Don't Call It a Comeback

As I've detailed in previous posts, I was having a very challenging 2011. I say "was" because the second half of the year is turning out to be great. Three things have shaped the rebound.

The first thing is I won a charity poker tournament. The charity proceeds went to a relative of a poker league player that needed a kidney transplant. The top four players, me included, "chopped" the pot. "Chopping" is a poker term for splitting the pot. I made over three times my money. There were 40 players in the tournament. I then went on to win in my league nine days later. I also won a league game a month earlier. I hope my hot streak continues as I'm playing in two more charity tournaments in October and November.

The second thing is that I got a new job. I know what your thinking, "didn't you just get a new job in June after being unemployed for a few months?" Yes. Back in June, I got a job with a defense contractor working on a contract with the Postal Service (USPS). If you watch the news, you know that the USPS is having major financial trouble. Their fiscal year ends September 30th and the contract was up for renewal. I was doubtful since every financial transaction was being scrutinized. The wife and I were concerned if I would be out of a job just a few months after being unemployed for 4+ months earlier in the year. I had other concerns as well. I was using outdated software and there wasn't much work to do. This job was not good for my career. At most it was a stop gap. At the same time, a company I interviewed with back in March contacted me about the same position. I never heard back from them after the March interview. It seems that they were having a hard time finding a senior ColdFusion developer. They went back to review all the resumes they had obtained and contacted me in September to see if I was still interested. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. The position offered me an opportunity to get into object-oriented programming using current technology and software that was new to me. It would be a positive challenge that would be good for my career. I was offered the position and happily accepted. And it turned out to be in the same general area of DC as the USPS job, so my commute would be the same. It was lucrative as well.

The third thing is the most exciting-Jennifer is pregnant! Shock Jr. number two is on the way. She is due May 18. We go from double coverage to man-to-man. Keep up with the family and the coming attraction at the Shock Family Circus blog.


Shock Family Circus: Coming Attraction at the Shock Circus

Shock Family Circus: Coming Attraction at the Shock Circus: Oops! We did it again :) Another Shock baby is on the way! Our bundle-to-be will be arriving some time around May 18th, 2012. Fletch is ver...


Chris Neild has memorable debut, big beard

 just had to share this. It involves my favorite football team and one of my favorite hobbies. Chris Neild has memorable debut, big beard - DC Sports Bog - The Washington Post. My favorite quote "It’s like Bam Bam Bigelow, that’s the look he goes for”. Here's an earlier article about Neild shaving off the beard.
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Shout Out

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a member of the athletic aesthetics cult. Although I've been a long time reader of the Uni Watch blog, I've never contributed until now. That's right, I got a shot out in the UW ticker. I sent in three Redskins items to Uni Watch founder and writer, meat aficionado, and Mets fan Paul Lukas. He posted what I thought was the dullest of the three items I sent in. I guess the other two will get posted in future tickers or they will be part of the upcoming annual ESPN NFL uniform article, which is also written by Lukas, or maybe they will be ignored. Regardless, I'm happy.

I noticed after re-reading my Monochrome post from November 2008 that I foretold of things to come for the Redskins, at least in the uniform department- "Or bring back the yellow gold pants, like they wore in the '70s." The Redskins did that very thing last season. Thanks to the Gridiron Uniform Database blog (another of my favorites) for the image. Hopefully they'll be wearing them again this season. 


Rage Against the Green Machine

In my ongoing series Rage Against the Machine, I explore my love/hate relationship with technology. Earlier this year I detailed our string of technology mishaps. Two of those dead devices are headed for the recycle bin-the HTPC and my XP laptop. Since going to computer heaven, their carcasses have been taking up much needed space in the closet. I didn't want to just throw them away. That's not the proper method of disposal. Having finally stripped them of their vital parts-hard drive, optical drive, RAM, peripheral cards-I took them to Best Buy to have them recycled. Good riddance to the HTPC, it was more trouble than it was worth. Hopefully it's second life will serve a greater purpose. My "bachelor laptop", so named since it was the computer I bought for myself after I lost custody of my previous computer in my divorce to my first wife, will be missed. It was the first laptop I ever owned. Maybe both machines will be recycled into playground equipment or for use in prosthetic limbs.
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The Dudeist Bible: Just Take It Easy, Man

This is about as religious as it gets for me: Cathleen Falsani: The Dudeist Bible: Just Take It Easy, Man.

