Friday, December 28, 2007

More Snow

I've seen more snowfall this year than any year in recent memory. Of course "recent memory" is a relative term... I can only remember a couple of years back with any clarity. I've got a love-hate relationship with winter and snow. I love the rugged beauty of a winter landscape, but I don't like the reduced amount of daylight. I like driving around in my 4X4 during and immediately after a fresh snow, but I don't particularly care for shoveling my driveway. I like playing in the fluffy white stuff, but detest being cold.

I think the best part about this year's snowfall is that the kids got a white Christmas, and it's always snowed during my time off, so I don't have to rush home only to clean my driveway after dark. Another really cool thing has been the snowplow guy. He's not your stereotypical city worker who takes sadistic delight in filling the end of the driveway with snow right after you finish shoveling. In fact, I've seen him take great pains to ensure that he does NOT do that.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dropping the Ball

A few weeks back, a co-worker reported an intermittent email problem to me. . I was in the middle of something and asked him to send me a reminder. A couple of weeks, another co-worker reminded me about the guy's issue, but I was again neck deep in other work and asked for an email as a reminder. "Email is my short-term memory," I said, half-jokingly. A week later, I got a third request to fix the issue and realized that I had totally dropped the ball.

Today, my manager asked me what happened and I freely admitted that I failed to handle things properly. The manager asked me what I could do to prevent it from happening again. I offered to take a pen and paper around with me. Here's the thing... I failed to follow up. I'm the one who forgot. But does this totally abdicate the people who told me about a problem in passing? I asked them for some sort of reminder. Seems like a reasonable request to me. They didn't send the reminder, and then got bent out of shape and emailed my boss when I failed to respond. I'm not trying to skirt around or minimize the fact that I didn't follow up, but Jeebus, where's their portion of responsibility?

/Rant
I guess it's time to adjust my expectations. The person who complained to my manager is one of those people who just can't be trusted. I see how she works now.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

The kids are at their mom's place for another hour or so, which means that my beautiful wife and I are getting a nice and easy start to the morning. We even had a little extra time to, ummm, snuggle under the covers.

A little later, I had a round of sneezing and told the Mrs. that I was going to get a Claritin...

"Are you trying to say that you're allergic to me," she playfully questioned?

"No, you're just a mild irritant," I responded flatly.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thriving

Several months ago, I re-potted a plant at work. If you refer to this earlier post, you will see that it was an anemic little plant, severely in need of some TLC. Take a look now. All I did was move it to a new pot, add some soil, and every now and then, I gave it coffee and/or coffee grounds. A co-worker recommended the coffee, and it really seems to have worked, don't you think?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Maybe I was Wrong

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may remember me looking into my crystal ball last month and making some predictions. It looks like a couple of them may be a little less accurate than I had hoped, once again proving that fortune tellers are full of shit.

I'd like to specifically talk about my economic predictions, and clarify where I may be wrong. I still believe that pundits are seriously underestimating the trouble our economy is facing, and I am firmly convinced that we're in for a severe, long-lasting recession. The area I missed is how the international economy will react to our problems. My initial thought was that the global market is well-insulated enough to tolerate a downturn in the U.S. economy. After watching my own 401(k) performance though, I'm no longer so sure. I have two overseas funds... one invests in larger overseas companies, and the other focuses on smaller companies. I fully expected my domestic stocks to tank, but figured that by reallocating a greater portion of my investments overseas I would mitigate my risks.

Not so fast. In the past few weeks I've watched my returns plummet to virtually zero on my small company overseas fund, and my large fund return has dropped by 50%. It's still giving me a hefty return, but it's significantly smaller that a couple of months ago.

It's still far too early in the game to know how it's all going to play out, but considering what I've seen so far, I'm going to throw out my mea culpa now and freely admit that I don't have all of the answers. But then again, this may be a blip and I could be right over the long haul. Face it though, predicting the market is like forecasting the weather. When you're wrong, you're simply giving the people what they expected, and when you're right, you're a hero.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Older Daughter has a Boyfriend

Yep... you read that right. My older daughter has a boyfriend. You probably expect me to write a post about how I'm freaked and how I'll kill the boy if he breaks her heart or if he even looks at her with what could possibly be mistaken for lust. Well, you're wrong. Believe it or not, I'm proud of and happy for her. Hey, the kid's 15 and in high school. I knew this day would be coming and I'd like to think that I've done a fair job of psychologically preparing myself for its pending arrival.

More specifically, I've kind of known that this day was right around the corner, and with this boy. My daughter and Neighbor Girl have been talking about "Hot French Kid" (meaning hot kid from French class, not hot kid from France) since school started. Soon they started talking to him at school, next came the IM chats and phone conversations. The kid even told me point blank that she liked him and hoped that he'd ask her out, so yeah, I knew this day was coming.

One evening in particular, she was IMing with him and talking with me about nothing in particular when she suddenly said "Oh, wait! I think he's going to ask me out." I walked away to give her some space. Later on, I asked her what happened. "That butthead," she responded.

"What?" I asked.

"It's easier to just show you," she answered. So she pulled up her IM conversation with Hot French Kid...

HFK: What would you say if I asked you out some time.

Her: IDK, I don't think I'd say no.

HFK: Ok. I may do that some time.

I was amused. She was too, but at the same time she was a little miffed. (Understandably)

I said "Look, if this happens again, you can say 'I'd probably say yes, but the longer you wait, the less likely you are to get a yes.'" She liked that idea.

Fast-forward to last night, when the kid happily announced that she's going out with Hot French Kid. I asked her when and how it happened and she told me. A little later, when I had her alone for a minute or two, I said "Look kid, I know that I've been teasing you about Hot French Kid, but I know you've been wanting to date him for a while. I just want to let you know that I'm happy for you." I think that caught her a little by surprise.

"Thanks, dad," she answered after a short pause.

"Oh kid, one other thing..."

"You're not going to give me the sex talk, are you?"

It was as if she read my mind, but the thing is, we've had the talk many times... she knows it very well, so all I had planned to say was...

"Sex talk." We grinned, and I left the room. Hot French Kid was calling.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's the Real Payoff?

I read an article today that said Al Gore has completed renovations on his Tennessee home. The improvements are designed to make his home more energy efficient by adding florescent or LED lighting, solar panels and geothermal energy.

You may remember that Gore was previously criticized for preaching about global warming while having a highly inefficient house. I really don't know when the renovation started, so I'm not going to say whether or not the upgrades were motivated by this criticism. I am going to question the payoff though.

The article claims that his house is about 11% more efficient than it was before. On the surface, this is saying that it will take about ten years for the increased efficiency to pay for itself. But there's a little more to it than this...

There is the energy cost to manufacture, transport and install these upgrades. The lighting is probably a no-brainer, because the old bulbs are low-cost commodity items, and there's no real cost differentiation. But I'm not so sure about the solar stuff and especially the geothermal stuff. Specifically I'm picturing all of the contractors' vehicles, and the construction vehicles digging up the dirt and so forth. I wonder how many gallons of fuel that costs, and how much that increases the payoff time. I'm not trying to bash on Gore's decision... just curious.

Ice Storm

You probably heard about the ice storm that hit the Midwest earlier this week. Lots of downed trees, loss of power, etc. But there's always beauty with nature's fury. Witness this picture.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Drumdial Drum Tuner

Banging away on the older daughter's drum set has been a lot of fun, but I quickly realized that I didn't have it properly tuned. This makes sense because I had never tuned a drum set before. I had one lesson on drum tuning about 25 years go and I remembered the lesson, but it's not realistic to expect myself to tune a drum set like a pro the first time around. But I'm digressing...

After doing a little research, I ran across the Drumdial Drum tuner. I bought it, took it home and tuned up the set. I'm happy to report that my amateurish by-ear attempt wasn't bad, but man... that drum set sounds 1000% better after using the tuner, and it's just as easy as the manufacturer makes it out to be.

What's this all mean in English? It means that I heartily, fully and enthusiastically endorse this product.

Monday, December 10, 2007

But Wait, It Gets Even Better

You saw my last post about the Big Ozzlet's new bedroom. Check out the bling to accompany it...


I'd love to say this is because I'm an awesome dad, but the reality is that this is all Mrs. Ozzy's doing. She's the one who deserves the props.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

One Project Down...

... many to go. Yesterday, I finally finished painting Big Kid's room, and got her bed assembled. The bedroom that once belonged to the wife and me now officially belongs to the kid. Now that I've accomplished this, I need to convert her old room into a guest room, and I need to finish converting part of our laundry room into a walk-in closet/storage room. One project down, many to go.

Oh yeah, if you're interested, I did a quick before and after video. Check it out.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

You Asked!

"I'm going to take a shower," he announced to the Mrs.

"I was going to do that, but I'll wait," she replied.

Hearing her response, he gave her 'the look,' to which she answered "Oh. I'll be down in a minute."

