Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hobbit: An unexpected pleasure

My title is misleading. I think I would have enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey no matter what. But most of the reviewers of the movie either said it was bad or too long or had too many differences with the book or was boring. Many reviewers said the movie couldn't be good because there were going to be three movies out of one, small book. This movie will be followed by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug next year and The Hobbit: There and Back Again in 2014. These movies are not just film adaptions of the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, though. They also include information from the appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Part of the appeal of Mr. Tolkien's works is that he created a history, languages and vast back-stories for all of the books. These are not just shallow, normal Hollywood characters and situations. They are complex stories about characters, kingdoms and races that seem like they could have existed.

I think it would have been a big mistake to only include what was written in The Hobbit in any movies based on the book. That's because we've already seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy and we need more information to tie the new movie in with those existing movies. I liked the fact that they started the new movie with two of the characters from The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo as an old man and his nephew Frodo, talking about what happened before The Lord of the Rings took place showing that everything in The Hobbit had to take place for The Lord of the Rings to be able to happen. It all ties together.

Also, the movie contains information about how the dwarfs lost their kingdom to the dragon Smaug and also how the elves, who could have come to the aid of the dwarfs but didn't, caused the dwarves who survived Smaug's attack to despise and mistrust the elves. This is an important theme running through all the books and needs to be understood to know why certain characters act the way they do. There are some added scenes and some of the action is jazzed up a bit. To get a complete list of the differences from the book to the movie, you can go to The One Ring website and see "The Complete List of Film Changes" for this movie. To see the list of changes for all of the Tolkien movies, start here.

This is one of those cases where I think you need to ignore the critics. My son says he never believes the critics. He says the more a movie is promoted the less he expects from the movie and the more the critics like a movie, the less excited he gets about a movie. I do know I've been disappointed in the past when the critics raved about a movie but I found I didn't like it when I got to see it. So, maybe I should be grateful to the critics - they helped me keep my expectations in check and when I saw the movie, I was able to see it above my expectations.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Enchanted Village - part 1

In a previous post, "Chestnuts bursting out the oven door", I mentioned The Enchanted Village display at Jordan's Furniture in Avon. MA, one of six locations for the chain. I said we'd like to get back there and take our cameras this time. Well, we did it a couple of days ago. Here are some of the pictures we took at that time.

The first picture is the first scene you see as you arrive. Notice the old papers. It's easy to see that some are The Boston Globe, a paper company that still exists but some appear to be The Lowell Sunday Telegraph (or is it The Lowell Sun and Telegraph?). There is a still a Lowell Sun but I don't think The Telegraph exists in Lowell. There is a Nashua (NH) Telegraph, though. It would take some research to figure out what the story is there. But you can see how yellow and brittle the newspapers seem to be. It just points out the difficulty of preserving and maintaining the entire display. Everything else appears in really good shape. But newspapers must be more difficult to preserve.

The next picture shows a soda fountain. This is where I started to get hungry as we viewed the exhibit. They did an especially good job of preserving the food in these scenes. I'm not sure how active the soda fountain would have been in the winter (with as much snow around as they show) but I suppose you would miss having a frappe during the long New England winter. What's that, you say, it looks like the children are having a milk shake? Well, in Massachusetts, they are called a frappe - or at least they used to. Now, you can order a milkshake and get ice cream in it like the rest of the country. When I first moved here (in 1978) and ordered a milk shake, I only got milk with a flavoring added. I had to order a frappe to get ice cream, too.

The last picture for today is the scene that inspired my bursting chestnuts story in my "Chestnuts bursting out the oven door" post. I didn't do a very good job of getting the roasting chestnuts in the picture. The roaster is the upright metal barrel with wheels. I was more focused on the Basset Hound sitting with the boy doing the roasting. The boy does have a bag of roasted chestnuts ready to sell, though. Or maybe he is just going to share them with his dog. I would have bought a bag if they were real and for sale. We still haven't been brave enough to try it at home. We still have the chestnuts, though, and it's just a matter of time.

I hope to have two more posts in the future with more pictures from The Enchanted Village.

[Update: The next set of pictures can be found in my post "The Enchanted Village - part 2" and the third, and final set, can be found in my post "The Enchanted Village - part 3"]

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More adventures with the trash

Yes, this is the season to celebrate Christ's birth and it is the season to prepare for the new year. It's also the season for some of our friends to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanza.  But for me, it seems, this has also been the season of trouble with trash. See  my post, "A Christmas trash barrel adventure". Maybe I should rename this blog "Adventures in Rubbish".

Today was garbage AND recycling day. We can only put out recycling materials every two weeks. They were both delayed by one day for Christmas. It just so happens, though, that last night, a pretty big storm arrived. We got a lot of rain but the big problem was the wind. We got gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. But no matter what, the barrels had to go out before 7 am. So, there I was fighting the unwieldy barrels and the wind. Charlie (our dog) was helping me. I saw my next-door neighbor's barrel out (which he remembered to put out the night before - he is the old guy I mentioned in that Christmas trash barrel adventure post) and it seemed to be doing fine. It hadn't blown over nor had its contents been blown around. So, I figure everything would be OK. But just to be safe, I only put out the garbage. Those barrels were heavier and the garbage men always came early. The recycling truck was always later. Maybe I'd put that out after the wind died down.

As Charlie and I were heading back into the house, I glanced across the street and noticed that two other neighbors (not the older fellow next to us) had lost some of their trash to the wind. So, I crossed the street and gathered up what I could and shoved it down into their barrels (righting one container that had blown over) so it wouldn't blow around again. Then, just as I was heading to the house again, the garbage men arrived! This was going to be a good day. I returned my next-door neighbor's barrel to his backyard and took our empty barrels back behind the house and put Charlie inside. Flushed with success, I decided that it would be OK to put our recycling barrels out. I didn't want to spend the whole day worrying about when the recycling truck might come. They didn't seem to have the tight schedule of the garbage men. I put out the recycling being careful to smash everything down and making sure nothing was loose on the top because the wind was still blowing pretty hard. I double-checked that the barrels were on flat, solid ground and I headed back to the house. I hadn't gone 20 feet when I heard a car drive by that ran over what sounded like a plastic liner that would have been in our recycling.

I turned to see that one of our recycling barrels had been blown over and the bag that I thought was secure had been ripped open. It looked like a bomb had gone off inside the recycling barrel. There was paper, cardboard and plastic all along the road. And the wind had driven it down the street for as far as I could see. I dashed back to right the overturned barrel and crush what was left deeper into it. Then I pulled our other barrel inside our fence where it was protected from the wind (a little). Then I started walking down the road with the first barrel and started picking up our recycling material and jamming it back into the barrel. I couldn't believe how far it had been blown in such a short time. And most of it had ended up in the huge puddles created by the all-night rainstorm. I had to stand in water over my ankles to pick up most of it. I had to walk about 100 yards down our road before I could gather all the lost recycling and on the way, I noticed that the garbage men had missed the garbage bag the next-door neighbor on our other side had left out. Should I leave that sit there knowing that the garbage men would not return? No, I dragged that along, too. I finally got back home, wet to my knees (how did it get up that far?) and mad - mostly at myself for pushing my luck but partly at our Town's changing of the rules for our dump (that's a post for another time). I threw our neighbor's trash into our garbage can for next week and put our recycling barrels safely behind the house. I went in and dried off and worried about what to do with the recycling. Should I keep it for two more weeks?

