Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yes, Palau! That's the 'PA' I Meant.

Computers think they're so fucking smart.

Well, how about settling this little quibble. I've been to Palau. It's nowhere close to Pennsylvania in terms of geography or economic importance. It hasn't even been a Minor Outlying US Territory since 1994, so how about kicking it off the US State drop down menu ( courtesy of of all people) and doing the 13 million of us living in Pennsylvania and regularly filling out our fields with 'PA' a favor?

No offense meant to Palau, tiny, awesome semi-autonomous island nation of 20,000 betelnut-chewing badasses. Your scuba diving, Chinese brothels and jungles filled with rusting brigades of tiny, WW2-era Japanese tanks, rock the party that rocks the body.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Signs It's Spring in Philly: Butter Krak

Possibly, no, definitely the world's worst-named candy, Zitner's Butter Krak, is being showcased with prominent cash register area placement at neighborhood Wawas in an apparent Philadelphia homage to trashy Easter traditions. WTF? Since when is Philly's 'krak problem' something to make light (fluffy candy) of? Let alone use as a device for marketing Easter candy to children?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Obvious Innovation Arrives in the Starbucks Splash Stick

Dude, apparently Starbucks Splash Sticks have been available for almost two years now. Which begs the question of how have I been so dim on my semi-regular Starbucks visits to miss these simple, helpful little devices.

I routinely put my coffee lid through a torturous road test including one-handing 1) my squirrely 11 pound dog Woodstock on leash; 2) pastry; and 3) coffee while I walk. (You may have already guessed that the other hand is busy with the task of poo bag, public sidewalk dog feces retrieval and disposal.) This ambitious task list usually conspires on several occasions to scald the multi-tasking hand with several splashes of hot coffee.

What you see above are the actual results of this morning's iteration of my combined coffee-run/urban dog walk. And that, my friends, is a fine, fine outcome considering the amount of erratic jostling Woodstock (who walks on a leash like a rainbow trout hooked on 2 pound test line) put that hand through.

Without the Splash Stick, I'd have horrible horrible burns. With the Splash Stick, there are a few small puddles, most of which came through the air-vent perforation above the sipping hole, and no burn-salve required today.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Healthcare Lifehack

Lifehacker is an inspiring place to go to for clever tips for optimizing your life. Whether its saving money on energy, defeating procrastination or learning how to work a room, they've probably got advice on how you could be doing whatever it is you're doing better. In pursuit of the ideal of adding value, I wanted to highlight a recent win I discovered which, inexplicably, isn't covered by Lifehacker.*

If you're married to someone else with a job, chances are one of you picks the health insurance and you both get on it and trust that the market generally serves equal pricing. In our case, we went with my wife's under the lazy reasoning that her employer (Tenet Health, a healthcare company) would provide good health coverage at a competitive price.

One again the old adage proved true, when you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME. I don't routinely examine my wife's pay stubs, nor she mine, but when I finally took a look I noticed what I first thought a typo, over $250 per pay period deducted for health insurance. Nope. We were paying over $500 a month for health insurance.

 A little digging revealed that we could save $150 a month by switching each of us to our own employers' plans. Better yet, we could save $200 a month by going straight to mine. We made the switch and are now enjoying an additional two fancy dinners each month.

The applicable point here is that the costs of group health insurance plans are not consistent and not a given. In a relationship where you might have options, you should research all three potential choices: both on hers, both on his (or hers again), or each on his (or her) own.

*Not incidentally, Lifehacker does have a Tips email address wherein users can 'Suggest a post': (And I just might do so)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Google Finance Gets Trippy

I found this an appropriately fuzzy interpretation of the stock market. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Woke Up Early, Flew to Salt Lake City

And here's the proof. Just another late winter day in Utah's capital.

I love flying cross country. Especially since I've driven the basic land route 7 times now, I'm starting to get familiar with the landscape and can recognize areas from 30,000 feet that I've passed over at 18 inches.

This morning's was a beautiful flight. No problems coming out of Philly and a wide pass over southern Jersey, Delaware and Maryland revealed the headwaters of the Chesapeake beneath a bank of thin, milky clouds. Most of its melted off in Philly, but there's still a lot of snow out there in the exurbs.

