These Motherfucking Laundry Baskets

I am the (proud?) owner of four laundry baskets.

One of these laundry baskets is at least 10 years old. It’s made of a plastic that…well…let’s just say it’s the Titanium of Plastics. It has under its belt 10 years of regular use (minimum: 3 loads of laundry a week). It has not bent. It has not cracked. It has not failed.

One of the baskets I purchased upon a relatively recent move – about a year and a half ago. One of the handles cracked and eventually came completely off. I use it no longer.

The other two are of identical make and model to the latter, purchased shortly after the failure of the original…perhaps in the hopes that it was some one-off manufacturing defect, or more likely because “it was at Target, it was cheap, and I needed a basket”. Their handles are cracked, they bend, and they are falling apart.

I could paint you a picture about the needs of apartment living, a scene in which in-home/in-unit washer-dryer is a thing of the past. A Saturday morning landscape with a hallway and a flight of stairs so narrow I trade knuckle-skin for clean clothes. I could talk about how sometimes my 2-year-old wants to come with me and happy to oblige I haul both her and a perilously-balanced and cheaply-made disintegrating piece of shit down that path.

But I needn’t.

My needs are modest, my requirements few. I just want a coupla laundry baskets that do not suck the peen.

So I turned to the Interwebitubes. Typically my savior in similar cases, Amazon has failed me in this. I started off with searching for “laundry basket” and eventually went so far as to look for the specific make and model of The One True Basket which I still possess. (Yes, the label is still legible after all this time – I guess In My Day they made things to last.) The brand still exists, the specific model does not.

Here’s the funny thing: pretty much everything I looked at had a rating of 3-or-4 stars – the expected meh distribution for something like a laundry basket. The hidden treasure is in the one-star ratings; almost to a man: “OMG the handles are cracking and falling off and/or it’s a bendy piece of shit.”

I enlisted my wife into The Hunt. She came up with some Ikea stuff that wasn’t bad…but too small. If you’re not bringing at least close to 2 bushels (~18 gallons, ~2.4 cubic feet) then you’re not even on my radar. She also found some new-fangled folding cloth jobby that seemed kinda sweet. By all appearances it was being marketed online by some Kickstarter-y Bay Area startup. “Item Currently Unavailable”. Imagine that.

At any rate, the motto would seem to be “Build a cheaper mousetrap and you’ll probably make a fuckload of money.” Well…I’m not looking for cheaper. I’ll beat a path to your door if you make me a better laundry basket.

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2012: The Year In Which I Get Organized

I came across the (free!) Scription Chronodex the other day (thanks, Lifehacker!) and thought to myself “Hey! There’s a cool idea!” So today I printed it out and spent some time putting it together. I thought folks might be interested in how I went about it, so without further ado:

Step 1: Nail it to a board

nail it to a board

[Actually, I guess Step 1 should have been “Download and print”…] This might not seem like the most standard approach, but I assure you it ended up working out okay in the end. I spaced the nails out about 2″. Note that had I planned this out a little better, I would have taken into account how I was going to bind the thing. This actually ended up working out okay, but next time I’ll plan ahead.

Step 2: Trim the edges

trim it

Just getting rid of the extra junk on the sides…

Step 3: Binding

binding

As I mentioned before, this is where things kind of got hairy. At first I was going to use some beading cord, but as I was wanking around trying to find a needle big enough and figure out how I was going to thread it inspiration struck. My mother-in-law gave me a packet of bobby pins for Christmas (kind of an in-joke), so why not use those? I had to widen the holes a bit to get them to fit, but a little patience and a lot of working the pins back-and-forth got them where I wanted them.

Once this step is complete, it should look something like this:

bound!

Notice that by sheer dumb luck the bobby pins happen to be about 2″ long, which makes them line up nicely. Not much to do now but…

Step 4: Make a bookmark

bookmark

I really liked this idea, so I decided to go ahead and replicate it. I just cut out a bit of a manila envelope, notched it so that I could slide it between the sheets and up to the topmost bobby pin, and voila!

bookmark: in

Step 5: Use it!

That’s really it – just start writing shit down, folks. 🙂


Five Years Ago

There are a few things I’ve learned since I graduated college. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that I’ve learned more since I graduated than I did in my entire four years. It might even be possible to say that I’ve learned more in the last 10 years than I did in the entirety of my time at school (16 or so years at this point), but that’s a little hard to quantify. I mean, how do you compare “I learned how to wipe my own ass” with “I learned that mortgages are expensive as balls”?

