A 100 Pound Diet

We’re not hoarders by any means, but I still periodically look around the house for ways to reduce clutter.  This urge intensifies just prior to a move to a new home, which we are considering later this year.  Earlier this week, I wondered if it would be possible to get rid of 100 pounds of stuff before the end of the month.  After thinking about it for a few seconds, I decided to take on the challenge.  The number and time frame are completely arbitrary; I picked 100 lbs because I’d be happy to have that much less to move in a few months.

The rules:

  • I’m not counting things that would ordinarily be considered garbage.  Things like greeting cards, magazines, etc.
  • Also not counting things that will get replenished.  Converting coins into dollars or eating all the food in the cupboards isn’t really in the spirit.
  • I’m considering only disposal and conveniently ignoring the massive intake of new items we’ve experienced in the past year, thanks to Ava and Emilie.  And also the 15 pounds of books I bought at the library the other day.

A few ideas I have so far: downsizing the number of textbooks in boxes in the garage and moving pictures from photo albums to a photo box I started a few months ago.  More to come as we get closer to the end of the month.

Myjunktree and Comment Spam

A while back I wrote a brief post on my attempts to stop credit card offers.  Not long after, I received a comment to that post from someone named Kelset claiming to be a satisfied customer of Myjunktree, which is a for-fee service that removes your name from mailing lists, etc.  The comment contained the phrase Stop Junk Mail, which was linked to the Myjunktree site.

Normally I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but my spam-meter went off the charts when I received a comment a month later from Tim Henry, claiming to be one of the owners of Myjunktree.  His lengthy comment gave some background on the company and a laundry-list of services they provide.  Again, no issues with this comment by itself.  However, the IP address for Tim was exactly the same as for Kelset from the previous month (  Clearly there is some sock-puppetry going on at Myjunktree.

Further Google searching (1) (2) (3) yields many other examples.  The pattern is pretty clear: in the June/July 2008 timeframe, a lot of comments start appearing on blogs from either Kelset or Garetjax claiming to be satisfied customers.  They link to Myjunkfree using phrases like “Stop Junk Mail” or “Remove Junk Mail” to boost the website rank.  Then in late August, another comment is posted from Tim Henry with his marketing message.  You’ve got to assume that all these comments are somehow related to Myjunktree signing up with Fresh Start Studio in April 2008 for ‘identity, branding, website, and SEO’.

Some of my favorite bits of evidence:

  • At Greenlivingtips.com, Tim Henry posts in comment #14 that he moved to Myjunktree and is really enjoying the service.  Well, as one of the owners, isn’t that a given?  Looks like someone forgot to use their “satisfied customer” moniker instead of the “owner name”.
  • This question posted by Kelset to the Blogger help group, asking why he can’t see his blog, where he posts as ‘myjunktree’.
  • This comment posted by Garetjax to, of all places, Matt Cutts’ blog.  Oh the irony!  Clearly they have no idea who Matt is and his role at Google.  Still wondering why your blog isn’t showing up in search results?

There’s something sadly ironic about a company using sock puppets and comment spam to tout their junk mail elimination service.  I can’t wait for their “prevent comment spam” solution – I’m sure my phone will be ringing off the hook when that is announced.

Thoughts on Einstein

Sublte is the Lord After many years of putting it off, I’ve finally started a biograpy of Einstein that has been on my shelf: Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein.  I will confess, this book is well beyond my mental capabilities at this point in my life.  Maybe 11 years ago I could have followed the equations; these days they all sound vaguely familiar but I find myself skimming through the tough parts.

I’m only about a third through the book, but I wanted to put down some things I’ve learned along the way.  I’ll keep adding to this list as I make my way through the book.

  • With his work in statistical physics, Einstein helped (with others) confirm the existence of atoms and molecules.  At the time there were doubts in the fields of physics and chemistry about the physical existence of atoms and their role in chemical reactions or phenomena like Brownian Motion.  Einstein’s work provided direct evidence of their existence and helped tie together the fields of physics and chemistry by showing that the same particles (atoms) were at play in both fields.  The equations he developed also provided several new methods for accurately calculating Avogadro’s Number.
  • Much of his early work was done without access to scientific publications.  A common theme is that Einstein would independently discover equations that were published years earlier.  In my opinion this is further confirmation of his genius.
  • In his younger days he would meet with friends to discuss Hume and Poincare.  This is what he would do for fun.  What hope do the rest of us have, with our US Weekly and Grey’s Anatomy?  Again, the guy was a genius.
  • I’m always amazed at how popular the man is and yet how completely inaccessible his work is to 99.9% of people.  Ask almost anyone about the impact of Einstein and they can probably offer up E=mc^2 (with no idea what that means), something about the space-time continuum, bending of space by gravity (the bowling ball-on-a-mattress analogy) and maybe describe length or time contractions as you approach the speed of light (twins paradox).  I’m certainly no better – I consider myself firmly in this camp.   All of the analogies and thought experiments that are used to explain Einstein’s work only seem to scratch the surface of what are truly revolutionary ideas about physics.   I doubt he spent much time thinking about novel ways of explaining these very diffcult concepts.

