Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not much to say

We've been busy... and sick.  So not much has been going on around here the past two weeks.  I'll post more later, but I wanted to post something today... or I might completely forget how!

Ciao, and Happy New Year!!!!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Greengrocer's apostrophe's

I admit it, I'm a grammar... purist. One of my favorite cartoons of all time is this "Bob the Angry Flower." I think the rules are the rules, and everyone should follow them, unless deliberately breaking the rule for effect. Like I did, up there. I also know I'm not perfect, and I make grammar, format, syntax, and every other error, just like everyone else. But at least I try. Some people don't even make the effort, and it annoys me. What annoys me even more than that are people who are proud of not knowing the rules. You know the type; they're the ones who pick on the smart kids for being smart.

I found a blog a while back written by someone who clearly feels as I do. The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks is, well, just what it says on the tin. I can understand why the things at are the way they are. It's not their native language; it's funny, but it's not their fault. The "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks thing, though... I don't get it.

Which brings me to my point. Susie pointed me to this blog today, which is... well, a bit more saccharine than I care for, but that's my taste. You may love it. But it does suffer from "unnecessary" quotation "marks." Which is bad enough, except... well... I'm sorry, Sandy Toes, if you're reading this, but you were a teacher. You really should know better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's good ta be da king!

This new job is great. The atmosphere is worlds apart from the one I just left. Yeah, it doesn't hurt that I'm in charge, so I get to set the tone. But that other job? Tense much? Morale in the crapper much?

It's nice to have a job, to know what that job is, and to be able to do it, without interference from above, below, or laterally. Yes, indeedy.

Just needed to put that out there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Little irritants

I have a long commute. It's 37 miles, more or less. It takes me almost exactly an hour, door to door. Each way. Why do I drive so far? Because we have a great house in a great village with absolutely the best school ever for the kids. And I don't usually mind the drive so much. It's a nice bookend to my workday, allowing me to ramp into the day, get my schedule for the day figured out, and then, coming home, time to decompress and forget about the little annoyances.

But sometimes the drive has irritants, too. Like driving itself. As you probably noticed, my average speed on my commute is... um... carry the one... about 37 miles per hour. That's partly because the last 10 minutes of it are speed-limited at 15 MPH. But it's also due to the driving laws around here, and the fact that a one-lane-in-each-direction road, with a hard shoulder, is considered a major thoroughfare. The roads here are winding. There are limited opportunities to pass (or "overtake," as they say here). And the speed limit laws don't help.

Know what this sign means?

It means "The national speed limit applies here." Yep, it's a speed limit sign. What's the "national speed limit"? Well, if you lived in the US, until recently, you'd be safe in saying "55 MPH." But in the UK? You have to know the rules. Ready?

All roads with streetlights are 30 MPH unless otherwise posted. Otherwise the national speed limit of 60 MPH applies. Unless you are on a "dual carriageway," which is basically any road with a median (or "central reservation." Then it's 70 MPH.

Oh, wait. That speed limit is for CARS. If you're a truck or a bus, or if you're towing something, it's 10MPH lower (50 on regular roads, 60 on dual carriageways).

What does this mean to me? It means that even though the speed limit is 60 for most of my commute, the traffic pattern goes like this: Truck (doing 50), followed closely someone driving a "sensible" car (Volvo) who, trying to maintain a safe distance, is doing 47. Followed by long gap, then another truck, doing 45. Followed by 3 more cars, doing 43, followed by me, doing 40. The first car behind the second truck can't pass. The next car can't pass both of them, and of course, I'm farthest back. Then a bakery truck comes roaring up behind, passes everyone on a blind curve. The second truck slows to let him in, so of course we all slow. The road straightens. Passing opportunity! Oh, wait. The Volvo won't pass. The bakery truck does, which leaves a gap for the guy behind the second truck, but the guy behind him leaps out first. He whips around the second truck; the formerly first car pulls in behind, and I finally get close enough to the truck to THINK about passing him. Of course, the road starts to wind again, and no straightaways for another 5 miles or so.

Oh, and now there's no empty gap for me to pass into.

Good thing I'm on my way to work. If it were somewhere I really wanted to go to, I might get really upset.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New beginnings

Yesterday was my first day back at work after my mini-vacation. As terrible as it is to have to go to work after a long break (and we all know how that is!) it was actually pretty nice. I had put in for a new job before we left, and while we were away I found out that I had gotten it, so yesterday was my first day in my new workcenter. It's especially nice for me because I'm actually there to be the new boss. My new boss is very different from my old one, and it certainly changes the atmosphere in the office. It's a good feeling to know that he's going to be supportive as I get the feel of the place and the way I think it should run. The other thing is that there's an almost total personnel change in the office, so we really are going to get to set our own tone, as opposed to "more of the same."

Now I just have to work out who is going to sit where...

Friday, December 5, 2008

"So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice."

You know how Buddhism teaches that we're stuck in this world, doomed to repeat ourselves over and over until we "get it right"? And that until perfection ("nirvana") is achieved, we're reborn into various forms, depending on our score the last time around, but once we hit that cosmic "high score" we're taken out of the game? (Note to any Buddhist readers: I know, that's grossly oversimplified.)

Apparently my ficlet stories were so good, has reached perfection. Because they're shutting down.

(By the way: when I typed my two stories into ficlets, the character counter informed me, in both cases, that I had achieved ficlet nirvana, because both stories are exactly 1024 characters long, which is the ficlet limit. So I guess I should have seen it coming.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another nice day out

Susie and I had a very nice day out today. We managed to arrange for a sitter (our friend Ruth) to pick the kids up from school and stay with them until bedtime-ish, and we took the train into Cambridge. The main purpose of the trip was for me to get a replacement battery for my laptop, do a little shopping, and perhaps see a movie.

