Mailing Services and English Nuances

One of the small perks we have at work is the ability to use our corporate mailing center for personal shipments.  I still have to pay the shipping costs, but do get to use our company’s bulk rate rather than normal rates.  It adds up pretty quickly, actually, but that’s not where this post is headed.

I was checking on packing up and mailing a rather large box, though, and decided to check on the size and weight restrictions.  I came across this:

The following items will not be able to be processed for shipping:

  • Packages weighing over 50 pounds and exceeding 120 cubic inches

Certainly, this was a mistake, I thought to myself.  Maybe if they had said "or" instead of "and", but 120 cubic inches is nothing – a 5 inch cube is more!  I also wondered how you could get 50 pounds into 120 cubic inches.  A bit of Wikipedia searching ensued.

Apparently, Osmium is the most dense element known to man, at 22.61 grams per cubic centimeter.  That information yields the following conversion:


So, it is possible to get 50 pounds of something into 120 cubic inches.  That said, Osmium has a street value of around $400 per troy ounce, which means it would cost $571,771 (and change) to package it.  I don’t think FedEx or UPS would insure that package.

Lead, on the other hand, would be much more cost effective and possible to obtain in large quantities.  Lead weighs 11.34 grams per cubic centimeter.  That would bring is to 49.118 pounds in 120 cubic inches.  Based on pricing at United Nuclear, this would only cost around $160.

image Obviously, the restriction about 120 cubic inches is wrong, and hopefully they’ll fix that wording on the web page soon.  What they likely meant to say was dimensional inches or package girth (which DHL defines as "the sum of 2 times the height plus 2 times the depth").

Mea culpa: This whole topic came up because I didn’t think it was possible to cram 50 pounds into 120 cubic inches, and my initial calculations showed that to be true.  But my initial calculations were wrong, converting square centimeters into cubic inches.  Geometry 101.

Mentos and Diet Coke

It’s a slow day here at the office, so some co-workers and I decided that we should replicate the whole Mentos/Diet Coke thing.  I know, it’s so 6-months ago, but oh well.

Getting things done: my way

I’m a procrastinator.  An expert at it, in fact.  However, at work, that usually doesn’t cut it.  I’ve been trying to figure out new ways to manage my to-do list, and I think I’ve come upon something that works really well for me.  I was reading a blog post over at 7Breaths about someone using OneNote and Outlook 2007 to manage their life, and it’s inspired me to write about mine, primarily using Outlook 2007.

Calendar View My workflow is pretty similar to Rob’s, especially with the categorization and coloring of items.  This helps me skim past personal emails and appointments while I’m at work. 

I make a point to block out two 30-minute blocks on my calendar for doing weekly reviews, recurring at 8:30am on Monday and Friday.  8:30am is usually early enough that I’m in the office, but not much is going on.  Monday mornings I’ll skim over my calendar and create tasks for major meetings that I need to do things in advance of.  Why have that blocked out on Friday morning as well, you say?  Well, what if I’ve got an important meeting that I need to prepare for on Monday morning?  I’d certainly prefer to find out about that before 8:30am on Monday.

I also make use of OneNote‘s flagging feature that Rob mentions, so I won’t go into that here.  One thing that I also do is, as e-mails come in, I’ll make use of Outlook’s flag feature to mark them as follow-ups.  After I’ve flagged them, I can get them out of my inbox and filed away in my filing structure (note: if you move a flagged email into a locally stored PST folder, it won’t show up in your to-do list.  Keep flagged items somewhere stored on the server!).

Flagged E-mail

(and no, neither Madden 08 or NCAA 08 are that good this year)

The to-do bar in Outlook is what really saves me.  By default, all your tasks will show up there grouped by time, as well as upcoming appointments (also color-coded based on the categories applied in the calendar).

One major change I’ve done is to change the filtering on the task pane.  It’s not very intuitive, so I’ll document what I’ve done here.  Basically, I got tired of seeing tasks that are (in some cases) a year out (no, I’m not that organized that I have things planned out a year in advance; it’s just that I setup a recurring task to renew some professional certifications).  If you right click on the "Arranged by" bar, and click on "Custom" as your filter, you’ll get a window that lets you customize your to-do task list.  Click "Filter" here, and jump straight to the Advanced tab.  Here’s the filters you’ll need to add to have it display like mine:

Field Condition Value
Date Completed does not exist  
Date Completed on or after today
Flag Completed Date does not exist  
Flag Completed Date on or after today
Due Date between today and 30d
Due Date on or before today
Due Date does not exist  
Status not equal to Completed

Some of these things are probably redundant, but it worked and I didn’t feel like digging through it to find out what I didn’t need!  The reason that Date Completed and Flag Completed Date have duplicate entries is because the Date Completed seems to affect only real tasks, where the Flag Completed Date items affect emails and other items you’ve flagged.  The heart of it is the Due Dates — this will only show me tasks that are due in the next 30 days or that are overdue (or don’t have Due Dates applied).  Finally, don’t show me things that I’ve marked complete.

This all keeps my to-do list manageable, not overwhelming, and fairly focused.  One other thing of interest: in that filter window, under More Choices, you can filter based on a Category.  Maybe you want to exclude things in your Personal category — that’s the place to do it.

CEOs and Excessive Pay?

