I used to be cute

Year in Review - 2012

My 2012 highlights, distilled to a bulleted list:

  • Holy fat!  I mean, seriously.  All that effort from years ago is gone.
  • Another year of maintaining the status quo with my MS.  I'm reacting a bit stronger to my medicine these days, but so far it's ground the disease down to a complete halt.
  • Our family shrank by one as little K was transitioned to a friend of the family.  Saying goodbye to K was hard because it was unexpected and he was such a cool little dude that we loved so much.  This was our first really bad experience with the foster care system and the first time I feel like they really failed us as foster parents.  Thinking of how much smoother the whole situation could have gone had K's case manager not led us on, telling us what she thought we wanted to hear, no longer infuriates me like it did earlier in the year, but it's still a sore spot.  K's in a loving home and doesn't seem to be any worse for the wear, which is what's important in the end.
  • And our family grew by one, as two days after saying goodbye to K, we took in and soon after adopted Jamal.  At three and a half, he was the oldest child to come into our home, as we typically get them around 13-14 months.  Going from a 1 year old to a 3 year old was an adjustment for all of us to make.  Older kids also mean the first year both boys cared about Halloween, Christmas, going to the parks, visiting relatives...  they enjoyed all of this stuff before, but this year they were *excited* about it.  It was a really fun time!
  • Work was a bit of a roller coaster this year.  After nearly 4 years of consulting with the same client, helping write some pretty slick SharePoint backup software, I joined another consulting company along with the rest of M2E.  Some initial misunderstandings about what work would be involved had me worried that I'd made a huge mistake.  Before even starting, I took a 5-month hiatus to work with a former coworker on a new startup project.  Everything got sorted out and I'm now happily consulting away for AgileThought nd trying to get everyone else I know to work there.  5 years after leaving an office job and I'm only slightly pining for it.  As much as I miss interacting with other adults that aren't my wife, it'd be hard to ever give up working from home.

2013 is shaping up to be great already.  Tammy bought us a cruise for Spring Break and Christmas money helped us pay it off already.  Our boys will be turning 4 and 5, which means they'll be into more things, but less free park admission.  And Tammy and I will celebrate our 5th year of marriage and our 17th year of being together.

I hope your 2012 was a good one and your 2013 is as good as I plan on making mine!
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I used to be cute

Year in Review - 2010

Less than 13 hours until 2010 is officially "the past".

My yearly highlights:
  • My weight was at 240 a year ago.  I hope to get back down to it in short order this year.  Parenting has packed on the pounds.  More likely it was the pretzels, now that I think about it.
  • No news is great news.  I started my MS treatment (a shot every other day) and haven't had an attack since the first.  Regular MRIs and blood work keep coming back clean.  It seems to be progressing at a glacial pace.
  • Working from home became another year of awesome.  I've been with the same client for nearly 3 years now.  The work is comfortable, the people easy to work with, the pay good, the hours flexible.  All of the benefits make up for the lack of Benefits.
  • Philip Plait and Richard Dawkins fanned the flames of my love of astronomy and evolution, respectively.  I still can't wait to build a fire tornado with J when he's old enough to "Do Science" (3 is old enough, right?).
  • The best for last...  becoming foster parents.  Parenting has been AWESOME.  Our first placement, M, was the coolest little dood.  He stayed with us for 9 months before going back to his (huge) family.  We still get to see M and his family regularly and I hope we get to be in his life for a long time to come.
  • Two days after M went back home, we got J.  A completely different personality than M and just as cool.  It's looking very likely that we'll be adopting him early 2011.  Oddly enough, even though we have less time for each other, Tam and I have grown so much closer over the last year.  Having a kid around has been great for us and has redefined what "us" means.  Parenting means being happily exhausted most of the time.

As great as 2010 has been, I can only imagine what greatness 2011 has in store.
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Bright House's insecure Wireless Home Networking solution

As Bright House starts to roll out it's Road Runner Lightning service, the "Wireless Home Networking" solution that is bundled with it for free will begin to gain more traction. This will, unfortunately, mean plenty of wireless networks in Central Florida with insecure wireless settings.

