Saturday, December 12, 2009

Truman, 1996 - December 10, 2009

It seems almost surreal to be writing a eulogy for Truman just 15 days after Woody's death. Yet somehow at the same time it seems to make sense. Truman and Woody were best friends, were very connected, and were definitely a pair.

We first met Truman at an adoption even held in Balboa Park by a group called FOCAS. We actually almost missed Truman; we had spotted another grey cat that we liked but when we inquired the people said someone had already started the adoption process. Jayson pointed out Truman and I hesitated saying that we shouldn't rush and wait for the right cat. However, the more we spent time with Truman the more interested we were. Turns out he was the right cat. Truman had been a stray who ended up at animal shelter and was picked up by FOCAS and put into a foster home. As part of the adoption process his foster mother brought him to our house, mostly to check out the environment to see if it was suitable, plus to give the cat time to adjust with a familiar person there. When she opened the cat carrier Truman walked out, put his tail up, looked around, and walked upstairs to explore. It was clear that he was home.

We soon found out that Truman had a little problem with a sensitive stomach. Luckily FOCAS was wonderful with us and paid for all of his vet bills, as well as dropped off 75 pounds of litter to help us out. They knew that would be the best parents possible and wanted to do what they could to make sure we kept him. I think they knew that if Truman went back into foster care that he wouldn't be adoptable again. We were more than happy to do what we could to get him better and had no intention of returning him. His problematic stomach would actually stay with him his entire life but at least we were able to keep it under control.

For a cat with a sensitive stomach Truman was something of a chow hound. He was picky about what he ate, but he'd eat as much as he could get. No matter how much we fed him, he always wanted more. It got to be annoying on weekend mornings when he would decide it was time to eat and he wasn't going to take no for an answer. Eventually we got an automatic feeder and he began to pester that for food. Truman got pretty heavy at one point in his life but his vet pointed out that because of his overall size he wasn't grossly overweight. He was just a big cat, almost 3' from nose to tail. Even then, when he got over 21 pounds we decided that it was time for a diet. He wasn't thrilled by that and it became a game of trying to keep him from eating the dog's food, which only aggravated his stomach.

It's ironic that he loved dog food since most people who met him realized that he had as many dog characteristics as he did cat characteristics. When someone came to the door he would be there before the dog to see who it was. When we had visitors over he was in constant competition with the dog for attention. Adding in his being a chow hound and he did seem like a dog at times. He was referred to as the coolest cat ever by more than one person, and he really was. Even taking him to the vet, where they see hundreds of animals, he was a celebrity. Everyone there commented on how relaxed he was, and how unusual of a cat he was. He was an incredibly lovable cat. He could spend hours being rubbed and petted. I always thought it was nice that unlike so many cats who want attention only on their terms, Truman was always happy to accept attention and return love.

Unlike most cats, Truman liked to travel. We realized it on our trip up to Seattle when we moved here. After getting over the newness of being in the car he just relaxed and enjoyed the drive. When we would stop at a hotel he loved exploring the place; he wasn't scared or intimidated at all. The same thing happened in the different places we lived in Seattle. Each one was home as long as the two of us and the dog were there. After we bought a boat he even took to that once he got past the sound of the engine and the strange movement. He would camp up in the forward bunk while we were underway and just enjoy the ride. At the dock or at anchor he was very happy to explore both inside and out. It made it very nice to be able to have the whole family together for weekends away from home.

As he got older Truman slowed down, like most cats do. He still had his favorite toys that got his attention. His foster mother had told us that he loved anything with feathers and she was right. He also absolutely loved little furry mice with beads inside that rattled. If he had one of those around, he was perfectly content. We eventually found a rattle mouse with feathers on the end and that seemed to be the ultimate toy. He had a fondness for ripping off the fur and eating the feathers and would still play with the inside rattle part of the thing.

During his last year Truman had some health problems. Earlier in 2009 he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. We noticed he had been losing a lot of weight and that he just seemed ill. The vet quickly diagnosed the problem and we had him treated for that. He responded well at first to the treatment but then the problem was back. The vet put him on pills to regulate his thyroid and that had an effect. Unfortunately at the same time we began noticing blood in his litter box. The vet did some standards tests but couldn't find anything through those. To go any further would require a colonoscopy or exploratory surgery. Neither seemed like a good option since they would be expensive, would be uncomfortable to the cat, and wouldn't fix any problem, only diagnose it. The vet theorized that it could be inflamed colon disease or possible even colon cancer. There was no way to know.

There was a bad spell around the beginning of November and we really thought that it was the end for Truman. However, he rallied and seemed to be much better. It was obvious that he was tired and didn't have tons of energy but he was still lovable and was getting around better than he had in a while. Sadly, last weekend the bleeding returned and Truman very quickly lost all of his energy. Most of his time the last few days was spent on the sofa. Even then he was still lovable even though it seems to tire him out to lift his head. On Thursday Jayson found him curled up in his litter box. It looked like he had found a dark quiet spot and just curled up and went to sleep. I'm glad that he was able to spend his last days at home and when the time came, to die quietly.

I've never met another cat like Truman, and I wonder if I ever will. He was really a special cat with a lot of unique characteristics. I'm so happy that after living life as a stray he was able to find a home, and that the home was with us. He was very well loved and I definitely felt the love from him. It's strangely quiet in the house with both him and Woody gone. I suppose it's the end of an era.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Woody, 1994 - November 25, 2009

We got Woody from a shelter almost exactly 12 years ago. The shelter was doing an adoption event at a pet store; we saw him and decided he seemed like the dog for us. He was 2 1/2 at the time and we liked the idea of an adult dog. We took to each other right away, and it was definitely a good fit. He was a cocker spaniel/blue heeler mix (we think) and was full of energy. He used to do what I called "touch and goes": he'd run full speed from one end of the apartment to the other, dozens of times. I never knew where he got the energy but whenever we'd take him out he seemed like he could go on forever. He always had a smile on his face. It's hard to say that a dog is smiling, but you could see it on him.

He loved to ride in the car but hated motorcycles. When a cycle would pull up next to the car you'd think he was about to jump through the window. His love of riding in the car became a fun game for a while where I would let him jump into the backseat, close the door, walk around to the other side and let him out. He was so excited that he'd gotten to be in the car. It was just as good as going somewhere to him. When we first took him to the boat he was afraid of the sound of the motor and the motion. Eventually, and suddenly, he got over his fear of the boat and began to love it. He could watch the world go by on the boat, bark at seagulls, and try to psych out the geese on the water the paddle too close to the boat.

Woody had one very particular quirk that just added to the cuteness: when he was relaxed and happy the last 3/4" of his tongue would stick out between his teeth. It made him look a little like he should be riding the short bus, but it just meant that he was relaxed. In spite of looking stupid he was a really smart dog, and he knew how to use it. He could play people to get the attention he wanted, and in time became expert at it. Without fail every time we would encounter other people they would mistake him for a puppy. It wasn't only his energy, it was his happiness. You could just see on his face that he was the happiest dog, and even happier when people were giving him attention.

As he got older he never lost that puppy-like demeanor. He slowed down gradually over time, but his happiness continued to show through. We were asked about his age less often, but even at age 14 people were still asking if he was a puppy. We were able to take him more places because of him being a little more mellow and he just loved being out. His last big trip was to Oregon a few weeks ago and, even though I was in a different vehicle, I'm guessing he loved being in the car watching the world go by for that long.

Sadly, during his last few weeks he was clearly in pain. He didn't show it at first but it became eventually obvious. His puppiness still showed through even though he spent a lot of time sleeping. When we had to put him to sleep on Tuesday it seemed surreal to be doing that when he still had moments of being so full of life. That's the thing I'll remember most about him, that he was so full of life, and seemed to enjoy every moment of it. Putting him to sleep was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life, but he couldn't live in pain and there was no way to fix his problem. I almost couldn't bear to see him go, but was glad on some level that I could be here with him holding him during his last moments and send him on his way with love. As difficult as it as I had to be there for him, one of my best friends. For a 30 pound dog, he touched a lot of lives. I miss him.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What he said...ditto

I haven't paid much attention to this blog lately; seems I always have other things to do. It's apparently a cyclical thing for me, so I'll try to begin an "up" cycle and see where it goes.

