Friday, December 26, 2008

Why Are All The Good Scams Taken?

As part of my daily entertainment, I faithfully peruse the online edition of the San Francisco Comical... err Chronicle in hopes of finding some absurdity that makes me glad I'm no longer in California. And almost without fail something will pop up with the ease of oh say breathing. Usually this will involve the latest foibles of the envirowacko movement. The wide eyed members of this group being led by cynical manipulators who exploit them for publicity and above all, money.

But are these manipulators dangerous con artists or simply brilliant business people? I think a combination is more accurate. In this case, just pepper your speech with the latest buzz words, "climate change", "green", (I'm really starting to hate that color), and "carbon footprint", and the envirosheeple will not only bleat along with you, but will be more than willing to part with their hard earned cash to keep you in the lifestyle they claim to disdain.

Anyway, the latest is a plan by a company in San Francisco to set up kiosks in the SF Airport that first allows you to calculate the dollar amount of the carbon dioxide that will be emitted during your upcoming flight. You can then use a credit card to purchase a carbon offset that this company in theory uses to invest in various projects such as renewable energy ventures, (which means that oil well I was digging in back yard may as well be converted into a swimming pool), and methane capture, (though how you fit a catalytic converter to a cow is beyond me). And of course every cent earned by these kiosks will be used for noble causes like this, except for those earnings that will mysteriously vanish into Cayman Islands banks.

If all of this isn't an obvious scam then nothing is. So why is the San Francisco Airport going along? With air travel down they need to get revenue by any means, and the folks running these kiosks are of course going to give the airport a piece of the action in leasing costs.

My only real problem with all this is that I didn't think of it. And somehow trying to set up a franchise at the Houston Airport doesn't seem like the best idea. Texans have more common sense than that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Still Among The Living

After almost two months in Texas, I think I've settled down and adjusted pretty well for the most part. As expected, my consulting business has been slow getting off the ground. I have some good contacts from my previous job and from those some leads that are promising. But this being the holiday season people are going to have other priorities than water quality data management. I'll get serious about drumming up business after New Years.

Speaking of which, a slight digression to software. As a reward for using Earthlink, (sometimes referred to as Missing Link or Weakest Link, though overall as an ISP I can't complain), I was able to get Net Objects Fusion 8 for a pittance. It may be a version behind the newest and shiniest, but for features and ease of use it's light years ahead of any HTML generator I've used in the past.

Ok, back to miscellaneous ramblings. My wife is really into Christmas, and she's getting me more into the spirit this year. I imagine finally having my own home again, and a very nice one, plus living in a warm and cosy atmosphere does purge one of Grinch like qualities. We put some lights up outside, and at the risk of mass feline induced destruction, decorated inside.

For her present this year, I got her a complement to the house she got for Valentine's Day. My budget for the rest of my life is shot anyway because of that, so I did the logical thing and got her a better car. Her Ford Focus was becoming like an ice sculpture, nice to look at but fragile. We did some checking, and went to Carmax, (where ironically she had bought the Focus), and found a 2002 Toyota RAV4. It's a handy size with room for her saddle and other horse riding gear, decent on gas, rides and handles well, and best of all, isn't likely to have annoying and expensive mechanical issues for some time. At least that's the plan. My hope is it won't have anything go wrong for at least the five year loan.

As for me, I've put a little over 300 miles on my still trusty Corolla since getting here, so that isn't exactly wracking up the miles. And that's 300 miles of local driving. This is Texas after all, and even in this small town things are a little spread out. I still need to get the registration changed over, though I rather enjoy the perplexed looks of locals seeing my California license plates and then the Texas State Troopers stickers for supporting their charities.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Go Bears!!!!

Thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to watch a live streaming broadcast of The Big Game. And if you have to ask what The Big Game is, may you be forever banished to the hinterlands of downtown Berkeley, to spend the rest of your life panhandling with the now former Treesitters. In their wisdom, ABC decided that the broadcast radius for the game would be a block or so surrounding Cal's stadium, since of course the rest of the country wanted to snooze through Penn State's beat down of Michigan State. However, our decision to go with AT&T as our Internet provider is turning out to be a better one all the time.

A little side benefit is free access to ESPN's 360 package, and one of the offerings was ... The Big Game. So my lovely wife barricaded me in my room for the duration. The game was exciting, and since Cal won, most satisfying. But it was kind of a bittersweet experience, since I had a ticket to the game but had to sell it since of course I would be long gone from California before game day. This is part of the adjustment to my new life, knowing there is much I had to give up.

I was also spoiled on being able to buy any computer components whenever I wished. Tomball has an Office Depot, but their offerings are pretty basic. Fortunately, my favorite place to shop, Central Computers, does mail order so all isn't lost. Still, I do miss browsing through their stores, and then talking myself out of building yet another computer just because I can.

But overall I'm quite content in Texas. I do need to get out more, explore more of the area, and then look into opportunities to meet and interact more with people, such as take a class or two at the community college, or start training at one of the martial arts schools in town. If a day comes when I find myself talking exclusively to the cats, and even worse, understand what they're saying in return, that will be the sign I really should get out of the house a bit more often.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Settling In

This is my first entry from my new home in Texas. While that may not be as significant as say The Second Coming or even more important, Cal Is In The Rose Bowl!!!, it does mean I survived the long drive from California. Actually the drive was pretty relaxing, though tiring. Starbuck's Frappuccino (with the resulting need to navigate by distance between rest stops), kept me reasonably alert. Except for the area around Flagstaff, the scenery didn't exactly inspire the creative muse. But I encountered little traffic, which was the main rationale behind my route. Speaking of which, I really should take a cruise down old Route 66 sometime.

My car was pretty well loaded down, but it breezed through with only a few additional rattles and squeaks. Today UPS arrived with the last of my worldly posessions. Note for the future, if I ever need to ship anything, do NOT buy boxes from Office Depot. The ones I got barely made it intact, despite my using enough tape to prevent a respectably sized nuke from exploding.

It's still an odd feeling being in my new house. I keep thinking I'll need to start packing to head back to California soon, and if I start any household projects, that I need to rush them to completion. I guess that's normal after spending 50 years in the same area. Texas is my home now, my real home, and my house is my own, I'm no longer borrowing space in someone elses.

Speaking of which, as I expected my envirowacko ex landlady is trying to cheat me out of my security deposit. She's extremely vindictive, but I'm confident her nastiness will be her undoing. But she's insignificant. Right now I have the house of my dreams, (and SO much nicer in every possible way than the ex landlady's dump), and I'm living with the woman of my dreams. My annuity will easily cover my expenses, though I'm hopeful I'll soon be able to get my consulting business going.

I think I'm going to love this place.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Winding Down

The day is fast approaching when I'll be doing my final packing then starting the long drive to Texas. Since being a worrywart keeps me going, my latest paranoia is whether my car will make it without adventure, mostly of the mechanical kind. Long drives and plane flights are two areas where my sense of adventure takes a holiday. The duller the better.

In the meantime I'm finally realizing there are many places and activities I've seen the last of. Yesterday I went to the Cal - UCLA game, and between cheering my Bears on, I kept getting flashbacks of the moments I've witnessed in Memorial Stadium since my first game back in 1974. The great names, Steve Bartkowski, Chuck Muncie, the very courageous and talented Joe Roth, Wesley Walker, Russell White, Marshawn Lynch, Desean Jackson, and giving credit where it's due, great players of Cal's opponents, like Marcus Allen and Warren Moon. Then there's bands, Cal's is usually ... well, at the risk of sounding disloyal, ok. USC's is wonderfully pretentious and incredibly dull, UCLA's is honestly quite good, and Stanford's is consistently awful and a major embarrassment.