Later, after I'd calmed down, I noticed that the wind seemed to be dying down. I thought maybe it was safe to put out the recycling and trudged out to take the recycling barrels out - one more time! No sooner had I put them out than I heard the recycling truck coming down the road. Five minutes later and our recycling was safely in their truck and I was able to put the barrels away. In the end, it had all worked out. The garbage and recycling are both gone and I am dry again. And I need to keep reminding myself - it could have been a snow storm!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

About guns

On December 14 this year, a terrible thing happened in the village of Sandy Hook, CT in the town named Newtown. I can't add any new information and I can't add any analysis beyond what has been written about it already. I can't tell much beyond what everyone has heard over the last week. I just want to add a pointer to some information that should be considered.

While I don't own a gun, I do not call for everyone to give up all of their guns because it's a right given to every citizen by our Constitution. However, I do not believe that everyone should be allowed to have as many guns as they want. I accept the fact that people can own a gun for any number of reasons but I do not accept that people should be allowed to own assault weapons. And, of course, owning a gun should never be allowed for someone who has been convicted of a serious crime or is mentally or emotionally unfit for the responsibility of owning a firearm.

But - all too often I hear stupid things said and have seen stupid things written by people trying to justify the proliferation of guns in this country. Too often, I've heard stupid things said by people who don't believe there should be any restrictions on gun ownership. The type of "stupid-speak" I'm talking about goes something like this:

More homicides in the U.S. are committed with baseball bats than with firearms.

The term "baseball bats" is sometimes replaced with other things. All I can do in this post is to point you to one of my favorite sites, Snopes, which debunks these kinds of things. Here is a link to their page showing the fallacy of the statement above. In case you don't have time to go to the link and read the article, the synopsis is - About 67% of homicides in this country are caused by firearms. That's all I want to say about that.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A visit from Santa and his elves

We had a visit from Santa this week. Not the real Santa Claus, of course, but a fellow who sure acts like Santa to some needy people. You can't miss him in the picture. He works for an organization called Cape Abilities (giving help to people with disabilities on Cape Cod) and they maintain the vending machines in our office. He brings his crew with him each time and gently explains what he needs each of them to do to prepare the machines for our hungry employees.

He is part teacher, part business man and part sheepherder (the folks he brings can get easily distracted). But he keeps them working and they work harder than a lot of less needy people I know.

It's always a pleasure to see him and his "kids". Besides seeing them happily working, it's always good to be reminded how good I've got it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Christmas trash barrel adventure

Today is garbage day. Our trash cans need to be out before 7 AM. Especially in our neighborhood because we are at the beginning of the route. One of our next-door neighbors, an old man who is getting pretty frail, usually puts his trash barrel out the night before but he didn't last night. Did he forget or did he not have much to put out? He has forgotten in the past and then he has had to put out two barrels the next week. It's hard enough for him to get one out. So, this morning, as I was walking Charlie past his house, I wondered if I should put his trash out for him. Another thing you should know is that when I can, I take his empty trash can off the street and put it in his back yard - along with his morning paper. I used to do this only on rainy or cold days. But recently, I've been doing it every trash day - if the garbage guys have gone by the time I have to leave for work. And as I said, we are near the beginning of the route so they usually have gone. Usually.

So, as Charlie and I passed his house, I wondered, "If I put his trash out but the garbage guys aren't gone by the time I have to go to work, he won't know that his barrel is out on the street and it will sit outside until he gets out (if he does) or until I get home. But if I don't, he may have a lot of trash to take out next week and it will be a day late because of Christmas next week." Why is everything so hard? Another way to think about it is - why do I have to think about things so much?

Well, one good thing happened right away. I saw the garbage truck on the next street. So, at least they would pass our houses early and I could take the barrel back. So, Charlie and I decided to go look at his garbage. I immediately realized that it was good that we did. He had two barrels of trash to take out. His usual one (with nice handles) and another one like the one in the picture (with no handles). So, holding Charlie's leash, the pooper scooper, the "good" trash barrel and the unruly trash barrel, we made our way to the street. After what seemed like an hour, we made it to the street and set out the barrels.

After our walk (it took about 20 minutes), we got back to our street and saw the empty trash barrels. But the garbage guys had left one on its side. Guess which one! Yes, the one with no handles (as in the picture) and it was rolling with the wind. We were still 50 yards away (yards as in 3 feet per yard - not people's property lines). I knew what was going to happen. The barrel would role out into the street and some joker in a fat-assed truck would ram into it and break it. I tried to get Charlie to hurry along but there were just too many delightful smells to investigate (especially on garbage day) and too many places he had to mark. So, we're still 20 yards away when the barrel does one of its roles into the street as a car is approaching. Instead of bashing into the barrel, the driver slows down and gently nudges it back to the side of the road. What a nice person! I felt so relieved. Until the next gust of wind blew the barrel completely out on the road and, of course, a pickup truck arrived. "Here we go," I thought, "the can will be smashed." We were still a few yards away but again I was pleasantly surprised. The driver slowed down. As he did, the wind blew the barrel even farther on the road and right in his path. Cars were coming the other direction and he couldn't go around. Finally, Charlie and I reached him just as the driver was coming to a complete stop. It looked like he was getting out of his truck but I was able to wave to him and tell him I would get it. He looked so happy. He rolled down his window and shouted,"Thank you very much."

There was no time to explain to him that the whole thing was my fault. There was no time to tell him what a paranoid idiot I am. Everything went amazingly well yet I was still worrying. There was only time to grab the barrel and stop Charlie from sniffing his truck and delaying us even more. We wrestled the unruly barrel off the road, picked up the "good" barrel and picked up my neighbor's papers (one left from the night before - when he would have normally taken out the barrel) and took it all back to his yard. He would have an idea about what happened when he saw his papers on his back porch or at least when he took trash out the barrels later. I just hope he doesn't know how close he came to losing his unruly barrel!

[Update: I'm not sure why I called this "A Christmas trash barrel adventure". It had nothing to do with Christmas. But I did want it to show that I had good intentions when I started. And the two drivers being so nice may not have happened at other times of the year. Everyone does seem to act nicer around Christmas. And the TV stations and newspapers will tell us that being nice to each other is the true meaning of Christmas. That's not right, of course, and I've written about that in "The True Meaning of Christmas"]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another dog in the office

Here is a picture of Rocco. He's an English Bulldog puppy. In the picture, he is getting a nice scratch from one of his owner's office mates. You can tell Rocco is really enjoying it because he is not teething on her finger as he liked to do with the rest of us. It was gentle teething, though, and no one minded.

I talked about dogs in our office in my previous posts "National 'Take Your Dog to Work' Day" and "Dogs at work". I like having dogs in our office (and as I mentioned in "Dogs at work", I like having cats at work, too). I know there are people who don't appreciate having pets at work but maybe we need to rethink the idea of having those kinds of people in our company :-)

If you click on Rocco's picture to see it better, you'll notice that one of his eyes seems to be larger than the other. It's not just in that picture. That's the way it is. When his owner first told me about him and showed me a picture, I noticed it there, too. My suggestion was that she should call him Popeye. But it didn't happen. He's still Rocco. No matter what his name, he is a terrific dog. He is very friendly and energetic. He liked everybody. That's the great thing about bringing dogs to work. They accept everybody and make each of us feel welcome.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas program

We presented our Christmas program at our church as four performances over Saturday and Sunday this week-end. I think it went very well. At least I know the people who saw it liked it. We played to four nearly-full houses. I only saw about 10 seats empty (out of a few hundred) in two of the four performances. The other two were packed. The choir (which my son and I were a part of) sang well and with great enthusiasm. The band that accompanied us was terrific. The children's choir had the congregation going crazy with a mix of a good song and the usual antics of a few of the kids during their song. I hope to update this post later with a link to a recording of the performance.

