Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stoned Fairies And Other Phenomena

I just realized it's been ages since I've done any updates. So where to begin? How about with the Texas Renaissance Festival? I went once before, five years ago, and was quite impressed. This time we went the day after Thanksgiving, partly to take advantage of half price admission.

One problem, it looked like the entire state of Texas had the same idea. The fair is located about 25 miles from where we live, which would normally be about a 35 minute drive. Well.... this one was almost two and a half hours. Fortunately we took my wife's car, which is an automatic. Since mine is a stick shift, the drive would have been a nightmare.

But we persevered and finally made it, and it was worth the effort. I had been to the northern California version of the Renaissance Faire many times, and always enjoyed myself. The last time was also five years ago, and I was rather disappointed. It just felt somewhat cheesy and run down. Not so with the Texas version. First, in the true grand Texas manner, it is huge. Tons of vendors, lots of shows, great food, and the decor is quite elaborate. It is almost sensory overload from all the sites and sounds.

Our favorite show from the last time, "Bold And Stupid Men," wasn't around, which is a shame as it was hilarious. But there were many others that were very entertaining. One I enjoyed was a musician playing a clarrion, a keyboard that controlled an elaborate series of bells. It was very impressive. Naturally one of the songs played was "Carol Of The Bells."

There were some amazing costumes, but one that stood out was a young woman dressed as a fairy. Her costume was well done, but she looked like she had smoked a bowl of Mendocino Gold. I kept bumping into her throughout the day, and she always had the same half smile and glazed over eyes. One had to wonder after a while if she was a performer at the fair, an attendee dressed in costume, or if that really wasn't a costume but what she wore every day whether at the fair or not.

If she ever visits Berkeley, I'm afraid no one would notice.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wings Over Houston

I spent Halloween day with a friend at the Wings Over Houston airshow at Ellington Airport. Ellington's claim to fame is it is used by the Johnson Space Center, and has even seen the space shuttle stop by on occasion.

I love air shows, one of my earliest memories is my Dad taking me to one in Albuquerque when I was four years old. I clearly remember being able to identify by sight several types of planes, and could only conclude dad had shown me pictures and told me the names before the show. I thought it was fitting that my friend took along his four year old son. It was the lad's first show, and he is a very smart and well behaved child. He had a blast at the show.

There were several static displays of contemporary and historic military aircraft. But three highlights of the show really stood out. First, Texas is home to the Commemorative Air Force, once known by the rather politically incorrect name of the Confederate Air Force. This group has been around for several decades, and is a collection of aviation enthusiasts. They dedicate themselves to locating and restoring old military planes, with emphasis on World War 2 examples.

They have contributed many aircraft and pilots, to movies. In the late 1960's they participated in the Battle of Britain film. However, I doubt any of them were given speaking roles seeing as how most of them are Texans. Somehow a pilot telling the late Sir Lawrence Olivier, "Yeeehaaaaaaa!!! We got the Germans and the damn Yankees on the run!" may not have quite fit in with the atmosphere of England in 1940.

They had enough P-51 Mustangs to form an aerial demonstration team. Another demo was recreating the attack on Pearl Harbor with about a dozen replicas of the Japanese planes that participated. This was complete with some pretty spectacular pyrotechnics. They flew over a grass field next to the runway, which then erupted with some great looking explosions. Meanwhile you had sound effects of frantic officers giving orders, anti aircraft guns opening up and air raid sirens. It was loud, and it was great.

Some other demos were a huge C-17 transport flying with an ancient C-47. The C-47 looked like it was flying with the pedal to the metal, (they weren't renowned for their speed), while the C-17 pilot was hoping he wouldn't suck the poor C-47 into an engine.

Meanwhile, back on the ground there was a display of a C-130 that the Hurricane Hunters use. Plus the crew was on hand to demonstrate their equipment and answer questions. I told one they did a great job this past season since no hurricanes hit Texas. I imagine when these guys fly commercial, they aren't the least bothered by turbulence. They are dedicated and certainly brave, after all anyone who actually wants to fly inside a hurricane is a cut above the rest of us. It was interesting hearing what they see inside a hurricane. I had always envisioned it as a constant dark gray, but in reality you see all shades of gray, and then you break into swaths of clear sky between storm bands. The eeriest is the eye, which is crystal clear, blue sky surrounded by cloud bands.

I did wonder if anyone who applies to fly with them must first of all have no next of kin. And in case they had to abandon the plane in the middle of the storm, I have a feeling the exchange with the Coast Guard would go something like, "We're in the ocean floating in the middle of a category 5 hurricane, when can you pick us up?" "Nothing personal guys, but you're on your own."

The highlight of the show was the Blue Angels. As many times as I've seen them, I am always in awe of their skill and steel nerves. I saw them last year in San Francisco a few weeks before starting my trip to live in Texas. My ex landlady hated them. She said, "Oh I hate those jets. I was trying to talk on the phone but they were so loud I had to tell the person I was talking to I'd call back." My reply, "What you heard was the sound of our armed forces giving you the right to be selfish, self centered and not have any appreciation for the sacrifices they make so we can have the freedoms we enjoy."

All in all, it was a spectacular show, and probably the best I've ever seen. I'm already looking forward to next year's show.

Friday, October 9, 2009

So Where's My Award?

... For good intentions. Not sure what those intentions are, but I should be rewarded for them. After all, if Obama can be given to Nobel Peace Prize for his good intentions after only two weeks in office, then I deserve one.

The point of course is that an award should only be given after you actually accomplish something. A director intending to produce a great movie isn't given an Academy Award until the movie is made. A baseball player intending to have a great season doesn't win the Most Valuable Player award until the season is over and he's actually had a great season.

Perhaps before his term is over, Obama will negotiate a lasting peace treaty in the Mideast or something else that actually is deserving of this award. But for the Nobel committee to give him this award is not only way premature, but it makes what has already become an award tainted by some of the recent recipients an absolute joke. I am very disappointed the President accepted it. If he had any integrity he would have said, "I'm flattered, but am not worthy."

Personally I would be offended if offered the Nobel Peace Prize. And for two reasons, first it was given to Yasser Arafat, a terrorist who when he was giving the face of turning into a respectable political leader used the opportunity to rob his own people blind.

Second was when Al Gore was the recipient, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC). IPCC is a shameful political organization baying at the moon on "climate change." They have been discredited as shills with no credibility, but they are well funded with their eyes on stealing even more money from governments and businesses sadly caving in to their shenanigans.

Al Gore of course is in the hip pocket of IPCC. But what galls me the most, is another nominee the year he won was Irena Sendler, who nearly died from her tireless efforts to save Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto in World War Two. She rescued 2500 children, getting them false documents to hide their identities. Here's her story, courtesy of

Irena Sendler, born in 1910, was raised by her Catholic parents to respect and love people regardless of their ethnicity or social status. Her father, a physician, died from typhus that he contracted during an epidemic in 1917. He was the only doctor in his town near Warsaw who would treat the poor, mostly Jewish victims of this tragic disease. As he was dying, he told 7-year-old Irena, "If you see someone drowning you must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim."

In 1939 the Nazis swept through Poland and imprisoned the Jews in ghettos where they were first starved to death and then systematically murdered in killing camps. Irena, by than a social worker in Warsaw, saw the Jewish people drowning and resolved to do what she could to rescue as many as possible, especially the children. Working with a network of other social workers and brave Poles, mostly women, she smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hid them safely until the end of the war. Sendler took great risks - obtaining forged papers for the children, disguising herself as an infection control nurse, diverting German occupation funds for the support of children in hiding. She entered the Warsaw ghetto, sometimes two and three times a day, and talked Jewish parents into giving up their children.

Sendler drugged the babies with sedatives and smuggled them past Nazi guards in gunny sacks, boxes and coffins. She helped the older ones escape through the sewers, through secret openings in the wall, through the courthouse, through churches, any clever way she and her network could evade the Nazis. Once outside the ghetto walls, Sendler gave the children false names and documents and placed them in convents, orphanages and with Polish families. In 1942 the Polish underground organization ZEGOTA recruited her to lead their Children's Division, providing her with money and support. Her hope was that after the war she could reunite the children with surviving relatives, or at least return their Jewish identities.

To that end she kept thin tissue paper lists of each child's Jewish name, their Polish name and address. She hid the precious lists in glass jars buried under an apple tree in the back yard of one of her co-conspirators. In 1943 Irena Sendler was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death by firing squad. She never divulged the location of the lists or her Polish underground contacts. At the last moment she was saved by ZEGOTA which bribed a guard to secure her freedom. She still bears the scars and disability of her torture.

What isn't added is that after her rescue, she went back to her rescue work. So how many lives did Al Gore save?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Life Is Now Complete

But first a techie rant. Can anyone explain why iTunes makes burning a CD of your playlist as difficult as possible? One would think there would be a drop down menu item with "Burn CD" but that would be too easy. Instead you click on an obscure icon at the bottom of the screen, select a playlist, then remember to right click to bring up the burn CD option. Really intuitive... not! It all works after a fashion but for a company that prides itself on easy to use software they really fell asleep at the switch on this one.

Ok, now about the title of this post. When I was growing up, my dad always mowed the lawn. In Livermore, we only had a front lawn, as the backyard was taken up by various shrubs, patios, tetherball courts, swingsets and raised planters, so no grass to mow. Being a do it yourselfer, and being particular about how the yard looked, Dad never asked any of us to help. That was ok with me, as it meant one less household chore.

After moving away from home, I was in several apartments, which meant no lawn, though the ghastly green shag carpet in one tried vainly to achieve at least the visual of one though failing miserably at it. I then bought the townhouse in Fremont, which had a small lawn in front that the homeowners association took care of. The landscapers usually did this very early in the morning and with lawnmowers so raucous they would make a jet engine at full power in the living room seem peaceful.

