Monday, July 31, 2006

If I Had Something To Say

Boy would I say it well! It would knock your socks off, I’m telling you!

But I don’t have anything. I’m sitting here and, just like Friday, I’m pretty much blank.

I can’t talk about work. So, that’s out.

Stuff in the news? Just makes me want to preach or freak out, and you wouldn’t want to read either of those.

Any personal news lately?

Well, just one thing. I went to the Dr. last week and my cholesterol is at 166, which is the best it has been in YEARS, so that’s some positive news. And considering the amount of heart disease in my family, I’m probably a genetic time bomb waiting to go off, but I’d rather not dwell on that.

But the cholesterol thing is pretty good news I guess. I took Crestor, one of those cholesterol lowering thingies, for a year and my cholesterol went from 250-something to about 220-something, but the real action started when, at the beginning of this year, I started eating low carb.

I’ve been pretty much a good boy on this diet all this year. And as soon as I started having cholesterol tests done a couple of months after starting the low carb eating, my cholesterol had dropped dramatically. So Crestor, in a year, dropped it, say, 30 points or so, but the addition of low carb eating has brought it down 55-60 more points.

I never remember which is which, but even my good vs. bad cholesterol ratio was really good as well. In other, words, the Dr. was very, very pleased.

I have lost about 40-45 pounds or so this year too. I wish it were more, but at least the trend is downward.

The five notches I’ve ‘gone up’ on my belt tells me the best though. You know how it is. You can step on the scale and be disappointed, but how your clothes fit, and change their fit, tells you the best story.

So, all in all my health is a bit better, and I’ll take any gains I can get.

Plus, my back Dr. is trying me on a new cox-3 inhibitor (whatever the heck that means) called Mobic. It is for arthritis but has shown to give people less trouble in their guts than other asprin family medicines. And I am one of the unfortunate ones who, if I take asprin or ibuprofen or something like that a couple of times a day, it just rips up my intestines. To be totally blunt, ladies, I know how your cramps feel, ok?

This Mobic has seemed to really help. This will sound weird, but it has brought my back pain level back down to where it used to be. It never goes away, but it has really helped a lot. The only problem is that this is one of those medicines like celebrex and stuff that has everyone freaking out about. Some say this type of drug can cause heart attacks.

So what’s a guy to do? I guess for now, I’ll take the low cholesterol AND the Mobic and hope the gains in lowering my back pain are worth the risk.

And that’s just the beginning of my medicine story. I just make sure all of my doctors know EVERTHING I take, and I always ask them if any of the stuff I take will conflict with other stuff. So far the answer is no, from three different doctors and I guess I just have to trust them on that.

Let’s just say I’m a walking drug store, and I'll leave it at that.

And that's all you're gettin', at 5:30 on a Monday morning anyway. It ain’t much, but it's something.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Picture Post, Sunday, July 30, 2006

Since I bought the new camera last month, I have strangely been neglecting most of my scanning of old slides. I spent part of Saturday scanning a few. Mostly from a trip to Mobile, Alabama, and a trip to east Tennessee to Lovely Wife's paternal Grandmother's for Thanksgiving 1983.

These next few were from the Tennessee trip with Lovely Wife's family. Lovely Wife (actually Fiance at that time) and I left the family gathering a few times on excursions so that I could see a little of the area and take some pictures.

This first one was a pre-sunrise view of Rockwood, Tennessee, where Lovely Wife's grandmother lives.

This one was taken near a waterfall, completely out in the middle of nowhere just off a two lane road in the east Tennessee mountains. It was a beautiful area with an amazing waterfall. Coming from Louisiana, and at the time I had only been out of the state a few times, stuff like this was AMAZING for me to see. I just loved it all. Well, down by the pool at the foot of the waterfall, I looked up and saw this tree and it's dramatic crook it had made to allow itself to keep growing despite the rock overhang.

This one I took out of my car window, after just stopping in the road, again, in the middle of nowheresville Tennessee. But it was a lovely, colorful sunset and for a while afterward as well.

This was off the highway (27 I think) just north of Rockwood. I remember thinking that this would be a great house to live in just for the location, and also surprised at how green the grass still was in late November. Too bad the trees had long passed their color peak.

This was taken on that same trip to Tennessee, though you can't tell that since it's just a tree top and sky. One of those that I took for the heck of it and really ended up liking it. It still seems cool to me to see the moon in broad daylight.

This last one was taken at the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay in Mobile, Alabama. It was a WWII era battleship.

Lovely Wife will hate this. For years I used Cokin Filters on my camera to try to create dramatic colors and such. The one that I used the most, and also had almost all dismal failures when using it was this red filter. Lovely Wife hates them all, but this shot into the sun, of the radar and antennas on the Alabama I have always liked. Now that I'm going through my slides, I can see why she hated this filter. Honestly 19 out of 20 shots I took with this red filter stink, but I do like this one.

Well, Blogger is giving me fits and won't let me upload any more photos, even using all my tricks doesn't work, so that'll have to be it.

Have a blessed Sunday, folks!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Me, Myself, and I

Man! I REALLY don’t feel like typing a blog post.

But, you know, you have been doing pretty good there Dude. I mean seriously. You’ve at least put something up there every stinkin’ day, seven days a week for months now!

He’s right you know.

What do you mean?

Well, at least you’re honest. Most people who don’t have anything to say just don’t post anything, but here you are, trying to type up a blog post. You’re complaining, but your butt is in the chair and your fingers are just a-goin’.

But I’m blank! (smacking head with heel of hand) Nothin’ goin’ on up there! Comprende?

Calm down there Big Guy. You’ll get through it. Don’t give up the ship. Never say die. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.


Sorry. Got carried away with the old sayings. Scratch that last one.

Yeah. Lot of help you are. All you have in his hour of need is lame old sayings, only two of which are even applicable. Gyah!

Hey, I’m tryin’, ok? He needs our help and encouragement, not the two of us arguing!

You’re right. (four pouty lips, in unison) We’re sorry!

No problem. At least you guys are trying to cheer me up, even if I have had a TOTAL brain fart here.

Israel? Floyd Landis doping allegations? Bush?

Yeah, Bush, do that! EVERYBODY hates Bush!

Nah. I like Bush. I support Israel. I still believe in Floyd Landis. End of story. See? I covered all three topics in, what, twelve words?

You, Big Guy, are the master of the understatement. We’re just trying to help here. Just a side note, there Dude, but I bet you would make a GREAT headline writer. Maybe not write the stories themselves, but the reporters would bring their stories to you and you could create the headline titles for them. You know, like that old guy in that Shipping News movie?

Yeah, take a chill pill, we’re just trying to help ya here.

I’m sorry. I already explained the other day how I over simplify things, and when I’m in this kind of mood, well, it gets even worse. Three major topics covered in twelve words. At that rate, which is, what, four words per topic, on average, I would need to talk about 62.5 different subjects just to write a lousy 250 word blog post. No offense, but "ain’t no way" I’m gonna sit here and think up 62.5 subjects, and then write the requisite 4 words per…

Ok! Ok! Cheeze Whiz there Big Guy! I surrender. It’s not like it’s the end of the world if you don’t have a blog post one day. Who’ll notice?

Hate to say it Big Guy, but I agree with him. Just lay off for one day. Then do your usual Sunday Picture Post and then you won’t have to write again until Monday! Yeah, that’s the ticket! That’s almost like a weekend off, isn’t it now?

I guess you guys are right. I do appreciate your tryin’ to cheer me up and tryin’ to help me come up with stuff and stuff.

Sure we’re right! Plus, we’re tired. Let’s go to bed.

I hate to agree with him again, but he’s right. Let’s just go to bed, take the weekend off, and start fresh on Monday. Whadda ya say?

You guys go ahead. I’ll sit up and try for a little while longer. I’m determined to come up with a blog post.

Even if I have to ‘phone it in.’

Friday, July 28, 2006

Photoshop Elements 4 Rocks!

Wanna See Something Spiffy?

Warning: Boring post on using a newly learned technique in Photoshop Elements 4.

Last week I posted some photos of a family from our church, the Taylors, and their amazing, death-defying children. And a couple of their death-defying friends, too.

I ended up taking several hundred photos that day. And quite a few of them didn't turn out so well.

Operator error. I want to admit that right here, right up front. I just have never used this new Nikon dSLR for any type of quick moving, sporting event where I just held the shutter release down and let 'er rip.

That's why I was so jazzed to be off last Friday; to be able to go take photos of the Taylor Boys flyin' through the air.

