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September 29, 2009

The Question?

I've recently run into a spat of women who all speak every sentence as though it is a question by raising their voice at the end. My first thought is that anyone who does this is unsure of themselves, but then the last two to do it were experts in their field and were providing me with their expertise; both came across as intelligent, assured, and accomplished women, yet every single sentence sounded like a question.

I'm not sure how women get into this speech pattern, but it is one that happens to annoy me to no end. The last woman with whom I spoke was a doctor of veterinary medicine and was helping me with a mild issue M and I had discovered with our cat (nothing to note here; we just wanted some advice). Literally every sentence this woman uttered to me during our 10 minute phone conversation sounded like a question. While she was obviously smart, caring, and knew her stuff, during and after the conversation I was left with a feeling inadequacy over her answers as the questioning lilt of her voice made me wonder if she was making it up as she went along. Intellectually I know better, but emotionally that is how I respond.

A recent woman was providing me with assistance and I felt like she didn't know what she was talking about whenever she used the lilting question voice. When getting assistance, I want someone who is assured and confident and tells me what is what, not who is questioning what is going on and expecting me to provide the answers -- at least, that's how it sounds when everything is a question.

I am left to wonder what causes women (I have never run across a man who uses this particular speech pattern) to use this method of communication and how we can stop it. It makes otherwise smart and interesting women to sound like inconsequential and unassertive.


Right before leaving for vacation, the black and white Samsung ML-1210 laser printer I purchased in 2001 stopped working correctly. It was frustrating because the printer still functioned but I couldn't get it to grab and feed paper. I opened it up, cleaned things out, tried to adjust the feeder bits, etc., but no dice-- it just didn't want to grab paper either through the multi-page feed or the single-page feeder any more.

Since moving, M and I have found it very nice to have a laser B/W printer for quick things (like printing from the internet) and for text-based items and leaving her color ink jet for pictures and things that we need color on.

The other day M found a Brother HL-2170W printer on sale for $120. Since I still hadn't been able to get my 8-year old printer to function, we discussed it. All of the Brother's technical specs were better than my old printer and it is network-able using either wireless or wired. Rather than pay a ton of money to get the old printer to work properly again (and likely have to send it to Samsung or an authorized dealer to fix), we decided to put the repair money toward this and just get a new one.
  • Installation was a breeze. My PC is running Win7 RTM and the OS just found it the instant it was networked and installed the proper drivers and I could print immediately. M's machine is using XP Media Ed. and I had to use the installation CD, but her's too then immediately found it and could use it. This should allow friends with laptops to access the printer from their PCs, too (as long as they have access to the network, of course).
  • It prints fast... about twice as fast as my old laser and without the long warm up and page find. And we went from 600x600 to 2400x600, so the quality of the printer output is much crisper and nicer.
  • It has a 250-sheet tray paper feeder. That's about 200 sheets more than my old multi-page feeder could hold without jamming.
I think we're going to be happy with the new printer. And my hope is that it will give us the same years of service that the last printer did.

September 24, 2009

The Trip West

My wife and I flew to SoCal recently for both work (her-- a conference) and vacation (both of us).

The flight out on September 10 was beautiful. I don't like flying that much, but have gotten used to it in the last few years with all the trips back and forth from SoCal to here. This series of flights was smooth, all on time or early, and with no hassles or issues. The closest we came to having a problem was when we checked into the Maple Leaf Lounge; the man running the desk was unsure if we were supposed to be there. We girded for a fight, but he found us in the PC quickly and let us in.

Knowing that nearly every time I travel, especially by air, one way or the other is hell on earth, we immediately started joking about the trip back.

And then we did the trip back.

The plane at John Wayne (SNA) run by United took forever to board and then the flight attendants had the gall to ask us to hurry about sitting so they could push off from the gate and make their "on time" departure. What many fliers don't know is that a plane is considered as "on time" if they leave the gate on or before the designated time of departure-- it does not matter how long that plane sits on the tarmac or that it is 10 feet from that gate the entire time, it is considered by the FAA as an on time departure.

