Thursday, December 31, 2009

What I Did on my Christmas Vacation

Cell Membrane (plasma membrane) - encloses the cell, separating interior (cytoplasm) from surroundings; regulates access
Cell Theory - All living things made of Cells; Cells are the basic unit of structure and function in organisms; Cells come from other cells
Cell Wall - membrane that surrounds, supports, protects plant cell. Does NOT restrict movement across membrane.
central vacuole-large membrane-bound space inside a plant cell;stores water, waste, other materials. When full, cell becomes rigid.
chloroplasts - organelle that uses light energy to make carbodydrates from carbon dioxide and water
Chromosomes -structure made of DNA and associated proteins on which genes are located
cilium - short hairlike structure protruding from cell surface; enable movement of cell or substances across the cell
Compound Lens M’scopes do not use more than 2 lenses b/c cannot resolve images that are closer together than a few hundred nanometers
Compound Lens Microscope - microscope that uses two lenses
Cytoskeleton - microscopic fibers supporting cytoplasm’s structure
Electron Microscope - beam of electrons in a vacuum create image of a specimen
Electron microscopes and their specimens are in a vacuum so that the electron beam does not bounce off air (gas) molecules
endoplasmic reticulum - cell membranes in the cytoplasm that transport substances through the cell; made of lipid bilayers
Eukarote - organism whose cells have a nucleus enclosed by a membrane
flagellum - long threadlike structure protruding from cell surface; enable movement
genes - section of a chromosome that codes for a protein or RNA molecule
golgi body (apparatus) - organelle that packages and distributes molecules produced by a eukaryotic cell
Light Microscope - light passes through lens to create enlarged image of a specimen
lipid bilayer-double layer arrangement of phospholipids; contains proteins kept in place by polarity
lysosome - small spherical organelle in a eukaryotic cell that contains digestive enzymes
Magnification - ability to make an image larger than the original specimen
Marker proteins - help other cells recognize their cell type - ie, liver, heart
microfilaments - extremely thin protein strands supporting cytoplasm
micrograph - image produced by a microscope
microtubule - long, hollow tube supporting cytoplasm
mitochrondria - organelle that harvests energy from organic compounds to make much of the ATP made by a eukarotic cell
Nuclear Envelope - surrounds the nucleus; made of two lipid bilayers
Nuclear Pores - paths through the nuclear envelope
nucleus - organelle that houses the DNA of eukaryotic cells
Organelles -structure in eukaryotic cells that has a specialized function
phospholipid - lipid made of a phosphate group and two fatty acids
Prokaryote - single-celled organism w/o nucleus and other internal components; lack of structure means contents can move around
protein - organic compound made of amino acids
Receptor proteins - recognize and bind to specific substances outside of the cell
Resolution - measure of the clarity of an image
ribosome - organelle on which proteins are made
Rough ER - part of endoplasmic reticulum w/attached ribosomes - appears rough when viewed w/electron microscope
SCM - scanning tunneling microscope - needle probe, allows individual atoms to be viewed
SEM functioning: electron beam is directed at specimen coated with metal, creating 3D fluorescent images of the specimen
SEM, TEM - Scanning Electron Micrograph, Transmission Electron Micrograph
Small cells are better than big ones because small cells have higher surface/volume ratio; hence, faster transit time inside cell
TEM functioning: electron beam is directed at a thin specimen slice stained with metal ions to display specimen’s internal structure
Vesicle - small membrane-bound sac that transports substances in cells

Counting Down

Last few hours of the year, so I'm doing the normal things -

- Hunting through the Tivo listings for anything great to record relative to the New Year's Celebrations. Why aren't the fireworks in Las Vegas or Kuala Lumpur or Tokyo available? Tivo needs to expand its scope. (Problems of the Idle Rich #472)

- Reading my daughter's biology text so that I can ask her questions about it.

- Making some coffee to keep me awake while doing the aforementioned studying. It actually is interesting; more than when I was a kid. Then again, she has to learn much more complex things than I ever did.

- Thinking about money. We got some bittersweet news -- a combination of a previously-unknown CD of my mother's, the payout from her life insurance policies, and her bank accounts means that our net worth is going to grow to a point where it's a little bit above what we refer to as 'the magic number'. No special significance other than that it ends in all zeroes. It's nice, and we're pleased, but, you know? I'd willingly give it up to avoid the event that allowed it to occur. Still miss her.

- Baking. 'Pecan Tassies' didn't work out -- apparently, they wanted me to use mini-muffin pans; I don't think I need more of those, so I didn't get one, and the result was a tart that hadn't nearly cooled down when I took it from the pan -- but the chocolate and peanut butter cookies came out pretty well. My daughter was surprised that she liked it, as she normally doesn't care for peanut butter. I didn't tell her that I mixed a little Nutella in, too.

Okay, gotta get studying.


...just came in our room to say that she was again having trouble sleeping. She thinks its stress. Hope not.

Update: Apparently, it is, and she doesn't want to talk about it. Imagine what I'm thinking now?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Another planning and questions visit with the estate lawyer, building the structure so that when we die, Uncle Sam gets as little as possible. We're not talking about a lot of money, but, even so -- our daughter's going to be a trust fund kid. How about that!


Last night I turned to my wife and said that sometimes I get so irritated that there are no decent pizza places near here, I feel like learning how to do it commercially and opening up a store.

Then, I said, reality sets in, and I forget about it till the next time.

Good idea, she replied.


Do you suppose I could get one of those people who specializes in converting cell phones into something lethal to do something to my daughter's cell phone? Nothing lethal -- just a way to cause it to switch on and emit a loud locator beep, once every ten seconds for a minute, upon receipt of a coded call? I'd pay for that.

It's windy as hell here today. My daughter's ubergruppenfuhrer, I mean, color guard instructor, has decided that two days of practice during the vacation week aren't enough, so they'll be practicing again today. Outside? I think inside. But, you know, if that's what it takes, then of course they'll all do it gleefully. Javohl.

