The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 28, 2011

You Might Want to Sit Down for This One

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:05 am

If I had to make a bold and highly unscientific guess, I’d say that the vast majority of the people out there reading this are most likely doing so from the relative comfort of their computer desk either at work or at home.  Which means that in most cases, you’re going to be reading this while sitting in some sort of desk chair.  And if your experience happens to be anything like mine, there’s a good chance that chair mostly just annoys the heck out of you.  Take, for example, the chair you see above.  As is the case with a suspiciously large percentage of the furniture I’ve got in my apartment, it emerged flat-packed from the Deadly Tunnel of Furniture roughly two years ago, replacing another chair from the same vaguely Scandanavian warehouse of furniture (and occasionally doom) that had at that time outlived its usefulness.  Which, to be honest, probably could have been measured in days rather than weeks, months or years, but I kept using the thing anyway until something particularly unfixable broke and relegated it to the garbage bin it had dodged for far longer than it should have. 

For some reason I can’t quite seem to figure out, this chair cost a fair bit more than the one it was replacing.  I’m guessing that they figured they could charge more because the designer had a fancier sounding name or something like that.  Either that, or they were trying to get in on the whole fabric mesh thing that all the cool chair designers were into at the time so they could use half the material and sell it for twice as much.  Either way, I don’t think it’s because they used quality materials and built the thing to last, because when it all boils down, the thing is actually pretty flimsy, and annoys me on a regular basis when I try to use it.  Sure, it still functions, more or less, as a chair, but the tilt mechanism has bent to the point where the actual seating position when tilted back is roughly halfway up the backrest, and the hydraulic cylinder for the height adjustment has developed a slow leak somewhere along the line that causes the seat to slowly slink down as you sit in it, and requires constant fiddling to keep the seat at the proper height.  Eventually, it all just gets to be too much effort to maintain, and you just crank the thing all the way up so you can get another 17 minutes of typing  out of it before it sinks back down to the bottom and you have to fix it again.  Of course, by the time you’ve reached this point I’d say you’ve pretty much thrown any semblance of ergonomics out the proverbial window, but  I suspect that the experience the people who design these chairs have with ergonomics amounts to having had someone play it against them in Scrabble for 27 points once.

The obvious solution to that problem would be, of course, to replace the chair with something that’s actually decent.  The problem with that is that the average office furniture shopper is going to be faced with all sorts of choices in all sorts of price ranges, but isn’t going to have much information that’s actually useful for figuring this stuff out.  Take, for example, these four chairs, seen recently at Costco.  Of these four chairs, there was one being sold for $79.99, one being sold for $99.99, one being sold for $179.99, and one being sold for $299.99.  Just by looking at them, can you tell which is which?  Sure, you might be able to guess, but you’d probably be wrong.  With all the various combinations of materials, features, sizes and styles, just about any of these chairs could be any of those prices.  Incidentally, that plain-looking chair in the back?  That’s the $300 one, owing mostly to the prestigious and/or pretentious brand name. on the box.

Ultimately, as is the case with plenty of other durable goods, it seems that if you’re looking for something that’s going to last, you’re probably going to need to spend some money and get a higher-end product.  Then again, that’s not always a guarantee that your chair problems are going to be solved either.  At the office, my desk is equipped with one of these fancy designer chairs, standard equipment for our workplace.  Some Internet searching reveals that if I wanted to actually buy the chair I have at my desk at work, it would cost me somewhere upward of $800.  And I do have to admit that it’s a whole lot better than the one I have at home.  It’s got about a dozen different adjustments I can make, it’s got one of those fancy mesh seats that seem to be all the rage these days, and it’s generally a whole heck of a lot more comfortable than anything I’ve ever had at home.  There’s just one problem with the thing:  it squeaks every time I try to tilt it back.  Which, given my somewhat fidgety nature, is quite often, and it’s been bugging me for months now.  So after making a quick trip home on my afternoon break to grab a couple of things, I brought back a can of WD-40 to the office to try to sort this problem out once and for all.