Then last year it was the move to Texas, and to a house with a nice big lawn. However, my wife, who has the green thumb, (I've been known to kill silk plants), insisted on doing the mowing. Fortunately, she had a self propelled lawnmower, but still the size of the yard combined with the heat of Texas summers made yard care something that required careful planning. As for me... well, her insistence on mowing the lawn kept up my tradition of getting out of a household chore.

Then last night she had a lot time sensitive work to get done for her web based job. However, the back lawn was in desperate need of mowing, and as usual there wasn't a herd of goats handy for the job. Being the gallant gentleman I am, I volunteered. Uhmmm... volunteered to mow the lawn, not make like a goat and eat it.

So with visions of either chasing a runaway mower down the street, or worse mulching my wife's tenderly cared for flowers and shrubs, I got to work. It took a few minutes to get the hang of controlling the mower, but once I got going I felt very... domestic. And fulfilled, uplifted even. I could feel Dad looking down from heaven, and saying, "You missed a spot, those rows are uneven... oh never mind, I'll be down to do it myself."

But when I was done, my wife was pleased. Partially because it got her out of a household chore. I didn't have enough daylight to do the edging, but something tells me there is a weedwhacker in my future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Do You Climb The Corporate Ladder When You Are The Ladder?

One of the nicest things about being your own boss is you can set your hours, and you have better working conditions than in an office. Unless of course your office has something like Larry Ellison or Bill Gates on the door. In this case the office is usually something like a yacht the size of an aircraft carrier, often with a corporate jet parked on the deck and accommodations so lavish they would make King Tut feel self conscious.

My work conditions are quite nice since I have a room set up in my home with everything I need. I still don't have the cats trained to fetch me food and drink from the kitchen yet, so I'm forced to make the sacrifice and actually take care of that myself.

But there are plenty of other perks. Start with... no meetings! I figure in a corporate environment, (and in many ways there is no difference between that of private industry and government), you can end up spending a third of your career zoning out in meetings. Not that zoning out is a bad thing, and in meetings it's probably the most productive use of your time. Zoning out is not recommended at all times, however, as for someone like an airline pilot it is a bad thing.

Another great perk is no managers. I give myself directions, and expect myself to follow them. And if I don't, make up excuses. And if I don't believe my own excuses, then I can fire myself. Hmmmm... wonder if I could get unemployment if I do that? It could be worth a try.

But the work does bring in a bit of income, and it helps give me a sense of self worth. I'm embarking on a new venture soon, selling training software called LearningZen. It's a great looking product, and I hope I can make a go of it. I would also like to be taken on as a contractor to EPA, and am preparing a proposal. Hopefully all this will work. I have no feeling one way or another what will transpire, but as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Rambling Thoughts

When I was with EPA, I got in a fair amount of travel. This was partly because I was in demand for my data consultation services, and partly because my boss could get some peace and quiet by having me out of the office. Last week I had my first business trip since retiring and setting up my own business. It was to the Hualapai reservation in northwest Arizona. They are a client, and a good group to work with. The visit itself went smoothly. I came way with a better understanding of what I'm expected to provide.

The trip itself made me wish I could find a surplus Harrier jump jet at the local airport I could buy. It would have saved me a lot of driving, which ended up taking a lot more time than the actual flights. I decided to take the cheaper flight to Phoenix instead of the longer and more expensive one to Las Vegas. For a start, any flight out of Houston means careful planning, beginning with getting to the main airport, (Bush), in the first place. The traffic to Houston is god awful at rush hour, so my first task was getting flights in off hours. I decided on a 4 PM departure, and return flight that would get me in at about 8 PM. So far, so good.

I threw a couple days worth of travel gear, including my laptop of course, into the trunk of the faithful Corolla and set out. The drive to the airport was uneventful. I left the car at a very well run and convenient off airport parking lot, took a shuttle to the terminal... and proceeded to walk 512 miles to the gate for my flight. Bush is spread out. I got to the gate, and was promptly told the plane to Phoenix was broken and I'd have to wait for a new unbroken one before I could be on my way. Oh well... it gave me time to start on the latest Clive Cussler novel, Spartan Gold. As an aside, it's not his best, but it ended up being entertaining.

Finally, I was in the air, and two and a half hours later, was in Phoenix. First time I've flown into there in about 20 years. First time I've rented a car there. First time I found out the car rental center is located somewhere just north of Wyoming. Fortunately there is a free shuttle from the airport to the car rental center. More fortunately, the shuttle had functioning ac, which in Phoenix is always a good thing.

I got the car, a rather nice Nissan Versa. But I was disappointed. I was staying in Kingman, which is off old Route 66, so a 1963 Corvette would have been much more appropriate, as fans of the old TV show by the name would appreciate. But sadly, the last one had been rented out just before my arrival. Next time....

Anyway, by this time it was starting to get dark. But at least the rush hour traffic, (and it is brutal in Phoenix), was pretty much over. The drive itself was ok, and I was treated to a pretty nifty lightning display a few miles off the freeway. The downside was the drive was over 4 hours. So counting the time from my house to the Houston airport, waiting for my flight, actual flight time, driving time from Phoenix to Kingman... and let's just say it was a very long day. By the time I got to my hotel, I wasn't in the mood to tack on a couple more hours of driving to party in Vegas.

The return drive was made during the day, so I got to see the scenery I missed since the first drive was made at night. And there was some quite nice scenery, enough so that I want to return and tack on a day or so to play tourist. I especially want to see more of the Grand Canyon, and then divert to Sedona afterward.

Now if I can just be certain that 1963 Corvette is available.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chasing Their Tails

My mortgage is with a very large and old financial institution. Every month, I would make an electronic transfer from my checking account, (who is with another very large and old financial institution) to the first bank. Then in July, I thought I would set up automatic payments between the two banks.

Bad decision.

Bank A, has an issue, their customer service is run by complete idiots. For a start, the payment transfer took eight days. That is not acceptable, so I went online and canceled the transfer set up. I got an email stating this had been done.

August 1, I went back to my original method of going online to manually transfer the payment from bank B to bank A. No problem there, until a week later I noticed bank A, despite the cancellation of automatic payments... had done just made a transfer from bank B.

So... I called the customer support number of bank A. Major problem, there is no freaking option to talk to a live person. None, zilch, nada. So I sent an email requesting if the overpayment could be refunded, and this time to absolutely, positively, without a doubt, cancel the automatic payments.

Got an email back saying, "This matter will be investigated." A week later, got a phone call from a live person from Bank A. I was shocked, I didn't think they had any actual personnel. He told me to fax proof of the transfer, including the bank statement from Bank B with the transaction I wanted refunded. Did that, then waited.

Today got a letter from Bank A, asking for the same information I faxed well over a week ago. Sent yet another email saying forget the refund, since it is so close to September, make the overpayment the September payment. Here is what I think will happen, the idiots will sent me an email saying they will do that. In the meantime they will send me a refund check. They will then ask where is the September payment.

Monday I'm heading to the local branch of Bank A, and will not surprised to find only ATM machines instead of people working inside. And if I do track down a living person, I'm betting I'll just be given the same phone number that does not give you the option of talking to a real person.

Bank A also received a sizable bailout courtesy of Mr. Obama. I guess spending even a dime of it on actual customer service was never a consideration.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cutting ties

I finally stopped procrastinating and applied for my Texas drivers license. I would have done it earlier, except going to DMV anywhere ranks with having my fingernails torn out one by one on my rank of life's pleasures. There are two universal truths about DMV offices. First, they are always crowded. Even if you are there the minute they open, the moment you step inside, the floor tiles will morph into a throng of people.

Second, you will stand in line for a minimum of three hours. If a person in front of you dies of old age or starvation while waiting, the wait is still three hours. If there is only one person or one hundred in front of you, the wait is still three hours. It is inescapable.

Fortunately I had the required mound of documents proving my existence so at least I didn't have the ecstasy of the three hour wait ending followed by the agony of being told I had to return another day with the missing document.

One thing I noted was that the staff were actually polite and helpful. This was quite a contrast from the DMV's in California where surliness was a job requirement. When it was my turn, all I had to do was sign a couple of forms then have the picture taken. This of course turn out horribly, (another universal truth of DMV's everywhere, the picture looks like you've either had the worst fright of your life, the worst hangover of your life, or you've just been embalmed). I was a little disappointed I wasn't allowed to burn my old California license, since it was my last remaining tangible link to that state. We won't count my Cal hats, since that link is emotional rather than official.

So I'm closer to being an official Texan. I was curious what the driver's test would be like, though I didn't have to take one. I figured it would be something like this:

1. What activities are forbidden while driving in Texas?

A. Running over Smart Cars with large trucks
B. Yelling "yeeeha" when you pass another vehicle
C. Reloading your gun

Answer: C - The gun should already be loaded.

2. When driving on a rural road, you must yield right of way to which of the following?

A. Cattle
B. Horses
C. Bigger trucks than yours

Answer: All three

3. When coming to a four way stop, who has right of way?

A. Smart Cars
B. Pickups with off road tires so big they blot out the sun
C. Cadillacs with longhorns mounted on the front of the hood

Answer: C - B is tempting, but the Cadillac driver most likely is a rich rancher or oilman who can sue your behind for all it's worth.

As an aside, jaywalking in Texas is not advised as you can get impaled on the longhorns of those Cadillacs. As for Smart Cars, they are handy for getting around inside Walmart.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

City Council Meeting

Normally I avoid politics, but I made sure to attend the Tomball City Council meeting Monday night since Grand Texas was on the agenda. Mind you, no votes or decisions were made by the council, and it was clear they wanted information, mostly since all they knew about this disaster in waiting of a theme park was what they read in the papers.

