Thursday, July 31, 2003

War On Terrorism Update

At the Miami International Airport and Drug Smuggling Facility, there are video monitors at the security checkpoints, showing you, with words and pictures, what you cannot take on the airplane. One of prohibited items is gunpowder. There's a picture of a wooden barrel, and the word "GUNPOWDER." No doubt this tough new rule has ruined many a family vacation for people who, naturally, thought they could take a powder keg through airport security ("Any laptop computers in that powder keg, sir? No? OK, put 'er through!").

You have to wonder what kind of John Ashcroft fascist police state are we living in.


Check out Dave Barry's blog. Funny stuff.

It ain't Blair's Diving Mules

...but it's not bad. Chincoteague, Virginia held their annual pony swim yesterday. The herd of ponies live on an island just off the coast of Virginia, and once a year are rounded up and make the short swim to the mainland.

From the article:
Yearlings and younger will be auctioned Thursday to thin the herd and raise money for the island's volunteer fire department, which cares for the ponies.

Ponies that aren't sold, as well as those that are donated back to the fire department, will swim back Friday to roam free for another year on a national wildlife refuge on Assateague.

This year's swim was the 78th orchestrated by the fire company, with "saltwater cowboys" — firefighters on horseback — driving the ponies into the water.

The ponies have lived on Assateague for many years, although no one really knows how they got there. One theory is that Colonial settlers hid their horses on the island to avoid paying taxes on livestock. A more romantic version is that the original ponies survived a Spanish galleon wreck.


This is one of those interesting little local traditions that you find all over the country.

Juxtaposition

I noticed on the way to work this morning two new restaraunts being built on the parkway. One is a Chik-fil-a, fast-food chicken that isn't awful. One quirk of the chain is that they are never open on Sundays, even in mall locations - the corporate policy is strongly christian.

So if you're hankerin' for chicken on the sabbath, you'll have to go to the new Hooter's across the street. They look to open right around the same time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Program review

Tonight was the premier of the USA network new program 'Peacemakers'. All in all, it's pretty disappointing. The beginning credits were a confused mess, and it didn't get much better from there. As much as I normally like Tom Berringer, here his low-key acting was downright comatose. Add in an uninteresting story and supporting characters who are dull or annoying, and you'd be better off watching paint dry.

I had a lot more hope for last years show 'Monk'. After a great pilot, the quality of the episodes became very uneven, ranging from not-bad to mediocre. It's a shame too, because the premise is original and had lots of potential.

Frightening thing

Asian people seem to look middle-aged forever, until one morning - boom - they look ancient. Like hundreds of years old.

Yesterday, on the drive home, I saw an ancient-looking asian driving a big ol' cadillac right through a red light like it wasn't there. And as s/he drove by - oblivious - s/he had a cell phone pressed to the side of his/her head, yacking away.

Let's see: elderly driver - check
asian driver - check (ask a Californian)
cell phone - check

Yessireebob. That's one auto that would be safer with the wheel unattended, even at speed.

Time well spent

Over on Ghost of a Flea is a wonderful observation, that rings true:

"Liberals" tend to think "conservatives" are evil while "conservatives" tend to think "liberals" are stupid.

Also, Dean Esmay interviews Cox & Forkum - cartoonists extrordinaire, and links to some fascinating articles about the history of the Koran. I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately on the peoples of the Middle East, and these articles shed some light on the attitudes and reactions of the devout Muslim concerning we infidels.

Ranting and Venting (I, Terrorist)

If political shennanegins aren't your cup of tea, just scroll on by, because I have some bitching to do...

Yesterday was an eventful day in the world of hobby rocketry. Especially if you define 'eventful' as being bent over and screwed royally by two moronic congress-critters in the holy name of 'security'.

From their press release:

Lautenberg, Schumer Join Forces to Stop Republican Attempts to Pass Legislation That Would Make it Easier for Terrorists to Build Missiles in US

Ashcroft Justice Dept. Opposes Legislation

Washington, D.C. - Today, United States Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) joined the Bush Administration in opposition to a Republican sponsored bill that would exempt the purchase of certain explosives used to launch 'high-powered hobby rockets' from federal license, permit and background check requirements currently in place.


This 'Republican-sponsored' bill is co-sponsored by two Democratic Senators.

The legislation (S.724) which Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) attempted to pass without debate or a vote, would allow terrorists and criminals to acquire large amounts of explosive rocket propellant without law enforcement's knowledge; placing Americans at further risk and jeopardizing homeland security.

The bill first went through the Senate Judiciary Commitee, where it was hotly debated (and much modified).

I'll say it again (not that its helped), rocket propellant doesn't explode. Imagine NASA's surprise every time they launch a rocket and it takes off into the sky, instead of going kablooie right there in front of them.

Furthermore, it's already against the law for terrorists and criminals to acquire explosives, so this doesn't make us any safer, it just lets these nitwits pose in front of the media and claim they're protecting us all in the holy name of 'Security' (I should trademark that phrase) while further restricting the freedoms of Americans.

"Allowing anybody to walk into a store and buy huge amounts of rocket fuel is crazy. We need to protect our homeland from terrorists; not give them even more tools to harm Americans," said Lautenberg.

The 'huge' amounts we're talking about here are measured in pounds, of a compound proven by scientific measure and practical demonstration to be non-explosive. But once again, we're doing it (all together now) for 'Security'.

"The bottom line is that some of the rockets people are building these days aren't "models" - they are missiles with tips that can be filled with explosives or biological or chemical weapons."

Let's not let reason get in the way. Why in the world would Joe Terrorist go to the trouble of constructing and using an inaccurate (missiles are guided, hobby rockets are not) delivery system for his payload of 'terror'? He can simply rent a car or truck and drive it to the target, park it and walk away. Better start requiring background checks for car rentals too.

The hobby is already federally regulated, this bill is to relieve us of the additional and unintentional burdens caused by Homeland Security and the Safe Explosives Act (which almost shut down the 4th of July too).

"Sometimes the things you see in Congress make you scratch your head in wonderment."

Something we agree on, but my wonder is if my tax dollars pay for the short bus they send to pick you up for work.

"Why anyone in the post-9/11 world would think that making it easier to get bomb-making materials is a good idea is beyond me," Schumer said.

It's not bomb-making materials, stoopid. I bet shoelaces are beyond you too.

"This bill would essentially create a new loophole that lets terrorists and criminals accumulate large amounts of the same kinds of explosives that the Unabomber and other terrorists have used. We should be tightening the restrictions on this stuff, not loosening them. This is legislative lunacy."

No, this is political grandstanding.

It's also cute little piece of revisionist history. The Unabomber used black powder for some bombs. Guess what? You are allowed to store up to fifty pounds of black powder in your home without regulation if you have an 'antique firearm', aka muzzle-loader. Can't go after gun owners though, the NRA is a lot bigger and richer than the NAR.

"The legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) and supported by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) would exempt high powered model rocket users from going through the federal permit process, allowing anyone to purchase up to two pounds of certain explosives at a time, up to .9 pounds of rocket propellant, as well as fuses, matches and igniters without getting any kind of permit or undergoing any kind of background check."

The 'certain explosive' is black powder - two pounds. As opposed to the fifty pounds already exempted. The rest of the list is already federally regulated and has been for decades.

"The Homeland Security Act law requires purchasers of the explosives most commonly used in high-power hobby rockets - ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP) and black powder to undergo background checks and get permits from the ATF."

APCP is not explosive, as demonstrated by the New Hampshire State Police.

We were already required to get permits before HSA. This just lowers the limits to where practically everybody over the age of 18 needs to be fingerprinted and personally interviewed by an ATF agent, as well as giving implicit permission for he BATFE to inspect your home at any time they desire, on top of the already existing annual inspection.

Once again, big government keeping America safe from already law abiding citizens.


The Justice Department sent a supporting letter full of lies, innuendo and misinformation designed to justify the expansion of the scope of Homeland Security. Their unofficial motto is 'Everyone is a terrorist'. And they act like it.

"Passing legislation to loosen rules on buying explosive rocket fuel is not just irresponsible, it's crazy," said Lautenberg.

Rocket fuel is not an explo... damn, why do we bother. His mind is made up and facts won't change it. So in order to remove the one who's truly barking mad, we'd like the Senator to meet Mr. Ballot. New York and Jersey happen to be hotbeds of hobby rocketry, and you can bet that rocketeers, their families, and the owners and employees of the numerous small businesses you put out of business will be voting.

Former Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmidt served one term in the Senate, and said something to the effect that "In congress - logic, rationality, and scientific evidence don't count for anything."

Sadly true, to all appearances.

Now of course, one windbag speechifying before cameras does not a debate make. Here's the official response from the National Association of Rocketry:

As reported here previously, using inaccurate and scientifically insupportable information, two U.S. Senators attacked amateur and hobby rocket enthusiasts across America. In response, [the NAR] drafted a rebuttal press release for the NAR and TRA, which was delivered to all media outlets attending the Lautenberg / Schumer press conference. The text of that announcement will be available at the NAR website (http://www.nar.org) shortly.