We had a great lunch Wagamama, a nice noodle place, and managed to walk right into the theater in the middle of the trailers. We saw Quantum of Solace, which I give 4 stars out of 5. Daniel Craig as Bond carries the movie; I found the plot a bit thin. Yes, thin, and yes, I know it's a Bond movie.

In other news, the "near disaster" with the Christmas present I mentioned the other day... I have Susie's permission to tell: Lily's biggest consistent desire for Christmas has been for a goldfish. So yesterday we went out and got "My first fishtank." And 40 minutes after paying for it, as Susie was trying to juggle packages and get the door to the house open... she dropped it. And smashed it. She was pretty upset at herself.

So I drove back to the pet shop, and told the manager what had happened. He grinned and made a joke which, due to his regional accent and the speed of his speech, I didn't understand. I laughed sheepishly, though, and agreed with him. And he handed me another fishtank, saying, "Don't drop this one, now." I thanked him profusely and went back home to a much relieved Susie. Thanks to Pets At Home in King's Lynn. They had no reason to help me out, but the goodwill they generated (and the word of mouth I'll spread around) was obviously worth more to them than the loss of an inexpensive starter fishtank. Rock on.

One last thing; a favor. If you're reading this, would you mind leaving a comment, and letting me know who you are? Especially if you know me? You can see that hit counter thingy over there; it tells me where people are from, and I know people in some of those places. It would be nice to know who's reading me. Please?


Monday, December 1, 2008

Because I don't have to

That's right. NaBloPoMo is over. I've got the spiffy badge over there and everything. That means I don't have to post every day anymore. But I can if I want to. So I am.

Not that I have anything particularly exciting to write about. We just about finished our Christmas shopping today. There was a near disaster involving one gift, but we'll discuss that at a later time. David came home from school complaining of a headache, so we had him lie down a while on the sofa, gave him chicken noodle soup for dinner, and sent him to bed early.

Lily's fine, except, of course, her waffles were "too crispy." Sigh. Did you know that waffles have "crusts," like bread? Yep, apparently so, because Lily left the edges of her waffles. Yes, we had an eclectic dinner today, mostly because of David's not feeling well. He had soup, Lily had waffles, and Susie and I had leftover pizza from our lunch out. We'll save the tomato soup and grilled cheese (one of my favorites!) for tomorrow.

Yep, like i said, nothing exciting to talk about.

Oh, and for those of you who didn't get what was funny about that video I posted on Friday (Hi, Mom!), you can ask a friend or relative (Hi, Mike!) about "Rickrolling" (or click that link.)


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two for two!

That's right, fans, I've completed NaBloPoMo again! Or at least, I have with this post. Two years running. As soon as the "I did it!" badges are ready I'll be adding it to my page, right over there next to the other one.

Nice to finish it on a Sunday, too. Tomorrow is a new day, a new week, and a new month. There's a symmetry there.

I'm not going to make any promises to keep going. I did that last year and it didn't work out. So no promises. But, durnit, I like this blogging thing. I'm going to try. (yeah, yeah, I know...)


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Staggering to the finish

That's right... day 29. A nice Saturday at home, doing nothing of importance. Susie had her car repaired earlier in the week, and when she went to use it this morning, it didn't start. Rather, it started, but wouldn't hold at idle, stalling out. We knew that the idle air control valve was going, but the mechanic had cleaned it and pronounced it serviceable for a while... at least, until we wanted to pay the 97 pounds plus 17% tax for the part.

So I called him. Left a message with his wife (his shop phone forwarded to his home). Half an hour later, I was surprised to see him pull in to the driveway. He disconnected the electrical contacts to the valve, locked in into an open-enough position to let us use the car. Meanwhile, I had found the part on eBay for 23 pounds, plus 6 shipping, delivery in 3 days or so. I confirmed with
Martin that I had found the correct part, and ordered it. I'll be replacing that myself when it shows up (it's a matter of unscrewing two screws, replacing the part, replacing the screws, and plugging the connector in).

Especially nice is that Martin wasn't in the least bit put out that I was going to do it myself. In fact, he offered to pop round and put it in for nothing.

We like Martin, and Red Pumps. I'd link his website, but he hasn't got one.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanks, given

We had a great Thanksgiving day yesterday. Here in England, we don't get the Macy's parade, but someone was kind enough to post this moment on YouTube, which I think expresses the spirit of the day better than most any other.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Over the river and...

Is that a Thanksgiving carol? Does anyone remember all the words to that?

Anyway, it's Thanksgiving in America (any Canadian readers, Happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving), and I'm thankful for so many things. The best, most supportive wife a man ever had. The two best kids any dad could ask for (sorry, nieces and nephews, but that's the way it is!). A wonderful home to come back to after my trips. A job that pays well enough to keep me and my family not only in the things we need, but most of the things we want as well. Health. Happiness.

Yep, I've got it pretty good. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tales from a parallel universe

Susie and spent today finishing up getting caught up with Life, which I mentioned earlier. It really is a great show, with superb characters.

Then we started in on the US version of Life on Mars. Wow. I gotta say, not so much. If you are in the states, and you've been watching this show and wondering what the big deal is, I gotta tell ya, the US version doesn't hold a candle to the UK version. In fact, it almost makes me think of Turkish Star Trek.

Go ahead, click that link. But be warned: it's EXACTLY what it says it is. In fact, this episode is their version of "The Man Trap," which was the first episode of Star Trek ever aired on television.

But if you get the chance to see the original BBC version of Life on Mars, please do. It's so much better.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I had a very nice day today. After Susie got the kids off to school, and we had had a nice relaxing sit-around with our morning hot beverages, we decided to head into town for lunch. There's this terrific Thai restaurant, The Thai Orchid, in King's Lynn, that we really enjoy. It's the kind of place where the second time you go there, you're a regular. They remember you. And the food is wonderful. Spicy enough to give an enjoyable kick, but not enough to overpower the flavors. If you enjoy spicy food, you know how hard this balance is to achieve, but they do it effortlessly.

