Monday, December 21, 2009

Corner Gas

Thanks to a Netflix recommendation I had the pleasure of viewing the Canadian TV series Corner Gas. I have trouble describing this sitcom - it has a feel kind of like Northern Exposure, but the setting could be a small town anywhere (USA or Canada). I'm sorry in a way that they are finished filming the last season of this fine series - but I think that there is a time for all good shows to bow out and allow something else to take over. Thankfully, since I just started viewing the series on DVD, it will be a while before I get to the final season!! Some people who have reviewed the series on Netflix found it to be boring. I found it to be refreshing - an alternative to the laugh-track-laden stuff that is currently on TV. I really enjoy the dynamic between Lacey and Brent in the first season, with there being an obvious attraction between the two characters, but (like what seems to happen with me) Brent either doesn't recognize what could be, or is somewhat oblivious to it.

When I watched Northern Exposure, I wondered what it would be like to live in Alaska. When I heard the now defunct "Cool Country, Rock, and Blues" station KICK-AM from Australia on the Internet, I wondered what it would be like to live in Sydney. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that as I was watching Corner Gas, I wondered what it would be like to live in Saskatchewan (or anywhere in Canada, for that matter). While I won't bore you all with the gory details of what I found and didn't find, I think I've come to the conclusion that while Canada is a fine country with a lot of positive attributes, I don't think that retiring to Canada (for me) is really practical. What I did find is that the U.S. has a fair amount to learn from our neighbor to the north. We should be as open to ideas from them as they have from us, over the years.

When looking at the potential to immigrate to Canada, I discovered that it isn't easy to become a resident of another country. It caused me to take pause about the current debate over illegal immigration to the United States by Mexican individuals. Let's stay on Canada for a few moments, and I invite you to take a look at Canada's Citizenship and Immigration web site as well, as it is quite enlightening.

If you want to buy a hunk of land in Canada and go there for vacations and stuff, then it's a fairly simple deal to do that. Really, as long as you can state your intent to visit Canada and your intent to leave Canada at some future time, you're in pretty good shape. Note that visiting Canada means that you are just visiting, and that you do not get most of the benefits that Canadian residents or citizens receive (and you shouldn't). In order to qualify to become a Canadian citizen, you first must become a permanent resident of Canada for a number of years. To become a permanent resident, you have to meet one of the following qualifications (simplified):
  1. You have a relative in Canada that wishes to sponsor you (subject to some restrictions)
  2. You have a job in Canada, and the employer wishes to sponsor you (likely subject to certain quotas)
  3. You are a refugee from another country seeking asylum in Canada. Note that being a refugee means that, due to your political or other beliefs, your life is at risk in your home country.
Note that retiring to Canada doesn't meet any of the above three qualifications, so the chances of being able to take advantage of the privileges that come with being a Canadian citizen are near impossible. To put it in other terms, you cannot just decide you want to go to Canada and become part of their country. They have rules for citizenship, and rules for entry to and exit from their country.

The United States isn't any different in that regard. My father's parents were German immigrants who came to the U.S. just before Hitler took power in Germany. I never knew much of what my father meant when he said that his parents needed to be "sponsored" before they could come to the U.S., but now that is very clear. So when we're talking about illegal immigration to the United States, we're talking about people who are entering the country as a permanent resident without being able to satisfy one of the very basic qualifications for that privilege. There are reasons for these rules. The rights and privileges of citizenship of a country depend on those people fulfilling certain responsibilities - which include paying taxes and being able to effectively communicate with other citizens. People who enter the U.S. illegally should not expect to gain any of the privileges of U.S. citizenship. When my father's parents came to the United States, they were expected to learn English in order to maintain employment (and their sponsorship) in this country.

The United States was never an open country. While we did, at one time, welcome immigrants, we did so at a time when our country was prosperous, and even then immigrants were subject to the same conditions as those in other developed countries. It is time for people on both sides of the debate to carefully consider the rules and regulations, think about why they are in place, then consider why illegal immigrants from Mexico or any other country to the United States is a bad thing. It seems that other countries, including Canada, have rules too.

How we deal with illegal immigration is still, to me, a bit of a bigger issue to address. Part of the problem is that our society is so obsessed with money that we're willing to hire illegal immigrants to work in order to increase our own profits. Likewise, there is a shortage of skilled laborers (who are citizens) in this country because, frankly, we're a bunch of greedy, lazy bastards. We also have developed a system by which the people who aren't lazy bastards and have learned a trade have a hard time earning a decent living. The current economy is not helping matters either. Even in this country's worst economic times, for the moment, we're still doing better than Mexico. So illegal immigration to the United States is a lucrative activity. For now. Do we kick out illegals? Do we arrest them? Do we fast-track them to citizenship? How about communication - should we be printing everything in Spanish in addition to English? Is that fair to our existing citizens? Is it fair that we have cities in the United States on the brink of collapse due to the downturn in the economy and yet there are people entering the country and taking jobs from these people? With that in mind, how can we justify allowing U.S. corporations to outsource major aspects of their business to foreign countries without some kind of intervention, if our own unemployment rate is so high? These are all questions that require some serious thought, and not just the knee-jerk reactions I've heard thrown about. In that thought should be the notion that we all have to adapt our lifestyles to the current economy. Just because you're doing well today doesn't mean that you'll be doing well tomorrow...

Keeping all this in mind, I have decided to post what I considered a controversial piece that I wrote several weeks ago and withdrew. I will re-date that piece as being written today, and will explain (at the beginning) why I decided to re-post.

Global Whining

The following piece was originally written on 11/21/09. I decided to withdraw this then because I thought, at the time, it was too controversial to publish, and would have offended too many people. However, a few things made me reconsider:
  1. I was recently given a copy of Mother Earth News magazine by a neighbor, and they took on this exact subject, and I feel compelled to give my opinion.
  2. I was moved by a 60 Minutes piece this weekend on how the economy has hurt people in the U.S.
  3. There has been even more talk about global warming, CO2 emissions, and "carbon credits" that has made me cringe.
I apologize in advance to those I offend, and I apologize to everyone for it not being as upbeat as I would like. It isn't an upbeat topic...


I am a long-time user of The Weather Underground, a weather site that has been helpful to me since ... well, since my first personal Internet connection way back in 1993. While I do miss the good old telnet-based menu-driven interface, I have to admit that their web interface truly brings more information to the table (especially in times of severe weather). Dr. Jeff Masters was the person responsible for bringing that telnet weather interface to the world, and he's still active on The Weather Underground with weather commentary and other information.

Jeff Masters' discussion in his "WunderBlog" about an effort by a petroleum/coal industry-funded group to encourage the production of CO2 (titled, "Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?") got me thinking a bit more about the whole "global warming" issue. I've been careful not to discuss this topic here too much, for several reasons:
  1. I'm far from an expert on the subject. The best I can do is repeat summaries of what I've heard, filtered through my own bullshit detector (which is not always right).
  2. Global warming is an emotionally-charged issue (dare I say, "religious?"). When people discuss global warming, it is with enormous personal conviction (on both sides of the fence) where the fate of the Earth is in the spotlight.
  3. Just as there are strong scientific studies indicating that there is a trend toward global warming, there are others that refute those studies, and there is widespread disagreement as to what may contribute to global climate change (if that is, indeed, happening) and the magnitude of that affect.
  4. Discussions about global warming draw attention away from the real problems at hand.
The reason why Jeff Masters' article grabbed my attention was that he exposed a dramatic piece of disinformation being spread, and did an excellent job of discussing just why it is, indeed, disinformation. I also appreciate any article that uses Webster's dictionary to bring meaning to emotionally-charged statements, in this case "pollutant," and that he discusses unintended consequences in-depth.

I am still unsure where I stand on the issue of "global warming." In true scholarly discussion (not industry or activist-funded propaganda), there are very good discussions and evidence supporting and refuting the idea that the Earth is getting warmer, and many reasons indicating why it could be happening. I have seen one discussion hypothesizing that the melting of the polar ice caps is due, in part, to changes in the Earth's magnetic field. Many people don't realize the role that the Earth's magnetic field plays in protecting us from the various undesired emissions from the sun. Should "global warming" be a concern? Yes. The discussion should be ongoing, as in all scientific discussion.