I have prepared a direct NAR response to Senators Schumer and Lautenberg which I will fax to their offices in the morning. That response reads:
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I am writing you again on behalf of the hundreds of members of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) who reside in your state.

I am deeply and terribly disappointed in your participation in a news conference with Senator (insert Sen. name here ) on July 29, 2003.

That news conference contained numerous factual errors and distortions regarding both the chemical properties of the propellant used by NAR members and the capabilities of our rockets. Additionally, no examples of any terrorist or criminal use, or attempted use, exist in the Department of Justice's records. The material presented in this news conference ignores a demonstrated 46 year track record of safe operation, and community service provided by NAR members and is a tremendous disservice to a safe, educational and fun hobby representing absolutely no threat to the safety of the American people.

I and the members of the NAR stand ready to meet with you and your staff to discuss your concerns, and present solid scientific evidence of both the capabilities of our rockets and the properties of our propellant, generated not by ourselves, but by carefully and fully researched government, industry and educational institution studies on APCP rocket fuel and rockets. These studies were done by groups such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the National Fire Protection Association, the United Nations, the U.S. Air Force Phillips Laboratory, Edwards AFB, Johns Hopkins University's Chemical Propulsion Information Agency, and the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. I urge you to let these facts, not the hysteria of well meaning, but misinformed government officials, direct your thinking on this important matter.

And again, I urge you to allow the substitute S 724 to be voted out of the Senate.

Sincerely,
Mark B. Bundick, President
National Association of Rocketry
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

This is likely to be only the first in a series of politically motivated distortions of our position, which we must be prepared to counter. [Our counsel] did an excellent job today, turning around a response to this news conference in under 3 hours, making sure it was properly coordinated with Sen. Enzi's office, and hitting EVERY news outlet that attended the conference. That effort meant our position in opposition to these distoritions made the initial AP news story that went out at 5 PM Eastern today.

Finally, I also received a call from and granted an interview to the New York Times today. Members may wish to check tomorrow's edition to see what might come of that. There was nothing posted to the Times' website as of 9:15 CDT tonight.

Members who wish to receive a summary of talking points to use with the press on S.724 are welcome to contact me directly via email.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Mark B. Bundick
NAR President www - dot - nar - dot - org


And in an article from AP which includes the following (misinformation alert!):

The Homeland Security Act requires the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to monitor the purchase and transfer of any chemical mixture or device with the primary function of causing an explosion.

Which means that we should be exempt, because it doesn't EXPLODE!!!

Tim Lehr, rocket manager at Al's Hobby Shop in Elmhurst, Ill., said the restrictions are killing the rocket hobby business and are an unnecessary hassle for hobbyists. "It's going to put dealers out of business, period," said Lehr. He predicted the hobby will die out within five years because no one new will pick it up knowing the bureaucratic hurdles of background checks, storage requirements and governmental oversight.

Two rocketry groups, the National Association of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association, accused the senators of equating hobbyists with terrorists. In a statement, the associations called the issue "a prime example of the government overreacting to something that is not a threat."

And finally, the response from Senator Enzi. Excerpts follow.

"It's a sad state of affairs when we see a government agency and senators go to such lengths to squash efforts to preserve a constructive, educational and important hobby enjoyed by millions of Americans. This kind of opposition to my legislation serves to discourage innovation and darken spirits. It doesn't make Americans that much safer, but it does make us more fearful and less free.

"When I introduced this bill I hoped it would pass quickly. I thought that surely it was not Congress' intent when it passed the Homeland Security Act to make it more difficult for young people to enjoy model rocketry and hobby shop owners to make a living, but it appears this was the intent of at least two members.

"You can drag out all the dressed-up props you want, high-powered rockets are already regulated and this would not change under my bill.

"My bill is not a license to build bombs and the senators know it. A National Research Council study, Containing the Threat from Illegal Bombings, listed the top 29 common explosive and precursor chemicals with demonstrated potential and history of criminal use. It did not list APCP or recommend controls on it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

"My colleagues must be hearing complaints from back home about their holdup of my bill. I hope rocketeers will continue to educate their elected leaders about the merits of my legislation. I will continue to work to pass this common sense bill."

Thank you Senator Enzi.

And if you've read this far, don't think that this is ending here. Radio-controlled airplane clubs are reporting that they are beginning to come under the scrutiny of the BATFE. All in the holy name of "Security", I'm sure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

PASS THIS ALONG TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW

The American Teleservices Association is upset about the National Do-Not-Call List (I first mentioned it here), claiming it violates their first amendment rights.

They've been kind enough to post TOLL FREE numbers on their public homepage, so give 'em a call and let 'em know what you think. Like maybe once for each time you get called by a telemarketer.

American Teleservices Association: (877) 779-3974
ATA Administrative Office: (866) 500-4272


And since sometimes reaching out and touching someone just isn't enough, send along an email to reinforce the message. A nice (or not so nice) form letter to:

info@ataconnect.org

I don't know if it'll do any good, but I feel better for exercising my first amendment rights.

(Thanks to BB for the links)

Silent Service stuff

We got a phone call from our son yesterday. He’s in Greece, doing the Med tour with his boat (submarines are referred to as ‘boats’, all other commissioned vessels are ‘ships’), loving Navy life and doing great.

Last night I started randomly googling around with the word ‘submarine’ and got to wondering about the method the US uses to name our subs. Here’s a little bit about what I found.

Before WWII, all US subs were basically numbered by type, so you had the O-25, the R-14, and the S-12. Militarily efficient, but not very inspiring.

In WWII, US submarines were named after fish and marine creatures. So we had cool scary names like the Barracuda, Stingray, and SeaDragon. We also had some less-than-fearsome names like the USS Plunger, Tuna, and Cod. We had a lot of submarines in WWII, and I guess we ran out of good names.

Since then, the Fast Attack boats have been named according to evolving custom, starting with the same fish and marine creatures, then moving on to Presidents, Admirals, and important Americans, for awhile cities and towns, and most recently to States (which used to be what we named Battleships for).

For the ‘boomers’ (missile boats), the evolution was from Presidents, to Distinguished Americans, and now States of the Union. There was a time when you knew a ship’s function by it’s name; the Iowa and Texas were battleships, the Helena and Indianapolis were cruisers. It's not that cut and dried anymore.

While poking around, I saw among the USN Ballistic Missile Submarine force the Lafayette (SSBN 616), Tecumseh (SSBN 628), Von Steuben (SSBN 632), Casimir Pulaski (SSBN 633), Simon Bolivar (SSBN 641), and the Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN 658). There is also a Fast Attack boat named the Kamehameha (SSN 642). Not all of these boats are still in service, the average lifespan of US submarines appears to be around 30 years.

The names may be familiar, in a vague sort of way. But what did they do that was important enough for us to name ships (er, boats) after them? Click on the names for more complete biographies.

Lafayette
The Marquis de Lafayette was a French soldier and statesman who played an important part in the American Revolutionary War.

Tecumseh
One of the great leaders of the American Indian tribes. A member of the Shawnee, he worked to unite the Indian nations against the encroaching white man.

Von Steuben
Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben was a Prussian soldier who came to America to help in the war against Britain. He was instrumental in turning Washington’s ragtag band of revolutionaries into an army, introducing techniques of training that are still used today.

Casimir Pulaski
Polish officer who is known as the Father of American Cavalry, he helped organize and train troops for General Washington. He trained the father of Robert E. Lee in Cavalry tactics.

Simon Bolivar
This one has me a little stumped. Basically his claims to fame – as far as the US Navy is concerned – are that he traveled through the US soon after the war of independence, which may have inspired him to liberate South America. He is sometimes called the ‘George Washington of South America’. I’ll keep looking for the tie-in, unless ‘prominent Americans’ extends to the whole of the Americas (USS Carmen Miranda anyone?).

Mariano G. Vellejo
Born in Mexico, he considered himself a Californian above all else. He played an important part in the development of the California territory and it’s eventual inclusion into the United States.

Kamehameha
A dynasty of Hawaiian monarchs. I always thought it was just one King.

I’ll be looking up some of the other, less well-known historical figures later and I’ll link to their biographies as well.

(corrected the embarrassing misspelling of 'cavalry' above)

Nutjob

At least that's the opinion of a co-worker who's discovered my "web log" (emphasis his). He claims the term blog sounds like some kind of ebonics, which is nonsense because I'm white. So I've coined the term caucasiabonics. Ha!

If I were king...

Welcome to the world of Clark. It's a nice world, as long as you don't like yourself too much. And stay out in the sunshine, because dark and evil things lurk in the shadows. He knows this, and wants to warn us all. Among his pearls of lucidity are:

"The Bush administration gave tax cuts for the rich in 2001. The result: September 11th. I see a connection."

Then he followed it up with:

"That the KKK is the second most powerful political force in the country is a FACT. That the FBI is watching me is a FACT."

Get it? It's capitalized, so we know it's true! Altogether now; *head slap*, "why didn't we see it before?!?!?"

When pressed on his grasp of the FACTs, he responds with:

"The FBI really is watching me, and monitoring my phone calls and the internet sites I go to. WHY THE FUCK DO YOU THINK I'M SPENDING TIME HERE? If I looked at left-wing sites too much, the FBI would arrest me."

