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25 June 2012

Dogs are cool.

Just woke up from a dream in which I was trying to decide which book to buy next to read on my Kindle (I had been doing so in real life about 3 days ago). Was considering Dave Eggers' You Shall Know Our Velocity!, which, in my dream, was described as the story of a dog who is adopted towards the end of his life by a new owner. The dog wants "You Shall Know Our Velocity" to be inscribed on his tombstone, and needs to find a way to communicate this desire to his human companion. It is very important.

You'd read that book, right? I would read that book. I'll probably read the book Eggers actually wrote, too, but can someone please begin writing the book with the dog immediately?

10 February 2012

Review: Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having seen so much of the film output that this book inspired, I expected this book to feel stale, somehow. Not. At. All. I wish I'd read it years ago, but it's no less gripping now.

View all my reviews

08 February 2012

a milestone

I started exactly one year ago, tomorrow. Right now, the pace of traffic is such that on the page's one year anniversary, it'll pass the 100k all-time views mark. And that's just for the main blog. If you count all the traffic at (which is harder to track because of how Tumblr works) that mark was passed a long time ago.

I realize that's small potatoes for a lot of bloggers out there, but I've had a lot of blogs, (notably this one, and the music blog that I toiled away at for years but whose name turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy) that still haven't reached that milestone. So for me, it's a big deal. I'm really proud of what the PWN the SAT has become, and I look forward to continuing to refine it.

Also, I've missed writing here. I'll probably fail at this, but I hope to get back in the habit of posting here. I've really been enjoying my work at The New School, for instance. Maybe I'll talk about that.

07 September 2011

Check out this epic voicemail I received this morning.

What do you think? Should I call him back? He sounds pretty legit.


I got another a few hours later. It's clearly a scam, and now I'm motivated to put more information up here in case others are experiencing the same.

The calls are coming in from (817) 400-7605, but that's probably a spoofed number and I'm sure they're really coming from overseas. If these guys call you, just ignore them. If you happen to pick up, I dunno, maybe pretend you're a cop? I think that's what I'm going to do if they call me again.

27 May 2011

I rule at laser tag.

There's actually a lot going on in my life right now, despite the utter disregard I've displayed for updating this blog lately. Those of you who know me in real life probably already know that although I'm still doing some SAT teaching, I've stepped down from my director role to allow me to head back to school this fall. I'm super pumped about that.

You might have wondered, also, about the "new project" I referred to in my last post about all the javascript I threw together in an amateurish way. I've been trying to put together a web resource for kids who want to study for the SAT on their own, and it's now built out enough that I'm not embarrassed to share it with you. I don't imagine many of you are studying for the SAT yourselves, but if you know someone who is, send them my way.

Neither of those are the reasons I sat down to type this update, though. I got motivated to say "hello" again because I just found evidence of one of the greatest feats I've ever accomplished, and I wanted to post it here before I lose it again:

One day in 2006, I went to Laser Quest with my family and played three games. AND I CAME IN FIRST PLACE ALL THREE TIMES. I am a laser tag master. Read 'em and weep.

21 February 2011

JavaScript, Google Spreadsheets, and Ultimate Victory

I like a project now and then. So the other day, I decided I was going to try to save myself some time on this new blog I've been working on. Three days of Googling, reverse-engineering code, and muttering cusswords in my sleep later, I will now be able to save a few seconds every time I make a post there.

The problem:
I wanted certain words to link directly to a dictionary every time they appear with a special link color, and I didn't want to take the time to go to the dictionary myself every time, copy a link, paste it into Blogger, and set the special link class myself.

The solution:
This is so stupid, but since it's a Blogger-hosted blog with no hosting of its own, I couldn't do any backend work. So I decided instead that I wanted to make a list of the target words in Google Spreadsheets (easy to access, easy to maintain), and create a JavaScript that would access that list every time the page loads, find the target words, and replace them with links to searches for those words in Google's own dictionary. That is to say, I wanted the script to change "pusillanimous" to "pusillanimous" when it found it on the page.

08 February 2011


In college, my friend Joe and I had a pretty good way of coping with annoying classmates (the ones who would waste the time of everyone else in class by talking out of turn and trying to get into pissing matches with the professor). We'd draw them (or, stick figure versions of them), and then draw wavy lines emanating from all the places stink could possibly come from on a person. Armpits, feet, butt, mouth, etc. It was good fun, and we still occasionally reference Stinklines #2 or Stinklines #4 when we get together.

