Sunday, February 24, 2008

Westboro Baptist Broke? I doubt it.

A district judge has ordered Westboro Baptist Church, home of Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps, to share its financial records with the Court. Seems that the church is claiming that it can't afford the $5 million it was ordered to pay to the family of a fallen soldier, Matthew Snyder, whose funeral the church protested.

Now, I don't honestly know the makeup of Westboro Baptist's membership, so I will admit that it is possible that Phelps' claims are genuine. My gut, however, tells me that Phelps is full of shit.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hack Day is On!

I've just spoken with Brian Koon at Nighthawks Coffeehouse in Mission, and they have graciously agreed to host the first Hack Day. Note that I said "first", as I intend to have more.

So now, the details.

WHEN: Saturday, 15 March 2008, starting at 10:00, and lasting until the last geek goes home. :)
WHERE: Nighthawks Coffeehouse, 5815 Johnson Dr, Mission, KS
WHAT: Hack Day! A chance for geeks of all sorts to get together and hack on their ideas
COST: FREE! Although donations to help defray promotional costs, and to put on a subsequent BarCamp, are greatly appreciated.

Million Fag March!

Now this sounds like an absolute gas:

The Million Fag March. A peaceful protest against the hateful Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, which is in Topeka, about an hour away. I'm planning on going, and I encourage my readers to do the same. I'll blog about the aftermath. :)

Oh, and you don't have to be a "fag", for whatever definition of the word you use, to go. Just someone who would like to see a little less hate in the world.

The basics of pissing in public

This one is not directly KC related, but it was just too good to pass up.

The Internets Celebrities present: Urine Nation!

Caught on the bus

From Crime Scene KC by way of Tony's KC:

KCPD arrests homicide suspect on broken-down bus.

Just like it sounds. The guy was riding the bus. The bus broke down. Cops got word this guy was on the bus, and voila! He's under arrest.

Now I've been on several broken-down buses in my time, and I'll likely be on a few more. While I know intellectually that there's nothing to stop a "homicide suspect" from being on the same bus as me, it still makes the bus ride a leetle more scary to know that there actually was one on a KC bus.

Nifty informal study: Twitter average age

Nothin' But SocNET asks: how old are you?

KC blogger and Twitterer @zenaweist decided to put this question out to the Twittersphere, and it got forwarded on by several other KC locals, including @linuxchic, jeffisageek, and myself.

So far, the average age of those polled is 37. Suprising? Perhaps. She mentions that a person she was in a meeting with (discussing online communications) said that Twitter was for the young, in that it takes a young person to "get it", as it were. But Zena's results seem to give the lie to that assumption.

Personally, I'm not surprised. Twitter is very easy to use - there's a gTalk interface, so I just have the Twitterbot on my gTalk contact list and send my tweets out that way. No need to go to the Twitter website. No need to log in every time - I verified my identity once and that was it.

And more broadly, I think that this suggests that social networking in general is not only "for the young". Certainly you see a preponderance of young folk on sites like MySpace and Facebook, (which, coincidentally, happen to be the most well-publicized social networking sites) but those aren't the only social networking tools out there. There's a whole world of social networking tools on the Internet, and a whole world of people using them.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We made "This is True"!

Well, in point of fact, it was not Kansas City per se. Instead, it was Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' son, John, and his now-infamous game, "Don't Drop The Soap".

I quote:

THAT'S MY BOY! A web site selling a prison-themed board game called "Don't Drop the Soap" showed the company's street address as 1 SW Cedar Crest Rd, Topeka, Kansas -- the governor's mansion. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius confirms the game's creator is her 23-year-old son, who made the game as a class project at the Rhode Island School of Design. The governor and her husband, a federal magistrate, "are very proud of their son John's creativity and talent," the governor's spokeswoman says, adding the web site will change its contact address once John moves out. (AP) ...They're not the only parents who can hardly wait until their kid moves out.

Quoted portion ©2008 This is True, reprinted with permission.

Some may call this a dubious honour at best, but I'll have none of that. My sincerest and most heartfelt congratulations go out to Gov. Sebelius, her son, and everybody on the Kansas side of State Line Road. Bravo.

Incidentally, if the fine folks at Gillius, publishers of the game, would care to send me an evaluation copy of the game, I know several people who would be happy to help me to review it. The results of said review would, of course, be published here.

Finally, a brief (and, let me emphasize, unsolicited) word about This is True. I became subscribed to TRUE through means which escape me to this very day - one day I saw it in my inbox, with a destination address whose user portion (i.e. the bit before the '@') I didn't recognize, but whose host portion was '' (a domain of mine). For some reason, rather than deleting it outright, I decided to read it and was immediately hooked. I unsubscribed from the unrecognized address and resubscribed from a good address, and have been a faithful reader ever since. However, I am still too cheap to upgrade to the Premimum Edition. :)

Thanks a lot, Randy (Randy Cassingham, publisher/editor of TRUE) for allowing me to use one of your stories, and for all the amusement you've provided me over the years.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How do we make KC a startup hub?

