Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday Fun

Well now that all of the Christmas festivities are over, I can start thinking about new years stuff. I was off of work Monday and Tuesday for Christmas, which was nice. Then I worked two days, and now I'm off again Friday and then this Monday. So I will have worked two days out of ten, which is really awesome. Several of my friends are still in school of some sort and are on break, but I'm usually at work or too tired from work so I haven't been able to hang out with them much. Its kind of a bummer, and it makes me feel like I'm old. I got my first paycheck yesterday, which was exciting. Its funny because somewhere along the way during my toils over there I had forgotten that I was even going to get paid. I think that I am going to sit down and calculate all of my expenses and things just to see how much everything costs me.

Christmas was fun. I went to family gatherings both the day before and the day of Christmas. I ended up getting a Wii for Christmas, which is pretty cool. Its funny because the day after I got it and played the hell out of it I woke up and my arms were a little sore. It really can be a workout, which can't be a bad thing for the fat children of the world.

I think that I am gonna go to Chicago with the crew for New Years party stuff. I am looking forward to that and I imagine that an adventure or two will unfold. Until then, keep it real.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Presents from Japan

Friday I got to leave work a bit early which was nice. The office was really dead, because most of our costumers weren't even at work themselves, so I think that resulted in less to do for everyone. After I returned home and got in some warm up on my shiny new Atari with a friend, I went out to eat at Friday's with a group of people that I went to high-school with. It was nice, as I don't really get to see them much these days. One of the girls is in the Navy now, so she's been bouncing all over the globe for the last few years. I guess shes in DC now, but who knows how long that will last. We went bowling and then to a few bars in downtown Springfield. It was a nice eventful evening.

Saturday I got a package postmarked from Japan. I didn't have any idea who it was from, as I know several people in Japan, but none of them have developed a habit of shipping me gifts(unfortunately). This particular package was from Hitomi Tanaka, a high-school aged girl that we hosted at our house November 16-21. She was part of a student delegation from Ashikaga(Springfield's Sister City) that won a Gettysburg Address speech contest, so they got a free trip to Abraham Lincoln's favorite place ever, Springfield. It was a great experience, and I think that my parents enjoyed it very much. They were visibly sad when it was time for her to go home. So she sent us a box of gifts to say thank-you. Lots of classic Japanese presents, all wrapped Japanese style. The Japanese feel the need to put much more effort into the packaging of the present than we do, so much so that it sometimes seems like the presentation is more important than the gift itself. My favorite thing in the box were some little cat Christmas ornaments, which we promptly added to our tree.

My friends just happened to have a spare ticket for the Chicago Bulls game Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. So off to Chicago I went. Apparently the Hornets moved to New Orleans, and the Bobcats were created to replace them in Charlotte. That was news to me. The fact that before today I had never even heard of this team should probably give you a good indication of how much I know about the NBA these days. But, that's ok, because I enjoy watching the games all the same. It was pretty good times, and the Bulls ended up winning 115-76. The high point of the game was when everyone in the stadium won Big Macs because the Bulls broke 100 points and won. We ate them the next day. Good times. I've only been to one other NBA game before, and it was a year or two ago. I had forgotten how nice basketball games are. Its indoors, for starters. And since the United Center is so much smaller than say, Busch Stadium, even the pretty bad seats that we ended up having are still close enough to the players to be enjoyable. After the game, I had been planning to hit the bars in Chicago, but I was so tired that I went to bed early. No heart at all. Well, I better get to bed so that Santa will come. Have a Merry Christmas.

This is the famous lazer show opening at the Bulls game. I apologize for the blurriness in this video, I'm not quite sure what the deal with this one. You get the main idea anyway.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Atari

So I stopped by my favorite auction house on the way back from work yesterday. I figured that the fairly heavy rain might deter some people, and that maybe there would be more space to move around and maybe some better deals. I was wrong, the regulars at this place are pretty hardcore. Most of the people there will hang out for hours, regardless of whether or not theres anything around that they want. Its like TV for country people I guess. This time a couple friends stopped by to see their first auction. I think that they were entertained, probably as much by the crazy people there as by the cool stuff. I ended up getting a nice Atari 2600 with several games for cheap. I was pretty excited about it. I ended up getting it to run after messing with it a bit.

Today our department had a little Christmas party at one of the office lady's houses. It was nice to see everyone in a more casual setting. Ive only been at work for two weeks now, and I feel like I am fitting in pretty well and getting along with my coworkers. Which reminds me, the atmosphere at the office is a lot more casual than you might expect. Everyone pretty much wears jeans to work everyday, and I don't think Ive seen anyone wear a tie so far. I hear everyone wears shorts in the summer. Definitely my kind of place.

Ive talked to a couple of people about the Jesus Camp preview on my last entry, and they were all as afraid of it as I am. This clip is a compilation of some of the really crazy stuff a little girl says in the movie. One of my favorite parts of the whole movie is when this little girl prays over her bowling ball to make a strike. Compelling. Enjoy.

