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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Watching Soccer On TV

Shout out to Jordan Bigsby for the guest post.

Watching soccer is exciting, but one of the things that makes it so fantastic is the flamboyance of color against the splash of green for the pitch.

The only thing better than watching world class soccer on television, since the global nature of the game makes it difficult to see all of the best matches in person, is seeing it in HD. I watch the matches on TV, which I bought after seeing the best deals on cable tv I have ever seen in my lifetime, so I can see many more games, and watching events such as the World Cup, I've gotten spoiled to the coverage available.

Since I follow many teams in many leagues, it's important to be able to watch a match being broadcast from outside the country. One of the reasons I follow so many teams is that players in soccer move between leagues in a way that no other sport can imagine. A top player in England's EPL may be playing in Spain a year later. Watching U.S. players who move from MLS to EPL can only be done if you also keep up with their team elsewhere.

Great soccer is played all over the world, and that reach is why I, as a fan, must keep up so I'm fully up to date on which teams will play well when the World Cup arrives!

The Census Bureau Creates A Lot Of Free Time For Me!

By now (and from the title of this post), you can guess that the census bureau has not really lived up to its end of the schedule they provided to the office workers. I got a call yesterday afternoon also asking me to stay away since they have absolutely no work for anyone to do. And later in the evening, I got an email telling all the office workers that today's shifts have been canceled also.

The problem, it turns out, is that the computer systems are not being very cooperative right at the moment. I got a few more details about the vacant/delete check (VDC) process from my supervisor yesterday. I was not entirely correct when I said here that the VDC process does not involve anything other than gussying up the old non-response follow-up (NRFU) binders and resending them out.

It turns out that the binders need new cover sheets. They also get enumerator questionnaires (EQ's). These are not EQ's for all the non-respondents like in the case of NRFU. This is a smaller subset of EQ's, specifically for the housing units that are to be verified as vacants or deletes. The problem is not the actual production of cover sheets or EQ's, of which we have plenty. The problem is that each of them requires a label that needs to be printed out of the computer. The label contains all kinds of information, including a bar-code that needs to be scanned into the computer for check-out and check-in of the binders.

As usual, the infamous back-end systems of the census bureau are not up to speed, and don't have these labels ready to print out. So, people have been coming in to work and finding that they have nothing to do but sit around. This happened on Monday morning and Tuesday morning. The afternoon shifts of both days were then canceled. Looks like the supervisor caught on to the pattern quickly enough, so he proactively canceled both the morning and afternoon shifts for today so that the morning shift does not come in and sit around doing nothing! I was not scheduled to work today, so this does not affect me, but I am scheduled to work tomorrow, so I will have to wait and see if the balky computers start cooperating before then.

One of the good things about this delay is that my supervisor thinks work might extend out beyond my return from vacation. So, there might still be work at that time that needs more office workers to stick around. So, they may not let me go on July 1st as originally planned. Essentially, once the computers start working again, we need to print out the labels, stick them on EQ's and the cover sheets, do whatever else is necessary to get the binders ready to go out into the field, and then send them out. Once the enumerators get these binders they go to work again, canvassing these addresses and verifying their status. The EQ's then start coming in again, and require office review by clerks like me before they are entered into the computer and sent off to EQ heaven or wherever else they go when their life ends!

The enumerators for this phase are mostly NRFU enumerators. Based on quality assessments by the field office supervisors (FOS's), a subset of crew leaders who worked on the main NRFU assignment were retained for VDC (the VDC will not be broken into as many crew leader districts (CLD's) as the original NRFU was). And quality assessments by crew leaders and field office supervisors led to a subset of NRFU enumerators being retained as enumerators for VDC. Hopefully, the quality of EQ's this elite subset returns will be much better than the sometimes atrocious stuff turned in by the general population of enumerators during the NRFU process.

The other good thing that has come out of this delay is that what I feared would be an insane week has so far turned out to be quite sane. In fact, it has been quite pleasant because of changes I made to my work schedule in anticipation of the census work. Normally I come in to work around 9 AM and leave by about 5 to 5:30 PM. Because I was originally scheduled for the census work starting at 4:30 PM (which means I have to leave my regular work at 4 PM), I came in to work at 7:30 AM on both Monday and Tuesday. Then the afternoon phone calls came from the census office asking me not to show up. So, I would leave my regular work at 4 PM and get home by 4:30 PM.

My wife and kids have been pleasantly surprised by my early arrival from work. I leave for work well before they are up (I have to leave the house by 7 AM to get to work by 7:30), so I don't miss any interaction with them in the morning. Instead, because of my early return from work, I get a lot of interaction with them in the evening. Essentially, this shift in my schedule has increased the amount of time I spend with my family by at least an hour or two a day! In fact, I like that so much that I decided to stick to that schedule for today even though I don't have any census work scheduled for today. I came in at 7:30 AM instead of my usual 9 AM, and plan to leave by 4 or 4:30 PM rather than waste my evening time at work.

The extra time at home has enabled me to do various things that I would usually scrambling to find time for. I was able to take a long walk with my daughter one evening. She is growing up and will probably start taking walks with her own set of friends soon enough. She will probably not be too keen on taking a walk around the neighborhood in my company at that point. So, I have to do it now while she is still a pre-teen!

Yesterday evening, I spent a solid three hours working on the jigsaw puzzle with my other daughter. She had been struggling with it for some time, and had not been too successful in adding pieces to it in the past week or so after my last update. Yesterday, I worked with her to add a lot more pieces to the puzzle, so that it is now about 30% complete. I got a chance to explain to her my technique for finding puzzle pieces based on the unique shapes of the connectors that can be deduced by the gaps in the puzzle right next to other assembled pieces.

She was getting a little disheartened about the pace of progress on the puzzle, so this burst of puzzle-solving lifted her spirits up quite a bit. She had been picking up unassembled pieces and trying them out at random next to finished parts of the puzzle, and sometimes she would find a place for the piece, but in the majority of instances, she would not. It was slow and painful, and I can fully empathize with her feeling of hopelessnes and despair at ever completing the puzzle that way.

The accompanying picture shows the current state of the puzzle. It will probably not be completed before my vacation, but at least it is showing progress. As more puzzle pieces are fit into their correct slots, the puzzle progressively becomes easier to solve too. Hopefully, the tips I have provided my daughter will have an effect on her ability to tackle this independently too, so I am guessing the progress will be a little faster going forward!

At work also, my early start has given me some time to get work done without the distractions of others wanting bits and pieces of my time. Being the end of the second quarter, it is time for mid-year reviews where I work. This has meant gathering my accomplishments and entering them into performance evaluation documents. I find out that I am able to be at least 25 to 50% more productive at writing documents and notes when I am not being distracted by others at work. So, I was able to get the performance evaluation documents squared away in much less time than I thought they would take.

My research into my vacation is proceeding apace also. I found and saved several web pages dealing with sight-seeing and shopping in Peru. I also located maps, distance charts, train and air schedules, etc., that I can use to keep track of how much time I will have on my own so that I can budget it properly. Everything looks great now, with only the vacation itself left to enjoy. Maybe I will use this time to learn some Spanish so that I can impress the locals!

