Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I went walking with the date this evening on a new-to-us trail and two people wiped out, right in front of us. First, we just started down a paved path when a biker comes down a hill and just skids out at the bottom. Turned out to be a patch of sand on the pavement which looked exactly like the dappled sunlight hitting other parts of the pavement. He was able to walk it off, but had some serious road rash on his upper arm and tore through his shorts and sleeves. Had it happened 30 seconds later, he would have had some of us on top of him. Later on we came upon someone walking her dog in the opposite direction and just as she came in sight she slid on the sandstone trail and did the weeble-wobble thing. I assured her that it was some sort of force field surrounding us that was knocking people over today. All in all though, we took no injuries ourselves and got 45 minutes of fresh air and exercise.

I needed the exercise because (a) I need the exercise and (b) I was home all day and in bed for half of it. The other half I was on the toilet. I did leave briefly to go to the doctor after my boss suggested I go. The "you dumbass" was left unsaid because she's tactful. I had just planned to wait it out, thinking I might have a kidney stone or something that hurt when I sneezed, and would make it in sooner or later. Turns out to be yet another stone free bladder infection so I'm back on antibiotics of one sort or another. (Good thing I keep a stash of acidophilus.) But until the antibiotics kicked in, I needed to stay close to, well, a particular room at home. I should be good to go for tomorrow though.

During my downtime, I finally picked up Robert Crais's "The Watchman" from my TBR pile and enjoyed it enough to go hit the library today to start the series from wayback. I was hoping that would be the case. He kinda had me hooked since the inscription in the book. I had been joking a little and mentioned that I'd never read his stuff but my friend, whom he knew, was complimentary. He wrote, "I'm the best. You'll love me. Enjoy!" Wouldn't it be nice to wake up every morning and think, "I'm the best. You'll love me."?

One final thing, also health related. There was a post on the book club board about the effects of taking steroids and I thought, "Hey, I resemble that remark!" I've thought so before but had trouble remembering what caused the side effects. Turns out to be cortisol, if your body overproduces it. Cushing's sydrome is the most extreme form and I could be the poster child for most of it. So when I saw the doctor today, in addition to fixing the sneezing with nose spray and the bladder with antibiotics, he's sending me for a cortisol test. In the meantime, I'm going to take the advice of friends, and also my doctor from 1998 (I ran across the advice while looking through records for cortisol tests, of which I have none), and eat more small high protein meals. Somehow. So if anyone has any favorite high-protein recipes to share or advice on dealing with wacked out hormones, sing out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cut Myself on Angel Hair

Steven King's son took a picture of me this morning!

Then Jennifer 8 Lee took one of me at lunchtime. Ok, ok, so they were audience shots taken by authors who don't generally get full rooms of a couple hundred fans coming to hear them talk. But still. My friend and I were centered and might show up in their scrapbooks. Hopefully not on the voodoo page.

My plans to see David Brin went up in smoke, or a cough, or something as he was feeling under the weather and didn't show. The other author I hoped to See, Raymond Feist, had a family emergency. Harry Turtledove stood in for them last minute with good humor. I have read an HT book or two, but not recently. The other two authors were Kevin J Anderson and Joe Hill (aka Joe King). It was a Sci-Fi/Horror panel and was the one thing we both wanted to see. KJA has worked on a lot of TV/film stuff and extending the Dune stories (I never got through Dune. Tried twice. It's his holy grail.) My friend loves Stephen King's work and has checked out Joe's stuff too.

One question was about building Sci-Fi readership in the last decade and the authors talked a bit about removing the geeky stigma enough that Sci-Fi fantasy elements are intermixing with mainstream fiction without too much comment, in a nearly omnipresent manner. There was some talk about the pendulum might swing back since there's currently rather a lot of paranormal elements in various genres. JH mentioned that ghosts are "a great metaphor for leaking the past into the present." There was another discussion about how some horror/sci-fi tends to be apocalyptic (this is the extrapolation of our road to hell), vs Promethian (look where this great idea/tech can take us!). They talked about why they write in the genre: it's a way to talk about the world we live in only using a funhouse mirror; it's a way to imagine a life less boring than theirs; the stories excite them.

Most of the guys (all male authors on panel) talked about the very important role their wives play as first readers. JH told a fun story. He was getting reamed by the wife about something he'd written and thought was brilliant but his wife disagreed. She was listing the negatives, including "it has a plot but no story" and "bad dialogue". He said "but it's story driven dialogue not reality driven". She thought for a while and said, "I don't know what that means, I just know it sucks." JH writes without the King name so that "publishers won't publish crap because the name sells." According to my friend, his recent novel, Heart Shaped Box is a fine read.

I'm going to look for HT's non-fiction historical coming out next year about how the "Germans" fought off the Romans or some such and managed not to be integrated into the Roman empire. Some recommendations were for Kelly Link's Specialist Hack and author Kristine Catherine Rush (names may need altered spellings).

It was a hot, hot day. But not like Africa hot because it was a nice dry heat. I still sucked down (after a glass of water and large tea to start the day) a 16oz bottle of water, a 20some ounce lemondade, another 16oz water, then a medium Jamba Juice (Surf something, very tasty) between 11 and 3. We ate a bit but mostly it was the icy drinks, carrying icy drinks, and, well, a giant bag of fresh kettlecorn.

It might not have helped that there were kettlecorn vendors everywhere (sadly no funnel cakes) and our second panel was about food. J8L talked about Chinese food being more American than Chinese, and knows a surprising amount about peanut butter. (Skippy and Spaghetti anyone?) The other speakers talked about the history and politics of food or the current politics of food. It was all very fascinating even though the moderator tended to drone on. I didn't take notes due to the sun having baked my brain, even with my little hat I picked up a couple weekends ago at the super hot street fair. The one guy talked about how the Puritans used food (feasts and fasting) to control the populace and how obesity and anorexia are two halves of the same issue - how does one deal with so much abundance? At the extremes, either try it all or reject it all... If I can remember who he was, I might get his book from the library. The other guy said some good stuff too, but I'm blanking on it as I kind of focused on the chinese food, which is my comfort food.