The meeting was packed, with an overflow crowd standing on the sides of the room and even spilling out into the hall. The Grand Texas supporters, (most of whom I strongly suspect work for one of the developers partners and were told be there or be fired), numbered about a dozen. They were easy to spot, they all wore cheaply made Grand Texas stickers. Those of us opposing the project and the curious in the audience didn't wear any stickers. I felt like we were in a guerrilla war and wanted to blend in with the civilian population.

Before the Council started discussing business, they allowed meeting attendees a few minutes to say what's on their minds. Anyone at the meeting is first encouraged to fill out a short form with their names and addresses, and can then write down a subject and vote in favor or against. My neighborhood had already selected a spokesperson for us. He did a great job, pointing out how this theme park would be detrimental in terms of noise, crime, and decreased property values.

Five other speakers from close by neighborhoods also spoke. Each was respectful, had done their research, and presented strong cases. Afterward the votes of those who filled out the forms were tallied, and it came out to 5 in favor, 26 opposed. Interesting so few of the sticker wearers voted, though even if all did they would have still been badly outnumbered.

One oddity, and this showed the lack of integrity of the developer, was that the Mayor said she had received a request that each speaker say if they lived in the Tomball city limits. Considering his whining about "outsiders" opposing his project, it's obvious he was the one who made the request. While it is true that the neighborhoods that would be most impacted by this park are literally across the street from the city limits, I thought his shenanigans showed even more of the developers lack of character. We'll ignore the little fact that he lives in The Woodlands, which is much farther than across the street from Tomball, like about 15 miles away.

Plus, there is nothing stopping Tomball from annexing these neighborhoods, (right now they are in an unincorporated part of Harris County).

The developer was allowed to give a presentation, and as expected he launched into an infomercial. He tried to alleviate concerns over noise, which generated a derisive "Wrong" and a bunch of snickers from the back of the room, and then made unsubstantiated claims traffic wouldn't be an issue. He then said that the park's attractions that would generate the most noise would be severely restricted in days and times of operation. Considering these are the only attractions charging admission, and it's even more a head scratcher how this place is going to make a dime of profit.

He was caught on one inaccuracy by a Council member. Another wanted to discuss what he's been reading in the pretty active blogs about the park, but was told by the mayor that this could be construed as personal issues and not for discussion in a council meeting. That was disappointing as it would have really livened things up.

The developer made one very odd statement, that during the wild west shootout re-creations, the guns would use blanks instead of real bullets. I guess that's a good thing, since I don't think anyone wants to go to a park with live bullets flying around.

I sat behind the developer the entire meeting and I feel I earned my right of sainthood by not repeatedly smacking him in the back of the head. My impression is he is not very impressive, and has received a taste of what he's up against. I hope at this point that his financing falls through, and he slinks away never to bother Tomball again.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Texas Is Grand But This Theme Park Sure Isn't

My community has been in an uproar lately over a proposed theme park called Grand Texas, that if built would unfortunately be only a block from my house. In theory, the park is supposed to "celebrate the spirit of Texas" with educational displays of Texas history, including the oil industry, agricultural displays, and also contain unique shops, a recreation of the governor's mansion, and an outdoor amphitheater for musical acts.

Theory is one thing, reality is another. The developer is a shady realtor from California, and a good example of the type of people I was glad to leave behind when I moved from there to Texas last year. He's a smooth talker who claims to love Texas so much and embrace her values you think he had an ancestor who fought at the Alamo. However, he is what is commonly known as a "carpetbagger." The term arose after the Civil War, when northerners moved to the South and started taking over politically. Their motives were power and above all, greed since they abused their positions to steal all they could through bribes, intimidation and outright theft.

As for the park itself, the developer for a start has yet to purchase the land. His dream for financing is to con local businesses into investing in the park, and for a guaranteed annual return of 12%. Oh please, the only person who could guarantee that rate of return is Bernie Madoff, and he is now spending 150 years as Bubba's Boy Toy. The Grand Texas developer has also been very active in the press, claiming that construction has already started, (he hasn't even submitted a thing to the city of Tomball planning department, let alone the above mentioned not owning the land yet, if ever). Yep, classic carpetbagger.

Maybe he got away with this tactic in the Los Angeles area where he came from, but there are strict procedures here that he has not followed. Needless to say, there is strong opposition. He has duped some residents into supporting him, but the neighborhoods that would be most affected have drawn together, gotten organized, and are making it very clear to the city of Tomball that this is a very poor location for this type of park. In addition to the noise, the fact that admission will be free will attract criminal elements looking for easy prey. And when the park closes at night, they will be looking for targets of opportunity, which will include my neighborhood.

As for this park "celebrating the spirit of Texas" one major attraction would be a paintball facility. Yep, that's sure to be a genuine Texas experience. I can see why the Alamo fell, "The Mexican army has muskets and some idiot gave us paintball guns?"

The land this park would be located on is currently zoned residential, so it would have to be rezoned commercial first. I am definitely not anti development, and would love to see either a business park or a shopping center that blends with the surrounding area, which is heavily wooded so saving as many trees as possible is very desirable. But an outsider with only a short history in Texas, and who doesn't even live in Tomball, (he's in the Woodlands, about a half hour's drive from Tomball, it's a master planned community, very nice to look at, but very sterile in atmosphere and well insulated culturally), is not the type of person you want telling you what is best for your community.

Lately he has been swinging from playing the role of agitator, "Outsiders are trying to stop Grand Texas" to victim, "Why all these personal attacks?" As for the agitator, yes it is true technically my neighborhood is outside the city limits, however we patronize Tomball businesses, and above all would be the most affected. As for the victim, the developer has posted several times in a popular real estate blog, though his words ring hollow. He has displayed numerous inconsistencies, skirted around facts that counter his claims about the park, and then either tried to schmooze with those who disagree with him or engage in his own personal attacks. Completely unprofessional and sleazy if you ask me. And his words are now public record.

On Monday evening there will be a City Council meeting and on the agenda is concern over the press coverage of Grand Texas. It will be interesting to see how the Council reacts to being blindsided by someone who thinks going to the press will generate enough public support so he can slide through the permit process. I'll be there as will several others who have strong ties to Tomball and are dead set against this project. I think this developer is in for a rude shock.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Miscellaneous Ramblings

So much for my plan to update this blog every other day at the most. I get a lot of ideas, but unfortunately they keep coming during the middle of the night or while out to dinner, and since I'm not inclined to carry my laptop with me everywhere, by the time I am near a computer again the idea is often gone. I supposed I could keep a pen with me and just write the flashes of inspiration on a hand or arm, and then explain to anyone who asks that I'm starting a new tattoo craze.

A couple of things have happened lately, one of them sad. As the adopted parent of eight cats I had to get used to household of constant activity. Friday before last, my wife left for work, and as always, BJ, a stray who came inside her apartment some years ago, looked around and said, "This'll do" was perched on the kitchen counter. He's not supposed to be there, but he's so affectionate we let it go. Of course when not on the counter he would be stretched out on the floor, invariably right where you wanted to step. Hence his nickname, "Speedbump."

At noon I went into the master bedroom, and heard him yowling from under the bed. He's usually very quiet, so I took a look, and he was lying on his side, panting heavily, drooling, and in obvious discomfort. I pulled him out, and looked him over. He tried to get up, but he couldn't move his back legs. So I called the vet and rushed him over. He had a thrombotic embolism, a blood clot in the femoral artery. The vet was excellent, and explained that while they could make him more comfortable, even if the clot could be removed, his chances for recovery were not good, especially reversal of the paralysis. I called my wife, and we agreed that it would be best to put him to sleep.

A vet assistant brought him out so I could say goodbye. He was still panting, but was clearly more comfortable. I rubbed his head and talked to him, then he turned and gazed at me, and his eyes had the message I've seen before with cats, "Thank you for caring for me and giving me a loving, comfortable home, but it's time. I'm ready." I said goodbye, then called for the assistant. I didn't want to be present for the injection, as there was no need. When he gave me that last look, I felt his spirit leave.

It never gets harder to say goodbye to a pet, but there is the comfort BJ is at peace, and now frolicking while young and healthy again. He was quite a charmer, and I have no doubt he's already made his acquaintance with Squeak.

A more positive event was the week before when I went to downtown Houston for a doctor's appointment. Afterward, to kill a few hours before meeting up with my wife to head home, and to escape the ridiculous summer heat, I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. While there, I paid extra to see the Genghis Khan exhibit.

It was quite interesting, and taught me that old Genghis was more than the brutal conqueror most people thought. He was a brilliant military tactician, and politically he knew how to absorb the people he conquered into the Mongolian system. That gained him new allies and allowed him and his sons to expand his empire until it controlled more land mass than any empire in history. He also had some 50 wives and 500 concubines. It's estimated that he has about 16 million descendants alive today.

There were some film clips on how he's been portrayed in film, including being played by John Wayne in what is easily the worst casting in history.

There was one fact that wasn't mentioned. In Guam there was, and may still be, the Genghis Khan Furniture Store. Personally I think that is a pretty sad comedown from ruling most of the known world to selling furniture in Guam. He was probably too worn out creating his 16 million descendants to realize what a humble future was in store.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Third Circle of Hades

Saying Houston is hot in summer is like saying the Pope is Catholic, it's an observation so obvious that anyone you say it to has the right to shake their heads then ridicule you to no end. However, these past couple of weeks have been hotter than usual, and unfortunately bone dry. Grass is drying up all over the area, in some places there are water restrictions, (though unlike where I was in California construction of water storage reservoirs has actually made some attempt to keep up with the growing population). Fortunately my house has excellent insulation and air conditioning, so I've been able to stay comfortable. I do venture out from time to time, though doing something like running marathons during the middle of the day is not enticing.