Overall, I have to thank the census bureau for making this week as good as it has been. Because of getting out of bed early to accommodate them rather than tossing and turning for an extra hour or two, I have been able to get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. I have had more time to complete my regular work assignments, more time to do research, and more time to spend at home doing stuff with my whole family. In fact, may be I should pretend to have census work every day, so that I can come in early, and leave early rather than working the normal 9 to 5 routine! If I can only get rid of all these late evening meetings off my calendar, that might actually work, and I might actually get to enjoy it too!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are You A Woman Living Alone In An Apartment Complex?

Written by guest blogger Elizabeth Pherson.

As a woman living alone in an apartment complex, I have always been concerned about my safety. I usually work late hours and coming home alone at night is a big concern for me. Recently, I activated a free alarm provided by the property manager. It gave me a sense of security but there are other things that I do for safety also.

One thing that has really helped me is making friends with my neighbors. They know when I am not home and keep an eye out for suspicious activity. Neighbors learn your schedule and habits so they tend to know when something is not right.

If you use the laundry room at your complex, try to avoid it at night when not many people are around. It is usually noisy and nobody will hear if something dangerous is happening. If someone attempts to talk to you that you do not know, be weary of them. They may be seeking personal info for identity theft. In essence, stay alert, avoid dark places alone, and get to know your neighbors. They can be a valuable asset in your continued safety.

The Census Office Gets Back To Its Usual Tricks!

As I had mentioned in my earlier post, our crew did a pretty good job on Sunday, and finished verifying pretty much all the binders that are supposed to go out for the VDC phase of NRFU. So, it came as no great surprise then that I got a call from the census office about an hour before my shift was supposed to start yesterday, telling me that there was no work for my shift to do, so I should not bother coming in to work!

Obviously, this is the same type of trick they pulled on me earlier on, which got me quite upset at them at that time. This time, though, I was not so much upset as amused by the whole thing. By now, I have come to accept the incompetence of the office supervisors at the census office, so there is no point in getting upset at them.

They assured me that the rest of my schedule should still be good since they were anticipating a good deal of work during the rest of the week. I will believe that when I actually see it. I am making some minor adjustments to my schedule to accommodate my census work schedule, but I am not going whole-hog trying to accommodate them and throwing the rest of my schedule into disarray. I have learned my lesson, and I am hoping for the best, but fully prepared for the worst.

Instead, when the call came in yesterday afternoon, I simply thanked them for telling me in advance so that I didn't have to drive out there and find out there was nothing to do. After that, I decided to use the extra time to take care of more stuff related to my upcoming vacation. It still requires a lot of work before I go off on the vacation confident that every detail has been taken care of. So, I almost welcomed the ability to take care of all that even though I am not going to be paid for it! More enjoyment of my vacation is probably my payment for this effort, and it might be well worth it!!

You might be curious as to what research I am doing regarding my vacation, given that it is a guided tour in which all the details of lodging, sightseeing, most of the meals, etc., are already taken care of. Well, the research is primarily around the history and significance of each of the places I am visiting so that I can be well-prepared to see what needs to be seen. I am also doing a lot of research on shopping, what to buy, where to buy it, and how much is a reasonable price to pay for it.

I am also doing research on the times and distances involved in all the traveling I am going to be doing as part of the trip. I know the tour guides have it all worked out to a T, but I want to know how much time I will have at each place I am visiting so that I can allocate it correctly between sight-seeing, shopping, resting, eating, etc., etc. I am also reading up on the experiences of other travelers who have been to these places for pointers on what to avoid.

Then there are other mundane things to take care of such as withdrawing cash and buying traveler's checks, making sure our passports and other paperwork are in order, all the bills that come due when we are gone are properly taken care of, etc. There are also decisions we need to make on how much luggage we are going to take, what suitcases and bags go with us and what does not. Then there is the checking of the weather forecasts to make sure the right clothes get packed and others get left behind.

I still have not decided whether I should take a laptop with me, but I don't want my camera's memory card to get filled half-way through the vacation, so taking a computer along to keep transferring out the contents of the card as photos are taken everyday seems like a good idea. Is it worth the hassles or should I just carry a few more memory cards instead? Should I take a video camera with me and sacrifice the convenience, or should I leave it behind and sacrifice possibly priceless video moments during the vacation? Decisions, decisions, decisions! More research, research, research!!

If the census office calls me today and tells me they made a mistake once again in the scheduling, I would probably not mind. Is the research I am doing worth more than a few hundred dollars that the census office pays me for my time? I don't know yet, but I don't want to find out during my vacation that I should have done a lot more research.

Window Boxes Give Your House A Cheery Look

When it comes to gardening, you could say I have a pretty black thumb. I usually don't take the time to do the planting, watering, pruning, fertilizing, and the myriad other steps that need to be taken to ensure thriving plants, properly, so I have a pretty low batting rate when it comes to the survival of plants that I have planted around the yard. I am in charge of the lawn, and that is more than enough for me. I haven't managed to kill off the grass yet, so I am thankful.

My wife, on the other hand, is into gardening and growing decorative as well as useful plants. She has a vegetable patch in the backyard as well as flowering plants around the yard. She also keeps various indoor plants in different rooms of the house.

She usually keeps these indoor plants in planters from Windowbox Planters. Windowbox Planters is a huge online retailer of a huge selection of different styles of window boxes for plants, window boxes for flowers, planters of different types, etc. They offer free shipping on all window boxes, low price protection, a 30-day return policy and an unbeatable guarantee of quality on all their products.

Windowbox Planters' decorative flower boxes come in various materials like wood, vinyl, metal and fiberglass. The different shapes and sizes of these boxes ensures that there is bound to be one that will suit your house and its windows perfectly. It always amazes me how much the look of a house is changed when the windows are adorned with planters brimming with flowers of various colors. It gives the whole house a cheery, picture-book quality that is hard to attain any other way.

And they change the inside of the house subtly too. First of all, the view out any window is much better because of the flowers on the window sill. More importantly, the air inside the house smells fresher and better because it comes filtered through the fragrant flowers lining the windows. If you are intrigued by these advantages of growing flowers (or other plants) at home, but lack the space to do so, click on over to Windowbox Planters and take a look at their selection. I am sure you will find something that pleases you aesthetically while also making sure it fits within your space and budget constraints!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Watches Top The List Of Functional And Stylish Accessories

I have never been one to put a high value on flash. I prefer substance to flash, and go for function over form every time I have to make a choice on something. That may be one of the reasons I have not invested in overpriced accessories like an Iphone, or an Ipad. I don't wear jewelry and when I do wear one, I wear a beat-up old pair of sunglasses that nobody would mistake for the latest fashion!

So, I did not pay much attention when everybody crowded around a new watch a friend of mine had bought recently. Everyone was oohing and aahing at the features of the watch while I continued watching television during the party at which all this was going on. My friend was basking in all the attention and showing off all the features of the watch.

Eventually, everyone went off to do other things in the party, and I found myself alone in the company of this friend just by chance. I had gotten a little curious about the watch that everyone was admiring, but did not want to admit that I was curious. So, I feigned ignorance and asked him what everyone was doing around him earlier in the evening (even though I knew perfectly well what the object of all the curiosity was).

My friend then showed me an elegant stainless steel watch with a black leather strap. It had silver face with silver hands and 3 inset black dials. My friend explained that the watch was water-resistant to 100 meters, and had a chronograph, a 24-hour subdial and a date window. I was duly impressed, and asked him who the maker of the watch was. He told me it was a Jacques Lemans watch.