Anyhow, it was good to connect with my friend again and take in the california sunshine while dodging a large mass of humanity. I didn't have as much patience for prowling through the booths this year. I mostly bought board books that I can give as gifts to new parents to push a fruit and veggie agenda on their kids. I did buy one young adult book for the cover art and the autograph, and a Japanese pickling cookbook. I'm looking forward to the West Hollywood book fair (should be in a few weeks, I should find out) which tends to me less mainstream, edgier, and fiction oriented. I'll have a bigger problem not buying stuff there, I think.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

You Can Do Magic

I got an invite for thursday night. In keeping with my recent scheduling abilities, it was one of two that I agreed to, so I canceled the last minute dinner the the boy and went to see a magic show. There's a funky place in Hollywood called the Magic Castle and the sister of a friend knows a magician who got us in. I found out at noon on thursday that proper dress is a "cocktail dress" which it turns out I don't have. So I went with extra high heels, showing off the tattoo and a flirty skirt and it was no problemo. We had dinner, served by the magician's uncle, then saw one of the shows. The place is also a magic school so the MC advertises heavily during the show.

It ranged from pretty good to awesome, and Joseph the magician did a lot of old school tricks that really rocked - pulling birds out of handkerchiefs and in the end, "turning" the birds into the biggest rabbit I've ever seen. They also have a room with a "player" piano, said to be played by Irma. You stuff money in the invisible bird's birdcage and chat and they play something. Which would have been better if the flock of gay boys didn't keep requesting horrible sappy songs. I mentioned the Andrew Sisters and got a snippet of "Bei Mir Bist Do Shoen".

What was kind of weird was that the sister with the invite totally gave me the evil eye all night and I have no idea why. My friend seemed oblivious to it, so maybe that sis is just the angry baby of the family, or I was oversensitive (somehow I don't think so). It was a little odd, I thought, that my friend was the one to invite the 4th for girls night out, but I wasn't in charge of the list. I got along fine with my friend, her older sister, and the magician. I did appreciate the invite to have a very California/LA experience so I tried to be on my best behavior. We'll see how the little sis shakes out in time, but until then I might avoid eating at the restaurant she serves at. Just in cases.

I'm back to trying to focus on happy, positive things. It really does help in the maintenance of a positive outlook when, even when I'm not feeling the love, I try to see some good in things. I know a few people who can tease evil out of the slightest thing and I'm finding that more and more tiresome, but also more ignorable. It's like they aren't happy if they can't complain. And once I've figured out their position, it's a lot easier to not be sucked into their manufactured negativity. While I'm sorry a little about the negativity in my recent posts, it's also not good to ignore real negativity and hope that it goes away.

The Good Stuff:
  • New baby news this week: J&S had baby Zoe. She's a little early and a skosh under 5 pounds, but she shows the family enthusiasm for food and is gaining weight. A friend of my brother's also had a 2nd child a couple weeks ago and the family ran into my mom at the post office yesterday.
  • Went for a nice walk with the boy through a private golf course that seemed to be uphill both ways, which was good for exercise even though we had to take a detour for a little while.
  • I've been re-reading Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" (that man can keep me awake nights with his compelling writing) and Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (that man puts me lights out in 10 pages, even with the fascinating topics). I have all sorts of ideas for blogs fermenting in the brainpan as a result of this, but I only seem compelled to do something about it at 3am, at which point I write a note on a piece of paper and go back to bed. So I might go waxing philosophical soon, but at least I've derailed the rage a bit.
LA Festival of Books is this weekend and I'm headed down tomorrow to go hang with my friend and see David Brin, a long time favorite author who I first met in 8th grade at the alternate Space Camp thing I went to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Has an Angry

I try to maintain a positive outlook. When something odd happens, I try to see why someone would choose to do it. I might not agree, but I try to see why. But recently, I try to say reasonable things about topics that mean a lot to me and I get worked into a lather and become unreasonable. I know that frustration works me up like nothing else, but this doesn't feel like it's just frustration. I need to right my keel and let go of some anger before I become poison. Yet the anger keeps surprising me, making it hard to head off.

1) I just posted a huge rant about mortgage bailouts on the Freakonomics blog. It was supposed to be a question. If all goes well the moderators won't allow it.

2) I had an explosion at our anti-harassment training when someone said something inappropriate. I called it out and mentioned that it wasn't appropriate, but I was shaking with rage. It happened to be something that has gotten a free pass on TV, newswire, and radio, so when I heard it again I flipped. I started ok, but it went really south. Sadly, I don't even think I made my point.

3) At lunch last week, it took them something like 35 minutes to bring me a sandwich at a Chilis that was not quite half full. My fellow diners had completely finished their meals before mine arrived, and it arrived without the sauce it normally has so it was dry and weird. I order it because I don't have to ask for modifications, and I could feel myself flipping out when the waiter finally returned and I asked for the sauce. It wasn't my finest moment.

Now the odd thing is that I had a pretty good day today and last week, so why does my anger get so extreme? Any armchair psychologists out there should feel free to chime in.

The good stuff:
  • After the harassment training, the boss of the guy who said the inappropriate thing came to talk to me to explain how the comment was used in their group. Of all things, it was an in-joke that meant the exact opposite. I don't know if that's the complete explanation, but it was probably the only way I could accept it when at the training I was thinking there might not be an appropriate way to use it. Part of the training covered how you should be careful with statements that can be misinterpreted by a casual audience, and how context is important. Too true.

  • The weather here is fantasic. It's a wonderland. Sun, but not too much sun. Wind, but not too much wind. It's gorgeous. Worth the price of admission for sure. My brother's having similar loving feelings for his Texas digs right now too.

  • I have some really good data which indicates I have a new process and with it, more understanding of an existing process. I've had a lot of freedom with the process development and it has been fun.

  • I got a raise just yesterday. Not a giant one, but better than no raise. And likely reasonable for my group. Now to figure out how to get a really good one next year... I really need to work on being expert and productive beyond expectations in my little sphere of influence. I think this year I will have a good shot at that.

  • Through the Freak blog, I found Robert Reich's blog and it is wonderful. Jenny Crusie posted fun pictures on her blog.

