Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another in the Things I Hate Series

I hate the flu. 'nuff said.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is it with the word "Disruptive"?

Have you noticed that everything is "disrputive" lately? I've seen "disruptive" technologies all over. I've even seen some that claim to be both disruptive and supportive. Huh? To make things even more amusing our local PBS radio station has an underwriter that claims to be a "disruptive financial services firm", or something like that. Again I say, huh?

What is it about the word "disruptive" that has turned it into a marketing favorite lately? Doug H, if you're reading this, marketing is your bread and butter. Can you explain it?

From my perspective the term "disruptive" is generally bad, full of negative connotations. If someone is disruptive at a party you throw them out or call the police. If some bit of software I am working on is "disruptive" I am going to figure out how to shut it up (or down) so I can get on with the work I am trying to do.

This new use of disruptive probably started on the east coast somewhere and moved west. By now I suspect New Yorkers no longer use it... it's so last month. And the sooner it falls out of favor around here the better. If you claim to be a disruptive company, I'm not going to do business with you. Put that in your marketing pipe and smoke it!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Hate Gutters

I'm thinking of creating a new series of sporadic posts about things I despise. No one but me will find it interesting or amusing, but what the heck. If you can't talk to yourself on the Internet, where can you? I'll start with:

Gutters

There must be something better than gutters, as there certainly can't be anything worse. It's pouring rain and the water is streaming down your roof, carrying with it dirt and debris, leaves, and who knows what else. And what do we do with all this water and its payload? Here's an idea: let's funnel it into something that will catch all that muck and clog up, forcing water to go in new and unusual directions in the process.

We're in the situation of having gutters on multiple levels of roof. In addition. some of our gutters are effectively under a deck, making cleaning - or even seeing - them a challenge. During a recent storm, we had one gutter get stopped up and overflow. Because the water was no longer going down the proper downspout, it slammed into a second gutter under a deck. The unexpected deluge and accumulated gunk caused a backup there too, which overflowed and came down on the inside of a sliding glass door. I spent an hour getting things back into shape, and though I don't think any real damage was done, it was very irritating.

To be clear, I do understand the point of gutters. Having the water drip off the eaves can cause problems of various sorts, the most obvious of which is getting soaked when stepping out the front door during a rainstorm.

But they cause other problems too. Ice dams are a nasty issue in cold climates, and plants can actually grow in gutters. Even more fun, in the summer they make a nice place to catch both things that burn and flying embers to get them burning. That's great fun in fire country.

So, all you inventors out there, please help. There must be an alternative to gutters that works without causing problems. Something that cannot clog up, needs no maintenance, and still keeps me dry when I walk under an eve.

Anyone got an answer? If so, leave a response here so I can get rid of the gutters that make my life miserable every chance they get.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yes I'm Still Working

It's 1.5 weeks since I started working full time again. My thoughts on the experience are a bit muddled at this point. That's all thanks to the difficulty of the schedule adjustment, and probably to the reduction in exercise.

I used to sleep in - something my body is much happier with. Now I get up right when the alarm goes off and get moving.

I used to get 2.5 miles or more or walking in each day. Now I get to drive 40 minutes each day instead.

Please don't misunderstand me. These aren't complaints. I chose to go back to work, and I'm lucky to do so in this economy. But it's going to be a while before the adjustment to a regular schedule is done and I'm back fully in the swing of things.

This weekend I will be taking a class on driving fire engines, all day, both days. That should be fun, but it will keep me busy on a weekend when I should be doing other things, like carving.

Oh well. There are other weekends coming, and I'll get things done as time allows.

I hope you're all doing well, whatever adjustments are going on in your lives.

Mountain Living - Water Part IX

The water heater is finally working again.

No, you haven't missed any earlier articles about the problem. I've been pretty busy of late, as this came to light as I was getting ready to go back to work.

We have an all electric house, so (of course) our water heater is electric. Years ago we replaced a standard unit with a non-metallic one, as that keeps the sulphur bacteria from growing in the tank. I like that choice, but may get a tankless unit later. Time will tell.

In any event, things got interesting with the water heater a couple of weeks ago. It stopped producing hot water, and eventually I found that it was tripping the circuit breaker at odd intervals.

Eventually I determined that one thermostat was bad, as it was only passing 120 volts (instead of 240) to the lower heating element. I ordered replacement thermostats - both upper and lower - installed them, and found that didn't solve things. Additional research convinced me that the lower heating element was also bad and shorting out. Then my friend Alan figured out that the new upper thermostat I'd been sent was bad too.

While I waited for parts to arrive I disconnected the lower heating element to avoid the short, used one of the broken upper thermostats, and turned the water heater on with the circuit breaker only when we needed it. That wasn't exactly an approved - or convenient - solution, but it worked. Thankfully we didn't have to do it for long.

In the end - two heating elements and a replacement for the replacement thermostat later - I've finally got it working properly. It turns out the lower heating element had corroded to the point that it had sheared off entirely inside the tank. That caused the short that tripped the breaker, so all the obvious failures are explained now.

A less than obvious thing is also explained. For some time we had a lot of air in the hot water lines. I couldn't figure out why that was, but now I know that the broken heating element was turning water into hydrogen and oxygen gas right there inside the tank. Exciting, eh?

At this point I can assure you that a functioning water heater is a very good thing, and I'm glad to finally have one again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Someone Beat Me to This Post

My good friend Ducky writes a blog that I read. Her topics vary, like mine, but tend to the more technical at times, which is OK with me. She also comments on politics, and this morning - before I could write almost the exact same words - she had this simple post up.

Since she said it so well, I'll have to say something else. Sadly, that is to point out that in California, prop 8 is probably going to pass, and that's terrible. Where, exactly, is the threat if gay people marry? How is this a problem for traditional marriage? And what gives anyone the right to dictate who can marry and who cannot?

I'm happy Obama got elected. It's a bit of history and I'm glad to have been around when it happened. But the very idea that there are enough bigoted, short sighted, small minded people to pass prop 8 in California just sickens me. I hope something happens at the federal level to make the California law invalid. The sooner the better.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The New Job

Today was the first day at my new job.

Well, technically, it's my old job. Sort of. I'm once again working at Concentric, part of XO Communications.

I can't tell you what I'm working on because if I did I'd have to kill you. No, not really. But I'm not going to talk about that sort of thing here. It's not relevant to this website, and it's not something I should be talking about anyway. Besides, it's all technical mumbo-jumbo, and that's probably not why anyone reads this blog. if anyone reads this blog.

But I'm grateful for the chance to go back to work in this lousy economy, even if it will be a huge adjustment for me. And I thank everyone who's commented about it.

In other news, as I write this post, election day is just 1.5 hours away in my time zone. I hope you'll all go vote, if you haven't already.

Finally, if the weather is clear this coming weekend I have to get working on another garden sculpture, and I should do some driving practice on the fire engines before the training class a week later. With all of that and work too, I'm pretty busy right now. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Crazy California Ballot

It's time to express a simple, easy opinion about the CA ballot: It's stupid!

Why do we insist on allowing initiatives? That process gets us the most awful legislation imaginable, written by anyone with a vested interest in something and enough money to setup an organization with a nice, bland name - something like the "Committee for Continuing California Progress", oh, wait, that would be the CCCP, and I doubt that would fly, but you get the idea - to drive it home.

Oh, I know the claim: "Our legislators aren't doing their job, so we have to do it for them." I say that's crap. If they haven't found a way to deal with it in Sacramento it's because the problem is difficult and the people are split about how to handle it. That's a time for discussion and - yes, I know you'll hate the word - compromise, not for some billionaire from out of state to come in and force the issue onto the ballot by hiring people to stand outside of grocery stores conning voters into signing things they haven't read and don't understand.

The initiative process is the dumbest way to make legislation, and it causes no end of problems, but the issues with the California ballot don't end there.

Why do we insist on enshrining every stinking thing into the state constitution? Why are the specifics of how to fund a high speed rail project in the constitution? Why are the sentences for various crimes in the constitution? What on earth is going on here? Printed out, the California constitution must be 950 pages long. No one can read a ballot measure and understand its impacts because the various bits are spread out all over a huge document that no one fully comprehends.

Wouldn't it make more sense for the constitution to contain a few guiding principles - things we think are core to what makes California the unique place it is - and put the rest of it into laws? Laws that our legislature could simply vote up or down and be done with? (Can you think of any examples where we do this? Hint: here's one place where the Federal goverment is way ahead of the curve.) If we want our legislators to do their jobs, we shouldn't be voting on every single thing they have to do every couple of years, as we have to if it's in the constitution. Instead we should be voting on what they did by putting new legislators in place if we don't like the outcomes.

