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2 + 2 = 5 for very large values of 2 Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "avollme" journal:

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January 22nd, 2011
08:41 am

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There has to be a better way
Standing in the security line at Orlando, at maximum stress level, I repeated in my mind, “there has to be a better way”. You know what I mean. Airports currently combine the worst of humanity mixed with the worst of inane bureaucracy. Stand in line to check your bags. Stand in line to be searched. Don’t stop to load or offload. Hoist your carry on. Push forward. Screaming kids, tired adults, unhelpful security, fees, crowded conditions, uncertainty over the flight, time constraints. It’s stressful, partially due to the waiting aspect, partially due to the ever-changing regulations, and always due to the behavior of passengers and employees.
We’ve gotten to the point as a society that airports are one of the most stressful places to be at, and while traveling is always stressful, we’re making it worse than it needs to be.
Each new rule leads to justified complaining, but the rules don’t seem to be checked for effectiveness. Every person wants to be first on, first off, no one wants to wait. Security is frequently rude, passengers are frequently rude, it’s a volatile mix. All of the fuss about back scatter scanning makes me hope that those people don’t fly, just to cut down on the congestion, but it’s not going to happen. It just gets slower and slower, more invasive, and more expensive. We need to simplify. We’re dealing with patchwork of regulations that are updated in a completely reactionary process without revisiting whether they are relevant. The security procedures are increasingly being questioned as not actually helping security. And again, we, as Americans, are greedy, impatient and lazy. But we’re also incredibly innovative and can use that impatience to our advantage. We hate lines. We can fix this.
I’ve got a couple of ideas. It’s not much, but maybe it’s a start.