Texans in general are a tough lot, so the main complainers about the heat are wussies from places like California. So I hold my tongue and only whine to the cats, who couldn't care less in the first place.

So what's causing the excessive heat? Well.... how about a high pressure system that's enjoyed Texas so much it hasn't realized it's worn out its welcome and moved on? Even when it does, it will still usually be well in the 90's almost every day for the rest of summer, so I'm trying to acclimate myself a bit more each day. Although air conditioning is no longer a luxury in life, it's a necessity.

As for global warming... oops, almost forgot, "climate change" having any bearing, it's nonsense. Heat waves have happened before and will happen again, just as the earth will cool off and will warm up again, and almost all due to (drum roll please), the unregulated activity of that dastardly defier of envirowackos and all others who want the government to control everything, the sun! And as a point of interest, it just ended a record 290 straight days without a single sunspot, which are an excellent indicator of solar activity. Sunspots mean the sun is getting frisky, so no sunspots mean in relative terms the sun has been taking a snooze. So less solar energy is reaching the earth.

However, climates are extremely complex and the reduced amount of solar energy reaching the earth does not mean polar bears will soon be invading Houston. But this hysteria over "fighting climate change" is not only ridiculous, it is going to be very expensive for all of us if the envirosheeple get their way. I'm all for energy independence for the U.S., but calm, rationale discussion and decisions will have to be made, something this country has sadly lost the will to do.

In the meantime I'll be trying to keep my cool. Literally.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers Day

I recently finished Clive Cussler's latest, "Blue Medusa," and as usual it was very entertaining. There are the dashing, wisecracking heroes, dastardly villains, beautiful yet smart and brave heroines, lots of hi tech, lots of chases, lots of explosions, lots of narrow escapes. Great art it isn't, but then again many of the classics are real snoozers favored only by high school English teachers who get sadistic delight out of assigning them to their students.

However, with this and any Cussler novel for the past ten years, I have bittersweet feelings when I'm done reading. My dad introduced me to his books when he thought I would enjoy "Raise The Titanic." I would say staying almost that entire night to read it counts as enjoyment. Afterwards, I could always count on Cussler coming out with a new book in time for either Dad's birthday or Fathers Day. Not only did that make present shopping a breeze, but afterwards Dad and I would spend several long phone calls or exchange letters discussing the book.

The ultimate was when I got Dad an autographed cupy of "Incas Gold." He was thrilled beyond words to say the least. After Dad passed away ten years ago, I kept buying every Cussler novel the moment it came out. But it was frustrating and saddening not being able to talk to Dad afterwards.

Beyond our love for the same adventure writer, Dad and I shared a lot of interests. He got me interested in auto mechanics, and how could I ever forget mailing him the carburetor from my 1974 Mazda to be rebuilt? We also had a love of sports, (and to maintain a father son relationship I'm so fortunate Cal never played Notre Dame in football, or even worse, played and beat them). He introduced me to airplanes, and as I noted in a previous blog even at the age of four I could recognize several types by sight.

But most of all he taught me honesty and integrity in all things, he tried hard to teach me patience, which is a lesson learned with mixed results over the years. He taught me tolerance and respect for all. He taught me good manners, and to never compromise my principles. He got me interested in history, science and astronomy. But try as he might, while I do very well with statistics, I never did get very far with higher math.

He would have supported me completely during my divorce, and would be delighted with my new English wife. I'm sure he would get along wonderfully with my new in-laws. Dad could spin a great yarn, as can my father-in-law. Getting them together would provide many hours of entertainment.

There are some hurts that are never meant to heal. Dad's absence is one of them. But that hurt is not a bad thing, it makes me appreciate more and more as time goes on what he did and who he was. It's the type of hurt that keeps memories fresh. I'll see him again someday, and I know the first thing we'll talk about is getting caught up on Clive Cussler's books.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Comfort Zone

In life we all have comfort zones, places and situations that make us feel secure, satisfied, and well... comfortable. These are created by growing familiarity with something we deal with on a regular basis. For example, the first visit to a new store often brings feelings of frustration from not knowing at once where to find anything, though there is the pleasure of then discovering a section that has products we like. Still there is the sense of time being wasted wandering around wondering where everything is. This sense is especially enhanced when roaming a Home Depot looking for something as mundane as velcro fasteners.

But on subsequent visits, scattered memories of previous ventures eventually start coming together and one can confidently go right to the aisle containing the desired goods, and pick out exactly what is needed. Do note if you go to Home Depot so often you start telling their employees where everything is located, then you do need to diversify your shopping experience. Still you can confidently say Home Depot is now a comfort zone for you.

However, a comfort zone could be anything that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, such as:

Blue Bell Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream... definite comfort zone.
Applebee's Triple Chocolate Meltdown.... orgasmic zone.
Applebee's Triple Chocolate Meltdown after taking more than your portion from the plate you are sharing with your significant other and she's impaled your hand to the table with a spoon... not a comfort zone.
Driving in the redwood country in northern California... comfort zone.
Driving in Houston rush hour traffic at the end of a ten hour slog, missing your turnoff, and all the while being serenaded by a screaming Siamese cat who is tired of being in her carrier... not a comfort zone.
Watching Cal football... too nerve wracking to be a comfort zone.
My new house... comfort zone.
Summer weather at my new house... not a comfort zone.
Industrial strength air conditioning in my new house... serious comfort zone.
Keeping up with old friends... comfort zone.
Old Town Tomball... comfort zone.
Building models... comfort zone.
Cats "helping" me build models... not a comfort zone.
Clive Cussler novels... comfort zone.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Horse Is A Horse...

Come on, everyone can fill in the rest of the words for the theme to the Mr. Ed Show. You can't? Then you are either too young or too clueless. It was a show that on the premise was absurd, the foibles and adventures of a talking horse. The reality was a show that was quite clever and entertaining, much unlike what passes for sitcoms today. (Oh look, another dysfunctional family wanting us to laugh at their inanity). The star of course, was Mr. Ed, a cynical palomino who would only talk to Wilbur, and then get involved in antics that invariably got Wilbur into comedic trouble.

I loved the show, but for most of my life it was as close as I ever got to a horse. When I met my wife, she told me she had two horses, an elderly thoroughbred named Annapolis, and a younger Percheron named Star. On my second visit to Houston after we started dating, I was introduced to my new equine companions. To say I was nervous and intimidated was an understatement. While horses aren't carnivorous, they are BIG. The first time I was asked to give Annapolis a treat, I was afraid he'd take my hand off.

Then I watched my wife ride him, and was impressed at how she was able to control such a large animal. Star unfortunately has never been trained to be ridden, and is perfectly content to live her life as a pasture ornament. Still there is the hope that she can be trained one day.

As time went on, I got more and more comfortable being around the horses, though I never let my guard down since if one of them got spooked, I would only be a hoof print in the grass if I was in the way when the horse bolted.

The horses are stabled at a facility about 20 miles from the house. Currently they share a pasture with two other horses belonging to other owner. One of them, Donin, is an impressive Clydesdale. His nickname is "Lunch Bucket" because he's always eating. Whenever I'm near the pasture fence, he rumbles up to me expecting treats, which I oblige him with.

Annapolis is 30, which is equivalent to over 90 for a human. But don't expect him to act his age. He's in very good health and can still be ridden. He's also quite spirited. While he had the necessary equipment to reproduce removed many years ago, he's very attached to Star. One time my wife was grooming him when he saw Star along a fence on the other side of the pasture flirting with another male horse. Annapolis started getting antsy, and when he was finally released back into the pasture, he tore across, whinnied menacingly at the other male, then nudged Star until she moved away from the fence. I translated the whinnying to "Unhoof my woman you fiend!"

His nickname is Hef, after Hugh Hefner, since he still tries to act studly. Wednesday night my wife put a fly mask on his face to try and keep those noxious critters from being such a nuisance. He then raced around the pasture, whinnying up a storm, "Hey gang, check my new threads. Am I the hottest or what?"

So modesty isn't one of his virtues.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I Don't Live There Anymore

I got a couple of pieces of mail today, one from the California State Automobile Association threatening to cancel my membership if I didn't renew in two weeks, the second from the California Department of Motor Vehicles saying the fees for renewing the registration on my car have shot up because they are overdue. In the case of CSAA, I can ignore them since I'm now a member of the Texas AAA. As for California DMV, one would think they'd have a clue that someone with a Texas address isn't likely to want to register their car in California. This is unless they think I get my mail in Texas, but actually commute by car about four thousand miles a day to and from California for work.

And one wonders why that state is so broke with not so sharp bureaucracies like this. I'm tempted to mail them my old license plates, after I use my drill to make them look like they have a few bullet holes, with a note stating, "This is what happens when you drive in Texas with these plates plus bumper stickers saying 'Same Sex Marriage Now,' 'Legalize Pot,' 'Ban Meat Eating Gun Owners Who Drive Big Trucks,' and the one that really gets folks riled down here, 'The Longhorns Suck.' "

And now for a Windows 7 update. I finally got the Internet to work with XP installed in VirtualBox, and lo and behold, I was able to activate XP, even though this is a previously used copy. It appears Microsoft could care less any more about XP. Unless of course, this is a ploy to lull me into a sense of false security and that the Microsoft Police are assembling a SWAT team as I type this. But I was able to download and install Service Pack 2 for XP, plus Zone Alarm and Avast anti virus. However, attempts to install PFS Works failed. It took over an hour just for the installation, then afterwards just calling up the program was so painfully slow I ended up giving up.

