Grill vs TV

Zaque has been shoveling the driveway of an older couple who lives near us. They’ve decided to move to Arizona, so they’re unloading a bunch of things from their home that they no longer need. Apparently the woman, Maggie, called Laralee last week and asked if we wanted their 52″ flatscreen TV, or perhaps their barbecue grill. La said she wasn’t sure what we’d do with the TV, but the grill would be fine.

I was astounded. A free 52″ flatscreen TV? I’m pretty sure we would’ve found something to do with it! Zaque said he would’ve loved to use it as a computer monitor for his video games. I told La that even if we ended up not needing it, we know people who would jump at the chance. But of course by then, Maggie had found a new home for the TV and only the grill was left. Yesterday we picked it up. It’s a nice grill, to be sure, but I think a general life rule is: when you have an opportunity for a free 52″ flatscreen TV, you say ‘yes’.

Bank security

I’m using an electronic payment site to pay some taxes. This is what I see:

The error has been appearing since early this morning– probably six or seven hours now. You’d think a bank like Chase would be able to figure out this whole web security thing.

It says I should contact my network support team. But… I’m the network support team…

I’m pretty sure that’s not today

Facebook sent me a notification.

At first I was confused because I’m pretty sure today isn’t Zaque’s (Zakk’s?) birthday. But then I was simply mesmerized by the amazing photo, and got lost in the stars. And flying space tacos.

The early bird gets the TP

One of the kids in another seminary class has been frustrated of late because someone keeps TP-ing his Jeep. Every few days it’s covered again– sometimes at school, sometimes at home. He doesn’t know who’s been doing it.

This morning I decided that everyone who showed up on time for my class would get the special opportunity to help frustrate him some more. So we went out in the frigid morning and took care of business.

I may not be setting a good example for these high schoolers, but at least we’re having fun.

That’s an old computer

With tax season upon us, I was fascinated to learn that the IRS has a single computer system which contains the tax records for all U.S. citizens. It’s called the “Individual Master File” system, and here’s a brief description of it from the GAO:

U.S. Department of the Treasury Individual Master File – The authoritative data source for individual taxpayers where accounts are updated, taxes are assessed, and refunds are generated. This investment is written in assembly language code– a low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain– and operates on an IBM mainframe.

Now, the word “mainframe” triggers some memories for me of my early college days, when the university had a mainframe and you’d log into it from a handful of VAX terminals scattered around campus. They were honest-to-goodness green-screen VT100 terminals.

But the IBM mainframe managing the tax records of the entire IRS is a bit older than that. It’s been running since… wait for it… 1950. That’s right: fifty-eight years and still going. Wow.

There’s a second system called the “Business Master File” which contains– you guessed it!– the full tax records of all U.S. corporations. It, too, has been running since 1950.

One other thing the GAO noted: the Department of Defense has a system called the “Strategic Automated Command and Control System”. That sounds scary. The description:

Department of Defense Strategic Automated Command and Control System – Coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts. This system runs on an IBM Series/1 Computer and uses 8-inch floppy disks.

This bad boy is much newer than those clunky old IRS systems: our entire nuclear arsenal is running on a computer built in… 1953. There must’ve been some sort of upgrade along the way, since 8-inch floppy disks didn’t hit the scene until the 1970’s.

The obvious question is, “Well, are the IRS and DoD going to upgrade these dinosaurs?” The IRS says nope. I think this is a case of “if it ain’t broke…” and, as a software developer who’s been involved with a few major system upgrades, I can attest that sometimes it’s indeed better to just leave an old tried-and-true system in place. The Defense Department has plans for a new system that will include extravagances like desktop terminals, but it’s unclear when that upgrade will actually happen. With the way things work in that department, I’m guessing it’ll take at least a decade, involve half a dozen cost and schedule overruns, and end up costing dollars measured in the billions.

Ahh, government.

Shark Rider

The other day I went to Firehouse Subs for lunch. I was wearing my Cat Riding a Rainbow-Barfing Space Shark shirt, and when the cashier taking my order asked for a name to put on the order, I said in a movie-preview-announcer voice, “Shark Rider”.

The guy making sandwiches behind the counter laughed. He said “It’s hard to make your sandwich because I’m so amazed by your shirt.” Yep. We talked about how awesome it was for a moment. As I went to my seat in the restaurant, several other patrons were staring at it. When I told Laralee later that day, she said she would’ve been mortified. She doesn’t understand how I can wear stuff like that in public.

I’m pretty sure deep down she’s secretly jealous of my shirt.

Socks

Tomorrow Zaque will be teaching not one, but two lessons at church. The first is in his Sunday School class, and the second is in his young mens’ group. Laralee and I were asking him whether he’s prepared (since it’s now Saturday evening). His response:

Everyone better bring three pairs of socks, ’cause I’m going to blow the first two off.

The Rules

It’s a long story, but Zaque carefully explained the three rules of Chinese Fire Drills.

1. You shall not ask if it’s okay to have a Chinese Fire Drill. You shall simply announce it. Loudly.

2. If you hear someone announce a Chinese Fire Drill, you must participate. Even if you’re the driver.

3. You shall not plan a Chinese Fire Drill in advance.

Apparently there was a Situation the other night– which he’s still upset about– wherein all three rules were broken. Oh, the travesty.