I don't know if I'm a sap for thinking 'terrorist' and 'fanatic' instead of 'Islamic terrorist' and 'Islamic fanatic'. I don't think so, because I think that most Muslims aren't killers. I sure would like it if they'd help us find their scummy brethren, though. Muslims may say 'Good luck with that, not our problem, they're not really Muslims', but I think that from here, they're close enough, and if they're not willing, nay, eager to help, they're asking to be painted with the same brush. Am I turning into a Republican? Or just an occasional conservative?

The Mannheim Steamroller 25th anniversary Christmas album is very good.

Last night we went to the home of our friend from work, to his annual party. He's gay. On the way over, my daughter asked me why people are opposed to gays generally and gay marriage in specific. While we were there, she and I sat on a couch and talked some about it. She told me that some of her instructors in CG are either gay or bisexual, and she knows of at least three girls in CG who are, too. I told her that teens are sometimes not sure about their own sexuality, so they experiment. When we were done, she spent about twenty minutes talking with one of the adults there -- gay? not sure, but all alone, apparently -- holding her own the whole time. I passed by, and was impressed with the quality of her conversation.

Okay, that's it for now.


I don't know if this is REALLY a note to the Canadian government, but if so, my respect for Canadians, already elevated, just went up a couple of notches.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Call Me

A friend said she was getting iPhones for her two daughters, and was contemplating changing from a Blackberry to an iPhone for herself. I said that it sounded good, but I just didn't like the price -- about fifty dollars a month for the least expensive family plan versus about thirty dollars a month that we pay now for our three bare-bones phones. Course, we are saving forty dollars a month on the Verizon tv/cable switch, and we could apply it to that, but I sort of thought that the idea of 'saving' included 'and not spending it somewhere else'.

Guess I'm just cheap. Those new phones surely do look nice, though.

Governing, Or Not

An article by Ezra Klein in yesterday's Washington Post says that government cannot function if the minority party has both the ability and the inclination to block the desires of the majority party. The ability to filibuster grants the ability; the politics initiated in the Clinton - Gingrich era, and subscribed to by both parties since, grants the inclination. No one gets along by going along, as Sam Rayburn famously said; it's 'my way or the highway', most times. The minority party sees no reason to go along, or even to compromise, because the all of the options are a win for them. If they block something that the majority wants to do -- even things that are those that the minority would like done, but not by the other guys -- they win. If the blocking forces the majority to acquiesce, making changes to make the action palatable to them, they win. If they try and fail, they can still proclaim that they tried and were overridden by the demons from the other site -- remember that, next time you're voting. They win. There's no downside to them for blocking the other side. It forces the majority to aim for the magical 60 votes to block filibuster. That target grants power to fringe elements such as Lieberman - and they use it, to the dismay of many who are titularly on the same side. (How many Democrats, these days, would just love to stomp Lieberman flat? How many Republicans cherish him?) Which, in turn, causes moderates to think why are they catering to him, and I carry water for them all day long and get a tenth the notice and attention?

I'm touchy about this issue because, from my side of the ramparts, it's always the Republicans who benefit from use of the tactic. Their ability to generate solid blocs when voting mean that they can block with smaller percentages than can the famously divisive Democrats. It leads me to smile when the Democrats manage to force something through that sticks in the craw of dedicated Republicans, because I believe that when they win the Senate or the Presidency again, as they most certainly will, they'll do the same thing -- ramming through legislation that makes me apoplectic while trying to repeal the legislation that the Democrats passed. Yet I know that it's not just the Republicans who like this game. A body that is so very fond of itself and its' perks as the Senate will not quickly or easily give up a tradition that works half the time, even when 'works' is used in a dysfunctional sense. They know that the knife that is used against them when they are in the majority will be available to their hand when they are in the minority again -- and they don't want to toss that weapon aside. It's the legislative equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Except that it's our country's future getting destroyed.


Techno-porn. I like it.

Thing is, I thought some of that stuff was real. It's always sad when you realize that it's not.


This is the slack week -- Christmas is over, but the holidays aren't.

We spent three days at my mother-in-law's home. I do like my MIL, which is fortunate, as she has a pretty small home, and it's on the barren side when it comes to stuff. For example, she does have an LCD TV, but the Comcast remote that you use with it is abysmally bad -- if Tivo is the tool you use so that you don't have to settle for what's on, the Comcast remote is the tool you use to make yourself watch what's on -- no switching channels. Reason is, the remote is complex (about a hundred buttons, I think) and hard to use -- and not just to me, but to two fifteen year old technology-fluent girls, too. Every so often, you hit the wrong button, and things start/stop/say 'no signal'. Argh. Not many books or magazines, either. If a house is the place when you keep your stuff, then her house is the place where you practice Zen. Bring your books and MP3 players.

She's of the heritage that makes food from ingredients, which is fine (my mother thought it pretty much all came from boxes and cans), but she's also of the opinion that artichokes, beets, and similar things are edible, which I'm, um, not. So, when they have a meal, they'll have that, and a tray of lasagna or manicotti (man-ah-coat, as she pronounces it, and her daughters, too); I'll have a single, small serving of the manicotti, and that's it. It took her a while to realize that this would be a full meal for me, because for me, a real meal is spaghetti and sauce, or burgers, or something like that. On the other hand, she did make an excellent breakfast yesterday - french toast, coffee, and sausage -- so that was good.

We had set up her PC with a wireless router, last time we were there, so I was able to do some surfing from the laptop, and her other daughters had set her up with high speed internet, so it was actually usable. Since then, she's bought a new PC, and I unboxed and partially configured it, but we didn't have a transfer cable to move files. I imagine we'll be popping up for a day soon to do that.

