Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

On Charity

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Tonight Carrie and I went to a Reddit Board Game Night on Capitol Hill. Apparently there was a power outage, so the place it was going to be at, B&O Espresso, was closed for the evening. The gaming got moved to Caffé Vita at the last minute, so it was a tinier, more intimate crowd. Unfortunately, we’d already parked once and it was Capitol Hill, Hades of Parking, so we had to walk a fair distance to get to the coffee shop. It was worth it, though — we played Elixer and Cosmic Encounter, and everybody had a blast.

Things wrapped up around 10:30 or so, and we packed up our games and took our leave. Since the venue had been moved, we had quite a ways to walk to our car (don’t get me started on the horrendous parking in Capitol Hill; we’d be here all night!). A few blocks down Pike we were stopped by a disheveled-looking young woman. She looked about twenty to twenty-five years of age.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said. “My car is out of gas and my purse was stolen, and I need to get back to Bellevue. Could you give me a few dollars for gas money?”

I’d heard about this type of scam before. The best grifts depend on either greed or compassion, two opposite sides of the same shiny coin. What cold and indifferent monster wouldn’t want to help out in this situation? We’ve all run out of gas or nervously eyed the needle hovering over the “E”, so it’s a common enough vector for attack. You simply play on the victim’s own fear. Throw in the fact that you don’t have the money to buy a couple of gallons, and you can play on the victim’s sympathies, too. Who could resist such a sob story?

Well, it turns out I can. One of the first things I developed after moving into Seattle was a calloused sense of sympathy for people asking for money on the street. When you work downtown it’s not really a choice, unless you want to give cash for dubious causes every single day. This was especially true for me, as I got on my bus at Third and James, which was absolutely crawling with folk asking for handouts. I want to emphasize that I’m only unyielding to those who ask me for money and money alone. I’m just too skeptical to believe that you need a few bucks for the bus, or to buy some food. In fact, this skepticism led me to my stock response for such inquiries. “I don’t carry cash,” I say (I don’t), “but I can buy you what you need.” If they’re asking for money for food, I’ll offer to buy them a sandwich. If they want money for bus fare, I offer to swipe my Orca Card for them on the bus of their choice. Every time I’ve been approached downtown this way and I’ve offered to buy my solicitor what they need, they’ve turned me down.

So at this point I told this poor young woman that I didn’t have any cash, but I could buy her gas. If you are being scammed and things go this way, the grifter usually makes an excuse and bails out quickly, if not gracefully. But not this particular woman. “I’ll need to go get some gas cans from my friend,” she told us. This to me seems to be either her exit line or her please-don’t-inconvenience-me-I’m-already-out-of-gas line, but before we could start down either path she ran off across the street and disappeared into the shadows of the night growing from the QFC. Carrie and I waited around a while, board game boxes rumbling as we shifted them in our hands. We waited partially out of politeness and partially out of genuine concern. Carrie was becoming nervous that she was getting her “friend”, a 6-foot-3 rogue with an anchor tattoo, an eye patch, and grapefruit-sized biceps. Afterwards she told me that she was facing the opposite direction to me to get my back. It makes me feel better to know I wasn’t the only skeptical person involved.

[I’d like to make a digression and tell a related story from many years ago, right after Carrie and I started dating. We were crossing the footbridge from campus in Missoula to the Albertson’s on Broadway. This bridge was a notorious hangout for vagrants and vagabonds. As we stepped off the bridge, a man approached on a low-riding bicycle. He swerved from side to side in loping, teetering undulations. Each unsure turn brought him closer and closer to one of the concrete barriers lining either side of the bridge’s approach until with a sickrning thud he crashed into one and collapsed in a heap, bike on top. Carrie wanted to stop and help but I was convinced it was some sort of scheme and wanted to leave him there. It’s a good thing I listened and we stopped; he was really hurt. We called an ambulance and Carrie with her CNA training tended to his wounds. I had been certain that it was something they cooked up to elicit sympathy. I’m an optimist on paper but am pretty cynical when it comes to human interaction. Luckily he got the attention he needed, but it turned out he had Hepatitis C, so that was a little scary.]

After a short delay the young woman came running back with a gas can in each hand. She’d either called my bluff or she really needed the help. I was a little shocked because I didn’t expect to see her again. She met up with us on the corner, the light to cross the street the other way was mercifully short, and we headed to the Shell station to fill what she had brought. They must have been 1.5 – 2 gallon cans, because as I was filling them she told me to only put four dollars’ worth of gas into each can (which honestly is enough to get you across Lake Washington and back home in Bellevue). She thanked us two or three times as the cans were filling, then as I handed them to her. With some final words of gratitude she waked off with her eight dollars’ worth of gasoline, presumably to her exhausted car, and we turned back north on Broadway, the way we’d been going. It hadn’t taken more than five minutes.

