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December 31, 2007

Annual Movie Review

So, here are the movie stubs in my eye glasses case, which is going through its annual clean out at the end of the calendar year:

Rocky Balboa, Dec 26 (SJ) - Enjoyed this, had a great feel-good feeling while not being a great movie. Not sure how this one survived last year's annual clean up.

Ghost Rider, Feb 19 (Ir) - Decent comic-book movie, but nothing special or great. I won't be buying this on DVD any time soon, but it was fun to watch.

300, Mar 18 (SJ) - This movie rocked. Very stylized, and I respect those who didn't care for the style, but I found it fun to watch. I wish they hadn't added all the extra stuff with his wife and the senate at home.

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Jun 24 (Ir) - Okay comic-book movie. As with GR above, not one I need to own, but I generally enjoyed watching it.

Live Free or Die Hard, Jul 15 (SJ) - Enjoyable Die Hard movie. I enjoyed it overall, but the scene with the jet was just... too much. And why does every Asian computer-geek woman know kung fu?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Jul 20 (SJ) - I think this is one of the two best HP movies. Really enjoyed it.

Transformers, Jul 24 (SJ) - Really fun popcorn movie. Some of the plot didn't make a lot of sense, and there were way too many human beings in it, but it was fun.

The Bourne Ultimatum, Aug 5 (SJ) - This movie rocked! Great ending to a great series. One of the best action trilogies made.

3:10 to Yuma, Sep 30 (Ir) - Very surprising movie. Well-acted, strong story. Could have been edited down to be even more taut and to the point, but otherwise an excellent movie.

30 Days of Night, Oct 20 (Ir) - Good horror movie, and faithful to the comic book.

No Country for Old Men, Dec 30 (Ir) - Very surprising film. Well-acted, very well directed. The ending did leave me a little cold. I understand what the Coen's were trying for, but I felt it went against what had been presented for the characters up to that point. I understand the Oscar buzz, however.

Juno, Dec 31 (Ir) - Incredible film. Very funny, touching, honest, and well-acted. I really liked this film.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Dec 31 (Ir) - Fun film. Popcorn, and a little over-done with the mom/father subplot, but otherwise fun. Right up there with the first one. I don't find Nic Cage annoying in these films, which is saying something.

Not in my case for some reason:

Star Trek: The Menagerie-- M and I got our money back on this one due to the poor presentation.

I watched a movie with my mom while M was at her conference in Indian Wells. Can't remember what it was and I don't have the stub.

December 27, 2007

Would You Like Cheese with That?

M wanted a cheeseburger, as I proposed them on the trip home from SoCal when we were trying to determine what we wanted to do once we got home. We stopped at In N Out, and were waiting in the drive thru line for our turn. When I pulled up to the nice girl running the drive thru, I said, "We would like three cheeseburgers, one with ketchup only and the other two with lettuce only and an order of fries."

"Would you like cheese with that?" she asked.

"Uh.... yes?" I responded, with an obviously incredulous look on my face and the start of a smile.

"I have to ask. Some people order a cheeseburger with lettuce only and expect a plain burger with lettuce-- no cheese," she explained.

"If I didn't want cheese, I would order a hamburger with lettuce only," I said.

"Well, you have common sense," was her reply.

She read back the order, told us the total, and we pulled forward. M then laughed and reiterated, "Would you like cheese with that?" and we had a renewed moment of laughter over the incident.

But, the girl is right-- I'm certain there are at least a few people every day who order a cheeseburger, hold the cheese. And, if I was In N Out, I would charge them the slightly higher cheeseburger rates for it, too!! If you're that dumb, you deserve to pay more for your dining experience, too.

December 22, 2007

And That's A Wrap

I'm glad that there is Christmas just to keep me humble.

I have always had good spatial recognitions, decent hand-eye coordination, and been generally good with agility/dexterity. However, for whatever reason, I absolutely suck at wrapping gifts.

Luckily, this year, I purchased the vast majority of my gifts online. So, for all of them, I only had to click the "gift options" and be done with it. However, my wife is adamant that I must wrap the gifts I get her. She gets very serious and firm on this point. It doesn't matter how awful the wrapping is, I must do it.

So, here I sit and struggle. This year I managed to find some decent-sized boxes to put things in to make the wrapping easier. But there are always those few gifts that you can't put in a box, or can't do anything with. Oh well!

She also hates that I buy generic wrapping paper so that I can use it for every gift option that comes along for the year (or more) that it lasts. *sigh

Okay, one more to go. *deep breath ... And go!

December 21, 2007

Not Blogging Much

A couple of people have noted and asked me why I haven't been posting as often. The truth is, since returning from Canada this last time, I have been averaging between 2-4 hours sleep. I have been exhausted and, because of that, a little brain numb and cotton-y. This leads to not feeling well (it is funny how a lack of sleep over a prolonged time can make you feel like you're sick, when really it is only the sleeplessness).

Some of the issues were work-related; it is a struggle at work these days, and the mood there is poor. A lot of people claim to "know" that our part of the overall business is being sold or is on the chopping block. This may be true, but since the company was bought right before I joined, and then bought out again shortly after I joined, I don't understand why these people are so afraid of this. But, it still affects you.

Caly has been unwell. She has been throwing up sometimes up to a couple of times a day. And frequently between 3:30 and 5 am. Which, of course, wakes me up if I was asleep and I have to deal with. She's fine now, but that was a week of not knowing and being awakened if I did manage to fall asleep.

And then, of course, there is the fact I am one who suffers yearly or semi-annual bouts of sleep issues. Most often insomnia. With all the travel to the east coast, the time differences, the changes in climate, etc., it is no wonder that I slipped into a round of insomnia.

Last night, however, I got a really good night's rest. I went to bed about 10:30pm, fell asleep slightly after 11pm, and was startled awake by the arm clock at 6:30am. My "feeling sick" feelings are pretty much gone and my mind feels sharper. I don't feel as grouchy or full of ennui as I have been, and the color has returned to my cheeks.

Now, here's hoping I can get one or two more nights of a good rest, so I can be as much in the Christmas spirit as possible when M arrives Sunday afternoon!

December 4, 2007

End Result

Back yard... well over a foot.

Front yard... the guy in the yellow truck is spinning his tires. For those who have been here, I have circled the area in the front yard where M has three large rocks in a grouping. Notice that the snow is smooth and no rocks can be seen.

Oh and it is still snowing this morning. Lighter and not as hard, but definitely still falling.

December 3, 2007

Snow Update 2

Front yard, a few hours later. You can't quite make it out from this picture (the flash only goes so far) but the snow on the street has basically reached and filled in up to the level of the curb (so about 4+").

Back yard, a few hours later... yes that railing has about 5 inches on it at the high point, all accumulated today.


No, not the musical.

I set up auto-debit with my apartment management because I was spending more time in Canada and it tended to be around the end or beginning of the month-- right when rent is due. For the months I had it set up, everything was fine. I did not have to worry about my rent while away.

At the end of September I needed to sign a new lease for the apartment. I was informed that I had to re-sign up for the auto-debit procedure. For some reason, whether it be how they set up the system or their procedures for it, they could not just inform the IT department of the new rent number and keep the existing auto-debit working as it had been for many months prior to October.

So, I paid rent by check, took in the appropriate information in mid-October, and waited for my confirm letter so I didn't have to worry about the issue when I came to Canada at the end of November/beginning of December.

I did not receive that letter after 1 month of waiting and prior to the time I had to go for my next trip. So, I kept that thought in the back of my head and decided to check before I left Canada to see if a debit was in my account. No. Since the weather delay meant I wasn't in SoCal to check in person on the first Monday of the month (today), which also happens to be the third and the last day on which you can pay your rent without owing a $50 late fee or getting a really nasty notice from the management about how they are kicking you out of your apartment by the 7th if you don't pay, I call as soon as they opened at 8:30 am PST. Spoke with Tiba, who happened to be the exact right person to talk with.

She informed me that I was not on the auto-debit list. I explained my circumstance and how disappointed I was that, after over 6 weeks of having the paperwork, my auto-debit wasn't set up. She agreed and said she would do some checking. Meanwhile, was there any way I could get a check to her before the 7th for rent so that it wouldn't get kicked out of her hands and into the Irvine Company's collection agency. Luckily, my bank has the option to send paper checks via certified next-day mail at a small fee, so I did that. She should have it tomorrow, or Wednesday at the latest.