  • I have good friends. And dating prospects. I talk to my family.

Really, does this seem like the day or week of someone carrying all this anger? Even hormonally, it's not the right time and I slept for 12 hours last night. I'm not on any weird medication. I drink a lot of water. Obama didn't win PA, but didn't lose miserably either. While there is a time to shout from the rooftops, not every situation requires that extreme and I need to make the message fit the situation. How to do that seems to escape me recently, however. And that makes me angry because I like to be reasonable.


I have some ADD tendencies. I get distracted by shiny things, other people's conversations, free associations running through my head, etc... The flip side is that when I do focus, I can focus really, really well. I just know that it takes a lot out of me to do this, so I put it off for as long as possible. This is manifested in the bill paying thing, house keeping, shopping, etc... When I finally settle down to do them, I can't not do the most perfect job ever, even if I do meant to do it just well enough to be done.

I sometimes have problems with note taking too - as evidenced by something on the white board in my cube at work which I just noticed. Sometime last week I decided that the list of engineering lots I owned was old and needed both updating and a new home. So I recopied the necessary lots into my notebook behind the front cover and erased the list. I had to use solvents to get a couple colors off. I haven't really looked consciously at the space until today, when I noticed this comment there:
--> Figure out how to make contact w/

WTF? Contact with who? Why? About what? I really have no idea what this refers to. Why do I do this? I'm getting better, for the most part. Before I put something away, I ask, "what would it take to make this be done?" and either do that or write it on a post it note on the stack of papers so I don't have to figure it out again later. But sometimes, things slip through the cracks.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Your Name is Earth Day?

At the local earth day fest in the park, one of the booths was a chiropractor soliciting for new clients by offering an assessment and a 5 minute massage for free, after filling out a form. I put "Earth Day" for the date and my name under it and handed it over. Then his assistant uttered the question in my title before she managed to figure out that I hadn't put the date down with numbers. At any rate, he seemed shocked that my shoulders were aligned but not shocked that like most computer users I have "head thrust" meaning my ears aren't over my shoulders, but lead a little. He seemed decent and Ester gave me a fabulous 5 minute massage that hit everything in my neck that's been sore for the last 3 days, so I signed up for a discount and go on tuesday.

Then I ran into the guy who rents me glassblowing space and we chatted at the booth of his friend who does slumped glass. She pointed out the irony of having several vendors selling international imports at the Earth Day celebration promoting local buying. I didn't buy her stuff even though she had a fun lime green earth necklace because I deliberately only took $30 in cash which I had just handed over. $20 went to the doc and I paid $5.37 to get my name and employer on a tiny dog tag for my exercise key chain so I don't have to keep stuffing my old college ID in my jog bra in case I get hit by a car or bit by a rattlesnake and die alone in the gutter or the park. I also got some lit from the "open spaces" group that leads local hikes so in the snakebite case, I will at least expire in company.

At my last booth stop of the day I stopped to chat with someone about green building and he's literally one of the first people who volunteered a viewpoint that I've been thinking about for a while, which is that there are tradeoffs when switching from one product to another, and since no energy or product is built from nothing, it's worth considering cradle to grave production and use in determining whether or not one product is more green than another. And that a particular application may require something thats ostensibly less green up front in order for long term green benefits. One of his examples is polyurethane. You can use polyu on something once and it will last nearly forever, but will off-gas chemicals a little. Or you can use milk-paint (or something I can't remember the name of exactly) but it has to be reapplied annually or more and tends to encourage mold growth. So if your goal is low indoor pollutants, you're still better off with polyu because it prevents mold which is a much bigger source of indoor pollution than most any manufactured product these days. If your goal is low environmental impact, is it better to have pros over to apply polyu once, or this other product annually? Is it better to use something a little toxic sparingly or something less toxic abundantly? If you can split the difference and get a good product that is neither toxic nor wasteful, hey, bonus! Electric cars that just switch the pollution from where you live to someone else's back yard at least led to hybrids, the first real boost in mileage we've had in decades. The point is that thinking the whole lifecycle through before making a "green" decision is a good idea.

Kind of like the people who want animals to be "free and happy" rather than used to make my dinner and leather shoes. There's a point to be made about humane (wish there were a better word for it) treatment of for-profit animals. Healthy, well fed, well exercised animals are better for everyone including the animal. But for those people who think we should just stop eating animals and making their skins into sofas and handbags, please consider that if we didn't consume them, these animals would be extinct. We are predator, they are prey, and there's nothing unnatural about that relationship. Besides, big animals that get in our way get killed. Remorselessly. (Little animals only get killed until they go out of sight and thus stop being annoying, then we forget and a while later they bounce back, like rats.)

One could argue for free-range cows, but how is that working for the buffalo? I hear the neighbors are killing them off again for getting off the nature preserves. Besides, cows are at the point where they require a lot of human intervention and wouldn't do well if "set free". You want to see a lot of miserable cows? Set them free. Either we need vastly enlarged nature preserves tailored to supporting the species we want to keep around (like we even have a clue how to not fuck that up) or just keep with our farms and badger the biggest industrial plants and reasearch facilities into treating the animals as nicely as possible up to where they die for the cause. (And paying for all the costs of their business rather than leaving environmental clean up for the the property tax payers. I'm thinking of the un-remediated sewage pits near some of the worst offenders.) And if we're raising things for food, is it better to hunt hundreds of thousands of chickens in the wild? Really?

This brings me to my real point. I kinda hate nature. I'm greatly allergic to it. Nature makes me miserable seasonally and monthly. I like and metal and ceramic and plastic and drugs to keep nature at bay. I also don't care much for unnecessary pollution because as much as I hate some of nature, I really like to breathe and drink and eat. Even more, I like to breathe and drink and eat things that have minimal poison levels. So for self preservation, I think we should strike a balance with nature: don't clear cut unless there's no other option and it's not too extensive; get the damned mercury out of the coal power plant emissions already; reduce personal and industrial water waste; build commercial buildings with more sustainable practices; and reduce emissions from industrial transportation by using trains instead of trucks and where trucks and ships are used, reduce the emitted pollutants. That's all I ask, and me a nature hater. Is that really so hard?