The flight from SNA to Chicago O'hare was very bumpy. The pilot had to put on the seat belt sign a number of times and the plane felt like it was getting tossed around pretty good.

In Chicago we made our way to the Air Canada flight with no issues. However, we sat on the tarmac for a bit until the pilot came on and informed us that during the visual inspection of the plane, a seal was noticed to be missing and they were waiting for maintenance to bring equipment over to get a better view and possibly fix the issue. It took about 40 minutes before all that was accomplished and we could leave. The flight itself was fine and we got to Toronto without issue.

In Toronto, however, we discovered my checked bag hadn't made it. My wife's bag was there, but mine was not. We filled out a form at baggage claim, were told that there were a few flights from Chicago yet to land and that my bag may be on one of them, handed the form over to customs, and proceeded to the Maple Leaf Lounge. The woman there was starting to become insistent that we did not have the proper ID to get in. After losing my bag and already a long travel day, I bristled and started attacking back. I said, "The proof of our payment is right there. Either let us in or give us our $60 back."

She finally looked us up in the computer and found us on the approved list and let us in. I gave a weak apology for my statement, which she accepted, and M and I entered and got some snacks and drinks.

The flight from Toronto to SJ was under some duress because the pilot announced that the fog was horrible in SJ and it might become too thick to land the plane, at which time we would be diverted to Fredericton. We also sat there for quite a bit while they "reset" some sort of computer error.

Luckily, while thick, the fog did not prevent us from landing. So our 12:10 am AT arrival became a 12:45 am arrival. My bag was still not there, so I had to fill out the exact same form I filled in Toronto again and have them start another trace on it. They assured me that most bags were found and delivered within 24 hours but gave me a number and claim ticket to use just in case.

M's mom drove us home and we were in bed by 2 am local time.

Thankfully, my bag arrived the next day around 8 pm, so all is well in the end.

September 16, 2009

Ram Johnson: Part 2, Moons


When they got back to the office, a small one over a cartoonist's gallery at the Orange Circle, Ram headed straight to his office to think, ignoring the nods and hellos from his office staff and secretary. They looked to Keiko, and she just shrugged. They had all seen him in these moods before when he couldn't figure out a particularly tough case. He could be moody and noncommunicative for days on end.

Keiko similarly headed to her office, but she was all business; she wanted to get the pictures of the crime scene into the database and print out any she thought warranted it for their board.

Ram's detective agency was doing pretty solid business. Unfortunately, southern California has enough gang activity, rich people doing stupid things, businesses playing underhand, and out-and-out criminal activity that most PIs work steadily. Ram was well-respected in the business, but didn't flaunt it; he had his modest business front, a small house, and employees who were loyal and reliable. He only took cases he felt passionately about and then worked them until there was some sort of completion. There were few open but inactive cases at the firm.

When Keiko emerged from her office, one of only three enclosed spaces within the loft, the first being Ram's office, the second being her office, and the third being an interrogation or holding cell area, Randy walked over to her.

"He's in a funk? So it's definitely another one?" he said.

"Sure looks like it," she answered. They walked together to the "observation deck" area where they had pictures and notes up of their current cases. She pinned a couple of photos of the crime scene up in the area marked for the Martinez family abduction. Realistically they were working the entire crime now; Ram wouldn't let this one go until he figured it out and had answers for the Martinezes, which likely meant he would have answers for all the other families as well.

Randy was a medium height and medium build white male, a good looking kid, who had a strong eye for detail and was an excellent lock pick. He was most often assigned to repossession work, as he was good at charming women and very good at stealing from men. He was also a good guy to have at your side in a fistfight. He didn't know any special fighting skills, and had no formal training, but was a scrapper and didn't go down easily.

Pam walked over, carefully avoiding the pictures in the observation deck. "This might take his mind off things for a bit," she said, and handed Keiko the phone messages.

