Friday, December 29, 2006

Hanging Saddam

I'm actually not sure how I feel about hanging Saddam. Oh, I have no doubt that he deserves to be hanged for what they convicted him of and a lot of other things they didn't even try him for, but I'm not entirely convinced we should do it. Like everything else about our involvement over there, this is feeling... hasty. I'd be really curious to find out what the possible ramifications are going to be before we do this. If there's just one thing this administration doesn't grasp--and God knows they don't grasp anything--it's forethought.

The other thing I keep thinking is this: Saddam Hussein was convicted of basically invading part of Iran unlawfully with a cheap excuse, killing people because it suited him, overthrowing the existing government, letting loose his army to terrorize the region, and generally ignoring everyone else's opinion of proper behavior. For which it looks like he's going to be hanged in fairly short order.

Well, gee, thank goodness no-one thinks that our President's done that! Otherwise, we'd have to convict him and hang him for crimes against humanity, too. Quickly.

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Really nasty song (mwahahahahaaaaa!)

Note: If you're easily offended, skip this post. If you're not easily offended, read on!

I actually wrote this song over a year ago, but I've debated putting it on the blog. Recent events and seeing still more of the damage fundamentalists are doing to the world has prompted me to post this. Mockery's an exceptional political tool and it works all the better with people who have no sense of humor... which'd be these folks.

The backstory is this: This song was actually inspired by an abortive attempt to have a constructive discussion with a self-anointed Christian columnist named Mel who every week attempts to be profound (generally without any success, though I did see one or two columns that bordered on "cogent") in a wee, tiny little newspaper in Minnesota. I've seen his mailing list—he's not very ept with computers and didn't seem to grasp the idea of blind mailing lists—and he's got a very small fan club, but like most of his brand of twerp, he's enormously self-important.

I really wanted to find out how he got from the Bible to the nasty, judgmental, small-minded positions he took in his rather sloppily-written columns. It seemed like such a wild leap, and finding fundamentalists who are actually willing to talk about things to anyone who's not already assimilated into the mindset is very difficult. Unfortunately, having promised that he wanted to talk to me about what he was writing, he then proceeded to spout his peasant version of politics and then refused to talk to me after I started asking him a lot of questions. It was the usual line of drivel, sadly; I'd hoped for something new. (Shoot, I'd have settled for conversation that demonstrated self-awareness and not something generated by an "Eliza"-like program set up to run in "Christian drivel" mode, but no luck even there.)

He even lied to me about getting back to me in a week; I dropped him a couple emails reminding him of this promise about 2 years later, but he didn't even acknowledge them. Pity he doesn't have the courage of his supposed convictions… but I do have to thank him for one thing: he inspired a wonderful song!

The song is entitled "You Can Tell a Christian..." and it's really kind of a natural. You're welcome to spread it around in its current form (the link will download a PDF file).

Remember that there really are good Christians out there who are to be known and praised--I've known a couple myself and they're great people!--but far, far too many of them in this country are loudmouthed, ignorant little peasants who have no reason for continued existence on a planet that's discovered penicillin. They're the ones I wrote this song about.

(BTW, if you're a fan of this sort of thing, you might also enjoy the classic music video, "Keep Your Jesus Off My Penis" by Eric Schwartz, who coined the lovely term "hypo-Christianity.")

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Help, we're being oppressed!"

This cogent little graphic comes from Kooks 'R Us:




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Monday, December 18, 2006

"Stranger Than Fiction" -- who knew he could act so well?

We went out bowling last night... or at least we headed to the lanes to bowl, but we discovered that it was a league night. Well, a movie then? Sure! The girls and I went off to see Stranger Than Fiction, the new Will Ferrell movie.

I loved it. I mean, I know that Will Farrell does good comedy and has pretty good timing and that comedy is much harder than drama... but I found myself moved to tears on a couple of occasions. Emma Thompson was brilliant as a self-absorbed, rather depressive author, Dustin Hoffman made a great professor of English Lit., Maggie Gyllenhaal is scrumptious, and, hell, I'd totally follow Queen Latifah around just because she's so hot. But Will Farrell really has untapped talents as a good dramatic actor with the bulk to carry a leading role. It was much akin to the pleasure of seeing The Truman Show, discovering that Jim Carrey could turn in an effective and serious performance as well as do the same physical humor over and over again. But I think that Will Farrell may have more depth.

Interestingly, Jim Carrey is about to do a film called The Number 23, in which a man reads a book that appears to be based on his life, but the book ends with a murder that hasn't happened in real life... yet. Well, it's not the first time an idea was taken in two different directions by two contemporaneous films, and this could be good, too.

But in the meantime, everyone should go see Stranger Than Fiction.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Great banjo joke from Reader's Digest

The Babe read this today in Reader's Digest of all places.

The best noise I ever heard a banjo make was when an accordion landed on top of it in a trash can.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Atholl brose and Thanksgiving

I had forgotten about atholl brose for quite a while. It's been close to 30 years since I last had any. Today, I was telling a friend in England about it while we were discussing scotches and she said "What's that?" and I found a recipe. This stuff is Scottish mother's milk; it goes down smoother and better than anything you've probably ever had.

After almost 30 years since I last had it, I can still remember how good it is. Since Turkey Day's coming up, I'm going to use that as an excuse to make a batch of it. You ought to give it a try as well.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wait, DON'T impeach him!

The Babe pointed out that impeachment at this stage of the game is a really bad idea... and unfortunately, I think she's right. If we impeach the bastard now, it'll take a couple years and be nothing but a huge red herring. There are things that we've got to get done now--getting taxation back to where it should be, restoring the Clean Air & Water provisions, stopping the war, and setting up a national health care system--and none of this will happen if we're busy impeaching some pipsqueak.

So let's not and say we did. History will record just how stupid a man he really is and the only truly appropriate justice would involve something medieval.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hot DAMN!

It's nice to know that even Americans force-fed propaganda through the Fox News Channel have their limits for stupidity. I'm sorry that the margins weren't wider, but it's nice to see Bush grovelling. It's lovely to see Rumsfeld quitting rather than probably getting shipped out to Iraq without body armor to man a sentry post. And I really enjoyed getting email today from ImpeachBush.org that basically said we've got a Democratic majority in place in the House and Senate, now it's time to move the agenda to impeachment.

