Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Our Vanishing Americana

If I weren't going to be on a plane when this airs tonight, I'd be watching. I'm consoled by the fact that it'll air twice more in December. And for any who know me personally, feel free to add the book to my Christmas list. ;-)

"Our Vanishing Americana" airs tonight at 8 p.m. on WTVI, with additional airings Thursday at 9 p.m, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m., Dec. 18 at 10 p.m. and Dec. 28 at 9 p.m.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Flying

Don't miss the open cockpit rear seat at about 2:35! Nice mix.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Excuses

I know it's been as if I dropped from the face of the earth.

I'm sorry.

Life has been . . . a little hectic.

On the upside, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, just gets better every day.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Nine-Year-Old on the IQ of Bats

Last night, at the playground, just after sunset:

Doc: "Emma, did you know that bats will chase a pebble if you throw one up in front of them?"

Emma: "Are bats retarded?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett: 1947-2009

This just makes me sad.


I had only one celebrity poster hanging on my bedroom wall when I graduated from high school and this was it.


May she rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Richmond Public Utilities: Customer Disservice

The problem with moving from one state to another is that the blog material comes in at a rate inversely proportional to the time you have to do any writing.

The Wanderers

There should have been a post about the whole experience of finding a house in Richmond two weekends ago. It was good and bad. The bad was, if I'd had a dollar for every time someone with a property to rent said, "Well we still need to . . . we're planning to . . . we've been meaning to . . . etc," I think it would have paid for the trip. We saw some seven or eight houses, all but one needing major cleaning or work before we could move in, and we weren't slumming folks. There's simply a trend to post rentals on Craigslist before they're really ready for showing. Of course, of our top three, numbers two and three had rented already.

Like Family

Lucky for us though, our number one choice, even before our arrival, was not rented, and it was very nearly pristine. In fact, all of the looking we did after seeing it was only so that we had a backup plan. But the best part of our first choice, soon to be the address we call home in Richmond, was the owners. We had time to look for a backup during the weekend because we weren't able to meet with them until Monday morning. They were coming from a wedding in New York. They were in the United States for the wedding, and to rent their former home in Richmond. They live in Greece. They are Greek. They are wonderful. We spent most of the morning with them a week ago, and by the time we parted after lunch, it was like parting from old friends, family even.

We are delighted to be moving into this home, and I believe they are relieved that we will be. I now own and rent two of my former residences. The first I ever owned I've kept as a rental for over twenty years. I have stories to tell. The home I lived in before moving to Charleston, I still own with my ex-wife. Last year was not the best time to sell a home, to leave the service, to change careers, etc. I know how comfortable I am that, that home is rented to someone whose own home in Ft Collins is also rented to someone whose own home in . . . you get the picture. When houses begin to sell again, there will be a cascading effect, but until then, many of us who've had to move for work are back in the renting market after owning homes for decades.

Finding a good renter for a beautiful home is not necessarily easy. Finding a rental home that feels like a home you would like to own is not necessarily easy. I feel very lucky on both counts. We'll care for our new home as if we owned it because one day we very well may. We would have cared for it that way anyway, but you understand what I mean.

Setting Up House

Having moved some thirteen or so times during my military career, I'm fairly adept at getting things up and running by the day we arrive. The move to Richmond has been no different, with one exception. I've got the TV, the internet, the electricity all set up to start the day before we arrive. The water . . . not so fast. It's on, and it should stay on, I think, but trying to have it put in our name with Richmond Public Utilities was the worst bureaucratic nightmare I've seen in a while.

The homeowners are wonderful, responsible people. The home is immaculate. But living in Greece, the forwarding of their mail stopped some time ago. As a result, I expect they've not received water bills. No one has lived in the home for some time. The bill can't be for much. But because there is a bill due, Richmond needs to verify my lease before they can set up service in my name. Mind you, they don't tell you, as the new customer, that there's a bill due, they simply ask for your lease and leave it at that.

Phone Tree Hell

RPU: We'll need your landlord's phone number so we can call them to verify your lease.
ME: They live in Greece. I don't have a phone number.
RPU: They live in Greece?
ME: That's correct. They live in Greece.
RPU: How do you contact them?
ME: E-mail. Would you like their address?
RPU: Then I'm going to need a copy of your lease.
ME: Can I e-mail you a pdf?
RPU: We don't have e-mail to the outside. Can you fax it?
ME: Sure.

I don't mention that it's a good deal of trouble. I scan it. It's on legal paper and my scanner is letter, so I overlap paragraphs for good measure. Then I send it through PamFax. Of course, I have to buy PamFax credits to do that. Eventually, it goes through. At least, PamFax says it did. When I call to confirm receipt, RPU claims not to have seen hide nor hair of it.

Mind you, even getting through to RPU is a two minute technological nightmare.

RPU automated phone system:

  • "Welcome to hell. Please press one for English or . . . "
  • "Press one for Department of Public Utilities . . ."
  • "Thank you for calling the City of Richmond. For a gas emergency press one. For a sewer emergency press two. For all other inquiries press three . . . "
  • "Press one to enter your acct number, Press zero if you don't know your number . . . "
  • "We could not verify the account info that you don't know. Other queries menu. Press one if you have six fingers on your left hand. Press two if you believe in flying saucers. Press three to connect or disconnect service . . . "
  • "All representatives are assisting other customers. Your call will be answered after a wait in inverse proportion to the amount of time you have to kill. Thank you for your patience."
Mind you, this is every time you call. So when I get do get through to see if the fax got through . . .

Catch 22

RPU: We don't accept faxed leases.
ME: Excuse me? Then why was I just asked to fax it?
RPU: Can I have your landlord's phone number? [This is a new person.]
ME: As a matter of fact, yes. [I had remembered, in the meantime, that we actually did have it.] 011 . . .
RPU: Did you say 011?
ME: Yes.
RPU: What's that?
ME: That the first part of the phone number, the international dialing code. They live in Greece.
RPU: Just a minute. . . . . . [Insert theme from Jeopardy.]
RPU: Okay. Did you say you faxed your lease?
ME: Yes.
RPU: Do you know who you faxed it to?
ME: I sent it to the attention of . . . .
RPU: Let me go look for it. [Theme from Jeopardy again.]
RPU: It's not here.
ME: I have a transmission confirmation that says it is. Why do you even need it to put service in my name?
RPU: Because there's a balance on the account, and when there's a balance on the account, we have to have a copy of the lease to open a new account.
ME: Can I simply pay the balance? [How much could it be? No one has lived there in some time.]
RPU: Yes you could pay it.
ME: Okay, how much is it.
RPU: I can't tell you. It's not your account.
[ . . . time passes. . . . . 99, 100.]
ME: If you don't tell me how much it is, how can I pay it.
RPU: Well, see, it's not your account.
ME: But you said I could pay it off.
RPU: Well you can pay it off if you want to.
ME: Well then how much is it?
RPU: I can't tell you how much it is. It's not your account. You'll have to call your landlord and ask them.
ME: If they knew how much it was, they'd have paid it already.
RPU: Well, I'm sorry. I can't tell you how much it is. It's not your account.
ME: . . . . . Is there a supervisor there I can speak to?
RPU: Sure. Just a minute.
[Theme from Jeopardy.]
RPU: She's with someone right now. Can you hold?
ME: Sure. The minutes are only $.35 each after 2100, and we've only used, what 1950 so far, so yeah, I can hold. What's the supervisor's name?
RPU: Pardon me?
ME: Name. Her name. To whom am I waiting to speak?
RPU: Ms . . . . .
ME: Thank you.
[Theme from Jeopardy one last time.]