What I don't like is the politicizing of global warming and the idea that we can mitigate the problem by voodoo methodologies. When global climate change is discussed in the political arena it is not really about the temperature of the Earth - it is about pollution. People are not concerned about the temperature of the Earth, they are worried about how pollution is negatively impacting the Earth's ecosystem. Carbon dioxide (CO2), that stuff that comes out your mouth, your cat's mouth, a cow's mouth, and your car's exhaust pipe, is not the real problem, it is the balance of CO2 in the atmosphere that is the problem. When you stop listening to the whining that is taking place on both sides of the issue and think about the entire issue in terms of pollution and balance, then the problem becomes much more clear. Unfortunately, people in general don't like to think, so terms like global warming, carbon footprint, and carbon credits get thrown about like we know how to control the atmosphere. We can no more easily control the atmosphere than we can control the weather. What we can control is how we impact the Earth's ecosystem as a whole, and that's where we come back to pollution.

Concern about pollution is not new. As a child of the 60s and 70s I heard the term thrown about like global warming is thrown about today. There were doomsday discussions about how the Earth would be uninhabitable by the year 2000 if we didn't control pollution. Well, here it is almost 2010 and we're all very much alive. That is actually the dilemma - that pollution was politicized and now that the doomsday threats never came to being nobody knows for sure whether all the EPA controls or simple misinformation was to blame. Pollution was and still is a real problem. There is not a practical way for people to live their lives without leaving some undesirable contaminants behind. Those who feel there is are doing so by leaving the word "practical" out of the equation (they may live some of their lives in a purely sustainable fashion, but they are utilizing technology that does adversely affect the planet). Those who are in favor of letting industry police themselves with regard to pollutants are foolish, stupid, and have a very short memory. The problem is really that people produce more pollutants than the Earth and atmosphere can absorb. The problem is with balance.

The real inconvenient truth is that people don't want to change the way they are living and to look at unintended consequences. The biggest problem with the Earth's ecosystem is that there are too many people. As a species we have advanced to the point where our mortality rate is low, we have learned how to fight-off disease better than we ever have (in part to medical advances, and in part to better communication), and our standard of living is overall excellent. In any species, like insects for example, when conditions are good, that species reproduces uncontrollably and ultimately experiences a catastrophe - their ecosystem collapses (pollution) and/or their food source disappears (excessive consumption). While human beings possess the thought processes to understand this cycle, they seem to feel they are somehow exempt from that specific protocol (or they simply refuse to use their brain). The economic collapse and fallout afterward that the western world has experienced recently is a testament to the result of imbalance. What do you get when you have more people than jobs to do? What do you get when your entire economy is based on the idea of people consuming more and more products? What happens when several seemingly insignificant events causes the consumption rate to drop? All of these are examples of imbalance in action. Instead of regulating our population rate as our lifestyle improved, we increased it at an exponential rate. Instead of understanding how excessive consumption affected our economic stability and the ecology of the planet, we continued to consume uncontrollably. And what do people do when they have no more disposable income and are bored (or if they buy-into some ridiculous religious belief)? They make babies. Brilliant.

I'm not advocating that we start killing-off the population (PLEASE do not do that). I am saying that if we only think about saving the planet by reducing our CO2 emissions, then we are missing the entire lesson. If people stop having so many babies, and we can carefully and gradually bring our population down to a reasonable level (in-line with our species' development), then the Earth's ecosystem (and our economy) will start to come into balance again. Should we start being smarter about our consumption and our impact on the environment? That would definitely help speed things along, for sure. The bad news: It will probably take as long for us to fix the problems as it did for us to create them...which for us is at least 200 years or so (assuming we start now). The worse news: I don't think anyone will commit to fixing the real problem, so I wouldn't worry about that. To me, the apocalypse is a self-fulfilling prophesy, and that both revelation and judgment day will be when we, as a species, understand that we have brought the whole thing upon ourselves.

Have a wonderful day.

PS: I am hereby making this a plea for people to participate in Buy Nothing Day on November 27...although that will, according to my analysis above, contribute to total economic collapse... Sigh...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Evil House Spirits

I somehow unleashed the evil house spirits over the last week or so.

Wednesday I came home from work and prepared to go and meet someone for dinner. When I went to open
the garage door, the opener would lift the door a few inches and stop. It didn't take too long to notice the broken spring on the rod above the door. I was able to get the garage door opener to work with a bit of a "manual assist." A garage door company was called the next day to come out and replace the springs...$240.00. Ka-ching.

Tonight, I went out to take a look at Christmas lights like I do each year (more about that later). When I got home, I was going to make some rice pudding with the leftover milk from Thanksgiving (I don't usually drink milk). All of a sudden, the kitchen floor (tile) started making loud popping/cracking noises, and a few minutes later I noticed a section of tile that had buckled. Think of two tiles together, being pressed from the sides until they pop-up and form a tent-like structure. This is what happened. The picture shown is after I removed the buckled tiles, but you can see the amount of the floor that was affected. I had a similar problem a couple of years ago when it got really cold outside, and the floor made the loud popping noises without the tiles buckling.

Of course, I looked-up what may cause such a thing to happen, and the best theory I could find (and it supported what I originally thought) is that the floor was installed incorrectly (duh) -- that they (the tile contractor when the house was built) put down the floor AFTER the molding was installed, and they never left a gap for expansion. When it gets really cold outside, something must move in some way that there is a lot of pressure transmitted to the edges of the floor, causing the tiles to shift. This time, it went to the next level.

I have no idea how to fix this, if it even can be "fixed." If the whole floor has to be replaced, I shutter to think of the mess and expense to come. This isn't something I can do myself (I guess I could, but I don't really think I have the expertise to do it right). Argh.

This house is a perfect example of the declining quality of workmanship that has taken place over the years. Instead of craftsmen who learned a trade and took great pride in a job well-done, you have a bunch of people who try real hard, but with little actual skill, mass-producing these suburban tract homes. I'm finding it harder and harder to accept this kind of mentality, and it is causing me a great deal of anxiety.

I was also quite disappointed with the Christmas light displays this year. Most of the homes in the areas that usually have lots of lights and are creative didn't have much at all, and the displays were pretty run-of-the-mill. It's hard to tell why this is the case: The poor economy? Apathy? Trying to conserve energy? A little of all three? I'm not sure. Regardless of the reason, it was less than satisfying.

I'm starting to understand why one would want to take illicit drugs...y'know, the kind that people use to "get high." Real life starts to get really depressing, and escaping into a drug-enhanced world takes the edge off a bit - gets rid of the pain. Now I'm not saying I'm going to start experimenting with drugs - this is merely an examination of the situations and looking at how others may solve them. How much anxiety and depression can someone endure before life on drugs becomes a better alternative? I've already broached the topic of suicide as an escape from the pain...why not drugs? I look at therapy and what it seeks to do: To help one accept the world for how it is, and to integrate one's self into that world. Ignorance is bliss. Why take a cynical view of the world if it doesn't solve anything and makes one unhappy? I get it. What I don't get is how someone can consider a screwed-up world like this as acceptable. I'm going through life doing stuff I hope will improve the world and make a difference, but somehow it feels like a little drop of water in a big sea.

Oh, I was going to say something about relationships ... but I'm afraid this isn't a good time. The rice pudding is done, and it seems like a good time to go to sleep. That, too, is an escape...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Beginning To Smell A Lot Like Christmas

Tonight's feature presentation was Paper Heart, a romantic comedy...or was it a documentary...or was it a film about a fictional documentary. I don't know, or, at least, am not completely sure...which is the reason why I both liked this movie and didn't like it at the same time. Paper Heart is a movie about someone who isn't sure what love is trying to find out from others what it is. In the process, that person finds love. You kind of figure that out in the first 15 minutes of the movie. So, sit back and just enjoy the ride.

Caution...there are probably some spoilers in this here blog entry...

First, what I didn't like about this movie: I didn't like that it felt like a real documentary, and then once you get done and look at the "extras," you discover that it really isn't. You feel a betrayal of sorts. I think the ending was abrupt and didn't really bring together the true meaning of the film. I think way too much time was spent on Charlyne & Michael's romance. I also thought that Charlyne ("Chuck") Li seemed a lot cuter in the movie than she appears in person in the extras. In a work that's obviously fiction you can accept that, but it's more difficult when one feels like they're watching a documentary. It's not like Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich plays himself, but it's clearly a work of fiction.

That said, here's what I did like: The interviews with the "real people" were priceless. I identified with the Charlyne "character" a lot. These interviews were essentially asking "What is love?" questions to people who obviously got it right. The answers are equally priceless, and are what makes this movie the gem that it is. My other favorite part was when Charlyne was at the Los Angeles Zoo and Michael showed-up (this is before Charlyne and Michael were an item). Michael asks Charlyne to "eat and watch a movie" during the coming weekend, and "Nick" teases Charlyne about her and Michael going on a date ("That's awesome! You're going on a date!"). To which Charlyne says, "No, it's not a date, we're just going to hang-out, and eat." I seem to know this conversation as it is the same one I've had with my friends, repeatedly. My question is still, "What is a date?" (see also, "It's A Date!" on February 6, 2008, and the definition from Enchanted quoted in "The Inevitable" on April 27, 2008) More precisely, the question is, "When is it just a couple of friends hanging out and when is it a date?" I still don't have the answer to that question. Anyway, then there's Charlyne's song about Michael (he "smells just like Christmas")...y'know, you can look at this as a silly childish song, or you can see how when you really start to feel "it" for someone this is how you really feel, silly as it may seem to everyone else.