He warmed up the shower and jumped in, waiting for her arrival. He washed her long blond locks, making sure to not miss a single hair. They hugged, snuggled and giggled... their bodies slippery from the soap, shampoo and conditioner.

"A preview of coming attractions," he said, grinning as he rinsed her warm, wet body.

They grinned and stepped out of the shower, knowing what would be coming later.

Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, !

"You've got the robe, answer the door," she said with a slightly sadistic grin.

Damn, I'm not even dry, he thought, answering the door.

"Why was the door locked?" asked Big Kid, stepping into the house.

"Sometimes there's a reason I lock the door, kid."

"Ewwww! You two were sexing it up, weren't you!?!"

"Not quite," I replied, returning to the bathroom.

She was in and out in two minutes.

Long Winter Nap

Even if you don't live in my neck of the woods, you probably heard about the cool ice storm we had yesterday. It grounded planes, slowed traffic and interrupted our electricity; all in all it wasn't that bad though. Heck, I went out in the storm so I could go to work and pick up a gift for the kids that I'd been hiding there. But then again, I own a 4X4, so I tend to have fun this time of year... going to the parking lots and doing donuts and so forth. Oh sorry... I'm digressing.

As I mentioned a bit ago, we lost electricity for a while, starting sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 PM. I had run out of coffee, and missed my usual gallon of caffeine, so I was already tired but also wanted to spend time with my sweetie. When the power went out, I interpreted that as God's way of telling me it was bedtime. I looked in Mrs. Ozzy's general direction (I wasn't totally sure where she was because it was pitch black in the house) and said that we should snuggle to preserve heat. We were in bed by 7:30 and I was fast asleep soon after. I ended up sleeping for about 12 hours. Man, I love long sleeps in the winter, and when I woke up this morning, I had my coffee and went to work around the house... painting my kid's room, shoveling the driveway... cooking chili for dinner... and it's not even noon yet.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Made My Day

I got a phone call from a friend/former co-worker today that really made my day. It was good to hear from him, but that's not the part what was so cool.

My old company is centralizing some computer network functions that are currently decentralized -- specifically, they're centralizing the mail system. For what it's worth, I think it's a great idea... it will reduce the required amount of manpower and equipment significantly, and there will be fewer points of failure and better redundancy. In other words, they're doing more with less.

Part of this consolidation required the folks from corporate to go to my old job site and evaluate what's what. Apparently the folks from corporate were impressed with what I had built, and told my friend that my Active Directory Structure was the best they had seen at any business unit in the company. That's some pretty serious validation, considering that I built the structure strictly based on reading books... no formal training or education of any sort.

The nice part (from a builder's standpoint) is that I was able to build a new network from the ground up and forklift data from the old domain to the new forest, allowing me to custom-build things from scratch. The cool part is that I made things scalable, so it remained "the best network" even as we added new sites and changed functions. But like I said, I think the coolest part is that it's the best, a year and a half after I left, and almost five years after I started constructing it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Greenpeace Criticizes Microsoft, Nintendo

Who'd have thunk it? What's the world coming to when Greenpeace starts criticizing Microsoft and Nintendo? On the surface, the whole brouhaha appears to be over whether or not Greenpeace thinks these companies are green enough. The real reason is far more serious, according to my inside source.

It all started when what's-his-name, you know, the president of Greenpeace, decided that he'd like to raise Greenpeace's profile by having them featured in a video game. The plot line was really simple... save the planet. He had the entire story laid out... an opening movie that showed evil corporate fat-cats polluting the air and water while they sat in their board room and smoked cigars made with slave labor. From there, the player was recruited by Greenpeace and would take part in "peaceful" protests... freeing test animals from research labs, using boats to stop whaling, "clogging" polluting drainpipes with small explosives, and "borrowing" electric cars for the cause.

As a player successfully passed more levels, they would move up the Greenpeace ladder of leadership. (The ladder was made of hemp, of course.) If you failed, the evil corporations caused global warming of catastrophic proportions, leading to a cataclysmic explosion of our planet. If you won, the earth was saved, leading to a final Garden of Eden scene, complete with vegetarian people living in trees and wearing fig leaves, as they joined hands and sang Kumbaya.

Unfortunately for Mr. President-of-Greenpeace, the execs at Microsoft and Nintendo didn't buy the idea, figuring that the game wouldn't sell. This left Greenpeace no alternative other than to smear the good names of Microsoft and Nintendo by claiming they're "not green enough."

You heard it here first.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Hope He Knew

I got a call from RayRay last night informing me that one of my high school teachers died. It's kind of weird that I'd find this out one year to the day after writing about the passing of another favorite teacher.

Gil Lettow was my band teacher for four years, and I happened to be in school at the same time as his three kids. They were all overachievers and I consistently wondered how they did it. After graduating high school and looking back on things through older eyes, I realized that they excelled because of Gil's guidance... a guidance also present in his teachings.

Mr. Lettow was a teacher who always pushed you exactly one step further. Those who were ready excelled in areas far beyond music thanks to his tutelage, but he also realized that each kid was unique and not all were ready to be pushed. In their cases, he patiently awaited an opening, knowing that not all children were susceptible to his particular teaching method.

Gil was admired, liked and respected... not just by his students, but universally. There were always kids in the band area, many of whom were not music students. Mr. Lettow knew and liked even the non-band kids.

It's impossible to stick with a teacher for four years if you don't like them. It's equally impossible to have someone involved in your life for that long and not drop in from time to time. For several years, I made a point of dropping by the school to say hi to Gil, and listen to the latest crop of budding musicians. One day though, I dropped by and he was gone.

I never thought it would happen, and to this day I don't know why, but Mr. Lettow left Mason City. He was wildly popular, and well-respected throughout the state, but for some reason he packed up and moved to Texas. I made a couple of quick internet searches for him, but all of the hits pointed him back to Mason City.

It seems that he somehow knew that he was supposed to return to Mason City; earlier this year, Mr. Lettow retired from teaching, moved back to Mason City and became administrator of Music Man Square, a fitting final chapter for the life of a man who lived and breathed the life of a bandmaster in the real River City.

I never had the opportunity to say goodbye to Mr. Lettow. I never thought he'd move, so I never thought "Gee, this time might be the last time I see him." But I hope that my actions spoke in place of my words. I pray that my occasional visits showed him how much of an impact he made on my life. Of this though, there can be no doubt -- Gil Lettow was an incredible human being, and I know that I'm not the only one who will miss him.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Interview With a Tree Sitter

This morning I read a news article about tree sitters in Berkeley; as I read, I kept wondering "What the fuck are these people thinking? Millions of people are starving, we're in a war, and these idiots are worried about a fucking tree?" Being the fair-minded guy I am, I figured the best way to find out was to actually talk to a tree hugger sitter and get their point of view first hand.

After diligently looking around for several milliseconds, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to find a genuine tree sitter, so the only remaining option was to imitate George W. Bush and completely fabricate the facts. So without further ado, here's my (mock) interview with a tree sitter.

Me: Hi. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Tree Hugger: I'm happy to do my part in spreading the message about tree conservation.

Me: How did you become a tree sitter?

Tree Hugger: Well, when I was a little girl, I always wanted a tree house, but my dad was constantly away on business trips. Eventually, I realized that it was the corporate machine's fault that I didn't get a tree house. When I heard about tree sitting, I quickly saw that this was my chance to live in a tree house like I've always wanted, and stick it to the man at the same time.

Me: Are you a student?

Tree Hugger: Yes.

Me: How does tree sitting impact your grades? After all, you're not supposed to come down from the tree, are you?

Tree Hugger: I'm failing all but one of my classes. I'm getting an 'A' in my botany class, but I'm not sure if that's because of my commitment to saving the trees, or because I slept with my professor, Miss ... oops, I wasn't supposed to say that.

Me: Isn't intimacy a little difficult in a tree house?

Tree Hugger: Yes, I have to concede that it is.

Me: Would you care to elaborate?

Tree Hugger: Well, after being in this tree for months straight, you might imagine that I don't feel quite as fresh as I used to. Fortunately, my partner doesn't care whether or not I shave my legs. She hasn't been around very much lately, but that may be because she has mid-terms to grade. She's always thinking about me though. She said she'd understand if I had relations with the tree during her absence.

Me: You had sex with a tree?!?

Tree Hugger: Oh yes, it's beautiful and natural, not like that weirdo who had sex with a bike.

Me: I noticed you made your tree house in the largest tree in the area. Was there a specific reason for this? Is this part of your political statement?

Tree Hugger: Not really. I figured that if I'm going to live in a tree that I wanted the biggest tree house in the neighborhood.

Me: Kind of like 'keeping up with the Joneses?'

Tree Hugger: Yeah, something like that. I've got the biggest tree house in the city.