Thomas Friedman, with whom I don't always agree, has a good Op-Ed in the NY Times today (free registration required to read the link). I think what he's saying is correct, but I'm not sure as a country we'll change the political path we're on. Instead of working to solve so many of the obvious problems in the country we're concerned only with politics. I know politics have been around a lot more years than I have but they level of "noise" has not been this shrill before, at least not in my lifetime. Instead of having substantive debates about the issues we've got people painting Hitler moustaches on pictures of Obama and saying he's a Nazi Communist (do those people even know what each of those terms means, and understand the irony of their statement?). Instead of of using the "town hall" meetings that many members of Congress held over the summer to have a rational discussion over issues, there was an organized effort to simply disrupt them so that nothing got discussed, and no information got shared. I can only think that they were afraid of a calm rational discussion in those town halls because they had nothing rational to present to make their case.

Don't people realize that through their short-sighted hatred of the president and simply being sore losers that they are shooting themselves in the foot, and shooting the rest of the country in the foot at the same time? I do not understand how trying to incite violence against the president is accomplishing anything, other than those people being tools for the right-wing politicians. Devolving the country into chaos will not serve their interests, although they are being told that it will. I can understand them practicing dissent, but they've gone far beyond dissent. The people trying to delegitimize Obama actually seem very proud of themselves; I see them as somewhat pathetic in that they have no rational argument to present and are merely parroting what they're told. Sadly, I don't see this ending any time soon, and not ending well when it does.

Friday, September 18, 2009

For those who consider single-payer healthcare to be socialist

Please read and then sign this:

The Socialist-Free Purity Pledge

I, ________________________, do solemnly swear to uphold the principles of a socialism-free society and heretofore pledge my word that I shall strictly adhere to the following:
  • I will complain about the destruction of 1st Amendment Rights in this country, while I am duly being allowed to exercise my 1st Amendment Rights.
  • I will complain about the destruction of my 2nd Amendment Rights in this country, while I am duly being allowed to exercise my 2nd Amendment rights by legally but brazenly brandishing unconcealed firearms in public.
  • I will foreswear the time-honored principles of fairness, decency, and respect by screaming unintelligible platitudes regarding tyranny, Nazi-ism, and socialism at public town halls. Also.
  • I pledge to eliminate all government intervention in my life. I will abstain from the use of and participation in any socialist goods and services including but not limited to the following:
  • Social Security
  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP)
  • Police, Fire, and Emergency Services
  • US Postal Service
  • Roads and Highways
  • Air Travel (regulated by the socialist FAA)
  • The US Railway System
  • Public Subways and Metro Systems
  • Public Bus and Lightrail Systems
  • Rest Areas on Highways
  • Sidewalks
  • All Government-Funded Local/State Projects (e.g., see Iowa 2009 federal senate appropriations)
  • Public Water and Sewer Services (goodbye socialist toilet, shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, outdoor hose!)
  • Public and State Universities and Colleges
  • Public Primary and Secondary Schools
  • Sesame Street
  • Publicly Funded Anti-Drug Use Education for Children
  • Public Museums
  • Libraries
  • Public Parks and Beaches
  • State and National Parks
  • Public Zoos
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Municipal Garbage and Recycling Services
  • Treatment at Any Hospital or Clinic That Ever Received Funding From Local, State or Federal Government (pretty much all of them)
  • Medical Services and Medications That Were Created or Derived From Any Government Grant or Research Funding (again, pretty much all of them)
  • Socialist Byproducts of Government Investment Such as Duct Tape and Velcro (Nazi-NASA Inventions)
  • Use of the Internets, email, and networked computers, as the DoD's ARPANET was the basis for subsequent computer networking
  • Foodstuffs, Meats, Produce and Crops That Were Grown With, Fed With, Raised With or That Contain Inputs From Crops Grown With Government Subsidies
  • Clothing Made from Crops (e.g. cotton) That Were Grown With or That Contain Inputs From Government Subsidies
  • If a veteran of the government-run socialist US military, I will forego my VA benefits and insist on paying for my own medical care
  • I will not tour socialist government buildings like the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
  • I pledge to never take myself, my family, or my children on a tour of the following types of socialist locations, including but not limited to:
  • Smithsonian Museums such as the Air and Space Museum or Museum of American History
  • The socialist Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments
  • The government-operated Statue of Liberty
  • The Grand Canyon
  • The socialist World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials
  • The government-run socialist-propaganda location known as Arlington National Cemetery
  • All other public-funded socialist sites, whether it be in my state or in Washington, DC
  • I will urge my Member of Congress and Senators to forego their government salary and government-provided healthcare.
  • I will oppose and condemn the government-funded and therefore socialist military of the United States of America.
  • I will boycott the products of socialist defense contractors such as GE, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Humana, FedEx, General Motors, Honeywell, and hundreds of others that are paid by our socialist government to produce goods for our socialist army.
  • I will protest socialist security departments such as the Pentagon, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Department of Justice and their socialist employees.
  • Upon reaching eligible retirement age, I will tear up my socialist Social Security checks.
  • Upon reaching age 65, I will forego Medicare and pay for my own private health insurance until I die.



Printed Name/Town and State

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vacation pics, late as usual

So without much comment here are pics from my trip to Colorado in August. I had an amazing time; it was great seeing both my mother and aunt, and I had fun in everything we did. We hiked, ate, shopped, ate, wandered around, ate, and just relaxed (and ate). I've been going to my aunt's place in Vail since I was about 10, but hadn't been there in about 15 years. It was nice to go back and see the place again. It has changed in a lot of ways, but hasn't changed in a lot of other ways. The only thing that didn't work out like we had hoped was the hike up the mountain my mother and I attempted. It was 4.5 miles with a 2500 foot climb in elevation. Seeing as we were starting at 8300 feet, it was a little too ambitious. We made it a little ways up and decided it would take us all day to make it to the top, if we did make it to the top. Beyond that it was a great trip and I'm very glad I decided to go. It made a nice birthday gift to myself.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happy birthday to me

Well, another year has gone by, and I've reached the ripe old age of 41. It's been an interesting year with some good stuff and some bad stuff. So, in general, a normal year. I was going to take today off work but then ended up with last minute travel plans, so I'm taking all of next week off instead.

I was talking to my mother and aunt about their trip to Vail next week and they kept saying they wanted me to go, and I realized that I really wanted to go. So, I am. I leave tomorrow afternoon and come back the following Saturday. I used to spend a week in Vail with my aunt almost every summer when I was younger. It's been years since I've been there and I'm excited to be going. Plus, this is the first time I'll have spent any time alone together with my mother and aunt as an adult, and that should be interesting. We've always gotten along well and I think it will be nice finally spending time together as adults. I don't know what's planned, if anything, but I'm really looking forward to the trip.

I don't know what's planned for tonight. Maybe dinner out, maybe some gifts. No matter what, I'm sure it'll be enjoyable.

Since so many other people seem to post what happened in history on their birthday, I'll do the same

  • 1806 - The Holy Roman Empire went out of existence as Emperor Francis I abdicated.
  • 1911 - Lucille Ball was born.
  • 1914 - Serbia declares war on Germany; Austria declares war on Russia.
  • 1945 - Hiroshima is bombed, killing 66,000 people instantly.
  • 1968 - I was born.
Not a real auspicious day. An empire collapses, World War I begins, the first atomic bomb dropped on a city... At least Lucille Ball is in there to break up the bad stuff.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great essay on marriage equlity

There's a very good essay in the WSJ written by one of the attorneys pushing to overturn California's prop 8 at the federal level. He makes some very good points, and takes on some of the anti-gay arguments that aren't, and have never been, valid.