The results, from a photography point of view, was a mixed bag. The photos I posted last week were pretty much good to go, directly from the camera. But many dozens of photos were underexposed (dark).

WAY underexposed.

Enter Photoshop Elements 4. A software program that I got for Christmas last year to allow the manipulation of digital images; but I am still learning just what all can be done with it.

Most folks have heard of Photoshop, the 'real' Photoshop is now at version CS2, but Photoshop CS2 costs about $300-$400.

Photoshop Elements 4, a really good program in itself, is around $70.

See why I got Elements instead of CS2? Plus, I had never really done any photo fixing and manipulation before. I didn't want to learn to swim by being thrown into the mid-Atlantic, a small swimming pool would suffice. And a nice swimming instructor too.

Now with Elements, the book that came with it just covered the basics, and I do mean basics. So I did some internet searching for a good Elements oriented book that could take me deeper, to really be able to repair photos with serious 'issues'.

See, I have been trying to scan some of my own, and my Father-In-Law's slides, and unless the exposure was perfect, or if the photo is so old that it has color shifted or faded, it needs a little help after scanning.

Enter Photoshop Elements and the book I ended up buying: The Photoshop Elements 4 Book For Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby. This book is absolutely fantabulous!

But with my new Nikon, and last week's mixed results, I still had literally a couple of hundred way underexposed images I was determined to fix.

Consequently, every night this week I have been working on correcting some of these images, with mostly good results. The only problem is that bringing back underexposed images to a state that is useable, introduces a fair amount of digital noise. At least it did with the way I figured out how to do it.

But Wednesday night, I discovered a technique in the Scott Kelby book that knocked my socks off.

I won't bore you here with detailed steps on how it's done, but I'll instead give you just two, before and after images and you tell me if it's not the coolest thing.

Mind you now, had these two dark images been slides I just recieved from a lab, I would just throw them away. Useless.

Here they are:

This next one was particularly bad.

Cool, Huh? From unuseable to pretty decent in about 30 seconds work (truly) per photo. And the clearer ones are a bit grainy or noisy, but they would make decent 4x6 prints even if they shouldn't be made larger than that.

Yeah, I know. You hardened 'real' Photoshop users are yawning, but I'm LOVING this.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing

I read a lot of news. I watch some news on TV. I listen to the radio. In short, I keep up, pretty much, on what's happening in the U.S. and in the World at large.

I would love to write about a lot of this stuff here, but in the end, when I try, I condense complicated topics into four paragraphs that would result in cries that I oversimplified complex topics.

The consequence of all of this is that I don't write much about what is going on in the U.S. and the World.

I really would like to, but I don't have anything original to say.


California Having Energy Crisis And Rolling Blackouts. My Sympathy Level? 1 out of 10. The knuckleheads out there have let the inmates run the asylum too long. Consequence? They haven't built new power plants or refineries or allowed oil drilling in known oil rich areas for decades. They brought it all on themselves. And the only thing they have left to do is to just suck it up! That one out of ten is for the poor folks who try to build new refineries, power plants, and drill for oil but are drowned out by the tree huggers.

Israel Pounds The Snot Out Of Lebanon (And Anyone Else Who Kidnaps Their Soldiers). My Sympathy Level? 1 out of 10. When Napoleon was near the end of his life and in exile, a reporter asked him what the most amazing thing he had ever seen was. Napoleon immediately answered, "The Jews!" See, even a few hundred years ago they were known to have been repeatedly attacked with the only aim being to exterminate all Jews from the face of the earth. Modern Israel has few friends, and none in the mid-East. I don't blame them one bit for hitting their enemies hard, these enemies do not want any Jews alive anywhere on earth. That one out of ten is for the innocent who invariably die in ANY war. To quote Sean Connery as James Malone in The Untouchables: "You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone!" Israel has to be that way just to survive.

The Whole Hanging Chad Thing In Florida In The 2000 U.S. Presidential Election My Sympathy Level? 0 out of 10. My thoughts about the whole thing were simply that this proved that some people are just too stupid to vote.

See what I'm talkin' about? I over simplify. (Unless you ask me a specific question, after which I usually launch into an explanation that eventually requires drawings and stuff and can cause comas and strokes in my victim the listener. If you ask, I tend to over explain, but on my own, I tend to over simplify.)

Yes, I could lay everything out for you, point by exacting point, but that would bore both of us, now wouldn't it? (Head nods slowly, emphatically) Yes it would.

My job as an engineer requires that I break problems down and find the solution and then enact that solution. That is easy with circuit cards and FPGAs, but not so easy with people.

But it is impossible for me not to break down the world's problems as I see them, but realistically I know that others won't act with the plain old common sense necessary to fix problems.

Otherwise, Californians would build power plants. Hey, I am even a thorough believer in building new nuclear power plants. We should be drilling for oil in the places we know there is oil.

But over time, the restrictions on doing all of these things has caused NONE of them to be done, built, or drilled.

These are just a few examples.

So that's why you don't get a lot of news commentary here, though I do touch on it from time to time. I just don't have the patience to write it out. It would be a drag for both of us, and nobody would do anything about it anyway.

I'll just keep up the constant flow of useless drivel.

My blog won't change the world, but a smile or laugh might change your day, right?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Was A Weird Kid

Near Christmas, in 1966, when I was four, I threw a fit that became a family legend. Now I don't actually remember this event, I was only four, but hey, would my family lie to me?

Around Christmas we usually visited both sets of grandparents to exchange gifts and such.

This time we had gone to visit my maternal grandparents in Jena, Louisiana.

Legend states that my grandparents had bought me a flashlight. They had bought my Dad a nice, work-worthy flashlight, and me a regular one. I still love flashlights.

Anyway, they had wrapped my flashlight in a Nabisco Crackers Box.

When I ripped the Christmas paper off, and saw the cracker box, I "allegedly" started crying like a crack baby and yelled out "I DON'T WANT NO BOX OF CRACKERS! WHAAAA!"

Of course, they had to calm the crybaby down enough to get him to open the cracker box and see that there was a flashlight in there instead of crackers.

Naturally, every Christmas, someone has to dust of the "Box of Crackers" story along with the Christmas decorations and it is retold.

And. Every couple of years, some family wisenheimer sends me a Christmas gift in a saltines box.

Another (possibly spurious) story that gets told about me was when I was around three, maybe four.

We were living in Olla, Louisiana at the time.

My parents had some friends over for a cookout and I (according to legend) was hanging out outside with the men-folk. We were by Dad's grill as he readied things for the charring of some animal flesh.

My Dad always, as I do now myself, cut a small slit in each hot dog, lengthwise. As they would cook and plump up, the hot dogs would open up and he would spoon or brush in barbecue sauce. The grilled hot dogs with the barbecue sauce cooked right in there? Mmmmmm.

Anyway, apparently I was watching the cutting of the hot dogs with a very serious facial expression.
My Dad asked, "Ready for a hot dog?"
I shook my head to say "No."
Dad, "Why not?"
Me, "'Cause I don't like 'em cutted down the front."

Which everyone seemed to find quite funny. Consequently, every cookout while growing up, required the retelling of this story.

Strange, but I don't remember this either.

When I was a kid and we would by school supplies, I just loved it!

All of those perfect no. 2 pencils.

Unopened packs of looseleaf paper.

Three ring binders where the circle thingies weren't yet bent and their two ends still lined up perfectly.

Ahhh! The good old days.

But the best part was the brand new box of Crayola Crayons. Unblemished tips.

Their smell!

The first few years of school I got the basic box of 8.

Then later 16, and look! 24.

But there were always some kids in class whose parents bought them the much coveted box of 64 Crayolas.

That box had a built-in crayon sharpener! Wow!

I had finally learned the bitter taste of outright jealousy!

But. Alas. I never got one.

And I wondered. Does my Sainted Mother really love me?

Then a number of years ago I shared this gaping hole in my fragile psyche with my family.

And, that year, I opened a Christmas present from Big Sis, and what did my eyes behold?!

Yes! A box of 64 Crayolas, WITH the built in sharpener! (Way cooler and more meaningful than, say, a Keith Urban DVD :)

And I was finally able to check that one off my "Before I Die..." list.

Of course, I had two young daughters at the time, so I never actually used the crayons myself, but just having owned a box was enough for me.

This is a pic of me and Dad with our new flashlights on "Box Of Crackers" day. I seem to have calmed down a tad.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Grrr! NASCAR Wanna-Bes

Please excuse me while I repeatedly punch a brick wall with my bare knuckles.