And the games! Despite Cal's sad record of long stretches of mediocrity interrupted by teasing moments of glory, there were many memorable ones. I must admit I missed "The Play" because of being bedridden with the flu, though I did listen live to Joe Starkey's immortal broadcast. There were the sadly rare but immensely satisfying wins over USC, including the triple overtime thriller from 2003, and the comeback against Oregon from 30 points down in 1993.

I'm definitely going to miss the atmosphere, raw emotion, and excitement of going to Cal games. Fortunately I ordered a sports package with my TV service in Texas that carries Cal whenever they're televised. Otherwise on Saturday I'd be calling AT&T and whining, "What is this nonsense? I want to watch Cal and all I can get are these teams from Texas?"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

None Of The Above For President

I just got my absentee ballot in the mail and dutifully filled it out. For the state propositions, (first please explain why a state 17 Billion in debt wants to issue over 40 billion worth of bonds), I voted No on the majority. The exception is those I feel would help California continue to sink into its well deserved abyss of financial ruin.

Since I'm thankfully leaving this area, I left the local candidates blank. For Congress, my political leanings are more Libertarian, so I decided that candidate couldn't do any worse than the others.

This brought a dilemma for President. I can't stand the Libertarian candidate, Bob Barr, who in his previous political life as a Republican was a ringleader for the contrived impeachment of Bill Clinton. As for Barack Obama and John McCain, I can't vote for either of them. The two major parties are incompetent, self serving, and corrupt to the core. They need to be shaken up by a viable third party that will draw enough votes to make sure there will never again be a majority party in the Senate or Congress.

Only then will you see real compromise and negotiations instead of partisan bickering. As for Obama and McCain, I am not impressed with either one. Obama seems like a decent guy who speaks well, but he does not inspire me as someone with the will and decisiveness to lead the country out of the unbelievable disaster George Bush leaves behind. As for McCain, of course he is someone to respect and admire for persevering through the horrors of being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But in the Senate he has unfortunately shown he is just a prone to being influenced by rich lobbyists as anyone, and Sarah Palin as Vice President? Please!!! Not that Joe Biden is much better.

Whoever gets in will still be hamstrung by the economic, political and moral destruction of Bush and Cheney. Who in their right mind would want this job? Someone will get elected, and then wonder why they ran for office in the first place.

As for the remaining choices, the remaining third party candidates are absolute jokes. Ralph Nader? He ranks with Al Gore on the top of my list of people I wish would just go away. American Independent Party? Way too right wing. Green Party? My idiot very soon to be former landlady is an ec0 freak. Enough said.

So what will I do? Something I've never done before in a presidential election. I will write in a candidate, None Of The Above.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hanging On Update

I just got back from Houston, having decided to make an impromptu trip after my business dealings in Hawaii were over. Jayne was able to phone a couple of times from her cell to say the house and tree were intact. Several other trees in the neighborhood weren't so lucky, but fortunately none of them decided to become one with anyone's house. Still, it was pretty traumatic for her, especially being without power for six days. Fortunately we have gas for the stove and water heater, plus the water stayed running, so she was able to shower and cook.

Since Houston was still having issues with flooding and power outages of its own, I flew into Austin and rented a car. Conveniently, the power came back on at the house before my arrival. I may never hear the end of how I was in California when Jayne moved into the new house, Hawaii when the hurricane hit, and still elsewhere when the power came back on. So I have good timing...

Anyway, the week in my real home, and not at the hated temporary lodgings in California, was an excellent preview of life after I move down for good next month. Jayne got up to go to work in the morning while I lazed in bed, then got to be domestic while she was at work. I put together some furniture for my den, or Man Cave, and unpacked the boxes I had shipped earlier. That was good for my psyche as it made the house feel like it really is my home since it now has my own little touches.

The cats enjoyed having someone to follow around all day. We really bonded when I fed them and scooped their litter boxes before Jayne got home. Actually that further strengthened my bond with Jayne since she feels any man who will scoop her cats litter boxes is definitely a keeper.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crossing The Rainbow Bridge

In a couple of early blogs, I talked about Squeak, my Siamese cat, who was diagnosed a year and a half ago with Chronic Renal Failure, or CRF. I decided to treat her as long as she had a good quality of life. This meant daily subcutaneous fluids, watching her diet, and a steady dose of anti nausea and antacid medications. Despite all this, she remained the loyal, sweet natured, and very affectionate cat who had wiggled her way into my heart many years ago.

Before I committed to this Hawaii business trip, I found an excellent pet sitter, Jan's Pet Sitting
to look after her. Jan had looked after Squeak in the past and I was very impressed with her professionalism and genuine love of animals. Squeak had developed along with CRF, Lymphoma and a stubborn bladder infection. But Jan was still willing to look after her.

Then yesterday morning, Jan called with the very sad news that Squeak had passed away during the night. Apparently the stress of her ailments and her age, 17, was too much for her heart. While it was not unexpected, it was still a shock, and agonizing because I wanted to be with her at the end. I am thankful the end was quick and peaceful, and that she was not in any pain. But it will be painful personally to return and not see her in the room I'm currently renting, or hearing her, especially considering how vocal she was.

She was a link to my life in California, and more importantly my only reliable day to day companion for several years. Some talk of cats as aloof creatures, but Squeak hated to be away from me. When I did have a trip, business or personal, she made it a point to chew me out when I got back with her loud and expressive meow. Then she would curl up next to my shoulder when I was about to go to sleep at night to say all was forgiven. She was so tiny she would bat her head against my shoulder from time to time to remind me she was there.

I'm having her cremated, then I can keep the box with her ashes with me at all times. But her memory will never fade. And someday I will see her again. Because I am a firm believer special animals have spirits, and when their physical form leaves us, they cross The Rainbow Bridge.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hanging On

Sunday I started a long planned two week business trip to Hawaii. Don't laugh, there is actual work that needs to be done there. As luck would have it, Hurricane Ike decided to end its odd meanderings and paint a bullseye on Houston. Unfortunately, our new house is going to be affected b y high winds, though fortunately it is far enough from the coast to avoid storm surge.

Unfortunately, Jayne has to pray that not only does the house hold together, and being well constructed it should, but that the pine tree out back decides to remain vertical. With the house's orientation, I'm hoping the winds will blow either away from the house towards the tree, or at worse, parallel to the tree and house.

We're also hoping the tree will be grateful we spared it when we could have ordered it removed and will stay put. There's only one other house on the block, and the neighbors have already graciously offered to let Jayne stay with them if she gets too nervous from the storm. For that I'm very grateful. And once again it points out one of the differences between Texans and Californians. Texans will look after each other, Californians will only look after their selfish selves.

If need be I'll cut the Hawaii trip short to get to Houston any way possible, but for now all I can do is keep monitoring the news reports and hope for the best.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Epidemic Of Stupidity

I just got back from Texas, where I finally got to see our new house. And it is gorgeous! It’s very well laid out, beautifully appointed, nicely decorated, (thanks to Jayne of course!), and has lots of room. Even the cats are wandering around more or less stress free from not feeling crowded. The development is still slow to get filled in; indeed there is only one other house on our block. I’m trying to figure how to slyly move the fences a foot or so out each night until we can claim our entire side of the street as our property.

