Thursday, March 31, 2011

XM

I never quite understood XM radio. I mean, I knew what it sold, but I thought so what?

Now I've heard it (there's a three month freebie with the car). And suddenly I think that the limited radio offerings around here just got some serious competition. Not the NPR stations. But the others? Oh, yeah.

Some are even in French!

Observations

When we bought the Venza (which is now, I supposed, a used car), we did not get the Smart Key, which allows you to unlock the vehicle merely by touching the door handle, or the Push Button Start, so that you do not have to put the key in the ignition. Instead, we have to unlock and start conventionally.

My daughter said this is a good thing, because it means that when she drives it, we will have to Give Her The Key. She likes that symbolic transfer of power.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting Jollies

Found this on the Kickstarter site. Intriguing. I would almost donate just to see how well it actually worked.

Venza

I know that you're supposed to like the car you just bought. No one's going to say Oh, man, I hate this car.

But this car -- man, it's really nice. The salesman said I didn't seem very excited, and my wife said it was because I'm usually pretty laid back. Which is true. But on the way home, I'm thinking this is really nice. Nice ride. Nice controls. Nice auto-this and power-that. Nice.

Not glad about how we got here now versus the planned mid-next-year. But the result? Oh, yeah, I like it.

Aldebaran Robotics



Found here.

Events

Some unusual stuff today.

For one, I listened to a report by an NPR reporter in Tripoli where she described some supporters of Kahdaffi as "doddering leftists and a stand up comedian", then went on to refer to the plush hotel where the reporters are being housed as 'a sort of detention center', and I thought okay, we get it, you don't like him. Well, I don't either, but that kind of grossly nuanced reporting is what I'd expect from Fox.

For another, we pick up the new vehicle tonight. New cars are a funny thing. You swear you're going to keep it clean, you're not going to drive it where it might get a ding on it, you're going to do all this stuff -- knowing that at some point you're going to realize that it's gotten dirty, there's candly wappers in the back seat, and someone dented the rear fender -- and you'll shrug and say oh, well. When does that transition happen, I wonder?

For still a third, I looked at Facebook where it says Friends on Chat, and thought On CAT? Been doing too much French, I think. And yet, and yet -- I'm doing the Immersion thing again in three weeks. Argh. I must be insane.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Carza

That Venza is looking pretty good to us. About everything we want, nothing we don't want, and the price is decent once you factor in the money we're getting for the van. Doesn't hurt that we can do a three year lease without paying any interest, and then either walk away or buy it outright for the remaining cost. Handles just like the van, only slightly (like, one row of seating) smaller. The smaller engine has good acceleration, gets 25-30 MPH.

Only downside we can see is that they say it's a 5 passenger vehicle, and its more like 2 adults, 3 kids. But 4 adults would be comfortable. And it does look like the one we'll likely get won't have the premium sound system, which is mildly disappointing, but not a bit deal. So....

Tomorrow we say yea or nay.

Attitudes

I had two indications of changed attitudes today.

For one, I was driving on a narrow road behind a guy who was straying over the center line. What an idiot, I thought, keeping well back. As I pulled up behind him at the stop sign, I noted that his van had Hillary 08 and Obama/Biden 08 stickers. Well, I thought, he's not so bad.

For the other, I was talking with my daughter, and she mentioned that she was thinking about asking for birth control meds, as they would reduce the intensity of her monthly cycle. I thought When she was younger, I'd have said No Way to that, no matter what the reason -- but now that she's seventeen, I think Well, maybe its a good idea... no matter what the reason.

Making Sense

It's possible that we will not be going to France this year. More likely that we will, but possibly we won't.

Two things factor into this. One is money (isn't it always?) and one is language.

We have a certain amount of money that we think of as 'The Magic Number' -- the value that we'd like not to drop below. (Translate that into French.) Right now, we're comfortably above that. If we go to France or replace our totaled van, we'll still be comfortably above it. If we do both, we'll still be above it, but not comfortably so. We'll be in the zone where a drop in the stock market could bring us below the MN, and that makes us uneasy. Note that this is mostly an emotional response. A forecast using my simple spreadsheet shows us being able to drop well below that, and still be okay. We just don't want to make that more likely to occur, and doing both of these in the same year could have that effect.

The other is, simply, that I would like to be able to have casual conversations when we go to France, and I'm not there yet. I doubt I will be there by the time our planned vacation comes around. Oddly, if we were not staying with that family, this would be less of an issue, as we'd be less likely to be casually talking with people. Doing the basics -- making reservations, ordering dinner, asking for directions -- I can almost do now, and I'm sure I'll be able to do it by the planned date. Asking how often Americans come to their town, where a good place is to buy peanut butter, or if they like taking picnics -- well, that, I'm not sure about. I'm not even sure about it for next year, for that matter.