Gifties: we tried to keep to a budget for gifts, and were pretty successful -- though we learned that when we say that we'll spend no more than $100 on gifts for each of us, that means that the adults each get about $100 in gifts, but the daughter gets $200. No complaints from us, or her, either.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


From the A Continuous Lean site --

There is a great photo set (by Edward Clark) in the LIFE archive of Marlon Brando preparing for his 1950 film debut The Men. The story was based on a group of returning WWII vets that had to cope with the mental and physical injuries of war. After coming off of his role in Broadway’s Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando spent a lot of time at a VA hospital preparing for movie.
Few members of the staff or patients knew who Brando was, so for a while he was able to blend in with the amputees, a cross section of America: blue-collar workers, farmers, enlisted men. He shared their physiotherapy, spending hours tumbling out of bed and into his wheelchair. He watched the paraplegics reach for their hand exercisers, and so did he. He learned to lift himself out of bed using only his arms. Eventually he was racing down the hall with the amputees in their wheelchairs.
By the end of the third week in the hospital, Brando had been completely accepted by the vets, some of whom played roles in The Men. He told them why he was there: He was going to act in a movie about them, and he just wanted to do it right. The vets began confiding in Brando. They told him that they were disappointments to their wives because they would never be able to make love again. Brando became especially close to one vet who had struggled for a year to learn how to light a cigarette, since he no longer had the use of his arms. (Later this man committed suicide.)
At night Brando accompanied the vets to the Pump Room, a popular bar in the San Fernando Valley where they all went to drink. Drink was their only solace. Like the vets, Brando was in a wheelchair, lined up with the others, ordering beer and talking and joking. Once a little old lady, slightly tipsy, staggered over to them and began ranting about the healing powers of Jesus and how if they kept on believing, they might really walk again.
Brando studied her for a long time, and then with a gigantic effort, he hoisted himself up. A few people gasped, and the room fell silent as he took a few halting steps unaided. Everyone else lounging at the bar assumed he was a paraplegic, and waiters stood by to catch him if he fell. The woman stared at him bug-eyed when he burst out laughing and began to perform a softshoe dance up and down the length of the barroom floor before crying out, “I can walk! I can walk!” to the wild applause of the vets as he disappeared into the night.

Friday, December 25, 2009


It's trite, I suppose, to simply Merry Christmas, so I'll say this:

I hope that your holiday season is warm and loving, and your family supports and nourishes you, now and throughout the new year.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


The person for whom I'm doing a software installation asked that it be done a different way than the vendor suggested. I said okay. Last night, I realized that doing this was possible, but it had a significant downside. I told her that.

This morning, she said that yes, she'd come to the same conclusion, and we should do it the way the vendor said. No mention of whose idea it was to do it that other way. And no thanks for realizing the problem before the project had gone far. Just a certain sense of yes, I'm on top of things.

I had noticed a tendency to do that. The need to appear in control, focused on the big picture, in touch with the powers that be, all seem important to this person. That's unfortunate, I think, because I suspect it tends to make people working for her reluctant to take risks, take stands. There's no sense of collegiality, of working together toward a common goal. There's Management, and then there's the people who take care of the minor details, like making it work. Then again, it got her promoted to an important position, so I suppose there's something to be said for it. This might simply be the traditional techie scorn for the desk-and-meeting-bound.

Maybe. It does make me wonder how people like her summarize me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I'm finally getting around to reading an article on Obama's decision-making style relative to Afghanistan. I liked it so much, that after reading just the first few paragraphs, I knew I'd be irritated if I lost it, so I downloaded the text and put it on my desktop. As the person who sent it to me said, it's fascinating. It's the sort of thing that you don't see often enough -- how a president goes about making a tough decision. I was watching West Wing yesterday while doing the bike, and one character, describing the method by which the State of the Union address is created, says "It's complicated." In a world where we normally -- and I definitely include myself in this -- like things to be simple, its good to see how complex problems are attacked and resolved. I'm willing to believe that this kind of thing happened in the Bush White House, too, though I don't recall reading about it at the time.

The article mentions Obama getting very angry at the leaks in the process. Again referring to WW, one character, charged with finding the source of a leak, says that it just happens. Junior people try to impress their date, politicians try to impress newspaper people. Washington is a company town, and the company is Politics. It reminded me of an episode at a company I used to work for, where the manager brought in people from a potential client. He wouldn't tell us who the company was -- to this day, decades later, I still recall that he insisted on a code name, which was 'New Shoes' -- and grew irate when people started guessing and trying to figure out the name of the company. It gave me a bit of insight into why people leak information. Certainly, part of it in Obama's case is political leverage, but I'll bet part of it is simply the desire to know, to be in the loop. It makes me wonder how much leaking could be avoided if you started out by telling everyone, and asking them not to spread the information. Of course, you could always start an organization charged with finding and stopping the leaks. That worked pretty well for Nixon, didn't it?


Finished 360 Degrees this morning at breakfast.

I'm really impressed by what these folks did. Can't say that I'd have the courage to do it -- perhaps you have to be born with the sense that that kind of thing is normal, or acquire it backpacking for a month in Europe or South East Asia. Perhaps we have so much here that it's hard for us to see the level that you need to be comfortable anywhere else is much less. Or how easily you might be able to adapt to that level. I like to say that my idea of roughing it is slow room service, but that's not all that far from the truth.

They started out thinking that other people view Americans as obsessive about personal safety; one of the last notes is the boy saying that a US teacher told him he could not go on the playground with the open-toed sandals he'd worn around the world because 'he might stub his toe'. I simultaneously think how absurd and Of course, if that was my daughter, I'd be mad if they let her stub her toe.

We might find out what it's like to have someone with that but its perfectly normal attitude, since the idea of the first year fund is to pay for a year of college, or doing something in its place. Though I know, I know, that when she tells us she's going to go backpack in Europe for three months, I'll freak right out. My daughter? Alone in Europe? There could be....there could be bears!

Monday, December 21, 2009


I'm not an HTML guy. I don't code web sites. But I do use them.

The web site for benefits for the company I used to work for -- not the blue one, the other one -- is pretty slick. It's got numbers like what my 401(k) is worth, and where I can go if I want them to make a projection of how much they'd pay me if I said start tomorrow. All of that is pretty good.