Wireless settings such as SSID, pre-shared key, and allowed protocols are pre-configured by Bright House for your cable modem/router box and cannot be overridden. Attempting to change them within the router's administration control panel will seem to work for a few hours, but Bright House regularly resets your router's configuration back to its default settings. Bright House will not change your settings either, so you're stuck with whatever network name and password they gave you.

The default wireless protocol allowed is only WPA (WPA2 is available with the Surfboard wireless modem they gave me, but is disabled by default, for some reason).

The password for my router (and I'm assuming everyone else's) is a random eight digit passphrase. All numeric, no letters, spaces, special characters, anything. This means less than 100 million possible passwords, making it rather trivial to brute force your neighbor's wireless network with something like aircrack-ng. Devote some time to it, it's not like he can change it once he realizes someone is using his service.

The SSID name for Bright House WNS routers follows a predictable pattern that makes it easy to identify vulnerable routers. Mine looks like "BHNSBG6580????", which breaks down to "BHN" for Bright House Networks, "SBG6580" for the model number of the cable modem/router they gave me, and the last four characters of the MAC address of the router.

So if you see an access point nearby starting with "BHN" and looking similar to the one above, you can guess it's probably configured for WPA only and has an 8-digit numeric-only pre-shared key. Happy snorting!

I guess on the plus side, forcibly making the wireless access this easy to crack can add some plausible deniability if you're ever sued for downloading movies/music illegally.
I used to be cute

Netgear sucks!

After accidentally blowing up my Dlink router, I've been trying to find a decent replacement. I've been through three now in the past week. My most recent, a Netgear WNR2000 seemed to be the one I was finally looking for. I specifically exchanged router number 2 for the WNR2000 because this one offered everything the last one did plus "Multiple SSID support with separate security and access restrictions" (verbatim from the box), also known as "Guest wireless network".

After two hours of poking around and failing to find the options to configure the guest network, I finally broke down and called technical support, only to be disconnected twice, before finally being told this model doesn't support guest networks. After asking why the box said the router supported "Multiple SSID support", I was told this referred to a different model. "Well why is it on the box for *this* model then?" was met with little more than stammering.

So frustrated! Now I have to go back and exchange it for ANOTHER router. Best Buy has got to be close to blacklisting me by now. I just want my Dlink back. :(

Edit: Jon pointed out that even their website lists this feature in the specifications for this router.

Edit: And their data sheet. Boo, Netgear!
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I used to be cute


When I left my job in 2008, one of my biggest fears was "Will I need insurance?" I was quite happy with my PPO insurance through InCharge (and earlier, the "pretty much everything's covered" dot-com insurance at Citrix). At my height/weight ratio back then, it was pretty much impossible to get private insurance, even HDHP+HSA plans with $5200 deductibles. I went uninsured for 7 months until Tammy took pity on me and we tied the knot.

At first I was a bit nervous about being on an Tammy's plan, as it was a Cigna HMO and I've heard nothing but trash talked about managed care...
  • My PPO plans had always allowed me to go a huge variety of doctors. The HMO limited me to... well, choosing from a slightly less huge variety of doctors. I found one I liked and they became my PCP. My doctor's office is rockin.
  • The PPO meant I just had to cover my deductible ($200/yr last I remember) each year and then I only paid 10% of the bill. The HMO charged me $20 a visit. I'd have to make several HMO visits a month before I got close to spending as much as the PPO deductible.
  • PPOs were always touted as the upper-crust plan, with HMO patients having to wait 2 months to get an appointment, only to sit in an overcrowded lobby for an hour waiting to be seen for 2 minutes before being shuffled off. Under the HMO, pretty much anyone I called for an appointment (doctor, dentist, optometrist, endodontist) scheduled me for the same or next day. Often, they simply said "We've got openings right now. Just stop in."
  • PPOs were supposed to be the good guys and help you get treated while HMOs pinched pennies and denied everything. Cigna has approved every single procedure my doctor/neurologist prescribed, including a number of pricey advanced radiology procedures. There was an occasional lag of 3-4 days before it was approved, but that was pretty common according to the medical staff.
  • Cigna also called me out of the blue to enroll me in a wellness program because of my height/weight ratio during my last physical. I get a nurse that calls me every month or two to check up on me, ask about diet and exercise, offer advice, forward me relevant news articles or information, etc. It's the first time an insurance company actually took some step *before* I got sick.