1) I don’t care that it’s a states rights issue. We’re a single country, we need to have a single format picture ID. If that ID is going to be a drivers license, then it needs to be basically the same for all states, and it needs to be able to be scanned with access to all state police information. If I get pulled over in Wisconsin, and have an outstanding warrant in Alabama, the cops need that information. If I’m flying from Chicago to Baltimore, the TSA needs to know if I’m a flight risk, if I have prior arrests for violence, anything that could be a red flag should be easily accessible. It is in most cases, but the system isn’t fully standardized (to the best of my knowledge). The current look at it and glance at the passenger procedure is barely good enough to allow people into a bar.
In conjunction with that, outdated laws such as Illinois “hey we just gave you a speeding ticket so we’re going to take your license” procedure needs to be stopped. Now. It didn’t make sense a decade ago (and longer than that really), it’s completely asinine now. A drivers license if the primary method of ID, so to take it away does nothing but harm.
2) We need the airlines to enforce carry on rules. I mean this. Every airline I’ve ever flown on has this little box either by the initial check in line or by the boarding area. If your bag fits in, it’s a carry on. If it doesn’t, check it. How many people walk in with a giant duffel bag or one of the extra thick carry on size bags that don’t actually fit, but they’re going to be carted on and shoved in that overhead bin by people that don’t care. By people who feel it’s their right to take it with them. These are bags that cause injury to flight attendants and other passengers who get hit with them as they’re being hoisted up and down.
In all of my flights, I have only seen someone stopped once to check if their bag fit. It didn’t, and they had to check it.
Let me suggest a solution, everybody puts their carry on bag in the box at the gate. You’re already standing in line, so no real time is added, and after the first couple of times, it’ll be routine, too. If it fits, fine, carry on. If it doesn’t, $50 to take it on, or you go back and check it. The airline doesn’t check it, you do, which of course means you would miss the flight. Airlines make more money initially, and I promise you, those bags will stop being used almost immediately.
We all know that this is a byproduct of both airlines charging for checking bags (which is another issue altogether, and why I try to fly Southwest exclusively), the possibility of lost bags, and people simply thinking that whatever they’re doing is so important they can’t wait the 30 minutes for the bags to be unloaded. Not much I can do about the any of these other than say in my experience, by the time I get off the plane and make my way to baggage claim, I usually only have to wait a couple of minutes. Not much time is saved, so just relax and check your stuff.
3) How many people are employed as “security” whose job is simply to stand around and not help? I mean it, in most industries it’s vital that your job is “value added”, that you do something that helps the process along. The “security” people that are standing outside in the loading and offloading areas don’t help with traffic, they just harass offloaders to hurry up and shoo away anyone picking up. Direct traffic. Help with vehicles maneuvering. If there are 3 lanes of people dropping off, then the first lane is blocked in, help get them out and move everyone else forward. The key is, be helpful. The flip side is as customers we need to try to be speedy. We can’t chit-chat anymore. Get your bags out and move. If you have a cab, have the money ready. If you’re being picked up, know where you’re going.
The other ones are the people sitting at desks checking your ID and boarding pass. This is a job for a computer. Scan the ID (see suggestion 1), scan the boarding pass, use face recognition software, call it good. If there are any issues, you have someone to physically verify it, but I would venture that 90%+ of people would match and pass though to the next phase of security with no issues. The lines alone at these two stops suggest that the people are desperately needed in other areas.
4) The TSA must have compiled the information of how long it takes a typical person to get through security. If they don’t, they can get it. They also have to have the information of how many flights are leaving at any particular time. Based on that, they should be able to tailor the amount of people and lanes of inspectors / scanners / checkers they need to keep things moving. Saturday afternoon at Midway coming back from Orlando, no wait. Friday before leaving to Orlando, 15 minute wait. The last time I was at O’Hare, 30 minutes easy.
Look, not to be morbid, but there are currently 2 pretty easy security risks are the airport. The first is the loading and offloading areas. The current procedure is “don’t stop, keep moving”, which implies that a terrorist is too dumb to cause harm while driving, that they need to stop, get out, then cause a problem. The second is the area before your carry on bag is scanned. When we were going to Orlando, there were hundreds of people crammed into a very small area waiting in lines. We are sitting targets packed in like sardines, and if something ever happens there, what will the response be? Honestly?
We need to find a way to move people away from those jam ups in a more efficient way so they are not a target. Any process engineer or 6 sigma black belt should be able to point out the bottle necks in the process within minutes of looking at it. Fix it. If it means that capital needs to be spent and shifts need to be reassigned along with other duties during slow times (and it will), fine, do it. This is what security really means, not just lip service to one area that leaves another more vulnerable.
Of course, going to private contractors with government oversight would likely help this process, government workers have no incentive to increase efficiency. If they were actually judged on effectiveness and rewarded / fired based on criteria, it might help, but that’s sadly not going to change right now.
5) This is a big one. We, as Americans, need to understand that flying is not a right. It’s a privilege. We should expect to pay for it, and we should expect to be constrained by rules. That being said, we are all in this together. If an airline treats you poorly, don’t fly with them. If enough people are frustrated, they will have to react. Understand what your responsibilities are as a customer, understand that you taking an oversized bag makes it more difficult for other people to use of the overhead bins. Understand that your crying child impacts everyone. If you aren’t sure of security regulations, for example what to do with your laptop, ask for help, and apologize to people around you if you cause a delay due to your actions. That water bottle you forgot about in your bag, guess what, it’s in your bag. It’s your responsibility. Don’t argue with the TSA people, they’re just doing their job. As much as they frequently aren’t pleasant doing it, it is their job to be inflexible. I have, and I think most people have, far more tolerance for people who apologize when they make a mistake than those who argue and act defensive.
Understand that it’s a line, you can’t just move up the side of it, you have to wait like everyone else. If you’re flying with an airline with assigned seats, when they call for boarding group A, if you’re not in A, sit your ass down. Don’t crowd the area so when they finally get to C you’ve already pushed your way to the front. And when the plane lands, stay seated. You can get up as it’s closer to your rows turn to leave, but you can’t just stand up and try to push forward. The airport has become the DMV, only with more people, which is not a good thing.

We’re all in this together.

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July 29th, 2010
12:47 pm

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Think local, drink local
If you live in the Chicago area, and especially if you're a Cubs fan, you are sure to have heard the slogan that Old Style has been using. Of course, the G. Heileman Brewing Company is now owned by Miller and in Milwaukee, not Chicago, so that undermines their point of being local. But I digress.
When Tracy and I were talking about this vacation, it quickly turned into the "B" vacation. We had talked earlier about going to the Leinenkugel brewery, and I wanted to see the new Target field. From there, it quickly fell into place that this would be a baseball (2 games), beer (Leinie's and Miller), and bed and breakfast tour. Let me just say again, look at those first two, I have the greatest wife.