Fish in a barrel. Anyways, for even more fun in Clark's World, go visit Lee and guests dealing with the delusional one. Also, Clark sends Emp Misha some hate mail. Hilarity ensues.

*update: James Likeks and I actually used the same phrase on the same day ("Hilarity ensues"). So what if it's only two words long, it means that I can now legitimately claim 'flashes of brilliance'. Am I excited? *nipple check* Oh yeah, big time. Hey, I'm easy to please.

Natural Selection in action

Now if it would just work a little faster...

Damn, I have relatives in Rochester too. I feel much better knowing that they're safer now.

This is beyond culture-shock

The more I learn about Islam and it's history, the more alien the entire system seems.

Two articles about divorce, Muslim-style, only highlight the differences. Both also clearly demonstrate the problems of trying to modernize a religion that is based on the premise that it's already the pinnacle of human enlightenment. Thanks to Kate and Kin.

For a smile, also check out the reaction of General Six-of-clubs to being captured by a female United States soldier.

Monday, July 28, 2003

New to the right hand column

The Tard Blog is one of the funniest sites I've read in a long time. Yes, I can laugh with a clear conscience because my wife spent a year as a Special Education teacher, and it's one of the most frustrating and stressful and rewarding jobs one can have. We even had a code phrase: "It was a Miranda-ful day", to describe a particularly violent young lady who outweighed my wife and frequently left bruises when she lashed out. Open your mind and read the honest-to-God affection that these teachers have for their charges as they vent into the blogosphere.

I'm also keeping an eye on Cold Fury. So far, so good.

Susie, of Practical Penumbra has, in a flash of genius, turned the rabid rantings of John Collins and Bill 'the self-linker' Cimino against each other. We can all stand behind the razor-wire topped safety glass and enjoy the insult-a-thon. Susie, link back, please?

Gotta admire the cojones this takes.

Telemarketers are suing over the Do-Not-Call list, claiming that it will devastate business and cost up to two million jobs.

Let's see... it might hurt the telemarketer business? Two million scumbags who's whole purpose seems to be interrupting dinner and mispronouncing your name might have to find real work?

Pardon me for not crying while I do the happy dance.

Road to Heaven

Goodbye Bob Hope. Thank you. You will be missed.

Road to Rock 'n' Roll Heaven

In-a-gadda-da-vida baby. Thanks to Michele.

Flea-bitten

Ghost of a Flea has two items that caught my attention. First is his bit on Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead trilogy (among other things), who soon makes his debut as Bubba Ho-Tep.

Also, he points out some software tricks and tips that allow us all to enjoy an unintended topless shot of Cat Schwartz, hostess of TechTV. See his piece for links to the rest.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Defining Moments - Results

The poll results are in for the 50 Most Defining Events in American History. For some thought-provoking discussion, read the comments too.

Changes in progress

John Hawkins is in the midst of changing the face of Right Wing News. The new format is nice and all, but to me the best description is... generic. I'm going to miss the old layout, it had a certain quirky charm.

Then again, it's the content that counts, eh?

Near and Dear

To my heart anyways (see About Me over in the right hand column). Winds of Change has links to articles about the silent service. Good stuff.

Different viewpoints

Rachael posted her reaction to her first lesson. Interesting (to me anyway).

Saturday, July 26, 2003

First Shooting Lesson

You've heard me talk about guns and the BB pistol we bought. Today was our first chance to have a lesson in firearm safety and actually shoot some too. Rachael's first reaction was "don't wanna", but I insisted so she agreed.

First I went over the basics (major kudos to Publicola for this), including how to use the safety, how to cock it, reloading, aiming, stance, etc.

I fired two groups of 5 and did ok. Considering the quality of the pistol, and how long it's been since I've actually fired a handgun, I was happy with it. Then it was Rachael's turn.

She fired ten shots while we reviewed safety and how the pistol works. She was all over the paper, but she was on the paper. By the time we needed to reload, she had gotten somewhat comfortable with the process. She reloaded and I changed targets for her.

Here's the target from her third set of 5 shots.

This was her best grouping by far. She fired two more sets of 5 and then said she was done. She gave me a hug and disappeared back into the house. I fired another couple sets and then put everything away.

Golly, I don't think she's scarred for life. In fact, although she didn't fall in love with it, she doesn't outright hate it either - call it a draw (pun intended). We'll do this again sometime soon, and maybe I can get her into a little rivalry with the old man; "sheesh, you shoot like a girl!".

Updates as they come.

New addition to the list

Jen's post on the physiology of death is definitely not polite dinner conversation. Unless of course, you're eating steak tartar with a fraternity on pledge night.

I'll be reading her regularly from now on.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Defining Moments

Kate is asking for opinions of the 50 Most Defining Events in American History.

Here's my quick, off-the-top-of-my-head list (in no particular order). It's not fifty items, and some are related or vauge concepts rather than specific events.

9/11
JFK presidency
Pearl Harbor
WWII
Vietnam
Fall of the Taliban
Fall of Iraq
Belleau Wood (WWI)
Civil War
Landing on the moon
Transcontinental Railroad
Kittyhawk
USS Nautilus (first nuke-powered submarine)
"I Have A Dream" speech
Woman Vote
Emancipation Proclamation
Atomic Bomb
Independence
Manifest Destiny
Lewis & Clark
Watergate
Roe vs Wade
Cold War victory
Clipper ships
Panama Canal
California Gold Rush

Anyone else having this problem?

When my blog first loads, does it only load the first screen-full? It seems like I almost always have to refresh to see everything. Maybe it just doesn't like me.

A Good Day

My friend John is an educator. I call him that because the term 'teacher' seems inadequate in his case, although he's proud of that title too. I haven't known him all that long, but every time we talk he just amazes me with what he accomplishes.

Today I visited a school where he's set up a program called TEMS, for Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Science that runs over the summer for economically disadvantaged kids. Basically, these kids are exposed to as much career information as possible during the weeks of the program, including several field trips, a job-shadowing program, and many guest speakers. They also do lots of hands-on projects like robotics, environmental science, and marine studies.

There were (I think) four teachers and one 'administrator' for around 60 kids, so the personalized instruction is intense. The kids have to volunteer and be recommended by their teachers during the year, and come from several local schools around the district - free of charge. They're pretty proud of the program, and so is the school district, because the GPA's of these kids has increased significantly after taking part in it.

John invited me to help with the students doing a rocket launch. We (Rachael came along to help too) arrived bright and early (Rachael's prefix for that phrase is 'way too') and met all of the teachers. I could only stay until noon, because I had something to take care of at work that I couldn't let slide all weekend. Next thing I know, they'd completely rearranged the schedule around mine, and I'm being led into the cafeteria to talk to everyone about "A Career in Computers".

Huh? How'd that happen?

I quickly mentally dusted off an old presentation from my kids elementary school Career Day and talked for about 15 minutes, and then spent 15 minutes answering some very good questions. Afterwards, Rachael critiqued me by saying she'd seen worse. Wow, thanks sweetie.

Next came three rotating classroom sessions on rocketry. Same kids, just broken into thirds (the entire group, not individual children - ick). A quick few minutes talking about Newton and physics, Wallops Island and answering more questions. Mostly "how high can it go?"* and "can we launch a frog?"**.

We'd brought three rockets; one that deploys helicopter blades at apogee and rotors down, one biplane that ascends like a rocket and then glides back to earth, and a goofy little UFO type saucer. We picked these because they were least like what people think of when they hear the word 'rocket'.

Next came a short building session. Their rockets weren't ready to fly because the robotics projects took longer than expected. Rachael and I pitched in, helping the kids attach fins and showing them how to fold the parachutes and such. They're going to finish up their rockets next week and have their own day launching.

Finally, we went out and launched one of our three rockets in the school field. We had fun, everyone seemed suitably impressed, and then we did it all over again twice more with the other two groups of kids.

(Rachael's critique: I got better with each session. I assume that by the last one, I didn't suck.)

Some day, when I have totally and completely burned out in the computer field, I'd like to become a teacher. I've come to appreciate just how hard they work and how much more there is to it than just standing in front of a class and talking. No way do they get paid enough. Not even close.

Back to the day. Rachael and I said our goodbyes, grabbed some lunch, and headed to my workplace. I finished up the stuff in the "couldn't wait" pile and we headed home. I mowed the front yard while Rachael picked up in the back so we can have a fire tonight if we feel like it.

All in all, it was just a very cool day. And after everyone goes to bed tonight, I think I'll watch The Evil Dead.

* How high can it go? We brought low-flying models today because of the small field. Our highest flying rocket will reach a mile.

** Can we launch a frog? We don't, mainly because there's nothing we could learn from launching a frog in a rocket that we couldn't learn easier and better on the ground. I'm not a PETA-freak, but I don't believe in casual cruelty to animals either. And no, I don't consider killing them to eat them to be casual cruelty, I am definitely a carnivore.

Fiction

But I hope it's real close to the reality. Please let it be so.

What would we call it?