I don't tend to be a risk-taker, as a rule. I live conservatively. (Live Conservatively, Vote Liberally. Maybe I should have that as a bumper sticker.) Not always, though. For example, I don't tend to like visiting someone -- even my own family -- for an extended period, yet I'm talking about visiting someone I don't even know? Speaking a language I don't even speak? . Yikes.

But money? Different story, I think.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Religion

I'm not much of a religious person. My mother was, but I didn't seem to inherit that characteristic. Or if I did, it's recessive.

Two weeks ago, we learned that the fellow who's been the pastor of our church for decades was ill. They'd found indications of cancer in his lung, and it had already spread to his spinal column. But, they said, he was responding well to chemotherapy and to radiation treatments, so there was reason to hope. This week, they said that he was no longer responding, and that his immune system was now compromised. I don't know a lot of medicine, but I know that's not good. He told the fellow who is the other priest in our parish that he thought it might be time to just 'give in to God's will'.

He's a decent guy, and he's dedicated his life to helping others, in a number of venues. We were musing, a few weeks ago, that he's just a year or so from the mandatory retirement age for priests, wondering what he'd do with himself after a lifetime of such continual activity. Well...

I know that my mother would have said that this is, indeed, God's will, and in my younger days she might have added that if someone dies young, or abruptly, it was just because God wanted them to 'come home early'. As for me, I see it as an indication that either there isn't a God, or, if there is, that he's/she's/it's not all that much interested in our ideas of fairness.

I tend toward the first possibility.

Glug, Glug

Yesterday, I took a French immersion course. It was... interesting. This was the first formal French course that I had ever taken, and I didn't know what to expect. Would it be a review of grammar? A free-form conversational environment? Would I come out of the course feeling more comfortable in my ability to speak French?

Initially, waiting for the class to start, I was stunned to hear the casual conversations in French that were going on in the waiting area. I thought I'm in big trouble -- I probably won't last two hours, if that, before they're way beyond me. That turned out not to be the case. The people in my Basic class were at roughly the same level as I -- one or two clearly knew more, but that didn't translate into better proficiency, while one or two were more graceful in their use of the language, but didn't know concepts that I did know. As for me, I felt that I was in the right class in terms of my level. I had to struggle to keep up, on occasion, while at other times I felt at ease -- I either knew the concept being taught already (at least, generally), or the instructor explained it clearly enough that I was able to use it.

I didn't come out of the course speaking more clearly, which is what I'd hoped to achieve, but I did come out of it with a certain amount of improvement, as well as a better grasp of some of the basic concepts. For a one day class, I think that's quite a lot.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Apprehension

I'm going to Philadelphia today for the 6 1/2 hour French immersion class. Starts at 10, want to be there at around 9. Takes about two hours to get to my destination. Planned to get up around 6, leave around 7.

So why, exactly, did I wake up at 420? Couldn't be a certain amount of nervousness, could it?

Nah...... though I did tell my wife that if I call her around 2 and say I'll be home early, not to ask how it went.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mento

My mento doesn't turn in assignments. Even ones done in class, he managed not to turn it. Teacher gave me a list, and we're working through it.

So, do you think that the policy of the school is that mentors get this kind of info routinely?

Hah. I had to mislead the teacher (a little) to get it.

Auto Searching

Well, we may be getting a new car, after all. Not sure yet. But the Blue Book value is 3500, the initial estimate of repair cost is 4500.... so unless they estimate much higher than Blue Book, or we're willing to spend more than a thousand or so to get it back and get it running, we're looking at a new vehicle. Odd factoid: the guy who checked out the vehicle said our insurance company's 'total loss' department is really busy. Apparently, there are a lot more 'total loss' judgements these days. Not sure what to infer from that.

Or from this: we looked at the Auto Circle web site, which is a service USAA offers. It's an auto brokerage, essentially. Lets you sort by side, price, mileage, options. And though I know that numbers aren't everything - you've got to sit in the darn thing - we were amazed by what we saw for price, mileage, cargo, and outfitting on the Kia Sorento. Kia Sorento? Is that even a real car?

Apparently so. A surprise to me, too. And when I grumbled don't these guys recommend anything made in the US? , my wife said Well, some foreign names actually are made here. Maybe this one is. So I looked.

West Point, Georgia.

===============
We took a quick look. Not bad. For a minivan driver, it seems kind of high, though. Their spec sheet says no, so I suppose we'll take a try at it. But I'm also looking at the Toyota Venza... which also calls itself a crossover, but seems more like a station wagon/minivan crossover than a minivan/SUV one.

Completely Healed

Good god, this is amazing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This is Why Canadians Are Cool


Awesome Flashmob Reward For Picking Up Bottle - Watch more Funny Videos

Debt


Found here.

Planning

Well, we have a plan. Sort of.