Why do people honk at other people the instant the light turns green? I mean, get real, people. We live in Florida, not New York City, Rome, or Paris. Give them a few seconds to take their foot off of the brake, and press the gas pedal, and another second for the car to start moving. Ditto if they have a standard and need to ease the clutch out. If it's obvious they are reading the paper or putting on makeup, honk away, but otherwise, chill out you imbecil.

After having lived in Dallas, Texas for three years. And after having lived in Atlanta for three years. And after having grown up and learned to drive in Louisiana...

my opinion is that Florida has the worst, most inconsiderate, and moronic drivers I have ever seen. And Brevard county takes the cake.

I have long ago learned to drive with absolute adherence to all the motor laws I can recall. I EVEN USE TURN SIGNALS. EVEN WHEN CHANGING LANES! I think I'm the only person in the state who does this.

I hate feeling like an outcast for doing the right thing.

Except for maybe averaging 5mph over the speed limit. I do tend to let my speed creep up.

So when some hothead tailgates me, I tap my brakes and wait for the horn and finger. It's my way of letting him know that if he wants to go fast, then go around me, and his response lets me know he got my message.

When I KNOW I'm driving correctly and you want me to speed up, in the right hand lane? Get over yourself, Buddy. It ain't happenin'.

Don't want to let me over so that I can turn left just up the road? No problem. I plan ahead and LONG before I have to turn left, I change over to the left lane and drive the speed limit.

Yeah. It makes people angry when I do that, but in a short time after moving here, I missed my left turn several times because people wouldn't let me over. So that's my strategy now; get over there plenty early.

I've come up with a theory as to why this is so. Wanna hear it?

There are more NASCAR stickers of all types down here than any other place I could imagine. Maybe it's our proximity to Daytona.

I think everyone here lives out their silly NASCAR fantasies every time they take the wheel. "You ain't passin' ME Pal!" and "You ain't movin' over to MY lane!" seems to be the universal refrains.

For these idiots, traffic is a competition. And by golly, they're determined to win. After all, Dale Earnhart wouldn't let me over either.

And Dude, I really do hate that Dale Earnhart died due to injuries in a race, but the 3ft X 4 ft 'In Memory Of...' shrine on the back of your NEW Yukon is a bit much. Let the man rest in peace already. I can deal with it on a 10 year old car, you've probably had it on there since the day Auto Zone first got them in after his death, but on a New car? Get a grip fella.

Oh. And that nice smooth, half-mile on ramp onto I-95?

That's for you to have plenty of room to get up to 70mph and then merge carefully onto the highway.

If you merge over and you're still doing 40-60mph, YOU ARE A DANGER TO EVERYONE AROUND YOU!

I know I've said that here before, but I'm being ignored.

It's really not much of a problem for you though, I'm sure. Knuckleheads like you leave a trail of death and destruction behind you while you scurry off unscathed.

Ok. Now that I have faced the brisk wind and spit a big ol' loogie, what shall we talk about?

Ah, forget it.

I think I'll stop here and move over to Cute Overload for some puppies and kittens and cute stuff like that.

That usually cools me off.

Maybe I should have thought of that before writing today. But what would I have talked about then?

Just as well.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Is It Monday Already?

Sorry, but I just don't have the ooomph this morning to write for you my usual, life-changing and pithy social commentary. As a consequence of my fogginess, or laziness if you prefer, you're gettin' more pictures. Kinda like serving you a honey bun for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs. It's just plain easier.

Eat up!

Having grown up in Louisiana, I never have been around mountains except for what ones I've seen on vacations and trips. And it's been a long time now, since we've been on a trip and seen mountains, but although Florida doesn't have mountains, we do have amazing clouds. I've never been anywhere else that had such variation of cloud formations as we do here. And on some days I just sit and look at them and it honestly fills that spot within me that is reserved for being pleased with a mountain vista. I hope that makes sense. If not, just enjoy the picture(s).

This next one, seemed to me to be have too much of a blue cast to it, but when I adjusted it in Photoshop Elements, I liked the original blue one better. Maybe the camera knows something I don't. Anyhoo, I added this one as an example of something that happens here a lot. The uppermost cloud in this photo was really, really low in the sky, as were the darker gray ones. The distant white, puffy clouds were really high in the sky. I love the dramatic 3-D effect this does to the sky when this happens, although the effect doesn't show up very well in a 2-D photo. You'll just have to take my word for it. It's a captivating show when this happens.

I heart photos with surprises. I took this one while waiting for a jet-ski thingamajig to enter the frame, against the houses on this island. (I saw the birds flying by and took one with them in it while waiting for the jet-ski.) When I got it home and blown up on the computer screen, I realized there were two guys standing on the top of one of the houses on the island. Looks like they're just standing there, having a couple of brewskis.

This one was a carved fish over the gate to someone's private pier. I took probably a dozen or so of this guy in various compositions, but liked this one with the out of focus sailboat in the background best.

I am fascinated by signs. I had never seen this one before. Where this is located along US1, it seemed to me to mean "Warning: People reading and not paying attention crossing!" But I think it really means there's a library up that road there.

About the picture below: Are you paying attention? What is this? Any ideas? First person to guess correctly gets three 'attaboy!'s from me.

Sorry I couldn't come up with anything else this morning. You'll just have to wait until tomorrow to see if I can change your life. Jeesh, quit puttin' so much pressure on me!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Picture Post, Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Pictures!

This first photo is at a marina in Melbourne at the mouth of Crane Creek. The bridge to the right is US1. For years after we moved here in the late '90s, every time we drove over that bridge and saw the tops of all the sailboat's masts, I would start singing the theme to Gilligan's Island. Man, that was a guarantee of rolling eyes and groans. And I would sing each and every word. Of course I sing only the version that ends in "the Professor AND Mary ANN, Here on Gilligan's Isle!" and not the original, totally bogus "and the rest..." version. Hey, parents have to have payback every way we can, right?

This is at the same marina. A lineup of power and water hookups for the boats. This one looks better after seeing the photo. The lineup looked cool standing there, but didn't in the viewfinder. I took it anyway because, well, I have a new digital slr and can take almost 600 jpegs the way I had it configured, before heading home to unoad, so I pressed the button. Glad I did. I like this one now.

For me, the subject can sometimes just be color. The items here are all ugly shapes, but the four main colors in this one make it a neat photo to me. Not a wonderful photo, but fun enough to like because of the in-your-face colors.

Similar in scope to the power meters above. This would have been PERFECT if someone had been sitting in the fourth bench from the camera, maybe reading a paper or head tilted forward in sleep. Oh well, I was alone and the patterns had to suffice.

A neat painting on a real estate office in Melbourne Beach, Florida. The front is also pretty with plants and rocking chairs. Looked nice in the yellow light of the late afternoon sun.

I was out for some sunset photos a few weeks ago and drove through this neighborhood on the beach in Indian River County. Most of these neighborhoods are gated and riff raff like me can't just drive in, but this small group of homes was still being repaired from hurricane damage so I drove through to see how the 'other half' lives. The people in this house had sense enough to leave these knarly, crooked trees when they had this house built (it's a fairly new neighborhood). Not a great composition or anything, and this is the kind of area you do not get out and walk around and start taking pictures, so this one out the car window had to do. The trees were the thing here. Lots of character and dignity.

To quote the great philosopher, Tiny Tim: "God bless us, everyone!" Have a great Sunday, folks.

(You didn't think I was gonna quote the ukelele/singer Tiny Tim didja?)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Vacation Bible School, The Big Finale

The church we go to is relatively small. We average about 100-125 people every Sunday.

That being said, they have a reputation in the area for getting Vacation Bible School right. This year was no exception.

They averaged about 85 kids every day, really good for a small church. And the Pastors and the workers spend many, many hours constructing sets and so forth.

This year's theme was "Anchor His Way at Mission Marina". Our church is called The Mission. And the whole week, of course, was on how to make Jesus the anchor of your life.

I have every other Friday off, and that was yesterday. So I got up and went to see the big finale they had planned. They had a water baptism for anyone who wanted to have that done, and then the show started.

It was really cool too, when I walked into the building, the kids were in the sanctuary, which had some pretty elaborate sets built, and were all screaming at something. It sounded SO fun.

A family at our church has a whole passle of boys, and they all get into motocross motorcycling. But not just your average stuff.

The boys have all progressed to where they and some friends have constructed portable ramps and do freestyle jumping. As in almost-Evel-Knievel type jumping. A performance by them was to be the big finale for the kids (and adults) yesterday.

They did an ABSOLUTELY AWESOME performance and I have the pics to prove how good they are. They were jumping with quad-runners too.

