Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Heroics

Peter King, one of my top 3 sports writers, put the following paragraph in one of his SI columns.

"I think with this being the month of graduations all over the country, I'd like to give a nod to Derrick Brooks, the good-guy Tampa Bay linebacker who long ago put his money where his principles were. Brooks for years has been taking underprivileged kids and showing them there's a different side to life -- an educated side. He started taking adolescents on college tours and to places like Washington, D.C., and Africa, just to show them the world and to let them know there was a chance for them to become intelligent, contributing members to society. So this month, the first "Brooks Bunch'' graduate walked down the aisle at Florida State -- Natasha Spencer. She had gone on Brooks Bunch trips to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., the first Africa visit in 1997 and a trip to see the western United States. She graduated Florida State with a 3.6 GPA and plans to go overseas for a medical mission before pursuing medical school. Hearty congratulations to Brooks and to his protg."

I am very much impressed with Derrick Brooks. Here is a guy who is making multi-millions a year, is a "sports hero," but also values education to the point of actually putting his money where his mouth is.

Imagine how many more students would stay in school, would value education, and open up vistas of possibility for themselves if even 10% of all the biggest sports stars in every sport would do the same as Brooks. Now imagine if some singers, actors, and other public figures would do the same.

Education is currently one of the least valued things in America. And this lack of focus by families, the government, and individuals is already biting us on the ass. Imagine how far behind America will fall in another 10 years.

Keep it up, Derrick Brooks.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

I was raised in a military community. My father was a career Marine. He was a teacher who taught the vital communications and RADAR systems that are often the key to success in the military. And he always honored the uniform and the country while in the service and he still does in his retirement.

My father pulled me aside as I was finishing High School and said, “You’re not right for the military, and the military isn’t right for you.” For a Marine, who was very proud of his service and the opportunities that came from it, to say that to his son was pretty potent for me to hear. I expected him to regale me with stories of the Marine Corps and how it could change my life. But he knew better; I am one who questions authority and who doesn’t take too kindly to orders that do not make sense. I would not make a good Marine.

But I would go, if called. If my military needed me, I would answer the draft. Many friends and acquaintances have felt the call and entered the military, and I hope they are all well and safe.

I respect so much each and every military person who is fighting in our armed services, every branch. I respect that they have offered up their lives in defense of this country’s ideals. They fight for me so that I can question the decisions that led them to these battles. They put themselves in harm’s way so that I can lead a prosperous and comfortable life. They die so that I can denounce our President and his lies that brought us into conflict.

I am tired of hearing anyone who questions the President or who disagrees with this fight getting raked over the coals. I have personally heard those who have questioned these decisions told that they hate our military and don’t support our country. Nothing could be further from the truth. You will not find anyone more loyal or supportive of this great country than me. I am an American, through and through. But I also think for myself and use my intelligence to throw new light on the information presented to me. I can admit mistakes and take accountability for my actions—something it seems our President cannot do. But this makes me even more supportive of our troops, not less. In my view, they are heroes for still being able to fight and honor our country even when the fight itself is less than heroic.

One of the foundations of our great nation is the right to protest. And it is not only our military’s job to defend this right; it is every person’s job to do so as well. I will defend to the death your right to say things that make me angry and with which I disagree.

So, on this Memorial Day, I honor and give thanks to all those brave men and women serving in our armed forces, doing a job I cannot do, and doing it well and truly. I pray that every one of them manages to return home safely to those who love them. And I hope that our leadership will manage to extricate our brave service people from this conflict as quickly and safely as is possible.

Semper Fidelis!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

First Day

The first day is always the worst. No matter how brief the time is, I get used to rolling over and having her there. This morning, I rolled over and the bed was empty.

My cat start meowing for food as soon as I moved and was curled up next to me, but that is not the same.

I am trying to get some serious momentum going on the move to Canada, but it is slow going. So many hurdles and rules left to overcome or follow. I’m getting to the point of just saying, “F*ck it!” and moving, damn the consequences. But, of course, I cannot really do that—I have a pet and my health to consider.