This afternoon I was telling a friend about blogging. He stopped me and asked what the word was again. I said "Blog, that's short for Web Log. Blog." He gave me a weird look and said it sounded like something from ebonics for white people.

Buttcrack Plasma

Just something that popped into my head as I was dozing off this afternoon. Make a good name for a band, or a blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Gun safety

Good info on the basics of gun safety, thanks to Publicola. I'll be going over it with the girls.

Technology is your friend, technology is your friend, technology is your friend...

Computer systems used to be like toolboxes. You could select the tool you needed at that moment to accomplish the task as hand. Of course, this meant that you had to have an idea of what was necessary.

More and more, the trend is to ‘idiot-proof’ computer systems. The classic example is the cash register that tells the cashier how much change to give back. The extreme of this is the register that dispenses the coin change automatically, so all the clerk has to do is count out paper money. The concept is that the computer system should lead the user by the hand – first we do this, and then this, next comes this, and so on. Anybody can operate the system with minimal training.

The problem with any ‘idiot-proof’ system is that this isn’t a perfect world. Problems happen – frequently – and the user-friendly computer systems of today are not good at dealing with anything outside the norm. Options and alternatives have to be anticipated and programmed for, and that’s work and complexity, driving up the cost and requiring the user to think. And nobody ever anticipates everything that can happen.

Some systems don’t even try. Last night, my wife and I made a purchase at Best Buy. The register rang up more than the items should have cost. In this case, the Best Buy solution is to pay the incorrect amount, and then go stand in another line at ‘Customer Service’ (hah!) for a refund of the difference. There is no alternative to a perfect transaction, all ‘corrections’ have to take place at Customer Service.

I finally intervened because my wife was royally pissed off and chewing out the clerk. It wasn’t the kids fault, he didn’t have any choice in the matter either. I wonder how often they have to stand there and deal with frustrated customers because of a poor corporate policy?

The same situation is taking place at the place where I work. A venerable (translation: old but workable) computer system is being replaced by a modern new version. There’s going to be trouble. The new system is supposed to take you step by step through the process. Utopia! The only new problem is that there is no ‘standard’ transaction in our business. Everything works by exception, and the users have to think each and every process through because of the myriad variables. None of these variables will be accounted for, because the new system eliminates the need for them. Uh huh. Sure.

Imagine a carpenter opening his toolbox and reaching in for a hammer. Oops, not allowed! You have to measure first, then cut, and then plane, and only then can you hammer. Which makes perfect sense, until it’s the wrong thing to do for the situation you’re in.

Don’t rely on experience or expertise, because we trust the system. It tells us what to do, and the system is right. Always.

Collins has moved

John Collins has moved off of Blogspot. He's a funny guy, but I don't quite trust him. He claims that he broke his nose playing softball, but I suspect that he walked into a door or something stoopid like that.

To be fair, I've never heard that John puts puppies into blenders, nor did Bill tell me the door story...

Comments still not working

It's been a couple of days now (#@*&!!!). I'll have to find another comment system I guess. I could just not have comments, but I like the (miniscule amount of) feedback I've been getting. I can't complain (much) though, because the one I'm using is free (and worth every penny).

Today's gripe is brought to you by the letter 'I', the number 'bleen'*, and the right and left paren.

* "The Nobel Prize in mathematics was awarded yesterday to a California professor who has discovered a new number. The number is "bleen", which he says belongs between six and seven." --- George Carlin, in Napalm & Silly Putty

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Cutting cards with Uncle Sam

Ruined a couple of aces too. Celebrations erupt in Iraq, who's surprised by this?

Today We Are All French

Just kidding, put your arms down.

The Eiffel Tower caught fire today. Damage was minimal.

Parenting Tip of the Day

Michele suggests a way to avoid problems with your youngster. I take a different approach. First, I've convinced the kids that I look forward to getting old because being a crotchety grouch is a perk that comes with age. Then I remind them that I'm planning to come live with the kid who gives me the most trouble growing up.

Seems to work.

More on-the-spot reports from Iraq

Winds of Change posted a good letter from a trooper over there. Thanks to Emporer Misha for the pointer.

LT Smash is another blog by one of our soldiers in Iraq. Good stuff, you should go read him.

Just to make it an uneven three, I'll link to one of my own posts from last week. Another letter from a US soldier in Iraq.

Thanks guys. Take care and God bless.

Moving on

Jessica Lynch is going home. I'm glad she's ok and I'm proud of her as an American soldier and she has my eternal thanks for protecting my freedoms. Now, can we please leave it alone?!?!?!? I'm sick of hearing about her, and through no fault of her own, she's seemingly become the poster child for every nitwit with an agenda. How many other POW's have had anywhere near this kind of media attention? If you've answered more than 'zero', I'll bet you a nickel that it was a local kid.

Monday, July 21, 2003

We've always suspected

...that girls are evil. Well guys, now we have proof. Thanks to Rachael for this one.

I needed this!

Today has been a monday. No question, no doubt, it's been monday through-and-through. Every rotten stereotype you can think of about monday has been today. Over lunch, I jumped around a few links and found this. People at work were staring at me as I laughed hysterically at the very first item, dated Monday, April 21st, 2003. Thank you thank you thank you.

It hasn't been updated in 3 months, which is a bummer.

Post-weekend rambles

It was a good weekend. Any weekend I get to launch rockets is a good weekend. The weather cooperated in a big way, with the sky almost cloudless, the temperature in the mid-80's, low humidity, and very little wind. Very beautiful day to be outside. Our club field is an equestrian center that is basically 200+ acres of mowed front lawn in the middle of some very peaceful and beautiful farmland.

Rachael brought a friend along, which is standard procedure for us. I enjoy watching her act cool with her friends (typical teen), while occasionally letting her guard down and saying something rocket-geekish. Yep, my daughter can discuss things like aerodynamics, motor selection for speed vs altitude, and the Krushnik effect. She also listens to Linkin Park, loves the comic Baby Blues, and has been reminding me that she can get her drivers permit in six months.

We flew almost everything we brought with us, with the notable exception of our newest rocket. After all the hassle we rocket hobbyists have been going through with the BATFE thanks to the Department of Homeland Security and the Safe Explosives Act, I've decided to make the move into hybrid rocket motors. The beauty of these is that the fuel grain is plastic, and it combines with Nitrous Oxide under pressure to produce thrust. So unless the government wants to regulate PVC pipe and hot rods, they've got nothing to gripe about.

Our newest rocket is called Ain't Misbehavin'. Mr. BATFE agent, do you get it?

The biggest problem with hybrids is the extra ground support equipment you need to fill the motor with nitrous before flight. At this point I'm still dependent on the kindness of others, and the guy with the equipment was busy all day long with a team of high school students he brought along. So no joy for me, but they made several fine flights.

We still had a great time and made 8 other flights. I helped a grandfather and grandson make their first ever flight, and it was a beauty! They recovered the model successfully and later made two more flights. We also watched some truly cool stuff fly, including a monocopter (link coming soon) and Rob Edmonds flying and shredding his typical assortment of glider prototypes. There were about 150 flights made throughout the day.

We got home around 6pm, tired but happy.

Yesterday was Rachael's party, which went well. I think she had a good weekend too.

I noticed that Kate mentioned that she reads 'about me' blurbs when she visits blogs, so I'll probably stick one in over on the right hand column in the near future. She also has a very timely reminder to update your windows and protect your computer from the newest vulnerability. We also did that this weekend. You should too.

Late saturday night - well, it was early sunday morning actually - I watched a movie recommended by a friend; Monster's Ball. Wow. If you like quirky films with intricate stories with surprising plot twists, or just wanna see and hear Halle Berry moan and groan while having (simulated dammit) sex, then this flick is a must-see. This friend is batting a thousand so far, he's recommended Momento and Gummo, both of which were weird and twisted and I liked 'em. Of course, to get even I turned him on to Day of the Triffids and Flesh Gordon. I can't believe he'd never seen those.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Rachael, I want my CD case back. I was in the truck, ready to head to work, when I realized you still had it. I dashed back into the house, snagged some music, and problem solved. The morning commute doesn't seem nearly so monotonous when you're jamming to Frank Zappa.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Comments not there...

hmmm. I wonder what happened? Any ideas? Hahahaha Yeah, like you can just leave a comment telling me why the comments are missing. Brilliant. Too too busy today.

TGIF

Thursday, July 17, 2003

A letter to annikas mother

annika's mom is leaving her little hints about not smoking.

=====

Dear annika's mom,

Smoking is a nasty habit. Trust me when I say that every smoker knows it. If you've read the literature, you know it's a triple whammy - physical addiction, psychological addiction, and habitual behavior, and although they claim not every smoker has all three, I've never met a smoker who didn't. That's a lot to overcome.

As a former smoker (4 years now), I'll tell you that the only way anyone quits is to want to. And I mean deep inside 'want to', because just saying it isn't enough. Good intentions aren't enough. A person quits smoking repeatedly and unsuccessfully. All the willpower in the world won't help, until you're ready to quit. Then suddenly it becomes so easy you wonder what the fuss was.