Here ya go!

If you care to, you can go see this family's web site at Taylor MX. Click on 'Riders' under the Navigation heading to see each young man's photo and stuff.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Never Give In, Never Give Up

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the amazing story of Floyd Landis, an American professional cyclist with the Phonak team (based in Switzerland), riding in this year's Tour de France.

To recap, he has a severely damaged hip. It is so degraded, that after this year's Tour de France, he's going to have hip replacement surgery.

The Tour de France is one of the world's most difficult sporting events. His competing at such a high level, with other (healthy) world-class atheletes is inspiring, to say the least.

But I don't want to talk about his hip again.

I want to talk about his heart, or spirit.

Two days ago, Floyd Landis, in a real show of strength, powered his way to a fourth place finish on the Tour legend mountain L'Alpe d'Huez This is a brutal mountain with 21 switchbacks running up what looks like a cliff. It has been part of many Tours de France, and the winners on those stages are remembered.

Now in the Tour de France, the big prize is to finish the three week race with the shortest accumulated time overall. That's how the winner is named.

So, the other day at the end of the most difficult stage of this year's Tour, Floyd came in fourth, no big deal, although he didn't win that day's stage, he was able to gain time on all his closest rivals and ended that day by regaining the 'yellow jersey' of the race's current overall leader.

Cool. But so what?

Here's what. The next day, another mountain stage in the Alps, Floyd Landis cracks. His body shuts down and he cannot keep up the pace. All of his competitors smelled blood and passed him up with grim glee. He did his best, but his body wouldn't give him any more.

At the end of Wednesday's stage of the race, Floyd Landis was over 8 minutes behind the new race leader and finised the day, and had plummeted to 11th place overall.

You have to understand that, at this point of the race, almost through the mountains, an 8 minute plus deficit, basically meant this year's race was over for him.

But then on Thursday, Ol' Forgotten Floyd got hissef and his crummy hip up and over several mountains to win his first-ever Tour de France stage.

And to top it all off, he kicked the boo-tays of the guys who passed him the previous day so thoroughly, that he ended up, at the end of Thursday's stage, all the way back up to third place. He's only 30 seconds behind the race leader now.

And now that they are through with mountain stages, all the rest of the stages of the race will be relatively flat. This means it's extrememly difficult to pass the leader by that much on any flat stage days.

So, with only a few days left in the overall Tour de France, how could Floyd Landis hope to win the overall race in Paris this coming weekend?

I'll tell ya.

See, Mr. Landis is fairly good in the mountains, most Tour de France champions are. Lance was a monster in the mountains.

But my close, personal friend, Floyd Landis, is also an ace at the 'time trial'.

What is a time trial?

It's where the entire day's race is done by starting each racer, two minutes or so apart, one after another and they race the clock over a specified course.

So, Mr. Landis, whom I've never met actually, CAN, POSSIBLY, gain more than thirty seconds and retake the overall lead with a spectacular performance this coming Saturday, the next to last day of the whole race, which is this year's Tour's last time trial. He still has a good chance to win the whole shebang!

Now. For Mr. Landis, to crack one day, and throw the barn doors open the next, when the sporting world was a-buzz with his spectacular implosion, is going to go down in Tour de France history.

This race has been run most years since 1903, except for wars. There are legendary examples of courage and tenacity; actually every winner so far has an amazing story.

Everyone knows Lance's story with cancer, then winning seven years in a row.

But Floyd Landis, with his quiet courage and amazing pain ignoring ability for his bad hip, has, with his performance on Thursday, set up one of the most dramatic Tour de France finishes in a lot of years. Lance usually had his wins pretty much in the bag by this time, this year's Tour is going to go down to the wire.

Hat's off to Floyd Landis. He gets my personal Courage Under Fire award.

That's why I said I look up to guys like that.

He's proof that the intangible spirit can cause the human mind and body to go above and beyond what one might normally think was possible.

Did you know that Floyd Landis was raised as a Mennonite in Pennsylvania and went against his family traditions to race bicycles? His family has come around and support him and are proud of him now; they just didn't understand a teenager's obsession with bicycle racing back then.

He's such a quiet, humble, soft-spoken, and courageous person to do what he has done.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

You See Lots Of Winners At Walmart

Seen on several trips to Walmart. This Week.

A few days ago, before work, I went to the Walmart closest to my house. It's open twenty four hours.

As is my custom, talked about in an earlier post on parking, I just parked the taurus out in Eastern Mongolia and started hoofing it in.

Now, I think of myself as someone who tries to think ahead, to plan, even as I do things. I knew that I was just getting a couple of items, so no buggy would be necessary. When I know I'll have a load, I intentionally park fairly close to one of the PLEASE-please-bring-the-buggy-back-here places. I usually take buggies to the right place, because hey, I feel guilty when I leave a buggy in the lot by where my car was parked. (In some ways I'm a swell guy.) Looking for ways to lessen guilt is a constant theme in my life, too.

Anyhoo, the other day, I'm thinking "light load" so I park out there and start walking in.

Now it turns out that there was a PLEASE-please-bring-the-buggy-back-here place not too far away (just in case, I look for it) and then about three cars closer to the store from where I parked, a lady had unloaded her buggy full of groceries into her trunk, and pushed the buggy about, oh, a good thirty paces, and was trying to wrestle (RASSel, in Louisiana) the empty cart up over the curb and completely into a green area where there is a sad lookin' little tree they planted.

So, she has pushed that buggy, that distance, and then sits there a good minute or so wrestling with it. She must have been on her last nerve to get that frantic, that early in the morning. I mean, as soon as I took in what was going on I walked really slow and kept looking back to watch.

Thing of it is? She had pushed the cart over to a place that was farther from her car than was the PLEASE-please-bring-the-buggy-back-here place. Had she been a little more thoughtful, she could have saved both herself and the poor dudes that get paid to go gather the carts a lot of trouble.

Some people. Gyah! ( I say Gyah! with a y sound in it instead of the Napoleon Dynamite type Gah! that doesn't have a y sound in it.)

Then yesterday, I went to the one (Walmart) up by where I work. Now, the parking lot of this one wasn't thought out too well. Things are tight, and if you are a careful (read painfully slow) driver like me, you take extra care.

But as I turned into the lane I planned to try to park on, there was a white Grand Am waiting for someone to back out. No problem. I'll wait.

But I wait until even I run out of patience, and since the person who was to back out had made no move to leave yet, I finally just went around the girl in the Grand Am.

I drive all the way out to Eastern Mongolia. Park. Start walking in.

When I draw even with white Grand Am, the guy finally backs out of the space and Grand Am pulls in.

When I get to the doors, I look back, and Grand Am Girl is about forty yards behind me.

Yeah, that close-in parking place really was a benefit to her life, I'm sure.

Plus, she was walking and talking on her cell phone, but both arms are swinging and she has her head cocked over holding the phone with her shoulder. Huh? Her arms must not have been working too well yesterday, not being able to hold the phone with her hand and all. She looked like she just came from the Ministry Of Silly Walks.

And the final indignity, was that she jumped in front of me heading for an express checkout lane. No problem, I'm a ladies first kinda guy anyway. But what frosted me was that she had one, count 'em, one, item in her Walmart carry basket. When she gets up to the register, she takes her item out, and just puts the basket on the floor, right in the lane where all of us behind her are going to have to walk.

Of course, my conscience won't let me leave it there, and it won't let me say something to Grand Am Girl, so like the sheep I am, I pick it up and give it to the cashier.

Some people. Gyah!

And then there's me.

One day I wanted the 32oz (2lb) bag of shredded mozzarella cheese.

I walk back to the cheese section and everything is full. Except ONE area. Of course the empty area is where the 32oz bags of shredded mozzarella should have been. Gyah!

I see one of the poor souls who works there, plead my case to him and he ambles off good naturedly to see if they have any more of the the 32oz bags of shredded mozzarella.

So, while I wait, I proceed to prove my geekness. (As if the eight or so pens, pencils, and markers in my shirt pocket aren't screaming that already. Number One Daughter calls it the Festival Of Pens.)

I start doing the math on all the various sizes of packaged shredded mozzarella (and cheddar, just for fun) to see exacly how much I'm gonna save by waiting to see if they have more stock, instead of buying several small bags.

Even if I bought four, eight ounce bags, I would only save twenty cents. Now I like a bargain like the next guy, but twenty cents, man, I could have already been checked out and on my way by then!

But just as I realize this, the guy shows up with a massive box full of the 32oz bags of shredded mozzarella.

I feel guilty, but I only take one. It's all I need.