Mind you, I've been on the phone since about 6:30 p.m. They close at 7:00 p.m. I wait patiently for about ten minutes. At 7:00 p.m., the phone goes dead.

This is why government buildings need barriers for protection.

UPDATE: I call back today. I get someone new. I learn that I do, in fact, now have a customer number. (And probably a red flag that says: "Danger. Radical anarchist. Has tried repeatedly to introduce logic into system. Treat as armed with rationality and therefore dangerous.")

ME: May I simply start with a supervisor today.
RPU: Is there some issue I can help you with?
ME: I doubt it. Is there a supervisor there please?
RPU: Just a minute.
[Time passes again.]
RPU: This is . . .

I explain the history. She looks for the missing fax. She asks if I can fax it again. I say yes, but ask if there is an e-mail I can send the file to. She gives me her e-mail. So much for "We don't have outside e-mail." I send the file, but because it is a 3MB pdf, it takes a long time. Eventually, she hangs up, again.

I am deep in trying to fax it again when the phone rings. It's the very first person I spoke with. The fax has been there all along. No one is quite sure where, but it was there. She'll review it with a supervisor and call me back.

And this is where we left it. Do you suppose I'll have water when I get to Virginia, or will they have finally come out and turned it off? God only knows.

And Virginia is the state that thinks it invented democracy and only leases it to the rest of us.

Give me North Carolina any day. Or just shoot me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Hangover

We saw this movie today. It's what anyone should do when the temperature outside is hot enough to shrivel the grass while you watch. I laughed. I was not insulted. It was not stupid. It was genuinely funny. It was funny and yet it was the antithesis of a Will Ferrell movie. Thank God. Nothing happened during the entire movie that completely blew your willing-suspension-of-disbelief circuit breakers. Well, okay, the taser scene may have stretched it a little, but not much. Funny. If you need a laugh, see it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

25 Random Things About My Father

I mentioned once before, just in passing, John Eldredge's claim, in Wild at Heart, that every man is wounded somehow by his father. I implied in that earlier post that such wasn't the case with me. Today, Father's Day, I want to state it outright.

I do not believe I suffered any psychic wounding at the hands of my father, ever.

Honestly, that's no small claim. I've watched other men and their dads. I've watched women and their father's too. I had acquaintances long ago that couldn't return home when they left the Air Force Academy they hated because their fathers told them not to come home if they quit. I had a so much more than friend, who will likely read this, who went there for a year, because her father told her if she would try it for that long, he would foot the bill for college elsewhere--she did; he did not. I've heard fathers say things to children in public that made my heart ache.

I had and have the best father I know. I know a couple more who are right up there with him (my new father-in-law among them), and I have friends who think or thought the same of their fathers. We are lucky people, those of us in this club, and today is a day we celebrate that luck.

Not all that long ago, I posted 25 Random Things About Me. Today, I'm going to take a shot at publishing another 25 about him. Wish me luck.

25 Random Things About My Father
  1. He has taken up the drums. At least, he bought a drum set months ago, and for a while at least, he was playing them. This is especially interesting to me because a little less than four years ago, I took drum lessons for a short while. Neither I nor my father knew this about one another, which is a good segue to the next point:
  2. My father's life has mirrored mine in so many ways that it's genuinely eerie, especially romantically. I could elaborate, but I'm going to leave it at that for now.
  3. I suspect my father of being a closet adrenaline junkie. He owned a motorcycle from the time my parents split up until well into his second marriage. And he was, after all, a volunteer fire chief for over a decade.
  4. When I left for the Air Force Academy, over three decades ago, the last thing I remember him saying to me as I walked out of Charlotte's Douglas Airport to climb the stairs to a waiting jet, other than, "I love you," is, "If you get there and you don't like it, son, you know you can always come home." It put staying there all on my shoulders. No expectation, no threats, no rebellion value in leaving (not that I ever felt any need to rebel). It made it possible to stay even during the months that I hated it most and seriously thought of leaving. Having options makes almost any task less onerous.
  5. In all the years of my youth, he gave me only one spanking I hadn't genuinely earned. That one time, he was acting on misinformation from my Sunday school teacher. I didn't forget, but I didn't really hold it against him either. I just never liked that teacher much after that.
  6. I've seen him pitch nearly perfect games of horseshoes. At Five Forks ball park in China Grove, NC, I watched him and Lee Smith, on their way to winning first place in a church league, throw ringer after ringer from one end to the other. It was awe inspiring.
  7. He taught me gun safety at an early age, and how to shoot birds on the wing, to drain a rabbit's bladder before putting it in your hunting coat, how to build a rabbit trap, and how to enjoy the beauty of good bird dogs working a field.
  8. He also taught me, by example, to think of all men as equals, at least equal in worth and rights, vehemently disdaining all the petty prejudices that so many fathers so sadly wean their children on. The stories in this regard are almost legend and fodder for longer posts at a later date. I'll simply say here that had Harper Lee known him, and if you knew him and her novel, you would think him her model for Atticus Finch.
  9. He blames a long tour in Alaska, at Gambell Air Base, on St Lawrence Island, for the early loss of his hair. His seven brothers each kept theirs most of their lives.
  10. His children have always come first in his life. Whatever other ambitions he may have had, I truly believe that being a good father was the ruling goal of his existence. God knows, he put up with more, and sacrificed more, for our sake than any other man I know would have.
  11. Right behind Atticus Finch, the character from fiction that he is most like would be Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. He was, for all practical purposes, the unspoken mayor of the small town in which I grew up. Smaller than Mayberry.
  12. He can teach anyone to waterski and he was always good at it himself. For the most part, when anyone learned to waterski with us, they learned to slalom, right out of the gate.
  13. He plays a wicked game of hopscotch. He always played with us on the shore during our annual vacations at Windy Hill Beach, SC, and I have since played more than a few times with my own daughters.
  14. He loves tractors. He may think we haven't caught on to that, but he does. I'm not entirely certain there isn't a frustrated farmer trapped in him somewhere.
  15. His two greatest shots in golf may have been his hole-in-one and his blind eagle. The hole-in-one was so dead on that it bent the base of the pin going into the hole. In basketball lingo, he "stripped the net." His blind eagle I was there for--a par-four on which he'd hooked the ball into the adjacent fairway, hiding the green from him behind a set of pines dividing the two holes. He hit the ball over the pines on his second shot and into the hole. I found it there. He was still looking everywhere else.
  16. His dedication to golf during my youth was such that my youngest sister once recited the days of the week as, "Sunday, Monday, Golfday, Wednesday, Thursday . . . " He worked all day on Saturdays until he retired, but only half a day on Tuesdays. He is as good a golf coach as he is a ski coach. I should have tried out for the golf team at the Academy instead of wasting my time with track.
  17. He would still like to learn to fly. He says he's let that ambition go, but I think I know better.
  18. He can fix or build just about anything.
  19. So far as I know, he has never cultivated any of the vices that other men, including myself are prey to. He doesn't swear, drink, or smoke, and yet he doesn't begrudge other men those "pleasures." I think he is simply cautious of the genes he carries, having had a father, grandfather, and more than one brother for whom these things were problems.
  20. He is fiercely and poignantly patriotic. I remember him once calling me to the window over our kitchen sink, pointing to the flag flying at the fire station he helped found about a quarter mile away, and saying, "Isn't that beautiful?"
  21. In our family business, he was all about Total Quality Management and focusing on the customer long before TQM became a watchword for the rest of the world. I remember trying to figure out what the fuss was about when the Air Force tried to institute TQM because I had always thought those principals were common knowledge. I've learned better since.
  22. He is a true gentleman--gentle and yet fiercely strong. He is always polite. He opens my stepmother's car door, holds her chair, helps her with her coat.
  23. He's more or less ambidextrous. He plays sports left-handed, yet he writes right-handed. It makes him very handy to have around when your ball is up against a tree and you really need a left-handed club to swing.
  24. What he lacks in distance these days, he more than makes up in accuracy. I've been able to outdrive him since college, but I've never outscored him on the links.
  25. I love him. I admire him. And I still want to be like him when I grow up.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Let's All Twitter from Iran

