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Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

Minivan update: I'm digging the new wheels. The van is in great shape (after all, my dad took care of it), and it is chalk full of gadgets. Of course, our other car is pretty minimalist so to me fun gadgets include: a remote door opener, CD and tape players, digital mileage calculator, digital outside thermometer, electric windows, electric door locks, electric driver's side seat adjuster and a lot more.

Some of my friends who had previously teased me have now seen it and admit that it is a great deal. It's kind of like the Rudolf the red nosed reindeer story.

Monday, December 13th, 2004

Ask somebody you know if they think that advertisement works on them. I'll bet that they generally feel pretty immune to it.

My wife and I are buying a 1999 Dodge Caravan minivan. We only have one car, and it has been very inconvenient, often requiring the bumming of rides, and sometimes being stuck for transportation all together.

The minivan is more car than we need. I'm sure that the extra room will come in handy on occasions, but we wouldn't have bought a van if it didn't fit our current budget so well and if it wasn't for the exceptional deal that we are getting. (It was my parents van, they took fantastic care of it and they are being very generous in their offer.)

Still, the idea of buying a minivan kind of raises our hackles. You know: soccer mom, kids, suburbia, middle age and other uncomfortable associations for those whole like to imagine themselves young and free.

While on the other hand, SUVs are marketed to urbanites and suburbanites with images of SUVs stomping through the Himalayas. We are marketed earth stomping, off road vehicles that are far less than optimal for most of us. We buy the image that if we own an SUV, we are young, and adventurous, crushing the obstacles in our way. A minivan has the antithetical image of an SUV.

Logically, the primary reasons for buying a vehicle should be: efficient, economical, and safe transport. Instead, we so often buy for sex appeal.

For most suburbanites a minivan is much more practical than an SUV having better gas mileage, being roomer with better ergonomics, etc. And yet an SUV is a status symbol while a minivan may be a little embarrassing.

Of course, these associations aren't limited to cars and sex appeal. This morning I noticed a TV advertisement associating home ownership and patriotism. Very deep, resonant music thrummed as a title card appeared listing the realtor's name and then the tagline, "Home ownership: the American dream."

No. No - its not. I've read the constitution. There is mention of establishing justice and securing the blessings of liberty but I'm sure that nowhere is there mention of home ownership. To be sure: it might be your dream, but no rational argument can be made that our country's founding principal was home ownership.

Knowing all of this, - knowing that so many of our associations about products are artificial emotional constructs, I still feel shy about admitting ownership of a minivan. Madison Avenue owns more of our souls then we admit.

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Insomnia last night. I woke up around 3:30am. This is about the third or fourth time in two weeks. I gave up trying to sleep around 6:30am and came to work. Now I have the rest of the day to look forward to: a day that will become increasingly foggy and cotton headed as it progresses. I hate that.

Tuesday, November 30th, 2004

My friend Ron Edwards wrote an email to several of his friends regarding the recent rash of pseudo patriotic magnets that have cropped up. I too hate the thoughtless, ready-made, patriotism by consumption that these "Support the troops" and "God bless America" magnets and bumper stickers represent. So I've take the liberty of posting Ron's rant here:

Patriotism by consumerism
"I'm blown away from how many stick-on patriotic symbols are out there. No longer do we use small little ribbons, at least they were partially bio-degradable. Now it's big ol' magnets. Tens of millions of 'em. Probably 100s of millions considering the latest fad is to have a variety pasted all over your vehicle.

What was in the past a unified subtle yet powerful display of support (accomplished with a simple single color ribbon) has been cheapened into a collector series of magnets.

Imagine the massive landfill they'll make in a year. Or whenever our government lets our citizens return to their own country.

And they're not free.
Not even $.50 what a simple magnet should cost. Nope.
$2.00 buys you cheap patriotism and insurance against being a perpetrator of "another Vietnam".

Where are these sympathetic symbols (that most Americans more passionate about collecting, displaying, and forgetting what the whole meaning was to begin with) made?

Taiwan .

P.S. No direct offense meant to any of you that might have them yourselves.

P.S.S. To the Taiwanese:
thanks for supporting our need to support our war. I don't expect you get more than a penny profit for the things.

P.S.S.S. To the government officials reading this private e-mail: stop spending our tax dollars to read our e-mail.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

Ah piss. I'd like to take a break from politics, but I'm doomed to shout from this tiny, shabby soap box now more than ever.

I'd really rather write about Pixar's "The Incredibles" which I saw last night. But noooo.....NOOOOO! Instead, I'll spend my energies and bandwidth on the latest foul policies of the renewed Bush regime. So today's post isn't a deep and critical analysis, today's essay is a, short, fist clenched, angry rant.

"Alaska oil drilling back on agenda
Wednesday, November 10, 2004 Posted: 12:56 PM EST (1756 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican gains in the Senate could give President Bush his best chance yet to achieve his No. 1 energy priority -- opening an oil-rich but environmentally sensitive Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling.

Environmentally sensitive? Heir Bush and his cronies don't give a damn about the environment. They care about money and very little else."

The number one energy priority should not be feeding our addiction to oil. Our number one energy priority should be the development of clean, renewable and safe energy. It just so happens that this should also be number one defense priority. But of course the oil industry won't like that very much would they? And so we will drill in the pristine wilderness, we'll burn more fossil fuels, and will wage more wars. (And you are kidding yourself if you think that there is any other reason that we are involved in the middle east - with the possible exception of religion.)
Run Caribou! Run! George Bush is coming!

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

Kerry has conceded the election to Bush.
Predictions are tricky business, but right now I expect that the (further) empowerment of the neo-conservatives will mean that:

- The rich will become richer, the poor will get poorer.
- Terrorism will increase.
- The line between church and state will be further diminished.
- The country will become more of a police state.
- Our civil liberties will be further curtailed.
- The health of our environment and the legacy of our national and state lands will be sold to the highest bidder.
- The U.S. will become further estranged from the rest of the world.
- Our media will become even bigger pawns of the neo-conservatives.
- The nation’s national debt will continue to grow.
- Small, unique businesses will be consumed by mega-corporations at a faster rate.
- Science will be further politicized and undermined by politicians and pseudo-science.
- Our citizens will become more xenophobic.

I base these statements on the trends of the last four years.

I see nothing good coming from four more years of the Bush regime. What’s worse is the likelihood that Bush will appoint Supreme Court justices – thereby insuring that the corruption of his regime will continue well beyond his reign.

Today is a dark day in history.

"It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freeman of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthen itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle."

- James Madison

Monday, November 2nd, 2004

I voted today. I hope that you voted as well.

I came across this quote today. It's a good quote:

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."
- John Quincy Adams

Sadly, I can't say that I voted for principle. I didn't vote my idealistic vote. I voted for the lesser of two unhappy choices. Ah, but I had more than two choices didn't I? What I mean to say is that, I voted for a less than ideal candidate in the hope of defeating a really, really, bad candidate.

"Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody."
- Franklin Pierce Adams

- An exercise in moral relevance and ethics. My conscience isn't clear. My choice may result in a better short term, but I'm afraid that, long term, my selection perpetuates the status quo of an ailing system.

"The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it."
- Germaine De Stael

Friday, October 29th, 2004

I only spent one day with this fellow, and in truth, I really don't remember him but after hearing the bad news about my hang gliding instructor dieing, it is rather striking to hear that my sky diving instructor was also in a bad accident; although fortunately he has survived.

1 Dead, 3 Hurt In Beaver County Plane Crash

"A small skydiving plane went down Wednesday afternoon in New Sewickley, Beaver County, killing one person and injuring three more.

The plane, which was reportedly part of the Beaver Valley Sky Divers club, crashed in a field just off Route 989, not far from the Butler County border.

The crash victim who died has been identified as Nancy Jean Elm, 47, of Bellevue.

The survivors -- pilot Emil Kindelberger, 80, instructor Cecil Smith, 47, and Timothy McGraw, 50 -- were flown by medical helicopter to UPMC Presbyterian. Kindelberger was in critical condition, while Smith was in serious condition.

New Sewickley Township police report that the preliminary investigation indicates that the plane was attempting to take off when it struck a tree adjacent to the grass runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were sending investigators to the scene Thursday, police said.

