Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Habitat, and Where it's Taken Me pt. 2

So after working all day on the house, we'd come back to camp to shower and relax in the evening. This was usually made up of playing ping pong and card games while sitting around the fire. But college kids will get feisty, and eventually we made a trek down the road to a gas station to buy beer. Hey I was 22, no reason I can't enjoy a beer after a long day of working in the sun, yes? We talked more with the AmeriCorps volunteers, most of whom were college graduates that wanted to do something with their lives before getting into the career force, so they would sign up for a year and use the Grant they received at the end to pay off student loans. They had different "modules," where they would work on a project for 3 months, then move somewhere else to work on a different project. Very cool stuff to hear about.

The tents that the AmeriCorps volunteers stayed in.

Back on the jobsite the houses went up surprisingly fast. I think by the end of the second day we had all of the exterior walls and trusses up.

Why who is that handsome devil in the green shirt?

And before long the roof was sheeted.

The third day saw us up on the roof laying down the sheeting, while people were putting up the interior walls and framing out for the windows.

The guy that was talking to Danny and myself was "The Major," a retired Marine Corps. officer who joined us on the third day with all the roof-related construction. I think a cool part of the whole experience is that we got to meet such an eclectic group of individuals, all coming together to give time and effort for people they'll never meet and never know.

We had a halfday where we went to the Gulf Shores to relax by the beach, which was very nice, but the best time I had was definitely being on the jobsite. I loved it, mainly because this was the first time I was doing construction frequently in a few years, and within a few days some of the less-experienced people were asking me for advice or asking for help. It's always good to have someone look up to you.

The memories from the trip have faded over time (partially the reason I'm writing about it, so that I don't completely lose them), but it still stands out as a great experience for me. By the end of the week we had both houses completely shingled, with windows and doors installed, and had were about halfway done siding them. Not too shabby for a bunch of lazy college students.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Habitat, and Where it's Taken Me

My sophomore year of college was about the time I decided to stop being so lazy and actually do something with my free time, other than playing Call of Duty and Command and Conquer: Generals. One of the girls on my floor, Kim, was involved with Habitat for Humanity and the idea of putting my construction skills to good use for charity was a good one. I attended a few meetings to see what it was all about, and then signed up for a fundraiser to meet some people. At the time the the closest house we were able to work on was Jefferson and Pell Lake, so a few Saturdays a month we'd meet up and carpool out to the jobsite to help out where we could. Professional contractors would be running the job site, with experienced volunteers leading different parts of the project from putting up walls to installing windows. Eventually our county was able to raise enough funding to build 3 houses just south of Whitewater, and by this time I was roped into being the Webmaster on the Executive Board for the campus organization.

Part of being on the Exec. Board involved doing pretty much every event that was planned, including the annual Spring Break trip. Every year when other kids would be off drinking and partying a group of about 50 students would board a bus and head down south for week of working. In 2007 when we were headed to Mobile, Alabama, which was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. A neighborhood of 15 Habitat houses was being assembled, and we were tasked with starting two houses ourselves. But first, we arrived at our camp.

We had been warned ahead of time that we'd be staying at a camp that was primarily used to house vagabonds such as ourselves, and they weren't kidding. Set a bit off the highway, our camp was occupied by a handful of AmeriCorp volunteers that were doing longtime work on the same Habitat site as ourselves. The sleeping quarters were small, with twin sized mattresses pack anywhere from 3-8 in a room. Showers were a separate building, and needed a thorough cleaning before anyone even thought about using them. But there was plenty of open space, and a huge kitchen and mess hall perfect for our group. And there was a pool! Though the previous occupants...

...were still around. Even that didn't stop us, though. We found some cleaning equipment and scrubbed it up to the best of our ability, and then played makeshift volleyball using a hose for the net.

Our first day of work Brad, the site supervisor went over the basics of the site. And by basics, I mean he taught half the crew how to use hammers. And also that you will get fried to a crisp unless you use ample amounts of sunscreen, you Wisconsin fools. He split us into two crews, one working on each house. One would be under him, and one would be under his co-worker Cory. So work began, and even though it seemed at times that there was too many chiefs and not enough Indians, walls were put up quickly and work got done. Besides Cory and Brad there were two other older gentlemen that were in charge of specific projects going on. One was Ansen, a British expatriate who had been traveling around the country when the idea of working for Habitat caught his eye. I have to admit, I had no idea what he was saying for the first 2 days because his accent was so thick, but after a while I went to him with most of my questions. Hearing the word "bollocks" out of a real Englishman never gets old.

