Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Madness

I'm in three NCAA brackets this year. It's become an annual event and now people start hounding me in early March for the one I run for "fun" with friends and family.

By "fun" I mean no money is involved. I'm in a similar one with the guys at work. I chose very carefully in this one researching and comparing results for the teams then I went to great lengths to make sure these two were the same choices. I am sucking greatly in both these two pools - but they are the same. In my pool, I'm in fifth and moving up and the other I'm in the middle of the pack.

Then there is the one my brother invited me into. It is not for "fun". I was checking it out and because I am in bracket on the same site for one of the other pools, it automatically submitted my name. I didn't even know the site did it until my brother sent me an email telling me how fun it was going to be.

So I submitted a bracket.

And now I'm in second with eight teams left.

I have no idea what I picked and why. It does not match my carefully selected picks in the other two brackets which explains my current position.

Every time I look at the site, I think it's kind of like having Alzheimer's. I find myself saying "did I pick that"? I'm pleasantly shocked every time I check the site.

It's like hiding your own Easter eggs.

When I first joined the bracket, the only other contestants I knew were my brother and his wife. I figured I better make my presence known and so I started trash talking the guy that ran the pool. I attacked his ivy league school that was in the tourney and had little chance of moving on.

I figured it was like prison - pick a fight with the largest guy you find on the first day to show how tough you are.

When he wrote back a rather witty reply, I froze up like George Costanza, thinking of reply like "oh yeah, the ocean called and they want all their shrimp back", only too late.

Now I just let my "picks" do the talking.

In the pool I run, I can't help but gather data. I wrote a stupid perl script that screen scrapes the standings all during the Tourney so we can go back and see who was leading when in snapshots. Sorry, this what I do.

So here's to Louisville winning it all and final four of OK, Pitt and Uconn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Oldest son was home for last weekend, bringing a friend at the last minute. We always enjoy having him around of course but the Sunday night run to Seton Hall is not a fun as it first was. This last trip was made more interesting with a combination of the Credit Card on the EZ-pass expiring unexpectedly and then me forgetting about it until the last minute.

As everyone was in the car ready to go, I was frantically trying add $25 to the account over the internet on the world's slowest computer. Of course the pressure was too much and I fat fingered the information the web site was asking for and it took so long that they sent a search party up to look for me.

Of course finding me on the computer when everyone was in the car led to my wife doing her district attorney on cross examination impression. "What are you doing?","Why the hell did you wait until now?", "Use that card, no the other card" etc etc. There was cursing.

I also had about $4 in cash. Not really enough to make to South Orange and back.

Finally it added $25 to the EZ-Pass account and we were off.

Everything was good until entering the NJ Turnpike on the EZ-Pass lane showed a "LOW BAL" from the EZ-Pass sign. Great. What does that mean? Did it take my $25 and not update the account? Is the account updated but not reconciled with the NJ Turnpike?

I had about $6 on the account before the attempted replenishment. Is that enough to make it to Exit 11 and back? I have no idea how much the toll is. I usually have EZ-pass and that just sort takes care of it. What, I have to get a paper ticket now like the great unwashed? Never! Sit in line? Not after enjoying the benefits of whooshing through the EZ-Pass lane for so long.

I decide I'm going through EZ-Pass hell or high-water but of course I have an hour and half to mull it over. Should just go to and ATM and get money? What I paid one of my dollars on the GSP? Are there back roads?

I used the blasted EZ-Pass all along the way and it just kept saying "PAID EZ-PASS LOW BAL" like it was "PC LOAD LETTER".

Here's a "sign" of the recession: A large number of the large outdoor advertising billboards on the NJ Turnpike were blank. I'm assuming that meant they could find no advertisers. They were all lit up and perfectly white.

It was wierd.

We made the whole trip in exactly 3 hours. I was falling asleep at the end so I purposely got on I-295 just to keep me awake. It's like a washboard and the excitement of a bumpy road was enough to keep me up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I have become Vundu, destroyer of laptops.

I finally have a usable laptop again. Last week I accidentally picked up a piece of malware that was a nasty bugger to get rid of. I spent a good deal of time on Friday and Saturday trying to get the thing removed. My antivirus found the remnants but was unable to remove the spyware. I tried at least 5 different freebie removers until finally today I got the thing off my laptop.