It's also got a page where it lists contact information for me. This is where it gets, um, sticky. Down at the bottom, it's got Preferred Contact Method, and it says EMAIL. True enough, but there's no email address listed. So, I think, maybe I should make sure they have the right one. I click on UPDATE INFORMATION, and I get a page where my home address is completely blank. But they do have an 'alternate address' which just happens to be my home address. Uh, okay. Maybe the idea is, they already know it, so if I'm saying UPDATE, maybe I wanted to give them a new one. Personally, I think that's dippy -- application? I'll tell you when I want you to make assumptions for me -- but it gets better. There's a place to say what my phone number is, and it's blank. Can't have that, I think, so I click to update it, and it asks if this is an alternate or a mobile number. It's neither, I think; what the hell is going on here? And where do I tell it to tell me what they think my email address is? Enough of this.

So I go to the Contact Us, and I fill out the form to ask the question, and I hit Submit, and it tells me that There is an EJB error, try later. Now I happen to know that EJB stands for Enterprise Java Beans, and I even know what it is, but, you know? I just want this stupid thing to work. So, I call them. And after fifteen minutes, the woman I'm talking to concludes that she has no idea why this isn't working, and she has to pass the question to the System Administrator, and it'll be about a week till they get back to me.

Ah, computers.


I occasionally will say that being retired is an excellent environment, and more people should do it. And I mean it.

But on days when I'm going to bake some bread, some cookies, and maybe a focaccia, I really mean it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Don't Fish

....but this makes me think it might be fun. To watch, anyway.




These are the Fast Company conumdrums I could answer:

and this is the one I couldn't. I do have a shaky guess, though.

Christmas Photo

I don't think this is obscene, but I have to admit, it makes me a little uneasy. So perhaps it is?

(You'll need to scroll down a bit on the page. You'll know when you get there. )

Psychological Evaluation

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

Found here.


Cell phones really, really, really should have a 'wake up and start beeping loudly' setting. Really.

Parents don't get the permutations and combinations that go into deciding whether its okay to invite someone to come with you to see the Nutcracker. For example: Zoe, Julia, Emily? Sure. Ben, long time friend? No way. Huh?

Doing late scheduling during a period when everyone is in a chorus, play, concert, or event is really difficult. I'm amazed that there isn't a web app for that. iPhone, probably yes.

Reading a book about traveling around the world reminds me that I likely could not stomach seeing how people routinely live in a lot of other places. And this is the santized version.


Jack's Life Lessons:

Don't Be A Jerk
Don't Take Anyone For Granted
Enjoy the Moment
Be Honest, Always
Be Humble
Be Kind
Respect People's Wishes
Allow Endings
Fail Openly
Have An Amazing Haircut

Found here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bowl Me Over

When I was last at the hospital, I saw a man using a walker, and his wife. The man had an interesting face -- the best I can say it that it had the shape of a peanut -- but what fascinated me was his hat, which was a genuine bowler. I'd never seen anyone wearing one outside of the movies. I told him that I really liked it, and he smiled broadly and took it off so that I could see the red silk lining and the name of a London hatmaker. "He likes yours, too", his wife said. "He used to have one like that, but he lost it." I said I'd offer to trade, but I thought he'd lose out on the deal.

I understand that men generally stopped wearing formal hats when Kennedy didn't wear one, and I regret that. Hats, formal hats, are good stuff.When I worked at EDS, for a while I wore a fedora when it was cold. Everyone teased me about it -- even my wife said I looked like Gorbachov -- and so I stopped wearing one. Thus ended my period as a fashionista.

Wish I had one of those bowlers, though, even I have no reason to wear one. Even if, with the address of that maker, I likely couldn't afford one.


Our friends have a daughter whom they've referred to as a 'drama queen'. We've known them for years -- we met when our daughters were in preschool together -- and I've always thought of the girl as very quiet and reserved. Almost unemotional. The idea of her getting red in the facing and screaming seemed totally incongruous. Her only quirk is, she really likes order. Nothing wrong with that.

This afternoon, she came by to ask a math question of my wife, and ended up staying to do the rest of her math homework, just in case she had questions. She worked on that for longer than my daughter works on all of her homework, and for the entire time she was silent and totally focused. She looked up when I came in, and I'm not entirely sure she saw me. I thought: I can see her just freaking right out, letting that iron control drop because something's not right, not as it should be. Yes, I can see it.

Incidentally, this is the girl who's got an A average, two years running. I am trying not to draw comparisons.

Friday, December 18, 2009


So now comes the question: do I trim the beard back to where it was last January, or leave it?

The Surge

The thing about the homeless kids, at least the older ones, is: they won't wait patiently for someone to do something nice for them. They will wait, but not patiently, and if they see someone getting a good deal, they're going to try to get a part of that good deal, right now. They don't care if the deal actually IS good; they're not going to do any analysis. If it looks good, they want some. Worry later about how good it actually was.

So, when about twenty or so at a time are in front of you, the organizers can say all they want about how they're going to line up by ages, oldest first -- the ones who aren't in front are going to be pushing and shoving to see what's going on up there, what kind of deals are being offered, all of that. They don't want kind words; they want stuff. Anyone else with that attitude, I'd say they were greedy. These kids, I just didn't get that feeling. Even the one kid who swore to me that he hadn't gotten a gift, when he was holding one right behind his back -- I didn't get the feeling he was being greedy. I thought he was just taking advantage of the situation. Get it now, while the getting is good.

I thought that the toys and gifts they had to give away were pretty plentiful, and pretty generous, but, you know? Don't let it be said that the first in line is getting something good, like a remote control car, if you aren't ready to give something equally good to everyone else -- and possibly more. Almost none of the kids wanted the footballs and basketballs they had - yeah, as a second, later gift, maybe, but primary? No way. And the bigger the box, the better. Every time that woman bent down to get another gift from the pile, for me to give to the child in front of me -- in the front of the hydra-headed horde --, I thought: this is just amazing. I'm looking at something truly delightful.