Works for me. They can't do enough to that little weasel to even the scales, but the Talmud says that to publicly humiliate a man is to murder him. I like the idea of as much public humiliation for him as we can find. International war crimes tribunal, maybe?

It may be too late to save the world from total ecological collapse, but I now feel a small sense of hope that we might, maybe, possibly be in a position to do something other than rape and pillage. I'll sleep well tonight.
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Thursday, November 02, 2006

A couple of great Mark Twain quotes for the day

I saw the first quote as a bumper sticker on the back of a car here in Eugene:
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.
I liked that so much that I wanted to look it up and get the exact quote. When I found it, I also found this other gem:
The loud little handful will shout for war. The pulpit will warily and cautiously protest at first…The great mass of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes, and will try to make out why there should be a war, and they will say earnestly and indignantly: "It is unjust and dishonorable and there is no need for war." Then the few will shout even louder…Before long you will see a curious thing: anti-war speakers will be stoned from the platform, and free speech will be strangled by hordes of furious men who still agree with the speakers but dare not admit it ... Next, statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Moved in, sorta

I had just a moment here in the middle of everything to add a note.

We got all the stuff moved into the new house (save for the storage pod of stuff we'd stored a while back; that can wait until we're a bit settled and we have new cabinets built in the garage for storing things.

The painters are done with all the bedrooms and the bathrooms and they look fabulous! (Yes, photos will be coming.) My office is set up, sorta: the network's up, the printer works, I've got lots of Internet access, and the wireless is working for the time being. I've just bought a router to take care of the network routing in the patch panel (shoulda done that earlier, but I forgot).

The house is really lovely. It's incredibly upscale. I feel like I have to be a better person than I am now just to live in it.

Back to work--got a chapter I want to get out.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Time to carve a pumpkin!

Have you carved your pumpkin yet? If not, it's time to start warming up on a digital pumpkin now.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Moving Friday!

We've got the painter finishing up on our bedroom and Susan the Wonder Child's bedroom today, so we're good to move in Friday am. It's going to be a looooooooooooong day.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

BC

The Babe and I have been away in London for the last couple of weeks.  I have about several hundred photos of all sorts of things to put up on the blog with all sorts of stories, but I have to let you know that BC died while I was on vacation. I thought that this might happen; the last thing I said to him before leaving was to tell him I loved him and that I expected him to be alive when I got back. He'd been losing weight for the last couple months and was fairly bony. He was also looking very much like an old guy. He was 14-1/2, which is fairly old for a cat. His mother, Willow, developed cancer at that age.

Susan phoned us Thursday the 12th. She'd been feeding all the cats and BC had been standing on the counter when he suddenly fell off and landed hard on the floor. He was gasping for breath and he couldn't get up on his own. She drove him to the vet immediately but he died en route within 5-10 minutes. Susan was very upset and I was more worried about her than BC. When she got there, the vet said that he'd died of either a stroke or a heart attack. It sounds like it was fairly quick, but I was very sorry that I couldn't be there with him given how glued to me he was.

The vet has his body and I'll pick him up in the next few days. I'd been thinking in September that he might die (though not quite like this; I figured he might just die in his sleep) and I had already decided that I was going to plant him here under the maple tree near his mother. I'd thought about burying him at the new house but it didn't feel right: he'd never lived there and I was sorta thinking that he wouldn't know where he was. It'll be better to keep him here and he'll be near Willow, too, which will be nice.

BC was a truly wonderful cat and I will miss him a lot.


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Monday, October 09, 2006

We're off! (But only a little and it hardly shows....)

Everything's taken care of, so I'm off for a bit. I'll tell you more soon. Expect pictures, too. :)

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ain't gonna have to pay two mortgages!

Sunday afternoon, we had people come in to look at the house. Nothing particularly special about that, although it was the first buyers we'd seen for about 10 days. They were a really nice couple with a 6-yo boy named Zach and a baby named Nathan. They all popped their heads into my office (I was working on stuff for Wonderware) and Zach asked if we had two cats. No, I said, we actually have four cats. I asked Zach which cats he'd seen and it turned out that he'd seen Bo in the driveway and BC here in my office. Well, I said, there are two more in the house. He was excited and went looking for them.

Everyone looked around at some length. They seemed to enjoy the house. I told them about the neighborhood and the neighbors (who we'd like to be able to take with us), particularly that there were twin 5-yo boys next door. We talked work--the guy (whose name escapes me, darnit) was wearing a ThinkGeek t-shirt that I recognized, so I figured he was into computers, too. He is: he works at Apple as a team lead and specializes in wifi in his group.

Zach reappeared to say that he'd spotted another cat staring at the fish tank. That was Yang, I said, and he just stares at the tank but he never does anything. The fourth cat was shy and he probably wouldn't see her because she was hiding under one of the beds, most likely. He ran off and a moment later I cracked up hearing him announce to his parents that they couldn't leave until he'd found the fourth cat. Luckily for their schedule, I was right: Yin was hiding under the bed as usual.

They left. I enjoyed them; they seemed like really nice people.

Monday, they wanted to come back and look again. The realtor said they really liked the house and were down to this one and another. Well, cooooooool! The Babe came home and helped me straighten the house and they showed up after having talked to a mortgage broker (even better). They stayed over half an hour and I ended up chatting with them for a while. Definitely nice people and worth the knowing. They were moving up from Silicon Valley for her job, not his; she's taking over as Nursing Manager for Labor and Delivery at PeaceHealth Co-operative here in town. He needs to find a job. I gave him my card and told him that, regardless how this turned out, I'd be glad to help him find work and he should get hold of me in a few weeks. (They won't be up here until the first week of November.)

Our realtor phoned later that day and said they were going to make an offer. Well, hippety-bounce-bounce-hop! Their realtor and ours came over that evening and presented the offer. We talked it over with our realtor and then did a counteroffer. Our realtor got hold of their realtor, who phoned them (they were driving back to Silicon Valley that evening). They accepted orally and today we got all the paperwork signed. The house is now "pending!" We're both very pleased. We'll be closing in the first few days of November, I imagine, by which time we'll be out and the house will be cleaned.