Tracy has a friend, Jason, who runs a beer review site The Greatest Beer of All Time. After hearing about our itinerary of going through Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, he asked if we could pick up some micro-brews that don't ship to our area. We readily agreed. He sent us a list of breweries and we started planning. Jason underestimated one thing. Both of us are...umm...a little OCD. He didn't give us a list of possibilities. He gave us a scavenger hunt. He gave us free license to stop at every brewery and liquor store in the name of a cause.
As everyone in the Iowa City area knows, Dirty John's was our first stop, which knocked out most of the Iowa beers. It also started a trend. The beer guy is your friend.

It's not that the average liquor store employee is necessarily the most knowledgeable about selection, and beer, as with most things, is very much a matter of personal taste. But if you find the actual beer expert at the store, he is an unparalleled resource. He'll recommend options you didn't know about, he'll steer you clear of choices that will only waste your time and money. He'll tell you the schedule if something is due out, or is currently out of stock. And he'll do it cheerfully. He likes beer, and therefore, wants you to like beer. It's fun to talk to him. Iowa City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee; in each we had a great beer guy help us find things, making suggestions all the while. All micro-brews, many regional, things we had never heard of, much less tried before.

So we saw a 2 man bottling operation in Minneapolis at the Flat Earth Brewing Company. We talked with Dave at Dave's Brew Farm, a tiny wind powered brewery. At Leinies we saw a tremendous civic pride over a local story (4th largest craft beer in the country, per the tour), and at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, we found a brew pub that became successful enough to begin bottling and distribution. They all shared a passion for their job, they really enjoy crafting beer. And they all are trying to make something good, while doing something good. Spent grain is used as animal feed. Bottles and cans are recycled. Equipment re-used, heat captured and re-directed, water use decreased. Wind power. Bio-diesel. Contracting for local ingredients and distribution. Oh, and beer me that rock to save water. (That takes a little more to explain, but trust me, a micro-brewery that is going out of its way to encourage people to reduce water flushed in toilets is impressive).
We also hit a couple of wineries, and while the vibe is a little different, the concept of thinking and drinking local stands. Find the what you like, obviously. That's rule number 1. It doesn't matter if it's being produced down the street if it's terrible, but which would you prefer, a local drink that's fresh and tastes great, or something mass produced? I'm just saying, for the most part Bud, Miller and Coors don't do anything for me taste-wise, so this isn't a difficult decision. If I can support the people who are doing something good, I'm all for it. I don't mean environmentally, although that's a bonus, I mean they're making some amazing products. Trying some new things, beer, wine, restaurants, bed and breakfasts was what made this such a great trip. Very little was pre-packaged. Very little was chain.

Thanks for the list Jason, it helped form the framework for the trip. Thanks beer guys for all the information. Thanks for the time, Dave. And thanks to the Milwaukee Brewing Company for having a great tour. It was a great trip.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to do some research to discover what is around here.

Beer tour 2010

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April 25th, 2010
03:38 pm

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Butts in seats
Friday night I was at a game for the Chicago Rush, yesterday, it was the White Sox. While I'm by no means the sort of person who goes to sporting events non-stop, I do like being at games. There are very few sports, in my opinion, which aren't improved by seeing them live.
The Rush were "off" last year, due to the old Arena league going bankrupt. Prior to that, they had built up their fan base to the point where most games were nearly sold out, say 15,000 people per game. Friday the attendance was ~7,500. The Sox haven't started out well this year (7-11), and the weather didn't help any, being mid-50s and drizzling. However, having a stated attendance of 25,000 out of capacity 40,000 isn't good. I would bet the actual turnstile number was substantially less than that.
There are a lot of factors that go into getting a person to go to a live sporting event as a fan, even more so if you aren't one. Money has been a serious issue for the last couple of years in terms of selling tickets. Scheduling can be tough in terms of selling games, transportation factors in, and there are many more.
However, watching those two games, I was struck with, what seems to me, the poor job the marketing / customer relations departments are doing. Again, lots of factors go into this, I understand, but at the end of the day the only factor that matters is butts in seats. An empty seat nets you nothing. You get zero revenue from the ticket sale, you get nothing from parking, you get nothing from concessions or souvenirs. Not to mention that the team and other fans perceive poor fan support and it's harder to build that support for the future, and the fact that the hard costs (stadium upkeep, salary costs) are largely fixed. I've never understood why teams that know a game isn't going to be sold out aren't going out of their way to give tickets away. Find a school, a scout troop, little league teams, anybody (preferably children's groups) to give away blocks of seats. Those lousy corner seats that never sell out, give them away as a group. If you get a butt in the seat, at least you have the possibility of revenue from concessions, souvenirs and parking. Give then to children's groups and you can get parents there. Build your fan base by making sure that people become fans early. Get people talking about how they went to the game. Make sure that your event is something that is on the radar when people are planning, because you, and your friends and family are talking about their last experience. As a team, if you can sell out your games, great. But if you can't, do everything you can to get those seats full.