Me: Does this mean that tree sitters living in smaller trees are less committed to the cause? What about the trees that are too small for a tree sitter?

Tree Hugger: Some pro-life tree sitters believe that a tree's life begins when the nut falls to the ground. I'm more pro-choice. It's not really a tree until it's big enough to host a sitter.

Me: A lot of people think your commitment to the trees, while honorable, is a little misguided. After all, millions of people throughout the world are suffering. Shouldn't we worry about people first?

Tree Hugger: Trees can't speak for themselves. Besides, you can't build a cool tree house like this on a person's shoulders.

Me: Since the tree can't speak for itself, how do you know that it wants you to live in its branches? How do you know that it's consenting to your 'sweet love?'

Tree Hugger: I never thought about it like that. I'm a tree rapist! Oh, God, the guilt! I've got to get out of here! I've got to atone for my crime against arbor-kind! Will you help me climb down? I'm kind of scared of heights.

Me: Sure.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Playin' MY Game

Crazy Ex Wife called me last night ranting about how I'm undermining her authority. She came to this irrational conclusion based on two incidents...

-A couple of weeks ago, the little kid had her school conference. The kid started talking about what she'd been doing in school, and I asked her to wait until the Mrs. arrived to start talking about school. Crazy Ex Wife somehow determined that I had undermined her authority.

-Big Kid wants to go to a concert. I said that I'd take her, but that she needs to pay for her own ticket. Night before last, she said that her mom agreed to pay for her ticket, and Big Kid suggested that I pay for the ticket and have her mom pay me back. I declined. When the kid asked me why, I simply said that her mom isn't good about paying me back. Crazy Ex Wife somehow determined that I had undermined her authority.

Next thing I knew, Crazy Ex Wife had called to bitch at me about this; I tried to calmly discuss things but quickly realized that the bitch wasn't being rational and that a discussion was out of the question. I hung up on her.

She called back. I answered the phone by asking if she was ready to discuss, or if she was going to continue ranting. In short order, I told her that I was going to hang up and told her not to call back.

She called again, and I didn't pick up. She left a message, and I deleted it without listening to what she had to say.

She pushed my buttons and pissed me off, but I refused to play her game. I could have gotten into a shouting match with her. I could have yelled, screamed, told her that she's undermining herself just fine without my help, and pointed out all of the ways she's not doing what's best for the kids. But I'm not going to play her game.

You see, her game is drawing me into the eternal drama that is her so-called life. Her game is all about looking good in the moment. Her game is all about appearances. My game is about no longer allowing myself to be drawn into her little issues. My game is about doing what's right -- for the kids, the Mrs. and myself -- in the long haul. My game is all about substance. I'm not going to play her game. I'm playing my game.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Broad Side of a Barn

What do pheasants, clay pigeons and the broad side of a barn all have in common? It appears that I can't hit any of them. But considering that I haven't done any shooting in over 15 years, it's reasonable to expect that.

Greg's dad, Greg and I all went hunting yesterday -- the first time any of us had hunted in over 20 years. As you can imagine, our hunting skills were rusty enough to be non-existent, but fortunately we all remembered the important thing -- the pointy end kills -- or as we hunter-types prefer to say, gun safety.

The coolest part was our firearms... we all used vintage shotguns. My shotgun (shown in this picture) once belonged to my grandfather. It was made sometime in in the WWII era. It's seen its share of use, and it's not worth much money, but it's in good shape and I am proud to own this gun. The wife doesn't understand why I'm proud of this gun, even when I explain that it's more of an heirloom thing than a man with a gun thing.

But back to the hunting. We got a few shots off, but the pheasants were in no danger of losing their lives to us. To put things in perspective, we shot at clay pigeons before scaring up any live animals, and I had a hit ratio of about 20%. As for the barn comment... well, I didn't actually shoot at any barns; that was just me taking a little artistic license. (Barns aren't in season right now, and you need a special stamp for hunting them anyway.)

Either way though, it was fun to go hunting again, even though the only thing I got was a reminder that I need to re-learn how to shoot.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blue (and Pink) Beard -- or, Riffin' off RayRay

The kids were painting their hair the other night when the said "Hey dad, let us paint your beard. They wanted to cut and style it too, but that was a little too permanent for my taste. It kind of reminded me of RayRay's beard.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Change the Definition

... it depends on what the definition of is is...
-Bill Clinton

Leave it to the government. According to this AP article, congress is debating new rules for government eavesdropping. Part of the congressional deliberation process is listening to what people have to say about the issue, and according to Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, the rules are fine. Instead, he thinks that we need to change our definition of privacy. According to Mr. Kerr, 'privacy no longer can mean anonymity.'

The basis for his argument is that teens and 20-somethings are already giving up vast amounts of information to My Space and the like. Okay great. Hey Mr. Kerr, there are a lot of teens and 20-somethings who are binge drinking, engaging in unsafe sex, driving recklessly, abusing illegal drugs and even attempting suicide. Should I do that too?

Look dude, if someone in my family chooses to purchase something from the internet, knowing that the vendor will track personal information, that's not even in the same league as the government changing the definition of privacy and forcing me to give up all of my anonymity. At least with the private company, it's an individual choice whether or not to provide this information, and the individual gets something in return. If we went with your idea of privacy, I would lose anonymity under the pretense of additional security, because someone else chose to disclose personal information to a private company. And yes, the word pretense in that sentence is key.

Looking Forward - Global Stability

Today is the fourth installment of my Looking Forward series, where I make wild-ass guesses semi-educated predictions about our future based on today's global situation. This is my last planned installment, unless anyone has something else they'd like me to predict. As indicated by the title, I am going to wax philosophical on global security, referring to foreign and domestic governments and the military. I see three primary issues facing the world -- global warming, energy (primarily oil), and instability in the Middle East, which partially relates to the energy issue but merits discussion in its own right.

Global warming is a fact of life, and it's here to stay. The result that I predict is that some countries with plenty of food and/or water will find a chronic shortage of life's basic necessities. In other areas where food and water are in short supply, this shortage will disappear. This will cause political unrest, and I predict that many countries will find themselves utilizing their military for solutions. Those losing resources will attempt to expand into countries gaining resources. The U.N. will attempt to intervene, but will be unsuccessful. In fact, the U.N. as we now know it will likely cease to exist and several regional treaties will rise in its place. I suspect these regional agreements will be based on ethnic or religious similarities.

The next American election cycle will bring the Democratic party to power, and the Democrats will take this as a mandate to pull out of Iraq. As we begin our withdrawal, Iraq will become more unstable than it is now. There will be a short period of complete anarchy in Iraq as the Saudi and Iranian government both attempt to take advantage of the situation. The American government will see that complete withdrawal is not an option, but will be unwilling to re-increase our military commitment. The U.N. will step in, which will delay their demise, but their intervention will have limited success as regional fragmentation kicks in, caused by global warming.

Saudi and Iranian involvement in Iraq may temporarily cause crude oil prices to decline as they try to amass wealth for military incursions in Iraq. This will postpone our transition to alternate forms of energy (because it will seem less economically urgent to do so) but will also cause the supply to run short more quickly. From a governmental standpoint, this will cause further unrest in the Middle East. Sunnis and Shiites will fight for dominance. The U.N. will demand cessations to hostilities, but neither side will listen and the rest of the world will stand by and let them fight it out.

In other words, I see a decrease in global stability and an overall increase in fighting for a perpetually tight supply of natural resources. I don't see another world war, but things are going to get worse before they get better.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Looking Forward - Charity

Today's installment of my "Looking Forward" series started out as a simple reply to Sunny's comment from yesterday. My answer to her comment quickly became too long for a simple response , and evolved into a full-blown post of its own.

---Sunny's Comment---
...When did America start caring more about helping [people] from other lands over helping their own people?...
---End Sunny's Comment---

It's not as simple as that. As a society I'd like to think we're pretty generous. We think of ourselves as Rockefellers. He busted his ass made gazillions of dollars and eventually found himself so rich that he felt compelled to give back to society. But his donations seem to have been designed to help overall society, not individuals.

As Americans, we expect our people to succeed by our rules... hard work, not handouts. As an American society though, we think that giving food to other countries is a hand up, not a handout. And if you take things a step further, you realize that our aid to other countries almost always comes with strings.

At the individual level, I see your point, but I see the benefit of giving to the world as well. A lot of the time I think "What the hell are we doing giving millions and billions of widgets to Exampleistan? We keep saying 'do this and you'll get aid.' They keep saying okay. We give them aid, and they keep eating their dogs, forcing their cats to wear burquas, jailing their babies, oppressing their men, trading their food for more guns, and so forth. When are we just going to say 'fuck you' and take care of ourselves?"

Taking things a step further, as a country, we can't afford to keep throwing money and aid around like we're doing now. Let's see, Social Security is going broke and uncounted amounts of kids don't have basic health care, but we keep sending money overseas. That's like me being maxed out on credit cards, virtually unable to make my house payment and on the verge of losing my car, yet still hosting an expensive block party in a transparent attempt to influence my neighbors.