If you didn't know, I'm an ordained Dudeist priest. I'm available for weddings and other official ceremonies.


In The Right Place At The Right Time

I've recently been fortunate to take pictures of things that made me chuckle. The first thing is a car with a unique moniker- "Chode". It's actually a Ford Focus. It was parked in a residential neighborhood that I walk through on my way to the bus in the mornings. I'd like to ask the owner why they put that on their car. If the Urban Dictionary definition of chode is any indication of what the owner thinks of his or her car, they should get a different one. Maybe it's an inside joke?

The second thing is the name of this children's novelty train ride. It's called the "Du-Du Express". That's what they came up with? Seriously? It's hilarious but I'd like to find out the origin of the name. The Du-Du Train's website doesn't have any explanation.

Lastly, I ran across this very unique mailbox today while out canvassing for a friend who is running for office. That's a manatee and her pup. It's made of concrete and stands about five feet tall. The neighborhood is not close to any large body of water but it's a bizarre mailbox to have regardless. I didn't get a chance to ask the owner about it.
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Adventures in Unemployment

2011 has been a challenging year for me. Challenging = being laid off from my job and all the things that come with it. My job search has also been tough. Before I get into the details let me give you the disclaimer- "Names have been changed to protect me from being accused of defamatory statements, to protect the innocent where applicable and to spice up this post with some humor". January 10 of this year was my eleventh anniversary of being in the IT industry. Two days later, I was laid off from my job at CrapCo after four and a half years. I knew it was bound to happen eventually because there were a lot of signs- two  acquisitions, offshoring, new technology, lots of big changes, and budget cuts- but instead it happened suddenly without warning. I was planning on leaving CrapCo this year anyway after two acquisitions, low team moral and reaching my burnout point. I wanted to go out on my own timetable and on my own terms, but it was not meant to be. The new year was a great line of demarcation. I could start my exit strategy. I had discussed the idea with my supervisor so he wouldn't be blindsided. He knew I wasn't happy and neither was he. The first step was my resume. I thought one of the best things I could do to improve my chances of getting a job in this economy was to have a rock solid resume, so I had it professionally drafted. Ironically, I finalized my resume the night before I was laid off. Good timing!

The lay off went like this - around 1:30pm on January 12, the new CTO sent me an instant message asking if I would call into his conference line. I had never talked to the guy, so I didn't know what to expect. When I called in, HR was also on the call. That's not a good sign. He told me my "position had been eliminated". The first and only conversation I had with him and he lays me off. Pretty shitty right? I pinged my supervisor and he told me he was told the night before that there would be lay offs, but he didn't know who. He gave me the rest of the day off. My new full time job became finding a new job. Dejected, I unwillingly entered the world of the unemployed.

Due to my paid grade and tenure at CrapCo, I was entitled to 12 weeks of severance pay and three months of subsidized COBRA medical insurance. I thought three months would be more than enough time to find a new job. I started my job search immediately. A fellow laid off co-worker, Turtle, and I registered for a job fair sponsored by the Washington Post. It was mainly focused on those with a security clearance, which neither of us had had for a long time. The fair was smaller than we imagined, so it was slim pickings. Not a good start to my job search. Ironically, we ran into an ex-coworker of ours at one of the booths. Small world. His company, Cup of Joe, provided 6 weeks of free training in the Java programming language, then found you a job. Here's the catch-you had to sign a two year contract! The ex-coworker had left our company on bad terms and he wasn't a very good developer. So we didn't think much of a company that would hire him. Although learning an in demand programming language was appealing, I didn't want a contract job. They are finite and don't come with benefits which doesn't work for someone who has a family to provide for. Turtle and I made small talk with him, put our names on the Cup of Joe contact list to be nice, then quickly moved onto another booth. I talked to all the companies that had web development opportunities. I thought one or two of them had potential. I just had to wait to see if they felt the same way and would contact me for an interview.