But unfortunately I had to return to California, and today was an event in wondering if aliens were secretly absorbing people’s intelligence while I was gone, which was all of three days.

Case 1. I got a call from my office manager saying she was trying to process my trip to Hawaii in a couple of weeks. She couldn’t find the airfare or even any evidence of the flights. Since that is a long swim, I logged onto the website of our new contractor for travel to see what was going on. I first glanced at the printout I made when I arranged this trip almost three weeks ago. Yep, there were the flights. Since then, the flights had mysteriously disappeared. After the required cussing, I edited my arrangements to get the flights put back on.

Now I realize my office’s budget would make panhandling profitable, but if it looks like travel now excludes how to actually get to one’s destination, there may be issues.

Case 2. My monthly train pass for September is almost two weeks late in coming. I called a nice lady at Caltrain who said she’d mail a replacement. She then called this morning saying the letter with the original pass had just shown up on her desk with an “Address Not Found” stamped on it. Funny, one of my housemates also gets a monthly pass, and hers showed up on time. Then again, the mail carrier in my neighborhood isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. At least once a week mail arrives for any given house in a two-block radius. I’m starting to dread what will happen when I put in my change of address for Texas. I suppose they’ll insist on international postage before anything gets forwarded.

Case 3. My envirowacko landlady wants to use used water from the washing machine for her landscaping. Never mind the landscaping makes you prefer the bareness of Death Valley . But the point is she wants her tenants to use only generic brand detergents in the belief that they won’t contain any whiteners, or other life threatening chemicals. You know, the chemicals that actually get your clothes clean. Well…. For a start, generic brands mean they are the store’s brand, such as Costco’s Kirkland brand. And for the most part the ingredients are exactly the same as those in name brands, like Tide. But never confuse an enviro with the facts.

Case 4. While on the train, the woman in front of me was getting upset because she couldn’t get any additional airflow from what she swore was the air vent over her seat. One little point, light fixtures don’t usually emit air.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Words To Never Use Together

One of the classic TV shows of all time was Rocky And Bullwinkle from the early to late 1960’s. With enough slapstick to keep children entertained, it also wove in adult oriented political satire. And with the Cold War at its peak, there was plenty of material to poke fun at. Who can forget Boris and Natasha, the spies convinced the ebullient Rocky and somewhat slow thinking but kind hearted Bullwinkle were bearers of America’s deepest and darkest secrets? Bullwinkle usually unwittingly foiled their plots, but they always returned with even more nefarious plots.

One episode in particular stood out, not so much for the story but for Rocky uttering a terrific line, “Military intelligence, isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

That line can be expanded to include customer service, or lack thereof. There are many organizations whose name should never be used in the same sentence as service. A very recent example is a certain cable company known as Comcast. Just the other day, Jayne moved to our new house. Despite tropical storm Eduaord paying a wet and windy visit, the movers showed up on time, nothing got wet, and later on AT&T appeared to hook up the phone.

Once the phone was working, Jayne discovered she had several messages from Comcast, who was also scheduled to hook up the cable for the TV and Internet. Since Jayne has a second job that is web based, it is essential she has reliable access.

No luck.

Comcast claimed because of the weather they couldn’t come out. Funny how no one else had that problem. They then said they couldn’t make another appointment until next Monday. This means she’ll have to drive into Houston Sunday and use her work computer to get anything done. Repeated calls to Comcast have resulted in a different story each time. No they never had her scheduled in the first place. Oh yes, she was scheduled but they’d give her priority in case another customer cancelled their appointment. Well, maybe that would happen. Maybe it wouldn’t.

Maybe the problem is the idiocy of local communities granting cable companies monopolies. No competition means they can do whatever they please and charge whatever they please. Until someone with authority to do so wises up and opens up cable systems to competitors, customers are basically screwed.

Yesterday Jayne said she passed a Comcast truck parked on the side of a road with the driver looking like he was fast asleep. We’re betting anything if Comcast actually shows up Monday, (meaning she needs to take an extra day off work), that this individual will be the one they send out.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bars In Every Room

A couple weekends ago, I brought my wife to San Francisco for a combination birthday get together with my local family members and to play tourist. As much as I despise living in San Mateo County, I enjoy the rest of the Bay Area, San Francisco especially, the exception being the yuppified financial district. That, unfortunately, has turned into San Mateo North, complete with the rudeness, arrogance and self absorption.

But enough of that. Because of the smoke from the still burning fires, we opted out of spending a day in Monterey. So we did one of those touristy things, the type you keep telling yourself to do but never get around to until you have out of town visitors. We went to Alcatraz.

I vaguely remember a breakout in 1962, followed by the prison closing a year later. Clint Eastwood dramatized the breakout, which I’m sure didn’t involve anyone who looked a bit like him. Plus he had the option of actually leaving when shooting was done for the day, and without the risk of actually being shot in the process. The place’s other claim to fame was an 18 month long occupation by several American Indian groups who actually had some legitimacy behind their claims that Alcatraz belonged to them via a treaty. Such a shock that treaty was conveniently ignored later on by the government.

While the occupation didn’t yield Alcatraz to tribal control, it did raise public awareness of conditions on Indian lands, with a result of substantial improvements and better relations between the tribes and the federal government. The present situation of course is far from perfect, but overall is better.

But it is the notoriety as a federal prison for the serious bad boys that made Alcatraz so infamous. It is a windswept rock, and would be almost completely barren except for the gardens planted by the prisoners. The freezing water and strong currents of San Francisco Bay kept all but the bravest and or most desperate from trying to escape. Seeing the lights and attractions of this vibrant city only a mile and a half away was the cruelest punishment for the inmates, much crueler than the tiny, stark cells, stripping away of your identity and freedom, and the constant threat of violence that wracks all prisons. Criminals were there to be punished.

Another punishment, and while it may not have been quite as pronounced when the prison was in use as opposed to today, is the eau de seagull. There were thousands of them wheeling about, and not being potty trained, their marks were literally everywhere. We ended up trying to stay upwind as much as possible.

Several of the buildings are now in ruins, which adds to the mystique. They gave the impression of sets from a horror movie, and you have to wonder if several ghosts are wandering around.

I did wonder if I was a prisoner just how I would have escaped. I figure it would either be by hopping on the back of a wayward humpback whale, (everyone in the Bay Area remembers Humphrey, who proved that even among such highly evolved and intelligent creatures as whales you’ll get the occasional knucklehead), or lassoing enough seagulls to be airlifted to freedom. We’ll ignore the little fact that seagulls do not fly in flocks and a group are as apt to go in the same direction as a herd of cats.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's Hiding In The Attic

While sorting through my belongings in preparation for my November move, I sometimes run across an oddity or two that has me thinking, “When did I get this, and more importantly, why?” That got me to thinking even more, (a dangerous activity in its own right), about some items I could have fun with if I encountered them, and even more so if they actually existed. Think of the possibilities if buried in your life's treasures was s box full of baseball size canisters labeled “Small Scalable Thermonuclear Device (SSTD).”The only settings would be the size of the explosion, from say a minuscule .001 kilotons, (useful for serious gutter cleaning), to a more respectable 1 kiloton, (effective for clearing out late staying guests at a large and unruly party). Of course the other setting would be a timer allowing you to be safely out of the way so you can enjoy the aftereffects from a safe distance.