We wandered through a few shops before lunch, and picked up a few odds and ends, and then after lunch we headed for the market. Tuesday is Market Day in King's Lynn, so we wanted to check out what was going on. Of course, it was just after lunch and most of the vendors were packing up, but this worked out in our favor. One of the fruit and veg stalls was setting out bowl after bowl (think mixing bowl) of fruits and vegetables. "One pound, any bowl!" said the lady. Well, we picked up a bowl of avocados. 9 of them, for one pound (about $1.50).

Flash ahead to dinner time. Open up the bag of avocados, and find that they are absolutely perfectly ripe. They practically peeled themselves. And tasty? Oh, yes. So we cut two of them up to have with tomatoes next to our leftover bean-and-barley soup dinner, and I just now finished making a huge bowl of guacamole. Susie and I will be enjoying that this evening while we catch up on a few episodes of "Life." Seen this one? You must.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now THIS is what I call "time off"...

We checked back in at work today. Went to all the various offices and made sure everyone who needed to know we were back knew we were back. Not sure why we have to do that, it's not like we snuck back into town or anything. But these are the little trials we put up with in order to get to... the comp time.

In this case, 12 days. 12 glorious days where I don't have to do anything. That means, in effect, I get the next two weeks off. And I still get paid and everything!


Is it wrong that I don't feel like finding some deep topic to blog about? I mean, really, there are, what 4 of you who read this, and one of you lives with me (Hi, sweetie!), so it's not like the world will end if I don't wax philosophical about something. And yet, this whole NaBloPoMo thing sort of lays a bit of a guilt trip on a guy. Sure, I could post a letter of the alphabet each day of the month, and still qualify for completion (well, I'd have to repeat myself, or add numbers, or something), but there's the letter of the law (and no, I didn't plan that pun-like construction) and there's the spirit of the law.

The spirit of this thing means I should be thoughtful, maybe even insightful, or even just loquacious. So an "I posted, ha ha" post leaves me feeling guilty. Sorry for those past few. And for this one, which is sort of a meta-post. Hope I haven't scared you off.

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I know, a bunch of short posts in a row, but I just got home and I'm going to spend my evening with my family. Better post tomorrow!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Yeah, well... it's really windy here right now. The net keeps getting knocked offline. So I'm posting this, quickly, on the "eat the raw earthworm" principle.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Closer all the time

Tomorrow's the last day here. The next day, homeward! Yippeee!

I wrote a "sequel" to the ficlet. It's here with the original.

No, this isn't a "hey, I posted somewhere else, go look there" blog. Well, it is, today, sort of, but not generally.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some days...

...are longer than others. This was one of them. It was a good day, don't worry, but long? Yes. Work was more interesting than usual (in a good way).

I got a couple of nice comments from ficlets people about my first attempt. Go ahead... take a look (at the story, I mean). I'm gonna have to add more...

(Oh, yeah... some blog posts are longer than others, too. And this isn't one of them. Heh.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The "Post-It notes" of creativity

My good friend, Wil Wheaton, the famous author/actor (who has, of course, never heard of me) has made several mentions in his blog of a website devoted to "ficlets," which are very very short stories, or parts of stories. I haven't given it much thought... OK, I lie, I've given it lots of thought. I like to write. I'd love to write a novel. But I can't seem to get past the opening paragraphs. The entire plot is in my head, but when it comes to writing, my methods betray me. You see, I've always written "in final." I don't do drafts. I don't do outlines. I write, and I edit on the fly, and I craft my writing as I go. And, as I go, I second-guess myself about what I've already written. So I go back and change. Then I put it back to how it was. Then I tweak. And before you know it I've spent 3 hours on 3 paragraphs. Grr.

So I've decided to take one of those beginnings and release it into the wild. Because one of the cool things about the Ficlets concept is this: once you write your bit and post it, anyone can add to it, in similar short bits. You're limited to 1,024 characters for any post, whether beginning, sequel, or prequel.

It's kind of like that campfire story game, where one person starts, and as they tell the story, they'll say, "And just as he was about to leave, " and the next person picks up the story...

Anyway, if you're curious, my first foray is here. It's not going to get my novel written, but it's a start.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Counting the days

You want to know how you can tell when you really love and miss your wife and kids?

Imagine you're on a Greek island. Imagine it's nearly winter back home, rain and snow and wind. Imagine that it's sunny and pleasant on your island. Imagine you're making a crazy amount of money to be on that island, and all you have to pay for is your meals.

OK, can you see all that?

If, despite all that, you're counting the days until you can go home, well...

I'm counting. 5 more sleeps.

Monday, November 17, 2008

True wisdom

I couldn't think of anything to post today. Then I was talking to Susie a few minutes ago, and she told me something David said earlier, and it's a pretty profound thing, especially for a 9-year-old. He just got a new toy, a wooden truck, which he is very enamored of. And he was lying on the floor vrooming it around and he said, "You know, when you get down on the floor with a toy, you just can't help but be happy."

I'm gonna go find a toy. :)

[edit: I'm trying to upload a picture of the truck, but Blogger is having none of it. I'll keep trying...]

[edit again: Yay! Blogger finally cooperated!]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dizzy (my head is spinnin')

How's this for unexpected: When my alarm went off this morning, I sat up to turn it off... and kept going. As in, I wasn't sure if I was upright, because I was feeling a bit dizzy. Strange... So I wobbled my way into the shower, and noticed that I felt some pressure in my ear. I wasn't congested, my ears were clear of blockages, but still... an odd pressure, almost like when you get water in there and it won't come out, you know?

So I pop in to see the doc. Yep, we have an actual doctor here, just for us - a good guy, too. He took a peek, and said, "Hmm, you've got some stuff in there, kinda waxy but white, not like regular wax." He grabbed this little lighty-up probe thingy (I think that's the actual technical name for it) and scraped a bunch out. Turns out I have some sort of infection, probably fungal (!), in there. So he gave me some drops and sent me on my way. I should be wobble-free in a day or two.