A related point is that the average voter can't be an expert on everything on the ballot. This time around I need to know about farm animal treatment, high speed rail funding and usage patterns, and ten other subjects. Excuse me? How the hell should I know about these things? We hire our legislators to do this work for a reason: it's not simple. It takes time and effort and research. Our legislators, in turn, should consult with (or hire) experts in various fields to gather enough information to know how to vote intelligently. I don't have the time - not to mention the spare cranial capacity - to do all of that for every issue on the ballot, which again argues for keeping things out of the constitution and instead putting them into laws that our legislators can vote on and change as needed.

Another point about the California ballot is that we're addicted to bond measures. Back when the governator was put into office, there was all kinds of hubbub about how we had too much bond debt and we weren't going to get more credit as a state. Things were near panic. But the debt was refinanced in various ways and life went on. Well, now, here we are again with a boat load of bond measures on the 2008 ballot, and there were bunches in previous elections as well. When do we say enough is enough? Aren't we mortgaging the future of the state to pay for these things now? An occasional bond I can understand, but this state seems to feed on bonds in a way that has no basis in fiscal reality.

And speaking of fiscal reality, let's talk about a way in which we, the voters, have tied the hands of the legislature to keep them from doing their job: fiscal restrictions. So many initiatives have passed that require certain percentages of the state budget be devoted to specific things that there is no way the remainder and accomplish anything useful. Sure, schools are a good cause, but are they always the best place to spend money? Maybe not. Maybe we need to move money around and hire more fire fighters some year, but the budget is so tight we can't.

Any cause can be painted as right and noble. Many truly are. But the state budget is a balancing act, and the legislation that requires specific funding percentages for schools, roads, and shoes for the children of orphaned lumberjacks who don't wear flannel is just ludicrous. The legislature needs to be able to control the majority of the budget. I'd prefer to see them control it all, actually, but for the moment I'll take what I can get.

Here's a thought, people: we have to cooperate, and we can't spend more than we have. If you want to put more money into <your favorite cause> we have to either spend less on <someone else's favorite cause> or we have to take in more money from somewhere, probably taxes. It's not hard to see when spelled out that simply, but getting people to realize that and act based on those simple principles is tough.

In all seriousness I suggest you consider the following when you go to the polls in a few days: vote no on everything at the state level. Yes, you may think that some of the ideas in some of those ballot measures are good, but ask yourself: were they put there for the right reasons, and in balance with everything else going on? Do they cost more money than we have? Will lawyers earn millions as they go through the court system? Could we live without them just fine?

Seriously. Give it some thought.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gallery Generator Is Done, Again...

I've managed to completely update my gallery generation script again, and as a result I've pushed an updated version of my website live. Other than some relatively subtle things on the main page and a massive change in font for many of you - abandoning IE's default Times Roman font for the much more readable Ariel - most of the changes aren't all that visible. But to me, they're a big improvement.

It's now much easier to add new entries to the gallery, and that was important. I've incorporated some use of style sheets too, and cleaned up the navigation bar a bit to make it more friendly to spiders.

In all, it was a very necessary update, but not one that most people will notice. Having to rewrite the gallery generator twice was less than fun, but such is life. It's good that I got this done before going back to work, as I will be less inclined to sit in front of the computer at home for hours at a time once I start doing that again every day at work.

In any event, please feel free to send me any comments you may have about the revised web site. Anything at all. I'm afraid it will always be a work in progress, but your comments to help me figure out what to do next, so don't be shy. Thanks much!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Something Else Good About Barack Obama

Here's a story about Barack Obama that I'd never heard before, and that others need to hear. I've talked with people that know about it. As far as I can tell, this is true.

I've encountered so much fear about what might happen if Obama is elected. The truth is that he can't live up to the massive positive expectations growing around him - no one could - but he can set an excellent example. He can show the world that America is able to rise above it's past, that anything is possible here. And by providing a steady hand - probably not always right, but generally more reasonable than anything coming out of the Bush whitehouse - he can lead us through this economic mess, get us out of Iraq, and perhaps start some diplomatic efforts in places that haven't seen any effort in recent history. And who knows, if things go well maybe we can make some progress on other issues too, like reducing the debt, health care, energy independance, and so on.

I can't tell you how we do all of those things. I don't think Obama or McCain can tell you either. What matters is who they listen to while making decisions and what sort of leadership they provide when they have the information in their hands. For my money, Obama is a much better leader than McCain, much more inspiring. I can't trust him - or any other politician - completely, but he's a lot better than the competition.

I hope we give him a chance on Nov 4, 2008. That would show America at it's best. The story above is another example of why he's worthy of that chance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pippin's memorial service

Yesterday was the memorial service for Pippin Seales. Pippin's death was the event that I mentioned on October 12. The one that slapped me back into reality. At this point I can tell you his name because it's been in the local papers ever since he died in a sand dune / cave collapse at Natural Bridges state beach in Santa Cruz.

As it happens, I didn't go to the memorial service. I offered, instead, to stay at the home of Pippin's parents. Apparently thieves read newspapers these days. As a result they know when funerals are taking place, and thus when homes are easy targets. I stayed at Pippin's home to make sure the house wasn't empty, and head off any trouble. Perhaps that's a sad commentary on our times, but it's better to be prepared. Naturally nothing happened, but if my presence gave the parents some peace, it was time well spent.

In some ways I got to know Pippin pretty well in that home. His picture appears in many places, and the evidence of his life was all around me, just sitting in the living room. The love and devotion of his parents was obvious as well. They may live there, but it was clearly Pippin's house.

For one so young - he was only 11 - his life was grand, and his experience broad. He will be greatly missed.

If you're a parent, please give your kids an extra hug tonight. I may be far too sentimental, but the truth is that nothing in this world is certain. Make sure your children know you love them. The same goes for your parents and friends. Spend each day living the way you want to live, as best you can. These are all clich├ęs, I know, but that doesn't make them less true.

Pippin Seales died at his own 11th birthday party, in the company of friends he loved, in the place he wanted to be, and doing what he very clearly knew he wanted to do. That's quite an example. I hope we can all follow his lead.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

It's Official

As the title says, it's official. I'm going back to work. The offer letter has arrived, I've said "yes" to my hiring manager and HR, most of the paperwork is filled out, and so on. Unless something changes or moves more slowly than expected, I'll be back in the office in a bit over a week.

As with many things in life, a choice like this closes some doors as it opens others. I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I'm going back to work with good people, and I'll be involved with interesting products & projects. That's all good. But, as a consequence I give up the life I've lived for the last three and a half years; a life I've really enjoyed. Alas, if I want to be sure I can eat regularly when I'm 75, I don't really have any choice.

I don't plan on discussing work related issues in this blog. (In fact, until I actually start working again I won't even mention the company name, though many of you know it already.) The reason for that is simple: this blog is a personal thing. My sculpture will continue, of course, and that will get discussed here. In addition, this space gives me a place to write about other things, most notably water supplies and politics, given the list of recent topics. A bit of work stuff may sneak in here - opinions about things tangentially related to work, perhaps - but even that should be kept to a minimum. In any event I hope you find my musings interesting.

Thanks to all the people who've gotten in touch to express support, astonishment, or regret as I make this transition. Your comments and thoughts have meant a lot to me. Again, thank you.

Tomorrow - well, technically, today, as I couldn't sleep and am writing this at something after 3am - brings another event that I'll write about. One that no one should have to experience. But that post has to wait. Somehow, I need to get some sleep. More soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Computers and Fast Stupidity

I believe it was Scott Adams - creator of Dilbert - that once claimed we are all - every last one of us - stupid. A few minutes ago I refreshed my memory on that point. I am stupid. The loveliness of it in this case is that I used a computer to accomplish my stupidity, and therefore did it very quickly.

I am in the middle of a major set of updates to my website, and a big part of that website is my sculpture gallery. I wrote a program to create that gallery some years ago. Over the past month I'd made a slew of changes to that program, tested them, and was just about done. This morning I thought of one more change I wanted to make, so I started in on it.

That change required me to create a bunch of new files from a template. I created the first file and copied it over into all the other directories where I needed it. It was that copy that did me in. I automated the command and didn't test my automation carefully enough before running it. My 20K script for creating the gallery got written over with a copy of the new, one line, text file.

