Archive for the ‘General Commentary’ Category

Getting A New Passport

9 September 2016

I’m getting close to heading to a life-list backpacking trip to Glacier National Park. One of the things the crew decided to do was go up into Waterton, Canada, for a day.

My passport expired more than 10 years ago, so I would have to get it renewed. A quick perusal of the Department of State website told me I was right on the edge of being able to get the passport in time for the trip. I was frankly dreading the process. I downloaded the application, filled it out, and used the website to find out that post offices were able to accept the applications. I also noted that a FedEx Kinkos near work would take the photos. I called the post office to find out if I needed to go anywhere in particular, and was told no, just the main line. I mentioned I would head that way after I got my photo, and the guy said come on down, they take them right there in the post office.

So I headed downtown, fully expecting a hellish experience.

I walked in, and walked out 15 minutes later, done. Hellish, not so much. The post office people looked at the departure date on the application, and suggested overnighting the app to the State Department, and overnighting it back. It added about $40 to the cost. They took the photo (with a handheld camera), printed two copies of the photo, checked my ID and birth certificate, packaged it all up and off it went. The only weird thing, the State Department only wants a money order for their fee, but the post office people printed a money order right there using my debit card (why not a credit card, who knows?).

I did this on a Friday, 26 August, and it was accepted by the DoS in New York on Saturday.

So a week passed, and we took a trip over Labor Day weekend to Arkansas. We got in late Saturday, and checked the mail, and there was the passport, one week and one day turnaround.

So that’s pretty darn efficient. I am surprised and pleased by how well both the Post Office and DoS handled this.

Now, I’m just waiting for being off to Montana, then Canada.

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Some Lessons Learned, Order of the Arrow Weekend

28 August 2016

I was nominated for the Scouting honor camping group Order of the Arrow (OA) a couple months ago. This past weekend, I was able to participate in the Ordeal Experience, which is an induction to the Order.

It was held at our Council Camp George Thomas, near Lawton. I was well prepared gear-wise by emails from the local OA Lodge.

Except I suffered somewhat of a failure to really think through my clothing.

I made a conscious decision to wear long pants, as I knew that part of the experience was a work day at the camp. My thought was I might be in brush. I also wore a t-shirt, knowing I would get dirty.

In spite of the fact that I have spent some money on quick-dry stuff for backpacking, I went down there in COTTON jeans and tshirt. So, temps were around 90F, we were working hard outside, and naturally by 0900 I was a soaking wet mess.

One kind of cool thing, I’ve lost enough weight that at one of the breaks, I took my belt off and drilled a hole through it so I could tighten up my jeans.

So I should have worn my new quick-dry Scout uniform shorts (more pockets, too!) and a backpacking shirt. While it would still have been hot, I would have been a little dryer.

Other than my poor choice in clothing, the Ordeal Experience was a chance for good fellowship and meeting some super nice Scouts and Scouters. The camp got a lot of facelift in terms of getting cleaned up after the summer camp season (there was no less than 24 inches of ash in one fire ring we cleaned out, and that thing was four feet in diameter).

The path to our campsite was along the trail my Wood Badge troop had built, I thought that was really neat!

The ceremony crew put on a pair of impressive ceremonies both Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. The only downer was kind of surprising, someone was flying a quadcopter drone over the ceremony Saturday evening, and it was loud and obnoxious. I sorta wish the Guardian had used his bow to shoot the thing down :).

The Saturday night feast was GREAT! Roast beef that was just right.

I’m looking forward to supporting the Lodge and Chapter, although I already wonder how to fit in the time.

Changes, Changes

21 August 2016

Raegan and I are in San Antonio, TX right now to mark a special occasion.  Our son Ian graduated from US Air Force Basic Military Training here Thursday, and became an Airman.

It was a very emotional set of ceremonies over a couple days, and we have been able to visit with him for the past four days on both base liberty and town liberty.  We haven’t really done any touristy stuff, but a lot of sitting and talking, walking and talking, driving and talking, and feeding our Airman some “real” food instead of chow hall meals.

He’s an E-3 now, and after outprocessing in the upcoming week, he will report to his tech school for another five months of training, and then move on to his career.

He is in the best shape of his life, both physically and intellectually.  We are so proud of him we could burst.

We are headed back to OKC this evening for a return to work, but this otherwise very low-key visit to San Antonio and Lackland AFB will stand out in my mind for a long time.

Another Example of Bad News Coverage

22 July 2016

A while back, I posted about news coverage of a suspected Ebola case in Stillwater.  The media in question trumpeted about a case being Ebola when it was already known not to be.

There were several examples today in the same vein.  I’m going to pick on the NBC Nightly News for this one.

The setup is that a mentally disturbed man had wandered away from a home.  Another man, a therapist, was there to help calm the mentally disturbed man.

Somehow the police had been told the disturbed man had a gun.

The therapist was sitting near the disturbed man, and the therapist had his hands raised, knowing the cops were nearby with guns out.  A cop took aim at the mentally disturbed guy, but was a lousy shot, and hit the therapist in the leg.

It’s been reported the cops then rushed over and handcuffed the therapist.  If true, those cops are stupid.

Regardless, this happened Monday.  Today, the NBC News reported it like this:

  1. A man laying on the ground with his hands raised was shot by police.
  2. The man was unarmed, and trying to help a mentally disturbed man.
  3. The man shouted to the police that the mentally disturbed man did not have a gun, but a toy truck in his hands.

The story went on for a couple minutes in that vein, and most of the way through, the correspondent finally says that the cop in question thought the therapist was in danger, shot, and missed the target, hitting the therapist.

It seems to me that the tone of the story was to continue a narrative of black men shot by cops.  Whether done for political reason (unlikely, I think) or to drive ratings (more likely), the tone should have been different.

Something like this:  “In Miami today, a cop shot at a man and missed, wounding another man nearby who was trying to help.  Neither the target or the helping man had guns.  Maybe Miami cops need to be issued binoculars, and need additional training on the range.”  Because those are really the two problems.

If the therapist says there is no gun, and he is two feet away, why did the cop shoot so fast?  If the cops had binocs, one could have observed the situation a little more clearly.

Regardless, this was an example of lousy reporting.

The DoD and Transgender Service Members

1 July 2016

I will be the first to say that I do not understand the mental and physical challenges that are experienced by transgender people. I’m sure I do not get the pronouns right (at least, yet).

But I think that the US Department of Defense decision today to allow openly transgender people to serve is simply outstanding.

The key word there is “people”. No matter a person’s sexual orientation or thoughts, they are people, and in the case of the United States, citizens who should be accorded the same rights (and attendant responsibilities) as everyone else.

I’ve been impressed with DoD for taking the lead on many LGBTQ issues in the past decade. This latest step is another in that series of moves that can only be good for the country as a whole.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, TX

20 June 2016

This past Friday, after my work finished, Raegan, Ian, and Erin and I headed to downtown Dallas to visit the Perot Museum. We got there about 1330.

One of the reasons I wanted to hit the museum is that they were playing an IMax film about our National Parks. We scored our entry tickets to include tickets for the show at 1415. Raegan got in free as she is an educator, and Erin got a discount for being a student.

We looked through the gift shop prior to show time. The movie was essentially a long commercial for our national parks (I have no problem with that). It was beautifully filmed. It was in 3D format, which was occasionally interesting but didn’t add much to the scenery.

They have a flow through the place. They want you to take a couple long escalators up to the 3rd floor, where you see a small exhibit on earth and space science, including an earthquake simulator. They also have a decent set of fossils there. On top of this level is a mezzanine devoted to birds. This was my favorite level in the museum.

From there, you drift down to level two. I love mineral collections, and while the mineral collection here was on the small side, they had some spectacular large crystals.

The life sciences hall was kind of sparse, but one thing that was pretty neat was some MRIs of the human body showing the midsections. Seeing the relationships between bones and organs was cool.

The hydrocarbons exhibit was basically a long commercial for fracking.

The Innovations hall has some cool hands-on stuff. The best thing was a robot programming station that used a form of Logo on a drag-and-drop GUI to program the robot to roam around the table.

We left right before 1800. It was an enjoyable visit, but was less extensive than other science museums we have been to. We won’t have a return visit for some time, unless they add some spectacular new exhibit. It’s worth a visit.

Brock Turner Is A Symptom of A Larger Problem

7 June 2016

Turner was convicted of several counts relating to his rape of an unconscious woman in California.  For multiple felonies, he was sentenced to a very light six months.  The “judge” was concerned for the poor boys well-being, it seems.  His father was also concerned that his son getting so much bad vibe for his “20 minutes of action”.

I have no idea what the political leanings of that pair of twisted idiots, or the judge, are. But it is clear that all three of them value the well-being and mental health of the victim far less than the perpetrator. (Late note, I read over lunch that the judge is a former Stanford athlete, like Turner. I don’t know if that’s true.)

I don’t know what kind of sexual urge or drive or need or want drives a guy to rape an unconscious woman.  It is wrong on any number of levels.  The attacker rapist should have a greater punishment.  I understand a father wanting to support his son, but the father dismisses the victim (“20 minutes of action”) and bemoans the effect on the son. Too effing bad, your son is a rapist.

The fact that the victim was drinking is not relevant, once she was unconscious (and for all we know, she could have had “help” in that respect from the rapist) she can’t consent, and at that point, the only honorable thing to do was to help her back to a place of safety.

But these three clueless people, the rapist, his father, and the judge, are symptoms of larger issues that demean and degrade women who are victims of various forms of assault by men.  Whether catcalls, or groping, being drugged, or being raped, there are a significant number of abusers of women around.  Just as bad, there are people who protect those abusers, even if they don’t participate in the abuse.

In the past couple political cycles, a number of people, all men as far as I know, and all conservative as far as I know, have talked about rape in terms of blaming the victim.

If you don’t condemn rape without condition, then STFU, crawl back under a rock, and remove yourself from society.  We don’t need you, and we don’t want you in a position of trust if you can’t support half of our population.

Selling A House

10 March 2016

Not just any house, but the house my Mom and Dad lived in. They bought the house new back in the early 1990s and had it moved to the location in south Muskogee. They added a garage and a couple outbuildings shortly thereafter.

My Dad wasn’t there very long, he passed in 1996. My Mom lived there until she passed in 2012, and I became her executor and administrator. The nursing home near there had told me in 2013 that they wanted to buy the house and all the land around it to make more assisted living apartments, but that it wouldn’t for some time.

In the meantime, my Mom had specified in her will that a certain person would be allowed to live in the house until it was sold. He didn’t take care of it, and didn’t tell me about house problems.

Last summer, a friend of mine made a Facebook post that her niece needed a place to board a horse. I figured I wasn’t using the land around the house for anything, and my Mom had a guy who leased the land for horses for a while. I decided to offer my friend’s niece the land for the horse, for nothing. I like horses!

As I got to know the niece and her husband (and they were very nice), they started to think that the house and the land would make a nice home. After a couple months, we settled on a price.

So… I asked the guy living in the house to leave, as there were a lot of repairs to do. We (as in me and my family) and a high school friend who does home repair work took out old carpet, repaired stuff, got the power checked out, the gas checked out, leaks repaired, roof panels replaced, broken windows replaced. We found other problems, like a rotted subfloor that required a complete replacement.

In the meantime, I learned that land abstracts in Oklahoma are important. They cost a lot of money to generate. I found an attorney in Muskogee who knew how to get a house that was under probate sold. He also know how to do deeds and such.

It took months longer than I had thought to do all of this. I had budgeted money for fees and stuff, but way underbudgeted for abstracts and probate costs. I underestimated the budget for house repairs also, but not too badly. I’m not losing money on the sale, but I sure didn’t make much either!

Today we closed on the sale. It took about 20 minutes. Our attorney (Ron Wright) I can tell you can be highly recommended. He knows this stuff inside and out.

The probate process isn’t done yet, but the end is in sight. I need to do an “inventory”, but quite a bit of that is the house sale.

The house still has work I am responsible for. But I need to get the homeowners permission now! 🙂 The main work that needs to be done is finish cleaning up trash that the guy who used to live in the house left behind. Ian and I have already filled up a total of 60 cubic yards (yes, sixty!), and we have a 15 yard container coming Friday, and hopefully we will get that this weekend. Part of the budget is new finished flooring. The couple who bought the house will put the flooring down, while I am buying the flooring, and they are painting.

As I drove home after the closing, naturally my thoughts turned towards what my parents would have thought of this. It’s natural to feel a little guilty about selling my parents house. I think I spent one night in that house, ever, when I was helping Mom with a garage sale she was having (my other visits to the area, I usually stayed in a hotel in Muskogee).

My overwhelming thought is that I’m glad that the house is in the hands of people who will take care of it. They are good people, a veteran and an animal lover, I like them.

I will be taking care of the rest of the probate, hopefully by the end of April.

Then I can move on to working on my own house, which has kind of been neglected for a year or so.

PCness and Offense as a Political Meme

25 January 2016

I have noticed a lot of references to how bad “political correctness” is by various candidates, and all of them have been by Republicans.

I looked up this definition of PC on Wikipedia:

Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct, commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term primarily used as a pejorative to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.

In a related area, I’ve seen a large number of memes posted, again, if not 100% by conservatives, then very close, that reference some variation of “Let’s keep this going since it offends some people”.  What is being kept going is a positive reference to Christianity, or some reference to America, or one of the political hot buttons.

There have been a lot of references in this campaign season to how bad “being PC” is.  I believe that the anti-PC “movement” is really just a way for conservative leaders to let out the inherent racism that is a core part of their belief system.  It’s a way for conservative candidates to ask their base to express their deepseated fear of people of color, people of other religious traditions, and in general those who are not white and Christian.

To me, the human, compassionate thing to do is work with people under the assumption that they are human also.  That means not calling them names like a petulant child, or trying to blame those who are not the same color, or who talk differently, or who hold different faith traditions on all of the ills of my society.

All of this anti-PC rhetoric is yet another variation on encouraging symbols above substance for conservatives.  The old reduce-it-to-a-bumper-sticker way of dealing with huge groups is stupidly closed minded.

PC – it is really a way to be respectful of others, even if they are not a clone of you.

Scouting and Wood Badge

22 January 2016

A couple years ago, I decided I should complete the Scouting Wood Badge (WB) program.  This was kind of driven by two things, both my thought that I needed to “up my game” as far as Scouting goes, and also due to numerous recommendations by Scouting friends.  It’s quite the time commitment, six days of “classroom” training, and then five projects you do to benefit your Troop or other Scouting organization; these typically take about a year of effort to complete.

My five ticket items were a mix.  The easiest one to complete was the BSA Trainers Edge course, which is one day on site.  I figured it would not be useful, but it turned out to be very useful, even to a guy who has done a lot of presenting in his career.  I had one ticket item getting our Troop to be able to put on a backpacking program.  Another item was to enhance availability of Merit Badges to our Scouts by the Troop, and one more item to enhance recruiting of new Scouts from the geographical area around our Chartering Organization.  Finally, I had a ticket item to give service to the District organization our Troop is part of.  I completed the five items and am waiting to be awarded the Wood Badge in the next month or so.

Naturally, I have been reflecting on the WB program during this process.

First, I have to say that the impetus given by the ticket items really helped with getting some things done for the Troop that needed doing.  One I actually consider a failure; the recruiting effort had little success.  However, I did come up with some new ideas for next year, so I will consider it an item to be built on.   The other two Troop related items were completely successful, and the backpacking item I am particularly proud of.  The District service is a continuing effort.

26 January 2016 update:  A note on the ticket item I refer to as a failure in the previous paragraph.  I was trying a direct mail effort to 35 churches and schools in the area of our Troop meeting place, asking to let us come by and recruit for our Troop.  I got one response back out of 35, which I was very disappointed by.  I was bothered enough by it that I ginned up a second letter, with a postcard enclosed asking for feedback on why they didn’t want us to recruit.  This one got six responses asking us to come recruit.  So maybe not so much of a failure, but I still wonder why there were so many non-responses the first time.  Back to the blog post:

As I said, WB starts with a six-day commitment, and for me, that was the hardest part of the program, as I am fairly booked up by family and work.  I bit the bullet and signed up for the course as presented in two three-day chunks, over a pair of Thursday-Saturdays about three weeks apart (there are WB courses that happen in a single six-day block alsob).  In both cases, I ended up on business travel the first part of each week, which meant arriving in camp very late Wednesday the first week, and getting in to OKC at 2200 Wednesday the second week, and then getting up at 0430 to get down to camp by 0700 Thursday morning.  The first session was essentially booked with stuff 0700 – 2100 all three days except the last, which was depart at 1700.  The second session had some blocks of time for doing stuff in camp and relaxing.

Wood Badge has a number of objectives, and the primary objective is team building.  There are a number of activities like games, videos, and briefers on these topics.  Some of it was useful to me, some not so much, but overall a positive.  I’ve read about the theory of WB, and the designers are very certain that in order to form a team, it must be forged in the heat of – something.  Battle, or intense work, stress, or conflict.  I think that’s why the days are so full, it’s meant to stress people.  There was also a lot of ritual involved for everything, which is meant to enhance a sense of belonging and binding to the other people you are with.

The staff for our WB had obviously put in a heck of a lot of work to make the sessions work.  They were up before we were and went to be after we did, and in talking to them they had been meeting and camping and working together for almost a year before the actual WB course.  That’s a level of commitment that is very impressive.  The meals and infrastructure were well done.

There is some improvement in the Wood Badge program I think could be made. The biggest (this could sound elitist, but I don’t mean it to), I think that the basic orientation to Scouting parts of WB should be eliminated, to include the camping practicum, the model campsite, and the like.  There were a lot of people in my WB class that were new to Scouting.  Of the five guys in my patrol, I was the only one that had been through BALOO, IOLS, and Scoutmaster Fundamentals (for those who don’t know, BALOO is training to take Cub Scouts camping, and IOLS and SMF are basic training for Boy Scout Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters); on top of that I’ve been involved in Scouting since I was a kid.  I’m a fan of training, and I think that making SMF/IOLS a prerequisite for WB would help BSA with getting leaders fully trained (and I think that you should be able to “test out” of IOLS with experience, which all of our guys had).