Thursday, October 28th, 2004

In an effort to downplay the haranguing post that follows and in the interest of fairness I feel the need to post this picture of Pittsburgh under a blue sky in the beauty of a truly colorful and lovely fall morning. Yes, it's true it doesn't always rain in Pittsburgh. Everyday isn't cloudy.

From this morning, - behold:

Pittsburgh and the Smithfield Street Bridge on a sunny fall day

Okay, did you get that breath of crisp, fresh, fall air? Mmmm. Good. Now onto my screed:

A social oddity: You are having a friendly conversation; you ask the other person about their significant other, their job, their family; you ask their opinion on politics, movies, life... - They never ask you a single question in return.

Sure, everybody has their days - their self-centered days - but I'm talking about regular offenders.

I've found a surprising number of people who are like this.

These same people tend not to initiate invitations either. If you don't ask them, or call them, they aren't likely to ask or call you.

You can still find conversations with these people worthwhile but after a while, you feel cheated. When I notice the pattern emerging, I start to make a game of it. I ask them question, after question about their lives just to see if I can trigger them into asking a question in return. I'm so often amazed that it does not change their behavior.

One might think that these individuals just might not like you, (they certainly don’t seem interested in your life or opinions) but they seem happy enough to see you, to talk to you.
- Probably they are happy to have a chance to talk about themselves

Of course, in an effort to avoid hypocrisy, I have to conclude this little rant by asking, "What do you think?"

Monday, October 18th, 2004

Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor - Singin' In the Rain

I was in San Francisco on a project for about four weeks. In the month's time that I was there it was cloudy only once and it sprinkled one night . Since I started that project five weeks ago, I've flown back to Pittsburgh twice (four weeks there, one week in Pittsburgh). The first time I returned home to Pittsburgh, I encountered a record setting rainstorm. Friday I returned to Pittsburgh again and naturally, it was raining. It rained Saturday. Its raining today as well............. Rain is predicted for tomorrow.

Friday, October 15th, 2004

A couple of years ago my buddy, Ron Edwards and I took some hang gliding lessons in the small town of Hobbs, New Mexico. Our instructor was a guy named Curt Graham.

Ron and I had done our research on the internet, and had found that Curt’s small one and a half man company Crossroads Windsport was a leader and innovator in the sport of hang gliding.

During the time we spent there, it was just the three of us. It was off season, so we had Curt's experience and teachings all to ourselves.

Curt taught us how to read the weather so that we could catch the great, invisible thermals - funnels of hot, rising air that spiral from the earth.
I remember that Curt told us that the air was full of all of this crazy turbulence and that if you could see the movements, you'd never want to go up in a plane again. - An unsettling thought before strapping into a lightweight aluminum and nylon kite for a flight thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

The weather for the first few days of our class was too windy to fly so we spent days learning the academics of flying in the hanger that Curt had built himself.

Crossroads Windsport hanger
Image from: gravsports.com

Curt built a lot of things from his airplane, to his hang gliders, to the innovative and unique "boom-bar" simulator.
We practiced a lot on the simulator, where we'd rehearse shifting our weight in the glider while Curt drove the vehicle into the wind, creating a good simulation of flight.

Curt's custom built hang gliding simulator
Image from: gravsports.com

On another windy day, when we were unable to try the glider, Curt took us up in his plane, and he let me take the controls: a thrill for me.

When the weather finally broke Ron got to go up first.

In the flatlands of Hobbs you don't hang glide by jumping off a cliff. Instead, you (in tandem with the instructor) mount the hang glider on a special frame built onto the back of a modified car. The vehicle drives down the runway and at the proper wind speed, you pull a release and the hang glider is unspooled onto a cord. - You are a giant kite on a string.
Climbing fast, you lift until you are a couple of hundred feet into the air and can free the lynch pin that ties the cord from the glider to the towing vehicle. Once you are loose of the tether you follow the beeping of a weather gauge to find an invisible thermal.

I watched from the ground as Ron and Curt caught the thermal; the thermal being very similar in shape to a slow moving tornado. Once you are in it, the goal is to circle within the spiral of air - tight at first when you are near the base, but broadening to every widening circles as you climb: the air gauge beeping excitedly when you get it right.

We had spent days learning the theories of hang gliding and I was witnessing everything that I'd been taught to expect. Curt's friend, and the driver of the launch vehicle pulled next to me and we both squinted into the bright sky. After a minute of watching the circling glider, Curt's friend said, "I hope your buddy doesn't puke." "What?" I said, to this seeming non sequitur. "Yeah", he continued, "at least half of the people, who do this, puke the first time. Curt has people throw up on him all the time."
Funny. - That little fact never came up in all of our lessons.

Finally, it was my turn. The wind had picked up and it was going to be tricky, but Curt wanted me to have my chance after all of these days of waiting. In short order we sped down the runway and then, popping lose from the rig - shot into the sky.

Now, I can say that I've skydived before, and a lot of people mention the feeling it gives them of flying through the atmosphere. Myself, I never felt more like a rock plummeting to the earth than I did after jumping from an airplane. A good thrill - to be sure; but it didn't feel like flying.
But hang gliding - spinning into the hot towers of air, blue skies and clouds - I felt like I was soaring: a great bird on the wing with the beautiful expanse of the brown desert growing wider beneath me.

Not only were our initial and subsequent flights spectacular, neither I, nor Ron ever tossed our cookies. I imagine that Curt was as grateful of that fact as we were.

Today, I just found out from Ron that Curt died in a hang gliding accident on May 28th of this year. Curt's hang glider malfunctioned, and his reserve chute failed to deploy.

When my friend emailed me about Curt's death, we both wrote that in the back of our minds we'd imagined that some day we'd return to that hot, gray, cracked runway in the desert for another lesson and another flight with Curt. It won't happen now.

I certainly didn't know Curt that well, but my memories of those times made a mark on me, and I was very sad to hear of Curt's death.

Curt was creative, fun, hard working and laid-back. During the short period of time that I had the good fortune to spend with him, I felt that I got some insight into the kind of life that a man can lead when he is a free spirit.

Some people might hear the accounts of Curt's untimely death and chalk it up as a likely outcome for a thrill seeker. I don't know, maybe it is to be expected, but that doesn't dismiss the quality of a life well lived, - a life less ordinary.

On one of Curt's lessons to us, he said that once you are riding a thermal never leave it. It was a golden rule of hang gliding.
"Never leave lift." he repeated, "Never leave lift."

We couldn't miss the message as a good metaphor for life.

Thanks Curt.

Curt Graham
Born on Jan. 3, 1956
Curt Graham - Never leave lift
Died on May 28, 2004
Image from: rgsapilots.org

High Flight

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

- John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Sunday, October 10th, 2004

Check out - no chicken
An Asian accent broadcast through a loudspeaker: Check out - no chicken. Check out - no chicken. Check out - no chicken.

The hotel workers continue their protests, drum beating, sign waving and chanting outside the larger hotels in downtown San Francisco.

I really had to listen hard to catch the 'chicken' line: Check out - no check in. It is very sing-song and its stuck in my head.

Check out - no chicken. Check out - no chicken. Check out - no chicken....

Tuesday, October 5th, 2004

I'm sitting in cast off cubicles at the client's today. These are the dingy cubicles where old keyboards, monitors and forgotten boxes go to die. These are the cubicles where consultants are planted.

I'm with my client and we are going over some documents. The allergies that have plagued me since spring have kicked back in, but I've yet to notice.

We are chatting business and then suddenly...

Her: Do you have a deviated septum?

Me: It's my voice - right? I sound nasal don't I?

The conversation quickly devolves to talking about nose polyps and swollen nasal passages. She quickly regrets her question.

These are the hazards of talking about deviated septums. If you bring it up, you must be prepared to see the conversation through.

For my part, I prefer working with people who will ask about the health of your septum.

The conversation ended when she suggested that I blog the conversation. So here it is: immortalized for all. I hope that you enjoyed it, because the great engines of civilization labored to bring it to you: powerful bolts of electricity where harnessed, microscopic circuits were created, great cores of programmers sweated over code, all this and more to bring the glowing pixels of my allergy story to lighten your day.