Aren't you glad you read today's post?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Battery update

Well well well...

It seems that the battery might not be the only culprit. I've noticed that the computer has taken to just "going to sleep," without the "your battery is low" message. I thought it was just that the battery is so screwed up that the computer couldn't keep track of if it was low or not, or what the power level is, and so if it fluctuated down too low it would shut off, thinking that it had already given the warning.

Apparently not so. Googling around, I find that there's a fairly well known (to everyone but Apple, it seems) problem with the temperature sensor in the trackpad. It will register a spurious spike in temperature, and the computer will shut down instantly to save its own life. Tons of hits on this in Google, and most every one says "Why won't Apple admit this design flaw and fix the compuers?"

Even when people DO bring the computers in for service, they aren't finding the problem. It's one of those things like when you car goes "thunk thunk thunk" right up until the moment the mechanic takes a look...


Friday, November 14, 2008

Things, and stuff

Rant: My bank will not allow Susie to make my car payment for me. Because despite the fact that we have a joint CHECKING account, the CAR loan is in my name only. So they won't confirm or deny the existence of the loan to anyone but me (or, I presume, any number of random corporations who might want to check my credit... in which case they'll tell them how much I owe, how much my payment is, if I've ever been late, etc.) So now *I* have to call them from Greece. Even though I have already given them specific permission to deal with Susie. Grr.
It looks like the battery thing might be working... I may have to do it again, though. Time will tell.
Oh, Susie? I found your Men's Synchro link... but you'll have to send people to me to get it... bwa ha ha!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where's that darn bunny?

I hate that laptop batteries have memories. I hate that it takes forever to recalibrate them. I hate that I did this to myself.

I kept the laptop on all the time. When I didn't need it, I'd just close it, put it to sleep. I kept it plugged in all the time, so as not to "waste" charging cycles. Dumb. Every morning, I'd unplug it long enough to read my email and news while I ate my breakfast, and plug it back in before I left for work. Half an hour or so.

And so I trained my computer to believe that the battery only holds half an hour of charge. And now it doesn't even hold that. I'm going to try to recalibrate again, but... yeesh.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The guy with the drywall will be here a week from next Thursday

Well, we've had a few extra days off, due to some equipment malfunctions. It's been great, not having to go in to the office, but things are back to normal now. So back we went today, and back we go tomorrow.

A propos of nothing... The general style of house around here seems to be a basic square, made up of four cement walls on a cement base with a cement top. Very basic, with lots of open space, balconies, large windows, none of which would be unexpected in this Mediterranean climate. But the strange thing I noticed is how much the local area looks unfinished. It's like the buildings were intended to be taller, but they ran out of money.

I recently discovered the reason for this: Greeks don't pay taxes on buildings until they are complete. So, enterprising folks that they are, they build one or two floors, and "start" the next. They leave the rebar exposed, they don't paint the top floor. Then they move in. Now they can claim that it's a "work in progress" and enjoy their property-tax-free home. Or business, as the case may be, because it's not limited to residences. Even the big supermarkets around look like they're just about to have another floor added on top.

I know back home people have a hard time getting contractors to come and finish the work when they are building or remodeling. Seems like the Greeks have made a virtue of it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fun with etymology!

I've mentioned that I'm a bit of a geek. I'm fascinated by things that most non-geeks don't even think about. I'm convinced I have an extra lobe in my brain just for trivia. Not just the usual geek stuff like Star Trek episodes, either.

Like language stuff. I'm familiar enough with the Greek alphabet that I can "sound out" most signs, although I have no idea what I'm reading most of the time. And sometimes I'll see something about a word that will cause me to have a simultaneous "aha!" and "d'oh!" moment. I've had quite a few of those moments recently.

I learned a word a few years ago, iatrogenic. It means, in effect, "caused by doctors." The UK "Superbug" MRSA is an iatrogenic illness, in that you usually only get it while in the hospital for something else. OK, fine. I took that word at its face value, and never thought about its origins. Then I came here, and I saw a sign for a doctor's office. And I noticed that it said ιατρός (iatros)... Oh, yeah, I thought that must be where that comes from, duh. And then I realized exactly what kind of doctor it was. It was a παῖδιατρός (paediatros)... Pediatrician. Literally. D'oh. (I told you this was dumb...)

(edit: ok, having read further on that MRSA link above, apparently it isn't really "iatrogenic," as that implies the doctor caused the disease. It's actually "nosocomial," meaning "happens in the hospital", and which is also from the Greek nosocomion (νοσοκομείον) which means "hospital." But my linguistic epiphany isn't any less valid...)

I was walking down the street here and I saw a church supply store. They're all over, dozens of them, full of gilt icons and censers and metal-bound bibles and all sorts of stuff for your better-appointed house of worship. And I remembered that, in English, we call those "ecclesiastical supplies." (Well, sometimes we do.) Then I rounded the corner and came across a Catholic church. Or, in Greek, ἐκκλησίᾱ (ecclesia). Oh, right, of course... Then the "d'oh" moment... what's Spanish for church? "Iglesia." And French? "Eglise." Staring me in the face, it was.

But one of the strangest things is the Greek language itself. I'm not following their rules for using their own alphabet. In particular, they make some spelling choices that just make no sense to me.

For instance, most of us are familiar with a few Greek letters: alpha (Α α), beta (Β β), gamma (Γ γ), delta (Δ δ), and pi (Π π), and if we're familiar with fraternities, we'll know a few more, like kappa (Κ κ), tau (Τ τ), mu (Μ μ) and nu (Ν ν). Now, it seems to me that β is a perfectly servicable "B" sound, γ makes a fine "G" and δ does a good job for "D". So why do the Greeks sometimes use β for "B," but other times use μπ (equivalent to "mp")? When is δ good for a "D" and when is it just not up to the task and they have to use ντ (like using "nt")? And when do you have to use γκ ("gk") instead of just plain γ?