I guess what I’m saying here is that you shouldn’t be at the premier, advanced training for Scouting if you don’t have the basic training completed, and at least some practical experience.  I would rather the time I am volunteering (and the associated dollars I am paying) be used for enhancing the direct objective of the course, instead of rehashing stuff I already know.  The structure of the course (patrols/troop) is good, appreciated, and 100% relevant to the course objective, but it shouldn’t have to be explained at length.

The accommodation concept was for the participants to sleep in wall tents the first session, then set up a patrol-based campsite for the second session.  I would rather be in a patrol camp both sessions, and perhaps have more time to spend with my patrol members in the camp in the evenings, rather than go with courses until late.  The mix of dining hall meals and cooked in camp meals was a good mix.

Wood Badge ended up costing me about $750, aside from the annual leave I used to attend the four days during the two workweeks.  That breaks down to $200 for the course, about $100 in transportation to the course and back (I rented a SUV for the second half to carry equipment for the service project we performed), about $250 for the Trainers Edge (I took it in Dallas, and so I had a couple hotel nights plus the course fee), and then about $200 in costs for copying pertaining to the recruiting ticket item (which was higher than I thought it would be).  I could have avoided the cost for Trainers Edge had I taken it in OKC (I had schedule conflicts for various offered TE courses through the end of 2015, almost all for Scouting activities).

The service project our course built in camp was a lot of fun, although it was also very sweaty.  Everyone worked and got it done very quickly.

So overall, I enjoyed the Wood Badge experience.  I think the bottom line on it is that completing the ticket items and the awarding of the beads is, for me, a milestone on a path ahead in service to youth.  I think that the lessons learned will help me continue to support my Troop, my District (and perhaps Council at some point), and my other service interests, in particular the Girl Scouts and St. John’s.

Star Wars: The Force Is Sleepy

22 January 2016

The best part about the new Star Wars movie is that the popcorn and Dr. Pepper was very good.  In fact, they had unlimited butteroid to put on the popcorn, and you could salt it yourself.

Seriously.  I saw A New Hope (although it wasn’t called that) in the drive-in theater on the north side of Muskogee, OK the week the movie was released, and was blown away.  To the point my buddies and I saw it the next evening, and the next.  When the Empire Struck Back, we yelled “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO keep going!!!!!!” from the darkness of the theater in Stillwater, OK, and then we went back several times.  And when the Jedi Returned, it was awesome, and we went back several times.

There is nothing to say about the “prequels”.  Except they are crap.

My Facebook review of TFA was, drum roll, please:  “Meh”.  After reflection, less then meh, even.  The movie was a single continuous take of one almost-didn’t-escape-that-[whatever certain death] after another almost-didn’t-escape-that-[whatever certain death], along with one-dimensional characters I don’t give a rip about.

OK, so they have FTL travel and blasters and light sabres and the Force; that’s all neat.  And it’s fantasy, I get that.  But having none other than Solo and the Wookie find the Falcon 16 and a half seconds after it was stolen from the planet, and then having bad guys find Solo three minutes later, and people being chased and eaten by monsters 18 seconds after that, and then having Lea find everyone after a battle, and all the other coincidences, it was beyond fantasy and into the realm of no frickin’ way.

I would have understood if Republic Mark II was in place, and fighting against the First Order, which objected to having their Emperor blown up.  But I do not understand how the First Order is still in charge, and why the ragtag, fugitive fleet (wait, strike that) Rebel Alliance Rev 1.1 is still on secret bases.

Related to that, why didn’t the Republic Mark II freeze the bank accounts of the Empire, preventing the First Order from building an Even Bigger Death Star.  Never mind that the EBDS sucks energy from a star to power it’s weapon to destroy every planet in a solar system at once?  W…T…F…?  If you know how to suck all the life Force from a star (yes, pun intended) then you really don’t have to be mucking around with the same TIE fighters you used 30 years earlier.  Do not get me started on the giant star map to Luke.  Ludicrous.

If I sound disappointed, well, check yourself out a new degree in Empathy.  I will not see the movie again, even when it gets replayed on the Disney Channel six times a day.  And I don’t even now if I will see the next installment.

I am afraid that I am going to end up relegating these Star Wars movies, like the prequels, into the same basket I place the film adaptations of my beloved The Hobbit, which is to say I skip right over them when I see them on TV, and I will not own them on DVD.  Sad to say, but TFA is really no better then the prequels, and which does a grave misservice to the grand saga of the original, and really only, Star Wars trilogy.

Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Boys and Girls

31 October 2015

Raegan pointed me at an article posted Thursday about a group of girls that were a den in a Cub Scout pack. The situation is one that we have had in our family, there are plenty of girls that want to do Scouting, but they want to do Scouting that is based on the Boy Scout program, the kind of Scouting that used to be practiced by Girl Scouts.

First of all, I think there is value in having some youth activities gender-segregated. Girls doing some (not all) stuff with girls, and boys doing some (not all) stuff with guys. You may or may not agree with this, but that’s fine. There are plenty of combined stuff, to include most schools, churches, and the like.

Second, I wear two Scouting hats, as I’m a leader in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I tend to augment Girl Scout activities I do with activities that we do as Boy Scouts. You might correctly assume from this that I think that Girl Scouting does not place enough emphasis on outdoors activities. I know that girls can do all of the things that boys do in Scouting, to include camping, backpacking, shooting, etc.

Raegan has told me many stories of her growing up in Girl Scouts, and that back then the emphasis on outdoors activities was declining.

So back to the article. The girls in question were set up as a den in a Cub Scout Pack, with the agreement of Pack leadership. Good for them (all of them). The Boy Scout Council leadership eventually found out and objected. The girls want to bridge to Boy Scouts this upcoming Spring. I doubt they will be allowed to.

The girls could become Girl Scouts. While the Girl Scouting program does not prohibit the sorts of activities that the girls want to do, I can tell you that it does not encourage these programs either. We have a High Adventure Team (HAT) here in the local Girl Scout Council, which is good. But HAT is not a unit, or Troop, but is considered sort of an ongoing program, and the participation age starts at 11. We have not had good support in the past, but at least it’s getting better (see my blog post about our Durango adventure). The policies of the Girl Scouts with regard to the relationship between Troops and Councils makes it difficult to get and keep equipment, and raise funds to buy that equipment. We are always told to buy extra insurance, so our activities are apparently thought of as too risky.

Speaking of which, Girl Scouting is far too risk-averse. Policy requires the Council to be in control of all unit funds. The safety rules put a serious damper on having fun (one rule is that a certified lifeguard has to be present at any swimming; there are not that many certified lifeguards around). There are also silly rules in Boy Scouting, but having a certified lifeguard to go swimming is not one of them. Girl Scouts require a bunch of training before taking a group camping, with no ability to test out (for example, if you’ve been camping for 40 years). Boy Scouting is starting to ramp up training requirements some as well. I would hope that the organizations would accept the others training in this respect.

One other problem with becoming Girl Scouts is a fundamental problem of recognition. The Boy Scout recognition structure of ranks and badges is a darn good motivator. Girl Scouting is age-based. They do have the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards, but those are for older scouts (I understand that in order to earn the Gold Award, a Scout does not have to earn Bronze or Silver, which seems to me to be a bad idea). I think that having a rank to strive for is highly motivating for kids of all ages, even if you keep it age-based for the younger Scouts.

Boy Scouting does allow coed Scouting at 14+, in the form of Venture Crews and Teams.

I think I would like to see one of the following:

  • Boy Scouts allow female Dens in Cubs and Patrols in Boy Scouting.
  • Girls Scouts re-emphasize outdoor activities.
  • Neither of these will happen any time soon. I don’t know that Girl Scouts will ever go back to an outdoor-centric program.

    As to the girl Cub Scouts, the best thing to do is probably to join Girl Scouts and run their own program based on Boy Scouts, to include awarding ranks, Merit Badges, and the like. They won’t be officially recognized by either organization (one due to DNA, the other due to Journeys), but the girls will have done the work to earn the badge regardless.

    Advice For Those With Religious Liberty Issues

    10 September 2015

    If you have a deeply held religious belief, please by all means don’t do something that would directly violate that belief.  For example, if you do not think that gays should be married, then by all means, do not marry someone of your sex.

    For all the other stuff, please:

    SUCK IT UP

    AND

    DEAL WITH IT.

     
     
     
    I mean this in the most respectful way I can.  I’m assuming you are a citizen of the United States, but this would apply to many other people as well.

    YOU HAVE TO INTERACT WITH THOSE AROUND YOU.

    If you work at the Gap, you cannot refuse service to a black person, or a gay person, or a Catholic, or an Episcopalian, or whoever else comes in.  You have your beliefs, but there are many others around you that may or may not share those beliefs, and you do not live in a place where only those who believe as you are allowed.

    THOSE AROUND YOU HAVE TO INTERACT WITH YOU. 

    If you go to shop at the Gap, you may be served by a person of deeply held religious belief, or a gay person, or a black person, or a Catholic, or an Episcopalian, or whoever works there.  If you have a friend who works there, by all means give him/her your business.  But otherwise, there are those around you who may or may not share your beliefs, and you do not live in a place where only those who believe as you are allowed.

    I posted a short while ago about conservatism and extremism.  Only wanting to deal with those who believe just as you do is one form of non-compromise that is extremism.  In this secular, non-homogeneous society of the United States, people of every stripe have worked on the roads we all travel on, in the stores we all shop in, and in the places we gather, including sports, church, youth groups, and the like.  You, and those who are also in that gathering area, have to interact.  You do not get to live in a world, or even a state, or a county, or a town, or a neighborhood composed only of people who think like you.

    If it’s really that important to you, gather your like-minded friends and buy an island.  Otherwise, suck it up.

    The best advice for people to take is Live and Let Live.  If what another person is doing does not affect you in some material and negative way, then suck it up and deal with it.

    Buying A Car The Easy Way, From Home Mostly

    6 September 2015

    Had an example of being hyper-connected today. We are very close to buying a new car for Raegan, and she has settled on the model and key performance, having visited several dealers to test drive a number of cars, and then downselecting. We are USAA members, and so she hopped on their website to check out their car buying service. In less than five minutes, she had a loan approval (for about twice as much as needed, my comment “Here’s enough rope to hang yourselves”). USAA sends a certificate via email that you hand to the dealer, and you drive off the lot. We did the same for Ian’s car, it was pretty simple.

    She had not even logged off the site, and in less than 15 minutes, we had a combination of *eight* texts, emails, and phone calls from dealers ranging from Ardmore to the metro area to Tulsa.

    All this without her ever talking to a human at USAA. Now, USAA had some good cars for her to evaluate, but she found the best match at a dealer in Tulsa via that dealers website, and she talked to them about the car, so we are headed there Monday.

    It was slightly annoying to get the flood of callers and texters (most of which repeated their contact attempts, some several times), but the response times were amazing, and I will tell you that this way to buy a car beats the heck out of the way we used to do it.

    Free Speech and Anti-Islam Nuts

    20 May 2015

    The incident in Garland, TX a couple weeks ago has bugged me a lot.  One thing I noted in news about the incident was the references to the event that was attacked as an exhibition of cartoons of Mohammad.  It wasn’t until four or five days later that I saw a reference to the actual title of the event, “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest”.  It didn’t take much to find that the so-called free-speech event was really just an excuse for some rabid anti-Islam nuts to take some pokes at Islam.

    Their “free-speech” exercise was really just an excuse to provoke followers of Islam to get mad.  In that a couple guys got pissed enough to try to attack the event, the organizers got their wish.

    Was their actions legal?  Without a doubt.  Were the ethical?  No way.

    This is another case where the followers of one religion should have just followed their religion, without trying to denigrate another religion.  I think the organizers of the so-called contest are cowards.  They provoked a response, and then hid behind a lot of police, one of whom was injured in the exchange of gunfire.  The organizers are directly responsible for the deaths of the two attackers and the injuries to the wounded officer.  Will there be accountability?  Probably not.

    Islam has been used to stir up a lot of unthinking people over the past couple years.  After Bush II made up reasons to invade Iraq and then killed thousands of Muslims as a direct result, which directly led to the formation of ISIS/ISIL, it should come as no surprise that many Muslims are unhappy with the US.  When you toss in sporadic efforts to supposedly keep Sharia law from being enacted, continuing adventures in the Middle East, and general (mainly) conservative xenophobia, it’s clear that Islam is one of the scary things that conservatives are using to distract people from the overall game plan of conservatives to loot the lower and middle classes.

    So, to the organizers of that event in Garland, you are cowards.  You are also misguided at best.

    So I Got A Ticket Yesterday

    5 April 2015

    When we were driving to and from the hike to Bell Cow yesterday, I used one of the vans that is shared by the Troop and the First Presbyterian Church, our chartering organization.  I took the hikers to Braum’s and bought them ice cream for doing so well on the hike.

    We were coming down I-35 and an Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) state trooper came up in the fast line behind me.  She (I found out later) matched speeds with me and then scooted over two lanes to get behind me.  I knew something was up.  She pulled me over by Frontier City.

    Turns out the tag on the van was out of date.  Way out of date, 2013.

    Nothing bad happened here.  I think the state trooper was very professional about the whole thing.  She had authority to have the van towed and impounded, but she didn’t.  I had a van load of tired Scouts, and it would have been very inconvenient, but she realized that an expired tag isn’t then greatest threat to public safety.  I told her I would let the church know immediately, which I did.  She also said that when the tags were updated, let her know and she would cancel the ticket, which I certainly appreciate.

    I got a huge ration of crap from the Scouts, of course.  🙂

    I’ve driven that van all over the state (and out of state) over the past couple years, and I have never once thought to check the tag, even when I was back there hooking up the trailer.  I checked the other vans FPC uses and three of them were also out of date, so I let our COR know.  You can bet that checking the tag is on my list of things to look at in the future.

    This was the first interaction I’ve had with OHP since probably 2002, when my brother and I were driving back to Newcastle around 0200 after being in Muskogee all day.  The trooper basically pulled us over at I-240 and Penn, checked our IDs, and sent us on our way.  I don’t know exactly why we got pulled over, I wasn’t speeding, and I don’t think I simulated a drunk, but that’s probably why.  So that turned out OK as well.

    More Zero Tolerance Stupidity

    16 March 2015

    This article was published on another example of school administrators turning off what higher order functions they might have had.

    First of all, I would ask how the “leaf” came to be found.  Second of all, even under zero brain, er, tolerance, some due process would seem to be in order to prove that the contraband was indeed pot.  Given that, the 1-year suspension should never have been ordered, and even given that, the kid in question should have been back in school the next day.  Even given the reference to so-called “imitation drugs”, I find it hard to imagine that there was any offense here in the slightest.

    There is a larger question here as to the severity of punishment.  Oklahoma and Texas have what are characterized as two of the strongest penalties for pot possession – 1 year and 180 days in prison (respectively) no matter the amount.  It is reported that most offenders in Oklahoma get probation or little jail time.

    So why does the Bedford Country Schools give the equivalent punishment – a year out of school, for kids?  It’s just worse that the supposed contraband was a random leaf.  Geez, a science class leaf collection might get a kid there the death penalty.

    It’s even worse that the kid is reported to be on “probation”.  Given that no crime/offense actually occurred, it’s stupid to declare probation.

    I wonder if they administrators moonlight as guards at Gitmo, where we famously hold people for years without charge or trial.

    The OU SAE Frat Incident Is Just A Symptom Of A Larger Problem

    9 March 2015

    So this story broke as news like a thunderclap this weekend. I will not get worked up about it.

    This is just another incident of the inherent racism that is still present in this country in significant measure. It will be here until the people who look down on others due to skin color die off, and it will take some time.

    One thing that has not been reported: this was a mass dating event with a group of women. I would imagine (but don’t know) that the women were from a sorority at OU (these mass dating activities happened every Tuesday (I think) when I was at OSU). In the video, while the guys are shouting the racist cadence and clapping, a couple of the women were at least clapping as well; I couldn’t tell from the video if they were singing along. There very well be consequences for that house as well.

    I’ve said before, racism is the largest stain on the USA. It is still here, and even worse, looks to be largely hidden, except in secondary effects like voter suppression. The Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Acts were passed about 100 years after Emancipation. That took way too long, but even 50 years after those days of hope, we are still left with the putrid, foul stench of unthinking racists.

    Super Bowl Ads

    30 January 2015

    Just for the record, I don’t give a damn about Super Bowl ads.

    If you are a marketeer, one of the companies, associated with the game, or anything like that, well, sorry.

    “News” programs that clearly don’t have news to cover blather on about these ads, all the while talking with awe about the cost per second or whatever. It’s not news, folks.

    Super Bowl ads will lose what little relevancy they might have about 24 hours after the game is over.

    The people making, broadcasting, and talking about these ads are mainly overly rich people trying to get people with less money to give up that money. That’s it.

    Bible Class In Mustang Public Schools – Rejected

    26 November 2014

    KOCO Channel 5 here in OKC reported today that Mustang Public Schools has dropped a plan to teach a class on the Bible.

    The class was developed in some way by the founder of Hobby Lobby, and apparently they want to spread that class far and wide.

    This rightly annoyed the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation; both organizations urged Mustang Schools to not accept the curriculum.

    Apparently Mustang ultimately rejected the concept because the Hobby Lobby people would not agree to two terms, which were to allow the school system to review the curriculum before the class, and to indemnify the school from legal challenges.

    I think that the fact that the Hobby Lobby people would not let the school review the curriculum prior to the class to be the most interesting thing here. I’m pretty sure that the scope and sequence of all classes are reviewed by a school before students see the material. I am very surprised that the Hobby Lobby people were not OK with a review; it leaves the distinct impression of something fishy.