It was a pop up generator that worked with both Internet Explorer and Firefox and it was kind of interesting in that it targeted the pop ups to what ever I happened to be surfing. If it was a car site then I would get pop ups about buying a car. It was really kind of frightening how acurate the ads were.

It made me wonder if anyone actually ever follow the pop up ads that are killing their machine. I mean some one has to otherwise why would they go through all that trouble.

Anyway by this morning my machine was useless with the disk drive light on constantly. It turns out it was my antivirus at work. The malware was trying something that the antivirus didn;t like and so it was preventing the action and writing an xml record for every-single-attempt.

There were thousands of them. I felt like scotty in engineering - "I can't keep up with 'em cap'n"

Finally Malwarebyte's Antimalware free program got the Vundu!grb off the laptop.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Life is not like a commercial

I'm sure we've all seen the commercial where "random acts of kindness" inspire another, less random act of kindness and then there one big, happy, chain of kind events that leads back to the original "random act of kindness". The latest example I've seen is below where it's one big happy kumbaya of kind acts.

If the above commercial were real life it would be about 10 seconds long and not end very nicely.

Here is a real life example:

Last night my wife and I went to the new Maggiano's in Cherry Hill. Cherry Hill needs another chain restaurant like I need another barking schnauzer but it's new so we tried it.

It was hard to tell there was a recession going on. The place was packed and had a 1 hour wait for a table when we showed up at 6:45 PM. We stood in line, gave a fake name since ours is difficult to pronounce and got our giant, flashing, vibrating pager and went over to the bar to wait it out.

My wife ordered a raspberry lemon drop martini, I had a beer and we found two seats in the bar area at what can only be described as a breakfast nook. It had eight seats, four on one side , four on the other and my wife and I took seats opposite each other. The nook was located in the center of the bar area with the bar on one side and booths behind.

Next to us was a nice couple that had decided that the wait was too long and they where going to eat at the nook.

Since we were all sitting on top of one another at the nook, it was impossible to not interact with the crowd and we ended up chatting with the couple next to us. They were from East Falls, yada yada yada. They are black, we are white Italian and now I feel like I'm in some racially diverse commercial. I'm looking around for the Asian man I'm going to save from the falling boxes like the commercial. It's one big happy place.

The guy doesn't say much but I figure it's because he's hungry and well, he's a guy.

At one point the East Falls guy tells us that the table of three behind me is about to get up and the tables around the bar are "first come first serve" and I should grab it because they are getting up.

Now I have a job. I have to watch the table behind me and interact with my wife and the rest of happy people at the nook.

When I think the threesome is getting up, I get out of my seat and am hanging around the table.

My night out has turned into a stressful game of watching and waiting, riding that thin line between polite and aggressive. I don't want to look like vulture and I don't want to wait 45 minutes either. Tough call.

The waitress sees me and tells me that the table with the older couple next to the threesome is getting up first and I should get that one instead.

I move the waiting game over to the couple's table. I'm nonchalantly drinking my beer just out of earshot and I'm sizing up the competition. No one seems to notice that a table is coming free. The new couple's table is in a good spot since it is the table closest the door. Well it's not really their table as we'll see later.

From my vantage point I can pretend I'm waiting for someone to come in, eying the door, hovering nearby and ready to pounce on my table.

I'm waiting and waiting. The older couple is getting their stuff together and moving about. I figure I'm in. Things get a little dicey where's a problem of some sort with the credit card but is quickly resolved.

They get up and I get in the booth before they have their coats on.

We have a table!

The waitress prepares our table and tells us that last week there fights over the tables at these bar. It's easy to see how this is possible. combine Liquored up people, an opportunity for aggression and a primal need for food, throw in some orange tanned, steroid pumped, oompa loompa and this is a recipe for disaster.

We are eying the menu and I'm not sure if the raspberry-lemon thingee talking or not but my wife wants to buy East Falls a dessert because "they got us a table". I talk her out of that because A) I'm not really comfortable with it and B) Clearly, my tactical hovering skills got us a table.

Besides sometimes such things have unintended consequences.

East Falls pays their check and leaves and we say good-bye.

