What kind of month has it been…

I’ve have my new e-cig hobby for a little over a full month now (my Vapor4Life kit arrived on January 21st). At first, I got interested in e-cigs as a non-taxed alternative and primarily as a way to save money overall. Yeah, do the math and 1.5 packs per day x $5.50 per pack x 365 days per year end up at a little over $3,000 a year not including days where I burned up well over my “assumed” 1 and 1/2 packs. Even testing out my e-cig by laying on lots of new and interesting flavors, picking up accessories, and more batteries, it was obvious that I was saving money and therefore meeting my goal. Not to mention that my cigarette intake was down to about 5 a day at it’s low point and there were some days when I would’d have an “analog” at all. And then something unexpected happened… That number started creeping back up and some days would get back within striking distance of a pack a day. So not only was my old habit coming back, but I was keeping up with my new one too… That’s a cost saving measure only a government could love.

It seems to me that although I was getting the nicotine by body tells me I need, there was something missing in the e-cig that my long-standing relationship with Marlboro was giving me… I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that when something contains more than 4000 chemicals, more than one of them may have addictive qualities. And as we all know, I’ve rarely met a bad habit I didn’t want to have for myself. My point here is that I didn’t start this thing with any intention of actually giving up cigarettes, but the last month has taught me that e-cigs and analogs don’t make good company, at least for me.

Because I’m a historian by nature and by education, I set about to find what others have done who faced same situation. What I discovered was that while some people turned in their lighters after their first e-puff, a great many have needed something extra to get over the proverbial hump when the big cravings hit. What that “something” seems to be for many e-cig users is Sweedish snus, a smokeless tobacco product that most reputable studies show is far fewer long-term health effects than the burning tobacco in cigarettes (and no, it’s not snuff – check out a WSJ article on the topic if you’re interested and/or bored). A tin of snus has the added benefit of still being much cheaper than a pack of smokes and a “hit” tends to last more than an hour in use so a tin could theoretically last for days.

I’m still a big proponent for the e-cig and it’s going to be my go-to delivery system for nicotine for the foreseeable future… but for those couple of times a day when the urge goes over the top, I’ve got a package inbound from Sweden that may just be what I need to fill the gap. For now, I’m trying to learn all I can on ye olde forums: http://www.snuson.com.

No more new car smell…

When you start out with something new, you get the feeling that the gloves are finally off, there are fewer limitations, options that were closed are now available. When you’re the one turning the lights on for the first time, you get to start out with a very minimal rule set… and life is good because you have unrestricted freedom of action. You’re trusted unconditionally to do your part and do it well. What the handbook doesn’t tell you is that this window starts to close almost the moment it is open. Nature abhors a vacuum… and soon enough the rules, policies, and procedures start to close in around you in order to fill that vacuum. Eventually, a real organization structure starts to form and your available courses of action are further limited. The next thing you know, you end up having to pass through systems checks and untold wickets to get approval for everything from travel to ordering pens and paper.

For me, I guess this is the part where it stops being fun. I find myself casting longing backwards glances at a past that really was as close to the wild west as you’re likely to see in any part of a giant bureaucracy. It was a time when the only thing that mattered was getting the job done and not worrying too much about the ways and means of getting there. I miss being a “free agent” in the system and I’m feeling increasingly frustrated by the inherent constraints within a maturing operation. So for now I’m struggling to manage my expectations and sort out what the new normal is going to look like. In the meantime, we all get to experience the pure joy that is an angsty, vaguely hostile, generally agitated, and somewhat sleep-deprived Jeff.

OK, so most of those things are situation normal for me, but still, things are going to be downright unpleasant until I get my head in the right place. Have fun with that, because it should make for some interesting reading.

Sometimes I Miss Apartment Life…

At first there’s the profound feeling of accomplishment at being a homeowner. And then shit starts breaking. At first it’s little things. A light switch goes on the fritz. Then a window cracks, then the gutter leaks, and then, and then, and then on into infinity. Of course that’s all followed immediately by the calling of the contractors, and the calling and the calling and so on and so forth. By the time you get one thing done, ten more seem to need doing. It’s madding.