So upon returning to the office (it was a bit of a slow day,) I turned over the chair in the middle of my cube and began lubricating anything that looked like it could be theoretically lubricated.  This, of course, accomplished absolutely nothing as the chair continued to squeak just as loudly as ever.  So further inspection of the shockingly complex tilt and adjustment mechanisms revealed a couple more points that looked like they could theoretically squeak annoyingly given the appropriate conditions.  This didn’t do much either except for make the squeak slightly less reproducible than it was before.  Three or four more instances of overturning the chair and spraying stuff into vaguely joint-like crevices didn’t do a whole lot more good.  So now instead of an expensive fancy chair that squeaks, I’ve got an expensive fancy chair that still squeaks about half the time, and a cubicle that smells like  WD-40.  At least I think I have a semi-reasonable idea of where the problem is coming from.  Unfortunately, the apparent problem spot seems to be right underneath a highly fashionable plastic cover that prevents access to the afflicted hinge, seems to be attached in a way that renders it pretty much non-removable, and probably won several prestigious awards with its understated simplicity and elegance.  At this point, about all I can think to do is just randomly spray lubricant into that space through a tiny hole on the side and hope that some of it ends up somewhere useful.  Either that, or I could call for a chair technician who would probably charge more to fix my squeaky chair than I’d pay for an average scheduled maintenance on my car.  Which I’d probably end up doing anyway after drowning the mechanism in WD-40 somehow renders it inoperable or something like that.  And voids the warranty in the process.

You know how they say the squeaky wheel gets the grease?  Yeah, well that’s not exactly doing me much good right now.

July 22, 2011

Summer Has Been Cancelled Due To Lack of Interest

Filed under: weather — Brian Lutz @ 1:52 am

A typical October Day in Seattle... The only problem is that it's supposed to be the middle of July right now.

Normally here at The Sledgehammer,  I have a longstanding policy of allowing myself only one complaint about the weather per month.  I do this mostly because if I didn’t limit myself this way I don’t know if I’d ever write about anything but how crummy the weather is, and the seven or eight people who actually read this Blog would get sick of it really fast (well, I think they already get sick of my stuff really fast, but if I did that they’d get sick of it even faster.)  Even allowing myself a monthly complaint about the weather, I’ve actually tried to refrain from doing too much complaining about the weather lately, even though the historically bad weather we’ve been getting around here for the past few months would certainly provide plenty to complain about.  And even though this past Spring was one of the coldest ones on record for the Seattle area, I think most people around here have learned to expect that kind of stuff.  Besides, we need something around here to scare off the  Californians every once in a while, right?

The conventional wisdom regarding Seattle weather is that Summer doesn’t officially begin until July 5th, but with some of the weather we’ve had around here this year, I’m starting to wonder if they got that one backwards.  The Fourth of July weekend this year was, rather uncharacteristically, quite nice this year.  The problem is that just about everything after that has pretty much sucked.  To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the really hot weather (mostly because I tend to get hot very easily, as I’m sure I’ve discussed and\or bored readers with here previously) but I’m even less of a fan of having to wear a jacket and carry an umbrella to walk to work in the middle of July.  OK, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the weather we’ve been getting here lately, particularly over the past week or so, seems to be straight out of October.  I’m not saying that it’s the end of the world or anything like that, but you know that daydreaming that most people tend to do about going somewhere nice and sunny to get away from the weather when they’re stuck in the middle of Winter?  I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen in the middle of Summer, but there seems to be an awful lot of it going around here lately.