Monday, October 4th, 2004

Another four and a half hour flight and I'm back in San Francisco after a week of being in Pittsburgh. Even though I had a window seat and was able to rest my head against the plane wall, I'm still fighting a soar neck.

The last several flights, I've been stuck in the middle seat. My head lolls when I manage to fall asleep; my tongue rolls back into my throat and I wake up with a snort and the feeling of choking. I'll do this 10 or 15 times during the course of the flight and what might be worse, I always imagine that I've just been snoring really LOUDLY. My head snaps up from the neck breaking angle with a throaty snort, followed by instantaneous, deep embarrassment. Even before I'm fully awake I always try and cover up my snort with a cough, as if I was just loudly clearing my throat.

Meanwhile there appears to be a hotel worker strike in the city. As we drove into town many of the hotels had large picket lines outside, complete with loud drums and chanting. I found myself hoping that I wouldn't be faced with picketers outside my hotel. I didn't want to cross a picket line, and I didn't want to figure out where else to stay. Fortunately, no lines, no chants, and no drums.

I read several blogs that are based out of San Fran, and the writers always seem to have interesting anecdotes and antics of the weird. It always makes me feel that I'm living in a rather simple, old, steel mill town: and I am.

As my taxi pulled to the front of my hotel I saw a woman wearing a head to toe skin-tight, Caucasian colored, body suit as she power walked down the street, casting angry stares from side to side with each mighty stride. No underwear was in evidence under the suit. She wasn't good looking, but she wasn't exactly bad looking. She wasn't in great shape, but she wasn't in bad shape. Like bizarro superman: kind of superman, but really - mostly just bizarre. Disturbingly bizarre.

I wonder how people wake up in the morning and decide to do the things that they do.

Ah well...

And my first meal upon arrival? Sushi - of course.

I saw an excellent movie this weekend: City of God.

It is clear when watching the film, that the movie was made with the real joy of movie-making. Other movies I watched this weekend felt flat, like made for TV productions. Real joy in movie making seems too rare.

Read more at IMDB:

"Cidade de Deus (City of God) is a housing project built in the 1960's that--in the early 80's--became one of the most dangerous places in Rio de Janeiro."
Cidade de Deus (City of God) movie poster

Monday, September 27th, 2004

While in San Francisco, I struck up a friendship. My new friend prefers an anonymous Web lifestyle, so I won't tell you her name, but I will direct you to her entertaining Web-log: lapsus humanus.

Visit and leave her a kind comment.

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004

First up tonight: anger and disgust. - GREAT Anger and GREAT Disgust.

The religious right is at it again, and I have to admit that they are doing a good job at getting their agenda out. This time they've convinced a large portion of the congress to move yet another step closer to a theocracy with a side order of revisionist history to boot.

House Votes to 'Protect' Pledge of Allegiance
Thu Sep 23, 2004 04:29 PM ET
By Thomas Ferraro

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal courts would be barred from striking the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag under a bill passed on Thursday by a House of Representatives split largely along party lines.

The Republicans in control of the chamber rejected Democratic claims that the measure was an unconstitutional bid to limit the power of the federal judiciary and an election-year ploy to rally social conservatives. It passed on a vote of 247-173.

Spurred by a celebrated but ultimately failed court challenge to the pledge in California, the bill is expected to die in the U.S. Senate without a vote as the U.S. Congress draws to an end this year. But that did not dampen Republican enthusiasm.

"We have heard a lot of legalese here ... (but) this is not very complicated," said Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican and the bill's chief sponsor.

"The simple question is whether school kids are going to be able to say the pledge the way we have done it for the past 50 years," Akin said.

Congress added the phrase "under God" to the pledge in 1954 as a symbolic way to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union, its officially atheist Cold War foe.

Democrats argued that the House bill, the "Pledge Protection Act," would violate the Constitution's separation of powers between the government's judicial and legislative branches.

"I love the pledge," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. But "this bill ... violates the spirit of pledge by professing a lack of faith in the constitutional framework."

The bill would essentially let only state courts hear constitutional challenges to the pledge in order to prevent what backers denounced as possible meddling by "activist" or "rogue" federal judges.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a federal appeals court in California that reciting "under God" in the pledge amounted to a violation of church-state separation.

The high court avoided the constitutional question, however, by finding that the plaintiff lacked legal standing to bring the case. It left open the possibility of future challenges."

I remind my readers that The Pledge of Allegiance didn't originally have 'under god' in it, and that it was in fact added during the Eisenhower era. I also remind my good reader that, per the constitution, nobody should desire the mixing of religion and government.

Then again, perhaps I'm looking at this all wrong. Maybe I'm being too general. - Let's be just a tiny bit more specific and say what we really mean: one nation under Allah... What? That's not the god you had in mind? Infidel! Okay, okay, I can be inclusive: one nation under Allah, and Zeus. Better right? Yeah! Damn straight! Don't let those silly 'separation of church and state' arguments, - I mean, 'separation of temple and state' arguments stop you. We need to be more like Iran: mandatory, state sponsored religion for all! Hurrah!

After this is silly pledge issue is settled, I suggest reinstating some real old time religious laws like witch burning!

Click here to read a much longer take on the subject from my Thursday, October 17th, 2002 posting.

And now for some snapshots of my current life in San Francisco.

When I'm not at work on Market Street, I can usually be found at the Diva Hotel or the Sushi Boat restaurant on Geary Street.

Diva Hotel Bed
The Diva hotel is sterile sheik. In my room, a large piece of brushed metal looms over the bed as a giant headboard. As if that wasn't cold and menacing enough the metal headboard is designed with a peeling split at the top, leaving one with the impression that a giant sheet of metal is falling off the wall over one's sleeping head.

Diva Hotel Couch and Room
In this second week, I'm in a slightly larger room which also features a black 'pleather' couch and wire framed chairs. It isn't fun sitting on either one without a shirt. When standing up, the pleather couch pillows stick to the skin and stay adhered to the back like great, leathery ticks. The chairs are just cold and must surely leave waffle patterns on the back.

Geary Street West from the 3rd floor of the Diva Hotel
The front of the hotel features a fire escape that is accessible through open windows. This photo was taken from the third floor looking west.

Geary Street East from the 3rd floor of the Diva Hotel
Looking left from the fire escape one sees east down Geary, the Diva Hotel sign visible in the foreground.

Diva Hotel entrance
Street level, the minimalist Diva lobby entrance has the inviting feeling of a mausoleum.

Crossing Geary Street
Crossing the street at Geary and Mason, looking west, I walk less than a half of a block to my favorite restaurant. (The Sushi Boat - not visible here.)
(The glowing neon sign of the pizza shop that I frequent is barley visible on the right side of the image.)

The Sushi Boat restaurant on Geary Street
I patronize the Sushi Boat restaurant about every other night.

The Sushi Boat restaurant entrance stairs
From the street diners descend into the restaurant.

The Sushi Boat sushi bar
I'd heard tale of these types of restaurant, but before two weeks ago I'd never had the fortune to visit one. Centered in the restaurant is a typical sushi bar, but this bar has a moat set in it - complete with small, floating, wooden boats.

A sushi boat in action
The chefs set their creations on the boats as they move about the moat and customers can simply pick off the plates of sushi that appeal to them.

Tamago and salmon
In this photo you can see the 'tamago' (egg) and salmon sushi that I'd chosen with a blurry, moving boat in the background.

You might also note the two glasses of water. One of the handicaps of eating alone is that wait-staff tend to ignore you. I quickly learned that I needed to order everything that I wanted right away, because waiters almost never check up on me. I suppose that they see a single person as a likely poor source of a good tip. (Or perhaps I look cheap. Who knows?) When they neglect me, I confirm their expectations - although I almost never have it in me to tip less than 10%.

Sushi plates
All of the sushi is placed on patterned plates which have a corresponding price. When you choose the sushi you can tell the price by comparing the pattern of the plate with the posted plate/price chart.

The sushi is tasty and at an affordable price (as far as Japanese food is concerned.) The miso soup and salad with ginger dressing are good eating as well. But I tried the chicken teriyaki one night and was very disappointed. It seemed that they boiled the chicken and then threw it on a grill to get the grill marks. Whatever - it just wasn't good.

I'm not sure if I'm eating too much sushi. These gills could be caused by a lot of things...

Today was the first full day of autumn.