Personally, I can think of many uses for such a device. For a start, though I am a lifelong Cal football fan, I would still refrain from tossing one into the huddles of the opposing team since I do believe in fair play and sportsmanship. However, halftime shows at Cal by either the University of Southern California or worse, Stanford, marching bands would be short lived, and would bring thunderous applause from almost everyone else at the stadium. As an aside, I remember talking to a USC fan once who confessed their own band drives their fans crazy by playing the same song every fifteen seconds during a game. Stanford's band meanwhile has the distinction of not only being a total embarrassment to what even the most diehard Cal fan will admit is an outstanding academic institution, but they bear the stigma of being what must be the only college band to have once been banned from their own stadium.

Another use, instant large scale barbecue. Why fiddle and fuss with a grill when you can pile all the food in a barbecue pit, toss in an SSTD, (don't forget the proper settings or your neighbors won't be amused, though if you hate your neighbors just pass it off as a little oopsie), and in a flash, literally, everything is cooked to perfection. Just be careful if the source of your steaks is still on the hoof and the rancher who owns them employs sharpshooters beyond the range of your SSTD.

You can also use them for instant respect. Say you find yourself in a rough looking bar. On your left a tough looking character pulls out a knife. On your right an even meaner looking dude is polishing a .357 Magnum. Casually take out an SSTD and set it in front of you. You'll never have to pay for a drink again.

The uses go on and on. Removing tree stumps. Removing whole trees. Removing whole trees and tree sitters, (what a wonderful thought for the ones still infest Berkeley). Digging out the hole for a swimming pool. Better yet, digging out the hole for an oil well considering current prices. Playing fetch with a neighbor’s nervous, yapping, peanut sized dog. Applying a permanent solution to your computer after the over seas call center gave you bad advice, (sending one to the overseas call center might have some nasty political ramifications however).

Oh the possibilities.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Enlightenment Through Dim Sum

One thing I will genuinely miss about San Francisco is Chinatown. Every sense of the human body is constantly stimulated by even a casual stroll through it. I have a passion for Chinese art, and after a bit of poking past the rather tacky touristy offerings, have found shops selling genuine supplies as well as excellent art works. The food shops are something else, offering fruits, vegetables and meat, fish and poultry that are amazing in their variety, even if I don’t have a clue as to what most of them are.

For eating establishments the area can’t be beat. My favorite is a Dim Sum place called the Hang Ah. A friend and I discovered it, tucked down an alley, back when we were in high school. He lives out of state now but still visits at least once a year. So when he does, he head to San Francisco on a gastronomic pilgrimage.

Dim Sum consists of many small dishes of pork, vegetables, egg rolls, and my favorite, Pork Bows which is a soft bread stuffed with sweet and sour pork. Washing it all down is an unlimited amount of jasmine tea brewed with loose tealeaves. The place itself has a plain brick exterior, while the inside has a linoleum covered floor, plastic chairs, and Formica tables that look like they came out of the 1950’s. Considering when you walk in you are greeted by a glass case with an ancient newspaper article and folders about the 1959 Miss Chinatown contest and it’s almost eerie in its old fashioned atmosphere.

You almost expect these shadowy figures lurking in the back tables, casting wary eyes on potential murder suspects, smugglers, and other nefarious characters. Like the waiter who always had a pair of chopsticks in his shirt pocket with notches in them. Were they some type of secret code? Or were they reminders of his victims, those who dared to cross him, or worse, stiff him on his tip.

But none of this has any effect on the food, which is best described as delectable and delightful. There’s no pressure to eat fast, instead the atmosphere is designed for leisurely dining. A few years back my friend and I went afterwards to the Asian Art Museum. There was a display of porcelain Happy Buddha’s. We decided they had reached the rapturous state of enlightenment, inner peace, and complete happiness from having eaten at Hang Ah.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Time for a rant...

The best way to spot a hypocrite, one who should have a t-shirt emblazoned with the word and town criers leading the way when they go down the street calling, “Make way for the hypocrite,” is for that person to give themselves a label. Certain labels are ways that the weak minded make themselves feel important, since that’s the only way they can identify with anyone or anything else. A true rational person takes an idea, analyses it without prejudice or preconceived conclusions, and is prepared to alter his or her opinions based on facts, not hype.

Perhaps the most misused label is “environmentalist.” At one time it meant a true lover of nature who was interested in preservation not just for the sake of it, but also because of the ecological value of an area. This person realized clean water and air, safe disposal of toxic wastes, efficient use of energy, and reasonable recycling were not only good for ones health but also made economic sense. A healthy population is of course going to be more economically viable than an unhealthy one, and for businesses efficiency in manufacturing reduces costs and increases profits. Less land and resources are needed, which allows more preservation of open space, parks, and wilderness areas that are vital for healthy ecosystems. As for alternative energy sources, these create more business opportunities while reducing America’s dependency on foreign oil.

The true environmentalist will practice his or her beliefs by their lifestyle. This doesn’t mean living in caves, (or trees if in Berkeley), bathing only once a week if that, and subsisting on tree bark and dirt. This person will tell others about efficient recycling and energy use, healthy eating, and the need for ecological balance. But this is done without preaching or taking on a “holier than thou” attitude. Instead they teach by quiet example.

My high school biology teacher, Ken Teberg, was a perfect example. He taught his class how to incorporate sound environmental principles into their every day lives. We came to appreciate and understand nature, while at the same time not looking at life’s conveniences such as cars and electronics as evils. Balance was and is the key.

Unfortunately, environmentalist has more recently come to signify zealots who cannot be reasoned with. They are determined to undermine society and enforce their own radical agenda of no development, no growth, and forcing governments and businesses into unnecessary spending and regulations that result in little gain. And their reason? In part they are some of the most ignorant people I know. But for many, it is a shrewd way to stroke their egos and make money. They see the attention they get through fear mongering of an unsuspecting public. And while some piously claim to be following an ascetic lifestyle, many others rake in the money that duped individuals and groups who should know better, donate.

An acquaintance in my office loves trumpeting she’s an environmentalist. But here are some facts. She is into solar power. Ok, no problem with that though it’s still very expensive and impractical on a large scale. At the same time she goes ballistic at even the mention of an oil company and heaven forbid you even say the word nuclear in her presence. Yet that didn’t stop her from driving a gas guzzling SUV for many years. Fact two, she wants to conserve water. California is currently experiencing a significant water shortage, and granted rainfall has been below average the last couple of years. However, the same environmentalists such as this acquaintance were frothing at the mouth in anger at even the suggestion of the state building more reservoirs to hold sufficient water to compensate for these situations.

She also proudly claims she only showers once a week. The held noses of anyone around her are proof of that. But at the same time she has an uncovered swimming pool that annually loses thousands of gallons in evaporation.

Fact three, in winter she refuses to turn on the heat in her house, and instead uses an indoor fireplace when it gets cold. This is an old fashion brick fireplace that is not only extremely inefficient at heating, but is a major contributor to indoor and outdoor particulate matter pollution. This is a major health hazard. Anyone experiencing the ongoing effects of the fires raging throughout central and northern California knows what I mean. It’s the exact same effect.

But disagree with her and you are greeted with hateful looks and an attitude you are the devil incarnate. Needless to say I’ll be very happy to leave her behind, and then forget she ever existed, when I’m gone from California.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wild Blue Yonder

I’ve long been fascinated with airplanes, going back to some of my earliest memories when I was four, and living in Albuquerque. In World War II, my dad had been in the Air Force, (or to be technical, the Army Air Force as it wasn’t a separate service back then), and there must have been times when he showed me photos of various aircraft, usually military, in books and told me their designations. That must have stuck, as I remember him taking me to an air show at the Kirtland air base in Abluquerque and me being able to identify several types on sight. My favorite was the B-36 bomber, one of the largest and most distinctive looking planes ever built. It was huge by any standards, and when you’re only four it’s even more impressive.