Of course, besides performing this for the people of our community, we also offered it up to our Lord. We are celebrating his birthday after all. It's almost like group prayer. A coordinated group prayer. To pull off a choral performance takes a lot of work. It also takes people who are willing to sing out - which takes confidence that you know the part. It also takes the ability to listen to the other singers in the group. You can't sing so loudly that you overpower them but you need to sing loud enough so that your part is heard. Our director asked that we memorize the music (45-minutes worth of music) so that we would watch her for cues and direction instead of staring into books. We all had to admit that we didn't have the entire program perfectly memorized. But each person had parts of it down so, again, listening to each other, we were able to get cues from each other.

I highly recommend singing in a chorus - for anyone. There are all ranges of abilities and many choirs (ours included) don't hold try-outs. If you can carry a tune, you are usually welcomed to join. Reading music is definitely an advantage but is not necessary. You can learn a part by hearing it over and over. Your singing will improve, you'll meet new people and you will be part of a group striving to make something out of nothing. There is a real thrill as you see the songs improving with each rehearsal. And if you are fortunate enough to sing to God, you may find that the results were pleasing to the Creator of music, the earth and everything.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Critic

During this Christmas season and also because my son and I are singing in the choir for the Christmas program at our church, I was reminded of the time over twenty years ago when a much different church choir went to sing in our local town mall.

I was the accompanist for the choir and I was used to using the wonderful Baldwin piano we had in the church. When the choir director considered if we could sing in the mall, she asked if I could get a portable keyboard from somewhere. I had a friend who had one and also an amplifier so I borrowed it from her. I had used it before when the band we were in performed in places without a piano but I wasn't as comfortable with it as I was with a real piano. The biggest problem I had (and still have) with playing an electronic instruments is the lack of expression in the touch. Things have gotten much, much better since then and all newer keyboards will play louder when you press the keys harder. But back then, this particular keyboard did not. You could only adjust the volume with a foot pedal. But, as I said, I'd used this keyboard before and was pretty used to that.

I had more experience in performing outside the church than any other members of the choir because  of performing in a rock band and singing in a few other choral groups. I was more worried about how the singers in our choir, mostly older women, our pastor and a couple of men, would perform.We weren't going to be doing anything fancy in our performance. We would just be singing Christmas carols from our hymnal. The old mall had surprisingly nice acoustics, though, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the singers adjusted to the different acoustics than they were used to in church. We sounded pretty good for a small group of about twelve people.  Most people just walked by and smiled. A few people stopped for a while but not many. Then I noticed an old woman who did stop and stayed. She didn't look happy but I thought maybe she was just having a bad day. We'd lift her spirits! I played my best and tried to keep the tempo up. Then I started to notice that she was looking at me. I tried to ignore that and concentrate on the music. But between songs, I couldn't help but feel the weight of her gaze. Whenever I snuck a peek in her direction, I'd see her: immobile, unchanging, accusing. I had played in a lot of different situations and I knew I was a pretty good pianist. I looked at it as a challenge to cheer this woman up. I thought the choir sounded nice. We performed together well and there was no reason she shouldn't like us.

Finally, I saw a little change in her face. She actually seemed to have softened a bit. Did I see the hint of a smile? Then I noticed she left her spot across the hallway and was walking toward us. We'd broken through. The wonderful words from the old hymn writers about our wonderful Lord's birth had melted her resistance. She was going to have a good Christmas after all! She came right over to me a declared, "They're doing a good job," motioning toward the choir, "but you're terrible." She continued, "You're dragging them down." And with that, she left. Everyone was stunned but I was devastated. I'd never had anyone say those things to me. Our pastor, who also sang in the choir, said, "Don't worry too much. She used to come to our church but she left years ago." Somehow, that didn't make it better.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

C. A. L. M.

Do you remember this day, December 13, a year ago? You don't? It was one of the most important days in a long time for those of us that try to watch television in the morning but don't want to disturb our family members that are still sleeping. It was this day one year ago that the Federal Communications Commission passed the CALM act - Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation. Still don't know what I'm talking about? I don't blame you. It's a pretty silly name for the act but what it boils down to is that the commercials shown during a television program must not be louder, on average, than the show they are sponsoring. I wrote about it a few days after the act was passed here. The act was passed last year but the FCC decided to give the television stations and networks a year to comply with it. Well, time's up. From now on, they've got to watch the volumes. Here's a story on CNN about it.

So now, when I've turned the volume down enough to not wake my family but loud enough to make out what the newscasters are saying, I can rest assured that a vegetable slicer commercial will not come along at a louder level and wake my sleeping family. Unfortunately, this act doesn't get rid of the vegetable slicer commercials. It just guards against a volume change. And the other thing is that the FCC won't be checking for compliance. That's you and I. It's up to us to do the policing,
The Commission will rely on consumer complaints to monitor industry compliance with the rules. You may report commercials that seem louder than the programming they accompany to the FCC at any time. This information will help identify possible problem areas and will assist the Commission in enforcement of the rules. Specifically, the Commission will use the detailed information from complaints to identify patterns or trends of noncompliance for a particular station, pay TV provider or commercial.

So, put on you uniform and strap on your holster to hold you decibel meter. You can file complaints at And be happy - we're saving the government money by volunteering our services. Maybe we could do that more and cut the budget deficit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The return of Plantar Fasciitis

It's time to tell the whole story about my previous post, "An old choir injury". My foot didn't just start to act up when I stepped up high to get on the stage. I had been having problems with it for a few months and should have known that stretching my foot like that would cause a problem. I just didn't think.

I wrote about my run in with Plantar Fasciitis last year in this post. It took about five months but the pain finally went away and stayed away for over five days. That's my definition of being cured! Well, it's been over a year since I was "cured" and I think anyone would consider themselves cured. It turns out that the inserts I used in my shoes last year were wearing down. My feet started to bother me again. Interestingly, this time it was my right foot that bothered me. Last year it was my left foot. I left the problem go on too long hoping it would just go away (that's my number one method for dealing with trouble). It didn't. It just got worse. Just like last time.

So, I broke down and bought new arch supports for my shoes. I could tell right away they helped but the pain lingered - though not quite as bad. Then I had a thought. Maybe it's partly the old, worn out arch supports and maybe it's the new shoes I bought this spring. And I think that may have been the problem. I've switched the new arch supports into my old shoes and I feel a lot better. I'm still not cured (haven't had five days pain free yet) but it is definitely improving. I started noticing the pain a few months ago (back in September) so we'll see if it takes five months to be "cured" like it did last time.

But no more acrobatic entrances on the stage with the choir, either :-)

Monday, December 03, 2012

An old choir injury

My title is a joke on an often heard phrase used by someone explaining an obvious injury. Maybe you see a person limping or favoring their arm and you ask them what's the matter and they will say, "It's just an old football injury acting up." Or perhaps a veteran would answer, "It's an old war wound flaring up again." Well, I have none of those excuses for my limping around the office today. I may be the only person you'll ever hear complaining about an old choir injury. Other people get hurt saving someone's life or performing some amazing athletic feat. Some people hurt themselves doing good or battling against the odds. Me - I hurt myself getting on the stage for a choir rehearsal last night. Who knew singing in the church choir could be so dangerous?

My son and I have joined the Christmas choir at our church. I haven't sung in a choir for years and my son has never done it. But he has a very good voice and sings in the bass range as I do (as mentioned in my post, "Those dangerous Irish Tenors") so not only will he learn a lot but he will also contribute right away. For some reason, most mixed voice choirs always need men. Too many high voices can sound thin but a good bass section can add real body to the sound. Not to discount the other voices - all parts are needed to balance out the timbre and give it a fuller tone. It's also fun to see him interact with other people. He a nice guy and people like him. And he's just fun to be with.