It is so difficult to have this woman whom I love and cherish be so far away in both time and space.

Plus, I’ve been informed I have porches to paint and decks to seal—I’m needed!

Side Effects

I am taking a new medication for my rheumatoid arthritis, as it appears my previous one quit working. This new medication has some nifty side effects to it and is a bit harsher on my body than the previous one.

Two side effects have presented so far in the days I have been taking it—shortness of breath (and I am already a fairly shallow breather) and a splitting, nearly-migraine strength headache about an hour after ingesting the pill. Matter of fact, it is like clockwork when I get the headache.

So, I called the doctor’s office this morning to ask about the headaches. He got right back to me and said that this is common and should ease up after 3-4 weeks. So, for the next 17-24 days I can expect mind-numbing headaches twice a day.

Wheee.

I sometimes wonder about Western medicine. Yes, over the long term this medication may reduce the swelling and pain I experience due to the RA and may even help me regrow the lost bone mass in my joints. But is that worth the quality of life issue I have while it is helping me? Is it worth being cranky and irritable due to ice-pick headaches that start at the base of my skull and pound through to my temples and forehead?

And these are just the side effects from this one medication. I’m on three full-time and take two others as needed. It gets a bit frustrating. Of course, I hold out hope that in a month I will be writing to you that I am jogging again, or joining a softball team, or going hiking because the pain and swelling has eased so much.

But, for now, I think I’ll punch staples into my skull as that would hurt less than the headache I have right now.

Housing Bubble

LA Times article on California:
“Larger economic forces come into play too. Orange County, for example, consistently has the lowest jobless rate in the state. Although that could be a draw for laborers in states with high unemployment, the high housing prices in the county act as a brake on that sort of migration.”

The Orange County Register reports:
“Orange County home prices took a tumble in January, with the median price falling below $600,000 for the first time in eight months.DataQuick reported today that the median sale price for all residences sold in January was $582,000 – down more than 6 percent from December's record $621,000 but still up 9 percent from January 2005. Sales volume was weak, too, as 2,594 homes sold – down 11 percent in a year. This was the slowest January since 1997.”

Graphic showing median housing costs of OC area:
http://ocregister.com/ocregister/money/housing/article_973459.php

OC Metro:
“Affordability Orange County housing prices keep going up. DataQuick reported that February’s median home price hit a record $555,000. The median for Southern California is about $425,000; for San Diego County, $491,000; for Riverside County, $371,000; for San Bernardino County, $281,000; and for Los Angeles County, $418,000. Orange County remains one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.”

We’ve seen all this before:
http://www.rntl.net/history_of_a_housing_bubble.htm

Last note:
I can’t find the web page that had this data now, but it said that lenders usually look at 3 times base income as the optimal, “safe” lending value price-point. This means that they want to give you a loan for three times your gross income. The median income in Orange county listed for 2002 (the most recent value I could find) was approximately $60,000. So, that means that lenders would prefer to provide up to $180,000 home loans. With housing prices in this area at around $600,000, and with people earning an average of $60,000 in the region, that means banks are having to lend at 10 times a person’s income in order to get them in a house.

I’ve heard it said that less than 10% of the people who own homes in Orange County can actually afford the house they are in. These numbers certainly back this up. When the current housing bubble bursts, the collapse will be huge and felt throughout California.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Okay, We Got It This Time

No strange power outages-- no weird ticketing rules-- and we were on-time

She's boarding the plane and is heading to Chicago momentarily. Take good care of her when she gets back home, okay?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Idle Thoughts

1. M didn't quite get on her way this morning.

  • John Wayne Airport had a 1.5 hour power outage that delayed a bunch of flights, security checks, and check-ins.
  • We learned that, for check ins, if any part of your flight is international, your entire flight is considered international, so we didn't get her checked in soon enough (first leg was a domestic flight, so we though an hour early was plenty of time).
  • I get my honey for 1 more day (but I have to spend it at work). But we get the pain of the airport goodbye again. Catch-22.