That’s all for now, more to come as I wade through this book.

Reducing Credit Card Offers

In Q1 2008 I saved all of our pre-approved credit card offers to see how many we received and who were the worst offenders. I had previously opted out of offers at optoutprescreen.com, so I received quite a bit less than Stephanie. After Q1, I also had Stephanie opt out to see if it would have any effect.

Here are the offers from Q2:

It seems like the opt out was very successful, dropping our offers from 30 down to 13, 12 of which were for Stephanie. The majority of these came during April, probably prior to the opt out taking full effect. I’m very curious to see how many we get for Q3 (although she did already receive one in the first couple of days of July).

A List of Books

The list of books I’ve read, from the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book.  Whew, looks like I’ve got a ways to go before I shuffle off.

  • The Plot Against America – Philip Roth
  • Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
  • Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  • American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
  • Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
  • Contact – Carl Sagan
  • Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  • The World According to Garp – John Irving
  • The Shining – Stephen King
  • Rabbit Redux – John Updike
  • Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
  • Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
  • Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Rabbit, Run – John Updike
  • Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  • The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  • The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
  • A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Trial – Franz Kafka
  • Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  • The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe

Plus a bunch of others that I read in high school but I wasn’t paying much attention, so I’m not counting.

San Diego Firewood

This is a post mainly for my benefit, to get a scrap of paper off my desk.

Last fall, I searched far and wide for a cheap supply of firewood.  I found a post in either the Reader or Union-Tribune, called the number, and drove out to El Cajon to see what he had to offer.  There was a nice gentleman there, I think his name was Norman, and he had huge boxes full of hardwood, both split logs and whole limbs.  He offered me $40 to fill up half of the back of my Pathfinder, somewhere between 30-40 cubic feet.

I reached him at (619) 593-0319 and set up a time to meet him at 780 La Rochi Way, El Cajon, CA.

  1. Take 8E to the 2nd St. exit in El Cajon
  2. Take a right on 2nd St.
  3. 2nd St. turns into Jamacha Rd.
  4. Take a left on E. Washington Ave.
  5. E. Washington Ave. turns into Dehesa Rd.
  6. Take a right on Van Horn Rd.
  7. Take a left on La Rochi Way

Review – This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Stephanie and I watched this a few nights ago and were a bit underwhelmed. I think we can all agree that a rating system for films is a good idea. Maybe the current system isn’t perfect, but aren’t there more pressing issues in the industry, such as the increasing irrelevance of the physical distribution model and the gradual destruction of the movie-going experience for the sake of revenue generated by pre-movie ads and in-movie product placement? As movie distribution shifts from theaters to Netflix, Bittorrent, etc., I think the rating system will have less meaning and the NC-17 rating won’t be a death sentence for a film’s commercial prospects.

I did find the appeals process interesting; the appeal board was made up almost entirely of VPs from the major theater chains and movie studios. It seems like they would be more inclined to change NC-17 ratings to R ratings, since R rated pictures will have a higher gross.  I wonder why this group chooses, in the majority of cases, to uphold the original MPAA rating?

All in all, not a bad film, but not the dramatic exposé I was expecting.

10 Years, 5 Years, 1 Year, Today

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much life changes, even from one year to the next.  Let’s take a look back at life ten years ago, five years ago, and one year ago.  What were some of the unknowns at that time?  What decisions were on the horizon, but not yet made, and how did they work out?

Ten Years Ago, May 1st, 1998

I was finishing my senior year at Cornell.  I knew that I would go to graduate school for Biomedical Engineering, but was faced with an agonizing decision between Northwestern and University of Pennsylvania.  Both programs were excellent and there were pros and cons for each.  I ended up choosing Northwestern because I loved Chicago and felt that the program had better connections with the healthcare industry.  I made some good friends during my year there and learned a lot but those industry ties turned out to be irrelevant as I pursued a different career path.

So, I had no idea where I would be living and studying in six months, who my friends would be, and what that meant for my current relationship and friendships.  All of that would change radically over the next three years as I moved several times, gained new friends, lost touch with others, struggled to find a job, agonized over two career path options, accepted my first job, ended a long term relationship, and met my future wife.

Five Years Ago, May 1st, 2003

I had just moved in with Stephanie in NYC and adopted two baby cats, Paulie and Penny.  I was working as a contractor for a new company; the future looked promising for the company and we started to think about relocating to the west coast.  So, once again I wasn’t sure where I would be living in six months, but I had a good feeling it would be a change for the better.

Engagement, marriage, and children were not on my mind at the time.  I was focused on doing well in my new job and adjusting to cohabitation and life with two crazy kittens.  On that day five years ago, I had no idea that we’d end up in San Diego and eventually engaged and married.  The move ended up being a fantastic idea, and the engagement and marriage, while a long time coming, were very happy times for us.