The first website I posted my resume was the Washington Post Jobs website. A recruiter from a small government contractor, White Rock, saw my resume and contacted me regarding a web developer opportunity in DC. I was brought in for a face-to-face interview. It went well and for all intents and purposes I had the job except for one major detail - White Rock was the subcontractor and the prime contractor had to approve it. Meanwhile, it only took Turtle around two weeks to find a new job. He got a job with a different small government contractor in downtown DC. Turns out that company was the prime contractor to the White Rock position and instead of allowing White Rock to fill the slot with me, the prime went ahead and filled the spot with one of the candidates for Turtle's position. There was nothing White Rock could do. I got screwed by my friend's company! What a small world. I would have been working with Turtle but instead the prime contractor pulled the rug out from under me.

After losing out on the White Rock job I posted my resume on Dice.com because things were moving slow including networking with my friends in IT. I should have posted my resume immediately after getting laid off, not a month later. But once it was posted, the calls from recruiters started pouring in. I got a few phone interviews but mostly I sent my resume out to never be contacted again. But I know the game, that's how it works. Meanwhile Cup of Joe sent me an email inviting me to their next orientation. I had a couple of good job opportunities in progress but decided since I didn't have anything definite, there was no harm in going to the orientation. The least I could do was listen to their dog and pony show and get a free lunch. About a dozen people attended the orientation. Ironically I was the only developer in the group. Everybody else had IT related jobs but knew nothing about object-oriented programming. But that wasn't really a deterrent to getting accepted into the training program. I just had an advantage coming from a programming/web development background. Later that afternoon I had a face-to-face interview for a consulting job with one of the Big 3 accounting firm's government services division. I was really excited about this opportunity because the company had exceptional benefits, paid well, had good training and development, and it would be a good move for my career. It also started with a group orientation and included 3 separate one-on-one interviews with people from different components of the business. I felt I did well in those interviews.

A few days after the Cup of Joe orientation I was contacted and told I was accepted in the training program. I hadn't heard back yet from Big 3 and didn't want to pass up the training opportunity, so I accepted. I negotiated terms of the contract, increasing my hourly rate and reducing the duration to a year and half. I also figured if it wasn't for me I would keep myself on the job market. During the first week of training I had a phone interview during my lunch break with a telecommunications company that started dabbling in government contracting. I went down to the vacant basement of the building to get some privacy. The job was  six month contract-to-hire and paid lower than my salary requirements but the recruiter said the job was in Fairfax just a few minutes from my house so I decided to pursue the opportunity to have a very short commute in exchange for less pay. During the interview I learned the job was not in Fairfax but in Bailey's Crossroads which is not accessible by public transportation. I'd have to buy a car which I didn't want to do. The recruiter called me the next morning and said the TelCo company liked me and wanted me in for a face-to-face interview. I told him I didn't want to pursue the opportunity because it didn't provide me the work/life balance I was seeking. I figured one or both of my other opportunities would pan out.

On Wednesday the president of Cup of Joe called me into his office. He told me someone from his staff had overheard me on the phone interview. I don't know how that happened since I was in the empty basement of the building. I guess they had spies or something. I vaguely remember someone getting off the basement elevator during my interview. I guess that was one of the spies. He told me that he didn't want me looking for other jobs while I was in the training. He wants all students/employees to be dedicated to his program. He didn't want people taking the training then not working for them since the training is free and the company invests a lot of time and money into it. There was a financial penalty if a student left the training after the first week. I was still in the first week of training. I was pissed about them eavesdropping on my personal call and being all up in my business, but I didn't say anything about it. I told him I always have a contingency plan. I have a family to provide for and they couldn't guarantee me a job after the training, even though they say they have a 100% placement rate. That's just my typical paranoia. He gave me an ultimatum - stop looking for other jobs and stick with the training or leave the program. He wanted an answer tomorrow. Later that day, Big 3 called and said they lined up a final interview on Monday. That's just what I needed to hear! It made the ultimatum decision easy. The next day I told Cup of Joe that I was leaving the program.