By contrast, there is no legitimate state policy underlying Proposition 8. The occasional suggestion that marriages between people of different sexes may somehow be threatened by marriages of people of the same sex does not withstand discussion. It is difficult to the point of impossibility to envision two love-struck heterosexuals contemplating marriage to decide against it because gays and lesbians also have the right to marry; it is equally hard to envision a couple whose marriage is troubled basing the decision of whether to divorce on whether their gay neighbors are married or living in a domestic partnership.

If we were prepared to consign minority rights to a majority vote, there would be no need for a constitution.
It's worth a read and the entire essay can be seen here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

No comment needed

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Overheard in the lunchroom

"I don't blog because my time and opinions are too valuable to give out for free. Once someone starts paying me to do it, then I'll start blogging."

I never knew undergraduate interns were in such high demand.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The dangers of walking while texting

It really was only a matter of time before we heard stories like this. I see people walking and typing on their phones all the time. Here in Seattle, walking and texting is nothing; I see people driving and texting, riding motorcycles and texting, and riding bikes and texting. This girl was lucky that she wasn't seriously injured, but I'm sure that's already happened somewhere else, and will happen again. People seem to forget how much concentration it takes to type a reply to a message. They seem to think their brains can easily handle doing multiple things at once when most people can barely handle doing one simple thing at a time.

I admit that I'm guilty of using my phone while doing other things. However, I do make a conscious effort to pay attention to what I'm doing when I'm walking, crossing the street, etc. If I'm walking and need to reply I simply step aside and type.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

United Breaks Guitars

Like most people who fly coach, I've not enjoyed the whole flying experience for a long time. I avoid flying and see it only as a necessary evil. I've had some OK flights and encountered some employees who tried to make the experience very nice, but anymore most airlines are just airborne buses. Flying used to be a lot more enjoyable, but it's just not a pleasant experience. The lines for "security" are often ridiculously long, the flights are crowded, and then the airlines leave no leg room between the seats. Beyond that most of the employees are less than customer-service focused. They act as if the passengers are an inconvenience as opposed to the reason their jobs exist. One thing that baffles me is why the employees of the airlines don't at least try to make the experience better for their customers. I understand that the airlines are screwing them over in many ways, but I would think that the employees still need their jobs; if they didn't they wouldn't be there. But, it seems to me that if they piss off enough customers and drive their employer into bankruptcy, or out of business, that they'll lose their jobs. It seems that it's in their best interest to treat the customers better. Yet, somehow they don't.

Anyone who has traveled by air much has his/her horror story, but rarely can we do much about it. The band who made this video, Sons Of Maxwell, is an exception. They weren't happy that the United ground crew was throwing their guitars on the tarmac, or that when they complained they were basically ignored. After getting no resolve from United the lead singer, Dave Carrol, decided to write three songs about his experience and United, this being the first of them, and so he did. You can read the full story behind the song here.

Beyond the lack of customer service that companies like United display, I don't understand why these companies still don't seem to realize that their bad reputation can be very quickly spread on the internets. One disgruntled person can spread his story to thousands of people overnight, and that does have a direct affect on who does and doesn't frequent a business. That direct affect on the business can eventually affect the jobs of the people who are pissing off the customers in the first place. But then again, how could I expect a group of people like airline employees who treat customers like crap to comprehend higher-level thinking such as that?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The new meaning of "economic stimulus"

Just when I think the crazy can't get any more crazy, we reach new lows. And, not surprisingly, it's from the state in which I was born and raised: Oklahoma (no jokes please).

Sally Kern, the anti-everything that's not white, straight, and christian Representative nut job from OK, has decided that the current economic woes in the US are due to our "greater moral crisis". Because we promote "abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse, and many other forms of debauchery" and Obama didn't recognize National Prayer Day, it's everyone else's fault that the countries economy is in the toilet. I guess all that fornicating is what has led us to this point.

I guess it doesn't matter that republicans are the ones lately being caught with their pants down. Nor does it matter that the current economic problems began under the leader of the compassionate conservative movement, GW Bush.

You can read much more about it on Jonathan Turley's blog. It's really sad that as the conservative movement melts down due to their actions, they continue to look for anyone other than themselves to blame for their failed policies. Sally Kern is a walking joke and it's really pathetic that she's in such a position of power.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heterosexual privilege

A group of straight identified students at Earlham College put together a list of what they see as straight privilege in their daily lives. In other words, as straight men and women go through their day, what things do they take for granted that gay men and women cannot assume to happen, or ever count on happening? The list is based on an article written by Peggy McIntosh regarding white privilege. It's an interesting list, seeing things straight people can simply take for granted but gay men and women may not ever enjoy in their lifetime.

I won't re-type the entire list but to give an idea, the first three items are:

  • I can be pretty sure that my roomate, hallmates and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.
  • If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
  • When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others.
  • You can see the entire list here.

    I would suggest that homophobes who scream about gays getting equal rights means that they get special rights should sit down and read through that list. Of course none will because it helps destroy their argument.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Gay marriage debate flow chart

    That about sums it up. Click the image for the full-size version.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Radioactive Kitty

    We had a little scare recently with our oldest cat, Truman. He's about 12 years old, which isn't really ancient in cat terms. He's been losing weight over the last several months and we just assumed it was old age. But, he kept getting skinnier and skinnier, and then we found a lump on his shoulder. So, I schlepped him to the vet worried that he had a big problem.

    As it turns out, the lump was nothing other than a little spot under his skin. But, the weight loss was a concern. The vet was able to visibly diagnose hyperthyroidism and then confirmed the diagnosis with blood work. She was pretty convinced we had caught it in time and that with treatment Truman would be OK.

    The treatment is what turned Truman into radioactive kitty. As in humans, the treatment is an injection with 131I, a radioactive iodine isotope. We dropped him off on Thursday and they had to keep him until Saturday, when his radiation levels fell below a state-mandated level. In reality the amount of radiation is not enough to harm anyone, but they want to limit the lifetime exposure in humans and don't want to add to the total too much.

    In any event, the iodine is supposed to shrink the malformed tissue in his thyroid which means the good tissue can take over the function again. According to our vet and the vet who did the treatment, he should respond well. They both seemed to think that he was a great candidate. If/when responds he should put back on some weight and have a lot more energy. I'm hopeful that he'll respond. We should see some changes pretty quickly.

    As for the radioactivity, we have to make sure we flush his litter for the next two weeks, or store it for 80 days. We're definitely going to flush it since I have no desire to keep a collection of kitty roca for 80 days until we can safely dispose of it. We're also not supposed to spend more than an hour a day of physical contact with him for the next two weeks. I've not checked yet to see if he glows in the dark. That would be a nice bonus if he did...

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    < Rant>

    Several weeks ago, back in May to be more specific, I opened a support case with a software maker asking about an issue with product we use here for scientific work. Hell, why am I being coy: the software is Reference Manager 12 made by Thomson Reuters. Here at work we recently bought a volume license, and spent a good deal of money on their product (to the tune of several thousand dollars a year to maintain the license).

    So, long story short, I opened a case for something that didn't work in the software. The guy who was assigned the ticket sent me one very short reply pointing me to a Microsoft KB article. The "solution" in the KB didn't fix the problem so I wrote back saying so. After hearing nothing for 18 days I finally got an e-mail saying that the case had been closed.

    Now, here's what's funny (and the only reason I'm writing this): when the tech - Peter Travis is his name - closed the case I was automatically sent an invitation to fill out a customer satisfaction survey regarding my experience. Um, major fail to blow off a customer and then send a survey to the person asking to rate his satisfaction level. Needless to say I wasn't shy about sharing my opinions in the survey. It's one thing to blow off a customer needing support (happens all the time) but at least be smart about it and not ask me for my opinion on it after the fact.

