Saturday, October 22, 2011

Week 7 Number One Fantasy QB Kyle Boller?

There's something seriously wrong with Sports Illustrated's Week 7 Fantasy Football player projections:
Your eyes don't deceive, they're ranking the Raiders' Kyle Boller #1 among Quarterbacks (even though it's looking like Carson Palmer will start) and calling for him to account for 1 passing and 4 rushing touchdowns. WTF SI? That's just irresponsible.

Snorkel Adventure with Brad Pitt

I'm Brad Pitt. Welcome to the inner monologue, where I work out anecdotes, phrases and sound bytes in masculine voice over, color-commentating on the large-living glamour parade that is my life in lyrical lusciousness and bon mots with an ineffable, world-weary cool.

Angie, me and the kids have just arrived in the Maldives for a fabulous beach vacation. All checked into our villa and Angie and the littles are tired so I've got the wonderful opportunity of an afternoon to myself for the first time in so long I can't recall.... I'm taking a toke and going for a fucking snorkel.

My FedEx package of t-shirts was at the reception just like my assistant said it would be and wadded up inside the bundle of t-shirts in several nested layers of mouthwash-filled ziploc bags is my ounce of escape -- the finest Sao Paulo North Slope trip weed money can buy, a ceramic chillum and a box of matches from the BOA on Sunset. Why reuse when I can resupply? I have the money and don't need the headaches of any kind of security BS even though I pretty much go where I want with minimal hassle. (Except Germany, where they even hassle Mick Jagger.)

But the herb's still the word when I'm defining relaxation and since Angie gets a little peevish with her malnourishment already making her tetchy and not digging on the stoned-dad routine, it's better to keep things separate. The FedEx package tails us at luxury hotels around the globe addressed to my unemployed man-of-means alter-ego Bobbi Gula. Anyone knows Bobbi, and this includes high-end hotel concierges, knows the drill. That's Brad Pitt's stuff traveling incognito.

Which is super rad on the most perfectly breezy, crystalline blue and green water tropical beach in the Maldives. This is what it's about. Palm trees. White sand. A couple of monster rips from the chillum and then I'm wrapping my kit in a beach towel and fussing with my neoprene booties so I can hit the reef with my brand new Mare scuba fins and snorkel mask from Italy.

I'm sporting some scruff, which is how I roll when I'm relaxing = not shaving. This can create problems with mask seal so, I've got some spiffy silicone gel I smear in my 'stache and that makes for a swell, watertight seal and keeps the puddles from obscuring my vision, which after all these years I'm proud to say is still 20/20.

The water is beautiful, 82 degrees and crystal clear, with the mid-afternoon sun sparking it just right so the light dances off the bottom like a macro-kaleidoscope and the colors are really popping like mad. The coral growth is spotty this close to shore, but I can see the rim of the lagoon a few hundred yards out where the big old Indian Ocean rolls in to meet the proper reef. There's water spraying into the air where the rollers smack the more ambitious coral heads and that's where the action is.

I start to kick out there over the shallows with big stretches of sand and patches of turtle grass and pass over a half-buried stingray, kind what killed the Crocodile Hunter by piercing him through the heart with it's stinger (gnarly), and a young barracuda whose reflective skin almost makes him invisible above the sand. He vanishes with a flick of his tail as I draw near.

Soon enough, I notice the bottom dropping away from 10 feet down to 25-30 or so. The bottom's still sandy, and I pull my head up out of the water to have a look around and reorient in the way air-breathers must. Apparently, I've reached the channel where boats entering the resort breach the barrier reef and cross the lagoon to the pier.

This is semi-dangerous territory for a relatively little snorkeler (though I'm still all beefcake), it'd be easy for a cruising boat captain with a little liquor in him to miss me bobbing in the waves moments before his hull, keel and prop grind up the world's most celebrated living actor to chum. Nonetheless, I have to brave it.

I check both directions and start kicking hard to cross the channel. This is the ocean-going equivalent of running up the stairs from the basement after flipping off the lights. You're 99% sure you're going to make it, but you hold your breath all the same, waiting for the strike of fangs on your ankle to signal impending doom.