On Friday I was back at home having quit the training program. I went out to lunch with the other members of my training class to update them on my situation and say goodbye. They wished me well and asked to keep in touch. Later that afternoon the Big 3 recruiter called to tell me that the final interview was canceled because the job they were going to assign me to didn't have any open spots. If that was the case, then why did they even schedule me for a final interview? The recruiter could have found that out prior to scheduling the final interview. This royally screwed things up. That was it for the opportunity at Big 3, I had quit the Cup of Joe program for the Big 3 job and I discontinued my pursuit of the TelCo opportunity. First thing I did was contact Cup of Joe and asked if I could come back into the program. I assured them I would be focused and dedicated solely on their program, but they declined. They didn't give a reason. I figure they felt scorned. I had hurt their feelings. I had to move onto Plan C. Despite my misgivings I swallowed my pride and called the TelCo recruiter back and told him I would like to be reconsidered for the job. I was desperate. I'd been job hunting for a month and a half and had suffered three major setbacks in my job search so I went back to what I felt was a sure thing. I was only a few days out from the TelCo phone interview, which went well, so the recruiter was happy to put me back in consideration.

I had a face-to-face interview with the TelCo company on Friday March 11, almost two months to the day when I was laid off. I asked one of the interviewers who lived in Fairfax how long it took him to get to work. He said about 45 minutes in the morning and around 1.5 hours in the evening. I worked for a large government contractor for 5 plus years to start my career, so I knew the environment well. I knew I wouldn't be working over 40 hours every week, so the commute would be during rush hour. DC metro traffic sucks so I know that most days it would be a terrible commute especially since I would have to drive it. I was right about the opportunity being a sure thing. A couple days after the interview the recruiter called and offered me the position. I accepted-despite my concerns-knowing that it would take three to six weeks to get my security clearance; time in which I could continue looking for a job that would provide me a better work/life balance and meet my salary requirements. I ended up buying a car and mentally preparing to work a government contracting job again meanwhile continuing my job search.

It took almost six weeks for my security clearance to be processed. I was scheduled to start the TelCo job on  Monday, May 2. During that six week period I had a few more interviews. Most notably was an interview with a large defense contractor (I'll refer to as DefenseCon). The timing came down to the wire as the interview was scheduled on the Friday before the Monday I was start at TelCo. DefenseCon offered me the job later that day. This job paid much better, the job location was accessible by public transportation, it was a three month contract-to-hire, and the benefits were better. So I had to accept it right? It had been almost four months since I was laid off and my severance was about to run out. Unemployment is chump change and we wouldn't be able to live off of it. I had started doing field inspections part time, but it was time consuming and not very lucrative. I used part of my emergency fund to buy the car, so we only had enough savings to last at most a month and a half. I would have to wait for another security clearance but there was nothing I do about that. That's just the cost of working for a government contractor. I accepted the job. Now I just had to break the bad news to TelCo. I didn't want to have that conversation over the phone so I drafted a simple email.

I sent the email around 3 pm on Friday. I had gotten the job offer only a hour or so earlier and it took some time to figure out what I wanted to say and how to say it. I got a call from the recruiter very shortly after sending it. He was cool about it. He asked what happened and I told him that my original concerns about the job didn't go away just because I wanted to be reconsidered for and ultimately accept the job. But I made the choice that was best for my family. I felt it was better to quit before I started then go in on Monday and quit on my first day. It was just weird timing that the DefenseCon job offer came when it did. A few minutes after talking with the recruiter his boss, the client representative, who I had only spoken to once previously, called me up and chewed me out. He told me how unprofessional I was. He told me he the DC job market is "small" and that he held a lot of weight in the local recruiting community and that I would never find a job in the area again. He asked me what he was supposed to tell the client. I answered "that's not up to me." He told me how much the client spent on the security clearance process. My retort was that I spent the same amount buying a car to commute to that job. I told him I had to do what was best for my family. I think then he hung up on me or we conveniently got disconnected. He called right back but I didn't answer. That was the end of that.