2. Saw a sign for a house agent whose name is "Richard Fallis." How cruel were his parents?

3. I have now, officially, seen it all. On Friday, driving to work at 8:00 a.m., I saw what my brain insisted was an asian woman eating an ear of corn. I got up closer and looked again, assuming I must be mistaken. Finally, at a light, I was able to pull right up next to her and look directly at her-- sure enough, an asian woman was driving with one hand holding an ear of corn by a corn skewer, munching away. First, an ear of corn (raw or cooked) is messy, let alone eating it one handed. Second, how badly do you need/want corn to eat an ear of it while driving to work in the morning?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fiance Arriving

I'm heading over to pick her up from the airport shortly. So, I think it is time to put the sign on the knob....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Black Gold

My favorite news anchor is Hal Fishman of KTLA channel 5 on the WB in Los Angeles. Even when I don’t agree with him, he is still insightful, erudite, and concerned. Last night he had a commentary on the price of gas (not yet posted online, or I would link to it). He mentioned that the price of oil dropped nearly $5 per barrel from Friday to Monday and that supply is up and demand is down. He determined that the price of gas should drop approximately .25¢ a gallon today. He ended his commentary by suggesting we all look at the gas prices this morning and see.

Yesterday when I drove to work the gas was $3.39 a gallon. Today when I drove to work it was… $3.39 a gallon. Big shock.

What I find interesting, and I’m sure Hal does too, is that the moment an oil refinery fire happens in Texas, California's prices jump the next day. A tanker runs aground in Venezuela, and California’s price per gallon jumps the next day. Terrorists bomb a pipeline in Baghdad and the prices in California go up the next day. That Texas oil refinery gas would not reach the consumer for days, at least. The tanker could not have reached a refinery for at least another week, and it would take another few days before the refined oil would be shipped to consumers. The oil lost in the pipeline explosion wouldn’t reach consumers for weeks, at minimum. Yet our prices at the pump always jump the next day.

Yet, now that substantial savings have occurred, the same immediacy is not being shown at the pump. You can bet in the next few days there will be oil executives on the news blustering their way through new lies as to why the prices haven’t declined even as their companies reach new record profits. Or, one of those mysterious oil refinery fires will pop up again, as they always do when the news starts really hitting hard about the price of gas.

Last quarter, all of the major oil companies posted record profits. The highest, ExxonMobil Corp, recorded a $9.92 billion dollar profit on sales of $100 billion. Their profits were up 75% over the previous quarter. That is $10 billion in a quarter. BP announced profits of $6.53 billion and Shell PLC profits of $9 billion. (All figures from the Washington Post article here.)

I’m all in favor of companies making profits. Profits are good. But profiteering is bad. With how quickly the oil companies raise the profits when something “bad” happens (the next day, even if the effects won’t be felt for days or weeks) and how slowly the prices sink when good things happen (like the price of oil falling $5 and supply being up and demand being down), I cannot help but think profiteering is happening.

I would normally recommend that one company dramatically lower its price per gallon and rake in the profits by having so many more people come to its business rather than to its competition. But there really isn’t any competition in the oil business; it is a little known fact that collusion is happening every single day between the oil companies. When one company is a short of supply or demand is unusually high, it gets oil from the other companies to even things out. (See article here.)

Does America need to lower its dependency on oil? Yes. Have American vehicle manufacturers screwed the pooch with how far behind the Japanese they are in hybrid and alternative fuel cars? Yes. Does America need to look at alternative energy resources now, instead of in 5, 10, or 25 years? Or course.

Are oil companies price gouging and profiteering at the expense of the American consumers? Yes!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Story

I feel like writing a story. Just a short story, and probably something in the modern fiction arena-- depends slightly on any responses I get.

Here's what I would like:
  • The names and ages for two-three characters.
    • Age can be approximate, like "college" or "20s."
      Gender can be the same for all or mixed.
  • Two jobs
    • Jobs can be menial, blue-collar, white-collar, whatever. For example, Doctor and Gas Station Attendant.
  • A leisure activity or sport
      For example, crocheting, racquetball, hunting, football, reading, or whatever.