At the same time though, I understand why individuals donate their money to overseas charities. I've been to third world countries. I've seen the poverty. It's enough to soften even my cynical heart. And then there's the return on investment. Why would I give ten bucks to an American bum who's homeless by choice, providing him one or two meals, when instead I could give an overseas charity the same ten bucks, which is enough to feed a kid in Exampleistan for two weeks? And I even get a pretty picture to commemorate my generosity!

How does this relate to "Looking Forward?" I'm glad you asked. I predict that our reduced status on the global stage will cause us to focus more inwardly. As our own standard of living actually goes down for the first time in a century, it will cause us to look around and re-evaluate how we're doing stuff. Collectively, we'll say "Hey, what's this? We can't take care of ourselves, but we're spending all of this money overseas!?! I don't think so." There will be less discretionary income overall, but as a society, we'll decide to take care of ourselves and leave the global generosity to others.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Looking Forward - Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness

Today is part three of my "Looking Forward" series. I was originally going to talk about what's next for Iraq, but I was asked to give my thoughts on homelessness and hunger, so I'll save my Iraq post for another time. Since there's really no way to discuss hunger and homelessness without bringing in the root cause for both -- poverty -- I've decided to cover that as well.

When I think of homelessness, I tend to think domestically. When I consider hunger I usually picture true famine and pestilence-related hunger, so I find myself looking overseas. Keep this in mind as you read what I'm about to write. I realize there's foreign homelessness and domestic hunger, but I am going to write based on what I know and understand.

I think I'll start overseas and work my way back home. I hate to say it, but I think that worldwide hunger is going to get worse, not better. Global warming is going to cause a shift in our food production. In the short term, some areas that are currently great for producing food will dry up and become unusable. Some areas that are currently not suitable for food production will become available, but there will be a perpetual lag between when we lose an area and when we find the next one.

As America loses clout in the global economy, our society will provide progressively less humanitarian aid -- another cause for the increase in global hunger. Other nations will eventually step in to fill our shoes, but not before a considerable number of people die of malnutrition and disease.

To complicate matters further, the world will continue to convert food to fuel at an increasing rate as oil prices rise still further. As we continue to convert food to fuel, there will be less and less food available to combat global hunger. Many countries with a small middle class and a large disparity between the rich and poor (think Mexico, Russia and China) will see a surge in hunger among the poorer citizens. This is already happening in Mexico. As hunger persists and worsens, many of these governments will become unstable due to rioting.

The final complication in global hunger is our birth rate. I predict little to no change in our overall population growth rate. More people + less food = more hunger. I think that we will one day accept genetically modified food, which will eventually alleviate this problem, but this is more than a decade away.

Bringing the focus toward our own borders, I predict a small, short-term increase in hunger due to my predicted stagflation, and the increased price of food caused by converting food to fuel. However, this will be short-lived as we decide to keep more of our own food instead of sending it overseas, and there will be a government-sponsored increase in food stamps.

I see no appreciable change in our homeless situation. In the short term, people will lose their homes, but most will retain enough employment to at least live in an apartment. In the long term, I see the pay gap between the rank-and-file workers and CEOs narrowing considerably over the next five to ten years. This will put more money in the hands of the middle class, which will grow and expand, but the rate of homelessness will remain essentially unchanged.

Again, all of this ties into poverty. I don't think there will be much change in overall poverty. Some third world economies will finally hit their stride (as China and India have in the last decade or two), and established economies will continue to expand (except for the U.S., who will remain essentially stagnant). But the poorest of the poor will remain left behind.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Looking Forward - The Economy

Yesterday, I made predictions for our next Presidential election. I may or may not be right, but it's my prediction and I'm sticking to it (for now). Today I'm going to talk about the economy.

Unless you've been deployed to Antarctica for the last year or so, you've heard about the housing bust and the credit crunch. The government, the Federal Reserve and the banks have been scrambling to tell us everything's going to be okay, while simultaneously warning us that things are going to get worse. I think this is truly the beginning of the end of American dominance in our global economy. The end of our dominance isn't necessarily a bad thing in the long term -- especially on a global level, but it's going to suck for us for the next two to ten years.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining how we got here; that's what the professional economists are for. Besides, this post isn't about the past, it's about the future. If you are interested in what the pundits have to say though, I'm a big fan of Jim Jubak. He does a great job of analyzing what's going on with the economy as a whole, yet he puts the information out in plain English. Here's an index of his published articles. If you haven't checked him out, it's definitely worth a read. Now... on with the predictions.

First things first. I think we're in for a serious round of stagflation. The feds say that core inflation is under control, but that's not giving us an accurate picture. You see, "core inflation" doesn't factor in the costs we pay for food and energy because they're considered "too volatile" to provide an accurate measurement of inflation. There's an inherent problem with this measurement. The items being excluded from the core inflation formula are the same things that are skyrocketing in price, pinching the average consumer. Eventually, I believe that the inflation in food and energy prices will bleed into the rest of the economy, leaving the fed no choice but to acknowledge that we're experiencing inflation. But for now, they're perfectly content to sing their Pollyanna song and say there's a low risk of inflation. Mark my words though... inflation's here, and it's going to be here a while.

That covers the "flation" part of stagflation, but what about the stag? That's around the corner too, and it's being driven by the housing market and credit crunch. People are defaulting on their home loans left and right, which has the added impact of dragging down home values for all homeowners. The markets that saw the insane appreciation of home values are now seeing an equally crazy drop in value. This means that many homeowners owe more than their home is worth.

Psychologically, this means that homeowners see themselves as having less net worth, which means they're going to be less inclined to spend. Additionally, many homeowners would spend by borrowing, not by spending truly discretionary income. The problem is, banks are less willing to give out loans right now, so even those still inclined to spend may find themselves unable to do so. This is going to slow consumption, which will cause job loss, specifically in the housing sector and the automotive sector, which will have a ripple effect across the economy, making things worse.

The worst part is that these items are happening at the same time, and the fed can only address one of the problems. They can allow inflation to fight recession, or they can allow a recession to fight inflation. Based on historic trends, I expect the fed to fight a recession.

Another factor in our inflationary problem is the weakening dollar. Essentially, a weaker dollar means that it costs more to purchase goods from overseas. This includes oil, electronics and a plethora of other goods that help our economy go. The weak dollar will fuel inflation in the short term, but it will have a positive spin as well. American goods will cost less to our overseas buyers, which means that American exports will increase as imports decrease. It will take a while for this to play out though.

The final step in the shifting of our global economy will be a return to equilibrium. With a weak dollar and cheap American goods, there will be an increased demand for labor. And since other economies have expanded while ours has contracted, it will be relatively cheap for American labor. For example, the Chinese economy will grow, as will the wages of the average Chinese worker. This will allow them to buy more American products, which will create a demand for American labor. Some jobs that are currently overseas will return home because American work will be relatively cheap due to the weakened dollar. Our next round of expansion will begin from overseas consumption, but will take off because of new jobs and the relatively low cost of American goods vs. foreign goods.

When this all plays out though, don't expect us to be the economic powerhouse that we've been for the last century or so. Instead of being the dominant economic power, we will be one of many equals in the global economy. Over the short term, this will be painful for us, but in the long haul, this will benefit everyone globally.

As I said, this will play out over the next two to ten years. I think the worst of the pain will occur in the two-to-five year timeline, and the recovery period will be five to ten years out. The big question is how to minimize your own exposure during this time. Unless you're independently wealthy, you're likely to experience some pain from this, but there are some things you can do now.

Pay off any outstanding debts that you have, specifically credit cards and car loans. This will free up discretionary income, which you'll need during a credit crunch.

If you invest, I recommend looking overseas, and do it now. Our stock market is already running on borrowed time. I was relatively fortunate. I saw the inevitable housing bubble, but was a little off in my timing. I was exposed when the bubble popped, but moved a large portion of my money when things temporarily recovered after the fed 1/2 point rate cut. That move has helped preserve my long-term investments.

I am not recommending that you move everything overseas, because that's just as risky as keeping the money in your mattress. But I am predicting that the overseas market will do just fine while we flounder. I plan to remain heavily invested in overseas markets for a year or so, and re-evaluate from there. This, of course, is subject to change. I watch consistently for trends, but don't actually change my allocation more than once or twice per year.

After a year or so, I suspect that our domestic stocks will have hit bottom, which means it will be time to bring the money home. Furthermore, I suspect that foreign stocks will start lagging around this time, because the pain of our recession will start being felt in the overseas markets because we are purchasing fewer of their goods.

I see a rise in domestic commercial property values -- specifically apartment buildings. As people lose their homes, they're going to need somewhere to live. This will cause a demand increase in apartments, which will cause rent to rise, increasing profit for the companies that own apartment complexes or their associated property.