    < /rant>

    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Defining atheism

    There was a good diary on Daily Kos today about what an atheist is and isn't. I've suppose I've not really thought about in terms of applying a label, but I would definitely have to categorize myself as an atheist. Someone in one of the comments on the DK diary mentioned that an atheist can be thought of as non-theist, and that would definitely describe me. As the diarists mentions, I'm not opposed to there being a god (making me a "soft atheist" or agnostic) but I just don't believe that there is one.

    I could probably blame being taken to southern baptist churches when I was growing up as the cause for being atheist. In reality, that just contributed to me being anti-religious, not atheist. I've thought since I was a small child, even while attending church, that all the dogma and pageantry of organized religion was just a lot of nothing. Even as a child it seemed to me that religion was all about keeping people interested enough to attend the church services and of course give money. I don't won't to turn this into a long diatribe about the evils of organized religion since we're about to go to breakfast and I don't have all day to type, so I'll stop this tack at this point.

    Oddly I do believe that many religions have things to teach, but I also believe that it's not necessary to religions in order to have those thing taught (or to learn them for that matter). I also don't believe that we have to worship an unseen god in order for our lives to be meaningful and fulfilling. It just doesn't work for me.

    In any event, here's the original diary for your reading pleasure.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Sex With Ducks

    This has made the rounds pretty much everywhere already, including CNN, so I'm not on the cutting edge here. But, I've been meaning to post this for days and I'm just now getting around to it. The video is in response to comments made by Pat Robertson regarding the federal hate crimes bill. He's not known for saying things that these girls took his insanity and made a catchy little song out of it.

    As an added bonus, Pat Robertson, who just can't keep the crazy to himself, gives really bad advice to someone who wrote into his show. He has somehow (through detailed and extensive scientific research I'm sure) determined that many gay men are gay because they were abused by a coach or guidance counselor when they were young. I don't remember that happening, so I must be one of the few with biological issues. He doesn't give us any advice for how lesbians got that way.

    What's interesting is that the person who wrote in mentions that the christian bible says to love one's neighbor as you love yourself. Robertson completely side-stepped that by saying that if it's someone like a son and he's on the path the hell you let him go. But apparently you do that out of love. So I'm not sure how you love your son by forcing him to be something he's not so he won't go to hell, but you love your neighbor by apparently letting them stay on a path to hell. This christianity thing is so confusing. it's also full of irony: Robertson and his kind are very interested in changing their neighbors' behavior if it doesn't correspond to what they approve of. So that loving one's neighbors only goes so far apparently.

    Friday, June 5, 2009

    More christian values at work

    Growing up in the 70's and 80's I was taught in school that all the bad guys were overseas: Brezhnev was in the USSR, Castro was down in Cuba, the Vietnamese were in, well, Vietnam. Anyone in my own country was an American-loving patriot and everything was kittens and daisies, so long as you were American.

    However, since I've grown up it seems that the worst people are here in this country. Instead of it being communists, it's christian extremists. And, apparently they all use their christian god not only as a cosmic cash machine, but as a tool in their fight against politicians they don't agree with. What kind of "good christian" prays for the death of any other human? Have these people even read their own bible? I just don't understand that concept of "God hates people who kill and I hate people who kill, so I'm going to kill you." What kind of mental back flips are required to live that kind of cognitive dissonance, and convince yourself that it's not just OK but divinely inspired?

    One thing I've never understood about christian prayer (which seems usually to be asking their god for a favor, rather than seeking enlightenment or knowledge) is that the one praying automatically assumes that god is on his side. What happens if two people are praying to their god but asking for opposite results? They each claim to have their god's ear and therefore their god's loyalty. How does their god resolve these conflicts of interest? This horrible baptist preacher is praying for Obama's death, but what if someone else who worships the same god is praying for Obama to live a long time in order to serve the country as its leader? Which one wins?

    I don't even need to go into the problem with a religious leader preaching politics, but I do wonder where the IRS is and why they aren't questioning his church's tax exempt status.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    America's best christian explains marriage

    If you've not seen Betty Bowers' web site it's worth checking out. She is the self-proclaimed America's Best Christian and her site is hilarious.

    She has done a new video explaining traditional marriage for all of us, so that we don't have to read the christian bible ourselves and put it all together.

    Friday, May 29, 2009

    Memorial Day weekend pictures

    As usual, I'm several days late posting about the previous weekend, but I'm used to it.

    For the long weekend I took an extra day off to make it four days, and it made for a very nice weekend. Friday, Jayson left for Houston for a religious retreat type of trip. It seems like it was a good thing for him, and he also go to spend a little time with my father and step-mother. I spent the rest of Friday catching up on some chores at home.

    Saturday Anthony and I took my truck and headed to the mountains. I wanted to do some exploring and found the Mountain Loop Highway outside of Granite Falls. The "highway" is a two-lane road through the Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest. It was definitely a pretty drive, but once we got to the top of the pass we couldn't go any further because the road was close due to snow. Lots of snow. In May. There was a road we could have hiked to the ghost town of Monte Christo but it was four miles and it was also snowy and we weren't prepared, so we headed back to the truck. We wanted to get off the paved road so we started scouting out forest service roads. We found a couple of nice, and muddy, roads. One ended up being snowed over, and the other ended at a bridge that was out. We at least got to do some hiking and getting away from civilization for a while.

    Sunday Anthony and I started fixing up the exterior wood on the boat. It's already looking darn good and we started getting momentum on the boat overal. We did more work on Monday, and will hopefully be back over there this coming weekend.

    As always, pictures of our trip out to the mountains:

    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    The Defenders

    Great video regarding Prop 8 being upheld in CA. I thought it was definitely worth passing along.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Seth MacFarlane interview

    I admit than I'm a fan of Family Guy. It's crass and crude at times, and more often than not they don't know when to end a joke. But, this interview with its creator Seth MacFarlane makes me appreciate it even more. In the interview he doesn't talk much about Family Guy but discusses a lot of his personal beliefs. I have to say that my beliefs are definitely in-line with his. And, he's also obviously genuinely funny. Having Bill Maher host the interview only adds to it; I used to really dislike him but that's changed in the last few years. I also agree with a lot of what he has to say and he definitely makes some good points. In fact, there are several good points made in the interview.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    Only a week late: pics of Portland

    I was behind with everything last week, including posting pics of our day trip last weekend. So, here they are:

    By the time we futzed around and stopped for breakfast and then for coffee and then for gas and then for coffee again and then for every rest stop and then again for coffee, it was almost 3:00 when we got to Portland. Anthony had wanted to see the Pittock Mansion, but the inside closed at 4:00. We found the Portland Chinese Garden which turned out to be a great place. It was a little busy, but it was a really nice spot. After that I suggested that we go up to the Pittock Mansion anyway since the grounds are open until dark. It turned out to be a good choice. We got to wander around the outside of the house and still enjoy the view and the park.

    After such a strenuous day we found one of the McMenamins pubs in the city and had some beers and dinner. Anthony and I played a round of pool, which only served to reinforce how bad we each are at it. We didn't care since we were having a good time.

    That was our entire day in Portland. We didn't leave ourselves much time to do much, but the day trip was a good one and it was enjoyable to be out of the house.

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    This is pretty cool

    This is an amazing performance by a Chinese group.

    What's even more amazing is that all the performers are deaf. It's hard to achieve that type of synchronization when you can hear the music, let alone when you can't.

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Live blogging: on the road to Portland

    In honor of Anthony's birthday we're heading to Portland for the day. We got something of a late start so I'm not sure how much time we'll have, but it's still nice getting out for the day. I always forget how uninteresting the road between Seattle and Portland is. There's almost nothing interesting to see.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Best teabagging quote of the day

    If you've not heard of the conservative nutjobs teabag parties today, I'm not going to educate you in this post. Just use the Google and you'll find all kinds of info. Needless to say, it's a big joke. Anderson Cooper came up with the best quote I've heard so far today:

    Saturday, April 11, 2009

    Being poor is fun! Especially when you're not

    Plumbing new depths of cluelessness, the New York Times published an article saying that it's great having to pinch pennies. Except they quote people who seem to be doing so more for the novelty than out of necessity:

    Ms. Martin is a real estate investor, her husband is a plastic surgeon, and their home sits on the 12th hole of a Cincinnati country club.
    How exciting for Ms. Martin and her rather comfortable family to pretend they have no money and can enjoy getting their DVDs from the library instead of Blockbuster and growing their own veggies. What fun! And maybe they can get in a round of golf while they're waiting for their salad to grow.