Despite the negatives I already mentioned, I thought Paper Heart was one of those movies that kind of leaves you with a good feeling when you're done. The biggest problem is that I had this unrealistic hope that it would answer all my questions about love, and it didn't.

Please, someone tell me that I am not the only one who realized that Michael's gift to Charlyne is really known as Demetri Martin's "pointless bells." (chuckle)

I'm hoping that I'll have an opportunity and the presence of mind to actually share some of my thoughts about love and relationships that have come from the last several weeks of soul-searching and having some conversations with a friend about it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

I've been watching my neighbor's cat (and house) while they went away for a couple of days to celebrate Thanksgiving with their family. They don't watch a lot of TV so there's an abundance of reading material hanging around to look at while I'm there (I try to spend some time with the cat, not just feed her).

One of the things to read was a powerpoint slide presentation about boosting the immune system naturally. Like most of these things, some of it seemed more pseud0-science...but, the overall message was good. A good summary of the finer points in here (and the ones that tend to be more "science fact") are:
  1. Reduce stress - use the stress we have for constructive purposes. Get organized, eliminate clutter, simplify choices, and treat yourself well (like you would your best friend or pet).
  2. Eat right - Drink enough water, eat foods with fewer chemicals, be sure your diet is well-balanced and contains enough (varied) vitamins for your body's typical activity. Avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Don't over-eat.
  3. Reduce alcohol usage - No more than 21oz/wk for women, 28oz/wk for men.
  4. Don't smoke or inhale other chemical fumes
  5. Get enough sleep
  6. Exercise
  7. Get outside a little every day (sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D)
This is what we've been told for years. There's more in the presentation, but what isn't expanding upon the points above tends to be way too new-agey (ie. pseudo-scientific) for my tastes (eliminating red meat and pork completely, stop computer use after 7pm, don't get metal fillings, etc.). While some this "other stuff" may have some merit, it doesn't tend to be very practical and, in some cases, I doubt that it is something that truly affects the body's immune system.

If I look at the list above, there are definite areas for my improvement - mostly in the one I listed first: stress. One way the presentation identified to reduce unnecessary stress was to look backward and locate the root of the stressor. While I generally talk about this in other areas, I am not so good at putting the idea into practice when I get angry and stressed-out. Reduction of clutter doesn't just mean stuff - it also means reducing mental clutter as well. In general, what is being suggested in the area of stress reduction is to take time to smell the roses, and get rid of those things that tend to keep us in a constant state of stress. Another specific idea from the presentation was to get news from online sources rather than watch the news on TV. While this may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, the goal here is to identify those items that are really news, read it, and set aside the sensationalism and exaggeration that examplifies the typical TV news report.

So with it being "black Friday" today and my desire to be no part of it, here are some thoughts I had about what I should be thankful for:
  1. I have a job - actually, it is a job that I mostly think is a good one too. I need to take time to put it into the correct perspective sometimes (not over-work or become overly concerned about it).
  2. My finances are stable - In a time where some people are having trouble paying the bills, or who don't know how to budget when money is tight, I continue to make a good living and have a good sense of how to budget for all situations. I need to put some extra money in the budget to take care of myself, when I figure out what that is...
  3. I have good friends - While I don't see many of them as much as I probably should, there are many who stand ready to remind me that I'm not the dreadful person I sometimes see myself as. As I sit here typing this in my neighbor's house with their cat on my lap purring, that reminder is most definitely appropriate.
  4. I have common sense - I wish that I didn't have to include this one, but given what I see and read I need to be thankful every day that I can think for myself. Common sense isn't common anymore, and people are increasingly looking for ways to explain-away problems using supernatural magic or through illogical reasoning, or simply by ignoring them outright. This is not to say that every decision I make is perfect or well thought-out, but I at least put forth the effort.
Some clutter that needs to be dealt with is:
  1. Cable TV - Time Warner continues to have problems delivering a consistent TV signal to my neighborhood (possibly all of Austin). I have tried repeatedly to contact them recently about this, and they are generally unwilling to return my e-mails and phone calls, nor are they showing any progress on identifying and fixing the trouble. While I understand the complexity of delivering cable service (really, I know more than most people do, being a network guy and reading lots of Cisco/Scientific Atlanta literature), Time Warner, with their money and expertise, can't seem to get it right. Maybe the best thing to do is to just get rid of cable. Dealing with the cable company is overly-stressful and much of the programming on TV is of questionable quality anyway.
  2. Computers - While this is my area of expertise, I'm finding that I'm sitting in a sea of computer equipment without any real purpose. My personal computer projects are becoming less satisfying - partly because my workload (at work) has increased and partly because the effort required to complete the projects is more than the anticipated satisfaction resulting from their completion.
  3. Aggravation over Austin - Specifically what they call growth and I feel is more a destruction of the flavor and fabric of the city. I need to set my sights on leaving and finding a simpler and less populated place to live. I can't do that right away, because of my job (and pension), so the best I can do is to try my best to find some oasis inside the desert of ideas instead of hoping that the people here will get a clue. They won't.
I'm sure there's more, but my laptop battery is getting low and I need to spend some time with my own cat, and find something to do that doesn't involve shopping. There's certainly enough turkey and fixin's hanging around for lunch and dinner, so there's no way I'll be hungry. Sick of turkey, maybe...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chinese Water Torture

It has been a while since the last posting and I'm not sure if anyone is actually reading this anymore. Two of my favorite Blogger blogs (you know who you are :-) have had an eerie silence for the last few months. Several things have happened since I last wrote, keeping me away from writing here.

Mom & Dad's Visit & Home Improvement

My parents came to visit for a week a couple of weeks ago. I always look forward to seeing them - being 2,000 miles away means we only get a chance to see each other in person about once a year. They have a dog and I have a geriatric cat that has special needs, so we both have a bit of a problem coordinating visits. Since I live alone, having people in the house is always a little challenging because I'm used to my own schedule, interests, TV viewing habits, etc. On the other hand they're low maintenance, and I get a chance to show them all the neat places around here to eat, and they get a chance to take a break from all the chores of their own house (mostly).

My father and I replaced the exhaust fan in my master bathroom, and that was overly-complex like everything in this house is to fix. I learned about a new problem with the latest thinking in making houses air-tight for energy efficiency purposes. The term is called negative pressure, and it is what happens when you try to suck air from a space without providing some air coming in to replace it. My house was made very energy efficient, and by that I mean they made the living area pretty much air-tight. There is actually plastic sheeting behind the sheet rock on the outer walls. What contributed to the bathroom fan going bad and not working properly is the lack of any air coming in from outside to replace the air the fan was trying to suck out of the bathroom and blow outside. This also explains why the kitchen exhaust fan never seems to sufficiently pull cooking odors from the house. There is no easy fix, and with the city mandating even more "energy efficiency updates" it is likely that the problem will get worse. This, again, is an example of unintended consequences. Why are people all of a sudden having problems with mold, radon, and outgassing of construction materials? Here's your answer, and the fix doesn't come cheap. It also underscores why all these chemical perfumes in air fresheners, cleaners, and other products are so irritating to those sensitive to them (like me).

The other thing my father did (since he was involved in water distribution for a while) was take a peek at my water meter, and like when he did last visit he discovered I had a water leak. It didn't take long to find it (it took a while to convince Dad though) - the culprit was the cold water faucet in the master bathroom tub that Smokey likes to drink from. There was a slow drip that is leaking about a quart of water a day (not horrible, but it is staining the tub and is just plain wasteful). So we try to fix the faucet, which should be as simple as replacing a plastic cartridge valve stem ("should be," being the important phrase here). Don't believe Moen's lifetime warranty for a second. Why? Well, nothing that comes in contact with water that contains a lot of calcium/mineral deposits lasts forever. The other thing is that Moen has so many exclusions in their warranty that it renders the warranty practically useless. I digress, though. What I found first is that removing the cartridge from the tub valve requires a special tool, and while Home Depot and Lowe's carry the cartridges in the store, one can only obtain the $3.50 tool online. The tool arrived the day after my parents left, and I went to the store, bought what I thought was the correct cartridge, and proceeded to do the fix. I then discovered that the cartridge for this Moen two-valve set is slightly larger than the ones available at the store. I need to purchase the new cartridge online, of course. Dad recommended trying to replace the O-rings to see if that's where the leak was happening, but as I figured the problem was mineral deposits scoring the plastic surface in contact with the valve stem, so the cartridge is just bad. So for now, my faucet continues to drip...drip...drip. Thankfully I don't think I made anything worse than it originally was.