I wear an old digital watch with a velcro strap on my hand. It has no brand name on it (or if it did, it has worn off, the watch is that old), and has the basic functions you would expect a watch to perform (shows me the time and date, and has a stopwatch). I don't remember when I bought it, but it might very well be near the end of its useful life. Should I skip the Walmarts and Targets of this world and head off to a jeweler to splurge on a high-end timepiece? It is certainly tempting, given that a watch is both functional and stylish. So, even my left brain, that values function over form, is not offended by the notion of splurging for a watch as opposed to some other kind of jewelry that is just supposed to look good!

Gold Bullion Offers Valuable Diversification For Your Investment Assets

A few days back I wrote about how might be a good time to invest in the stock market given that the stock market has been beaten down in the last few years and may be on the mend again. One of the most important things to keep in mind when investing is the concept of diversification. Just as you need diversity in the types of foods you eat so that you get a healthy balance of all the nutrients your body needs, you need diversity in the range of assets you invest in.

Diversity protects against steep losses in one particular stock or sector of the market. In addition to the stock market though, you need to diversify into other asset classes also. You need to hold some of your investments in cash or equivalents so that you can access them immediately in case of an emergency. A small portion should go into bonds and other debt instruments which are safer than stocks. Another investment class that is worth diversifying into is precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum.

Gold Coins Gain is an online seller of gold, silver and platinum bullion that you can buy with your investment assets for diversification. Gold has always been considered a mainstay of investing because of the intrinsic value of that precious metal. The production of gold in the world is very limited and no government or other organization can increase the supply of gold substantially in an arbitrary manner. The same is not true of fiat currencies such as the Dollar or Euro because governments can print more money as and when needed (and have done so in the past), increasing the money supply and causing such currencies to lose value.

Therefore, bullion, and in particular gold bullion, tends to do well when other investments lose value. As you know, many stock markets throughout the world have fallen in the past few years, so gold has done pretty well during the same time period. Moreover, because of the recession, many governments have taken on increasing amounts of debt and relied on deficit-spending to balance their books. This increases the supply of money beyond what the economy can sustain normally, eventually resulting in devaluation of the currency (a phenomenon which manifests itself as higher and higher inflation). This has also resulted in appreciated values for gold over the past few years.

The accompanying graph showing the price of gold over the past 10 years illustrates the explosive growth in gold prices because of turmoil in economies throughout the world. During the time period, budget deficits and trade deficits have gone up causing countries to prop up their economies by trying to increase their money supplies, resulting in devaluation of currencies and a run-up in the prices of real assets such as gold.

The trend has continued to this day, and all indications are that it is not likely to stop anytime soon. All this bodes well for continued appreciation in the price of gold going forward. Gold Coins Gain allows you to tap into this growth opportunity by allowing you to buy bullion (particularly gold bullion, but also silver and platinum) with your investment dollars.

In addition to allowing you to purchase gold in a regular investment account, Gold Coins Gain also allows you to set up gold-based IRA's and 401k's that allow you tap the potential of the yellow metal in your retirement accounts. In addition to a variety of options to purchase gold (bars, different types of coins from different countries, etc.), the site also offers extensive information about investing in precious metals. The site also features testimonials from other satisfied investors. As part of building a diversified portfolio, you owe it to yourself to check out Gold Coins Gain, and start incorporating precious metals into your investment strategy and decisions!

The Long Road To My Upcoming Vacation

I posted yesterday about a long-planned vacation that I am going on at the end of this week. I have not spoken much about this vacation or the planning that went into this. But this must have been one of the longest-planned vacations I have ever taken.

The plan for this vacation originated around March or April of last year (yes, 2009). The idea was to visit Peru. We wanted to see Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Puno and Lake Titicaca. And finish it all in a week or so. Initially, like most vacations I plan, I wanted to just do it myself. Book the air tickets myself, book hotels myself, hire local guides where necessary, just do it ourselves without guides where we could. I have been on many such vacations, both within the US as well as outside the US, including in Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt, Jordan, etc.

I also took a look at some organized tours, but most tours were quite expensive. The only tour that seemed reasonably priced was offered by an outfit called SunnyLand tours. However, the tour they had on their website was 7 days long (which was the right length), but spent 4 of those 7 days in Cusco. The tour did not include Puno at all.

So, I sent them email about customizing the tour to include Puno. I wondered whether it would be possible to take 2 or 3 of those 4 days in Cusco and use it to go to Puno by train (the Cusco-Puno train journey is supposed to be one of the most scenic in the world, so we certainly wanted to do it only by train, not by air), spend a day there and fly back directly to Lima. You would think an experienced tour company would have no trouble doing some customizations like this for their clients.

But SunnyLand was obviously not very used to people not taking what they have to offer as is. First of all, they took a long time to respond to my emails. At first they did not understand what I wanted either (it looks like the people handling my request were not native English speakers). Eventually, after each email exchange took over 2 days go round-trip, I lost my patience and called them up directly. And all I got was voicemail with no response for a couple of days.

The summer slipped by while all this was happening, and other things happened that precluded going on the vacation last year. But at least, I had eliminated one tour operator from consideration when I started planning this year's vacation. Getting rid of choices is sometimes a good thing too!

Then, this year, I started looking at this trip all over again with fresh eyes. First of all, I gave up on the idea of doing it by myself. I got reports from various friends of friends that said Peru was not as safe as the other places I had visited in the past. They suggested that I either go in a tour group or not go at all. I am not prone to taking these kinds of things too seriously (because, at the end of the day, these are just based on anecdotes, and sometimes these anecdotes are not even true, they are embellished or outright false), but my travel companions who will be going on the vacation with me got worried enough that doing it by the seat of our pants was out as an option!

Next, I searched for and found a bunch of travel agencies and tour operators. I looked at their websites to identify ones that might work based on the costs they had for their regular tours, whether they were willing to be flexible about their options, etc. Based on this, I sent feelers out to 3 or four different tour operators. They were Avent Peru, Peru Gateway Travel, Best Peru Tours, and Eureka Travel. Of these Avent Peru was the cheapest. The others were, in varying degrees, more expensive. I eliminated Peru Gateway Travel and Best Peru Tours from consideration based on their prices.

Then started a weird adventure with Avent Peru that can only be described as surreal. This tour operator is based in Lima, not in the US. Emails back and forth were quite prompt and the planning was going along quite well. We actually had a tour we were reasonably happy with at a price we were OK with. Then started the surreal part: the tour operator does not accept credit cards unless the card holder presents the card to them in person!

So, how were we supposed to pay for this wonderful tour that we had spent weeks sculpting carefully? They wanted the money by wire transfer or money order. The alarm bells that went off in my head practically made me deaf! I explained to them that this was not possible. I offered to them that we would pay by credit card now, and they would have a chance to examine my credit card in detail when I got to Peru on the tour. No go.

I got so exasperated with them that I actually came to the conclusion that they were a bogus and fraudulent tour operator. They had tagged us along and snagged us with their low prices so that they could spring the trap on us and have us send them money by money order, never to see the money or the tour ever again. I wrote up a blog post warning travelers about this tour agent and was about to publish it. In any case, I stopped talking with them and moved on to Eureka Travel.