Anyway, at last night's rehearsal, we were supposed to be getting on stage for a full run-through of the 45-minute performance with the band. The steps up to the stage were clogged with, frankly, a lot of people more interested in talking than getting on the stage so we could continue the rehearsal. So, my son, who is 16-years old and in better shape than I am, decided to jump up on the stage (about two and a half feet high) from where we were standing. He did it and headed for the risers where we would be standing. I knew I'd never be able to just jump up there like he did but I figured I could step up that high and not wait for the steps to clear. Well, I got my leg up there and stepped up but I immediately felt something give in my right foot. Why do I think I am younger than I really am? Why am I so impatient? So, there I was not able to put pressure on my foot and I needed to stand there for over 45 minutes. I didn't do my best singing and I was never so glad to get home and put my foot up.

It doesn't feel as bad today. It needs more rest and it will heal. But if you see me limping along, don't ask what's wrong. It's too embarrassing to explain.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Strength of materials

I remember first seeing something that was touted as being stronger than steel in a tire commercial. They showed how they were using Kevlar® in their tire tread and that, pound for pound, it was five times stronger than steel. After that, it seemed every few months someone was developing this or that material that was, pound for pound, stronger than steel. Even natural materials were being mentioned. "Spider silk is, pound for pound, stronger than steel."  I came up with a rule (trying to jump on the bandwagon started by Murphy) by stating,

It seems that anything, pound for pound, is stronger than steel.

What, then, was the use of steel? Why were we still building bridges, car frames and girders for buildings out of steel? Why not just create building materials out of Kevlar or spider silk? You can't build bridges or building from Kevlar for a few reasons, of course. One of them is bulk. The amount of material you would need to reach the strength of steel would be too large. Also, the cost would be prohibitive. Making steel is a fairly cheap process - pound for pound!

Another interesting aspect to this story is that Kevlar was discovered at the Du Pont Company by Stephanie Kwolek in 1965 (and patented in 1966). Yes, a woman developed this amazing, stronger than steel material. It's used in many places including body armor, drum heads (as in the musical instrument)  and in sports equipment. It was also used to make the retractable covering in the design for Olympic Stadium in Montreal for the 1976 Olympics but it was delivered ten years late and needed to be replaced only ten years after that. So, it seems, steel's place in construction may be safe for now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hunting Season

Bunny picture from
It's hunting season most places by now. I know around here we are seeing a lot more cars and trucks pulled over by the side of the road in unusual places. We assume they are hunting in the woods or a lot of people unexpectedly needed to go to relieve themselves.

Another hunting season makes me think of yet another story my father told me. After he married my mother and they moved back to this country after World War 2, my mother's family wanted him to feel like he was part of the family (after a rocky beginning as I wrote about in my post "How Mom got into the RAF"). So, my grandfather and some of my uncles decided to take my father hunting. I don't remember if he'd ever gone hunting before but he certainly knew how to shoot a rifle after being in the service. They started off small and just went in the local area because, back then, there were huge areas of undeveloped fields and woods. He said he enjoyed being with his new relatives and it was a beautiful day. It was fall and the air was fresh and clear. He and my grandfather became great friends and my father really liked my uncles, too. It was going to be a good day.

After quite a while of tramping around the hills of Western Pennsylvania, my father was beginning to think he wasn't going to find any game but then he saw something move and identified it and shot. He'd gotten a rabbit and was very excited. Grandpa and my uncles congratulated him and they retrieved his prize. They had a lot more to do that day, though, and you can't carry it in your hand so they showed him how to tie it onto his belt. At first he thought it was a good idea but when they tied that little bunny's legs to his belt, that was it. He never went hunting again for the rest of his life.

I don't know what would have happened if I had ever asked him to take me hunting when I was a boy. Maybe it was him telling me this story that led me to believe he wouldn't want to do it or maybe it turned me against hunting, too. Whatever it was, I have never gone hunting, either. I remember that in my Freshman year at college I saw a movie about what goes on in slaughter houses and I didn't eat meat for a long time after that, too. But in the end, I just put it out of my mind and went back to my carnivorous ways. My son doesn't eat meat, though. I don't think we'll be going hunting, either.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A surprise in a bunch of bananas

You can tell by the picture what's going to happen, can't you? This is a story about my father as a young man. He was born in Wales but his mother (my grandmother) moved with him to London when she was looking for a job. He also found a job but his was on the London docks unloading boats. On one occasion, he was unloading a boatload of bananas and felt something crawling on him. Before he could put down his load and swat the thing off, it bit him. Now, my father was rather fearless about most things but something about spiders really set him off. So, he panicked.

They took him to a nurse but she didn't move fast enough for his liking. He told me he yelled at her to hurry up - that he was dying. It didn't speed her up. Either she knew that the bites of these types of spiders were not generally serious or his description of it let her know that it wasn't a serious threat. Or maybe she just didn't care. He told me he thought maybe it was a young spider and didn't have much venom. No matter what the circumstances, he didn't die and wasn't maimed. I don't think he went back to the docks for work after that, though.

Ironically, one of his favorite songs to sing was the Harry Belafonte hit "The Banana Boat Song (Day-o)". He never sang the verse about the deadly black spider, though. I think it brought back too many bad memories.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Chestnuts bursting out the oven door"

Last week-end, we traveled to Jordan's Furniture in Avon, MA and enjoyed three fun things in one location. One fun thing was looking through the vast furniture selection they have. We may be in the market for a new couch for our family room. We'll see. The second fun thing we did was to go to their theater to see an abridged, 3-D version of The Polar Express. Their Motion Odyssey Movie theater adds a "fourth" dimension of movement to the feature. You sit in specially designed seats that move with the action of the movie like the train roaring down a steep ravine or twisting across a frozen lake or flying along with Santa in his sleigh. I had forgotten how much I like that movie and can't wait to see it all the way through (in plain old 2-D) on our TV at home.

The third fun thing we did at the store was something we hadn't expected to do. We walked through The Enchanted Village. This is a series of Christmas-themed scenes from an old village. I don't know the time period it is supposed to depict but it seems to be the late 1800's or the very early 1900's. We enjoyed that so much, I think we're going to go back and take our cameras this time. Perhaps I'll be able to post some pictures and write up more about this exhibit closer to Christmas. [Update: We did get back to the exhibit and took pictures. You can see some of them in my post "The Enchanted Village - part 1" with more to follow.] One of the scenes, though, reminded me of something from my childhood. One of the scenes showed a stand where chestnuts were being roasted. I remember a time when my parents decided it would be fun to try roasting chestnuts themselves.

I had never tasted roasted chestnuts but my parents had. As they talked about it, they made them sound delicious. For some reason, saying something is "roasted" always makes it sound more enticing to me. So, we went to the supermarket and bought some chestnuts. I don't think my folks knew what temperature to set the stove to but I'm sure they figured they'd just keep an eye on them and stop when they seemed to be done. So, into the oven went the chestnuts and we sat back and got ready for the feast. As time went on, they realized that they wouldn't know what to expect the chestnuts to look like on the outside when they were done. As we sat there talking about it, we started to hear noises in the oven. They got louder. Then, we heard a loud noise. Then another. Kind of like an old musket being shot. Not the sharp crack of a modern rifle but a sort of slow pop. When my mother opened the stove door to check, some chestnuts shot out of the oven and hit the opposite wall. Then a few more joined in the onslaught. She quickly shut the door and turned off the heat. It took a while for things to settle down.

Later we found out that you have to pierce the shell of the chestnuts to let out the steam that builds up when they heat. We never did try roasting chestnuts again, though. I guess we hadn't even been trying to roast them in the first place. We were baking them. I found two webpages about roasting chestnuts. My wife and I may try it to show the kids. We'll see. We've got the chestnuts. Now to find a sharp knife!