Coooooooooooool!

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

We didn't buy that rug after all

We ran a zillion errands for the new house yesterday. First, we picked up some paint chips: we've still got painting to do after all that. Not only do we have to repaint the rather electric blue in the music room and the guest bathroom, Susan the Wonder Child wants her bedroom painted a deep red (that's the actual name for it, "Deep Red" from Benjamin Moore). We're painting the upstairs bathroom a light, frosty sage green, and our bedroom we're going to try a deep garnet color with the bathoom a lighter shade from the same palette. If we don't like this, we'll go for something different in a year or so.

After getting the paint chips for the painter, we had planned to go order the rug and pick up a bunch of generic white laminate cabinets for the garage to put all the garage-y stuff in. I'd noticed that Macy's was having a big one-day sale (which was lasting two days; go figure) on rugs yesterday, so we went there. We ended up buying a lot of Karastan rugs there (just a bit more than we'd thought about ), a shopping process that took about 2 hours. The salesman probably would've been driven crazy except for the fact that there were five guys on the floor for the department and we were the only customers there. Everyone was watching the Oregon Ducks game.

This morning, we're off to Home Despot to pick up the cabinets we didn't get to yesterday. Somewhere along the line, I should probably go shopping as well, as we're completely out of eggs and other breakfast-like things.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Rug for the music room

The music room just cries out for a persian rug. Actually, large parts of the house cry out for persian rugs--ah, the wonder of dark cherry floors!--but the music room most of all.

Now, as I'd mentioned earlier, we'd planned on having a beautiful dark blue in the music room. The blue we've got there now is beautiful, but it's a lot brighter than we'd planned on. We've been shopping for persian rugs and we found this one.


The only problem was finding a blue that actually matched the blue in the rug. You'd think that'd be easy, wouldn't you? Nope, not really: all the blues we were finding, no matter how dark, seemed positively luminous compared to the blue in this rug. But it is blue, you understand, although in person, it looks almost black.

After searching through samples from half a dozen different paint manufacturers, we finally found Polo Blue from Benjamin Moore. On the chip, it looks almost black, but we've learned that the color on the chip tends to be darker than the way it looks on the walls. More importantly, it fairly closely matches the color of the rug, so no matter how it looks on the walls (famous last words here), it should match the rug, too. Actually, having written that, I can see how it might not simply because the rug will be surrounded by the dark floor and getting a lot of white light bounced off the wainscotting, while the walls will be next to the white wainscotting and will look much darker as a result.

Okay, so the Victorians really liked rich, vibrant colors, too, so if we've got good colors, it'll All Work Out. (Spoken like a guy!)

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Early Monday am

I had a lot of things to do for work this morning, so I got up around 5:00. There was some leftover coffee that was drinkable (I have much lower standards than the Babe for drinkability and leftover coffee that was good to begin with will do for an eye-opener), but I'm going to want more caffeine shortly, definitely.

I've got a ton of albums to listen to this morning--a new Weird Al, a bunch of Leon Redbone, some Steve Goodman--and a pile of really satisfying work. It looks like it's going to be a good day.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's time to make postcards

I just realized that it's time to put together address change postcards to everyone again. I'm going to see if I can't put a picture of the new house on them somehow, possibly as a watermark or background print.

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And heeeeeeere's our new HOUSE!!!

Friday, we took possession of our new house. We're thrilled with how well it all turned out.





It's really hard getting good photos of the house because to do it justice I really need a fish-eye lens. Bear with me; we'll be bombarding you with photos I'm sure.
Note: I'm using a new "group photo" display feature from Flickr, where I store my pictures online. All of these picture thumbnails are tied to my Flickr account, so you can click on any of them and get a Much Bigger version.

As you can see from the outside shot, the front door has a round top. What you can't really see is that the door's about 8 feet tall. The front hall has a 25' arch to it, which is really only photographable from the top of the stairs.






The music room is to the left as you walk in. There's white wainscoting on the walls and we painted the top section with a dark blue… or what we thought was a dark blue. Well, hell, it looked dark blue on the paint chip! As you can see from the pictures below, it's really more of an electric blue. We're going to have this part repainted with a much darker blue before we move in.






The stairs are classic. There's a cherry first step (and it's a good time to note that most of the floors throughout are solid hardwood, a nice dark cherry) and hardwood banisters and these rather nifty metal rails.






There's a guest powder room in the main hall. It's a bit on the narrow side (the Babe refers to this as "the airplane bathroom") and we painted it with the same blue color as the music room. Yeah, it's getting repainted, too.






There's a large storage area under the stairs.






The living room couldn't be better lit unless you removed the roof. There are windows most of the way up the eastern wall (and the ceiling's 30 feet up) and numerous lights in the ceiling. The gas fireplace is faced in rock and that goes up all 30 feet to the ceiling. One of the shots here shows the floor vents, which have a hardwood grate on them. (I think that's cool.)






There's a built-in TV well next to the fireplace that has two levels. The upper level will be used to hold art of some kind--we haven't quite figured out what yet--but the new TV will go into the bottom one. In a pinch, though, we could use these for bunkbeds--they're certainly big enough.






The kitchen adjoins the living room. The cabinets are cherry, too. I've put a couple of photos of the refrigerator in just because we like it: it's one of the new "French door" models that gives you room for a whole turkey on a single shelf. I'm looking forward to trying this aspect out in a few months.

Mind you, I'm still planning on having the second refrigerator and the small upright freezer out in the garage still. We'll have sodas and beer and oddments in the second fridge and the freezer will have all those things you always store in a freezer.






The living room is open and you can look up into a gallery/upstairs hall area, or, conversely, look down from the gallery into the living room. We're worried about the cats jumping up on the half-wall upstairs, losing their footing, and plummeting to the living room 15 feet below, so we shall have to see about teaching them that it's a bad idea without actually having them learn this empirically.






The laundry room is next to the entrance to the master bedroom (which is downstairs, hurrah for the Babe's knees!). It's a laundry room, y'know, so there's not a lot to say about it… except that there's more of this solid cherry floor. That's perhaps a little silly; after all, you'd like to not have a floor that'll take water damage or stain easily in a work area. But there it is. We'll probably be putting a protective rug down on this so the floor doesn't get too badly chewed up.





