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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Evolution of a Sin

What is sin exactly? How is it defined? Does sin morph, or is it static with time? Surely, anyone who has studied any amount of religious history, can see that sin changes with each generation. 

Can religious masses be expected to understand a generally accepted rule book, delineating every little detail of life, telling them what is wrong and what is not right? After all, most of religious theology, especially Christianity, the religion I am most familiar with, deals with what man, throughout history, has done wrong, and what can be done about it.

When I was a young lad, I used to drink water - a lot! I would go into the bathroom, cup my hand under the faucet, fill it with water, and bring it to my mouth, repeatedly. I loved the taste of Minneapolis water. It was sweet, with a hint of lemon and lime. 

Then, my Mama found religion. Religion was an Artesian well. Once a fortnight, we would drive our old van forty minutes to the well, fill scores of gallon glass bottles up under the flowing metal pipe, then drive them back home.

Mama made it a rule that we were no longer allowed to drink city water. Artesian well water was blessed by the gods. It was healthy. Checked for all sorts of chemicals every four years or something.

Drinking city water was now a sin.

My sinful nature took over, as it was wont to do. I was a descendant of Adam. I had no choice but to want to sin. So I drank city water. I couldn't stand the crap from the well unless it was so ice cold, you could barely taste the flavor. Kind of like how you have to drink Coors Lite, hoping, beyond hope, that you swallow it before any sensation remotely resembling the taste of piss-water, becomes recognizable by the receptors in your brain.

A year later, I was convicted of my sins. I went to a seminar where the guru, Billy Boy G. (Gothard) told us all to think of two sins we wanted to confess to our Mamas and then remove from our lives. So we could be good smelling to the gods, or something. The two sins I picked were drinking city water and picking my nose and eating it. In other words, within one evening in front of that black-haired, lying bastard, I removed my only hope of street survival.

From that moment on, I never picked my nose and ate it again. I did, on the other hand, drink city water, here and there. I told you...I was a descendant of Adam. I had a sin nature. What the hell was I supposed to do? Be perfect? Oh I was Jesus. Sure, HE never picked his nose and ate it and always drank Artesian well water. But dammit! That's because he probably turned his bloody snot into loaves and Swedish fishies, and his Artesian water into delectable Italian wine. I didn't have those powers. That man had it easy.

And so, sin was what I was made to feel guilty about, then established in my life what I needed to do about eradicating it, then constantly focusing on not partaking in it, so I could feel right and proper when taking communion the next Sunday, needing to dig deeper to find other sins I could create, starting the cycle all over again.

I'm thirsty. The tap is calling.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Friend, Collin Engstrom, is Pretty Smart

I went to college in Marshall, Minnesota. Southwest Minnesota State University, to be exact. I received a Bachelor's in Computer Science and missed a math minor by three credits. I was terrified of the Calculus 3 professor, who had a reputation for eating his students alive, after dismembering them with chalk he sharpened with his teeth.

My dearest friend from college took that class. This gentleman, Collin Engstrom is a genius. He has so many degrees, he makes Al Gore look lowly in his shadow. He graduated with a double degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. Even though he was brilliant, that Calc 3 class killed him. He ended up taking the beating twice, and still couldn't get up to an 'A'.

Then he went on to smash records in everything else. Had to be the professor.

Anyway, Collin is finally published and the paper is a good read for smart people.

Check it out here.

Title: Design Patterns for Tunable and Efficient SSD-based Indexes

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Hotel from Hell: America's Best Value Inn, Sarasota, Florida

It was 11:00 PM on a Saturday night in June. I was driving from Orlando, Florida to Sarasota with a dear friend of mine. We needed a place to stay. So, as I navigated the oddly heavy traffic on I-4, she jumped on her cell and called

After a few minutes of nearly dropped calls, the staff member found her a deal she couldn't refuse. For just about $150 and six minutes from Siesta Beach, we could have a good room for two nights - at America's Best Value Inn, Sarasota, Florida.

After hanging up, my friend nervously turned to me and asked if I had ever heard of this hotel chain. I had. A few years ago, they built one in Pipestone, Minnesota. It looked very much like an AmericInn, but with cheaper siding and windows. I assumed this one would be about the same. America's Best Value Inn had touted itself, recently, as the "fastest growing, discount hotel chain" in the United States. You can't grow fast without doing something right. Right?

There's always a bad apple in a good box of fruit.

America's Best Value Inn of Sarasota is located right on the edge of downtown. Downtown Sarasota is beautiful. It's an eclectic mix of eateries, shops, and small towers, where people allegedly work, when they're not staring out at the beauty of the surf and the approaching angry skies. A hotel in that area would naturally be a fine establishment.

We pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of our vehicle. Our nostrils were met with a stench that reminded us of a mix between a backed up sewer and sulfur from a reverse osmosis water purification system. Broken blinds were hanging in the windows of several of the units. But, through the fence, we could see a pool that looked okay. A unique-looking walking bridge spanned the two buildings.

Shrugging off the stench, assuming it could be coming from somewhere else, we walked around to the front of the hotel, and buzzed the attendant. She grudgingly looked up at us, waited a few long seconds, and then pressed a button to let us in.