    On a media-related note, KOCO interviewed a number of supposed parents of Mustang students. Those people were universally less-than-happy about the decision. Every one of the people had some variation on “they should have the class, where else could the kids learn about the Bible?”. I guess that it’s just Too Obvious to ask these people in return what they think the kids are getting in Sunday School. Or do they not take their kids to Sunday School to learn about the Bible? Surely not!

    Overuse Of “Breaking News” By Today Show

    3 November 2014

    On Saturday, Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old brain cancer victim, took her life via Oregon’s death with dignity law. She faced her life, and situation, with remarkable courage. Her death was widely reported Saturday.

    This morning (Monday), we had the TV on NBC as The Today Show started. Matt Lauer did an intro that included “Breaking overnight: Brittany Maynard takes her own life”. I may have the second part slightly off, but the “Breaking overnight” part is exactly what he said.

    So… the question is, did the Today person who wrote the intro just wake up this morning at 0200 and note the death of Ms. Maynard? Everyone else knew about it Saturday, so it clearly is not “breaking” news.

    I suspect it is the routine overuse of superlative-type language. There are so many things that news people find “incredible”, for example. I think Today just threw the story out as breaking in a routine way to try to entice the sleepy to watch. It’s actually sort of pathetic.

    One More Ebola-Related Thing

    1 November 2014

    On the morning news on Channels 4 (KFOR) and 5 (KOCO), I heard almost identical news items, pertaining to the patient in Tulsa taken to the OSU hospital there. The patient, it was reported yesterday morning (almost 24 hours ago), had malaria.

    The stories this morning, in outline form:

  • A patient that had been in West Africa came to the hospital running a fever, and is suspected of having Ebola.
  • Several other Ebola themes are mentioned, including the Nurse Who Was Quarantined.
  • Ebola is BAD.
  • The patient was found to have malaria.
  • This is an example of extremely crappy reporting. I would argue that it’s not even news, and should not have been reported this morning at all. It also clearly is meant to keep stoking the fear that people have of Ebola.

    How about this, KOCO and KFOR? “The patient taken to the OSU hospital in Tulsa after having been in West Africa, was tested and found to have malaria. Malaria is an extremely common disease in West Africa, and is not related to Ebola.”.

    Anything other than this is fear-mongering.

    Way Too Ebola-Paranoid, Again

    31 October 2014

    There is a lot of stupid paranoia going on right now about Ebola. A nurse that returned from working with Ebola patients in West Africa was tossed into an improvised gulag in New Jersey, while the bully and idiot Governor of the state foamed at the mouth and ranted about how He Would Take Every Legal Step to keep the nurse locked up for three weeks. To her credit, she retained council and was on the path to a lawsuit she would have won.

    In her home state of Maine, the idiot Governor there issued threats of prosecution, and has a cop following the nurse around. In a classic case of true doublespeak, Mr. No-Brain Governor says that the trooper is to protect her. Right.

    Various news outlets posted tweets and other social media from people who apparently have no concept of science trashing the nurse, along the lines of “she only thinks of herself and not US”. Whiners. The media does not help by focusing on and giving a platform to people whining for NO REASON. It’s not a controversy, it’s just keeping people who are easily led scared.

    On Facebook, I’ve seen posts from (mainly conservatives) who denigrate her for going about her business when She Might Have Ebola.

    It was reported on the Rachel Maddow show that some people in Maine have been calling to cancel medical appointments due to fear of being in the same state as the nurse.

    C’mon people. Grow a pair. Every competent medical advice as to whether the nurse is contagious in any way is negative. The Governors want to lock her up out of an abundance of caution, science be damned.

    This isn’t far off from the people locked up in Guantanamo Bay.

    31 October 2014, 1525 CDST Update:

    I just read that a judge in Maine has rejected the states attempt to quarantine the nurse in question, saying that statements by the Maine version of the CDC completely undermine the reason the Governor was trying to imprison her. I also found out just now that the Governor of the state is a Republican. Somehow, that figures. That nurse is as much of a patriot as any of the founders of this country.

    Way Too Ebola-Paranoid

    21 October 2014

    Raegan needed to visit the ER late Sunday as a result of Aerosinusitis. She was coming back to OKC from the Girl Scout national convention, and as the plane descended rapidly to landing, the pressure differential messed up her sinuses, in an extremely painful episode. We went straight from Will Rogers to the Integris ER.

    At the ER, the desk clerk asked about her symptoms. Not unexpected. But as soon as she said “I just flew in from Denver…” the young lady got wide-eyed, leaned back, and told Raegan to put on that mask now. Then there was a form to fill out that was Ebola-specific. Then there were repeated questions from the form, and clearly related to the form, for Ebola.

    Really. In OKC. No, really in EDMOND.

    I think the Ebola reaction in this country is way over the top, and it seems to me it is just the latest in a series of Public Oh My Gods that have been going on, whether it is ISIS/ISIL, terrorists in general, some bug going around, the hunt for a public enemy, etc.

    There are the usual idiots trying to take political advantage. Supposedly Obama lied when he told the country on several national news items that Ebola wasn’t transmittable unless it was via bodily fluids. Of course, Obama is also not showing leadership by keeping us informed. Whatever.

    I saw this on Facebook: More people have been married to Rush Limbaugh than have contracted Ebola in the United States. And I suspect those women are in worse shape…

    Do we really need to be this paranoid? I sort of think that the United States needs to re-grow a pair of balls.

    College Football Coaches and Security

    22 September 2014

    I’ve written before about college football coaches and security.

    I was just watching the news, and of course they were still going on about the OU game on Saturday. They showed Coach Stoops heading off the field at the end of the game.

    He had SIX cops escorting him. Yes, SIX. It looked to me like three were Oklahoma Highway Patrol troops, and three were probably local.

    REALLY? What’s the threat? Are they afraid a professional team will send in a snatch squad and triple the guys multi-million dollar salary?

    I think that is ridiculous.

    ISIS/ISIL and “War”

    18 September 2014

    I’ve been listening to the discussion/debate about what we should do about ISIS/ISIL, in both Iraq and in Syria.

    I’m of the opinion we shouldn’t do much of anything, at least from a military standpoint.

    There is no doubt these people are bad.  They do not share our values, and in fact they are probably the worst of religious bigots.  Murdering those that do not share their faith is not honorable.  I think most of the Christian based faiths have largely got far away from similar activities long ago.

    But if this group is operating in Iraq, why should we care?  These bad people have killed Americans, in horrible and emotion-pushing ways.  They have killed captured prisoner soldiers.  Those are clearly illegal acts.  But they are not operating in the United States (in spite of some hysterical Republicans claiming otherwise).

    But is it justification for war?  For sending hundreds or thousands of our soldiers over to the middle east, again, to fight in Muslim countries.

    I don’t think so.  The worldwide reputation of the United States took a massive hit due to the lies that got us into Iraq, and the directionless action in Afghanistan cost us thousands of American lives and billions altogether.  President Obama did the right thing to get us out of that gigantic Bush/Cheney mess.

    So what about ISIS/ISIL?  We’ve shown that we can help drive them away from large targets in open areas by bombing the hell out of them.  And if that’s done via drone or manned aircraft, that’s fairly low risk (although getting an F-18 down by SAM or a mechanical failure of the aircraft would be a major blow to us).

    Regardless of the huge amount of money we spent uselessly in Iraq, we are out of there now, except for our Embassy and some advisers.  A major argument is that the country of Iraq should take care of itself.  If they can’t, tough.  We can’t look at Iraq as some investment where we expect to get our money back; we might as well think of that almost $2T as piled on the ground and burned to ashes.

    So if Iraq can’t take care of itself?  They have had years to get their Army built up, and they supposedly have around 300,000 soldiers.  A CIA estimate a couple days ago indicated around 32,000 ISIS/ISIL fighters, across both Iraq and Syria.  So why can’t the Iraqi Army fight and win in their own country?  They’ve a 10-to-1 positive correlation, and surely they have more tanks and stuff.

    So let them fight for themselves.

    Scotland and the Independence Vote

    18 September 2014

    Wow, it’s been three weeks since my last post; it’s been pretty busy.  I’ve some catch-up to do.

    I have been following the vote for independence in Scotland with some interest.  I don’t really have an opinion on the impact of Scottish independence (except I think it might have an overall negative economic impact to both countries).

    The thing I find especially interesting is that it is a simple majority vote.  I like the way we do it in the United States.  Things that are fairly routine are pretty we do by simple majorities, but things that are of more import are done by larger majorities.

    Here in Oklahoma, bond issues require a 60% yes vote.  Constitutional amendments require all sorts of supermajorities.  Impeachments do also, for conviction.

    But splitting a country from it’s union is only a simple majority?  That’s kind of radical, to my way of thinking.

    Too Much of America is Still Racist, as in Anti-Black

    22 August 2014

    The entire situation stemming from the killing of the black man in Ferguson, MO, is another in a long line of incidents that illustrate that we are still far from full equality for people of color.

    There is much in the reactions to this incident that follow a common pattern.

    First, outrage in part of the community, in particular the black community.  Understandable in every way. 

    Next, the overwhelming police response.  Largely peaceful protests met with automatic rifles and snipers.  This is disproportionate response, and is un-American.

    Conservatives immediately started counter-memes.  I find this pathetic.  It is an attempt to justify that the killing is not relevant.  I’m sure it’s not, to them.

    A typical meme is to post a reference to some white person who was killed by a black, and why doesn’t that have the media attention.  Or perhaps they reference killings in Chicago, typically because in some way the Chicago situation is Obamas fault.  Or they post… jokes related to the killing. 

    One thing I noted on Facebook related to Ferguson was a reference to the “Black Panthers” leading a protest.  I started looking for information related to this, and found that references were generally in two groups.  Sites like Huffington Post, CBS News, the NY Daily News, and several other news outlets typically referred to one guy affiliated with (sometimes to “members of”) the New Black Panther Party being at the protests, and trying to calm things.  Sites like Right Wing News, Gateway Pundit, and the like claimed that the New Black Panthers (and some referred to “Communists”) were leading the protests.  The conservative sites, frankly, don’t have much credibility.

    While a number of liberals and news people have suggested that President Obama should go to Ferguson personally (whether this is a good idea or not is up for debate), conservatives have found reasons to bitch brainlessly about the President.  I’ve personally seen comments about how much Obama is on vacation (in spite of this stupid canard of Obama taking huge amounts of vacation being debunked by thinking people).

    Some observations:

    At my dental appointment this week, the hygienist had Fox News on.  She made numerous comments that she stated as fact:  “He was stealing, he got what he deserved”.  “He was a thug”.  “Those people riot and steal for any reason”.  I asked her who reported he was stealing, and she replied “the news”, gesturing towards Fox News. 

    Conservatives, in general, don’t give a shit about blacks.  The long history of slavery, legalized discrimination, suppression of voting, and limited opportunities for blacks in education and work has resulted in everything from ghettos and blighted neighborhoods, to the persistent poverty that drives higher crime.  Conservatives like to sniff that the shooting of a black person by the cops is somehow made less horrifying if protestors loot.  We get that looting is wrong, guys.  Why don’t you try not hiding behind that sort of crap, and help fix the situation caused by the white majority over DECADES?

    It has been reported that the governance of the city of Ferguson is overwhelmingly white, while the population is largely black.  It has also been reported (but I’ve not verified) that the voter turnout in the past election was 15%.  If you don’t vote, the other side does not need to worry about voter suppression.  The people of Ferguson got the government that was elected by those that bothered to vote.  If they want it to change, get to the polling places.

    A major point that is missed by conservatives (whether deliberately, or through cluelessness), is that the shooting of a black, unarmed man by a white officer is different from civilians shooting each other in Chicago (mandatory statement:  it’s still not acceptable).  The defining difference is that the killing was done by a police officer.  In most cases in this country, the police are the ones with the weapons.  100% of cops have guns, and probably less than 1% of citizens.  How this supposed street encounter between an unarmed man and a cop in a car escalated to the unarmed man being killed certainly bears some investigation.

    A Bit Farther On The Dehumanization Path

    17 August 2014

    I read a post on The New York Times this past week that I found deeply disturbing. The subject was the difficult time that a woman was having juggling child care, commuting, work, and personal time.

    Aside from her personal situation, a major issue for her was her job at Starbucks. The company (and I don’t know if it was just her location, or region, or the whole company) was using software that kept track of rush times, and would schedule workers around those times, sometimes for only a couple hours, instead of people working a defined shift from say, 0800 to 1700, the software might have a person come in at 1000 and leave at 1300. This was in the name of maximizing profits. WalMart apparently also uses this software.

    This, to me, is another step on the road of people being just work objects for companies. I think that ethical behavior requires supervisors/owners to recognize that without the workers, there would be no company. That means, among other things, treating those people with respect. Scheduling with a 100% eye to profit is not treating people with respect.

    Since some ignorant people would misread the above, I will state it plainly. I’ve never been against companies making money. There is little reason to be in business otherwise. I do not believe it is ethical to subordinate people and their well being to maximum profit.

    I think that in a perverse way, this is about government working. But, working for business (via lobbyists and paid-for Congresspeople) instead of people.

    Why aren’t people (mainly, conservatives) worried about the tyranny of business?

    This Might Be A Good Time To Kick Russia In The Ass

    18 July 2014

    We are keeping tabs on the shootdown of the Malaysia airliner. The US has already asserted that the shootdown occurred from territory held by Ukrainian rebels. Russia has reportedly tried to suggest that the Ukrainian government launched the missile.

    I’m pretty sure that we have had all sorts of intelligence assets watching what is going on over there. I know that there is a tendency to keep intelligence information classified.

    But I wonder if it would make sense to release the actual intelligence we’ve gathered that allow us to make the statements about where the missile was launched from, and any related stuff.

    And then issue a statement saying Putin is full of crap. This situation does not look bad, it is bad. Heaping direct abuse on the rebels and on their Russian supporters might help de-escalate the situation.

    Another Anniversary: 30 Years Of Service

    9 July 2014

    This is kind of a cool day for me. I joined TRW 30 years ago today, and started working with, and in, the E-4B Program Office at Tinker AFB.

    I got here in kind of a roundabout way. I was hired in Feb 84 while still at OSU by a company in OKC that was going to develop new ways for automatic reading of checks for payee and amount (that’s common today, then it was way out there). The company was bought in April by a Dallas area firm that shut down all the research projects by the company; I found out the day before graduation that I was out of a job! My boss there was kind enough to call people he knew, and one of them worked for TRW, and knew the company was looking for “computer programmer types”.

    When TRW called the first time, the answering machine got it. All I knew about TRW was that TRW Reda Pump in Bartlesville was constantly in the news for laying people off. I had just lost a job and so thought that sounded kind of sketchy. They called back a couple days later, we talked, and I found out about how TRW was a “conglomerate”. I interviewed a week or so later, got my first very high level view of the E-4B and EC-135 aircraft, and was hooked.

    My first day of work, my new co-worker (and later and until very recently, my boss) and I stayed in the office until 2200 building a demo (on a 64K IBM PC-1 with CGA; no hard drive) for an automated aircraft scheduling system, that was to be demo’d the *next* day to the Program Office Colonel.

    My job has evolved over the years from building Office Automation programs, to direct support of modifications, to IT/IA, to system architecture. Travel for the job has taken me to 22 states and DC, including a full year in Waco, TX, of which no more needs to be said.

    I’ve some very interesting work that will be going on in the next couple years that I hope to be my legacy on this weapon system. I’m a very small part of a large team that is scattered around the country, and every one of them deserves a huge THANKS for making the past 30 years an incredibly interesting and mostly fun run.

    Fracking Again, NW Oklahoma This Time

    28 June 2014

    We are in northwest Oklahoma, near Alva, on a Girl Scout outing.

    As we drove in, I was amazed by the prevalence of operational fracking installations around. At most any location along US412, there would be at least five fracking places visible. From Alabaster Caverns State Park, on the overlook, I counted six (and that doesn’t include the gypsum mine to the northeast, which was built to provide gravel to pave roads to fracking installations).

    There have to be thousands of them scattered over this part of the state.

    Oh, and pretty much everywhere we go, cell coverage is 4G.

    Fracking Expansion in SW Oklahoma

    27 June 2014

    This evening, Raegan and I drove down to the Girl Scout camp near Marlow to pick up Erin for another Girl Scout high adventure weekend adventure.

    One thing I noticed: the cell service in camp has gone from a bar or so of EDGE to solid 4G. As we drove out of camp, I counted FOUR new cell towers to the west and north of the camp location.

    Another thing I noticed: no less than five big (I mean, HUGE) drilling rigs in evidence.

    As we drove out to the highway, and then east and north to Lindsay, I noted dozens of new facilities involved in oil/gas extraction.

    This leads me to wonder if cell service follows oil and gas activities. I’ve noted much more complete cell coverage in northwest Oklahoma, where again there was a lot of fracking, then in other rural parts of the state where there is less exploration.

    Stuffing Safety Down Our Throats. Maybe.

    28 May 2014

    I just saw a news article on KOCO about the Memorial Day so-called crackdown on drivers by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP).

    The data point I noticed was the 818 tickets DHS issued for seat belt violations over the weekend.

    I’ve said before: I would NEVER even move my car without putting on my seat belt, but I completely oppose compulsory seat belt laws. They are claimed to be “for our safety”, but in reality they are just another tax, collected by gun-toting troopers from whom there is zero recourse.

    So “keeping us safe” netted the state over $16,000 in ill-gotten gains. Sickening.

    One thing: I don’t know where KOCO got their information. I looked over the DPS and OHP sites on the web, and there were no press releases or anything like that.

    One thing I did notice. I wrote a blog post a couple years ago about the DPS and their totally fracked-up, probably least well-thought-out process (and I use that term very loosely) for scheduling tests for getting drivers licenses.

    I saw on the DPS site that they have a prototype on-line scheduling system! Great for them. Except… if you want to use it after this testing period, you HAVE TO PAY FOR IT!

    This is another example of government working against the citizens.