Other times we would go to the civilian airport, (which was adjacent to the air base), and sit on an adobe wall to watch the planes come and go. Those incidents sparked a life long interest in aviation and aviation history. Although my mom had her reservations the first time I actually flew.

Her father in Indiana was very ill, so mom flew back to be with him at the end. Since I had never met him, she took me along. I’m sure if they knew the circumstances, people in the airport would have thought that was a sweet gesture, taking a little boy to meet his grandfather for the first and sadly, last time.

Well, that was until we were getting ready to board. This was back in 1958, and the first jet airliners were coming into service. I spotted a gleaming Boeing 707 outside a terminal window, and asked mom if we could fly on it. She said no, and pointed to our plane, a propeller driven Lockheed Constellation. But I was persistent. So was mom. So I pitched a temper tantrum. Back then the pilots often greeted passengers as they were getting ready to board. Mom still reminds me of the glares she was getting from ours as I screamed, ‘I don’t want to fly on the old rattletrap, I want to fly on that new jet."

At this time I was a much more mature five year old, but still concepts like flight schedules, etc., didn’t come to mind. So mom reluctantly dragged me on board anyway. My mom doesn’t drink but she may have been sorely tempted that day.

Later in life I would take myself to air shows and was delighted that a job assignment to Washington, DC in 1990 meant easy access to the Air and Space Museum. But the ultimate aeronautic experiences were the pair of trips dad and I took to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. If it had flown in the Air Force, it was represented, including the first B-36 I had seen since Albuquerque. And yes, it is still a very impressive plane.

But the highlight was a display of the B-29 bomber of the type dad flew in during the war. In addition to a complete famous one hanging from the ceiling, there was an open fuselage you could walk into. Dad became like a kid in a candy store. He dashed from station to station, pointing out what was what, and then sat in his radio operator’s seat. He got this far away look as though his old crewmembers had reappeared. He would mention them by name, “That would be Roy from New York in the navigator’s chair, and Tom from Ohio was our pilot.” Then his voice would tail off, and he added, “This sure brings back some memories.”

These were memories I could scarcely comprehend, never having even being in the military let alone combat. But the emotions in dad's face and eyes at those times were overwhelming, and you know they went to the depth of his soul.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Appropriate Name

Do you ever wonder where old technology goes to die? You don’t? Well why not? “2001: A Space Odyssey,” proved machines have souls, or at the very least can sing off key. Although unlike HAL, most modern machines only sit silently when they malfunction instead of politely refusing a command with an, ‘I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that."

Considering the useful life of items like computer components and cell phones is about 15 minutes between their time of sale to when their replacements are on the shelves, there is a glut of technology that is still useful, but alas because of real or perceived obsolescence is unloved and unwanted. Fortunately there is a place in the Bay Area where they can go to live again. It’s an appropriately named store, well, more of a cluttered warehouse, called ‘Weirdstuff."

I discovered it by accident in the late 1980’s while actually trying to locate a Fry’s Electronics. The name drew me in, and it did not disappoint. I was delighted to find old game cartridges for my TI-99/4A, old pc software, (remember when Microsoft Works fit on a pair of floppy disks?), and a barrel of circuit boards labeled… “Barrel of Boards.” Who couldn’t love a store where most items were labeled with a garish orange sticker emblazoned with “Guaranteed Not To Work. If It Does, You May Exchange It For One That Doesn’t.”

There was much more than just computer components, the place was an electrical engineer’s heaven. You could get oscilloscopes for a few dollars, mounting racks for a mainframe computer, (all true Americans need a mainframe), testing meters of all types, enough cables to sew the San Andreas Fault closed, and at one time something my dad would have loved, a vacuum tube tester. Dad was an engineer, and felt in many ways a lot of technological progress was more hype than real advancement. He was ticked when the only store in town with a vacuum tube tester got rid of it as he would have gladly taken it off their hands. I wonder if the one in Weirdstuff was the same one.

Dad was always building things from scratch, more often than not just because he could. It’s a shame he left California for Indiana before Weirdstuff opened, or he would have pitched a tent in their parking lot to live in. And what he would have built would have been staggering. I imagine he would have started with a bunch of robots with the sole function of terrorizing mom’s dog. After that he would have added more robots to keep some neighbors and assorted relatives to keep honest.

And of course they’d use vacuum tubes.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Just Don't Tell Them Jerry Garcia Is Dead

While I didn't graduate from there, one of my fondest college memories was the year I spent at UC Berkeley. One of the finest academic institutions in the world, it is an amazing place. I still return several times in the Fall to attend football games, though until Saint Jeff of Tedford arrived six years ago to rescue the team from the demons of mediocrity, (and last year's second half of the season collapse was merely a test of faith, order will be restored this season... I hope!), the stadium was a wonderful place to get away from it all on Saturdays.

With Tedford came success, with success came large crowds at the games, and a realization that Cal, (the official name, UCLA is the barely tolerated younger brethren down south), had athletic facilities most junior high schools would sneer at. So a fund raiser was started to build a state of the art facility to safely house and train not only the football team but teams from many other sports, both men and women's. A site was chosen next to the stadium, and since much of the facility would be underground it would blend perfectly with the hillside the stadium is built into, making everyone happy.

Not so fast.

This is Berkeley, home of the Free Speech movement of the 60's and still populated by a large group who would protest against Santa Claus for being an oppressive white male paying substandard wages to overworked elves while engaging in animal abuse by forcing innocent reindeer to haul this heavy sleigh around the world. So almost as soon as the plans were revealed, the protests started.

First was a ragtag group who called themselves the Save The Oaks foundation. It would be necessary to remove about 40 oak trees to build the facility. Mind you, these oaks were planted at the same time the stadium was built in the early 1920's. Never mind that they are a very common species of oak and that as part of the construction plan the university would plant three to replace every one that would be cut down. Letting facts get in the way is not the modus operandi for extremists.

A group of cretins... errr... dedicated environmentally aware activists... nah, call it like it is, cretins, built platforms in the trees and lived in them to bring attention to the fact that they are a bunch of idiots. Their claims that the site was an ancient American Indian burial ground, (claims pushed by a phony with the fake name Running Wolf... evidence is mounting he is not an Indian at all and is an insult to them), that the oaks are part of an endangered wildlife preserve, etc. are of course completely false.

But it was entertaining for a while. Granted most of the "Tree Sitters" were only there to be fed by their equally brain dead supporters on the ground. Otherwise they'd be back on the streets of Berkeley panhandling and making a complete nuisance of themselves. But while in the trees one got to meet such scintillating characters like "Redwood Mary", "Millipede", and everyone's personal favorite, "Dumpster Muffin". Now dumping all of them in the nearest dumpster does sound like a great idea.

In the meantime several lawsuits were filed against Cal to stop construction, for no other reason than for the residents of the city to be their usual anti development, anti progress, anti everything out of general principle royal pains. The judge's recent decision was almost completely in the university's favor, so it can be expected that construction of the athletic facility can finally start before much longer.