I'm sure Susie knows, since she studied Greek in school, but it sure seems like a lot of extra work to me...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I am such a geek...

Seen any good movies lately? If you're like me, then that movie probably had a score by John Williams. His music really is the soundtrack to my geeky life... Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the list goes on and on...

Thanks to Shamus Young for this little nugget. A guy sings a tribute to John Williams movie themes... in 4-part harmony, with himself, by split screen.

Click this you must.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I feel the need....

Go-karts. Wow. Now THAT was a blast.

It was a smaller group than we thought, only 6, but that's OK because the track can only take 8 racers at a time. We had the track to ourselves, and the competition was fierce. We were driving around that little track (probably a bit longer than a half mile, but MASSIVELY curvy) like Formula One pros. Accelerate to the corner, brake just a touch, slam on the gas and driiiiiiift through the curve. And for you non-racer types, "drift" really means "controlled skid." Just like in the movies.... screeching tires and all. Do it right, and you can practically take a 90-degree turn at full speed. Do it wrong, and you spin through 360 degrees (or worse, 180 degrees) to a dead stop.

The steering is so hugely sensitive that the wheel only really moves from, well, if 12 is straight ahead, you could turn the wheel as far as 10 and 2, but it was enough to get you through the hairpin turns. The brakes were, well... the word "placebo" comes to mind, except that they did in fact work a bit. Enough to let you drift, anyway.

Your seat is all of 4 inches from the ground, the center of gravity not much higher than that. The engine is right behind your back and the vibrations are teeth-rattling. After our first 15-minute race we took a water break. No kidding, the vibrations and the stiff steering left us all holding our water bottles in shaky hands, unable to control the trembling.

We drank our water, looked at each other, and with big smiles, almost in unison, said, "Let's do that again!"

And we did.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yes, this counts

We're getting a day off tomorrow! Yay! Now I just have to decide what I'm going to do tonight. I mean, I don't have to get up early. So I could go downtown with the crowd. Might do, actually. (And THAT's a Britishism... they don't "might" or "could" anything, they "might do" or "could do." Weird. And fodder for another post...)

Still trying to download "Life on Mars." It's about 16 done, and only 4.5 hours estimated time to finish. So I have THAT to look forward to... maybe.

And there's the go-kart experience tomorrow, as well.

But at least I don't have to go to work!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Alternate universes

Susie and I were huge fans of this BBC television show "Life on Mars" a couple of years ago. If you haven't heard of it, the short synopsis is: 2006, cop gets hit by car, wakes up in 1972. Everyone around accepts him as a part of the 1972 world. Is he crazy? Is he in a coma? Is he really back in time? How does a modern cop cope with "neanderthal" police techniques?

It was a great show. And now, much like "The Office" it's being remade for the US. There have been 4 episodes aired so far, I think. I'm really really interested to see how it translates to the US, and to see how much they had to change it for the American audience. I did see an article about a fairly major change, but without seeing how they did it I'll have to reserve judgment.

It's available from iTunes... maybe the intermittent internet gods here will let me connect long enough to see it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes he did

And quite convincingly, too. That's a good thing. After the 2000 debacle (no matter who you supported, it was a shameful episode in US elections history) it's nice to see a true contest decided with such a clear margin. In 2004, Kerry ran against an incumbent, not the easiest way to bid for the White House, and he was soundly defeated. But this year, each party put forth a new candidate, everyone started from the same starting line, they hit the trails, and the voters decided.

I admit that I'm of two minds regarding the result.

On the one hand, John McCain is a man I admire personally. He represents all that is good and honorable in an American public servant. I think if this country is going to maintain a two-war policy, McCain would be the man to make it work. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that if he had won, things would have changed for the better.

On the other hand, Barack Obama is a man I have come to respect. He speaks to something that many Americans have been longing for for the past eight years. I think if this country is going to take a step back from the two-war policy, Obama is the man to make it work. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that with his win, things will change for the better.

Of course, the election was about so much more than those few things. It's all in how important the issues are to you that make you decide to go vote or to stay home, to pick the candidate with the elephant or the one with the donkey. And on Tuesday, we each had our chance to have our say.

It's an old saw, but if you didn't vote, you don't get to complain. If you did vote, thank you. No matter who you voted for.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I voted! Did you?

Ok, remember when I said the cool thing about not having to work tomorrow was that I get to follow the election returns? Well, the not-so-cool thing is that I really want to follow everything as it happens, but for me, as I write this, it's 3:45 pm. The polls in the west aren't even open yet. The polls in the east have only just opened. And I'm already at the end of my day. Sigh.

I'm gonna watch as much as I can, have a bit of a nap, and get up early... maybe.

Stupid time zones.

Monday, November 3, 2008

No fun for you...

Yep, the day off is cancelled. Well, postponed, actually, until Saturday. This, of course, makes the younger folks happy, since now they'll get to go out on a Friday night instead of a Monday. As for me... meh. As long as I get a day sooner rather than later, I'll be happy.

Not a lot going on today; just getting ready for the big election-day festivities. Well, every NaBloPoMo has its share of "I'm posting because I promised" posts. This is one of them, I guess.

See you tomorrow... and (if you're American) VOTE!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Busy busy busy

You know, just because I'm on a Greek island doesn't mean I spend my days sipping ouzo and my nights dancing to bouzouki music. We work here; we work to exhaustion, frankly. Every other day starts with breakfast at 2 am, and ends on the bus ride back to the hotel at about 3pm. The days in between start with breakfast at 5am, with a bus ride back to the hotel at around 1pm, BUT... because of what we're doing the next day we are required by regulations to enter a sort of "enforced rest period" for 12 hours before the 2am bus. That means we're expected to relax, try for at least 8 hours sleep, and refrain from drinking alcohol after 6pm.