Now usually I would have been feeling pretty good about all this. I’ve convinced myself that she really did need it. Maybe her purse wasn’t stolen, maybe she was destitute, or maybe she had misplaced it. Maybe she wasn’t trying to get back to Bellevue and she just needed it to get to work in the morning (or school, or wherever). But I’m pretty sure she wasn’t after a couple gallons of free gas. What would she do, re-sell it? Who would buy that? Weighing what I know, it looked as if we’d helped someone in need.

The only problem is that I lied. I was carrying cash. Enough of it in varying bills to give her what she needed, to the dollar. Now I’m usually a proponent of telling the truth, even if it’s unpleasant. But I always lie about not having cash whenever I offer my stock response to requests on the street. I could have a hundred dollars in my wallet, or a single one dollar bill. I’ll always say I don’t have any and offer to buy what they need. I started thinking about this as we walked the half-mile or so to where we’d parked our car. I can only offer one defense: my concern for our safety. After all, we may have grown up in Montana but we still know better than to blindly dig cash out of our wallets for anybody who asks. Things turned out okay, regardless. If I’d given her cash and she was a meth head then it wouldn’t have done any good. I can think of very few detrimental things she could do with the gas (okay, I suppose that’s not true. She could use it to burn down a building, for example). It’s not like she could have fenced at most three dollars’ worth of gasoline, though.

This is what it takes. In the best case, we helped a hapless if irresponsible woman get back home. In the worst case, we helped her drive to that next party. Either way I’m okay with it. When another human being asks, you’ve just got to help, whatever way you can.

New Skin

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

This blog has gotten an upgraded theme, the same one that’s on my portfolio. Thanks to my lovely wife Carrie for taking my old site and making it shiny!

Risk Automatic Dice Roller

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I went to Missoula last weekend to play some Risk, and saw that some RTAs had made an automatic Risk dice roller. Being the inquisitive type, I decided to write one myself. Mine uses pretty dice images I made, which somehow makes it better than the other one. It also has a few options for end-of-battle strategy.

Risk Auto Dice Roller

The source code is available, too. And because I’m awesome like that, here’s a .zip of the pretty pretty dice.

You can go to the page to see all the options.

Cut-Off Point

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I’ve moved this blog from its 6-year (!) home at to my own domain. I’m running the blog on WordPress now, and it has some features and options for customization that Blogger’s hosted account simply lacked. I’ve gone through and done a cursory tagging and categorization of old pages, but anything before this post will not be as shiny as newer content.

I also had to do some thinking about what exactly I want this blog to present. Going through my old posts, it was clear that the me from six years ago was very different from the me of today. As this blog is part of my website, which I present as part of my professional face, I’ve decided to bowdlerize some of the early entries. I took a lot of frankly emo content that was probably uninteresting to read anyway (well, more uninteresting than this blog’s standard, anyway!). I realize this material offers a glimpse into how I became the person I am today, but I have changed a lot since then. Some of the earlier content is more private than I would have admitted. I have also excised some of the self-righteous political rants, as well as some posts full of ‘offensive’ language and some content that paints my early-college character in a… less-than-stellar light.

In any case, since this stuff was posted on the web for years, it’s probably accessible somewhere. I realize I can’t pull a CIA-black-marker on my past, but I can try! What I censored wasn’t terrible; it was personal and often immature, and I’d like to present a better face to the world. So don’t think of this as a re-writing of my past, think of it as a promise to make future content even better.

Four Years Old

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

By the way, this blog is around four years old today. As we all know on the Internets, four years is an eternity. In light of the stupidity in Boston, I think I’ll listen to some “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversity”, but definately not Carl’s favorite song, “More Than A Feeling.” I want nothing to do with the band Boston, or the city.

I am a…

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Bio Android Proton Titan.

Just thought you should know.

Nerd Score

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

I am nerdier than 93% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I don’t know whether or not to be proud of this…

Little Gallea… mmmm

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

On our way back from Rossland, (in British Columbia), we stopped for breakfast at the Little Gallea restaurant in Kettle Falls, WA. The food was good, the atmosphere wonderful, and it was definately worth a visit. These little out-of-the-way cafes are what we need more of.

Bad Religion Message Board Return

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

I have returned to the Bad Religion Message Board. And it is so much fun, it’s giving me gas.

Submitted For Your Approval: PodBragger

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

podbragger. Noun. One who wears those white iPod headphone but feels the need to always be holding his iPod, too, so that everyone else knows he’s actually got one and is not fooling us with a CD player.

Speaking as one of the apparently billions of people on campus with an iPod, I try to hide the damn thing. Not that I’m afraid of being mugged or anything. I just don’t wan’t to look like a podbragger. I’m kind of ashamed, since iPods became this big status symbol thing.