Microwave Popcorn

As time goes on, I remember less and less about the details, but I remember the general idea.

I remember that it was January. Probably 2007, which would have made Toliver 3 years old, and would have put Carter in kindergarten at Cormier School.

Toliver wasn’t feeling well at all, so I had to pick him up from daycare. Unfortunately, I still had a number of things to get done for work, so I was dividing my time between him and my work duties. He had a fever of 101, which is why I got called in the first place. I picked him up from daycare and brought him home to my duplex, and asked him what he wanted to do. He asked if he could do a puzzle, so I set him up with one right next to me. I could hear him humming as he worked on it. I only had a few more things to take care of, and then I could focus on my blue-eyed bundle of joy.

Suddenly, I realized it was quiet. Parents instinctively know that quiet is NOT good. “Where did he go?”, I thought to myself. He was right next to me only a minute ago.

So I got up to find out what he was doing. He wasn’t in his room, and he wasn’t in his playroom. Hrm. He has little legs, he couldn’t have gotten that far. My place was a two-story duplex with a basement, so I went downstairs to see where he was at.

As I descended the stairs, my eyes started to water. It was a very odd feeling, and I wasn’t sure why it was happening. Then my mind finally kicked in. Smoke. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot… smoke??

I turned the corner and walked into the kitchen. Smoke is pouring out of the microwave. There is a kitchen chair near the counter by the microwave… Toliver is sitting on the floor by the chair. “Daddy, I wanted popcorn. Is it ready?” he says. His eyes are watering due to the smoke. I’m not sure what to think, so I look at the timer.

It appears he set it for 55 minutes. There are 51 minutes left.

The poor little guy, with a fever, decided he wanted popcorn. Dad wasn’t moving fast enough to make him happy, so he made it himself. But he didn’t know what buttons to hit, so he set it to nuke for an hour or so.

What could go wrong?

I hit the Cancel button. Flames are exploding out of the back, but stop when I press the button. However, smoke keeps pouring out of the back. I open the microwave, and find a pile of nuclear waste in a convienent microwavable bag. It’s truly molten lava. The wall is charred, flames were shooting out of the microwave. It smells like dead bodies in the duplex. And not the good kind of dead bodies smell. The ‘OMG my son microwaved the shit out of the popcorn’ kind of smell.

I’m a good Dad, though. I dab the tears from his face, and then offer Toliver some cheese and crackers. This totally makes him forget about the fire hazard he created. As he’s eating his crackers, I start trying to clean things up. OMG! It’s alive! Kill it! The bag of popcorn is moving. Toliver, age 3, has created a new life form. I choose to beat it into submission rather than learning what it wants. I enter into a life an death struggle, as my son happily eats his crackers only three feet from where I choose to make my last stand. Custer, eat your heart out.

Fast forward 20 minutes.

It’s 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I have the windows and sliding door in the kitchen WIDE open. Toliver and I are wearing coats, because it’s still bloody January. He asks me “Daddy? Why is it cold in here?” as I move the expensive microwave out to the curb to be picked up with the trash. After that, I scrub the wall. Have you ever scrubbed char marks off of a wall? Hint… not a easy as you’d think. Especially with a 3 1/2 year old in your arms. I throw the microwave out on the curb and PRAY that Ashwaubenon will take it without a permit.

We go to pick Carter up from daycare. The little snot is on to me. “Daddy, why is it burning in here?” my little Sherlock asks. Trying to take the brunt of it, I say: “Dad had a cooking accident.”

Toliver, oblivious to the whole thing, says “I tried to make popcorn and started a fire and Dad saved me and then gave me crackes. Can we play cars Carter?” Carter falls for it, and they’re off playing cars. As I continue to scrub the wall, while making my boys dinner. Without the char marks.

Toliver’s such a good kid, and his blue eyes will look into your soul. He might have almost burned my house down. But I love him with everything I have.

Green Screen My Ass

Why is it that I can always pick up when things are superimposed? For example, see this snapshot from Amazon.com’s Alpha House:

WTF? Green Screen at its worst.

Adam Sandler’s The Goat said it best: “They fucking superimposed me!!” Seriously. I like this show, and I know that Netflix doesn’t have the powers that other studios have.

The fact that the bookworm girl in the front looks like she has been Photoshopped into the frame isn’t good. Is it really that hard to film this scene in an actual office? Stop cutting corners. I pay $79 per year for this shit AND FREE SHIPPING, and I don’t like it when you try to screw me over. That’s right, Jeff Bezos. I’m watching you.