P.S. Leave my water bottles alone. I hear in Seattle they're banning them. The problem is that there are good reasons for them and I don't hear that they're banning Dr. Pepper bottles. I love Dr. Pepper, but I keep water in the car in a flat of 16oz bottles so I can always keep a couple in the passenger compartment. If I keep 2-liters in the car, they're not convenient for drinking while driving, 16 oz bottles are. Once you drink from the container, it gets contaminated with bacteria. Considering how hot it gets in my car - hot enough to grow bacteria - it's healthier to use several small bottles that I have a hope of finishing in one to two uses. And I don't like the water from my place, so it requires filtering and all sorts of processing. Cheaper and more convenient is to buy little bottles than to waste 3X the water cleaning a weekly supply of still non-sterile refills from home. So hands off my water in little bottles.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Dinner's on Fire

I have been playing with the microwave steamer bags recently. I decided to try to steam kale stems because I like kale but even on the stove the leaves and stems are usually cooked separately. The stems about the same size and texture as asparagus, which steams fine, so I gave it a try. At first, I thought there were some random metal shards in my produce because I got several small, fiery explosions that looked a lot like the results of leaving a spec of foil embedded in leftovers. I took the stems out, removed the one with a big, smoky, blackened crater, failed to find any metal, and tried again. Turns out that at the start of cooking, those small remnants of leaves that stick to the side of the stem just explode. After they steam gets going, they just cook, but when it starts, there's like heh heh, fire, heh heh. Dinner and a show.

Another thing has caught me by surprise this week. I've now ridden my bike twice. As I got going, both times I had a very strong urge to fasten my seat belt. It felt uncomfortable being without somehow.

For my final trick, something both surprising and on fire! I got back from said bike ride and went to the kitchen (the new appliances are fine!) to get some water. The light didn't turn on and the switch was in the up position. While this fixture has a tendency to dim faster than it ought, I just thought that tendency was why it was on sale for 75% off at IKEA. I went to jiggle the light bulbs (with the electricity off) and noticed that the situation was more grim - 2 of the supports had slid partly off the rail where the supports also provide electrical conductance to the track. I hauled out the ladder to re-attach them properly but closer inspection showed they were not ajar, they had melted enough to bend. And the wires were fried. Mmmm. Deep fried lights.

One of these things is not like the other. Sadly, that's the good one.
light fixture connection melted with burn damagenormal light fixture connectionlight fixture connection melted with burn damage

(Edited to say I fixed it by using table attributes. Using the uploader from blogger instead of my manual img src code just put it in the middle on the subsequent line. sigh.)

Now I wonder if it was a fault in the light fixture or a fault in the circuit itself - because I put this light up to replace a light fixture that had burned through one of the three sockets. Also, the area around the light fixture is smoky grey. (I just tried the magic eraser and it kind of gets it off, which is the first thing that has.) And to think I didn't know what to do with myself tonight. If I hurry, I can still go buy a light. One that is cheap enough that I don't mind replacing it in June with the remodel, but not so cheap that it burns the place to a cinder. I like fire as much (or more) than the next otter, but I like things to be in control. Even riding the bike and snowboarding, I dislike being out of control more than I like going fast.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Go West

My friend J has been out visiting on his way West. This is a different friend J than the one a couple weekends ago who helped with the patio and posted all my stuff to crai.gsl.ist. This J helped me get more memory installed in the eMac and cleaned crap out of my hard drive. We've fallen back into old patterns like going out to dinner and using the time to co-solve puzzles in Games magazine. (We'd been speculating about the fate of a college friend we hadn't heard from in a while, then started cursing a particular puzzle whose format seemed familiar when we realized that he was the author. At least we solved that puzzle.) We like similar music for the most part and have similar senses of humor. Here are some of the conversations that have had us in stitches. Hopefully they translate at least a little.

Walking at the harbor we see a sign of services offered listed over the pier and J notices one in particular:
J: "...Dinner parties... Private functions... Memorial at Sea! I suppose a wedding could be a private function, but they don't call that out specifically like Memorial at Sea."
CO: "Ooh! And kayak rental. Maybe we could rent some kayaks tomorrow, paddle around."
J: "And if something goes wrong, we can have a Memorial at Sea!"
J: "Well one of us can have a Memorial. The other will be there in spirit."

J: Can we stop at a grocery store? I need to take some Kool-aid to New Zealand for my brother's friend.
CO: Sure, there's a Ralph's near where we're going.
J: I'm not sure I trust a grocery called Ralph's. Well, it's not like I'm getting deli meat there. And nobody's ever died from Kool-ai...
CO: ADCIDLOL (almost drives car into ditch laughing out loud)

Today we were driving around picking up fruit from a farmstand (cheap for once with oranges 5# for $1) but mostly just driving some of the rural inland mountainous roads, listening to tunes, and taking in views like this:
scenic mountains with greenery

We were looking out for a turnoff which may or may not exist when we came upon this comic gem and had to stop for a picture. And so we could finish laughing.
scenic port a potty with large No Dumping sign

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Tires

It's new tire week for this otter. After getting some nice Yokohama YK520s for the 3 which skitter a lot less than the Good.year Eagles (new and used), I decided to upgrade my bike tires as well. My buddy is in town visiting and we like to have brunch and go shopping. He's also a big fan of biking, so I figured we'd have brunch and go to the bike store that sells some really cool looking bikes.

The staff was very helpful. I asked what I could do to protect my sitting bones, pad my hands, and reduce rolling friction. And if it would be worth doing that or just buying a new bike. We went the upgrade route and for approximately the purchase price of the bike (as an end of season rental from Martha's Vineyard), it went from painful and difficult to ride with the big, cool looking, knobbly tires...

red bike with big knobbly tires

...To being quite a pleasant experience to ride. Enough that I bothered to haul it in and out of the back of the car a couple times to play around on it. Previously, my butt would hurt almost immediately and even five minutes of riding would be felt for two days in my posterior. We lubed up the chain, too. Now the bike actually coasts on relatively level ground, which makes up for the fact that the tires look a little out of scale. I'm beginning to remember how it felt to like riding a bike.
red bike with little smooth tires and gel seat

While I like things to look cool if possible, form always has to follow function. If something doesn't function, it's worthless, or even worse - like my bike - a black hole of opportunity cost. Stuff that both works and looks fantastic is the goal. The bike now works really well and still looks pretty good with the new tires, seat, and handlebar grips. I think I'll be using it a lot more.