I'll only be able to attend a few games this season before moving to Texas, (and if Comcast's sports package doesn't let me continue watching them on television blood will be spilled). I won't miss the Tree Sitters, though fans from visiting teams will miss out on a true Berkeley experience. I'll never forget overhearing a fan last season when Cal played Tennessee saying, "This is better than going to the zoo." Then there was the Cal fan calling out, "I'm buying drinks for any of you Tennessee fans who brought your hunting license and shooting iron."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gas Pains

California loves to pride itself on being a leader, and in areas such as the entertainment industry and technology, that is true. The exception with technology is in customer support, but that will be the subject of another entry. Unfortunately, California has the honor of also being a leader in government idiocy, (Berkeley's City Council being the prime example), obscenely overpriced housing, (the recent drop in these prices not being nearly enough to make this state a desirable place to live), and now gas.

Despite claiming to be so into public transportation, California is as car crazy as any other place in the country. Now in Texas, a car is a necessity. This isn't just because no matter where you buy a house everyplace you need to get to conspires to be 500 miles away. Well, for the most part it is a pretty flat state so things tend to get spread out. But the other reason is take a glance at the weather report for any given part of the state in July and then decide if you really want to take that bicycle farther than the end of your driveway.

Gas is steep there, just like everywhere else, but in the Bay Area it is usually 30 cents a gallon higher than the national average. Considering the number of refineries in this area, that has never made any sense. The excuses for these prices seem lamer by the day, my theory is plain old price gauging because those in the industry and government, (yes that means YOU George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of you Haliburton weenies), can rake in more obscene profits.

Though speaking of which, if I had known six months ago this was going to happen, I would have bought a dozen or so Toyota Prius's then kept on jacking the price up as gas prices kept rising and SUV owners became more desperate. But not having a crystal ball means another brilliant business plan shot to heck.

But on a personal note, I'm still planning to drive to Texas when I make my big move in November. My vehicle of choice is "Phydeaux", my faithful 1993 Toyota Corolla. It may have picked up a few dings over the years, but it starts up every morning and more importantly still averages close to 34 miles per gallon. Though if gas goes up much more by then, like 50 cents a gallon while I'm still filling my tank, I'll ask if instead of the extra landscaping at my wife's and my new house in Texas if we can get oil drilling equipment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What Guys Read

Time for a quick literary review, of the type of literature guys love but English teachers hate, the "male adventure story" genre. Actually, this is something with many female fans, especially if the writer is Clive Cussler. My dad introduced me to his books in the early 80's when he gave me a copy of "Raise the Titanic" and said I might enjoy it. Since I read it in one sitting, you can say I did.

Since then I've ready everything he's written, 35 novels and a pair of non fiction works on shipwreck hunting. Why is he so popular? I'd say because his books are entertaining, pure and simple. You can always count on some fascinating historical tidbits, hi tech, beautiful women who are also smart and strong, (this is one of the reasons so many women love his books), while the heroes are smart, tough, yet also respectful to women. Of course the villains are rich, ruthless, power mad, sometimes just plain mad, but always dangerous. Throw in plenty of fights, narrow escapes, imaginative chases, exotic locations, romance and you have ask what more could a guy want?

You also have to like the interactions between the characters. One of my favorite exchanges was when told about a plan, the reply was, "If it's sneaky, devious and dastardly, we're in."

But there is a bittersweet feeling when a new book comes out. For years I always bought the latest one as soon as it came out and sent it to dad as either a Father's Day or birthday present. One year, Clive was autographing "Inca Gold," (often considered to be his best), at a bookstore in San Francisco. I was honored to meet him, and got the impression he is a modern Renaissance man who could converse well on almost any subject. I sent the autographed book to dad, who acted like I had sent him the Holy Grail.

Ok, now back to his latest, "Plague Ship", co-written with Jack DuBrul, who is another excellent adventure writer. And since I'm on the train, I just may not mind if it has another breakdown.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Home On The Range

The worst thing about a long distance relationship is, of course, the distance. Since getting married last October, my wife Jayne and I have had exactly six days together. Granted this is something we’ve long accepted and know will be ending early November, but it’s still a burden.

But one bright spot is when I finally do move it will be to a brand new house. After a fair amount of searching, and enjoying the tours of several model homes, we found a new development only a couple miles from where she lives now. It’s upscale, and far beyond anything either of us thought we would ever be calling home. It has four bedrooms, two baths, industrial strength air conditioning, garage with an extension for a workshop, combination of tile and hardwood floors, humidity control to go along with the air conditioning, granite countertops with tile splash in the kitchen, air conditioning that could freeze Hades, marble countertops and showers in the bathrooms, a jetted tub in one bathroom, and a Tuscany style interior with large windows and more arches than the Roman Coliseum. And did I mention it comes with a great air conditioner?

And the price? Let’s just say I delight in the screams of anguish from Californians who would be lucky to get a studio condo in a bad neighborhood for the same price. Jayne is already working on the d├ęcor for the house, and she has excellent taste. Left to me it would have the look of a garage sale gone bad. But I will have the Garage Mahal to call my own, providing I can figure how to make it bearable in summer. Plus I’ll have one room reserved as my office, or Man Cave, where only the bold dare set foot. Jayne gets the rest of the house as compensation.

Friday, June 6, 2008


I’ve been fascinated by computers since my first one, a humble Texas Instruments TI-99/4A given to me as a gift ages ago. My work machines were usually more capable, but had all the excitement of… work machines, designed for function and little else. And with the “help” of my office’s IT Department, it’s been more little else than even function.

I try to keep up on the latest in hardware and software, but often times have to wonder if some of the latest “advances” are more the result of bored engineers and developers trying to justify their existence. I find it pretty irritating to get a new version of software I’ve become quite comfortable with, only to find the bright and shiny new product is slower, more cumbersome, and more error prone than what it replaced. Worse, inevitably a feature I liked has been otherwise omitted or hidden.

Case in point, Vista. I started my computer career with dumb terminals, (and no comments about the operators of said terminals please), hooked into a mysterious IBM mainframe across the country. Said mainframe was very fast, crunched an amazing amount of data, and had all the excitement of an abacus. So it was very disappointing when IBM produced their first personal computer. It was relatively fast, crunched numbers well, but in effect was just a shrunken head version of their mainframes. Even the operating system was almost the same.

Fast forward to Microsoft’s attempts to make the computer more usable and interesting by mimicking Apple with Windows. In each version the computer became easier to use, and blatant copying of Apple’s innovations was purely intentional. Unfortunately this came without the stability of Apples. I was convinced a feature of Windows 95, was the wonders of the BSOD, (Blue Screen Of Death).

But with Windows XP, Microsoft pretty much got it right. It was on the whole more stable than previous versions and even pretty much forgiving of the torture my machines endure. So naturally they decided to replace it with a new version, Vista. Fortunately I knew enough to tweak it so it could do more or less what I want. But it’s still slower than XP. At least I found out how to turn off the very annoying User Access Control,(UAC), that constantly pops up with “allow or deny” every time you attempt to install or remove software. UAC is also the initials of the bioengineering company in the DOOM games whose creations run amok creating havoc everywhere.

I find this strangely disturbing.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

All The News That Fits Or Gives You Fits

I get almost all my news online these days with varying degrees of completeness, accuracy and fairness. In other words, I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on, although the Washington Post does a good job overall. Their opinion writers cover the entire spectrum, and earn my respect because of their generally excellent writing even though I often have disagreements with their conclusions.

By contrast, the paper I grew up with, the San Francisco Chronicle, is on par with the National Enquirer. No self-respecting bird will let you line its cage with it, and paper recyclers treat yesterday’s edition as hazardous material. The writers can barely put together a coherent sentence, while if an article is sensational, exaggerated, poorly researched, and completely biased; it naturally gets the front page. Compare how the “Comical” would cover an event as compared to a more sober paper like the Post, or better yet, the London Times.