Some people. Gyah!

I would have made an excellent Catholic or Jew. If I can feel guilty over where I leave a shopping buggy... I have the whole guilt thing down cold. Maybe growing up Baptist, and all of that fire-and-brimstone, left me with some Arnold Schwarzenegger type guilt muscles.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I think I figgered out how to write some of that 'Haiku' stuff.

In my spare time I do a bit o' Blogger surfing. Seein' what's up with the blogs I like and then just surfing others in search of learnin' and enlightenment.

And I have noticed that there are quite a few blogs out there that people use to publish their poetry.

No problem. I usually don't read it. I just move on.

But this haiku stuff intrigues me. What is haiku, you ask?

Well, I don't have a good handle on it just yet my own self, so I'll just shamelessly cut and paste the definition of haiku from Wikipedia:
Haiku (俳句, ?) is a mode of Japanese poetry, the late 19th century revision by Masaoka Shiki of the older hokku (発句, hokku?), the opening verse of a linked verse form, haikai no renga. A traditional hokku consists of a pattern of approximately 5, 7, and 5 morae, phonetic units which only partially correspond to the syllables of languages such as English. It also contains a special season word (the kigo) descriptive of the season in which the renga is set. Hokku often combine two (or rarely, three) different elements into a unified sensory impression, with a major grammatical break (kire) usually at the end of either the first five or second seven morae. These elements of the older hokku are considered by many to be essential to haiku as well, although not always included by modern writers of Japanese "free-form haiku" and of non-Japanese haiku. Senryu is a similar poetry form that emphasizes humor and human foibles instead of seasons.

I guess I had to do that to be official, but you'll probably get a better feel of some English language haiku if I put a couple of examples here. These are also in the article on Wikipedia:

an old pond—
the sound of a frog jumping
into water


the first cold shower;
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw.

To which you reply, Huh? Yeah. Me and you both Sista.

But people really get into this stuff. My reasoning is that the type of person who would like this stuff would be a little better educated and cultured than the average joe. And folks who are a little better educated are more likely to be doing their thing on computers and the internet. Thus the prevalence of haiku on the blog scene.

I'm not knocking it, mind you, haiku is just WAY out of the range of experience for this Louisiana public school edumacated boy.

I was looking at some of these and trying to figure out how they could come up with stuff. I understand about the 5, 7, and 5 thing that roughly translates to syllables in English. But this just seems such an unnatural way of speaking.

Again. This is an art form that I haven't really known about so understand I'm just trying to figure this out.

I'm an engineer. I WANT TO KNOW HOW IT WORKS!

So, being a haiku ignoramous, I set out to take this thing apart (like I do with tangible items), look inside, and understand.

I think I have it!

I tried to imagine the state of mind of the person writing them after I read them. And I always came back to the same or similar conclusion.

Try this original haiku, by me, on for size, ok? Though I can't prove this to you, I'm going to write this real-time, right here and now.

Here goes:

The cool pool water,
under my green float helps not,
my skin it's burning

See? I bet you get the picture! You might surmise from the haiku that I fell asleep on a floatie and got sunburned. Not so hard! (I didn't in real life, I just made all of that up.)

I'll try another, again real-time.

Here goes:

Stupid French Poodle,
I thought you were well house trained,
of poop my shoes smell

I'm getting there! I think I have the rhythm down, now I need to add in the season reference spoken of in the Wikipedia article.

Another try, this time with FEELING:

Skeeters bite me much,
why doth summers last so long,
I risk all for pics

Now this last one is a bit of a stretch, because hey, I'm the only one who gets it. See, a week or so ago I went to take some sunset pictures and literally got more bug bites on my legs than at any one time in my life before. I mean so many my family wanted to take pictures. (Yeah, right. I'm a 43 year old male. I don't want pics taken of my face, certainly NOT my legs either.)

So for me this was a haiku with meaning to my real life.

I know, I know! You are dying to know how I mastered such a difficult art form in such a short time, aren't you?

Here's my trick for becoming a haiku master in no time. Ready?

Pretend you are in trouble, bad trouble, and you are determined to get out this one last thought. You are in trouble because, say, you are choking, or you are freezing to death, or any other problem that would prevent you from speaking normally.

Therefore, I imagine I'm freezing to death and someone finds me just before death.

Last person to see me alive: JAM, what happened?

Frozen winter pond,
I can not climb back to life,
me too fat thin ice

And that my friends is what haiku is and how you too can generate them at will.

No, no, no. Really. Your grattitude is nice but unnecessary.

Just making fun here folks. Not trying to step on anyone's toes. I have found a bunch of photography blogs and web sites that I have book marked and visit most of them daily, if not every other day. So if haiku or poetry is your thang, and you can't take a joke, well, sorry.

One of these sites, A Little Piece Of The World, has some unbelievable photography and the lady also writes haikus. For real though. At least check it out and see for yourself, both the amazing photos and try out the haikus. If you dare.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research / Stem Cell Research

If you have read more than just a few of my posts you'll probably have a good idea as to where I would stand on this issue.

As I go out into blog land and read the news and listen to some radio, I keep hearing something that bothers me.

The main stream media portrays all Christian fundamentalists as being against all stem cell research.

I want to be as clear on this issue as I know how to be.

Christians in general, are only against fetal/embryonic stem cell research. I say again, Christians in general, are only against fetal stem cell research.

Without jumping too far into the whole abortion debate, let me say this: I believe that human life begins at conception. I believe that abortion, legal or not, kills a human baby. To then take aborted fetuses and use them for medical research for stem cells, has crossed the line in my opinion. Or, to create test tube babies who live only to die in medical experiments resulting from fetal stem cell research has also crossed the line. Again, in my opinion.

But fetal stem cells are just the tip of the iceberg. They haven't even been shown to be the most promising stem cells for research into Parkinson's and other diseases as some claim. The ability to get stem cells for research, outside of using fetuses, is infinite.

There is no law against fetal stem cell research in America. Just can't spend tax (public) money on it. Public money can, and is spent on non-fetal stem cell research in America every day. No one has to die for that either.

Christians I know, and ones I've read in print, on the internet, and on TV overwhelmingly support non-fetal stem cell research. That includes me.

To sum up here:


I found this July 17th editorial by Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan's oldest son, on the internet that inspired me to talk about this:

Here's a quote from the Michael Reagan editorial that just nailed the whole issue like I wish I could have done:

It's important to remember that there is no ban on embryonic stem cell research. Anyone who wants to do it is free to do so, he or she just can't do it on the public's dollar. If it held the promise that proponents claim, top pharmaceutical companies would be vying for chances to throw their research dollars at it. After all, if it worked as promised they could expect to make huge profits. That they don't see such prospects should tell us something.

This isn't any easy subject. Plus, even the best estimates put any real world help from this line of research at years and years away.

But, this was on my mind lately, and when I saw that editorial, I said to myself that it was time to talk a bit about it myself.

'Nuff said.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Shuttle Is Back

When the Space Shuttle comes back to the Space Center from the south, the sonic boom rocks our house. It flies up the Atlantic coast above our home.

It just happened, not two minutes ago.

Hope they have a safe landing.

Got the dogs all barking and freaking out. It's the loudest sonic boom I've ever heard. It never fails to startle us.

It was actually a loud, quick, BOOM-BOOM.

As I type this, they are touching down on the runway at Kennedy Space Center, according to the radio.


Just wanted to share.

Me And Accents (or, Keith Urban, part II)

I've always been pretty good at mimicking foreign accents. Speaking English that is. At least I claim to speak English, and if you heard my accent, you might convince yourself that is a stretch in itself. But, over the years I have used this ability to mess with people's heads.

Mainly over the phone though. 'Cause if you saw me and I was doing an accent of someone from, say, India, I wouldn't fool you at all, see?

And I want to say up front here, that I absolutely CANNOT do a Jamaican accent. When I try, it always comes out Irish! And I have no explanation at all for this, but it's true. We have a lady at our church, Sister P., who is from Jamaica. When we leave church, she always tells us, "Haav a JEEsus filled dey!" in this textbook Jamaican accent. It's awesome.

My impersonation of this is not.

Well, guess which accent my family always wants to hear me do?

You got it. Jamaican. And of course in my head I sound cool like Bob Marley, but out of my mouth comes the voice and accent of the Lucky Charms leprechaun. And they just laugh and laugh. So I don't do it much anymore.

Back to the story.

Last Christmas. Big Sis buys me a Keith Urban DVD for Christmas. I had no idea why, but ok. I had never heard of him. Period.