In summary... I think that in the short term, we are going to experience something new to Americans... an actual reduction in our standard of living for the next two to five years. In the next five to ten years, our standard of living will once again increase, but at a slower rate as the rest of the world catches up.


Note: These predictions are not to be taken as financial advice. I'm telling you what I've done, and you can choose to do the same or not... it's your money, so it's your risk.

What would you like me to talk about next? Iraq?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Looking Forward

I've been following our politics and our economy for quite a while. Economics and politics both fascinate me. I'm more informed than most people on the global front as well, but I won't say that I'm an expert. In fact, I won't claim to be an expert at all, but over the next few days I am going to make some predictions for our nation's future.

Today, I'm going to make some predictions for our next presidential election. It's a no-brainer that the Democrats are going to take the White House. The nation is sick of Bush, and for better or worse, when we think Bush, we think Republican. I also believe that even hard-core Republicans are divided, ambivalent, or downright disgusted with their party.

But wait, there's more -- a spoiler named Ron Paul, who has generated a lot of buzz over the grassroots following he's generating. He's not going to win the Republican nomination, but he's generated enough excitement that he could run as an Independent and drive the final nail in the Republican candidate's coffin.

Here's my prediction for the actual contest.
Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, and she will ask Barak Obama to be her running mate.

Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination, and he will ask Fred Thompson to be his running mate.

Ron Paul will leave the Republican party and run as an independent.

The race will be closer than most people expect, and it will be schizophrenic. Lots of Democrats will vote Republican because of personal biases. Lots of Christian Right voters will vote Democratic because they'd rather vote for a bad Christian than a good Mormon. As I said before, Ron Paul will siphon many votes from the Republicans. He will make a better showing than people expect.

When I say that the race will be closer than most people expect, I'm not necessarily saying that it will be close. I think that the masses expect a Democratic landslide. They will win by a wide margin, but it won't be as wide as people expect.

Here's how I think the voting will break down.
Popular Vote:
Clinton/Obama - 55%
Romney/Thompson - 35%
Paul - 10%

Electoral Vote:
Clinton/Obama - 60%
Romney/Thompson - 40%
Paul - 0%

I think the Democrats will retain the House and Senate. At the state level, I think that Republicans will regain some of the ground they've lost in the last couple of years.

What do you think? Am I full of crap?

Tune in next time, for my economic predictions.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

DigiTech RP350 Effects Pedal


I'm finally getting around to writing my review for the DigiTech RP350 Effects pedal. I intentionally held off reviewing this until I had a little time to learn the pedal's layout, play with the software, try out the presets, and listen to how each effect sounded with my guitar and amp. I'm playing with an Epiphone Les Paul guitar and a Crate Voodoo amp.

I need to start off saying this pedal is a great bang for the buck. It lists for about $200 (though I paid less). For that money you can buy two or three individual pedals, or get yourself a single do-it-all effects pedal. I'm not a professional musician, so for me the choice was a no-brainer. It's got a metal case and expression pedal; the up, down and channel selector pedals are plastic, but that hasn't caused me any issues.

The pedal comes with 70 factory-preset configurations, and there's room for an additional 70 user-created configurations. No matter what style of music you play, there's a setting for you. At first, I was a little intimidated by the configuration process, but after reading the manual a couple of times, and playing with the PC software interface, I figured stuff out and now think the interface is fairly intuitive.

Professional musicians say that an all-in-one pedal will never replace a bank of individual pedals. I certainly won't disagree with them, accepting that they have a more discriminating ear than I possess. With that said though, there are a couple of effects on this pedal that I do not like. The whammy effect and the octave effect both sound completely digital... as if they were coming from a vintage computer MIDI program, not a state-of-the art effects pedal. If you simply jump up a fifth, or if you use the chorus effects though, it sounds fine. Since the octave effect was specifically something I was looking for, I was a little disappointed, but it's still fine for practicing and is better than nothing.

I really like the pickup emulator. It did a great job of making my humbuckers sound like single-coil pickups. I also ran my humbuckers through the "single-to-humbucker" emulator, and the sound was incredibly warm. I am not going to talk about how well the specific amplifier emulators work, because I do not have enough of a discerning ear to recognize various amps.

Overall, I am incredibly pleased with this pedal, and I would highly recommend it, though I would make sure to point out the crappy-sounding octave and whammy effects.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Sick is She?

I've got a co-worker who's been home sick all week with vertigo. I've never had it -- heck, I didn't even know anyone who has had it until a few months ago -- but I've heard it really sucks. Now, hold onto that little tidbit of information for a minute as I go a completely different direction. The co-worker will come back into play shortly...

Part of my daily routine is reading. I'm a firm believer that reading makes me a better employee, because it keeps me abreast of technical advances and current events, and it helps educate me in the ways of management and the corporate world. One blog I read is management line, which looks at management-employee relationships from several different angles. This morning I read an article about calling in sick when there's really nothing wrong. The article effectively says 'Yeah, everyone knows it's wrong, but everyone does it anyway, and since bosses tend to overlook it, it's not really a big deal.

In the next paragraph, the author actually recommends how to do it, referencing The Little Book of Big Excuses, by Addie Johnson. To quote the blog (who quotes the author... telephone anyone?) ... Johnson suggests to keep the excuses simple. Like if you're calling in with a fake "too sick to work" excuse, always opt for something semi-chronic: vertigo, asthma, arthritis, etc...


When I saw that line, I almost blew coffee out of my nose -- especially when I noticed that vertigo was the first. Hmmm... I wonder how sick she really is.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free at Last

...the truth will set you free...

...what goes around, comes around...


Both of these little nuggets of wisdom came into play when my ex-wife was pulled over by the cops yesterday on a traffic violation. You see, since June of 2006, there has been a warrant out for her arrest for "violating the terms of her probation." (It's amazing what you can find out on the internet.) Ironically enough, her license plates expired around the same time, and she's been driving around for over a year with expired tags. And oh, did I mention that she's been driving without a license? Back in 2005 she got busted for a couple of traffic violations. She never paid the fines, so they suspended her license. I knew it was simply a matter of time before all of this caught up with her.

How did I find out about all of this, you may ask? Well, she got pulled over on her way to pick up the kids. She kind of had to tell me, because she needed me to keep the kids until she came up with bail money. I ended up having the kids overnight...

This answers the whole "what goes around, comes around" thing, but what about "the truth will set you free?" I'm glad you asked. In the past, I've allowed myself to be put in a position where I felt that telling the kids about their mom's stupid human tricks was counter to their best interest, and I kept my mouth shut. It's doubly infuriating to hear her bashing on the kids' friends for driving without a license when she's doing it herself.

Last night, that came to an end. The little daughter asked me enough questions that I could no longer simply avoid the issue. In the past, I've kept the kids out of it because I've believed it was in their best interest. Last night I was put in a position where I either covered for the evil ex and lie to the kids, or I tell them the truth. Why would I lie for someone to whom I have no loyalty. No brainer, eh? As The Mrs. and I went to bed, I rolled over and whispered in her ear... "I feel lighter tonight."

Friday, October 19, 2007

You Heard it Here First

Once again, Google has pummeled Wall Street's expectations, sending their stocks to almost $650 per share today. I'm going to say "Whoa, time to get off of this train." Understand this up front: I may be absolutely wrong, because I've got nothing on which I'm basing my statement... just a good, old-fashioned hunch.

My mom always used to say "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is." My gut says that Google is the next Enron. Maybe not the same way, maybe not for the same reasons, but I think that Google is horribly overvalued. You heard it here first.

**I'm not saying that Google is doing anything illegal. I'm simply saying I think they're a bubble stock that's ready to pop.

Equality and Science

You've probably heard about the comments by James Watson, but for those of you who haven't, let me briefly bring you up to speed. This guy won the Nobel prize back in 1962 for co-discovering the structure of DNA. He was supposed to give some sort of lecture today, but the lecture was canceled because he was quoted saying something to the effect that blacks are less intelligent than whites. The public was understandably outraged over the statement.

My wife and I were chatting last night and this subject came up. As soon as I filled her in, she went ballistic, complete with bulging veins and eyes, spittle flying from her frothing mouth, and steam flying from her ears. Oh wait, that was a cartoon. She didn't look like that, but she was angry. "That's not science," she exclaimed! She went on to say that Watson was quoting a junk science book that's been long disproven as culturally biased and yada, yada, yada.

Of course, this put me in devil's advocate mode, and I made this counter-point: In the early 1900's, science tended to indicate that whites were smarter than minorities and that men were smarter than women. Anything that indicated otherwise was ridiculed by the scientific community as junk science. Somewhere along the line, science started believing the opposite... human beings are equal in intelligence regardless of race or gender. Anything indicating otherwise is written off as culturally biased.