And before anyone tells me to go out and use some utility to get it back, I live on Linux, not Windows, and the file was overwritten, not simply deleted. The data blocks have been reused.
It's gone for good.

I have a copy of the script from before all my recent changes, at least. That gives me a starting point and saves a lot of time, but I still get to make the changes all over again. That's not even all that hard, really, as I know this stuff pretty well. But it does use time I could have spent on other things.

Oh well. Live and learn - and test carefully before running stupid, four line scripts that copy or delete files!

I'm off to start work on putting things right again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More on formative politics

A while back I wrote a post about my first political memory - Nixon's resignation. Continued thought along that line has lead me to realize what came later: the hostage crisis under Carter, the subsequent failed rescue attempt, and Reagan's reinstatement of selective service registration, which required me to make a trip to my local post office at a particular age.

I think growing up a bit cynical about anything political is justified given those memories.

Looking at today's election mess, I have to admit to a certain frustration and disillusionment born from that underlying cynicism, though I think of it more as realism now. The economy is in the toilet and both major party candidates are still talking as if they will follow through on their plans. I don't think so.

Let me tell you what needs to happen: spending has to go down and taxes have to rise. Both. Period.

The Bush administration has spent us into a hole, squandering hundreds of billions of dollars on a failed attempt to instill democracy at gun point in Iraq. The cost of that mess isn't even in the budget thanks to their accounting tricks, and we'll still be paying for that twenty generations from now. Just how "conservative" is that set of actions, do you think?

As a result of that financial recklessness, and regardless of how much you might like McCain or Obama, the simple fact is that neither of them is telling the actual truth. They're going to have to cut spending in places that hurt, and they're going to have to raise taxes. If they don't, the economic fundamentals won't get any better, and the recession will deepen.

As I keep saying, I'll vote for Obama. He's closer to me on the social issues, and I think he gets a better score on the things that allow a society to be judged "good," but even if he wins a filibuster proof margin in the senate he can't follow through his programs and promises. If he does, the fiscal disaster that results will cripple the nation. And as for McCain, his so called conservatism is a sham, and worse for the country economically than anything Obama ever dreamt of. His social positions are also a disaster, but one that worsens with time as he bends to the will of the far right wing of his party.

And there we hit the crux of the issue with McCain: for a maverick, he's awfully wishy-washy, saying whatever he has to say and doing whatever he has to do to make sure he gets into office. Clearly he has to keep those far right wingers happy, and that's revolting.

Thankfully, though, Nov 4 is getting closer all the time. The election will end - for better or worse - and we can all go back to whatever we were doing before, with our heads firmly stuck in the sand for another four years. Right? Isn't that what you're going to do?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part VIII

The well is giving out. Two years of low rainfall has reduced production such that the pump runs for just a few seconds before shutting off again. I just increased the recovery time between pump runs to see if that helps things, but I doubt it. Talking to my neighbors, it seems that many wells in the area are going dry. We've not had this happen before with our well, but there's a first time fore everything.

Yesterday I had 3800 gallons of water delivered to our tanks, and it will probably require several deliveries before any rain - whenever that begins in earnest - starts to improve our well's output. It will be interesting to see how long that takes.

I may have mentioned this before, but those of you considering a rural lifestyle take note: maintaining your own water supply is not simple, inexpensive, nor for the faint of heart. It's much nicer if you can just open the tap and get clean water.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Keeping Things In Perspective

Yesterday I wrote a whiny blog post about having to go back to work thanks to the economy. A few hours later the universe slapped me in the face.

Good friends of ours suffered a horrible, tragic loss. I cannot include the details here - they aren't mine to disclose - but I can say it's a reminder that life can change abruptly, in ways that no one can plan for.

I'm not a religious person, and this isn't some trial thrust on my friends by some god for reasons no human can understand. This is reality. Plain, simple, random reality. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's awful. Yesterday was the latter.

It put going back to work into perspective, though. I'll shut up about that now.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Economics and Personal Lives

The past few weeks have been painful for the world economy, and they've hit some of us directly. I'm one of those so affected.

Three and a half years ago I quit working and assumed the title of "kept man". I had hoped to spend a lot of time working on my art, and the rest of my time doing other things. Looking back, I did do a bit more carving, but not as much as I'd hoped. To be honest, I let other things get in the way. That's not to say the time was wasted. I've been very busy, become a volunteer fire fighter, done a bunch of projects around the house, and so on. But none of that matters at the moment, because the economy has wrecked our plans.

Back when I quit working I always said I was "pseudo-retired". I figured I might decide I wanted to go back or do some contract work. Leaving my options open seemed smart. But I enjoyed my time not working, and it made a lot of sense to stay home. I didn't want to go back to work. I still don't. External forces, however, don't care about my wants.

Next week I go in for an interview. I sent one email, asked one question, and was floored with the response. I'm honored by that reaction. I need a job, and it appears they have something for me. A good fit. And these are good people, creating good products.

I should be happy, and in some ways I am. But tearing up my life because the worldwide economy can't get it's act together - because some nitwits in investment banks decided to sell bad mortgages like they were candy - just feels wrong.

Assuming I get the job I'll still be carving, but my time will be even more limited than it was. And that list of projects I have for around the house will take longer to get through. And I'll be a lot more tired.

So a big, personal "thank you" to the brilliant minds who created sub prime mortgages, credit default swaps, and all the other derivative investments no one really understands. Your poor judgement has impacted many people around the world. I know I'm just another in a very long list, but I also want to see you rot in hell.

From my perspective, Anne and I did everything right. We saved early and often. We invested somewhat aggressively since we're young, and were (and still are) way ahead of the pack in terms of retirement planning. But now - as things continue to get worse with no end in sight - we're back to the basics. And I'm probably going back to work.

Friday, October 10, 2008

As the Economy Melts Down

As the credit market freeze causes the economy to crash, leaving nearly everyone with less of everything, I wondered this morning at the fact that none of the media I see have remarked on how much worse things would be if George Bush had managed to privatize social security. I can't imagine the disaster that would have occurred in the last three weeks had that come to pass.

Then, out of idle curiosity, I wondered what John McCain's position on this issue was. Would the "maverick" have voted against it, or would he have followed his party and supported it?

As with all things I learn about McCain these days, his position is inconsistent, but this youtube video wraps it up pretty nicely. Yes, I know it's from an obviously biased source, but it's only McCain talking.

There are many other sources that say he supported privatizing social security, though I'll bet he doesn't support it now. Here's my google search so you can read them yourself if you want to, and come to your own conclusion.

One more reason we can't afford to have John McCain elected to office.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Leaves of Three, Leave it Be...


It's fall, and the poison oak is quite pretty, though many might not believe it possible. This photo was taken a few days too late - the color was quite impressive a bit earlier.

At the moment, both my wife and I are suffering from the rash that accompanies poison oak contact, so we're not big fans of the weed, but when it turns bright red it's quite striking.

The recent storm dropped about an inch of rain in our area, give or take, and the temperatures came down for a while, but warm weather returns in the coming days. Indian summer. But fall really is here, and the weather is changing. I hope we get a lot of rain this winter.

On not being a boomer and politics

The other day I found myself in an email conversation with some old college friends. We're scattered all over the country, now, but once in a while something gets us talking.

This time it was Jill, asking about whether or not we thought of ourselves as members of the baby boomer generation. This group of people graduated from college in 1986, and were all born in or near 1964. Depending on who you talk to, that may or may not have been included in the baby boom, but I know I was never a baby boomer by culture.

I could call out all kinds of things about my youth to make the point - like the fact that the Beatles were already broken up before I was paying attention - but for me there's really only one thing that matters all that much 40+ years later: my first political memory.

Without research, I can't even tell you when it was. I was still a kid, and tracking events in time wasn't something I did much of. I remember it was an evening, the TV was on, and my parents were watching something that seemed serious. I was bored out of my mind and probably running around. I distinctly remember being told to shut up and sit down because what was on the TV was important!

I did so, at least for a while, and do you know what it was? Nixon was resigning.

My first taste of politics was a president quitting office. If that doesn't setup a generation's worth of negative political expectations, I don't know what will.

In previous posts in this blog you've seen me express some of my opinions about both the major presidential candidates. Of the two, I have a strong preference for Obama, but that doesn't mean I trust anyone in power, even him. That's a mistake I try not to make. And with my first political memory being Nixon's resignation on Aug 8, 1974 - when I was 10 - can you blame me?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Green Business Idea

I'm going to give away a business idea. If you - or someone you know - can implement this, I want to hear about it and become your customer.