So she tells me he's a great guitarist and that I should watch him. She just loves him. I watch. Yep, he's a great guitarist. And I find particularly interesting that, in the DVD, he talks about his ability to play such and such at the age of 10.

In other words, this guy was better at the guitar at age 10 than I will EVER be. But he is obviously talented, a good musician, songwriter, good looking. The works. And although I generally dislike country music, he rocks out more than most and I actually like the DVD. Wonders never cease.

But at the time, I had no idea how much Big Sis had come to, well, love the guy. And over the next couple of months, as her plans to see him in concert in Waco, Texas came about, I start to get the message.

I can't quite believe it, but Donny Osmond no longer has first place in her heart. I mean, Donny has been numero uno to her pretty much all of my life. I was a kid when she latched onto ol' Donny and that he's been replaced, it's like learning that grass isn't green after all, or that I was adopted or something. I don't think the term 'paradigm shift' is too strong here. I couldn't quite get my head around this.

Anyway, the time comes and she and a pal are on the way to Waco. I can't remember what day of the week it was, but about the time I knew she should be in Waco, I called her cell number.

See, she had let me (and every other poor soul she could Shanghai into listening) about her plans.

They were gonna check into the hotel, and then go scope out the venue I think, and once they had the lay of the land, go stalk the Starbucks nearest the venue.

'Cause apparently, according to the Urbanite network, Ol' Keith has taken quite a shine to Mr. Starbuck's coffee. And Big Sis's Big Idea is that surely he's gonna need some fresh java goodness in preparation for the big concert, and if so, she's a-gonna be there a-waitin' on him. At least that's what she sees as her best chance to meet him. (Number One Daughter has a cool story about her and a Friend who do something similar and meet the group Hanson, but she was 20 and I can understand this. Big Sis is just a wee bit older than that.)

Enough setup, back to the phone call. And I called her from Lovely Wife's cell phone, hoping she wouldn't recognize the area code and number right away.

I can't remember exactly what we said, but it went something like this:

Big Sis: "Hello?" (imagine southern drawl)
Me: "Hello? MAAAsha! This is KEEEth UUUban! (I was trying for a Paul Hogan/Crocodile Dundee accent. Really loud and happy sounding like TV Australians usually are portrayed)
Big Sis: pause (could it be? She must have thought.)
Me: "Ah just wanted to call and tell you puusonally that I'm excited about you being at the concUUT tonight!"
Me: "I was wondering if you could meet me at STAAAAAbucks for a coffee before the SHOW!" (It's impossible to write an Australian accent, you'll just have to imagine it. Really loud.)
Me: And AHHfta the show, we could MAYbe throw a coupla shrimps on the BAAHbie."
Big Sis: "Who IS this?" (uh oh, she's smellin' a rat!)
Me: "MAAAsha! It's KEEEth UUUUban!"
Big Sis: " WHO IS THIS!!!"
Me: "It's John."
Big Sis: "I'm gonna KILL you!"

And then we have a laugh and she fills me in on the happenings so far in Waco and stuff.

But really, my family is such an easy target for such shenanigans. I mean, I KNEW, I could at least make her heart jump for just a minute before reality reminded her of what the odds of getting a call from Keith Urban were. Seriously, how would he have gotten her cell number? Of course, now that I think about it, she probably had written him letters or fan mail with all the pertinent contact information in it so had he wanted to, he probably could have called her.

And all of this was BEFORE her 'encounter' wherein she got to go down front and have a personal meet-and-greet with the great man himself during the concert that night.

She's all but intolerable now ;)

The funny part to me is, that on the DVD, when you hear him just plain talking, he has almost no accent. It's almost gone. So when I started yelling in her ear with my Crocodile Dundee voice, she should have know immediately.

But I guess hope really does spring eternal. As in, "I hope one day to be able to do a passable Jamaican accent, and not sound like the Lucky Charms guy."

Photo Credit: the Keith Urban photo up there was taken by Big Sis herself in New Orleans at the 2006 Jazzfest. (or, more properly, NAWluns)

One day I'll have to tell the story of how I once tried to blackmail Big Sis for $750,000.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flickr Page

I joined the Flickr free site and have posted my first photos there.

Most of the ones there, you have seen here, but that'll change over time.

Picture Post, Sunday, July 16, 2006

Today's photos, well, there's not much to say. No interesting stories or anything like that. Just some of the photographs I've taken over the past couple of weeks with the new Nikon. This is just stuff that catches my eye, which is an intuitive process and not a verbal one anyway.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves. Give 'em a click.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Proof That I'm A Classy Guy

Want to see inside my head?

My thought process yesterday morning:
Hmm. Back still hurts quite a bit. I don't feel like cooking breakfast. In fact I don't feel like getting out all the stuff and preparing myself a lunch for work either.

I get paid today, so the cupboard is almost bare, in fact completely devoid of low carb stuff. Nothing I can just grab and go.

But it IS payday, so I can maybe buy myself lunch today. Nah. I know that once I'm at work, I won't feel up to leaving to get anything, regardless of how hungry I am.

I could get something at Hess. I could go ahead and get gas for the car and get something while I'm there. Nah. All they have are honey buns and doughnuts and candy bars, definitely not low carb. If I get off my diet again, it is just too hard to get back on. Plus, I hate how bad I feel physically when I eat a lot of carbohydrates.

How about Wally World? I could get a few low carb bars and a couple of diet Cokes, and some peanuts to get me through the day. That would be really easy because there's a Walmart right on Sarno Road, right on the way to work. Yeah! That will be convenient, easy, and makes sense.

No! That's an older Walmart. And though it's well kept, their selection of low carb stuff is pretty meager.

What about the new Walmart that's a stone's throw from the house on Malabar Road? Yeah, it's not as convenient as the one close to work, and the one up on Palm Bay Road has a good selection but it's a bit out of the way too.

So, I'll just go to the one closest to the house and get what I need and be done with it.

And that's what I did. Bought me some low carb bars, a coupla Coke Zero's and some dry roasted peanuts.

The sad part is, I can do this with almost any item you could possibly name. I know which of the four Walmarts in our area sells what. Which ones don't. Which has a better selection of this or that, and so on and so forth. I can tell you where these items are in each store, so I'll know which of the two main doors I should enter in.

When I feel like hob-nobbing with the upper crust, I might go all the way north on I-95 to Viera (12 miles or so), to the Walmart up there by the rich folks.

How many of you live in such a great place, that you have FOUR Walmarts within striking distance? Uh huh. That's what I thought. We have Walmarts down here like New York has Starbucks.

I am a walking repository of info on all the local Walmarts. And THAT is what proves I'm a classy guy, though I DO need to practice my Thurston Howell the III accent more.

Of course, Lovely Wife has forgotten more about the local Walmarts than I will ever know, so that makes her a classy gal too!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Floyd Landis Is A New Hero For Me

Or, I'm such a wimp.

When I was a kid, I was a skinny little runt. You can look back through my posts for some of the childhood photos I've put on here. But starting when I was in about the fourth grade, the battle of the bulge(s) had begun.

I've been a moose ever since.

I'm a relatively young 43, but have had four back surgeries. In my last surgery the orthopaedic Dr. removed my lowest two disks and put in some thingies that fill the disk spaces and promote bone growth. I now have a nice fusion of bone a the base of my spine.

But as anyone who has back problems, or knows someone who has back problems, can attest, surgery is just to make you better. It will never restore you to a previous state of health. You get to a point with pain and disability to where the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks. Plus, my last surgery, they cut me open in the front, moved my guts out of the way and did work on the front of my spine. Put everything back in place and flipped me over and did another surgery through my back to install rods and screws and such.

I still live with a certain level of pain. In fact, I stayed home from work yesterday because I literally could not get up. Physically the pain would take over and stop me from moving more. I finally got up after about 30-45 minutes of effort and prayer.

And through all of this, I would do my surgery over again in a heartbeat because my quality of life is much, much better now than before my last surgery.

Ok. I understand. So where does the wimp part come in?

Glad you asked. Actually it could come in on several levels. You see, one of the few sports I follow is professional cycling. Guys who ride bicycles in races for a living. That's a pretty wimpish sport for a Southern Boy to like. I dislike baseball for the most part. I detest basketball. I hate NASCAR too. And with the recent World Cup of Soccer (the real football to the rest of the world), well you can look back and tell from the zero posts about it here that I just don't give a hoot. But if anything, I like that France lost, but that's a personal problem really.

The Tour De France is going on right now. It seems strange to be so attracted to a sport in which I am about twice the body weight of the average rider.