Just before I published my warning blog post, I got a last email from them saying that as a concession to me, they would let me pay for the tour after I was picked up at Lima airport by their representatives. I would have to make my own air travel reservations to get to and back from Peru, but the land portion would be handled by them, and I could pay for it after I was in Peru rather than right now (even though they normally need payment at least 3o to 45 days before the tour departure date). I thought that was a pretty nice gesture, and not one that a bogus tour operator would make, so I did not publish my scathing blog post about them, but still, I was not comfortable proceeding with them either. Who knows what other surprises they would have in store for me once I got to Peru. So, I apologized for not being able to work with them because of this fracas, and moved on.

My travel companions also wanted the assurance of working with a US-based travel agent, which Eureka Travel is (they are based in California). I got in email touch with a nice agent at Eureka Travel named Analia Rupar-Przebieda. Eureka already had a tour on their website that was very close to what I wanted anyways. It was their Classic Peru tour that included visits to all the places we wanted to see. The only problem was that the trip from Cusco to Puno was by bus, whereas we wanted to go by train.

No problem, said Analia, and offered us the option of taking the train for a small additional fee. Then came the issue of deciding on a good set of dates to take the vacation. Even before I got involved with the census work, I was leaning towards the beginning of July as a good option, it being in the middle of the tourist season in Peru. But air travel prices were much lower towards the beginning of June and higher in July when I checked travel websites like Expedia. Then there was the census work to juggle, because the census was likely not to rehire me after a 7 to 10-day absence in June. Ultimately, Analia was able to find good airfares for the beginning of July also, so I was able to stick to my original plan of going in July.

But the problem was that the good fares were available only if we left on a Sunday and returned on a Monday, extending the trip by a day. The difference in airfare was over $225 per person between returning on a Monday and returning on a Sunday. Analia creatively offered us the solution of simply sitting around Lima for a day, and then leaving a day later. The extra day would only cost us about $70 in hotel costs, so we would still come out ahead.

After thinking about it for a while, I came up with an even better idea. The original tour had the trip from Cusco to Puno taking place in a bus, with stops along the way at some tourist spots for sight-seeing. Since we would be taking the train, we would not be able to stop at those places and see those sights. So, I suggested to Analia that instead of sitting around in Lima for an extra day, we could take the bus back from Puno to Cusco and then fly out the next day. Like good tour operators who are able to accommodate customer requests quickly and efficiently, Analia confirmed that that would not be a problem. The cost would be a little higher than the $70 for sitting around in Lima, but not enough to wipe out the airfare savings. Everything worked out beautifully with just a little creativity thrown in!

We fly into Lima on Day 1. We go straight to the hotel and stay the night. We take a city tour the next day (day 2) and again stay overnight. Day 3 begins with a flight from Lima to Cusco, and an afternoon half-day city tour. Day 4 will be in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Day 5 will be in Machu Picchu. Day 6 will be on the train from Cusco to Puno. Day 7, we take a tour of Puno and a couple of islands in Lake Titicaca. Day 8, we take the bus back from Puno to Cusco and stay overnight. The last day of the tour (day 9 from counting the day we leave as day 1), we fly back from Cusco back to the US. All this for only about $2,000 per person! I guess the trip had to happen only this year so that I could afford it with my extra earnings from the census work!!

So our trip is all set now. We would leave on the 4th of July (day 1), and return in the early morning on the 13th July (this is actually day 10. we would depart Peru on the 12th (day 9), but the flight lands only past midnight back in the US). So, now, I am doing a bunch of preparations for this trip apart from the actual planning and research, so that everything is squared away before I leave (reconfirming flights, reading up on touristy things to do and see, etc.). Given the long time it took for this vacation to plan and make into a reality, it better be a good one! And given the price I am paying for it, it better be better than good!! In fact, it better be an excellent vacation!!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Insane Week Coming Up!

I know . . . I usually don't talk about the upcoming week in these missives, focusing rather on the week that was. But the week that was is going to appear very tame compared to what is in store for me this coming week, so I feel compelled to talk about the upcoming week.

Before we get there, let us see what happened this past week. As I said, nothing earth-shattering happened really. My project is moving along slowly. I have no idea whether it is on track because I can't see the track to figure out how far off we are! Every week brings with it new challenges. The last week's challenge was proving some kind of benefit estimate for the project (yeah, I know, I have been working on it for about 9 months now, so I have no idea why a benefit estimate is needed now, not when the project was started. But bureaucrats have to be fed their pound of flesh at some point, and the fact that they were not fed 9 months back is not likely to serve as an excuse for not feeding them at all).

Like many other projects we work on, it is difficult to estimate benefits for this project. In many cases, once we implement a project, we can run the company in parallel with and without using the project to assess benefits. But in this case, even that is not possible. We are replacing a very labor-intensive process with an automated and highly optimized process, and we know it will likely result in lots of benefits. But, quantifying them in dollars and cents is pretty tough. I know that whatever numbers I throw out there are utter nonsense. But these bean-counters take them very seriously, so my manager and I brain-stormed long and hard about how to calculate some reasonably plausible numbers and how to present them.

Unfortunately, the best way we could come up with to calculate the numbers involved intensive use of Excel, basically locking up my work computer for hours at a time as our number-crunching proceeded. My entire last week was spent watching paint dry . . . er . . ., I mean, watching Excel crunch numbers endlessly. I did manage to get past the crashes, and slow-downs to finally produce numbers that are going to be presented this week to higher-ups in charge of purse-strings. If they want more numbers or "better" numbers, I will have to produce them this coming week.

I was counting on an insane week without having to rerun numbers again for my project. If I have to do that, then insane would be a very mild adjective for the week. But I will fill you in on the details when the time comes.

As for last week, as far as blogging was concerned, on Monday, I published a post on pre-filling forms in Access based on data input into the form for previous records. I published another post on auxiliary fractions on Wednesday. On Thursday, I published a post on hilarious history-related bloopers by students. Then on Friday, I put together a post on stealth USB flash drives. On Saturday, I wrote about how I have been informed that July 1st (just before I go on vacation) will most probably my last day with the census. That post also has details on my understanding of the Vacant/Delete Check (VDC) process of NRFU.

My blog was not visited by anybody from a new country this week either. It has been two weeks since my flag counter reached 136. Fiji is my last new country. Oh well, 136 is well beyond the number of countries I believed would be even mildly interested in reading anything I write in my blog, so I shouldn't be complaining! Maybe I will have better luck next week, and have a few new countries to report on in my next writing.

Which brings me to the topic of next week again. Well, I go on vacation at the end of next week for a full 10 days. So, my manager wants me to wrap up a bunch of loose ends before I leave. I have to hunt down all the loose ends, and either tie them up or hand them off to someone else to tie up before I leave. On top of that, my census office, after weeks of giving me 10 to 12 hours of work, wants me in for 25 hours next week. So, I have to put in 8 hours of work at my regular job, then rush off to do 5 or 6 more hours at the census office.

I am not completely sure what the census office will have me do for that long since the verification of the binders for the VDC process was almost completed today, and will almost certainly be done by tomorrow. I can't wait to show up tomorrow and find out what insanity they have in store for me!