I've just started doing some post-bacc work at City College of New York to ease myself back into academia and to shore up some holes in my undergrad work as I'm applying to grad schools, and while I've only had three days of classes so far, I'm really enjoying it. Really and truly. I had no idea how much I've missed learning. It's funny because I've spent so much of the last few years teaching kids SAT strategies, so I'm in classrooms a lot, but I totally forgot how great it is to be in the seats, instead of at the front. I have not missed, however, being in a lecture of 300 people and discovering that 2 rows behind me, there is a Stinklines.

My microeconomics professor tried to illustrate a point today about impure public goods by asking us to imagine a system by which, instead of countless umbrella vendors taking to the streets when it rains in NYC and countless hapless New Yorkers buying cheap umbrellas with a 10 minute lifespan, there were simply buckets of umbrellas at the door of every building in New York. Umbrellas would become essentially valueless. Nice job professor, point made.

No. Wait. Someone behind me wants to argue that such a system wouldn't work! She says, in increasingly exasperated tones, as though she's impatiently explaining something to a child, that people are lazy, and would just keep the umbrellas instead of dropping them in the buckets. Duh! No amount of explaining from the professor that it's a simplified example to illustrate a point will do. She is steadfast; she will accept no further explanation. Such a system is deeply flawed. It's ridiculous. She knows. She is a Stinklines.

A Stinklines will not back down once she's begun. She operates as if the only way she'll be satisfied is if she's able to extract an apology from the professor for ever saying something so silly in the first place. She knows only her own concrete reality, and will not suffer others who might see the world differently. She is smarter than the professor, and in reality should be teaching the class herself.

Lest you think I'm intolerant, I feel I should clarify what a Stinklines is not. He is not just someone who speaks up a lot in class. Questions are wonderful and encouraged, and often I was wondering about the same thing myself. He's not even someone who argues with the professor occasionally.

A Stinklines is a person who argues without thinking critically, so convinced is he of his righteousness, about minutae usually only tangentially related to the topic at hand. He sits in wait for the entire class period for the professor to say something he finds suspect, and pounces. He is almost always wrong. He is never convinced of this.

We speak in simplified terms because that's how we massage ideas in our minds. That's how we learn. High school physics students learn the principles of Newtonian physics and how to apply them in frictionless vacuums, even though real life scenarios are anything but. Students of philosophy perform thought experiments in theoretical constructs that could never in a million years exist. In the same economics class, we operate under the fictional universe in which all economic actors make fully-informed decisions motivated by self-interest 100% of the time. But a Stinklines thinks it's really necessary to argue about the viability of a free umbrella exchange system in New York City.

07 February 2011

What a pain it is to cancel an eFax subcription.

I know I kinda ask for this kind of treatment by seeking out a free trial of a service that I plan to use once and then cancel, but I just tried to cancel my membership to eFax and I'm wishing I never got involved with them in the first place.

You know you're into something shitty when there's no "Cancel My Account" option in the "My Account" section of the site:
You know you're into something even shittier than you thought when you go to the FAQ section of the site, find that one of the most frequently asked questions is about how to cancel your account, and find that the answer is to chat live online with a customer service representative. And when you click the link to do so, you find this:
Not only is the image broken there, the link is too. Click it all damn day. It won't work.