So I created a second virtual machine in Virtual Box, and installed Windows 2000. This time, PFS Works installed and ran perfectly. With a couple more tweaks I got 2000 to get on speaking terms with my printer. I then had a bout of serious geekdom, and got Win 7, 2000 and XP all running at the same time.

I need help...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Windows 7 Update

I'm still dual booting my desktop, (and no that doesn't mean I have to kick it twice to make it work), with XP and Windows 7. As I stated in an earlier post, the main disappointment with Windows 7 is the version of Virtual PC that allows installing older operating systems such as Windows 2000, only works if the computer supports Hardware Virtualization. Sadly, my desktop does not. As an alternative, Sun's VirtualBox works quite well despite some quirks.

For a start, setting up file sharing in VirtualBox is not that intuitive, but I finally got it to work. Second, setting up an Internet connection within VirtualBox is a royal pain. I have yet to get it to work. I would like to, since I want to see if I can also set up XP. This requires an Internet link for activation, otherwise it'll timeout after 30 days.

I have a version of Virtual PC that works in Vista set up on my laptop and it works nicely. I especially like the drag and drop feature for file sharing between the Windows 2000 installation and Vista. I haven't bothered with the Internet set up for Windows 2000 since I have no need for it.

I sent an inquiry to a Windows 7 forum asking if there will be a version of Virtual PC that does not require Hardware Virtualization. Unfortunately the answer is no. Strike one against Microsoft and what is by far their best operating system.

So why bother with all this fuss? I do have some older games and software that will not run in Windows 7. These are 16 bit programs desiged for Windows 98 and ... gasp!!!! DOS. So far they'll run, albiet somewhat slowly in the case of my still favorite word processor, PFS Works, in the VirtualBox Windows 2000 combination. I did get a kick that a free DOS emulator, DOSBox, not only installed flawlessly in Windows 7, (and mind you, this is the hifaluting 64 bit version), but a couple of ancient DOS games work perfectly in DOSBox.

Still a couple of issues... first there isn't a 64 bit version of Zone Alarm yet. I have no idea how well the built in Win 7 firewall works, but I'll feel better when Zone Alarm is upgraded. Second, web browers. Firefox 3 is unfortunately flaky in any version. I've run into problems with web pages not loading completely. Opera seems better overall, and the 64 bit version of Firefox, the still ominously named Minefield, is ok although it doesn't support Flash yet. I've fiddled a bit with Internet Explorer 8 and it's.... Internet Explorer. It's ok in a pinch.

But overall, Win 7 is looking good. Even the Aero interface that brought Vista to its knees on my laptop runs quickly and smoothly. There may be hope for Microsoft afterall, though the Hardware Virtualization issue is still bothersome.

Not Even Tin Plated

About a year and a half ago, I told a friend California was on the verge of imploding. The mortgage crisis was heating up, the state was broke and getting deeper into debt, (and unlike the federal government, the state cannot remain in debt at the start of the fiscal year), the infrastructure was falling apart, (highways had more potholes than the moon has craters), and the public education system had fallen from one of the best in country to one of the worst.

I hate it when I'm right about these things.

The cuts being proposed to balance the budget are draconian at best. Most state parks will be closed, public education will be cut drastically, already several school districts have cut out their music programs and are considering dropping their sports programs. Assistance to the disabled will be reduced considerably. State employees are facing 14% pay cuts, thus emphasizing the servant part of civil service. Meanwhile cities are laying off firefighters and police because they can no longer afford to pay all of them. The state is rapidly turning into a third world country.

Meanwhile many are in a state of denial. The state Air Resources Control Board recently announced a program to reduce greenhouse gases that if implemented would destroy what's left of the state's economy. The cities of San Jose and San Francisco trumpeted the spending of millions for charging stations for plug in hybrids, ignoring the little fact that these cars are very expensive and rare.

There is a lot of blame to spread around, but basically the state overspent for years while tax revenue couldn't keep up. Prop 13 from 30 years ago guaranteed property taxes would one day be inadequate because the tax rate was set artificially low. Meanwhile the hyperinflated housing market could not be sustained, resulting in massive foreclosures as people who fell for criminally low introductory interest rates fell behind on payments when those rates adjusted upwards.

As an aside, I believe the only mortgage that should be offered is 30 year fixed rate. If you can afford it, go for it, if not, rent.

So the day of financial reckoning has finally come. It's sad seeing the state that was my home for 45 years collapse like this, and I feel for family and friends who are still there.

However, my decision to move to Texas is becoming more and more one of the best decisions of my life.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Moving Trees

When our new house was built, part of the landscaping included a pair of live oak trees in front. Nice looking trees, and in time would provide well needed shade. One little problem, one of the trees is alive, the other isn't. Something about no growth and then no leaves is a bit of a giveaway. I called the builders, who said they could get us a replacement at cost, like four hundred dollars. That's a bit much, so my wife and I decided to do the replacement ourselves.

Step one was get a new tree. Friday my neighbor across the street was planning to do some plant shopping so he invited me along. He has a truck, which makes things easier of course. We checked Walmart, and their trees were scraggly at best. So the next stop was the Houston Garden Center. Wonderful place, tons of trees and plants, and best of all, everything was half off. The temptation was to buy a whole forest, but I tempered my ambitions.

I found a nice live oak, about nine feet tall, which we wrestled into the truck, then took home. In the meantime, my wife had dug up the old tree, which was now lying forlornly on its side. Any woman who can uproot a tree has my respect, though when she's out of earshot I'll try to impress anyone who'll listen that I actually ripped the old tree out of the ground with my bare hands. I did contribute by sawing the old trunk off, then dragging the woody carcass to the empty field next to the house. There it can decompose and renew the cycle of life.

Next stage was dragging the root ball out of the ground. This was saturated with water, (one of the factors that killed the old tree is there is a layer of impermeable clay under the topsoil that traps water, in effect drowning the roots), and it weighed one hundred thirty seven tons, give or take an ounce. After seriously considering high explosives or a small thermonuclear device to get this thing out of the ground, I gave it one more mighty heave and it came loose. It was then rolled to the field to give it's all the continuing cycle of life. Though at this point I was hardly waxing poetic, I was just glad to get the damn thing out of the ground.

Time to call it a day. Then Saturday afternoon, with the temperature pushing ninety and the humidity climbing, we decided on the next logical step... get several bags of topsoil and mulch and plant the new tree. I quickly decided the toughest people in the world are anyone who works outside in Houston's hot weather. Step one was digging up as much clay as we could. Clay is another substance that increases in weight by a factor of ten when you need to move it from one place to another. One of my wife's horses, the Percheron especially, would have come in handy pulling the overflowing wheelbarrow the clay was tossed into to the empty lot so I could dump the clay out. Said Percheron has been happy as a clam being a pasture ornament her entire life. So if I even suggested putting her to work you would have seen a horse rolling on the ground in laughter.

Thus I ended up pulling and cussing the wheelbarrow to the field to dump the clay.

Next step was planting the new tree, then surrounding it with plenty of topsoil and mulch. Naturally the topsoil had packed on quite a few pounds from the time it was loaded into the car to the time it was unloaded. Ditto with the mulch. The tree itself had grown seventy five feet overnight meaning it was also heftier. But when all was said and done, the new tree was in place, except....

.... It was swaying a bit too much in the breeze as we had forgotten to stake it down. So another trip to Walmart to get some stakes and rope. The stakes were pretty tall, but had pointy ends which helped drive them into the ground. But not enough to stay. I got the ladder out to pound them deeper in the ground. In the meantime of course, the stakes had grown to three hundred feet tall so I had to shimmy up each stake, then pound mightily with a mallet to drive them deep enough in the ground to stay put. At that point tying the tree to the stakes was fairly easy, though my wife must have been tempted to lasso then hogtie me at that point.


My next project will be expanding the flower bed out back. This is lined with enough building stones to create a respectable castle, most of which I already moved into place for the existing flower bed. For some reason I keep hearing the Chain Gang song in my head.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nano nano

One of the more intriguing, and mysterious technologies is nano technology. At its most basic, this is the design of microscopic machines that can perform specific tasks. For example, these tiny critters could be lurking beneath a layer of paint on a car door. The door gets dinged, and the nano beasts go into action, releasing bits of composite materials to fill the ding and then fill in the scratch with new paint. Pretty spiffy, unless there was a screw up at the factory and your "hey look at me" bright red BMW starts sporting neon pink splotches. Though if intentional that would be a neat way to get back at an obnoxious BMW owner, which is all of them.

Taking this a step farther, it's not beyond the realm of possibility to design nano technology so you can change the shape and function of your car. Just think of the fun you could have with an iPod type of device that remotely controls your car's shape:

Big Ass Truck - Mandatory in Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming. Absolutely ridiculous in San Francisco, though if you are driving in form one the fore mentioned states, you would have the option of morphing your Big Ass Truck into a Prius.

The Prius option is also handy when you're not actually hauling something in the truck, like lumber, top soil, rustled cattle, or bratty children you pray will fall out when you hit a pot hole. You would also want the Prius when gas hits $100 a gallon. But when gas is relatively cheap, you have other options, such as:

Ferrari - Perfect for impressing your neighbors, (except in Texas where if it ain't a big ass truck or Dodge Charger it doesn't count), or for that mid life crisis. The Ferrari option is also handy for a parent of a teenager who wants to borrow the car to impress his girlfriend. Kid pulls up to the girl's house in the Ferrari, revving the engine of course to show he's not only cool, but he has class. Kid dashes to the door, his girlfriend swoons when she sees the ride that's taking them to Burger King, they passionately embrace, then turn around to see... Dad had set a timer to turn the Ferrari into a station wagon. Totally uncool. Girl dumps the kid, kid is devastated, dad chortles with glee.