If multiple people post, I will select the combination I like the most. I will post the result I come up with. If it turns out longer than expected, I will post in "chapters."

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I am leaving Albertson's and there is a child walking behind his parent and staring at me. He stared at me in the store, too. Or, more specfically, at my head.

He is, I would guess, around 4-5 years old. Old enough to walk and talk and be precocious about things and young enough not to have a fully developed sense of propriety.

He finally gets the nerve to turn his head as he follows his mom around the corner and starts to say, "Mister, you're bal..." (bald) when WHAM! he walks straight into a pillar outside the door. Since his head is turned to me, nothing important hits the pillar. He bounces off and lands on his tush on the ground with a surprised look on his face.

He glances around, more shocked than hurt. Only when his mother reacts with fear and coddling does he erupt into tears and screams bloody murder.

Now, to prove that I probably shouldn't propogate, I smile as I pass on the other side of the pillar on my way to my car and think, 'Karma's a bitch, kid.'

Addendum
Winds up that his mother is parked next to me. As I finish putting my groceries in the back of the truck and walk my cart around toward the entrance, the child spots me again. He immediately starts to get a worried/crying face. I think he has now associated pain and embarrassment with baldness through a Pavlovian reaction. Without doing anything, I think I have scarred this kid for life.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Aeroplan

You can, in fact, use your Aeroplan miles to book one-way trips. You just have to call them, rather than using the online services. Costs 15,000 miles per one-way. Oh, and the guy with the thick French accent (I could have used you, Mare) suggested you probably should call around 40-45 days prior to your trip.

Which means, of course, that I'm SOL for the upcoming trip.

But the option is available. We have confirmation.

Edit-- I understand there may be some confusion over this. People might be reading into this that I plan to move to Canada permanently. Please note that I would likely post a pretty big, very specific entry all about how I am moving to Canada, and not sneak it by in a non-descript post such as this. Moving to Canada will be one of the biggest, most exciting adventures of my life. And I think I know someone who will not be able to contain her excitement when that happens, so you will likely hear it from her well before I could blog anything. However, right now it is slow going and we (as a couple) have more hurdles to overcome before it becomes a reality. Trust me; everyone will know when we pass all those hurdles.

Unwarranted Confusion

One of the jobs of a Technical Writer is that of customer advocate. First, we do this by translating all of the corporate and programming rhetoric into, hopefully, simple to understand, every day English. Secondly, we must look at everything that crosses our desk with a client’s eye and ask, “Will our clients understand this? Will this confuse (or worse) our client base?”

Recently at work we decided to reuse our build nomenclature and “force” a build in between two previously scheduled builds. My company uses the W.X.Y.Z build scheme; W=the main program iteration, X=the main program subdivision, Y=the current update or patch version, and Z=the current build of that update or patch. So, for example, version 1.2.4.3 tells users that the main program is on version 1.2 and we are on update 4 of that version and we had 3 rebuilds of update 4 before releasing it to clients.

We released version 4.6.0.6 to licensed clients (those who host our software on their own systems) and installed it for the in-house clients for whom we host our software. But, because we already had a planned 4.6.1.1 release with its own set of changes and patches, and we needed to get out a “rush” build prior to that next version, the PTB determined to release a 4.6.0.7 build.

As a client advocate, and knowing that our clients understand and follow our numbering scheme, I questioned this decision. I argued that our clients will assume that 4.6.0.7 is a replacement for the 4.6.0.6 release, not a separate build. This, I said, will cause clients who wait and test items before installing them to possibly get confused and cause additional work for our Product Support staff and Account Managers. I figured our staff would have to explain that this is a separate build that should be installed on top of the 4.6.0.6 build, and not as a replacement for the 4.6.0.6 build.

I was met with very condescending looks and mildly annoying answers that included:
· “I think our clients will understand this.”
· “We’ve done this in the past.”
· “It is not like our clients read the documentation anyway.”