    Other people they interviewed also had to make dramatic changes. One man canceled his wine club membership and uses his iPhone (on which the cheapest plan is over $100/month) to find cheaper gas. Another woman gave up using paper napkins (a change I made at home over two years ago) in order to save money. What hardships these people have endured.

    The NY Times should have interviewed people who have faced real hardships recently. There are thousands of people who have lost their jobs, homes, cars, everything. Many of these people have been reduced to living in tents. Where to get a DVD or using an app on your iPhone is not even on your radar when your entire life exists in a tent. It's really sad, and pathetic, that the supposedly "premier" newspaper in the country is so clueless when it comes to reporting the conditions in the country right now.

    Summing up the cluelessness, the woman making the ultimate sacrifice of paper napkins is quoted as saying:
    “I recently heard a phrase: ‘Never waste a crisis,’ ” Ms. Sikes said. “I love it."
    I wonder how much she'd love it if she were living in a tent.

    It's not you, it's your name

    More legislative brilliance from the great state of Texas. State legislator Betty Brown (who is possibly related to Buster) has said to Asian-Americans that they should change their names because they are too hard to pronounce. Having more "American" sounding names will make it easier for the Asian populations in Texas to vote, or at least that's her argument. I guess it's easier for people like her (people of apparently limited mental ability) to remember a name that doesn't sound Asian. Then she has the nerve to say her comments are not about racism. So, she is effectively saying that it's not about racism, it's just about their ethnicity. That takes some nerve for her to feel such a sense of entitlement that she would suggest that an entire segment of the population should change their names to make life easier for her and people like her, good Americans with American sounding names.

    This woman needs to figure out that almost everyone in this country has a surname with its origins from another country, including a name like Brown. Back when I was in elementary school we were taught that America is a "melting pot", made up of people from all different kinds of cultures and that every culture has combined to make America what it is. Apparently this woman thinks that white people with names like Betty Brown are more American than someone with a name of Asian origin. What a moron.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    This picture makes me happy

    I don't know why exactly, but it makes me smile. Maybe it's because we have a President and his family in the white house who are real people, not out-of-control hillbillies.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    How does he go up from here?

    Arizona State University has decided that Barak Obama is not worthy of an honorary degree when he speaks at their commencement ceremony in May. So, apparently getting a law degree from Harvard, being the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, being an Illinois state legislator, being a US Senator, and then becoming president of the US (not to mention the first black president in US history) isn't a long enough list of accomplishments. I guess being president, an office that only 43 other people in history have held, is not enough. What exactly does ASU expect an honorary degree awardee to have accomplished in his/her life? Once a person reaches president of the US, how does one go up from there? Sounds like ASU, a well-known party school, has a rather high opinion of itself.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    Blame the women

    This article would actually be funny if it were satirical, but it's not. The author is being serious, and based on some of the comments he's not the only one who feels that way. Why is it that conservatives, who are and have been led by white straight christian men, can't see that they are mostly to blame for the current problems with their own movement, not to mention many of the current problems with our society? They somehow feel the need to blame everyone except for white straight christian men. They blame gays, lesbians, blacks, hispanics, women, illegal aliens, legal aliens, all foreigners, liberals, libertarians, and anyone else who isn't a white straight christian male. It's just sad how delusional these conservatives can be. They are perpetual victims, even when they are the ones in power (like for the last 8 years).

    It's shocking to me that the author of this piece (who believes strongly in his opinions that he wrote the piece under an online pseudonym) would find fault with things like helmet laws that protect life. I thought conservatives were pro-life; at least they are when it comes to laws trying to control what women do with their own bodies. But, somehow that interest in protecting life only applies to unborn fetuses. Once you're born, you're apparently on your own. Passing laws to protect children under the age of 18 from sever injury or death is not a christian goal apparently, and somehow goes against being christian/conservative. And, apparently we have women to blame for the horrific "overprotective" laws that protect children. I just don't understand why christian conservatives claim to want to help people, but are against anything that actually protects or helps people (unless you count unborn children). In the end they are only in favor of what helps them politically, no matter how much harm it actually does to others.

    Continuing with the lack of logic, it's apparently women who are responsible for tugging at our heart strings and making us worry about global warming. Who cares if the oceans rise and inundate almost every coastline on earth? Who cares if the ocean currents are disrupted resulting in major climate shifts in heavily populated areas of the world (such as the northeaster US or northwestern Europe)? It only matters that we are apparently being emotionally manipulated, so global warming is therefore a non-issue. Accordingly we should choose to ignore it.

    How stupid does the author have to be to not realize that no matter how an issue is presented, the issue is still the issue? It wouldn't be a problem if conservatives' opinions affected only themselves but they want want their delusions to apply to all of us. It seems like they're running out of arguments when they are reduced to saying that we should ignore issues like global warming because women were given the right to vote.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    This guy gets it

    Why is it so rare for progressive and/or democrat politicians to really stand up for what they believe in? It's way too common for conservatives to defend their beliefs and make sure the world follows them by making their opinions into law. Democrats and so-called progressives in federal and state legislatures seem a lot less comfortable standing up for their beliefs. They seem to be more interested in toeing the line down the middle of the political spectrum, afraid to piss anyone off. That being said, it's wonderful to see someone like Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal stand up for what he believes and refuse to go along with the conservatives and their agenda. He "gets it", and isn't afraid to say so. Good for him (and for the rest of us).

    I love the line "You've already lost." It's really true, although the conservatives will fight tooth and nail to keep society from changing. I do believe that theirs is a losing battle in the long run, but it will get even uglier before it's over. And I doubt the battle will be over in my lifetime.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    If atheists ruled the world

    Following a theme from my post a few days ago I found this video:

    The guys are reading word-for-word posts left on far-right conservative web sites. There are many more that have been collected here. Most, if not all, defy all logic and reason. Worse yet, many of them accuse all liberals of defying all logic and reason while doing so themselves. As my friend Chris said, you can lead a fundie to logic but you can't make him think.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Weekend this and that

    Just wanted to drop a few lines here since it's too easy to get into the habit of not writing anything. Well, a "few lines" with me is usually a couple of pages...

    There hasn't been too much to report, and that's OK. I'm still obsessing over tires, but when it comes time to buy I'll do what I usually do and go with my gut instinct and end up bring right in the first place. But, it gives me something to do and process so it's OK. I received in the mail the leveling kit I ordered. It will lift the front of the truck so that it's level with the back of the truck. It looks like it's going downhill all the time, so I'm looking forward to having it level. Now the challenge is finding someone local who can do it. I have one place I found but it seems kind of expensive so I need to do a little more digging. Once that is done I'll get the tires put on.

    We did some house cleaning this weekend, and it was definitely due. It's amazing how dirty the house can get, and how nice it is when it's clean. I still have to go upstairs and clean the shower in my bathroom, but I'll do that just before I take my shower tonight. Real exciting huh?

    Anthony starts school tomorrow...yay! He was able to get approved for "commissioner approved training" through the state which means they play for his tuition the first quarter and then pay him the equivalent of weekly unemployment benefits for the two years he's in school. I think it will be good for him to get more training and be able to do something different when he graduates. It should open up more opportunities for him than he has now. Plus it's not a bad way to ride out the current economy spending it in school.

    Sadly I don't have lots more to report, but I guess that's good. I'm hoping we get back over to the boat in the new future and start getting it ready for the summer. We're going to have a lot of cleaning to do outside, and we need to have it hauled out to have new bottom paint put on. Those should all be easily doable. Just more things to do of course, but oh well.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    What if god disappeared?