Although I had the job I wanted, I still had to wait. It took three weeks to process the DefenseCon security clearance. It was processed on my birthday, which was a great present. However it took another three weeks for the client, Snail Mail, to determine my start date! I didn't start working until June 15. We were on the brink of running out of money. Everyday I waited I got more depressed. I didn't want my family to see me like that, so I did my best to disguise my grief. I cried when I finally got the call from the recruiter telling me my start date. I've had other tough situations in my adult life, like being physically assaulted in a bar in 2001 and getting divorced in 2005, but neither affected my family directly. The missteps I took and mishaps I suffered during my job search can all be chalked up to bad timing.

I made constructive use of my down time. I digitized our entire CD collection and uploaded it to the cloud. I tried my hand at the field services industry but found that it wasn't for me. I took an investment class. I planned on reading a few books but that never came to fruition. :(

After all is said and done, it feels great to be a working class stiff again.
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Blog Facelift

It was time for another blog facelift. I've changed the layout. The new look is simple and easy. The old design was too dark. I hope you like the refresh. Enjoy!


Google Music vs Amazon Cloud Drive [UPDATED]

UPDATE 6/6/11 @ 11:30am EDT - Google Music is limited to 20,000 songs.

I received my Google Music invitation this morning and immediately signed up. Google Music is a cloud based music service. Once you upload your music files they are accessible from any internet connected computer. There is also a Android app for smartphones and tablets. Amazon also has a cloud music service called Cloud Player. The files are kept in the Cloud Drive. It also has an Android app. I signed up for it when it first became available a couple of months ago. Although the overall concept is awesome - the ability to access your music 24/7 from any web-enabled device without having to access a hard drive and making the storage of music on your iPod or smartphone obsolete - the two services are a bit different.

Amazon Cloud Drive allows for storing all types of files. You get 5GB of free storage, and if you buy an album from the Amazon digital music store, you get an upgrade to 20GB free for one year from date of purchase. You can purchase additional storage at $1 a GB up to 1k. The cloud drive is separate from the cloud player. However, they are linked-your music files stored in your cloud drive are accessible in the cloud player. Amazon wants you to purchase from their digital music store and the incentive is music purchased from it doesn't count against your storage space, which is nice. The cloud player allows for all digital music store purchases to automatically be saved to your cloud drive so you can listen immediately after purchase. One disadvantage is that new music not purchased from the mp3 store is not automatically added to the cloud drive. You have to upload it manually. In order to upload music to the cloud, the free "Amazon MP3 Uploader" app has to be installed on your computer. The cloud drive and player are free. All you need is an Amazon account.

Google Music is currently in beta and invite only, but should be available to all Google users in a few months. It's very similar to the Amazon service but with three key differences. First, Google has free but limited storage of music files. The limit is 20,000 songs. Although there is a limit, it is substantial. I doubt there are many people with a digital music collection containing greater than 20k songs. Second, Google doesn't have a digital music store. Third, Google's service is platform independent and allows for automatic upload of music files from Windows Media Player or iTunes, so whenever you buy new music, it's automatically added to Google Music. It's part of the Google suite of cloud apps so if you have a Google account, you're good to go.

The Winner: Google Music by a narrow margin.

P.S. Apple has a cloud based music service coming out on June 6 called iCloud.
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Car Free Once Again

Cross posted at the Shock Family Circus blog.

As quickly as it arrived, it was gone. I no longer own my 2000 orange Miata I named "Orangina". The job I bought it to commute for I quit before I even started for a job that is Metro accessible. Despite how much I liked the car, I didn't want to keep it if I'm not going to drive it on a regular basis. We lived with one car for three years before I bought Orangina, so I wouldn't be blazing uncharted territory. But we went a step further. We traded in the Miata and our beloved Xterra, a.k.a. "Ruby" for a "family" car. We bought a 2012 Mazda5 wagon. Known to car enthusiasts as the "minivan for those who hate minivans". And we hate minivans. We're back to being a one car family but with a 6 passenger family car. We've already broken in the car Shock family style by hauling our hairy dog in the back on our holiday weekend roadtrip. He definitely left his mark.