In an attempt to advocate for client clarity and understanding, I am met with condescension and outright derision. First, I was confused and the person who creates our builds and releases them to clients was confused (I spoke with him and he admitted as much). If two people in house and involved in the process are confused, at least 1 client will be, too. Second, just because we have done something in the past doesn’t mean that we should do it again in the future. Third, thank you so much for letting me know that my job is, basically, useless.

In our review process at this company is a section where our managers grade our ability to be client-oriented. My manager consistently grades me quite high in this area as I am always concerned about the client’s understanding and acceptance of what we do. Yet, more often than not, that concern falls on deaf ears within the company. I am starting to think that my talents are being wasted in this arena and that maybe something more client-facing would be a better fit with my talents. Then, at least, when I bring client concerns to product design they would have to listen.

When I managed at Blockbuster Video, I always enjoyed solving customers’ problems and making them happy. My boss hated that I had the highest “credits” (money given back to customers) of the managers in the area (there were multiple Blockbusters and we sometimes got traded around a bit), but she also admitted I brought in a ton of revenue by encouraging new clients and managing to keep disgruntled clients. At my previous job, I came into my own when I started dealing directly with clients. At one point, the sales department complained because I had generated more revenue in a month than they had—combined. Since they got incentives based on the amount of sales they made, they complained and got the rules changed so that all my invoices had to be signed by one of them (side note—they frequently lost money I handed them as, when I passed clients off to them to finish the sales, they often managed to screw it up a completed sale and piss off the customer).

I cannot help but wonder if I should look at new and different work for my skill-set. Maybe I have gone as far as I can with technical writing and need new challenges.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pariahs

My mother always told me it was better to fail honestly than to succeed dishonestly. I always figured that, if I cheated, something or someone would come along and highlight my ignorance in this area and my cheating would be found out. People always say, “How closely does a company check resumes?” and “Well, everyone pads their resume, right?” But I never have. I figure I will be the one person they DO check, and my lie will be found out.

This is why I am upset that Barry Bonds is close to reaching Babe Ruth’s home run milestone. I get miffed thinking back on McGwire and Sosa’s home run battle from a few seasons ago. These people cheated their way into record books. They cheated their way into baseball immortality.

I take solace in the fact that these records will always have a personal asterisk attached to them even if baseball does not asterisk them officially. Most people have heard of BALCO and the various other steroid stories. Even the most diehard fan accepts these records were accomplished using performance enhancing substances, even if they may argue that the substances weren’t banned at the time of use.

To see Bonds sitting after a game saying, “Is that a baseball question?” to every reporter questioning his steroids use is asinine. Why can’t just one reporter look Bonds in the eye and say, “You’re damn right it is! YOU made it a baseball question by cheating!” Barry, you are the one who made your drug abuse a baseball issue, so take responsibility for it.

And that is the problem: these players are not taking responsibility for their actions. I would respect Bonds so much more if he would take responsibility for what he has done. He wanted records, he wanted “glory,” he wanted to pass these milestones (to “obliterate” Ruth, in his own words), so he needs to take the blame for his inappropriate way of reaching these goals. He chose to cheat, he got caught, and he should pay the penalty.

It is not easy to hit a baseball; steroids do not significantly improve that ability. There is a great deal of skill and hand-eye coordination required to make contact with a 95 mph fastball or to hit a ‘drop off the table’ curveball. Because of this fact, I would normally not have an issue if baseball wants only to asterisk these records and notes that performance enhancing substances might have been used. But steroids do make it easier to make a hit to go out of the park when you make contact. What should be a fly ball out turns into a home run, instead. So I sway back to harsher penalties. Because of these conflicting thoughts, I turn to questions of character and responsibility.

Because these players refuse to take responsibility for their actions, I say baseball should wipe their records clean. Take them off the record lists altogether or, at least, discount all home runs hit after January 1, 2000. These home runs cannot count toward records, toward Hall of Fame consideration, or any current or post MLB consideration. They are banned from providing color commentary during baseball games. Since these people refuse to admit what they did, instead of an asterisk and a place in history, they should be shamed outcasts in pro sports.