Here are the two websites that have good instructions:

"How to Roast Chestnuts Over an Open Fire" at The Art of Manliness site

"How to Roast Chestnuts" at Kathy Maister's Start Cooking site

In the second article, be sure to read down to the PS section that talks about another way of preparing the chestnuts that you may find easier than the the other methods.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Be careful what you choose for a password

This isn't the usual story you hear about passwords. Normally you are warned that your password needs to be more than 6 or 8 (or more) characters long.Normally you hear that your password should include a mix of upper and lower case characters and some numbers. Normally, you hear that you need to change your passwords often and to not use the same password for multiple accounts. Normally you hear that you should not use a commonly used password (the top five are, "password", "123456", "12345678", "1234" and "qwerty") or the names of your children, spouse or pets. Those are all good suggestions but that's not what I'm talking about here.

When I first started working at this company (almost 25 years ago!), we ran a Bulletin Board System (BBS). They were very popular in the 1980's. They allowed our customers (and anyone who was interested) to call in using a computer and modem and, with a simple terminal emulator, see our company's products list, get news about upcoming products and download the software and firmware that ran our products for free. It also allowed customers to ask technical questions about our products in the hours when our office was closed. It was free and relatively easy to use. We used a program called Red Ryder (later updated and renamed White Knight) to run the BBS on a spare Macintosh computer.

Being the new guy, I inherited the management of the BBS. As more people started using it and more non-customers began using it, we started forcing people to set up an account that we would review before allowing them to use the BBS. It's sad to say but even then, with the relative anonymity the BBS provided, some non-customers would log on and leave comments that were derogatory, disruptive and just plain lies. So, we wanted to know who the people were who would be using the system. We didn't need some know-nothing insulting our customers. Part of setting up an account was choosing a password. Like everyone else on the system, I chose a password - assuming I would be the only one seeing it. Isn't that how passwords are supposed to work?

One day, a friend (and customer) of the company owner asked him about getting an update of one of our software products - right away! The owner asked me how he could do that and I told him about the need to set up an account. The owner told this to his friend but the friend didn't want to take the time to do that and wait while I verified the account and confirmed it for use. He was in a hurry! I said I'd be there waiting for his call and could set him in a few minutes. "Not fast enough," was the answer.  "Why can't he just download the software update? Don't we have a guest account?" No, I hadn't set one up. It seemed too easy for a troublemaker to figure that out. So then the owner said, "Can't he just use your account for now?" Well, he could but that would mean he would need to know my password. The owner said, "What's the big deal? I trust him and you could always change your password after he's done." I tried a few more evasive suggestions but they didn't work. I could see the owner was losing his patience. Finally, I had to give him the password, "BadAss". I was so embarrassed. For his part, the owner didn't laugh at me and I guess his friend got the software he had been after but, to be honest, I felt so bad I'm not sure what happened. I do know, though, that whenever anyone in the company wanted to get a rise out of me for the next few months, all they had to do was say, "BadAss".

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Why the election turned out the way it did

I didn't want to write this before the election in case it swayed people's vote. But here are the reasons Mitt Romney lost the election:
  • It was obvious from the beginning that Mr. Romney was not going to even come close to carrying the state where he had been Governor (Massachusetts) - people wondered what the people of Massachusetts knew about him
  • As the election neared, it was also obvious that Mr. Romney was not going to carry the state where he had been born (Michigan) and where his father had been Governor - this was probably because Mr. Romney disagreed with helping those automobile corporations
  • Mr. Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, was clearly not going to help them carry his home state (Wisconsin)
  • People probably realized that the recession was world-wide and the slow recovery wasn't Mr. Obama's fault
So that's it. The definitive list. But, just in case Mitt Romney had won the election, I was ready with some reasons why Barack Obama lost the election:
  • That first debate was a killer and it showed him as indecisive and not in touch and allowed Mr. Romney to gain momentum
  • The attack and loss of life at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was poorly handled and the explanations were weak and confusing
  • On Election Day, Mr. Romney kept campaigning while Mr. Obama took the day off
  • The Obama campaign didn't exploit the four points I made about why Mr. Romney lost the election!

There you have it. I was prepared with two sets of reasons. Like a good debater, who is supposed to be able to win a debate taking one side of an argument and then take the other side and win a debate from the opposite side, I had both sides covered. That is why I mistrust debates of any kind. A skilled debater can take any position and still win.

[Update: As I think more about this, and consider all the blunders made by both sides, maybe neither side really wanted to win this election. Considering the daunting tasks still ahead and each side's readiness to pounce on any miscue, who wants all the trouble?]

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I voted early this morning...

...but not early enough. There was a long line awaiting me when I got there. I dutifully stepped to the back of the line. Then I noticed that there were some people who appeared to be cutting line. Boy, of all the times for that to happen. This is supposed to be the day when we all come together to celebrate our having the freedom to vote. We are supposed to rise above our baser instincts and all join together to make this thing work. If we can't cooperate in something as simple as voting, how are we going to work together to solve bigger problems?

I stood there steaming and slowly moving up while the "line cutters" seemed to be moving faster. Finally, someone came out and announced, "If the street you live on starts with the letters A through N, please come over to to this line," indicating the shorter, faster moving line. Our street starts with T and I was in the correct line. Too bad there wasn't a sign when we first came in or someone to tell us. But then, the whole thing is voluntary so why am I complaining?

When I finally got to the beginning of the line, I asked, "Where do we go to request a new name for our street? I kind of like Aardvark Highway." Isn't there enough discrimination in life without being alphabetically discriminated against? There I go complaining again.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Building a bed - the result

Here's the result of building my daughters bed. I should have taken a picture of just the bed frame. I can't take credit for the nice blanket, comforter or the arrangement of stuffed animals. That is all Emma and my wife Cindy's doing. The headboard is a separate item from IKEA® and I really like it. It was much easier to put together and is very practical. If you click on the picture here, you'll see it better.

I've had headboards in the past that had bookshelves but those were always along the width of the headboard so you had nothing to lean a pillow against for sitting up and reading. This headboard, from the Brimnes collection (the bed frame is from the same collection), has a flat headboard for leaning up against with space for books behind the headboard. You attach the headboard to the wall and then push the bed up against the headboard. There is even a space at the bottom that one of our cats has claimed as his place to hide from the world when he needs a few minutes of solitude.

The designers really thought this through. The shelves (there are shelves at both ends) are adjustable and the top is a nice 10 inch wide surface and has a hole for getting a power cord up to it for lights, radios and whatever. Also, there are four drawers under the bed with a lot of storage. I've put together a lot of things with drawers on sliders but none have worked as well as these. They are easy to move and very sturdy. They don't wobble at all.

If you have the time and the space to spread out the parts as you put it together, I don't think you can go wrong with this bed. The bottom line is that Emma loves it and that's all I need to make me happy.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Building a bed - the beginning

Box 1 of 3 - no instructions
My daughter is growing and she was finding her old bed uncomfortable. So, it was time to go shopping for a new one. After looking at many other stores, we decided to go to IKEA®. We'd been there once before but that was right after the store had opened and it was crowded. We're not crowd people. But after a few years, things had finally slowed down at that location so we tried again. This time, we found he visit enjoyable and there was time and room to look around and think about things. After a while, my daughter found a bed she really liked so we bought one. In case you don't know - what you buy at IKEA is the parts for a bed with instructions on how to put it together. I was elected to put the bed together. The first picture shows one of the three boxes the bed came in. Very neatly packed but where were the instructions?

Ah, the instructions and the many pieces of hardware
I opened all three boxes. I still couldn't find the instructions. Fortunately, the IKEA website (link is to the English version) is very well organized and I was able to find the instructions in PDF format. I downloaded them, printed them and then, and only then, I found the printed instructions in one of the boxes (under one of he large pieces of the bed). I can't tell you if it was the first box I should have opened or not because the boxes are not numbered. At least, I could not see ordinal numbers.