I’m not what you would call handy. I’m good at identifying the problems, but in trying to repair them I have a tendency to cause more harm than good. I’m a big believer that it’s important for a man to know his limitations… and mine apparently involve being able to make seemingly simple household repairs. Once the weather breaks, I have a proverbial laundry list of things that need doing, but that I’m decidedly incompetent to do on my own. Since that is officially a known fact, I suppose it’s time to get all reasearchy and put the short list together of people who appear to be worth contacting in the first place.

In case you’re wondering, that sucking sound you hear is the cash being sucked out of my wallet to get it all done.

Getting Googled…

One of the most interesting aspects of behind the scenes blogging is watching what random phrases make you turn up on some of our favorite search engines. Today is was a search via Google on “Citibank Visa Caribbean” that linked to my post “Citibank Visa (Sucks).”  Of course that’s really only interesting at all if you are interested in learning what people search for and want to try driving traffic to your site. Since I’m not selling anything, it’s mostly academic for me. Of course it’s also a bit of an ego rub when some topic garners enough e-interest to pop up on one of the aggregators. Like any good addict, though, you realize the first hit is free and then spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the right combination of tags that will send you straight to the top. That’s probably easier of you stick to one major them or topic, but since the likelihood of me ever getting the focus more narrow than “things I’m interested in”  is ridiculously low, I’ll have to be satisfied with the occasional hit from the big boys.

For me, blogging is as much about the experience of writing as it is actually getting anyone to read the damned thing. I spend so much time writing in technicalities that it’s easy to forget that I use to do it for fun. And it’s here that I get to keep myself in touch with that idea. If I ever get the chance to writie The Definitive History of Whatever or Everyone is Stupid and Here’s Why, at least we can point here and say this is where is all started.


I know there was a time when Friday nights were all about going out and staying out as long as possible… or maybe I imagine it. Now I’m sitting here watching the clock creep towards 10:00 and thinking that finding my way to bed right about now sounds about perfect. It’s probably wrong that a good night’s sleep is really that tempting, but I’ve found it best to take your pleasures where you find them. I know I’ll be up ahead of the sun in the morning regardless of when I find my way to bed… so there’s not much point in holding out just to make a point. Color me sleepy and sign me out for the night. This is going to be awesome.

Go, Go, Gadget…

I’m a gadget guy and have been since I got my first cell phone way back in 1998 (the pager before that, not so much of a big deal – but it was a pretty shade of blue). Now it’s computers, flat-screen TVs, phones, e-cigs, Blu-Ray, and a whole laundry list of other neat new toys that keep my attention. I love these things not necessarily because they are new and shiny, but because they tend to make my life better than whatever they replaced. Although I’m not the youngest person in the room at most meetings now, I’m still well below the average in or office and one of the issues that has come to the forefront this week is just how uncomfortable (read: incompetent or incapable) our “more seasoned” employees are at using even the most basic technology… Our intranet is a great example. I don’t know if I could count on two hands the number of times I’ve heard “it’s too complicated” or “it’s too confusing” or “I can’t find anything”… and I haven’t even been in the meetings.

My current terror-inducing thought is that at some point in my career, I’m going to turn into those people; the ones who can’t seen to find the search function to find something on a website or how to get tethering to work with my cell phone. There’s no way of predicting what the new great technology will be in 20 or 30 years when I’m riding into the sunset of my career, but I know I want to be able to use it effectively. Seriously, how can you actually work without being able to navigate a pretty straightforward website that’s basically being run like a big old external hard drive… We’re not talking about any kind of advanced technology here; other than the laptops it’s running on, everything we’ve got is 10 years old.

If there is any righteousness in the universe, any goodness at all, I’ll be spared that fate. Or I’ll at least be open to learning instead of just complaining after the fact. If I’m not, then I hope some up and coming Young Turk has the courage to put me out to pasture before I become a holdover from a bygone era.

Hitting empty…

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: I am a creature of habit. Things that mess with my habits are generally best avoid for all parties concerned. It very rarely ends well. It’s a position that gets even more tricky when two deeply ingrained habits come into conflict with one another. For instance tonight, my 12 year old cigarette habit is coming into direct conflict with my hatred for leaving the house once I’ve made it home from work (seriously, getting me out of the house on a weekday takes an act of Congress or at least a Federal holiday).