Inside the cramped lobby was a messy assortment of tables, resembling an attempt at a breakfast area. On the counter of the lobby desk was what looked like a five-gallon, pump-action bottle of hand sanitizer. That should have been our first warning. Behind us, a television was on, blaring some 'B' movie, semi-drowning out ours and the manager's voices. The lobby smelled like floor cleaner on top of mold and smoke and old socks, smelly feet, a hint of rotten orange juice, and possibly a hidden carcass of a mouse or a yellow-bellied small-mouthed bass.

The manager didn't attempt to turn the movie down. She was too busy filing her nails and picking up a blue Magic Marker to color in a missing area of nail paint. The color didn't match, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Her clothes were haphazardly matching as she slouched in the chair, obviously irritated that we had even dared to show up at her hotel. Without looking at us, she mumbled something, inaudible to either my friend or I.

"Excuse me?," my friend asked politely.

"Driver's license and credit card, please," the lady croaked out, angrily.

My friend looked at me, a look of concern crossing her face. I raised my eyebrows and assumed an acquiescent nature that I wear, anytime I need to entice a horrid person to like me. I mumbled some sort of joke, chuckled nervously, and received a look of disdain, shot at me from behind the desk. The lady grabbed the credit card and pulled out a knuckle buster from below the desk.

Yeah. A knuckle buster. Who uses those anymore!?

Afterwards, she proceeded to type random characters into her computer for nearly five minutes, chewing loudly on her gum, over the noise of the television, ignoring us, treating it as if we didn't exist. I had a notion to ask her if we were good and if we could have the keys, but, terrified of what she might say, I abstained and instead, shifted on my feet, sighing loudly, letting my passive aggressive, Norwegian heritage do the work. She heard me, lowered her head, and typed harder, paying special attention to ignoring us.

Finally, she ripped open a drawer, produced two odd looking keys, and handed them to me. We walked out and went to gather our things from the vehicle. Returning to our entrance door, we noticed the handle of the door was broken, swinging freely. It opened without a key. Discovering no elevator, we began to climb the stairs to the second floor. The stench had grown. We couldn't breathe without closing our noses. It smelled like rotting feet now. Like an old baseball stadium after all the fans have left from a double-header. 

We were halfway up the first flight of stairs when, from around a corner, stepped a man in nothing but underwear. He looked like death. His pectorals were drooping, nearly hitting his belly button. His face, contorted into a drug-induced insomnia. His eyes were so wide open, one would be convinced the balls would pop from their sockets and bounce lightly on the dirty concrete, rolling under poorly installed trim, hitting the wall behind, then heading directly into a storm drain.

I held my breath and stood behind my friend, in case the dripping-skinned gentleman needed to choose the easiest target to murder. I would go quietly, I knew, never having been in a fight in my life. I held my breath. He passed the bottom of the stairs and disappeared.

We made it to the top of the second flight and found the hallway door propped open. No key was needed to enter this wing of the "hotel". The carpet in the hall was stained with disgusting black stains. The walls had odd stains and scratches on them. The smell worsened. Every door we passed gave us a semblance of the occupants within. The walls were paper thin, allowing the screams of children, the loud noises of televisions, the fighting of spouses (or whatever they were), the bangings of bodies against cheap construction, and maybe scratching noises of what we had now reasoned would not surprise us, had they been the scratching of rats. Families of rats. Cockroaches. Bugs. All sorts of bugs. Poisonous lizards. Snakes. Runaway alligators. Dumped pets. Fleas. Bed bugs. Nothing would surprise us now.

We opened the door to Room #215.

That was our next mistake.

See, my friend is the closest thing to a germaphobe. She carries a can of Lysol spray into every hotel room she enters and immediately sprays down all furniture, the bed cover, all handles to doors, toilets, sinks, the hangars in the closet, and, if she gets really carried away, sprays me too.  This room wouldn't have been acceptable to her unless dozens of Lysol spray cans - the jumbo family size - were used. Even I, not a germaphobe, would have been very happy with a military-grade flame thrower, at this juncture.

The second you entered the room, your throat closed. I am not allergic to anything, but this room was allergic to me. It stank. There was old caulk everywhere, covering up holes in the walls. The bathroom curtain was untouchable. Stains on the walls in the bathroom. Stains on the carpet. The furniture was scratched and scuffed. The bed, hard as a rock. In short, I cannot describe the awfulness of the room without nightmares coursing through my head.

We turned around and left, feeling dirty for having just stepped into the room.

At 2:00AM, we found Hampton Inn & Suites, Sarasota, by the airport. They rented us a third floor room. The lady at the desk was pleasant and fun. The room smelled fresh and clean. Everything was white. Everything worked. All the carpets were new and fresh looking. No scratches or stains adorned the walls. The bed was comfortable. And, best of all, the Lysol spray can sat on one of the tables, unused, smiling at itself.

As I drifted off to sleep, I turned to my friend and asked, "Are you feeling better now?"

"They wash the bed covers here," she murmured happily, with a dazed smile on her lips, as she drifted off to sleep.