Very soon we will take deep breaths of crisp air. The season color will be fiery orange with highlights of yellow and red. Burning leaves: the default smell. Pumpkin pies and turkey: the tastes of fall.

I bid summer a fond farewell. It was a good summer - not because of the weather (which was rainy), and not because I took any great advantage of the outdoors (which I didn't), but because the time went by with a casual happiness. - And that is good enough indeed.

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

When I left Pittsburgh for San Francisco on Thursday September 9th, it was raining. When I returned home to Pittsburgh on Friday, September 17th, it was raining; - raining with a vengeance and the residual anger of Hurricane Ivan which had already raged against Florida days earlier. On that Friday, Allegheny county was having an all time, one-day rainfall record: some 6 inches fell in 24 hours, shattering the previous record of approximately 4 inches set only weeks before.

Normally it only takes about 30 minutes to get from the airport to where I live. Not Friday. Friday I spent two and a half hours in a taxi as my driver and I encountered roads closed to mudslides and flooding mixed with interminably long traffic jams. In all my years in Pennsylvania, I never saw anything like it. Great brown waterfalls boiled down hillsides that normally had no water drainage. Rivers rose out of nowhere and swallowed cars and drowned houses. - This flooding was the type normally reserved for the plains along the Mississippi.

I didn't see all of the rainfall, which had started at about 10am because my flight didn't get in until mid afternoon, but still, it just didn't look like that much rain. I've certainly seen it rain harder. From what I'd seen, I never would have guessed that I was witnessing an extraordinary rain storm.

The TV programming that night was preempted by local storm news. Many stories told of people who drove their cars past barriers into flooded roads only to get stranded.

Today I'm back out in San Francisco, writing from my hotel room, fighting drowsiness, and listening to a symphony of sirens echoing down Geary Street. It was sunny here today. Sunny and about 65 degrees Fahrenheit on the tail end of summer.

This evening, after work, I walked around looking for a place to eat dinner, trying hard to add a little variety in my fare by avoiding my standard 'Sushi Boat' restaurant. I settled on a diner that I'd eaten at one other time. Good food, but nearly two weeks of eating alone has grown boring.

So a little writing tonight, and then the season climax to the Amazing Race. I'll iron my clothes, read and go to sleep, rise for work tomorrow, - rinse and repeat. Perhaps there will be an earthquake this evening to shake things up a bit.

Wednesday, September 15th, 2004

My work has me in San Francisco and I've been staying in a really fun area with lots of restaurants, shops, theaters and galleries: a real tourist attraction. But homeless, beggars and indigents are on almost every corner.

The beggars are almost always men. They appear to come in two broad age groups: late twenties to early thirties and late forties to early, hard-worn fifties.

The younger group usually appear relatively healthy, while the older men almost always seem to have infirmities and are low functioning, often inert, handicapped or curled comatose on the filthy sidewalk.

Some of the indigent are dressed in casual clothes and are virtually indistinguishable from other pedestrians. Others are dressed in filthy, torn clothes with mud caked faces and wild manes of hair and tangled beards. One young woman that I saw was walking around barefoot in nothing but a bed sheet.

When begging, some of the people have a polite, soft, but urgent tone, calling out, "Sir! Sir!" as if they are going to tell you that your shoe is untied and that you might trip. The other group have a demanding tone, "Got a quarter?!" (And you think, "Why, yes. Yes I do. What about it?") Others just shove an empty Starbucks cup at you, mumbling incoherently if they make any noise at all.

The beggars are so plentiful that one is quickly overwhelmed, and in short order one becomes numb or even resentful. In the course of walking a block - about 60 seconds you will likely encounter two beggars. A beg every 30 seconds: 120 in an hour.

The other evening a ragged, wild haired man focused on me as I left the hotel lobby. He called after me, but ignoring him I kept walking to a pizza shop three doors down. I ordered my food and waited while it was heated. Some ten minutes later I went to leave and he was standing in the doorway urgently and incoherently calling and gesturing to me. I was quite angry and told him to get lost. He moved out of the way at the last second (or I would have moved him).

I'm sure that many of them have arrived at this place through woe and unhappy circumstances. Others have made their lot in life through willfully poor choices.

The first time that I recall seeing a homeless person was in Washington DC when I was a kid. A beggar called out for money and I asked my father why he didn't give the man a quarter. It seemed so obvious to me at the time that the man needed help. My father told me that he'd spend it on booze. I was shocked by the thought, but I could see the truth in it as well.

I imagine that there is an all too thin veil between their lives and mine. Some small slip of fate could put me in their shoes (if they have shoes at all). I believe in personal responsibility, but I also know that most often, what separates the fortunate from the unfortunate is pure chance and dumb luck.

There is a facade that separates us and on each side we live in very different worlds.

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

I've decided that I need organize the thousands and thousands of digital photos that I've taken over the last few years.

Last night I was going through a batch of photos, rotating them, and placing them in categorized folders.

As I strolled down the digital memory lane, it struck me how many fantastic sights I have seen, how many wonderful thing's I've gotten to do, and how great my family and friends are.

The pictures of my life reminded me that I am a ridiculously lucky person. I'm foolish when I forget that fact.

"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."

- Aldous Huxley

Monday, August 9th, 2004

And to think that Bush supporters dare to accuse John Kerry of flip-flopping on issues...

George Bush: flip-flopper in chief: The 9-11 Commission

In the spirit of Harry Houdini, and James Randi, I'd like to wholly recommend the entertaining and educational Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t!
A logger, in this 1993 photo, stands in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

"In-your-face magician-comedians Penn & Teller stick their satiric pin into some of the most cherished beliefs about American pop culture. The dynamic duo endeavors to expose the fakery behind television psychics, alien abductions, end-of-the-world theories, bottled water and secondhand smoke (to name just a few targets). The episodes are culled from their acclaimed made-for-cable TV show."
- Netflix

Friday, August 6th, 2004

I think that George Bush is a bad man. That is to say, I think that he is crooked, sleazy, self righteous, egotistical, cruel, narrow-minded, willfully ignorant, stupid and maybe a bit insane; and I think that he and his ilk need to go. Now.

A lot of Bush's opposition has been miffed, if not angry, at the thought that Ralph Nader is running for president. They are afraid that he will act as a 'spoiler' to the favor of Bush.

As much as I want Bush out of office, and no matter how many Nader votes might go for John Kerry if Nader wasn't running; I'm still glad that Nader is participating.

Nader isn't taking away 'Kerry's votes', it's up to Kerry (or >cough< Bush) to win those votes.

Our two party system needs expanded. We call ourselves a great democracy (or republic if one is really paying attention), and then we go on to give ourselves only two viable choices. Some choice. And if this 'choice' wasn't narrow enough, our political system has become increasingly money-centric, creating barriers to office that only the very rich can penetrate.

If we end up saddled with the Bush regime for four more years, it won't be Nader's fault; it will be ours.

Friday, July 30th, 2004

A lot of people seem to think that if there is intelligent alien life it might some day visit us and share a cornucopia of culture enhancing wonders with us.

I think that (judging from earth life) our luck with any aliens would be pretty grim. All we have to do is consider how organisms on earth treat each other.

And if we look specifically at Earth's sampling of so called 'advanced, intelligent life', things look worse.

Therefore I imagine that if aliens ever come to earth, we humans will end up as pets, dressed in funny
A Kanamit and an earth woman: To Serve Man
costumes, tied to varies machines as beasts of burden, experimented on, and of course eaten on a regular basis.

"We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots.
Your fat King and your lean beggar, is but variable service, two dishes but to one table; that's the end."

- Shakespeare

Based on this hypothesis I've been asking people, assuming that you had to be eaten, how would you like served? What kind of dish would you be?

I posed this to my friend Mr. Teddy Carroll and he answered that he'd like to be a main course, something that the alien chef really sweated and labored over. Teddy also indicated a desire to have his bones left intact in the hope that who ever was dining on him might choke on a bone.

For my part, I'd like to be a dessert. A really classy dessert, and like Teddy, I'd want a lot of prep time put into it. I'd want the dinner guests to 'oh and awe' at the sight of me on a fancy dish. I'd like some decorative drizzle on the plate like a home made caramel or chocolate. Even though the alien dinner guests might be full, they'd have to have a taste.

