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.