Then again, with some of the weather the rest of the country has been stuck with while we’ve been busy wallowing underneath an amount well in excess of our recommended daily allowance of clouds, it’s not like there’s really anywhere that much better to go, unless you happen to like temperatures closer to the ones you’d normally find on a cake recipe than on a weather map.  With the big heat wave over in the Eastern United States there’s a lot of talk about something called a Heat Index over the past few days, which seems to be some obscure mishmash of temperature and humidity that I don’t really understand, but the short version is that it’s basically sounds like a fancy of way of telling you just how miserable you’re supposed to be at any given time.  In theory, we’re supposed to have one of those here as well, but it seems like we’re still struggling to get out of wind chill factor territory, so I don’t think anyone’s paying too much attention to the heat index right now.  But just in case you’re interested, this site is currently predicting that there’s a 1% chance of reaching a heat index of 100 degrees next Tuesday.  Don’t like it that hot?  Well, there’s a whopping 20% chance of reaching a heat index of 80 degrees next Thursday, so don’t toss out that sunscreen just yet, because there’s at least a 1 in 5 chance that the weather might not completely suck sometime within the next week or so.

In spite of all the gloom and/or doom in the forecast these days (although I don’t think that the local weathermen have broken out any awkward eschatological proclamations like Overcastpocalypse for this weather pattern JUST yet, I’d give it another week or so on that one)  I have to imagine that there have to be some people out there who actually like this stuff.  I suspect that most of them are named Cullen, sparkle and engage in thoroughly contrived teenage drama on a regular basis (yes, I actually saw Twilight once, under duress, I’d rather not talk about it,) but that doesn’t really count unless you’re a teenage girl anyway.  For non-ficticious beings, I think the list of people who enjoy this type of weather includes, um, well…  cranky old people (some of them anyway) and, um…  people who hate solar energy?  Well OK, I’ve got nothing.  But there’s got to be someone out there who actually likes this stuff. and the sooner we can identify, locate and officially not take the guy seriously, the better off we’ll all be for it.  As for the rest of us?  Well,  I suppose there’s always the option of packing up and moving to Florida.  Sure there’s ridiculous heat, monsoons, hurricanes, alligators and about half a zillion crazy people down there, but at least July actually looks like July down there, right? 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go find out what it would take to find myself a rewarding career in the lucrative offshore tax shelter industry.

July 13, 2011

Random Thoughts: A Summery Summary

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 2:08 am

Going by the calendar, we should be well into the Summer by now.  After a Spring that ended up being statistically one of the coldest on record in the Seattle area, I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Summer has been a bit hesitant to come out in full force just yet, but it’s definitely had its moments.  In particular, the Fourth of July weekend was especially nice this year, which is a bit of an anomaly itself.  In between, the weather has alternated between being warm and mostly sunny, and slightly less warm and mostly cloudy, although the rain really hasn’t put in more than the occasional cameo appearance until this evening, when we got the first significant rain we’ve had in a while here in Bellevue.  I don’t really mind the weather (as long as it doesn’t get too windy at least) but then again, I tend to consider pretty much anything above 60 degrees to be shorts and T-shirt weather.  It would seem that some people might not agree with me though, as when I was in line down at the Jimmy John’s in my building I saw several people wearing jackets in line.  Personally, I have no idea how anyone can possibly be cold in this kind of weather, but it certainly seems like someone out there can’t quite bring themselves to admit it’s summer.  As far as I’m concerned it’s plenty warm out there, but your mileage, of course, may vary.  And with Summer comes all the stuff you do in Summer for the three months you can actually stand to go outside.  Even though I’ve got most of the fun stuff coming up later in Summer, there’s still plenty going on.

No Animals Were Harmed In The Making of this Ridiculous Pile of Fireworks.

Another Fourth of July has come and gone, and as usual, it was celebrated with all the now customary food, family, friends, fun and ridiculous quantities of exploding stuff. In fact, I’d say this year’s giant pile of fireworks was probably the biggest one yet, and I contributed a fair bit to it myself.  To be honest, I think I might have gone just a bit overboard when I made the annual trip up to Boom City this year.  And then by the time I made it down to Muckleshoot, I’m pretty sure the whole thing went completely off the deep end.  Then again, the Fourth of July is pretty much the only chance I get to be a bad example to my nephews and get away with it, so what the heck?  On further consideration of the whole fireworks thing, I think that just plain burning money would be cheaper, mostly because the thought of burning perfectly good cash would absolutely horrify most sane people, and even if it didn’t you’d get bored of it quickly.  After all, if burn a $20 bill, it  just sits there disappearing into a creeping flame for a few seconds and it’s gone.  Then again, light off something that cost $20, and it’s still gone within a matter of seconds, but at least it managed to do something to look interesting along the way.