This whirlwind work cycle means that I really don't know what day of the week it is unless I specifically make an effort to find out. It means that I get to look at the scenery from my hotel, but I don't get all that much time to go out into it. Oh, sure, I get a few hours to wander around now and again after the long 12-hour work days, and I could always go out drinkin' with everyone else, and that's fun every now and again, but I'm of a certain age, y'know? My drink-until-I-can't-stand-let-alone-walk days are WAAAAAAAY back thataway...

So, the precious few days off we get here are really appreciated. We had one last Friday, and we grilled lamb and drank beers and told war stories and had a nice bonding day. We're getting another one on Tuesday, during which some of the "management" types are going to drop a bundle of Euros at the local go-kart track and pay for us all to (probably drink and) drive little carts around a track for a few hours. That should be fun, actually.

But the cool thing is that the next day, which will be a breakfast-at-2am day, is a day when I have to "go to" work, but I don't have to "actually" work... Susie knows what I mean. It's my turn to stay behind and mind the store while everyone else goes off and does their thing. What's cool about that? Well, I'm in Greece. Which is 10 hours ahead of the West Coast. So while all of my coworkers are off, um, doing what we do, and out of touch, I'll be connected, watching TV, reading the web. Some people would call this "goofing off," and normally I'd agree... but this day will be different, because it'll be Wednesday here... and it'll be Tuesday evening in the states, and I'll be watching the election coverage to find out the direction my country will be taking for the next 4 years.

Yes, I have an opinion as to who I want to win. Actually, quite a strong one. No, I'm not going to tell you.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hey! One in a row!

There are certainly worse places in the world to be posting your first NaBloPoMo entry from than the balcony of a hotel room overlooking the harbor on a Greek island. So I've got THAT going for me, which is nice.

I almost wasn't here today. We came down for a short trip, with an option to extend it. So when they decided to extend it, someone had the bright idea that, since I had come down here for the purpose of becoming "certified" in my duty position, and I had done so, maybe we should send me home and bring someone else down for a chance to certify.

This was both good and bad news for me. Good, because it would mean I could go home, and be with my wonderful family, all of whom I miss immensely. Bad, because, well, I've wanted to come on one of these trips for a while, and I'll be darned if I was going to let a single minute be taken away from me. But since I know that the smart thing to do would be, in fact, to send me home and give the other guy the chance, I was philosophical about it.

I spent three days on tenterhooks. (What, exactly, is a tenterhook, anyway?) Then they said that the guy who was going to come down, couldn't come down. So I get to stay. Again, good and bad news for me (see previous paragraph, in reverse).

Anyway, here I sit, with a cup of Greek coffee, no baklava, and an amazing view. Yup. It could be worse.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The big day approaches...

Yep, tomorrow is the kickoff for NaBloPoMo. I did it last year, by gosh, and even though I'm "away" I'm going to do my best to do it again. I was gonna be chatty here, but I just realized that I should probably save it for tomorrow, hm? :)

See ya then!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Once more unto the Breach, deare friends...

So, it's nearly November. Time for the 3rd Annual NaBloPoMo. I did it last year, and I actually enjoyed the challenge. I like to blog, but for some reason sometimes I just can't make myself sit down and do it. So I'm going to give it another go this year, and hope to keep up with it afterward.

What surprised me last year was that I discovered some really interesting blogs out there through the NaBloPoMo home page. Sadly, because I was unable to access blogs for a few months, I lost track of them. I hope to find them again this year, and even more besides. And of course, I hope to find a reader or two again. If you're one of those who were kind enough to start to follow my blog last year, I hope you come back. I will get the hang of this. Really, I will.

(Oh! I just found one of them again, and it looks like she fell out of the blogging habit as well... now I don't feel quite so bad.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Take the good with the bad

One of the cool things about this job is that you get to go to so many different places. One of the strange things is how varied those places are, and how quickly you can go from one extreme to the other. For instance, earlier this year I went from being at this place on a Thursday:

to being at this place on that following Sunday:

Now, if that's not a little culture shock, I don't know what is. Of course, some of the other places I get to go are cool, too... like where I am now. First, the view from my hotel balcony:

Not bad, hmm? OK, one more... I took this as I ate lunch yesterday:

Susie's a bit jealous, I know, because she's been to this area of the world before and loves it, and I really wish she could be here with me. There's so much to see here, and I just know I won't have time to do, well, any of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coke Zero? More like Coke Hero...

Isn't it weird how you can consider someone a great friend, even if you never see them anymore? We've been in England for three years now, and in California and Nebraska for the 4 years before that, and in that whole time we've seen our friends Will and Raye maybe 4 times. Yet I still consider Will a great friend; possibly my best non-spouse friend.

Some time ago, Susie and I jumped on the weight-loss wagon (Weight Watchers, to be specific) and we were points-counting fools. We got some of our friends into it, and we sort of became "The Points Mafia." Susie and I did really well on it, too. Will didn't play so much; he preferred to look on in bemusement.

Well... some years on, and I've fallen off the wagon. The weight is piling back on, and while I'm not back to where I was, I'm getting uncomfortably close. And now some new work requirements have highlighted this to me most distressingly. So it's back on the weight-loss wagon. I've mentioned it here before, and the follow-through was, um, lacking, but the wake-up call has sounded, and the motivation is both internal AND external this time.

So, what's with the title of this post? Will, for reasons relating to college (and doesn't THAT cover a multitude of sins?) is known to his friends as "Coke." And he's been on the weight-loss wagon now, too. And damn successfully, I might add. He's been blogging his progress, and I think it's pretty great how well he's doing. I really hope he keeps it up, and I hope I can be as successful... this time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is this thing on?

Yeah, so this is a pretty cavernous empty room I'm looking at. I suppose that's what happens when you only post once in 9 months. I don't know why I stopped. It's weird. I enjoy posting. I like the feeling that maybe out there some stranger is reading my words and going "hmmm." I guess it's just an inertia thing. When I go away, I get out of the habit, and when I come home, it's hard to start again. Now, of course, it looks like I'll be going away again in a few weeks, so, yeah, my timing is right up there.