USB luck

You know it’s going to be a good day when you plug in three USB peripherals blindly, and all three of them are the right way.

The King

One of our favorite family games (sorry Mom!) is King of Tokyo. Last night we were playing, and Zaque managed to get a few power cards early in the game that led to a cascading flood of cash (well, technically energy) so he could buy more cards. By the end of the game, he was sitting on so many powers he had to review them every turn to figure out how much damage he was doing…

I’d been eliminated at this point. Laralee almost beat him with a strong roll of five claws, but Zaque managed to squeak out of certain death and eventually win. The funny part: he won with 20 stars, which is (in his words) “the coward’s way”. He was actually forced to win that way, rather than by slaughtering everyone else.

I don’t remember seeing anyone sit on that many power cards at once. I guess last night, he truly was the King.

Twinners

True to what we said in our riveting work conversation the other day, both Noah and I ordered the Cat Riding a Rainbow-Barfing Space Shark shirts. They arrived yesterday, and we both wore them to the office today.

I will say this: it’s a surprisingly comfortable and apparently well-made shirt. My expectations were pretty low, so I was pleased that it turned out well. And now I have a shirt that’s breathtaking to behold, and sure to start conversations.

A bettin’ man

A few days ago, Laralee and I disagreed about something (I don’t actually remember what it was, but certainly it was of enormous importance). We bet on it, and the loser had to make homemade hot fudge.

I won.

Today, as I’m working on taxes (whee!) I figured it was time to cash in.

Zing uniforms

Out of the blue, Noah suggested at work (via our Slack channel) that we should have “uniforms” at Zing. He directed us to a company with an Amazon page, where they sold the most breathtaking sweatshirts imaginable.

I bought one.

So did he and Ben… and maybe, just maybe, Nick decided to go with the “90’s disposable cup” pattern. We’ll see if, one of these days, the Zing office is a place that will make visitors’ eyes bleed.

Here’s the entire hilarious conversation.

Problem? What problem?

Today I was running some errands, and I had a Kohl’s coupon. I dropped into the store to see if they had some ties that caught my eye. It’s been a while since I bought a tie. My collection is pretty impressive, but I’m always on the prowl for more.

Anyway, I ended up buying four of them:

When I showed them to Laralee, she raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You have plenty of ties. I think you have a problem.”

Problem? I wear a tie six days a week, always with a white shirt and black or grey slacks. I need something to liven up that wardrobe!

Babyface

A little over seven years ago, I shaved off my long-time goatee. This is pretty much how I felt:

To this day, most people can’t guess how old I am. To my surprise (and, I must admit, my great pleasure) they generally pick something in the mid-30’s. There’s something to be said for a babyface.

Faith

Today in seminary I was teaching about faith, and how sometimes we’re asked to believe in something we can’t see or even understand. For example, take quantum tunnelling: we hear that it’s possible for an electron to literally teleport from one side of a wall to another, without covering the distance between. That’s so far outside what we expect in our world that it’s hard to wrap our brains around. But it’s absolutely true, backed up by experiments and a whole bucketload of math.

So, I thought it would be fun to show the class the “bible” of quantum mechanics, my old college textbook!

I wrote out an equation describing tunnelling and potential wells and stuff, but the class screamed in horror. Math at 6am doesn’t go over well.

Simile

Zaque, talking about his friend Lainey, who he beat in an epic game of Exploding Kittens:

She was like my ukelele, because I played her good.

Boom

A couple of days ago, a meteor streaked across the sky in Michigan and slammed into the ground (technically becoming a meteorite at that point). This is an awesome photo supposedly showing it:

It reminds me of that classic quote from Aliens: “Nuke it from orbit– it’s the only way to be sure”. Yikes.

Uncle Abe

I’m in Washington, D.C. tonight for a business trip, and after finishing a day of meetings and an awesome Italian dinner, I decided that hanging out alone in my hotel room wouldn’t be all that exciting. So I grabbed Steven (my fellow Zinger) and we headed over to the National Mall.

We walked along the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument, which looked really cool all lit up in the cold winter night.

Nearby was the World War II Memorial:

We continued on to the Lincoln Memorial to see Uncle Abe.

We had planned to stop by the Jefferson Memorial as well, and maybe even walk past some of the other federal buildings (Smithsonian, National Archives) but it was so frigid that neither of us could feel our fingers any more. And I was wearing gloves! So we packed it up and headed back to the warmth of our hotel rooms.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll drop in on a few other landmarks. It was cool to see these after many years, and be reminded of the inspiring history of our country.

Car 17

Yesterday as I was riding the train at DIA to the concourse where my airline was, I noticed a sign in the car that gave a phone number and said I could provide feedback by texting the car number (17, in my case). So I did.

I figured very few people ever give feedback about their train car at DIA, and those who do are probably griping about something. So why not provide some positive feedback? Maybe Maximillian really enjoyed my comment. I’m not sure what the “appropriate department” would be, nor can I imagine what it must be like to be a guy like Maximillian, who apparently spends his day waiting for incoming texts about the DIA trains. But hey, if I can brighten someone’s day with a simple text while I’m riding the train, so be it.