I was in that category. Once, my kids pooled their allowance to buy me a pack of cigarettes because I became such an ogre while 'quitting'. When I did finally and permanently become an ex-smoker, my family didn't even notice for a few days. I was ready, and it was simple and painless. My parents smoked for over 30 years, and one day they went to a hypnotist and never smoked again. Just like that, they became ex-smokers. A friend of mine is a smoker, but it's been 11 years since his last cigarette. For him, it's important to not say "I'll never have another cigarette". Quitting is a very personal thing, and although having support is important, all the concern and cheerleading isn't what finally gets you over the hump.

Something that is never talked about is the fact that people like to smoke. I enjoyed it while I did it. A lot. Every smoker you ask will tell you that, if they're being honest. Peer pressure might get one started, but if you don't get some pleasure from it, you're not going to keep doing it. It's more than the physical sensation created when the chemistry in your brain says 'aaaaahhhhhhh nicotine', it's the entire ritual of the process.

I still want a cigarette every single day. Most smokers I talk to say the same thing.

So give annika her space, and trust that she'll do what's right for herself. An occasional "I wish you'd quit smoking" is expected and appreciated, as is "When are you going to settle down so we can have some grandkids?". (Whoa, where did that come from?)

Love her and support her and make her brush her teeth before she kisses you.

Sincerely,
Ted

OSHA would love this!

A humorous look at stupidity, institutional and personal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Only half the story

Frequent masturbation, particularly in the 20s, helps prevent prostate cancer later in life, according to new research.

Australian scientists have shown that the more men masturbate between the ages of 20 and 50, the less likely they are to develop the disease that kills more than half a million men each year.

They suspect that frequent ejaculation has a protective effect against the cancer because it prevents dangerous carcinogens from building up in the gland.

Rotating the stock. (nudge nudge, wink wink)

Before I cheer, I want to see the numbers correlating blind men with prostate cancer.

Crude. Cute. Naughty.

How the Stick People became extinct.

Passed along for all to read

Subject: Open Current Events Letter From A U.S. Army Major In Iraq To His Church

OPEN LETTER TO THE FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH OF (town name removed)

It has been a while since I have written to my friends at First Lutheran Church about what's really going on here in Iraq. The news you watch on TV is exaggerated, sensationalized and selective. Good news doesn't sell.

The stuff you don't hear about on CNN? Let's start with Electrical Power production in Iraq. The day after the war was declared over, there was nearly 0 power being generated in Iraq; 45 days later, in a partnership between the Army, the Iraqi people and some private companies, there are now 3200 mega watts (Mw) of power produced daily, or 1/3 of the total national potential. Downed power lines (big stuff, 400 Kilovolt (Kv) and 132 Kv) are being repaired and are now about 70% complete.

Then there is water purification.

In central Iraq between Baghdad and Mosul, home of the 4th Infantry Division, water treatment was spotty at best. The facilities existed, but the controls were never implemented. Simple chemicals like Chlorine for purification and Alum (Aluminum Sulfate) for sediment settling (the Tigris River is about as clear as the Mississippi River) were in very short supply. Or not used at all. And when chlorine was used, it was metered by guessing.

So some people got pool water to drink and some people got water with lots of little things floating around in it. We are slowly but surely solving that. Contracts for repairs to facilities [that are only 50% or less operational] are being let. Chemicals are being delivered, although we don't have the metering problem solved yet (... but again, it's only been 45 days).

How about oil and fuel?

Well the war was all about oil wasn't it? You bet it was. It was all about oil for the Iraqi people! They have no other income. They produce nothing else. Oil is 95% of the Iraqi GNP. For this nation to survive, it MUST sell oil.

The Refinery at Bayji is at 75% of capacity in producing gasoline. The crude oil pipeline between Kirkuk (Oil Central) and Bayji will be repaired by tomorrow (2 June). LPG, what all Iraqi's use to cook and heat with, is at 103% of normal production. And WE, the US ARMY, are insuring it is being distributed FAIRLY to ALL Iraqi's.

You have to remember that only 3 months ago, ALL these things were used by the Sadam regime as weapons against the population to keep them in line. If your town misbehaved, gasoline shipments stopped .. LPG pipelines and trucks stopped .. water was turned off .. power was turned off.

Now, until exports start again, every drop of gasoline produced goes to the Iraqi people. Crude oil production is being stored and the country is at 75% capacity right now. They need to export or stop pumping soon, ... so thank the UN for that delay.

ALL LPG goes to the Iraqi people EVERYWHERE. And water is being purified as best it can be, but at least it's running all the time to everyone.

Are we still getting shot at? Yep. Are American Soldiers still dying? Yep, about 1 a day from my outfit, the 4th Infantry Division, most in accidents. But dead is dead.

If we are doing all this for the Iraqi's, why are they shooting at us?

The general Iraqi population isn't shooting at us. There are still bad guys, who won't let go of the old regime. They are Ba'ath party members (read Nazi Party, but not as nice) who have known nothing but .. and supported nothing but . the regime all of their lives. These are the thugs for the regime that caused many to disappear in the night. They have no other skills. At least the Nazis had jobs and a semblance of a national infrastructure that they could go back to after the war, .. as plumbers, managers, engineers, etc. These people have no skills .. but terror. They are simply applying their skills. But we are applying ours. There is no Christian way to say this .. but they must be eliminated and we are doing so with all the efficiency we can muster.

Our troops are shot at literally everyday by small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). We respond and 100% of the time, the Ba'ath party guys come out with the short end of the stick.

The most amazing thing to me is that they don't realize that if they stopped shooting at us, we would focus on .. fixing things more quickly .. and then leave back to the land of the Big PX. And the more they shoot at us, the longer we will have to stay.

Lastly, all of you please realize that 90% of the damage you see on TV was caused by Iraqi's, NOT by us and not by the war. Sure we took out a few bridges from military necessity, we took out a few power and phone lines to disrupt communications, sure we drilled a few palaces and government headquarters buildings with 2000 lb. laser guided bombs (I work 100 yards from where two hit the Tikrit Palace), he had plenty to spare. But, ANY damage you see to schools, hospitals, power generation facilities, refineries, pipelines, was ALL caused either by .. the Iraqi Army in its death throes .. or from much of the Iraqi civilians looting the places.

Could we have prevented it? Nope.

We can and do it now, but 45 days ago the average soldier was fighting for his own survival . and trying to get to his objectives as fast as possible. He was lucky to know what town he was in much less be informed enough to know .. who owned what .. or have the power to stop a 1,000 people from looting and burning a building by himself.

The United States and our Allies, especially Great Britain, are doing a very noble thing here. We stuck our necks out on the world's chopping block to free an entire people from the grip of a horrible terror that was beyond belief.

I've already talked the weapons of mass destruction thing to death, .. bottom line, who cares? This country was one big conventional weapons ammo dump anyway. We have probably destroyed more ground weapons and ammo in the last 30 days than the US Army has ever fired in the last 30 years (Remember, this is a country the size of Texas), so drop the WMD argument as the reason we came here ... if we find them GREAT.. if we don't, SO WHAT?

I'm living in a "guest palace" on a 500 acre palace compound with 20 palaces with like facilities built in half a dozen towns all over Iraq that were built for one man. Drive down the street and out into the country side 5 miles away, like I have, and see all the families of 10 or more, all living in mud huts and herding the two dozen sheep on which their very existence depends, .then tell me why you think we are here.

WMD ? ...important .. have to find 'em wherever they may be (.. in Syria?), but not OUR real motivator. Don't let it be yours either.

Respectfully,

(name removed)
Division Engineer
4th Infantry Division

"The translator is a traitor"

Or so the old saying goes. Let's hope not in this case.

A long-time Capitol Hill worker has developed a version of the US Constitution 'translated' for children.

Her 85-page "Constitution Translated for Kids" includes a glossary and some history and puts the translation and original side by side.

Travis is preparing an edition of her translation for adults, who may be a bit puzzled, too.

Ira C. Lupu, professor of law at George Washington University, said the translation should be useful for schools but doesn't tell the whole story.

"Something is always lost in translation," he said.


Lupu also questioned the translation's version of the much-disputed Second Amendment, which includes the phrase "citizens have the right to own firearms."

"A lot of people believe the amendment was intended only to protect the rights of states to maintain militias and not to guarantee a right to ordinary citizens," he said.


Now how in the world can you be any more clear than "citizens have the right to own firearms"? Ohwaitaminute, he's a professor at George Washington University, which is in Washington DC, in which the private ownership of handguns is illegal. It also happens to be the Murder Capitol of the United States. Boy, that's a whole lot of murders commited with knives and poison. Yep.

Anyway, here's the online info about the book.
Books are always a thoughtful birthday or Christmas gift, and this one sounds like an especially good one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

I've Got Your Back

I am a small and precious child, my dads been sent to fight.
The only place I'll see his face, is in my dreams at night.
He will be gone too many days for my young mind to keep track.
I may be sad, but I am proud. My daddy's got your back.

I am a caring mother. My son has gone to war.
My mind is filled with worries that I have never known before.
Everyday I try to keep my thoughts from turning black.
I may be scared, but I am proud. My son has got your back.