Anyway. Here I am.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A story to welcome me back...

I'm a pretty big "Star Trek" fan. No, really; I know it's hard to believe, but I am. One day I was watching an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and I got to wondering about how those people would fare in today's world. So I wrote this quick little story-like thingy. Sort of a "Dilbert" meets "The Office" meets "ST:TNG." Enjoy.


Life aboard the Enterprise: The TRUE story.

"Captain's Log, Stardate... umm.. is this on? Damn. Ahem. Captain's Log, Stardate 43210.5 The Enterprise has been ordered by Starfleet to investigate a 'stellar anomaly' in sector 134.3256 mark 6. We have set aside our current mission of... dammit, why did this thing stop recording? Anyone?"

"Sir," replied his first officer, "like I told you before, you have to hold the 'record' button down the whole time, not just at the beginning." Will Riker looked at the ceiling, the floor, the walls. Anything to avoid looking at his captain. "I've never had a problem with mine," he said.

"Well," said Picard, "I'll just finish the damn log entry later. Helm, set our course."

"Aye, sir." The young helmsman's fingers began dancing across the console. Suddenly, an odd beep sounded from the helm controls. A puzzled look crossed the crewman's face, and he repeated his last entry. Again, the odd beep. "Um, captain? I'm getting a 'system access error' in the helm control program."

"How can that be? Did you remember to hit control-B before entering the coordinates? You did. Did you enter the coordinates in the new format?"

"Um, new format, sir?"

"Yes, the new 3.4 format, the one that we had that training session on last week? The one from the fuel consumption monitor program?"

"Um, sir, this is helm control, not fuel consumption..."

"I know that, ensign! But the newest version of FuelCon requires that format, and since it imports the data directly from the HelmCon app, we have to use that on the bridge."

"Oh. I'm sorry, sir, but this isn't my regular post. The old helm guy got laid off last week - well, he took 'early retirement from Starfleet,' but it wasn't by choice. Anyway, I'm usually with hardware development, you know, the deck 17 gang? So I was -"

"Never mind, ensign. Can you correct the problem now that you know what it is?"

"Well, no sir. The program is completely locked. I can access other programs; see, the Torpedo Launchers, the Phasers, all that, but the Helm Control is-- uh-oh."

"What does THAT mean?"

"Well, sir, now the whole thing is locked. I can't even reset it. I'll have to do a hard reset, with the switch underneath. The reboot will take about 30 seconds. Sorry, sir."

"Don't worry, ensign. Everyone has to reboot a console now and then."

"Yes, sir. Um, sir? It's not coming up. It's hanging in the hardware selftest."

"Right. I'd better call engineering, then." He taps his comm badge.. nothing. He glares at the ceiling, looks at the comm badge.

"Sir," says Riker, "We've found we get the best signal when we stand near the main viewscreen."

As the captain moves toward the viewscreen, he glances down at the ops console, where he notices...

"Mr. Data, are you playing Minesweeper on duty AGAIN?"

With a guilty start, Data clears away his game and buries himself in the status reports on his screen.

Arriving in front of the viewscreen, Picard once again taps his comm badge. At the distinctive chirp of a good signal, he says, "Picard to Engineering, come in, LaForge." There is no answer, no sound at all. He taps the comm badge off, then back on again. "Picard to Engineering, come in." Suddenly, the computer's voice booms from the comm badge.

"I'm sorry, the Comm System user you are trying to reach is unavailable, or has traveled outside the range of his equipment. Please try your comm again later."

Visibly containing his anger, Picard growls, "You have the bridge, Number One. Keep trying to reboot that damn console; I'm going to find LaForge." He stalks toward the turbolift doors, which fail to slide open as he approaches. He pulls himself up short, obviously annoyed at having his dramatic entrance spoiled so. Finally, the doors slide open, and he enters the lift.

* * * * *

Moments later, Picard enters the Engineering section of his starship. There are parts of at least six different ship's systems strewn across various consoles. The entire Engineering staff seems to be crowded around one table in the back corner, so he approaches it. Seeing his Chief Engineer at the center of the crowd, he speaks.

"Mr. LaForge. A moment, please?"

Startled, Geordi jumps up. "What is it, Captain?"

"First, why was I unable to reach you by comm?"

"Really?" asks Geordi. "Let me check," he says, removing his comm badge to get a look at the back. "Oh, no. I'm sorry, sir, I grabbed the wrong one this morning. I meant to leave this one in the charger, but I guess I got them mixed up."

"Well, let's not let that happen again, shall we?" said the captain, raising an eyebrow enquiringly. "As for my other question, why is my Helm Control console down again?"

"Sir, I've tried to fix that. I've reinstalled every system. I've checked all of the connections. I'd say it's a bum operating system. If you'd just let me install a Vulcix operating system and get rid of that MicroFleet Viewports software, I promise you, you'd see a world of difference..."

"Mr. LaForge, I am NOT about to let you use such an, um, 'experimental' system on _my_ starship..."

And as the captain and his chief engineer begin their old familiar argument, the helm control console comes back online. But without a connection to the network. And the comm badge system loses another 37 calls that day. And the weekly crew health report somehow loses its formatting and prints out on actual paper... in a single column one letter wide and 35.3 kilometers long.

Just another day on the Starship Enterprise.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day!

Just a quick post on my lunch break. Pi day? Notice the date (and if I've done this right, the time) of this post. Gotta run!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wow, it's been a while, hm?

Yep, I've been away. Then I came home for 2 days, and went away again. I'm still "away again," but at least this time I'm at a school in Germany (where we just got about a foot of snow last night, pictures may follow).