I told Dad he was not allowed to look at my water meter the next time he was here! :-)

Sick Again

In return for my comments about not getting paranoid about germs, I came down with a nasty cold a couple of days before my parents left last week. That has completely taken me out-of-service for the last several days. This is one of those upper respiratory things where your head hurts and the post nasal drip on your throat causes a hacking cough. I stayed home from work on Thursday and Friday and am now only now (on Sunday, of course) feeling well enough to handle my usual workload. This bug was particularly weird. I woke up Friday morning with blood all over my face that had dripped down onto my pillow case. I didn't realize it until I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I looked like a scene from CSI. I never get nosebleeds. A less dramatic version of the same thing happened last night, and the only thing I can figure is that the airflow from my CPAP irritated my nasal passages enough to cause bleeding. Last night I started coughing after I went to bed (after a whole evening of feeling pretty good), and that's when I noticed I had a bloody nose again. So I think that I'll need to be a bit careful tonight. Here's hoping all is back to normal finally. I haven't died yet, although I didn't get much sleep last night.

Learning About Subversion

I'm not a good patient when it comes to getting sick. I feel I need to always be doing something, so I spent a lot of Thursday, Friday, and the weekend (during periods of lucidity) learning the finer points of the Subversion version control system for work. In particular, I have been trying to find a more elegant way to track the custom changes we make to the Asterisk PBX software in our environment, while still leaving us a way to upgrade as newer releases come out.

It turns out that the feature we're looking for is called "vendor drops," and is explained in the very helpful online book, Version Control With Subversion. The way I set-up the repository was like this (click on image to get a more readable version):

What I was trying to accomplish here was to load branch versions of Asterisk (from the open source project) as needed into asterisk->vendor->current and then tag that release and put it under "vendor." That version would get merged back to "trunk" that would be used for development of our internal changes and releases. When we release a version to be put into production, we tag the current "trunk" into "tags" with an internal revision number tacked onto the original Asterisk version number (in case we needed to make several internal releases from that revision). The same thing will be done to libpri, dahdi, and asterisk-addons in the same manner. I have the last 4 internal releases we have done put into Subversion so far, and it looks to be working. Since the phone system is running Gentoo Linux, I'm creating an ebuild for all the components each time there is an internal release to be made (that will likely be tracked under trunk and moved into our portage overlay).

Ultimately I am shooting for putting the entire phone system development tree into Subversion as it should be (right now it is only in RCS). There an extensive amount of dialplan & configuration files, MySQL database table/trigger/function definitions, perl scripts, and a bunch of other stuff (including some sound files) that really need to be tied together in a more cohesive fashion.

As an aside, I'd like to add that Blogger doesn't have a nice way to add diagrams or preformatted text of any kind without simply adding them as an image. This is one of the reasons why I hesitate to put more technical information in here.

Political Rants?

I am going to refrain from Blatant Stupidity, political or religious rants for the time being. Not that there isn't an abundance of frustrations on my mind - in fact, enough to really make me wonder about human beings in general - I just can't see where writing it all down right now is going to be constructive.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bulls#!t

Listening to the news the last couple of days reminded me that I hadn't seen the last few seasons of Penn & Teller's series called "Bullshit!" While I didn't always agree with what they said, watching it was part of listening to different sides of the issue. Their take on the Prius, for example, was a bit exaggerated and unnecessarily negatively biased. However, I do believe that the people who worship the Prius (and there are many) are equally misinformed. I like my car, but I know its (many) limitations. It saves me on gas when I take my long drives out into the country, and my hopes are that my purchase helped give the auto manufacturers a market by which they can improve the technology. It isn't a Corvette, and it isn't a pick-up truck, but it gets me around pretty well.

"Bullshit!" is a neat series. It isn't enough to get me to order Showtime on cable, but being able to see it on Netflix was pretty cool.

However, the show "Bullshit!" doesn't come close to two things I heard on the news over the past couple of days. Prepare for another installment of Blatant Stupidity.

The first news story I heard today, but I didn't take careful notes and am too lazy to look it all up, so I'll paraphrase: The gist was that kids need to forego their Halloween trick-or-treat festivities because the chance of getting the "deadly swine flu" is way too risky. The "expert" who was consulted said that the flu could be passed from kid-to-candy-wrapper-to-kid and, "to attempt to sterilize each item would render the product unsatisfactory." That means that killing the flu virus on the wrapper of the candy bar would mean destroying the candy bar in the process. They went on to suggest not to let children take candy from the bowl, but the candy should be handed-out, and that "hand sanitizer is a must." First, any flu virus is potentially deadly. This is flu season. Flu happens. It sucks, but it happens. Most people don't die, they just have a hell of a bad time for a week or two. The swine flu thing is being blown way out of proportion to its risk. That being said, second point is that whether swine flu is around or not, a virus can pass between candy wrappers at any time. It can also pass on doorknobs, faucet handles, the push-button on the hand sanitizer or the container itself, and so on. The world isn't sterile.

The moral of my story is that kids should stop listening to douchebag paranoid germophobes, go out trick-or-treating, and have a great time, unless you're already sick of course. You'll encounter germs and virii wherever you go, and life isn't worth much if you're going to worry about everything you touch.

The second news story comes from the "They should make a law against that" department. Apparently a divorced mother of two kids (8 and 9 years old) in Amarillo, Texas is having a hissy-fit because their father allegedly forced their two kids, while in his custody, to watch a pornographic Internet video. The mother said, "He took away their innocence. I thought, surely, there must be a law against that." Well, in Texas, the law states that sex education is at a parent's discretion, and that showing this material to the children by their parent(s) is not against the law.

I'll refrain from judgement of the father since I don't know what really happened here. Was this some kind of perverted hick who wanted to screw around with his kids' heads? Possibly, but I'm going to say not likely. What probably happened here is that either (1) his kids asked a question about sex and he felt this would be a good way to answer their question, or (2) the kids were exploring some site and he felt it would be better if he could put the visuals in context. Kind of like the kid who is caught smoking is forced to smoke the whole pack in front of Dad so he'll never do it again. I'd say that the father's real crime here is an absence of good judgement, which seems to be epidemic in society today. If he really is a sick pervert, though, then definitely throw him in jail (usually these kind of perverts have a history of abuse).

My "blatant stupidity" award, though, goes to the mother, and to anyone else who's outraged at the law in this case. I'm close to several families where the parents are divorced and there's kids in the mix. The parents use the kids as pawns in their battle with each other, and the kids have "selective memory" about events in order to manipulate their parents. This sounds more like two parents bickering about parenting philosophy and a counselor over-reacting to a certain situation than a perverted father who forces his kids to watch Internet porn. Seriously, does that even make any sense? The problem is that there is no definitive way to raise children, and kids don't come with an instruction manual. The law allowing parents to show this material was specifically enacted so that the parents could show sexually-oriented material to their kids for the purpose of teaching them about sex. How a parent chooses to teach their child makes an excellent topic for debate, but I'm not sure that the legal system is the place to debate that subject. The time to debate that subject is before the parents have intercourse and pop-out the little tykes. Should the mother be concerned? Absolutely. Should the mother or state start pressing charges against the father? That is a very good question. Was this sex education, kids lying to their counselor (maybe because they watched the videos on their own and didn't want to fess-up to it), a sick and perverted father, or something else? The news story didn't say, and we have no right to judge based on that story. As for the kids "losing their innocence" ... I doubt that even if they were forced to watch Internet porn that the kids would be scarred for life. Save that sentiment for children who are really sexually abused. There are really cases of that, and they need to throw the sick bastards who do that in the slammer and throw away the key.

Maybe if the mother and father of these children had better parenting and sex education themselves, then they would have known better about choosing a mate and what happens nine months after intercourse. I feel bad for these children - not because they saw Internet porn, but because their parents are initiating a legal battle that is taking away from real parenting, and sending a message to the kids that sex is horrible and dirty and bad. I think that this will do far more harm than the Internet porn...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's...Sayaka...who??

Every once in a while (not nearly enough lately) someone stands out to me as being special. When that happens, it only seems fitting that I make mention of that on here, because it's no fun having only depressing commentary all the time...