Pam was a tall and very attractive black woman. Most people who met her instantly thought of Iman, as Pam bore a striking resemblance to the supermodel, and most asked her why she wasn't modeling instead of working as a receptionist for a PI in California. She had her reasons; Ram had saved her from an abusive family life when she was young and had been a positive father figure to her ever since. She felt a need to make sure he was all right and looked after him, as he sometimes got so obsessive over cases that he would sleep in his office and wouldn't think to eat.

Keiko flipped through the phone messages. Most were simply updates or call-ins from informants they had cultivated or people for whom they were working. One message stood out to her, though; James Jones, an informant who had his ear to the ground, had spotted a skip named Matt "Baller" Young they were looking for going into Blackie's Bar in Newport Beach. He was staying nearby and keeping an eye out for them. He expected his usual "finder's fee" if they got there in time to collect him. The message was only an hour old, so Whitey was likely still at the bar.

She smiled. "Thanks, Pam. This is just what Ram needs," she said and all three smiled. Keiko walked toward his office and knocked once before opening the door.

"We have a lead on Baller. He's in Newport Beach at Blackie's Bar. It's an hour old, so he's likely still there."

Ram turned to her. As she suspected, he had been staring at his personal observation deck pictures of the Martinez crime with his feet on the edge of his deck and his hands in almost a prayer-like position, with his index fingers just touching the end of his nose. It was his most typical deep-concentration position. She couldn't count the number of times that position had suddenl elicited an "a-ha" moment from Ram and he had grabbed the team and headed out to a successful resolution on a case. So far, it had yielded nothing for the Martinezes, but Keiko knew it was just a matter of time before something clicked, or a clue materialized, and Ram Johnson was off to break the case.

She first handed him the message concerning Baller, and then the stack of other messages. He read the message over three times before snapping out of his reverie. He suddenly seemed energized and somehow larger, as he stood and said, "Tell Randy to grab his stuff and go get the truck. I'll be out in a minute."

Keiko smiled as she closed the door. Once Ram made a decision, he was all business and ready to go. When he walked out of the office, his attention would be fully on the skip Baller Young. Randy, who liked movies, often attributed the mysterious "getting ready" that Ram did in his office to the famous scene in The Hustler when Jackie Gleason is getting beat by Paul Newman and takes a moment to go into the restroom, compose himself, and then comes out focused and determined and beats "Fast" Eddie in their first showdown. Like his namesake from a medieval siege, Ram was able to let go of all other distractions and focus on the current task or issue and plow through it with single-minded determination. Once done, he would then relax his focus and let in the other cases and the distractions of daily life.

Ram came out a few moments later and Randy fell in step with him as they headed out the front door. Keiko had the car ready and waiting outfront.

It only took them 20 minutes to reach Blackie's, just off PCH, in Newport Beach, from their office in Orange. Keiko nearly always drove; she had a Zen-like ability to read traffic patterns and know the streets and avoid most of the traffic snarls that always plagued the area.

They parked about two short blocks away from the bar, in the parking area of a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. James had already spotted them, hurried over, and got in the back of the SUV.

"Best I can tell, he's still in there. I haven't seen him leave by the front since I got here," he said as soon as the door was closed.

"You did good, James," said Ram. "Wait here with Keiko."

Ram and Randy got out of the truck and made their way down and across the street to the bar. The day was getting long, and the temperatures were easing a bit, but it was still sunny and warm outside. Ram pointed toward the back and Randy quickly jogged toward the beach side of the bar to watch for Baller. No words were needed; Randy knew to wait for the skip to jump or for a quick call on his cell to tell him it was all clear and come back to the truck. Ram was point.

Walking into Blackie's Bar was like stepping out of southern California and into a dark meat locker. Blackie always had the AC turned up full blast and the lights turned down low. His clientelle generally didn't have social gatherings and, frankly, didn't prefer to know there were other people in the place.