That's actually not the question I want answered. What I want to know is how do we create an environment that is not only positive, but welcoming of new ideas and new knowledge? How do we make KC a place where geeks of all sorts can thrive?

I think that Christa, who commented in my previous post, has the right idea. Things like PodCamp Midwest, which I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend. Things like the Hack Day that I'm organizing in a month's time. Things like The Kansas City Area Software Demonstration Project Meetup, which I will be attending. Hell, just geeks getting together for a beer, or coffee, or whatnot. We need a geeky community in this town.

But that's only the first step. Because we need to bring new geeks into the fold. We need fresh ideas. We need to make KC a place where the geeks want to be, and I'm afraid BBQ and roller derby aren't enough.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thinking about startups

I just saw a new post by Paul Graham on Reddit today. After I read it, I went back through the archives and re-read Why to Move to a Startup Hub. And this got me thinking.

As far as I know, KC does not have a lot of tech startups. Admittedly, I could be wrong, as I don't know a lot of the local geeky types here, but that's the impression that I get. We're certainly not Silicon Valley or Boston, the two hubs mentioned in Graham's essay. And that's fine. I like KC just as it is, wacky government follies (Inez Tenenbaum and the whole thing with the commissioners of police being appointed by the state legislature), urban flight, and all.

That said, somebody tell me why KC can't be a startup hub. We've got cheap housing in the city (I'm paying $600 for a 2-bedroom place, for example). We've got all these neat-o limestone caves that make for a great place to put a datacenter. We've got great coffee. We've got barbecue out the proverbial wazoo, and lots of vegetarian options to boot. I don't know how conducive Kansas or Missouri law are to forming startups, but I'm sure someone knows - and laws can always be changed.

So let's not accept SF and Boston as the country's only startup hubs. Let's show the world that there's more to Kansas City than jazz and barbecue. Let's show the world just how many smart people are here in Kansas City, and who are going to stay in Kansas City. I don't want to bring Mohammed to the mountain. I want to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

To that end, I'm proposing a hack day - a day for smart folks to get together, share ideas, and work on those ideas. You don't have to be a programmer, or even a computer geek - those are just skills, skills you can learn. Just bring yourself, bring your brain, and bring all the ideas you have; the crazier the better. Let's set the date for a month from now, March 15, and place and time yet to be determined.

Come on, folks. Let's show the world what KC is made of.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What I do for money

While I'm unemployed, I've got to keep trying to bring money into the house. I haven't started receiving checks from Unemployment yet, and since there's some question of whether or not I'll be approved (I was fired from my job, but the reason I was fired was because I'd given six months' notice. It's a long story, and I'll post it sometime) I figure that I'd better do what I can do bring some other dough into the house. My wife, being a student, brings in what she can, but most of her time is eaten up by schoolwork.

I've posted on Craigslist for several things. I'm capable of tutoring math, physics, and computer science, so I posted my tutoring services. I have yet to get a bite on that. I'm also advertising motorcycle repair - I'll come to the client, as I don't have a garage. :) I got two nibbles on that, but as of yet, nothing has come through. Maybe when it warms up a little more people will be interested in getting their bikes ready for the spring.

I'm also walking dogs. Well, one dog. My friend Laura just adopted a retired racing greyhound. She works a lot, so she had been taking him to doggy day-care. This gets pricey pretty quick, though, so as a favor to her, I take him out for a walk every now and again. I'm thinking that I might could make a bit of dough walking other people's dogs, so I'm going to print up some flyers and put them up downtown, Westport, and in Crossroads. I've also posted on Craigslist about the dog-walking.

Speaking of Craigslist, I was browsing around CL last night and saw a posting for motorcycle funeral escorts. They pay something like $40/run, so of course I jumped right on that. Also a TV focus group that pays $125. Then there was this job that involved going around and taking photos of hotel event boards, but that sounded a little bit shady, so I didn't pursue it.

I'm also going to look into substitute teaching. It pays about $100 a day, which is nothing to sneeze at. I just have to get 3 professional letters of reference, which should be a little interesting, as all my professional references are computer people.

So I'm still hoping for the unemployment to come through, 'cos right now I'm not bringing in much of anything.

We are living carefully, though. We've been keeping the house at 65 degrees, which keeps the gas bill down. We don't have cable TV (though we do have cable Internet). We carefully budget our food money - I buy reduced-for-quick-sale meat at Sun Fresh, and buy as much as I can from Save-a-Lot. Next month, we'll be buying a box of meat from Angel Food Ministries for cheap. And we almost never eat out any more. So we're stretching the money about as far as we can.

Poor Uncle Willie

OK, this isn't related to Kansas City, unemployment, or any of the other things that I said I was going to talk about on this blog. But Wil Wheaton holds a special place in my geeky little heart. And I want to try out this trackback business.

Uncle Willie is bored and irritable. Apparently he just had surgery and is recovering. At least he gets to recover at home - the last time I had surgery I spent two weeks recovering in the hospital, with only basic cable to watch, and it got really dull really fast.