Repackaged hardware components
Anyway, that is one of the few complaints I had. The pieces of the bed were very sturdy and well made. The white finish is resilient and I like the design. It's simple and elegant. The hardware also looked to be of good quality. But there were so many pieces! In the picture here, you can see that I repackaged many of the hardware components to make it easier to keep track of them and to reduce the time I needed to search for the right one. The instructions were good about identifying which parts were needed for each stage of the project.

Construction begins
The instruction were generally very good. Because IKEA sells their merchandise world-wide, they use only pictures in their manuals to save the need to translate written instructions. This makes it fairly easy to understand but also leaves confusing areas - to me, at least. My only other complaint about the whole process was that the large pieces of the bed were not labeled. I've had other furniture kits that put removable idetifying stickers on the large parts. The instructions tried to identify the parts by showing where the pre-drilled holes were and other identifying marks but I found a few of the pieces too similar. The final picture (on the left) shows the first step of putting the bed together but, in a way, I would really call it the second step. I had these parts put together the wrong way the first time because I misinterpreted the drawing. I had to take this apart and put it together correctly which is what is in this picture.

If you click on the final picture, you'll see some of the hardware packages circled in red. I found I needed a lot of room to spread everything out. I did finally get it all together. You'll see that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Just a quick word about Hurricane Sandy

Image from
The storm named Sandy is no longer a hurricane. According to the National Weather Service Hurricane Center, it is now officially referred to as "Post-tropical Cyclone Sandy". It's still a large storm with a lot of precipitation but the winds are much reduced.

The worst of the new destruction from the the storm is probably past. But what destruction! The damage and loss of life in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas was terrible and in our country, the states of New Jersey and New York seem to have gotten the worst of it. We in Massachusetts were very fortunate. We were on the far edges of the storm and still got wind gusts in the 80 mph (128 kph) range but those were not sustained winds. There was some flooding but not in our area. We didn't even lose power although hundreds of thousands of homes did lose power in our state.

With all of that, I can't image what it must be like for victims of earthquakes and tornadoes who have almost no warning of the imminent danger. It amazed me how well the National Hurricane Center was able to predict the path of this storm. There was almost a week of warning that it was going to travel the path it did. And still people died and were injured. And still there was a tremendous amount of damage.That just shows the extent and power of this storm. It truly was an irresistible force. The effects of this storm will linger for a long time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Follow the falcon...

...or the hawk or...some big bird. My children really like the Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu show on Cartoon Network. In some of the episodes, one of the characters sees a mysterious falcon and feels a connection with it. He follows it and it leads him to important discoveries. I felt like that character the other day on my walk at lunch. I happened to see what looked like a hawk or other large bird through the trees going after something on the ground. As you can see from the picture here, I didn't get a good look at it and only got this one out-of-focus picture of it (you can barely see it circled in red in the picture). But I wanted to find out more about it and to get a good picture.

As I tried to get closer, I stepped off the path and into the woods. I made a lot of noise as I pushed through the bushes, though, and the bird kept flying further into the woods. I was getting deeper into the woods and thought about turning back to the path. As I made one more push to get close enough for a picture, I saw a path that I had never seen before. The picture on the left shows the path (it's very hard to see in this picture - trust me - it was pretty obvious). I've been walking these woods for years and never saw this. The bird flew off while I was still thinking about whether I should follow the path or not. I finally decided it was worth exploring and headed off.

I'm not a great explorer but it was a thrill to see this new path. I imagined all the places it might go. Best of all, I hoped it would take me closer to places the birds and other wildlife hid. As I said in this post, I have been disappointed that the old path was widened to create a fire break a couple of years ago. The last picture on the right shows that widened path. When you're not as close to the trees, you're not as close to the birds that like to perch and/or hide in the trees. I hoped this new path would reveal a new world of creatures.

The new path cut through the woods. After a while, it came around to parallel the main path but then I ran into another new path that headed off into the heart of the woods. It swung around low areas where pools collect in heavy rains and where amazingly colorful trees grow because of the better water supply. Unfortunately, because the path was little used, the bushes and weeds brushed against me and I sounded like an elephant striding through the bush. This scared away all the birds I was hoping to see. That just means I should walk here more often to wear a good path - but not too wide. After a while, I realized I'd better be getting back to work and back-tracked to my starting place.

Later that day, I found I hadn't scared away all the wildlife. Ticks had found me and were probably as excited about my finding the path as I was. I ended up spending as much time getting rid of them as I had on the path. So, I think I'll wait until a deep frost kills them before I head back there. But it's exciting to think about it. I'll be looking forward to my walks at lunch even more.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Cubs release message from Castro" ??

I saw this headline on the CNN website the other day. Why would the Chicago Cubs have anything to do with Castro? And which Castro? Fidel or his brother? And doesn't CNN know the verb should be "release" since "Cubs" is plural? So many questions.

Could this have something to do with the old story (probably just a legend) about Fidel Castro being a good baseball player and actually trying out for the Pittsburgh Pirates at one time? That brings up all the "what if" questions about what would have happened if Fidel had made it with the Pirates. Would Cuba be a Communist nation now? Would Roberto Clemente have been happier if Castro (another Spanish speaker) was still on the team when Roberto arrived in 1955?

Well, as usual, I was just confused by the font they used on their website. The real headline was
Cuba releases message from Castro
That makes much more sense. This isn't the first time I've been deceived by a strange (or perhaps too small) font. There was the time I was worried about the Irish tenor threat from a BBC headline. I guess I never learn.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Fault Drawing from US Geological Survey
Three days ago, there was an earthquake here in New England. The center of the quake was in Southern Maine but it was felt all over Eastern New England. My family and I didn't feel it here on Cape Cod but some people we know say they did. Then again, some people feel earthquakes even when there are no earthquakes. And some people feel an earthquake when they are told there was an earthquake. I'll leave it at that. Here's a link to a story from a newspaper that knows earthquakes. And here's a link to the information about this quake at the US Geological Survey - the experts about earthquakes in general.

This, of course, reminds me of a story about my own experience with an earthquake. Yes, I may be self-absorbed but I only know these things about myself. In my sophomore year at Bucknell University, I was living in Hulley House - a small, old house owned by the university that was used (back in the early 1970s) to house some students when there wasn't enough room in the dormitories. We were on the edge of the campus but I really liked it there. There were about 20 or so men in the house and we all got along pretty well. We lived two to a room and had a nice kitchen area and a large, shared living room with a TV. Another nice feature was that we could get up to the relatively-flat roof through a trap door in the ceiling of the top floor. My roommate and I lived on that top floor on the corner of the house in the rear - farthest from the road and the front door.

I often did my work with headphones on with music playing that kept out the outside sounds. As I said, everyone in the house got along pretty well and we often got along loudly. So, one evening, as was normal, I was reading and working on my classwork with my headphones on. At some point, I thought I felt the floor shaking. As I mentioned, Hulley House was old and sometimes, when my roommate would walk around, the floor would shake. Or the other guys in the house would get really rowdy and shake the whole house. But I didn't remember it ever being this bad. I turned around to see if it was my roommate and saw that it was not. The shaking increased and I began to worry. It must be an earthquake! I'd never experienced one but this must be it.

I pulled off my headphones and headed out of the room when I heard the train horn. It wasn't an earthquake at all but one of the trains that periodically rumbled about 20 - 30 feet away from our corner of the house. I'd certainly heard the trains and seen them before (that's another reason I liked Hulley House so much) but I'd never had my headphones on when one of the trains passed by. The shaking was no worse than any other time but those other times, I'd heard the train from far off and was prepared for the shaking. But it never seemed all that bad because I knew what was going on.

