Thursday, December 28, 2006

Papers, please

Life as an American proceeds apace.

I got my voter registration card in the mail yesterday. I'm supposed to sign it (I think; there's a space for a signature but it doesn't tell me to sign it) and then produce it for a nactual election. It's a postcard. I almost didn't even bring it into the house, preparing to can it with the CAR-RT SORT junkmail before I realized what it was. There's no chance at all I'll be able to find it on election day.

I also applied for a US passport yesterday. I queued^W lined up at the Post Office for approximately an hour and handed over $157 for the passport. I should have it in three weeks, it says here. The bad news is that my hard-won naturalization certificate accompanies the application on its travels. As well as that (my most essential piece of documentation) the application has my social security number, mother's maiden name, mother's place of birth, dad's name and dad's place of birth. It's not the sort of thing you want out in the wild, even in the capable (and $30 fee receiving) hands of the US Postal Service. If the passport ever arrives, I will then go to Foreign Parts just because I can.

Since I changed jobs recently, I have also had to apply for COBRA health insurance, sound out new health insurance, do some things with the 401K retirement fund (still not sure what exactly to do with some other related things), and work out whether to excercise the minimal share options my last firm gave me, which were underwater until approximately the day I left and then shot up in price to almost double in three weeks and are now worth buying. (Do the investors know something about me I don't know?)

At the new firm I have also spent approximately 20 hours (of their time, luckily) finding out about and filling in forms for:
1. Access to the property I work at
2. Access to the property where my boss works
3. Vehicular access to the local property
4. Vehicular parking rights to one tiny parking lot (I've already
gotten a ticket for parking in the wrong parking lot) on the local property
5. Access to (my boss's) local computer system
6. VPN access to my computer files while on the road
7. Access to the local laboratory information system (LIS)
8. Access to the local information system document control
9. Access to the local information system data servers
10. Access to the LIS at my boss's site
11. Access to the other LIS at my boss's site
12. The email system of the company overall (by a stroke of sheer luck, this is not divided into locations)
13. Internet access (can't live without that, can we?)

All of these required a separate form and permissions from a different person. One of them involved getting a form and a 20 page explanation of how to fill it in from a Word document tab that is on the local-local computer system, which you will have noted immediately is something to which I do not have access. Luckily I had friends in the next cubicle with email.

The one thing that took the most time? Registering for, logging onto and entering data into the web-based expense report system. It took almost as long as the business trip (driving up to see my boss).

Snakes on a Plate!

I live in Southern California so I'm always on the lookout for foolproof earthquake detectors. There's one described on the Channel NewsAsia website today:

"SNAKES ON A (TECTONIC) PLATE! BEIJING – Forget the quake experts. How are the snakes behaving? Two days after tremors in Taiwan knocked the digital world off its axis, state media revealed China has come up with its own system to predict the next big one. In it, snakes take centrestage. "Of all the creatures on Earth, snakes are perhaps the most sensitive to earthquakes," said Mr Jiang Weisong, director of the earthquake bureau in Nanning, southern China. He claimed that they could sense an earthquake 120 km away, three to five days before it happens. "When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter," he said. "If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape." So, the bureau now monitors snakes at local snake farms via a 24-hour video feed linked to an Internet connection."

How it works, I guess, is, if the picture of the snakes disappears, that means the cable's out, and that means there's earthquake damage heading your way.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Future Tense

From Detroitblog, a page about the prairie reclaiming, of all things, central Detroit.

I saw it mentioned on Bruce Sterling's blog.

I have seen footage of this phenomenon before and my memory, known to its fans as Google Desktop Search, tells me that it was shown in a video about the life of William Gibson. It doesn't tell me the name of the video but my other memory depository, Big Google Itself (for it is he), suggests it must have been No Maps For These Territories.

The film says something about deer wandering the streets, I believe. It also says, rather cleverly, that the Union Bank's building is still in Detroit but the bank itself migrated to cyberspace.

James Nicoll also said yesterday that Japan's population actually declined last year. I am apparently now living in the future, which is nice. I knew I'd get there one day.

I would still like to have a flying car but I think I left that in my other future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Big Sparks

Really, really big sparks. The lightning stroke is especially wowsome.

This page of Bert Hickman Teslamania site shows what happens when electricity really gets out of hand. I usually think of electric as being well-behaved stuff that hangs around in wires and doesn't do anything out of the ordinary unless I do something plain stupid to it first. I am not correct in this assumption.

This page reminds me that electricity is actually made out of magic, and although some people know enough about things like capacitance, loading and "three phase" to stuff it into the wires in the first place, electricity's nature is more akin to demons and chupacabras than ordinary stuff.


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