… yeah, I actually don’t care that much at all.

The First Day

I begin walking towards the building filled with a mixture of fear and self-doubt. This is my first time, and there is nobody here to help me. I am completely on my own, and the outcome of this visit is entirely in my own hands. The backpack that I carry seems oddly out of place, but nobody seems to pay much attention. Can they see the trepidation on my face? Are they ignoring me out of pity or indifference?

As I get closer, thoughts of turning back manage to bubble up from deep within me. I resist, knowing what I am charged with doing. But my courage wavers, and I let my fears get the best of me. I quickly turn around in an attempt to return to the safety and comfort that the past offers, but that opportunity is no longer available to me. I have to plow forward, knowing that my world is about to change forever.

I enter the building and begin struggling past those who know exactly where to go. I silently resent them for their knowledge as I locate help. I feel completely unprepared, and the look I receive from the staffer seems to confirm it. “Can you direct me to Room 101, please?” I ask hesitantly, hoping for mercy. Surprisingly, she is both helpful and nice. She provides me a map, circles the room, and sends me on my way.

I locate the room and the next portion of my trial begins. I have no idea what to do. I stop and begin to taking in the foreign surroundings. Everything seems new and exciting, yet oddly familiar in some ways. After surviving a minute of embarrassing hesitation, I begin to emulate the actions of others. I scan a bank of lockers, and quickly locate one with the correct nametag pasted to it. I begin unloading the contents of the backpack I carried in. There seems to be no end to number of things that need to be removed, but finally it is empty and can be stashed away in the locker. I begin to fiddle with the placement of things, delaying for as long as possible.

With my options for procrastination exhausted, I finally begin shuffling towards the door. I step inside and see many smiling adults. What can they possibly be so happy about? One of the adults catches my eye and immediately rushes over towards me. She carries with her a Polaroid camera. “What new hell is this?” I ask myself.

I see her mouth begin to move and notice that I begin following her directions without conscious thought. I stand in the designated spot and get my picture taken, immortalizing the moment that I will always remember. I quickly scan the room, trying to determine what to do next. Thankfully she comes to my rescue by pointing out a desk.

As I finish getting my son Carter settled in to his first day of school, I cannot help but wonder if he was anywhere near as nervous as I was?

This is a paper I wrote for my English class four years ago. I was pretty proud at the time of the little twist I put in at the end.

Resume from Hibernation

After an entire year of slacking, it’s time I get this site spun back up.

I’ve moved away from running a Wordpress site. I really enjoyed the continuous integration setup I had in place for automatically publishing code file changes from BitBucket to Windows Azure. But then I stopped messing with it.

Looking back, a number of things happened personally that made it hard to keep up with this site. Instead of writing about them via a public website, I started keeping tracking of them with the excellent Momento application. Things happen in life, and it’s how we deal with them that defines us as people.

Anyway, I’ve moved this site over to GitHub Pages. I’ve been meaning to move the site since September or October, but finally got tired of paying $10 per month to host a website I really wasn’t working on. In early December, I came across a post from Phil Haack about how he had migrated to GitHub Pages, and decided to give it a shot. I even stole his theme temporarily, but have been making a number of custom changes. The template features in Jekyll make it a snap to do.

Sadly, in that same article, Phil also bemoaned the demise of SubText:

It’s with a heavy heart that I admit publicly what everyone has known for a while. Subtext is done. None of the main contributors, myself included, have made a commit in a long while.

Initially, I built my first site on Blogger. After a couple of years of that, I moved over to SubText and ran it on for quite a while. I made other half-hearted attempts to run other software, but just couldn’t find anything I liked. SubText really was the software that I spent most of my time creating content on. I’ll miss that package.

At some point I’ll get into more detail on how I have this site set up with GitHub and Jekyll. There a number of other resources out there that will help you get things running. Most of them helped, but I ran into a few snags that took me a little while to work through. I can’t help but notice some of the similarities between Jekyll and Blogger, but I definitely feel like I have a lot more power under Jekyll. This in spite of the fact that GitHub Pages doesn’t allow custom plugins to run; but the simple solution is to run Jekyll locally and then check in the published content. This is similar to how Octopress runs.

Anyway… maybe I’ll actually stick with creating content on this site for a while. I don’t care if it’s considering blogging or writing or just simply blathering on. I look forward to having an outlet to randomly throw some words up to from time to time, because sometimes I vehemently feel like I need to say something that absolutely nobody will read.