At some point I had actually planned to do a Blog post here highlighting some of the fireworks out there these days, but I suspect the whole thing is just a bit past its sell-by date for now, so I’ll most likely end up saving that one for sometime next June or so. 

Oh, and here’s the obligatory “Truckload of Fireworks” shot from this year.  In particular, we had all sorts of mortars this year, including the big 36-shot Goliath pack you see here, several 24-shot and 12-shot packs, and a few of the 6-shot packs just to round it off.  And there was also plenty of little stuff to go around too.  To be honest, buying fireworks is something that is, to a large extent, a blind process;  Until you’ve got some experience with the stuff, you’re pretty much relying on the advice of the guy running the stand and the fancy packaging to try to figure out what’s supposed to be good.  And even then, sometimes you’ll get something that comes out of left field.  For example, it seems that someone this year decided that Ground Bloom Flowers, a popular old (and mostly predictable)  Fourth of July standby, would be cooler if they exploded at the end.  I can’t necessarily disagree with them on that one, but it might have been nice if they would have let us know about that before we started lighting the things off.  Fortunately, everyone made it through another Fourth of July with all limbs and digits intact, although I’m thinking I should probably stay away from airport security checkpoints for a few weeks, just to be safe.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, here’s a few more random thoughts:

  • Since the last time I cleared the images directory on my phone about 4 1/2 months ago, I’ve accumulated another 526 photos on there.  It’s taking a good 10 minutes just to copy the things off the phone onto my computer’s hard drive.  And if I went looking through them, I suspect most of them would be completely random stuff.
  • I keep forgetting that my refrigerator has an ice maker in it, and as a result end up drinking vaguely tepid water from the faucet and complaining about how freakin’ warm it is in here.  I should really do something about that.
  • As a software tester, one of the most frustrating things I find I have to deal with on occasion is when there’s a bug in the product that can not be reproduced consistently.  In this case, it’s obvious that’s something is wrong, but unless you can consistently reproduce the problem you are seeing, you really have no way to tell whether or not it’s actually fixed when someone tries to fix it, hence the need to be able to demonstrate the problem consistently.  The same holds true for other things besides computer software, as I’m finding as I try to track down a problem I’ve been having with the plumbing in my bathroom.  I’ve long suspected that there’s a leak somewhere in the drainpipe coming from the tub, and I’ve been finding that there’s water coming up from between the floor tiles after a shower several times, but on two occasions now I’ve had maintenance technicians from the apartment building come to look at this, and both times the problem has not appeared.  For that matter, even I can’t get it to happen 100% of the time anymore.  I don’t think it’s the type of thing that’s going to cause me to fall through the floor into the apartment below or anything like that, but it is getting a bit annoying. 