    Observation At The Mall This Evening

    3 May 2014

    Raegan and Erin and I went to Penn Square Mall here in OKC this evening. We had dinner there, and then went looking for a plain, khaki skirt for Erin to wear to her Girl Scout Silver Award ceremony tomorrow.

    I would not have imagined how difficult it was to find that skirt. We hit eight stores before finding the skirt. There were lots of booty shorts, weird colors, and filmy things, but even plain khaki pants were hard to find. We eventually found her a skirt; a yard of fabric for $40.

    One thing I noticed walking through the mall that I hope is a trend. Most of the groups of kids walking through the mall were diverse. I started looking, and of groups of three or more, I think 80% of them were composed of people of two or more ethnic groups.

    This gives me hope that in the next generation, we can greatly reduce or eliminate the incidence of, as Dr. King might say, judging people by their skin color instead of their character.

    I also hope this helps reduce some of the political polarization we experience, and some of the hurtful discrimination, for example towards our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you can be friends with just about anybody as a teenager, you are far less likely to develop hateful feelings later in life.

    Donald Sterling Is Only A Symptom

    30 April 2014

    Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is clearly a crude racist. Since the recording of him making various obnoxious statements has surfaced, there has been a feeding frenzy demanding his removal.

    So that’s fun for some people to get after, and the media has been flogging it pretty hard. But it is not terribly relevant.

    Sterling and his racist feelings are just a symptom of the larger race problem we have in this country. I’ve touched on this before, several times, over the past couple years.

    Some of the worst of this is the race-targeting done in the name of politics, such as voter suppression. Some is economic, such as the minimum wage not being a living wage. Other is just not granting people the same chance for opportunity due to their skin color.

    We all need to keep an awareness of things that we and others do that contribute to reducing equality, and call those out, while encouraging things that contribute to increasing equality. That’s justice.

    Just Some Random Butchery By OG&E

    8 April 2014

    So, I am fully in the knowledge that tree limbs can affect power and phone lines that are on poles. Given that, power companies like OG&E have to trim tree limbs periodically. They have done it by our house a couple times since we moved there in 1997. Then, they sent a couple guys with pole saws, and they knocked some limbs down that were within a couple feet of the lines.

    But this was quite different. An OG&E crew (who, when asked, pleaded that they were just contractors doing what they were told) not only trimmed trees, but they randomly took other trees completely down under the lines. They also clearcut a huge area away from the overhead lines. Here are the clearcut areas:

    Looking North

    DSC03810

    This used to be a very heavily wooded area. You can clearly see that the destructo-crew took everything down to ground level.

    I estimate that OG&E destroyed more than three acres of vegetation, here alone. You would think they are training for clearing the Amazon.

    This is a view from my back yard looking towards the clearcutting.

    More Random Destruction

    The thing about this: there are a number of trees along the fence line that reach maybe halfway to the power lines. There *were* four or five other trees of the same height that were selected for elimination by the OG&E crew. Why those, and not the others? The trees that were clearcut were about the same height. You can see that from the picture looking south.

    It’s the randomness of the destruction here that worries me the most. It was done with no consistency.

    I sent a gripe to OG&E (two+ weeks ago), and today a guy called me and said that they had the permission of the property owners to do that.

    I would call BS on that. Who would allow the power company to cut essentially a road along their fence line?

    And again, why would OG&E even feel the need to do this amount of destruction? The trees UNDER THE LINES were years and years away from being a threat to the lines. The trees that were 5 feet to the east of the lines, much less the trees 30 feet away.

    This is another example of corporate tyranny. No reason, and no recourse. Shameful.

    Woo-Hoo #1 in OKC!

    4 April 2014

    I just noticed that I had moved up a notch to the #1 Urbanspoon food blog for Oklahoma City!

    Thanks to everyone on Urbanspoon who reads my posts, and to everyone who reads my little blog directly.

    A Data Oddity

    21 February 2014

    As a result of the ice storm we had over the holidays, the drivers side door handle on my LaCrosse was broken. One oddity of this car is that it has exactly one lock in the four doors, instead of locks on both the driver and passenger front doors.

    So since I can’t repair the door handle, I ordered a replacement. As expected, the GM price for the handle is about $80, and the various aftermarket sites charge around $16.

    But here is the odd thing. Every site I visited, to include GM (the OEM), had some variation of this:

    Replacement Door Handle
    Location: Front, Passenger Side, Exterior
    Material: Plastic
    Type: Exterior
    Door Lock Key Hole Provision: With keyhole

    Since the keyhole is on the drivers side door handle, this description is wrong. The photo accompanying the description, and the left-to-right orientation of the photos, is in every case correct. It’s just the description as being on the passenger side.

    Since this was at no less than six sites I visited, including GM, I would imagine that the source data from GM is wrong, and it has been replicated by the various aftermarketers.

    It will be interesting to see what I actually receive.

    Wow, Five Years of Blogging!

    2 February 2014

    After I finished my recycling post, I noticed I had a notification. WordPress let me know that this is the 5th anniversary date of my first blog post back in 2008. This will be the 1,545th post I’ve made.

    That works out to 300/year, or not quite one per day. It’s fun and has led me to some very neat other blogs. I hope others find my posts of some interest as well.

    I Wish Recycling Was A FIrst Thought

    2 February 2014

    I am a recycling fanatic. Cardboard, paper boxes, paper, any metal, plastic, I save all of it and put it out to recycle. I take my cardboard out to the base where there is a recycle bin for it. We always fill up our “little blue” bin every week.

    I am always aware of a lack of recycling. But today it really hit home. We were finishing up a Troop event today, and afterward, I took on the job of hauling out the trash to the dumpster. There were dozens of soda cans, dozens of water bottles (many were half full), and many, many cardboard boxes for the pizza we had for lunch. This was from one event, with probably 70 youth and 60 adults.

    The church had bins outside the hall, one for paper and one for plastic and cans. I personally put two cans, a bottle, and some paper in those bins, but altogether there were only about six cans otherwise.

    I am going to make it a point to try to get our Troop to recycle more.

    Some Random Thoughts On Recent News

    21 December 2013

    I’ve not been blogging much lately due to a lot of work and personal stuff going on; nothing bad, just lots.

    Intrusive Data Collection

    I am so glad that a judge recently indicated that the huge data collection efforts that the US Government has been doing on Americans is likely un-Constitutional. It’s about damned time. US justice is built around catching people that actually commit crimes, not trying to ferret out who might. There are a lot of intrusive data collections that are based on the same NSA vacuum-everything concept. Some examples:

  • The Oklahoma DPS requires people registering cars to provide a drivers license. This isn’t to protect the tag agent from a bad check or invalid credit card.
  • The Oklahoma version of the ATF requires people getting a prescription for many forms of legally prescribed drugs to have license information captured when dropping off and then picking up the meds. This is supposedly to keep the raw material for meth out of bad guys hands. This also goes for some non-prescription drugs.
  • States and cities are deploying cameras that cruise parking lots and capture the tag info for every person parking there.
  • There are many other examples. Our Government has no business collecting anything beyond what is needed for a particular transaction, and that data should be deleted afterward.

    Duck Dynasty

    I do not care that one of the stars of this show is in trouble for saying anti-gay things. I do not care for “reality” TV at all. It’s not reality, for one thing. It seems that the people who put those shows on look for the most out-on-the-edge people, and then those people act over the top. There is made-up over-reaction, I’m sure that a lot of it is scripted, and that takes it out of “reality”.

    The people who want to make anti-gay comments are perfectly within their rights to be closed-minded bigots. The rest of us can comment back in the same way against the bigotry. See the next section.

    Equality Moving Forward

    New Mexico and Utah became the latest states to support marriage equality. I am so glad that judges are being more and more willing to take the Constitution over religion-justified denigration of equality.

    Congress

    Congress passed a budget! I guess the Republicans finally realized that they can’t use Tea Party anger to govern, and wised up to the fact that the process is bipartisan.

    I’m very glad that the Democrats in the Senate exercised the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate some of the ways for Senate Republicans to gum up the legislative works.

    That’s it for now. I’ve restaurant reviews that are piled up that I need to take care of.

    The Hobbit Movie, Part 2

    16 December 2013

    If such things bother you, there are spoilers here!

    We went to see the second Hobbit movie this morning. I was not extra impressed with the first part.

    I was less impressed with this edition. In fact, I never got the slightest bit excited. OTOH, I didn’t get bored either.

    There were a couple things I just flat didn’t like.

    While I liked the short bit that showed Gandalf heading to Dol Guldur, I didn’t much like the conflict between Gandalf and Sauron; it was out of character.

    The orcs. How in the world did the orcs get right outside the elves HQ without being detected? The dwarves were detected far from the keep and captured, and they were trying to be quiet. The orcs were riding wargs, and making a hell of a lot of noise. Same for Lake Town, a whole platoon, and wargs, rode the bridge to get there, and get away. The running battle down the river was a little much.

    The conversation between Bilbo and Smaug. If Bilbo was visible, he is dead.

    The “fight” between the dwarves and the dragon. First, more amusement park rides. The gold that melts instantly. The dragon fire that turns on the furnaces. The huge gold dwarf. Trying to drown the dragon (if he is hot enough inside to make all that fire, he is stout enough to swim in molten gold).

    One or two things I am not sure about. The story involving Bard, for instance. The Elf Babe and the Dwarf, for another.

    I liked the battle with the spiders; it was well done.

    As I was concerned about, I think all the extra stuff with the orcs and the river battle and the dwarves and the dragon battle (hmmm, a recurring theme?) is just filler to drag out the second movie.

    I still think that the first movie should have gone to the dwarves capture by the elves, then the second movie finishing the story. I won’t be rushing to a second showing.

    Junk Mail and Credit Cards and Loans, Oh My!

    29 November 2013

    We get a lot of paper mail, most of which we don’t want to get. We have been switching bills to auto-pay, and that reduces the volume some.

    When paper mail comes in, we sort it in real time (more or less) into three piles: bills to be paid (or at least looked at 🙂 ), stuff to be read (magazines and the like), and junk. I try to put the “easy” junk directly into our sack of paper to be recycled, but don’t always get that done. There is also junk mail that includes credit card offers. That stuff is a bit harder to deal with. I always shred the application that comes in credit card offers so no scumbag can use it to get a credit card in my name.

    Since our shredder only likes a couple sheets at a time, I can’t stuff an entire envelop into the shredder. I have to open the things up and grab out the application, then put the rest into the recycle sack. A lot of times I don’t do that very quickly and I let those pile up, then take some time to open them up en mass, remove the application, and start feeding the shredder. The last time I did the shred routine was in early September.

    This evening I sat down and started through the pile; Erin came and helped. We ended up with a full grocery sack full of shredded applications. We had most of another full grocery sack for the assorted envelopes, return envelopes, and propaganda that were included with the various credit card offers.

    The main offenders are American Express, Discover, and Chase for credit cards (and Discover for loans). Dishonorable mentions go to MidFirst Bank. I stopped counting after 100 credit card apps. In three months!

    I’ve put us on various do-not-solicit list, clearly to little avail. I find it such a huge waste of paper, mailing costs, and my time. I will never apply for one of those cards; we’ve a couple we use and don’t need any more.

    But I would think: if I was the person in charge of solicitations, and I had sent 10 or 15 invites to the two people living at our address, and there weren’t any takes, I would maybe take those people off my mailing list and save myself the cost. And the aggravation inflicted on a couple potential customers. Listening, American Express? Discover? Chase?

    “Security” and College Football

    14 September 2013

    I’m watching the end of the Alabama/Texas A&M game on CBS right now (I really turned on the TV to watch Discover Oklahoma, and the end of the game is on).

    I’m struck by the presence on the field of a platoon of armed cops from at least three different services (from the uniforms). I estimate that there were about 25 armed officers around the perimeter of the playing field. It seems to me that’s just a bit extreme.

    I’ve noted before that college football coaches all seem to have about three armed cops with them when they run across the field to shake hands with the opposing coaches.

    It seems that at least OSU and OU started restricting what people can take into the stadium (as did the NFL). I can’t believe that there is such a threat that would drive that kind of restriction. I wonder if it is to keep people from bringing in food, forcing people to pay high prices for stadium food.

    Is is really necessary to station armed cops to protect the football field? Are they going to shoot people who might want to run out there? Is there some sort of valid threat to football coaches, or is the escort an ego boost?

    I have a hard time believing that there is a threat that can justify that level of security.

    Facebook Chain Letters

    13 September 2013

    I’ve noticed more and more chain letters being posted on Facebook.

    The most recent one is: “Repost if u believe in God, and in 2 minutes he will do you a huge favor”.

    There are others that promise riches coming your way if you repost a status.

    I can’t see any virii associated with the status messages. I wonder if they are being posted by bots. If people are posting them, then I would be disappointed that people still have this kind of mystical belief.

    15 September update:

    Just saw another one: “If you share this status, an angel will bring you and someone you know good luck”.

    20 September update:

    A variation on a theme: “If you love God, post this, and in 120 seconds he will do you a huge favor”. Really?

    A Slight Downside to Blogging

    23 August 2013

    I get a fair number of comments on blog posts. Some are discussion, most are spam, and are auto-deleted by WordPress, or by me once I see them. I also get a number that I suspect are really meant to drive traffic to other other blogs; I generally approve those. I’ve had maybe five over time that were offensive. Those I have deleted.

    I got this one a couple days ago, on a post I made about a place in Salt Lake City:

    Dude…you’re the biggest f***ing pu**y fa***t. You’re
    complaining about iced tea and a loud jazz game in
    a BAR. How does a man become such a pu**y??? Was it
    the way your uncle used to f**k your man-gina???
    Or was it the way daddy used to make you f**k HIS
    man-gina????? You’re probably better off at home
    making your own iced tea and jerking off with your
    own tears.

    This post stands out for not the profanity, but the homophobic tone.

    It also is emblematic of the general decline in good manners that has occured in the age of the Internet. When you had to face someone to spew insults, or your only wide-access avenue was a moderated forum such as a newspaper, then it was much harder to be rude and be heard. When you can write something like this while hiding behind the virtual bushes (which, I note, is common but cowardly), it makes it easier to avoid many consequences.

    I find people like this sad. I see no evidence of intelligence here. This level of discourse is about the same as a teenager throwing a rock through a plate glass window just to hear it break; and the thrower runs away, of course.

    Zimmerman Might Be Not Guilty, But He’s Not Innocent

    14 July 2013

    Justice has not been served for Trayvon Martin. His killer got away with the crime.

    Once it was established that Zimmerman went in pursuit of Martin, the “stand your ground” defense should have been disallowed. Zimmerman was the aggressor.

    The most horrifying thing about the case is the split along political lines. The 2nd Amendment crowd and conservatives think Zimmerman did nothing wrong. Why else did he go on Hannity to plead his case? “God’s Plan”, that’s a load of crap.

    It’s clear that Zimmerman has a problem with race, and he solved it by tracking down and shooting an unarmed man.

    The bigger problem is that a lot of Americans also have a problem with race. It’s going to take a couple more generations, but slowly, we will get most racism out of this country.

    A Review of… Reviews

    9 June 2013

    I rely a lot on UrbanSpoon for restaurant reviews (Brag Alert: I’m the #1 food blogger for Oklahoma, and #2 for the OKC Metro area).

    Today we are doing serious housecleaning, and decided to send Ian off to get lunch. Raegan suggested Billy Sims for some BBQ (mmmm…. BBQ… drool….). We gave him our orders and off he went. I jumped on UrbanSpoon to check the menu when I did my order. The listing is here:

    http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/46/500110/restaurant/Oklahoma-City/West-Edmond/Billy-Sims-BBQ-Edmond

    I saw my blog entry in the list of reviews. Now, we’ve been to that Billy Sims location many times, more than five, and in every single case both the service and the food were outstanding. I’m very hard to please BBQ-wise, but this location, and the several other locations we have been to, are a great mix of friendly people with great service, and outstanding BBQ.

    So I was not surprised to see several of the other reviews with words like “great”, “outstanding”, “best”. But there were two of others: “worst experiance [sic] ever” (from johndoe), and “Horrible”. One review lambastes the staff for being inattentive and rude, and the brisket as burnt. The other reviewer says that the meat is prepackaged. Neither of these reflect our multiple experiences. The staff has always been super friendly. I think that the “prepackaged” comment comes from the fact that the BBQ is wrapped in cling wrap after it comes out of the smoker to keep it moist (I like that idea better than letting the meat sit in a warmer in the kitchen for a couple hours).

    One other guy rates it “Doesn’t like” with the simple comment “No fries?”. They do not in fact have fries. But there’s nothing wrong with that: the BBQ is what the place is about.

    When Google started collecting reviews of places, I never liked the way they were displayed. They would pick a positive review, then a negative, then a positive. There was no weighting used. I think that people who don’t like a place are more likely be very negative and go on to write a review, while those that like a place tend to be less likely to write a positive review, so the negatives tend to skew.

    But this also makes me wonder about the motives of the negative reviewers. The person with the “prepackaged” comment seems to not understand the process at Billy Sims, and has a very bad take from that. The other person commenting on the staff, well, that comment flies against our personal observations. I wonder if they work for rival BBQ restaurants?

    Severe Weather In the OKC Area Today

    20 May 2013

    We had a sort-of eventful weather day today. We knew there was a significant chance of severe weather due to good model forecasts from the National Weather Service (NWS).

    About 1400, we went into the WalMart Neighborhood Market in Edmond; we were in there about 20 minutes. When we left, we immediately noticed towers going up to the west. We went to the Super Target across the street, and were in there 15 minutes; two of the towers were now mature thunderstorms. Very impressive development. By the time we drove home and dropped off Raegan, and then Ian and Erin and I headed out to the Quail Springs Mall area, the entire area was overspread with anvil.

    We saw this from the QSM area:

    20130519_154012[1]

    That’s a wall cloud/funnel directly to the west of the area. Shortly after this, a tornado warning was issued for Oklahoma County, and the sirens went off.