After I picked up my buddy at the aeroporto, I wanted to hit up Indian Summer in El Segundo. But there were disembarking delays and I didn't think it would be open. I mentioned IHOP and he was down with that. (We had to eat in LA because stuff where I live closes early even on fridays, and it was 10:30.) I headed down Sepulveda and as we were closing in on the IHOP, I noticed the adjacent business, the "Stick and Stein". I had no idea what to expect there but we went with novelty and settled in at the S&S.

At first, we wondered what the "stick" was for. I guessed kebabs. J guessed kebabs with an New Zealand accent or corndogs. Turns out to be a pool hall and they were still serving food. We settled in on uncomfortable bar seats, then moved to a booth with a view of pool playing. Their food was much better than I anticipated, and they have my second favorite presentation of Fried Zucchini. (Claim Jumper has my favs.) The place has clearly been around for a while and seen some hard wear, as evidenced by this gem of a vending machine in the mens' room. Here you have it, the "Vend-A-Scent". Pop in a quarter, and get sprayed with Dra.kkar, Ar.amis, or Polo which will drive the dames wild.
rusty, raggedy looking vending machine

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Delegation, Power of Three

My desire to get stuff done without doing it myself came to a head this week. I have now paid people to:
  • prepare my taxes
  • pay my bills
  • clean my condo
  • put new tires on my car
The one thing I didn't buy today was dinner because my date covered it. Now I'm back home and the condo smells lemony (and like the cheap, possibly carcinogenic, mousepad with wristrest I got at the dollar store), the car corners better, the credit card balance is consolidated and being paid down, and I'm getting my largest refund ever. Best of all, it all got done! With a minimum of angst on my part. And I didn't have to be expert at something I don't have interest in being expert in. And the stuff I am expert at doing is going well.

I also need to make a decision about what to do with the refund before I spend it twice over. I'm thinking about:
  • spending a little on something fun (of course, by my definition that means kitchen cabinets I install myself, or a custom range hood but I already have a budget for that),
  • spending a little on travel (I'm still debating alaska in June, plus I want to see my grandmothers)
  • putting a hunk in a Roth (I haven't contributed to those in a while and gutted my early ones for the downpayment on the condo.)
  • buying glass studio time for playing around or classes (whee!)
  • paying down debt (blah)
If anyone out there in blogland feels strongly about paying down credit card debt (5.9%), car debt (8.5%), or spending it all on hookers and blow, let me know.


Also, I've had HGTV on in the background while I picked up clutter and did laundry because it's kitchen reno week on my favorite station. The show on right now is looking at the exact laminate I want to put in my kitchen (I picked it out when eagle eyed friend J visited) and it looks even better large than on the swatch. Cool. Other coincidences have happened too. There was a househunters episode last night in Portland, OR where the couple bought a condo from a building I toured when I interviewed there. It was super funky fresh and modern and I liked it a lot, but was still surprised to see it on TV. Two of the on-the-cheap kitchen remodels have featured IKEA cabinets and answered the question I had about whether or not people will care if my upper cabinets perfectly align with my lower cabinets. (No, apparently not.) IKEA is cheap because they don't do custom sizing. You cram whatever they have into the space you have and put up filler in the rest. Unfortunately, their selection of 12" wide cabinets leaves something to be desired but if I go with 15", there are some challenges. I figure at worst I buy the 15" and have to replace them with 12" before I sell. In the meantime, I have to custom fit a 28" wide vent hood for over the stove, and someone on the bookclub did just that and loved it so I'm feeling optimistic.

Oh no way - Househunters is on again (not my favorite, wasn't quick enough with the remote), but OMG!! These people are touring a house plan I recognize from the elevation! They're in the town my brother lives in near Austin, TX. He just plunked down a deposit for a new house this week to improve his view. But on monday, he had a different house in mind for a lot located closer to his current place (and the tollway noise) and sent me to the builder's website to see the house plans they offered. One of them has just come to life on my TV. Not bad. But the builders were not willing to make a modification that was a dealbreaker for the brother and he found a quieter lot and more accommodating builder.

I like those coincidences (all outsourcing all the time, HGTV overlapping with my actual H) better than the ones at work. Last week was office supply issues week: I ran out of staples, I ran out of tape, the printer jammed several times requiring me to dig paper out of every possible orifice. This week it was metrology issues: the 4 point probe ran out of memory and needed a software reconfiguration, the stress tool lost control of one laser... Fortunately I had no trouble with the profilometer which was on the critical path and couldn't be delayed.

One more day and my buddy (Esperanto Guy in the sidebar) gets here for nearly a week's stay. I'm taking a couple half days off so we can do stuff because if I take whole days I'll just sleep until noon and we won't have that time together anyway. He's going to help me with the computer tasks I have piling up, so I might not make him move bookshelves. Well, at least not many.

Oh, and go read this post at New Door Knobs and the one after it if you like pithy, comical conversations with kids.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Not Flying High

Warning. This rant has been building for a while so it is extra long. I may have mentioned some of this before, but it has come to a head once again, and I wanted to put my thoughts in one post. It's about why I now hate the commercial flying experience and my interpretation of the cause of the airline industry tanking. If you have other opinions or like mine, please comment. I'd like to know if I'm alone on this.

The airline industry has had a lot of press like this this month with airlines going under, worst service measures in recent history, grounding flights for inspection, grounding flights for maintenance, and record low passenger counts. I've been waiting for this for, oh, lets call it 7 years and 7 months. Because all this stuff that's showing problems now? THIS is what we should have been funding since 9/11 if we wanted to be safer when traveling: maintenance, inspection, upgrades to planes and airports and air traffic control, staff training. Not those placebo TSA screenings which waste time, money, productivity, and do NOTHING but make me less safe.