I couldn't get any shots of the master bedroom simply because the camera won't shoot a wide enough picture. The master bedroom's really well-lit, has off-white berber carpeting, and we're going to be painting it something colorful. Our current choices are leaning towards plum.

The master bathroom is very well made, which is something of a pity because we really hate travertine. Unfortunately, that's the choice we got: dark travertine or light travertine. The builder did an excellent job of fitting it all together, but, as the Babe says, it still looks like wet paper bags. *sigh* We'll be getting a price on what it'll take to rip out all the travertine and replace it with something we like, though it's probably not going to happen right away.

The fixtures are nice, the workmanship's first-rate, and they spared little expense. But we really dislike the bathroom. It's the one thing about this house that we'd have liked some other choice on. I'm looking forward to ripping the travertine off the walls and floors.

The master closet adjoins the master bath. It's big: about 8' x 8'. I couldn't get really good shots of the master closet, either, but you'll get an idea from what you can see.






The upstairs bath is finished in tile. It's better than the travertine, although it's still a bit on the dull side. There is a skylight, though, and we'll be painting this a sage green.






The upstairs hall has the gallery wall on one side. There's an alcove with a built-in desk (more cherry) at the end of the hall. The Babe's probably going to put her sewing machine in the alcove for now: there's a lot of light and she can be connected with what's going on in the rest of the house.






Susan the Wonder Child has a large bedroom right off the stairs. Her closet is as big as the closet in the master bedroom downstairs.






My office… ah, my office. It's roughly 12' x 20' although it's not a complete square. The floor isn't cherry in this case; it's actually a laminate that looks a lot like it. The original plans called for the same carpeting as elsewhere, but I also know how much coffee I spill. And I've dropped bits of popsicles on the floor in my office in the old house (which also has an off-white carpet) and I've left stains in orange and purple from the food coloring. A laminate floor with a rug over it seems the safest way to go. I'll need to pad the bottoms of the computers and other equipment so I don't gouge the floor.

I should mention that there's CAT-5 networking throughout the house, so I'll have the cable modem coming in here and then feeding the rest of the house via a patch panel. No more wireless connections with so-so signal strength; everyone will have a direct-wired connection. If we still need to provide access to some location that isn't near a wall plug, I can mount a wireless router in the same room or very near and the signal strength will still be good.






The guest bedroom adjoins my office. There's a smaller closet in this room. There's unheated storage access in the closet and this is where I'll probably be storing some of the stuff I don't need high-priority access to.






There's not much else to show you, except the garage. Perhaps the biggest thing we can say is "Look at the garage while it's still clean and uncluttered!" We're about to get a bunch of storage cabinets so we can put all the garage miscellany away as we move in. The Babe has spotted some really good ceiling-mount storage racks that we can use for things like camping gear, Xmas ornaments, and other lightweight stuff.






That's the house. We're darned proud! We're going to be doing some additional painting and then we'll move in.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

Everything's done for now

The house has been turned over to us (with very few things left to correct--nail holes in the molding in one spot, a vent that needs fixing, adding the peephole to the door--all little things). We closed on it and got every last bit of paper in to the title company, which was a zoo, as the underwriter kept asking for more and stranger pieces of paper as we got closer and close to the close.

It's Friday night. I'm going to have a really biiiiiiiiig drink and call it a week. I'm going to sleep in some Saturday morning, then get back to work.

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It has been an exhausting week...

...and the week isn't over yet.

I was in SoCal all week for my new job--yup, I'm now officially a captive and I'm very pleased about it!--and now I'm back. It was a somewhat harrowing adventure flying home: I ended up going to Portland instead of Eugene and then cadging a ride with a bunch of flight crew back to Eugene in the middle of the night. Did you know you can fit 6 people into a Hyundai Sonata if you're all very friendly and everyone's moderately narrow-hipped? You can, but it still ain't much fun. But I did get home at 4:30am, snagged a few hours of sleep, and we went out to do our tour of the new house and then closed on it.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I *am* a grandfather!

Lori talked to the Babe today and said that I can definitely be a grandfather. Both her and Phil's biological fathers have died so there's a dearth of grandfather types around. I'm seeuw heppy!

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My political score

There's a fun political test though OKCupid. My score didn't surprise me.


Third Way Liberal

You scored 70% Personal Liberty and 34% Economic Liberty!

A third way liberal believes in little to moderate government intervention on personal matters and moderate to high government intervention on economic matters. They tend to be opposed to war, police powers, victimless crimes, and what they may consider to be a corporate state or rogue capitalism. They generally support personal liberty and believes in a social safety net or welfare state. They support self-ownership and privacy. Third way liberals are essentially the "mainstream" left and left of center.











My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 70% on Personal
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 20% on Economic




Link: The Politics Test written by brainpolice on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

By the way....

That last post was post #300. It proves that I've had a lot to say at times over the last 18 months.

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Grandparenthood!

The Babe's stepdaughter Lori--who is a beautiful Japanese American woman--and Phil Kim--who is a very handsome Korean man--had their baby yesterday, September 18th, at 4:53 AM. 6 pounds 10 oz. 19 1/2 inches with lots of wavy dark hair with blondish highlights and dark grey-green eyes. Her name is Raegen Hae Ji Kim (Hae Ji is Korean for Larry's daughter, very smart, and lots of love). Mother, father Phil, and child are doing great!

I don't get to claim full grandfatherhood--a step-stepdaughter isn't quite the same--but I can be a bonus grandfather.

You know, I never thought this'd happen to me. It's nice. :)

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Is Ken Lay really dead?

If you're like me--and you probably are, given that you're reading this blog--you were deeply disappointed that Ken Lay croaked. I don't really mind that he's dead; I just wanted it to happen s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y. The guy deserved far better than to fall over dead and skip out. The selfish prick got away with tens of millions that will never be recovered and his worthless trophy wife will get to spend it.