But not enough. And I don't really know what 'enough' is. Just that, somehow, just giving them things isn't enough. Even when I really liked what I saw, it wasn't enough.

I still don't like doing it. It's a lot more fun with calm, quiet kids who mostly just want to say hi to Santa. But, just a little, I found myself feeling for these kids, particularly the ones toward the end of the line. I didn't want them to get the short end of the stick, and I was afraid that they would. And probably did.

And I'll think about that little girl who just wanted a baby doll, and didn't get it.


I don't often think about The Rapture, and this makes me think that perhaps that's a good idea.

In the Halls of Congress


I heard about this a while back, and just came across it again. My reaction is to say and that really WORKED?

Apparently, yes. To the astonishment of many, I'm sure.

I am just tickled to death by this kind of creativity. Very cool.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dental Detrimental

So I go to the oral surgeon, ready for him to cause me great pain removing the implant cap that would not come off for the general dentist.

He reaches in with a pair of hemostats, and pops it right off.


Oh, he says casually, the other guy probably didn't know that this one doesn't unscrew, it just pops off. Just wiggle and lift.

I had to make an appointment here so you could do this in ten seconds, and then another with him so he could have another shot? When he called you about this, ten days ago, you couldn't just tell him then???

Dentists. They live on a different time scale.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The estate lawyer asked for a copy of my mother's bank statements for the month when she died. I got them. Just looking at them, noting her name and mine on the address, made me a little sad.

And Then There Was One

Santa at the neighbor's house went well. It always does, with cute, friendly, talkative kids.

We spent time at an estate lawyer's office, talking about estate planning for ourselves. I know, lawyers sometimes exist just to create work for themselves; even so, I'm finding it a little hard to think that we have enough money to need this.

Tomorrow, three hours with dentists. And Friday, two hours with 74 kids. At least, with the first, I get Novocaine.

The Law

I knew that the British government was going to great lengths to expand its practice of law enforcement, but I must admit that this surprised me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One More Down

Santa at the church is over. Fun. A little chaotic, but fun. Afterwards, I got some compliments from the person who arranged for me to come, which she passed on from the parents. One I particularly treasure: the best Santa since the real one. Shazam.

Of course, most of the kids were cute -- one duo, so much so that I informed them that I knew their name was Awesome. When one protested, I said "Well, you're awesome, and she's awesome, so you must be The Awesome Family", which the mother liked so much she was repeating it as they walked away. Four eight year old boys came up all at once, and I asked Are you all going to sit on my lap?, to which one said, Nope, we're just here for the chocolate candy. I told them I admired people who knew what they wanted. And one woman sat on my lap, and snuggled in, way close. She was cute, but I was suddenly glad for the fake beard, hair, and thick jacket. I mean, this was a church!

I had fun. I'd do it again.


I am very happily married, with no desire, intentions, or expectations of changing.

But if I did.......

Monday, December 14, 2009


My daughter was just in the kitchen as I was eating a piece of pizza. I wasn't hungry, but I needed comfort food. I asked her if she had reviewed science notes, or whether I ought not to ask about that, and she said that she had, adding that she had also done something with something about something else. Sorry, I said, I totally don't understand what you just said. My elan vital is at a low ebb, and right now it's just barely ticking over. What that, she asked.

It's not that anything's wrong, per se; just an accumulation of things. Any day that includes standing in the mud at a cemetery, you have to figure is going to be a bit of a downer. Didn't help that we agreed to meet at the cemetery at 1PM, and at 12:10, just after I'd ordered a crepe at a mall restaurant (whatever happened to the Magic Pan chain? I really liked them. TCBY, too, come to think of it ), they called and said Hey, we're at the cemetery, where are you?

The lawyer's being an idiot. 'Nuff said.

One family said that they don't want me to come to their house as Santa because, upon reflection, they think the kid might be freaked out by the idea. Okay, fine, she's about five, it's clearly their call. But I was looking forward to that.

I've still got that damn dentist nonsense on Thursday, and I'm worried about that. Still apprehensive about the Homeless Santa thing on Friday, too.

How drained am I? We got one life insurance payout of two thousand dollars yesterday, and we're expecting a two thousand dollar 'bonus' from my wife's company (not so much a bonus as handing back money they'd decided to withhold), and it didn't cheer me up at all. I'm still kind of just limping along, reacting to most things with a huh?

There was a book, couple of years ago, titled If Love Was Oil, I'd Be About A Quart Low. Right now, that's the ol' elan vital.

Heavy Metal

This isn't Iron Man, and it isn't a robot. What it is, is an oddly elegant mannequin made entirely of metal.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I know that for a working person, this doesn't count as a full week. But for me, it does.

Monday: Go to Valley Forge. Shop briefly in mall. Go to cemetary for my cousin's interment.

Tuesday: Go to local church and be Santa for a day care group I've never met.

Wednesday: Meet with hospital staff on this software project.
Wednesday: Go to two neighbors homes as Santa for their children

Thursday: Go to two dentists in the morning, hoping to hell a) it doesn't hurt and b) the damn implant wasn't damaged by the general dentist having at it.
ThursdayGo to local school for mento.

Friday: Be Santa at homeless kids party being held at a very noisy roller rink.


Saturday, December 12, 2009


This morning -

my daughter finished her homework, including writing a poem which she said she could not do (I got her to tell me what it was supposed to contain, and while she watched, I took each piece, wrote a line manifesting one of those pieces, stitched them together, including a sappy last line; she was amazed)

my wife did a bunch of laundry and cleaning

I finished off our Christmas cards (well, all but sealing them); helped the daughteroid; emptied and refilled the dishwasher; and did small stuff.

Busy morning.

At The Breakfast Table

I am in a position that I generally like -- I have more to read than I really have time for. In no special order, I have: my daughter's biology notes, materials relative to a product that a local hospital is installing, an issue of Technology Review with an article on EMRs (a little too oh this is going to be so freakin' marvelous, but still, good reading), the William-Sonoma catalog, a PD James novel (The Private Patient), my mento's science and algebra texts, a library book by a fellow who spent a year traveling around the world with his wife and two young children, and four books that are on the top shelf of the book case, waiting to be read, plus one that's too big to fit there, so it's down below. I like having a lot to read.