Another option, Prius to drive through town saving lots of gas and making a statement, "I'm saving energy, creating almost no pollution, at least until the batteries have to be replaced and I'm out at least eight thousand big ones for new ones while trying to find a place to take the highly toxic old batteries." However, upon seeing the freeway onramp and traffic being close up and personal in every direction to the horizon, you press a button while muttering, "Screw the environment crap and Al Gore can stuff it."

Presto! You are now driving an M-1 Abrams tank. If it was good enough to kick Saddam Hussein's rear, it's good enough for say Houston rush hour traffic. Just be sure you spent the extra to get the functioning 120 millimeter gun, and the ammo of course, since you can be sure anyone else on the road with the means has already done so. Also be sure after returning home to change it back to the Prius, especially before parking in the garage or you'll have a whole of of explaining to do.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Microsoft Almost Gets It Right

I've used Microsoft Windows in its many iterations since the early 90's, and for the most part found it tolerable, with the exception of Millennium, which ranks with the Titanic and Hindenburg as one of the great technology disasters of the century. I'm a self admitted geek who enjoys tinkering with hardware and software, sometimes with nightmarish consequences, but details. I found Windows XP to be the best of Microsoft's operating systems, as it was more stable, (stable being a relative term), more flexible and easier to customize than its predecessors.

My laptop came with Vista preinstalled, and it took a lot of tweaks to get it to run the way I wanted. It also has some issues with stability and odd quirks like timing out my internet connection if I don't do something like click on a weblink every 15 minutes, though that could also be HP's way of saying their tech support in Bangalore is lonely and they want me to call.

So I was curious but not terribly excited when Windows 7 was announced. Curiosity got me to download a beta version. I installed it in Virtual PC on my desktop, (another Microsoft product, and a freebie, that allows one to set up a virtual computer inside an existing operating system. It actually works quite well). It looked nice and didn't have any horrendous compatibility problems with my most important software.

Then last week a new beta, or to be accurate, release candidate, was available for download. This time I went for the 64 bit version, to finally take advantage of the 64 bit cpu AMD so proudly released several years ago. I also set my desktop up for dual boot, and fortunately I have two hard drives so Windows 7 and XP could have their own homes.

To be honest, I'm rather impressed. The computer certainly runs faster in Windows 7, there have been no issues with stability, and my existing software runs either at the same pace as in XP or in some cases, such as my ancient version of Office, runs faster. The only disappointment is it will not run older 16 bit programs, such as some of my games, or my ancient but still favorite word processor, PFS Works. However, I successfully installed Sun's VirtualBox, another virtual computer program, then installed Windows 2000, which will run my old programs.

So why VirtualBox instead of Virtual PC? Well, the existing version of Virtual PC doesn't run in Windows 7. However, there is a new beta version that does. And it includes Windows XP so older programs can run. So why am I not using it? I can't on my desktop. Unfortunately, the new Virtual PC requires a bios setting for Hardware Virtualization. I built my desktop before that was available. So to take full advantage of Windows 7 when it's released commercially, I'll need a new motherboard that has Hardware Virtualization. This will also mean a new cpu since my existing one won't work with a new motherboard. Neither will the memory, or much of anything else. So I'll be looking at building a new computer.

And afterwards, the hope will be it'll all be worth it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

As Long As My In-Laws Weren't Involved

The British have a reputation for being staid with enough oddity thrown in to keep things interesting. And to save my skin, I will refrain from making any comments about my English born and raised wife. Anyway, once in a while an enticing event will take place, such as this one from the other day:

Queen Elizabeth II was at home at Windsor Castle, the sentries who guard her were on duty, and the large park surrounding the magnificent building was full of tourists on a Sunday afternoon. So it didn't take long for people to realize that something was out of order when an inebriated couple arrived from a nearby restaurant and began having sex on a grass bank outside the castle, according to witnesses.

"One window from the guardroom opened up and when a soldier saw what was going on he told his mates — and lots of windows opened up," witness Mark Robinson told The Sun newspaper.

"The couple did not care who was looking and just kept going as if they were in their own bedroom."

Japanese tourists filmed the couple, who only stopped when police officers arrived on the scene, witnesses said.

Thames Valley Police said the man and woman were arrested and given a written warning about outraging public decency.

The queen was in the castle at the time, but her office declined Friday to comment about what had happened.

Two things to keep an eye on, Youtube of course, and a statement from the Queen, "Please don't tell me any of my offspring were involved." As for the couple making whoopie, it looks like not only did they "Do carry on," but they actually did.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Summer Vacation And I'm Bored

Tomorrow I'll be finishing up a class in 3D Modeling from Lonestar College here in Tomball. It's been an interesting experience, and I picked up quite a bit on the concepts behind creating 3D objects on the computer. I do a lot of work in DAZ 3D, Poser and Bryce, but usually start with downloaded objects and figures then manipulate them to my liking. I always wondered though just how these starter figures were created, thus my interest in the class.

The software used in class is 3D Studio Max, a very potent program that allows you to create just about any object from scratch, be it buildings, people, animals, aliens, or just about anything else. The only downside is the cost, four thousand big ones. Unfortunately the company who makes it, Autodesk, doesn't make a lite version, such as what Adobe does with Photoshop Elements, which does almost everything most people want to do but without the horrendous costs of Photoshop CS. This is akin to being satisfied with a Toyota while leaving the Ferrari for the wealthy enthusiast.

I have a couple other pieces of software that also claim the capability for 3D modeling that I want to smoke test. The hope is they'll end up being able to do what I want. I had the 30 day trial version of 3D Studio Max, but try as I might, I never could find just where they buried the datestamp that made it impossible to reload it after the trial period ran out. And wiping the hard drive and reinstalling the operating system, or buying a new computer every 30 days, just didn't seem practical.

I'm not sure what I'll take next, though I'd love to take a class in Photoshop if it's offered. In the meantime there's always Handgun Proficiency.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Frontier Justice

I've discovered there are four absolute legal no-no's in Texas and with dire consequences for violating them. First, never mess with a man's cattle, it's liable to get you hung. Second, never mess with a man's horse, it's liable to get you shot. Third, never NEVER mess with a man's truck, it's liable to get you dragged over a gravel road behind the truck for a hundred miles or so, then afterward get shot while being hung. And then the truck owner gets mad.

The fourth is violating what is called the Castle Law, which basically gives a homeowner the right to deal with burglars or anyone else breaking in with deadly force. In some ways this is a throwback to the frontier days of Texas, but the law does make sense in a lot of ways. Just be sure not to invoke it in case of someone who is just a pushy door to door salesman. Plus it can be good for parenting skills as it could make a teenager think twice about violating curfew.

By nature I'm not violent, but my protective instincts would make me want to deal with an intruder in my home harshly. With my inexperience in firearms a liability, I'd be more likely to keep something handy that I do know how to use, like a club of some type. Part of my martial arts training involved stick fighting, and I acquired the bruised knuckles to prove it. The other home defense method is arranging the cats so a burglar trips over one and breaks his neck while falling. Lord knows the cats do a great job trying to trip up my wife and myself.

My younger brother has a fantasy of the perfect home protector, a gay testosterone charged gorilla. Miscreant breaks in, a few minutes later the gorilla has a boy toy.


And now for a weather update, in the last two days we received an impressive seven and a half inches of rain. The latest storm hit late last night, making sleep impossible but while presenting a delightful Texas Light Show to watch, it caused a mess with the morning commute. Fortunately my wife was able to get to work and back home without an overburden of drama.

The weather brought out some new wildlife. I heard a group of frogs with this metallic croak, and then today heard what sounded like a calf in distress next to the house. About a block away, there was an answering call. I found out that the calls were a different type of frog. That was interesting, made up for the ominous sighting of a pair of very large buzzards roosting on my back wall for a good part of the morning. I'm trying not to let my paranoid side convince me it was anything more than coincidence.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Real Weather

One thing that could be counted on in the Bay Area was the weather. From about mid November until mid April, the rains came, reaching their peak in January and February, then tapering off. The rest of the year it was bright sunshine with nary a cloud in sight, only the fog creeping in from the ocean and bay overnight. When it did rain, it was usually with a steady fall of raindrops. Thunderstorms were rare, and winds were usually pretty light. Overall temperatures were mild, not too cold in winter, not too hot in summer.

In other words, weather for wimps. This is why the Bay Area has earthquakes to compensate. And if a respectable storm does come in, the reaction is sheer panic. "Oh my God, almost an entire inch of rain and winds over twenty five miles an hour. We're all going to die!"

North of Houston is a different story. There is almost no chance of an earthquake. So what am I to replace a lifetime of natural disaster paranoias with? Why Texas weather of course! There are many parts of the country where the phrase is if you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and it'll change. That's so true down here. We're getting close to the hot season, or I should say hotter season, which means the actual mild weather of Winter and early Spring is a thing of the past. I'm having fun reading weather reports and getting a feel for where our storms come from. The answer is they seem to spring up out of the ground at random.

But if a storm does indeed have a defined origin, if it comes from the Rockies, it brings wind and thunderstorms. If it comes from the west, more wind and thunderstorms. If it comes from the Gulf of Mexico, still more wind and thunderstorms, with a twist if it happens during hurricane season.

One thing I'm not used to are tornado warnings. This is a weather phenomenon I've never been in and would rather avoid. Fortunately, nothing's touched down in my area since I've moved here. I am officially south of Tornado Alley, but there are still those twisters who haven't gotten the memo. The torrential rains are fine for the garden, though there is the occasional street flooding a few blocks away. The lightning and thunder are waycool though, except for the errant flash in the field next to the house. Some things are meant to be enjoyed at a distance.