One Year Ago, May 1st, 2007

Stephanie and I are married and settled in San Diego.  Our closest friends just moved back home to St. Louis, so we’re sad and feeling a little uncertain about our long-term prospects in San Diego.  We know that at the end of the year we’ll start building our family, which was exciting but also very scary.  We also knew that this would necessitate a move to a larger place at the end of the year.  Little did we know that it would turn out to be twins, throwing our simple life into a very happy tailspin.  We also didn’t know that we’d take over a friend’s rental house; while that was a good decision at the time, the twins factor would force us to consider a large home purchase in the coming year.

Paulie and Penny were doing well and not really on our radar.  We didn’t know that Paulie would be diagnosed with renal failure that fall, leading to intensive treatment and constant worry about his health.  That he would eventually succumb to the disease seven months later would have been absolutely preposterous to us one year ago.

My job was going well and the company’s prospects were bright. I had no idea that a few layoffs that summer would lead to a promotion and a lot more uncertainty about the future.

Today, May 1st, 2008

What will I think, looking back on this day next year?  I’m astounded by how much life can change in one year, even when things seem stable and under control.  Stephanie is pregnant with twin girls, due in August.  From that alone I know the next year will have more changes than I can possibly conceive.  Once again, where will we be living, having outgrown this rental house with no heat?  Who will be our new friends and who will we lose touch with?  Will the coming recession threaten my job when I need it most?  I’ve got no idea what will happen and with history as my guide, I can guarantee that I won’t even be able to guess.

My Little Guy

My Little Guy, originally uploaded by jcarter.

This is the last picture taken of my little guy Paulie, 4/12/2008.

A few of the thousands of memories, so I don’t forget them…

Paulie loved / hated string. Whenever Stephanie would put on an outfit with a bow or tie, his eyes would widen and he would become 100% focused on getting that string.

In his younger days in NYC, he was an excellent fetcher. I would toss his pink pig toy into the kitchen and he’d go racing after it, sliding on the linoleum and kitchen mat. He’d pick up pig in his mouth and trot it back to my feet.

Now that he’s gone, I’m shocked at how much of a presence he was in the house. He was constantly hanging out on my desk, on the back of my chair, or following me from room to room. A dozen times a day he would jump up onto my lap through the chair arm hole and worm his way up to the desk where he could walk back and forth with his bushy tail in front of my face.

Speaking of that chair, he loved sitting on the back of it watching me work. He would usually leap from the ground to the side and then claw his way to the top, which I’m sure he thought was hilarious. Once at the top he would knead the top furiously with his claws, much to our displeasure but we couldn’t stop him.

There was no better cat at snuggling. Stephanie got to experience this more and more as she was home more frequently. If you would lay on the couch or in bed, he would jump up shortly after and cry until you let him under the blanket. Once under, he would plop down next to you and fall asleep while you rubbed his belly.

Countless nights he would jump into bed just as I was falling asleep on my side, slam his body against mine, and curl up into a ball. I would drape my arm over him, cup his face with the palm of my hand, and listen to him fall asleep. Occasionally, I would wake up in the morning lying on my back and find that he snuck into my nook and convinced me to hug him while I was sleeping.

When he wasn’t in your face, he was usually curled up into a tiny ball by our pillows on the bed or in Penny’s bed. Sometimes I couldn’t help it and would have to wake him up and rub his belly for a while.

Nothing brought out his craziness like the laser pointer. He would leap from the floor to the couch, scramble back and forth on the couch and leap to the chair, all without regard for his own personal safety. He never could catch that thing, though.

He was a good playmate for his sister, at least until later when she outweighed him by more than double. He would hide under the table, trill for her to come find him, give a half-hearted pounce when she got close, and then scurried away to another hiding spot. It was always a lot of fun watching the WWF sessions, which she would almost always win.

He would occasionally seek out the sunny spots in the house, but if it was very warm and sunny, he would beg to be let outside. We would sit with him while he rolled around on the ground in the sun. His little dark patches would get so hot after a while.

He was an extremely vocal cat. If you said his name, he would almost always respond, usually with a short trill and a jerk upwards with his head, as if he was saying “Hey, what’s up?”

He loved his hugs. He would hang out with his paws draped over the left shoulder, body and back paws hanging down the front of your body. From here he could see the world over your shoulder, give you a head butt, and start to rub and nibble your left ear. Sometimes he would be so desperate for a hug he would leap from the bed or desk onto my shoulder. There was no going back; he was completely trusting me to catch him.

At night in the old PB house, he would sit on my nightstand while we were getting ready for bed and reading. Without fail he would hear something in the living room and prop himself up on his hind legs to check it out. This earned him a Prairie Dog nickname.

Some nicknames: Handsome, Mr. Handsome, The Baby, Little Guy, Big Guy, My Guy, Paul, Paw, Pants, Poddy.

On a few occasions he’d also get the Mr. Vanity nickname. While we were in the bedroom, he would see his reflection in the mirror hanging on the door and put his paws up on the mirror to check out that handsome cat looking back at him. This would close the door, causing him to be locked inside the bedroom. We could never go anywhere without holding the doors open with a pillow, otherwise Mr. Vanity would be crying about his lack of food.

Favorite toys: Spongebob, Mr. Pig, the string at the end of turtle, the laser pointer, anything that could be knocked from the table down to the floor.