Asus Zenbook UX31A Review

I’d like to start by stating that the Asus Zenbook UX31A is a spectacular machine. Although I’ve only owned it for about a week, I wanted to detail some thoughts about this Ultrabook in case anybody is considering it and would like some hands-on information about the overall experience.

In my previous article, I spent some time detailing my search for new a new laptop. That was a fairly comprehensive accounting of what ended up being important to me. I’ll touch on many of those features here also, but to really understand my mindset when I made the purchase, please refer back to that article.

At just under three pounds, Asus has managed to deliver an impressive looking machine that not only looks great, but also packs quite an impressive punch in the performance category. I’ve owned a number of laptops, but I’ve always felt the need to have a desktop that I can remote into to do the heavy duty work. The Asus Zenbook is the first machine that I believe will be able to replace my desktop for almost everything I need to do. The only thing I can’t do is to utilize optical discs as there is no on board drive. I hardly ever do that anyway, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything here.

Asus Zenbook PackagingWhen I picked it up from Best Buy, opening the shipping box was a delight. I’ve owned laptops in the past that weighed more than the entire shipping box. Beyond the boring shipping container, the Asus Zenbook arrives in a well designed piece of packaging. In addition to the machine itself, a number of extras are included. There is a nice brown lightweight sleeve that fits the Asus Zenbook perfectly. It won’t offer too much protection if it’s dropped, but it definitely will prevent scratching during transit. Additionally there are two provided dongles, as USB to Ethernet adapter and a Displayport to VGA adapter.

There are two Ivy Bridge processor options available for the Asus Zenbook UX31A, the Core i5 and the Core i7. I weighed the options and decided to opt for the i5 as I couldn’t justify the price increase to move to the i7 processor. I also have a sneaking, unconfirmed suspicion that I’ll get additional life on the battery with very little performance loss, even for larger tasks like software development and video transcoding. As for memory, it comes with 4GB of memory soldered on. Unfortunately this means that it isn’t expandable, but I decided that wasn’t enough to deter me from purchasing the device. The 128GB solid state drive (SSD) is amazingly quick and really pulls it all together.

Streaming Sons of Anarchy via Amazon’s 720p Prime Instant Video service. The display itself is brilliant, with a full 13.3? 1080P IPS panel. It’s quite crisp, bright, and extremely easy on the eyes. What’s even more impressive is that it’s also a touchscreen, which really makes the touch portions of Windows 8 (like the improved Start menu tiles and apps) work well.

The backlit keyboard is very responsive and feels great to use for the most part. The only time I’ve felt discomfort comes when I’ve tried using it at an awkward angle, like lying in bed. When that happens, my hands sometimes rest on the deck, and I can feel the shape of the unit puts some rounded but still somewhat sharp edges right under where the wrist lands. This isn’t the normal location for your wrist to rest, and is ergonomically incorrect, but might cause discomfort to some. The trackpad is fairly large and easy to use. Asus provides their Smart Gesture software, allowing for gesture controls with multiple fingers a la the Apple Magic Trackpad. Some have reported that the trackpad on the Asus Zenbook can a bit tricky to use. I didn’t have any problems, but I’ve updated to the latest drivers just in case.

The machine arrived with about 70GB free on the SSD. I loaded a number of software packages on to the machine, including Chrome, Visual Studio 2012, SQL Server Management Studio, Dropbox, Trello, WebMatrix, Icenium, GitHub, BitBucket, etc. and still have about 50GB available. However, this doesn’t take into account things like photos, software projects, and the like. I assume that I’ll have to do some juggling, but I believe will be worth it. Besides, that’s a great use of an external drive: to store information that is infrequently used. Plus they’re small enough nowadays that tossing an external into the case or sleeve along with the Asus Zenbook shouldn’t add so much weight that the total is unbearable. From a day-to-day usage standpoint, the Asus Zenbook continues to excel. I’ve been able to switch to using it as my primary machine, and so far it’s been a great machine. I’ve performed a variety of tasks ranging from article editing to software development to streaming movies, and I’ve never seen a hiccup on the machine. Any performance loss that I’ve seen from selecting the Core i5 appears to be more than made up by the improvements of moving to the SSD.

Overall, I believe it’s safe to say that the Asus Zenbook really does a good job of fulfilling the expectations set forth by Intel for machines that carry their Ultrabook marketing designation. Unless something comes up that I’m not expecting, I’m looking forward to using this machine on a regular basis.