First Travel Assignment

Today at work we had our monthly company meeting. I guess that normally I would have to stand up in front of most of the company and give an intro or something. This time though, Karmak just happened to be celebrating its 25th anniversary. So we all watched a slide show of old pictures and things that everyone seemed to enjoy. I knew only a few people in it, but it was nice to see some historical stuff. I also got my first job that involves some travel. It looks like I will be going to Atlanta on the 6th, which is a Saturday. One downside of my job is that sometimes the dealerships need the computer stuff done on weekends, the only time that they are closed and it is convenient for them to have their computers down. For me, that means that my trips will fall on weekends more often than not. We are supposed to be able to take other days off to make up for it, but I will be more confident about that once it happens.

I just got a Christmas present from my boss, a cake mix and a gift card. That was nice. I also got a nice pen from Karmak from the anniversary. I feel a bit guilty when I get these things because I get the same thing that everyone else does, and I haven't been here too long. But its not that big a deal I suppose.

I managed to take a little video clip while I was driving in the crazy downtown circle thing. Now that I know what the heck is traffic is doing it's not so bad. Its especially interesting when trucks try to maneuver their way around the thing.

Oh and here's a clip that I thought I should include. Its a preview of the scariest movie that I've ever seen. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Work and Beer, in that Order

Today I managed to successfully survive my first week of work as Implementations Specialist. I feel like everything is going pretty well and I am learning a lot. The main purpose of my position is to go to a company and install hardware and a particular software called Legend. Legend controls all different aspects of a truck dealership's business, such as printing invoices and keeping track of inventory. It is completely text based, and looks pretty much like old school DOS to someone that doesn't know any better (myself included at the moment). It runs on an operating system called Open VMS, which is pretty interesting I think. Banks, the Paris metro system, and some places in the pentagon use Open VMS because it is incredibly stable. The wikipedia article that I linked to notes that "System up-times of a decade or more have been reported." That is pretty hardcore when you think about how many times a day you might have to restart windows because its being screwy.

Ok, enough with the technical stuff. Today I wandered around downtown Carlinville during my lunch break. They have a pretty typical small town square, with the capitol building or the courthouse or whatever in the center. An interesting difference in this particular town square is how the street is set up. The corners of the inner square are rounded off, so there aren't any stop signs or anything. It is difficult for me to even put into words, but it all amounts to what reminds me of a NASCAR race track.

A friend of mine that works for a Budweiser distributor brought me a new beer from Anheuser-Busch called Red Bridge Sorghum Beer. I don't have any snooty beer expert words to describe its flavor, so I'll just say that it tastes good enough to me. Its main selling point is that it is made from sorghum, while most beers are commonly made from barley or wheat. Apparently there is a condition called Coeliac disease that makes people intolerant of a substance contained in the common beer brewing grains. As a result these people usually drink things other than beer to avoid complications. This is an effort to recapture this small niche market. Pretty cool, but it all sounds mostly like marketing nonsense to me. Well, until next time.

More Days of Work

So Ive been working at the new job at Karmak for a couple of days now and I am starting to get settled in and not get lost all the time. The introductory movies that I got to watch were a lot more interesting than what I had initially imagined. They talked a lot about the truck dealership business and the mentality of our customers. Honestly, I had never really thought much about trucks. All I knew was that they were really a pain to deal with on the highway. At the truck sales places, the trucks are all lined up as they are at a traditional car dealership, but the similarities in the experience mostly stop there. One major difference is that the average truck driverdoesn't care what the truck actually looks like, but is obsessive about the specs of the vehicle. Also in truck industry, the dealer keeps all of the rebates and incentives that themanufacturer offers, which I thought was interesting. Truck buying is fueled by business necessity, while the car industry is more about marketing to people with silly little offers and promotions.

Yesterday was the day that much of the special Christmas events happened at the office. There was a catered lunch with food and pies which was pretty good. Everyone also played a game where they got a present at their desk, and if theydidn't like it they could trade it with one on anyone else's desk. Needless to say, the trading got out of hand, but it was a good way to meet people that aren't in my little vicinity. Another thing that I did was sign up online for the rewards programs from like 20 different businesses. Airlines, hotels, and car rental places that I will be using during my upcoming travels all have little points and frequent flier miles that they will give me, and I get to keep them as my own. So that is definitely a nice little perk for all the traveling that I am going to be doing. I'm sure I will be sporting some goofy looking free tote bag in no time.

One nice thing about the good size drive commute is that it passes right by my favorite little auction house in Glenarm, IL called Adcock Auctions. And it just so happens that I pass by there right as they are having a bi-weekly auction, which is kinda nice. So I stopped by real quick after work and checked it out. The place is just about as country as possible. That usually means that my interests are opposite of everyone in the room, though, and I end up getting fun junk for cheap. My old school Super Nintendo playing is about to increase as a result. I ended up getting a box of ten cartridges for 5 bucks-they even threw in some extremely unwanted Michael Bolton tapes to sweeten the deal! I then drove the rest of the way home. Until next time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

First Day of Work

I had my first day of work yesterday. I am working for a software company called Karmak headquartered in Carlinville, IL. It provides business software for companies that sell trucks and other heavy equipment, and its operations reach all over North America. My job is to travel around to all kinds of businesses and to install our software and hardware and make sure everything works long enough for me to leave. It sounds like it will be interesting. There is going to be lots of travel, so I'm hoping that will keep things from getting too tedious.

