Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Emma's birthday doll house

I'm sort of cheating with this entry. It's really August 1 but I'm pre-dating it as July 28 because that was my daughter's birthday and that's why she got this doll house. I took the day off work and we went out to buy the doll house and we played miniature golf and we had a party and she opened her cards and other presents. I didn't actually take this picture until July 30.

Emma helped me put it together. It wasn't hard. Most of it was together already. I left the "hard" part to Emma - she had to decide where to put all the furniture and the family. She laughed when I said that because she didn't look at that as hard but as fun.

Happy 7th birthday, Emma. I love you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Prepare but don't worry

My post from Wednesday, July 22, ended up being pretty morose. I was moaning about the fact that life can change in an instant. I think my not eating and drinking in preparation for my colonoscopy the next day was affecting me. The next day, after I'd had a good lunch and was able to drink enough water and juice to rehydrate myself, I was in a better mood and everything seemed more manageable.

But our situation hasn't changed. There's just as much chance of accidents as there was when I felt bad. But feeling better tends to make me feel more optimistic. I read Matthew 6:25-34 where Jesus says,

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." NIV

So, we shouldn't be worrying about how precarious life can be. But should we do nothing? Do we not work or plan? Do we just sit and wait for God to provide us with what we need? No, there is a big difference between not worrying and not preparing or working to get what we need. No, there are many places in the Bible where we are exhorted to work hard, don't make foolish decisions and store up food for hard times. We are to be prepared for hard times but not to be consumed with worrying about them. After all, if we sit around worrying, we're not doing anything to be prepared. We can do anything through Christ.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh what fun

I'm home today in preparation for a colonoscopy tomorrow morning. I had one before (about four years ago) so I know what's going to happen. It's the "getting ready" that's the worst part to me. I was supposed to have another colonoscopy two years ago but put it off. I am considered high risk for colon cancer because my father had it. But there never seems to be a good time for things like this and I've been in generally good health. So I put it off. Until now.

This isn't the greatest subject to write about but it's part of life and it's good to keep a record of these things. Maybe this time, I won't put the next one off so long. Our health isn't something we can put off. We all need to be diligent in staying healthy. I've been walking at lunch time and last week I started to walk our dog Charlie in the morning. He's gained weight again and it puts strain on his arthritic rear leg joints. So, he and I are walking (not too far so Charlie isn't in pain) to keep our weight down.

I was just talking to someone at work about how precarious our life really is. All it takes is a lost job or a health problem to show you how close to the edge we all run our lives. We were talking about the rain we got recently and how we really needed it. It seemed funny to say that considering how much rain we got in June and earlier this month. But we haven't had a good rain for a week or so and the gardens and grass were showing it. The rain, like our health, is something that needs to be replenished constantly. You can never get to the point where you don't need any more rain and you never get to a point where you don't need to worry about your health. Your life can change in an instant so we must remain vigilant. It's like going on a long hike or driving through the desert. If you're well prepared and do it carefully, you'll do OK. But a sprained ankle or a flat tire can put everything in jeopardy.

The worst part about today and tomorrow will be not being able to eat anything. I'm fortunate that I'll be having the colonoscopy done at 8 AM tomorrow morning. I'll be able to come home by noon tomorrow. Then I'll be having a big lunch. And boy will I enjoy it!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The story of my Java shirt

I wore my Java shirt to work today. It's just a black T-shirt with the logo you can see on the right printed on the shirt. After someone commented on how they liked it, I told them the story of how I got it. As I told the story, I thought it sounded funny. I'm writing it down here so I don't forget it. As you can see, I'm my own biggest fan!

In case you don't know, Java is a programming language developed at Sun Microsystems and released in 1995. There was a lot of excitement about it and I was one of the people interested in it. Every year, I would go to the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston to keep up with what is new in computer systems that are embedded in small things (that's what our company does - make small computers that fit into small places and record information about them or control them in some way). Sun originally developed Java for embedded systems and I was interested in hearing more about it at the conference.

Sun was presenting a number of sessions on Java and I went to one. After the talk was over, they started handing out T-shirts with the Java logo and I wanted one. Badly. But by the time I got to the front of the room to get one, they had run out of shirts. They said they were going to have more for the next talk so I'd have to wait. In the meantime, I ran into some friends at the conference who used to work at our company and one of them had one of the T-shirts. I HAD to get a T-shirt now!