Now, with this said, as mankind grows and evolves, we are continually discovering that previous assumptions are wrong. Is it possible -- just possible -- that our current assumption of complete and total equality is a little bit off the mark? Is it imaginable that minor (but still statistically significant) differences (notice that I didn't say deficiencies) exist between races and genders?

Like I've said many times, I tend to believe -- hell, I want to believe -- that we're all roughly equal. At the same time though, I acknowledge the possibility that there are some sort of inherent differences among people. Just like it's possible that creationism and evolution are both wrong, (hey, maybe we are some alien race's giant experiment), it's possible that subtle yet measurable differences exist between different cultures.

By the way, going with the crazy assumption that such differences exist, I am not presumptious enough to believe that I'm automatically at the top of the genetic heap.

I wonder how much hate mail I'm going to get over this one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Employee's Day

Yesterday was boss's day. What the fuck's up with that? Where did it come from and what kind of suck-ass thought it up? As if we're not essentially required to be polite to our bosses lest they fire us or give us crappy assignments, we're supposed to buy them a token card or gift as well? Hello!! We're the ones in the trenches, making them look good to their superiors on a daily basis. They should be buying us tokens of appreciation. (Free food is always good.)

And then there's Secretaries' Day Administrative Professionals' Day, where everyone is lavishing praise on people who already tend to throw their boss's weight around as if it were their own. WTF?!? When are the rest of us going to get a day of our own? And don't try to tell me that we get Labor Day, because the boss and his illustrious secretary get that one too. We work harder than the bosses and their assistants, when are we going to get a day?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

They're Not Doing it for Us

By now you've probably heard that Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan have agreed to buy "billions of dollars worth of troubled investments." According to the articles I've read, experts are saying this move is designed to stop the slide our economy is suffering as a result of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and the credit crunch that followed. The media is putting this out as if this so-called bailout has the potential of saving our collective asse(t)s from financial ruin. Leave it to the media...

Call me a naysayer if you must, but I don't think these groups are doing this out of altruism. They're doing it to save their own (green)backs. Look, it was our lending institutions that got us here in the first place, and there wasn't much action until the government and the IMF started asking questions. Now, suddenly they're coming up with some money to "save" us.

They're not looking after us, they're looking out for themselves. They see themselves losing a lot of money now and even more in the long term. They figure it's less bad to hemorrhage money now and make it up in the long term, as opposed to a slow death. They're trying to keep the government and investors off of their back, and money in their pockets. This bail-out? It's not for us, folks.

Monday, October 15, 2007

As Promised...

The little 'un and I spent some time practicing today. In order to entice her to play, I actually coughed up my new toy so she could play it, and I settled for her guitar.

Sometime in the next day or two, I'll write up a real review of the guitar, but more importantly, I'll write up a review of my new effects pedal. The DigiTech RP350.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Music for my Ears

I've got such a considerate wife and kid. Since the beginning of this year, the little daughter has been telling me that she was saving up to get me something cool. Last night, my wife and the younger kid came in the house, announced that they had something cool for me, and presented me with a gift certificate to Guitar Center -- enough for me to purchase a new guitar.

This is very cool on many levels. The guitar I've been playing is nice (a Fender Stratacaster), but it's not mine. Since I've been playing for almost two years, I think it's time for me to have my own axe. And while I love the way the strat plays, I prefer the warmer sound of a Les Paul. The timing couldn't be better. I've been hitting the guitar store lately, trying out several different setups... in retrospect though, this kind of start at the kid's prompting. I guess she was trying to get me in the store to see what I'd like.

Anyway, a big thanks to my wonderful wife and the little 'un for their thoughtful gift. I will be taking my sweet little girl to the guitar store tomorrow, and choosing out my new rig. I'll post some pics when I get it purchased.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Soup's On

The kids were with their mom last night, so Mrs. and I had a quiet evening at home. One of our frequent activities on such evenings is to cook together. (Interpret that however you will.)

After telling each other about our respective day, we headed to the kitchen to figure out what our meal would be, as is our normal pattern. When the kids are with us, our meals are planned in advance, but when it's just the two of us, we tend to decide at the last minute. This works out really well, because the kids get input on what they're eating (and know in advance what's for dinner that week), but we get the freedom to make whatever we want and to get creative in the kitchen. (Again, interpret that how you will.)

Last night was a night for some creative cooking. As we inventoried the available ingredients, we discovered that we had no thawed meat, except for some bacon bits. After briefly discussing whether or not we would go to the grocery store for meat, we decided to have make due with what we had, go with the flow and see what we end up with.

While considering our options, I remembered a recipe for cauliflower soup that I had read a couple of days earlier. Up to that point, I had never heard of -- much less tasted -- cauliflower soup, but it sounded interesting, so I filed it in the back of my mind. It was a good thing that I remembered the recipe, because that was the basis for a soup that I whipped up last night. I don't have a real name for it, and I don't have a real recipe, but here's an overview...

Let's call it Creamy Veggie Soup

Ingredients:
Cauliflower - approximately 1/2 head
Onion - approximately 1/4 large onion
Bell Pepper - one whole pepper, color of your choice
Mushrooms - approximately 8 ounces, sliced
Butter or margarine - approximately 2 tablespoons
Milk - approximately 1/2 to 1 cup
Chicken Bullion Cubes - 3 to 5
Bacon Bits - A pinch or two
Salt, pepper and other spices according to your personal preferences

Preparation:
Steam the cauliflower until soft. Saute the other veggies in the butter until soft.

Once the cauliflower is soft, throw it in a blender with a couple of cups of water and a couple of chicken bullion cubes. Blend until it's roughly the consistency of a creamy soup, put the cauliflower mixture in a large sauce pan and simmer over a low heat.

Once the sauteed veggies are soft, throw them in a blender (juices and all) and blend until they're roughly the consistency of a creamy soup. Put the veggie mixture in the sauce pan with the cauliflower soup and stir.

Add another chicken bullion cube or two, the milk, the bacon bits and spices according to your personal preferences. Taste as you go, you'll know when you've got it right.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Just Get Over It

I just read an Associated Press article, giving Bill O'Reilly crap about his supposed racist comments. The article quoted O'Reilly as saying 'after eating at Sylvia's restaurant, he said that he "couldn't get over the fact" that there was no difference between the black-run Sylvia's and other restaurants.' He also said "It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun," he said. "And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all." He made a few other quotes, but you should really read the article to get the whole idea, because I'm not here to re-write it. I'm here to make a point.

I want to start out by saying that I'm not a fan of Bill O'Reilly. I don't dislike the guy either; in fact, I haven't watched his program enough to make an informed opinion about Bill O'Reilly. With that out of the way, let me get on with my rant.

Is there anything a white guy can do or say that's not racist? Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that Bill O'Reilly is a racist. If he is a racist, don't his words express a willingness to take a step back and re-evaluate his biases? My (uninformed) understanding is that O'Reilly has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth quite a bit, so it's quite possible that his words are being taken completely out of context. Look folks, crap like the whole Jena 6 fiasco is blatantly racist and out of line. But if we're ever going to get past the whole racism issue, we need to quit looking for racism, quit crying wolf, and Just Get Over It!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

One Expensive Camping Trip

You may remember a recent entry where I discussed the joy of camping with my family. What I didn't talk about in that entry is how much the trip ended up costing. I'm not talking about basic costs such as travel expenses, campground fees or food, though these things all cost a good chunk of change as well. Allow me to set the scene...

I own a 4X4... one of those spiffy newer jobs that allow me to shift in and out of 4WD on the fly. It's really handy during those Midwest snow storms that hit us once or twice per year. When I purchased the truck, I actually read the owners manual and it said not to drive in 4WD on dry pavement, and not to drive over 60 MPH in 4WD. Fast-forward to last weekend...

As I drove home from our camping trip, we stopped at a gas station to let the kids use the restrooms. When pulling out of the parking lot, I noticed that the truck handled funny, but couldn't find the cause. Once I got on the road, things seemed to fall back to normal and eventually, I figured the "problem" was in my head and forgot about it.

When we got back home, I backed the camper into the driveway and discovered that the truck was once again handling funny. That was when I realized what had happened... the truck was in 4WD. I managed to drive 75-odd miles at 75 MPH on dry pavement, towing a small camper. My heart sank as the implication hit me and I saw the little dollar signs fly out the window of my beloved truck. I turned the switch back to 2WD and nothing happened. "Oh, shit!"

Sometimes, the transmission won't change from 2WD to 4WD unless the vehicle is moving ever-so-slightly, so I coasted around the block, hoping that the front end would disengage. I cruised around the block with absolutely no luck, so I gave up, pulled in the driveway and, just as I was getting ready to shut the truck off, it popped into 2WD. The dollar signs magically stopped evaporating. Awesome, I thought.