    First observation (which I have made previously): the sirens in Oklahoma County are addressable, and should be used as such. A tornado warning for a storm that is at MacArthur and Memorial should not result in sirens blown in Moore. We’ve had sirens blown at the house (which is almost in the dead center of Oklahoma County) for a tornado warning at Cashion (which is as far NW as you can get), and for a storm threatening Newalla (as far southeast as you can get).

    Erin was in a Gordman’s, and Ian and I were in a Best Buy, when all this happened. Erin called and told me that her store was locking down, so I had to run down to claim her. Then we ran back to the Best Buy; they locked the store down and wouldn’t let us out for about 30 minutes.

    Next observation: I don’t think stores should lock customers up unless there is a no-kidding threat. A storm that has rotation five miles to the west, and is headed northeast, isn’t a threat.

    The stores opened up after a bit and we finished our business there. By the time we were done, the storm that had passed us was all the way to Carney and causing damage there. It looks like the storm tracked NE at first, then tracked more ENE, and then turned back to the left to close to NE.

    The Metro area was lucky. Storms take a while to get really warmed up. If these storms had initiated another 20 miles to the west, they would have matured earlier, and the EF3/4 damage seen to the east would have happened here. As it was, while there was serious damage to the east, 90% of the terrain is woods, instead of 95% houses.

    As it was, the storms were fairly isolated, which means they have full access to heat and moisture as fuel. This also means that rainfall and hail was pretty isolated:

    Storm Tracks 19 May 2013

    A note for the media: One of the tornadoes crossed Lake Thunderbird. A Channel 9 guy said it was a waterspout. NO. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air, pendant from a cumulonimbus cloud, with a mesocyclone, in contact with the earth; it doesn’t matter whether the earth is dirt or water. Waterspouts are typically pendant from non-supercell cumuliform clouds (a similar structure that occurs on the leading edge of both supercell and non-supercell thunderstorms is called a landspout).

    There needs to be a better representation of a tornado on radar. The middle of the “hook” is usually where the tornado is claimed to be, but usually the tornado is actually trailing the hook somewhat; the tornadoes also have a tendency to orbit the parent mesocyclone. If the radar site is close to the storm, and can see the “debris ball”, then that’s essentially ground truth. I wonder if radar beam width can be narrowed enough to find an actual tornado.

    A Thermal Inversion Demonstrated By A Coal Plant

    7 May 2013

    This is interesting. The smokestack of the MidAmerican Energy coal plant in Council Bluffs, IA is at the bottom of the picture. The condensation plume is several hundred feet higher, indicating a cold layer over the warm air at the surface, which causes the warm and moist exhaust of the plant to condense.

    Seperated Steam Plume

    This photo was taken from the parking lot of the Bass Pro Shop in Council Bluffs, IA, looking to the SSE.

    Reality Shows Are Pretty Much Crap

    24 February 2013

    I don’t like to gripe, in general. Or overly generalize. Or call names.

    But most “reality TV” is crap. It’s made up interpersonal controversy.

    Documentaries I’m OK with. I don’t find a lot of them interesting, but at least they are fact-based.

    But “reality”. People running a restaurant, and yelling profanities. Or people on a farm, yelling profanities. Or people in a swamp. Or brides. Or dance moms (and kids). Most of them yelling profanities.

    Those are a waste of time.

    New Brain Research Project

    18 February 2013

    In an article in the New York Times, a project to map human brain functionality is to be started by the Federal government.

    This is great news.  The Federal government is uniquely positioned
    to get big research like this running.

    Since the genome project is running,  and the brain research project will complement that effort, I would like to see similar projects looking at basic intra-cellular chemical interactions, and research into organ interactions with the nervous system.

    I Like Helping Out

    4 February 2013

    I enjoy helping people. Whether it’s Scouts, St. John’s School or Church, or a number of other ways, it’s good for the soul, as they say.

    I was made aware of a small service that needed to be performed. A retirement community near Heritage Hall had a number of purple martin apartments that hadn’t been cleaned in three years, and so the purple martin population was going down. The apartments were also not being able to be lowered with their pull ropes. The apartments had been put up as an Eagle project. How could I resist that?

    So this afternoon, Ian and Erin and I headed over there with our ladder, and a longer extension ladder we borrowed from St. John’s. It took about four hours, between the driving and the work, but the three of us, and a couple folks from the community, got the four apartments down, replaced the pull ropes, cleaned the apartments out, and repaired the damage done by hail. We also bent a couple of the support poles to make them a bit straighter.

    It was a nice afternoon, a straightforward project, good conversation, nobody got hurt, and it was successful.

    All in all, a good use of part of an afternoon.

    The Hobbit Movie, Part 1

    16 December 2012

    If such things bother you, there are spoilers here!

    I love the Lord Of The Rings universe. As an epic battle of good vs evil, it just can’t be beat. I was concerned when the LOTR movies were made, but I liked them from the start, and still find them enjoyable watching.

    So when it was announced that a movie version of The Hobbit was being made, I looked forward to it. We all went to see it last night at the local Tinseltown. We got there 30 minutes before showtime (a minor miracle, if you know us), but the theater was already half full. We got decent seats with our eye level being right below the centerline of the screen, not too bad.

    The movie started out very nicely. Having the cameo by Frodo that tied to the LOTR trilogy was a nice touch, with the transition to the younger Bilbo done very well.

    I’m not going to review the movie part by part. I will just say that I think it’s a mistake to turn it into a trilogy. Two movies, OK. But I don’t think there is enough material for three. I already feel that a good place to break the movies would have been at the point the dwarves were captured by the forest elves.

    There were a couple things I didn’t like at all.

    The abrupt departure of the Dwarves from Rivendell was dumb. In fact, the entire animosity played up between the races of Elves and Dwarves was overdone and unneeded.

    The character of Radagast was not played well at all. His bunny sleigh? Spare me.

    The character of Azog and the backstory with Thorin was annoying. I’m guessing that the scriptwriters wanted to see more battle than was in the book, and so used the Azog backstory to gin that up some. And with that said, having Thorin attack a warg-mounted Azog was a bit much.

    The character of the Great Goblin was stupid.

    The dwarves seem to be riding a series of amusment park rides, between the mountain pass, the goblins slide-o-fun, and the various wooden bridges and such that fall and swing and rotate.

    I don’t think that the plot should have called for Bilbo to kill (although he killed spiders in the book), although he did kill to defend Thorin.

    There were a couple things I particularly liked.

    The meeting of Gandalf, Elrond, Galadrial, and Sauraman in Rivendell was very nice, with foreshadowing to the LOTR movies.

    The flashbacks showing the dragon attack and the battle of the dwarves and orcs at Moria were well done.

    I thought the contempt of Thorin for Bilbo was more in character than was written in the book. Thorin, of the direct line of Durin, and proud, would have looked down on what he saw as a prissy, soft hobbit.

    So the movie was enjoyable overall. I think it needs to grow on me a bit. I hope that the remaining two movies are not filled up with out-of-canon stuff.

    Legalized Pot and States and the Federal Government

    12 December 2012

    OK, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t smoke the stuff. I’m never going to smoke the stuff, or ingest it in any way.

    Given that, I do not understand why pot isn’t treated like Scotch. Both are intoxicating. One you smoke (like cigarettes or cigars) and one you drink. It seems to me like they should be treated the same legally. Heck, MJ is a Schedule 1 drug, and cocaine is a less-dangerous Schedule 2.

    So Colorado and Washington now have de-criminalized pot. The stuff is legal to possess and smoke in those states, but it is not legal as far as the Federal government is concerned.

    I only hope that the Fed doesn’t go nuts with huge police round-ups in those states. I hope that the Federal government sues the states involved, and let’s the courts sort the situation out, if the Congress won’t.

    Racism in America – Disgusting

    28 October 2012

    I’ve been giving thought to racist attitudes for the past couple years. After President Obama was elected in 2008, I had hoped that racism was finally on the way out of the country. Over the past four years, I have been thinking that wasn’t the case.

    Today I read an article in the Washington Post describing an AP poll on the subject.

    The poll, along with a similar poll in 2008 according to the WaPo article showed an increase in anti-black attitude from 48% to 51%. There were even higher anti-Hispanic rates.

    This is very disheartening to me. Unfortunately, I still hear echos of this. A friend might say something like “I saw this guy at WalMart, he was black, and he was…”. I occasionally hear the same thing, but replacing “black” with “mexican”, or even “middle eastern” in some variety. I do not think I’ve ever heard phrasing like that with “white”.

    Blacks got the shaft from before the founding of the United States, and continued to receive mistreatment both individual and institutionally. Or rather, “continue”. It took President Lincoln to free enslaved blacks, and it took President Johnson to get the legal promise of equal rights, in 1963!

    I think it is valid to ask why attitudes are worse. I’m sure part of it is economic. I think part of is is due to President Obama as well – not him personally, but the nutcase attacks on his heritage (both the “birthers” and the other idiots who think he is Muslim) that influence the easily led.

    I’ve written before that I somehow lost the explicit racism I was raised with. I owe a number of people that conversion – Patti, DaVette, Bryan, William, Michael, and John (you all know who you are). None of these people had to tell me that racism was wrong – they demonstrated it through living. In a similar vein, I have hoped that the mere presence of our black citizens, doing good works and working in the community, would be the catalyst for a steady decrease in racism.

    But that seems to not be the case. I have come to the conclusion several times in wondering why Obama is so hated by some is mainly due to racism. I did not want to come to this conclusion. I would almost rather that the opposition to Obama be due to his policies, or even blame it on the Republican failure to acknowledge the legitimacy of Democrat presidencies (that’s what happened to Clinton).

    But the bottom line is the attitudes as documented by the AP poll. The poll also has similar numbers for Hispanics, about 52%. So it seems that Americans as a whole have problems with our brown-skinned population. I would be interested to see numbers for Asians, Middle Eastern, and Islamics as well. I suspect that (for the last two in particular), there would be similarly high numbers.

    I’ve made the observation that, as a country, we are less than 50 years from truly barbaric treatment of black Americans. Racist bombings and lynchings in the 50s and 60s, and the tooth-and-nail fight against equal rights, particularly in the South, were not only anti-Constitutional, but morally wrong. We still have skinhead/neo-Nazi activity, and enough people who think the Confederate flag is some sort of “heritage” thing, instead of the anti-American curse that it really is.

    I guess we are not far enough away from the bad days of the 50s and 60s. And we have a major political party (Republicans) that aren’t helping either.

    Oklahoma And Speed Limits

    18 August 2012

    On our recent trip west, we noted that all the Interstates in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming were 75 mph speed limits. Oklahoma is just 70. If the Legislature can tear itself away from pandering to religious and business interests in the state, maybe they will kick up the speed limits to 75 on I-35 and I-40.

    Mass Murder and the 2nd Amendment

    24 July 2012

    There is some debate going on right now about what to do to try and prevent incidents like the movie theater shooting in Colorado.

    The real problem is that stuff like banning assault rifles will not work. There are already tens of millions of weapons in circulation, and are accessible readily. Since the horse is already out of the barn, “bans” and the like are not really an option.

    I think that most of the mass killings done over the past 20 or so years were done by lone wolf types that otherwise had little or no criminal record. A background check would not have kept them from purchasing weapons and ammo.

    I don’t know what the solution is. Something should be done.

    Random thoughts:

    As a matter of principle, I think that assault weapons are not really something that people need. This represents a change in my thinking over the years. This probably also applies to high-capacity clips and the purchase of thousands of rounds of ammo for stockpiling.

    The killings in Colorado are a pretty clear indication, that contrary to shrill calls to the contrary, President Obama has not and is not going after guns. I wonder when conservatives are going to come to their senses here, and admit they are wrong?

    There are two groups of extremists in the country that cause more trouble than any other: anti-abortion people, and the NRA. Both are strict domino-theory groups. No compromise.

    I recalled that Rachel Maddow noted that one of the main reasons for the gun frenzy that many people feel is to protect the citizenry from a tyrannical government. But in reality, can a citizenry armed with AK-47 type weapons compete against a tyranical government that has F-15s with smart bombs? To take the 2nd Admendment argument to it’s conclusion, the citizenry would need to be armed with SAMs and M-1 tanks. Is that reasonable? I don’t think so.

    Some New Speed Limits in TX

    25 June 2012

    I came over the OK/TX border this morning on I-35 to find the speed limit went from 70 in OK to 75 in TX! This is a Good Thing. I hope the new speed limits also apply to I-40 through the TX Panhandle.

    The other thing that was good: the old night time drop of the limit from 70 to 65 is gone (at least, the sign in, so I hope the lower limit is also).

    This will make these long trips a bit shorter. The turnpikes in OK have been 75 for some years now, and I hope that the interstates and major roads will see an increase in the limit.

    Driver’s License Testing In Oklahoma

    2 June 2012

    When I got my drivers license in 1975, my Mom took me down to the examiner station in Muskogee, I took the written test, and then took a ride with an examiner. They made my license right then and there. Since I was 15-1/2, I had the restriction that I had to have a licensed driver in the front seat with me. At 16, that got taken off – with a typewriter used to X out the restriction from the back of the license.

    Now the licenses are “graduated”. Ian has had his Learners Permit since June 2011. He was ready for the next step, an Intermediate Driver’s License (IDL). This involves a driving skills test with an official state examiner.

    So yesterday, we went down to the examiner office in Edmond. There was a sign up (at 1300) that they were full up. We came home and started calling other offices, in south OKC, Norman, Yukon, Shawnee. One place said that people had lined up that morning at 0430. All the others were full up. WTH, I thought.

    This morning Ian and I got up at 0545 and were out of the house at 0620. My plan was to drop him off, then run over to McDs and get some portable breakfast. The office opened at 0800, so I figured we were in great shape. We got there at 0640 to find at least 40 people in line already. Yes, forty. The queue grew to 70 in short order. They started letting people in at 0700 (as opposed to the posted time of 0800).

    We waited until 0940. At that point, we talked to an examiner. He checked a number of documents, took a bunch of data (fingerprint, photo), and told us that the next available drive test slot was the next Thursday at 1430.

    So two examiners, we found out, were doing ten (10) drive tests that morning. The rest of the people in line were assigned a date and time in the future. So most of the couple hours we spent there were really spent waiting for an examiner do only schedule a time. Half of the examiners were doing data entry instead of driving examinations.

    We got back home around 1010. I put Ian to calling drivers test locations in a spiral moving away from OKC. Several of them do not have phone numbers listed; customer service, not so much.

    He scored in McAlester. They accepted an appointment for 1300. We immediately hopped in his car for the two-hour drive to McA. We got there at 1230, waited for a bit, and Ian had his passing grade by 1325, and a valid license by 1430. We had lunch and drove back, getting to OKC around 1745.

    Now, NONE of this process is discussed on the DPS website.

    This process is probably the least efficient and most opaque that I have seen in working with various government agencies for the past 30 years.

    Why doesn’t DPS allow on-line scheduling?

    Why are examiners doing scheduling? There were two of them doing the data-entry scheduling process in Edmond. If you let people do on-line scheduling, those two examiners could have been out doing driving tests instead of data entry.

    Why are the examiners collecting photos and fingerprints? That data is captured by the tag agents that actually make the licenses.

    Which reminds me. The fingerprint and other data is required by the REAL ID act, legislation pushed by cowards in Congress that think that restricting American rights somehow fights terrorists. Yes, Congressional cowards who were supposed to be looking out for Americans, not restricting them.

    The bottom line is that examiners need to be examining, and not doing data entry. The DPS needs to set up an online scheduling system. The stand-in-line-at-0400 before opening at 0800 no 0700 just seems deliberately designed to annoy and inconvenience the citizens that are supposed to be served.

    “Security” at SSA

    25 May 2012

    For some reason, the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma City, which is in a former mall, seems to feel the need for at least three armed guards. These guys run a metal detector, and seem to enjoy rummaging around in purses and the like.

    They seem to spend most of their time glaring at citizens, and ordering people to use their cell phones outside.

    I don’t see a threat. I’ve been in two other SSA offices, one had a guard, neither had metal detectors. Not did they search people.

    It’s stupid, wasteful, and un-American.

    Solar Eclipse, 20 May 2012

    21 May 2012

    In Oklahoma City, we were out of the path to see the annular solar eclipse today. The clouds to the west didn’t help either.

    I made a quick solar filter out of three pieces of exposed and developed film, stapled to a piece of cardboard. Then I started my camera, zoomed to 10x, and took a couple pictures. This is the best one.

    As Sun set behind the clouds to the west, I got this kind of neat effect. It looks sort of like the clouds have bisected the sun.

    Finally, my good friend Jim suggested looking at the Dish Network Earth Channel, which is a camera on the Dish satellite pointed at Earth. The lunar shadow is clearly visible over North American next to the day/night terminator.

    I love looking at astronomical stuff!

    Violent Protests, Probably Not A Good Idea

    20 May 2012

    I just saw an article on Channel 5 here in OKC, about the protests at the NATO summit in Chicago. A police spokesman was being interviewed about why the police put on protective gear. He said that the protesters were throwing stuff at the cops, so they had to be protected.

    I think that any violence during a protest, whether throwing stuff at the police, or setting off a bomb, is counterproductive at best. It immediately turns the focus to the victims, and if the victims include police, you have now made a deadly enemy even deadlier.

    It’s far better to use the vote to make changes. That requires people to get interested and to question politicians to ensure that what the polits do in office what they say when they are running, and if they do stuff in office that they didn’t talk about before, then they need to be replaced.

    The reverse also needs to be true, of course. Protesters should not be assaulted by police if they are peacefully protesting, location be damned.

    My 1000th Post!

    19 April 2012

    I’m surprised at this milestone of posts! My cute and very encouraging roommate suggested many times that I start “Bill’s BBQ Blog” to chronicle my search (and occasional discovery of) great brisket, ribs, pork, and chicken. So eventually I came to the conclusion that I would like to write about cool finds not only of food, but my occasional observations about politics, living, doing fun stuff in the outdoors, and the like.

    I’ve largely managed to avoid constantly griping about stuff (although there is a bit of *that*!). I’ve enjoyed the occasional interactions with people who read the blog, and I’ve been amazed at the readership stats.