Based on the following hint from a post over at Chap's place:

4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
TheyRodeOn will be Twittering from Iran for a while.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Freedom March 2009

Over at Bearing False Witness, Joel Newmiller has some poignant thoughts about what it means to go through the days while a loved one is wrongly incarcerated. Joel's father, William, maintains the blog. Joel's brother, William's son, Todd, is in his third year of incarceration for a crime I don't think even the prosecutors believe he really committed.

The Freedom March taking place in a number of states on 27 June 2009 is intended to raise awareness of wrongful convictions in our justice system. You'll find more information at the web site for the march.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dream Team Baby

Hard to believe it's been more than 18 months since I first mentioned the Dream Team on this blog. They were getting cranked up then, and I had every confidence they would be a success. Now they've really hit the big time. This morning, long time friend, Conner Herman, and her partner, Kira Ryan, made an appearance on NBC's Today show. You have to love it when good things happen to good people.

Kings Firecrackers

If these girls don't make you smile, you need help. The audience at the Naval Academy was clearly impressed.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Knowing versus Believing

Knowing comes naturally, passively, like breathing out. It's resisting knowing, denial, that requires effort. And it's believing that requires the greatest paradoxical effort of all, because it requires conscious, rather than passive, relaxation. Believing is a cessation of denial. Believing is fully accepting what we've already known all along.
--cdc, 10/30/2007

Friday, June 12, 2009

On the Road Again

I'll be on the road this weekend, in Richmond, Virginia, looking for a new place to live, beginning another new adventure. Blogging will likely be light as I explore firsthand, yet again, the old saying that, "North Carolina is a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Audible for Blackberry

Still in Transition

Replacing a Palm with a BlackBerry has at least two distinct aspects--that of abandoning Palm and that of making the jump to BlackBerry.

The first is often motivated by a feeling that Palm abandoned us first. Over the last few years they've done little to suggest anyone was even awake at the company other than introduce a new desktop with fewer features than previous versions and then call it an "upgrade." Admittedly, the launch of the new Pre is getting as much press as each of Britney's releases from rehab, but for many of us, it's just too late.

On the other side of the coin, is the jump to BlackBerry. Hands-down a better communication device than the Palm, it is not, however, a better PDA. Thus, those of us who've made the jump have done so partly based on the faith that the longer BlackBerry outsells Palm, the faster developers will close the application gap to make the BlackBerry what the Palm might have been if they hadn't holed up in Howard Hughes penthouse to live on nothing but ganga weed for the last few years.

Audible for BlackBerry

One of the first shortcomings I noticed in the application department was the BlackBerry application from Audible.com. I prefer to burn my books to CD and use the player in my vehicle to listen, but lately, I've had more trips than time to burn CDs, so I'd taken to using the Palm or BlackBerry player and piping it through the vehicle stereo. That had the added advantage of allowing me to listen on long walks with the dog without having to find my place in two different media. The problem was that the BlackBerry Audible application had more quirks than Carter had pills. So after a couple months of getting by, I decided surely there had been enough complaint and demand for Audible to come up with something better.

They had. Checking for updates, I found version 1.3 for BlackBerry. It's still not perfect, but it seems to be an improvement over version 1.0.whatever-it-was. Unfortunately though, someone appears to have taken a cue from Palm and the newer version is missing a feature I did occasionally use on the old: bookmarks. Still, overall it seems to be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Blue Angels: Bring Your Airsickness Bag

One of my best friends in Colorado is a former USAF Thunderbird, Thunderbird-7 to be precise (you'll hear his voice here, as the airborne safety, saying "Knock it off! Thunderbirds knock it off!" and ending the demonstration following the crash of one of our birds at Mt Home a few years back), and fellow skydiver, so I have nothing but the utmost respect for any of the men who maneuver this much metal at this much speed within this sort of proximity. The challenge of working all those vectors in three dimensions is one of the things I like about Canopy Relative Work, but my hobby is far more forgiving.

The video below was sent me by another friend though, and it's not the Thunderbirds, but the Blue Angels, and the footage is not from the ground, but from the cockpit. It's a long video, but once you start watching it, it's rather hard to stop. Good luck.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green Travel

Are you racked with guilt over your carbon footprint on mother Earth? Well, for tree-huggers and recovering Catholics (for whom guilt never fully recedes), United Airlines (whom I used for at least half of my recent trip west) has set up an online confessional of sorts. You can visit their Carbon Offset Program, and there you'll find a convenient Carbon Offset Calculator to quantify just how much guilt is appropriate. You can then decide whether bearing it is something you can live with, or you can select from a variety of available indulgences, allowing you to travel guilt-free, or at least as nearly so as possible.

For my recent roundtrip from ATL to COS, for instance, the suggested donation to International Reforestation to offset 0.4927 metric tons was $5.91. Instead, I rented a Prius and drove nearly 300 miles on less than five gallons of gas. I found the overall effect of the Prius rental to be so environmentally sound that I felt compelled to offset my carbon offset by spending the $5.91 on a Venti Iced Mocha Latte at Starbucks just to take the self-congratulatory edge off. Thing is though, the buzz from coffee grown using environmentally sound methods is only serving to make me even more smug. I may just have to go out and crush a dandelion before anyone can stand to be around me. I can barely even stand myself.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Quote for the Day: Joey Alfino

Think of it this way: wine critics shouldn’t review corn dogs.
There are not enough hours left in my life for me to waste another minute in a Will Ferrell film, so don't expect any reviews of Land of the Lost from me, but I loved this line from critic Joey Alfino, who did a fairly good job of reviewing the new film . . . on a corn dog scale.

You'll find Alfino's complete review of Land of the Lost, here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Quote for the Day: Ike

This really should have been posted yesterday, but I was on the road from Colorado back to Georgia.