We've looked into putting photovoltaic (solar) panels onto our home, but there are a number of problems. We have an old - and beautiful - oak tree to the south that we'd have to cut down, and the roof slopes face east and west, not south, so the orientation isn't ideal.

In thinking that over, I came up with a solution, but I don't have the time, inclination, or startup money to make it happen. What if someone were to setup a solar farm elsewhere that I could buy into?

Instead of installing PV panels on my roof, they might be installed in the desert, somewhere that gets more sunlight than my home does. The people running the installation could buy panels in bulk and pass the savings on to me. They could even gang many more panels together, buying fewer inverters and other related equipment, reducing costs even more.

I'd be willing to sign over any credit money to such a facility to help defay the cost of installation, and I'd pay for the rest of it myself, so long as I get the credit on my PG&E bill as if I'd installed the panels on my rooftop.

That last point is key. If I can be treated exactly like I installed the panels on my roof - even though they are installed somewhere else - I'll be happy.

Do you know someone with an interest in this business that might consider such a scheme? I want no royalties or kickbacks. I just want to be able to do it.

If someone bought 100 acres of land in the desert somewhere with good access to the power grid and let people like me pay to put solar panels on it - reducing our electricity bills in the process - I'd be a happy camper. Please contact me if you know of someone doing something like this, or if you're interested in the idea.

It's going to rain!

This may seem like a totally mundane thing to those of you living somewhere other than Northern California, but for us, it's not.

You have to understand that it doesn't rain here during the summer. At all. We generally get rain starting sometime in October and if we're lucky we get a steady stream of storms through sometime in April or May. If we're not lucky, we get infrequent storms that don't produce much precipitation.

Living in the Santa Cruz Mountains - where fires have been a problem since last May - we've all grown accustomed to the lack of rain. The native vegetation evolved to live without rain for five or so months in a row, but it still gets awfully dry. So, that first rain of the year is always a welcome relief, even if it isn't enough to end the fire season. Just the smell of rain is wonderful.

Last year our total rainfall was poor - the second lowest total we've recorded in 16 years of living here. The year before wasn't much better. That makes getting a good rainy season this year all that much more important.

I cannot claim that one early storm sets a precedent or establishes a trend, but I hope it does. I'd love to see 70 inches of rain fall this year, and for all the reservoirs to be full to the brim again.

For now, though, I'll take the first rain of the season - assuming it happens on Saturday as currently predicted - and revel in it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thanks for coming to ARTWORKSx6!

A big thank-you to everyone that came to yesterday's show, ARTWORKSx6. We had a constant flow of visitors from opening until closing, and we all enjoyed it greatly!

I'd particularly like to thank everyone purchasing art. I know all of us appreciate your support. You cannot imagine how good we feel knowing that you're willing to buy our work. The kind of validation we get from you is invaluable. Again, thank you!

For those who've never done a show, they can be both draining and invigorating at the same time. It's a lot of work to prepare for a show - more than most people imagine. Beyond that, the actual day or days of a show are long, even if we are spending them with people who appreciate us. The truth is that shows are physically a long, tiring events. To counter all of that, we get the boost of your attention and appreciation, and often come away with new creative ideas.

The balance of these things affects each artists differently, of course. For myself, I'll probably be using the next few weeks to catch up on things that I've put off to prepare for the show and finalize my the preparations for winter around the house. My work, though, is slow to produce, and I need time to plan it out. Trust me, the ideas are bubbling around.

Thanks again for coming, for buying, and for the chance to talk and hear your great ideas. I'm inspired, and I will get moving on some new work soon. Please check back here for information and details as they become available.

All the best!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Introducing Danno, the Artist

In addition to my own art, I am now the publicity vehicle for the art one of our dogs creates. I'm sure this will be a big thing in the future, and that Danno's work will long overshadow my own. Oh well. When the universe hands you an opportunity like this, you don't just pass it by.

Please review Danno's Art Page and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Long Overdue Website Update

I know this isn't art related, but I've finally gotten around to organizing and uploading pictures at (or as a result of) some of the local fires in the past couple of years. These supplement the old Croy Fire photos I had on the website before. Anyone curious about them can click here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Garden Sculpture Done!

For those who come to this blog looking for art related information and keep finding other things, I can only apologize. Life, as they say, is a bit crazy of late.

But there is good news. Just now - less than 30 minutes ago - I put the finishing touches on a large garden sculpture. It's about 30" tall, 30" wide, and probably 18" thick. It's carved from pumice, so it will survive weather, but not kids climbing on it. (Of course, any kid that climbs on it will get scratched up rather nastily. Pumice is sharp.)

You'll note there are no pictures of this new work here. That's deliberate, sort of. This piece - I haven't even named it yet - will show for the very first time this coming Saturday, Sept 27th. For details about attending that show please click here. If you'd rather wait for pictures to appear on my website, I hope that happens sometime next week. I might post it in here too.

There are a couple of other new pieces - finished up in the last week or two - appearing at this show as well. And if anyone out there has been wanting one of my fins - paperweight sized pieces shaped like stylized shark, dolphin or whale fins - I'll have nine (yes, nine!) new ones at the show. Well, technically I'm going to be giving one away as a door prize, so there will be only eight for sale, but you get the idea.

I hope to see you at the show!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

House Concert

Last weekend Anne and I attended a house concert up here in the mountains featuring Ed Miller and John Taylor. These are traditional Scottish musicians (Miller plays guitar, Taylor plays fiddle) and it was a wonderful show. Seriously, these are some of the best Scottish musicians out there. Previous house concerts have featured Brian McNeil as well, and if you follow Scottish music you know who these people are.

My neighborhood is lucky to have someone hosting such shows, and clearly the musicians love to play here. If you've got a similar thing happening in your neighborhood you should definitely take advantage of it. An intimate audience of 50 for a couple of fantastic musicians in an intimate setting simply cannot be beat.

Costco Makes Me Feel Like A War Criminal

I went to Costco today, and as usual stood in line. Twice. Once to checkout - why do they never have enough registers open? - and again to get out the stupid door. Someone has to check my receipt and make sure I haven't stolen anything, or forgotten something, or whatever, so I wait in like with all the other sheep.

Why do they do this? Do they have a huge problem with theft of 24 packs of toilet paper or something?

The only other place I know of that has a similar policy (in our area, at least) is Fry's Electronics. I hate shopping at Fry's for various reasons, and I will go out of my way to avoid it if at all possible, but once in a while I wind up in there, and every stinking time I regret it. And that last little slap - "show us your receipt and merchandise" on the way out the door - just rubs it in.

Can someone please tell these companies that their "stop 'em again at the door" policies are pointless, stupid and irritating? I haven't got the contacts, but someone out there does.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part VII

The water purification equipment is installed. It took most of the day, yesterday, but it's all in place and seems to be working.

Now we give it all a few days to settle in and get the last of the gunk water out of the lines. At that point I'll be able to report more about the experience. Thus far, things are fine, but it's still a bit hard to tell. And we still need test results back to confirm what things are doing in terms of water quality.

What I know is that the well is still not producing quite enough water, and now we'll be burning some water backwashing on the new filter and softener, but it's necessary. It will be interesting to watch the water level in the tanks during the coming days,

More when we know it.

My Birthday Present

I have some, ah, "interesting" friends.

One couple recently gave me an aebleskiver pan for my birthday. Tonight I used it for the first time to make something almost - but not entirely - unlike aebleskivers.

For those not familiar with them, you can google them, I suppose, or you can just take my word on it that they are a Danish dish, much like a pancake, but cooked in a very oddly shaped pan that results in their looking a bit like two inch diameter baseballs. Usually they are sweet - like a pancake, as mentioned - but they can also be savory if made differently. They might also be filled with fruit or other things to make them even more interesting.

Tonight I tried a simple whole wheat pancake recipe, and it worked out well. My cooking technique needs work - the results looked a bit like misshapen, damaged footballs, but they tasted good, even the filled ones.

My wife doesn't like the recipe I used - she claims she can taste the baking power or some such thing - but it worked for me.

I'll keep playing with this pan from time to time, trying different - and progressively weirder - things. It should be fun.

Thanks to Alan & Irene - the previously mentioned "interesting friends - for the birthday gift!

Monday, September 15, 2008

John McCain Wants Money From Me?

Another in a series of (no doubt) poorly thought out political posts. If you'd rather not know what I think on divisive, political issues, please look at the sculptures instead.

A couple of weeks back - before anyone outside of Alaska had heard of Sarah Palin - I got a letter from John McCain asking for money.