We are eying the menu and my wife wants to "pass along the kindness" that the East Falls couple showed us - just like in the commercial.

Maybe I'm cynical and jaded. I think East Falls guy just wanted us to not sit on top of him while yacking when he ate and found a win-win. He did not save me from on coming traffic and save my life.

Next she decides that our act of kindness is that she is going to pick who gets our table. She sees a party of three heading out door and she chases after them almost to their car and offers our table to them. They were leaving because the wait was too long. I'm wondering what was in that raspberry-lemon thing and thinking we should not get involved.

We are gathering our bags of Maggiano's delicious left overs and coats and waiting to pay the check. We get to talking with our selected candidates for the table. They are nice people from Marlton, they have kids in college, they have kids just starting driving. Just like us.

We really like these people. We are connecting with these people. We really want these people to have our table. We are thinking we'll go home having warm thoughts of our new friends from Marlton having a nice dinner at our table.

It's like we are looking for adoptive parents for our table. These people will take good care of our table. We choose you, Mr and Mrs Marlton for the honor of taking our table because we know you will love and care for our table.

After I pay the check, we stand up and the five of us are gathered around the opening of the booth, chatting away and wrapping things up and this squat little Indian woman pushes her way through our little gathering, says something about how she was standing there before we were talking to Marlton and it's Her table.

Mr Marlton says "hey we can all share the table" but it's too late, Indian woman swoops in and sits down.

It's done. Marlton losses the table.

Now it's really, really awkward.

They are stoic about the whole thing saying "it's not worth fighting over table" but it's not like before when we were their heroes and "made their year". We dragged these people back into the restaurant and now they have no table and never got on the waiting list.

I don't recall if we actually saw the Indian woman standing near the table, hovering or not. But it doesn't matter now. She's seated and a slight young Indian looking man sits with her. I guess it's her son. We don't like them at all.

The last 5 minutes of our stay in Maggiano's ruins the whole thing for me. We were having a good time until the witch from India stole the table.

I'm sure that she has a different perspective. Maybe she has a blog and a story about how the people at Maggiano's tried to give away their table to their "friends" but she heroically stepped in and saved the day.

We say good by to Marlton, leaving them hanging with no table and head out. It's very awkward.

Of course the Indian woman dominates the conversation on the ride home. I told my wife that "life is not like a commercial" and to just forget about.

But it's hard.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

February odds and ends

This week marked Youngest sons 16th birthday and in New Jersey that means only thing. Another year until he can drive. Oh sure he can start with his permit this year after taking a state mandated "on the road" driving course, but he won't be able to take his test until his 17th birthday.

His birthday was a low key affair since we thought he would be at an event with the German club: a fasching party marking the last day before of Lent. Fasching ended early and so he was home unexpectedly.

I made him cupcakes. Vanilla with Vanilla icing. By request.

His mother and I sang him happy birthday while he blew out one candle on a cupcake. It was a little strange only having two voices singing the familiar tune, but it worked. We are used to at least three people singing.

Meanwhile, I spent the week making packaging which would safely transport a Vanilla cupcake with Vanilla icing to work as part of my lunch. It was like one of those engineering contest where students have to build a device that will safely deliver a raw egg off a 3 story building. It's not trivial and let's just say lunch usually ended with me licking icing off something.

This week Youngest Son also relayed a sad story from school. A student committed suicide over last weekend. His younger brother is Youngest Son's German class. Youngest son seemed level headed about it saying it was a stupid thing to do and the school sent the obligatory pre-recorded phone call around to all students homes that Monday night. It did not mention suicide.

Really just sad. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family that has to pick up the pieces from here.

Was it my imagination or was February snow-free? We have a touch of white on the grass and trees this morning and we are expecting the largest snowfall of the year for tomorrow morning. We were laughing last night watching the news as the last hour of February ticked away and a snowstorm was creeping up from the south.

It was as if it were waiting for midnight to move in to the Philly area.

We are expecting 6-10 inches for tomorrow.

In other news, I am addicted to

It has hilarious things like this list of road signs and this

Yeah, I don't know. If I'm going back in time with some stranger, I want to make sure they have done at least twice before and I want some money up front. To buy weapons.