A few months ago while I was browsing YouTube videos with my TiVo, I came upon Sayaka Alessandra, known on YouTube (and elsewhere) as "sayalessandra," performing an Elvis Presley song. The video was Sayaka singing and playing acoustic guitar. So, intrigued, I decided to look at more of her performances. I was absolutely amazed at her vocal range and the expression she gave to the songs she sung. It was obvious that she truly performs from the heart with the voice that is absolutely angelic.

The first song I heard was a cover of Elvis Presley's, "Baby Let's Play House" (linked here). Following that, a stage performance of "Whatever Lola Wants" that is truly a testament to just Sayaka's vocal range - a range I have not heard since Mandy Barnett (country performer popular in the late 1990s). Finally, as I heard her sing Sam Cooke's "Cupid," I sat thinking to myself, "This is definitely someone who doesn't need any help from Cupid!" Anyone who embraces those old songs is wonderful in my book.

As if these weren't enough good things to say - Sayaka is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, if she lived in the United States and I was about 20 years younger, I'd be ...well... I'd probably be waiting in line behind a thousand other admirers. Unlike all of you, who's first contact with Sayaka was probably her web site that I linked above (with the professional photos), my first contact was on YouTube, with her singing at what looks like her home. Yeah, I'll admit, if I had to describe how the woman of my dreams would look, this is it. No exaggeration.

So, check out "sayalessandra" and let me know what you think. I really think she has potential to do great things, and is well on her way to realizing those possibilities.

Related footnote:
okay, okay....yes, I know Mandy Barnett is also "my type" appearance-wise as well, and I'm sure some of you will accuse me of having some kind of audio filter controlled by my eyes. That's really just a coincidence. Both are really wonderful performers, in addition to being beautiful. Hey, it happens sometimes!! :-)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ancient History

My latest Netflix viewing was the documentary The God Who Wasn't There (written and directed by Brian Flemming). The movie was primarily an examination of the history of Christianity, coming to the conclusion that Christianity and related religions are more likely fictional stories and are full of contradiction. He also emphasizes the dangers of fundamentalist Christianity (and other extremist religious leanings as well). The movie is done very much in the style that Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore have made popular recently. For the most part, I did enjoy the movie -- it had a lot of excellent insight and information. The only thing I didn't like was the "music" throughout.

One thing I do think is getting old in these documentaries is the parts where the opposition is interviewed and put on the spot when asked to defend their positions. Yes, we all knew that Dr. Ronald Sipus (superintendent of Village Christian Schools) was going to flip out when asked to allow students to critically question the beliefs that were being taught in the school. I think there are other ways to get the point across without embarrassing people in the process. This kind of interviewing technique is sometimes effective, but more often than not it tends to make me sympathetic to the interviewee, regardless of how much I disagree with them.

One of the most important things I walked away thinking after watching the movie was how justifying an action "because it's my faith" essentially ends the conversation. If you say that I will be destined for a life in hell because I don't believe there is a holy spirit, or that homosexuals should be put to death, and I question the morality of those statements on scientific or secular principles, and you say that I'm wrong "because God said so, and that's who I believe," there is nothing I can say to respond. Clearly facts, scientific principles, common sense, and considerate behavior will not convince someone who believes that an omnipotent being, only supported through faith, indicates otherwise.

There are days I take pause to think about why I don't believe in some "higher power" or "holy spirit," and wonder whether believing would fix things that are wrong in my life. On the days when I feel like my life is pointless, I wonder if dedicating my life to serve "God" would give my life meaning. When all is said and done, the scientist in me realizes that turning to religion to find meaning in my life is nothing more than a crutch, at best, and at worst I am depriving the world and myself from doing something truly constructive. Every one of us has the potential to contribute something positive to the world around us, including those who are religious. However, I still assert that if there were a higher power, that being would not want us to waste the resources we have been blessed with sitting around worshiping it (and working to convince others to do the same). My morals and values are based on the principle that I try to treat others as I would like to be treated, in ways similar to Buddhist belief.

What we currently view as organized religion had its place in a time in history where less was known and understood about the physical world where we live. It could be argued, and very well argued as well, that while these concepts did lay the foundation for ethical behavior where perhaps none existed, some of the teachings of the Judeo-Christian religions and their offshoots were (and still are) barbaric and downright violent. Furthermore, it really is my belief that supernatural explanations for how the world works just makes little sense in light of what we have learned over the past 2,000 years.

I know I've said a lot of this before, but sometimes I find myself being able to say it better, and now is one of those times. Since I've been pondering the lack of point in living a lot lately, and because that thought scares me at times, I've had to do some serious thinking about life in general. While I don't consider myself a martyr or that my thoughts are terribly original, I do realize that throughout my entire life I have tended to be a non-conformist and an independent thinker. By definition, independent thought and non-conformity will always leave one very alone at times. That's not to say I am always striving to "buck the system," but I do question the motives and the reason behind why the system is as it is. There are times that I have rallied behind conventional thought, some times when I reluctantly went along with convention (because I had no choice), and times when my principles lead me far from convention. While this isn't an easy life, my personality, for better or worse, won't let me behave otherwise, and my mistakes are unfortunately permanently etched into my mind. Also unfortunately, some of the right choices haven't been etched as permanently...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Bloody Mess

Sometimes something so strangely funny happens, you just have to share it on here...

I saw the season premere of South Park tonight. This is the episode where Kyle's brother Ike sees dead celebrities. One of them is Billy Mays.

{brief topic change}
I had Chipotle for lunch on Tuesday (yesterday). I haven't had lunch there for a while because the quality of the food at that particular Chipotle just hadn't been too good. Since I went to get my hair cut at lunch, and because Chipotle was right around the corner, and I was running a bit late, I figured, "Why not?" So I had Chipotle. It was actually pretty tasty.

{about three hours before I started writing this and a couple of hours before South Park}
I had to go to the bathroom and, argh, the friggin' rectal bleeding started again. I was hoping I had that under control, but I guess a little too little water and a little too much food was the recipe for that problem again. Hopefully not for too long, I'll need to soften the stool a bit for the next few days. I know this is gross, and I'm serious about it happening, but stay with me...there really is something funny about it.

{back to South Park}
So I'm watching South Park, and one of the celebrities that Ike sees is Billy Mays, who does a commercial for Chipotlaway. "Do you like to eat Chipotle but can't get the blood stains out of your underwear?" WTF?! How did the comedy geniuses who do South Park know that I had Chipotle and that I was having problems with rectal bleeding? And is it well-known that eating Chipotle really causes rectal bleeding? Why can't I have a golden rectum like Stan?

The bigger question though is, "Now that I know that eating Chipotle causes rectal bleeding, will I still continue to eat it, or buy Chipotlaway?"

If any of this seems obtuse, please, I beg you to watch the latest episode of South Park.

Oh, and if either Matt or Trey are here reading this, no, it wasn't too soon... Touche. Very well done. If the rest of the season is as well-done as this episode, I'll be looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slow Down or I'll Shoot!

There is so much stupidity lately to write about, I'm almost not sure where to start!

I'll start with one from Mary, a good friend of mine: She forwarded a link to an article in the San Francisco News Blog titled, "'Froot' Is Not Fruit, San Francisco Lawsuit Alleges." So why is "disgruntled consumer" Roy Werbel suing Kellogg's? Did he get sick from something he ate? No. Roy is suing Kellogg's because he feels that they intentionally misled consumers because their cereal product is called Froot Loops, and the product doesn't contain any fruit. The article quotes the suit as saying that had he known that "Froot Loops contained no fruit, he would not have purchased it." I guess Roy Werbel was taught using Hooked On Phonics because Froot is not fruit. He also seems to have a disorder that prevents him from reading the ingredient list on the side of the box prior to purchasing the product. This is the kind of thing that is so damned important that it requires filing a lawsuit? So your Froot Loops contained no fruit? Take the damn $5 box of cereal back to the supermarket, or, better yet, throw it out. By the way, I have no issue with Froot Loops. I ate that cereal as a kid, and even I knew then that it had no fruit. It just tastes yummy and is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals and lots of tasty sugary goodness! Fsck you Roy. You could use some sweetening-up!

Then there's my neighbors. We have an Internet mailing list so the folks in my subdivision can keep each other aware of pressing issues in the neighborhood or to communicate with each other. The idea is a good one. However, there are some neighbors I would rather not hear from. Neighbors such as one who only identifies herself through an AOL e-mail address. I am going out of order though... The conversation started with a very good comment and question: In short, another deer got hit by a car the other night and someone asked how we can get the city to install some "Deer Crossing" signs on the road. This innocent question prompted neighbor "A" (for asshole) to a full-blown rant about people driving too fast in the neighborhood. She claims that a person is "doing 50 plus down my street." If that's true, that's a problem. Her solution, "I am all for speed bumps. Frankly, I am sick of this." Nothing like destroying everyone's car in the neighborhood because of one person who is clearly driving recklessly. "A" knows the person's schedule - she could simply have the police come down, and I'm sure they'd take care of someone doing 50 MPH+ on a 30 (25) MPH neighborhood street.