All things considered, I've been pleased as punch about managed health care and think that my situation is as least a narrow, anecdotal view of how managed care done correctly can be a good thing.

And I'm writing this HMO love letter because I just heard back that my new $2000/month prescription I'll soon be taking was approved by my insurance company for a $0 copay.
I used to be cute

Year in Review - 2009

Another year almost over:
  • My weight was hovering around 270 in January. I started working with Kat Fieler, an awesome and inexpensive personal trainer, twice a week this year and am down to around 240 now. If I can get down to 200 by the end of 2010, I'll be very satisfied. Even as it is right now, I'm happy with the weight loss, muscle gain, and extra energy I've had recently.
  • Besides working out, part of the reason for my weight loss has been the changes to our diet. While we have been gradually altering what we eat since well before 2009, it really kicked into high gear when Tammy started seeing her nutritionist, Tracy Neely, this year. We've now started incorporating a lot more organic foods, a larger variety of vegetables, much less processed foods, green smoothies in the morning, etc. It's been a lot more about finding things we like to eat than forcing us to stop eating something altogether. Eating healthy doesn't mean our food is boring or flavorless and Tammy has become a kick-ass chef. I'm sure I could have lost the weight without the dietary changes we made, but I have no doubt it would have been slower.
  • Our honeymoon trip to Alaska was fantastic. We got to see the sights, do the hikes, paddle the kayaks, ride the planes, and hug the statues. While it's hard to imagine topping this trip, it has raised the bar for anniversaries. This year we went ziplining. Next year we'll climb Everest or wrestle a polar bear.
  • Our first year as a married couple brought a lot of other "first (blank) as a married couple"; first date night as a married couple, first valentine's day aamc, first time grocery shopping aamc, first odometer palindrome aamc (odometer palindromes amuse me, no idea why). We're getting ready for our second Christmas as a married couple and I couldn't be more content.
  • My blurred vision in my left eye (a pretty accurate depiction) ended up being Multiple Sclerosis. This finally explained other mystery symptoms that cropped over over the last 6 months that my Dr ordered all kinds of tests for, but was never able to diagnose before they seemed to clear up on their own. I've got a ton to say about this subject in general, but it will end up being another post sometime in the near future. In the end, I'm not losing any sleep over MS, it's just a name to what I've been frustrated by for the last 6 months.
  • Our house fell apart a little bit more this year. We've replaced entirely too much plumbing in it. Tam and I both have a love-hate relationship with the house. We love that we are lucky enough to have one at all, but hate that it's so small, falling apart, and has lost about 60% of its value since we bought it at the height of the bubble.
  • Probably the highlight of 2009 has been preparing to become foster parents. We completed the training and home study, got the baby room all set up and stocked, and are just awaiting my fingerprint clearance letter from the FBI so that we can get licensed. We're both as ready as we can be, now we just have to sit and wait.
Overall, a very satisfying year.
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I used to be cute

LJ becomes obsolete

Now that I'm on Facebook, I've mostly stopped posting on LJ. With LJ, I feel like I need to have something important to say, which I usually don't. Twitter's inane one-liners and jarring, disjointed reply-to tweets were just annoying. Facebook strikes the perfect blend of promoting unobtrusive, minimal conversations/pics/links/whatever that are kept in a logical order.