But the Tour De France is the 'Big Dog' of cycling. The worst riders in The Tour are better than most riders anywhere else in the world. It's truly the best of the best in this race, year in, year out.

I watched the coverage of The Tour yesterday on OLN on cable.

The American, Floyd Landis, is now in the overall lead of the race, roughly half way through the three week race.

He put on a show of strength riding his bicycle up several steep MOUNTAINS in the Pyrenees to step into the Yellow Jersey given to the overall leader of the race.

Cheeze Whiz! Would you get to the point already? Gyah!

The present, overall leader of the 2006 Tour De France, Floyd Landis, has a right hip that is so damaged that after The Tour, he's supposed to have hip replacement surgery.

I want that to sink into your peanut heads, ok? So, I repeat:

The present, overall leader of the 2006 Tour De France, Floyd Landis, has a right hip that is so damaged that after The Tour, he's supposed to have hip replacement surgery.

The guy can barely walk. He's in constant pain, although he does say that riding his bicycle is the time when he's in the least amount of pain.

And yesterday's stage covered about 200km. (That's one-hundred-twenty-five-miles to us bone heads in America too lazy to learn the metric system. Hey, I think I smell the stench of a post-worthy rant about that.) Through the mountains. On a bicycle.

But still, Floyd Landis, one of the best athletes of any type of sport, IN THE WORLD TODAY, has a hip that is in such bad shape, most of us would be at the Social Security office right now filling out forms to be put on the permanent total disability list.

And this guy is, for the time being at least, the leader in THE most grueling sporting event in the world today. Of course, that's my opinion, but you would have to search pretty far to find a sporting event that is even close to being as tough as The Tour De France.

All my joking on this blog about France aside, this is one of the world's great sporting events. And I love seeing Americans doing so well in what was once the exclusive domain of the Europeans, but the history and drama of this event is something to relish.

So on days like yesterday, when things look so grim for me, really, it's hard to feel like everything's going to be ok when I hurt that bad, it's a blessing to me to see examples of strength and determination such as what Floyd Landis displayed.

Even middle aged guys need heroes to look up to.

I use people like Floyd Landis to help me motivate myself to do more when I might otherwise give up. And I try to keep this verse going through my head like a tune I can't stop.
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Geek Chronicles (issue #1)

My 'New' Hand-Me-Down iPod Shuffle, day one, a semi real-time report. (written Wednesday)

Hello from the field.

I hate to start my first report for The Geek Chronicles with a negative but I find that I must.

I do not like the Apple earbud thingies. They hurt, fall out easily, and have almost no bass. Not much to like there.

Let me go ahead and get out the rest of the negative stuff. Well, actually one more negative.

iDon't like iTunes.

At all. But I was able to finally reset the Shuffle so that it was a clean slate for MY use, and to also update the software on the unit. And I finally got it to put a huge variety of music on the Shuffle.

I love Apple computers and the Apple operating system. I haven't owned an Apple computer in years but I love them, OK? They are so intuitive. But iTunes had me wanting to go jump off the Melbourne Causeway. But being mainly a left brain type, I figgered it out. Plus, the bridge isn't that high and I can swim.

So this morning I had a new-to-me Shuffle, freshly charged with both power and a wide selection of music. Oh yeah, and that spiffy hot pink case. (see yesterday's photo)

At work I find that the Shuffle is pretty cool. So was the response of my coworkers. But hey, I am way behind the curve here; the Shuffle has been out a long time and impressed two people one person nobody.

A while back, being the kind of guy who would like to buy, say, a $300 set of Bose noise-cancellation headphones, but instead buying a $40 Koss knockoff, I brought them and have left them at work. Around electonics labs there are lots of fans for cooling. It's like having a dozen fans over your stove running all the time. So even my cheap-o noise reducing headphones are pretty effective at knocking fan noise way, way down. Excellent.

Now hating the ear buds, I put them away in favor of the Koss headphones.

Turn on the Shuffle, adjust volume, and I'm-a workin'.

Hey, this is cool! Immediately.

I'm not tethered to anything. I have on the headphones. Excess cord wound neatly and stuffed in shirt pocket with the Shuffle and my Festival Of Pens and pencils.

Sounds pretty good for something the size of a small pack of Wrigley's gum.

I guess if I were to mentally step away from myself and look at me, I would look like a dweeb of the highest order. Big ol' headphones with the cord running into my shirt pocket. What a ridiculous sight.

Of course here, at geek central, I go completely unnoticed and no comment is made whatsoever. I expected no less. Actually, it's kinda like those big headphones from the seventies with the antenna and a radio built in.

Now that I think of it, my Shuffle, with the big headphones and cord, have actually put me backward about thiry years.

To quote the great philosopher Joey Lawrence, Whoa!

But I do dig the freedom of movement while enjoying some cool tunes.

Reminds me of that old Gilligan's Island episode where Gilligan takes a hit on the head or something and thereafter is able to pick up radio signals through the fillings of his teeth. Which of course drives everyone else on the island bats. UNTIL. Their radio breaks down, a typhoon approaches, and they search out the banished Gilligan so they can get storm updates through his amazing radio teeth.

I don't expect anything that dramatic to happen to me. It just reminded me of that show and I wanted to share.

All in all, the Shuffle is pretty cool, even without a screen. Kind of a new freedom. Instead of always changing songs and looking for certain things, I just let it play what it wants. The key is to put only stuff on it you know you'll like, but what it plays and when is pretty random.

And that is alright, the alternative is nothing at all. Where I work has so much rf in the air that you can't really listen to the radio here. Heck, cell phones don't work half the time. That's the down side of communications electronics work going on.

Heard so far:
Allan Parsons Project - Games People Play
Cranberries - Disappointment
Ozzy Osbourne - No More Tears (Zakk Wylde plays my favorite guitar solo of all time)
Aaron Sprinkle - The Kindest Days (The most amazing Christian singer/songwriter I've ever heard)
12 Stones - Far Away
Aerosmith - Jaded
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Allan Parsons Project - Don't Answer Me
Amy Grant - Faithless Heart
Cheap Trick - Surrender
ABC - Be Near Me
Aaron Sprinkle - A Friend I Had
Cranberries - Twister
AC/DC - TNT (a guilty pleasure. Hey! Hey! Hey!)
Norman Brown - That's The Way Love Goes (jazz guitarrist cover of J.J. song)
Collective Soul - Shine (acoustic version)
Chevelle - Pictures Of You (a live Cure cover of one of my all-time favorite songs)
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Art Of Breaking
A Flock Of Seagulls - Space Age Love Song
Galactic Cowboys - 9th of June (metal song about how people keep trying to predict the exact date of Jesus's return)
Tears For Fears - Everybody Wants To Rule The World (one. of. the. greatest. songs. of. all. time. period.)

and a bunch of other stuff.

You get the picture.

A big thumbs up for the Shuffle. Thumbs down for iTunes, so far.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Kicking And Screaming

I am slowly being dragged into the 21st century. Kicking and screaming.

You see, I'm not up on all of the latest consumer gadgets.

Now you may be thinking: "Didn't I read somewhere on this blog that this guy is an electrical engineer? Wouldn't an electical engineer ALWAYS be first in line for any new gadget that hits the market? Isn't that the basic nature of an engineer?"

Eau Contrare mis amigos! (Checkit. French and Spanish in the same sentence.)

I can't really say much about work, but let me say this. When you work on projects, whose end result is often an electronic device that has never before existed in the world, high def TV and iPods are like going to Baskin Robbins and ordering a single scoop of vanilla. In a cup. (Hand over mouth politely, while I yawn.) Or worse yet, in one of those nasty tasting 'regular' cones, instead of in a yummy waffle cone.

Ok, so here's the deal.

I like gadgets and stuff, I just like knowing how they work as much as using them. ( Take for instance my new Nikon digital slr; I'm trying to research EXACTLY what happens inside this machine when I push the shutter release button.)

And music? My main source of music injections is my trusty Sony portable CD player. The rest of the world has long since gone to iPods and their knockoffs. Me? My CD player is barely a year old. That's right. When I needed a new one, did I go ahead and get an iPod? Nope. I just bought a new CD player, although it is the snazzy one that also plays mp3s. For me that's a major upgrade.

But Lovely Wife? Dude, she's a bigger gadget freak than I could ever aspire to be. If only I could get her to read the instructions on stuff, I'd be a happy man. I like reading the manual. Is that so wrong?