If the insurance guys say the van can be repaired, then that's that.
If they want to total it, we'll find out if we can take a reduced payment and get the van back from them.
If we can, we'll find out what it would cost to repair it.
If the price is acceptable, we'll take the reduced payment, have it repaired, keep it for a year or so, and then replace it.
If we can't, or it isn't, then we'll go shopping for a replacement now.

I like having a plan.

Stick It

None of my neighbors have a manual transmission car.

The driving instructor at the high school doesn't know of anyone who has one.

The car rental companies might, but how thrilled would they be to rent to someone who 'wants to use it to learn how to drive a stick'.

What am I going to find myself riding in France -- a moped?

Carz

Well, this is easy.

The USAA claim form includes a 'set up my car rental'. They have an arrangement with Enterprise Car Rental. USAA takes the info on what you want, and send it to the local branch of Enterprise. I filled out the form about an hour ago, and Enterprise just called me to set up the rental.

Wow.

Excitement, Cont'd

Our excitement last night leads now to the morning of now what? I'm up early because I had a little trouble sleeping -- kept dreaming about car crashes -- and now I'm thinking about what comes next.

We expect that the van will be totaled. Blue Book is about $3500, and I'd be really surprised if it could be repaired for less than $2000, which is 57% percent of BB. I know that auto companies vary at the point where they total a vehicle, but this seems more likely than not. So the question then becomes Do we get a new or used replacement? We've been 'planning' to replace the van for the last five years. Financially, we're able to do it. But there's two gotchas.

First is that we're planning to go to France this year. I haven't given much thought to what the total cost of that is, but my guess is, about half the value of a new van, perhaps a little less. We could just blow off going to France till next year, but I'd rather not. So that means that we have two major expenses in one year. Ouch.

Second is that whatever we get, we're going to keep it for a while. The plan was that when we replaced the van, it'd be with something slightly smaller, preferably a hybrid, and definitely new, so that we could keep it for several years. I assume that a used vehicle has a shorter shelf life; plus, of course, we'd end up getting the new one later. On the other hand, Toyota has just announced that they are delaying the launch of the Prius minivan. Something about water in the factory. So we might not have been able to get that van when we wanted, and, therefore, maybe some kind of 'bridge vehicle' would be worth considering.

We need to do a little thinking...

Also need to thinking about how painful we will make this for our daughter. She's a good kid, and we don't want to enforce artificial pain. Also, her resources for paying us back in some way - money, time - are severely limited. Frankly, I don't think that we need to 'teach her a lesson'. I think last night did that. But we want her to clearly understand the effect of her momentary inattention (she had glanced down inside the car to check if she had, of all things, her driver's license), so we'll include her in all discussions about what do we do, what will it cost, all of that. That might be pain enough!
================
Update: I talked with my daughter this morning. She asked me why I gave her back her phone (I had borrowed it last night to call for the tow truck; left the house too quickly to care about finding mine). I said that I was done with it. Don't parents punish their kids when things like this happen? (Last night, she told my wife that she wished we would just punish her and get it over with. ) I shrugged. You had an accident, kiddo. It happens. We'll talk about what we're going to do, and we'll involve you, but as for you, personally, we still think you're a good driver. You just made a mistake. She seemed a little surprised. To be honest, I was a little surprised. What a magnanimous guy! AKA, what a softie! But then again, maybe not so much. I'm just being the kind of parent that I would have wanted if this had happened to me. Years ago, we thought about whether we would ever spank her. Our conclusion was that once you've spanked the kid, you really can't go any further - so why not stop short of that, saving it for truly dire circumstances. And it worked. (Perhaps with another kid, it wouldn't.) In the back of my mind, there is still the thought of I hope she doesn't feel as if this isn't any big deal, just because she isn't getting punished. I guess I'm trusting in her judgement.

Besides, she has major-league tests in school today. I don't want her lingering over this.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Excitement

Nothing quite gets the heart pumping as getting a call from your daughter, who's just left for a school event, where she is virtually incoherent and keeps saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

She's okay. The van... well, it's gonna need some work. I think we're going to be a one-car family for a while.

Weeblestick

I've used a cane, and though I don't routinely need it now, I still take it when I go to color guard competions, to help me get up and down bleachers. I feel a little odd but hey, it works. Course, you do have to be careful not to put it down someplace where it can roll away.

The weeblestick -- okay, okay, the Balance Stick -- doesn't have that problem. An elegant solution.

Gummint

I learned today that the GOP in Congress have created bills to a) put In God We Trust on every federal building, and b) use the IRS to audit whether you had an abortion, and if so, who paid for it.

Words fail me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Understanding the World

The Supreme Court decided on Monday not to stop the release of Federal Reserve Board documents that identify financial companies that received Fed loans to survive the financial crisis.The high court, without comment, refused to hear an appeal from an association of bankers trying to keep the information from becoming public.The Fox News Network, which is owned by the News Corporation, and Bloomberg L.P., the parent company of Bloomberg News, had sued separately for details about Fed loans that commercial banks and Wall Street firms received and the collateral they put up. Other news agencies, including The Associated Press, filed briefs with the appellate court in their support.