So far at least, every morning the house is where it was the previous night, so the storms haven't changed my zip code yet. The house is strongly built, which is another plus. I don't think my wife would appreciate me getting out a jackhammer to break through the floor so I can dig a cellar to hide in next time my weather paranoias get the best of me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Furry Tide

Last week I had some spare time after a doctors appointment at the Houston Medical Center so I took in the Houston zoo. As zoos go it's rather small, but well done with a nice variety of animals and informative exhibits. I tried to get the grizzly bear to join me in a hearty round of "Go Bears!" to share my enthusiasm for Cal Berkeley's sports, but sadly he was more interested in his afternoon nap rather than performing as the mascot for my alta mater. And climbing into his enclosure to rouse him for at least a round or two of Cal drinking songs did not seem like a good idea.

At home I don't quite have a zoo, but there is an entertaining animal component. I'll always miss my adorable Siamese Squeak, but I am still the proud inheritor of eight felines, plus a variety of birds and assorted squirrels. Plus a mystery critter or two. More on those later.

The cats are courtesy of my wife and the are an interesting mix. One was a stray she adopted some years back, who then became the father of five others she kept. Another was a shelter rescue, and the last hung around her last home and ended up with an invitation to move in rather than be abandoned. Despite the house being fairly large, with that many there are still moments of flying fur, though that may be more do to personalities.

The sire of most of the group, BJ, is very mellow. I'm sure after Ike blasted through last July, he looked up, yawned, and wondered if something had happened. He's also adept at being literally underfoot, hence his nickname, Speedbump. Missy is the only female of the group, and needless to say is pretty neurotic. Panther is a big black cat whose size should make him the Alpha male. So naturally he's very shy and reserved. Baggie is another black cat who has a very sweet nature, but is so quiet when I try to think of the cat's names, he's always the last one I remember.

Then there's Bandit the Clueless, Pippin the Uber Furry, Panda the Schizophrenic, and the newest edition, Merlin. Merlin is the one who hung around my wife's old place hoping to be fed, and judging by his waistline, my wife and half the neighborhood tended to his culinary tastes. He seems to like the echoes in the house at night, as he likes wandering around giving loud vocal news and commentary.

Never a dull moment....

While the cats have accepted that I'm not going anywhere, they are naturally more attached to my wife. It's entertaining watching this tide of fur follow her around the house. If I'm in my room and she comes in, within five minutes there will be a minimum of four cats poking around. When she leaves my room, they tail behind.

My wife also loves birds, and fortunately for everyone's sake, the cats are strictly indoors so the worst they can do is sit in the windows watching the birds in the garden saying, "neener neener, you can't get me." There is an amazing variety of very colorful birds in south Texas; red cardinals, blue jays, hawks, crows, sparrows, chickadees, mocking birds, doves and woodpeckers. We think a lot of them next in a large oak tree next door, (and it will be a shame when that lot is finally built on as the tree will have to go or it'll be in the middle of someone's living room). But they come to our yard to take advantage of the several feeders.

We also have a family of squirrels who kept raiding the bird feeders until we started putting out corn and other goodies just for them. Not that they pay attention to what is theirs and what belongs to the birds, they still just grab what they want.

There is at least one other critter that has burrowed under the fence on both sides of the house. Not sure what it is, though possums and racoons are in the area. Then today I found some odd animal droppings in the back yard. There were a lot of seeds meaning the critter was a vegetarian, (though it also could have just eaten a vegetarian), plus from the size of the droppings it was no dainty little thing. However the burrow under the fence isn't that large, and I can't think of anythng that could have scaled the fence. There is a gap in the fence courtesy of Ike it could have possibly squeezed through, but the gap is not large enough for an animal of any consequence to get through.

There's always the possibility of space aliens, though in Texas they run the distinct possibility of becoming the main course at a barbecue.

Maybe it'll show itself eventually. Just as long as it isn't something that will require me to carry firearms before going out back, it's perfectly welcome to visit.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pardon Me For Breathing

The EPA announced today that they want to regulate the so called "greenhouse gases", you know, the favorite bogey man of the envirosheeple. This shrill group believes if they are loud and obnoxious enough, that they'll scare people into giving them what they want, power, publicity, and above all, money. While of course there are many legitimate environmental organizations who have done tremendous good setting up recycling programs, providing education on efficient resource use and responsible land use, they have been overtaken by the alarmists whose primary motivation is making huge amounts of money. The only "green" they're interested in is what is in their wallets.

What a shock, people perpetuating a scam to make money. Climate change has happened before and will happen again. And again. The American Southwest, Sahara Desert, even Antarctica were once thriving subtropical environments. Likewise much of North America has been covered in deep ice many times in the past. Change happens, it always has, it always will. The earth is a dynamic system and doesn't sit still for anyone. Another example, Greenland didn't get its name because Erik the Red was so color blind he mistook its ice cap for forests. Nope. Around 1000 AD that part of the world had warmed to where Greenland's ice cap had retreated, allowing trees to grow on the coast. And the amazing thing is CO2, everyone's favorite whipping boy as the cause of climate change, wasn't the byproduct of any of the sources that emit it today.

There weren't any cars, no coal burning power plants, no nothing. So why was the earth warmer? Because there is only one source of heat for the earth, the sun, and back then it was getting a little frisky. The most visible and measurable sign of solar irradiation is sunspots. Enough data has been collected so it is possible to extrapolate backwards for many centuries sunspot activity. The more sunspots, the more energy emitted by the sun, thus the more heat received by the earth. CO2? Irrelevant. For a start, everytime we exhale we're giving off CO2. Green plants take this CO2, and convert it back to oxygen. It's called photosynthesis, something every high school student knows at least the bare rudiments of.

And the sun? Right now it is in a quiet period and has been for several years. But the alarmists won't acknowledge that. Instead they carefully pick out data that can be twisted to support their theories, and the scarier the theory, the more likely more people will be persuaded or coerced to giving them grants and donations. However, the earth is a very complicated collection of ecosystems. Temperatures fluctuate, some areas go through warming trends, others go through cooling trends. The same with precipitation, droughts such as what California is enduring are not a global trend. Just ask anyone who lives in Washington about the abundance of precipitation they've received this past winter.

Another example. Some are shrieking that climate change, (amazing how "global warming") is no longer the buzzword since so much evidence has debunked that idea), will lead to more frequent and intense hurricanes. In this past year, three hurricanes painted bullseyes on Texas. One of them. Dolly, was a Category 2 at it's peak while churning in the Gulf of Mexico, and while still destructive when it made landfall, it had weakend to a less dangerous Category 1. Gustav and Ike were Category 4 at their peak, but as bad as the were, Ike especially, they were down to Category 2's by the time they hit Texas. The reason? Hurricanes need warm water to feed on. The northern part of the Gulf of Mexico was several degrees cooler than in past years. In 2005, the year of Katrina and Rita, it was warmer, allowing those storms to retain more of their energy at landfall.

And just why had that part of the gulf cooled off? Who knows? Will it continue? Again, who knows? Can the climate be accurately predicted for 20, 30 or 50 years out? It can't even be predicted accurately for three days out.

However, it's looking more and more like there will be regulations on CO2. This is one of the ultimate fantasies of the government, regulations on your breathing. The more ambitious bureaucrats must already be dreaming of the ultimate, regulating the sun.

Now excuse me while I hold my breath so I don't get slapped with a violation and fine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

At Least My Car Is A Texan

In California you register your car and get your license renewed at the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is the place where you go in, fill out some forms, wait in line for ten years, step over the bodies of the people in line in front of you who died of starvation or old age, then finally get to the front in time for a surly clerk to say you filled out the wrong form, forgot some other vital paperwork, need a DNA sample to prove your identity, or leave your first born for collateral. And if you don't have a first born, decide which limb you can most easily live without.

Texas is a little different. I have yet to experience DMV, but to register your car you need to go to the local tax office. I was stuck in line as expected, but for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. I then spoke to a pleasant woman who took care of everything, and at the end I was surprised to be handed my registration sticker and new license plates.

Having proper Texas plates will make me feel a little less conspicuous. California has a well earned bad reputation for rudeness, arrogance, and being way out of touch with reality, and I kept feeling having their plates on my car was akin to painting a target on it. I'm not sure what to do with the old plates, though borrowing my neighbor's shotgun is sounding like a good option.

My only disappointment was not being given a pair of longhorns to attach to the front of my car. But to be honest, I'm not sure longhorns on the front of a Toyota Corolla would look quite right.

Speaking of shooting, how about that amazing display by the Navy SEALS in rescuing Richard Phillips? First of all, Captain Phillips is to be commended for volunteering to be a captive so his crew could go free, and then trying to escape. That is one brave man! And then there's the SEAL sharpshooters firing three shots, at night, at a small boat that was probably bobbing in the water. The result? Three fewer pirates, one rescued hostage.

You can be almost certain there will be a movie made of this. And for once there will be no need to embellish anything, it was dramatic enough from start to finish.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Can We Be Civil?

I stopped listening to talk radio sometime ago, and now restrict who I read for political opinions. The reason isn't because I want to stick my head in the sand and ignore the world, it's because intelligent, civil discourse is sadly a thing of the past. In an effort to grab attention and therefore ratings and sponsors, pundits of both the left and right keep lowering the bar of frothing at the mouth rants until that bar is underground.