I didn't hear many of the details about his death, other than the fact that a lot of cronies and Administration supporters stopped just short in their eulogies of saying he was some kind of martyr. But I really really really would have liked to see the body. Just for the satisfaction value alone.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Debriding the office

I've been working a ton lately, which generates mountains of paper. The desk has been getting increasingly buried and yesterday I spent a couple hours debriding. What a relief! I found a couple of royalty checks that I need to deposit (nothing big, but still), recycled a pile of stuff that was irrelevant or outdated, and assembled a large stack of shredding. I spent a little while shredding paper and had to dump the shredder basket a couple of times... and also had to wait at one point to finish the job: the shredder got so hot that the motor shut off and it took an hour for the shredder to cool down.

I've got a clean desk that I can see a great deal of the surface of and I have little diamonds of shredded paper all over the rug that I need to vacuum up. And the cleanliness makes life much more comfortable.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Paper cuts

There's a fascinating blog from Vietnam that you need to look at. Go look, I'll wait. You don't have to read Vietnamese to appreciate what they're doing with paper.

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Obstacles

It's been a day of mostly small, annoying things.

I've been trying to get work done all day and the universe has been conspiring to keep me from it. I've been chasing mortgage paperwork from 9 to 4:45 (about 15 minutes ago). The mortgage company--actually, the lender, specifically; the mortgage company's been great--the lender has been asking for stranger and stranger paperwork, including something that wouldn't be available for about 3 weeks from now: a pay stub from my new job.

Oh, wait, did I not tell you about that? Ummm, yeah. I'm starting a fulltime, captive, permanent employee-type JOB on Monday.

It's my first in a decade. And I'm seriously pumped about it. The company makes factory automation management software, pretty cool stuff, and they're the industry leader. But that's not what made me want to go captive.

It's my boss. My boss is great. She does things pretty much the way I'd do them (always a plus, of course) and she's equitable, direct, and honest. The rest of the company is like that, too, and that was the next reason I wanted to sign up: there aren't ducal fiefdoms there. It's not your typical software/high-tech company: people are nice! They are people you'd actually want to know, to talk to, and definitely to work with! There's a strong sense of "If you don't win, none of us win" in everything they do. And people tend to be pretty supportive of each other. Management knows what it's doing, too: the company makes a good profit and sets strong-but-achievable goals and they don't work people to death and then shoot 'em to get there. The offices are attractive and comfortable, they have great kitchens with lots of soda and nibbly food, and they feed people in the evening whenever there's a development push. The company is very profitable (I approve of this). Employees tend to stay there for years and their turnover rate is really low. Pay's good. There's a lot of vacation. Very good bennies.

This is the only company I've ever gone to work for where I felt that I needed to be a better person just to measure up to the quality of the people I'm working with. It's a terrific honor to get hired here and I'm very pleased and not a little flattered.

Here's the best part: I get to work at home. So I have all the advantages of freelancing (no commute, flexibility of dress code, and it's easy to solve the "What's for lunch?" problem) and all the advantages of captivity. I'm in love. :)

So, anyway, as I was saying.... the lender wants a paystub from the new job, a thing I won't have until sometime in early October. Oy. So we got it worked out that I can send them a letter from the company on Monday that says I've started the job and I'm there and so on.

And with that in hand, the final piece of paper would appear to be in place (even as I type that, I don't believe it--there's always something at the last minute, as today's scurrying around to find more bank statements, tax info, and so on), and our mortgage goes through with a small *poof*!

Next week's going to be long, but things will get done.
And now it's after 5, and it's unlikely that the mortgage company will be phoning for Yet Another Thing, so I may be able to get productive work done at last.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Because nobody should have to squeal like a pig."

I sold a button to the button company several years ago that says "Well, okay, but I'm not going to squeal like a pig." I'm not the only one who saw potential in that expression.

Kinda brings out the finer points of being a banjo player. {toothy smile}

Thanks to Herb for bring this one to my attention. It's a keeper.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Yesterday (Friday) was Dad's 74th birthday. He's doing well and we talked the night before. I'm really proud to have him for a father.

Happy Birthday, Dad!
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Further gustatory delights

There's a website for dark chocolate for those who eschew the Path of Sweetness and Light; who believe that dark chocolate is the True Way to Salvation. You'll find a lot of history and detailed information on dark chocolates you've never heard of, I guarantee. Start by looking at their index of chocolate to see how much there is to live for.

(And, if you've never tried them, the Very Best Chocolates in the World are made by Lily O'Brien, a choclatier in Ireland. My next-door neighbors in Seattle introduced me to them. It may be the fragrant Irish butter, it may be the blend, but Lily O'Brien chocolates are better than any you've ever had before. You can buy them in the US. Try them out and let me know.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Costing the Christian Fascists $$$

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strongly negative opinion of fundamentalists. ANY brand of fundamentalist. In the US, we're cursed with Christian peasants of all stripes, including the fuckwit who's masquerading as the President. Elsewhere, there are Islamic fundamentalists. And, lest we forget, there are Hindu fundamentalists and Jewish fundamentalists, too. I figure, "Screw 'em all!" None of them are interested in my point of view because they all have God (or in this country according to the televangelists, "Gahwud") on their side.

While my distaste for all of them is philosophically equal, it's the Christian brand of idiots I get to see the most of and the ones that I consequently have the most loathing for. The ones we have in this country are a particularly room-temperature bunch, too. Unfortunately, like most mobs of fundamentalists, there are people who are not stupid whipping and driving them for their own ends (which is largely how we ended up with a mentally-defective white-knuckle drunk in office making holy war on the rest of the world while turning this country into another tinpot dictatorship).

Someone recently came up with a method for costing some of these people money directly. And I don't mean just by living a life that pisses them off--always a good idea--but by actually getting them to send you stuff on their nickel. Focus on the Family is a particularly large and toxic bunch of people who are vehement about the horrors of homosexuality and the ee-vills of a secular, liberal life in general. They mulct their flocks for millions of dollars and spend some of their loot on printing and distributing books of their brand of poison so they can do still more damage. (You know: lying to preserve the God of Truth. It's an old Christian tradition.)

Here's the cool part of all of this: You can get them to send you up to $100 of stuff for free. And you can even do this over and over again if you're careful!!