This is another example of why I just don't think I'll ever really 'get it'. To me, making this information public makes perfect sense. Where's the reasonability in keeping hidden who got our money? Worst outcome of publicity I've heard is 'well, then, people might leave a bank if they thought it weak enough that it needed propping up'. To which I say: So?

I guess I'm not yet ready to be an adult.

Unload This

I was really enjoying reading this article about the ergonomics involved with unloading grocery bags until I hit this:

"Another problem is solved by the "harvest table" being adjustable in height. Kitchens are typically composed of surfaces at about hip height, which are not necessarily ideal for looking down into the bottom of a grocery bag. Placing bags on the floor allow us to see what is in there, but is both ergonomically unsound and disrespectful to the food."

Uh-huh.

The Last Lecture

Shipment

So that's where they come from....


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mousey

I'm waiting for my wife and daughter to get home. Going to be at least another two hours. To kill the time, I made a chocolate mousse that I found on Flour Child's site.

Now the challenge will be not eating it. At least, until they're in the door.

A Sign

I just learned something that should have occurred to me a long time ago.

French road signs are in French. And not all of the symbols on those signs are ones that we have here.

Hoo, boy.

Zazie Dans Le Metro

I admit, I didn't watch the whole thing. And it is a little strange. But I liked it.

Sunday, Billday

Today it's just me again. Daughter and wife gone, won't be back until way-early Monday morning. The cat really didn't like being locked out of the bedroom, so I said what the hell, and let her in. Though waking in the middle of the night to find her sleeping on my chest was a little strange.

Cooked a simple breakfast - sausage, coffee, waffles -- turns out that the pancake batter makes a decent waffle. I should have let it cook longer -- I like crisp waffles -- but the sausage was ready fast, so I grabbed the waffles as soon as I could. I really don't know why sometimes the sausage cooks fast, and sometimes not. Doesn't seem related to anything that I can think of. Breakfast does cook faster when it's just for one, I've noticed -- though the bother of setting up the table, then clearing it all away, seems a bit more onerous. This is why guys eat over the sink, I think. I never did that, but I can see the logic.

Did a little bit of reading with breakfast. Of course, it's something to do with France, but it's not studying, per se -- rather, it's French By Heart, a book about a woman's experiences living in France when her American husband is transferred to Michelin headquarters in Clermont, France. Some of the things that the French do make so much sense to me -such as how they handle health care - while others.... such as the practice of their bank of locking their doors during the day - you press a buzzer to get them to unlock them -- well, it makes sense, but it's not particularly friendly. I am, as might be suspected, obsessing about French lately -- yes, even more than normal. Last night, I was reading a novel before going to sleep, and thought I really ought to be studying French. So I picked up the Easy French Reader and read about four pages. It really is getting easier. I still have to fight for almost every paragraph, but not necessarily every sentence. What I just read was a brief history of France in WW2. Sad to say, with the histories thus far of France and wars, the word envahit is becoming pretty familiar to me.

Five days to the all-day French immersion class. I am simultaneously eager and terrified.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Minnie

What the heck happened to Minnesota?

I haven't been to Minnesota much -- changed planes at the MSP airport, went out to a job for a customer in Eagan -- but my impression has been that it's a nice place with decent people. Such impression encouraged by the memory of Hubert Humphrey (odd to think that he ran for President once, and came fairly close), and Garrison Keillor. But now? Now they're just weird. They have Michelle Bachman -- they actually elected her to the House of Representatives, and more than once, too. And they've got state legislators who seriously want to pass a law making it illegal for people on public assistance to have more than $20 on them at any time (that's the second cut; first time, it was any cash on them).

What is with these people? Have they lost their minds? Or is it a general malaise that's sweeping the Midwest, from Wisconsin and Minnesota and Michigan?

And if so, then, like a zombie attack: who's next?

Slow Day

I'm all alone. Well, except for the cat.

Yesterday, my wife and daughter went on a school trip to Rhode Island to attend a color guard match. They'll be gone until way-early on Monday morning, when they will call me to come get them from the school parking lot. (The other day, we let our daughter drive to practice by herself, which she's done before -- licensed driver, you know -- and then home again at 1015 at night, which was a first for her. We were nervous, but it worked out. After an eight hour bus ride, though, we didn't think either of them would be up to driving, even just the ten minutes to our house. I mean, they could, but why?)