    One thing I would occasionally post was a fix for something that vexed me, for computers or mechanical devices. I was astounded for a long time that the most popular post on the blog was how to replace the primer bulb on a law mower (or many other small gas powered devices).

    I also like following like-minded blogs that others write. I follow a number of them that address science, tech, politics, and outdoors.

    Having never imagined that I would ever write 1000 posts, I can actually see me getting to 2000 eventually. Pretty cool. I like the WordPress site, writing tools, and support. I’ve not tried any other sites, except when I have commented on other people’s blogs. If I help WordPress make a little money in exchange for tools and disk space, I think that’s a good trade.

    Onwards! I’m looking forward to more posts about good places to eat, fun things to do, and interesting activities in life.

    Income and Equality

    19 April 2012

    Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, something I was not aware of. USA Today posted an article about gender and ethnic income comparisons today.

    So there is no question that there is gender income inequality. The question that I have, after reading the article, is if there is an “apples to apples” income analysis available. What I mean by this, the study in USA Today was a lot of income comparisons based on groups of people. The fact that women in general make x% less than men in general is interesting, but is explainable in the type of jobs that are predominately held by women as opposed to the types of jobs predominately held by men (for example, I think there are more women teachers than men teachers, and more men factory workers than women, and wages for factory work might be higher).

    But what would be of great interest is income comparisons for the same job. For example, say, contracting specialists that have 8-10 years experience, what are men paid on average and what are women paid on average for that job? That is a more immediate indicator of discrimination.

    I’m going to look around in my copious spare time to see if this data is available somewhere.

    Nannies and Natural Disasters

    4 April 2012

    I’m in the Dallas area today, after the tornado outbreak yesterday. I was watching coverage of the damage on one of local TV stations.

    I was concerned by one of the reports. The reporter said that no residents were being allowed in the area, as it was too dangerous, and no one would be allowed in until city officials toured the area and said it was safe enough for residents to come back.

    To me, this is bogus nannyism. There were dozens of reporters standing around on the lawns of destroyed and damaged houses. If reporters can be hanging around, then there is NO reason that residents can’t be allowed back to start working on their property.

    The “officials”, who were not going to be in the area for a number of hours, are just exercising authority, getting in the way of people who need to get to their property.

    This same thing happened in Moore, OK after the big 1999 tornado. The perimeter was six blocks from the nearest damage, and people with guns were keeping residents from their property, in the name of “safety”. The gas in the area was off, the power was off. It was just an exercise of nannyism. I was trying to bring Raegan’s parents some breakfast, and the only reason I got through the line was telling the officer that her Dad was diabetic and needed the food to keep from getting really sick. In that case, the decision to let people in wasn’t made until more than 24 hours after the storm. The storm was around 1800 on 03 May. NOTHING changed from about 0400 the next day until people were allowed in after 1900, on 04 May. I don’t know why it took so long (I note that I emailed the Moore emergency manager twice asking why, and never received an answer).

    People are responsible for their own safety on their own property. OK, so I understand that you want to keep looters and gawkers out. So have the police authenticate people, and let those people leave the names of authorized helpers with the cops. But don’t keep people from working on their property.

    Iced Tea and Restaurants

    2 April 2012

    This is not my first post about iced tea. Just for the record, I think that iced tea is pretty much the perfect drink for most any meal. I generally drank my tea unsweetened since the 80’s, but recently have been having sweetened tea.

    So, if any restaurant managers read this, please take it from a frequent restaurant-goer:

    Make iced tea the good way, by brewing it!

  • That means a good brand of tea (not floor sweepings!) in a bag, with very hot (preferably boiling) water, brewed for about 10 minutes. Luzianne is a good example here.
  • Do not brew tea in the same container that coffee was previously brewed in. If you must share containers, clean it out immediately with a weak bleach solution to get the coffee flavor out.
  • It’s that simple.

    I realize that restaurants want to keep costs down as much as possible. I also realize that products like Gold Peak and the various Liptons, and the Nesteas, are probably less expensive.

    But… To take the three examples above, Gold Peak is highly variable, from merely OK to yukky. The Liptons are pretty much all bland. The Nesteas should be pronounced Nasties; they are not good at all. In fact, they are vile.

    So take the higher quality approach and brew it, restaurants. Your customers will appreciate it.

    TSA at SAN – Clueless

    31 March 2012

    I didn’t have the best experience going through security at the SAN commuter terminal today. A little background: SAN has a curfew for takeoffs that ends at 0630. My flight was scheduled to depart at 0620; there were five flights scheduled to depart from the commuter terminal right at 0630.

    Each of the five flights were regional jets, about 50 passengers on average. That’s up to 250 people going through security in the 1.5 hours from when the terminal opens until the flights close about 30 minutes before departure.

    Now, the TSA has two lanes there. One was open; there were over 100 people in line when I checked at at 0500. I note for the record that TSA had the normal number of people staffing that lane (six), and another eight standing around watching.

    TSA was using their horrible backscatter “we MUST see them naked” machines. Now, it takes extra time for people take off all belts, pens, wallets, chapsticks. Then the machine takes 10 seconds or so to get loaded with the traveling public that has had the million-dollar monstrosities forced on us (using our own tax money, I might add). The stupid machine takes 10 seconds to irradiate you, and then at least another 10 seconds for the hidden TSA person to finish staring at the naked body. So that’s at least 30 seconds per person to (1) strip you of your clothes and your rights, and (2) get a single person through the checkpoint (and that doesn’t count if they have to do secondary screening because the damn machine doesn’t work – more on that later). So to get a couple hundred people through the checkpont using the backscatter machine would take more than 1.5 hours, which is impossible since they have roughly an hour to do it.

    So somebody came to their senses (finally), and they opened up the standard magnetometer, and started cranking people through in less than half the time. At that point the line really started moving.

    So I was next in line for the magnetometer, and some TSA guy who is working the backscatter literally interposes himself between me and the magnetometer and pulls me over for the backscatter. Now I had to take off my belt. And take my chapstick out. I managed not to take my wallet out. THAT got me secondary screened.

    Side note to TSA: Your policies are stupid. The NO METAL policy is dumb – they treat a quarter in your pocket like a 9mm pistol. And their magic million-dollar machine is not bright enough to figure out that a Chapstick isn’t a threat (I found that out in Boston last week). Or a wallet. But really, TSA, how many square leather guns do you run across?

    So now that the Invisible Commissar Of The Backscatter Machine has Detected An Unauthorized Wallet, you have to have it Inspected by yet another TSA guy. And that also means that they swab your hands, because TSA apparently Knows For Sure that if you have a wallet that isn’t taken out during the scan, then you, a loyal American with a security clearance since 1984, have probably handled explosives and You Might Be A Threat.

    TSA is, as an agency, stupid. The security situation is NO different than it was pre-911. Except, of course, it is hideously more expensive due to having twice as many TSA people than they had before, and they have spent huge amounts of money on machines that detect that you have an Chapstick in your pocket. And let’s not forget the tens of millions expended on machines that puffed air at you, AFTER you went through the magnetometer, in an attempt to find out if you have had explosives on you recently.

    I’ve read many releases from TSA “Administrator” John Pistole, and he has a deaf ear to the taxpaying traveling public. They need to rethnk, or actually think, through their policies, and abandon the strip-us-naked machines and stick with what works, the magnetometers.

    When Does “Standing Your Ground” Become Murder?

    28 March 2012

    I need to state my position up front: any person who is attacked should be able to defend themselves, and should not be obligated to “run away”.

    That being said, there are a number of complicating factors. I’ve been in the position of seeing a suspicious person in the area, and I’ve called 911. I did not try to follow the person. That to me is the key thing with the Trayvon Martin is that George Zimmerman went on the offensive first. He became the attacker.

    We had something similar in the OKC area. A couple guys went into a pharmacy to rob it; they were armed. The pharmacist pulled a gun and started shooting, hitting one of the robbers in the head; that guy when down while the other ran out. The pharmacist ran out and emptied his gun shooting at the departing robber. OK, so far no problem. The pharmacist came back in the building, got a second gun, and shot the robber laying on the ground repeatedly while standing over him. Clearly, the pharmacist crossed the line at that point from standing his ground to murderer. The robber on the ground was no longer a threat.

    So it’s clear to me that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is at least suspect. He did the right thing by reporting a suspicious person in the neighborhood. If he had heard breaking glass or something, he could have reported that as well, while continuing to observe the area. But when he went looking for Martin, he became the attacker.

    I know that if I were being persued by an attacker, I would try to defend myself. I don’t think Zimmerman has much of a case of self defense.

    On Being Prepared

    6 March 2012

    I’ve been taking an increasing number of people into the backcountry. I’ve been with or led groups as far as 20 miles into the backcountry, where there is no cell service, you don’t see people, and the nearest first responders are probably eight or more hours away. I have firm plans for three more wilderness experiences this year.

    So this led me to want to make sure that my various preparedness skills were up to date. I have been taking first aid courses since I was a teenager. My last formal certification was probably 10 years ago. I also wanted to get certified in the use of Automated External Defibrillator (AED) machines. So I signed up for a first aid from scratch course that included CPR and AED use, followed by a wilderness first aid (WFA) course. The basic first aid and CPR was taught based on the American Red Cross course, and the WFA was put on for the local Sierra Club chapter by the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO); the course was based on the Boy Scouts of American WFA course.

    I was pretty charged up by all of this. I think my expectations were pretty high at learning new skills.

    Both courses were taught by experienced professionals who clearly knew their stuff. The material was pretty surprising to me. The emphasis in all cases was to basically collect information for the professional first responders showed up. Sure, stopping arterial bleeding is still a priority, as is CPR for cardiac arrest or stopped breathing. But for almost everything else, it is basically make sure the area is safe and controlled, and call 911.

    The WFA course was first basically a study in very conservative risk management. If there is any risk at all, don’t go. Have bad dental work that might cause a toothache? Don’t go. Have a pain in your back (any pain)? Don’t go. The majority of the WFA course was basically the same material that we did during the basic first aid course. We did do some play acting, but the emphasis wasn’t wilderness specific, it was the process for assessing someone who was or might be injured. There was a bit of instruction on how to move someone who was injured (the firemans carry, for example). I think I expected to get some techniques on things like how to make a litter to carry an injured party out of the backcountry, but things like that were not addressed.

    There was an emphasis on legal protection in both courses. Numerous times I heard the phrase “according to your company policy”. As an aside, I work for both a large company, and for the USAF under a contract to that large company. I do not recall any policy from either of these organizations petaining to first aid application.

    The Red Cross seems to be intoxicated with mnemonics. In the event of an incident, you have ABC (airway, breathing, and circulation checks). There are probably a dozen other mnemonics, some more than six characters. I must confess I do not know all of them.

    So I do not know if the combination of courses really did more than just refresh my knowledge base. I think that the more critical thing in a wilderness emergency will be clear-headed thinking followed by improvisation, past basic first aid. I hope I never *have* to put any of the skills to use, but I will make it point to keep the recertifications up over the next couple years. There are other courses that are more advanced, such as wilderness first responder, but I just don’t know how useful that course would be (and it appears that it would involve travel to another state, and takes almost a week to complete).

    Hospitals, Everywhere!

    14 February 2012

    As we have done the usual incessant driving around the past couple weeks, it has occurred to me that there is a hell of a lot of new construction of new general hospital facilities.

    In the OKC area, I can think of no less than five new hospitals: Norman, Midest City outside Tinker AFB, *two* in Edmond near I-35, and one in north OKC near the Kilpatrick Turnpike. There are also several new specialized facilities, including a new heart hospital on I-240 southwest of Tinker.

    I see other new hospitals in places I travel to. All of this leads to wonder why the sudden increase in new care facilities. Is there some sort of tax incentive in place? Or is there anticipation of huge numbers of new patients?

    “Smash” Times 7

    10 February 2012

    I know that “Smash” is a TV series about a musical about Marilyn Monroe. I know that it premiered after the Super Bowl last Sunday. I don’t know much more than that, since I don’t care about the program.

    But as I was running the channels in my Dish Network just now, I saw more than one instances of “Smash”. I went back and counted, seven seperate instances on different channels.

    Really? Seven? The series can’t be that good, can it?

    An Amazing Debt Factoid

    9 February 2012

    Bloomberg TV reported today that total student loan debt in the United States is right at $1T. This is about $200B more than the total credit card debt.

    This was a surprising number to me. Raegan and I graduated with no school-related debt, but quickly ran up credit card debt, so I sort of thought that was the model. Turns out to not be the situation.

    I’ve *Finally* Got Classic Arts Showcase!

    23 January 2012

    I have loved Classic Arts Showcase (CAS) for years. I’ve seen it periodically in places like Omaha and Sacramento; most of the time CAS is played after “regular” programming is over. An example, CAS would play after the public access channel was done playing the local city council meeting and similar programming.

    CAS plays video clips of dance, symphony, documentaries, and the like. I’ve seen it play an aria from an opera, the video of Linda Rondstat singing “What’s New”, ballet, modern dance, and all manner of other performances. I’ve wanted it at the house forever.

    Now I have it. We got an upgrade to our Dish Network to feed HD to our new TV. CAS was included in the upgrade. I’ve had it on in the house while I was working around the house, and there has been some really good performances on already. I’ve learned some stuff. Two examples, I didn’t know that “Somewhere Out There” was from “West Side Story”. I also didn’t know that the music from the song “A Stranger In Paradise” was actually written by a Russian composer back in the 1800s. Not earth-shattering, but cool to know, for me at least.

    If you like the performing arts, find CAS and watch it, it’s great! BTW, it’s provided free to cable companies and the like, get your TV provider to add it to the lineup if it’s not there already.

    I’m Back After A Short Hiatus

    18 January 2012

    I took the better part of three weeks off from work (and most everything else) over the holidays, and am still getting up to speed. I spent most of the time in a combination of relaxing, entertaining, and knocking stuff off my house maintenance list. We spent some time traveling, like down to Dallas to buy stuff on sale (like a new low-temperature sleeping bag for Ian).

    The biggest thing was a remodel of the kids/guest bathroom. I got the tub refinished from some sort of awful brownish color to white, got water leak damage repaired, and got the tub alcove prepped for a new fiberglass surround, which will be installed this weekend along with new brushed nickle fixtures. The old wallpaper was removed, some drywall damage repaired, and the biggest thing, removal of the carpet from the sink area and the 4″ tile from the tub area. Then I put down 12″ tiles over that entire area. It looks great!

    I also put down tile in the kitchen (to repair a badly-laid carpet there) and pantry (to cover the unattractive concrete slab).

    The biggest thing was buying enough wood flooring to cover the dining room, living room, and entryway. I got the flooring down in the dining room (well, most of it, I still have about two feet to go).

    Finally was a lot of cleaning and collecting that we all did. The house is a little less crowded now; there is still a lot of work to go.

    A couple of random observations:

    We ate a Jason’s Deli over the holiday; I had a seasonal item, beef stew. It was EXCELLENT! I was a little worried when I saw tha the stew had bell peppers in it (no beef stew should have bell peppers). The stuff had beef cubes and lots of veggies, was perfectly cooked, and was in a tomato-based gravy. Loved it! I had some stew at another Jason’s location a couple days later, and the taste of bell peppers was distinct. An email to Jason’s corporate brought a reply that each location made their stew locally (surprising to me). So the good stew was at the location on NW Expressway, and the less good stew was in Edmond.

    We did a bit of traveling. One thing I noticed was a relaxation of speed limits north and south of Oklahoma. First, the Kansas Turnpike (a very nice road to travel on) has raised their speed limits from 70 to 75 mph. This is a good thing. The Turnpike also takes credit cards now, in addition to cash. In Texas, it has long bugged me that the interstate highways speed limit would drop to 60 from 70 after dark; that dumb restriction is removed now (at least for cars). So the long haul across the Texas Panhandle is a little faster now. It’s even better in New Mexico, where it goes to 75.

    We ate at Braum’s at one point over the break. I decided that I would like to try their chicken sandwich. My evaluation: DON’T. It was terrible. Really. No flavor, unattractive texture, it was not good at all. I didn’t finish mine.

    That’s it for now.

    We Can Recycle At The House Now!

    24 December 2011

    A couple of years ago, I wrote a gripe about how even though we pay the same taxes as everyone else in OKC, we couldn’t participate in curbside recycling.

    Over the summer, our neighborhood association sent out a newsletter that talked about how we might be getting curbside recycling, then over the fall we got another that said that we wouldn’t be getting it.

    Then, weekend before last, blue recycling bins were distributed throughout the neighborhood. Cool, I thought!

    So now we down to two recycling actions. We put everything but paper in the recycling bin, and it gets picked up and taken to wherever recycle stuff goes in OKC. We keep the paper, and take it off to St. John’s since the school gets a tiny bit of money for the paper we recycle there.

    So I’m happy about this. I didn’t mind hauling our stuff to the city of Nichols Hills, but having OKC do it for us means one less side trip ever couple of weeks.

    Now, if we can just get fire hydrants…

    Wells and Pumps, Oh My!

    21 December 2011

    Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m cheap^H^H^H^H^H frugal. It makes me sort of crazy to pay other people to do something I can do, or ought to be able to do.

    About ten years ago, the pump that pumps water out of our well to the house failed. Coincidentally, I had just been at Lowe’s, and saw that a replacement pump was $500. I called a couple places to get the pump replaced, and got bids from three that ranged from $1500 to $2500; the middle estimate of around $2000 was from the company that initially installed the well. The process was for three guys to come out, pull the pump out of the well, replace it, drop it down the well, and turn the darn thing on again. I watched the entire process, and realized that there was no reason I could not do the same thing.

    Sunday, we came home from running errands and found that the house water pressure was 0 PSI; not good. I did some troubleshooting; the pressure switch was good, except for the dead Oklahoma Brownsnake that was curled up on top of the pressure relay switch under the cover, quite fried. Well, that was interesting.

