Thursday, July 29, 2010

I've ridden my scooter over 600 miles already

My scooter had a scheduled maintenance service at 600 miles yesterday. This seemed awfully soon to me. It involved changing the oil and filter, going over the entire bike to check that nothing was loose, checking the brakes, the steering head bearings and checking the valve clearance. That last item was the expensive part. The total bill was $284. That is much too high - it's more than one tenth the price of the scooter itself. Would you want to pay $2,000 on the first service for a $20,000 car? This is the one thing I've found that I don't like about my new scooter. Everything else is wonderful - it gets great gas mileage (about 97 miles per gallon so far), it's fun to ride and gets me to work more alert than I usually am when driving the car to work. It is fast enough to keep up with all the traffic I encounter but not too fast to tempt me to go on high speed highways. Everthing else about this scooter is terrific but if you are considering a Honda Elite 110 scooter, also consider this early and expensive first maintenance service.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Emma's birthday

Our daughter Emma turned eight years old today. Here's a picture of her with one of her gifts, a panda from Build-a-Bear Workshop. Notice the fairy costume and shoes she picked out for "Pandy". Emma's new favorite color is light blue (as shown by the top she's wearing) but she also likes pink and purple - and she makes sure to update us as these change positions for her. Oh, the importance of color in her life!

Also notice the importance of Barbie. The party had a Barbie theme with cups, plates, napkins and favors all having Barbie's picture. I've been pleasantly surprised at some of the Barbie videos Emma has received as gifts over the years. They usually take a classic story like Swan Lake, The Prince and the Pauper and The Twelve Dancing Princesses and use Barbie in one of the starring roles and add some nice music. She's learned a lot of good stories that way. As well as our being introduced to the classics by first seeing it in a Barbie video. For instance, another of Emma's gifts was the original book for The Twelve Dancing Princesses as you can see in the picture at the left.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

There's always a chance to learn

I took this picture a few days ago. Besides the color contrasts between the blue wasp and the yellow Goldenrod, I liked it for its strangeness. In my mind, the wasps were the tigers of the insect world. They are ferocious and back down to no one. They eat everything from spiders to caterpillars. They'll attack a bee hive where they are outnumbered. But here is a wasp eating flower nectar. That's like seeing a tiger eating carrots or a Klingon eating tofu.

But then I took the time to learn a little more about what wasps eat. I thought I knew a lot about wasps because one of my degrees in college was in biology (my other degree is in electrical engineering). Also, I'd done a lot of outside reading on the insects and I enjoyed studying them. But as I read more now, I found that most adult wasps feed on nectar and pollen! They only attack other insects and spiders to feed their young. They are indeed fierce predators but they aren't the tigers of the insect world. It's thought that their ancestors may have eaten the insects and spiders they caught but over the generations have become vegetarians.

This is yet another reminder to not think I know everything. You can't check every fact and you can't put off making decisions too long but it's so important to keep learning. It's so important to keep an open mind. That's what a wasp taught me this week.

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
Their ears are open for knowledge.

Proverbs 18:15 New Living Translation

Monday, July 26, 2010

One method for flawless program behavior

I was so excited Friday afternoon. I'd been banging my head against the wall trying to get our program to build in a new way and I kept running into problem after problem. Then, I found what I'd done wrong and fixed the problem. I built the program one more time and got no errors. And it wasn't too long after 5 PM so I wouldn't be too late getting home, either. What a great way to end the week! I went home secure in the knowledge that our program was building flawlessly and I'd be able to start fresh on Monday.

If I came in this morning and that was the case, there would be no reason for this post, of course. I came in and found that the version of our program that was being built had old code from earlier last week. The code that was being used to build the latest version of our program was dated from the time before I started changing the way our program was being built. As I looked into it, I saw that the change I'd made late Friday afternoon just kept the major part of the build process from running. So, no wonder there were no errors - most of the process wasn't running. After correcting that, I built our program again and all the errors I was seeing on Friday returned. But now I was fresh and could tackle them one by one. Now I've fixed them all and the new way of building our program works and actually uses all the latest changes made by everyone in our group. Will wonders never cease.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I hope this is a trend

I seem to be seeing more honey bees on my walks this summer. Previously, in posts on September 2, 2009 and on September 23, 2009, I mentioned that I was seeing more bumble bees than I'd ever remembered seeing. I attributed this to the loss of honey bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder (this is a newer article on this - see my September 2, 2009 post, "Lots of bumble bees",  for a pointer to a Wikipedia article). While this article says that things are not getting any better and are actually getting worse, I hope I'm seeing the first signs of hope. Of course, things can vary quite a lot region by region. Perhaps this is only local good news because our winter wasn't as bad as some other regions.