Okay, so I probably knew how to wipe my own ass long before I was in the first grade. My point is that it seems like every 5-10 years or so I look back at my 5- or 10-years-younger self and say something like, “Man, what an idiot I was!” I’d like to try and recreate that here:

5 (looking back on 0):

Good Lord, what a no-walking, no-talking, shitting-all-over-myself baby I was back then!

10 (looking back on 5):

Man, I’ve come a long way. I mean, I could hardly even read!

15 (looking back on 10):

Are you kidding me, with the playing tag and watching cartoons? If only I would’ve found out about girls sooner…

20 (looking back on 15):

If only I would’ve found out about girls sooner…

25 (looking back on 20):

If only I would’ve found out about girls later…

30 (looking back on 25):

If only I would’ve found out about compound interest sooner…

Alright, I probably didn’t do this justice – a one-liner per five years is pretty thin – but this is really meant to be food for thought. What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time 5 years?

 


Surprises

[Disclaimer: I’m a little scattered – typical “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation” state – so this post may be a little disjointed.]

I was thinking today about things I’ve been surprised by recently:

It Rains Inside in Mexico

Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration – maybe not everywhere in Mexico. The resort where we stayed in Cancun had a really impressive open entryway and skylights running the length of the hotel. (Note to self: Put more picture in posts. People like pictures.) This seemed pretty reasonable, given that someone told us they only got something like 30 days of rain a year in Cancun. Well…we happened to get 3-4 of those days. As it turns out nothing in that hotel was particularly water-tight, resulting in towels lying about on the tile for the majority of our stay. But hey, it was still 80 degrees, so no complaints.

AI Class

Turns out, there are some bits of Artificial Intelligence that are fairly tricky. Particularly if one hasn’t taken a statistics course in 10 or so years. And particularly if one is out of the country sans PC while the online courses are taking place, giving one a single day to watch all the video lectures, take all the quizzes, and complete the homework. It begs the question: Why on earth couldn’t they have done the easy unit on depth-first search while one was on vacation?

Blizzcon

Not that Blizzcon took place – that happens every year – but what was announced at this year’s con. Specifically: The next expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Again, it’s no surprise that they’re releasing another expansion; I’ve come to expect that about once a year out of Bliz. I figured they’d probably tweak around with the talent trees and all of that stuff. Pretty much par for the course for an expansion that adds new levels. …but panda monks? Seriously? This one might be where I call it quits with WoW. I mean, I loved the movie…but…seriously?

Yes, that’s actually Donald Knuth

A buddy of mine sent me a link to a video of Randall Munroe speaking at Google in 2007. I hadn’t seen the video before and I love xkcd, so I figured I’d go ahead and check it out. Well, it just so happens that one of the Googlers had arranged for Donald Knuth – yes, the Donald Knuth – to be present at the talk. In fact, she went so far as to get hime to ask Munroe a question about a comic he had drawn about Knuth. It took me a minute to realize what was actually going on. I actually thought they were just kidding around – “ha ha, the guy who asked the question must be Donald Knuth.” Not kidding around…that is, in fact, him. In the flesh. Awesome.


This Space Reserved

Coffee: check.

Cookies: check.

Ommwriter: check.

Some days, inspiration just doesn’t come. I do have an idea for this space – one that’s already partially-written, in fact – but I’ve got to admit I’m not 100% comfortable posting it just yet. I think I’ve also already got “one foot on the beach”, as it were – vacation next week! – so I’m having a little trouble thinking about much of anything but wrapping things up at work and getting packed. (Incidentally, I doubt very much that I’ll be writing anything at all while I’m in Cancun.)
So…I reserve the right to post something in this space at a later date.

[I know, I know, it’s a cop-out. I’ll try and make it up, though. :-)]


Things My Dog Taught Me

[This morning didn’t exactly go According to Plan ™, so I didn’t get a chance to write. Time to make up for it…]

My dog Jake is a decidedly dumb mutt. However, there are a number of things he’s taught me in the 7 years since we got him. I thought I’d share a few of these things.