A storm approaches with 50 mph winds and heavy rain.

The Times: A bit of a stiff breeze is expected over the next couple of days accompanied by some rain. Be sure to keep your umbrellas handy and remove any household objects that may otherwise make unexpected and possibly unwelcome visits to your neighbors.

Chronicle: Oh my God!!! It’s the storm of the century; we’re all going to die!

Stock Market Crashes:

The Times: A slight mishap in the markets today will mean some belt tightening is in order.

Chronicle: Lifetime savings of the rich exploiters of the working class were wiped out in an instant! This is all because of their repression of the oppressed and not giving their life savings to every street bum you see.

Latest royal scandal:

The Times: The queen is slightly miffed at the unseemly behavior of the prince. It is beneath our dignity to go into the details. Editors note: Right, who put in that link to the tabloid with the juicy photos and quotes?

Chronicle: Prince who? You mean there’s something beyond our narrow, self serving view of the world? And besides who needs royalty when you have the highest concentration of queens in the world?

The lifestyle page:

The Times: Here are some handy gardening tips that beautify your home and at the same time provide tasty, healthy fruits and vegetables.

Chronicle: How to cross-dress your child.

The end of the world:

The Times: Well this is a bloody nuisance, coming as it is the day before that important cricket match with India.

Chronicle: Finally, a way to stop the greedy capitalistic mortgage brokers from foreclosing on your home despite your taking out a loan with terms that would embarrass a loan shark.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Faster Than A Sleeping Snail

But not by much. Since I had to lug yet another hefty Visual Basic .Net book to work yesterday in hopes that among the several I have I can find the answer to a homework assignment for a class I’m taking, I left my laptop back at my lodgings. This was unfortunate, because I’m finding the 35 minutes I spend on the train after work is a great time to work on this blog. Even more unfortunate because the 35 minutes last night stretched out to close to 3 hours.

After pulling into San Francisco 15 minutes late, about 4 miles south of the city the train lost ambition to keep going. After a half hour wait, a following train pulled up behind, and after some drama, was hooked up to mine. A half hour after that, we limped to the next station, where everyone offloaded and crammed into the following train to enter the station. Well, almost everyone. The crush of bodies was not appealing so I held out for a less crowded train. This one made the milk run instead of being an express, so bottom line was getting to my lodgings, and a very cranky cat, much later than usual.

If I had the laptop, the time would have passed more easily than by staring out the window at an empty field on one side and a truck fueling depot on the other. It probably would have been something like this:

Phone call to wife: “Well I just finished writing that second novel and am looking for ideas on the third. And no, trains will not be in it."

“Hmmm, battery getting low on laptop, and I’m not in a seat with an electric outlet so I can plug in the AC adapter. Seat in front of me has an adapter though it’s in use by another laptop user… this will take some sleight of hand, and yes! A Dell adapter does indeed work on my HP. Sucks that the owner of that Dell is about to lose Unreal Tournament because he’s going to run out of juice.”

Another phone call to wife: "No, you can’t collect on the life insurance policy on me because I haven’t been stuck on the train long enough yet to be declared legally dead. Just be patient."

And after cell phone battery started running low, there would have been just enough power to call my darling wife and ask her the all important question, "So just why did the Giants blow $126 million on Barry Zito?"

Monday, June 2, 2008

Natural Disaster Musings

Telling someone you’re from California often brings the response, ‘I could never live in a place with all those earthquakes.” Granted that is a serious concern, and is something always in the back of my mind. I’ve experienced several earthquakes, most are described as “Nature’s Rollercoaster”, scary while on the ride but strangely thrilling after the shaking stops.

The exception was the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. I was on BART (the Bay Area’s train system for the uninitiated, the acronym stands for Barely Able to Run on Time), on an elevated section of track when it hit. For several seconds I was honestly afraid the train would be shaken off the tracks. I was also wondering how it felt to anyone traveling under the bay in the Transbay Tube. It turned out that structure was so over engineered the quake was barely felt, though of course that didn’t stop anyone from inventing harrowing stories of survival. Anything to impress the gullible so you could get free drinks out of them.

But “The Big One” has yet to hit, and it is close to being overdue. So with my move to Texas I get to shed myself of that paranoia, and pick up new ones in tornadoes, hail storms, floods and hurricanes. Nothing like variety. I was in one small tornado in Virginia in the early 1990’s; the worst it did was give a few apartments skylights in the complex I was living in.

For hurricanes, in 1998 I was in Florida for a training class when Georges came churning up the west coast of the state. The night before it hit, I was in a hotel bar with my counterparts from our Denver and Dallas offices. The two guys from D.C. who had taught the class had already split, but the rest of us weren’t scheduled to leave until morning. I envisioned the D.C. gents were preparing a report, “The class went exceptionally well, however we now have openings in our Denver, Dallas and San Francisco offices.”

My flight the next morning was the last one out before the Tampa airport closed. A month later I was sent to Guam, just in time for a typhoon to blow through. It was just strong enough to create a bit of excitement, but no damage. So two trips, two storms. Yet for some reason no one in my office wanted to travel with me afterwards.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Culture Shock

While weeding through my possessions in preparation for the eventual move to Texas, I’ve been wondering about how to prepare for social integration. I do know they prefer a more direct approach to solving problems as opposed to California’s idea of sensitivity trainings, contemplating crystals, and in the end not getting a thing done. This is especially true in the case of personal conflicts, where you are expected to feel the other person’s pain and understand his or her anger.

Texans would resolve the conflict by something like, “Do we hang him or just shoot him?” And if it’s someone they’re really ticked at they may just shoot him while he’s hanging.

So I devised a personal questionnaire to see if I’m really ready.

“How’s your shooting arm?”
“Couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.”

“Can you barbecue an entire side of beef at once?”
“Without blowing up half the town from having no idea how high to turn the gas on the grill?”

“Do you drive a truck so big it takes up three lanes on the highway and has dualies for front wheels?”
“I drive a car that would be swallowed by the tire treads on such a truck.”

“What’s the best way to get into real trouble in Texas?”
“That I do know, wear an Ozzie Osbourne t-shirt at the Alamo.”

“What do you do when someone cuts you off in traffic?”
“Wave politely, he may be better armed than you.”

“How do you deal with strange folks from California?”ti
“Isn’t there a bounty on them? Uhmm… wait a minute, let me reconsider that answer.”

Friday, May 30, 2008

Family ties

While California has lost a lot of its appeal, I’ll still leave with a lot of good memories. Growing up in the East Bay is one of them. Livermore was a pleasant rural valley town that was quite content as a wine growing region with an annual rodeo to liven things up. When the government decided to locate large weapons research and development labs there, it became much more suburban, something hard to avoid with the population quadrupling almost overnight.

But it was still a safe and for the most part sedate environment to grow up in. Like most of my father’s friends, mine worked in weapons research. Well, at least that was the assumption. Considering how classified everything was he worked on, I always assumed if I did ask what he really did he’d say, “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.” Since that would have put a damper on our father –son relationship, I decided to change the subject.

With seven of us in the family and a not very large house, quiet time was hard to find. Though somehow, Dad was always able to have his before dinner nap in his living room recliner, despite the TV playing and my siblings and myself doing whatever we really weren’t supposed to be doing. The recliner was his private domain, if you were sitting on it and he pointed at you then jerked his thumb over your shoulder, you vacated. Since Dad was an engineer, I figured it best not to find out if the recliner really did have an ejection mechanism.