But it doesn't stop there...

About 6 or 7 messages later, someone recalled a story (which began, "I know this is certainly no way to handle it, but") about someone who was tired of a person in a "hotrodded Camaro" speeding down their street to his girlfriend's house. Apparently one day a guy on the street waited for the person with his shotgun, and when the car came down the street, he pulled the gun on the car. Continuing..."The Neighbor went over, pulled the young man out through the window by the shirt and told that if he didn't slow down he was going to use that shotgun on his nice Camaro. Nothing more needed to be said. The young man crept into and out of the neighborhood after that." The reason why the story was told was to indicate that this has been a problem that happened since the 80s.

One response went, "Who can tell us if there's money in the [neighborhood association] budget for a shotgun?"

"A"'s response: "I think nothing of just stepping into the path of the speeding car and telling them to slow down." And it just gets more and more stupid from there.

You may remember my own rant about this a while ago ("Too Flippin' Slow" from 7/31/08). To make a long story short, my gripe was that they lowered the speed limit to 25 from 30 (which I thought was a perfectly reasonable speed limit). Seriously, 30 is fine, and yeah, I still go 30 because frankly I can't see any reasonable explanation for lowering the speed limit except to shut people like "A" up. She probably wouldn't be happy until there were no cars using the street in front of her house (a street that clearly is used to traverse the neighborhood, it isn't a cul-de-sac). Argh.

I'm growing tired of all this. I so want to just bury my head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening, but the last time I did that I ended up with speed bumps in the neighborhood (previous house), and someone took Alpha-Bits cereal off the market. Now I'm sure I've upset some people with my rants about Flash™, but I think I presented it in a way that was constructive and informative. Likewise, I feel that my gripes/frustration with the cable company and some others happened after I clearly attempted to handle things amicably. There are alternatives to Froot Loops that should clearly satisfy Roy Werbel such that suing Kellogg's is frivolous at best. I already presented an alternative to "A" and some of the other fans-of-"A" in my neighborhood that preclude the installation of speed bumps.

The stupidity I encounter in my life is a grim reminder of why things in society today are so screwed-up.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Free Lunch

The title I chose is slightly misleading. I am not going to talk about how to get lunch for free, or even about the free lunch program specifically. I'm also not offering you lunch for free (it wasn't an announcement!).

"There's no such thing as a free lunch."

We've all heard this slogan at one time or another and many obviously don't really know what it means. While I think it was coined prior, my understanding is that it was referring to the free school lunch program. There were lots of parents who wondered why their child couldn't get on the program. To which someone replied, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." The reason this is the case is because someone has to pay for that lunch. The children who are on the program don't have to pay for their lunch, but the lunch itself is certainly not free. Who pays for the "free" lunch? The taxpayers (ie. you) do.

While some people can't grasp the concept of there not being a truly free lunch, there apparently are even fewer who actually understand that there's no such thing as free health care. With the idea of a government program that guarantees access to health care, there are many people who are under the false impression that this will mean free health care for all. What it really means is that the entirety of the taxpaying public will be splitting the bill for the true health care costs that are incurred as a result of someone using the program. Now there probably are some instances where there is an advantage to do this, but in most cases it makes bad economic sense. The problem isn't that pooling our resources to guarantee that everyone has access to "basic health care" is a bad idea. The problem is that people can't decide what "basic health care" entails, and when the government should pay it out.

I was listening to the radio late last week and there was a woman talking about how women are cheated by the health care system. She asserted that women are paying an unfair advantage of health care costs because when they get pregnant, they have to pay more in co-pays and/or deductibles than men do. She continued by declaring that any government health care program should pay for pregnancy care in full because that should be considered basic health care. I don't know what else she said because my face turned red and I was so angry I needed to turn off the radio. Pregnancy is not a medical "condition." It is a lifestyle choice that requires medical attention in order to increase the likelihood of success. I don't feel I should need to pay for a couple's lifestyle choices just as I don't expect them to pay for my cat's medical expenses (at his age, they are surely more expensive than the co-pays this woman complained about). Likewise, I don't feel sorry for those families who have to pay higher health care costs because they have children. Only someone who lived in isolation their entire life would assume that raising a child would not incur personal costs. It is unfair that the public should need to contribute anything toward someone else's pregnancy expenses or those necessary to keep someone else's children healthy. The only reason when the public should become involved is to assist those who have clearly fallen on hard times and the family and children need public assistance. I'll even allow for some cheaters here and there.

Now to return to the free lunch... The problem here is that people are not willing to take personal responsibility for their own lifestyle choices. People don't really want free basic medical care. What they want is to be able to do whatever they want and make lifestyle choices that could impact health care costs, and then not have to pay those costs. They don't want basic health care. They want free health care. There's no such thing as free health care.

All this being said, the health care industry needs some reforms. There are way too many people gobbling up money from all of us in various ways in order to facilitate getting health care. Health insurance was originally designed to address catastrophic illness, and employers provided health benefits to their employees to minimize the amount of time workers were absent (or as an incentive to work for that company). As more and more people have come to depend on insurance to pay all of their health care expenses and as procedures have become more complex (and more expensive), the cost of managing health care benefits has skyrocketed. Lawsuits and other demands placed on doctors who actually provide services have also contributed to the high cost of health care. There are greedy people who purposely overcharge for various items because they are needed to provide necessary health care. These are all symptoms of a broken health care system that truly needs reform.

I'm not sure exactly where the best answer lies. The caring, considerate part of me thinks that everyone should have access to any procedure that will help save their life. The practical, pragmatic part of me says that to do this will cause people to abuse this system. They're already doing that now. Perhaps what the U.S. government should do is create some standards for health care and what is required of practitioners when providing care. Perhaps some kind of regulation is necessary to prevent gouging in the industry. Educate people how to properly utilize health care (going to the emergency room for a cold is not cost-effective or necessary). Is that enough? Probably not.

I've written a lot about unintended consequences in the past few months. I'm very worried that there are a bunch of unintended consequences lurking in the proposals for government-run health care that have reached my ears in bits and pieces. Ask doctors, and they're all concerned. Some legitimately feel that their ability to provide quality health care will be affected. Some see their excessive profits going bye-bye. No matter what, a knee-jerk reaction to this situation is sure to fail. We're dealing with human life. We're dealing with a situation where preventative medicine, applied correctly, will avoid unnecessary costs down the road. We're dealing with a public (including myself) that has eaten themselves into obesity. I know that times are tough right now, but once a bad government program is put into place, it is very hard to get rid of it later. Think very carefully and learn all you can before you put your support behind any government health care plan. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised when you see the costs sneak-up on you...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Digitally Mine

The other day I was watching TV in real-time (so commercial-editing wasn't really an option). Most of the commercials suck, and are overplayed as well. I dislike the song in the GEICO commericals with the "eyes" so much that I've managed to hit the mute button even if I have to run halfway across the room. Vince still cracks me up when I see the Slap Chop (but he can keep his nuts away from me).

One notable commercial caught my attention though: It was one of the new iPod commercials. The song they played started out much like "Count Me In" by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, but it was clearly not. A few clicks on Google later, and I discovered it was "Bourgeois Shangri-La" by Miss Li. I took a look on amazon.com and, sure enough, it was available in MP3 format for a buck. I never ordered music on MP3 on amazon.com before, and the experience was mostly good (my closest experience before that was downloading songs from a semi-legal site in Russia). The only thing to be careful about with MP3s from Amazon is that some of the older songs are clearly re-records (or remakes), which is a sin if you're used to the original recording. I'll take pops and scratches over a remake any day. So anyhow, the sound quality of the MP3s is good, and is a good deal. It reminded me of the old days when I would go to the record store and buy single songs on 45RPM vinyl.

As for "Bourgeois Shangri-La" ... I actually did like the entire song as much as the snippet that was in the iPod commercial. What I discovered is that Miss Li is a Swedish artist and her LP (Dancing The Whole Way Home) is actually difficult to find in the US. While she clearly has an accent, the vocals are clear and understandable, and the song I was interested in also had a very interesting message as well. Imagine that: I actually got a music recommendation from a commercial.