Soon, I'm back over the shallows on the other side and kicking confidently for the barrier reef. The coral heads are more consistent, lush and thriving this side of the channel and in turn I'm noticing more and larger fish: a school of green parrotfish as big and wild as a herd of American buffalo; a moray eel thick and muscular like my thighs(!); a neon-orange clownfish family living in a vast, electric shag carpet of a sea anemone; a trip-a-delic peacock flounder and holy shit a giant fucking clam. It's the size of my suitcase with thick, olive-spotted lips and I take a breath and kick down to the bottom to get a better look. Captain Nemo's in my head, warning of pearl divers drowning with their legs caught in the bear-trap grip of the giant clam. I can't resist and reach out to test this animal's reflexes. I dart my hand in and out, nudging the slick, firm flesh inside. It jerks slowly and contracts about a foot in a matter of several seconds, expelling a jet of clam-water that strikes my mask and might have smelled were my nose not covered. No way a clam could catch a man with that slow a response, plus which the shell doesn't even fully close. Disappointed? No. Edified. I'll never try to undo a villain by giant clam. And our hero snorkels on.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gems of the Web: snowfall database
Tony Crocker's '' is another all-substance, no-style labor of love that I am putting forth as an old school gem of the web. Written in simple, iframe-era HTML with no appreciation or ambition for the aesthetic of web 2.0 or the intriguing possibilities of data-visualization with something as palpably measurable and comparable as snowfall, Crocker has built a dogged and complete curation of North American ski resort snowfall data going back to the late 1990s (which, judging by the look, is the first and last time the site itself experienced any design work).

Clearly Tony and I have few things in common: a passion for skiing and fascination with weather and data. He's created a resource here that I would probably want to create myself if it didn't already exist. The painstaking data collection itself is one thing: accurate, organized and, I would suspect, mostly manually curated from a wild variety of sources as I don't think there's a lot of RSS of snowfall data going on. But there's also the analysis from a skier's point of view with a candid account of the what matters to the people seeking this kind of information: powder.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Assassin Bug

Ever since I was a small boy who chanced upon the terrifying spectacle of a pair of mating beetles on the sidewalk in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I've maintained a horror-fan's fascination with the insect world. So naturally, I was intrigued when I spotted this creeper lurking near the entrance of our house on the Eastern Shore. 

It's a buggy place out there for sure, particularly on a steamy midsummer night when the lights stay on inside and the windows become irresistible, luminous magnets for a teeming, insectoid phantasmagoria of unimaginable variety. Watch and you'll see everything from sub-tropical jumping spiders to fantastically woolly caterpillars to clambering katydids (which are apparently vicious predators). 

But none so far had topped this freaking stranger. Which is about as weird as that unidentified bastard I discovered in my shag carpet last year. So I was duly stoked at the opportunity for another cloud-sourcing experiment to uncover the nature of this little beastmaster. But for my own skills at internet searching, I quickly verified the identity of my discovery and thus spoiled the mystery while adding to my own trove of trivia.

Per the excellent website,, (a gem of the web, no doubt) this is a 'wheel bug' of the assassin bug family of 'true bugs' of the order hemiptera and famous for the painful bite it inflicts with that absurdly large rostrum. Yikes!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Don't You Hate It When...

Cab drivers jam you for taking advantage of the credit card payment systems their cabs offer?

Traveling for work, as I did Thursday morning, requires exact documentation of my costs for reimbursement. Whenever possible, I like to pay with the company card to keep my cash in my pocket, create the electronic record and not blur the lines. I've been using Victory Cab for my scheduled cab travel around Philly, to the airport and 30th street station mostly, because their dispatch service is generally prompt and they take credit cards. And until Thursday morning I hadn't got much guff from Victory drivers for using plastic.

But when I asked to charge as we pulled up to 30th street, I got one of those exasperated groans, followed by an agro semi-statement of sorts: 'I only take cash.'

Um, let me count the signs saying I can use a credit card: credit card logo stickers in the windows, the taxi riders 'bill of rights' entitling me to plastic purchase, and the flipping credit card processing machine stuck to the plastic bullet shield separating me from the driver.

I'm going to have to insist, I told him and persisted with the credit card. He grumbled some more about not wanting to start his day with credit card. Which I understand.* But a) would you rather not have the business? And lastly, don't give my your grief since you (taxi driver) implicitly agree to the terms of compensation as a cab driver when you sign up for duty. You don't like how your employer processes credit card tips, that's not my problem, take it up with your asshole boss and spare me the awkwardness and guilt. I like my cash just as much as you do.