And with all this going on, I have to prepare for this vacation too! I have to find time to do laundry, pack up, cut the grass, and do various other things I haven't even thought about before the week is over. And, no, I haven't had time to even think about what to write in my blog yet, leave alone preparing any material yet. Oh well, I might have to let the blog coast along in neutral for the next couple of weeks before picking it up again. After all, I take my vacation seriously, and I don't want even my blog intruding on my enjoyment of it! Maybe, if you are nice, I will share some details of my vacation with all of you after I come back!!

Take Precautions To Protect Your Eyes From The Summer Sun

The long days of summer are good for backyard barbeques, lounging around pools and beaches, and other outdoor activities like walking in the park, camping and hiking trips, etc. But the strong summer sun can be hazardous to your health in many ways. It is especially important to protect your eyes from the harmful ultra-violet radiation of the sun. This radiation can cause damage to your eyes and make you more susceptible to cataracts, melanoma, retinoblastoma and other problems of the eye.

A good pair of sunglasses can help protect your eyes from the summer sun. My previous pair of sunglasses was showing its age, and my wife told me that it was showing my age too because of the fashion statement it was making! So, I decided to shop around for a new pair. I found a place on the web that sells quality sunglasses at affordable prices, called MensSunglasses.com.

As the name suggests, the site retails only mens sunglasses. The selection is very extensive, and the prices are very competitive. The site does not sell name brands with the accompanying dizzying price tags. But you get men's sunglasses inspired by the styling of all these name brands.

In addition to plain sunglasses, you also get biker sunglasses, aviator sunglasses, goggles, reading sunglasses, bifocal sunglasses, and a dizzying array of other types of sunglasses too numerous to list here. They even sell vintage sunglasses in case I decide that the styling of my previous pair is something to be proud of rather than indicative of my age (or vintage as my wife would put it)!

So, if you are looking for good prices on a good selection of mens sunglasses, click on over to MensSunglasses.com and take a look at what they have to offer. If what you want out of a pair of sunglasses is good eye protection in a form that makes you look good, you won't be disappointed. MensSunglasses.com is so confident about the quality of their merchandise that they offer a 365 day return policy (yes, that is a whole year in case you missed it the first time!) and a lifetime guarantee. Also, they charge no shipping for any order over $20, and no sales taxes on any glasses. You wouldn't want the good deal you get on a pair of sunglasses spoiled by the addition of shipping and handling or tax now, would you?!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Last Day With The Census Will Be July 1

So, the big mystery came to a pretty predictable end. I was told today that I will not be working after July 1st at the local census office. I had already requested days off from July 2nd to the 11th for a long-planned vacation, so it was just a question of whether I would have any work left after I came back. The answer was that there would probably be not enough work to leave me on the payroll and give me any hours after I come back. So, they are going to complete the formality of taking me off the payroll before I leave on vacation.

This coming week is actually shaping up to be very busy though. I am being scheduled for over 20 hours of work this week, and several others who don't have to juggle two jobs (and have a full week to work) are getting a full 40-hour schedule out of the census bureau. The work is supposed to be very short-lived though, which is why they don't want me coming back from vacation with any hopes for more work.

Now that all the EQ's (enumerator questionnaires) are in and taken care of, the next step in the NRFU process (Non-response follow-up) is called Vacant/Delete Check (VDC). This is the step in which a small subset of the enumerators go out into the field once again and verify each address that was either identified as vacant, or was identified to be deleted from the database during the NRFU enumeration.

Addresses can be marked for deletion for a variety of reasons. The house may not exist at the address provided. For instance, we got a bunch of addresses meant for a city in Minnesota that we are 500 miles away from because they coded up the state wrong. Houses get converted to offices and other non-residential uses. Houses get destroyed in fires, floods and other natural disasters, or they are demolished for other reasons.

During VDC, all such addresses are double-checked to make sure that what was marked as a vacant or delete is really in that condition. To enable that, our office has to re-prepare the binders (the ones we put together for the original NRFU enumeration) for the VDC process. The process of re-preparing these binders is what kept me busy today, and will probably keep me busy for the next week.

Essentially, after the binders were turned in by the crew leaders at the end of the NRFU enumeration, we verified that they had been completed correctly. Part of the verification process was to make sure that every address in the address list inside each binder had a designation next to it telling whether the address was occupied, vacant or marked for deletion.

These addresses are then re-canvassed as part of the VDC process. So, to re-prepare the binders for this task, we have to make sure the address list is complete and accurate, and make sure all the maps necessary for the enumerators to locate the addresses in the list are part of the binder.

You may remember that when I started working for the census bureau, I was involved in preparing these binders the first time. Stuffing maps in envelopes, printing and arranging the address lists, etc. was all done at that time. This time, we don't have to actually print anything if everything is in order, and we certainly don't have to prepare EQ's. But, we do have to verify that the address list is complete, and the map envelope has all the maps required.

This is once again a labor-intensive process. When the binders were initially turned in, nobody thought to tell us that for the next step in the process, they need to be complete in terms of address lists and maps. So, nobody verified those aspects of the binders when they were turned in. Binders were boxed up and put away, and I have already talked about the ad hoc methods that were invented to keep track of the binders that were turned in as opposed to those that were still out in the field. The nightmare of all that is now over (it turns out we are missing one binder, and nobody has any idea where it is. The person who last signed for it no longer works for the census bureau, so the binder is now presumed lost forever!).

But the nightmare of re-preparing the binders for VDC just got started. Because the binders were never checked with the VDC process in mind, we have to reopen every binder and check the contents all over again. The binders are now in the office in boxes stacked all over the place, so as usual, it is a lot of heavy lifting getting the boxes down on the floor, checking the binders in them, packing them back into the boxes and putting them away.

Now, this would have been OK if someone had actually come up with a good way to keep track of binders that had been checked already so that they don't get checked again and again. I know this is not rocket science, but the census bureau is staffed with supervisors who don't seem to be significantly better than chickens with their heads cut off, when it comes to organization and project-planning or execution. Moreover, because of the number of supervisors and the fact that each of them comes in to work only for a few hours a week, any method invented by one supervisor goes out the window when his/her shift is gone, and the new supervisor promptly sits down and reinvents the wheel!

This has been going on for the past 3 days now. There are boxes of binders all over the place and nobody can tell which have been checked and are fully ready for the VDC process, which have been checked and are missing stuff that needs to be printed and added to the binder, and which binders have never been checked at all. The chaos and pandemonium at the office gives new meaning to the phrase government inefficiency!

Finally, in today's shift, my supervisor came up with a method of attaching a label to each box of binders that contains a list of all the binders in the box, and then some checkboxes to indicate whether it has been verified, whether all the contents are there as they should be, and whether the box is ready to be shipped out. Hopefully, nobody will mess up the labels, and we will get some actual useful work done during the next few shifts because of this "ingenious" solution!

I was involved in the actual task of verifying several boxes of binders during my shift today. The process, as I commented to someone working with me, is actually more time-consuming than putting the binders together in the first place. To put the binders together, we simply printed out the address sheets, 3-hole-punched them, and added them to the binder. Then we printed out and stuffed maps into the map envelope and that was about it.

To verify the binders, we had to open the binder and go through each page of the address list to make sure none were missing (we obviously saved paper by not printing out a new address list, but the trade-off was more time spent in making sure that the address list was complete). We also had to make sure that all the sheets of paper were securely attached to the 3 rings of the binder. If sheets were falling out because the holes had torn through to the edge of the paper, we had to put plastic reinforcing rings around the holes to make sure they were secure. This was very time-consuming since in many cases, several sheets of paper had torn out of one or two of the rings.