Of course I am well aware that it wasn't really from him. Someone in his campaign or the RNC bought an address list and my name was on it. That is a fascinating thing in and of itself - I cannot imagine why I was on that list - but it isn't relevant to this post.

Rather than just throw the request for funds away I read it, just to see what sort of tripe it contained. I was well rewarded. Consider this gem:
If liberals like Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi control the White House, Congress and statehouses across this country...

... they will raise your taxes. Already, the Obama Democrats have laid out plans to pass record-setting tax increases.

But if Republicans win, we will make the present tax cuts permanent, work to cut additional taxes and simplify the tax code. Republicans know that raising taxes in tough economic times is a recipe for disaster, but tax cuts are proven medicine for getting the economy growing again.
If all of that is true, why does every Obama spokesperson I hear - and Obama himself - claim that he's going to be lowering taxes for the vast majority of Americans? Perhaps it's because he will, and the extraordinarily wealthy few - mostly Republicans - are afraid of the fact that they might have to pay their fair share of taxes again?

And why did McCain originally oppose the Bush tax cuts, but now wants to make them permanent? Perhaps he is pandering to the extreme right wing of his party? Not exactly the "maverick" thing to do, I know, but it seems possible.

Let's move on to the next ray of Republican sunshine in this letter:
If the Obama Democrats and liberal organizations like MoveOn.org have their way, our troops will be recklessly pulled out of Iraq and our enemies will be handed a victory they have neither won nor deserve.

But Republicans will not give up. We will see the way through to victory and make sure the radical Islamic extremists have no sanctuary and no victory.
Where to start on that one? How about this: why are we in Iraq in the first place? It had nothing to do with 9/11 and as we are now certain, they didn't have WMD either. Sadam - for all that he was a terrible guy - was no threat to us. Getting him out of power was a good thing, but it wasn't our job.

"But," I hear someone say, "we're in there now and we need to finish the job. If we pull our troops out now, the place will collapse and become a haven for terrorists." Maybe so, but let's start with defining "victory", shall we. What would victory mean in this case? I honestly have no idea, and neither does George Bush or John McCain. There is no way to fight our way out of this, and the longer we stay there the more Americans and Iraqis will die. What, exactly, are we fighting for and how will we know when we're done? If you think about it, it's clear there is no way to know. What I am sure of is that no matter when we leave, the terrorists will move in. We need an entirely different - non military - approach to the problem.

"But the surge worked!" I hear. "Bull****!" I answer. Several things happened before or at the time of the surge. Maybe it played a part, maybe it didn't. A far as I can tell, the Sunni Awakening and the cease fire declared by Muqtada al-Sadr were a lot more important than the surge.

Let's also ask an interesting question about the surge: why did we do it? Because we had too few troops over there, right? And why was that? Because Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted to do this war on the cheap. (I suspect Bush himself was clueless about the results of this choice, making him a really great "decider".)

Invasion plans for Iraq drawn up before Bush was in office called for 300,000 to 450,000 troops, but we did it with less than half that number. In other words, we staffed to win the war, but not preserve the peace. Talk about stupid decisions. How many Americans would have been saved if we'd had armed troops on every street corner in Baghdad? Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are directly responsible for the deaths of all those Americans and Iraqis because they wanted to save money on their war.

We should never have gone into Iraq, but if we were going in anyway, we should have done it with enough force to be sure of finishing the job right from the start.

One last comment on this: McCain is way out of step with the American people on this one. The overwhelming majority want us out of Iraq. I'm not even sure he's pandering to the far Republican right with this stance.

And one last tidbit from the letter before I recycle it:
If the Obama Democrats have their way, government spending will skyrocket as they implement government-run health care and resurrect their entire portfolio of the failed welfare state programs of the 60s and 70s.

But not if we Republicans unite and work together. Or free-market solutions and conservative principles are better for America - and that has proven true time and again.
Wow. There is so much crap in those lines it almost doesn't pay to respond to them. But putting my hip waders on first, I'll try.

Spending worries? Not with Republicans, right? They're the party of "smaller government" aren't they? Well, not really. Regan presided over the largest peace time military buildup in American history. And our current president came into office with a surplus on the books (thanks to the Democrat Bill Clinton), but he's turned it into a deficit of enormous proportions, the largest dollar amount in history, in fact.

Bush is so bad about this that the White House keeps taking things out of the budget so they aren't counted as being in the deficit. Iraq war spending? Off the books. And so on. The deficit he's racked up is vast, and only getting bigger. Does anyone think McCain will do anything differently? I can't see how.

And as for the concerns about "failed welfare state programs", let's see:
  • Social Security: seems like people want that to stick around
  • Medicare & Medicaid: those look like a requirement
  • Head Start: seems good to me
What, exactly, are the failed programs McCain is claiming would be resurrected? I don't hear Obama talking about bringing anything odd back from the dead.

And about those "free-market solutions" McCain is so happy to support. They gave us the savings & loan crisis of some years back, and the housing and mortgage finance crisis we're living through now, among other things. I think a bit of regulation is needed to keep things in check. Our founding fathers thought so about each and every branch of government (despite what George Bush may think) and went on to create a mechanism for doing just that. A bit of a check on unrestrained free market capitalism seems like a fine idea to me. Nothing huge - I'm not promoting Socialism or Communism - but something to keep those in power from taking advantage of everyone else by virtue of their position.

Finally, let's talk about those "conservative principles" the Republicans are so proud of. Here are a few:
  • Torture. That must be one of them, since they support it, right?
  • Spying on Americans without any limit must be another, based on their actions. And in fact it looks to me like the Republicans favor the most intrusive government possible. Clearly they want to control your most private of actions and choices. I suspect - if they could find an effective way to do it - that they'd control your thoughts too.
  • Government support of oil companies via huge subsidies is clearly a good thing, but government support of clean energy research and development is not.
  • Equal rights for the lucky, affluent few must be the thing, since equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, and so on, clearly isn't supported.
  • The merging of church & state? Clearly they think that is a good idea.
  • Winner take all economics? That's way up at the top of their list.
Those don't look like simple, honest, American values to me. Instead they look like ways for a small group of people to have their way with everyone else.

When I was growing up I was taught that a good way to evaluate the actions and beliefs of others is to look at how they treat the least fortunate among us. If someone gives back to his or her community in meaningful ways, and tries to help those in need, that's good. If someone rakes in the money and can't recognize the pain and suffering going on around them, that's bad. Simple stuff, I know, but I was just a kid.

It looks to me like many Republicans never get beyond "what's good for me" these days. McCain falls into that realm now as well, given all his position changes since starting his campaign., In addition, McCain's trickle down economics don't work. We've tried them several times now and they fail, every single time.

I cannot claim the Democrats are perfect - I'm certain they have their flaws - but under Clinton they were the party that created the budget surplus, kept us out of war, and tried to help those in need to some degree. They didn't always succeed, and I don't completely trust any politician, but I trust them far more than I trust the Republicans. That's why McCain won' be getting any of my money.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Table formatting issue resolved

Yesterday saw me find the source of the issue in table formatting, and it is now fixed. It only took half an hour or so of google searches to find the answer, test it out, and get it running properly. The problem is a subtle one.

Something about DOCTYPE certain statements causes tables to decide that images are to be printed in text rather than block context. Fixes are being discussed by the HTML and style definition folks, but that's long term. For now, there's a way to override the issue, and since what I am doing is pretty limited in scope, it worked.

What am I doing? Reworking the navigation headers on my website, again. I know, I just finished installing them the other day (mostly - the gallery is automatically generated and I haven't had the time to fix that yet) but once I did it all I found they blended in with the rest of the page too well. They needed to be bit distinctive so that visitors know what they are and could concentrate on the rest of the page.

To accomplish that they needed to use a different background color, and that lead to putting them into a table, and that lead to finding the bug, and so on.

I'm slowly updating all the pages to use the new navigation header format now. It will take several days to get it all done, but the most forward and visited pages are now updated, so things are getting better.

I'm always interested in feedback on my website, so feel free to contact me about it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where does all the time go?

You cannot imagine how much time disappears down the rat hole that is page formatting for web browsers. And I have this fundamental issue - I dislike using PDF to format pages.

Yes, I understand that I could get perfect layout using PDFs, but I want my pages to load quickly. PDF files are huge, load slowly, and every browser I use asks before downloading them. Sometimes they don't even display within the browser window.