Meanwhile, I had to deal with all the previous mentioned snow and rebooking issues with Air Canada. I called Tiba back when it was confirmed I was going to be in Canada another day. She had already checked into it and found that no one ever turned in my paperwork for the auto-debit process. I told her, and she once again agreed with me, that this was totally unacceptable. She waived any fees for me and told me to fill out the paperwork and bring it to her personally when I get back in town and she would see that it was taken care of for next month's rent. I also got the woman to whom I gave the paperwork in trouble (I'm assuming) when I described her (didn't remember her name, but remember a decent enough description of her).

I'm really confused and concerned with how that woman (not Tiba, the one to whom I gave the paperwork) handled the situation. This is important, personal, confidential, and potentially damaging information that she did not pass on to the appropriate people/departments to take care of. Luckily, I have not seen any untoward debits from my account or anything, but who knows what could have happened. I am also still concerned over why I had to sign up as though it was the first time just to change my debit amount (providing a new voided check, etc.). Whatever service or system the Irvine Company uses may not be programmed or set up appropriately if they had to do anything more than get an official update that says "for account X, change billed amount from Y to Z." I should not have to sign up fresh every year.

I got the email with the appropriate form from Tiba. I just need to fill that out and turn it in once I make it back to SoCal and it should be done.

Snow Update

Well, I'm here another day. Just got the call that my flight today (Monday) from Saint John is canceled. I'm on the phone waiting on hold to speak with a representative to reschedule/book my flights home.


M is very happy I'm still here and get to stay. I'm pleased, too, of course, but I do have responsibilities back in So Cal that I'm having to juggle from here as best as I can. That makes it hard. But, I'm also sitting and watching the snow fall in raptured glee. For the boy who has rarely seen it, it is special and unique. Remind me of this blog post in 3 years when I've seen enough snow to last me the rest of my life. ;-)

Front yard


Usually when I am visiting and it snows, it happens overnight and I awaken to a world blanketed in white. Which is fine and I love, but I have wondered what it looks like when it actually snows. Today I got my answer.

It is snowing a nice, steady amount. Small flakes, few of which are bigger than the tip of my pinky finger. However, there are so many of the flakes falling and swirling and dancing on the breezes that they are quickly coating everything in a fine dusting of the powder.

What I am surprised at the most is how the snow falls. Rain always falls in pretty steady sheets where I'm from. It is either raining or not and the rain falls straight down unless there is wind. If there is wind, all of the rain falls in pretty much the same slant based on the strength of that wind.

The snow falls in eddies and whirls. As I look out the window, the snow right outside it may be falling straight down, but in the near distance I can see snow falling the opposite direction, some more swirling a little farther away, and still more falling in other directions or even being gusted upwards. Occasionally I see the snow make a "snow devil," or at least something roughly equivalent to the dust devils I'm used to seeing out in the desert.

I am also surprised at the quiet. Again, I'm used to rain. When it rains, it tends to pour. So there is the rat-atat-tat of the rain drops on the windows, metal surfaces, roof, etc. around me. The splashing sounds as it makes pools and then splashes into them. But the snow, excepting the occasional gust of wind that I can hear, falls nearly noiselessly.

It is fun to watch, here in the office with a fire burning and some hot cocoa warming my belly.

December 2, 2007

Bound To Happen

Well, I'm still in Saint John. Was supposed to leave for SoCal today. As we were sitting there, waiting for the plane, I wondered aloud if I would make my connection in Toronto because the flight in was delayed due to weather and I remembered that I had a tight connection time. I asked the girl at the counter and she said, "With the delay, you still have 45 minutes to make your connection, so you're still legal."

Great, I thought.

We said our goodbyes and M drove home while I went through security. The flight out was delayed from 5:45 to 6:12 pm. When it reached 6:22 pm and there still was no sign of even beginning to board the plane, I decided to ask again. The older flight personnel came out just then and announced that they were delaying the flight until 7:15 pm due to weather. Well, since I was on the last flight out of Toronto to LAX, and that delay meant I was going to be arriving about 30 minutes after that flight took off (unless it, too, was delayed), I was stuck.

I had, she told me, two options: they could get me to Toronto where I would be on my own for the night and then I could rebook in the morning to get to LAX or I could rebook the entire flight for tomorrow.

Duh; not really a choice-- be with my wife where I am happy for another 24 hours or pay for my own hotel or sleep in Toronto airport over night? Gee, I wonder. *sarcasm

(We checked some options and, while they could get me to either Montreal or Toronto relatively early, I would have to take either of the two late flights out of Toronto to make it to LAX anyway, so I'd rather be here instead.)

So, I am currently booked on the exact same flights on Monday evening as I was scheduled for today.

Of course, with that storm system heading here rapidly and a lot of snow on the way, I may be doing this again!

November 27, 2007

Chicken or the Egg?

I got an email from a dear old friend in which she told me she had a dream in which she was reading a story I wrote.

I dreamt I was reading a fantasy novel you had just published. It was somewhat like Harry Potter and The Hobbit. The main character's name was "John" and was styled after you. I really enjoyed the story and couldn't wait to tell you how impressed I was!

Last night, not feeling particularly well and unable to fall asleep, a story idea I had been percolating slowly bubbled to the surface and became a realized concept. It naturally fit into the mold of the above, and it seemed to be just "right" to use 'John' as the main character and partly model him after myself (as they say, write what you know). The story plot is the most fully formed idea I have had in a number of years, and this morning I have been spending some time writing down the plot points (in an outline, my mother the English teacher would be so proud), general character points, main themes, etc.

Now, I know that this idea in some form or another was down inside me and struggling to get out. Did my friend's email prompt my thoughts to realize it in this particular direction, or was her dream prophetic and tapped into the direction I was starting to go with it? Or did she plant the seed that completely changed the direction of my thinking and cause me to head down this new path?

I have a feeling it was the latter rather than the former. I say this because, both in high school and in college, I made some extra cash writing short stories for people for their English classes. What I would do is ask them for a) 2-5 names that were important to them to use as character names, b) what their favorite sport, activity was, d) something personal (like, did they have a divorce, alcoholism, a death in the family, etc.-- something that would make it seem much more like them writing), c) and what general genre or direction they needed the story to go for their class. I would then write for them a story using those general guidelines and always achieved an A (although one guy only got an A-... the teacher's assistant graded me down for being "too wordy").

It feels good to be getting the ideas out on paper. I am realizing there are some points that I can't quite remember from last night, and I'm not sure how to connect some idea points to the main plot, but overall it has the making of decent teenage adventure story. We'll see what happens with it as I continue its development.

November 26, 2007


Due to a snafu between my mail-based pharmacy and my doctor's office, I was not able to get the refill on my Enbrel (rheumatoid arthritis) medication prior to leaving for Saint John. I last took Enbrel on Saturday the 10th, as my new schedule for taking the medication is the 1st, 10th, and 20th of each month. So, rather than taking it on the 20th, I have gone without.

It has been an interesting time, seeing how long I could go without using any back-up medications to help with the pain, stiffness, soreness, and discomfort brought on by my RA. I made it until the 25th before I just had to take some Prednisone. My feet and hands, especially my left wrist, were getting very swollen and stiff, and that wrist was downright painful and I was having trouble holding or lifting items.

I took 30 mg of Prednisone yesterday, and by the end of the day my pain was mitigated and the majority of my swelling was down. Today I stepped it down to 20 mg and am continuing to be okay. Tomorrow will be down to 10, and then 5 the following day.

What is nice about this inadvertent test is that I am seeing how much healthier, in general, I can be without the immuno-suppressant drugs in my body. I have felt much healthier, livelier, and energetic during this time. However, that feeling was mitigated by my steadily increasing pain/discomfort level with my hands, feet, lower back, neck, and knees. It's a trade-off for me, these days; do I want to be less sick less often, but in constant pain and discomfort to the point of affecting my daily life, or do I want to be able to do more active things but feel sicker all the time?

Trust me, that is not a simple question to answer. Of course, part of the reason we are shifting from a once-a-week dosage schedule to every 10 days is to see if we can better balance my general health with my pain levels.

I was able to move my shipment date on the next prescription of Enbrel to arrive at my office on the Monday following my return to SoCal. Until then, hopefully this one dosing of Prednisone will be enough to get me through the rest of the week.

November 25, 2007

Friends and Lovers

Of course I love my wife. I wouldn't marry her otherwise.

What surprises me is how much I like my wife. She's a good friend, a confidante, and we have similar interests in many things. Makes things easier. Also, we fill many gaps for each other, so we don't step on each other's proverbial toes (she often stubs her actual toes on mine, however).

November 7, 2007

Lions Redux

Well, now that the team is 6-2 and beat a couple of quality teams, press is finally starting to ask if the Lions are a decent team and if they have a chance. Yay. However, many of the pundits are still doing it slightly tongue-in-cheek and with a bit of surprise.

