for the pathetic marsupial. It was obviously well-fed and healthy. It was so large, in fact, that I wondered how it fit into the trap in the first place. But it was obviously frightened and confused, stuck so tight that it could scarcely turn it's head from side to side, let alone turn around in the steel cage.

It stared at me with black, beady eyes, like a cold cup of coffee, as I determined what was to be done with it. Finally, I decided to take it to the woods around a creek in a nearby park to set it free.

Laying a plastic trash bag down tin the back of our SUV, and placing the trap with opossum therein on top of the plastic, I drove to Roe Park. But as I drew close, I saw the park was crawling with suburbanites. The parking lot was full and the baseball and soccer fields were packed with people. Obviously, this was not a good place to release such a solitary specimen.

So I continued on. Presently I came to an area of new road construction, a bridge across a creek that was as yet lightly traveled. I put the steel cage near a stand of tall grass and opened the trap door to release the prisoner.

It wandered out into the grass and out of site. I put the trap back into the car, got into the driver's seat and prepared to return home. But as I turned the ignition switch, I looked up and saw the opossum trumbling along the road's curb.

Rather than make it's way toward the relative safety of the nearby creek, it had wandered back to the street. I snapped a few more pictures, then left as the opossum continued on toward the bridge and almost certain death under the wheel of the next passing car.

Opossoms aren't that bright.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Random Photo XXXVI: Waterlily

This one's pretty self explanatory. It's always nice to remember the beauty of nature's seemingly simplistic patterns.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Getting rich

Let's say, just hypothetically, that you wanted to be rich.

I'm talkin' Bill Gates rich. Rich enough that you don't merely write your own ticket, you write your own ticket to fly on the airplane that you own. You know what I mean? So rich that you don't just have lawyers on your payroll, you have judges on your payroll.

Well if you wanted to get rich (hypothetically), you'd probably focus on creating a product or service that everybody needs and then selling it to them. Things like indicator plastic wrap, or tick repellent pills, or cargo dress slacks.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Right? So You'd develop these ideas for useful items then sell them on QVC or find someone to buy the idea from you. Right? That's what you'd probably do.

But you'd be wrong.

The best way to get rich is to come up with a way to take cheap useless crap, rebrand it and market it to elementary-age kids. It's the American way.

Need and example? Of course you do.

Those of you with elementary-age kids are no doubt familiar with these:

I'm referring of course to the rubber-bandy looking things, not the Moleskin notebook or the earbuds (which I threw in to give you a sense of scale).

These little rubber bands are known among the social circles my 7-year-old runs in as Googly Bands.

They are the latest rage sweeping the grade school set. That's right, the kids are crazy about them. They're more than just cheap jewelry. They come in all different shapes and colors. Animals, toys, modes of transportation, clothing. Some are tie-dyed, rainbow colored and others glow in the dark. The kids, boys and girls alike, collect and trade them the way I used to collect and trade baseball cards.

Only here's the thing, there's absolutely no value to these things. Well, maybe there's some minute value. I mean, I'm not an expert on rubber production (but I play one on the Internet), but according to one of my many inside sources, there's about one twelfth of a cent of material and labor involved in producing one of these things. They are sold 12 to a pack, so a pack cost exactly one penny to produce.

I recently took my kid to a large discount retailer (which I won't name since they don't advertise on this site, but I think you can guess which one it was) because she just had to spend her hard-earned chore money on some of these useless trinkets. We found them on sale for a dollar a pack, which you math wizards can see works out to almost a 100% profit, or something (what do I know about business? Who am I, Donald Trump?).

So yeah, all you have to do to get rich is come up with a product that costs almost nothing to produce, and sell it for a minimum 100% profit. It's just that easy. Pretty soon you're be up to your eyeballs in party jets.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Breaking Schnack

You remember a few weeks ago when the guy from Lenexa disappeared in Shawnee Mission Park?

Then a bunch of family and friends scoured the park looking for him? But after weeks of searching they couldn't find him and gave up?

Then last week he was found wandering down a trail sunburned, bug-bitten and dehydrated but otherwise unharmed?

No? You don't remember? Doesn't ring a bell? Well, here's the gist:
Police said Larry Schnackenberg, 58, has been found along a walking trail in Shawnee, Kan. A security officer, Rick Reynolds, who has known Schnackenberg for 15 years, found him on Wednesday … walking along a trail in the 6100 block of Barker Road, police said.

It was July 8 when Schnackenberg disappeared. His car and wallet were found at Shawnee Mission Park, just south of the trail. Police used K-9s and helicopters to search the park and more than 600 volunteers spent two days conducting their own search. Outside of his car, there had been no trace of Schnackenberg…
And that's basically where we find ourselves today. As the SOB points out, there was a lot of what industry people call "media weight" behind this, and we've been left with a rather unsatisfying ending.

Well, I'm here to rectify that. I have what I think is a pretty solid theory about what really happened.

Now, I'm not a cop, or a police investigator, or "security officer" or any kind. I don't have years of experience tracking down missing persons and/or pets. But I do have years of experience watching cop shows and such on TV. And based upon that, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Schnackenberg's "disappearance" was a ruse.

My theory is based upon the fact that a well-educated, middle-aged suburban man faced with the prospect of death by lung cancer will turn to the production of methamphetamine as a way to build a nest egg to provide for his family after he dies.

This is well documented in any number of situations. What tends to happen is that said individual, under pressure from "businessmen" higher up in his distribution chain, will need to take an extended period away from his family to ramp up production.

Typically, he'll drive his RV-turned-meth lab into the Chihuahuan Desert to produce his quota of methamphetamine. This could take anywhere from a week to three weeks depending on the demands of his wholesalers.

But then, because his occupation is a secret to his family and friends, he has to find a way to account for his disappearance. This he does by taking off all of his cloths and wandering into a public place to be discovered, confused and disoriented but mostly unharmed, by local authorities or passers by.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Schnackenberg invoke a "fugue state" defense caused by some generic medical condition, if any public statement is made at all.

Well, that's my theory. I can't guarantee 100 percent accuracy and some details might be different. But if I know my TV dramas (and I can assure you that I do), that I'm pretty sure some version of this is what happened.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Good day.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Pottopia

Here's a cute little piece of propaganda showing us how awesome marijuana is and how evil the people who want to prohibit it are.

This cartoon shouldn't change any minds on the issue of legalized pot, it's obviously aimed at reinforcing the beliefs of those who already favor freedom to toke.

But something tells me that, at least in California where the state budget is eleventy-babillion dollars in the red, the prospect of getting higher (heh) tax revenue will be what ultimately sways the voting public.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Random Photo XXXV: Hummer

These guys were at my mother's house over the weekend.

It goes without saying that humming birds are really hard to photograph. The lighting and focus could be better, but this is the best shot I got. Maybe I'll try again next week.

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