    I tested the motor resistance using my VTM; all three readings were in spec. I figured that it was the controller. I ran out to Lowe’s and bought one (they used to cost $100, but now are $70), installed it (it takes about 10 seconds), and… nothing.

    So I figured I had a dead pump. I went out to the wellhead, and checked the wiring, and had 230VAC, so the controller was in fact working. Then I felt the water pipe coming up; the pump motor was running! You can feel the vibration running up the plastic pipe. Curious.

    I decided that I needed to have a look at the pump. That means it needed to pulled out of the ground. Our well is about 180 ft deep.

    Now, the water gets into the house through the well casing (pipe) through a fitting that attaches to the casing. The fitting is called a pitless adapter, and it’s essentially a sliding joint. I tied a stout climbing rope around the fitting, tied the other end to a nearby tree (this was my backup in case I let go of the pipe to keep it from falling all the way to the bottom of the well), got Ian to back me up, and pulled the piping and the piping part of the adapter straight up; it came out easily, and we pulled it up the 18 or so inches.

    The adapter fitting is attached to a short iron pipe segment that is connected to another adapter that connects to 1″ PVC pipe. Each PVC pipe segment is 20′ long, and has a female threaded adapter at the “top” of the pipe, and a male threaded adapter at the bottom. The male fitting goes into the female fitting on the next pipe to make a single long string of pipes.

    Now one thing I learned from my watching the crew the last time was a nifty tool to save back strain. There’s was made from a steel plate about 18″x6″x1/8″ thick. I made the same thing out of a 2×4. I drilled a 1-1/4″ hole in the middle of the board, and then used a jigsaw to cut a notch out of the 2×4 to the hole. Since the hole is the same diameter (1-1/4″) as the outside diameter of the pipe, and the PVC fittings are about 1/8″ wider, the well can hang from the board while you work on unscrewing the joint.

    This is what the board looks like, clean and with an example of how it holds the pipe.

    It took about five minutes to make this. The tools were a 1-1/4″ hole drill, the 2×4, my drill motor, and my jigsaw.

    I noticed that the top of the pitless adapter fitting was threaded. An iron pipe with a thread on both sides could have a “T” and a couple short pieces of pipe to make a handle could be screwed down into that pitless adapter and be used to hoist the thing up instead of the rope I used.

    So I pulled up the first 20′ segment of pipe. It was heavy, but not excessively so. Ian and I alternated pulling the pipe. The process was pull the pipe until the next fitting came up, set the board on the well head, and put the fitting and pipe into the board to support the rest of the piping and pump. I was being very paranoid, and was also adding another rope tied around the pipe at the bottom of the fitting as a don’t-drop-the-thing-into-the-well-casing backup. Note that as you lift, you also need your helper to pull up the wiring that leads down to the pump to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the pipe and such as it comes up. On ours, the wiring was electrical taped to the PVC pipe, and I had to cut it off for each segment. More on the tape later…

    The top pipe unscrews from the bottom pipe. We used one set of channel lock pliers to hold the lower fitting in place, and another to unscrew the upper fitting. The detached pipe was set on the ground.

    As with most projects, it wasn’t really that easy. One problem was finding tools – if you have seen my garage, you would know that that is a large problem. The 20 ft pipes also got hung up in overhanging tree limbs, so the project stopped for a while so I could hunt up my bowsaw and do some trimming. We also got a ladder set up next to the well so one of us could climb up and help steady the pipe, which waved around quite a bit.

    So this process was repeated about eight times. The pump showed up! We put it on a piece of cardboard and I started checking it out. The intakes were completely clogged with electrical tape pieces! I cleaned them all out, then wiped down and cleaned the exterior of the pump. I figured that now the thing would work, since if the intake was clogged it made sense you got no water.

    Putting the pump back down was the opposite. We lowered the pump and wiring, stopped at the upper fitting, and screwed on the next pipe section with the two channel lock pliers, repeating this until the pump was down. I didn’t connect the pitless adapters, but rather aimed the outflow downhill, and fired up the pump. NOTHING. There was a little air moving out of the pipe, but that was about it.

    So I had a defective pump for some reason that was not obvious. The motor was running, but no water was moving. It was about 1700 on Sunday at this point. We headed out to a much needed dinner and bathroom break (no water in the house, so the toilets were not working either), and then headed by Home Depot and bought a new pump. This one was $400, and included a control box (so I ended up returning the control box I bought earlier that day).

    We got back home around 1900, and pulled the clearly defective pump back up. The pump has a threaded female receptacle on top to connect to the PVC pipe, using an adapter… which I DIDN’T HAVE! And both Lowe’s and Home Depot were five minutes from closing. We quickly used some of my frequent traveler points to get a hotel room near school so we could shower and use the bathroom, packed, and headed out to spend the rest of Sunday night at the hotel.

    We had another problem during the pipe pulling process, which lead to a second problem. PVC is somewhat flexible, but it does not like sharp bends and torsion force. As Ian was pulling a section, he stepped back a couple steps, and one of the male threaded adapters failed. The pipe headed down the hole (OH CRAP!) but I dove and grabbed it. So one of the pipes was ruined. We tried to unscrew the remains of the male adapter, but we just could not get it off. I tried drilling a hole through it to use a cheater bar, but the thing shattered, and now we had *two* unuseable pipes. I muttered dark words, but figured it didn’t make any difference, we could get the thing down the well, it would be in the water, and if it wouldn’t have enough water to run the sprinkler system, we could worry about that in the spring. One other thing I did was try to pull pipe without disconnecting everything, which lead to a lot of pipe up in the trees.

    The next morning, after everyone was at school, and after I went to work for a bit, I went and got the adapter, and went home to install it. I got it installed. I hooked up the three electrical wires using the supplied butt crimp connectors and heat shrink tubing, and then attached the first piece of pipe, got the electrical wires attached to the pipe using zip ties (the clogging electric tape had me bothered), and THEN noticed that I had picked up one of the PVC pipes with the broken connectors. Grrrr… I took it all apart again, got a good pipe, and re-did the work.

    When Ian got home from school, we went to drop the new pump in the well. We had a LOT of trouble getting the long pipe string to connect to and screw onto the top of the pump (remember the pipes in the trees that I mentioned?). So I told Ian we were going go ahead and take the pipes apart, and while we were doing that, I told him to turn the pipe one way, and what we managed to do was tighten the pipe to the point that the fitting broke; I had screwed up the “righty-tightly lefty-loosey” rule. So now we had four pipes out of commission. We went ahead and dropped the pump the rest of the way, and turned it on, but no water – the pump was not in the water with 80′ of pipe missing.

    So I needed to repair the pipes. This is pretty easy, but the cure time is 2+ hours, and it was already 2000, so time was not on our side. So we did the hotel thing again. I got the family settled in at the hotel, then headed back to Lowe’s. I use the medium grade cement for my sprinkler system, but for this, since the piping had to support 60 lbs of pump, pipe, and water in the pipe, I used heavy grade. Heavy grade wants *six* hours to cure. I headed to the house, cut the bad fittings off, primed the pipes and the new fittings, and glued them up. I left the pipes in the warm garage to cure and headed to the hotel. This was about 2200, so the fittings had until about 1500 the next day to cure.

    The next afternoon after Ian got home from school, we pulled the top section (with the pitless adapter) up again, removed it, and then put the four repaired section back on, and finally the top section again. We set the adapter on the edge of the well casing again, turned the pump on, and saw a gush of water. Yea! I turned the pump off after the water was running clear.

    Next, we very carefully lowered the pump so the pitless adapters mated. When I was sure they were together, I used a 2×4 to gently tap them completely together. I turned the pump back on, and the tank filled up, and then I turned the valve to let the house pipes fill, and we were back in business.

    The tools I used in this project:

    Two sets of 12″ channel lock pliers
    Propane torch for the heat shrink tubing
    Dykes to cut the wire (and compress the butt connectors)
    Zip ties
    PVC heavy cement
    Purple PVC primer
    Hacksaw to cut PVC pipe
    Well pump
    Four replacement fittings
    Ladder, flashlights, rope, etc.

    The total cost of materials here was about $415. $405 of that was the pump and tax, the rest was a couple fittings and cement. The project took essentially 48 hours, of which about five was actual project, and the rest going to work, running errands, sleeping, etc. I saved about $1600 or more. We did burn some of my accumulated hotel points, but only about 10% of what I have. The weather was not the best, chilly and raining for much of the work. But it got done, was not dangerous, and I fully expect the pump to last another 10 years.

    I would not recommend this for everyone. I’m very good with tools, incomprehensibly cheap in some ways, and preternaturally confident (some would say arrogant, but I think that’s a bit strong!), and I did this without screwing the well up (which would have been very expensive). I was very paranoid about dropping stuff in the well and jamming it so I could not pull the pump up). I would almost rather have a cable or something (like a 1/8″ stainless steel cable) attached to the pump so I could use a manual winch (like on a boat trailer) to raise and lower the pump and pipes (curiously, the old pump had a place for such an attachment, the new one did not).

    I am going to take apart the failed pump and try to figure out why it will not move water. I’ll report on that later.

    So, We Are Fully Gone From Iraq

    19 December 2011

    I am very, very happy about this. It took long enough.

    The war was started using false claims by the United States, via George W Bush and his henchman Dick Cheney.

    The war cost 50,000 dead, at least, including 6041 Americans. There were thousands of civilian dead as well; estimates from Wikipedia are from 100,000 to half a million. Tens of thousands more were injured in one way or the other.

    Hundreds of thousands of American families were disrupted due to deployments. The cost to the United States is at least $1T.

    All of this to remove one man from power. ONE. There is no justification at all for that.

    I Got Trained This Weekend!

    21 November 2011

    I have been a Boy Scout or Scouter for much of my life. I started as a Cub in 1968, aged out as a Boy Scout at 18, and aged out again as an Explorer at 20. I became a Girl Scout leader with Raegan in 1988 (and still am). I came back into Boy Scouts in 1992, and was a leader on and off for a couple years until 2001, when Ian came in as a Tiger. I’ve been a leader since then.

    So I would like to become an Assistant Scoutmaster, and perhaps even a Scoutmaster for some Troop. The Boy Scouts had no required training throughout all this time, and only had one required training in the past couple years (that was Youth Protection, a good thing to have). Raegan and I took all kinds of training through the Girl Scouts (things like Troop Camp, First Aid, and the like), and some Cub training (BALOO in particular comes to mind). This was all on top of the experience both of us had as Scouts as kids, and our literally hundreds of nights of camping experience.

    But just this year, there has been a push to have formal training for all adults that work with kids. I took a bunch of training offered online, in fact, everything I could take. For a potential Scoutmaster (or Assistant), there are two trainings that you need to have face to face. These are Scoutmaster Essentials, and Introduction to Outdoors Leadership (IOLS). I took SM Essentials at the University of Scouting mass training held about a month ago in OKC, and then signed up for IOLS, which I took this past weekend.

    As might be expected, the volunteers who put this training on were enthusiastic and motivated. The format was two days in camp. I packed up my backpack for an overnighter (except I didn’t take fuel for my MSR stove), and off I went at 0820 Friday. I got to camp, got checked in and assigned to a Patrol (the Cobras), got my tent set up, had opening ceremony, and then… nothing until lunch.

    Over the next day and a half, we had lecture and demonstration in skills such as fire building, lashing, camp wood tools, knot tying, map and compass, and the like. The most interesting part to me was the fire building. Although Raegan has been taking a helpful fire starter to every GS camp she has been on for the past couple years, this was the first time I have seen one of the cotton ball-and-Vaseline starters used – WOW! That stuff can burn!

    We also cooked together as patrols, and I learned how to cook eggs and sausage in a ziplock; that will be forced on some kids in Troop 15 (NO MORE BAGELS!).

    So now I’m a trained SM/ASM. I got pitched pretty hard to attend Wood Badge, we’ll see about that.

    Random Observations on News

    17 November 2011

    I hope that Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin gets an “ex-” in front of that title, and that the recall effort there succeeds in a big way. He is a poster child for the bait-and-switch politics of 2010. Sadly, the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor are the same way, but I don’t think a recall would succeed here.

    I am kind of amazed that various mayors are using the excuse of health and safety of the various Occupy protesters to remove the protestors from the street. I think that those people are exercising the fundamental right of peaceable assembly. The fact that many of the mayors and other politicians are opposed to the Occupy people means that the Occupy people are on to something. The fundamental difference between Occupy people, and Tea Party people, is that the Occupy people are really agitating for the common people, while the Tea Party people are really agitating for business interests.

    In New York, a middle-of-the-night raid was used – kind of Orwellian or totalitarian, Mr. Bloomberg. Bloomberg supposedly arranged for a no-fly zone over the raid so that news helicopters could not film the raid. I used to respect Bloomberg, to the point I hoped he would run for President, but my respect for him is fairly negatively impacted now.

    The use of riot police to evict Occupy protestors is just a little ham-handed, I think. The unjustified use of pepper spray by police against New York protestors a couple weeks ago is clearly assault and battery, but the NYC police stood by the “officers” who clearly criminally attacked Occupy people who were just standing there chanting.

    It has been reported that the library assembled by the Occupy Wall Street people has been at least partially destroyed. If so, it is a further discredit on Bloomberg and the NYC police.

    I wonder if John Huntsman has a chance at the Republican nomination. I hope so, but doubt that it could happen.

    Newt Gingrich saying he got more than $1M from Freddie Mac for “historical” consulting, as opposed to lobbying, is ridiculous. I think that there should be consequences for the people at Freddie Mac as well, that’s a stupid amount of money for either lobbying or historical consulting.

    I think that it is not terribly relevant that Rick Perry forgot the name of a federal government department. I think the fact that he wants to get rid of the departments in question makes him ineligible to be President of the United States.

    I think that having a Department of Education is a good thing, if for no other reason than it has promulgates uniform national standards for what students should learn. “Local control” is a code word for getting religion into public schools, including watering down the sciences.

    The Republican concept of “uncertainty” due to regulation keeping small business from hiring and growing, I think, is BS. It’s probably easier for them to talk about that, than the laws they passed under Bush to encourage jobs to be outsourced from the US.

    This is a random set of thoughts, but I have been thinking more than writing for the past couple weeks.

    “Alleged” Victims

    16 November 2011

    The horrible story about the former Penn State coach has reminded me of something that bothers me: the term “alleged victim”.

    I don’t think that I have ever heard this term applied at any time other than when a sex-related crime is under discussion. If a convenience store is held up, the store clerk is referred to as a victim, not an “alleged” victim.

    If a rape is discussed, you will without question hear reference to the “alleged” victim. I know that the definition of the word allege can be used this way, but when it is used only for victims of sex crimes, I believe that it casts doubt about whether the crime actually took place.

    I know that news people feel they have to use “alleged” when discussing an actual or accused perpetrator.

    News people, let’s stick with “victim” when sex crimes are discussed. How about it?

    A Note About WordPress Blogging

    16 November 2011

    I was online for a limited time over the past couple weeks due to family issues, and ate in a lot of new restaurants. I blogged about them offline over the past couple days, and just now uploaded them.

    One thing, a post would just not upload; WordPress would tell me it was uploaded, but would not display it. The only unusual thing about the post was the length of the title.

    The title I was trying to use was:

    Sundance Cafe, Quartz Mountain Lodge, Quartz Mountain State Park, Lone Wolf, OK

    The title I edited down a bit worked:

    Sundance Cafe, Quartz Mountain State Park

    So this is probably a buglet in the WordPress upload software. I notified them, and hope they get it fixed.

    Dover AFB Mortuary and Troop Remains

    11 November 2011

    On this Veteran’s Day 2011, I read with discomfort of the practice of Dover AFB burning small and unidentifiable body parts of fallen US soldiers, then disposing of the cremains at a landfill. The burning part I am comfortable with, but the landfill part, not a bit.

    At St. John’s, we have an ash garden in front of the building where cremains can be interred.

    It seems to me that in light of the death and burial sentiments that many in the country feel, and the fact that the soldiers died directly in the service of their country, something of the same should have been set up and used, perhaps at Arlington National Cemetery (near the Tombs of the Unknowns, perhaps), or at a National Cemetery near Dover.

    That is certainly more dignified than a local landfill. Whoever came up with that idea should be out of a job.

    Tobacco and the Government

    9 November 2011

    I listened to an article on NPR yesterday afternoon that struck a chord. The FDA had set up some regulations that required tobacco companies to post graphic images (for example, healthy and smoke-damaged lungs) on tobacco packaging. Tobacco companies, of course, resisted this.

    I have a simple solution. If tobacco is so bad (and there is no dispute that it isn’t), then stop making subsidy payments to tobacco farmers. Next, ensure that the taxes changed for each pack reflect the downstream health care cost for treating lung cancer and the other nasty stuff that tobacco use causes.

    People would be free to do whatever they want with tobacco in this concept, and would be free of government interference in their decision. I think that if the true cost was factored in (from growing the stuff to paying for the downstream effects), then the cost might rise to the point that people would quit.

    LodgeNet Sucks, Amazingly Enough, Even More

    25 October 2011

    I have already ranted about LodgeNet. The lame, slow remotes and limited channel selection are terrible. When available, I will always pick a hotel without LodgeNet. For example, I will pick the Hilton Garden Inn in Richardson, TX over the Embassy Suites. Are you listening, hotel people?

    So LodgeNet has gone to a new low. Two hotels I have stayed in in the past couple weeks have LodgeNet. In both cases, the LodgeNet “enabled” (really, crippled) TV would boot up, raise the TV volume (too LOUD!), and then go to one of the Lodgenet barker channels.

    Now, the TV boots up, and it goes to a Lodgenet generated “buy our crap” screen. There is no escape from this. The volume control doesn’t even work for a while. You have to exit out through multiple screens using the slow, lame remote, before it “lets” you choose a channel (you can’t even direct-select). This all adds 20 seconds or more to getting the TV usable.

    LodgeNet is terrible. Why do hotels use it? What do they have against their customers to inflict LodgeNet on us?