I'll take it, though. I'm hopeful that they win just 2 of their remaining 8 games, go 8-8, and do not have a losing season. Anything beyond that (and I think you argue for 4 more legitimate shots at wins) would be considered gravy, in my book.

Boss Bailey is quoted as saying he thinks that Matt Millen deserves credit for this. I disagree with that. If Millen had taken the same approach any of the first 5 years of his career as GM as he has last year and this one, the team likely would have had success earlier. Last year, he finally brought in a coach and allowed him to help shape the team, accepted his input on players to target for acquisition and those who should be let go, and also listened to his input for needs-based drafting during the NFL draft. Prior to Marinelli, Millen did not allow that same level of interaction. He forced players onto coaches, was not willing to listen to the coach's input, and drafted what he felt was needed, regardless of the coach's approach to the game.

I also think that having Mike Martz, who is surprising many with his willingness to change his normal routine and run more, has been a key. Marinelli makes a better head coach, guiding the entire team to success while Martz can focus all his attention where he is best suited-- offense. The Lions are doing a lot of good things on offense. And the defense is, so far, remaining healthy; thus allowing them to lead the league in takeaways and be effective.

Here's hoping the much-maligned and recently woeful Lions can keep some success going for the rest of the season and get some excitement back into the Motor City.

November 5, 2007

Google Search bar Tips/Tools

I just became aware of some "hidden" features you can do using the Google search field.

ADDED 11/15/07: Definitions
I just discovered that if you type "define: word" where word is the item you want a definition for, it will display a page with definitions from the web and links to those definitions. Makes for a faster dictionary than even going to online.

define: guru
define: ardent

If you want to check the current time in a city, type "current time city" or "time in city" where 'city' is, naturally, the name of the city. For example, if it is 1:08 pm in California and you type "current time saint john" and press Search, the first entry displayed will show you that it is 5:08 pm AST in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

current time in Tokyo
time Wichita
time in Atlanta

Similarly, if you want to check the weather in a given city, type "weather city" or "weather in city". The first entry it will display will be its known weather for right now and a brief 5-day for that city.

weather London
weather in Moscow

You can enter math functions and calculations into the field and get the results. For example, you could type "3*4(1+5)/6" and it will show you the calculation and the result (in this case, 12).


You can enter conversion criteria to see what an actual amount is or what the current exchange rate is for a type of currency. For example, type "1 usd in Canadian dollars" yields the current exchange rate (about .944). Or, you could type an actual amount you need to know (say, for a purchase) and get the exact conversion, minus any fees that might be charged.

You can enter height, weight and other conversions as well. For example, type "1ft in meters" will show you the conversion amount.

1 usd in gbp
1 usd in Canadian dollars
10.49 in yen
1 lbs in kilos
8.5 ft in meters

File Type Search
Let's say you are looking for a PDF on presidents of the 20th century. You can enter your search (presidents of the 20th century either inside or without quotes) and then follow it with "filetype:pdf" and Google will limit its search to only PDF files that fit the search criteria. You can use other searches, like DOC, XLS, and other doc types.

presidents of the 20th century filetype:pdf
"presidents of the 20th century" filetype:doc

Site-specific Search
Let's say you are looking for information on presidents of the 20th century. You remember reading something on a blogspot/blogger page about it that you hope to find again. You can enter your search (presidents of the 20th century either inside or without quotes) and then finish it with "site:". Google will limit its search to only the criteria entered and only sites on You can also just enter the extension you want, say ".gov", to limit the search to only sites that include ".gov" in the address.

presidents of the 20th century site:*.gov
"presidents of the 20th century"

I've actually known about this one for some time, but I am often surprised at the number of people who do not use this feature or do not know about it. You can use quotes to specify exact keyword matches. For example, let's say you are looking for the brand "air" in hockey sticks. If you were to enter "air hockey sticks" you would achieve a lot of results for "air hockey" as well as "hockey sticks" but may have trouble narrowing down to Air-brand hockey sticks. If, however, you enter 'air "hockey sticks" ', the search engine looks for any occurrence of the word "air" with the phrase "hockey sticks" and you very quickly have narrowed down the search and can find what you need.

air "hockey sticks"
"air hockey" sticks

Combining Features
A few of these features can be combined. For example, you can use the quotes with any search feature listed here or just in general on Google (and some other search engines). You can combine the filetype and site-specific searches.

"presidents of the 20th century" filetype:doc
air "hockey sticks" filetype"PDF

November 2, 2007

Troubleshooting Woes

I understand that IT and QA professionals never know what quality of individual they might be dealing with from one issue to the next, so must start with the bare-bones and work their way up to the more complex. I also understand that these people deal with a lot of idiots on a daily basis and get a bit jaded and negative about things.

That being said...

I am having an interference problem. My cable, internet, and phone are all provided by Cox Communications. I have been quite happy with them over the years I've been in this apartment, and they have helped me quickly each time I've had an issue. I've even pointed out problems that they were unaware of at their end (one time the gain was turned up way high for a couple of channels and, according to the service rep I spoke with, I was the only one to make them aware of that and someone had just hit the switch and upped the gain to 100% and not noticed).

The interference problem started during the fires and has continued since. My guess is that something somewhere between my apartment and their offices is loose, dirty, or damaged and the intermittent interference I am seeing is caused by that. It has happened before. It manifests into visual interference lines of static on the TV and, at precisely the same moment and for precisely the same length of time, as buzzing/scratching on my phone line.

For example, I had the TV on while talking with M last night. At exactly the same moment as the picture got the interference on it, the phone had static. Since M could not hear the static, it was entirely on my end.

I contacted Cox customer support with that problem. I was very specific about the interference being on both at exactly the same time. They asked me to check my connections (which I had already done). What I received back was two different work orders-- one for line static and one for cable static. All of the questions were asking me about separate issues and telling me that representatives will be contacting me from each of the separate divisions. The problem is that the problem is affecting both-- so it is something that is in conjunction with both lines.

Replied back once again telling them of the simultaneous issues, but also replying to each unit's separate questions. Hopefully someone will see the connection at some point. However, I am now not as confident that they will resolve the issue quickly and efficiently if they continue to insist that these are separate problems.

October 30, 2007

Fire Update

Many of the fires are out or are 100% contained. A few still burn, especially the Santiago Canyon (by my apartment) and between here and San Diego. However, containment is being achieved. Last night the news said that the Irvine fire was about 65% contained and they were making good progress on it.

The sky is mostly clear, but there is still a tinge of haze from the few still-burning fires. However, just because the sky is clearer doesn't mean the crap in the air is gone; since the skies have cleared, we have actually had two "very unhealthy" days for air quality.

Most of the evacuations are lifted and people are surveying the damage. In the Big Bear area, many homes are burnt to the ground with nothing but foundations where the house used to be and a mound of slag where the car used to be. San Diegans are finding similar results in many of the outlying area.

And let the accusations begin; the Orange County leadership is already starting the blame game on FEMA, OES, the Governator, and others. The experts were/are saying that the Santiago Canyon fire was likely one of the easiest to knock out had we received early air support. Had they knocked it out early, all the resources that are still fighting it could have been easily redeployed to the other fires and there would have been one less to worry about. However, because we got no air support during the Malibu fire, and then no air support for two days following the Malibu fire's primary containment, it allowed the Santiago Canyon fire to grow into one of the larger, more devastating fires in So Cal. They argue that leadership was apparently basing decisions primarily on potential home loss and difficult landscape, rather than ease of containment and chance to spread/get worse.

I heard word on the news that California is considering buying more fire engines and possibly buying its own "super scooper" airships finally. While I greatly appreciate all the hard work those two from Quebec (with their Canadian pilots) did during these fires (and the 2003 fires), it is time that CA bite the bullet and maintain some of its own. We have fires every summer/fall and we need more of these readily available for use as quickly and early as possible. And I don't think the people will mind paying some extra taxes to get them, this time around. I'm still not understanding why CA didn't buy them after the 2003 fires.

One other thing I noted: one of the officials was saying that nowhere near the 800,000 people stated to have been evacuated actually were. He said that only a few thousand went to the various relief areas and that the roads out of San Diego would have been gridlocked had that many people taken to them. Now, when you add up all the various places together, there were around 100,000 in the relief areas (the most I heard in QualComm stadium was around 30,000, and then I am adding the 10,000+ that went to the other large relief areas. On top of this, every time the news shows pictures of the 5 and 405 freeways, it was like the worst rush-hour gridlock-- which indicates thousands and thousands were on the roads. So, while the estimate of 800k total around SoCal may be high, hundreds of thousands were, in fact, evacuated.