  1. The stairs are a race. If you do not get to the top first, you lose. (Note: I always lose.)
  2. [corrolary to 1] Going down the steps needn’t be a race, provided (a) you won the race to the top (see 1) and (b) you obstruct the path of the guy who’s just trying to get to the first floor without killing himself.
  3. [corrolary to 2] In general, being underfoot is the God-given duty of any dog.
  4. Sleep close to your human. I mean, really close. The best way to go about this: wait until he’s settled, then flop down half-on/half-off his outside thigh so that you kind of slide down it. Maximum closeness: achieved.
  5. Loiter in the kitchen when food is being prepared. You might get lucky and end up with a little something extra to eat.*
  6. Ogden Nash put it best: “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.” Nuff said.
  7. Figure out the cues that signal when your humans are going to leave the house. Work, mom’s house, around the corner to grab some ice cream – whatever. Once you know the signs, flip right the fuck out when any of them are even hinted at. Seriously. If you hear the word “Go” and “Bye” in the same sentence – regardless of context – raise a proper ruckus.
  8. Peeing and pooping are properly done in two separate trips to the back yard. Doing both at once would be just…barbaric. (I mean what are you, some kind of animal?) Best to do #1, wait until your human gets good and comfortable, then let him know it’s time for #2.
  9. It is perfectly okay to wake up from a long night’s sleep, mozy on over to a different locale, and lay down for a long morning/afternoon’s nap.
  10. On getting in the car: You must be in the car first, as soon as any door is opened.
  11. On riding in the car: Attempt to stand for as long as possible. Yes, you’re going to get tossed onto the floor at the first red light. Totally worth it. After crashing to the floor at least once, you have the option of laying down. Whining and/or sticking your head out the window also optional.
  12. On getting out of the car: You must be out of the car first, as soon as any door is opened.

Okay, I’m sure there is more, but I’ve covered a lot of bases and 12 seems like a nice, round number. What has your dog taught you?

* – In all fairness, I do this, too.


Castle on a Cloud

I woke up singing this song to myself this morning. No idea why – I haven’t seen/listened to Les Miserables in a really long time – but along with a recent event it inspired this post.

A friend of mine recently left his job for an opportunity at another company. He had a handful of personal files on his computer at work that he didn’t want to lose, so on his second-to-last day he went about trying to put those files somewhere that he could get at them on his machine at home. So far this doesn’t sound all that unreasonable. …however, due to some fairly draconian security policies put in place by his employer he was blocked at every turn.

First thought: I’ll just zip up my files and transfer them to my phone. (This might not have actually been his first thought, per se, but it was one of the things he tried). No dice, I’m assuming because they disallow connecting USB devices to corporate workstations. Next up: email it to himself. This doesn’t work either, as outbound communications with attachments have some kind of encryption requirement and GMail is blocked. Oh, I know: Dropbox! Blocked. In fact, from this point forward consider every popular website that might be useful for this sort of thing to be blocked. So…what to do?

Well, that’s about the point that he sent me a panicked email: “Dude, brah, <my employer> put some blocks in their blocks so I could get blocked while I’m blocked. Help!”

…and this is the part where I get to say “To the Cloud!” heh

So what was my magic solution? Well, first I logged into Amazon EC2, on which I already have an account as I’m currently using it to host my personal web site, and I spun up a new Linux virtual machine instance. I spent 10-15 minutes wanking around getting a public/private keypair set up – largely because I didn’t have my private key at work and I’d forgotten how to set up a new one – and got logged into my new server. I installed Apache and PHP, and I Googled “PHP file uploader”. A few minutes and a little copy-and-paste work later and I had a workable (and, for the record, ridiculously insecure) file upload page. So I sent him the URL…and it failed miserably. A little more Googling to find the Secret Sauce for increasing PHP upload limits (if you’re curious, there are about 5 places where config changes have to take place to allow this) and voila! My buddy uploads his file, I pull it down off of the VM and email it to him.

So that’s the cloud. What about the “castle”? Well, I’m not feeling particularly clever this morning, so I’ll just give you the gist of the idea that’s been kicking around in my head. My buddy’s employer blocks all of the websites that they know about in order to improve “security”. Now, this is likely required for the auditors’ sake and that’s all well-and-good…but in what way is it really improving anything at all if someone with a free hour and a little know-how can circumvent it entirely for what are, I’d say, legitimate reasons? I think this sounds like a classic case of a pretty common practice that can be described with something like “Security through Inconvenience”; i.e., “If we make it harder to use then it will be secure because people will give up after 5 minutes of trying. We win!” Much like Security through Obscurity, it’s an illusion set up under false pretenses to give the appearance of being secure – a Castle on a Cloud.