    KEOM 88.5, Dallas Area

    20 September 2011

    This is my favorite music station in the DFW MetroPlex. They mainly play 70s stuff, that’s my favorite decade of music, and occasionally go into the 60s or the 80s.

    There is little or no inane DJ chatter (sorry, being redundant there just a bit), they have occasional educational segments, and news at the top of the hour.

    But mainly, they play music, good music. Right on; they are the #1 button on my radio when I’m in the area. NPR is #2. Hopefully they might be able to stream over the Internet one day.

    Fire Emergency in Oklahoma City Yesterday

    31 August 2011

    There was a serious wildfire in Oklahoma City yesterday, that continues today. It was apparently south of, and close to, my house and neighborhood.

    The information surrounding this fire was confusing and contradictory. I am in San Diego, and found out about the fire from CNN in the lobby of the Navy facility I am working at this week. I got in touch with Raegan, and she collected Ian from the house.

    So the NWS sent out several fire warning statements; these indicated a mandatory evacuation area that included our house. I was in constant contact with Ian to ensure he was not terribly worried (in fact, he was calm, and executed my commands very precisely, and I am very proud of him for that). The police came through the neighborhood house to house as well.

    But the media (at least, none of the TV station websites, or the Oklahoman website) never reported that our neighborhood was evacuated. The reported area still today stops a mile south of our house. There was ONE report of a specific location of fire yesterday (on the KFOR website, I think), and that report was 3/4 mile due south of my house).

    The OKC FD had to have had PA people out with them, and there were scads of reporters around, and still, almost 24 hours after the event started, the information is still not consistent. The OKC FD website reports a different set of fire areas than the media.

    All of this really leads me to question the information sharing between the various agencies and the media. The media had helicopters up, and if nothing else they should have been able to precisely show the boundaries of the fire areas at least. Why could the spotters in the helicopter report the actual fire locations to their reporters, and to their web site people? I could see the smoke plume on NWS radar yesterday, and it showed the fire source at least, and that was the best I could get, but it is a very low resolution at best.

    So to find out what happened, I am going to have to go drive the neighborhoods when I get home this weekend. That’s not a good testament to the media in OKC.

    LodgeNet, Again

    17 August 2011

    I am on an extended deployment to the DFW Metroplex this summer. I am spending a corresponding amount of time in a hotel. It has given me the opportunity to look at a lot of LodgeNet.

    I previously talked about LodgeNet here.

    In summary, LodgeNet still sucks.

    The hotel I am in has a 40-channel system. Nine of those (that’s just about 25%) are non functional in one way or the other (barker/advertising/dead air).

    Almost every channel is overrun with ads that LodgeNet inserts into the video stream. They mainly advertise their pay-per-view movies, but also other stuff like cartoons that I imagine you have to pay for also. They also have a large number of PSA-type ads that I imagine they run to get tax credit for.

    The room I am in has two nice Sharp TVs. The LodgeNet remotes still suck. I brought a universal remote, programmed it to the Sharps, and channel switching blazes. The LodgeNet remotes literally take 2-5 seconds to change channel.

    The TVs boot to the same barker channel, and it is set very loud! I have to immediately hit the volume down when the TV starts. My universal remote is already running the TV volume down as it is booting, but the LodgeNet remote takes 5-15 seconds to start running the volume down.

    I have griped about the TV situtation to the hotel, but wonder if anything will be done about it. I just wish that LodgeNet would go away.

    US Airways and The Saggy Pants, and Stupidity

    6 August 2011

    I wrote a post about this incident here. The charges against the saggy-pants guy were dropped, but I ran across this interview snippet.

    Mina Kim of KQED, interviewing Andrew Christie, a spokesman for U.S. Airways.

    (KQED) Is it a policy of U.S. Airways to remove people from planes for wearing pants that expose their underwear?
    (US Air) [In] this particular incident, the individual was removed from the aircraft after repeatedly ignoring crewmember instructions.

    (KQED) What was the safety concern related to his attire?
    (US Air) The safety concern was repeatedly ignoring the crew members’ instructions.

    (KQED) How does that become a safety issue?
    (US Air) The safety of all our passengers and employees is our top priority and it’s important to adhere to crewmember instuctions, which is paramount in ensuring a safe and comfortable traveling environment.

    (KQED) Regardless of the content of the instruction, you mean?
    (US Air) That’s correct.

    I usually try to avoid profanity, but in this case, only profanity will do. The US Airways spokesman is generating Grade A Horseshit.

    So US Airways could, in the words of one commenter about this article, have a flight attendant order a passenger to sing a song, and then chuck the passenger off the airplane when the “order” was refused.

    I will never fly US Airways again. I have flown the airline a number of times in the past years, but they will never get any more business from this frequent flier.

    In another article, the airline stands behind the stupid conduct of the crew in this case. There have been other reports of a man at another airport boarding a US Airways flight wearing NOTHING but purple women’s panties and a matching bra. That’s even more stupid than having sagging pants, and that wasn’t an issue; this was about a week before the Case of the Sagging Pants.

    There is talk about how the airline might have taken race into account in this case. That may or may not be the case, but the bottom line is that US Airways employees acted stupidly, and the company stands behind them, stupidly. Airlines are referred to as “common carriers” for a reason. As long as the passengers (the “carried”) aren’t doing anything dangerous, and wearing sagging pants is not in any way dangerous, then they are entitled to carriage. He paid his money, he gets a seat. The airline does not get to pass moral or fashion judgement, period.

    I Had a Lot of Fun Last Night

    16 July 2011

    I am currently more-or-less deployed to the Dallas area for work. A friend there coaches a community league volleyball team, and needed players due to some regulars being unavailable, so I volunteered. The league play is held in the gym of one of the middle schools of Allen, a very nice suburb of Dallas.

    Our game was at 2000, and I got there around 1920 to watch the games befoe ours. I was impressed – there were people ranging in age from mid-20s or less to 60s, it looked like. And there were lots of people involved! While I was there, 8 teams of six people played on the two courts that were set up. Each court had a judge, even. The judge kept score, called in/out, and watched the net.

    I had a really good time. We played three games (against the top-rated team in the league). We lost all three, but didn’t get blown out. The play was hard but not rough.

    The thing that impressed me about this: my team mates were talking afterward, and these fun leagues are set up in at least three other suburb towns around the MetroPlex.

    I think it is great that the city of Allen and the other cities will open their facilities up for this kind of recreation. It’s fun, and it’s healthy. I wish/wonder if we have these kinds of activities around OKC that I have just not heard about.

    I would come as a surprise to some that Raegan and I played on a couple bowling league teams in our early married days. I also played community softball. I’m the coach of the St. John’s team when we can scratch up enough members for the Episcopal softball fun league here. I like playing these team sports, and would like to play more. I would be playing on our Division team at Tinker, but the games this year are all during my deployment days; three hours there and another three hours back is a bit much for an hour of softball.

    American Exceptionalism

    15 July 2011

    I have seen a promo on MSNBC a number of times; I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to them. But one with Chris Matthews this evening struck a chord with me. In the promo, Matthews says that the opponents of the President claim that the President does not love American (which is not true, of course), but that the very fact that Barak Obama could be elected President of the United States is American Exceptionalism.

    This is so very true, and is a powerful thing. Think of most countries, even the peaceful ones. Britain, France, Russia. Or South Africa, or Japan. There isn’t one of those countries where a person who was not in the ethnic majority has been elected to a leadership position (Peru, of all places, is the only major country I could think of, with Alberto Fujimori, who was a Peruvian of Japanese descent being elected President there).

    But in America, it happened, and in a decisive way. It is a classic statement of American Exceptionalism that we can elect an ethnic minority, without bloodshed.

    Now, clearly, there are those who object. Aside from the un-American attacks by conservatives on Obama (and Clinton before him), with the only objective being to attempt to de-legitimize their very Presidencies, and people who have an irrational objection to Obama, there are honest Republicans who disagree with the President on policy grounds. But none of those has gone nuts and taken up arms or anything like that.

    So as I’ve said before, I am really proud of the United States for electing Barack Obama as President of the United States (and I’m proud to say I voted for the man). His election is American Exceptionalism, in a very good way.

    Very Disappointing News From OETA

    24 June 2011

    I was able to watch the Oklahoma News Report (ONR) last night on OETA (Channel 13 here in OKC). I wrote a blog post on ONR back in 2009.

    At the end of the program, the anchor Dick Pryor reported that due to a number of factors, including three years running of state budget reductions, that ONR was going away as a daily program soon (didn’t catch the date), and was being reconstituted as a monthly program.

    ONR has been cutting back over the past year. They went from two anchors to one, and lost reporters also.

    I’m frankly mystified by this. ONR is an outstanding news program, unvarnished, able to devote the time needed to covering stories in the state, with a minimum of stuff from out of state (appropriate since it’s the Oklahoma News Report).

    OETA has built up quite a large endowment over the years, and I find it hard to believe that they can’t find the room in the budget the the salaries and overhead (power, etc.) to keep ONR going.

    I also find it inconceivable that the Legislature couldn’t find the couple hundred $K that it would have taken to keep ONR on. I can’t help but wonder if Republican antipathy to media they can’t control is part of this.

    So one less independent news outlet. Much of the coverage of the news of the Legislature and doings at the State Capitol has already been reduced, and I’m sure that will be to the detriment of the citizenry. It’s not a positive trend in a democratic society.

    …While US Air at SFO Didn’t

    19 June 2011

    CNN also had a report on the other side of the “security” coin here. This one shows how dumb people can be.

    A guy at SFO showed up at the airport, got his boarding pass, went through TSA security, and then showed at the gate for boarding. He had sagging pants, apparently annoying the US Airways gate agent, who asked the guy to pull them up. He declined.

    Now, according to the story, US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said the airline does not have a specific dress code, “but we ask our passengers to dress in an appropriate manner to ensure the safety and comfort of all our passengers.”

    So what does that mean? There isn’t a dress code. The cops that wander every terminal didn’t seem to have a problem with the guy, not did TSA, who manned the security line. Do saggy pants affect the safety of passengers? I wouldn’t think so. What about the comfort of passengers? I wouldn’t think so there, either. It’s not like the guy is a behemoth that took up 1.5 seat widths.

    So the guy was allowed to board, and then the crew ratted Mr. Pants Down out to the captain, who made a citizens arrest (for what, I wonder), called the cops, and had the entire airplane emptied because Mr. Down allegedly resisted arrest.

    So I think that Mr. Down got screwed here. If he’s smart he’ll sue all involved. The gate people had no business telling him to pull up his pants. The captain had no business pulling a “citizens arrest”, and that meant that Mr. Down probably has a case for false arrest or imprisonment. The cops that showed up probably ought to have been the grown-ups in this incident, and informed US Air that the Contract of Carriage does not apply to where you wear your pants.

    But I think that the pants-down look is stupid regardless.

    DFW Airport Security Showed Some Sense…

    19 June 2011

    CNN has a report (here) about a couple jokers who got stuck overnight at the airport after their connecting flight was canceled.

    The two guys did a video of themselves being happy idiots at various places, pretending to be gate agents, racing in wheelchairs, and similar stuff. The only thing they did that was wrong was when one of them found an unlocked beer tap and poured and drank one for himself. He even washed the glass and cleaned up after himself.

    The two guys were apparently being watched the entire time by airport security people via the video cameras that are ubiquitous at DFW.

    So this could have been a bad story. But surprising to me, the security people who were watching used their heads and didn’t call in the SWAT team. The watchers could have over-reacted as so many “security” people do, and had the guys arrested “in case” they might do actual damage.

    This is part of the “no risks” mindset a lot of security people have, which is really a variation on the no-tolerance school of thought that has permeated many, well, schools.

    So kudos to the DFW security people. The one consequence of this is that the restaurant that was left open, and had access to its beer tap available, was notified so they could fix that situation.

    And to his credit, the guy who drank the beer said that he would come and pay for it the next time he flew through.

    Big Oil Propaganda

    16 June 2011

    There are more and more TV ads that are propaganda for Big Oil.

    There are a large number of ads being put on by the American Petroleum Institute. One thing I noted in one of their ads was a graphical representation of a poll, where the part of the pie chart that was used showed the people representing the percentage in favor of the Big Oil position looking up and smiling, and the people that represented the percentage that didn’t support the Big Oil position looking down, and “greyed out” somewhat.

    Another series of ads from a particular company show attractive Big Oil employees (at least, supposedly employees) and “regular” people asking essentially the same question, and the Big Oil employees coming to an agreement and answering the question in a positive manner.

    Most of these ads use glittering generalities to show Big Oil in a positive light. There are some other techniques used also.

    I have wondered what the ad campaign hopes to accomplish. Oil and gas are clearly a huge part of our economy. Does Big Oil think they need to have their reputations burnished for some reason? Or are they trying to influence the public against energy sources that are not fossil fuel based?

    KOST 103.5, Los Angeles, CA

    9 June 2011

    I’m in Seal Beach, CA this week. It seems that every time I come out here, I scan the FM band, and first pick out one of the local NPR stations, and then KOST (pronounced “coast”). They have a really good playlist of light rock, and every evening play sappy love songs all evening, which I really like.

    I can usually hear KOST all the way down in San Diego. I was listening to it while I was returning from my afternoon/evening hike, and it occurred to me to listen online, which is what I am doing now.

    Great station. I have it bookmarked for listening to it elsewhere.

    Discovery Channel “Tornado Rampage 2011”

    5 June 2011

    This show is on Discovery Channel right now. I watched it right up to the point that I knew that the show had no credibility.

    A woman was being interviewed about a tornado striking her business. She says “and that’s when the building exploded”. The sound track went silent for about a quarter second, and then there was the sound of an explosion, from a bomb or something.

    OK, that’s just not credible. Building do fly apart in tornadoes and other wind events, but they don’t EXPLODE. That’s the same sort of phony editing that has every lightening strike having a same-time loud thunder sound, whether the strike is across the street or on the horizon.

    Tornadoes are impressive and frightening enough. Why do producers have to add bullcrap into the mix?

    Book Read, and Miniseries, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, by John Le Carre

    31 May 2011

    I first read Tinker, Tailor back around 1984. I distinctly remember seeing the announcements on PBS in the late 1970s pertaining to a miniseries of Tinker, Tailor, and thinking what an odd title for a book. Someone recommended the book later, and I first checked it out from the Oklahoma City library system, and then bought it.

    I found the book a fantastic read. It was a bit of a thriller, set in a world I knew nothing about, but could easily imagine as real and accurate. The characters had a ring of authenticity to them, the plot was topical (the Cold War), and the book was a fast read. The jargon they used (“janitors”, as an example) was easily assimilated.

    Tinker, Tailor became one of the few books that I made a point of picking up and reading every five or so years. I re-read it about two weeks ago, and found it interesting as always (and it turned out the same, AGAIN!).

    At some point about ten years ago, I remembered the miniseries. I tried the local library system, it was not carried. I tried something that was then new – eBay. After a couple months, a VHS copy of the miniseries turned up, and I bought it. It was a disappointment in that the tape was an obvious bootleg; the cover art was clearly printed with a low-res inkjet printer. The video quality was lousy. I think I fell asleep trying to watch it through the noise on the tape, in a hotel room in Wichita, KS.

    After my re-read this time, I remembered the miniseries again. I searched my house looking for the VHS tape with no luck. I got on the computer to look for the series at the library again (turns out they have it on DVD), but while I was searching, YouTube came to mind, and there I quickly found the complete series, seven chapters. I watched it over a couple days.

    The miniseries started out oddly, with a meeting of the “service within a service”, three of them and Alleline. From there it jumps around a bit, and if you haven’t read the book, I think you would have a hard time understanding what’s going on.

    Most of the major characters from the book are in the miniseries, although some roles have been collapsed, like “old McFaddean” and Mendel. Of all the characters, the three that seem physically cast to what I would have expected were Smiley, Tarr, and Westerby. The rest were not the faces I have imagined. Not to say the performances were bad, to the contrary, I enjoyed the entire miniseries.

    Being TV, some of the dialog is moved around a lot, and some scenes are rearranged, and some are not in the miniseries at all. But the essence of the story is preserved.

    So, the eternal argument: Book or Movie? I would say Book, for the richness of detail in the hunt for the mole Gerald. But the movie is interesting also. The two share a couple qualities: no real violence, no bad language, no blood and guts. Just a good story line where the good guys win in the end.

    Mower Oddities

    29 May 2011

    We have about an acre and a third, and hand mow the lawn parts of it. I tend to buy cheap mowers, they last 3-5 years, and then replace them. In the meantime, they take some maintenance to keep running. Our mower, a Lawn Boy 22″ that we bought from Wal-Mart (this is the second one we have bought), is about four years old. It’s showing some wear, especially where the mower is bolted to the body of the mower.

    This year I had to clean the fuel “filter” (really, a fine mesh screen where the fuel intake is into the gas tank) and the air filter. The mower has not started for a couple weeks, and today was the first day I went to take a close look at it. Three things, right? Fuel, air, spark.

    First thing, I took off the spark plug wire; I had good spark. So far, so good.

    Next, I took off the air filter assembly. The primer was pushing gas into the carb. So fuel was probably OK. I tried to start it, it started! So I figured it was the air filter. I took the filter out, screwed the assembly back on, and it started up just fine.

    Then I noticed… I had not put the spark plug wire back on the plug, it was just sort of hanging close to the end of the plug. Shut the mower off, put the wire back on the plug, and… wouldn’t start. What the heck?

    I pulled the plug wire back off and let it dangle, it was close to the end of the plug again, and the mower started just fine. It was running great! I took a pair of insulated pliers and put the wire back on the plug. The mower kept running, but seemed to start running a little rougher. But it kept running. Weird.

    I took the air filter assembly off again, reinstalled the air filter, and put the whole thing back on again. The mower kept running.

    Well, hmmm….. I don’t understand this. I told Ian to start mowing and keep mowing until it was out of gas!

    So this is strange behavior. I’m going to do a little thinking and a little research later and try to figure out how this might be.