Then again, I'm not doing a scientific count. My impressions may be way off. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention last year. Maybe I was distracted by all the butterflies and bumble bees I saw last year. Since there is nothing I can do about this problem and what I write here won't really make any difference, I choose to be optimistic. I choose to see improvement. I choose to have my impressions see a turning tide. If you are a lawmaker funding research into correcting this problem, don't listen to me!

Sorry this picture isn't very clear. I had a hard time focusing on this worker as she flew from flower to flower (here on a thistle flower). Forgive the pun but she was as busy as a bee.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

More on poison ivy

I forgot to mention something in my last post. Besides the things the doctor prescribed, the Prednisone and the hydro cortisone cream, I was using Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap to help with my poison ivy outbreak. I'm not usually one for natural remedies but this stuff is great. It not only relieves the itching but it dries out the skin with the rash and helps heal it. This is good for washing up when you think you've been exposed to poison ivy (I wish I'd done that in the first place) and good for when you have a poison ivy rash. It won't do the whole job of curing it in a severe case but it sure helps.

I got it because it was recommended by a friend who in turn had it recommended to him by some landscapers. And they should know all about poison ivy! That's one of my criteria for trying something new:
Does someone who needs and uses the stuff a lot recommend it?
That's only one of my criteria, though. I know a lot of people who use a lot of things that I would never try. Let's just leave it at that.

Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap is not cheap. It costs about $8 for a 2 ounce bar (as in the picture) and I've not seen it cheaper anywhere. I find that it lasts for a long time, though. I've had the bar I used for a couple of years. But then, I only seem to get poison ivy once a year.Once I get it, I'm pretty wary for the rest of the summer. Maybe that's the best thing for poison ivy - be aware and don't get into it in the first place. This site and this site are helpful in learning what to look for. The scariest thing I found on those and other sites is that poison ivy is quite variable in how it presents itself. On one hand, you could say, "Stay away from anything with three leaves that match the general description of poison ivy." On the other hand, there are so many plants and vines that have three leaves and appear similar to poison ivy that you could never go in the woods again! I think it's worth studying a little. I enjoy the outdoors too much to just stay out of the woods.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Poison ivy

I'm behind on my posts this month. Part of the reason is that I had a bad case of poison ivy and I'm just now recovering. When I look back at how I got  it, I have to say I was pretty stupid. But it didn't seem like I was taking a risk at the time.

We have a large area behind our house that was overgrown with bushes and weeds. I used to get poison ivy when I would work back there but that area was cleaned out by a landscaping crew. So, I figured the poison ivy was gone, too. So, when the weeds and bushes inevitably started to grow back, I wanted to keep it open so I'd run the lawnmower back there as often as I could.

The problem was that part of the area was very steep and the oil in the lawnmower engine would get into parts of the engine it shouldn't and you could smell the oil burning. So, I figured the way around that was to use our weed wacker. It worked well but as I went along, I noticed pieces of the weeds getting on me. I washed off when I got in the house but, obviously, not well enough. Due to the weed wacker throwing things everywhere, it even got on to my face and very close to my eyes.

So, when I started to notice itchy areas, I had big trouble. My eyes puffed up so that I had trouble seeing and the rash was in so many places that I had trouble treating it. I ended up calling the doctor and getting a prescription for Prednisone (to fight the allergic reaction) and a hydro cortisone cream to help stop the itching. The biggest problem was that the itching was worst at night and I didn't sleep well for over a week. Lack of sleep makes everything harder. It was so bad, I had to take some time off from work.

But I did get better, of course. As I mentioned before, it's too bad we don't get better all of a sudden. Getting better always seems to come in waves. I'd feel less itchy for a while and then a few minutes later, I'd be scratching like a mad man. But then, one morning, I woke up and realized I'd slept through night. What a great feeling. Now if could just keep our cat Henry from crying outside our bedroom door in the middle of the night because he is bored and wants someone to get up and play or talk with him or feed him.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Last Airbender

We've enjoyed watching the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon over the years. It was a three season long story about a young man who was to become the Avatar and how he attempts to bring peace to a world at war. In this imaginary world, there are four nations - the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, the Fire Nation and the Air Nomads. Each of the nations has members who can manipulate (or bend) the element (earth, water, fire or air) of their nation's name. Only one person in the world, the Avatar, can bend all four elements. Also, the Avatar brings harmony to the world but the new Avatar (a member of the Air Nomads) was frozen in ice and disappeared for 100 years. The story starts as two young Water Tribe members discover and release the Avatar - who, at 12 years old, isn't a full Avatar yet because he can only bend air. And, due to the war that started when he disappeared, all the other Airbenders have been killed or have died. So, the Avatar, with the help of his friends, must learn to bend the other three elements and bring the war to and end. A more complete explanation of the background of the series can be found here.