Then came the map envelope itself. We had to open the envelope and verify that its contents corresponded to the (census) block list of the binder. Since the maps need not be in any particular order inside the envelope, this was a laborious process of taking out all the maps in the envelope, rearranging them in the correct order, identifying missing maps (if any are missing, we have to print and insert them into the envelope in the correct order), then reclosing the envelope. We found several envelopes that were completely empty (one even had a note stating that the maps had been destroyed, we have no idea why or how), and many that were missing a couple of maps.

There were also map envelopes whose contents had been interchanged due to careless handling by the enumerators of the binders assigned to them. Sometimes we caught this switching and did not waste paper printing out new maps. Other times, we would find one envelope with the wrong maps, but we would not be able to locate the other binder in which these maps belong so that we could get the switched maps (the maps have no indication on them as to which binders they go with, only the binders have a sheet telling us which maps go with them). So, the office now has several "extra" maps that were found in the wrong envelopes, and we will probably end up destroying them eventually.

The whole process was quite messy, time-consuming and tiring. And I am only guessing at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were told sometime next week that the way we were re-preparing the binders was all wrong, and we had to do something totally different. And of course, this would apply to all binders, not just binders that had not yet been re-prepared, so we would probably have to start from scratch all over again. When it comes to the working of the census bureau, fact is stranger than fiction, much stranger!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Greedy Optometrists Don't Like Competition From The Internet

I have written before about the high price of prescription eyewear. What is essentially two pieces of glasses and a couple of cents worth of plastic around it gets sold for several hundred dollars just because that is what the market will bear. Well, the market decided it would not bear it any more. More and more people turned to online retailers for eyeglasses.

You would think that optometrists would see the writing on the wall and reduce their prices to compete in this changed environment. But that is not the case, at least in the case of some optometrists. A friend of mine recently showed me an online discussion group for optometrists on which these "professionals" posted their opinions on people who ask them for the pupilary distance so that they can get away from their greedy clutches, and buy their glasses online for much cheaper.

It astounded me to read the way these people treat their high prices as entitlements. It was obvious right from the first few comments that all these people cared about was the money. If they were losing business because of this new trend, goes their logic, then they have the right to retaliate using whatever means they have at their disposal. Some of the comments posted on the discussion forum are reproduced below:

"Charge 35.00 to 49.00 for it and give it to them in an encrypted format so that it is only decipherable to you but looks realistic to them. For instance, their pd is 62 ou . so you record it as a derivative of your unique base number . If you base is 100 then their pd is - 38 or give it as a monocular number. If your base is 60 then their pd is + 1 ou . If you used 120 as your base standard then pd becomes 58 binocularly. Your scope measures PD as a base of 0"

Notice how callously this poster suggests they lie to you. Eventually, to make the numbers realistic, they would have to fudge it only by a small, but unknown (to you) number. So, you would actually think it was the correct pupilary distance and use it in filling out an online order for eye wear. Guess what it is going to do to your eyesight though. You think this poster has ever heard of the hippocratic oath of never doing harm first?

"Why would you even entertain and change your business model to accomodate (sic) these people? Notice I didn't say customers. These are NOT your customers. They are searching for the lowest price period. Not wanting to pay $30 for a PD? Please! Ok so how about this? If every ECP refused to provide a PD, even for a fee then I wonder how the unregulated online opticals would be doing?"

So, you go to these people for your eye exam (which by the way, does cost money, and which can not be done online, so these online eye wear retailers are not really a threat to the optometrists' main profession of examining patients' eyes. But now that they have gotten used to bilking their customers for not just writing the prescription for filling it too, they seem to have be having withdrawal symptoms). But that does not make you their customer or patient enough to give you your full prescription. If you don't buy their hyper-inflated glasses, then you are no good to them. Their solution is to band up and refuse to provide you a full prescription so that you can not save money. Nice . . .!

"In my humble opinion, we should ALL absolutely refuse to get involved with servicing, repairing, adjusting, or even touching a pair of eyeglasses that were purchased without the total involvement of an eye care professional from the start of the process… period… never… not even for compensation. If we were all united in this approach, within a few years the word would spread, and patients would begin to realize that whatever little money they thought they were saving by ordering a personalized, medical device over the internet, was money thrown away. We would then see Internet sales dwindle to nothing."

Humble opinion, indeed. While we are at it, why not abolish the internet, and take over the world too? Sounds good to me!

"In our office, a PD is not taken unless the patient is ordering glasses, meaning it's not a regular measurement performed as part of an eye exam. If the patient wants us to provide that service (the act of taking the measurement), we do it for a charge, just like all the other tests and measurements we perform. For our fee, we will also verify the Rx once it has been filled, if the patient wants to show their sheepish face again after obviously taking their business elsewhere. "

This is a nice, subtle, and lucrative redefinition of what an eye exam and accompanying prescription are supposed to contain. Why not charge separately for each number and plus or minus sign on the prescription too? And it goes without saying that if a patient is not wearing a ludicrously over-priced pair of glasses sold by this optometrist, their face would only look sheepish, no question about it. I wonder what my employer would think if I started charging them by the line for code I write . . .

"I once had a person who tried to cover his true motives so hard I was all happy and cheery and said "We don't charge anything for an eye test!"

What he didn't know is that times were so slow in store we didn't have anything better to do.
I did a complete eye test and managed to keep her in the exam room for over 45 minutes!.
When we were done she said: "Ok, thanks can I have a presription?"

And I replied: "That'll be €30,-"
Her getting angry: "But you said an eye test was free of charge?"
I replied, "The test is for free, the prescrtiption isn't unless you buy a pair of glasses." (which is actually the company's policy).
She then left the store ranting about how I wasted her time!

My collegues almost died laughting.

But seriously, a free PD test? That's a no-no. You can take a complete eye exam and pay €30,- or get lost."

Nice. Remember, these are supposed to be professionals, not middle-school pranksters. Most middle-school pranksters wouldn't stoop to such levels of immaturity, but that is another post for another day . . .

"I tell them something like: "Sorry, but I cannot give you the measurements to go and buy your glasses on line." Then I explain that we are in business to sell glasses ourselves, not to facilitate purchase elsewhere. Of course I don't use the word "facilitate", because it seems like many of our patients are truly not smarter than a 5th grader. "

Ooh, another gem. This brainerd has a pretty high opinion about the brain power of his customers, you can tell! When the customer pay him $150 for a pair of $5 glasses, I am sure he becomes a genius, but when he does not satisfy this optometrist's greed, he has the brain-power of a 5th grader!!

You see a doctor because you trust the doctor has your best interests at heart. It goes to the very core of the doctor-patient relationship. How can you trust a professional when the professional is looking out only for himself and not for you? How would you feel if your regular doctor refused to write you a prescription for your drugs unless you bought the drugs from his own over-priced pharmacy? Would you trust the judgment of such a doctor to even write out the prescription for the correct drug rather than a more expensive drug that does not actually address your problem? Similarly, would you trust these optometrists not to change your prescription every time you go to them for a check-up just because it more lucrative for them that way?