It's just like a lot of things that seem bad because we don't know the whole story. Things seem bad when our view is limited. Everything seems worse when you're lying in bed early in the morning - unable to sleep - unable to do anything about it. I try to never make any decisions when I'm feeling sick, when I can't see or hear clearly or when I'm sleepy. But that doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm in an earthquake when I don't have all the information. I just try not to shout, "The sky is falling!" until I know for sure.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Another visitor to our office

If you keep your eyes open, you can see a lot of amazing things around you - even when you're around an office building. Today, one of the other engineers saw this Praying Mantis hanging around behind our office. It seemed to be in really bad shape (not erect on its legs, not trying to get away) until I picked it up! Then it got very alert and followed my movements. When it finally came time for me to go back to work, I had a hard time getting rid of it. It held on quite tightly.

The second picture shows it on a tree branch after I finally convinced it to let go. As with all of my pictures, just click on the images to see them full-size.

I wish I could have taken a better picture of the Mantis in the leaves. It was amazing how well it blended in. I picked a bad angle for the Sun and it made the Praying Mantis look obvious.

Of all the things in the world that are scary or unknown or big or fearsome, the Praying Mantis is the thing that scares my mother the most. I remember, when I was young, that she used to talk about previous encounters with them and how it terrified her. I was scared of them before I ever saw one. When I finally got to see a real Praying Mantis, I wondered what the big deal was. But I always respected her fear and never played a joke on her with one. So, please don't tell Mom about this post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Moving trays in the cafeteria

This is a quick story about a funny thing that happened in college. It's strange how I hadn't thought about this in years. But something happened in our company cafeteria that reminded me of this and I wanted to write it down before I forget it again.

One of my best friends, Nick, and his girlfriend, Andrea (they are married now), were sitting with me in the cafeteria in college.  I think we were finished eating and were just sitting around talking. A friend of Andrea's came in with a friend of hers and they put their trays down near us and then buzzed off to chat with other people. I forget Andrea's friend's name but Nick and I knew her, too. She was a very nice person but always seemed to be on the run. She was very friendly, too, so we weren't surprised that she had a lot of people to talk with. But why not sit near them instead of us? She could see we were close to leaving. But who knows what goes on inside people's heads?

I think we decided to stay a little longer in case Andrea's friend came back. She might have wanted to talk with Andrea, too. But they didn't come back. We wondered about their food getting cold. Then we saw them flitting from table to table to talk with other people. So, then we wondered what would happen if they forgot where they left their trays. Nick and I looked at each other and immediately had the same idea. We moved the girls' trays to the next table. Not far away (maybe five or six feet) but not at the same table. We figured they'd see that we had moved them and probably playfully argue with us about doing it.

They finally came back to where their trays had been. They didn't see them, of course, but didn't just look in the immediate area. I guess they assumed they'd really forgotten where they had put them down. So, they headed off looking for their trays. We saw them backtracking their movements around the tables they had visited. After they'd left our area, Nick and I moved the trays back to their original place.

We had a great time watching them walk all over the cafeteria and wondered how long it would take them to get back to us. Finally, after a long time, they came back and finally saw their trays. The looks on their faces were priceless. They really couldn't seem to understand what had happened. Had they hallucinated the first time? Had they gone to the wrong place the first time and somehow, even though it looked familiar, finally found the right place? Then they looked over and saw us grinning. To their credit, they laughed about it and we all enjoyed the prank. I hope their food wasn't too cold. If I was a gentleman, I would have offered to get them new food. But then, I'm not much of a gentleman, am I?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

And another thing about my scooter

After having passed 10,000 miles on my scooter, I got to thinking about how much gas I've saved over that time. I get about 85 miles per gallon on the scooter while we only got about 17 miles per gallon in our van. That means, I've used about 117.6 gallons to go 10,000 miles on my scooter. To go that distance in our van, I would have used about 588.2 gallons. I've saved about 470.6 gallons by using the scooter. At an average price of about $3.75 per gallon over that time (gas has been higher than that and lower than that but I think that's a pretty fair average), I've saved about $1,764.75 by using the scooter. And that's just for gas. Repairs for the van are much more expensive. Considering that the scooter only cost about $2,500 to purchase, it's been quite a deal. And after riding another 4,167 miles (in another year, perhaps) at an average of $3.75 per gallon of gas, I should have paid for the scooter. But I don't think gas is going to average that much. I think it will be rising and I'll pay the scooter off sooner.

One other nice thing about riding my scooter is that I'm able to see more of the road when I'm riding it. There are no window posts in the way and I'm up higher than most car drivers are. I noticed this when I was stopped at a light beside a regular sedan. I was much high than the driver of that car. I'm about as high up as a driver of a small truck or a van. I like that. I can see trouble coming down the road farther away. Now, if I could just do that in the rest of my life.

[The picture of the old gas pump here is from Creative Commns:]

Thursday, October 11, 2012

10,000 miles

Yesterday, the odometer on my scooter turned over 10,000 miles. The picture here shows the dashboard with the magical number showing. Surprisingly, I almost forgot about it and might have missed taking this picture. It was a similar situation to when I forgot to use my chance to fly in my previous post (on October 9), "I was going to fly".

Yesterday was a rainy day that had started out as just a cloudy, dreary day. I had missed the weather report that morning but it looked to me like it was going to be OK to ride my scooter in. And I knew this was the day I would pass 10,000 miles because I started the day less than the 30 miles from that goal and I have a 30 mile round-trip each day. Also similar to the day I was going to fly, I could see this day approaching. As I crept closer to 10,000, I could pinpoint "the day" more and more closely. So, maybe I pushed it a bit in deciding to take the scooter to work that day. But it did look fine that morning.

But as the day progressed, clouds piled up on the horizon and the air felt more and more like rain. I watched the radar on the local TV station website and you could see a big blob of rain heading our way. Would it arrive before I left and pass through before I would start my ride or would it hold off until after I'd arrived home? Or would it hit at just the wrong time? I wanted to stop and take a picture of the odometer when the big event occurred but I didn't want to do that in a rainstorm. So, I ended up worrying more about getting home dry than worrying about memorializing the odometer reaching 10,000 miles. Plus, I was facing two pretty big problems at work and that took precedence over everything. I didn't want to just leave early before the rain arrived because I had work that needed to be done.

Finally, the time to leave arrived and it hadn't started to rain. I don't usually watch the clock but in this case, I'd done all I could do on my work for the day and it made no sense to stay later than necessary. I ran out and jumped on my scooter and headed out. I kept an eye to the sky and could see things building up ahead of me. It was going to hit but when? Fortunately, I was able to keep my concentration better than I did when I was 12 years old and I watched the odometer slowly read 9,999.8 and then 9,999.9. Making sure to keep my eyes on the road ahead and only glance at the odometer, I finally saw it go to 10,000.0 and I found a place to pull off. I snapped the picture you see here and then made sure to stuff my camera under my jacket as I headed home.

Less than five minutes later, the rain hit. It was heavy and wind driven but Id been in worse. I was glad my camera was safely protected but I was also glad the the rain tapered off after a while. I got wet but I wasn't drenched. But to me, the best part was that it proved that in the 49 years since I missed my chance to fly, I had learned to focus my mind a little better and to make and keep priorities better than I did back then. Who says getting older is a bad thing?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

I was going to fly

No, I wasn't going to fly in an airplane or a glider. I was literally going to fly! Just like Superman or a bird. More like Superman, though, because I wasn't going to have to flap my arms. I knew exactly when and where it was going to happen. I had completely forgotten about this until reading a funny article about Superman at lunch and this all came rushing back to me. The story was about Superman as a boy and being able to fly and realizing that he was different. Some of the details in my story are sketchy because this happened in 1963 when I was 12 years old.