I suppose I could get on the phone (and I still might have to), but since I hate talking to people I decided to look around for a back door to the chat.  I found one on the "Contact and Customer Service" page:
And then I had the following conversation (Note: I did not actually buy a fax machine as I indicated in my reason for leaving; I just thought that would be the option least likely to prompt a save response offering me a discount -- I was wrong).
Chat InformationPlease wait for a site operator to respond. You are currently number 1 of 1 in the queue. Thank you for your patience.
Chat InformationYou are now chatting with 'Matthew'
Matthew: Welcome to our sales chat. How may I help you?
Mike: Hello, I'm trying to cancel my eFax membership
Matthew: You have clicked on “Live Sales Chat” and have reached the sales department. We are only able to setup new accounts and have very limited access to existing accounts. If you need to cancel, we have a special support team to take care of that. 
Mike: The link to access that chat is broken
Chat InformationPlease wait while I transfer the chat to 'Beth C.'.
Chat InformationYou are now chatting with 'Beth C.'
Beth C.: Hello, Mike. Welcome to eFax online support. I am Beth, your online Live Support Representative. How are you doing today?  
Mike: I'm trying to cancel my eFax account, and the link to do so directly is broken
Beth C.: I will be glad to assist you with the cancellation request via this chat session. Would you like to proceed?
Mike: Yes, thank you.
Beth C.: Could you please provide me your fax number, registered email address and billing zip code for verification?
Mike: 1718*******, ************, *****
Beth C.: Thank you for providing your information. Please give me a moment while I pull up your account. 
Beth C.: In the meantime, please type the number corresponding to your reason for cancellation:
Beth C.: 1) Moving to another provider
Beth C.: 2) Bought a fax machine
Beth C.: 3) Business or role changed
Beth C.: 4) Short term project completed
Beth C.: 5) Financial reasons
Beth C.: 6) Problems with faxing or billing
Beth C.: 7) Dissatisfied with quality of service
Beth C.: 8) Too costly
Mike: 2
Beth C.: Mike, as we'd like to keep your business, I can offer you a plan that will let you keep your eFax service for just 14 cents a day. 
Beth C.: You make one annual payment of just $50 and pay nothing more unless you exceed 30 pages per month. Extra pages are just 15 cents. This deal won't be available once your account is closed. Can I switch you to this savings plan which lets you keep your fax number for just 14 cents a day?
Mike: no thank you, I just want to close the account.
Beth C.: OK, I will go ahead and cancel your account.
Beth C.: Is there anything else, I may assist you with?
Mike: no, that's all, thank you
Mike: is there a confirmation number?
Beth C.: Sure. An email confirmation will be sent at your registered email address.
Beth C.: Thank you for contacting eFax online support. I hope you found our session helpful. Goodbye and take care. 
Mike: thank you.
Chat InformationChat session has been terminated by the site operator.
Of course, I still haven't received my confirmation about an hour later, and I have been back to the site to make these screenshots (including accessing the "My Account" page) since that conversation. At this point I'm doubtful that eFax has any intention of allowing me to cancel my account without actually getting on the phone and talking to someone.

It's not a really big deal, obviously. I've got the time to do it. But I can imagine there are plenty of people who don't, and who therefore let a few $16.95 monthly bills pile up for a service they don't use before they finally get around to navigating this system.

Really makes me think I should have just found a local place and spent the $0.30 it probably would have cost me to send the one fax I've needed to send in years.

I've done a little Googling since I wrote this all down, because I was feeling guilty about posting this only an hour after the fact, and thinking that maybe I should give the poor folks at eFax a break. Turns out, of course, I'm not the only one who's had a problem. Conclusion: F these guys. Don't get involved with them.

In the end, I did get a confirmation email about 3.5 hours after I posted this. So, in fairness to Beth C., she was good for her word. The whole process still left me feeling resentful, though.

04 January 2011

The first week of the new year brings...

  1. Coffee-related inspiration. I've been putting chocolate milk and cayenne pepper in my coffee for the past week or so, instead of milk and sugar. Pros: a lasting spicy tingle, less sugar.  Cons: I've become a bit obsessed, so I'm back to two cups a day from zero cups a day a few weeks ago.
  2. Some good documentary viewing.  Amy and I watched Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop via Netflix a couple days ago and I know it's been out for a while but it blew me away.  Then yesterday we went to see Inside Job, which is about our current economic armaggeddon, and you must see it. Trailer at the top.
  3. Free time.  I stepped down from my job at the end of the year, so although I'll still be doing a ton of teaching in the new year, that's mostly at night and on the weekends, and my weekdays are free.  I'm using my newfound downtime to apply to grad school, look for jobs, get back in shape, and remain stagnantly horrible at Halo: Reach.

20 December 2010

Dyker Lights, 2010

dyker lights brooklyn
We made the annual trip down the road to Dyker Lights last night, which, if you don't know, is what they call it when a bunch of houses in Dyker Heights (in Brooklyn, between 83rd and 86th streets and 13th and 11th Avenues) pay decoration companies to make their houses look like Christmas in Disney Land. I'm being snarky, but it's truly awesome, and we go every year. I love this shit.

This year I decided to take some pictures, because although you see tons of people there with cameras, good pictures of the magic are hard to come by online. I regret to say they still will be, because I'm a terrible photographer. Still, here's what I've got:
dyker lights brooklyn
This house is actually on 14th Avenue and about 10 blocks north of the action, but I thought it was cool anyway.
dyker lights brooklyn
I'm a terrible photographer because there's a huge Santa (more than 20 feet tall if he's an inch) and I failed to get him in the shot.
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
This is a topiary of a dancing bear; there are about five of them in this yard. I kept trying to get a good shot of them, and mostly failed.
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
The best shot of the dancing bears.
dyker lights brooklyn

dyker lights brooklyn
This Santa was moving. I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be waving, but it sorta looked like he was spanking this kid.
dyker lights brooklyn
dyker lights brooklyn
This bear (whose skin was falling off in places) was my favorite part of the whole thing.