    From brilliant satirist Edward Current.

    His other videos on the Tube are also worth watching.

    Sunday, March 29, 2009

    Another weekend < yawn >

    After last weekend in San Diego it's been a relatively quiet weekend here. I started off yesterday by doing taxes for Jayson and myself. I didn't run into any problems, but mine are somewhat time consuming. Between the two it took about four fun. But, at least it's done. I don't usually wait this late to get them done, but as long as I'm not late (which I'm not) I'm not gonna worry about it.

    I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out what new tires I want for my truck. The tires on it are shot, and after only 25,000 miles. I'd like to put it off but I can't any longer. As part of the process I'm going to be raising the front end so that the truck rides level; from the factory these trucks ride with the back higher than the front. I want to get rid of the lower front end and there are several companies that make kits to do that. By doing that I can get slightly larger tires than what's on there. I'm probably obsessing over the new tires but since they're rather expensive and I won't have a chance to change them out for a long time if I don't like them. I've narrowed it down to a couple of different brands and now my only hesitation is the size. I think I've got that narrowed down too. Now that I know I won't have to pay the IRS anything I'm ready to go forward. I'm hoping the truck looks every better once I'm done.

    Anthony and I threatened to go to the gym both days this weekend, and then didn't. It's funny how laziness breeds laziness, but it sure did with us this weekend. Instead we took a nap yesterday and then did quick trip to the grocery store. Today I enlisted Anthony's help to remove a dead plant out front. We had a jasmine plant that had almost died in a pot on our balcony at our condo. Once we moved in here it took off after being planted in the ground and had grown up to cover a small fence by the front patio. Sadly it was no match for the snow this winter and it was completely dead down to the roots. So, we cut it off the fence and I pulled it out of the ground. I was sad to see it go since I've had the plant for almost 6 years, and it had such an up and down history. But, such is life so we'll get something else to go there.

    So that's it for a boring weekend. We'll maybe get upstairs to fold laundry, and that will most likely be the highlight. I guess I won't complain about a quiet weekend once in a while.

    Saturday, March 28, 2009

    Weekend in San Diego

    Last weekend we were in San Diego. It was Anthony's first trip there and for Jayson and me it was our first visit in 10 years. The impetus for the trip was to visit Anthony's brother and family, but we also added visits to my friend Rick and Jayson's friends Jim and Khristie.

    It was kind of weird being in San Diego again. It brought up lots of memories for me, some good some bad. I was surprised how much I remembered about the place and was able to direct Rick through areas he wasn't familiar with. Seeing the place again reminded me of the things I didn't like about it when I lived there. It's just not the place for me.

    Thursday after we arrived we spent the evening with Jim and Khristie. Actually, we spent some time wandering around Old Town before meeting them for dinner. Old Town is kind of interesting, although it's really nothing more than a lot of shops and restaurants in old buildings. It still has a nice feel. I used to joke that when visitors would be in town and wanted to go to Mexico I would drive them around up and down the freeway and then end up in Old Town. It's really what people think Mexico will look like, although Old Town is much much nicer than Tijuana. Dinner with Jim and Khristie was great. It was as if we'd seen them just last week and we were picking up right where we'd left off. Anthony and Jayson had fish bowl-sized margaritas, and of course finished them. It's funny to see Anthony, who says he doesn't drink, down 64 ounces of margarita.

    The next day we spent tooling around town with Rick doing some sight-seeing. We made a trip to to Balboa Park, which is still one of my favorite places in San Diego. Anthony, Jayson, and I spent some time wandering around the main prado area but had to keep the visit short. We spent the evening with Anthony's brother and sister-in-law, John and Amber, and their two daughters, Olivia and Elizabeth. It was the first time Jayson and I had met any of the family but it was nice. They made us feel very welcome and comfortable. We had dinner at their house and then "hung out" just chatting and getting caught up.

    I should insert here that our "rental" car for the weekend was Rick's Mercedes E55 AMG. It's his weekend car and was very generous in letting us use it. I had a great time driving it, sometimes too great. I definitely tried to drive the car as it was meant to be driven, namely fast. It was a real treat to drive it, and the fact that John and Amber lived 50 miles north of Rick meant that I got to really enjoy the drive.

    Anyway, spent Saturday with John and Amber again and this time John drove us around Camp Pendleton. We actually didn't get to see much of Amber as she was running errands a lot of the day. Camp Pendleton is huge and it took a couple of hours to just touch on some of the highlights of the place. Still, it was interesting to see the place, and to spend time with Anthony's brother. John and Amber had plans for Saturday night so it was back to San Diego for the evening.

    We had made reservations to go to one of my favorite restaurants, Cafe Eleven. It's been there for, as we found out, 24 years and I've been frequenting it for about 18 of those. The food was just as good as I remembered, and some of the same people were still working there, and remembered us. It was a nice dinner and evening, other than the fact that somehow I left significantly less for the bill than I should have, but I got it straightened out.

    Sunday Jayson was leaving around noon so we had breakfast at DZ Akins, a Jewish deli that's always good, and then dropped him at the airport. Anthony, Rick, and I played tourists the rest of the day going to Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs, and seeing a little of downtown. The highlight for Anthony seemed to be getting to drive the Mercedes from Sunset Cliffs to where we had dinner in Point Loma. I'm glad he got to experience it at least. After dinner we were all tired so we watched a movie at home and called it a night. Monday meant that Anthony and I had to leave so we had a big breakfast out and then killed some time driving around Mission Hills, just so Anthony could more of San Diego. Rick dropped us at the airport and we had an uneventful flight home.

    It was a good trip, and made for a nice weekend. It was great seeing Rick, along with everyone else. Rick was very generous in hosting us and providing us not only his car to use but also a very nice and comfortable place to stay. It's like visiting family whenever he and I are together. I just wish he and I lived closer to each other.

    As is usual, here are some pics from the trip:

    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    Really overdue post-Houston post

    In typical fashion for me, it's been almost two weeks since I posted anything. I felt kind of busy after getting home from Texas so haven't written anything since then. The trip was, in a word, great. It had been a long time since I had spent any real time with my father and step-mother and it was nice to do. We spent a lot of time just chatting and catching up on life. My father and I would run some errands in the day, usually have a lunch out, and maybe just drive through some of the local areas. On the weekend we did a lot of sight-seeing and that was also lots of fun. Saturday we drove south to the USS Texas and the San Jacinto battlefield monument. Both were interesting but the Texas, a US battleship built in 1914, was really interesting. I love boats of any kind and it was great getting to crawl all over this huge ship that was chock full of history. The lower-deck areas were open and it was fascinating to see just how the crew lived on the ship. The accommodations were very "rustic" to say the least. We thought we'd spend about 30 minutes on the ship but I convinced my step-mother Sharon that it wasn't difficult to negotiate the ladders below decks and we ended up spending about two hours on board. I took lots of pictures, but sadly lots of them look alike.

    The San Jacinto battlefield monument wasn't as interesting, but still was enjoyable. It's a big tower built in the 1930's to commemorate the battle between Texas rebels and Mexico. It was the battle that led to Texas becoming a US territory, so it was a fairly important battle. There was a small museum with some interesting pieces and then the tower itself. Sadly, being approximately 60 stories up in southeastern Texas still doesn't give much of a view. It's from the ground, it's flat from above.