Granted, when I sit down to do something, and reading is an ancillary activity, I actually read things I've already read many times before, like the Aubrey -Maturin novels, or one of the Amanda Garrett navel combat novels (their motto: Technology Will Save Us -- I think the author is secretly Donald Rumsfeld), but when I sit down to actually read something, it's nice to have all that stuff. Right now, at the table, I have three of them. Oh, and I just found an old Dick Francis novel under the WS catalog.

Today we are in theory going to get the Christmas tree -- we went to do it last night and discovered that the place we go was closed, at 8:14 PM. Two weeks before Christmas? Amazing. But it turned out okay, because the daughteroid asked to drive around and look at the lighting displays presented on some of the expensive houses near here -- they have to be professionally done -- and while we were driving around, she talked freely about her life, school, and things she was thinking about or had opinions on. All of which, we cherished. So the plan is that if she finishes her homework this morning, we will do that, and bring her immediately over to the school for an eight hour practice session-- color guard takes too much time? Why would you think that? While she is there, my wife and I are going to go to a local used bookstore and poke around, then to a store that's set itself up as a 'Dickens Teahouse', at least till Christmas. And maybe do one or two other things.

And who knows, maybe I'll get some reading done.

Friday, December 11, 2009


My daughter discovered that ranting about how an organization is run, on Facebook, is not a good idea if the organization in question is a 'friend' of yours, such that the director of the organization can see the post.


If you're in a melancholy mood, songs like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" don't help.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Morning Jolt

My wife made coffee this morning, which was nice of her. She prefers decaf, and I don't mind. The white envelope she handed me with the coffee had the jolt.

My credit union has been around for 35 years. You may recall that thirty five years ago the vast majority of banking actions were either done face to face, or via the mail. The credit union has upgraded over time, so that now you can do banking from home, communicating with them via email as needed. They even have email alerts -- they call them e-lerts; how precious -- for events that you want to know about, such as loan payments that are due or accounts that drop below a given value.

What they don't alert on is an automated transfer from one account to another in the case of an overdraft. For them, they print out a piece of paper, put it into an envelope, give the envelope to a Pony Express rider...okay, maybe not that last part. But the first two parts, you bet.

I keep a tight eye on money, and I don't float checks. Period. So if I get an overdraft, the overwhelming likelihood is that a transfer of funds to cover a large check didn't happen. Of course, my assumption is that I said transfer, they said okay, and it didn't happen. It's possible that I simply didn't do the transfer. Whatever, to me it's an abnormal event, one that I'd want to know about right away. Not just because it happened, but because they transfer just exactly enough to cover the checks that are due. Another one comes in the next day, they do it all again. Get out the paper form, find an envelope....

But an email to say hey, this happened, figured you'd want to know immediately? Nope. Not an option. I figure its because to them, its no big deal -- I presented a check, they paid it, what's the problem? And it's not as if they charge a fee -- they don't (which is a good thing, I realize). But still.....

Is it me that doesn't get it, or them?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Winter hasn't officially started, so I suppose it would be premature to say that this is the winter of our discontent, but some how the 'late autumn of our discontent' doesn't sound quite right.

My daughter's convinced that she's not going to get a B in one class (at least one class), because she freezes on tests there. I've offered to help, but it's French, and as she likes to point out, I don't speak french.

My cousin is going to be buried next week. They can't prove that he was ever in the military; though we know he went to Marine boot camp, we don't know if he actually completed it. The Veteran's Administration says they can't tell if he was in the military unless we come up with discharge papers -- which would, of course, make the point moot. They still can't get into his apartment. And the hospitals cite privacy regulations as to why they can't tell us anything about how he died - despite us being his only surviving relatives.

Our lawyer is having difficulty getting with another one.

And my general dentist could not get one of the implant caps off, so I get to go back to the oral surgeon who put them on in the first place. I am hoping he didn't do damage to it in his efforts. God knows it physically hurt when he tried!

On the other hand, all of the cards are stamped and addressed, we had a dandy new recipe the other night -- chicken with peaches -- and I made a new cookie recipe -- butter pecan cookies with butterscotch chips -- that turned out well. And my daughter's offered to let me help her with Biology (though what that implies about her interim grade there, I don't want to contemplate.) And, I not only have a date scheduled to go to the house I did last year, and meet with the kids there, but I'll be going to a second house, too. Which tickles me all to death.

So, happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


One week from yesterday, the school district creates interim grades. My daughter knows that if she gets anything less than a B on a core subject, she can't do karate this season. She's known that for a while. And it's just the low hurdle. She has anything below a B at midterm report card time, she's out of color guard for the year.

She has told some friends that she will be switching to a different karate studio, one where she has one friend already. She's apprehensive that she might not get to do it, and possibly have to explain why not to her friends. I see it as a microcosm of her future. Better to face the pain now and learn to fix it than face it when you're trying to get a college to accept you, and you're out of options.

I do hope she makes it, though. I don't like pressuring her, and I don't like taking things away that she loves. We do what we can to encourage her, to help her, and she has improved. Enough?

We'll find out in a week.

Taliban for Governor?

I read something that really surprised me, in today's Washington Post. The article said that just as Karzai's government is the legitimate one, there is a 'shadow' government run by the Taliban. While its primary goal is the removal of Karzai's, one of the characteristics of the guy running it is that he will immediately dismiss anyone in his organization who has even a whiff of corruption.


Lost Home

I know, it's just a sketch. moves me.


My wife: I want to live long enough to see our daughter's children. But I don't want to see them while she's a teenager.
Me: Good point.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Not Me

but what an image....

"His family watched in morbid silence while seven perplexed fiancees
wept by his graveside."

- One Sentence Story 3404


Apparently, I have acquired some unsought-for fame.