While his clothes didn't match Blackie's usual customers' attire, Ram still seemed somehow to blend in the moment the doors closed. An older man with sunken eyes and faded tattooes on his arms and shoulders nodded to him from behind the bar; Blackie knew better than to protest Ram's incursion into his place. If he let Ram do his work, he would be out quickly and with a minimum of fuss. If he impeded Ram in any way, or alerted whomever Ram was after, Blackie would pay for that mistake with constant raids, license issues, and whatever else Ram could think of. No, it was better to just stand aside and let him work.

Ram waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark room, and then surveyed it for his quarry. The tall, thin former high school basketball star had dreams of playing in the NBA crushed when he blew out his knee in the CIF championship game going for a razzle-dazzle dunk. "Baller," so-named for his basketball skills, soon was a gang-banger, part-time drug peddler, and sometime woman beater. It was this last act that had him currently in Ram's sights; Baller had beaten up his girlfriend in a drug-fueled rage, been arrested, and then skipped on his bail and court date. When the girlfriend had brought it to Ram's attention, along with the pictures of how she looked the night of the beating, he had assured her that Baller would be held accountable for his actions.

He quickly spotted the boy at the far end of the bar nursing a beer and trying to hunch down to look shorter than his six foot seven frame suggested. Ram walked toward him. He sat on the stool next to him.

"Baller, if you come with me quietly I'll treat you with respect and everything will go smoothly and you will have an easy time until you are turned over to the police tomorrow. If you run or make trouble, I will come down on you... hard," Ram said quietly, making sure that only Baller would hear him.

The boy sat still for a moment, still looking into his half-drunk beer. Then, without much warning, he threw the last bit of beer into Ram's face and punched him in the stomach, before launching himself toward the back door of the bar.

Ram, slightly surprised by the beer and hardly affected by the punch, sighed inwardly and then walked toward the back door. As he opened it, he heard a yelp and a crash. As he stepped outside and let his eyes readjust to the sunny beach, he saw Baller laying next to an overturned table and some dishes at the beach-bar restaurant next door to Blackie's with Randy standing over him with his sap out.

Ram walked over to the scene and knelt next to the scared boy holding his head. With asp-like speed, Ram grabbed the boys crotch and neck, squeezing both hard with vice-like hands, causing the boy to let out a barely-audible scream of pain. Ram leaned down and whispered into his ear, "That was a mistake, boy. I don't like those who beat up women, especially ones so much smaller than themselves. If you had come quietly, you would have saved yourself a lot of pain."

He then lifted the boy bodily off the ground and threw him once more against the broken table. He kick Baller twice in the chest and stomach, knocking the wind out of the boy, and then punched him hard enough in the face to knock the boy unconscious.

Ram turned to Randy and said, "Get this scum into cuffs and put him in the cage." Ram turned, ignoring the few beach-goers who were present and watching, and walked back into Blackie's. Randy cuffed Baller, then slapped him until he woke up and then, half carrying, half leading him, took him toward the street. He was actually surprised that Ram had taken it so easy on the boy; the last woman-beater that had run had to spend three weeks in the hospital before being arraigned on his charges.

Inside, Ram discreetly gave Blackie a hundred dollars for the inconvenience, and then left out the front door.

Keiko, seeing Randy come out with the skip in cuffs, quickly pulled the SUV up and popped the rear door. The back was a small, uncomfortable area that was completely caged into which they put those who resisted. The only way to open the back door was from a trunk release level in the driver's cockpit. Randy rolled the barely conscious but already bruising Baller into the cage and closed the door.

Ram and Randy got in.

"You did very well, James. We just need to get your statement on record for our files and we'll give you your money at the office," said Ram as he got in the truck.

"Sure thing, Ram," every one of Ram's stoolies knew that Ram kept an official statement from them as a just in case measure. That inconvenience was far outweighed by the benefits of being Ram's friend; he paid well for information and would help you if you had troubles of your own. James had once been accused of a crime and Ram had overturned a lot of ugly rocks to find the real culprit and get James cleared. James owed him.