Anyway, for my legion of fan (heh), I'm sorry I was away for so long, but I think I'll be able to write more now. Probably not every day, but more often than monthly, anyway. :)

At least this time it's not like the first (or second, or third) time when I started to blog, where I wrote for a week and then forgot for months. This time, the interruption was not due to a lack of interest on my part, but on a lack of ability (time, place, etc). What that means is that I'm back. Slowly, anyway, for now, but if you're reading this, then stay tuned, tell your friends, and I'll see you again soon!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Posting Difficulties

Hi to anyone popping in to read this blog. David asked me to post a quick update. There have been some cables cut in the Middle East, and it's having a HUGE effect on internet and phone access where he is, so he won't have access to the blog for a while.

Sorry about that!!
[posted by Susie]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I got you, babe

Probably the worst thing about these trips is the monotony. Day in,
day out, the same thing. We refer to this place as the "minimum
security prison," because, well, that's pretty much what it's like.
There are lots of (what we consider stupid) rules, we're not allowed
to leave except under specific conditions, we're stuck here until our
"sentence" is done, they tell us exactly what to wear at all times,
where to be and when to be there, and how long to stay once we get

Granted, if you know who I work for, and you haven't had any
experience with them, you'd probably expect things to work this way.
But really, it's not supposed to. Yes, there are rules, and that's
fine. But rules just to have a rule? Or worse, rules solely as
tests? (As in, "You may not want to tuck in your shirt, but if I can't
trust you to follow the rule to tuck in your shirt, how can I trust
that you'll do the right thing when it's time to get the job done?")
That's insulting. But my shirt's tucked in, so there you are.

After a short time here, we get what we all call the "Groundhog Day"
effect. Every day is a repeat of the day before, and we know that the
next day will be the same. Hell, no kidding, I have no idea what day
of the week today is, and I have to ask for the date every time I sign
some paperwork. And most everyone goes through that deep trough of
"God, I hate this place" somewhere around the halfway point. The
point where, in that movie, Bill Murray's character started
experimenting with toasters and bathtubs. Well, he didn't see any way
out, so of course he took drastic measures. None of us here have
reached THAT low of a point, but we can certainly understand the
feeling. It seems like we just keep doing the same thing over and
over, and none of it really matters. Then we take a look at the
calendar, and we realize that we're more than halfway done, and there
is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.

It still sucks to be here, but we know we're leaving. We're about to
hit that point, I think. The low point can only last so long, and I
know that, if I'm Bill Murray, then I've got the best Andie MacDowell
waiting for me at home. And that's what gets me through these trips.
Susie, you really are the greatest, and I can't wait to get back home.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Morale boosters

One of the nice things about being down here is that they often do try
to make your life better. It's tough, mostly because they spend so
much time trying to make your life rotten that they get out of

Take Christmas dinner. One of the customs of my employer is that on
big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, they more senior members
"turn the tables" on themselves, and man the steam tables to serve
dinner to the more junior. It's a nice touch, and I've always
appreciated it. But this past Christmas, when I went to dinner, I
saw something that made our custom pale in comparison, at least in my

We all eat in a communal facility, a cafeteria, if you will. This
includes not just the people I work for and with, but those of our
partners from other countries. As I entered on Christmas day, looking
forward to a nice dinner (they do tend to go "all out" on the food as
well) I noticed one of our British brethren, a more senior type,
standing in the door. He greeted me pleasantly enough, wished me a
Happy Christmas, and held the door for me. I stepped inside, picked
up a tray, and headed for the line. I noticed the sounds of jollity
from the room, but didn't think anything of it as I collected my
shrimp cocktail, steamship round of beef, turkey, mashed potatoes,
corn, and brussels sprouts (yes, sprouts! I was a happy guy). The
senior leadership behind the steam tables were cheerful, offering
generous helpings with a "Merry Christmas," but they were also joking
and talking amongst themselves. Now, granted, there's only so much
room behind a steam table, and so when two are serving, where else are
the other 10 going to go? They're going to stand behind, hanging
about, and chatting. I didn't think much of it at the time, as I
headed to a table.

Looking about, and not seeing anyone I knew, I moved toward a
nearly-empty table near the back of the room. It was then that I
noticed that the aforementioned jollity was coming from a group of
tables right next to the one I had chosen. I sat down, and looked
over. There were a group of very junior Brits, sitting at tables,
being waited on (table service, no steam table lines for them!) by
some VERY senior Brits. I mean VERY senior. And the seniors were
having a ball, waiting hand and foot upon the lowest of the low. And
the juniors were laughing and chatting, and ordering the boss's boss's
boss to take back the sundae he had just made, because there was too
much whipped cream on it, or demanding a bigger helping of stuffing.
And it was amazing. The cameraderie was palpable.

It made me jealous.

And then, as I watched, I noticed someone sit down directly across
from me at my table. I looked up, and noticed that it was the second
most-senior person at the whole place. And an American. I waited for
him to make eye contact, to wish him Merry Christmas.

He never looked up. He never said a word. He ate his dinner like a
man on a mission, in silence.

I looked over at the laughing Brits, and thought, "I thought our
leadership was doing a nice thing, but THAT's the way this should be
done." I turned to the very senior American. I'll call his name, I
thought, wish him a Merry Christmas anyway. But he was already
walking away, his tray empty.

I finished my pie, and went back to my room. Someday I'll be in a
senior leadership position. I hope I remember this Christmas when
it's my turn to man the steam tables.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A year? A YEAR?

A post a day for a year?  Yoiks.  And I'm already 3 days behind.  So I'm gonna make this "a post a day, whenever I can, which won't really be a post a day but close enough."  And it's going to have to do.  Oh, the stories I could tell, if I were to break my rule of not telling stories about work...
One downside of posting using this method (by email) is that I can't really include hyperlinks as easily as I'd like.  At least, I don't think I can.  Here's a test.  If you read my blog, and you've not gotten hooked on my wife's, then go over the and check it out.  She's got a good thing going over there.  And since I can't even read my own blog, I'll have to depend on you, my hordes of devoted fans, to let me know if it worked.  Or Susie can tell me, when she starts to see masses of hits on her site from the thousands... hundreds... dozens... ok, both of you.
Cheers, from "an undisclosed location."