Continued tomorrow...

Friday, February 20, 2009

It IS Orange...Kind of...

So one of my many quirks is that I call the middle light on a traffic sign "orange." I don't know why I do this, just something I started doing as a kid and never was able to shake off. Anyways, people tend to laugh when I say "it's going to turn orange," because it's commonly known as a yellow light. So I did some poking around on the wiki for Traffic Light, and what happens to catch my eye?
Its purpose is to indicate, using a series of colors (Red - Amber - Green)
Amber, you say? So I read a bit further and come upon this:

Although the word "yellow" is common parlance in the United States, the color of the actual lamp is usually only slightly more yellowish than the amber used in Europe.
AhHA! And for my final step in the journey, the Wiki for Amber says...

Amber is an orange-yellow color that got its name from the material known as amber.
That means more orange than yellow! For all these years I thought I was slightly color blind, but it appears that everyone is just a sheep to the man! Just because someone says that it's yellow DOESN'T make it yellow, ya heard? From now on I shall hold my head high while proclaiming "that middle stoplight is ORANGE!" Score one for the home team.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Extinction of Cash

So when did this start happening? It seems like anytime something requires cash the answer is "I don't have any on me, let me run to the ATM." I understand that it's usually easier to just pay with a credit or debit card, but I don't like doing that for 2 big reasons. Stores get charged a percentage of the transaction by the credit card company, and I'd rather that money go to the store itself. And when you actually pay with cash you realize just how much money your spending, and maybe that this purchase is kind of foolhardy? (The same applies to any system that has you buying "points" that you use to purchase something. You don't feel nearly as guilty when you spend 1200 Microsoft points on a downloadable game if you don't remember what the conversation rate is.)

I like to always keep some cash on me, especially when I know I'll be going out and about. But the lack of cash of everyone else gets on my nerves in certain situations. Say you take a taxi, and everyone else is lacking in dinero. Guess who's paying the fare? Or how about when you go to a restaurant, and they won't allow you to split the bill 8 ways (don't get me started on how stupid this "rule" is). So this is my bleg for the day: carry some cash around with you, even if you plan on using your credit card for most everything. It'll help me out, mainly because I'm planning on pickpocketing all of you.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


There was a comic book movie released in 1999 ago called Mystery Men (starring Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo) who's cast of characters have rather lame powers. The Spleen has super-powered flatulence, Invisible Boy can only be invisible when no one is looking at him, and the Blue Raja can throw silverware accurately, except for knifes. And if I was part of this team I would be the Shocker. No, not him. And definitely not that. I have the ability to discharge over 3000 volts of electricity from my body with terrible force! But only over 1 inch. And I have no control over it. Every winter like clockwork I become charged up with electrons, and touching anything metal is an exercise in SCIENCE. And just because you're human doesn't mean you get away free. I've been known to shock people via my hands AND nose. I'm a double threat.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Randomings Vol. 4

Ordinarily "V" is for Virgin.

Admirals have a promotion coming up on February 19th called "Don't be Like Mike" night in which

Any graduate of the DARE program can get into the game for $2 by bringing their graduation certificate to the Admirals’ office or the Bradley Center box office.

Also, anyone with the name Michael, Phelps, Mary Jane, Cheech, Chong, Weed – or Wied – can get a $2 ticket as well. Those who have won an Olympic gold medal also get the discount.

How cool is that? It even made the front page of Yahoo!, check it.


How much fun is David Letterman? For some years now Leno has been beating Letterman in ratings, but I'll never understand why, considering his interviews are downright hysterical, especially when it's someone he loathes (see: cast members of The Hills). And well the interview with Joaquin Phoenix is probably some sort of social experiment on his part it's still nonetheless very funny.


I knew it.


Looking for a great way to spend your Valentine's Day? How about doing a themed Power Hour! Check out the tracklist here, and you can download it there too. Thanks Chad!


Last night I went to a real honest-to-goodness barber again, this time Nick's Barbershop. My barber's name was Roman, and he was Russian, which gave me flashbacks to GTA IV (Niko!). Anyways, the haircut took 30 minutes, which I at first thought was kind of long, but Roman explained that places like Cost Cutters only take 10 minutes to cut your hair because they get paid to do it quickly. At Nick's they allot 30 minutes to access the shape of your head and to make sure there's not a hair out of place. Plus it's one of the few times I've had a real convo with my barber, instead of just idle chitchat. I'll be adding it to the Art of Manliness Barbershop Locator.