Is the solution regulatory? Should state licensing bodies require optometrists to write out full prescriptions as part of every eye exam? Should they force optometrists to not own eyeglass stores (that is a bit like doctors all owning their own pharmacies) so that the temptation to mix the two separate lines of businesses (examining patients and selling eyeglasses) does not even exist?

Do you have experiences with eye care professionals who have become testy with you for not buying their over-priced glasses even though you have paid them plenty for the actual eye test itself? Sound off in the comments, and let others know how you have dealt with it. What do you think is the solution here? Should online retailers like Zenni set up deals with brick and mortar stores to measure pupilary distances for a small fee, with the online retailer picking up part of the tab? Should online retailers band together to set up storefronts for the express purpose of servicing their products, including measuring pupilary distances for their potential customers?

New Lockers Part Of School Renovation

Guest Post Written and Submitted By: Eustachy Nowicki

Being the principal of a large middle school is not an easy job. You can imagine the kinds of problems I have to deal with on a daily basis during the school year. But the job does not get any easier during the summer break either. There are always things to do during the break to make sure that the school and its facilities are prepared for the rigors of the school year. When you have hundreds of 13 to 15-year old kids running around the school every day, believe me, the school takes quite a beating.

This summer, the school district approved a renovation of my school that involves replacing the lockers in the school. But the budget was quite tight, so it was time to go shopping for the best deal. Morelockers.com was my choice for supplying the school with replacement lockers as part of this renovation. They guarantee the lowest prices and the biggest selection of lockers. Their customer service team is one of the best in the industry, willing to go the extra mile to make sure every customer is satisfied, and their projects are completed on schedule and under budget.

My school has two sets of lockers. The first is standard school lockers. We have rows of lockers along pretty much every corridor of the school. Previously, two students had to share each locker, but during the renovation, we were able to find designs that enabled us to stack lockers to save space. These lockers weren't much more expensive than single lockers either, so in the new school year, my students are going to get individual lockers. Maybe that by itself will reduce my headaches during the school year!

In addition, there are gym lockers in the boys' and girls' gyms in the school. These lockers are bigger than the regular student lockers. Previously, we used to have completely closed lockers in this area. You can imagine the reek created by dozens of sweaty athletes storing their workout clothes and uniforms in these lockers. I daresay our budget for air fresheners was higher than our budget for sports uniforms. But morelockers.com was able to suggest vented lockers that are ideally suited for areas like gyms because they allow odors to dissipate much quicker. This makes the gym areas much more sanitary and easier to maintain and clean.

Overall, I am very pleased with how this project has gone. The new lockers look good, and in my limited testing, they work well. I think my students will also be excited with these lockers. I think my student athletes in particular will appreciate the change since lockers were always the biggest area of complaints for them before. The old lockers were put in when the school was constructed in 1996. I hope the new lockers are as long-lasting, and stick around for the next 14 years too!

MyTVOptions Gives You A Plethora Of Choices

Shopping around for good prices on the best television-viewing bundles is a periodic phenomenon in my household.  Cable television rates keep going up at well above the inflation rate, so it seems as if my entertainment bills become unaffordable as soon as I start enjoying the programming!  Moreover, the amount of programming has also gone up tremendously, with all the major networks setting up multiple channels to beam in programming.  Unfortunately, one can not multi-task by watching several TV programs at the same time, so you have to time-shift some of the programs you want to watch to other times just to be able to enjoy everything you want to.

Moreover, your tastes don't correspond to the tastes of everybody else in the family, so you need to compromise, and watch some things live, leaving other things to be recorded for later viewing.  Because of this, having a good system to record programs for later viewing is very important to my household.  Digital video recorders (DVR's) allow you to do this without messing with tapes (which invariably run out 10 minutes before your show is supposed to end).  During my recent round of price-checking I came across a good deal on MyTVOptions.  And the reason it was a good deal in my mind was the fact that when you signed up for any package, you can get an HD DVR and an HD receiver for free.  That is worth almost $300 if you have to buy them yourself, so my price-comparison antennae perked up immediately when I saw that!  MyTVOptions also offers you 50% off the first year's rates, so that also adds up to significant savings.

But what caught my attention was the impressive specifications on the DVR they were offering for free.  The DVR for DIRECTV is 15"x11"x3" in approximate dimensions and weighs only 8 lbs.  The DVR is programmed chock-full of features to make your recording and viewing as pain-free as possible.  You can pause and time-shift live TV by upto 90 minutes.  You can set the DVR up for recording your favorite shows by using a simple menu-driven interface that allows you to search for your favorite shows by title, person, channel or keyword.  You can also set up the DVR to record a whole season of your favorite shows automatically.  You can also watch recordings while recording other shows.  And when you are watching a recording, you can skip forward in 30-second intervals to get past commercials, speed up or slow down the playback, etc.  All in all, this is a very powerful, feature-packed DVR.  Most importantly, the DVR allows me to connect external hard drives to it for increased recording space.

Just for comparison, I also took a look at the DVR for Time Warner Cable.  This DVR comes at a cost of about $11 per month on top of your regular subscription fees.  The capabilities are quite similar, but the site is skimpy on details like dimensions and weight.  I also could not find what outputs are available on the DVR for audio and video.  Most importantly, there is no provision to attach external hard drives to this DVR to get additional program storage space.

I then took a look at the DVR for Dish Network also.  This DVR is also quite capable and comes built in with slingbox technology allowing you to watch the programs recorded on it on your computer and other devices.  It also comes with a large 1 TB hard drive and provision to attach external hard drives to increase the storage space even further if needed.  But, this DVR is a quite a bit bigger and heavier than the DirecTV DVR, being about 4"x16"x13", and weighing in at 11 lbs.

Good DVR's add to your enjoyment of TV immensely, so it is important to pick one that suits your needs.  Price and capabilities usually go hand in hand.  And usually, I find it better and cheaper to pay for something one time rather than paying for it on a monthly basis.  But I find it best when I can get something for free and not have to pay for it at all, either one-time or month after month.  The DVR offer at MyTVOptions is certainly very tempting in this regard.  Being able to get 50% off the first year is another big plus that just might end up clinching the deal!

16 Stealth USB Keys For The James Bond Wannabe!

If you have ever wanted to be a secret agent a la James Bond, you might want to have one of these USB flash drives handy. These are USB flash drives that are made to look like something else totally innocuous. Sometimes the purpose is to make them look more aesthetically appealing. And sometimes, the purpose is to create a device that serves multiple purposes. But others just seem to have been created just so that they don't look like USB flash drives. If you do get one of these, make sure you don't break any laws or regulations by sneaking them into places where USB flash drives are not allowed!

Tiny USB flash drive
It is hard to find a USB flash drive smaller than this one. Just the size may be enough to make this a stealth flash drive. It may not even be visible when connected to a computer!


red crystal heart USB flash drive
Crystal ladybug USB flash drive
Crystal heart USB flash drive
Jewelry, especially flashy specimens like the ones above, can also be good places to hide a USB drive discreetly! Obviously, this works better for women than men unless you are a rap star!!

Lipstick USB flash drive
Lipstick in a handbag works reasonably well to conceal a USB flash drive too.

Wristband USB flash drive
black wristband USB flash drive
And if you are a child, you might be able to get away with wearing colored wristbands! Maybe, even if you are not a child, you can claim that colored wristbands are the latest fashion accessory, and see how naive the security personnel are!! And if you are not a big fan of bright colors, you can get them in plain black too.