I believe these people who talk about peace academically but who never had to dive in a ditch when a Messerschmitt 109 came over, they really don't know what it is.
For a longer article on Eisenhower's legacy, click here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

888-453-1922 Is Not Verizon

If you get a text message (as I did today) reading:

Free VZW msg. UR on track 2 incur overage charges for Minute, Data, or Message usage. Call 888-453-1922 NOW for more info or Dial #MIN & #DATA to check usage.
Or if you get a call from some automated system along the same lines, DO NOT CALL. This is not Verizon. You'll find trails on this scam going back well over a year, here and here.

I guess the people that sell those vehicle warranties had to find something else to do.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Starbucks Meets Hooters

On a day when I was explaining to someone how I have no TV service nor newspaper anymore, and get my news almost entirely online, I find this article in a USA Today I picked up at lunch, and I wonder what else I may be missing. My favorite line: "I think it's kind of like Starbucks meets Hooters."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Earps Always Know

Quote for the day: from Wyatt Earp.

One of my favorites from the too-long biopic starring Kevin Costner. Spoken to Wyatt by his father, played by Gene Hackman:

You know this land is full of people doing wicked things to each other.

I gotta tell you something Wyatt. I told your brothers when they went off to fight, and I suppose the time has come for you. You know I'm a man that believes in the law. After your family, it's about the only thing you've got to believe in. But there are plenty of men who don't care about the law. Men who'll take part in all kinds of viciousness, and don't care who gets hurt. In fact, the more that get hurt the better. When you find yourself in a fight, with such viciousness, hit first if you can, and when you do hit, hit to kill. You'll know. Don't worry. You'll know when it comes to that. The Earps always know.
Heck, even the trailer's too long--more like a short film. ;-) But it did include part of that quote.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blackberry Sync: Unable to Read Application Data

Okay, if you don't own a BlackBerry, you should just skip this post. If you do, tuck this away in some corner of your brain. I am not the first person to have this problem, and won't be the last.

I try to sync my BlackBerry every day. Sometimes it's not that often. But usually, the process goes smoothly. Not today. Today, it kept hanging up at record 1958 of 1985 in the Address Book, and then shutting down.

I tried everything I could think of to fix this. Probably wasted about a hour or more, while multi-tasking on other things. Finally did a Google Search for the text in the title and found a number of entries on the CrackBerry forum. People had quite a few different suggestions, but there was one, fairly simple, that more than one person said worked to fix this. I tried it, and it worked for me as well.

So, if you ever have this problem, here's a copy of my own post to the forum:

Worked for me also, after trying a variety of other things, including an "Inbox Repair" in Outlook, computer restart, Blackberry restart, etc. What finally worked was creating a fresh backup file using Blackberry Desktop Manager, Backup and Restore, then using the Advanced Options to delete the Address Book files from the Blackberry, then opening the fresh backup file and adding the Address Book back to the Blackberry. Next sync attempt worked like a charm.
Just file it in the nice-to-know box until you need it. Doc

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Star Trek: Humor and Problems

Okay, personally, I have a hard time believing it's been nearly three weeks since I saw the new Star Trek with old and new friends at the IMAX in Raleigh. Very shortly after my seeing it, friends made sure I also saw The Onion's take on it. It's a hoot--even more so if you've seen the movie, and still more so if you've seen all the others and are a long-time fan. Enjoy. (More of my thoughts on the movie are below the video.)


Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

So, my recommendation: SEE THE MOVIE. IT ROCKS. But that said, I still have to say that it's far from free of the paradoxes that tend to haunt any fictional effort in the realm of time travel. What follows is more for those who've seen it than not, so I'll warn you now, though I don't think knowing the whole plot in advance would spoil anything, nonetheless . . . SPOILER ALERT!

I think it's fair to say that J.J. Abrams gave himself license to start with a clean slate by undoing almost all we know about the genesis of the Enterprise's crew. Fair enough. Suffice it to say that most of what you know about the series, you can more or less kiss goodbye. This is an alternate timeline/universe.

Here's how that works. The movie opens on James T. Kirk's birthday. Literally, the day of his birth. Whereas the old character that Shatner brought to life grew up with his father still alive, this one takes his first breath just as Dad sacrifices himself to save the rest of his ship's crew. Thus, right off, old Trekkies know we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The simplest way to lay out the plot is chronologically, so far as is possible, since "before" and "after" begin to lose their meaning when you mess with the fabric of time. (If I've screwed this up, feel free to let me know in the comments.)

Synopsis

Late in the universe and timeline of the old Trek series, the sun of the Romulan homeworld supernovas. An aged Ambassador Spock is dispatched with all due haste in the Federation's fastest vehicle, a ship of Vulcan design, with a store of "red matter." His mission, deposit an appropriate speck of the red matter in the center of the rapidly expanding star, where it will form a singularity (read: black hole), stopping the expansion of the star before Romulus and its entire population is destroyed. Spock seeds the supernova with the red matter, creating a black hole at its center and causing it to collapse back in upon itself, but not before Romulus has been consumed by its rapidly expanding sun. Sucks to be a Romulan. And especially to be a Romulan miner named Nero, who somehow arrives home just in time to witness Spock's spectacularly late arrival and wasted effort, and then somehow blames Spock for the demise of Romulus and the death of Nero's family. I wish I'd been paying better attention and made better note of Spock's tongue-in-cheek description of Nero as an "extremely troubled Romulan," or something like that. (Help me out here guys.)

Anyway, Nero and Spock each are sucked into the singularity and emerge in an earlier time. Sucked in separately, seconds apart in the one universe, they emerge separately, some 25 years apart in the other universe. Nero has emerged some 70 years or so before the supernova, on the day of Kirk's birth. Nero must wait for some 25 years before Spock emerges to face Nero's fury. Still, even Spock emerges some fifty years before the Romulan homeworld is destroyed. The initial action takes place when pissed off Nero, just emerged from the singularity, encounters and destroys the ship on which Kirk's father is serving, with his pregnant wife. And so on.

The rest you can go enjoy, but I'm going to point out a number of problems with this plot. So, if you haven't seen it, go first and read this later, because, honestly, unless you're mind is functioning at warp, most of this is not going to occur to you while you watch it--you'll be having too much fun to worry about crap like the potentialities and paradoxes of time travel.

Problems (of physics, logic, and so on):

PROBLEM 1: Who dreamed up the idea of creating a black hole at the center of a star going supernova as a solution to the problem?