So my best wishes to you, Uncle Willie, and I hope you get better soon!

EDIT: Well, apparently, Blogger does not support trackbacks. That sucks a little bit of ass there. There's something called backlinks, but it's not the same, and it doesn't appear to be compatible with trackbacks.

KC Blogosphere

I knew that the few blogs I'd seen having to do with KC couldn't be the only ones in town. And was I ever right.

The Star has a couple of blogs:

Prime Buzz, touted as "Today's Political Intelligence and Insight". A brief reading suggests that it's much more focused on reporting the stories than commenting on them, so more "Intelligence" than "Insight".

Crime Scene KC. This one's better on the commentary, but I don't see a lot of stuff specific to Kansas City there.

Next we have KC Light Rail - Not a lot of commentary from what I can see, mostly information about the proposed plans for light rail here in KC.

There are scads and scads of general-interest KC blogs. I'll link just a few:

Tony's Kansas City - "Opinion, Jokes, and Stories from KC". This guy is pretty good.

Midtown Miscreant - Hey, another Midtowner!

Gone Mild, who's sick at home.

BlogKC - lots of short posts about various and sundry things.

And lots lots more. Blogs galore!

Maybe we need a Kansas City blogroll, something like Lowcountry Blogroll from my old stomping grounds in SC.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Looking for a job

As part of the terms of Missouri's unemployment insurance, I am required to apply for at least 3 jobs a week. Thankfully, being a computer geek, I can do this from the comfort of my own home. I just go to CareerBuilder, where I've uploaded my resume already, and look at the jobs listed there. I can often "quick apply" for a job - since I've already uploaded my resume, all I have to do is click on the "quick apply" button and off I go. Sometimes I'll write a cover letter to go with it, but I'm really not sure if the cover letter does any good - these recruiters are receiving hundreds and hundreds of resumes for these positions, and it seems to me that while a cover letter might get read, more often than not they'll just skip over the cover letter entirely and glance at the resume, looking for a reason to rule it out.

Then there are the jobs that I can't "quick apply" for. These are generally the jobs that have set up some kind of pre-screening process to rule out unqualified applicants. Sometimes this is fairly painless. In these cases, I just answer a few questions about my background, upload my resume, and I'm done. Then there are the sites where it takes a good twenty minutes to apply for a job. A good example of this is KU Med.

I have to assume that whoever built KU Med's application portal was guided by some rules on the hiring of medical staff like doctors and nurses. Since patients' lives potentially depend upon these people, it makes sense that they would be screened very rigorously. Then there's me. I applied for a network administrator position there. Yes, there would certainly be consequences if I didn't do my job well, even somewhat severe consequences, but people's lives? Hardly. This would be a position with no direct patient contact - no patient interaction whatsoever, as I see it - yet I had to go through a long and involved application process.

For one thing, I had to list where I'd lived for the past seven years. Now, if I were having patient contact, I could understand that - you wouldn't want to risk bringing a potential carrier of some nasty disease into contact with folk whose immune systems are already weak. But a computer geek? Seems a bit excessive. None the less, I dutifully listed my whereabouts for the past seven years. I just thank the gods they didn't want addresses.

For another, they wanted ten years of employment history, and explanations of gaps in unemployment. This I don't understand at all. My resume, right now, contains my work history from May 2003 until January 2008. May 2003 was when I got my first programming job - prior to that, I did a lot of dialup tech support and a bit of general onsite helpdesk-type stuff. I also worked at Papa John's for a while slinging pizza and in the College of Charleston (my alma mater) computer lab. I don't feel that I gained much valuable experience at those jobs, just the dough to pay the bills. That, and the fact that the specific dates are pretty murky in my memory, is why I don't list them on my resume. But apparently they want to know all of this.

They finally did give me a place to copy/paste my resume. Except that it didn't work. There was just a vast blank space where a text area (also a vast blank space, but one you can type in) should have been. I was able to spell-check this vast blank space, though, and I was pleased to discover that I hadn't misspelled a single bit of all that nothing.

Kansas City Dilettante

It's more than a little late in the game, but I've decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon and try and make a little dough out of it. We'll see where that gets me.

So, I suppose I should begin by giving an idea of what this blog is about. I realize that a blog doesn't have to be "about" anything per se, but I do want to give an idea of what I want to do with this blog. Besides the swollen waves of dollar bills coming through my door from all the ad revenue I'm sure to generate from you poor saps doing nine to five, "living the gray flannel life", I mean.

As the title suggests, I'm interested in a lot of things. Thus this blog is going to be about a lot of things - whatever strikes my fancy from day to day. I'm going to try very hard, however, to keep the content about Kansas City, my new home. KC is a big place. I don't think I'll have a lot of trouble.

I'm also unemployed, having recently lost my job. So you can expect a fair bit of content about being unemployed and the steps I've taken to keep a roof over my wife's and my heads and food on our table.

So welcome to one and all. I plan to talk about a lot of different things. I hope that you'll find something worth reading here.