And the media is expressing confusion as to why people aren't as keen to fly anymore? I wanted to title this post, "Well, Duh!" Where have they been living? Apparently they haven't flown anywhere on a commercial jet in the last couple years. Because with all the restrictions in carry ons and extra processing time of everything we pack, flying is just no longer convenient for anything but a major cross country trip. Short trips like hops up the coast aren't worth the hassle and heaven forbid you actually try to courier items. After all the time and aggravation of both sorting all my stuff into extra piles for inspection, deciding what I can't take for a short trip if I don't want to check the bag, deciding what to check vs. carry for a long trip, what I can live without, disembowelling my first aid kit!!! and repacking everything in an stupid little bag and having to buy water after security for $3, then standing through excruciating lines that can total 90 minutes for one trip... it's easier, faster, less hassle, and cheaper just to drive any trip that's 6 hours or less. And the 8 hour trips are tempting too.

These half assed, completely senseless, "protective" measures do not make me safer, even a little, especially putting all my liquids in a baggie and forgoing water. No water makes this otter and other people extra cranky. I do not want to be standing in line or be crammed in a can with cranky, dehydrated people. Being dehydrated on a plane makes people more susceptible to colds because the protective mucous layer that flushes germs away dries out. What if I don't enough space in the baggie for hand sanitizer because I need to take my contacts? What about all those poor people with actual medicine they need to take?

Does anyone making these insane rules have any idea how much liquid I need to travel with to avoid iterruption of my life? It fits in more than one baggie, and I really do need it. If I have something like mascara tossed out, I will need to buy more in an unfamiliar town which takes extra time and money. Mascara tubes are designed to not let stuff out. I defy ANYONE to cause a real threat with something in a mascara tube. At best, you get a small lamp that wouldn't hold a candle to a lighter, literally. If I have my eye drops tossed out, I could get an eye infection. If I have to throw out two $20 toiletries, that's a tank of gas I could have bought and an hour of shopping. If I spend 30-90 minutes repacking all my stuff into smaller containers, and so do half of all other air travellers, that's literally MILLIONS of person-hours UTTERLY WASTED every damn day. Either that, or we're turning millions of people into smugglers. Lotion is the gateway to smuggling.

In engineering, we do a FMEA for our processes - Failure Mode Effects Analysis. Every process step gets rated for three things - Severity of failure (You will die=10, you can't notice=1), Frequency of Occurence of failure (1 of 2 = 10, ppb = 1), and Detection of failure (can't detect, = 1, will always detect = 1). Anything with a S*O*D >= 150 needs action, and anything with a severity of 9 or 10 needs to be further assessed. The airplane plunging to the ground is clearly a 10. Detection based on inspection is pretty much always an 8 (meaning its only going to catch gross errors), so we're a little high at RPN=80. But then there's occurrence. The VAST majority of the millions of people flying every day just want to get where they are going. While everyone *could* be a threat, realistically, the occurence is a 1, or at most a 2. Because we have to factor in not only intent to harm, but knowledge of how to do so, planning, etc... For someone who is really, really determined, they'll find a way. But someone who is educated and connected enough to pack something harmful and then place it where it will do damage, and actually want to do this is very, very rare. Low ppm range, certainly.

So that leaves our RPN at pretty much 160. So we have to take some action, and review things, but it's not the worst offender. Therefore, the goal of the TSA should be to prevent opportunistic crimes.

Left as an exercise for the reader: Try to calculate the RPN (or just the probability) for failed landing gear, catching a cold on the plane that leads to pneumonia, crashing your car on a 1 hour drive to the airport, losing your luggage (1 in 300 bags goes astray), insufficient inspection of electrical systems, crashing into another plane at or near landing. Pretty much all of these things are way more likely to happen to you and cause you grief than some dumbass blowing you out of the sky, even with absolutely no screening in place. On the whole, as I said, people just want to get to where they're going. Preferably, with all the stuff they need, not stripped naked and hung out to dry.

I think we should keep the x-ray screening of luggage for anything that's carried on and metal detectors of people, and maybe dogs sniffing the checked baggage. But that's mostly to provide a barrier that means someone doesn't accidentally carry explosives on the plane (some everyday things are not safe, you'd be surprised), or a fifth of Jack and a 45. Or that package for the stranger. Stuff like that. Basically, keep people from doing (probably inadvertantly) stupid stuff, or things that have consequences beyond their intent. Most people can just lock their doors, some need security guards or alarm sytstems, and the bigwigs in government require Secret Service. Airline travel pretty much needs the level of security equivalent to locking doors, and maybe putting in an alarm system, and wearing your seatbelt. There's just no practical way, as we're finding out, of having the equivalent of Secret Service protect us in the air. And there's no reason for it either.

I'm against the shoe screening thing. If the metal detector doesn't beep, don't screen them. I can't stand or walk comfortably without shoes on, especially on hard floors, due to plantar fasciitis. Expecting me to do so for the screening is a hardship for me, and actually causes damage to my feet. Stilettos are as dangerous as a knife or needlenose pliers and all three require close proximity and fairly expert use to cause reliable or even medium scale damage. We should just let them all on. Severity of use? In the amount of time you have to use one before being apprehended, the plane ain't gonna crash, but someone onboard could be hurt. But that threat is no different than walking down the street, it doesn't increase on a plane. (Unless maybe there are dehydration issues.) Besides, they're screening shoes for electronics. Anyone who really wanted to do damage could just hide electronics in their cell phone, digital camera, laptop, PDA, recharging circuits, extra drives, alarm clock, etc... rather than use their shoe. Just call your receiver in the luggage with your phone, for cripes sake. When every person carries roughly 4 electronic things with them (from my observations), ALL of them complex and most of them with wireless communicators, how are we expecting high school grads or even trained experts, to tell "dangerous" electronics from "benign" electronics in a 5 second scan? We travel with this stuff because it is NECESSARY for our lives. We can't and shouldn't ban it. But we also can't possibly screen out the dangerous wires from the safe wires. (Or should I call them garrotes?)