    Sunday we decided to drive down to Galveston since we all like the area, and we wanted to see the damage from Hurricane Ike. There was clearly visible damage starting in the Clear Lake area and it got worse and worse as we got closer. Galveston seemed to be rebuilding well, and that was good to see. We decided to catch the ferry over the Bolivar since Sharon had heard the damage was really bad there. The eye had passed right over the eastern end of Galveston Island so Bolivar was in the very dangerous northeastern quadrant of the hurricane. On top of that, the storm surge was much higher than anticipated, about 20 feet at Bolivar. Making things worse, most of Bolivar is no more than 4 or 5 feet above sea level. One can do the math and figure out how much water was covering the area, and add breaking waves from the winds and it was pretty ugly. We expected a lot of damage, but weren't prepared for how bad it really was. We first stopped in a residential beach neighborhood and it had been mostly wiped off the map. The houses before the hurricane had been built on stilts to protect them from storm surge. Sadly, it didn't make any difference for most of the houses. Where there were rows of houses before, there was just a collection of sticks poking out of the sand. We found sinks, light fixtures, ceiling fans, floor tiles, and all kinds of other evidence of the houses sticking out of the sand. Everything metal was turning to piles of rust after being inundated with sea water. Sharon and I commented on how quiet it was and I realized that there was just no life anywhere. On the beach in Galveston there were manyh seagulls and other types of birds, and as we drove out of town we continued to see lots of birds in the trees. In Bolivar, there was nothing. No birds had returned to the area and it was completely quiet. It was eery not having any sounds of nature.

    We drove further east towards the town and the devestation just went on for miles and miles. When we reached the town, or what was left of it, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Many of the buildings were destroyed, and those that were left were uninhabitable. It was amazing that it had been 5 months since the storm and what we were seeing was after considerable cleanup had been done. After a while it became overwhelming and we decided to head out. Unfortunately the devestation continue for miles and miles as we drove out of the area. It was interesting to see the power of nature, but also very sad to see how the lives of so many people had been disrupted. Not to mention the couple or more dozen people who were killed in Bolivar when the storm went through.

    So, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit with my father and Sharon. It was a real treat for me, even more so because they not only paid to get me there, but insisted on paying for everything while I was there. It was a very nice gift for them to give me since I do enjoy spending time with them. And of course, here are a few pics.

    Update: This post was long enough (OK, more than long enough) but I meant to add a link to some before and after pics on the USGS site posted here.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Hillbilly gift baskets, and other Texas fun

    The last couple of weeks were busy with me getting ready for a trip to Houston to visit my father and step-mother. I got here on Tuesday afternoon, after getting up at 3:00 in the morning for a 6:00 flight. I’m here until next Tuesday evening. We have nothing planned other than a little sightseeing, lots of talking and catching up, and lots of eating. We’ve had two big lunches in two days, looked at new pickups, looked at new Harley Davisdons (with no intention of buying either), and spent lots of time playing with the dog. We’re going to be out and about tomorrow and this weekend visiting some small towns in the area.

    I always forget how different this part of the country is from Seattle and Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest). It’s flat, it’s bland, it’s full of strip-malls, and the 12-lane interstates (with 6-lane frontage roads) are the largest and most interesting features, man-made or otherwise, in the area. I’m not sure how people complain about the traffic in Seattle compared to places like Houston. While it might take longer to go X number of miles in Seattle, there are flat out lots more miles to cover here with equally terrible traffic, which makes any commute a real undertaking. Tonight we were looking at pictures I’d taken of the Oregon coast, the Washington coast, Seattle, and the Cascades and I was struck by how different, and how much more beautiful, that area is from here. My father and step-mother were also struck by it, and that’s one of the biggest reasons they would like to move up near Seattle.

    Pointing out even more differences today was a trip to the grocery store. First inside the store was a rack of books marked “Recommended Reading". Every book had something to do with the christian bible, in some form or another. Next to that was a copy of Ann Coulter’s latest book, along with books by some other unseemly “authors”. I wasn’t sure if we were in a Kroger or a right-wing bookstore. The bakery department was interesting for the total lack of artistic ability displayed on the baked goods. There was obviously some creativity but no ability to carry it off. Sadly, those shopping seemed to think that the baked goods were incredibly artistic. The pile of blue icing masquerading as a flower that completely obscured a cupcake was a good example. I took pictures but they aren’t worth posting. What does a pile of icing look like in pictures? Well, a pile of icing…

    The best thing I saw was what I instantly termed the hillbilly gift basket. There was a large display of leftover gift baskets from Valentine’s day, and they were all somewhat “quaint” in design. However, the best one was this:

    Yes, it’s a six-pack of diet Dr. Pepper with a can of Pringles on top, with some leftover Halloween Snickers thrown into a cellophane bag with a ribbon on it. And, it’s been marked down to only $9.99 since it didn’t sell. Doing the math, a can of Pringles, some diet Dr. P., and some bite size Snickers don’t add up to $9.99. It’s no wonder the store didn’t dismantle the thing and try to sell each “gift item” separately; they’re still making money on it even at the markdown price. But I can’t help but wonder about both the person who would give this as a Valentine gift and the person who would enjoy receiving it. “Happy Valentine’s Day honey! Here’s some diet soda (oooops, “pop”…we’re in TX), some greasy chips, and some leftover candy!” It practically screams romance.

    I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this "gift basket", but it typifies the whole area. In my father’s and step-mother’s defense, they hate it here too, for all kinds of reasons. I've seen several things I find funny, that to the locals don't seem funny (like the company with a large sign out front with the name "BJ Services"). To counter the effects of the area on me, I’m currently listening to Bill Evans while I type. It’s a nice counter to the lack of culture and anything non-Texan here.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    But will it float?

    On one of the several sites dedicated to large yachts that I read regularly, I ran across this interesting (for lack of a better word) project/proposal. At 150 meters (492 feet) it's absolutely huge; it's about 8 feet shy of the size of a US Navy destroyer. It wouldn't be the largest yacht in the world, but one of the largest. However, there's more to a boat than its size.

    So, impressive size aside, what's up with this thing? From the bow it looks as if someone has placed an offshore oil platform on top of Noah's ark. I realize these are just renderings, but did the designer ever think that this boat might have to deal with things on the open seas like, say, waves? I would not trust going anywhere more than a few hundred feet away from the dock on that thing. On top of that, it's just plain ugly. I realize that a very expensive custom yacht is supposed to be a personal statement by the owner. I'm still trying to figure out what statement this would make. I picture it pulling into port somewhere in the Med and all the owners of the attractive yachts sitting on their decks snickering at the owner and his new yacht. I can't help but think it looks a bit like it was put together with odds and ends and scraps left lying around, sort of a hillbilly megayacht if you will.

    I do applaud the designer for trying to break out of the mold and come up with something different beyond the typical big white boat that resembles a wedding cake. I just wish he hadn't made it so ugly. There have been several concept yachts that have been turned into reality, such as Predator launched last year. While it's not pretty in the traditional sense it does have a grace and sense of power (which it has plenty 0f) about it. The interior is also truly a work of art. There's also the yacht launched last year simply called "A". It's one of those designs that is ugly at first but elegant in its simplicity and ends up being attractive to the eye. It's also about the same size as the Maharaja project. Again, it's nice to see owners taking risks with new designs, but I'm very curious if Maharaja will ever be built.

    Saturday, January 31, 2009

    Interesting time lapse "movie"

    I ran across this video the other day and decided it was worth passing along. The photographer, realizing that the cities and towns they were passing made the clouds glow, aimed his camera out the window from a makeshift tripod while flying over the US on a night flight. It's interesting to see how many towns and cities pass by during the three hours from the Midwest to San Francisco. I thought it made for a very cool video. For the full effect, watch it in full-screen mode

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    A letter from Bill Gates

    I'll start off by saying I'm biased towards Bill Gates. Yes, I know he was the head of the "evil empire" that foisted Windows 95 on the world. But, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given away billions of dollars to help fight many global social and medical issues. In the last couple of years alone, the foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to the research institute I work for to fund malaria and HIV research.

    The Gates Foundation has also used their money and influence to change the way scientists share their research data. In the past, it was customary for researchers to keep their findings relatively secret, sharing it amongst colleagues only for peer review before it was published. The data was not shared with the world until it was published, and that was how researchers could make sure that their data was not stolen and used by someone else who could then take the credit. The problem with that method is that there may be other scientists in others parts of the country or world working on similar research, or research that could compliment what hasn't yet been published. Because of the secrecy, these scientists probably don't know about the other complimentary research being performed and the connections don't happen until after the data is published. Only then does collaboration begin with valuable time being lost and potential avenues of exploration not being discovered until possibly years later.