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DIY project - car audio

This really isn't a "DIY" project so much as a creative solution to a problem. The Miata's antenna is broken and the car still has the OEM Bose stereo (complete with cassette player) so it doesn't play mp3s or have a hard drive or SD slot. So with no radio all I could do to have tunes in the car is CDs (I don't have a portable cassette carrier). I didn't want to have a large cache of CDs in the car. We've had a satellite radio in the Xterra for years so I've gotten used to commercial free music. Although the previous owner wired for satellite radio I didn't want to buy satellite radio hardware because that limits me to only being able to listen in the car. I also want to be able to listen to it at my new job. So I added the inexpensive online subscription to our existing account which allows for listening online and through a phone app. I bought a FM transmitter/charger for my Google Nexus S Android smartphone. This enables me to listen to satellite radio in my car using my phone. And if I get tired of listening to satellite radio I can listen to my entire music collection via the Amazon cloud player app which enables me to listen to my digital music collection stored in Amazon cloud storage. Now I have access to endless music wherever and whenever I want. See the pics for my car setup. I've found a few drawbacks- 1. there is a digital hiss coming through the speakers that can be heard when the music is soft. It's probably due to no clear FM tuning because the antenna is missing. 2. The low placement of the phone on the center console makes me have to look down if or when I have to make adjustments or using the navigation. I need a dashboard mount like the ones used for GPS units. 3. The location of the plug and the size of the FM transmitter makes shifting into fifth gear a little challenging. I found orienting the transmitter vertically solves the problem (see pics). It also makes seeing the transmitter's display easier for the driver. A clever trick inside the creative solution! Maybe I should rock out old school and bust out my tapes to see how the cassette player sounds.


Beard Team USA News

World Beard and Moustache Championships
Beard Team USA leaves for the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Norway in just one month. We have a very strong squad hoping for a successful defense to America's title as the leading power in international bearding.
You can view BTUSA's starting line-up for the worlds attached to this email.  For my category-by-category analysis of the competition, check out http://www.worldbeardchampionships.com/news/category-by-category-analysis-of-2011-wbmc/. Go USA!

Whisker Wars
BTUSA is about to get even more famous.  Whisker Wars, a docu-series about Beard Team USA by the producers of the Deadliest Catch and other popular shows, is set to premiere on August 5 at 10 pm on IFC.  Set your Tivos and fasten your seat belts.  

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DIY project - ashtray lid part 2

The second part of my ashtray lid DIY project involved the painting of the lid. I went to Home Depot for spray paint. I brought the ashtray into the store with me. There wasn't any really close color matches. One of the associates suggested I get the lid color matched with regular interior house paint and use a small spray gun. See the supplies in the pic to the right. Another great idea not thought of by me! So I bought the spray gun and a Behr paint color sampler that can be customized. Total cost about $8.30. A small investment for a large return.

I had a hard time getting the spray gun to work. It wouldn't spray paint. I had to thin the paint enough to get it to go through the feeder tube. I finally got the gun to spray paint. The color match is dead on but the finish is not. I should have bought a semi-gloss instead of a satin finish paint. The crack is still visible, but I can live with that. Check out the after and before pics below.

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DIY project - ashtray lid

repaired ashtray lid

repaired ashtray lid open
The first thing I noticed when I got into Orangina, the orange 2000 Mazda Miata I just bought, for a test drive was that the center console ashtray lid was cracked down the middle. The right side of the lid was gone, seemingly forever. I figured if I bought the car I'd just remove the ashtray all together which would leave a tiny storage bin. Luckily I found the broken lid piece in the glove box. Thank you previous owner! The two pieces fight together perfectly, with no chips or gaps. I just had to figure out a way to fix it. I figured some strong glue would do the trick. I'm not an adhesive expert, so I went to my local home improvement store. I showed one of the clerks what I wanted to do and he suggested plastic epoxy. The stuff worked worked great. Check out the pics. I used mineral spirits to remove the excess glue. Now all I've got to do is bust out the spray paint to make it look like new. Another successful DIY project.
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DIY project - wheel center caps