Being a smoker means being prepared in a way that would make a Boy Scout proud… Never letting your stockpile run out and always keeping fire at your fingertips. Today I broke the smoker’s cardinal rule: I burned up my last one without making sure I had a pack held in reserve. It’s been that way since just after lunch and I just now realized it, passing the time with my laptop-turned-hooka and the assortment of new batteries and flavors that arrived from my e-cig vendor this afternoon. That was well and good when I wasn’t thinking about it, but now I’ve realized it and it’s starting to make me a bit twitchy.

The second factor at work, and the one that is presently winning the day, is having no earthly desire to get out of my fuzzy slippers and actually leave the house to go get a fresh pack. That means at worst, it’s twelve hours without a smoke… and I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened. It was probably some time before I started. For tonight at least it seems like I’m an ex-smoker (but more and more a wild-eyed “vaper” (i.e. one who uses a “personal vaporizer” or e-cig). I don’t know if it will stick or even if I want to give it up completely in favor of vaping full time. Driving past the trusty old Circle K may prove too much of a challenge in the pre-dawn hours, but that’s all a few hours off yet. In the meantime, I’m settling in for the night with a new cartridge of Cuban Cigar flavor. Yum!

Doing without…

Last Wednesday for about six hours my employer joined the ranks of such forward-looking leaders in information technology as Iran and China and blocked network access to Google. Have you tried looking up information without Google in the past few years? It’s not pretty… I don’t care how awesome Microsoft says Bing works, I couldn’t find a damn thing using it. After satisfying myself that the issue wasn’t with Google (i.e. scouring places like CNet and BoyGeniusReport for rants about their epic fail) I called our vaunted Enterprise Service Desk (ESD). The conversation went something like this:

  • Jeff: I’m having trouble getting to Google on my PC, but I can get to it from my Blackberry.
  • ESD: Oh, that’s a problem with Google.
  • Jeff: Ummm… No. I’m using Google on my phone right now.
  • ESD: Oh… Hummm… Yeah… It’s a problem with Google.
  • Jeff: Thanks.
  • ESD: Does that resolve your help ticket?
  • Jeff: *Click*

As it turns out, the disruption wasn’t a problem with Google (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you). Apparently our network operations office decided to start blocking the definitive name in web searching after two individuals “got a virus from Google.” I’m pretty sure they meant they got a virus from something they found using Google. I didn’t have the patience to ask, although it seems like it would be an important distinction to make if you were in charge of network ops. The good news is that the Great Firewall is down now and we can once again use google as a verb.

If an optimist is someone who expects the best and a pessimist is someone who expects the worst, what is the proper term for someone who has no expectations at all? I’m pretty sure having expectations was where I went wrong in this scenario.

A new home…

The interwebs are transient. What’s hot today will be gone a week from now (remember when we all used MySpace). MySpace was the first time I actually invested any time in developing content and I found it disheartening when alot of that content had to be abandoned to move over to Facebook, then the “next big thing.” At about the same time, I opted to host my blog content on Blogger, thinking that it would be a more permanent solution than tying it to a social media site. While this solution is workable, it’s not as elegant as I would like. Pictures end up on Facebook, blogs end up on blogger, email ends up at gmail, etc, etc, etc.

So, for what I hope is the last time, I’ve made another move and opted to host all my permanent content here at http://www.jeffreytharp.com. As you can see, the first step was getting the blog back up and running. That will be followed shortly by bringing photos and other media online, converting to a new email address, and generally rebranding my online life. Of course Facebook is still my social network of choice (until the next big thing comes along), but I will be focused on streamlining what I post there and using it as an adjunct of this site rather than trying to force it into being my “official” home on the net.

As I get more comfortable with my new home, I’m sure you will see some changes. Feedback is very much welcome and encouraged.

Hello world!

This new endeavor is under development during this three-day weekend. It’s a new toy for me and something I’m hoping to learn much more about in the coming days and weeks, so check back soon for updates.