Cross USB flash drive
Here is some unisex jewelry that men who don't normally indulge in bling can feel comfortable in!

Pen USB flash drive
wrist watch USB flash drive
Swiss Army knife USB flash drive
Lighter USB flash drive
You don't have to panic if you are a male who does not usually wear jewelry. Here are some practical designs that hide a USB flash drive in things that men (and women) can reasonably be expected to have on them.

Wine cork USB flash drive
Eraser USB flash drive
Carabiner USB flash drive
Battery USB flash drive
Here are some more cleverly disguised USB flash drive. They are clever but not foolproof though. "Excuse me sir, why are you carrying a wine cork in your pocket?" "Ah, well, it is a lucky wine cork. I never leave home without it!" Yeah, right!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wouldn't The World Be A Lot More Interesting If All This Were True?!

Richard Lederer of St. Paul's School took full advantage of being a teacher by amassing this wonderful collection of student bloopers that attempt to rewrite world history in interesting ways! These bloopers were compiled into a book called Anguished English. Lederer claims that he did not "invent" any of these bloopers. They are honest-to-goodness writings of students. However, he does admit that some of the bloopers in his collection came from students other than his own.

Many of the bloopers are the result of unusual terms being misheard and/or misinterpreted. Thus, we get "Pullet Surprise" from "Pulitzer Prize". Others are based on misspellings such as "liar" for "lyre". And then there are typographical errors that change words from one to another completely unrelated one, such as "house" to "horse". This collection contains examples of all three of these types of errors in addition to those caused by the student being confused or unprepared. Whatever the cause, this collection is sure to bring tears of laughter to your eyes! Enjoy!!

holy bibleThe Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinnesses, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked "Am I my brother's son?" God asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Issac, stole his brother's birthmark. Jacob was a partiarch who brought up his twelve sons to be partiarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob's sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites. The four gospels were written by John, Paul, George, and that other guy.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Philatelists, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David's sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.
Ancient Egypt
The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation. The Egyptians built the Pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube. The Pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.

ancient OlympicsWithout the Greeks, we wouldn't have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns - Corinthian, Doric and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable. Achilles appears in "The Illiad", by Homer. Homer also wrote the "Oddity", in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java. The reward to the victor was a coral wreath. The government of Athens was democratic because the people took the law into their own hands. There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what their neighbors were doing. When they fought the Parisians, the Greeks were outnumbered because the Persians had more men.

Eventually, the Ramons conquered the Geeks. History call people Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long. At Roman banquets, the guests wore garlic in their hair. Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March killed him because they thought he was going to be made king. Nero was a cruel tyrant who would torture his poor subjects by playing the fiddle to them.

Then came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Dames, King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery, King Harlod mustarded his troops before the Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc was cannonized by George Bernard Shaw, and the victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Finally, the Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense.

In midevil times most of the people were alliterate. The greatest writer of the time was Chaucer, who wrote many poems and verse and also wrote literature. Another tale tells of William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son's head.

The Renaissance was an age in which more individuals felt the value of their human being. Martin Luther was nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences. He died a horrible death, being excommunicated by a bull. It was the painter Donatello's interest in the female nude that made him the father of the Renaissance. It was an age of great inventions and discoveries. Gutenberg invented the Bible. Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper.

The government of England was a limited mockery. Henry VIII found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee. Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted "hurrah." Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.
Shakespeare
The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespear. Shakespear never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He lived in Windsor with his merry wives, writing tragedies, comedies and errors. In one of Shakespear's famous plays, Hamlet rations out his situation by relieving himself in a long soliloquy. In another, Lady Macbeth tries to convince Macbeth to kill the King by attacking his manhood. Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet. Writing at the same time as Shakespear was Miquel Cervantes. He wrote "Donkey Hote". The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote "Paradise Lost." Then his wife died and he wrote "Paradise Regained."

ColumbusDuring the Renaissance America began. Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Fe. Later the Pilgrims crossed the Ocean, and this was called the Pilgrim's Progress. When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they were greeted by Indians, who came down the hill rolling their war hoops before them. The Indian squabs carried porposies on their back. Many of the Indian heroes were killed, along with their cabooses, which proved very fatal to them. The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this.

One of the causes of the Revolutionary Wars was the English put tacks in their tea. Also, the colonists would send their parcels through the post without stamps. During the War, Red Coats and Paul Revere was throwing balls over stone walls. The dogs were barking and the peacocks crowing. Finally, the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay for taxis.

Delegates from the original thirteen states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin had gone to Boston carrying all his clothes in his pocket and a loaf of bread under each arm. He invented electricity by rubbing cats backwards and declared "a horse divided against itself cannot stand." Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.

George Washington married Martha Curtis and in due time became the Father of Our Country. Then the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.

Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln became America's greatest Precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, "In onion there is strength." Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also signed the Emasculation Proclamation, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave the ex-Negroes citizenship. But the Clue Clux Clan would torcher and lynch the ex-Negroes and other innocent victims. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposedly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.

Meanwhile in Europe, the enlightenment was a reasonable time. Voltare invented electricity and also wrote a book called "Candy". Gravity was invented by Issac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the Autumn, when the apples are falling off the trees.

Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian and half English. He was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

France was in a very serious state. The French Revolution was accomplished before it happened. The Marseillaise was the theme song of the French Revolution, and it catapulted into Napoleon. During the Napoleonic Wars, the crowned heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes. Then the Spanish gorillas came down from the hills and nipped at Napoleon's flanks. Napoleon became ill with bladder problems and was very tense and unrestrained. He wanted an heir to inherit his power, but since Josephine was a baroness, she couldn't bear him any children.

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. He reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplatory of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

The nineteenth century was a time of many great inventions and thoughts. The invention of the steamboat caused a network of rivers to spring up. Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick Raper, which did the work of a hundred men. Samuel Morse invented a code for telepathy. Louis Pasteur discovered a cure for rabbis. Charles Darwin was a naturalist who wrote the "Organ of the Species". Madman Curie discovered radium. And Karl Marx became one of the Marx Brothers.

The First World War, cause by the assignation of the Arch-Duck by a surf, ushered in a new error in the anals of human history.

The legislature makes the laws, the executive carries them out, and the judiciary interrupts them. Someone who runs for an office he already holds is called an incompetent.

My Accident-Prone Son

Guest post written by Emily Keiser

My son gets into and breaks almost anything within an 10-mile radius of him. So it was no surprise when he broke our next door neighbor’s bay window when he was playing catch with my husband.

Not only was the focal point of Mrs. Stewart’s beautiful home damaged, the cool air from her house’s central air conditioning was escaping into the outdoors. I was especially worried because this might have hurt her wellbeing because she’s an older lady and has health problems. I knew it needed to be fixed as soon as possible. She has been putting up with our antics for a while and I felt terrible so I called Sears Replacement Windows Texas and got a quote for the window replacement.

The repairmen had her beautiful window looking nice and new again. If you didn’t know, you would have never suspected that anything had happened to it! I of course paid for it because my son was responsible, but that didn’t stop Mrs. Stewart from bringing over a batch of her famous snickerdoodle cookies as a token of gratitude – which I told her was completely unnecessary. But that didn’t stop us from munching on her delicious cookies.

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