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.