So many more friends use Facebook over LJ as well, so I'm pretty much abandoning ship and just reading/commenting on LJ from now on. Look me up on Facebook if you want: http://www.facebook.com/mikeycooper
I used to be cute

Mental Acuity Fail

My ability to focus seems to have diminished significantly over the last few months. I find myself forgetting things more frequently and arguing points others aren't even trying to make. I will do something and then need to go back and look at what I just did to see what I'm supposed to do next. In the past week alone, I've forgotten my car keys at the bank, argued against imaginary code designs because I misread IM conversations (twice), forgotten to marinate dinner, forgotten to pack lunch, and left my ATM card in the ATM.

I dunno what happened to distract me so, but it's starting to become very frustrating. It's not like I have all that much on my plate (and apparently not a whole lot going on in my mind). Whatever the cause, I need to figure out how to get back into the swing of things.
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I used to be cute

Honeymoon Roundup

Tam and I embarked on our honeymoon last week. We took a 7-day cruise to Alaska that was jam-packed with excursions. Pictures of it can be found on my Picasa album.

Our first stop was in Juneau, where we took a nice float plane tour. We got to see a number of forests, mountains, and glaciers up close. The blue glacier ice was especially visible in Juneau. Eventually we landed at the Taku Lodge. We walked around the forest trails there for a bit before getting treated to a delicious salmon feast and learning the history of the lodge and its past owners. When all was said and done, we took another float plane ride back to Juneau.

Our next stop was in Skagway, which unexpectedly became the highlight of the trip. Our excursion here was booked with Packer Expeditions. After taking a short train ride on the Yukon Route Railway, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere next to the Tongass National Forest. Our guides led us on a 3 hour hike across some mildly rugged terrain. We hung back a little bit with Brooke, one of the guides, who pointed out various off-the-trail paths to explore, great photo spots, plants that could be eaten, and general information about the trail. It felt a bit like having our own private tour of the forest.

My favorite photo was from this excursion, for those who don't feel like looking through the 300 pictures in the album:

After Skagway was Ketchikan, easily the town with the most charm and character of the three we visited in Alaska. Other than the harsh winters, it was the one we could see ourselves most enjoying if we lived there.

In Ketchikan, we did a kayaking/float plane combination excursion. We kayaked around a bit and our guide found and handed us various starfish and talked a lot about the surrounding forest and the necessity for conservation. We also saw a pair of bald eagles guarding their giant nest up in the trees.

Afterward, we had a nice salmon and hummus lunch on the boat before a float plane landed and pulled up. After boarding the float plane, we were flown around the Misty Fjords National Monument. The cliffs and waterfalls were gorgeous and we briefly landed at a small float plane dock to take some pictures. Out the windows of the plane, we were able to see a few pods of orcas at various times during the flight.

Our last stop was in Victoria, B.C., where we visited Butchart Gardens, a garden built on top of a former limestone quarry. One of the largest limestone excavation sites was turned into a two-story-deep pit of flowers and plants called the Sunken Garden. Other parts of Butchart are parceled out into theme gardens, such as the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden. It rained for most of the time we were there, which allowed Tammy to capture some gorgeous close-up shots with water droplets on the flower petals.

We got back into Seattle at 8am and our flight didn't leave until 11pm, so we decided to check out the Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo. On our way to the zoo, we ran into a Seattle gay pride parade. We hung around for awhile, enjoying the costumed revelers, casting aspersions at the protesters and their "God hates fags" signs/rhetoric, and enjoying the absurdity of the anti-protester protesters and their "God hates fun" and "Marching is a sin" signs.

We also noticed several people running for office marching in the parade (one for Mayor of Seattle, I believe), which was surprising to me. Linking yourself to a gay-pride parade would be a death sentence here in Florida.

...so that was our honeymoon in a nutshell. We both had a blast and it's the first all-about-us extravagant vacation we've been on. I'm hoping it's not the last. This trip made me want to get out of Florida that much more.
I used to be cute


I've almost forgotten about LJ ever since finally joining Facebook.

Tam and I started our long-awaited honeymoon vacation. We flew into Seattle yesterday and today we'll be boarding the Norwegian Pearl for a 7-day cruise of Alaska.

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