The next day, I took the little 'un out for dinner -- just the two of us, because it was her birthday. As I drove, I recalled the close call with the transmission and had another realization. I got it out of 4WD, but never tried to get it back in. I saw the dollar signs once again preparing to take flight, but knew that I had to give it a try. After all, with any major problem it's always better (and usually less expensive) to find out early and get it fixed before things get worse.

I turned the switch -- and nothing happened. Even the little idiot light that indicates "please wait while I try to get into 4WD" failed to blink. Shit! There go the dollar signs again! The next afternoon I took the truck to the mechanic. An electronic module had fried, costing me just shy of $400 to get fixed. Considering that it was the transmission, it could have been far worse, but let me tell you, camping can be expensive.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Note to the Road Raging Driver from Yesterday

Before I start this letter, I need to set the stage. I was driving down a two-lane road that's also a bridge underpass. Turning right immediately before the underpass will place you on the northbound freeway. Turning left immediately after the underpass will place you on the southbound freeway, and the two lanes merge into a single lane shortly after the underpass.

As I approached this intersection, I saw at least ten cars in the left lane and no cars on the right. Since it was rush hour (or at least what passes for rush hour in our little corner of the world), I figured everyone wanted to turn left to the freeway and I chose the right lane, whizzing by everyone in the left lane. Catching up with the lead car in the left lane, I was a little surprised to see that neither that car, nor the car behind it turned left onto the freeway. No big deal. I fired up the old left turn signal, looked in the mirror to make sure there was enough space, and safely merged between the first and second cars before I ran out of road.

Looking in the mirror after finishing my merge, I saw the woman behind me exaggeratedly clapping her hands, as if for a retarded child. Realizing that she was pissed at me (for no reason), I gave her an exaggerated wave of thanks in return, which she immediately answered with the finger. I slammed on my brakes. I was tempted to pull over and chew her ass out, but that's really not my style. I'm generally a mellow driver, even when other people are rude and stupid. This bitch got my blood boiling, but I figured it was best to let it go and write a little open letter to her later. Here goes.

To the road-raging bitch from yesterday:

Hi. Remember me? I'm the guy who "cut you off" yesterday at the freeway underpass. Please allow me to humbly apologize for my turn signal's failure to notify you that I did in fact plan to merge. While I'm at it, I should apologize for the bright yellow sign's failure to catch your attention, so you would know that lanes were merging. I will also apologize for the road designer's failure to foresee that you would one day be inconvenienced by my thoughtless driving. And finally, allow me to apologize for violating your two-car-space-cushion-at-25 miles-per-hour rule.

Bullshit! What the fuck, bitch? Was my turn signal not bright enough for you there, queen of the road?!? Is it somehow magically my fault that the city engineers decided to merge the roads at that point? Maybe somewhere in your little self-absorbed world you thought that you were more important than me, more pressed for time than me, and that you managed to magically convey this knowledge to me, yet I callously disregarded you. Yep, somehow the fact that I did everything required before merging was completely insufficient for you, so you decided to flip me off.

And then, to top it off, what's the next thing I saw when I looked in the mirror? You, flapping your yap on your cell phone! So let me get this straight... I did a legal merge, used my turn signal, checked my mirrors, and even turned my head to make sure that I had room to merge; then you flipped me off while you babbled on your cell phone?!? Methinks you need a couple of classes... an anger management course and a refresher in driver education. Until then, put your sanctimonious finger away, hang up the phone, shut the fuck up, and drive.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Last Hurrah

I took the family camping last weekend, expecting that it will be our last camping trip until spring. My brother, nephew and parents showed up as well, to varying degrees. I really love camping, but I'm not so sure that I like camping with kids. My main reason for camping with the kids is because I thoroughly enjoy it (camping), and I hope to pass on my appreciation. In fact, it's one of the primary things that I'd like them to get from me.

In reality though, it's not so easy. Getting the kids up and running is like herding cats. (Heck, coordinating any of the kids' activities is like herding cats.) I've made a lot of concessions over the years in attempts to pass the camping bug to my kids... doing overnights instead of weekenders... using a pop-up trailer instead of a tent... fixing their favorite foods instead of my camping favorites... using state parks with modern restrooms and showers... Come to think of it, it's not really camping... it's more like sleeping in the back yard.

That's all beside the point though. Let's get back to the story, which turns out nothing like I had hoped or expected. I pictured the extended family sitting around the fire, singing Kumbaya, cooking steaks, roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. What happened was getting to the camp site so late that I set up camp, got firewood and cooked dinner, while the kids whined about being bored. My wife braved out a migraine while my mom chatted incessantly about nothing.

My dad and brother dropped the nephew with me so they could go back out on the boat and get in a little more fishing time. This gave my girls something to do, so I was able to focus on cooking steaks for dinner (the only part of the weekend that did turn out as I had hoped and expected, by the way). My brother and dad showed up just long enough to eat their steaks, drink a beer, thank me for the meal, and go home because they were tired. The wife, still suffering from a migraine, went to bed early.

The nephew burned up all of the cardboard I had planned on using to jump-start the morning fire, meaning that I had to scramble to get my daily caffeine fix the next day. With the nephew gone and a wife still suffering from a migraine, I was once again subjected to the girls' expectation for constant -- and I do mean constant -- entertainment. To put this in perspective, I had to use the restroom. When I arrived, there was a line for the stalls... it was painful, but I managed to keep control until my turn came. I had no sooner sat down and relaxed the muscles, than I heard one of my dogs bark and my children shouting from outside... "Daaaaaddd... are you done yet?" I hurried up and finished my business, so the other adults could handle their business in peace.

I tried valiantly to let the wife sleep in, but it's truly impossible to keep two dogs and two kids quiet under the best of circumstances. Doing so with bored, fighting kids and dogs in unfamiliar territory was out of the question. The Mrs. woke up, still suffering from a migraine, and took a long walk, finding bright sunlight and physical exertion less objectionable to her pounding head than my feeble attempts at maintaining silence.

After she returned, I started packing up the camper in preparation for a day on the boat. Despite the fact that my parents had the boat at their house -- about 15 minutes away from the campsite -- I finished packing, feeding the family and moving to the boat landing a full two hours before mom and dad showed up at the boat ramp. I had hoped to put in a full day on the water. Instead, we got about two hours... just long enough to run across the lake, pull the kids on the inner tube for a bit, and head back home.

At the end of the day, I really don't know what to think of the trip. I know my poor wife suffered. The kids certainly made me suffer. My parents irritated me. Did I mention that my wife suffered? But the steaks were delicious, the short amount of time on the lake really was fun, and no matter how much the kids made me suffer, we were together.

I'm beginning to re-evaluate my need to turn the kids into camping fanatics though.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's Harvest Time in Iowa

Iowa is primarily a farming state, so it's not unusual to talk about harvesting around this time of year. Today's story is a little different though. I haven't seen the story on the national news yet, and I don't know if the local news sites will keep the story online for long, so I'll give you my own summary.

Daniel Christy was riding his motorcycle and had a catastrophic collision with a car. His parents say that a car cut out in front of him, Daniel's bike flipped as he was skidding, throwing Daniel into the car. (This is known as highsiding in biker speak, and it's one of the worst accident scenarios a rider can experience.) The official report found that Daniel tried to pass a car that was slowing down for a left-hand turn and that he broadsided the car as it turned left.

Daniel was flown to the University of Iowa Hospital, where he was declared brain dead. Daniel is now destined to become an organ donor, but with a twist. His family and his fiancee have asked the hospital to harvest, ummm, his little soldiers. (Pardon the euphemism, but I'm trying to keep the sickos away.) The hospital refused, saying that such "donations" are designed to preserve existing life, not to create new life.

The family sued, and an Iowa judge has ruled in their favor, allowing them to potentially create future generations of accident-prone motorcycle riders. It seems that despite the fact that the fiancee has now lost the possibility of having kids with Danny-boy, she'll be content to grab the old turkey baster and do it on her own... okay, almost on her own.

I'm not too sure what I think about this. Part of me says "Sure, why not." Another part of me thinks it's just a little weird. His parents are all over it, ostensibly because it perpetuates Daniel's life in some crazy way. The kid will grow up without a dad, and face it, the mom is going to look a little nuts to any potential future mates. But hey, just because I think it's a little odd is no reason to prohibit someone from tossing her dead boyfriends leftovers into her oven, right?

What do you think?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Losing Weight

According to an AP article, the international prototype for the kilogram is mysteriously shrinking. As the article goes on, it gets a little more complicated than this. Apparently there are several of these "master" kilogram weights, but this one is the master. As time has passed, the weights, which started out identical, have drifted over time... some have gotten heavier, while this one has gotten lighter.