In my post about my new car, Orangina, I listed some items that needed to be fixed or replaced. The tires were the most critical, since that's the only part of the car that actually touches the road. The tires that were on the car when I bought it were old, cracked and worn out. They had been on the car for way too long. Apparently the 2000 Miata has an odd tire size, 195/50/R15, because none of the four tire shops close to my house carried them or could even get them. Michelin makes an all season Exalto in that size, but they were out of stock. The Costco tire clerk suggested TireVan, a local mobile tire store. They come to you. It's a great business model and I couldn't be happier with the service I received. You order the tires and schedule installation from the website. It couldn't be easier. TireVan carried the Michelin's, which were pricey,  but also had a off brand, Maxxis, in the Miata's size which were much cheaper and actually rated better overall than the Michelins. After doing some internet research on Maxxis tires, I found that they are makers of bicycle and ATV tires and are apparently big in the drifting community. Everyone who owned them seemed happy with them. So I went with the cheap no-name brand tires. I can't tell the difference when I'm driving. Tires are tires.

The TireVan installation is a two man job. I was talking to one of them about the ugly, faded tan center caps. I told him I wanted to replace them so that they match the wheels like they did when the car was new. I had priced them on the internet, and they ran about $25-$35 each. He suggested spray painting the caps rather than buying new ones. What a brilliant idea! I wish I had thought of that. I went to Home Depot and bought a can of silver matte finish spray paint for $6. They turned out pretty good if you ask me. Damn near perfect match. See the "after" pic on the right. I forgot to take a "before" picture. If you look closely at this pic of the car taken a few days ago, you'll see the center caps are tan. So for very little money and time, I upgraded the aesthetics of the car. Now that's DIY!

My next DIY project is another item on the car that needs replacing - the antenna. A buddy of mine who is restoring a BMW wagon suggested I go to a junkyard for the antenna instead of buying new. Another great idea. Junkyards can be hit or miss. And there aren't "pull your own part" yards close to me, but there is one in Maryland. It's worth a shot.
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Car Free No Longer

Today should have been my three year anniversary of living car free. I say "should have been" because 2011 has been a challenging year for me so far and has brought about a lot of change outside of my control, especially when it comes to my career. I was laid off in January and after a two month search, finally found a new job. I'll get into the details of my lay off, job search, and what I did during my time off in a separate post. This post will focus on my car situation. The new job is not easily accessible by public transportation. When I say "not easily" I mean walking to the bus stop, taking bus #1 to the subway, taking the subway for a number of stops, then taking bus #2 to the job site. All told the commute is three hours round trip. That just won't cut it for me. I need to spend time with my family. So I sucked it up and bought a used car last week. I can drive to the new job in approximately 45 minutes; a little longer in the evenings on my way home. Driving to and from work will shave at least an hour off my commute and I can come and go on my schedule, not public transportation's (always late) schedule.

I bought a car I've wanted since it was new, a 2000 orange Mazda Miata. I named her "Orangina". It's in keeping with the spirit and tradition of having orange roadsters and if I must drive, I want something fun to do it in. It has a manual transmission, which I haven't had in a long time and missed. It's in great shape, has below average miles for an 11 year old car, doesn't leak anything, is fun to drive and the original Bose stereo sounds awesome! All it needs is a new set of tires, a new radio antenna (original one is broken off) and some floor mats. Oh, and new center caps. For some reason the original silver grey OEM caps that matched the wheels have been replaced with ugly tan caps.
meet Orangina - my new ride to work
While I'm saddened to no longer be car free, at the same time I'm excited to have a car I've had my eye on. In the short term I've shortened my commute to my new job and we'll be back to being a two car family. Long term, we plan on having another kid and moving to Austin, TX in 2012. I don't know if that will necessitate the need to have two cars, but only time will tell.

meet Tawny, my original orange roadster

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The Day of the Dude holiday

March 6th is Dudeism's high holy day: The Day of the Dude. It commemorates the day The Big Lebowksi was first released, back in 1998 A.D. (Anno Dudeni - The Year of the Dude).