October 29, 2007

Manning's Law

There is, in online chat communities, a statement called Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an adage formulated by Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." A corollary to this law states that after the Nazi/Hitler, the chat thread is doomed. A second corollary is that whomever makes the Hitler/Nazi comparison can and should have the argument immediately ignored or thrown out.

And, if you participate in any online chat communities -- no matter the context or subject matter -- this law appears to be true. I've been involved in chats about movies, super heroes, sci-fi/fantasy themes, and health care issues. I've been in political chats and opinion chats. Sooner or later, if the chat last long enough, someone always brings up Hitler or the Nazis as a comparison and the chat usually ceases to be worthwhile or ends altogether shortly thereafter.

I now propose a similarly sweeping law: Manning's Law. This law states: "The longer the Colts remain a contending team, the probability of all advertisements featuring Peyton Manning in some manner approaches one."

Back when he only showed up in sports-related advertisements, I was okay. He is pleasantly self-effacing and affable. However, now that he is creeping into electronics, car, food, and other advertisements, I am starting to be annoyed. His pleasant demeanor is starting to grate. I recognize that he is one of the biggest, most recognizable sports stars out there right now. And I have nothing inherently against; on the contrary, I think he is one of the all-time great quarterbacks to ever play. I think his preparation, determination, image, and sports IQ are all things to which young people can and should aspire if they want a career in sports.

But, like with anything else, I have my saturation point. I have reached "full" on seeing Manning in advertisements.

I swear I will give up watching TV altogether when Manning is in a Summer's Eve ad. And you know it is coming; "Ever have a not-so-fresh day? Sack it with Summer's Eve!"


I have few illusions that the Detroit Lions are a playoff-calibre team. I have few illusions that they will be better than a .500 team on the season. However, with that being said, I am getting frustrated that they, according to nearly every article I read, don't seem capable of winning a game. Instead, all the articles talk about how the team they played lost the game.

As of right now, the Lions are 5-2 on the season. They are in second place in their division behind Green Bay and, if the Packers lose tonight, could be tied for first. Yet it seems to be consensus among sports writers that this is totally accidental.

I had a teacher in high school who always used to say, "The winning team doesn't win, the losing team loses." What he meant by that was, through lack of discipline, not following the game play, inability to change tactics, the losing team provides the other team with the victory. And, I guess, sports writers across America agree with him when it comes to the Lions.

My counterargument to him, and we got into some great discussions, was that the winning team also wins. And by that I meant that the winning team has to train well, prepare assiduously, and take advantage of the foibles the other team has. I argued that it didn't matter if the other team fumbled the ball or threw an interception if the team that took over the ball couldn't move it or fumbled it right back. We've all seen games in various sports where a team seemed reluctant to win-- they didn't have the instinct to squash their opponent, they couldn't get a score, both kept giving the ball to the other team via take aways, on downs, or whatever.

As of right this moment, the Lions are leading the league in Take Aways. Every Sunday morning you hear from the pundits that Take Aways are one of the most important stats of the game-- yet somehow it seems that it is the opponent's fault rather than the Lions hustle and defense that caused all those turnovers, if you believe the writers. The Lions lead the league in Sacks, another supposedly important statistic, but it is apparently the quarterback's inability to play the game which is the reason, not the Lions' pressure from the front four or timely blitzes from the corners.

The Lions are in the top half of the league in offense, which isn't too shabby. They are 11th in points scored per game average. Their attack is improving almost every game, even if they are giving up a ton of sacks (I believe they are leading the league in sacks allowed, too). They have their starting RB back from injury and he is starting to post pretty decent numbers and take some pressure off the QB. They have beaten the defending NFC representative to the Super Bowl last year 2-0 on very good games. They beat a much-improved Tampa Bay team that is only a half game out of first place in its division. Yes, they lost two stinkers to the Eagles and Redskins-- but those are teams that were expecting to be in the hunt for a Super Bowl this season and are only 3-4 and 4-3 respectively.

Again, I'm not trying to proclaim the Lions are a force to be reckoned with, nor that they are going to make the playoffs. Their remaining games only have three strong candidates for victories:

Cardinals (A)
Vikings (A)
Chargers (A)
Packers (A)

I would argue that the Lions have a decent shot at beating the Cardinals, Vikings, and Chiefs. If the bad Giants team shows up, they could get an unexpected win, and they may split the two games against the Packers. So they have a legitimate shot at 8-8. There is even a chance, playing at home, that they could surprise the Broncos, who have been very up and down this season. But you have to assume the Cowboys and Chargers will take care of business, and that the Packers will at least win their home game. I'm assuming the Broncos and Giants will come prepared to play well.

So, in the end, it sure would be nice if the Lions could get a little credit for what they have accomplished so far this season. They are playing well, have more wins than all of last season (5 vs 3 last year), and doing some good things as a team. Can at least one major sports writer give them what they are due?

October 26, 2007

Rebuilding PCs

On Monday, everything was fine with my PC. It was running smoothly and had been since I rebuilt it with new memory, motherboard, and CPU. Matter of fact, I was extremely pleased with it as I had not needed to make any tweaks or be so stringent about updating BIOS or drivers; it was just working and working well.

Tuesday, my buddy Matt and I have a standing engagement to play WoW together for a few hours or until we're tired (and we're both getting old-- that is happening earlier and earlier!!). When I logged in, I had no sound. Odd. When I logged out, my display suddenly flickered and then redisplayed with a green filter over everything. Odder. I rebooted the machine and still didn't have sound. A half an hour of tweaks and fiddling and reboots, I managed to get it working again and we played for awhile together.

That night, after playing, however, my machine started freezing. And I mean freezing. Nothing would work or respond in the least and I had to press the tower power button to restart the machine. Whenever I went into something that involved a download or the network, the freezing seemed to happen very quickly. If I didn't, then I may get longer periods without freezing but, eventually, it would jam up again.

I tried going back to a known-good Restore Point an that worked... for awhile. Then the freezing came back. It seemed to coincide with my machine doing downloads from the Internet and it seemed to correlate with Microsoft hot fixes or installs. But, when I checked the Latest Updates list, nothing was dated on Tuesday. If it was MS causing the issue, then it was a "stealth update" that they didn't want me to know about.

I decided to rebuild over top the existing Windows install first. That is easy and not too time consuming. Maybe some DLLs or Drivers had become corrupted and just needed to be reset. However, after the reinstall the pausing continued. Decided to take it a step further and format the hard drive and reinstall OS and everything from scratch. That would wipe out nearly any Virus, reset all DLLs and Drivers to a clean state, and allow me to start fresh. However, I had only installed the OS and allowed it to start downloading and installing hot fixes when Vista froze again. Lock up.

Discussing the issue with some IT personnel whose opinions I trust, they gave me some suggestions that included maybe the drive was starting to fail or had some glitches. I had tested the drive using Windows scanner, but it did not find any errors, but the drive is about 4 years old and probably could stand to be replaced. Plus, when I upgraded to the new MB, I got one with six SATA ports on it but kept the same hard drive-- so I was using the very slow IDE ports. So I decided what the heck and got a new 320 Gig SATA drive with a 3 gig transfer rate and 16 MB cache. This freed up an IDE port so I could plug back in my old Zip 250 drive again.

Powered up BIOS and it found the drive immediately. Tweaked things so that I could boot from my CD-Rom and install Vista on the new drive and, as of last night, everything seems to be working like a champ again. No freezes or other glitches during large downloads of CoH and WoW files. Installed the virus protection without difficulties. Updated the video drivers with no issues. Installed Office without trouble, as well as AIM, YIM, and Firefox.

However, I did all of this very carefully, creating many Restore Points along the way. And, I also disallowed Windows Vista from downloading and installing any Hot Fixes or other updates from the Internet. I'm still not fully convinced that the trouble wasn't from an update or stealth download. I am going to take it very slowly as I install those updates back onto the OS, again creating as many Restore Points as needed. Hopefully I can get myself to the point where I don't have to touch or tweak anything again for a long time.

Smoke and Mirrors

My eyes are red. When I first wake up, during the day, whether I stay inside or go outside, my eyes are red. And feel puckered and dry all the time. Even using my thick, made for chronic dry eyes, mucous-like eye drops offers little relief to this situation. My throat feels coated with a fine layer of burning ash and dust. My nose is so dry it keeps bleeding (but not badly enough to drip, thank goodness). My skin is dry to the touch and any moisture provided it (shower, lotion) is absorbed at an astonishing rate.