Randy and Keiko dragged Baller into the office and locked him in the interrogation room, while James sat with Pam and she typed down his statement and he signed it. He then went to Ram's office to get his cash.

"Thanks again, James," said Ram as he handed over $250 in cash.

"Hey, no problem, Ram. Anything for you. I'll let you know if I hear anything else on the street," said James. As he turned to leave the office, he saw the picgtures of the Martinez case up on Ram's personal observation wall.

"Hey Ram, you have a case concerning the Lycos of North Los Angeles?" he asked.

"Why do you ask?"

"I just see their sign up on your case wall, is all," he said.

Ram became energized. "What do you mean, James? What is their sign?"

James walked over to the case wall and pointed at the "spider" symbol picture that had blown up to an 8x10 picture and pointed, "This. It's on its side, but I would recognize that gang sign anywhere. Those guys are creepy and word on the street is they have their fingers in a lot of things."

James took the picture off the board, rotated it 90 degrees and then traced his fingers around the symbols as he spoke.

"See this circle supposedly represents the waxing moon, this middle one the full moon, and the third one the waning moon. The two lines in the middle of the second moon show that the full moon lasts for three nights. It's not a very good likeness of the symbol, though... I guess it was too small to get the detail their jackets have."

Ram walked around his desk and took the picture from James, staring intently. Now that James had pointed it out, he could see it clearly. Because of how small the image was carved on the bodies, the moon-shapes had always blended a bit together and, with the two lines bisecting the center circle, had made it look more like a spider or even an ant than what it was.

"James, here's another $100 for that tid-bit. You may have just broken another case," said Ram, handing him a crisp bill out of his pocket.

September 14, 2009

Brick and Mortar

I specifically waited until my wife and I were in SoCal before going to a book store for the two items I wanted to get my father for his upcoming birthday. We stopped by two stores and, at the second (Barnes and Noble), we actually spoke with a worker at the Information desk concerning one of the two books.

You see, my dad was born and raised in Detroit, MI. There is a book out now called Goodfellows that talks about the championship high school football system at one of the schools nearby to where he lived. I thought he might like reading about that as he is from there and because he is a football fan.

We looked up the book in the B&N computer and saw "In Stock". Yay, we thought, we can get both books, buy a bag or some wrapping paper (or use some of my mother's when we visit her) and wrap these up for dad and give them to him for his b-day.

But no. In Stock meant that the company as a whole had it somewhere. When we clicked on the more details section, no store in Southern California had it-- it was available in Michigan (333), Rhode Island (19), and one other location (1), but not in SoCal. We then flagged down the person working the desk and asked him about it.

The worker, who gets paid to be at and assist people at the brick and mortar store, suggested we go online either with his company or through to get the book. He suggested this as it would be less expensive than buying it in the physical store AND it would ship faster to the location. We asked him about transferring stock from one store with it to one here where we could get it... and he said it would still be faster to order it online and ship it to a residence rather than doing that!

People wonder why brick and mortar stores are closing down left and right. They wonder why many people are losing jobs and not able to find replacement jobs. Well, why the man's candor was appreciated, his responses show exactly why this can happen.

I'm left wondering why that brick and mortar store is even there, in the end.

September 12, 2009

Did Repubs Even Listen?

We picked up one physical newspaper and I have since looked at a few virtual newspapers online and I'm left shaking my head and bewildered at many comments made by Republican representatives in the House and Senate concerning President Obama's health care plan speech made earlier this week.

It seems like they didn't listen at all, as the vast majority of the statements made by the Repubs are diametrically opposed to what Obama said. Here are some examples, from The Denver Post:

"... what the Democrats' plan proposes is a government takeover of the entire health care industry that will force Americans out of their current plans and will have a tremendous cost that can only result in higher taxes and a larger deficit." Rep. Doug Lamborn.