  • Last I checked, the theory was that black holes form naturally at the center of a supernova as the remaining mass of the star collapses in on itself. So, what Spock is supposed to create should already exist.
  • Worse yet, collapsing the star upon itself via the artificially created black hole solves the problem how? The star, aka the sun of the Romulan homeworld would then be, not gone exactly, but a black, unseeable "singularity" in the darkness. True, the mass and center of gravity should remain the same, leaving the orbit of Romulus largely unaffected, but dark and cold and barren. Not even mushrooms would grow to feed the darkened, rapidly cooling and dying planet. I suppose it might buy time for an evacuation, that's all though.
  • Still worse, there's the question of why creating a black hole at the center of the star should pull anything back into it. Somehow, red matter must itself be incredibly dense, ready to implode into infinitude at any moment; otherwise, there is only the original mass of the star to work with, and thus, only the original total gravity. That is, everything expanding away from the star's already imploded center is at greater than escape velocity already. To be effective, the created singularity would need an expanding event horizon. In truth, they seem to have gotten this right--it's how Spock and Nero are sucked in. Red matter. Cool stuff. I'll give them that one. My immediately preceding point still holds though.
PROBLEM 2: What, exactly, has Nero been doing for those 25 very real years he needed to wait for Spock to emerge on this side of the singularity? Here's a few thoughts:
  • Clearly, he's had his all his communication gear turned off, so that he would have heard none of the communications emanating from his still intact homeworld (remember, the time where Nero emerges, the supernova is a good 70 years away yet).
  • Clearly, there's some sort of spatial dislocation to match the temporal one, otherwise shouldn't Nero have emerged near the original sun and in the solar system of Romulus?
  • All of which is to say, just WTF has Nero been doing with the first 25 years of some 70 he has available to warn the Romulans of the impending disaster? How has he escaped the knowledge that Romulus still exists? He is one very target-fixated dude. Ambassador Spock called that one.
PROBLEM 3: Okay, so Nero's a doofus and an idiot (despite being commander of a highly advanced mining vessel), but there are all kinds of other brilliant people around, including not one, but two, count 'em, TWO Spocks! "And this is a problem, how?" you ask.
  • Well, at least one of these guys is going to use the knowledge of the impending disaster to prevent the worst effects of it. That is, to warn the Romulans well in advance that their star is developing a somewhat difficult personality. (Nevermind PROBLEM 4: that a star doesn't just up and decide to supernova one day. The changes in a star leading to that cosmic event take place over eons, not weeks. Whatever.)
  • Still don't see the problem? Well, what happens when, with at least 45 years warning, our intrepid young adventurers save the population of Romulus by relocating them elsewhere (something you'd think maybe Nero would've done), and voiding the reason for Nero's anger, Ambassador Spock's mission, etc, etc? How many timelines/universes can exist in parallel?
  • I'll answer that: an infinite number. So, really, this problem isn't a problem in terms of paradox. I don't think it'll upset the loop. The loop won't exist. Romulus will be saved by others than Nero, and the younger Nero of this timeline will have no reason for anger, nor opportunity to meet his older alternate self as Spock does. (Spock's implication to Kirk of universe-ending problems resulting from the meeting of the two Spocks needed only a reference to "crossing the streams" in Ghost Busters to be perfect.)
I cannot be the only person who emerged from the film pondering these problems. Again, I still enjoyed the heck out of it. But that said, The Matrix, a largely paradox-free contemplation of virtual reality remains the best sci-fi film of my lifetime, at least IMHO.

And oh yeah, that "space jump"? I so want to do that. (Should I mention that without pressure suits, their blood would have boiled the moment they left the shuttlecraft at any altitude considered "space"? PROBLEM? No? Well, okay, I'll let that one go then.

Peace. Out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Funny, and Not So Much

Two videos arrived today. One I laughed pretty hard at:

Joe Cocker

Translation of Joe Cocker Woodstock Performance

Finally, after 40 years, someone has opened the vault and revealed the answer to a question that has clawed at our brains since the 1969 Woodstock album was released:

What the hell were the lyrics to Joe Cocker's version of 'A Little Help From My Friends'?

He was so wigged-out and loopy on a multitude of drugs, no one has been able to understand his garbled, mush-mouth version......until now!

Click here for the lyrics...
Hat tip: Con

FaceBook

The other, I came to more circuitously. It would be funny, but only if it cheers someone who seems to think I was unclear about a pending change in my own status. (And no, technically, by the video below, I did not break any rules.) Still, one more tip regarding FaceBook:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Adventures in Toilet Training

I had girls the first time around. They had a stay-at-home mom. If there were challenges like this, I didn't know about it.

  • Challenges like a young lad marking his territory . . . in the house . . . sister and friends giggling to watch.
  • Or stopping in someone else's lush green lawn, midway through a walk around the block with the dog and announcing, "I pee pee!" So we see. Even for a tiny man, the whole world is a urinal.
  • Or setting him on the toilet after an announcement that he needs to be there and turning my attention back to something in the kitchen, and minutes later, hearing the rattle of an empty toilet paper roll that I distinctly remembered being a new roll only minutes before. I arrived to find him reaching between his legs to press down the fluffy white mass now swelling in the toilet. As I set him gently on the floor, sort of chuckling to myself, the ever task-focused and thorough young gentleman immediately ran to the back of the toilet and already had both hands on the flush handle as I said, "Noooooooooo!" and reached out to prevent disaster. Jet Li's lighting grab and disassembly of an opponent's 9mm pistol have nothing on the speed with which my thumb flew under the handle to counter the full weight of an almost-three-year-old.
  • Or stepping away to give him a moment of privacy the next day, then hearing the flush, and flush, and flush, and flush, and stepping back to find the left hand on the flusher and the right playing in the swirling water. Inquisitive minds want to know: where does all that water go? We buy hand sanitizer like Jay buys milk.
Days, mere days. I have blog fodder coming out my ears; I just don't have time to write.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Temporal Black Holes

Wonder why I haven't blogged much since I moved to Georgia? I have crossed the event horizon of a particularly massive Temporal Black Hole.

Temporal Black Hole

Origin: From Temporal (of or pertaining to time) and Black Hole (an area of space-time with a gravitational field so intense that its escape velocity is equal to or exceeds the speed of light; thus, not even light can escape from it).
First known use: circa 1989 (by someone now known as "Doc," to describe a frequently observed phenomenon in his own life).

-noun
1. An area of space-time with a temporal field so dense that not even a nano-second can be saved from it. (Traditional clocks passing within the event horizon of such a field have been known to spin so fast the hands cannot be seen, or else, fly off, or simply vaporize. Digital clocks continue to count in proper sequence, but so fast that the numbers appear as solid or mildly flickering 8's. An entire day can pass in what seems only seconds.)

2. Any child under the age of five (possibly seven, eight, maybe even nine), regardless of gender.


Sure, he looks harmless enough, but that blur around the edges of the photo is wholly the effect of a warping of space-time. I swear I was holding the camera still.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quote for the Day: McCarthy

The arc of the moral universe is indeed long but it does bend toward justice.
I've always attributed this to Cormac McCarthy, because I first came to it in The Stonemason, but it turns out it may have originated much earlier with a Unitarian Minister named Theodore Parker (see this), and is frequently misattributed to Martin Luther King. I suppose, then, it was appropriate for McCarthy to place the words in the mouth of the gentle, faithful, black, master mason (more operative than speculative) grandfather in his play.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TOT: Time on Tee

Normally, TOT means Time on Target. We use it a lot in the military. Get there early and you risk getting "softened" with the target. Get there late, and you risk missing the "fun." I think in this case though, we're going to call it Time on Tee.

Judging by the Senior Navigator and HALO jumpmaster wings on the BDUs this particular golfer is wearing, I've a good idea the person so rigged (I would love to see the text for the JMPI on this) is also the person I received the photo from.