So I'm alone. Stayed up late last night, watching television, which I almost never do -- watch at all, let alone stay up to do it. Found that we had taped enough that Tivo was complaining of being stuffed. Several interesting shows -- The Good Wife, which is a little glitzy but surprisingly good (the woman who plays the lead does a very nice job). We also had some episodes of Warehouse 13, which is funny but ultimately unsatisfying - I understand that it went off the air, which is okay with me. Though I did like the two female leads, especially the geekster. And we had a bunch of Doctor Who episodes recorded, three of which I watched and about half of which I trashed. Not too much other stuff. Tivo says it has a 'recommendation engine', but considering what it pops up with -- even given that it's heavily influenced by my daughter's tendency to tape weird stuff -- RuPaul's Drag Race, anyone? -- I don't think much of it. It should work better than that. Then again, from what I read, Netflix and Amazon have the same problem.

This morning I blearily woke up at 615 to hear my daughter's alarm going off -- thanks, kiddo -- and then went back to sleep. Got up later to make pancakes, sausage, coffee. The pancakes were 'from scratch'. I had found a recipe on a web site which say these were just phenomenally good. They were okay. I guess, when you think of it, what can you really do with pancakes? I do wonder about these people who wax ecstatic about recipes. I mean, it's just food.

Though I suppose I should be careful about that attitude when we're in France. They take food more seriously there. At least, I think they do. Maybe not. I really wish I could make a guess about how that's going to go. Its pretty confusing, from several perspectives. For one, we're of several minds about where to go -- my wife would like to see Paris, is mildly interested in seeing Burgundy, and really doesn't want to spend more than a couple of days at the kid's house; my daughter and I don't care if we see Paris, would really like to see Burgundy, and want to stay at the kids house. Except that I kind of want to stay there by myself as a sort of adventure -- Can Bill handle speaking French and French customs for several days? So there's that. What about just getting around -- is driving on the autoroutes pretty much like here, or are they more aggressive? If we take the TGV, will it be apparent how to do what we want to do, or will we end up in, say, Nova Scotia? Plus, we're not sure how much to expect in the way of 'French customs'. Do they really just eat a very light breakfast? Do they really have the habit of long, languorous meals with much wine? Do they really like to argue? Not in a combative way but a sort of intellectual jousting? I mean, these are what people say about them, and I guess they're a more homogeneous people than we are, but is it one of those things when, when people say 'the French', they really mean 'Paris'? Or is it no, that's pretty much all of them? I've asked some of these questions of the kid's mother, but she only responds to one email every other Saint Swithin's day. Still more than her daughter does, and that does frost me more than it should.

Today I do more French study -- despite one of my recurring bouts of Why the hell am I doing this? -- and maybe a little baking. I found this marvelous recipe....

Red Nose

Apparently, this is not "real", but more in the lines of being a joke, which is most....unfortunate.



Friday, March 18, 2011

Transplant

Seeing so many blogs of transplanted Americans living in France, I wonder: surely there are blogs about transplanted French living in the United States?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eternal Mysteries

Where the things go that we put in a safe place.

Like, that spare cell phone charger. It's not urgent -- we have one here, plus we have chargers just for the Bluetooth headsets, and each of the cars has a plug-in charger, too (I called it a 'cigarette lighter charger' the other day, and my daughter asked me why it was called that) -- so we don't really need it, but, you know, I'd really like to know where the heck it is.


So when I find it, we're putting it into a
safe place.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On the Mindless Menace of Violence

The eloquence alone would be reason to read this. There is much more. Found here.

This speech was given the day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination. Delivered at the City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio, April 5, 1968.

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Rerun

Got my mento's grades today. One is quite good. Two are marginally okay. Two are abysmal.

Went to talk to two of the teachers. One said she was worried about him. The other said He's just lazy. He could do the work but he doesn't want to. As it happens, I agree with the second one, partially ....but I like the first better.

I always expect teachers to have the answers to things like this. Or at least an approach. And if not them, then certainly the Guidance Counselors. You know, Guidance? Professional insight?

Nope.

When have I sung this song before?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kung-Fu

This is, of course, completely without redeeming social value. Found here.

Learning, cont'd

Yesterday, after three days of intermittant effort (getting more intermittant as time went on), I finally finished listening to one of the French in Action videos. Vast sections flowed by my ears without comprehension, and for much of the rest, it was like Woody Allen's joke about speed-reading -- the first book he speed-read was War and Peace ("It's about Russia").

So after it, I treated myself to a half hour of Rosetta Stone, where everyone speaks clearly and carefully, and the text is usually displayed for you to read while you speak. It was like a spring day after a hard winter.

Okay, winter returns this morning, but the memory of flickering through those RS screens with barely anything to slow me down will remain.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dun Diddllye Dun

Taxes are done.

Federal is done.

State is done.

Local is done.

Done, Done, Done. Hot Damn.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What's Our Interest?

Henry Kissinger and I don't, as a rule, hang out together. Never were the days when we'd sit by the fire, sipping mulled cider and contemplate the vagaries of political discourse. Though I'm sure that he's written an autobiography -- and possibly two or three -- I've yet to search for it.