I am a strong and loving wife, with a husband soon to go.
There are times I'm terrified in a way most never know.
I bite my lip, and force a smile as I watch my husband pack.
My heart may break but I am proud. My husbands got your back.

I am a Sailor. Serving Proudly, Standing Tall.
I fight for freedom, yours and mine by answering this call.
I do my job while knowing, the thanks it sometimes lacks.
Say a prayer that I'll come home. It's me who's got your back.


That came today in the Philly Family News, the crew newsletter for the USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) . My son serves aboard her, and we are very proud.

Happy Birthday Rachael

That's MookieRiffic in the blogosphere. She's 15 years old today. She baked her own birthday cake so she could have the extra frosting, and she lit her own candles because she likes to play with fire. Full of fire and angst and hourly surprises for mom and dad, just like any other teenager.

Happy birthday sweetie. Love ya lots!

Monday, July 14, 2003

Funny stuff

Over on the right hand column are the places I read regularly. The group at the bottom are the electronic rantings of people you probably wouldn't want as neighbors, but you'd definitely want them to come to your bachelor party.

In the place of honor, as the very foundation of that column of worthwhile readings, is Bloviating Inanities. Go there, read and laugh. Leave a message telling him that Ted sent you.

Don't mention his toe. Or his age.

He's back!

Remember the DAK catalog? Chock full of technological wonders and toys too cool to pass up, each item was described in excruciating detail so that you knew every last thing about it that was possible to know. Yeah, that one.

Betcha didn't know

Britney Spears is big into the Physics of Semiconductors. It's true! It must be, because I read it on the internet. And you should too, because science is always more fun with a dash of the sureal. Enjoy.

New Air Force blue camo uniform

I don't really see a big problem with these. The blue is subdued enough to still be considered camoflaged, and face it, the army green and tan isn't better or worse in any environment except maybe woodlands. Comedian Steven Wright (I think) once asked why the army didn't have uniforms with stuff like brickwork and car grilles on them, for urban warfare.

I do have a problem though with the logo on the hat. It looks goofy as hell, like they're some kind of military stewardess or something.

Maybe it's just that I notice it more, being ex-AF, but it seems that the Air Force constantly tinkers with it's uniforms, and often goes for wholesale change. Here's an idea for them. Since they want to be the force of the future, then go with one-piece jumpsuits, like the pilots wear. But make 'em black. Accents, insignia and accesories can be navy blue (oops, make that space blue). For formal events, use black or blue berets, otherwise black or blue baseball caps. America is identified by our baseball caps, and they're comfortable, functional, and cheap to produce.

Oooooooo, or how about black stetsons for formal events. Sharp.

Why I hate this area

Every place has its moments, I'm sure. Those mind-bendingly stupid times when you just want to slap yourself silly for ever thinking it would be a good idea to live here. Unfortunately, the Washington DC metro area is the grand champion of these moments.

If it's not then-mayor Marion ("the bitch set me up") Barry getting busted for doing crack with a hooker in a hotel room, then we get Lorena Bobbit right down the road. You can still get t-shirts that proclaim: "Manassas, VA. Where we separate the men from the weenies".

Of course, my personal favorite was this event, when stupidity and ambition overcame common sense. You never hear about Mr. Howard anymore, so either he's been laying low or he moved on - quietly.

I won't even mention the previous residents of the White House.

I don't really hate this next one, but it is getting kind of ridiculous and therefore annoying. Virginia offers 'vanity' license plates, like every other state (I assume). But Virginia has the greatest number of custom plates in the US. In fact, the state of Virginia offers over 40 different choices for your car, including college medalions (yep, I saw a Virginia plate bearing the logo of the University of Alabama - "roll tide"), and plates honoring home-schooling, greyhounds, recreational boating, veterans (each service has their own plate), 'remember 9/11', and any and all fringe groups that can scrape up 350 requests for a separate plate. This makes it almost impossible to easily identify a Virginia plate until you get close enough to read it. And unlike some states that charge big bucks for vanity plates, Virginia charges a one-time $10.00 fee for the custom plate, and an extra $10.00 a year for a personalized letter/number combination. So cheap that everyone can afford it, and I guess it raises a lot of money for the state.

Sometimes it's too embarassing to even admit where I live.

Guns guns guns

Everyone - man or woman, boy or girl - should know how to change a flat tire, cook a dinner that doesn't come from a box, and operate a gun.

My wife and girls can already do the first two, and yesterday I took the first baby steps towards that last one, and it has already turned out to be educational. I bought a pellet pistol, with the idea that I could use it to teach firearm basics. Notice that I said 'operate' a gun, not just 'fire' a gun, because shooting is only a small part of owning a gun of any kind.

I want my ladies to know that you have to always be aware of where the firearm is pointed. I want them to understand that every gun should always be treated as if it were loaded. They're going to learn how to hold a pistol and fire it safely. They're going to learn how to maintain and keep a gun clean. They don't have to love it, they don't even have to like it, they just have to know how to do it.

Even if they never ever shoot a gun in anger, or self-defense, I want them to be able to make a gun safe and secure. Just in case.

I wrote to Kim du Toit and asked his advice on a 'first' firearm, and he was kind enough to answer and recommend a couple of .22 pistols. But after running into some serious resistance from Rachael, I thought that the bb pistol might be a better first step.

Last night I brought it out and talked about setting up a place in the backyard to shoot, and Rachael was fine with it. When mom asked why she didn't have a problem with it, Rachael said "This isn't like shooting a 'real' gun."

Oh yes it is, little one. And that was the very first lesson, right then and there. I honestly believe its already paid for itself, just for that moment.

This pistol is vaguely shaped like a .45, with some heft to it. It was also dirt cheap, as in throwaway cheap. In fact, the instruction booklet that came with it has a little Q&A section and one passage reads "you will find the accuracy to be commesurate with the retail price you paid." LOL In other words, don't expect much, because it's a cheap crappy pistol.

It has a slide action and uses a spring/piston instead of CO2 cartridges. The force is intentionally limited, making it possible for us to shoot in the backyard (or even inside) with a blanket backdrop. It has an 18 shot bb magazine and a functional safety. It's got the classic ramp and post sight, and will put holes in paper targets. It also has some simple maintenance procedures to be followed every several hundred shots or so. Basically, it has everything I need it to have to use it as a teaching aid.

This should be interesting.

A good day

Yesterday we went to the Virginia Bazaar, which is supposed to be this massive flea market. It was a lot less than I expected, but we still spent over an hour strolling around and looking at things. I think this is one of those places where you go back twice a year and watch it grow, because there's a lot of room for expansion. We're also spoiled by Marion Market in Ocala, Florida. Now that is a huge flea market, but it's been there forever.

One thing about Virginia Bazaar which surprised me is that the inside is air conditioned! Growing up in northern California, we used to go to the big flea markets in Gilroy and Morgan Hill on weekends, and I remember them being hot and dusty. My brother and I didn't mind going too much, because once in a while our parents would get us a bag of toy cowboys and indians or army men there. Every kid knows, you can never have too many army men.

But back to the bazaar, the inside is about 70% full now, but there's still a lot of capacity left. We really enjoyed the furniture 'wing', looking over the old 60's style dinette sets and coffee tables. One guy there had an entire space full of salvaged wood shutters and decorative posts, and another of salvaged windows. Very cool stuff for a do-it-yourselfer.

All we bought was a new cutting board. My 'old favorite' broke in half a while ago, and all we had is the big one, roughly the size of Rhode Island. The new one is a much smaller one for everyday use.

After the bazaar we headed to a mall further south. While looking for a new pair of sneakers, my wife held up a pair of the old classic black canvas hi-top converse. Ooooooo, my favorites. Unfortunately, they were the cheapest POS I've ever seen, the quality really went downhill. Plus they wanted $35.00 for them!!! Sorry Converse, that's absolute robbery for what you get. You deserve to be assimilated bought by Nike.

After the mall, we hit a couple of department stores and got Rachael's birthday present. (hint for Rachael: I'm not telling you anything! pfpfpptttttt!)

We also picked up some other odds and ends, had dinner, and then fought some traffic coming home. All in all a very nice 'anniversary' day.

One more great thing happened last night: my dad called! This is a very rare thing. I gave up calling him a couple of years ago because he's seldom home (Arizona), and I can never keep up with him. For example, we heard from him once a couple of years ago from Montana. He and a friend drove up there to see the aftermath of the big fires they had. Once in a while he thinks about it and calls us from wherever he is. He's doing fine (going to be 70 in October - wow), and is planning a trip to Mexico in September. He's sounding real good.

So yeah, yesterday was a very good day.

Come to think of it, I woke up this morning and I was being cuddled. Today has been pretty good so far too.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Anniversary day

Yep, friday was year 22, but we both had to work, and yesterday Liz had to work, so today we're going to take a day for us. The girls gave us a gift card from Olive Garden. Very sweet. Liz is still sleeping, I woke up because Trix decided he needed to go outside right now. The dogs (we have two) have this terrible habit of only wanting to go out into the front yard first thing in the morning, despite the fact that we have a doggie door to the back yard. I can understand Sam's desire, because he's getting up there in years, and the morning sun feels good and bakes his old bones.