Does this strike you as a Cool Thing? I sure think so: costing Christian fascists money means they don't have it to spend on something that will actually damage people. The Stranger, Seattle's premiere gay newspaper, describes the process step by step in this article. While the article in question is aimed at the idea of gay rights and opposing these bastards who are getting in the way of that, the principles are the same for anyone who doesn't feel like living in a theocracy. Or who just thinks that there is no room for Christian fascists on a planet that has discovered penicillin.

Does this trick work? It sure appears to: I've got $94 (suggested donation price) of stuff coming to me at the moment: a 14-CD set of the Chronicles of Narnia and a set of wooden Xmas ornaments. It was really kinda hard for me to find things I'd even want in the house on their list: the books are all stuff that I think of as Nazi propaganda (I know, I know, it ain't "Nazi" as such, but Christian fascists are Christian fascists, regardless of whether they speak German or 'Murrkan) and I wouldn't want them getting loose in the community where they could poison someone else. But the CDs may be nice, although the taint of them having been done by the "Focus on the Family Radio Theater" may be enough to make me not want to listen to them. And the ornaments will make a good gift for one of several really fundie relatives. But, shucks, you can find the non-toxic stuff (The Chronicles of Narnia in almost any form are always a safe bet) and give them as gifts or sell them on eBay or what-have-you.

And in a little while, you can do this again and get another $100 of stuff from them.

I'll let you know when the package arrives and what I've gotten. Give it a try for yourselves!

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Which scotch do you like?

I'm fond of single malt scotch. Actually, let me say that I'm really fond of single malt scotch. So what good fortune it is that other people in this world are, too. The folks at Whisky Classified have come up with a classification system for scotches. It's based on the characteristics for scotches and the brands of scotches that fall into each of those clusters. You can start by trying scotches in the cluster you're fond of, so if you like Laphroaig, you might also like Caol Ila; if you like Bowmore, you might also like Bruichladdich and Isle of Jura, and so on.

Once you've tried a few in one cluster, you can branch out to other classes. There's a chart that shows how the clusters overlap, so you can refine the flavors you're after.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Amazing quote

I found this quote again in my files. It's a wonderful statement on the value of a country based on Christian morals by a popular pro-theocracy speaker.

The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press--in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of LIBERAL excess during the past years.



Actually, this isn't the exact quote; it had to be translated from the original German.

Here's the bibliographic reference:
Taken from The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871-872.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

I am alive and doing well...

I'm sorry; it's been three months since I entered anything and boy howdy! has life been busy.

I've got a huge contract with a great boss and a great company.

I had another episode of atrial fibrillation, but I'm fine, I'm fine.

The house is nearing completion.

We're packing up.

We're flying all over the place, including London, San Diego, and Southern California.

I have so much to tell everyone and not a lot of time at the moment.

But I'm alive. And doing very well.

P.S. If you leave comments on the blog--which I love, btw!--and you want to get information back, be sure to let me know how to reach you.
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Sunday, May 28, 2006

I'm back from the shadows again!

Just wanted to drop a quick note to say that we made it home safely and I have a suitcase full of sports shirts to wash. And I'm going to enjoy a hot bath, something that you don't get in a basic ship's cabin.

Updates on St. Maarten, Nassau, and the trip home await, along with uploading a bunch more photos. And this time, tying them into the blog 'cause we're now at cable modem speed. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

On the high seas, part 1

It's, uh, Thursday, and we're in between ports and the Babe is upstairs sleeping in the shade, so I have a chance in our hurly-burly social schedule to update this. Also, note that there are a couple hundred pictures to catalog and display, but doing this at 42K is an unbelievable pain, so I'm going to just add a few links for some notable pictures and then an overall link to the Caribbean Cruise Pictures group of my Flickr.com area where I keep the pictures and figure I'll get back to them when I'm back on land and have a cable modem to play with again.

We boarded the ship. The ship, Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, is beautiful and I kept going "Wow!" Our stateroom (one of the promenade view staterooms) is on deck 8 and not bad at all. (Check out the virtual tour on the stateroom virtual tours page.) The promenade is the main drag, apparently modeled after the Grande Promenade in Milan. It's about 3 stories tall starting on deck 5 (where the shops are as well as a number of cafes and bars).

Much of getting settled was unpacking, which does take cooperation in a space that's 167 square feet, but we got that taken care of without too much biting and snarling. The room is really comfortable and very attractive. I've had a lot of hotel rooms I liked less, honestly. We got finished at about 3:30 and we had an hour before the mandatory lifeboat drill, so we went over to Steve and Andy's stateroom for a little bit.

We'd gotten a decoration and gift package for Steve and Andy's stateroom, so they had streamers and hanging paper ornaments, and champagne and chocolate strawberries for their anniversary (which is actually in June, but what the heck?). It looked good. Andy's sister Darris and their mother, Elaine, stopped in and we hung out. At one point, the Babe told me to go get the life jackets (laid out on the beds in each stateroom) and to read the sign on the back of our door to find out which lifeboat station we were at. I ducked around the corner and down the hall to our room, grabbed the life jackets, saw that we're at B13, and headed back. When I got there, the Babe asked which deck we were on and which side of the ship. I wasn't quite sure and said that she'd asked me to find out which lifeboat station, not where we were and, basically, the rest of the poster. In the middle of all this, the lifeboat procedure video on the TV suddenly showed the poster from our room or one like it that showed we were at B13 on Deck 4 and even showed the map of the ship with our station highlighted. Andy and the Babe goggled at this and I said "You see? I can make all this happen; you've just got to give me a moment."

Lifeboat drill was fine, but it was bloody hot. We were standing outside on a hot Miami day wearing huge foam block life jackets. There were perhaps 150 people in each group and they had us lined up in rows of 8 and packed tightly together, so there was even more heat. Urgh! At least we were in the shade, but it was still close to steaming. Fortunately, the drill only took about 20 minutes and we were dismissed.

The ship debarked at 5:00pm. Much to my disappointment, there was no blowing of the ship's horn. (The Babe says that, on the Carnival cruise she took about 8 years ago, they were followed by a Disney cruise ship into every port and the blowing of the Disney ship's horn--which played the notes for "When You Wish Upon a Star"--got old pretty quickly.) In fact, I've not heard the ship's horn blow once yet this trip, now that I think of it. Well, maybe it'll tell us that it's all ashore that's going ashore when we dock in Miami.