But he did say something once that I really liked, and that, as I read articles about the current state of Libya, I think about. (It's possible that this is one of those quotes that actually was said by Henry Ford, talking about automatic transmissions, but I'm going with Henry on this one.) As I read articles that say that the Arab League has supported the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya, and that this therefore increases the pressure on Western countries to get involved - how, I really don't know - I think What has this got to do with us? Where's the benefit to us if we get involved? What's the cost? After all -- countries don't have friends. They have interests. What's ours?

Do I give a rat's patoot if Gadhaffi survives or not? Nope. Do I think that a replacement regime is likely to be friendlier to us? Not particularly. Do I think that ARAMCO might be able to seize some oil for us? No, and even if they did, I don't think the price of oil needs to be pushed down. I don't like paying a bunch for it, but I think that this kind of boost has been coming for a while, and we need to be getting used to the idea of getting off oil, so why not now? (Which was never the logic about health care for any prior President - that it needed to be done, so why not now? - and is why this one is in so much political trouble, I think. Blew too much capital for little immediate benefit to him. But anyway....)

We need to act according to what's going to benefit us the most or damages us the least. Ideology should have almost nothing to do with it. Do we have friends? Yes, we really do, and we need to help them. But last I looked, Libya hadn't become a Facebook friend of ours, and we ought not to act as if it is. An interest, nothing more.

So what's ours?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Note

This is one of those days when I think that I am really, really stupid for trying to learn French, or for wanting to go to France. Reasons? Each of those conclusions has a unique one. Same ones as they always are.

On the other hand, I did recognize one new phrase in the video (Elle est mari, ta soeur?) , and learned one, today, so I guess that's something. Pas trop mal...

Programming

I don't even do this kind of job any more, but this, from The Daily WTF, made me bristle. I think because it highlights what happens when managers have no freaking clue what programmers do.

Observation

This afternoon, I was a passenger in our van when my daughter drove herself and three girls over to a color guard event.

If teen guys - and sometimes adult guys - knew what teen girls said about them -- how they manipulate them, how they evaluate them, what on, and how they draw their conclusions (I like him because he sounds so...black; Oh, when he yells at me, I give him a pouty face and then he backs off; Yeah, she just told him that to lead him on - he really had no clue) there'd be a lot more male acceptance of bisexuality, I think. And these girls weren't even being particularly harsh. They were just giving matter-of-fact opinions. Makes me wonder what they say about me when I'm not around.

I know, teen guys do this too. I just never was part of a group when I was a teen, so I didn't know about it. And, you know? Suddenly, I think that I was lucky to be so socially awkward back then. Kept me out of the turbulence.

Friday, March 11, 2011

One Sentence

These are all from the One Sentence true stories site, which is frequently amusing and occasionally heart-stopping.

His strict, Catholic, pure-minded mother caught us having sex on the pool table.
This past Valentine's Day, I woke up in one man's bed and made it home just in time to accept a flower delivery from another.
When I was 11, my Mom and Dad made me give away the dog I had since I was 4 because we were getting a new couch.
It was only on the drive home that I realized that the woman I was trying to woo held the handshake just a little too long.
Out of all the things I've done in life, teaching my once abused shelter cat how to play might be what I'm the most proud of.


(Have to admit, I don't get the point of the handshake one, but the image is compelling anyway.)

Doin' Stuff

Driving home, started wondering how you say 'to do' in French. I was putting together a sentence in my head, you see, and I needed to say those words. Finally, I thought 'something like fait, but not quite -- faire? Something like that? ' Which, as it turns out, it was. So I was pleased.

There's a line in The Fugitive where the marshall says about the man he's hunting that he's "eatin' oranges and makin' IDs". Tonight, I was eating chocolate and making croissants. Specifically, Spicy Maya - dark chocolate with pasilla chile, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon; quite good. Don't know how the croissants will be, but they're off to a good start -- I bought some fresh active dry yeast, and once it hit the warm water, it started to give off that yeasty aroma bakers like. So that's goodness.

Deere, John

This post is on a website that I like quite a lot and don't read nearly enough. It's by a guy who's an ER doc, isn't full of himself, writes very well, and has a great sense of humor.

Which is good when you wear a certain hat....

Solutions?


Found here.

La Francais

I just finished reading French Toast, the book by the woman who's American, married to a Frenchman. The good news is, there's a lot to like about the way the French do things like education and health care. The bad news is, their attitudes toward casual friendliness and what's acceptable when eating with people other than your family is just about one hundred eighty degrees from how I tend to approach those things. Which means I could be in for some seriously unpleasant surprises in France -- even if the French are too well cultured to show dismay/surprise/astonishment. Though, who knows -- these are people from a small town, and we are family. Kind of.

Still going, though.