For those interested (Tristin?), the other songs I ordered from amazon.com on MP3 were "Tighter, Tighter" (Alive 'N Kickin'), "Let Me Love You Tonight" (Pure Prairie League), "I'd Love To Change The World" (Ten Years After), and "Jam Up and Jelly Tight" (Tommy Roe). The remake I (accidentally) did order I won't mention because I was disappointed with it (wish I could get my money back, but it's only a dollar so it isn't so bad).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Bastard Song

I searched for this all over the 'net and couldn't find it...so...since I have the movie I'll Take You There right now, here are the words to The Bastard Song, because I thought it was great and, well, it needs to be immortalized...

The Bastard Song
Written by Adrienne Shelly & Andrew Hollander
(from the movie I'll Take You There)

It's a world of suffering
In a sea of pain.
No matter how much sun you bring
You're pummeled by the rain.

So what's the use in getting up
And what's the use in tryin'?
And what's the use in listening
When everybody's lyin'?

Don't let the heartless get you down.
Don't greet the heartless at your door.
Don't live among the heartless.

The life you lead just turns to shit.
Your joy it falls to treason.
There isn't any rhyme to it
There isn't any reason.

Don't let the bastards get you down.
Don't greet the bastards at your door.
Don't live among the bastards.

In this dead-end universe
Where there seems to be no grace
There are heavens on the map
There are humans in the race
There are people you can trust
When you need some decency
You can trust someone like you
You can trust someone like me.

Don't let the strangers get you down.
Don't greet the strangers at your door.
Don't live among the strangers
My friend.

Don't live among the strangers
The heartless
The bastards
My love...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wiener as a Deadly Weapon

I just got done watching this week's episode of 20/20 and it sent a chill down my spine.

The episode was about Philippe Padieu who apparently knowingly infected numerous women with the HIV virus. According to the report, Padieu had an HIV test and knew he was infected with the virus. He then proceeded to date multiple women and have unprotected sex with them without being honest about his HIV status. Adding to the story, he claimed to be exclusive with the women he dated, but in reality he had multiple partners simultaneously. The guy was allegedly very persuasive, confident, and had a good deal of charisma. He was dating women in my age bracket. He was doing this in Texas. Thankfully not in Austin (probably).

This is what sent the chill down my spine.

To start, I have several single (or divorced, but we'll just say "single" here too for brevity) women friends who are close to my age. One has been in several relationships with people who, like Padieu, claimed to have been tested for HIV and was HIV-negative. Were they? Who knows?

Who can we trust?

The problem with trying to find a long-term relationship in your 40s is that the pool of available people is small to begin with. Then the people who are available typically have issues. Big issues. Issues that kind of explain why they're single in their 40s. The people without serious issues are wonderful people but are not necessarily compatible. Couple that with the fact that many of us at this point in our lives are less social and spend more time pursuing their career. While I wouldn't say that makes us "desperate" to find someone, it does mean that to find a partner means navigating through all of this, making ourselves emotionally (and physically) vulnerable.

Especially with computer-based introduction services, we don't know much about the people we're meeting to "date." We depend on what the other person chooses to disclose about themselves to know who we're getting involved with. How do we know if that person is being honest? Padieu dated some of these women for over 2 years. There are an equal number of dangerous women as there are of dangerous men, so both sexes have an equal chance of becoming serious with a dud like Padieu.

In the end, the women who Padieu infected got together and helped the police put together a case against Padieu. In Texas, the law doesn't demand that you disclose your HIV status before having sex. So they pursued a charge of assault with a deadly weapon - the deadly weapon being Padieu's "member." The defense contended that the women were equally responsible for becoming infected because they didn't insist that Padieu use a condom while having sex, and the sex was consensual. The difference here, and why Padieu lost, is that they proved that Padieu was aware he had HIV and that he was aware of the dangers, and misrepresented his status to the women, so their consent was based on Padieu's misinformation. Unfortunately, there are several women who's lives have been changed permanently by the dangerous, selfish, and outright deadly act of a terrible person.

Be careful out there...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Across the Bridge

Today I saw the movie The Bridge, a documentary I have been actually wanting to see for a while. The Bridge examines the suicides that take place by people jumping from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. While the movie is certainly as far from a comedy as you can get -- in fact quite a serious topic -- I found it enlightening and quite well done. Much of the movie was comments from the people who were close to those who ended their life. (The photo of the bridge is courtesy of Rich Niewiroski Jr.)

I'd like to comment for a moment on the answer to the question, "Why?" More accurately, "Why do people commit suicide?" It's not an easy question to answer, but (except in some unusual cases) the reason is not because the people are trying to reach "another plane of existance" or because they're just sad. It is very difficult for most people to understand the concept of emotional pain. It is a pain for which there is no escape, no medication that can just take it all away. Consider a life where situations you once found enjoyable no longer bring joy, and there is nothing left but an endless string of frustration and disappointment. Everyone around you says, "Just snap out of it," or, "You just need to get out and do something again." The problem is that none of this helps - in fact, it is counterproductive in that if the person could even imagine a way for those solutions to work, they would gladly do that. Or, consider being in a world where you hear voices and feel lots of different feelings around you all the time, and they never stop, kind of like playing a dozen TVs on different channels all simultaneously all the time, including some channels that have horrific situations or images. There is no way to get them out of your head, and they are constantly competing for your attention while you try to be part of the real world. If you're "normal" it is difficult (if not impossible) to understand how someone sufferering from depression or schizophrenia feels, and likewise they can't understand how you feel the way you do either. Someone suffering from "mental illness" (and I really dislike this term sometimes) feels very alienated where nobody perceives the world the way they do. For that person, suicide seems like the only way to end that emotional pain that is so overwhelming and so hopeless that it doesn't seem like there is any reason to continue living. Those who care about the person who committed suicide feel let-down and can't understand why their caring didn't help. Many people who commit suicide not only feel their own emotional pain, but they also feel that they are a burden to those who care about them. It isn't just a selfish act or an act done in spite, as I have heard some suggest over the years. Human beings have a strong will to live, and for someone to end their own life demonstrates just how much stronger their pain is.

If you're reading this and complating suicide - I will say what you have heard everywhere you go - stop and find help as soon as possible. There is help out there even though it may be hard to find. Ending your own life may seem like the answer to get rid of the pain, but it isn't. Really, it isn't. If you've read this and take away anything from it, know that even when things seem to be at their worst, there is probably someone out there who really does care about you, and you will end up causing them pain by ending your life.

Interestingly enough, I have another view of mental illness. If you think about it, life is all about perception. That's what psychologists say in their long-winded kind of way. Who says that the perception held by the masses is the right one? While there are truly warped perceptions of reality resulting from mental illness that are clearly not productive, I think there that are some that the masses could learn from. Take, for example, my complaints about strong perfumes being put into everything, and driving me crazy because they overload my sense of smell. Nobody else seems to notice, and it's because their perception of "clean and fresh" has been (in my opinion) warped by S.C. Johnson and other large companies who are (quite successfully) selling the idea that a world without background odor is bad. This excessive background odor (and background audiable noise too) is overwhelming and irritating to me, and causes a great deal of distress. Who's reality is right? I'd argue that the natural world was absent of chemical perfumes long before S.C. Johnson came on the scene, and I feel that it was better back then. It could also be argued (certainly not by me) that perception is shaped by society, and strong, lingering, annoying "background" chemically-induced odors are a normal fixture in society as it is today. I wonder sometimes if some conditions that are considered mental illness or of "oversensitivity" to certain things are the normal mind and body's reaction to the quite unnatural and, in some cases, destructive lifestyles that modern society has adopted. Keep in mind that I'm not a psychologist, and don't even play one on TV (although a long time ago, I played with and made modifications to the old Eliza computer program).

In light of the amount of frustration I've been feeling the past few weeks, it has been thought-provoking to take this little detour across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Political Spectrum

I decided to take the political spectrum quiz that Derek referenced in his blog. It was kind of interesting. I'm not sure whether I agree with the results or not (which I guess would kind of back-up the results, huh...).


My Political Views
I am a centrist moderate social libertarian
Right: 0.2, Libertarian: 1.75

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -4.11

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -3.84

Political Spectrum Quiz

Alpha-Bits

I made a comedic reference to "alphabits" in an e-mail I sent to someone today. Little did I know that the old breakfast cereal is no more.

It seems a guy named Derek said it as well as I could have, if not better...
http://blog.megacity.org/archives/2005/11/oh-my-god-they.php

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Empty

I'm not really sure what to write about tonight. My mind and motivation are empty right now.