  • You can tell you live in a serious yuppie town when the sidewalks are littered with the empty packaging from $40 bottles of tequila.
  • While I’ve been trying to write this, I keep getting distracted by stuff on YouTube.  Currently, I’m listening to various songs from the soundtrack to Super Mario Galaxy, which is a game I consider to have one of the best soundtracks in the current generation of consoles, even if I’ve never been particularly good at the game itself.  In particular, this track, from the Battlerock Galaxy near the beginning of the game, is a favorite of mine.
  • Speaking of YouTube, if you ever happen to think that you spend a lot of money on fireworks, go spend an hour or two watching some of the stuff on YouTube and you’ll be convinced otherwise.  For example, our Fourth of July fireworks haul included a box of Excalibur mortar shells, which I seem to recall ran somewhere in the neighood of $60-80  for a pack of 24 depending on the stand you get them from.  The video below shows someone lighting off 656 of the things all at once.  It certainly makes for a spectacular show, but even assuming the guy firing this stuff off is getting a big discount on the stuff, that’s still got to be a good $800-1000 going up in smoke within less than four minutes. 
  • One of the interesting things about living and working in Downtown Bellevue is seeing all the people who work for some of the local video game studios walking around downtown.  I think Bellevue is just about the only place outside of a serious nerdfest that someone could get away with wearing an Aperture Science uniform in public.  And when I go out at lunchtime some days, it seems like half the people out and about have some sort of Bungie T-shirt on, which leads to an interesting challenge:  Ever since Bungie ended their involvement with the Halo series after releasing Halo: Reach and some map packs, nobody has really had much of a clue what they’re working on these days.  I’ve made it a goal of mine to try to figure out what their latest project is based on whatever T-shirts I happen to find their employees wearing when they’re out for lunch.  So far I haven’t really come up with anything interesting, but it certainly seems like there’s a ridiculous number of Bungie T-shirts out there.  This has been giving me a sneaking suspicion that Bungie has actually gotten out of the game business completely, and has instead turned their offices in the Bellevue Galleria into one big T-shirt printing factory.  If anyone from Bungie happens to read this, feel free to send me a cryptic T-shirt that explains absolutely nothing, and I’ll be sure to speculate wildly, making people think I’m completely crazy in the process.

  • And finally, just because, here’s a picture of a Ferrari 250 GTO that happened to be hanging out at Redmond Town Center a couple of weekends ago, parked right in front of an Enzo (not shown here, since I’m too lazy to find and upload the other picture.)  Well OK, “Hanging Out” might not exactly be the proper term for an incredibly rare car with an eight-figure pricetag on the rare occasion one goes up for sale, but it, along with a large number of other vintage and modern Ferraris, plus a bunch of other exotics out in the parking lot, were on show as part of one of the Exotics @ RTC events that take place on various Saturdays throughout the Summer.  More proof that you never know just what you’ll find around here if you know where to look.

July 6, 2011

An Example to Others: A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:57 am

Image credit: Flickr user Kol Tregaskes, Creative Commons

It was a lovely summer day as I took my customary stroll through the park.  From the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the weather, as the park was full of people walking around, playing in the grass, or just lying down in the shade of one of the park’s many trees.  For my part, I wasn’t paying much attention to any of it, and I mostly just wandered along the paths that cut through the grassy areas, halfway lost in my own thoughts, occasionally pausing to take notice of something that happened to catch my eye.

Suddenly, I was snapped out of this state by the sudden notice of what appeared to be a commotion around the fountain in the center of the park.  From a distance, it was difficult to tell what was going on, but I could see that a crowd was beginning to gather.  Slowly I approached the scene, not wanting to get involved in anything that could result in trouble, but as I approached, I could see the crowd continuing to gather.  As I got closer to the fountain, I still couldn’t see what was going on, but unless my eyes were deceiving me, it appeared that there was actually someone who was trying to climb up on top of the fountain.  By the time I arrived at the scene, quite the crowd had gathered.

Sure enough, as I looked on the scene, I saw that the man I had seen earlier had now climbed up to the top of the fountain, fully clothed, and was now standing on what was surely a precarious perch at the top, seemingly oblivious to the torrents of flying water splashing around him.  There wasn’t any indication that the man was drunk or otherwise a danger to anyone there, but he also didn’t seem to be up on top of the fountain for any particular reason that anyone could see.  It almost seemed as though he was waiting for the still-increasing crowds to gather before he set out to do…  Well, whatever it is that people standing on the tops of fountains in busy parks do.  Which could be anything really. Clearly nobody here had any idea what was going on, except that there was a man of indeterminate sanity who was  already doing one crazy thing, and seemed to have the potential for more.  For all anyone there knew, that thing could be anything from a sermon to a sales pitch.

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