Want to know how the "25 Things" note from Facebook got started? Slate might just have the answers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Dirty Confession

I'll admit, I started going tanning last week. With a trip to the Caribbean coming soon (Two weeks!), I figured it was important to have some manner of tan before going down to the Bahamas. Far gone are the days when I was a bronzed little guy, spending every day out in the sun. My grandpa was the same way, with his skin so dark during the summer from being outside that it looked more like broken-in leather than human epidermis.

It was joke in our family that we had to be careful going into Mexico when I was a kid, because on the way back to the US customs might not let us cross because I looked Mexican. My nickname during the internship? Lopez, for the same reasons. But the older I get, the more it takes for me to get tan. And in the past 10 years I've been getting more and more sunburned before the tan kicks in. I don't think it's a matter of getting older, but probably more in line with the fact that most of my time is spent inside rather than outside. I go to work in the morning, and the sun isn't up yet. And I go home at night just when the sun is going down. Kind of depressing, but c'est la vie.

Comely blond supermodel sold separately.

So anyways, I found a tanning salon that was only a few blocks from our place, Sunseekers in Shorewood, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only $10 for the month for unlimited tanning (after a small fib about being a student). So I get my room, get all nakey, and lay down in the tanning bed.....and wait. Now what the frak do I do? How does this thing turn on? I see the count down timer is at 3 minutes, but no matter how much monkey-esque banging on the buttons I do it won't start. I've gotta wait for the timer to count down. So I lay back and wait, and giggle to myself at the ludicrousness of the situation. Here I am, buck naked in an unfamiliar place, laying down in a makeshift coffin waiting for large tubes of chemicals to ignite and bask me in artificial light. Will modern wonders never cease?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When the Music Stops

Ruckus Media, an ad-supported media player that allowed you to download full albums for free recently closed it's doors. I'm not sure how I got introduced to Ruckus, but I've used it for about 3 years now. I liked that you could download full high quality albums and see what other people on your network were listening to, but the fact of the matter is that Ruckus was doomed from the start. Unless you had a very specific set of MP3 players you could not take the music with you anywhere, and couldn't burn it to CD's either. Also, if you were disconnected from the internet you couldn't listen to any of the music. While the idea was a decent one (give students free, legal music) it was often much easier to just use Limewire or Torrents to get music. I pushed it to the kid's in the dorms at a time when the RIAA was cracking down on students downloading music illegally, but it honestly hasn't gotten much use since then.

Now, I'm far from an expert when it comes to the music business, but even I can see the writing on the wall. The current business model for music is broken. Eventually what's going to happen is that (from what the smart people tell me) is that music will be given away for free by labels and artists, and they'll make revenue from concerts, merch, and special editions of albums. Basically the downloading and sharing of music was like a snowball rolling down a hill, and the music industry waited until it was about to flatten them before they stood in front of it and commanded it to stop. Either you can roll with the changes, and find a way to profit from them, and they'll flatten you, and someone doing it better than you will be the ones to benefit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In the Fade 2.0

It's amazing what a simple upgrade will do for a site. Please click here for the 3d version of In The Fade

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Tax Refund

Me after cashing my refund. Face blanked out to protect my identity.

Like many Americans I'll be getting back a pretty good chunk of change from our friendly Federal government in the form of a tax refund. According to Wikipedia, "According to the Internal Revenue Service, 77% of tax returns filed in 2004 received a refund check, with the average refund check being $2,100." Which just so happens to be how much of a refund I'll be getting. A big part of this comes from the fact that may parents claimed me as a dependent until 2007, so I was ineligible for the $600 stimulus check of '08. But now becomes the question: what should I do with this money. The devil on my shoulder says "Private party at Silk Exotic! Woohoo!!" And the angel on the other shoulder says "Give some to charity, and put the rest into savings!" What I actually plan on doing with the money is a little in-between.
  • As I mentioned here, I did a fairly terrible job saving money last year. So I'm going to immediately take half the tax refund and put it into my savings. And not touch it. Hopefully.
  • Next I'm going to take about $700 and put it towards building a new computer. Another one of my resolutions should be checked off the list by this one. I'll probably have to pitch in some other money (I'm looking at spending around $800 total for the PC), but it won't be as large as a burden as previously thought.
  • Buy one of these. The lawn mower we inherited from the old landlord as conspicuously left out in the snow all winter, and I'd rather not buy a gas mower for such a small lawn. This looks like a good investment.
  • And the rest will go towards my trip to the Bahamas! Ric and I are heading down on Thursday the 26th to Ft. Lauderdale to visit Chad, then departing from Miami for a 3 night cruise to the Bahamas. I'm really looking forward to it, it'll be my first time taking a cruise.
So what are YOU planning on doing with your refund? Stimulating the economy? Investing in gold bullion?