An [AP article]( just posted indicates that half of S&P500 CEOs get over $8.3M/year in pay. The article opens with this zinger of a line:

> A new Associated Press calculation shows that compensation for America’s top CEOs has skyrocketed into the stratospheric heights of pro athletes and movie stars: Half make more than $8.3 million a year, and some make much, much more.

I’m not saying that $8.3M/year isn’t a high amount of money, but in all fairness, comparing CEOs to pro athletes and movie stars is a bit odd. I’m pretty sure the average CEO does more work than either. (Yeah, so the athletes and movie stars sell tickets, but the CEOs sell stock)

iPods and Zunes in School: Banned

There’s been a lot of internal talk at work about the fact that some school districts are taking note and [banning iPods and Zunes]( due to concerns about cheating. A co-worker of mine responded to the discussions about this with a brilliant comment:

> Funny, I remember in HS when taking tests class the teachers actually watched us taking tests. Cheating using a device (let alone plain cheating) was pretty much impossible. Not sure why this isn’t the case now.

So true. I love how policy becomes a surrogate for actual attention. (Thanks for letting me quote you, [Mike](

It’s been too long

Ok, so last time I posted was April 9. Seems I had pretty routine updates before then, but I got swamped with work and real-life. What’s been going on?

Well, our high school’s 10-year reunion is coming up, and I’m on the reunion planning committee. Weird. Anyway, I put together a website for fellow [Conroe High School Class of 1997]( graduates to find each other. Step one in reunion planning: find people. That took some time.

Work’s been busy, very busy. It’s a good busy though. New project is teaching me a lot, but it’s winding down, so maybe I’ll get posting more routine.

Diann & I went to the [Tulip Festival]( a few weekends ago, and on my perpetual to-do list is to get those photos off the camera and into my [photo gallery]( Another one of those “one of these days” tasks.

We threw a big group dinner this past Friday night. A friend of ours (Hi, [Micha](!) used to host “Friday Night Dinner” events, and we’ve decided to try and pick up the tradition once a month or so. Basically, you pick a theme (we did “favorite asian take-out”), invite a bunch of people over (we invited 30 friends, co-workers, etc.; 23 showed up), and everyone brings an entree that fits with the theme. Good times, lots of Guitar Hero II was played, and Diann & I have been eating chinese/thai left overs all weekend.

Speaking of eating… We’ve also been going to the gym lately. I think 2007 is the year that we get organized and in shape. Since April 7, we’ve been to the gym 16 times (woah!). Now we just have to keep it up. Now the part about correlating the gym and eating (you thought I’d forget that, huh?): I think just going to the gym by itself makes you eat a better diet. I’m no fan of diets, and wouldn’t try to subject myself to one unless absolutely necessary; however, knowing that it takes a good 15-20 minutes on a treadmill to burn off the caloric equivalent of a can of soda makes one re-think what they’re going to stuff into their body. I’m just sayin’.

Today, we hit up the [Bodies … The Exhibition](, err, exhibit? (Why must they put exhibition in the title?) It was pretty amazing, and brought back lots of memories from high school Anatomy/Physiology class.

Anyhow, that’s what’s been going on here for the past few weeks. I’ll try to keep this more updated than I have been (though I’ve said that before).

Oh, and congrats to Dr. Stephen Hawking on feeling zero-g. That’s awesome news.

Home from work sick: day 2

Still out sick, and the TV is still boring. I’ve even turned it off. Xbox is offline for maintenance, so no fun there either.

I’ve been fairly producting in the whole e-mail department, though, so that’s good.

The good news is that the chainsaws/wood chippers/weed eater sounds from yesterday are gone. The bad news is that my next door neighbors are pressure washing their roof. Why can’t I get a nice quiet day of rest when I’m out sick?

Staying at home – used to be fun, now is boring

So, this weekend we went to Portland. I picked up some kind of illness at work last week, so I spent the entire weekend in Portland pretty much sleeping in our hotel room. Talk about the suck.

So, today I called into work sick. Had the doc come out (my employer is testing out a doctor-to-your-home program, which is super cool), and he’s diagnosed me with [Tracheitis]( Staying at home when I was in school was fun. Not so much now, it’s a beautiful day outside, and the neighbors are doing lawn work. I’m tired of listening to lawnmowers, weed eaters, chainsaws, and wood chippers (No, I don’t live in [Fargo]( And daytime TV: what’s with you TV producers? Put some good stuff on daytime TV.

Books that call out to me

Why does [this book]( call out to me? I’ve done so much logical security work in my professional career, but oftentimes the (perceived) simplicity of physical security systems seems so much more intriguing. Damn the $219 cost of the book: Locks, Safes and Security: An International Police Reference. I’ve had my eye on it for quite a while, and will order it one of these days.

Tracking stock awards in Microsoft Money

I use [Microsoft Money 2007]( to track our personal expenses, and my employer offers stock awards (rather than stock options). Basically, the way it works is they tell you that you did good this year, and that you’ll get a certain number of stock awards (let’s say 100 for simplicity). For the next 5 years, 20% of your stock awards vest each year, so if you got those 100 stock awards on, for example, March 15, 2007, you’ll get 20 shares on 3/15/2008, another 20 on 3/15/2009, and so on. (note: taxes should come out of this like normal income, so, while you’ll get 20 shares, you’ll actually receive less than that, dependent on your tax withholdings.)