    The Gates Foundation is changing the way that happens. Many of the grants received by the institute I work for to research diseases are broken up amongst several research institutes. There are stipulations in the grants that the various institutes must share their data on an ongoing basis as the research is being done. The idea is that instead of having 5 scientists in 5 different institutes (for example), you would end up (in this scenario) with 25 scientists in many areas around the world collaborating on their research, comparing notes, and using that power to come to conclusions, and possibly cures, faster. It's a true sea change in the scientific community, and it seems to be working. That has affected my work in IT by needing to come up with ways for the researchers to share their work outside our institute. The challenge has been to maintain data integrity and redundancy while allowing multi-directional collaboration with researchers across the world. It's been an interesting but rewarding challenge.

    Now, what prompted me to start this post: Bill Gates began working full-time for the foundation a year ago and has posted his first annual letter on their web site. There is some interesting information in the letter, both factual about improvements that have been made, but also information about the foundation's goals. Whatever you may think about Microsoft's software and Bill Gates' role in that, I have tremendous respect for him and what he doing with the foundation to change the world for the better. Yes, he's spending his money on himself and his family, as well he should. But, he's also putting billions of dollars towards eradicating deadly diseases, hunger, and improving education. Plus, I believe that he is truly passionate about the goals of the Gates Foundation. He's not just there for publicity or personal glory. His stated goal to wipe out HIV in his children's lifetimes is admirable, and I think he has the money and the drive to make it happen. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

    You can read his letter here. There are also slideshows at the bottom of the page that are worth watching. Incidentally, in the second slideshow, "Progress In Global Health", there is an image of Bill at my place of work conferring with one of our scientists who studies leishmaniasis (at 00:44). Sadly I wasn't at work the day Bill visited, but I was there when his wife Melinda came to visit (twice now actually) and she is equally passionate about the foundation's goals. She also spoke at a yearly fundraser for my place of work and helped us raise about $700,000 in one night towards infectious disease research.

    Yeah, I know this sounds like a Gates love fest, but I'm really passionate about the research done where I work and I'm glad to see someone like Gates (with his influence and deep pockets, and therefore ability to bring about change) is also passionate about it. As federal funding for scientific research has all but dried up in the last few years (thanks to GW Bush's anti-science platform), the Gates Foundation has stepped in and more than filled the gap so that the very important research can continue.

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    My, how things have changed

    Circa 1981

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    Monday evening mish mash

    My day ended up being much busier than I anticipated, but it was good. The day truly flew by. I have a new-old employee at work and that's changed the dynamic, for the better as it turns out. The young woman is someone who worked for me for three years up until last year when her husband took an assignment with his job in Japan. They were there for a year and came back in December. They arrived back in the states a couple of days after we opened up a new position in my department. I had had some issues with her attendance when she was here before but I talked to my boss about it, and then we talked to her and now there are some understandings in place, so I feel better about it. Plus, when she was there she did a great job, and all the users just loved it. It was hard to come up with a reason to not bring her back in after the attendance issue was settled. It's been good to have her there so far. I like her personally, and she does do a really good job. By bringing her in the size of the group I manage grew by 25% so it's changed the way we go about our daily routines. It's amazing how quickly we've already hit a stride and I'm really happy about it.

    Saturday I booked tickets to visit my father and step-mother who live just outside Houston. They have been wanting me to visit for a while, and I've been wanting to visit for a while, and I'm finally going down there. They offered to pay my airfare and how could I refuse that? I thought it was really generous and they insisted and I'm very grateful. I was afraid it wasn't going to happen since fares when up by $190 in the last week, but then Saturday when I checked they had dropped $220 so I jumped at it and booked a ticket. I'm not sure what we'll do yet but I know we'll spend some time just hanging out, we'll do some sightseeing, we'll eat (we all love to eat), and who know what what else. I know it'll be fun. It'll be just me going and it will be the first time I've spent time with them alone in, well, decades. It will be nice to work on the connections just between us.

    I'm very lucky in that I have a mother who's one of my best friends, and a father who I'm not quite as close with but very close and who's very supportive. I also had a step-father who was a huge positive influence on me who was also very supportive, and have a step-mother who is a wonderful person, a very positive influence, and just an all-around sweet, intelligent, and caring person. I've been very lucky, and blessed, in the parents department! And, I don't take any of it for granted.

    A headline on Rex Wockner's blog today: No on 8: 'We messed up'. Really? Ya think...?

    This is very cool. Be sure to zoom in, and in and in and in, and then start scrolling. The detail is incredible and it's amazing that the crowd, almost all of it, was captured in a single image. Does anyone even think that we'd have a scene like that were it John McCain being sworn in? I seriously doubt that we would. The picture definitely captures in history as it was happening.

    Speaking of Obama, we went from a President for eight years who could barely put together a coherent sentence in English to one who can launch into a foreign language, like Indonesian, at the drop of a hat. What a welcome change.

    Ever have days where you feel like this? I do. Most days!

    What does that say about me that I feel as if my wheels keep coming off...?

    Sunday, January 25, 2009

    Boat showin'

    After a very uneventful Saturday we decided to go to the boat show today. There are at least 2 boat shows a year here, the one in January at both a Lake Union marina and the stadium exhibition center. The one at the exhibition center is indoors and therefore warm and dry. The one outside is, well, outside so it's at the mercy of the weather. Today the weather decided to be very cold (in the 30'sF) and very cloudy.

    We decided to start with the outdoor section of the show first, and it's a good thing we did. Not long after arriving, it began to snow. And then it snowed harder. Luckily we could just go on board a boat and get warm since they all (at least all the ones we chose to board) had heat going inside. We toured several very nice boats, including one rather spectacular 86' trawler style by Nordhavn. I have a few pics of the interior in the slide show below. We eventually got tired of the cold and decided to catch the shuttle to the other venue. It was nicely warm inside, but there weren't that many interesting boats to see. The few large boats that were there actually had lines to get into, and they weren't that impressive after all. They were big, but not finished well, nor did they have very interesting layouts. There were only two sailboat large enough to have cabins and they were rather lackluster. Oh well. I wish we'd stayed at the outdoor venue...scratch that; I wish the outdoor venue had been warmer with less snow.

    In any event it was a fun, but cold day. I always enjoy rummaging around on boats, and critiquing what the builders/designers do. It's also nice to get to go onto boats that I could never afford. Several of them had loan terms posted. With only $400, 000 down our monthly payment would be a low $6500 a month. Nice to know that there are still people who can afford that kind of fun. Or maybe they can't. That would explain why some of the boats we saw at the show in the fall were there again this time with lower asking prices!

    Saturday, January 24, 2009

    Jaw-dropping ignorance

    I ran across this post on Yahoo Answers and am amazed at the level of ignorance.

    It's very sad that this far into the 21st century there are still people who believe that people make a conscious choice to be gay. And, believe that because the christian bible says that it's a sin, people will simply choose not to be gay. The post just oozes denial at an incredibly deep level. Did it ever occur to this person that her son has stopped going to church and is being secretive because he's being told that he's a sinner and evil simply because of who he is? That's just incredibly sad.

    On top of that, she won't teach her son about condoms or safe sex because that is apparently what god wants. That borders on criminally negligent in my opinion. Such ignorance on the mother's part is appalling; she'd rather put her child at risk for STDs, using the word of god as justification, than to make sure her son was kept safe. Again, just incredibly sad.

    Maybe this woman should tune-in to watch Prayers For Bobby, showing on the Lifetime network (Television for Victims and Gays) tonight. It's the true story of a mother with a gay son who, because of her religious beliefs, could never accept who he was. The son eventually kills himself because of it. The woman who posted this Yahoo question may end up in the same situation if she doesn't start to grow out of her ignorance and start to accept that there are things in this world that her bible is completely wrong about.