EDIT: Changed picture from Scrooge McDuck to current picture.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Will Work for Anything...

Just like in the fall, I got invited to go work a career fair again yesterday. And even if I had been living under a rock for the past 6 months it was rather obvious that times are rough. People that had graduated for years and had lost their jobs were coming back to look for a new one. Over qualified candidates and those soon to graduate were looking to apply for internships. And finance majors. The finance majors were everywhere, looking for pretty much anything! I think at a certain time in your college career you have to look at what exactly you're going to do with that degree. If you're a finance major, but you don't know what you'd even be doing in the real world then you've got a problem.

Honestly, I feel bad for the soon to graduate. They're entering into a market where very few people are going to be getting decent jobs. It's, frankly, amazing the change from 1.5 years ago. Talented workers had multiple offers for excellent jobs. And now the opposite appears to be true, in that tons of super-competent workers are fighting over the few open positions.

Moral of the story? If you've got a job, hold on tight. But start putting some money away, because the ground could be falling out from underneath you at any moment.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Your Morning LOL

Courtesy of So not only is Michael Phelps better at swimming than everyone, he's also better at getting high. Sometimes life is just not fair.

And I'm happy to see that this isn't turning into a big of deal as originally forecasted. Sure, the news went crazy for it at first, but since then the fervor is dying down. He's not getting dropped from his sponsors and such, and for good reason. Now, I'm no stoner by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact is that pot is at the same level as alcohol. And as Robin Williams put it, "weed is not a performance enhancing drug, unless you put a giant Hershey bar at the end of the pool." (That was paraphrased.)

2/6/09 EDIT: Whelp, he's suspended from swimming for 3 months, and Kellogg's dropped him from sponsorship. So now he's only receiving $95 million dollars a year in sponsorship money.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February 2009 is for the Tidy

Look how perfect that is! 7 days a week, multiplied times 4 weeks = 28 days, which is the number of days in February. This only happens the when the stars are aligned correctly, the last time being 11 years ago in February 1998. And previous to that is was another 11 years, in 1987.

PS: If you have some time to burn I recommend reading about calendars on Wikipedia, especially the Gregorian calendar. It's probably the best named calendar ever.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like...

....a nerd scorned. And the examples are mounting up more and more as Hollywood has dipped into the well of "nerdy" topics more in the past few years. Since 1998 the top grossing movie for 6 of those years has been either a comic book, sci-fi, or fantasy literature movie. Crazy, eh? And 2009 is looking like more of the same, with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a reboot of Star Trek, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, Watchmen, and X-Men Origins - Wolverine all coming out this year. But here's the thing: these are all adaptations of existing media, whether it's comics, action figure lines, cartoons, or classic TV shows. And all of these franchises of install bases of fans, with their own perceptions on how movies adaptations should be done. And when things don't appear to be going as planned....well, the bitching begins to reach pandemic levels.

I admit, when I first heard that Peter Jackson was going to be directing an adaptation of Lord of the Rings, I was a bit scared. How could he possibly hope to adapt such a thick-with-details novel into three movies? But apprehension eventually turned to excitement, and we were left with 3 great movies. Sure, things were changed, characters dropped or changed to fit the plot, but in general I agreed with the decision-making. And if I didn't like how something was done I could always go back and read the books to have it "my way." So I sound the horn for nerds everywhere when I say, "Just enjoy the movies for what they are: adaptations. You've always got the original to look back on. And they'll probably bring in new fans to your hobby of choice, which is definitely a good thing."

Personally, I'm really excited for all those movies I listed above. None of them may change the landscape of cinema as we know it, but as long as I can see giant robots being the stuffing out of each other and Special Forces Ninjas diving through buses I'll be a pretty happy camper.