I find the pompous, ill informed Rush Limbaugh to be little more than a boring blowhard. I've never bothered with Sean Hannity. Ann Coulter is just plain mean spirited and nasty, besides being an anorexic crone, while I will admit Michael Savage's rants are captivating in the same way as viewing a car wreck, you just can't tear yourself away. There's also the perverse interest in when one of his apoplectic ravings will result in an on the air aneurysm. The left also has their share of boorish cretins. Can anyone say Michael Moore?

My own views are mostly centrist to fairly conservative. But try to find someone who can state their views in the media no matter what their leanings are without resorting to childish tantrums and name calling. This started back when Bill Clinton was in office. One would think he had cloven hooves and had replaced the presidential seal in the Oval Office with a pentagram from listening to talk show hosts at the time. Personally I thought he did some good things, starting with actually balancing the Federal budget. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was the result of the arrogance and bad judgment that so often comes with power. He could had headed off the impeachment if he had just levelled with his family and the country at the beginning, but he foolishly fell into the trap the leaders of the Republican Party had set out.

The left got their revenge with George Bush. I still feel the Iraq war never should have been fought. The 911 attackers were based in Afghanistan, and that is the country that always should have been our military focus. I had many other disagreements about his policies, but the attacks on him personally did nothing to resolve any issues facing this country.

And now the same thing is going on with Obama. I have major reservations with his policies, starting with his assumption that the government will solve everything, especially the economy. He's only been in office for a few months, yet already pundits are openly accusing him of being a fascist and comparing him to Mussolini.

Excuse me? Obama equals one of the most brutal dictators of our time? I don't think so. He comes across as a decent guy, and he is trying, though it is way too early to tell how effective of a president he'll be. But openly hoping he will fail as Rush Limbaugh has stated is the height of idiocy. A failed presidency is a failed country.

What people are quick to forget is Obama was legally elected. If you voted for him, fine. If you didn't, deal with it. If you abstained from voting for a presidential candidate as I did, still deal with it.

And when I do want to read the opinions of others, I've found the best collection of intelligent, reasonable writers can be found in the Washington Post. They cover the spectrum from left to right, with most being somewhere in the middle. For outstanding writing, the best in my opinion is George Will. You often need a dictionary to decipher his expansive vocabulary, and I admit there are many times I disagree with him. But he does his research, forms his arguments logically, and states his opinons without personal attacks. He's no fan of Obama, but he doesn't think he's the Antichrist.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

At Least The Wheels Were Round

I've only owned four cars in my life, a 1971 Mazda RX-2, a 1974 Mazda RX-4, a 1985 Honda Civic and a 1993 Toyota Corolla. I have a lifelong fascination with cars, but obviously when it comes to actually owning one, I don't place a lot of value on having the latest and greatest. Of the four, my favorite was the Civic. It was a hatchback with an amazing amount of space, easy on gas, (it averaged almost 42 mpg on a cross country trip), very reliable and the handling was phenomenal. Unfortunately my ex wife drove it into the ground, and with her driving style, that was almost literally.

The two Mazdas were early rotary engine models, fun to drive but reliability left something to be desired. I sold the RX-2 to my dad, who found his mechanical skills came in handy enough to keep me from being written out of the will. The RX-4 was better, though it eventually became the guinea pig for learning the basics of auto mechanics. I learned how to rebuild carburetors, (yes, cars actually came with those at one time), change brake pads, and scour junkyards for spare parts. Because I swear Mazda sold maybe nine RX-4's, most auto stores didn't stock many spare parts.

My biggest worry was coming out of a junkyard to find someone canabilizing my car thinking it was part of the trashed car collection. It's nickname was &!@#$*^ (not going to translate, gotta keep this blog at least PG rated), in its later years. I finally donated it to Salvation Army, and I swear on all that is holy only three weeks later I saw it being driven in Fremont. I just hope it hasn't followed me to Texas.

My current ride is the Corolla, which continues to perk along quite nicely. When I do finally replace it, I'll probably look at another Toyota since I've had very good luck with this one.

Some ask if I would think of buying an American design.

Probably not.

I've had several GM, Ford and Chrysler cars for rentals over the years, and in general they do not overly impress me. GM cars especially seem to have the right pieces at least, but not enough of them. For example, I recently had a Chevy Cobalt for a week. The car had good power, decent handling and brakes, and seemed rather well built. But the seats provided little lower back support, meaning it got uncomfortable after an hour or so. GM's other idea for a small car is the Aveo, which I thought was atrocious, cheap and made no bones about it.

GM does make some good cars, and the Corvette is an institution. But a small, well built economy car that doesn't feel cheap is not one of their offerings. They are also way too slow in reacting to the marketplace. While car sales for everyone is down, companies like Toyota and Honda can take solace in knowing if sales of say the Avalon, Tundra and Maxima are off because gas is too expensive, they can fall back on the Corolla and Sentra to keep them going.

GM on the other hand keeps on churning out huge SUV's in hopes the fickle tastes of the public will change before there's too much of a glut of these behemoths on the market. And when that doesn't happen, they don't have much of a fall back plan. Now they're pinning hopes on the Volt, an upcoming plug in hybrid management is convinced will save the company. Several problems, first it's going to be expensive, average price will be close to $35,000. Second, I think it's shape is hideous. More importantly is its technology is a huge gamble and may not work that well in real world conditions. The lithium batteries it will use produce a lot of heat, so they'll have to be well shielded. Finally, no one knows yet just how economical it will be. It just may get amazing gas mileage, but that could be canceled out by the amount of electricity it'll need to be recharged at home.

Also, Toyota and Honda are also working on plug in hybrids, and could launch them in time to steal the Volt's thunder. Still it is an intriguing concept, but GM's desperation that it will be the savior of the company could leave people too cynical to give it a chance.

But even though it is very unlikely I would buy a GM product, (or Chrysler or Ford, though I love the looks of the Mustang), I want them to succeed. The ripple effects of one or more of them going under would be devastating to an already shaky economy. But it's up to the companies themselves, and not the federal government, to make the adjustments needed. That means getting products out that are more flexible in meeting the demands of the marketplace.

I'm now thinking of the future, like maybe five years from now when the merger of Chrysler and Fiat produces a redesign of the Dodge Charger... on the Fiat 500 chassis. Now that I would buy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Last Sunday my wife and I attended the German Heritage Festival in old town Tomball. This area was settled in the late 1800's mostly by German immigrants and their influence is still seen today, mostly in place names. I imagine there were some cultural adjustments when these folks found themselves in Texas though. "Ja, this strudel tastes awful with barbecue sauce, and what do you mean you're not supposed to yodel while calling out a square dance?"

We had a good time, and also got our ears talked off by a railroad enthusiast at the restored Tomball rail station. I've always dreamed of building a model railroad, but despite the house being a decent size, it would involve sacrificing a room. Plus it isn't a cheap hobby. So I'll just keep that dream only a dream.

One thing I learned is Tomball has an official slogan, "Hometown With A Heart." That's a nice slogan, and appropriate for this town. Despite rapid growth and ambitious future plans, the idea is for Tomball to be prosperous but not lose it's small town feel. That means keep the relaxed pace of life, the friendliness, and good manners people tend to show.

This had me thinking of the last place I lived in, Redwood City, California. I've never been in such a pretentious, sterile, lifeless city in my life. It's official slogan is, "Climate Best By Government Test."

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Best I could find out is it was the outcome of climate tests run by the government during World War I. Redwood City was supposed to have an ideal climate. Ideal for what was never revealed, but then we are talking about a government study and they're not supposed to make sense.

I think something more appropriate would be, "Sitting On The San Andreas Fault Waiting For The Big One," or "We Can't Have A Heart Because Larry Ellison Is Here."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Twelve O'Clock High

A few miles from me is Hooks Airport, a rather good sized municipal facility that caters mostly to private planes, but is large enough to handle corporate jets. So it's pretty common to hear planes overhead, with the occasional helicopter. I've always loved airplanes and enjoy watching them in flight. This past Saturday we had a special treat. The Collings Foundation, is an organization dedicated to purchasing and restoring to flying condition rare aircraft from bygone eras. This is a group passionate about preserving aviation history, and more than willing to share it with others.

So my wife and I headed over on a chilly, overcast day to take part in aviation nostalgia. Parked at Hooks were WWII relics, a B-17 and B-24 bomber, and TF-51 trainer version of the famous P-51 Mustang. For a fee you could climb inside the bombers and be transported back in time. The weather was appropriate, as it was often wet and dreary at bases in England, where young men were preparing for dangerous missions that would make them old men by the time they got back. The two bombers were especially impressive. Though state of the art at the time, it was clear that inside they were cramped, uncomfortable and noisy.

It was something standing behind a waist gun, pointing it at the sky and trying to envision the fear of a man perhaps only a few months removed from his home, family and sweetheart While trying to steady his nerves he knew deep inside with each mission the odds were mounting against his survival. Yet he knew his job, and was determined to survive. He knew at any minute, the enemy's young men would skillfully fly nimble fighters to try to shoot his plane down. Young men who also knew their job and were determined to survive. Young men he didn't even know would be trying to kill him, young men he would quite probably enjoy the company of and become friends with if it wasn't for the insanity of their leaders inciting them.

It is possible to arrange for rides in these planes, but unfortunately the fee is out of my budget. But it's something I know my Dad would have enjoyed. Though he flew in B-29's, he knew quite well about the B-24 and B-17. I could imagine him entertaining the pilot with stories, and then announce, "Let me show you how to use the Norden bombsight." Supposedly the most accurate bombsight ever invented, it was claimed you could aim a bomb so it would drop inside a pickle barrel, though why anyone would consider that to be a target is beyond me.

Then knowing my dad's sense of humor, he would have then muttered something about arming the bombs on board then bringing out his list of various miscreants he wanted to pay a visit to.