And beyond that, I don't really like style sheets. I've seen way too many sites that setup some area for text to appear in, but the text doesn't fit in that area, so it runs over onto something else (usually other text, rendering both illegible) or it disappears under something else. Not good.

Nope. I use tables. Everyone hates them but me, I know, but even that may be changing.

Right now I'm chasing down a table formatting issue that I don't understand. Tell the row that it's a certain height. Tell the cells they are the same height. Tell the image tag the image is the same height, and yet the row is still taller than the image, and nothing I can find fixes that. At this point I don't even know if it's Firefox that is causing it, some subtle bug in my HTML, or something else. I'm down to asking people with other browsers to send me screen shots of the page so I can figure it out.

I think I need to do something else for a while.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fog! Wonderful Fog!

For the first time in weeks we got fog last night. Deep, thick, serious fog that makes it sound like it's raining outside as it drips off the trees.

It's been way too long since the last time we were fogged in, and every plant out there missed it at least as much as I did.

Now, of course, I have to go walk the dogs in it. Leah may complain, but I won't.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part VI

The numbers are in and a date is picked. We should have people working on our water system next Monday.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mountain Living - Too Much Fruit Redux

This post comes in two parts:
  • Young quince trees are dumb. They grow so much fruit that limbs break off under the weight. And just what good are quince anyway? This will get me in trouble with my wife, but as far as I can tell all you can do with them is smother them in sugar. Seems kind of odd, but she's in charge. And as a result we have many quince - harvested from the dumb tree to keep it from losing the rest of its limbs - that she will have to do something with.
  • Grapes grapes grapes. We have a couple of neighbors with vineyards, and it's harvest time. They call all the folks around to come help them harvest the fruit, and then stuff us full of good food and wine to thank us for the help. Twice last week I assisted with the harvest in one of those vineyards. My waistline is complaining from those efforts, but tomorrow I do it again. I think this is the last time this year. Collectively we harvest thousands of pounds of pinot noir grapes. Talk about too much fruit.
That's it for tonight. Gotta get some sleep before hauling five gallon buckets of grapes around tomorrow.

Mountain Living - Water Part V

Today we had the water purification expert out to our home. We reviewed the nature of the existing system and went over the equipment we need. Based on a conversation yesterday morning and the follow on today, the cost has come down somewhat. Instead of needing $6000 worth of stuff, we've reduced it to something like $5500. Based on what I think we're getting, it's actually pretty good deal.

The final quote isn't ready just yet. We need to get a question answered from the manufacturer of one thing and make a final determination on where things will be installed, but we're pretty close.

Thankfully the expert thinks he can do a lot for the quality of our water and make us happy with it again. The installation sounds really good on a number of levels too, including things like getting chlorinated water into all the lines in the house to kill off any bugs that are in them now.

The equipment to be installed includes:
  1. A water filter system that removes sediment, turbidity, iron, and hydrogen-sulfide gas
  2. A water softener to remove dissolved minerals
  3. A reverse osmosis unit to purify drinking water
It's a ton of stuff, but the UV system that was originally recommended has been removed, and installation isn't as hard as it could have been.

I should know more early next week. At this point I just want to get this done. Now. Or Yesterday.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Art Show Coming Up!

It's past time I announced this...

I'll be participating in an art show with five other artists on September 27th, 2008. It will be held a few miles from my home in the Santa Cruz Mountains for just one evening, so if you want to see my latest work along with works from some other great artists working in various media, you need to join us.

You can find all of the information you need to make that happen here.

I hope to see you at the show!

The Distractions of Web Hosting

I'm starting a very gradual update of my website- bangtherockstogether.com. You may note that some pages have a title/navigation bar across the top while others don't yet. That's a part of it. It's needed to unify the site and make it easier to get around, but it sure does take time to get it right.

If you find anything not functioning properly on the site, please let me know about that. I hope to keep that to a minimum, but it may happen as I tweak things around.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hot hot hot...

Have I mentioned I hate hot weather?

I have less than a month before an art show. There are quite a few things I need to get done before then, but unfortunately every time I go outside to work on something I wilt in the heat.

Someone please turn the thermostat down at least a dozen degrees!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Politics of Cynicism

Yet another in my occasional political commentaries. If you'd rather not know what I really think, or if the fact that we don't agree means you'll stop being a friend, please click here and look at the sculptures instead.

I'm a cynic. I admit it up front, and it has certain implications for what I believe about politics.

Obama, for example, may be newish on the national stage, but he's been around long enough to have been bought several times over. I just don't think it is possible for anyone to get as far as he has without that being the case. I wish it were otherwise, but my experience with those in power shows otherwise. By the time someone is nationally known, he or she is in the pockets of any number of people and organizations.

The same is true of McCain, of course, only worse. He's been around high level politics much, much longer, and as a result has been tainted that much more. I know he was a "maverick" and authored campaign finance reform legislation, but it simply isn't possible to be that powerful and be clean. Sorry.

One more thing about Obama: I'm going to vote for him. McCain won't get my vote for several reasons, most of which don't matter to this post as my topic is cynicism. I just don't want anyone thinking I'm so cynical I don't vote. I'm not sure how much my vote matters, but I vote.

Back to McCain. There are several things about him that inflame my cynicism particularly seriously. For starters, he's radically changed a several of his positions since he started running for the presidency. (Immigration reform anyone?) And there's his obvious pandering to the Republican base, as with his life begins "at the moment of conception" comment at the Saddleback forum. As if he'd know anything about that.

And now we have his choice of running mate. When it was first announced I was mystified. Who is Sarah Palin and what does she have to do with national politics? But the more I learn, the more I realize just how crafty McCain was in chosing her, at least from the perspective of trying to win the election. Let's examine a few points:
  • She's young. McCain himself is positively ancient and has a tough time appealing to younger voters. Plus, Obama is young, and that had to be countered. Palin won't pull hard core Democrats away from Obama, but younger undecided voters now have to think about it a bit more.

  • She's female. When the Democrats went for Obama instead of Clinton, McCain must have immediately limited his choices to women. How else might he attract those disaffected Hillary voters to his side, even if they agree with him on nothing else?

  • She's a radical republican. McCain wasn't previously such a hard core right winger, but his positions have moved as the campaign progresses. Despite those changes, many in his party don't trust him because he's been wishy-washy in some of his positions in the past, positions that matter to the conservatives. (Abortion, immigration, etc.) Well, Palin has no such issues on her record. (In truth, she's so new to politics she barely has a record, but forget about that.) What we know of her is that she's a lifetime NRA member and staunchly anti-abortion. That's a major bone to throw to the right wing of the Republican party, and they love it, or so it appears based on campaign contributions since the announcement.
Can you sense a pattern here? Palin was chosen specifically to address areas where McCain is weakest, but without thinking about the broader implications of her choice. If I was a conservative republican I'd be offended, not elated. He's hand picked someone who will (hopefully) never be in power just to make far right Republicans feel good. The pandering there is simply vast.

And exactly what happens if McCain gets elected and has a health problem while in office? Palin takes over and... what? It's not her age I quibble with. As it happens, Palin and I are the same age, and I doubt it matters all that much. And it isn't even her total lack of experience. I don't actually think anyone is qualified to be president. It's a silly to think someone could be prepared for that office in a specific way.

No, what I worry about is her personality. I've listened to her speak enough to get a sense of her style, and I just don't think she's right for international politics. I recognize the problem because I suffer from the same thing myself. There's no gravitas in Palin, and she will never be taken seriously at a conference table. She's a self described "hockey mom," and she sounds exactly like one should sound. I'm sorry, but there are any number of qualified women I'd much rather have in the office of the vice president.

And again, I stress that this isn't an attack on Palin. I have the same problem. i will never be in a position of power - be it in public or private life - because my personality just doesn't work for it. You wouldn't want me negotiating with Putin either.

But McCain is so dead set on winning - whatever the cost - that he is willing to put exactly the wrong person into a position where her shortcomings could seriously matter. He's manipulating the American public as directly as he can in order to get himself elected. And since his positions have changed so much recently, I have no idea what he will do if he does win the white house.

In the end, I simply can't trust him, and while Palin might be a nice person to meet - though I am certain she and I differ on many, many issues - I simply cannot justify her in the vice president's role, particularly with McCain being 72 years old.

If people really are tired of politics as usual, then they should be very warry of John McCain. What I see there is just more of the same; manipulation and pandering for the express purpose of getting into power. Obama may be doing some of the same things, but if so he's quite a bit more subtle about it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part IV

So we're finally getting somewhere on the water situation, but just where isn't entirely clear yet. The water purification people we've been talking to just called me back with a $6000 proposal for purification equipment. It's a lot of stuff, and I'm not yet sure we'd need it all, but it's huge. They're sending me the details so we can review them next week.