So anyways, I'll wake Liz up in a little while, and then we're going to Ladysmith, where they have a huge flea market. We'll spend the day browsing and shopping and just being together. Should be nice.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Someone needs a glass bellybutton

Because they obviously have their head up their ass, and they didn't see this coming!

The complete story is here, but the gist of it is:

"A Bethesda Dentist convicted of raping a 15-year-old patient failed to show up in court for his sentencing hearing Thursday."

Excuse me, this sonuvabitch has already been convicted? Why isn't he already in custody?

"A judge has now issued a bench warrant for David Fuster's arrest."

Good idea. A little late, but a good idea. Oh but wait, it gets better!

"Fuster has not been seen since he was convicted May 7th."

WTF?!?!?!?!

"Fuster who had been free on bond, disappeared along with his family the day after his conviction. Authorities say his kids didn't show up for school, which led police to Fuster's Damascus home, which they found nearly empty."

Which might have been the first clue that he decided to skedaddle? Great detective work there. It doesn't say when police finally went to his house, and I don't know which would be worse; on or about May 8th - two months ago - or sometime later - meaning they didn't bother to look for him even after his kids quit showing up for school.

"Fuster also failed to show up for a May 28th hearing ..."

This is the second time he hasn't shown up!!! Oh, maybe the court thought the original date wasn't convenient, so they tried another, later date. How could that happen?

"... his lawyers requested to ask for a new trial."

Never mind.

"faces 55-years behind bars, as well as a trial on other charges involving several more patients."

I hear that prisoners don't take kindly to scum that rape juveniles. I hope I heard right.

"Prosecutors are optimistic about bringing Fuster to justice."

TRANSLATION: (Goofy laugh) weeeellllll, we fucked up don'cha know. Who'da thunk that a convicted man facing more related charges might run away? Nope. Never even thunk'd that.

I could probably write quite a bit more about this, but it would mostly be cursing and unintelligible "ARRRR!" and stuff.

Anniversary

Today is our 22nd anniversary. Nothing special planned, because we both have to work - maybe sunday. More later.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Funny stuff, I gah-ron-tee

Ken talks about life in the big city. Somehow I never pictured it this way.

There's no place like home. There's no place like home.

Crap, I am home. The weather report just announced a monster storm cell headed straight towards us with two, count 'em, two potential tornado's forming. Yesterday an F1 touched down northwest of here and stayed on the ground for 10 miles! That's a long damn time for a tornado to be on the ground. I'd better check to see if anything needs to be tied down out back...

Stop the presses

Britney Spears says she's not a virgin. Next she'll be telling us she's not in Mensa.

Go here!

No, not there. Here. Why? Because Annika is smart, funny, kind, and helpful, not to mention pretty in a blurry, crayon posterized-sorta way (hey, all I've got to go by is her main page). She's also the first person to link to me who's not a blood relative. Smart, eh? Kind too.

Update on the neighborhood murder and arrest

Today's paper had another article with more details, including the arrest of the driver of the getaway car. He was going to school at Virginia Tech, and police picked him up in campus housing. They're still looking for suspect #3, and although they don't give his name, I get the impression that they know exactly who it is.

More pictures

First up is my daughter Rachael, next to author Homer Hickam. If you've seen the movie 'October Sky' you know his story, because the film was about his life.

And just because, here are pictures of the "rosebush from hell" and another kind of rose that I grow in my garden.

There are little blurbs at the bottom of the pictures to bore you, and you can use the back button to return here. Assuming you want to, that is. Rachael suggests that I offer lollypops.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Never too young to tell a congress-critter that he's letting you down

This letter is from a young lady (9 years old) who's not real happy about the Safe Explosives Act and it's effects on hobby rocketry. Her 11 year old and 12 year old brothers wrote too. So did their dad and several hundred other pissed off rocket enthusiasts.

Team America Rocketry Challenge – part 3

(scroll down for parts 1 and 2, the darned links aren't working right)

I’m going to talk a little more about the teams. Each team consisted of high school students and a teacher, and home schooled students were allowed to participate with the approval of local school authorities. There were entries from every state and one from an American school overseas (APO address). Over 9000 students were participants. The teachers were there for adult supervision. The students were required to do the actual design and construction work, and to fly the rockets themselves. Some teams were only a few students, while other teams comprised a whole class. Some schools entered more than one team. Looking at the team photos, you’ll notice a fair number of young ladies involved, including a few all-female teams.

Each team received sophisticated rocket design and simulation software so that they could build and fly ‘virtual’ rockets before starting construction. Teams were not required to use the software, but I think the benefits far outweighed the time spent learning to use it well.

The team photos (see part 2) were taken at the Finals, held in Virginia in May. Many teams couldn’t afford to send the entire team, but I thought it interesting to see that the teams from small towns often had banners or shirts listing their sponsors and local businesses who donated money to help them meet expenses for the contest. For some, it looked like everyone on ‘Main Street, USA’ chipped in!

An unofficial member of many teams were the mentors, who were experienced rocketeers volunteering time to help. Few students and teachers had experience building and flying rockets, so the teams were encouraged to contact their closest rocket clubs for assistance.

And what is a contest without prizes, eh? From the AIA site:

A grand prize pool of $59,000 in cash and savings bonds was shared by the top five teams. In addition, the top ten teams will compete for three $2500 grants to design, build and launch an advanced rocket with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Each of the top 25 teams is being invited to send one of their teachers to an advanced NASA rocketry workshop.

This is real rocket science!
- to be continued –

A Scary Stupid Work Moment

Once I wound up on a short duration project at a major east coast HMO. This was my first foray into the civilian sector since my summer jobs in high school. Since then, all I’ve worked was military (active duty), followed by consultant jobs with various government agencies and entities. I was looking forward to working in a ‘civilian’ environment, because… well, these guys were ‘for profit’ and had to have their act together. Right?

During my first week, I sat down to skim through the raw data in the database I would be working with. I wrote a few quick queries to familiarize myself with how things fit together, and started narrowing my search to the specific area I would be working with first.

I called up a specific set of records and my heart sank immediately. This patient was pregnant, had her baby, and died during delivery. Man, that sucks.

Next patient, same thing.

Next patient, same thing. (Ulp!) Same doctor!!!!

Next… oh hell. I was horrified, and immediately went to see my client. I spent an awkward moment trying to dance around what I found without actually saying it straight out (I mean, at best this was malpractice, at worst it was murder). The client caught my drift, smiled brightly and informed me that there was a bug in the software and that once a quarter every pregnant woman in the patient database was listed as deceased.

My heart started again, and then she floored me by telling me that it’s been happening for years. They just reset the records and everything is ok again.

Yeah, don’t fix the problem. Just clean up the mess afterwards. Wonderful.

When I work for the Government, I expect it to be stupid and fucked-up. It was a major letdown to discover that a well-respected and successful civilian corporation worked the exact same way.

One more thing, this later led to another realization. According to this HMO, just because you die doesn't mean your coverage ends. A next-of-kin has to notify the HMO in writing that you're dead or they'll just keep charging you your monthly premium. And they are agressive about sending the collection agency after their money. Isn't that caring?

Moose writes, which beats Moose talks

As my daughter pointed out, "before he writes a book, he'll have to learn to speak english."

Former police chief Moose was an embarrassment to law enforcement officials everywhere thanks to his frequent and near-unintelligeble statements. At least Baghdad Bob was funny!

(I'm looking for unbroken links to the video clips)

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Lynx (my spell checker says that's ok)

I'll be adding and possibly subtracting links (on the right) for a while as I explore this newly discovered world of blogs. What is there now is what I check on a regular basis. Try them, you might like them.

Team America Rocketry Challenge – part 2

(part 1 here)

So how tough can it be to design a rocket? Like any other engineering project, it boils down to tradeoffs.

Think about a car for example; designing for lots of people room means a larger body which means a heavier vehicle which means a bigger motor which means less room for people which means…

For the rocket design, the only set dimension was the size and weight of the eggs. The teams would be provided with eggs that were weighed and measured to be within contest tolerances (and candled to make sure there were no unseen hairline cracks).

Other than that, the design was freeform. Each team was given a list of commercially available rocket motors that they could use for the flight. These motors ranged in size and power – the largest allowed motor was 256 times more powerful than the smallest! The teams had to come up with a combination of staged motors to meet the requirements. There were other considerations too, because some motors would require additional electronics to ignite the upper stage. Also, because of unforeseen circumstances, some motors were suddenly in very short supply, forcing some redesigns and additional ingenuity.

Not to mention half a hundred other factors that need to be accounted for.

These kids were up to it!

For some (hi-res) pictures of some of the teams, see here. In particular, look at the rockets they flew in the finals, and how they devised different solutions to the same problem.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Team America Rocketry Challenge

What is it? See the link on the right side of the page (under "I'm involved") for the official word. To me, the TARC is proof positive that kids will rise up to expectations. No dumbing down for this effort, no way.