Without the horn and without confetti and streamers, pulling away from the dock was an anticlimax. I have a bunch of photos of the docks in Miami and downtown Miami as we pulled past. I even got to see the one, the only Miami beach, which was a pleasure for the seeing of it.

Most of our luggage showed up within a couple hours of us getting on board and the last piece was there by 7:30 that evening as promised. (But Tuesday evening, we got on an elevator and a porter was pushing a large baggage cart with four suitcases on it; apparently, someone was only getting their luggage three days after we sailed. I'd be seriously frosted about that.)

We changed into something a little more casual and wandered around the ship to get acquainted with it. We were signed up for late dining (8:30pm) with Steve and Andy and Darris and Elaine. The food was exceptional, which is one of the hallmarks of most cruises and certainly of Royal Caribbean. "More" is never a problem, either. You want two entrees? Have two entrees! It's disturbingly easy to put on weight. Breakfast and lunch are on a "whatever you want, whenever you want" basis, too. Buffets and cafes are all over the ship, at least one of which is open 24 hours a day in case you get peckish at 3:30am.

The tables in the formal dining areas are for eight people. With but six of us in our group, there was room for two more, who turned out to be Don and Susan, a very fun couple from Edmonton. They were on ship with a bunch of other people for a wedding. This turned out to be the third wedding on ship that we were aware of. Chatting with Don and Susan, it turned out they were very fond of Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie and had even seen them recently. They weren't familiar with the Arrogant Worms, though, and we told them about the Worms and how much fun they are. After dinner, we went to a revue of selections from half a dozen Broadway musicals that was pretty good.

Our first full day was an "at-sea" day, as we steamed towards Puerto Rico. We hadn't signed up for the tours we wanted online, so we needed to nail them down as soon as we got on board ship and the excursions and guest relations office had opened up. We stood in line with a lot of other people who'd probably not done this, either. While we were there, we chatted with the guy next to us, who's been on a number of cruises. He spoke highly of Royal Caribbean, poorly of Carnival (the Babe's experience, too), and also well of Norwegian Cruise Lines. He asked where we were and we told him that we had a promenade stateroom. He laughed and told us that there was a parade down the promenade on the first night of the cruise and that a friend of his had just stepped out of the shower only to discover someone in the parade on stilts walking by the open window. It's admittedly not something I'd normally think of as a problem on a second- or third-story window. Fortunately, there are really good privacy curtains as well as the normal sheers.

We did a lot of exploring on the ship. We were enjoying the d├ęcor of the ship and the staff was incredibly friendly and very helpful. (I kept saying "Wow!" periodically at the art, at the facilities, at everything.) There are a number of swimming pools, whirlpools, hot tubs, and sunning areas. It is very easy to get a really good sunburn, by the way. (I mention this purely for informational purposes.)

While we were up in a very strong hot tub/whirlpool, I leaned over to the Babe and said "You know, there are certainly a number of plump women here, which I approve of after all, but it's amazing the number of men who are much larger and qualify as 'land mammals'." I then pointed at a couple of men who'd just heaved into view and said "I'm bringing this up because there are a couple over there who are in the 'Heffalump' class." The Babe smiled and said "If they come over here, we're getting out." Sure enough, both gentleman--and a much smaller woman--headed directly towards the whirlpool we were in. We exited before they got in and sunned for a while. Mind you, it's not that they're big… it's the back hair that really does it. shudder

We both had pina coladas and listened to the band playing calypso and things like that. There was dance instruction by the band leader and there were several ship members, on stilts no less, dancing along to show people how it's done. Later that evening, a shower and a shave were in order to prepare for the Captain's Gala, a formal event that we dressed up for (and one of the things I'd brought the tuxedo in anticipation of). It was really grand seeing so many people in tuxedos and finery mingling on the promenade. A jazz combo was playing and there were a couple of good jazz singers with them.

Other miscellaneous highlights to mention:
  • Napping in the afternoons is a biggie. It's been almost a requirement, really, given that I've been staying up late and getting up relatively early.
  • Alcohol is a working part of the cruises. I could be drinking a whole lot more than I am… and it's tempting to have more pina coladas and peach daiquiris, I'll tell yuh!
  • It's impossible to do everything that's available, so I've had to relax about the idea that "Oh, well, I'm going to spend a few quiet hours here at the computer catching up with email or writing blog entries or whatever"
  • The cruise director is a crazy Brit named Graham Seymour. He does a morning show on the in-ship TV station that's a hoot. He also has been the emcee of most of the entertainment and has done stand-up comedy shows on a couple occasions. His late-night comedy show (which we caught the night before docking in Puerto Rico) was very funny. Looking him up online, it appears that he's been in the cruise business for some time: I spotted reviews of him from about 5 years ago on one of Princess line ships (and getting good reviews there, too). His morning show seems to be a trademark. Everyone seems to speak of him in superlatives, to which I'd like to add my endorsement. The boy's a hoot.

Our first stop was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We did a bus tour rather than a walking tour, for which we were both glad: it was very hot and humid and neither of us were happy with San Juan. The whole place looked incredibly squalid and we both had the feeling of "If this is an American protectorate, we should be doing a better job down here." Our bus driver drove us around a good deal of the city and was pointing out hotels and resorts, none of which looked (a) attractive, (b) interesting, or (c) appealing as a vacation locale. I was thinking that if I wanted to see a million and a half people living in squalor, I could go to the Lower East Side or parts of Los Angeles. Even the good parts of San Juan looked crappy.

The big thing on the tour was a stop at Fort San Cristobal. It's run by the National Park Service, but there was very little there to tell us about the fort, although there were one or two exhibits of some of the people involved in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and a few very interesting political cartoons that showed that a lot of people felt that the US was busy being imperial back then, which it was, of course. We bullied the Spanish until they gave us a bunch of property like Puerto Rico and the Phillipines, neither of which seemed particularly pleased by the prospect. There are some good and history available at the Photos of Puerto Rico web site. I also found some photos on Yahoo of the fort. (And yes, there are some photos in the the Caribbean Cruise Pictures group of my Flickr.com area. They'll be cataloged soon, honest!)