If it wasn't some fancy dinner occasion, perhaps a picnic, I'd like to have a good helping of whip cream on top, and perhaps some sparklers added for flair.
Glen Alamode
What about you? Are you a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack? What kind of dish: junkfood, maincourse, salad, soup? Let me know how you'd like to be served and I just might post it.

"Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone's soup."

-Rod Serling
The Twilight Zone - To Serve Man (Episode Number 89)

Thursday, July 29th, 2004

I've heard the first cicadas this week; a sure sign that summer has reached it's apex. Next up: the heavy, buzzing, dog days of August. I could hardly be happier.

And so with summer as a distraction, it is hard to get too worked up about politics and world affairs seem suffused with a boring sameness. My apathy is a luxury, I know. I'm lucky that I can be distracted by the small, happy affairs of my life.

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

G.W. Bush regime Doublethink: logging = environmental protection.

A logger, in this 1993 photo, stands in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
Bush plan drops logging ban for national forests

'Tuesday, July 13, 2004 Posted: 11:33 AM EDT (1533 GMT)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Environmentalists are blasting a Bush administration proposal to lift a ban on logging in remote areas of national forests, saying the move ignores popular support for protecting forests.

The plan announced Monday would allow logging by permitting roads to be constructed in national forests. Governors would have to petition the federal government to block road building.

"When the Forest Service originally proposed protecting these special places to hunt, fish and camp, the millions of public comments received were overwhelmingly supportive," Idaho Conservation League spokesman John Robinson said. "There's no reason to drag out this fight."'

- Editor's note: Content cut; see link for the full story. -

'"Philip Clapp, president of National Environmental Trust, called the proposal "the biggest single giveaway to the timber industry in the history of the national forests."

"The Bush administration is trying to short-circuit court proceedings that might end up leaving protections for the untouched 30 percent of the national forests in place," he said.'

In a not entirely unrelated note I'd like to recommend:

"Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election".

"Filmmakers Joan Sekler and Richard Ray Perez rehash the dramatic events of the 2000 presidential election, exposing a chain of incidents they claim led up to the battle for the presidency in Florida and the undermining of democracy in America. Narrated by Peter Coyote, this revealing documentary examines an allegedly suspicious pattern of irregularities, injustices and voter purges -- all in a state governed by the winning candidate's brother. "
Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election

Monday, July 12th, 2004

Tragedy. The world has suffered a great, irreplaceable loss. Butler's "Hot Dog Sandwich Shop" has closed, ending an era and spelling the end of the world's greatest hot dogs and greatest gravy fries.

When growing up, occasionally after church, my folks would treat us to The Hot Dog Shop (which is all that we ever called it). When I was a kid I didn't like hot dogs and I'd get their fish sandwich (which was also damn tasty.) But as I grew older, my tastes for the finer things in the world also grew and I came to love The Hot Dog Shop's hot dogs.

The Hot Dog Shop sat at 107 East Jefferson Street and was a greasy spoon with the layout and décor of an old fashioned diner. Steam rose up and fogged the big glass windows during the winter and the mouth watering spells hit you a half a block away. Waitresses would call out orders among the constant din of dishes being stacked, and silverware being set.
It was widely reported that Butler veterans returning from various wars would stop at the Hot Dog Shop before they went to their houses.

My favorite was two 'hots' with everything (pickle also), a large order of fries with gravy (the gravy had a unique brownish-orange color) and a chocolate milk shake.

If we ever get to paradise, we'll find this on the menu.

Fair well Hot Dog Shop. You will be sorely missed.

Thursday, July 1st, 2004

Great news about a Great Reef!

Australia creates world's largest reef sanctuary

"Sydney, Australia (Reuters) -- Australia's Great Barrier Reef became the world's biggest protected marine network on Thursday, a move environmental groups hope countries in Asia and Central America will copy in a bid to save their endangered coral reefs.

Australia has slapped a ban on fishing and shipping on a third of the reef, the planet's largest living structure, protecting one of its main tourist attractions which is threatened by over-fishing, pollution and higher temperatures."
A portion of the great barrier reef as seen from space

Monday, June 21st, 2004

On this first day of summer, 2004, a very, very cool event has taken place:

Private craft soars into space, history

"MOJAVE, California (CNN) -- SpaceShipOne left the Earth behind on Monday morning and made its indelible entry in the history books as the first private spacecraft to carry humans into space. It touched down safely at Mojave Airport at 11:15 ET."

Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

For as long as I can remember, I've always loved radio controlled cars, but I've never owned a really good one.
Tiny Radio Controled Car. Photo: http://www.dansdata.com
The better cars can cost a hundred dollars or more, but less expensive ones can be had for as little as $15. Unfortunately, the cheap models that I owned always broke down after a few days of use.

So I was thrilled when a couple of weeks ago I got a micro "Rally Racer" radio controlled car. The little buggers are about the size of a match box car, and only cost $10!

I'm amazed at what the $10 buys: the cars are fast and durable, they come in different frequency so that you can race them, and they clip onto the remote where they charge off the control's double A batteries in about 45 seconds

After two weeks of use my car is still running strong. They are great toys, and I highly recommend them.

Monday, May 24th, 2004

One of my colleagues brought this to my attention. Now everyone at work is singing it, and I can't get it out of my head:

"Glen! Glen Glen Glen!"

(The link pops-open a new window. Apple's free QuickTime plug-in is required to view it. [You probably already have the plug-in, so go ahead, try the link: life is short - live an adventure! If not, click here to download the plug-in.])

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

I bought myself a laser pointer for $10 on Sunday. That amazes me: $10 for my very own death ray. Well, not exactly a death ray - the version that you buy at Spencer's is a bit under powered. But I'm guessing that if I just aim the beam through a magnifying glass I'll be razing whole cities in no time.

Meanwhile, we have Spring in Pittsburgh:

It's raining, it's pouring...

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

I ate kettle fried potato chips and girl scout cookies for dinner last night. The whole meal was consumed while sitting on the couch, watching the Simpsons.

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

I was on CNN's Website yesterday and chanced upon some of the most frightening responses to a CNN poll that I've ever seen. I have since been further scared by the subsequent conversations on the topic with colleagues.

The CNN poll asked:

"Should the U.S. government have the authority to detain American citizens suspected of terror links without giving them access to the legal system?"

Should the U.S. government have the authority to detain American citizens suspected of terror links without giving them access to the legal system?

At the time when I responded to the poll (clicking hard on the 'No' button to really emphasize my point) the results indicated that a whopping 31% of votes (51,553 out of 168,106) responded 'Yes'.

'Yes': please detain me if you suspect me of a terror link and do not give me access to the legal system.

Wow! People are scary stupid!

The poll started me raving at work, which as I said, lead to conversations with my associates. Some debated if it was a good idea to detain American citizens, but everyone seemed to agree that if the person suspected was an illegal alien that they should be deprived access to the legal system.

I argue that a person doesn't even need access to the legal system until accused of a crime, but if you deny persons accused of a crime access to the legal system why do you have a legal system in the first place?

"If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice." - Learned Hand

I found myself asking these coworkers, what, exactly is it that they value about America? Do they really hold the ideas of freedom and justice in high esteem or are they more attracted to all of the flag waving?

One fellow responded, "It's not the freedom so much, it's the security".

My fellow Americans, let me remind you:

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your consul, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget ye were our countrymen."

- Samuel Adams

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

- Amendment V
The Constitution of the United States of America
(Emphasis Added)

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Sunshine on a mid April day. It's the 15th and some poor souls are desperately throwing their last minute taxes together. But for me, my taxes are in, so it's just a sweet day. My office window is open, drafts of temperate air are blowing in and I can hear the hum of traffic which sounds so soothing on days like today.

Politics are hot in the news these days, but at the moment I can't muster much enthusiasm about them. Nothing cultural has me entranced today. I'm just happy that it's spring.

Wednesday, March 24th, 2004

More Dead last night.

Myself and several of my colleagues saw the new version of 'Dawn of the Dead' last night. I'd like to be the first to say that it was zombirific!