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May 16th, 2009
10:17 am

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Conflict of a geek.
We saw Star Trek last night. First off, I just need to comment that we went to see Star Trek, and the previews were for Transformers, GI Joe, and Land of the lost. STOP FUCKING WITH MY CHILDHOOD! I know that these things were campy and stupid back then, but I liked them. What I don't enjoy is an update with CGI and shit blowing up just because you know people my age will get nostalgic for your destruction of our youth. (As a side, Tracy asked me what I thought of the first Transformers, which I foolishly watched thanks to netflix. I told her it was a Michael Bay movie. Shit blew up, then shit blew up. How bad does he suck as a director?)
Anyway.
Warning - Spoilers aheadCollapse )

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January 26th, 2009
11:50 pm

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Because it's not a circus without a clown
If nothing else, Blagojevich is putting on a good show.
I mean, he's not quite at the foaming at the mouth lunatic stage, but still, it's entertaining watching him on his public opinion tour. The only problem is that he really wants all of us to believe he's innocent, but he's still coming across as a self righteous dick. Today's example, "Maintaining his innocence in an NBC interview, parts of which were aired Sunday and others to be aired Monday, he said that upon his Dec. 9 arrest at his Northwest Side home, 'I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi and trying to put some perspective in all of this.'"
It's not that he's maintaining his innocence. It's that there is some sort of disconnect, like head trauma.



You're fucking being charged for corruption, and you want to play the oppression card? No. The man is not putting you down. Try again, only next time, actually try.

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January 23rd, 2009
12:21 am

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The vultures
The feeding frenzy was in full force today. You know the drill. Someone is let go, or even leaves on their own, and after the shock of it happening, everybody ransacks the office for usable supplies.
Which is perfectly normal, even if it feels extremely weird. But dear god was this guy a packrat. Reams of paper. Multiple packs of staple removers, gloves, giant wrenches...just drawers of stuff. He had more crap in that office, we've had at least 16 hours of looting of the office and it's still full.
I had no idea. Now whenever anyone asks where something is stored, I think I'll know.

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January 22nd, 2009
09:50 am

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We may have a date and place.
Not finalized yet, but it's still progress!

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09:25 am

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Another day, another dollar means there is still another day
Nothing like getting into work and being greeted with "Have you heard the news?"
That's just not going to go well.
Essentially the 3rd round of layoffs hit yesterday. The first was a couple of months ago, when a large chunk of customer service was consolidated with another site, letting most of those people go. The 2nd was the virtual one when I was promoted, as my job was never filled, leaving us down a person there (which continues to be a problem, but hey, what do I know. I just worked there). Yesterday one of the the other supervisors and several sales people were let go under the guide of the corporate "reorganization".
It feels strange. I feel secure in my position, despite being the lowest man on the totem pole by far. It obviously doesn't mean anything, the ax could fall at point if that's what it's going to come to, but the company itself is doing reasonably well, given the economy. The plant is doing well. We're a little slow in some areas, but others are doing fine. Like everyone else, we're working to hold down costs, etc, etc, etc. But I keep coming back to the fact that someone at my level was let go, despite having more seniority. I guess that's a compliment. Totally backhanded, but still.