This afternoon, talking with the mento at his school locker, I happened to mention color guard. The girl standing at the next locker exclaimed that she was in color guard. I asked her if she knew my daughter, and she said that she did, and would be talking to her tonight at their practice. On the way home from that practice, my daughter said that the girl had come over and told her that she thought her father (me) was 'very cool'. My daughter told her I had been in the Air Force, and the girl was visibly impressed.

"Just what I need", I said, dryly. "An eighth-grade girl as a fan. Get me arrested for sure."

Sunday, December 06, 2009


This week, my family found a missing relative. They're not happy about it.

My cousin's wife told us that a brother of her husband has died, apparently of a brain tumor. When his adored wife abruptly died, several years ago, he dropped out of sight, moving to a new city and state. Somehow, they found his address, and would send him Christmas cards and notes, but he never responded. This was the first they'd heard of him in years.

The path of discovery was circuitous, to put it mildly. When he died, the hospital had no information about a next of kin. They spoke with people at the supermarket where he'd been employed, and it turned out that his only documented next of kin was his wife. A person there said that he'd mentioned once having a brother who worked for the same chain in New York. The hospital worker called the chain offices in New York, which put her in touch with the union handling their employees; the union went down their list of everyone with that fairly common last name until they came across my cousin. And that was it.

They're trying now to figure out what to do. It doesn't help that the family is four hours from where he lived. We're two hours away, so we offered to help as needed. To complicate matters, the property manager for the apartment where he lived is being most unhelpful, and won't let them into his apartment to empty it -- said they had to have a 'power of attorney' to do that. The family contacted a lawyer there, who said that was crazy, a POA wasn't needed, and the manager was an idiot. The family's afraid he is simply going to throw out or sell all of my cousin's stuff, and while there's not likely to be anything that anyone will want of a material nature, there could well be things of an emotional nature, such as photographs and mementos.

What a mess. This is the same branch of the family which lost a sister a year ago, my mother (their aunt) two months ago, and damn near a niece last week. They're beginning to feel a little battered.

Snowy Sunday

My wife thinks this is going to be a snowy winter. For one thing, we've had an awful lot of rain. For another, we saw a caterpillar with a thick honkin' coat. And, of course, it snowed yesterday. My daughter was delighted. As for me? Well, I do like looking out over the farmer's fields, seeing them all covered in snow, and it's kind of nice to see the Christmas lights peeking through the snow on the bushes, but, there's this, too: remembering last year, when we were leaving for church, I backed down the driveway verrryyy slowly. And walked carefully, too. I'd really like to get to April or so without breaking anything.

An article in today's Washington Post says that in the latest of the Disney princess movies, there's a twist. It's not that the princess is black -- it's that the marriage that she enters into is not the happiest day of her life, the day she's been waiting for, all of that. It's very nice, wonderful. But then she enters into an actual life with this new husband, building it together, making it work. And for Disney, that's pretty amazing.

As were the walnuts we put into the waffles, this morning, along with the white chocolate chips. Yum!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

That Video

I really like that Star Trek video I posted a little bit ago. I must have watched it twenty times already. It's like that boom-de-ada video. It just gets me.

I Say Declarative, You Say 3X - 2

Never discuss mathematics with someone who really likes it if you, yourself, only mildly tolerate it.

I was reading an eighth grade algebra text in order to refresh (for which read: possibly learn for the very first time) the concepts of linear functions. I'll be discussing those with my mento on Monday, so it would be helpful to know them. Or at least have a passing familiarity. I came across a statement which said that you only need two points in order to draw a straight line. Fine, I accept that. Then, about ten sentences later, I came across one that said 'use three ordered pairs and draw a straight line'. It immediately followed that with the parenthetical observation that you really only needed two; the third was a check to see that your line was created correctly -- if all three points were on the same line, you're golden.

Badly written, I told my wife. If they want me to use three, say so up front. Well, they don't, she replied. You only need two. The third is because you might have made a mistake; if all three are on the same straight line, you know you didn't. Then say that up front, I said. Say 'use three pairs -- two to establish the line, and at least one more to verify the line.' But math only needs two, she told me, and that's what they said. I shook my head. No, they didn't. They made a declarative statement that two points are needed; then they made a declarative statement that three points are needed -- and immediately modified that to say well, not really..... but it's a good idea. That modification should be made the first time the definition is given -- and if it wouldn't make sense at that time, then at least make a note to the effect that this isn't precisely right, but it's good enough for now -- we'll tighten the definition later. But they didn't do that. How's a kid supposed to know which declarative statement to believe?

Math aficionados and word aficionados should not discuss math. I guess it works the other way, too, but heck, everyone likes words, right?


Just made these. Quite good. Easy to make, too. Found in Recipezaar.

Caramelized Walnuts
* 1 cup walnut halves
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 1 tablespoon water
* 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
* 1/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 325° F .
Place walnuts on a baking sheet and toast 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.
Combine honey, water and oil in a skillet and bring to boil.
Reduce heat to medium and stir in walnuts.
Cook, stirring frequently until all liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute.
Transfer nuts to a bowl.
Combine sugar and salt and toss with nuts.
Spread nuts on a cookie sheet to cool and dry.
Store in an airtight container.

If you like sweet and hot, you can add some hot chili powder to the mix for a different but yummy taste!


One Santa down, two to go.

It wasn't bad. Less kids than the last time I did it, probably a result of there being less employees than the last time. Lots of cute kids. If a girl had bows or decorations in her hair, I asked if she thought I'd look good with one. Most of the kids were believers, a few were wildly enthusiastic, and a couple totally didn't want to be there. I did not call anyone by the wrong gender reference, though I came close with one kid. Fortunately, 'ma'am' sounds a lot like 'man'.

Nobody wanted a rock or some cheese as their Christmas gift, even though I asked, multiple times. One girl, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, said, quite seriously "I'm going to have to give this some more thought." I congratulated one boy for how well he'd written his crayoned list; I told him I would put it in a special place, and thereupon put it into my hat. He said "Like Abraham Lincoln!" I congratulated him for that, to0. One girl wanted 'everything'. One girl was very solemn, as if she wasn't used to being teased.