My first day started with walking around and meeting most of the people in the building. That was a nice way to get a feel for the place, though I'm not sure that I remember five of the names given to me. I filled out all my fun forms and heard about all the insurance crap I have to think about. I and a few people from our department went out to lunch at Angus Bailey's. Karmak is on the very outskirts of town, so I hadn't ever been into the town proper. The part that I saw today was a classic little town square setup. Anyway, the restaraunt was a pretty nice place. Everyone seems like they are pretty good friends, and the conversation was as much about personal crap as it was about work stuff. Back at the office, a couple of informational meetings later, and the day was over. I can't recall being more tired after having not really accomplishing anything. Apparently I have some informational videos that need to be watched in the next day or so. About three hours worth. Doesn't sound like much fun at all.

My first impression of the place is a good one. Everyone seems pretty nice, and the people close to me seem helpful enough. So that's good. Like most offices I have experienced, it sounds like there is going to be a ton of food around all the time. Its always someone's birthday somewhere. I will be sure to avoid all of that. Luckily, the free desserts are always kept in the same place, so if I just avoid learning how to get there, I wont have to worry about eating all the time. The commute is about 50 minutes or so, which is kind of a pain. I will have to start burning some good CDs to keep myself entertained. Well, until next time.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Guiding Japanese Reporters

Today I met with some Japanese reporters that will be in Springfield for a total of like 4 days. They are participants in the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program, which takes important people from many different fields on tours of the US in order to influence their opinions on things. Anyway, from what I understand, this group of three reporters are in the United States to learn about the effects that the military has on the local populace. As you may know, there are several US military bases in Japan. These bases occasionally cause issues with the neighboring residents, including jet aircraft noise complaints all the way up to murder and rape charges. Anyway, I assume that these Japanese are supposed to gather that having US bases isnt so bad, because we have military bases all over the place here and everyone loves them. Maybe they will be able to gather ways to help the American installations and the Japanese people living next door get along.

So the first stop on our list was the State of Illinois Emergency Operations Center. Its main attraction amounts was a new, multimillion dollar war room in which the major government powers in the state would set up base to deal with natural and man made disasters. It is reinforced and can withstand multiple horrible explosions and tornadoes and whatnot. The main war room is usually empty, except when some sort of situation has arisen. Now, though there were several people sitting in its numerous chairs. There was someone in the National Guard chair, and the American Red Cross, amoung several others. Notable empty chairs included the FBI, DHS, and a myriad of other acronyms that I didnt recognize. Aparrently they were still working on the aftermath of the snowstorms that took place a few days ago. On a large screen, several ongoing objectives were listed, such as power outtages and some Guard members sent on a humanitarian mission someplace in Illinois. I was really impressed by the whole setup, I didnt imagine that such a place existed in Springfield(it's right next to the IDOT building on Dirkson by the way). Our guide told us that such places didnt really exist on the state level until 9/11, when all kinds of homeland security funds suddenly became available. Due to the importance of Chicago and the danger of terrorist activity there, Illinois was one of the first to get a nice shiny installation. She went on to boast that officers from several other states had toured to gather ideas for their own underground situation rooms.

From there we went to a cafereria at UIS in order to have lunch with some professors who have expertise in international relations. They asked the reporters all kinds of questions about US/Japanese political issues. I think that both sides learned a bit from eachother. I have been keeping pretty up to date on the topic, so I already knew alot of what was said, but I just kept quiet and drank my orange juice. It was good.

Next we headed to the 183rd Air National Guard base next to the Capitol Airport. Here we got a pretty lengthy and in depth powerpoint given by the Commander of the Base. It covered what the mission of the group was, where they had trained, how much their budget was, what the capacity of the base was in terms of personnel and aircraft, and what some of the patches they wear mean. Pretty much every single thing you might have ever wondered about this base and its inhabitants, and then even quite a few things that you would not have wondered and have no real interest in whatsoever. We were then driven right out onto the runway and treated to view a launch of a couple of F-16s. After we had been instructed on how to use our ear plugs, the jets went roaring past. Afterwards was the tour of a hangar. One plane was being taken apart for maintainence and its pieces were missing all over the place. We got a close look into the cockpit, and had plenty of classic Japanese photo opportunities. Included through the duration were all kinds of questions. One was particularly memorable. Aparently the group had already been to the Pentagon several days earlier, and had learned about some restructuring that was occurring with some bases. They asked if this was going to have any effect on the 183rd. The commander then explained that they were going to lose their airplanes to the changes, and would become a command and support base only. Ouch. They had just spent all kinds of time telling us about their airborne adventures, which they were clearly very proud of, and now this. The reporters were very interested in this, and kept asking about every angle of the issue. I felt bad for the guy.

This is a small video of the jet taking off.

Throughout all of this, a state department interpreter followed us around, translating just about everything anyone said about anything. Im not sure if I would ever want to do anything like that or not..

So by this time I was very tired and had to go home. More tomorrow.