The New Dawn of The Dead Movie

Unlike the slow, ungainly zombies from the 1978 version these undead are fast, nimble and extra hungry for the tasty flesh of the living.
It was definitely a thrilling, top of the line zombie movie that painted a vivid post-apocalyptic landscape. The movie also did a great job of exploring human behavior in a world where all social rules are meaningless.

It was also good fun getting out with my coworkers. It's always odd seeing colleagues outside of work the first few times. My only complaint was that two of my associates turned out to be 'movie talkers'. I know, I know, it's only a zombie movie... But I'm a purist. I like to be removed from the theater intellectually and emotionally. That's much harder when people are cracking jokes behind you. Now if they were zombies I could just shoot them and the problem would be over. Of course if they were zombies talking wouldn't be a problem. Kind of a catch-22 situation.

During lunch today it was all zombie talk. Not just zombie talk, fevered zombie talk. Everybody had something to say, and the conversation was quick, loud and lively. Clearly everyone loved the movie.

Points of discussion:

Keeping in mind that zombies can only be killed by trauma to the brain, what items would you use as a weapon if your selection was limited to that of a typical mall like the protagonists in the movie?
Suggestions so far include: a samurai sword (if there is a cutlery store in the mall), an axe, a chainsaw (assuming a hardware store or department store), an aluminum bat, and bow and arrow. One fellow suggested an aerosol can and lighter as an impromptu flamethrower. His idea was roundly ridiculed.

Other questions included:

Can zombies be electrocuted? If so, could you make a giant zombie zapper from a chain link fence?

Do the ghouls rot to the point of disintegration? (The answer probably depends on whether they are supernatural or 'natural' virus/biological zombies. Supernatural hell spawn zombies would probably not rot to the point of complete decomposition.)

In a similar vain, do zombies need to eat (human flesh) to keep going?

Do you really have to be bitten by a zombie, or will any exposure of their body fluids to your blood suffice?

How long could you survive a zombie siege with the typical food stuff found in a mall?

Hundreds of exciting zombie ideas and questions were roundly debated in the course of an hour lunch. In the final analysis it was decided that the fast zombies of this remake would be much harder to survive than the old school slow zombies.
It is good to consider that with movies like '28 days later' and now the remake of 'Dawn of the Dead' we may be entering a golden age of zombies, and that would really be zombtastic!

Friday, March 19th, 2004

At 1:49 am tomorrow (March 20th), winter bows out and spring takes the stage.

Kudos to winter. It did a fine job this year with great cheery snows and minimal gloom. This morning we had an encore presentation: a freshly fallen snow glowing white in the bright sunlight as it laid heavy on the tree branches. But the curtain is closing, it is now 42 degrees Fahrenheit, the snow is melted.

Let the spring show begin!

Thursday, March 18th, 2004

Something of a macabre spectacle today. Two firemen died on March 14th combating a church fire and apparently every fire company in Western PA came out in mourning today to attend the funerals.

From our office window we saw an incredibly long chain of fire trucks of every shape, make and color lined up for miles on end. Police blocked off the highway, and civilian traffic came to a stand still.

Fire trucks on 376 East
I quickly grabbed the company's old digital camera and snapped some pictures.

Outline of Fire trucks on 376 East
The camera doesn't have a zoon lens, so I've outlined the line of fire trucks. This photo shows only one small portion of the line of emergency vehicles.

One has to wonder how much the line of emergency vehicles would scare the hell out of some out-of-towner who was unaware of the funeral service today. They'd have to worry that some major catastrophe was at hand.

A person also has to wonder what would happen if there was a fire nearby. Either it would get ignored, or it would have several hundred fire trucks arrive to put it out.

Wednesday, March 10th, 2004

Chocolate. Sweet chocolate.

I've been trying to watch what I eat. It would be an exaggeration to say that I'm on a diet, I'm just trying to be more sensible about what I eat. For example, I've pretty much stopped drinking pop. A Pepsi is 150 calories each and I use to drink two or three cans a day. I've also cut way back on desserts and candy. I've also tried to eat more protein while reducing the fat and carbohydrates that I eat.

But not now. Not at this moment. I have beside me an open Symphony bar. 250 calories, 150 of which are fat calories.

I ate one of the little chocolate squares. Yum.

I'll have to do the stair master for about 20 minutes to burn off the calories from this one candy bar.

It's worth it.

I watched Fear Factor on NBC Monday. It was an episode of the game show where sets of two siblings competed together against the other three sibling pairs.

Two sisters claimed that their e.s.p. would allow them to trounce their competitors. Two twin brothers felt that they had a telepathic link that would help them.

The psychic sisters were the first to lose. The telepathic twins lost next.

How amazing: their supernatural powers failed them.

Friday, March 5th, 2004

Batman, Spiderman, various X-Men are all cool superheroes. People are attracted to their 'complex' nature. 'Complex' usually meaning, angst riddled.

People are captivated by Batman's 'dark' attitude which he got because his folks were murdered in front of him. That's nothing compared to good, old Superman. Superman had his whole freakin' planet destroyed, and never got to know his parents at all. Still the S-man keeps a stiff upper lip, and a lightsome attitude.

For me, much of what is compelling about 'the man of steel' is that he could become a virtual god on earth, but he doesn't. Having all of that power, but restraining oneself is an intriguing concept. Perhaps Superman could be seen as a metaphor or myth for America itself, or at least for it's ideals.

And so in the last several years I've grown to really appreciate Mr. C. Kent.

The really good guy gets short shrift too often in modern America. I still like the heroes - even the myths of heros.

Superman's shield

Thursday, March 4th, 2004

I received a $13.86 settlement check from the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. I'd entered my name through a Website as a plaintive in the "Compact Disc Minimum Advertised Price Antitrust Litigation".

The lawsuit, which was filed in 43 states (and three territories), alleged that the music industry (distributors, and retailers) conspired to set a minimum price on CDs. The cash settlement was $67,375,000 which was then divided among the plaintives.

Given that the net is swamped with scams, I can't help but think that it is neat that a person could fill out a simple Web form and actually win money in a settlement.

The irony is that the check isn't even large enough to buy a typical new CD.

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004

The small of my back is bothering me today. I'm not sure why, but I have a pet theory.

Last night I was in the gym and two guys entered. They introduced themselves as Jamie and Mike.
Jamie and Mike are Pittsburgh boys. Jamie works in financing at a car dealership, Mike is a plumber. They were friendly enough... Perhaps a bit too friendly.

I was rotating my sets between free weights and the weight machine. When I wasn't doing a set on the machine, Jamie would. As I completed a set Jamie would bark, "C'mon! One more: it's almost summer! C'MON!" This had the effect of making me laugh, and I actually did fewer reps. After I'd finished Jamie announced that he'd increased the weight I was working. I said that I thought it felt heavier. He barked (in heavy Pittsburghese), "Ah, naw ya didn't!"

Dawn of the Dead

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

My colleagues and I have been watching the 'Dawn of the Dead' projected onto conference room's white board during lunch. It is going to take us three installments to watch the whole thing, but watching a cheesy, brain-eating, zombie movie is a nice way to spend lunch at work.

"Dawn of the Dead" was filmed in Pittsburgh's Monroeville Mall and released in 1978. It was chosen as our lunch movie because a remake is due out in a few months.

I guess that I have a zombie theme going since this weekend I finally got around to seeing the excellent zombie movie "28 Days Later".

Zombie movies have an inherent bit of fun built right into them.

First, it is fun to say, "Zombie". Go ahead, say it out loud right now, I know you want to: "Zombie, Zombie, Zombie". Or perhaps you'd prefer something with a little more flair, "Holy cow! Watch out for that zombie!" Or, "Phew, that zombie almost bit me." Or really put your heart and lungs into, "Die zombie scum!"

Second, I think that when one watches an apocalyptic zombie movie one can't help but think that they would certainly kick zombie ass.

There is definitely something cathartic about the idea of being morally free to knock a zombie's brains out with the weapon of your choice. This feeling is supplemented by the fantasy of being able take anything from the destroyed civilization. However, the fact that everyone you ever cared for is dead is kind of a bummer. Nothing's perfect, not even a world overrun with brain eating zombies.

Friday, February 27th, 2004

Of all of the scary and horrifying policies of George W. Bush's administration, their proposed Constitutional Amendment to 'define marriage' is the worst.