Friday Ayem

Whenever I think about what's going on in Wisconsin, where they're about to strip the public unions of collective bargaining power, I get depressed. The whole thing is a mess. I think that the Democratic senators were wrong to leave the state, and that the legislature is wrong to remove the collective power. I would bet there will be serious repercussions from doing that. Messy ones, too. Then I find myself wondering if its somehow because the public unions there got too greedy (which I've read in some accounts, but I don't know if to believe them), or if there even is a fiscal crisis there (I've read not, but, to be honest, I think it likely there is -- lord knows there is, everywhere else).

My father was in the Teamsters when I was younger. I remember reading the union magazine that he would get. It always had a picture of a smiling Jimmy Hoffa in the inside cover, with a title something like "From the General Secretary". I remember thinking that he didn't look like a secretary; he looked like a dictator. Or a thug. It made me wonder just how much good that union did for the members, and how much for Hoffa, personally. Still, even with that, I think that unions are a good thing. They serve as a counterweight to the massive power of wealthy conservatives. They provide balance.

Guess I'd better get back to French.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Highlighter

Highlighters are suddenly cool.

BB

You can't save a lousy blog with a picture of a cute kid. You can, however, enhance a good blog that way.

BurghBaby knows this.

Robotics

This is an interesting article about a group that worked on a robot which can attempt to get your attention -- and then determine if it succeeded or not. The research was based on having the robot recognize what your baseline state was -- looking away, doing something -- versus what the state was after it tried getting your attention. Nifty.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Kidnapper? Moi?

One of the preparations that we think we need to make for our trip to France is to be sure that my wife doesn't get arrested as a kidnapper.

Several countries require that you be able to prove that if you have your child, but not your spouse, with you, you're not kidnapping the child. Depending on who you ask (French consulate, Air France, Dulles International), you don't need any proof/need a notarized letter signed by both parents/need a Parental Authorization form.

So there's at least a chance that I'll go to France first, as planned.... and my wife and daughter won't get there at all.

Oh!

Studying French hasn't been a complete waste of time. I now know that not only do the French actually say Oooh La La (which we learned when the french guest was here), but they also say Oh La La and Ah La La.

No word on Eh La La.

Service

I still believe in the concept of customer service -- probably more in the abstract than the reality, but I do.

So I liked this article by the Cheezburger guy a lot.

Green!

I've seen this video before of greenscreen technology, but it still amazes me.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Unhappy

Well, my daughter's unhappy with me.

She's going to an out-of-state competition for color guard. Her group performs on Friday night. She hasn't yet taken the ACT; a college she is thinking about suggests taking it twice in her junior year. It's only given two times this spring; one in June, and one on the Saturday after she competes, at multiple places, including a school near the competition site. To us, the solution is obvious.

Not to her. Her thoughts run more to late night performance, even later bed after laughing and hanging with friends, getting up sluggishly the next day, lazing about. Tests? Schoolrooms? Pfah.

She knows that if she balks, I'm perfectly willing to say Fine, you're not going to the competition.

Licentious

It occurred to us that it might be useful to get an international drivers licence for use in France. They say you don't need one, but we thought of some rural cop peering at a licence from Pennsylvania with a certain amount of quoi? So we went ahead. I didn't really know what to expect. Something that looked like a driver's licence, is what I thought. Picture, address, maybe a big US Seal, encased in plastic. Who knows, retina scan imprint?

I should have been clued by the idea that the local branch of the AAA, an organization that acts like a low grade government bureaucracy, can issue them. I don't know what other offices of AAA are like, but this one always smells like the back of an old closet, and the staff-- even the young ones - move very slowly. The young woman to whom I gave the form said You printed from the web site? Um, no, lady, I made it in Senior Art. Pretty good, huh? Ah, but the licence. What majestic piece of This IS America do they issue?

Do you know the word 'dismal'? Okay, now think a little less.

They look like the licences that I imagine East Germany gave in the 1950s -- grey paper, multiple fields, many of which are blank, information hand-printed by the clerk, and a smeary AAA logo to indicate the type of licence. Oh, and on the cover, it says that it was issued in, um, Florida.

And, hey - the kind I thought they might issue? Apparently, you can buy them. Non, honnĂȘtement, monsieur le policier ....

I shall treasure it forever.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Study In Pink

A collection of quotes from A Study in Pink. Excellent.

Live The Language

They say this and other videos by this company will make you want to pack your bags. They're right.



Initially found here.

Tax Cuts vs Social Programs

An interesting chart, found here.

Bonjour

Literally.

I found out that the problem with my blood (high potassium level) was due to a protein supplement I was taking.

I studied both French in Action and Rosetta Stone (FIA because it's harder and closer to realistic speech patterns; RS as a break from those realistic speech patterns). Both were easy, for a change.

And this evening, we had chicken with this marvelous sauce, which I found at The Noshery.

Orange Chicken

serves 6

Chicken

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-1/2” cubes
  • 1 ½ cups corn starch
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • Oil (for frying)

Orange Sauce

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest, grated
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ginger root, minced
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water

Combine corn starch, salt, and pepper. Prepare a bowl with beaten eggs, panko bread crumbs and another with corn starch. Dip chicken in egg mixture, dredge in cornstarch, then again in the eggs and finally in the panko bread crumbs, set aside. Heat pan with vegetable oil to 375 degrees, fry chicken in batches until completely cooked.