Latest Movies
  • The Last Word - A dark comedy about a guy who makes his living writing suicide notes for people. It was a good movie...a bit slow at times, but still good. If someone out there is interested in starting a business where people throw frustrating/annoying technology over a cliff and blowing it up, let me know.
  • Love and Other Disasters - This romantic British comedy was okay. I liked it, but it kind of left me with a number of real-life questions.
  • Pan's Labyrinth - Not a comedy. Not uplifting. English subtitles (from Spanish). I'm sure it has great cinematic value, but I simply didn't like it.
  • F**k: A Documentary - Exactly what the title says, it is a documentary surrounding the infamous "F word." It does dive into free speech issues as well (a lot). Not the best movie I've ever seen, but it was interesting and there were funny moments (Plympton's animations were priceless!). Instead of subtitles, it has a "F word counter" if you choose to turn it on.
  • The Five Forty-Eight - An acted-out version of John Cheever's short story of the same name. This is actually a "short" that aired on the PBS channel in New York back in the late 1970s, and was what gave me the motivation to actually read some of Cheever's short stories. It did bring back memories.
Other Happenings

Smokey isn't doing too well right now. I'm a bit worried about him - he's losing a lot of weight and his fur is getting kind of matted (I've been brushing/combing him though, against his wishes). The poor guy is starting to show his age.

I haven't done anything very exciting with the new netbook. I'm sufficiently burned-out of dealing with computer-related issues that personal computer projects are sitting on hold for a while...

Facebook overload continues. As much as everyone seems to want to post their every activity on Facebook, I just can't get into it. I've been acknowledging friend requests, but am not really doing much in the way of replying. I'd like to, but I just don't know much about what to write.

I'm not sleeping well. I don't exactly know why. I've been having horrible nightmares again about people and things being destroyed. This isn't helping matters. I'm not a violent person, and these thoughts (like movies of the same genre) disturb me. It has crossed my mind that my sleep apnea treatment may need some tweeking. A shout-out to all the peeps who use CPAP machines... (haha, no, I don't really talk like that...).

Time for bed... This week is going to be a rough one...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Interstate 60

It's not where, it's what.

I just saw the movie Interstate 60 on the recommendation of Netflix (thanks!). I highly recommend this movie. Be prepared for a healthy dose of weird, though. This movie probably isn't really like anything you've ever seen before, and when you're finished watching it you'll start to wonder if somehow your seeing the movie is some kind of sign you shouldn't ignore. It definitely was for me. Be prepared for a slow beginning. You will be rewarded. If you're a fan of The Twilight Zone, then you'll really dig this flick. Keep your ears peeled for a very subtle reference to The Twilight Zone, by the way. I originally thought it was accidental, but it was most certainly on purpose.

The last several days have been like the beginning of my own trip down Interstate 60. For starters, the movie Interstate 60 was not next in the queue for me - the DVD that was next wasn't available close-by, so Netflix sent the second in my queue along with the next one. So it was kind of accidental (coincidental?) that I should have gotten the movie now. The fact that it was inspirational and apropos was kind of eerie, in a Twilight Zoneish kind of way.

I was originally going to write today about perfection, and how I think that the world is driving me crazy (no pun on Interstate 60 intended). On Tuesday the place where I work started using an access gate system on most entrances to enter the campus parking. We have been trying to get the whole thing nixed for a while because the implementation is unsafe. Really, just take my word for it, it is. Well, one of the alleged features of this system is that I can link my Texas state toll tag (TxTag) to the gate system, so I wouldn't need another transponder thingy to stick on my windshield. Great. So Tuesday morning comes along, and they had to manually let me in because none of the TxTags were recognized. Great. I mention (in the most sarcastic way I could) to the person scanning us in, "I can see that this system is really working great." This didn't leave a good impression on the lady or the other guy working there. Later, as I was leaving for lunch, the left exit gate they installed (which had been working, as well as it did) didn't open. This gate "normally" won't raise until you are nearly touching it with your bumper. So I'm there for a couple of seconds, and the guy from the morning comes out and signals me to go around it. I give a look of disgust and go around it. The guy flipped out. I mean, he really flipped out. I could see him in the rear view mirror jumping up and down making all sorts of gestures like I had just insulted his grandmother or something. Then I saw him taking-down my license plate number. All this while I'm waiting for the traffic light right after the gate to change. I am now afraid to enter or exit through that specific gate.

Anyway, what really had me pissed was that these morons never tested the system before they unleashed it upon everyone. I can understand a mistake here and there, but to have major functions of the system just not work is unacceptable.

Or is it?

Monday I went to consult with a medical professional, who moved to a new office a few days ago. During my appointment, she mentioned to me that her phone wasn't working and that she had a well-known contracting firm come out to work on it, and they didn't get it working. When she and I were finished, I said, "Let me take a quick look at this." (yes, she is aware of my credentials) Well, first off, the contractor never plugged the phone back in, which was the first problem. The second problem was that the FAX line and the voice line was reversed in her office and at the FAX machine. The third problem was that in the communications closet was some of the worst wiring I had ever seen in my life. The office was clearly pre-wired by someone who knew what they were doing, and the bozo who came to connect that into the live phone line lacked the proper tools and experience to do anything more than cut wires and twist them together (instead of punch them down to the terminal block, as they should be). I didn't have time to actually do a repair since said medical professional had another patient waiting, but I did impress upon her to not spend another $200 to the contractor to come back and do any more work (get someone who knew what they were doing).

Today at work I found a pair of fiber optic cable with the connectors terminated in the wrong order (two color codes were reversed) done a while back by one of the guys who works for me. It was not just a mistake, but a dumb mistake, that could have caused a lot more problems had he not taken the time to consistently reverse the color sequence on the other end of the connection rather than fixing the actual problem.

Just before finding that gem, I noticed that the fiber optic panel that the same person put up on one of the ceiling tiles (temporarily) during a remodel wasn't just tangled in electrical wiring in the plenum, but there was no strain relief on the fiber to the panel. So, if anyone moves it the wrong way, the fiber will break since the panel is basically just hanging from the fiber (instead of the protective outside sheath). Did I mention that this panel is carrying our link to the Internet? There are people working up in the ceiling near this hack-job, and I wonder how long it will be before we end up with no Internet service (a major problem for us). I was checking this out because during a planned downtime in a couple of weeks, I was planning to properly mount the panel on the wall again...but now...well, I'm afraid to touch it.

Installed a new Linux kernel on my main computer system. Driver from Ethernet chip manufacturer doesn't compile, so I grab the new one from their web site that does. However, it doesn't work. I spent several hours trying to figure what I did wrong and/or fix the problem with the driver. The one that came with the new Linux kernel didn't appear to work either until I rebooted the system and tried it first. Turns out that the manufacturer's driver not only doesn't work, but sufficiently messes-up the configuration of the chip so that the working driver couldn't initialize the chip until the system was restarted. Yes, you read that right: The open source driver worked, the driver from the company that made the Ethernet chip didn't.

These are just a few examples of the absolutely ridiculous workmanship (or lack of it) that I have encountered over the past several days...and I have stories going back even longer. All of these things have either caused me stress, wasted my time, and caused me to doubt that anyone cares about anything anymore.

Since I do network architecture and support, in addition to system administration and implementation and support of the phone system, where I work, I know a thing or two about complex systems and keeping them working. Yeah, I've goofed at times. However, it's my job to make sure everything just works. People just use the network and don't need to stress over whether their packets will make it from one place to the other. Most of the time, things just work. Again, that's my job. I couldn't imagine doing a half-assed job on just about anything, work or personal, because I do care about people and the things I do. I do admit when I'm doing something I have no or little experience with (like management) where I am bound to make some mistakes. Am I a freak of nature or something?

I'm just so tired of being the only one that sees the "big picture," making others aware that somethin' ain't right (it just seems obvious to me), having them refute what I'm saying or simply ignore me, then go ahead and just screw it up. Then either insist that it isn't screwed-up ("it's supposed to work that way") or deny any involvement with the screw-up ("I/we didn't have anything to do with that"). I'm tired of it, I'm frustrated with it, and I can't really take much more of it. If it were only work I'd take it as a sign to find employment elsewhere. It isn't though. The problem permeates every aspect of life. It's okay to make a mistake, but to learn nothing from it and keep doing the same thing just isn't right.


They say I'm just a perfectionist. They say I care too much. They say that this is just the way things are, and I should accept it. None of these statements/sentiments make living in this world any more palatable. I'm not expecting perfection. I'm expecting people to make the best possible effort, then own-up to and fix things when it doesn't go right. That is apparently an unrealistic expectation.

So as I go through life, people wonder why I see the glass half-empty. It's because the only way for me to make sense of things is to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it all goes well. I've been slipping lately and having some optimism, at some of my friends' urging. Gee, that sure was a mistake.

I don't know anymore. I'm wondering if my next car ride will be a trip down Interstate 60...