Upon leaving this morning for work, the sky was a an orangish-burnt sienna color. Since the Santa Ana Winds have died down, which is great for the fire fighting, the smoke, haze, and ash are all staying put right over Orange County. I can only imagine how bad the same situation is in San Diego County, where the fires are bigger and burning much more right now. The air quality is so bad that they have closed a number of schools throughout the region for health reasons.

My car was coated with a fine layer of ash this morning -- and it spent the night inside my closed garage. I can only imagine how bad that would have been had it not been inside.

I am tired. Everyone I know is fatigued at an alarming rate. We all think it has something to do with hot, dry weather and the ash. Likely also the stress of all the constant news reports and need to know if you have to evacuate your area; plus worry over friends and colleagues.

The news talks about the toll on those who have lost their homes. I'm starting to wonder about the long term toll on those of us who have been breathing the air, searing our lungs, and drinking food and water that may be laced with the ash, soot, and chemicals that all are stirred up and put into the air by these fires. We have likely received 10x, 20x, 100x the pollution we normally would have breathed in the last 7 days. What will those effects be in 2, 5, or 10 years down the line?

October 25, 2007

Pleasantly Unhelpful

I just called one of my doctor's offices. I had canceled an appointment earlier in the month and didn't reschedule immediately, because there were things coming up around which I didn't want to try to work. So I waited until today to call and reschedule.

The person with whom I spoke was very pleasant on the phone... and not helpful at the same time. When I said I needed to reschedule my appointment she said, "So when would you like to come in?"

I paused a second and then said, "I can choose any time and date I want?"

"Sure," she said.

"Okay," I said in that slow, drawn out way I use to indicate that I am a bit incredulous.

"How about Wednesday?" she asked.

"Okay. I need a late afternoon appointment," I said.

"Hmmm. We're full that afternoon," she replied with a nice lilt in her voice. I could almost see the not-quite-a-frown smile she had on her face.

"Then I can't really choose the day and time I want, now can I?" I asked.

"Well," she said pleasantly with even a slight laugh, "I guess not. How about Thursday at 4pm?"

I agreed and we rang off.

Now, that entire conversation wound up being longer and needlessly painful when it didn't have to be. While the girl was very pleasant and had a nice, conversational phone presence, the fact that she didn't provide me with a rough idea of when the next available appointment was or ask me whether mornings or afternoons were better for me caused the conversation to lag and to cause a false start that wasn't needed.

If, on the other hand, she had used that pleasant voice to simple ask, "Are mornings or afternoons better for you?" and then followed that up with the next available appointment for that block of time, we could have quickly discovered that November 1 was the first available appointment time. At least she did prompt me for Wednesday, to give me an idea that tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday were poor choices to make.

October 24, 2007

The Numbers

Here is what the news just presented:

Fires currently burning: 18
Acres burned: around 420,000 total (or about 650 square miles/1050 sq kilometers)
Lost: about 1250 homes and business so far
Evacuated: Over 500,000 in San Diego alone, and estimated at about 880,000 overall.
Monetary amount: Estimating over $1 billion dollars in damages in just San Diego alone. Last estimate I heard was around $500 million elsewhere.
Deaths: 5
Injuries: 30-50 (getting really crappy estimates)

Fire Update

The Santiago/Irvine fire kicked up and did some damage last night, but not to my area directly. We have now lost 14-20 homes in the Foothill Ranch/Portola Springs area and the fire is threatening up north of me again. Renee's mom lives about a mile north and west of me and she was packing things up because it was threatening her area pretty strongly last evening. The one comment that I have been making all along and that the news and local govt is starting to make is that this fire could have been out and done with if we got some air support. We have received zero air support since day one (I heard helicopters on Monday but it turns out those were not tankers).

Firefighters are saying that our fire here was likely the easiest to contain and control with air support and there is already starting to be a backlash from citizens and local govt as to why we didn't get any. That and the fact that it went from 8800 to now around 20k acres practically overnight with no reallocation of resources when the experts agree this is one of the easier fires to fight is pissing off some people.

Just saw a report on TV from a woman reporter for channel 5 who was in this area yesterday. They showed tape from yesterday and then live shots of the exact same areas today-- it seriously and without hyperbole looks like a war has been fought there since yesterday. And a scorched earth, leave no prisoners battle at that.

The good thing is that we have double-digit humidity again (my area is at about 20-25%) and the winds have died down quite a bit. Both those facts will help firemen get a handle on things more quickly.

The San Diego fire is where your thoughts and concerns need to be. Over 1million evacuations now, many homes lost, two fires have merged, and there is no end in sight down there. One of our tech writers is confirmed to have lost his home and I'm certain many others are in jeopardy or have lost theirs too. They are saying that the insurance claims are estimated at $500 million as of right now, and they know that many more homes will be lost. They are also fearful of what this will do for our economy, which was barely holding on after the home loan scandals from a couple of months ago. This may break the back of So Cal.

I am going to work from home today as I've been up since about 4am due to firetrucks and police racing by with sirens blaring. I don't think my particular area is in any immediate danger, but I'm tired and don't feel like going in. I'm also having some minor health issues; not sure if they are due to the fires or just me being me. Caly is coughing and sneezing a lot. And this is with my doors and windows shut tight, Ionic Breeze on high, and using the AC filter to filter the air. Ugh. It is no better at work, as I found out yesterday.

That's this morning's update.

October 23, 2007


At least three of the fires in So Cal have been identified as caused by arson; the Santiago (Irvine), the Magic (near Magic Mountain), and one of the two large fires in San Diego. When I was speaking with my mom, she worried about just this problem happening as she said that watching the fires burn on TV will spark a need to be closer and participate from those who are arsonist. More may be identified as such as they get a handle on them.

Guess you were right, mom.

I understand the lure of the fire-- I've always been fascinated by flame and can sit and watch it for hours. But I don't go around setting fires and destroying people's homes. What causes a person to need to start them? What causes them to want to destroy homes and lives? That part I just don't get!!!

The thing that gets me is that, if these three fires hadn't been purposely started, the firefighters in those areas could be elsewhere helping with the naturally caused fires burning around the state.

We are currently up to 500,000 people evacuated from San Diego, some 300,000 acres of land burned, and over 700 homes destroyed so far.

October 22, 2007

Movie Piracy

What the MPAA and movie houses will learn, much to their surprise, is that, if they can get people to stop downloading movies illegally, the amount of illegal movies available and piracy will barely fluctuate. The majority of people are NOT downloading movies. Even with cable modems, DSL, and other high speed connection, it is just not reliable enough for the average user.

It is far, far easier to rent movies from Blockbuster and Netflix and copy them. It is that simple. And, once you have a digital copy of a movie on your hard drive from a clean DVD, you can "print" as many DVDs of it as you can afford.

So, this method is a) cheaper, b) faster, c) easier, and d) allows for the greatest amount of copies to be made. Do they really think people are going to download movies?

Secondly, people will always share movies. I buy all of my movies legally. I figure that I want to pay the full price so that the movie company continues to make those sorts of movies. My dollar is power. But, when a family member or friends wants to see it but doesn't want to buy it themselves, I let them borrow it. I figure that, if I let them use my copy, they may buy it themselves if they like it.

I make these comments because there is some evidence that Comcast is purposely impeding people form using file-sharing applications. The company allows the connection and then sends a signal to make both computers "hang up" the connection. This 'service' is not discriminating between legal or illegal file sharing. If you are legally trying to share or distribute something using Gnutella or other file sharing services, you are on Comcast, and you keep getting disconnected, call Comcast and complain. They have no right to stop you from legal behavior. If, on the other hand, you are doing something underhanded you will need to figure out a work around to this current situation.


It appears that the Irvine fire is primarily to the east of me and not heading south or west anymore. So, at least for now, I'm relatively safe.

That being said, the fire here has been around 8,800 acres for most of the day until about 2pm and now it is over 15,000 acres and growing. But we do have air support coming now and they are beating it back from the homes in Foothill Ranch and Portola Springs areas (about 2-3 miles east and north of me).

The fire that was directly north of me appears to be under some control.

However, there are enough fires that they are actually changing and creating their own weather patterns-- so things could change in a moment. Also, the Santa Ana Winds come around now and usually pick up in the evenings.

Air quality has been deemed Unhealthy and all outdoor activities have been advised against. They recommend all people to close all doors and windows and use filters and AC to filter the air.

San Diego

Over 250,000 people have now been evacuated from San Diego. And, unfortunately, the 15 freeway, one of the two main arteries into/out of San Diego, is closed for a large stretch in that area.

A number of people who work at our SD office have been evacuated.