We could truck in a LOT of water for that much money, but then again, trucked in water will only get more expensive, and this is a worst case system, built to bullet proof the water against most anything. We have a lot of research to do and questions to get answered before we say "yes" to this, as you might expect.

As it happens we also got the bill for all the well work today, Another $1800. Ouch.

I've said it before: those of you on city water should consider yourselves very, very lucky.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today I'm avoiding wor... er... the heat

It's 93 degrees at my house in the shade right now. I should be out carving stone, but I just can't bring myself to go do that. I'd just be a pool of goo on the driveway long before i was done.

But such is life. Instead I am hiding in the relatively cool house, trying to stay cool with the dogs, while the day passes by. It's supposed to be much cooler tomorrow, so perhaps I'll be working on a stone then.

For those of you looking to kill some time, I can recommend this blog:

http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/

There are some very funny things here, and clearly the world is full of people who should not be allowed to bake cakes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Busy busy busy...

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I've been stuck doing many things, few of them relating to things will appear here.

However, I intend to spend some hours today working on a new stone for the show in September, and I've been preparing new information for my website about that show. That's all good.

Oh, on the downside, still no news on the water test samples I sent out 1.5 weeks ago. Whenever I hear about that you'll know it here.

So, stop reading this and go do something productive. I am.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mountain Living - Too Much Fruit


Yes, that's a bathtub full of pears.

We have this not-so-little problem of a fruit loving Siberian Husky and no other place to keep the mounds of fruit we've harvested away from him.

Truthfully, the problem is a bit bigger than that. Or property has about seven very old pear trees on it and as with all farming, they all ripen at once. (Actually, with pears, they don't ripen on the tree. They only ripen after you harvest them. They started falling off the trees a couple of weeks ago, but only yesterday did Anne finish - mostly - the harvest.) It was a good pear year.

And that isn't all of them. There's a box full that isn't pictured, and we've already canned 15 quarts of pear sauce. (IMHO pear sauce is much better than apple sauce. If you get the chance, try some.) If we'd actually harvested them all at the same time and just put them directly into the tub in the guest bath, it would have been full. To the brim.

Now we wait. They must ripen a bit before we make more pear sauce. And as with all fruit they will nearly all ripen at the same time, so we'll be canning another four gallons of the stuff all too soon. Assuming we have that many jars.

Aside: why is it called "canning" if you put whatever you're preserving into jars? Dumb name.

We've already had the apricot inundation for 2008, and we only have a couple of small trees. The plum inundation is probably still coming, but I haven't checked. That'll be followed by the apple inundation, but those we mostly ignore. They're small granny smith type green apples that the deer love but we don't like so much. Of course none of that includes what Anne is growing in the garden.

Wish us luck getting all those pears processed!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Nerd Check

So we were somewhere on our way back from Illinois on the recent trip when I saw an interestingly shaped cloud in the sky. I pondered it, pointed it out to my wife, and only then realized I had a camera in my cell phone and might be able to take a picture of it. To make a longer story shorter, I got one picture before it changed shape too much. Here it is. Does it remind you of something?



No? Well, as I say, it was changing shape and I wasted a lot of time. But perhaps if I show you the thing it's supposed to look like (to me, anyway). Imagine this flipped over. You might see it in the cloud then.


Perhaps you recognize that? No? Well, FOX did cancel the show way too soon. I only learned about it well after it was off the air, and even after the movie came out. Any clues yet?

The TV show was called Firefly, and both the movie and the spaceship pictured above were named Serenity. The cloud looked something like the ship if you used your imagination. (And if you're a nerd like me.) The show and the movie were quite good. Go rent them or buy them on DVD if you can. They're well written and fun.

Finally, just because I found it on the net, here's a better picture of Serenity:



She's a pretty ship. Now, go watch Firefly. Please. I promise not to mention it again. For a while.

Art News - New Carving Toy

The other day one of my birthday presents arrived.

it's a powered air purifying respirator. In other words it's something I can wear while carving stone to keep the dust out of my lungs, the rock chips out of my eyes, and it won't fog up while this is going on.

For years I've worn a bug nose respirator and safety glasses, but it's a lousy combination. The respirator works fine, but it gets hot. Then it happens that rock chips and dust get around the safety glasses, particularly when I'm using a die grinder. To avoid that I could wear goggles, but those just fog up and become a hindrance almost immediately.

This new device runs on a battery for 8 hours at a stretch. It's got a fan that pumps a minimum of 4 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of filtered air into a full face mask. That means that as I sweat it evaporates and is exhausted out the vents, so I can continue to see.

Yesterday I used it for nearly three hours and it worked very well. Today I got stuck on a different task and didn't do any carving, but there's always tomorrow. (And there'd better be a tomorrow for this. I'm running out of time before the upcoming show.)

Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested in this development. If anyone wants to know more, email me and ask about it. I can send or post more details on what I got and why. I did a fair bit of research before making the purchase.

Vacation Drive: Illinois and The End

Illinois is changing. It's going from yet more corn fields to suburban sprawl at a horrifying rate. No, I don't really like driving through corn fields, but it takes very little time to get from Rock Island on the western edge of the state to the "greater Chicago metropolitan area". About 6 seconds, I'd guess.

What isn't suburbia is still flat and boring, but it is the end goal of these trips. Family lives there, so we go there.

Illinois was home to the worst drivers of the trip, without a doubt. The freeways around Chicago might as well not have speed limits, since none of the locals follow them. 20 or 25 MPH over the limit seems just fine.

And in the 20 years since we moved away from this part of the planet it hasn't gotten any prettier. As mentioned above, the Chicagoland area has become one giant suburban unit - a huge shopping center - from near the Wisconsin boarder all the way down to Joliet. It may go farther south too, and I have no idea how far east it goes. What I know is the farm fields and wooded streets that used to exist are now all built up.

The farmers are (or were) selling out - and getting out - to let contractors build cookie-cutter tract homes by the thousands, and at least three new strip malls per square mile at a minimum. It's actually rather depressing.

One thing they get in the midwest that we don't get at home is lightning storms. True, we get some on occasion, and the most recent did set half of California on fire, but even that storm wasn't all that impressive as lightning goes. They get real lightning out there on the prairie. The kind you watch from your open garage as it advances, bolts hitting the ground all around you. I miss those, and lightning bugs, but I don't miss much else from the that part of the world.

Our path through Illinois along route 88 is about 190 miles long, ending at someone's parent's home - whose depends on the specific trip. Here we rest for a while before turning around and driving back in time to get someone to work - or other commitments - on time.

If you ever take this trip you'll probably have very different opinions about the sites and places along the way. Someone out there must like Nebraska or Salt Lake City, for example, even if we don't. I hope these descriptions have armed you for the drive. Bring a camera for the scenic spots. We forgot to do that this time and I wish we'd remembered.

We find we like this long drive in some ways. It's a few days in each other's company with nothing to do but sit in companionable silence or talk about whatever. We stop every two hours or so, change drivers, and walk the dogs. These little stops are about 15 minutes long each, and they slow us down a bit, but they - and the shared driving - also make it possible for us to go 15 or more hours a day and cover a lot of ground safely.

This time around we noted that traffic was way down. Even truck traffic was reduced. We generally do this trip in the winter - over the holidays - and we expected more traffic in the summer. It wasn't there, and we've seen I-80 carry more traffic in late December. I guess the economy is hitting people pretty hard so they're staying home.

And that's it for the trip description. Sorry, but I'm not to the point were I'm going to document family stuff on the net. For many reasons I think that would be silly.

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Vacation Drive: Iowa

The only thing good about Iowa is that there's less of it than Nebraska.

Yet another state of nothing but corn. 300 miles of corn.

True, the ground rolls a bit more than it does in Nebraska, but there's still nothing to see. And the humidity in the summer... I needed gills whenever we got out of the car. We ran the A/C just to dehydrate the air a bit before we breathed it in.

I'm a westerner at heart. If my liking of Wyoming and California and even parts of Nevada didn't make the point, my dislike of Iowa and Nebraska should drive it home.

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Vacation Drive: Nebraska

Nebraska: 450 miles of nothing. Flatness without end. Dullness personified. Boredom on asphalt.

Yes, Nebraska is dull. Deadly dull. it really is 450 miles of torment.