I learned that Moxie Girls are popular, as are PS3s and XBoxes. Wii's, too.

The people running it were as dysfunctional as ever. The pictures of me and the kids were pretty good, but they took one of me by myself, though, when I didn't know they were doing it. It looks like Sad Santa. Or Bad Santa. Or something. Definitely not someone I'd trust my child to. The one I show here came from one of the parents. That's my real beard, incidentally. Dyed white, but real. And stiff as all hell - that temporary hair dye has hair spray in it!

Overall, not bad.

Friday, December 04, 2009


We saw a lawyer today regarding my mother's will and estate.

We left with the clear assumption that a) lawyers don't cough without it showing up as a fee somewhere, and b) having my mother fill out a will did us no favors, and will end up costing us money.



I just got asked to do Santa for a day care center that is about a mile from here. The guy that they'd been having for years has stopped, and they were apprehensive about just hiring someone from the newspaper -- this is, after all, a day care, so they want to be confident that they've got someone who won't turn up on a Most Wanted episode. I told them I'd be glad to do it -- and as a bonus, they knew of a cub scout troop that used the same guy, and might need someone, too. Apparently, there's a Santa Underground here....

This gives me some ideas about things I could do to liven up the Santa experience, but, as I don't want to get arrested, I don't think I will.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Today, I Bake, And Other Stuff

And bake, and bake. The plan is to make four kinds that I've never made before. I don't know what they'll be. I picked up a copy of the Joy of Cooking's Cookie book while at the libe yesterday. I certainly don't intend to buy any more info on Christmas cookies -- I have two magazines full of them that I've had, and been slowly going through, for the last two years, and, of course, there's always the web -- but as it was sitting right there, I picked it up. I'm hoping that I can mix them up and bake while I am reading about algebra, functions, and linear equations (studying for my session with the ment0). Doesn't that sound like fun?

Also today, I will be doing the bike (thank you, Tivo, for making it possible and easy), and I'm going to try to take a drive out to where the Homeless Santa deal will be in about two weeks, just so on the appointed day I'm not the famed Wandering Santa. Mommy, why is Santa using those bad words? Obviously, if I don't make it today, I still have plenty of time. I also have to go to the hardware store to return one of the timers I bought yesterday -- damn thing does not have a grounding plug socket, which makes it tough to use with an extension cord. Speaking of electrical stuff, I need to change a light bulb in the kitchen. (Will it ever be possible to have the illumination source at ground level and a fiber-optic feed up to the actual fixture? That'd be nice. ) And I promised to change the sheets on our bed. Actually, I had promised to do that yesterday, but events intervened; most notably, going to the dentist.

About which: when a dentist is working on your jaw, unscrewing seven of the eight 'healing caps' on the implants, and he cannot get the eighth one off -- to the point that I told him if he works on it again, I want Novocaine in that area -- and then he says 'okay, we're going to have a custom tray made for you to take the impression', it doesn't sound like good news. (Why can't they do this digitally? I don't think it'd be easy but this plastic-tray-full-of-gunk seems pretty old school to me. ) Then again, there have been enough bumps in that road that I expected something would pop up. I did give them the check yesterday. I tried not to look at the amount as I gave it to them. I was apprehensive that they'd make a little joke when they got it -- oh, look, we got our Christmas shopping bonus! -- but they didn't. I wonder if others have the same dammit I really don't want to be giving you this much money attitude.

So, anyway, that's the plan. We'll see how it actually works out.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


I don't know if this is an actual design, or a mockup; either way, I like it.

Detailed info here.


I think that the availability of images of things that are marvelously done can at times corrupt our understanding of what is possible and prudent. Take, for example, the railing around our deck.

Several years ago, we had our standard-issue deck taken down. Much of the air space formerly occupied by the deck became our kitchen breakfast nook. A vestigial deck was built around the outside. When we spoke with the builder, we said that we wanted a fairly ornate railing -- the style is one that I think of as 'Colonial Williamsburg'; I can't easily find an image, and I'm too lazy to go and scan the photograph of one that I took, last time we were there; suffice it to say that it's a simple, elegant pattern -- and we wanted a gate that would slide, rather than a swinging gate. He said that both things were possible. As we got closer to the actual date of completion, though, it became less and less likely, and what we ended up with was a nice-enough railing that wasn't anything like the photograph, and a split swinging gate. It was okay. We just wanted to be done, and now we were.

From time to time, though, I think about that deck, and how I'd like to redo it. I'd leave the actual decking as it is, but replace the railing with a white Colonial Williamsburg fence, with polished wood handrails and broad steps leading down to the garden. Enclose the bottom, too. Maybe some outdoor furniture (since the decking would, after all, leak when it rained or snowed.

I blame Fine Homebuilding.

Before He Was Famous

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


While we were at my cousin's house for Thanksgiving, I discovered Cake Boss. I think I've found my guilty secret in the world of television.

CB is a reality program based on a high-end bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. I watch it because baking interests me, and I like picking up concepts and phrases like 'dirty icing' or 'fondant'. I learn about things I never even knew existed, like 'modeling chocolate'. The people who run the place are classic dees, dem, dose folks, many of whom are family, cousins, nephews, but the ringleader -- the Cake Boss -- is Buddy Vallastro, a stocky, hustling baker who's never met an over the top cake he won't try. He says that the bakery pumps out hundreds of cakes a week, and from the looks of the show, at least four or five mega-cakes, too. You want a cake that looks like a three-dimensional Venus Flytrap? They'll make it. A sheet cake to feed 500 people, with a sculpted cartoon biplane atop? No problem. A cake for a bachelorette party that includes anatomically correct male strippers made of chocolate? Can do. It's pretty interesting, and frequently funny.

When the show gets detailed - how did they do that icing? - I'm grateful for the Tivo 'instant-replay' option. And when it gets stupid, I'm grateful for the fast-forward, too.