Finally, the time for the next talk came around and I sat through it making sure to be near the door where they would be handing out the shirts. It was the same talk I'd sat through before so all I had to occupy my mind was how I was going to wear that shirt to work the next day. After the talk was over, they announced that they still didn't have the new box of shirts. Could I wait to sit through the talk again? Outside, I ran into my friends again and one of the other guys now had the Java T-shirt! I was going nuts now. I kept checking back at the Sun booth but they either didn't have the shirts or I'd just missed the talk and would see people coming out with their T-shirts.

I went home that night with no T-shirt. But a few days later, I got a package in the mail. It was one of the Java T-shirts my friends had gotten at the conference! What nice guys they are. So, I bought them a pound of Kenyan AA coffee and sent it to their office as thanks. If I would have thought more about it, I would have bought Sumatran coffee (grown on the island next to Java in Indonesia) but I've always thought Kenyan is the best and I thought they deserved it.

One of my favorite pictures

The picture at the right is one of the favorite pictures I've taken of wildlife. And what always amazes me is how my best pictures seem to be accidents. I guess that's what makes the difference between an amateur like me and a professional photographer. I took a number of pictures of this Black Capped Chickadee and wasn't really aware of his position. I was just trying to get the lighting and the focus right. Notice the way he is stretched out along the branch as he looks for food. He seems to be an extension of the branch. The color of his back is similar to the color of the branch but his black cap and white cheeks make him stand out. The lighting, too, was luck. It almost looks like a painting. I could imagine a Japanese water color looking like this. You're welcome to this photo if you like it. Just click on the image to show it in its original dimensions. Then you can right-click on it and select the "Save Image As..." to download it to your computer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I should be happy when I fix a problem

My co-workers, and especially by boss, would always be amazed at my reaction when I found the source of a problem in circuits I designed or programs I wrote. When I'd finally track down the problem and fix it, I would get mad at myself and often shout a few words I shouldn't have let out of my mouth. Then they would all start laughing knowing I had found the problem. Then the lectures would start: "You should be happy." "Why are you so mad?" "How can you be angry when you've found the problem?"

What was going through my mind, though, was, "How could I have made that stupid mistake?" It always seemed so obvious once I'd found the problem. I couldn't believe I'd done that.

I'm a little better about this now and all the people who used to notice this have either left the company or retired, as the owner of our company has - to Hawaii!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We finally made it to Santa's Village...and back

After we had to postpone our vacation to Santa's Village, my son had an idea. "Let's go there for my birthday," he said. Surely the rain would be over by July 8th. So, I requested the time off at work and we made motel reservations for three days. The middle day was my son's birthday. They were saying that the long string of rainy days was coming to an end. The days we were planning for our vacation were going to be clear. Every day we'd wake up and check the weather forecast first thing. Three days of good weather. The day before we left, they changed the weather forecast. Should they be allowed to do that? All of a sudden, it looked like rain. But it looked like only chances of rain. Well, I guess there is always a chance of rain. The day we left, it was just overcast and looked like it might clear. Of course, that was about 200 miles south of our destination. When we got there, it was raining, Hard. And they were saying, on the local news now, that the rain would continue into the next day. Evan's birthday. Should we stay or go and come back another time? The park has a policy that if you arrive after 3 PM (as we had), you get in the next day free. We decided to go in. On that cue, the skies opened up and nearly washed us out of the park. In between heavy rainfall, there were periods of light rainfall where we could run from one ride to the next. We were only able to do indoor rides (except for a couple of turns of the Log Flume where you get wet anyway). We weren't able to get in much fun but we kept looking forward to the next day which was supposed to be better. We got to our motel that night completely exhausted from the five hour car ride and from dashing around the park during lulls in the rain.

The next morning, we checked the weather report: rain all day! The day of clearing had been changed again by the forecasters to the next day. We decided that we'd probably get a rain check at the park and use that to wait until the clear day. We planned to see a movie and visit other attractions in the area after we went to the park and got our rain check. Well, we found out that the nice "Arrive after 3 PM - get the next day free" policy was only valid for the next day. You couldn't move it and you couldn't get a rain check fro that day. We were stuck. We either had to go in or waste the money we'd spent for that day in the park. We went in. We figured we could ride the outdoor rides during breaks in the rain and see the shows (two live song and dance shows and a 3-D movie) during the rainy periods.

Well, it turned out to be one of the better days we'd ever spent at the park. There was hardly anyone there (because of the weather) and Evan had many nice surprises during the day because it was his birthday. Many of the ride operators wished him a happy birthday. He got a nice ornament at Santa's house (where we had our Christmas card picture taken) and during one of the live shows, he was called up on stage after the show and the cast led everyone in singing Happy Birthday to him. It was funny, too, that there were so many people in the audience because we saw hardly anyone around the park that day. It seemed like everyone at the park had all gathered for that one show because of the rain keeping them from the other rides. We were all excited that the next day, with its better weather, was going to be even better.