People can reasonably be expected to find 3 things at an inspection. Start cranking up the number of disallowed items and including things that are both random and harmless and this will distract screeners from the worst threats. We now have about 10 major things that get watched for, (explos.ives, aerosols, g.uns, some knives but not others, some tools but not others, matches, soda, water bottles, lotion, lipgloss, etc...) so either we need more people who only focus on their 3 things at every station, or accept that our screeners will find 9 of 10 items most of the time and just fail utterly to find 1/10th of the contraband. Since the contraband is mostly face cream and drinks, I can't bring myself to give a damn that these things are currently being missed. I do care that I'm wasting time loitering in a more dangerous situation while this exercise in futility and fear mongering is carried out.

Because that' not even getting to the part where both we and our stuff are less safe. We now spend lots of time outside 'secure' areas waiting in long, crowded lines that make excellent bo.m.b targets and provide fantastic pickpocketing opportunities. Think about it. Everyone in that line got out their personal ID, which is usually in their wallet or purse, then stands around for 15-30 minutes, occasionally shuffling forward and bumping into people while they scoot their bags forward. Any clever pickpocketer now knows excactly where and how to find the money of 80% or so of everyone in line. Many people don't even re-close their purses or backpacks.

Also, everyone now gets a good look inside your bag when you take stuff out for the screening. You're supposed to carry on valuables like jewelry, and many put them in cases that look like jewelry cases. Then you get hassled to go faster and shove your stuff through inspection before you have a hope of getting your person through. JUST SAY NO. Don't let your stuff through before you can reasonably retrieve it. Especially now that you've just flashed the contents and location to all and sundry. TSA agents are screeners, not people who will run after a pickpocket who can be in another state in 30 minutes. You think they'll lock down the airport for your laptop or grandma's ring? Think again.

Then there's the recommendation of: "get to the airport 2 hours in advance". (This is absolutely necessary for LAX these days; it's horrific. Plus I've spent more time there being hassled by police for pulling to the curb, then I actually have spent at the curb. Not exaggerating.) The problem is, if you hit a dry patch and actually get through security in record time, the non-hub airports are NOT DESIGNED to hold people for 2 hours. They schedule gates for an hour time block for a flight, not 2. When people get there too early, there's no where for them to go. In non-hub airports there is usually insufficient or too-distant food and entertainment. By the time you've allowed for extra traffic (1.5-2 hours for a 40 mile trip to LAX for me), 30 minutes to park, 2 hours at the airport, the half hour I wasted packing that damn baggie and the flight? That's 4.5 hours of pure punishment for something I never did and have no intention of ever doing. (Ok, the traffic is just LA, but the rest? It should all take half the time (and "none" for special packing). 1.5 hours to drive, 20 minutes to park and 30 minutes to get to the gate.

Instead of throwing money at screening the masses ever more minutely for things that aren't threats, we should have:
  • fixed planes,
  • upgraded planes,
  • given mechanics good raises for good work,
  • provided an extra flight attendant per flight,
  • provided more safety training for attendants (their job is your safety, not to be your waitress),
  • purchased AEDs for big planes,
  • strengthened cockpit doors,
  • paved runways,
  • replaced tires,
  • planned more safety, system, and ergonomic improvements,
  • provided more free parking shuttles to keep traffic away from crowds,
  • or redesigned pick-up areas to function better,
  • screened baggage handlers,
  • upgraded baggage handling capabilities,
  • upgraded bag tracking,
  • redesigned seats for comfort,
  • added more in-flight entertainment,
  • upgraded air traffic control software and hardware...
Pretty much anything but what we have been doing which is wasting our time and money in order for someone to have a press release saying they're doing something. I sent this list, or one like it, to the TSA a couple years ago. I don't know if anyone read it. Or could do anything about it even if they agreed with me. Sometimes the juggernaut is just going to run its own way and take you with it.

In conclusion, it's the insane TSA rules, severe invasion of privacy, and diversion of funds that is causing the airlines these troubles. [added: It's just not worth it to pay a premium for that punishment.] As far as I can tell, it's nothing to do with the airline companies themselves, bless their hearts. [Except that they like to book flights 3-6 months in advance which only works with stable gas prices. The price of gas and the devaluation of the dollar are also culprits, but I don't think would do the industry in without the aggravation.]

Monday, April 7, 2008

We're Talking, We're Talking

Still here. Had the date saturday; it was nice. I don't really know what to say about it yet although I'll try. We went to dinner, talked, then drove around and talked more. I'd kind of been hoping he had some better ideas for a date since he's a local, but not this time. He did say the magic word about 3 sentences into the date. (The word is "kayak".) It's a little odd that he seems to have some eerily similar interests/disinterests as I do. I'm not sure how that will play out. But hey, it looks like we're going out again and he's thinking about salsa lessons. If he learns to lead (or just plain abdicates and lets me lead), I might even dance with him.

Today was another good solid weekend day.
  • I met up with a bookclub friend for the first time since christmas and we took a nice walk in the park which wound up over at a dam on the LA river. It might be a nice place to take my parents for a walk when they come out because it has trees for mom and a dam for dad. Or as my mom put it, all those "dam trees."
  • I found the tax statement for my HELOC/2nd mortgage. Whew! I was unable to access it online and was starting to freak out because it was one of two things I needed for the accountant to finish my taxes, and I know where the other thing is.
  • My friend and I stopped by the glassblowing studio so I could show her where it was since it was only a few city type blocks from the park. Turns out there was a class going (which I would have LOVED to take) on sculpture. So I saw several people there who I knew and knew me and I got to say hi and ooh and ah. And the guy who helps run the place swears he called me about the class, so he was psyched that I stopped by because "he's not the type of cat to hound people about stuff". So I let him know I was planning to be back soon and he'll keep me on the list for classes.
I'm up late again because the fresh air wore me out and I napped on the couch. Hopefully I'll still get enough sleep to be awake for work tomorrow. I need to do some experiments that require judgement and being alert. (The world needs more lerts.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Step into a Slim Jim

First, for anyone checking in on the date, it got moved to tomorrow night. This turned out to be a bonus because I wound up scheduling a bunch of fun stuff for the rest of the weekend including brunch once, if not twice, so I wouldn't feel so pathetic for not having friends. Turns out my friends stepped up to the plate when asked. Cool.