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January 16th, 2009
09:20 am

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Because I think more questions are going to be generated than answers
Even though we've only been a few potential wedding reception sites, I've noticed something that really surprises me. Yes, I was probably very naive when it came to how much this is going to cost, but all of the sites we've been to have all required a deposit (of course) and then several other payments, culminating at the final payment 3 days before the wedding.
They are all asking for the total bill BEFORE anything has happened. I don't get that. Other than booking a vacation (i.e. airfare), I can't think of any industry that demands payment to be completed before services are rendered. I'm sure there are others, but none are coming to mind.
Considering how much weddings can cost, and how much people are able to put on credit cards and the like, I just don't get this. I suppose in this credit poor environment they, like everyone else, wants to maximize their cash on hand, but several years ago why hadn't one of the larger hotel conglomerates or some 3rd party finance group say, hey, we know you want your wedding to be perfect. We know it's going to cost a lot, more than a car, and we want to help. You plan it they way you want, we'll help finance it. Throw together an auto-industry like package, 3-5 years, 5%-8% interest or so with decent credit, and run wild. Everybody wins. The hotel gets its money, and possibly more because people will run towards the high end of things with deferred payments, the credit group will have large payments coming in with interest to cover their costs, and the married couple will have the wedding that they want, not just what they can afford.
Again, with the financial system right now, maybe that's not practical, but it seems like an untapped market, and one that makes far more sense to me than giving a ton of money to someone before they've done anything.

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January 13th, 2009
12:52 am

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Details
So.

Here's how it happened:

First off, it was not a complete surprise. We got the ring ordered together, and Tracy knew she had to 1) dress up and 2) have a bag packed that morning that I could take.

That being said, I had made reservations at the Signature Room for the meal. It was a bit of no brainer, as she had never been there, and really, it's on the 95th floor. It's pretty cool. I wanted something memorable, and that fit the bill nicely. I has some help setting up the details from one of the people where we got the ring from. (Robbins Brothers. I'll pimp them to anybody who will listen, I think they did a great job across the board.) Anyway, we set it up for a window view, for obvious reasons, and warned them that I would be proposing, and that there would be props. Then I reserved a king suite with a jacuzzi tub at the Hotel Allegro.
That morning, I took our bags, a couple of bottles of wine, and some snacks down to the hotel and checked in. Basically, just to get the room ready, I put the chocolates on the bed, and chilled the wine. When I was checking in they asked if I was down there for anything special, so I told them and the concierge told me that he'd have a bottle of champagne chilled in the room for when we got back. I didn't have the heart to tell him I already had a bottle, plus, I like getting free stuff. Then I headed back to my place to get changed and ready. This part became a little dicey because, for anybody who was in Chicago at the time knows, it was snowing. The roads were ugly, but fortunately, traffic actually wasn't too bad.
I went and picked up Tracy. I found out at this point that she had a surprise for me, which was basically that since I wasn't telling her where we were going, she wasn't going to show me what she was wearing (the answer wasn't nothing. It was cold outside and that sort of attire isn't really appropriate for upscale dining). We get into the car, dressed up and bundled in long coats, and headed downtown.
While I hadn't told her where we were going, it became pretty evident as we headed into the parking garage for the Hancock Building, and made our way up to the restaurant. As I mentioned, the weather was crappy all day, snow and fog, but by the time we got there it had actually cleared up nicely. We had a great view of the ground and off into the distance, plus, little cloudy kept floating by. It's impressive seeing the city like that, like dining while landing on a plane. You're so high up that the lights of the city seem to go on forever.
We got a glass of wine, Grilled Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella for an appetizer, and Tracy got crab legs while I went with the roast duck.
After dinner, I had arranged for the server to bring in two fortune cookies on a platter. Tracy opened one, which said "Will you marry me". I got down on my knee and asked her if she would share all of the fortunes with me and if she would marry me.
It's a good thing she said yes :-) And the people around us gave us a round of applause, so hopefully they weren't too distracted by what we were doing. Even before that, we were being pretty touristy, taking pictures and looking at everything.
Several minutes later, the server came by with glasses of champagne that had strawberries with candles in them on a tray saying congratulations.
After diner, we went back to the hotel and relaxed the rest of the evening.

And some pictures (via snapfish, so let me know if there's a problem)

That's how it happened. Everything worked out great. :-)

Current Location: Chicago, Signature Room, Hotel Allegro
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