There are over a dozen fires burning, with a couple burning big enough that it is feared that they may join into super blazes. Our forces are spread thin and our resources are stretched to their limits. Firefighters from Nevada and Arizona are on their way here.

Rough Area

The red line indicates the rough area of the fire. The red dot is my rough location on the map.

Some Pics

A friend who went into the Irvine office sent these pics of the smoke in my area.


The firefighters got a decent handle on a few of the fires over night-- but then the sun rose this morning at 7:04 am and the Santa Ana Winds started at just about the same time and now nearly every fire is burning back up into a problem.

I decided to work from home, just in case. My fire is being said that it is between 0 and 30% contained, but they are most worried about the southern and western edges. Which, of course, is where I am. The wind is gusting up to 100 mph in areas.

I just heard at least three fire engines go by on either side of me and the smoke and embers are thick in the air. I have all my doors and windows closed, am completely dressed, and have my pack of important stuff ready to take with me. All just in case, but better safe than sorry.

My company's San Diego office is officially closed and those of us in Irvine are supposed to do what we think is necessary to be safe. I have decided to work from home so I can get myself, my stuff, and my cat out if needed.

The firemen have confirmed they have found evidence that the Irvine fire was started via Arson. It is hard to understand why people would do that when there are, not including this one, 10 other fires burning in the area to which the Irvine, Anaheim, Tustin, and other firemen could go to help. But some idiot decided he needed fire here, and the fire fighting resources are now spread incredibly thin on all fronts.

The Governator has declared a State of Emergency and apparently some Arizona firemen are heading this way to help out.

Fire, Fire Burning Bright

It is a little disturbing to flip on the news and find out that there is a fire burning within 5 miles of me. And then, following the news, paying attention to the live shots, and which roads they say it is crossing, discovering that it is, in fact, within about 2.5 miles of me! Possibly less in some areas.

Just north of where I live, a couple of blocks, is Portola Parkway. Just east of me is Jeffrey (maybe a mile). The fire is close enough that it is burning just on the other side (north) of Portola. It is close enough to Jeffrey that they started evacuations of some homes and apartments on the west side of that road. At last comment by a fire fighter, this fire has burned in excess of 3,800 square acres. The fire teams decided that Portola was where they were making their stand, as there is nothing left south of Portola but homes and apartments. So far, they seem to be winning. The helicopters and planes are constantly making water drops-- which is amazing because, at night, the pilots are on a voluntary basis. It is very dangerous for them to fly at the best of times, but doubly so at night. But they keep at it.

When you read my previous post about the wind, and the fact that the wind in this area is blowing west and south, it means this fire is heading directly toward me! We were alerted to "bunker;" which means to shut your doors and windows, try to stay out of the smoke and debris, collect important items, and pay attention to the radio or TV for alerts of voluntary or compulsory evacuations.

I have collected my important documents, medications, some clothes, etc. into a plastic bin and I am ready to evacuate if needed. I will sleep with more on than usual, so that I don't have to worry about getting dressed if asked to evacuate during the middle of the night. My plan is to drive to work, where I will have access to a phone.

My power is fluctuating quite a bit, but at least I still have power. Many areas are completely without, due to power lines being burned down. I called both mom and M to alert them to this potential problem. Yes, I woke M up at nearly 2 am her time, but I didn't want her to wonder about things if she didn't hear from me tomorrow because I've been evacuated and am trying to find a place to go. Hopefully she went right back to sleep. Yet one more inconvenience of a) not being together in the first place and b) the time difference between here and there.

There are, apparently, nearly a dozen fires burning in Southern California right at this moment. The three worst appear to be Malibu, Canyon Country, and Irvine, with many others threatening homes and businesses.
We're paying for the light- precipitation winter and spring we had followed by the hot, dry summer-- the brush is dry and there isn't a lot of water to use to fight it. When the winds blew down some power lines, the first fires started. But now there are so many that I wonder about arson or if one fire has ignited others.

I don't know how well I'll sleep tonight. The air is thick with smoke and ash, even with the doors and windows closed and my Ionic Breeze set on high. Hopefully our heroic fire people will keep this thing contained until morning. The bad thing is that the Santa Ana Winds are scheduled to hit hard again first thing in the morning and will last through the evening.

October 21, 2007


I hate the wind. Growing up in 29 Palms, where the wind can blow to gale force, lifting sand a mile or more into the air and sandpapering anything in its path, I disliked the wind for the simple fact that it could knock me off my feet, and did. I hate the sand in my mouth and the way the wind was usually hot and would cook you like a convection oven.

It is windy in Irvine today. The news says only 16-20 mph, but I'm certain the gusts that are occurring are close to twice that amount. It is blowing hard enough that, even though I have my sliding glass door shut it is moving the blinds on the inside.

As it is winter, the wind is colder. It is whipping down from the mountain passes north of here, where the colder climate in the higher elevations makes it nice and chill. So, when you look outside, it looks like a nice, sunny, day. But when you step into that wind a cold stab goes through you.

My apartment complex also catches the wind and holds it. It comes in from the north and then circles in the parking lot so you don't know from which direction you'll get hit by it.

Lastly, both as I get older and also due to my suppressed immune system, I have developed allergies. While I used to just hate the wind for knocking me over, drying me out, making me too hot or too cold, now I also hate it because it stirs up the pollens, dusts, and other things that trigger me to have sneezing fits, watery eyes, and my internal nasal passages to fill with gunk.

Man, I hate the wind.

October 9, 2007

Oh, To Be A Cat

Or, Life as a Cat is SO Hard

The important thing to note here is that, while I didn't formally make the bed this morning, I did pull the sheets up to the pillows and down on the sides. So she needed to be determined to pull them back and get comfortable. And, yes, she is resting right where I slept all night.

October 5, 2007

More Good Customer Service

I got a scary call yesterday morning from Tiva, who works in my apartment complex office. My rent was overdue as of yesterday morning and she told me (this was news to me) that if it was not received prior to the seventh day of the month, I would be sent to their legal department and they would start the eviction process. On top of owing the full, new monthly rent amount (I just signed a new lease last weekend), I was also now required to pay a $50 surcharge for the late rent.

My explanation that I had told my bank to send a check, that I only had an online banking account so do not have checks, she understood but could do nothing about. I would have to pay the $50 in a cashier's check or money order (both of which  have additional expenses). I also complained that all this was caused by their inability to update my automatic deposit for rent without renewing the process from scratch (which requires about 3 weeks for them to get going). Had they been able to call IT and just update my auto-pay, this would not have been an issue at all.

Yet again I found the Irvine Company's rules too strict and unyielding. The fact that they own approximately 90% of all apartment and store property, however, allows them to throw their muscle around and do what they want.

So, I reasoned with Tiva. I told her I could print out the pages from my online bank account that show the transaction and that the check was sent. I got her to agree to call me each day between then and Saturday when the mail arrived if my check had been received or not. I also asked, if I showed up with $50 cash, if some nice person with a check book would write the check from his/her account for me (to which she actually said yes, she would! I can be smooth when I want to!).

I immediately moved into crisis management mode and started thinking of ways around this or how I could talk myself out of it if the check was delayed in the mail until after Saturday. I conceived of a work-around, but was not happy that I needed to.

Luckily, later that afternoon, I received another phone call from Tiva-- the check arrived in yesterday's mail. Because my account was in good standing, she also waived the $50 late fee.

Now, while I know I dodged a bullet and do plan this weekend to go back in and set up the auto-pay feature again (I got the paperwork, but have to find the required codes online), I still plan to enact some of my crisis mode plan in order to alleviate this happening again between now and when I leave for Canada.

And I made sure to thank Tiva for the good customer service she provided.

September 30, 2007

The Dark Is Rising

When I first heard they were doing The Dark is Rising as a movie, I was ecstatic. Susan Cooper's novels are so visual, so arresting, and so subtle that I thought they would translate well and be great on-screen. Plus, with their tie ins to Arthurian legend, I thought it would be a great way to reintroduce those legends on-screen after some duds relating to those legends in recent history. The fact that they were skipping my favorite book in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, in favor of the four books that focus on Will Stanton, I was willing to overlook.

And then I started hearing rumors about the changes they were making. At first, I didn't think too much about them as all directors and scriptwriters make changes they hope will make the books more "cinematic" (as an aside, it doesn't seem to matter how visual the originating story is-- even when it is a comic book which is practically a story board already).

But then I kept reading and hearing more items on the changes. I started seeing interviews. And now they have changed the title of the movie and have released some previews that, until I looked up the movie on , I didn't recognize as The Dark is Rising at all. When someone who knows the novels doesn't even recognize the story in the trailers for the movie, I think you could say that some red flags were raised.