You've got to admit, this would really come in handy for those shotgun starts somewhere on the far reaches of the back nine. Much more fun mode of transport than a long cart ride. Enjoy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thoughts for the Day: Bach and Hammarskjöld

First, a correction. I had narrowed the author of the quote I had in mind on Monday to two people--vastly different people, but either capable of the quote I was remembering. I guessed wrong. It was Richard Bach, writing in Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, who said:

Live
never to be
ashamed if anything you do
or say is published
around the world--
even if
what is published
is not true.
But my own book of markings, which borrows even its title from Hammarskjöld, is filled with his writings, and among them, one seems particularly apt today:
Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.
I pray never to forget that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Look at Social Networks

Getting the word out.

From yesterday's Inside Higher Ed:

Not long ago, a woman I know got a phone call from a sibling who reported that one of their sisters had died a few hours earlier. It was painful news, if not unexpected given the sister’s long illness; the call was part of a narrative of grief that had been taking shape for a while. But in telling me about it, she also noted an odd and slightly awkward detail. She’d actually learned the news a bit earlier, on Facebook and via Blackberry, where it had been announced in a “status report” from her sister’s daughter. . . .

An individual’s death is a rip in the social fabric. And communication among those closest to the deceased involves more than transmission of the news. It is process of patching up what remains of that fabric, a reinforcement of bonds. By some implicit rule, we take it as a given that family will get the news before it is available to a world of strangers. Not that things always happen that way, of course, but the exceptions are felt as such.
The full article is here, and it's an interesting consideration of the ways in which our modern communication tools are affecting the rules of social interaction.

Nor is it coincidence that I would open and read that yesterday morning. Despite my recent musings about matching the right information to the right venue, I find that I've failed to do so. A family member was upset at me only yesterday because a major event in my own life that I thought I'd kept her informed on, I apparently hadn't. No death involved, but a milestone of similar magnitude nonetheless. Mea culpa. I learn. I'll do better.

Parents and Facebook

On a related note, I pointed out two months ago that the face of Facebook was aging. A consequence of that has been the issue of how much of a young person's life should be open to the view of his or her parents. Happily, that's never been an issue in our family. From the outset, I've been a part of the social network of my daughters. It was one of the prices of being allowed on the internet from our home.

But for some kids, especially those whose online personas are anything but laudable, the presence of their parents on Facebook has thrown a kink into the normal stretching of the wings that takes place for almost all college students in their first year. I can't imagine conducting myself in such a way that I would have been ashamed for my parents to know what I was up to, nor do I think my daughters have that problem. (Of course, academe being my world, my threshold of shock, my expectations, and my tolerance are all fairly accommodating. The disaster that resulted from my oldest daughter's accepting one of her older relatives as a "friend" wasn't all that funny to anyone but me.) I certainly had plenty of friends in college for whose parents ignorance was bliss. And I know all too well from the use to which I've put Facebook as a college administrator, those online alter egos can be all too telling.

The conflict which often ensues is the topic of the following interesting piece from last night's CBS Evening News. Enjoy.

Update [5/21/09]: I've removed the embedded player because it automatically started the video every time the blog was loaded. If you'd like to view the video, you'll find it here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Find Me, Friend Me, Follow Me, Connect

It's overly easy these days to lead a more public life than most of us ever dreamed we could, or would, or could or would want to.

Long ago, I copied a saying from Markings, by Dag Hammarskjöld, to the effect that one should live every day so as never to be embarrassed if what you do is published in the newspaper. (If I had the book to hand, I'd quote it, but alas, most all my books are, once again, in boxes.) [Update: if I'd had the book to hand, I'd have realized the quote I was thinking of was from Illusions, by Richard Bach. I knew it was one of the two. Guessed wrong.] Today, much of what we do each minute is published on the internet. Today, we publish it ourselves, through MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, and so on. And what some people tell of their own lives, and proudly, our parents would have blushed to whisper. We can, if we choose, broadcast our location through GPS-enabled phones, for a few close friends to follow, or for all the world. Don't look for me to do that any time soon.

There's nothing in my life so scandalous or interesting that I would be embarrassed to have it published. (I've tried, for most of my life--not always successfully, I'll admit--to live by Hammarskjöld's advice, and more of it than the snippet above.) But I believe there are occasionally blurred, but mostly distinct lines between the things that would interest the readers of this blog and most of my "Friends" on, say, FaceBook. (Yes. I have a FaceBook account. I have daughters in high school and college. I was the Deputy Inspector General at a four-year college. But, if you're a long-time reader, you know all this.) For my friends and family, it may be enough simply to know that I saw Star Trek last weekend. For many readers of this blog, that event only has significance if I have something to say about the experience. (I will. Be patient.)

My life feeds this blog. Whatever contemplations you find here, whatever insights to human nature, whatever advice on relationships, whatever reviews of food, entertainment, or consumer goods--all those thoughts have their genesis in my life. Yet, my life per se, is not what this blog is about. This blog is about Life in more general terms--Life with a capital L.

All of this, really, is in response to readers whose curiosity was piqued by recent comments about my current travels or upcoming relocation. While this blog is not exactly anonymous--most of its readers know the author in some form, or at least feel that they know enough about the author to properly weigh his words--it has a thin facade of anonymity, or of pseudonymity, that has not fully exhausted its value. If only for myself, I'd like to preserve the illusion that the things I say here, at least sometimes, have a weight of their own, independent of any of the people the author is.

The "Doc" who authors TheyRodeOn, the "Doc" who will not let you escape his reach in freefall, the "Doctor" who lectures from podium and windowsill and makes sleep-deprived cadets stand in their chairs for nodding off in his literature or composition classes, and the friend, father, and brother whose blog some don't know exists are all one and the same and yet not. So, if you want to know what's going on with any one of me, you'll need to pick a level to drill down to, a window to peek in through. The deepest insights will always be here, and sometimes, the root causes as well. The mundane is out there to be had, just not here. Find me, friend me, follow me, connect. The view changes depending on which window you choose. The same heart drives them all.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Tribute to Moms

Recently, I had the fun of being cc'ed on an exchange between a young mother and her aunt. Today's the perfect day to share that exchange, only slightly altered to protect the innocent. ;-)

First, the aunt sent the following:

Just in case you are having a rough day, here is a stress management technique, recommended in all the latest psychological journals. The funny thing is that it really does work and will make you smile.

Picture yourself lying on your belly on a warm rock that hangs out over a crystal clear stream, and you're naked.

Picture yourself with both your hands dangling in the cool running water.

Birds are sweetly singing in the cool mountain air.

No one knows your secret place.

You are in total seclusion from that hectic place called the world.

The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.

The water is so crystal clear that you can easily make out the face of the person you are holding underwater.