What these men did is as bad as anything Pete Rose did. He has been a pariah for betting on sports and he had to beg and take some responsibility for his action to be allowed to participate in even the most common of baseball-related activity (and he is still under the lifetime ban); these men should be treated similarly. Make an example of them to show all levels of the sport, from pee-wee to MLB, that this is not acceptable behavior.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Happy Couple


Me and my honey at Chris's wedding.

Just a few hours away from becoming engaged.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Loony Moons!

I've liked Twinkies, well, forever. It is sponge cake goodness.

Then I went to Canada. There, Mare, a new friend, provided me with "Loony Moons!" (actually 1/2 Lunes (French) or 1/2 Moons (English)) in a very thoughtful 'Canada Starter Pack' she created. Thanx again, Mare.

I am now hooked. That first batch had caramel flavor in them, and were quite good. Later, at Christmas, M got me some that were "plain" -- very similar to a Twinkie. The difference is that they have more of the creamy filling than an actual Twinkie and the cake is a bit softer. Yum!

M made sure to bring some more with her when she visited last month. I write this because I managed to hold out until today on eating the last remaining Loony Moon from that box.

I've been told that there are chocolate and other flavors available for my enjoyment. I cannot wait to return to Canada to try some more!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Idle Thoughts

  1. It is going to feel weird not to have bowling tonight. The main bowling season is so long (33 weeks) you get sort of used to the Wednesday grind.
  2. Yellow means warning. You do not need to break for a green light as the yellow light warns you that your direction is about to stop moving and to get out of, or do not enter, the intersection. So stop breaking on the green!
  3. Those new Dr. Scholl’s inserts that mold to your feet like a temper-pedic bed look good. With the trouble I have with shoes, I think I will look into getting a set and see how they work.
  4. Why has Caly awakened me two nights in a row at exactly 1:15 am? And why has she broken her training and gone back to scratching my poor couch?
  5. I am still chafing at the distance. I hope we can get some forward momentum going soon!
  6. Boss leaves on vacation tomorrow for nearly 3 full weeks out of the offices.
  7. I just got a notice from Air Canada that I can fly from LAX to London, England for less than I can fly from LAX to Saint John, Canada. What the hell?
  8. I watched two different news casts last night, one more liberal and one more conservative. Both agreed:
  • Nowhere near the numbers they expected for the Immigrants rally showed up (the largest estimate that I heard said that 94% of business polled indicated that less than 10% of their employees were out or planned to leave at all).
  • California was hit the hardest economically and that wasn’t much at all (between 50-75 million dollars was their initial estimate, with more being added on the weekend as the full cost of the day's lost salary gets figured in).
  • All the children who were allowed out of classes to march were only hurting themselves.
  • So far, economists agree that the only group of people hurt monetarily are those who marched—in lost wages and by not patronizing local businesses.
  • It appears to have had little to no effect on Congress.
  • So, it winds up as a lose-lose for those who promoted and marched in it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What A Difference

My friend in IT managed to get my system rebuilt today. He then installed that module into the chassis of the current laptop and we installed the remaining programs that are department-specific.

What a difference!

I have not experienced the pausing issue that has been plaguing me since the end of February in the 3 hours I have been using it. Everything is accessing quickly and all of my links and programs actually open when I click on them.

I am not going to install any "personal" programs on this system, even though I am convinced they were not the culprit (since they had been installed since September and I only started to have issues at the end of February). Of course, the only personal programs I had installed were an email alerted and an IM program-- not really things that would cause the havok that my system was operating in!

It is early, I know, to be crowing too loudly. But since I couldn't operate for more than a couple of minutes without the pausing issue occurring, and it was especially bad whenever I typed, the fact that I have been pause-free for a couple of hours gives me a great deal of hope for the future.

Of course, some will argue that it is a Dell and, therefore, prone to havok in the first place. If so, then I will have IT rebuild it again and we will start over! If that is what it takes to keep me running smoothly, I'm not above doing that.

Now, back to finishing me reinstalls and setup so I can hit it hard and fast tomorrow and start getting caught up on all the work that has piled up during my laptop issues.