She's so bad at wanting the newest thing that it spills over into other areas of our lives. When we are almost out of toothpase, and we go ahead and buy the new tube? She immediately starts on the new tube, leaving me to mop up the dregs in the old tube. And in almost 22 years of marriage, I don't ever remember being the first person to dip my knife into the perfect, smooth surface of a new jar of peanut butter, although I have watched, longingly, while she does. I'm over there scraping out the last of the peanut butter from the old jar.

How do you think she is with electronics?

You have three guesses. The first two, of course, don't count.

She bought an iPod Nano last week. That iPod Shuffle she's had for a while just had all the 'new' worn slap-dab off of it. It was gettin' to be time for something new! (Slap-dab is another time honored southern phrase. It means the same thing as 'plumb', as in "…all the 'new' got worn plumb off of it", or, "I plumb forgot to mow the yard.")

So like the dregs of the toothpaste, or the last of the peanut butter, I inherit the iPod Shuffle, complete with hot (and I mean HOT) pink protective cover.

But hey, that's cool with me. I have never used iTunes, and I've not yet started to learn how the shuffle works but I'm already looking forward to learning about it and using it. It's so little and cute. Plus that hot pink protective case will make all my dweeb/engineer coworkers seethe with envy. (Yeah, sure, right.) And being as big as I am almost guarantees that nobody will pick on me about it either. In fact, I'm looking forward to showing it off, pink case and all.

[Aside: You have never seen anything as unique as showing a group of engineers a 'new' toy. Instead of the normal "Hey man, that's cool! I'm getting one just like that pretty soon.", you get mostly furrowed brows and after everyone looks it over really good, you then get peppered with questions about how it works, have you taken it apart yet, and stuff like that. A new gadget is a SERIOUS thing. And showing it to the group is a solemn occasion.]

I don't reckon Lovely Wife has an instruction manual for it, though I can probably look it up on the Apple web site. I won't even bother to ask. That would probably earn me 'the look'.

Time for me to start researching iPod Shuffle. About two years later than the rest of the world.

I'll just continue to work out my desire to be 'cutting edge' at work.

The tweny first century might not be such a bad place after all.

Plus that hot pink case will make a nice fashion statement with the junk I wear to work with all of my work outfits. ;)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Johnny Depp And The Spice Girls

(This blog post is brought to you today without any photographic interruptions.)

I'm a sucker for the underdog and I have a deep dislike of music and movie critics. Quite often I choose to like something that normally I wouldn't like, simply because the critics hate that thing. Conversely, I can dislike something because the critics like it/them too much. Except for U2. I have always loved U2 even though the critics love them too.

Get back on track there, son.

Way, way back in the late 90's, Number One and Number Two Daughters liked the Spice Girls. Normally I would have detested them (the Spice Girls, not my daughters), but, the critics came out in force and were just as much a part of that scene as the Girls themselves.

Sometimes someone, or a group in the Spice Girls's case, comes along and the critics rise up en mass to try to squash that person or group's success. The critics decide for some reason to try everything in their power to stop them.

But that's the problem with critics, they don't have much power. Movie critics have a little bit I guess, but music critics have even less power than movie critics.

To prove my point, quick!, name 3 movie critics. No problem, even I can do that.

Now, quick!, name me 3 music critics.

(Cricket. Cricket. Cricket.)

See what I'm talkin' about? I couldn't think of one either.

When I was younger, I thought Elvis impersonators were the lowest form of life on the planet. But I've changed that opinion. At least they are getting out there, letting it all hang out (especially the 'old Elvis' impersonators) and trying honestly to entertain or humor people.

Music critics and movie critics are now what I think of as the lowest life forms.

And when they really, really hate someone, I take notice. So I started liking the Spice Girls. And in fact, the Spice Girls's version of the Christmas song 'Sleigh Ride' is my favorite version of that song. Whodathunkit?

Now to Johnny Depp. I think he's a fantastic actor. I don't know if I would get along with him very well on a personal level, knowing some of his remarks about America, but I think he's a great actor. And I have a basic suspicion of someone who would willingly move to France, but hey, his wife's from there. (I feel the same way about Susan Sarandon, we would probably be having a chick fight, all slapping, squealing, and fingernails within three minutes of meeting because of our vehemently different political views, but I think she is absolutely one of the best actresses in the business today.)

But ol' Johnny Depp has done the unthinkable and made a sequel, which critics naturally hate, AND this sequel has just set a new box office record. Take that Spidey!

So already I see the bared fangs of the critics. The American public disregarded their dislike of the new Pirates movie and went to see it in droves. How dare they! Didn't they read our reviews?

Either way, the critics are miffed because either 1.) we didn't read their review which is bad, or 2.) we ignored said review to the point of setting a new box office record which is unforgivable.

Expect more venom from these useless parasites of humanity in the next few weeks. They'll tear at Johnny Depp and Pirates lest it top Titanic in world wide box office.

But although I haven't seen Pirates yet, I hope it continues to do well.

I like seeing critics eat crow.

Addendum, Thursday July 13:
I just found out that, in fact, Johnny Depp is not married. He's just been shackin' up wit Baby Mama for 8 years or so.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Russian Airbus Crash

(A picture-free post!)
Seeing reports of this Russian airplane crash with so many dead, breaks my heart. I've always felt that airplane crashes were a particularly tragic way to die. Not sure why, but my heart always jumps when I hear of airplane crashes. It might be because of the years I worked in the airline industry.

Back in the olden days, at the tail end of the Soviet Union era, I was working at Delta Airlines in Atlanta. This was before all of the present US air line troubles. (I hate seeing Delta going through bankruptcy.) This was around 1990-1991.

As the Soviet Union lost it's grip on its member countries and regions, the US state of Georgia and the Soviet state of Georgia started a good will exchange. They would send representatives back and forth, some of whom were average citizens, to promote peace and whatnot. I always got the impression that the Soviet Georgia was just celebrating a little new found freedom and reaching out the world a bit. It was big news in the Atlanta Journal-Constipation when they would have a group go there or come here.

On the first mission to the US from Soviet Georgia, their plane of course landed and stayed at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta.

I was working on the day the Russian Aeroflot airplane, the 'official' Russian airline came in. And as soon as I had a little break time, some of us rode our tugs, the little tractor thingies we pulled the baggage carts with, over to the concourse where the Aeroflot plane was parked.

We were pretty much horrified. You know they probably sent the best jet they could for such a mission, but this was the ricketiest looking jet we had ever seen. I remember us talking about what a job it must have been to keep that rascal air-worthy.

I'm not cutting down their mechanics. I know that they probably were good at their jobs. Had to have been to have kept this thing in the air. They just didn't have much to work with.

The most stark thing I remember was how worn the tires on the plane were.

(A note about US jet plane tires. These things are incredibly well made and incredibly tough. They have several layers of rubber and steel belts. Like a good car tire, just more layers of each. At the time, I've been out of the industry a while now, US air lines were required to change the tires after a certain amount of the first steel belt layer was in view. Sounds creepy, but remember, they have several layers of steel belts and rubber.)

This Aeroflot plane's tires were showing SEVERAL layers of steel belt. We were remarking that we couldn't believe one or more of them didn't pop under the stress of landing.

So when I heard of this Russian jet landing, but not being able to stop in the rain and running out of runway, I thought of that old Aeroflot's tires.

Now you have to understand that an Airbus brand jet is much, much better than a Soviet era, state-built Aeroflot plane, but still, that old Aeroflot plane is what I pictured in my mind when I read about this crash the other day.

With the pressure on ALL the world's air lines to cut costs, frankly, I'm amazed there aren't more crashes. I'm glad there aren't more than there are, but the pressure to cut costs at airlines does eventually increase the risk of mishaps.

I was always so proud of Delta. When their planes came in, and I hope this is the case today, the departing pilot would come down to the ground and walk around the plane to check for any problems. Our mechanics would do the same, plus they would work on any issues that particular plane might have while we buzzed about loading and unloading the aircraft. Then the new pilot would do a walk around of the plane before leaving on the next leg of the plane's day.

In short, a lot of eyes were checking in detail before each leg of each flight. Very little went unnoticed. We were even instructed to keep our eyes open for anything that might be amiss, like a small puncture in the fuselage or whatever, and let a mechanic or our supervisor know, just in case. When a plane arrives at an airport, especially a hub like Atlanta, the plane is inundated with people and equipment being driven up to and touching the plane. Lots of opportunities for damage that could impact the integrity of the aircraft. We ALL had to be diligent.

Anyway, that's my story, and I really do hate hearing about plane crashes. I can't help but think of that old Aeroflot plane when I hear anything about Russian air lines or planes. I would have loved to have had a camera there to take pics of it with. Oh well.