Even the slippery verbiage used to paint the proposal makes my skin crawl. This isn't about 'defining' anything, it is about taking away the rights of fellow human beings. Let's call the Amendment, "Taking away 10% of our population's right to pursue happiness." Yeah, that's more like it.

Too often we are tempted by jingoism, and the trappings of patriotism equating symbols like flags and pledges with the soul of our country.
In truth, the American Constitution is the soul: and that is the spirit of liberty.

In spite of the propaganda of America's advertising juggernaut the "American Dream" was not envisioned as every person owning a home, or an SUV in every garage.
The Dream is that of liberty, justice and freedom for all. The constitution is the wellspring of this dream, and with the exception of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition: remember how that turned out before it was repealed?), our Constitution is designed to GRANT RIGHTS, and NOT take them away.

We are a secular country and it has served us well. In spite of the attempts of revisionists to imply otherwise, we have no national religion. You cannot impose your religion onto others, nor should you want to, lest someday a religion be imposed on you. If you want to worship Vishnu, a four armed god you are free to do so. If you want to worship a carpenter who lived some 2,000 years ago - go right ahead, nobody can tell you to do otherwise.

If your religion says that you shouldn't marry someone of the same sex, or of a different religion, or race, mine might say that you shouldn't reproduce. And that is one of the chief reasons religion and state are to be separate. Otherwise the next Amendment might be: Defining who should be free to reproduce.

You don't have to like gay marriage, but you know what? You don't have to participate in one because this is a free country: at least for the moment.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of Press. Freedom of Assembly. Freedom to Bear Arms. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Freedom from cruel and unusual punishments. The list goes on: Freedom, Freedom, Freedom.
This is our constitution, don't let it's meaning be corrupted.

Regarding George Bush and his co-conspirators: it's time for a "regime change".

"A free society is a place where it's safe to be unpopular."
- Adlai Stevenson

A beautiful day today: sunny, about 45 degrees. Myself and my colleagues are standing outside the building after lunch.

A large Humvee rolls up. Window down, blasting angry music, a long cigar in the driver's mouth.

Do you suppose he might be over compensating for some short coming?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2004

I'd like to draw your attention to some friend's new Website. Enjoy the "Starange Daze and Waze" of Stafura.com. Read Joe's essays and check out sample photos of Penny's amazing mosaics. Be certain to drop an email, and send your encouragement.

Thursday, February 19th, 2004

I was in the gym on Sunday and two kids approximately eight-year-olds burst into the room. I'd met the girl before, her name was Rachael and she'd been in the small gym previously, practicing Tai Kwon Do with her father and grandfather. She seemed personable and well mannered if a bit boisterous.
But this day she was in with a boy. I learned his name was Jack.

In seconds Jack had pulled at the cables of the weight machine I'd been using and reset the machine to a much lower 25 pounds. They pulled at the various moving parts for a second and then wandered away. I had rotated to the incline sit-up bench for one set and was going back to the machine. I asked them, "I'm still using that machine, do you mind setting it back to how it was?"
Rachael apologized for Jack and reset the weight.

By this time Jack was on the treadmill and was stabbing at the buttons with his finger. In short order he hit the '7' button. You know, '7', as in '7 miles per hour'. Jack was flung off the back of the machine and landed against the floor length glass window. Lucky for him that he didn't go through it.

Briefly stunned but undeterred he and Rachael ran about and struggled with the stair stepper, the stationary bike and other machines. (Half of which are already broken.)

I was back on the inclined bench doing more sit-ups when Jack discovered the weight bench next to me. Poised on the bench's arms was a 45 pound barbell. (The bar is a Olympic style and weighs this much even with no weights on it.) Jack proceeded to try and load weights onto the bar when Rachael asked him what he was doing since he hadn't even tried the bar without weights.

It was about this time that I started asking them if they were allowed to be in the gym. Did their parents know where they where? Rachael assured me that her father knew, and that it was alright. I told her that I didn't think it was such a good idea since they might get hurt. I even asked them what their apartment number was thinking that I might go tell their father to control his kids. Rachael told me the number, but it was in another building.

During this time Jack and then Rachael took turns at trying to pry up the barbell. The barbell that was dangerously close to my head, and clearly too heavy for them. I quickly finished the last of my sit-up reps when Rachael spotted her father outside. He yelled into her, "Open the door". But the gym's outside door can't be opened. I left the gym through the inside door and waited for him in the adjoining 'party room'.

As he approached the door to the gym I introduced myself. He stared at me blankly. I said, "I didn't catch your name", so in grudgingly introduced himself as Mike.

I calmly explained to him what the kids had been up to and that it was unsafe. I pointed in through the glass door at Rachael who at that moment was again straining to lift the barbell. He yelled in at her and assured me that he agreed with me that it wasn't safe.

The next day I called the buildings management and warned them of what I'd seen and included another account where I'd been on a treadmill and a family had their toddler in the gym. The toddler made periodic charges at the moving treadmill before being stopped in the last instance by the mother.
The management was defensive and told me that their were signs posted. I told them that there were not. Since then they've hung some paper fliers stating that no children under 12 were allowed in the gym.

People: reign your kids in, or evolution will do it for you.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2004

I'm way overdue in writing my opinion on the last installment of the "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King".

I've see the movie twice, both times in December (once in Pittsburgh, once in Las Vegas). I'm overdue to see it again.

In short, I enjoyed the movie, it was better than "The Two Towers", and I'm not yet sure of how well it stacks up against "The Fellowship of the Ring". But you know what? If you haven't read the book, you are really, really, really, (REALLY) missing out. And if you have read the book: read it again. Really. Because what I do know for certain is that the movies are all good, maybe even great, but they pale in comparison to the book.

Director Peter Jackson certainly had his work cut out for him. The books have always been described as 'unfilmable'. And after seeing the movies I can still say that the book isn't filmable. I don't think that it is a coincidence that the movies greatest weaknesses occur when they vary unnecessarily from the book. But that being said, Mr. Jackson did a mostly honorable job.

True to Jackson's word, the locations depicted in the movies match the descriptions in the book, accept they are never quiet beautiful enough, nor quiet evil enough. But that is an understandable limitation of movie making versus writing. It is one thing to describe the ethereal beauty of the elven kingdoms, another thing to actually illustrate it.

The character adaptations offer one of the greatest frustration. Jackson and his co-writers seem to needlessly manipulate their nature.
Gandalf seems too ineffective. Frodo, too simpering. Aragorn not strong enough (in character). Pippin and Merry are too cute (except in The Return of the King where they get something of a reprieve.) Gimli, poor Gimli is almost all comic relief. Legolas suffers from his shield surfing in "The Two Towers" and his superman performance on the back of a Mûmakil in the "Return of the King". Samwise suffers least of all of the major characters, he is steadfast, faithful, and brave as he should be.

Sauron: although Peter Jackson and team had done a very admirable job of bringing this, the most difficult character to life as Tolkien's evil and threatening presence from the first two movies, they went over the top in The Return of the King by increasingly treating the 'Eye of Sauron' as a literal manifestation. By the end of "The Return of the King" Sauron's 'eye' is treated as an actual searchlight that borders on the silly.

Gollumn is a masterpiece of animation and special effects, and his character is engaging, but the voice talents of Andy Serkis left me wanting. Too much Donald Duck in his voice I think. Gollumn also suffered from the rewrites of his dialog.

Ah, dialog: another great victim of the movie. I suspect that the screenwriter's ego's wouldn't permit them from not messing with Tolkien's dialog. Or granting them the benefit of that doubt, perhaps they thought that audiences wouldn't take to the romantic/epic dialog. So much of the joy of the book was unnecessarily flushed from the movie. A shame.

Lastly, the story. Again Peter Jackson took too many liberties that diminished the potential of the movies. I realize that some manipulation was required to bring this thousand plus page epic to the screen, but many changes weren't required and served the story poorly.

All of these complaints aside, the movies generally enthralled me with their design, acting, scope, and emotion. For all of the flaws, many things were done very, very well. I'm glad that the movies exist. Now go read the book already!

Thursday, February 12th, 2004

Two weeks ago I was returning from a client's site with a colleague and we got on the topic of politics. As part of our conversation my coworker stated that he didn't like how some groups wanted 'special rights.'