Without going into detail myself, this blogger has already created an in-depth grid that shows the incredible number of changes they have made.


I was hoping for the LotR treatment; changes made being acceptable even if a tad annoying to fans of the books, in order to make a good movie/series. Instead, it appears we have something closer to Catwoman, a movie that barely shares the name of the original source and is otherwise unrecognizable.

The biggest complaint I have is that the lead in the books has a normal, helpful, supportive family and that familial relationship is pretty much the point of the novels and allows Will to be the champion he needs to be. You would think, in this time of relative moral decay and the destruction of the nuclear family, that filmmakers would want to show us the power of a strong family and good family ties. But, no, the central source of strength and power for the film version of this much-loved character has turned into something unrecognizable, ego-based, and meritless.

And don't get me started on changing Will to American and ignoring the entirety of the Arthurian legend-- it basically means this cannot be the start of a movie series as the remaining books (3-5, for some reason they are ignoring book 1 and starting with book 2 for the films) deal heavily in British and Arthurian legend.

So, this movie has leaped from being in my top 4 list of movies to see this year to not even on the considered list. It will take an incredible number of positive reviews and word of mouth to make me go to this in the theater.

I am sitting here quite literally scratching my head and wondering what the hell they were thinking.

September 28, 2007

What Our Current Leaders Forgot

Every successful Democracy today was created when the people of the nation in question rose up and fought for it themselves. Those uprisings have taken many different forms, from violent wars to peaceful, nonviolent protests, from slowly smoldering insurrections to flash bomb fast uprisings.

You cannot force democracy on people who are not willing to fight for it themselves. When you do, you get the mess we're in now. Without fighting for it themselves, the people do not learn what it takes to make a nation, what it means to be in a democracy, or create the economic and politic balances that are needed after the change takes place.

America has plenty of internal and external issues that it could be spending money and time fixing without keeping our forces in a country that doesn't want us there fighting for people who will not fight for themselves. Even if we are successful, the people will be reliant on our help for decades afterward because they will not have gone through the growing pains of a new democracy themselves and will not know what their individual roles are in that new nation.

I Hope It's True

If true, this is one of the best things I've heard of recently:
Nickelodeon to Go Dark Saturday
The kids' TV channel Nickelodeon is planning to intentionally go dark on Saturday at noon, with announcers telling their audience, "Go outside and play." The channel plans to remain dark for three hours, after which Nickelodeon says it will air Let's Play Go Healthy Challenge, produced in cooperation with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
I hope it is true. I think this is a fabulous idea and one worth celebrating.

September 25, 2007

Proper Service

M and I had some issues with the Miramonte Resort and Spa in Indian Wells (south of Palms Springs). These issues included:
  • Not getting the room we were confirmed for upon check-in.
  • Having the manager on duty that night argue with us before relenting when we brought out the confirmation number/letter confirming our chosen room.
  • Room service being late (plus being charged for extra when we shouldn't have been).
  • Cleaning staff barging in when the Privacy note was up.
  • Cleaning staff being very late in getting to the room so that they were still there when we arrived back from things (4-5pm).
  • Service staff who spoke no English or ignored people if they did not understand the request.
  • Being charged an extra $50 for late check out.
One of the reasons people go to "resorts" over hotels is that a resort treats you with personal care. The word "no" is usually not in their vocabulary and they try to work with you to make your stay the best it can be.

This resort made the mistake of sending us a survey on our stay. M forwarded it to me and I filled it out. I tried not to be unduly harsh, but I also made a point of presenting the negatives, too.

Not 10 minutes after I entered the survey, M got an email from the Senior Assistant Hotel Manager for Miramonte Resort and Spa, Monty Crawford. She forwarded it to me and I called him to discuss my unfavorable review.

Monty is a personable guy who was very upset that we had such a poor visit at one of his establishments. I explained in a calm voice what my issues were, the names of those whom I remembered, and why we gave the resort a negative review. He understood completely and responded that our experience was not what the Miramonte expected or how they trained their staff to react to such instances.

He was more than happy to credit the $50 late check-out fee from our bill and he also said he would speak with all four managers who were involved with these issues to reiterate the resort's policies on these matters and the way in which this could have been handled better. As I told Monty, "I don't mind being told no as long as it is politely and with respect. What I objected to was how your staff kept telling me no." His reply is that they try not to use the word 'no' when dealing with customers and apologized for the crude behavior we experienced.

As a last ditch effort to appease me, Monty offered us a free weekend stay at his resort. We will deal directly with him on making the reservation and get the exact room and experience that we were expecting.

Monty Crawford understands the value of good service. He bent over backward to make sure I was happy by the end of the conversation. If only one of the many managers with whom we dealt during our stay had recognized our dissatisfaction and had accommodated us similarly, this wouldn't have gone so far.

Thank you, Monty Crawford.

September 22, 2007

Some Wedding Shots

To give you a taste (the photog isn't done with them all yet, but here are some samples):

My beautiful bride

The happy couple outside church

Young couple in love

The theatre shot

September 21, 2007

Jena 6

The facts, as I have gleaned from a variety of magazines and news articles, are as follows:
  • A black student asked permission of a person in authority (one article said the principal, another the v-p) for himself and some fellow black students to sit under a particular tree on the high school campus that a particular group of white kids usually sat under. They were told they could sit anywhere they liked. They arrived the next day to see three hangman nooses on the tree. The white children responsible were punished for the prank.
  • The white students in question took to taunting the black students and possibly threatening the black students. Some minor scuffles occurred on both sides, both on and off the school grounds.
  • At one point, one white student is alleged to have shown a concealed firearm to a black student/group of black students (articles I've read disagree on the number).
  • Possible escalation events between white and black students occur outside of school, at parties, and other non-school events around town. Most appear to have dealt with at the time in an appropriate way and in appropriate measures on both sides of the racial lines. I'm seeing variations and inconsistencies on which are related and which are not in the various sources I'm reading.
  • A group of six black students, one 16 and the rest 17 years old, then cornered one white student, who may have been the one who showed the gun or may have just been part of the group of white students who sat under the tree, and beat him unconscious in what is most often termed a "school-yard fight."
  • The six black students were arrested for attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder and the first was tried as an adult and found guilty by a jury of all white people. Unfortunately, that student was 16 at the time of the alleged assault and should (likely) not have been tried as an adult (in Louisiana the age of majority is 17, so only the other five should be tried as an adult unless it is deemed that the 16 year old should be tried as an adult as a special circumstance).
There are a lot of rumors of other behaviors and actions by both sides, but I cannot find more than one source for any of those. The above seem to be what the articles I've read agree on as the main facts of the case. What is most telling is how hard it is to find accurate information on the case; many traditional news sites have surprisingly little on the case and so many articles seem to disagree over the facts.

It seems like the white students were acting stupidly and probably should have been pulled aside by school authorities and given a stern talking to, for sure, but nothing I can see they did was more than threats and intimidation factors, with the possibility of some minor scuffles. The one child alleged to have carried a concealed weapon is the only one who has committed a true crime, and that depends on the LA carry/concealed laws, of course, but it is at best a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine and some sort of community service and probation.

The black students, however, allowed themselves to be provoked to the point of beating a child unconscious. No matter their ages, this is a much more serious crime than those by the white students and is being charges in a more serious way. Now, I'm not certain that it rates "second degree murder and and conspiracy to commit second degree murder," but when you beat someone unconscious it should be a serious matter.

Why is the black leadership of this country purporting racial bias by the police in Jena, racist treatment by the courts, and a racist result by the jury?

The best I can tell is that the black leaders are wondering why, for what amounts to nothing more than a school-yard fight gone bad, these black kids are being sentenced to such a severe crime and being charged as adults. I'm not sure that you can claim racism in this, although it is a bit fishy. However, it seems like the police may have just wanted to stop any further violence before it started by coming down heavy on the first truly violent escalation in this ongoing disagreement between these groups of students. All the other alleged events were minor skirmishes, taunts, and intimidation on both sides. This was a serious beating by a group against an individual.

Also, some news reports indicate that the white public defender for the first black child charged in this crime did not call any witnesses in the defense of the child and did a crappy job of defending the boy. His are the only actions that strike me as possibly racist; however, he could also be an idiot, or he may have felt that the evidence against his client was overwhelming and he wanted his client to plead guilty to a lesser crime and didn't do the best job he could when the child did not take his advice. He could have been under pressure from his superiors in the law firm  (including, but not limited to, racism on their part). Also, why didn't he fight harder for a jury that was not all-white?