Imagine telling a team of high school students that they have to plan, design, build and fly a rocket. Pretty cool, eh? But this is supposed to be a challenge, and you can buy kits in Wal-Mart to do that much. So let's make it a requirement that the rocket has to fly as close as possible to 1500 feet. Since altitude measurement is a requirement, the team has to plan on using an electronic altimeter.

But this needs to be tougher, so the rocket has to have two stages. In other words, the first motor has to stop burning before the second motor fires. If you've seen pictures of the old Saturn V moon shots, this is how it worked. Three stages, each one dropping off as it was done.

Ok, let's see... originial design with two stages going as close as possible to 1500 feet, measured by an on-board altimeter. Pretty good, but we need the proverbial 'cherry on top'. How about...

The payload is two fresh hens eggs, to be brought back to earth unbroken?!?!

Now that is a challenge!

The organizers expected a couple hundred teams to enter, and planned for twice that. Instead, almost 900 teams of students signed up.

- more coming -

Earning the daily bread

The distance from my house to my workplace is almost exactly 13 miles, and about 10 of that is interstate. The morning drive takes about 45 minutes or so, and I don't complain because - a few years ago - for one hellish three month stretch my average commute time was two and a half hours. Each way.

My current job is ok. I've told my 'boss' that I'll put up with a lot of crap because I like the commute. I've seen the worst it could be, so I appreciate what I've got. Frank Zappa said, "there's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over", so I will speak up when the situation calls for it, but mostly I just let it slide.

Notice how 'boss' has those little quote marks? That's because I'm a consultant and I work on-site full time, so the person I work for on a daily basis is my client, not my supervisor. My position is also a one-man project, so I'm the only person from my company working here. One reason my company likes me is because I succeed with minimal supervision.

How minimal? Well, basically I email the home office timesheets, and they mail me paychecks. I might talk on the phone to the company once every couple months or so. Actual face-to-face time with someone in the company averages once every two years. I like it that way. And as long as the client is happy with my work, then my company is fine with it.

Now that is sweet.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Plant picture

My favorite climbing rose. Enjoy.

Some things shouldn't exist

Microwavable Pork Rinds is in that category. My wife bought a bag of them (Orville Redneckenbacher?) for me as a joke. They sat in the pantry for quite awhile, but today I worked up my courage and tried 'em. Ick. They smell like burning plastic and don't taste much better.

Unsettling neighborhood news

In January of this year, an execution-style murder happened on my block. We live in a row of 10 townhouses, and the shooting took place at the far end house. I heard the shots that night, and to me it sounded like a short string of firecrackers going off. That's what I told my wife (she heard it too), and that's what I told the police. The victim was sitting in the living room in front of the TV when someone walked up to the window and started blasting away, hitting him in the head.

In today's paper is an article announcing the capture of the shooter. The case against him looks pretty solid, and this guy should go to prison for a long long time.

Good deal, eh?

Well, yeah... kinda. It turns out that the reason for the shooting was an earlier argument between two groups of people. According to the story, one man who lived in the house down the street (we'll call him 'Daddy') punched the shooter and split his lip, hence the return that evening for revenge.

The man who was killed was NOT the one who threw the punch! It was his roomie. In fact, he was sitting in the living room playing a video game with the young daughter of the guy who punched out the shooter. So daughter got to see up close and personal what Daddy had caused by losing his temper. Daddy had run to the store and wasn't home.

The other night, there was another fight at their house. This time, two women were trading punches in the front yard and street when the cops showed up. Daddy was outside with them, egging them on. Everyone involved was noticably high. The fun didn't end with the arrival of the police. They called for a female officer to do searches and wound up practically hogtying one of the women to keep her still. The subsequent search was interesting, as this woman is apparently a dealer, and they found a whole drugstore in her purse and in her car. Meanwhile, Daddy just kept being an asshole and instigating for all he was worth.

Here's the chilling part. The drug dealer, in front of the cops and everyone else, yells at Daddy that "next time they won't miss".

So now the whole neighborhood is uptight, and with damn good reason. Parents are afraid to let their kids outside, because if there's a real 'drive-by' next time, the bad guys won't be worrying about a kid on a bike, or someone walking the dog if they get in the way. It's a real shame too, because except for that one house (and resident idiots), and one other (best buds with the idiots), the neighborhood is pretty darned nice. I like my neighborhood. I like my neighbors.

I'm waiting for the cops to come out again. Apparently the owner has put the house up for sale (Daddy doesn't own it, but he's a relative of the owner - long story), and Daddy keeps taking the sign down. The realtor comes by and puts it back up. On and on, around and around.

Please God, let the house sell quickly. Please get those nitwits out of here before someone else loses their life. Not that I give a rat's ass about Daddy, but it always seems to be the innocent bystander that gets it too.

For those of you who look for silver linings, when the roomie died in January his mother recieved his kidneys and ended a decade of dialysis for her. Now that is a helluva silver lining.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

First show of the Summer Sanitarium Tour

(Excerpted from a friends' posting on Usenet)

...for those who were interested in the start of the Summer Sanitarium Tour, here's my take:

Sitting in the parking lot at 1:00PM, waiting for the stadium gates to open and watching a tremendous thunderstorm roll in and out in ~1/2 an hour was an awesome start to the day's activities. Winds in excess of 60mph, torrential rains and lightning hitting all around the Silverdome was in a word "cool". Knowing that the first act, Mudvayne wasn't scheduled to hit the stage until 3:00, my son and I waited patiently in ther car as dozens of rookies braved the wind and rain to make a mad dash to the gate. What a mistake. Can you see "instant wet t-shirt contest". 8-)

After the storm rolled out, we made it through security with a minimum of hassle and found our seats. Ironically, we were almost in the same spot that we had been 12/31/99 for the Metallica Millenium Concert. If you've ever been in the Silverdome in the summer, you'd know that it wasn't air-conditioned, only heated. By the time that Mudvayne hit the stage at 3:00PM, it was toasty inside, but the place wasn't crowded yet.

Mudvayne had its amps cranked up somewhere between an f-14 on afterburner and a hydrogen bomb. The air was so still before they started playing that there was actually air movement as a result of the booming base pushing lots of air.
Distortion was so high (nobody ever goes to the Silverdome for its acoustics) that I couldn't make out any of the lyrics that the lead singer was screaming. Fortunately, they did a merciful ~1/2 hour set.

Similar comments about the second act, Deftones.

After a 40 minute wait for set building, Linkin Park came out and did a good 40-50 minute set with lots of energy. The mosh pits were in full gear by that time and people were being passed to the front of the stage at a rate of 1 every minute. Several ladies in the crowd, riding high on their boyfriends' shoulders, decided that it was too warm for their tops, so they either lifted them up or took them off completely. I considered that a fringe benefit and brought my handy-dandy pair of Bushnell's for just such an occasion. 8-) All-in-all, a good set.

By the time that Limpbizkit hit the stage, it was somewhere around 6:30-7:00PM and the ambient temperature was well into the 90's. The 50-60k people, half of which seemed to be on the floor of the Silverdome immediately kicked into overdrive and began jumping as Limpbizkit launched into their set. Fred Durst can certainly get a crowd motivated. The stretchers began making their trips from in front of the stage to the waiting medical facilities as groupie after groupie either passed out from the heat, injured themselves in a mosh pit or mistimed their drugs. No fights, no hassles, just raw energy. If the ability to harness people power, like that shown in the Matrix, was possible, the whole eastern seaboard could have been powered by the crowd last night. If you've never experienced youth being youth, you're missing a lot.

Loud, but not nearly as distorted, you could actually hear some lyrics. It also helped that the entire crowd was acting as back-ups. Great set. I'd recommend anyone, not wearing a pacemaker who works out regularly, see Limpbizkit at least once in their lifetime. 100% pure, adulterated fun. >;-)

After another hour to build Metallica's set, the familiar theme from "the Good, the Bad and the Ugly" began to play and, once again, the crowd kicked it back into overdrive. By that time, it was almost 9:30PM, the kids had been running at high since 3:00PM and ambient temperature was still well into the 90's. For me, it was an exercise in survival at that point. Keep hydrated, but not so hydrated that you'd have to fight the crowd to the bathroom. Metallica came out loud (no surprise there) with lots of energy from the first note to the last. Unfortunately, the heavy distortion used and extreme decibel levels on the drums and guitars drowned out most of the vocals coming from the stage. They were supplanted, however, by thousands of audience members filling in for them as they bobbed, waved hands and jumped around in the Silverdome seats. And I'll admit it, I was one of those singing along as well. (Nobody sat from Linkin Park on)

Metallica played lots of their older hits: Sanitarium, Master of Puppets, etc) and came back for two encore sets. The final encore set included One and Sandman. As they were finishing up at 11:20PM, my son and I made a mad dash for the door, found our car strategically placed near an exit and were back on the highway heading home by 11:22PM. My ears still haven't fully recovered, but I'm no worse for wear.

Price of tickets: $189(pair)
Parking: $15
Food/drinks: $30
Memories of spending the day with my son who's starting college in the fall: Priceless

(thanks to Mark Simpson for the review)

 
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