"I heard loud and clear from my constituents this August that the current Democrat proposals are unacceptable -- they won't help reduce costs and they'll kill millions of small-business jobs." Rep. Mike Coffman

In no way did Obama's plan hint at a government takeover of the industry. In fact, he went out of his way to say and ensure that it was the opposite-- he WANTS insurance companies to be around for more competition and he specifically said in no way will anyone with insurance be forced to change or switch that insurance. He also said (and I am dubious of this claim myself, but I'm just reminding you of what he said in his speech) that a bipartisan group of economists believes they can pay for this plan without raising taxes and without increasing the deficit.

As to the second... I find it incredible that Coffman reps for a group made up entirely of psychics and prognosticators! They found a plan that Obama had YET TO PROPOSE OR INTRODUCE so unacceptable. Also, apparently none of them, or the rep himself, understood anything about the tax credits and incentives that Obama believes will make the plans affordable to small-business owners.

While I'm not entirely sold on everything Obama said in his speech, I find it ironic that so many reps of either house, primarily Repubs, are saying and doing exactly what Obama said they would do (and actually took them to task and said they shouldn't continue saying).

Shortly after the speech, Rep. Charles Boustany actually said in an interview "Replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care is not the answer" and he's right-- which is why Obama specifically said that is NOT what his plan will do, should do, or wants to do. Weren't you listening? If you could not listen to this simple, fairly straightforward speech and understand that, then how can you listen to your thousands, perhaps millions of people who you represent in Louisiana?

I have my doubts about Obama's plan. I doubt it can be done without taxes or without increasing the deficit. While I applaud the comments about cutting waste from the Medicaid and Medicare programs to help the funding, I am dubious about whether that can happen, how quickly, and how much money will be saved.

When he spoke of cutting "other programs" and "government waste" I cringed; the representatives of the states with these unnamed programs will fight for them hard and long and might make it impossible to rid our bloated government of this waste... especially is it may affect the Rep's pocketbook directly.

Also, on a couple of these key points that the Repubs seem to be most anxious, Obama specifically said he was looking for THEM to give HIM ideas and plans to solve the issue/problem he brought up within the framework of his overall goals... so why aren't they proposing their own plans? Why are they instead only saying that his plan will not work without saying what they would do that would work? If you want a say, and you want to make sure that the plan covers areas in which you have concerns, then DO something, SAY something positive to get the results you want, don't just poo-poo what is out there now.

The good things I got from Obama's speech:
  • Making it illegal to deny a person from having or getting insurance due to pre-existing conditions. As one who has a pre-existing condition and lived a long time with that fear driving me, I know first-hand that no one should have that fear or pay those exhorbitant costs when changing jobs or fired from a job.
  • Making it illegal for a company to drop or change coverage when you get sick and have to use the insurance. The entire point of insurance is to have it when you need it; the company underwriting your policy shouldn't be able to yank that out from under you just when you need it most and after you've paid hundreds to thousands of dollars into it.
Obama's goals and the plans he proposed are legitimate first steps in the direction toward a universal system. I think there are a lot of good ideas in those plans and goals and I think America should look outside her boarders at the many similar systems that work in other countries. Namely, I think America should look at the French, Japanese, and German systems of universal health care, each of which has a piece of the solution and would make for a good model of what is right and how to work it. Whereas as many of my friends and acquaintances point to the Canadian system as a plan, it does not work well, has huge delays, and requires taxation that Americans would never find acceptible, so should not be considered (except maybe for drug costs).

The one thing that Repubs are absolutely right about and that they should keep an eye on as the Dems move forward with their plans to meet the goals the President proposed is that competition is absolutely essential to making this work. If at any time any of the plans do away with competition (and, FYI, the President's planned "gov't option" was specifically and repeatedly mentioned as only one option, not getting rid of or interfering with any existing insurance options), it should be decried and denounced.

Until then, I suggest the Repubs take up the Dems and President's challenge and actually start thinking about and proposing ideas that will meet Obama's goals but are in some way more palatable to their thinking. It is time to either shit or get of the toilet and DO SOMETHING instead of simply playing devil's advocate and otherwise not getting hands dirty.