There! See? It really does work. You're smiling already.
Funnier still was the response:
I could use this little meditation you sent below, Aunt Libby. Here was my day:

I was angry because I lost a potential client today and it would have been a very nice check. Then I came home, pilled the dog, took the dog with me to get Jack from school because she gets lonely and had been in her kennel all day. She might pee in the house otherwise. I then took Jack and Emma for coffee and flower-buying, got home to find that the dog barfed all over the back of the car (choose your battles) because I gave her the pills on an empty stomach, Jack cried because I was outside cleaning it up, so I brought him out so I could finish without having to deal with his crying. We came inside to cook dinner and do homework. Jack was dancing in circles loudly and I was trying to read a webpage aloud to Emma over all his yelling, then he wet his pants and had to change clothes. He wanted my help only and refused to cooperate with his sister. More yelling, this time, not playful yelling. Naked Jack. Finally Dressed Jack. Dog distressed because Jack was too loud for her to eat in peace and his toys were in the way of her dish. Finally dinner, then outside again. We tied the dog to the porch. Planted flowers with Emma, Emma was dancing around in a panic over ant piles, I was coordinating kids, digging, and spoons (we have no shovels). Meanwhile, the dog knocked over flower pot on front porch and it turns out to be ant-infested. Ants everywhere. Soil everywhere. Plants knocked out of the pot. Bad Husky! In the middle of all of this, Jack peed in his pants AGAIN. He was standing on the porch naked from the waist down and flagging his underwear over his head yelling, "All DRYYYYYYYYYYY!" while neighbors walked by-- one of them was pregnant. I told her, This will be you. We finished planting. Emma went to water the new flowers we planted and got the dog's leash tangled in the hose. In the middle of all of this, I start using "Damn!" and you can imagine why. Untangled the dog, convinced Jack to get his own clean underpants on, took the hose from Emma who wanted to turn this into a Wet and Wild Water Event as opposed to Help Mom Before She Shoots Us Event. Finished watering the plants, cleaned the porch, and restored the pot to an upright position, scolded the dog who took a major clue and found a place to lie down and watch the action, rounded up the kids, walked the dog for her nightly poop. Jack walked holding his penis the entire time and when we ran into a neighbor, moved the grasp from his penis to inside his underwear (he just had on that and a shirt by that point) and proceeded to pull out a massive wad of Husky hair from between his cheeks, I don't know how. I just don't. We made it back to the house, ran the bathwater, children's father called four times in a row because he is a pain in my @#$ and refuses to believe that ONE phone message might actually be enough, Emma had left the shampoo bottle on its side and it congealed in a big sticky mess in the tub, Emma left god-knows-how-many messages for Chris while I am bathing Jack-- (apparently she learns this trait from her father??) kids in bed, Mom tired, dog sacked out in the hallway like she did all the work.

The scary part? This is pretty much EVERY day. Some kind of chaos, every day.
Thank God for Moms! It's a wonder they allowed us to live or didn't just sell us to the highest bidder.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Want a Cheeseburger

Hey, I laughed. So I thought I'd give you a funny before I go all serious on you. I'm finishing grades, making another five-state road trip, and moving from one state to another :-D over the next 10 days, so the blogging may be light. But when I return, I intend to begin installments of a very serious story about abuse of power and what happens when the people who are supposed to prevent that are co-opted by an old-boy network and become part of the problem. You won't be bored. More likely, you'll be outraged. I am. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, have a cheeseburger:

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why My Father is Still My Hero

Almost every young boy's father is his hero. For some, it sadly wears off when they learn to think for themselves. Not for me. And it probably won't for Demitri's son either. I'll offer two videos on this theme today.

House on Fire

The older I get, the more amazed I am by my Dad. The first video comes from an unfortunate structure fire that happened in my home town back in February. The video is long and probably not something you want to sit all the way through, but if you do, notice this: the house is only burning at one end--the fire, if I remember correctly, began in the garage. Wouldn't it have been nice if the firefighters had gone in the house from the end that wasn't on fire and pushed the fire back toward its source? That's what they used to do back in the 1960s and 70s, back when my father was chief of the department he helped create and make one of the very best in the state, probably the country.

But no, in this case, they don't do that. They do two things I used to hear my dad lament so many other departments did back then. First, they start by setting up a stream of water onto the roof. Precious water. Dad learned to fight fire back when hydrants were rare. The water you brought was the water you had, and you certainly didn't waste that water by soaking down the one feature of every house dedicated to keeping water out--the roof. Secondly, they attack the fire from the burning end. That's intuitive. See fire, spray water on it! So the instinct goes. But wait. Imagine if they'd gone in from the other end, protecting what hadn't burned yet, and forcing the fire back whence it had come. Novel idea? Not during Dad's day. That's how they did it. That's how they saved more homes than some nearby paid departments. You'll find the video and article here. And you can watch and cringe as they herd the fire from the buring end right out the other side.

Lord of the Dance

The second video comes from Britain's Got Talent. It'll start your day with a smile. And the embedding was disabled for it, but you'll find it here. It's worth a watch. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Big Picture: Human Landscapes

The Boston Globe's Big Picture just continues to be one of the coolest things going. From today's:

Maybe "Final" Finally Means Final

Months back, Barry posted a piece about those scum-sucking auto warranty folks who had given me more last chances to "renew" my non-existent and supposedly soon-expiring auto warranty than a permissive parent gives a rotten kid to stop hitting his brother. After pressing the necessary numbers to decline their service "once-and-for-all," on at least three separate occasions I began to figure out that they were only kidding. About the final chance part. About me even having a warranty. About being able to remove my name from their list. I suspect that, even if I'd bought their probably phony (ooh, accidental pun there) warranty, they'd have still kept offering me one last chance to buy it again.

At the time of Barry's post, I completely sympathized with his complaint and put the draft of a seconding post in my Dashboard, but never found time to finish it.

In my case, most of the calls were arriving through my Google Grand Central account, so I was at least able to block each number they called from, for what little good it might do. Actually, I thought it had done some good. The calls finally stopped. But I learned today, again from Barry, that Verizon, bless their hearts, took the scum-sucking bastards to court and won a $50,000 judgment against them, which Verizon is donating to charity. Best line from the article: "The main part is, of course, that Verizon customers won't be bothered by these two jackass companies anymore." :-)

Verizon and I got off to a rough start while they were perfecting their "Easy Move" program, but for the last few years, I've nothing but praise for them. They'll keep my business. And AT&T wouldn't win it back if they were the last communications company on earth--but that's all another story. I carry grudges like that in the business world. Die scum-sucking Palm! (Oops. Was that out loud? Must've been channeling for all of us who are part of the five-to-one shipment ratio of new BlackBerry's to new Palms) . . . Want my business? Work for it. Work for it and you'll earn my steadfast loyalty. It's an old model, but it still works for me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Beowulf Should Have Ended

(Teaser: Funny video at the end of the post.)

We're wrapping up another semester in the world of college academics, and yesterday, my last day of regular classes at The Citadel as a visiting professor, was bittersweet. I still have essays to grade (the ill effect of caving to four sections' pleas to move due dates ever closer to the semester's end) and final exams to administer, but those are quiet times--brief instructions at the outset, the slam of a stapler and a quiet handshake at the end, and sometimes not even that if I've stepped from the room. Yesterday was my last few hours here "on stage," more or less--a whirlwind review of an entire semester's guided tour through British Literature from Beowulf to Samuel Johnson. (I say "an entire semester" as if that's a long time to spend on nearly a millennium's worth of literature, all the while remembering that in grad school we would frequently spend an entire semester on one author, and sometimes, one book. Different goals.)

I think people doubt me when I tell them I usually learn as much from my students as they from me, but I mean that. The lessons I take from this year will be the fodder of other blog posts yet to come.