Actually, it started in the summer of 1963. One day, I had this vision that I was going to be able to fly. I saw where it would happen, the playground at school, and when, at some specific time (I knew the hour and minute then but I don't remember now) during the lunch hour when I would be outside after eating. It would happen on a specific day (which I don't remember that, either). As I said, I don't remember the time exactly and I don't remember the date when I was "told" this would happen but I knew it then. Exactly. The reason I can remember the year was that I remember the playground where it was going to happen. I was going to be in the 7th grade that fall and we would be spending it in a different school than we did 1st grade through 6th grade. The school district was building a new junior high school that was not going to be ready until we were in the 8th grade. So, the playground I saw in my vision (and that I can remember) would only be available to me for that one year.

In the vision, I saw myself standing in the schoolyard off by myself. I would stretch out one arm and lift it into the air and I would slowly rise in the direction I held my arm. So, I was to hold it up at first as I gained altitude and then bring it down to point in the direction I wanted to go. I would rise slowly and move around gently. I wasn't sure if I was moving slowly because I wasn't used to flying or if I'd be able to fly faster later. That didn't matter and I didn't even think about it. All I knew was that in a month or so, I was going to fly at lunch time and everyone would look at me and be amazed. And the girls be impressed!

I could hardly wait for summer to end. I always looked forward to a new year in school but this year was different. Not only would we be going to a different school but we would be taking the bus for the first time. We would be meeting kids from a different town (who would later be joining us at the new junior high school in the 8th grade) and I would fly! It was all I could think about that summer. Finally, the day came. I ate my lunch quickly and headed outside. As I waited around for the time to come, I joined in on a pick-up softball game. Boy, think of how I'd be catching fly balls in just a little while. I was in such a good mood. And I was having such a good time, the time just flew by.

And I forgot. I completely forgot about flying that day at the right time. When the bell rang, I realized I'd missed my chance. As everyone was filing back into the school, I ran to the spot I'd seen in my vision. I stretched out my arm and nothing happened. I had one shot at this and I messed up. I tried it a few times on later days but nothing happened. Sometimes, there are no second chances.

[To be honest, I don't remember if I played in a softball game that day. This was 49 years ago. I just remember that I was doing something that held my attention and caused me to forget about the time. I used the softball game to make it a better story. But everything else really happened the way I described it here. I do remember the two girls I was hoping to impress that day but they don't need their names repeated in some stupid blog.]

Sunday, October 07, 2012

You can't help all the time

I make a pot of tea every morning when I first get to work. While I wait for the tea kettle to boil, I either strike up a conversation with anyone else in the kitchen or read the paper. But I always check the state of the coffee. There are a few people who take coffee but don't make a new pot if it's needed. So, if one of the three coffee pots is low, I start a new one - trying to be a nice guy.

One particular morning, it was busy in the kitchen and I was talking to some people and just as I noticed that the decaffeinated coffee pot was low, my tea kettle began to boil. I thought I'd quickly make a new pot of coffee and then pour the boiling water into my tea pot. But I hadn't gotten the tea bags ready. So, it was a big rush. I decided to make the coffee first. I dumped out the old grounds, put a new filter in the basket, opened a package of coffee and poured it in the strainer basket and fit it back into the coffee maker. Just as I hit the switch to start the brewing, I realized I had used regular coffee (not decaffeinated) in the coffee maker. There were going to be a lot of people flying around the office without realizing what was going on!

I had to wait around (I finished brewing my tea) until the coffee cycle finished (with a little "hurry up" encouragement from me). Then I topped off the two pots of regular coffee with what I'd just brewed and dumped the rest out. Then, I carefully selected a bag of decaffeinated coffee and made another pot (in the orange marked pot). I finally got back to my desk after about 20 minutes. I'm paid to write programs and solve engineering problems - not to make coffee. There are times to help and there are times when you just have to walk away. It wasn't like anyone was in danger or someone's work was being held up. I've got to try to remember that helping involves some responsibility. Just the fact that you are helping isn't enough. You've got to do the job right, too. You knew that and I'm just reacquainting myself with it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

More competing sayings

No worm for this guy
About six years ago, I wrote about how old sayings can be contradictory but people will quote them as if there is no other option. I wrote about this in my post titled "Look before you leap" or "He who hesitates is lost"?. As I said then, you can't run your life by these sayings but it's fun to tie them in with what you've just done. Somehow, it makes taking the action you just took seem as if it is the action people have preferred for hundreds of years. In the case of contradicting sayings, you can't go wrong!

I just ran into another saying that puts these two ideas into one sentence:
The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.
This is poignant and funny at the same time. I hate the image of one mouse lying dead in a mouse trap while another mouse takes the bait. But it makes you think. Would the early bird start so early if he thought he was heading into a a trap?

I ran into this myself at work. The programming language we use for our products was recently updated. Now, normally, I'm the slow, deliberate guy who waits for a while to see how things are trending before I take action. But this time, I decided to be the early bird. I wasn't going to hesitate and lose. I updated the tools we use to create the programs we sell. I'm in charge of doing the daily builds of our product (that means, I compile everyone's work into a working program, create installers for the various platforms and make it available on the network for all the developers and testers - every day for testing). So, the decisions I make affect everyone in the software group.

Not two days after I made this decision and did the updating, I found out that there is a problem with printing introduced with this version of the programming language! I should have looked before I leapt. I found myself in the trap with the cheese out of reach. The sad part is that it was an uncharacteristic action for me. It's time to trot out another old saying, "Live and learn." Now I know it is better to procrastinate.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Protect your identity" Right!

We are told that we should never give out our Social Security Number. Have you ever tried to fill out any form without it having a place for that number? Every time I go to a new doctor. Every time I apply for a credit card. Whenever you fill out anything for a state government or the Federal Government. Try applying for a job without having to give out your number!

I'm not stupid about it like the CEO of LifeLock who published his Social Security Number in their ads - and has had his identity stolen a number of times. But if I have to show my Social Security Number to get something I need, I do it. It reminds me of the time I was going to be traveling in foreign countries for work. I was warned to never let anyone take my passport. Then, every hotel I stayed in wanted to keep it the first night. They'd give it back to me in the morning.  I wonder if my passport was copied or used by the wrong people? I suppose I'll never know.

It just makes you wonder about other things we were told to never do. Maybe it's OK to not look before you leap. Maybe we don't really have to lather, rinse and repeat.  Good grief - maybe we can even end a sentence with a preposition!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Titmouse pictures

My back is still giving me trouble and I find it hard to concentrate. When I do have time to write in this blog, my mind is worn out. So, this post is simply some old pictures. Seeing the young Tufted Titmouse in our bird banding visit made me think of these old pictures.

I took these pictures a few years ago (2007 and 2008). The top one was taken in June, 2007. I was able to take these pictures when the woods were closer to the path. I was able to sneak up on the birds and get closer pictures back then. But in 2009, the path was widened by a machine that was hired by the town to clear a fire break through the forest. The posts about that are "Disappearing forest", "Disappearing forest mystery solved" and "The return of the Tree Muncher". Now, the tall trees are much further from the path and it is harder to get close pictures of birds.

The second picture was taken in April, 2008. This bird was more stealthy but you can see that I was able to get a little closer. That bright, shining eye just can;t be hidden. So, even though I was closer than he would like, I was able to creep up on him because the forest was more dense. I liked it better back then. It felt more like you were out in the wild then. But nothing can stay the same can it?

As with all of my pictures, just click on these images and you'll see a larger version.