After brunch this morning and shopping for necessities at Sur la Table, I met with a bookkeeper who will save me money by making sure all my bills are handled efficiently. (My tax guy recommended her and the other reference checked out too.) I set up autopay for credit card minimums and such, but I don't always pay the full amount even when I mean to. She will. There are things that everyone has to deal with whether we want to or not and bill paying causes me much stress and consternation whereas she likes it. That alone is worth it, but my finances have gotten wonky since I bought the house and disturbed the system, and I'm paying more fees than I should. This way, instead of paying the soulless corporations $$, I'm giving $ to a local housewife running a side business, and keeping $ for myself.

I had set up the bookkeeping meeting at a nearby coffee shop. When I got back, I decided to walk some more and hit up the dollar shop. It's amazing the willpower it took to not drive this short distance when I had to retrieve something from the car on the way there, even though I chose this neighborhood for walkability. I like the dollar store for many things, but specifically for the face cloths I use in the middle of the day when I don't feel like making a huge splashy mess in the bathroom or on my shirt, but want my face to feel cleaner. I always wind up with something I wasn't planning on. Today, I got a slim jim. Yep, one of those metal devices one uses to pick car locks. Because I could. For a dollar. The best part is that I ran into the tire shop manager on my way home and showed him and he told me how to use it.

To summarize 3 things that made me happy today, even before the date:
  • Brunch with a friend who brought a 2 for 1 coupon to place with atmosphere that had been recommended to me just the day before by someone else as having really good food.
  • SlT carries the cheapo white "icing" spatulas that I love and use almost every day. There's nothing better for scraping down a bowl (they're the same white plastic with thin edges they make pot-scrapers out of) or getting every scrap of flesh cleanly out of an avocado. Their major fault is that they do stain and have to be replaced, but they're the best thing ever in the spatula line and cheap-o so I forgive them that and bought 4 - two with long handles and two short.
  • Dude! I have a slim jim. And some hope of knowing how to use it because I've been patronizing local small businesses and walking. And talking to people who own local businesses who will help me deal with stuff I'm not good at.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

New Stove for Me

My new stove came today! Ta Da!
new white stove

It's a Maytag freestanding range with double oven. The glass top is a medium grey with black sealer around the edge which looks better than the funky grey sealer on the version I saw at H.D. It's possible that I'll need to make some adjustments to using the flat glass surface from 10 years of gas cooking and one year of cooking on this:
white stove

I think moving the narrow cooking oven/broiler/toaster to the top is a genius design idea. No bending for the option I use the most and it keeps my food further from the floor.
white stove with upper oven door open

I've tried it and it heats up super fast. I just baked up some pillsbury rolls and the whole process from oven on to oven off was less than 15 minutes with 9 minutes of cooking, while reading the directions. This will suit my lack of planning lifestyle well. If I lose my mind and start to plan, there are delay start and cook then hold at warm options - in both ovens. The bottom is still a full sized oven for those twice a year big things, with funky optional racks available.
lower full oven, clean and new

And the kitchen went from looking like this
old black and brown stove in place with fridge

To looking like this.
white stove in place with fridge
When I get done, it's going to be the kitchen of 40 different whites, but I'm ok with that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hat Trick

I've been somewhat at a loss for fun things to do in the evenings in my new digs. I don't have reliable peeps to hang with on short notice. While I have friends out here, they're mostly the sort I have to plan in advance to see and make an event out of it once a month or so. I did join SWE which gives me more to do, but doesn't help me meet men. I've mostly been working on the kitchen reno plans recently and costing out other upgrades like baseboards and crown molding to class the place up. (Yes, I paid over $300K for a place that was built as low income housing. But I like it and someone else does the landscaping and pool maintenance. And it was one of the 10 cheapest non-mobile places in the county.)

This week is different though. I've got all sorts of good things going on - three days in a row of good things, in fact.
  • Today I got my hair done by a lady I think* will be a keeper! It was starting to look frizzy and frumpy and I didn't like the last cut anyway. I got a recommendation from a SWE member and I like the new lady. Even better, her price is reasonable for a cut and color. At about half what decent places in my town cost it's worth the drive to Ventura. Plus, she understood both the color I was going for, did a good A-line wedge, sent me to a tasty Indian food place, and picks a banjo.
  • My new oven comes tomorrow!
  • I have a date on friday! Yep. I got a phone call at lunch today from the guy at the hardwood shop who scrambled to get me veneer scraps for free and selections of baseboards and moldings to check out at home. He didn't have a big plan worked out, but I told him yes and he's going to get back to me tomorrow with details. He's a very positive person, from what I know of him, and cute. A little shorter than me, or about the same height. We'll see how that works.

That takes care of the hat trick of stuff to do at night. Additionally,
  • Spring has sprung! The fleurs are blooming. Iceplant and some shrub or other.
    Iceplant with 4 yellow spiky blooms
    pink flowers on a shrub near a tree trunk

    Which is nice except for the pine trees using my car as a holding place for their sexual excess. The clean stripe is what the car looked like two days beforehand.
    excessive yellowish pollen on formerly clean red car
    (The only thing I now miss about my old car was its ability to blend with just this pollen color, thus not looking dirty again 30 minutes after a wash. Except I never really washed that car.)

  • I picked up my cabinet hardware
    stainless arc handles in two sizes

  • I dropped off my tax paperwork with the accountant on monday, he gave me the number of a part time bookkeeper and I'm meeting with her on saturday. I need to find an organizer too. Or a friend who will badger me into organizing and help me when I'm stuck. Or a date...

Actually, I'm not making plans to date contractors etc... to get the reno done, but it did help to wear a low cut shirt to the home depot. Just saying.

* The only non-keeper part of the hairstyle is that the hair dye once again was rough on my scalp (new brand) and I will have scabs. Maybe if I take allergy meds before the next color? I will post pics after I'm able to wash it once as I still have a lot of residual color around the edges and if I try to take it off, it'll uncolor the roots next to my face. So. Friday.