This one, though, is dedicated to a little bit of fun that wrapped up the semester in my final class in my final day in class here. I wish I'd know about it the hour before. As we opened our review with the text that opened our semester, Beowulf, one of the cadets asked if I'd seen, "How Beowulf Should Have Ended," on YouTube. I confessed I'd not, and then we agreed to return to it if there was time at the end of the hour. There was just enough time. It was fun--an entertaining note to end on.

The Beowulf it addresses in this case is the most recent film version rather than the poem, but that is, after all, the version most likely familiar to the greatest number (as even those who've read the poem have likely seen the movie since and now have some conflated version of the tale in their heads). If you've only read the poem, this won't be quite as funny, and the "Did you kill Grendel's mother?" bit won't make sense, but if you've seen the movie, this should get at least an amused chuckle. Enjoy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Economics of Cows

You all need a laugh. Trust me.

It was Barry's post today, over at Enrevanche that turned me on to this. The problem with excerpting some little funny part from a bigger funny post is that, usually, people just read what you post and call it a day.

I'm not going to post any excerpt at all. I'm going to tell you, GO HERE. That's the link for the original post from which Barry borrows only a snippet (on the Royal Bank of Scotland model of Venture Capitalism). Start reading. Laugh. No, wait! Go to the bathroom first. Then start reading. By the time I got to New Zealand, I was crying.

Enjoy.

On more time: GO HERE. You will not be sorry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dream Big

First,thanks to JMG for passing this along.

I think I'll just offer it up here without commentary for the moment. Enjoy.

Embedding for the video below was disabled, but if you click on the still, it should open the YouTube page for you. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Outsourcing

Do you suppose they can grade student essays?

Outback Steakhouse, 2003-2009

A very small few of you were privy to my postings long before I new what a blog was. When I was in Afghanistan in 2002-03, I used to send out e-mails to a list of friends, who then forwarded them to their own lists. The post below is January, 2003. I dredge it up tonight because, honestly, I haven't been out to eat, all by myself, other than the dollar menu at Burger King, since late last summer. But tonight, I'm at an Outback Steakhouse near my apartment. I'm going to blame it on the effects of a Vesper, made to JB's exacting standards, and some light at the end of the tunnel. At any rate, the text below, an email sent out long ago, should make amply clear why Outback will have my business for a long time to come.

From: Doc, LTC
Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 8:01 AM
Subject: Day 79, Outback

My friends,

Some of you, no doubt, already frequent Outback Steakhouses. Some of you, maybe not. For those that do, or those that will, I've a favor to ask. Next time you eat there, ask to speak to the manager, not just the hostess or your waiter, but the manager. When she or he comes, tell them you want to thank them on behalf of a friend of yours.

Last night, I had the best meal I've had since leaving home some 80 days ago. The best I expect to have until I get back. A steak, at least an inch and a half thick, cooked perfectly, a baked potato with real butter and sour cream, dark, soft bread with real butter, barbequed, unbattered shrimp, (not those frozen deep fried things that I've almost learned to like), a good-sized chunk of a Bloomin' Onion, with sauce, and a slice of cheesecake that, alone, had more calories in it than I've been consuming in a day here.

The line for chow stretched out to and down Disney Drive last night. There are only two fryers in the Dining Facility. The poor girl who was carrying out the Onions said at one point, "You know, I'm the most popular woman here tonight, and I didn't even have to sleep with anyone." True enough. Glad she had a sense of humor about it. We sent an armed escort from our table to meet her as she came out of the kitchen. (Of course, we're all armed, so it's a wonder gunplay didn't break out over the onions.) :-)

We've been grateful for every morale visit here, but more people went out of their way to tell the whole Outback crew THANK YOU than did for any other visitors so far--even the cheerleaders. They don't publicize this. They just do it. They know the word of mouth will get out.

I would love it if you would thank them too. Give them your business because the food is great, but be sure, the next time you go, to tell them thanks for sending people and food halfway around the world to give the troops a taste of home. It was the best treat yet.

Doc

"Doc", LtCol, USAF
CJTF-180, TALO
Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

Update: It tastes just as good six years later and without any poorly aimed rockets sailing overhead. Outback still rocks.

Taken on the way back from the range, a week before Outback arrived, 2003:

Waiting for that Bloomin' Onion, tonight, 2009:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Parkour

It seems today is my day to be astonished by the physical abilities of others. The video below comes from my friend Phil's blog, The Archer Pelican, where you'll find a fuller explanation of the video and the skill. I used to believe this sort of stuff was all done with wires. Wow.

Danny MacAskill: Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

If you can stop watching this once you start, you're a stronger viewer than I. Simply amazing.



Here's the info straight from the YouTube posting:

Filmed over the period of a few months in and around Edinburgh by Dave Sowerby, this video of Inspired Bicycles team rider Danny MacAskill features probably the best collection of street/street trials riding ever seen. There's some huge riding, but also some of the most technically difficult and imaginative lines you will ever see. Without a doubt, this video pushes the envelope of what is perceived as possible on a trials bike.

I keep hearing Chevy Chase saying, "Be the [bike] Danny."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Viewer Discretion Advised

The following subject matter is not appropriate for all audiences. If you are tender of heart, go elsewhere today. I mean that.

How soulless and perfunctory and heartbreaking and final is the language that ends a union, even read aloud by a gentle and compassionate female magistrate (thus complying, at least in some more limited interpretation of the language than ever was meant, with the pastor's proscription that "no man put asunder" those whom God has joined):

This matter was reviewed by the court on 4-17-09.
Petitioner appeared in person. Co-Petitioner appeared in person.
The Court has considered the testimony and evidence presented.
The Court has considered any Financial Statements filed and makes the following findings and orders:
1. The Court has jurisdiction over the parties because: The parties filed jointly on ____.
2. At least one party was domiciled in Colorado for more than 90 days before the Petition was filed.
3. At least 90 days have passed since the Court acquired jurisdiction over the Respondent or Co-Petitioner.
4. The marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken.
5. The Separation Agreement between the parties is found to be not unconscionable as to support, maintenance, and division of property, and is incorporated herein.
6. All provisions in the parenting plan regarding the children are in the best interests of the children, including residence, allocation of parental responsibility (including decision-making responsibilities and parenting time), and any other orders necessary to effectuate the best interests of the children.
The Court therefore orders:
The marriage is dissolved and a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is entered.
Each party shall perform all of the applicable provisions of the separation agreement or permanent orders.
The Separation Agreement filed on ____ is incorporated into this Decree.
The Parenting Plan filed on ____ is incorporated into the Decree.
Any Support Order entered will become part of this Decree.
It is signed and dated and recorded and it is done.

Beginnings are all hope and promise; endings, all sadness and loose ends. And no matter how inevitable it was or at what point it became so, still, Brian Turner's poem, "Sadiq," is all I can think of today.
It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. -Sa'di

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Gamblers, Foxes, and the Wind in the Wheat

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

"Please, tame me!" he said.

What would it look like? That alternate universe where instead of fearing the happiness we were offered by Fate along the way, we reached out and took it, believed we deserved it, clung to it as if to the razor edge of life itself. What if, at any of those moments when the sheer beauty of love blinded us, caught us all unprepared and unawares, what if instead of running, what if we simply stood tall and let our arms fall to our sides with our palms forward and let it take us, fearless? What if we took a chance? What if we saw? What if we set it free? What if we let it shine? What if we embraced our taming?