The house also had a built in burglar alarm, and I don’t mean the dog. Mom is a light sleeper, and I had to get past my parents room to get to my own. No matter how stealthy I was sneaking in after being out past curfew, I would almost always get a sharp, “Do you know what time it is?” Replying, “Yes, it is precisely 3 AM, thanks for asking,” didn’t go over very well.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Living With CRF

As mentioned before, Squeak is a senior citizen, and a year ago was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure, (CRF). It’s possible she was exposed to the tainted food that affected a number of other cats and dogs at the time, but that doesn’t change anything. She is very affectionate, active and alert, so after the initial shock of learning of her condition, I decided to treat her as well as possible.

CRF is a chronic condition as the name implies, and eventually the cat’s kidneys will deteriorate to where they cannot function. Counting Squeak, I’ve had six cats, and four of them eventually succumbed to CRF. My vet at the Central Veterinary Hospital,, said despite her kidney problems, Squeak was remarkably healthy, and with proper treatment would have more quality time on this earth. I also did some online research, and found an excellent site .

First was a change of diet to low protein foods. She’s fond of the senior canned formulas from Max Cat and Natural Choice. She will eat Hills Science Diet KD formula reluctantly, but is more enthusiastic about the first two brands. She also needs sub cutaneous fluids daily. This was the biggest hurdle to get over, not just for her, but for me steeling myself to give them to her. It took several tries to get it right, but while it’s still not a joy, it works.

The hardest and most frustrating problem is she gets buildups of stomach acid, and when it gets to be too much… well let’s just say the shower curtain covering the carpet in the room I’m renting is there for a good reason. Odd thing is these incidents should be debilitating. Yet she treats them as a minor annoyance.

I give her Reglan and Alternagel twice a day, and grind up a quarter tablet of Pepcid AC in her food, but have yet to find a magic formula that works on a consistent basis. However, as long as she has the spirit, I’ll gladly make the sacrifice to keep her going.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mobile Air Raid Siren

Traveling with pets is one of things you can research until the world ends, at which stage it’s a moot point but I digress, and when the reality begins your faithful pet will manage to do everything you never anticipated.

In January 2006, I was finishing an eight month long assignment in Washington, D.C. Two months previously, I had returned to California to fetch Squeak, an elderly but still feisty Siamese who should have had the more accurate name Air Raid Siren. Her vocal chords must be bionic because no cat can produce as many sounds, and at the intense volume, that she can.

The adventure started when I took her in her carrier to the office of the apartment I was renting to turn in the keys. A woman was standing at the desk talking to one of the staff, when she turned and asked, “Who has the crying baby?” Her look was one of bewilderment on not seeing anything remotely resembling a baby. Yep, it was Squeak, and when upset Siamese do sound much like a cranky baby.

Fortunately and unfortunately she’s nocturnal. Fortunately because she usually sleeps between 10 AM and 2 PM in the day, so I had some peace and quiet while driving. Unfortunately because she started pitching a fit by 5 PM, which was when I almost always hit rush hour traffic in an unfamiliar city. Since this was January, I took a southern route to avoid getting stuck in blizzards. This added a couple extra days to the trip. My eardrums have not been the same since.

After getting to my hotel for the night, I would set up her food, water and litter box, and hope she’d be so worn out she’d sleep next to me until morning.

Not a chance.

The second night I was in Meridian, Mississippi. I went out to the car and had the door to my room open for maybe five seconds. Fifteen minutes after returning to my room I thought it was unusually quiet. I looked under the bed, her usual hiding place. No Squeak. I looked everywhere else for 45 minutes with the rising panic she had freaked out and bolted as soon as she saw the open door. Seeing as how she’s an indoor cat, her chances of outside survival were not good. But I looked outside anyway, frantic that she was gone forever.

Then back inside I glanced at a recliner. It hadn’t dawned on me there might be enough space for her to sneak inside. Upending the recliner revealed one cat looking so smug she could hide that well as well as stay absolutely motionless and silent the entire time. As for the rest of the trip, it got to be a pattern with her finding more hiding places, usually under or inside the bed where getting her out was going to take some serious explosives.

But there was still a lot of furniture moving and the occasional mattress removal to flush her out.
Before checking out I did my best to make sure the room looked like it had been hit by no more than an F1 tornado. I still kept a list of the hotels I stayed at, because they may not be welcoming me back if I have to repeat this trip.

However, come November, it’s quite possible she’ll be taking one more cross-country drive with me to Texas. Though on a serious note, that depends on her health. She’s seventeen and a year ago was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF), meaning her kidneys are failing. Next installment will talk about treatments and links to sound advice…

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So Why Texas?

Good question. I like cool weather, Texas is beastly hot in summer and even more beastly humid. I like mountains, Texas, especially the Houston area, is flat. But Texas has the one thing California doesn't, my lovely wife. For the last two years I tried to get a transfer to my agency's Seattle office but that didn't work. So, Texas started looking more attractive, especially since things like no State income tax, far more reasonable property values, and my wife already being well established there, having spent half her life around Houston. The other half was spent in England, but that's another story.

Unfortunately, once again there weren't any jobs open for my rather specialized experience. But, retirement then looked like a viable option, especially if I could do some consulting on the side. And, with real estate being priced so people who bought homes did so with the intention of actually living in them and not as speculative investments, (what a concept!), I could finally afford a home I'd be very comfortable in for a long time.

This will be a transition, but I'm looking forward to it. My office isn't so sure, since thanks to Congress and Bush slashing our budget to the bone my position will not be backfilled. It's kind of fun hearing, "We're in panic mode!" from those wondering how my services will be provided after I leave.

My answer, which may very well be the truth, is to cough up some contractor money then hope that contractor passes that on to me. Probably in exchange for some work though, funny how some people insist on that. But before then, there is a lot of preparation to be done for the actual move. I'm planning to drive, and with a bit of luck, will have a companion in my elderly Siamese. Stay tuned for my last adventure driving cross country with her.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Why California Is No Longer Golden

I've spent almost my entire life in the San Francisco area, primarily the East Bay, and for the most part it has been an enjoyable experience. The Peninsula, however, was this mysterious place never ventured to except in alternating years when Cal played Stanford at Stanford's now fortunately replaced disaster of a stadium. But after my divorce over two years ago, I needed a place to stay, and accepted the offer of renting a room in a private home. The owner was a co-worker I'd been friends with for over 20 years, so it seemed like a good deal.

Well, financially it worked. It also exposed me to life on the Peninsula, which has a some physical attractions, but unfortunately is populated by a heavy concentration of rude, arrogant, self absorbed, pretentious hypocritical jerks. I can almost always count on being tailgated by a BMW or SUV, and if out hiking the usual reaction upon encountering another person is a taut face and an unspoken "Why are you violating my space?" Well excuse me, this is a public park and all your arrogance and money can't change that.

There is also the phenomena of people with more money than sense or taste buying lots in the hills with perfectly good, if obscenely overpriced, houses, then tearing the houses down and building an ostentatious mansion in its place. All to impress the neighbors of course, who will then proceed to tear their own places down and build something even more grandiose in its place.

The entire attitude is one of entitlement and superiority that is hardly justified. Needless to say I'll be quite happy to leave early November for my next destination of culture shock, Texas. More on that later...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Seeing if this works

Ok, so the first post is not likely to generate much excitement. Sort of like when in high school drivers training your very first time behind the wheel is not meant to be exciting. At least that's the fond wish of your instructor.