There is nothing to see but corn, and nothing to do but suffer through it.

The westernmost 75 miles or so gets slightly more interesting, but only because the corn goes away and it's range land instead.

If there are nice parts of Nebraska they aren't along I-80, and the way we do these trips we will never see them. In truth I have a hard time imagining what any supposed nice parts of Nebraska could be like.

Posts in the series:

Vacation Drive: Wyoming

Wyoming is a beautiful state. Really. Some call it bleak and think it's too remote, but I differ. There is almost always something to look at, and whatever it may be, it's impressive. The easternmost 50 miles or so are a bit too flat for my taste, but the rest of the state is gorgeous. There are these amazing ridges. From the top of one you can see for many, many miles to the next. The landscape is interesting, full of color and shape, it holds your interest. Near the towns of Green River and Rock Springs are wonderful cliff like hillsides, sculpted by wind and rain and ice over millions of years.

And the city of Laramie is nice. It's a university town with quite a bit of character.

Politically I'd probably be a fish out of water in Wyoming, but if we ever leave California and have our choice of places to go, we'll give Laramie a lot of careful consideration.

Anyway, it's 400 miles from east to west along I-80, but we don't notice the time and distance all that much. It flies by.

Posts in the series:

Vacation Drive: Utah

I seem to have been busy with other things for a few days. Oh well. On with the trip description...

Utah presents a very special set of problems for us.

First, there is nothing in the western portion of the state along I-80. Nothing at all. The salt flats go on for miles, and so does the road, straight as an arrow and pretty dull driving.

After that there's Salt Lake City, a place we've loathed for various reasons over the years doing these trips. It all started when we discovered they don't allow dogs in the national forest just east of the city. I've taken dogs into all kinds of national forests in the past and never had a problem, but in Utah they're worried because it's "the watershed for the entire city". Like my dog was a health risk to the city compared with deer and other wild animals that never get a vet appointment in their lives. Give me a break.

And it's gone downhill from there. For many years prior to hosting the Olympics in the area I-80 through SLC was under construction. Every time we'd drive through town they'd route us around the beltway - miles and miles out of our way - giving us a scenic view of the town we hated from the start. We've never gotten over it.

Suffice it to say we despise driving through SLC. To the point that even now, years after the first trip that got it all started, we make it a point to have something loud and rude by Frank Zappa playing on the stereo as we pass through town. If that makes no sense to you, forget about it.

Oh, I do have a family living in SLC now, a cousin and her husband. They are perfectly normal, but they are the only ones we can confirm are sane in the entire SLC region, and it appears they do not set public policy for the area. If the timing allows we stop and see these folks, but it usually doesn't work out. We get there too late on the outbound leg of the trip, and the return trip is a bit variable. Oh well.

A bit east of SLC you hit Park City, where it is (thankfully) possible to find rational people and a place to sleep; even a hotel or two that will accept dogs. The surrounding mountains are quite nice, but in truth it's all too close to SLC for me, so it's only a stopover on our way through.

Utah is about 200 miles across on I-80, and Park City is our usual first stop on the trip east.

Posts in the series:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vacation Drive: Nevada

There's a certain rugged beauty to this state, or at least those portions visible from I-80. Ranges of mountains separated by the valleys. Desert scrub. In an austere way it's quite pretty. Often we drive through Nevada at night and in the winter, but this time we hit it in daylight going in both directions, and the contrast is quite vivid. A bit of snow on the ground and some moonlight can turn the landscape into something almost magical, but it was still impressive this time.

That being said, seeing the view is sometimes a problem thanks to the proliferation of billboards, mostly for casinos. Of all the states we drive through, Nevada has the most billboards by far. Based only on how many exist they must have no regulations controlling them at all, regardless of their location.

Sadly, if you are a non-smoker, you don't actually want to breathe in the state, particularly inside a building. As far as I can tell all residents of Nevada are required by law to smoke constantly, and the result is that I wind up holding my breath every time I go into a gas station. A while back someone told me that Nevada had passed a law making restaurants smoke free, but that the casinos had managed an exemption of some sort. Truth be told I don't know how that law has worked out. We almost never eat in a restaurant here, so I haven't got much direct experience with the smoking ban. I do know that breathing clean air in gas stations is just about impossible, and we've been in a "non-smoking" hotel room in Wendover where the cigarette smoke was pouring through the vent fan in the bathroom ceiling - from the floor above - making the night miserable. As I say, we try not to breathe much while we're here.

There are also some very strange looking people living here. Maybe this is what the west has become, as chaps and cowboy hats have become less and less useful the people of Nevada have taken dress and personal grooming to new lows. Or maybe it's just the residents I see along the I-80 corridor, and I shouldn't be making generalizations about the entire state. Whatever it is, I never seem to get across Nevada without encountering several people who look like they were recently released from prisons or mental institutions. None of them has ever been harmful as far as I know, but if I was only judging by appearances I'd find some way around Nevada rather than going through it.

In any event, Nevada is about 400 miles across along the I-80 corridor, and there are things to look at while you're there. Our outbound trip never stops in Nevada on the first day except for gas, so we just blow on through and keep moving. We try to do the same on the return trip, and that's just fine with us as we have no interest in gambling, which seems to be the only significant industry in the state other than mining.

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Mountain Living - Water Part III.I

That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger.

If that's true, our water is going to turn me into King Kong.

It stinks. Badly. Some of it is still PVC cement volatiles from the repair I did just after getting home. And some of it might be related to the acid treatment of the well too, but I doubt it. At this point, all I know is it stinks and we need help.

This morning I sent samples off to a company that makes water purification equipment to be tested and see what we need. At the moment, I'll take just about anything if it will make the water smell and taste better. We're buying water to drink, of course, but we can't avoid our well water entirely.

Hopefully we'll get answers soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vacation Drive: California and The Start

We drove from California to Illinois recently (and back) as part of a vacation. We saw relatives in the Chicago area, but we didn't stop for even one attraction along the way in either direction As we've got limited time and tolerance for highway landmarks.

Driving that far may sound stupid with $4/gallon gas, but the alternative was even more expensive. Have you looked at what it would cost to kennel two dogs for a couple of weeks and buy round trip tickets from SJC to ORD? No thanks. We'll drive, stay in hotels, take the dogs along, and still save considerable money.

Our driving pattern is a bit odd, and it would probably make no sense for most people. We stop every 120 miles or so, or about every two hours. At these brief stops we walk the dogs, walk ourselves, gas up the car (or not) and change drivers. These stops tend to be between 10 and 20 minutes long, but they make all the difference in the world. They allow us to go for 15 or 16 hours and cover 900+ miles in a single day without falling asleep behind the wheel. The dogs get a bit bored by it all - particularly the Siberian Husky - but if we remove a day or two from the trip we all do better in the end. We also eat both breakfast and lunch in the car, stopping only for a sit down dinner.

The trip turns out to be a bit over 2200 miles along I-80 between the Bay Area and the Chicago suburbs. (The exact distance depends on the specific route taken at either end.) We do it in three days, and along the way we've developed some opinions and thoughts about the states and sights along the road. I'll share them with you, working from west to east, in separate, state specific posts, beginning (obviously) with California. Sadly, California is the least interesting in terms of our commentary. I hope the others are more amusing.

First off, the bay area is way too crowded. We went well out of our way to avoid rush hour traffic on the way out, but tried a more direct route on the way back. In hindsight I wish we'd gone the long route both ways, but such is life.

The roads in California vary wildly. I-5 between Sacramento and Stockton was very rough, but I-80 in the central valley is fine. For the really awful pavement, through, nothing on the entire trip beats I-80 through the Sierra Mountains. It seems to be paved with tiny cobblestones. It's incredibly loud to drive on, and very rough. Lots of other states get snow and I've never seen similar pavement anywhere, so I don't understand what they were thinking when the road was paved this way.

For scenery, California does reasonably well. The coastal mountains (the Santa Cruz Range in our case) are quite nice, and the Sierras are gorgeous. The central valley is dull, but it doesn't last long and you're fighting the traffic most of the way through it, so you don't have time to think about it.

Our outbound route included 341 miles in CA, while the similar portion of our homeward trip was only 275 miles. That's the above mentioned difference in our routes. At rush hour I think the extra distance is worth it, since it adds less than an hour to the length of the trip and drops the stress levels a lot.

We never stop and stay anywhere in California on these trips. We're too close to home no matter which direction we're going, so we always press on into Nevada or to home itself. That means we don't really know much about anything except a couple of gas stations along the way.

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