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's Going to Get Hot in Philly

Here's a look at the hourly forecast for today, July 22, 2011 provided by

Is it strange that I'm actually excited about this? See, thanks to the overwhelming humidity, the heat index accompanying today's heat is supposed to reach 115 degrees, which would be the hottest outside temperature I will ever have encountered.

As a young lad in Boise, Idaho I once experienced the mercury rise to 111 degrees, tying the all-time Boise record set in 1960. But that was a typical Great Basin dry heat, with humidity in the 10-15% range. It was toasty, for sure, but bearable and also relieved nightly by the crisp interlude of the high desert night.

Philly's humidity today will range from 55 - 69% and temperatures will peak around 101-102 around the 4 o'clock hour for an insane heat index of 115. There will be no relief with darkness either. I plan to be outside for some or all of this phenomenon to get the most savage taste of suffocating heat seen this side of Libya.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watch Out When Porting Service From T-Mobile (Evil Bastards)!

On June 15th I signed on with AT&T and joined the iPhone revolution. I had been with T-Mobile for over 2 years so I was now month-to-month and figured there would be no issues with letting AT&T do the dirty work of ending my relationship with T-Mobile (which in the end isn't really ending the relationship, since AT&T is buying T-Mobile).

So I was surprised today to receive a 'final' bill from T-Mobile for $85.14, which was about what I had been paying for a full month to cover the vestigial 6 days in June before I canceled by account. In the bill I found the following line item Monthly Recurring Charges explaining my debt to T-Mobile:

Partial monthly charge for G1 UNLDATA 400MSGS from 6/09/11 to 6/14/11 $5.00
Partial monthly charge for G1 UNLDATA 400MSGS from 6/15/11 to 6/15/11 $19.99
Partial monthly charge for myFaves 600 from 6/09/11 to 6/14/11 $10.00
Partial monthly charge for myFaves 600 from 6/15/11 to 6/15/11 $39.99

In plain English, T-Mobile recognizes the 6-days pro-rata usage in the billing cycle up to termination but is charging me the full monthly usage anyway as an 'F you' to send me out the door. Cue outrage!

I called the Customer Service Number immediately and was stonewalled by a powerless(?) peon named Meredith with vague allusions to the dreaded 'Ts and Cs' (terms and conditions) to which she asserted I'd agreed and that seemingly bound me to this full charge for monthly services upon termination of my account if I didn't call them myself to inform them of my intent to leave. She was certainly powerful enough to handle me.

Here's a look at the language (relevant bit highlighted in blue) I could find in the Terms and Conditions:

Somehow between when I signed up with T-Mobile in 2008 to now, the Ts & Cs changed from what I had originally agreed to: You will remain responsible for all fees and charges for your Service and usage through termination (T-Mobile Ts & Cs, 2008). Was the world a better a place in 2008? Because this seems fair to me. It honors 'termination' as the point ending usage and debt for said usage and just generally makes sense in the universally fair, pay for what you use doctrine. Apparently between then and now all that changed was T-Mobile found an avaricious lawyer to comb their Ts & Cs for loose language that could be keeping them from squeezing every last penny from their customers victims.

While the new clause is patently unfair, it doesn't exactly seem ironclad. The 'may' seems pretty squishy and 'may' be the loophole I use to fight back here if I hear back as promised from Meredith's manager 'Shannon.' Whom Meredith was quick to point out  was equally powerless and couldn't override charges I'd agreed to in the Ts & Cs. Otherwise, in the pretty standard lawerly-way that corporate Ts & Cs screw consumers, I'm limited to arbitration rather than court to settle disputes with T-Mobile.

In the end, all of this is a long-winded, ventilating way to say that I'm probably getting fucked out of $60 by T-Mobile. Not the end of the world, but it still really pisses me off. Imagine how much bad profit T-Mobile is making through this little clause change in aggregate. And what a backhanded and cowardly way for lawyer-driven companies to squeeze the common man out of a few more bucks. It really is outrageous.

I have faith that awareness helps, if I keep shining lights where the Man doesn't want people looking maybe I can keep the next guy from losing his $60. Then, maybe I can count that $60 as good karma in the bank and hope that companies reverse course on cloaking themselves in legal protection from their customers and don't do what's wrong just because they can and it earns them a few bucks in the short term. Hopefully this costs T-Mobile more customers than just this guy.