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


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.