Hey Dudes!
Would you like a free copy of Adam Bertocci’s far out Shakespearean reworking of Two Gentlemen of Lebowski? Enter our giveaway and you could win one! We’re doing this to help celebrate our annual high holiday, The Day of the Dude. It’s coming up soon – Sunday, March 6th. Just take it easy, mankind!
Some other news you might want to become privy to:
  1. Our new Dudeist self-help book The Abide Guide will be published in the spring by Ulysses Press and is already available for pre-order. It’s a team effort from Dudely Lama Oliver Benjamin and Arch Dudeship Dwayne Eutsey, and it’s going to be far out indeed.
  2. Our highly-commended holy book, The Dude De Ching is now available as a downloadable Kindle ebook. Don’t have an Amazon Kindle? You can still read it on your phone, Blackberry, iPad, Mac, PC and more with the free Kindle application. All profits still go to our Dudeism Kiva Lending Fund. Or get a printed copy instead.
  3. UK residents take note: There’s going to be a Dudeist music festival in York on June 18. It’s called Dudestock, and it’ll be raising money for charity. They’re also running a campaign to get Dudeism recognized as an official religion in the UK (or at least, on the annual census). Find out more from this BBC broadcast.
  4. If you’re planning to celebrate The Day of the Dude on March 6th, please send us photos of you and your compeers takin’ er easy, or going bowling, or what-have-you, so we can post it afterwards at The Dudespaper.
  5. New shirts have come to light! And now some posters too. Why not quickly pick up a Day of the Dude 2011 tee shirt for this year’s festivities? It will help us feed the monkey. Thankee.
  6. Bloggers and journalists--do you want to draw a flood of attention to your writing, or give a great pitch to your editor? Why not write about Dudeism? Whenever someone writes about us it draws massive traffic. For instance: this awesome article at CNN received 6000 Facebook likes, hundreds of times more than any other article in the same section. Small blogs who write about us also receive a ton of attention and a flood of Facebook likes. Thanks for helping spread the Dude word.
  7. If you want to interact with other Dudeists, please visit the Dudeism Facebook Page, the forum, and our official publication, The Dudespaper. We plan to have a Dudeist social network (like Facebook, but more mellow) set up soon as well.
  8. We now have over 100,000 ordained Dudeist Priests worldwide. Far out.
Well that’s it for now. But a lot of cool new stuff is coming up soon after all this!
Have a happy Day of the Dude, dudes. We know that you will.

Take er Easy,
Reverend Shock

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Rage Against the Machine, pt. 6 "Mishaps"

In my RATM series, I've chronicled my love/hate relationship with technology. In this latest installment, I'll recount our season of technology mishaps. It all started when I cracked Jennifer's Mac screen. Fletch grabbed for the plug and as I quickly yanked it away, it fell from my small girl hands and onto the computer screen. Fletch was involved in the next mishap as well. Jennifer had her purse teetering on the edge of the kitchen counter. His extremely curious nature made him reach for it, pulling the purse off the counter and her phone and iPod touch into the dog's water bowl. It gets worse.

As I walked through the door after attending a Redskins game (which they lost - no big surprise!), Jennifer had the look of dread on her face. "I've got some bad news. The TV blew up!" I looked at the blank black screen and hung my head. After five years (a short lifespan for a TV) my first generation plasma went dark-permanently. Show's over.

A few days later my trusty Windows XP laptop started acting funny. It wouldn't boot up. While it lived much longer than expected, the end was very sudden. There were no signs of problems. It went from working to not in a matter of a few hours. It must have caught a virus! Ha, pun intended.

To add insult to injury, the home theater computer, the one that started the rage, died again. I say again because the replacement motherboard crashed and burned. That computer was jinxed. I wasn't going to spend another $300 to fix it. Our reason for buying the HTPC was to save money by getting rid of cable TV. Turns out we've spent nearly the amount we would have spent on cable TV fixing and maintaining the computer. Stupid technology.

Everything worked out in the end. We got the Mac screen repaired. Jennifer successfully dried out her phone using rice. However she wasn't as successful with the iPod Touch. The screen was permanently damaged so we replaced it for half price. We bought a bigger and better TV. We had a 50" Vizio plasma and upgraded to a 55" Samsung LCD. I replaced my laptop with a sweet Gateway netbook. And we sucked it up and subscribed to cable television (no premium channels though). Hello high def on every channel!

Here's hoping the tech mishaps are behind us. They have to be since we've replaced everything. :)
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