Not much else happened for the next several hours scenery-wise. Though I was reprimanded for chewing my gum too loudly by the guy sitting next to me, which totally threw my enjoyment of the in-air screening of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Throughout the remaining two hours of interpersonal awkwardness going on between seats 10B and 10C, I gathered through furtive glances at my nemesis' laptop that he was an attorney - figures he'd be so litigious about my gum-chewing habits. My revenge was spying and secret judgment.

Anyway, when the clouds parted again we were over western Nebraska, the sandhill region in the panhandle, specifically, and I spotted Lake Ogallala underneath a layer of ice in the distance. The only completely contrasting feature for miles amid a patchwork of dusted snow and scrubby brown range land. I only know about said lake because I spent a night in Ogallala on my 3rd cross-country road trip when the distance between Chicago and Jackson Hole proved too much for one concerted push. Driving in Western Nebraska gives one plenty of opportunity to absorb the available tourist literature on Nebraska's largest lake(!), readily found in truck stops, and wonder what it's like to bass fish and water ski on the dammed-up waters of the Upper Platte River.

Next we were passing well north of the Front Range and flying directly above I-80 in southern Wyoming. Here I recognized the Medicine Bow mountains, which constitutes the prettiest piece of I-80 for about 500 miles from Utah to the Nebraska border. A Google Maps search of the satellite imagery reveals this wild-looking place, which from the plane looks to be an impenetrable forested plateau with a rocky, above-timberline core, has actually been devastated by logging operations.

Then it was the primordial lands, dinosaur fossil-filled lands on the Colorado/Utah border.I wanted a glimps of the legendary high Uintas but didn't get it with the cloud cover.

Next stop: Omniture Summit.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Johnny Scofflaw Wilts Beneath the Pressure of Three Combined Bureaucracies

I may have mentioned during my road trip that I got pulled over and ticketed for speeding near Hays, Kansas in July. Well, clever me, moving to Pennsylvania, I promptly lost the ticket in a car chaotically packed with all of my worldly possessions and only thought about it one more time when I made a feeble effort to pay the ticket online at the Ellis County, Kansas website, which surprise has no high-end web functionality in place to support online payments.

Thus stymied, I forget about it and went on with life in Pennsylvania which included applying for a local driver's license. Which I finally got around to in October.

Before that, I got a Colorado driver's license in 2003 that wouldn't expire (in theory) until 2013. That was an awesome thing. It kept me out of the notorious California DMV for the ~5 years I spent on the West Coast and ensured I got the ultra-cool local's discount at bars in Aspen.

So sadly I departed with the myth of my Colorado life and registered in Philadelphia and officially returned to the grid by dint of having a driver's license and voter registration card at the same address where I'm paying taxes this year. This is the bureaucrats trap.

From time to time over the greater part of the last decade, it occurred to me that I might be in some kind of slow-burning administrative trouble since I was carrying a driver's license that reported my residence in a mountain-top condo in Snowmass, Colorado, while I only really lived there for 3 months in 2003. I imagined increasingly urgent summons to jury duty, now subpoenas and arrest warrants for contempt of court amid collection notices piling up in an unopened PO Box in Pitkin County while I led my double-life blithe and elsewhere.

Sometimes you expect a comeuppance, you roll the dice, envision an improbable, slightly-ridiculous arrest while on a ski-vacation with my kids in 15 years. That would have been more fun than what happened.

February of this year, I've had my PA driver's license for 4 months now and I'm feeling like I've beat the system again, (i.e., skating on the Kansas traffic ticket) when an unexpected string of instra-state cooperation produces a letter from the Commonwealth in my mailbox.

It informs that me that I have one month to resolve my differences with the State of Colorado, who has revoked my driving privileges pending my resolution of the traffic violation I received and neglected to pay in Kansas.

Unwinding this knot requires that I settle the fine with Kansas, get a note of resolution on Ellis County letterhead and send that in with a check for $95 to the State of Colorado who will then issue a Letter of Clearance that I must then send into the Commonwealth offices in Harrisburg so they don't suspend my Pennsylvania license.

I had a month to do this as of early February and just mailed in the all important Letter of Clearance last Friday. I'll be paying tickets promptly from now on.