I asked him for an example.

He said, "Well, gays: they want marriage now."

I asked him, "How is that a special right? You and I have that right."

"I think it is a moral thing. My religion teaches me that it isn't moral."

"That's your religion. Your religion isn't the law of the land. Nobody is telling you that you have to marry a man."


There is always an excuse to limit the rights of others. For years religion was used to justify the illegality of marriage between people of different 'races'. It was not until the year 2000 when the last of the anti-miscegenation laws -- although mere ordinances in some counties particularly in the American south -- were finally removed from the U.S. legal system.

In various societies, in various eras, marriages are or were forbidden if the couple were from different tribes, from the same tribe, of different races, of a particular race, of different religions, infertile, disabled, of different status (e.g. slave and free).

For my part I don't think that the government should have anything to do with marriage. Marriage should be between consenting adults. Other than that, it is nobody's business.

"It almost never feels like prejudice. Instead, it seems fitting and just - the idea that, because of an accident of birth, our group (whichever one it is) should have a central position in the social universe."

- Carl Sagan, "Pale Blue Dot"

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004

Breasts. Specifically a breast, as in singular: one, uno. A breast with a covered nipple. Big news. BIG NEWS. There is nothing better for the nation to think about for three days, because we have to be worried for the children. The poor, poor, breast traumatized children. So many lives shattered.

I am of course talking about the Super Bowl Janet Jackson breast brouhaha half-time show incident where the pop singer flashed a mammary gland (with the help of fellow performer Justin Timberlake).

The offending breast was viewed from a distance for a split second before CBS cut away. (The photo below is a close-up not taken from the TV video feed.)

Janet Jackson's breast heard around the world.
A salacious moment from the most 'TiVoed' replay measured to date. Where are my smelling salts? I feel a faint coming on.

CNN.com was running a poll, about how shocking it was. Some of my office colleagues were worried about millions of children being traumatized. The FCC is launching an investigation.

People, this is a tit. Half of the population have two of them. I understand that generally, American society doesn't want people flashing their breasts, but really, how can it possibly be news worthy for three days? Make a joke, and move on.

Perhaps we Americans and the FCC should be more concerned with the relaxation of the media ownership rules. Increasingly more and more of our media is being controlled by fewer and fewer companies. This is a crisis for a liberal democracy. Now that is some news to get upset about.

Update (Feb. 4th, 2004): This story is on it's fourth day of headline news.
Republican Representative Doug Ose is calling for new legislation to protect Americans from nipples.

Update (Feb. 19th, 2004): It has come to my attention (and I feel that I need to note it for the sake of intellectual honesty) that Ms. Jackson's nipple was not entirely covered, although again, such details were impossible to see without a professional telephoto lens.
If anyone has a screen capture of the original TV video please send it my way.

Monday, February 2nd, 2004

More winter!

The handsome Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. (Phil is the one without the hat.)

Truly, a trustworthy weather prediction from our friendly, local groundhog: Punxsutawney Phil. The furry fellow saw his shadow today which portends 6 more weeks of winter, and I have to say that it sounds about right to me.

We need more holidays like this. In fact, I think it should be a federal holiday and that no one should have to go to work. Power to the prognosticating, hibernating rodents and all of us who support them!

I told a colleague of mine that Phil had seen his shadow today and that the groundhog predicts 6 more weeks of winter. His reaction was a sincere, heartfelt, 'Ah, no'.

Happy Groundhog's day.

Thursday, January 16th, 2004

Bitter cold and windy again today. At least it is sunny. Yesterday we had thin ice rafts on the Monongahela for the first time this season. Today the river has that light blue slate color reminiscent of glacial run-off.

Pittsburgh officials have announced an increase in the city parking tax. Apparently there weren't enough reasons to avoid coming into town.

Politics are on a lot of people's minds these days. TV news reporting of politics are completely vacuous. The democratic campaigns are only reported as a horse race: who's ahead in the polls, who's behind. If a person watches the new for two hours, they won't learn how one candidate stands on a single issue. (With the possible exception of the war in Iraq.)

George Bush gave the State of the Union two days ago. The lack of critical analysis from the press, or the opposition is chilling.

Friday, January 16th, 2004

Mr. Carroll has plagiarized from my mind. He has written what I wanted to write. Ah well, at least it saves wear and tear on my keyboard.

In part, Mr. Carroll writes:

"Yes, this latest Mars mission is political capital for Bush. Yes, he is using it for early campaigning. Yes, he is also using it to shift attention from his miserable record on civil liberties. Yes, he is using it to ignore our ever-growing problems with his illegitimate war in Iraq. And yes, Congressman, he is looking at grandiose plans of space missions when over 3 million people have lost their jobs over the last 4 years. But all of these issues not withstanding, this is exactly what he should be doing."

Visit Mr. Carroll's Website and read his excellent remarks regarding the recent announced plans for humanity to create a moon base, and visit Mars.

Last night, after work, it took me over two hours to cross town from a client's in Monroeville to the north hills. The culprit? A dusting of snow on the road caused some namibia pambies to panic and drive like snails on depressants.
To make matters worse, I had a little less than a quarter tank of gas. I was running on fumes by the time I finally pulled into a gas station. (I had to get off of the highway and make my way down unfamiliar back roads until I chanced on a station.)

Today the sky is clear and ice-crystal blue. The wind-chill is -10 degrees Fahrenheit. As I drove to work this morning my windshield became coated with salt dust and grime. I tried washing my windows, but my wiper fluid froze in the nozzle. In a short time I was on the highway and my windshield was well coated with a white film kicked up from the other cars.
When my car was in shadows I could see through the windows well enough, but as I'd round a bend into the light the glare from the low hanging morning sun, the wet pavement and the filthy window had the total affect of pulling a nearly opaque white curtain in front of the windshield. Only cars fifteen feet in front of me were even vaguely visible, as if through a thick fog.

But I made it to work all in one piece and I was rewarded with a view of a steam like fog rising from the black waters of the Monongahela.

Friday, January 9th, 2004

Two thousand and four. Well, not really two thousand and four. More like four and a half billion and change. Regardless, we've just done another revolution around Sol (marked from an arbitrary spot in space). A new year for earthlings.

Speaking of space... The poor Beagle 2 lander seems lost to Mars.

But the good news, no, the great news is that NASA's Spirit rover is alive and well on the red planet.


Given that it is a new year I did a little house cleaning and archived 7 months of both WorldView and Friends & Family news articles (from May to November 2003). I hate archiving, and had neglected it for too long.

Friday, December 19th, 2003

Fresh on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's watershed flight we are treated to the first wondrous images from the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.

Spitzer Space Telescope diagram

The Spitzer Telescope's liquid helium super-cooled infrared detectors can pierce through obscuring dust to capture images never seen before.

The Spitzer is NASA's fourth and final Great Observatory in a series of space telescopes that include the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the famous Hubble.

Spitzer space images

Clockwise from lower left, the images show a glowing stellar nursery; a swirling, dusty galaxy; a disc of planet-forming debris; and organic material in the distant universe, demonstrating the power of the telescope's infrared detectors to capture cosmic features never before seen. Clicker here for a larger view of the image. (Opens in a new window)

Meanwhile, millions of miles away the small, metal Beagle II lander has separated from her Mars Express mothership on a journey to the red planet.

Beagle 2 on final approach to Mars

"DARMSTADT, Germany (AP) -- European space controllers sent the Beagle 2 probe on its final approach to Mars on Friday, a critical step in Europe's first mission to explore the red planet for signs of life."

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

Today is the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright's powered, heavier than air manned flight. It lasted 12 seconds, and changed the world. In only 100 years: less than the life time of some people alive today, we went from the dream of flight to amazing spacecraft orbiting the outer reaches of our solar system. Science never ceases to amaze.

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

- Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, December 8th, 2003

I've been very occupied lately, and haven't had much time (or inclination) for extra curricular computer activities. I doubt that I'll be writing on this site during the rest of the month/year.

In an effort to make your visit worthwhile, I'm posting this link to my friend's new blog: "One Drummer Drumming". My friend will remain nameless by his request. Suffice it to say that he is a witty guy and a good writer and a visit to his new born site is worth your time.

See past WorldView and Friends and Family News in the Archive
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