Also, why did this case take so long to reach the mainstream news? Why were so few newspapers, blog news sites, and TV news reporting on this until the black leadership got involved and started alleging racism?

There are a lot of troubling aspects to this case, but I am not certain that any or all of them can be attributed to racism in America. Poor decisions, stupidity, and ignorance seem like just as likely culprits to me. It is a case I am trying to keep my eye on, though. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the coming weeks.

September 20, 2007

Black QBs

Donovan McNabb, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, recently said that Black quarterbacks face more scrutiny than White quarterbacks. He then was unable to codify his statements, point to specific examples of when, how, or in what way he came to this belief, and when presented with codified comments to the contrary, stormed away from the interview in a huff.

McNabb is an idiot. While I don't doubt there is a small portion of this country that still holds onto such racist beliefs, the majority of all sports reporting is based on what the player has actually done and not some perception. He seems to be discounting that the most vilified QB over the last few seasons is Chicago's Rex Grossman. Eli Manning cannot escape the shadow of his father or his brother, and the press has been branding him as a failure for two seasons now.

I find it interesting that McNabb is having one of his worst seasons in his career when you look strictly at his wins/losses, completion percentages, yards per pass, and other critical QB statistics, yet he feels it is somehow racially motivated when reporters bring that up. No, Donovan, it is because your PLAY is stinking to high heaven. What is funny, to me, is that he has a built-in excuse for his poor play, the knee surgery that not everyone comes back from, yet he chooses to play the race card instead. Gee, McNabb, don't you think it more likely that the reason you keep under throwing your receivers is because your knee isn't fully healthy and you don't have all your strength than the fact that you are black?

There are seven black QBs starting in the NFL right now. Of those, only McNabb is having a truly atrocious season and he is the only one about whom reporters are being overly negative. Coincidence? I think not. After week one, Tavaris Jackson was getting a lot of praise. After week two's relatively poor performance, a few reporters got on the kid a bit for his poor play... I didn't hear him claim his race was the motive behind those comments. Matter of fact, he admitted he played poorly and was not on his A game. Instead of pulling the tired cliche of race to excuse his poor play, he said he would do better, talk with his coaches, and come out stronger next week. He seems to understand that his play is the reason for the comments, not his skin. You are nearly 10 years older, Donovan, why can't you figure that out?

Jason Campbell in Washington has had a heaping of praise in the press for the way he has handled the offense, the pressures of being a young starting quarterback, and for being 2-0 on the season. I have not been able to find anything negative on his performance, but he also has been playing well. If the media were racially motivated, wouldn't they be trying to tear down this successful black QB too?

Vince Young last season had some good games and some horrible games... and reporters only had negative things to say about those poor games and the trends they saw in his play during those poor games. He didn't make any comments that were racially motivated.

If you go on to have a couple of great games in a row, you'll be amazed that the "negative" press will fade away, Donovan. Because, just like most of America, reporters are primarily concerned with how you play and if you win, not what color your skin is.

You have claimed for years that you are all about class and dignity, yet whenever the chips are down and things aren't going your way, you whine like a school girl and cannot accept responsibility for your poor actions. This does not strike me as classy or dignified in the least.

Rex Grossman continues to be under a microscope for his inconsistent play. Eli Manning continues to take the lion's share of the blame for the poor performance of the offense in New York. People are questioning Drew Brees and Philip Rivers over their poor decision making and play over the first two games. I am not hearing any one of those QBs complaining that white QBs are under more scrutiny than black QBs. Each of them is sucking it up and trying to play better, smarter, and harder to be successful.

Why is Donovan McNabb getting a relative flier on his asinine, racially motivated comments? This is the third time in his career that I remember McNabb blaming things on race when his poor play was the real culprit. I can only conclude that the real racist in the equation is McNabb.

September 19, 2007

Understanding the Ways of the World

Picture if you will that you have just completed your second, but most important, formal ceremony pledging your life and love to the woman of your dreams in front of family and friends and God Almighty. Imagine she looks the most incredible she has ever looked that day and you feel pretty special yourself. Picture the majority of the people that are important to both you and your loved one there, congratulating you and wishing you well. This is the person you want to spend the rest of your days with. The two of you are actively in the planning stages to figure out what that means to you and how you can accomplish it together.

Imagine leaving on your honeymoon, which is a small, short event fit in between activities in your separate, non-married lives. During this time, you spend a ton of time together, celebrate your marriage, and start looking to the future in earnest. You have wonderful, quiet moments to yourself, you see a lot of nice sights, and you continually renew your vows to one another in a variety of spoken and unspoken ways.

And then, a little over a week later, you get to drop off this wonderful woman to whom you have pledged your life at the curb of an airport Departures area, because all of the lots are full and you can't find a parking place, say your goodbyes in the car, and then drive to work for the rest of the day.

Oh, and then you don't get to see this woman again for at least a month, but maybe more, as the two of you try to figure out when next you can see one another.

Imagine that you then get to deal with all of the post-marriage issues separately, like sending out thank yous, changing your name, working on immigration, starting to go through and pack up your life for an eventual move, etc. Imagine if, instead of looking into your loved one's eyes, you got to look at emails, phone receivers, and IM text after this most important event in your life and the loving honeymoon time together.


To say that it sucks donkey kidneys is, shall I dare, a bit of an understatement.

September 16, 2007

Waiting Patiently

I have some friends who accompany their significant others when said SO goes on a business trip somewhere. After this weekend, I'm wondering why.

Maybe it is because I am used to this area, so don't feel the need to explore as much, but sitting around waiting for M to get out of meetings, hoping I get invited along to the get-togethers and other events, and generally not having much to do is boring. Yes, I have the car and can go shopping in the area, but I'm not really a shopper. If it was somewhere new there would be sights to see, but a) there aren't here, as I've lived in the general area for most of my life and b) I would rather see them with M-- which means waiting for her to be finished.

When Matt brought Elysa with him to Germany, that made sense. How often do you get to see Germany? Being such a different place, she had much she could see and do without Matt, and save the really big stuff for when he was available. But when Dorothy goes with Doug to New Jersey, I'm not really seeing the attraction. Yes, it means you are spending marginally more time with your loved one, but it is a place they know well, used to live at, and you still wind up waiting most of the time for that loved one to be done with his/her tasks for the day to spend any time together.

I am satisfied with this arrangement this time, because we are still on our honeymoon and we get to see each other so little right now... every bit helps. I hope next time it is in a location at which I can do a little more, see a little more so I am not as bored.

I am actually looking forward to working from here Monday and Tuesday, just so I have something to do!

In the Desert

Irvine and Orange County are both coastal deserts. The rainfall is within the threshold by which we consider a place "arid" or "desert" by definition. However, because they are on the coast, the ocean has a strong effect on the environment. Still, without a massive amount of water piped from northern California and the Colorado River, the place would not be as green as it is.

Coming out to Indian Wells (east and a little south of Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, and Palm Springs) really shows the disparity and how much human beings have changed the environment. At one point we were driving along with barren desert on our right, starting at the edge of the street we were on, and a grassy verge, trees, and housing on the left side.

This area would not last a month if the water stopped flowing. There is simply not enough in the ancient underground aquifers to accommodate the vast number of people that live here now. Add in that the cost to live in Orange County means a lot of the new people in this area are those who have left the OC to find affordable housing but still commute into the OC for work, and you have tens of thousands of people in an area designed not to have people at all.

If the water stopped flowing for a week, every single lawn would die. Swimming pools, nearly a necessity in a place that routinely gets above 100 F and often hits close to 120 F, would start to dry up from evaporation. Everything nonnative would start to shrivel and die, including the people and animals. Within a month of not having new water delivered, this entire area would be uninhabitable. The relentlessly hot sun would see to it. The desert sands and winds would start to bury everything in short order as it reclaims this land from the lawns and golf courses.

Orange County would last longer, as the ocean makes things more temperate and the average rainfall is higher. But if the water stopped flowing, you can be assured that it would become a lot less attractive a place to live.

I wonder why the OC doesn't put in a high-cost, high-rewards desalination plant in the area. It is a rich enough area to afford it, they could then take back a ton of water from the sea, and they could ship it all over Southern California, likely at a nice profit.

I also wonder why we don't consider putting another damn on the Colorado. The river barely makes it to the sea any more, what with five states sucking it dry along the way. It is one of the best sources for fresh water in the southwest, and, for as beautiful as most think it is, in the end it is just a big hole in the ground. Why not fill it with water? Sure, that would displace a lot of people, but the southwest needs that water badly (and putting another hydroelectric power plant at the new dam wouldn't hurt one bit either).