In a large saucepan combine 1 ½ cups water, orange juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Blend well over medium heat for a few minutes. Stir in brown sugar, orange zest, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.

Combine 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water and mix thoroughly. Slowly stir cornstarch mixture into sauce until it thickens. Pour sauce over breaded chicken, and if desired garnish with green onions.


So it's been a good day.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Garmin Wanderin'

We thought it'd be a neat idea to bring the GPS to France. Bought the BeNeLux France software upgrade package.

Come to find out, it can't find the small French town I'm going to. Not displayed on the map, or, when I do a city search, in the results. Does turn up cities in Guatemala and Hungary, though.

Say whut?

Slogans

I like to scorn bite-sized bumper-sticker-friendly political concepts. I agree that if your political philosophy can fit onto a bumper sticker, perhaps you ought to try thinking a little more. But some are choice.

These, for example.

Vacations

I'm tired. I was up pretty late last night. We went out to dinner, which was nice but a little spicy. Had asparagus for the first time in my life. Ate one, count it, one, mushroom. On the return, dozed off for a while, then had to get up at 3 to pick up my daughter, who was returning from a color guard trip. Slept for a couple of hours, then got up with the family, had breakfast,then crashed again. How tired am I? This tired: I don't even feel like making the effort to study French. Tomorrow, sure. Right now, no. Right now, I need some quiet. Unfortunately, its raining like hell outside. Very windy, too.

I just came across a web page talking about a luxury resort. Crystal clear water, elegant surroundings. I've never quite understood those. They're very nice, and when I've had the opportunity to stay at a Ritz or Four Seasons, I've enjoyed it. But the idea of spending a very large amount of money so that I could stay someplace elegant for a short period, create a fantasy of wealth, and then return to 'normal life' -- I'd rather do something to enhance the normal life. Taste the elegance periodically, sure. Spend a weekend at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, or the Ritz in Boston. Very nice. But a week, two weeks? Ah...not for me.

Unless you're paying, of course!

Funding


Found here.

Le Jour

Today's the day. It's rainy, a little windy.

For the first time, my daughter is going to drive someplace. By herself.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Beep!

Our phone message says our phone number and 'Please leave a message'.

Obviously, we're lacking in creativity.

Superman

Not a big Superman fan, or even comics in general.

But this one's not at all bad.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Say Whut?

Seems perfectly clear to moi....


Startlement

I was a little startled to overhear my daughter say casually to a friend that it would be interesting to come back to high school reunions in ten years to see who was straight, who was gay, who was transgendered, and who was a transvestite. Or some combination thereof.

I'm pretty relaxed about most of that, but clearly she's far beyond me. Good for her.

Medicine

After my most recent visit to the doctors', I was informed that one of the electrolyte values was 'a little high', and they wanted me to come back in a week to do it again. So, of course, I immediately looked up what the values normally are (which knowledge was useless without knowing what mine was, and what 'a little high' meant -- within the normal range, but higher than it had been in the past, or higher than the high end of normal?) as well as what could cause it.

I learned that one of the drugs I take could cause such a condition, as could a malfunctioning kidney, a problem with the adrenal glands (which could, in turn, suggest Addison's disease), being a diabetic without taking enough insulin, and damage to cells as a result of injury or tumors. So I could have a kidney problem, a glandular problem, or a tumor. Surgery, more meds, dialysis -- all are possible. I do so enjoy knowing all of this. Feeds quite nicely into my occasional bouts of medical fears.

Is it probably nothing? Yeah, probably. If it isn't, is it better to know now than later? Yeah. Still.... it scares me. Being old, feeble, dependent on an ever-increasing array of doctors -- that scares me a great deal. And I don't like anything that suggests it might be just a hair closer.

Means WHAT?

I just found out what 'Bouvier', Jacquelline Kennedy's maiden name, which I always thought so classy, means, in French.

[giggle]

Model Envy

I'm not much for model trains. I've seen people with gihugic setups, and they're nice, but they don't move me.

This site, though....

Perhaps I could clear out the garage.

Road Sage


Found here.

Tweetline

An add on for Firefox that gives a streaming ticket of comments from people you follow in Twitter. Now this, I like.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

SCOTUS

The Supreme Court says it's okay for the so-called Westboro Baptist Church to spew vile comments at the funeral of a soldier.

They disgust me.

Westboro, too.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Parking ticket? Yay!

I'm guessing, though, that this isn't quite real.

Conversation

Just had a brief conversation with my daughter about educational standards, the result of an article in the school newspaper written by a friend of hers. Funny how certain attitudes make more sense to a kid when they're espoused by a friend. It was a good conversation.