The next day had perfect weather. It was cool and dry (for July) and we got there early. But there was a line waiting to get in. It had rained so long that people had held off going to the park until the weather was good. It wasn't too bad in the morning but as the day went on, the lines for rides grew longer and longer. We were spending more time in lines than on the rides. We ended up leaving early that day. It was an interesting lesson to learn. As the old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for. You may get it." The rainy day was the better day. Next year, we look for a rainy stretch of weather to visit Santa's Village.

By the way, you may wonder how we reconcile the fact that we are Christians but we go to a place built around the commercialism of Santa Claus. For one thing, our kids know that the commercial version of Santa Claus is make believe. They know their gifts come from Mom, Dad and their relatives and friends. Secondly, they know the story of the real Saint Nicolas who lived in what is now Turkey around the year 300 AD. And finally, Santa's Village acknowledges the true meaning of Christmas. There is a manger scene, a large cross and a small St. Nicholas Chapel right in the middle of all the rides and attractions.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The fireworks were great

My son and I went to the fireworks display last night and they were the best ever. We've got it down to a science now. We leave at the same time every year (leaving enough time to arrive before they start but not so long that we have to wait too long for the show), park at the same place (far enough from the viewing area to not get stuck in the rush to leave but not so far away to have to walk more than 20 minutes) and sit at the same place (it's got a clear view and isn't crowded). My wife and daughter have stayed home every year because it is well past my daughter's bed time.

[The picture here is from this site: http://blog.besttraveldeals.net/?p=238]

Our town's fireworks are very nice because of their size and amount but what makes them really special is that they are displayed at the seashore so there are many clear viewing areas. Even the island across the sound can see them. And last night, one of the towns on the island had their fireworks at the same time so we got two shows at once. We sit on some rocks bordering an inlet from the sound (that's a large branch of the ocean between the island and the mainland). So, there is no one in front of us. It almost seems that the fireworks are put on just for us. There are lots of people around but there is plenty of room for everyone. Before I was married, I would go to the place closest to the display which was always crowded and noisy. Often, people would be there throwing firecrackers at other people. It almost seemed like a lot of people weren't there for the fireworks but to just be seen or to cause trouble. I only went there a couple of times. I didn't start going again until my son wanted to see them. That's why we picked a less crowded area. It's a couple of miles from the closest location but still allows a fine view.

Next year, we're all going to go. We'll see if my daughter can stay up. I can't wait!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Mathematics and the Game Show

Last week, I saw a reference on the Coding Horror blog about an interesting problem posed and answered on the website of Marilyn vos Savant. Marilyn is the woman who, for a while, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the holder of the highest recorded IQ. I've always enjoyed her column in Parade magazine. Here is the question:

You are on a game show and they show you three doors of which you can open one. Behind one of the doors is a good prize (say a new car) and the other two doors hide things you wouldn't want (I think they used goats in the example). You pick one of the doors but they don't open it yet. Then the host, knowing which door hides the car, opens one of the other doors you didn't pick that has the goats. Then the host asks you, "Do you want to keep your door or trade it for the other door that isn't open?" The question then is, "Should you change your selection or stay with the one you originally selected?"

Most people think that the answer is that it doesn't make any difference. That's what I first thought, too. It seems there is a 50-50 chance that your original door holds the car and you can't do any better by switching. But in the 1990 Parade article, Marilyn said you should change your selection. As a matter of fact, she says that you have twice as much chance of winning if you change which door you want to open!

Her original explanation of why this is true didn't convince a lot of people - including a number of math professors in college. She got a lot of nasty mail saying that she was wrong and that she was afraid to admit it. Then she did what everyone should have done from the beginning. She wrote a simple table listing every possible outcome and just counted up the good and the bad outcomes to show that it is indeed better to change your selection once the host has opened one of the doors that doesn't hold the car. There are good lessons for all of us here: 1) Math doesn't have to be hard, 2) Even when we think we know the answer, it's best to write it down, 3) We shouldn't be so sure of ourselves until we've checked the facts. I suggest you go to Marilyn's discussion of this problem and to see her table to convince yourself.

Of course, the whole premise of this is based on the idea that you would want a car more than you would want the goats :-) Perhaps you'd rather have the goats. Then I guess it's better to stay with your original selection. By the way, the picture of the goats at the top of this article is from http://www.keeping-goats.com/