While we all watched and enjoyed the series, only our son Evan really understood the whole thing. He knew the order of the stories and the interrelations of all the characters. So, when we went to see the movie version of The Last Airbender, he was disappointed that it didn't faithfully follow the story line of the TV series.

The overall theme was the same and the characters were all the same but some things happened out of order and some scenes from the movie never appeared in the TV series and scenes from the series were missing in the movie. But the rest of us really enjoyed the movie because we weren't expecting as much as Evan. I liked how they showed that the powerful young Avatar, while he was brave and willing to help the people oppressed by the Fire Nation, obviously didn't yet have the knowledge or power he would need to  bring peace to the world. But the movie showed him gaining wisdom and skills and by the end of the movie, you see a real progress on his road to being a full avatar. More information about the movie version can be found here.

The movie only covers the events of the first season of the TV series so there will need to be two more movies to cover the entire saga. I am looking forward to them but Evan is not so sure.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Evan is 14 years old

Our "little" boy Evan is fourteen today. He is over six feet tall. He's taller than I was at his age. Here he is blowing out the candles on his cake. His gifts included a few books he'd asked for, some new games and a big water blaster gun. But the thing that brought the biggest smile to his face was giving some cake to our dog and one of our cats. I'm pretty strict about not feeding our pets anything but pet food. But my wife and kids enjoy slipping them human treats once in a while.

I marked this post as July 8 because that is when it happened but I've actually posted it on July 13. I'm falling behind this month.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

More chipmunks

This has been a banner year for chipmunks! I usually see only one or two a year but so far this year I've already seen at least five. This guy (or girl), unlike the one I saw near our office, was way out in the woods behind our office. I startled it and I heard it running through the underbrush looking for the safety of a tree. It sounded like a bird when it was running, though. I thought at first it might be an Eastern Towhee because those birds forage in the undergrowth but they don't run through the brush until they find a safe tree - they fly out of the bushes tweeting their warning (or swearing at me, I'm not sure which).

When I startled this chipmunk and it dashed toward a tree "tweeting", I was confused. I realized it wasn't a bird when I heard it climbing the tree. I stopped to listen and didn't hear more climbing so I slowly worked my way around the tree and got this picture. You can see that it was "on its toes", so to speak, and ready to climb higher if necessary. But I never got closer than 10 - 12 feet so it didn't feel threatened. Or maybe, like my dog Charlie, I have the kind of face that is non-threatening to chipmunks.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Perhaps I've just missed the news but...

Are any of the other companies drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico helping out with cleaning up the mess caused by BP's blown oil well? As I say in the title, perhaps I just missed the news. But I think the other oil companies are missing a terrific chance to get good press coverage by volunteering to help clean up the spilled oil. But perhaps they are not helping because they don't want to be associated with the mess BP has created. After all, BP apparently has a pretty bad record for safety.

There is an article here that states that BP is getting help in the form of ideas from other big oil companies. While that is good news, I don't think it helps as much as it would if Exxon or Shell (for instance) would send their own people and boats to the spill area to help with the clean-up. I would feel a lot better about all the oil wells dotting our waters if I knew that when something bad happened, all the oil companies would jump in to help. Kind of like when fire departments from neighboring communities answer the call when a fire is too big for the local fire company to handle.

The picture here is from the US Coast Guard at this link.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A cwazy wabbit visits our yard

We were out in the back yard last night. The kids were running through the water sprinkler and Cindy and I were just talking. Charlie the hound dog was laying there taking it all in.

When we built the house, a guy hired by the builder came to plant grass around the house. He did a very poor job of hydroseeding and we mostly got weeds. Over the years, though clover has driven out most of the other weeds with patches of real grass here and there. I don't mind the clover. It's soft and the flowers are unique.

Well, it turns out that the rabbits like clover, too. So, last night I wasn't surprised to see a rabbit grazing in the clover. But what surprised me was that he (or she) didn't seem to care that we were there and that Charlie was there. I put Charlie on his leash in case he decided to chase the rabbit but he didn't seem to care. Even when I walked up close enough to snap this picture, the bunny didn't seem concerned. As you can see from the picture on the left, Charlie is a friendly dog. Does that face look like he'd hurt a rabbit? Well, he has caught baby rabbits in the past but he's not fast enough to catch a full grown rabbit. So, apparently, the word has gotten out that our yard is safe and the clover is tasty. So, we'll probably be seeing more "cwazy wabbits" in the future.

By the way, if you're interested in planting your own clover lawn, there is some information here. Apparently, it's pretty cheap but it doesn't stand up to foot traffic like grass does. Just be prepared for visits from bunnies.