This probably won't come as a surprise, but I've got a theory here. The original article says that 50 micrograms -- the amount that of weight the master "lost" -- is about the weight of a fingerprint. Maybe it's not that the master is getting lighter, but that the others are accumulating atmospheric debris, while the master, which is sealed, doesn't accumulate this debris. Maybe our illustrious scientists are over-analyzing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

When, not If

This morning, I read an Internet news article that discussed the idea of computers becoming smarter than humans, and the consequences of such an event. The article mentioned that some people don't believe this will ever happen, but I for one am firmly convinced that it's simply a matter of time. Look, over the past tens of thousands of years, mankind has exponentially increased its knowledge, but we have not significantly enhanced our learning capacity. This is where man and machine significantly differ. Our knowledge is increasing, but our learning capacity is not. Machines, on the other hand, have an exponentially-expanding amount of knowledge, and we are undoubtedly bringing machines closer to the point where they learn. The big question is, what then?

Some people see synergistic outcomes, where man and machine live in harmony. They're called democrats. Others see an apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenario, where machines take over the world. They're called republicans. And still others see us merging together as cybernetic organisms. They're called Trekkies.

What do you think will happen?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Slingshot

I'm going to riff on Paulius' post from today. For those of you who didn't read the article, read it. I'll wait...

Now, keeping his article in mind, read this:

I was over at neighbor girl's house the other night, because she wanted help getting her X-Box on the internet. By the time I got there, the problem was fixed, but I didn't leave immediately. I watched, mesmerized, by the subsequent events that transpired. It turns out that the reason she wanted the X-Box on the internet was so that she could impress some boys by letting them play Halo 2 online, on a high-def TV. I'll admit that the graphics were very impressive. The boys, however, weren't.

One boy was playing (and doing quite well, actually), while the other boy had the microphone and was talking smack for the kid who was playing. The smack wasn't that bad... no profanity or anything like that, but I'm sure that's because there were adults in the room. The point is, the kid could play, but he wasn't good enough to play and talk shit. And they took turns doing this!

To make matters worse, the girls made snacks (pizza bites, mozzarella sticks and so forth) and the boys ate virtually all of the snacks. And they fed each other, leaving the girls out in the cold. Next time you run in to one of those shit-talking-my-voice-hasn't-yet-changed-punk-ass-bitches, keep today's post in mind.

Friday, August 31, 2007

We Can Only Blame Ourselves

The sky is falling, the sky is falling! For the last several years, we've all been inundated by junk mail from various mortgage companies offering us the chance to refinance and make lower mortgage payments. For years we've been refinancing to pay off our credit card debt, then turning around and running our credit card debt right back up. Industry experts said this couldn't go on forever, and we turned a deaf ear.

For those of you who are paying the piper now -- whether you're a borrower or a lender -- I can only say this. You were warned, and you can only blame yourself if you're in trouble now. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. I bought my house roughly seven years ago. I wasn't a stellar borrower, but I wasn't a high-risk borrower either. A couple of years went by, interest rates declined, my credit was a little better than when I had first bought the home, and I refinanced. But I was smart about it. I waited until the rates had dropped enough to actually make a refinance worthwhile -- over both the short term and the long term -- and I refinanced at a fixed rate.

I distinctly remember the day I signed the refinancing paperwork. I was sitting across the table from the loan officer reading the paperwork, when she casually pulled out a second set of papers and said "You know, if you refinanced with a variable rate loan, you could save an additional X amount per month."

"Really," I asked?

"Yes sir."

"Okay. So how much will I save when the interest rates hit Y%?" My question was met with silence. "Okay, let me ask you this... interest rates are at an all-time low, right?

"Yes sir."

"And by signing my original paperwork, I'm locking myself into a payment of $Z per month, for the duration of this loan, right?"

"Yes sir."

"If I take this variable rate, I'll save $X per month..."

"For the next two years, sir."

"Right, but statistically speaking, the chances of interest rates staying this low for the next 30 years are virtually non-existent, right?"

"Well, I can't predict that sir."

"Exactly, but I can. Interest rates will go up, and I'll end up paying hundreds more, probably thousands, somewhere down the road." Again, I was met with silence. "That's what I thought. I'll stick with the original offer, thank you very much."

"Yes sir."

Here's my point. Yeah, I paid a little more up front, but I know how much my mortgage payment will be, from now until it's paid off. And I'm saving thousands over the long haul. The average consumer didn't think past their next month's payment, and the average lender only saw the extra dollar signs in the future. Neither thought far enough ahead to realize that more people would default. It was all greed, greed, greed. And you've only got yourselves to blame. I'm glad I looked ahead.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Lesson in Life

It's been over twenty years since I graduated Marine Corps boot camp, but the experience made permanent changes to my personality, and I recall some things as if they happened yesterday. Today, for no apparent reason, I remembered one of my not-so-proud moments.

Most people have heard of blanket parties. My platoon didn't have blanket parties per se, but we did have something similar... we tipped racks. A rack tipping consisted of waiting until the offending recruit fell asleep and then another group of recruits would fling the slacker out of his bed -- mattress and all. There was no lasting physical damage to the slacker, but it did serve as a "wake-up call," if you'll pardon the pun.

One night I took part in a rack tipping. I don't remember what the guy did, but I remember a group of us tipping the mattress. I remember running back to my own bed. And I remember that something went wrong. When we tipped the rack, the guy got tangled in his sheets, hit the deck face-first, and ended up busting a tooth, right at the gum line.

One of my con-conspirators was identified and refused to take the fall alone (again, no pun intended). He came to us and said that if we didn't step forward that he'd blow the whistle. We all came forward, and we all got busted. I still think the guy who was identified was a weasel. He should have kept his yap shut, because that's how this kind of crap works. But I also deserved to get busted; the slacker may have needed a wake-up call, but he certainly didn't need to lose a tooth over the whole deal.

During boot camp I stayed away from the slacker recruit. I don't remember if it was because I was ordered to do so, or because I was ashamed of what I'd done, but I ran into him in the airport after graduation. When I saw him, I did what I should have done sooner. I walked up to him and apologized. He was incredibly gracious and said that it was okay. I was relieved by his forgiveness, but knew that it wasn't really okay, and I told him so.

This experience underscores the power of group think. I did something I shouldn't have done, and I justified it by thinking that it was necessary for the group's overall well-being. It was a crappy way to learn an important lesson about conforming, and I regret it to this day. My guilt is somewhat reduced by the other guy's forgiveness, but nothing truly justifies what I did. I can only hope that the lesson stays with me, so I don't repeat the mistake.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making Memories

Sometimes it's the little things that make the best memories...

Yesterday morning we experienced a lunar eclipse. I'm not exactly what you'd call an astronomy buff, but I enjoy looking up to the heavens on a clear evening, and I appreciate celestial beauty. (<--I'm talking about you, wifey-poo!) Knowing that the eclipse isn't something you can see every day, I decided to ask the kids if they would like to see it. The little 'un jumped at the chance. The older daughter asked when it was going on, and when she found out that she'd have to get up early to see it, she kind of rolled her eyes and said "Yeah, right." The next morning the alarm went off, and I got up, walked out to the back yard, and determined that we'd have to drive out of town in order to see the moon. I went to younger daughter's room and gently woke her up. "Hey kid," I whispered, gently shaking her. She popped right up. "Yeah?" "I can't see the moon from the yard, so we'll need to go into the country to see it. You still wanna go?" "Yeah." It still surprises me how quickly and easily she wakes up in the morning. A total contrast to her big sister. Anyway, she got dressed, and off we went. We hit every red light on the way out of town, so a normally five-minute trip took us fifteen minutes. But once we were out of town, we pulled over on the side of a gravel road, climbed in the bed of the truck and just hung out.

"Those crickets are loud, daddy. Why are they so loud and annoying?" I explained how crickets are actually rubbing their legs together, and that the chirping is a mating call.

"Why is the moon red tonight?" I told her about light refraction...

"Where did you learn all this stuff?"

"Your old dad knows a lot of crazy stuff, kid. Wanna hit BK for some breakfast?"

"Yeah."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Conservative Co-Worker

I have a co-worker who is incredibly conservative. (Translation: She's born again.) With this in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise when I inform you that she's easily offended by, shall we say, colloquial language. As much as I try to consider her sensitivities, I sometimes fail, as I did a few minutes ago...

Co-worker brings a laptop to my desk.

"This laptop doesn't work."

"Whose is it," I asked, failing to recognize it on sight?

"It belongs to {so-and-so} in H.R."

"Oh God, it's the one with that special shit on it, isn't it," I asked? I realized that my words would probably be offensive to her, but figured I'd draw less attention to my faux pas by letting it go.

"Would you like to try that one again?" Apparently she was not willing to let it slide.

"No, I'd just say the same thing again and offend you more."

Like I said, I try to take her sensitivity into consideration, but the fact is, I swear like a sailor Marine in my natural habitat. And usually when something slips in her presence, I apologize. But once in a while, every now and then, shouldn't she be the one who's willing to let shit slide?