We could've stayed in the shopping district of San Juan and walked back to the ship, but we both felt really uncomfortable and couldn't think of anything we wanted to buy, so we stayed on the bus and went back to the ship directly. After another delightful dinner, we went to the show of another comedian. He had a very different style from Graham Seymour's, but he was also very funny (sorry, don't recall the name). He interacted heavily with the audience and finished his show by picking up a guitar and singing a wholly improvised song about the things he'd been doing and saying with the audience members. Good stuff.

The following day we docked at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Now this was more to our liking! The place was much cleaner and prettier. A lot of this is the lack of population pressure: where Puerto Rico has 3.5 million people (with 1.5 million in San Juan alone), St. Thomas has but 56,000 people. Even though it's a much smaller island, the lack of population pressure makes a huge difference.

The most famous feature of St. Thomas is Blackbeard's castle... which we didn't choose to see. We caught a bus to an open air market in the morning and had had hopes of doing an island tour, but it turned out that we were the only ones who wanted to do a tour and, while we could have done a tour on our own, it would have cost us a great deal more. Nope, we said, we'll look at the market and then walk back to the ship. I noticed with some amusement that there were a great many dope pipes--chillums and so on--for sale in the market. I didn't buy one, having no need for one and Her Honor would've probably brained me if I'd even made a move to buy one in any case. We did find a St. Thomas collector spoon for Susan the Wonder Child's spoon collection.

The walk back was about two miles. It was pretty darned hot, too. (Note: Okay, okay, so I know it's the Caribbean and I should be expecting snow 'r nuthin'; it's just that I'm not used to lots of sunlight and "hot" is a relatively new thing to me in my recent life experience. As I'm fond of saying, "If I wanted sun and heat, I'd 've stayed in Tucson.")

About a quarter mile from the ship, we'd spied a funicular tram and, while I'd been loath to try this being no fan of heights, I told the Babe that I'd give it a whirl for her sake. She was very pleased about this and we bought tickets and waited for the next tram to appear. We got on and road up. I did okay by not looking straight down, but rather straight ahead, so the trees and ground looked like they were at my height. I also looked at the view as we rode up, which, being the harbors and hills of St. Thomas, was about as pretty as you could imagine. (Go see the Caribbean Cruise Pictures group now; I got a lot of shots, trying for panoramic views I could assemble.)

We chatted with the other couple in the tram, who were on a Carnival cruise they'd gotten for free and they also said dubious things about Carnival cruises. It was all kind of backhanded praise and they felt that it was worth at least what they'd paid for it, but they just felt that the quality of people and the service on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian were better.

The top of the mountain was about 20 degrees cooler than the foot of the hill (oh, effing hurrah!) and there was a lovely breeze. Okay, I can't post a blog this long without having at least one picture of us, so here's the first (there will be another, as you'll see later):

Down a set of short flight of stairs, there were a few shops and a restaurant and an outdoor bar that had four or five of those big machines for making Slushies, except that they each had high-test frozen drinks in them: margaritas, daiquiris, and a local invention of the restaurant called a "Bushwacker." It looked awfully good, rather brown and creamy, but it actually was deadly: one ounce each of rum, vodka, Bailey's Irish Cream, Kahlua, Amaretto, and coconut milk, blended with enough ice to make a slushy drink. Garnished with a heavy dash of nutmeg, whipped cream, and a cherry, they'll go down like chocolate milkshakes on a hot day... and so will you with the that much alcohol. They sound incredibly tasty but we both wanted to be able to move at some point later that day and skipped them in favor of something non-alcoholic.

While we were there admiring the view, we struck up a conversation with the folks at the table next to us, who turned out to be from the Maple Valley (a suburb about 15-20 miles from Seattle). It turns out that they'd read the original Washington Trivia book and remembered it. Hot damn! We chatted bits of trivia for a few minutes.

We came back down the mountain on the tram and returned to the ship to change. The big event was up for the afternoon: helmet diving. This is where you wear a rather heavy (75 pound) helmet that then is connected to an air hose on the surface that keeps the helmet full of air. This was done at Coral World Ocean Park. We were bused out to the park, which actually has a number of different attractions. We were in the second group scheduled to go down, so we had about an hour to wander around. We first went to a very good aquarium that showed off a lot of the local marine life, including the biggest lobsters I've ever seen (perhaps 15 pounds or so).

Years ago, I'd read about the Puritans starving because they couldn't get anything from the land and there were no crops to harvest while 30-pound lobsters were washing up on the shore nearby. The Puritans thought they were some kind of insect. My thought at the time had been "Stupid gawdam Puritans!" but having seen lobsters half that size now, I'm willing to revise my opinion somewhat to "Stupid gawdam Puritans who knew 30-pound armor-plated bugs when they b'God saw 'em!"

There were signs around saying "Please don't feed the iguanas," and sure enough, there were literally pilesof iguanas here and there. They're kind of interesting but they're not animals you'd confuse with the concept of "cuddly."

There were green sea turtles (a heavily endangered species) in a pool near the shore. There was also a duck pond with some of the local waterfowl, including a white whistling duck native to those parts. The same enclosure had red turtles, which had been brought to the area many centuries ago by the native populations (now extinct) from South America as a food source. The Babe said "I don't see them." After a moment, I pointed out a pile of turtles, looking like large rocks, asleep near the back of the pond area, two and three deep. They're quite large, about a foot and a half long.

The most exciting display had to be the shark pool. There was a large open pool that had half a dozen nurse sharks about two feet long. The guides talked about sharks for about 10 minutes. During the talk, one of the guides was dropping chunks of fish into the pond. When they went into the water and sank, the sharks would circle the food for a moment until one of them ate it, no big deal. But there were a couple of sharks who new right where the food was coming from and had their noses pressed up to the edge of the pool. When the guide dropped a piece of fish next to them, there was a really loud "CLOP!" noise and you wouldn't have seen the shark move but the piece of fish would be gone. (Hint for the observant: Do not screw with sharks, even small ones.)

They drove this point home rather neatly by pointing out during this demonstration of how sharks operate by saying that this particular kind of shark (and remember, these were only 2 feet long) has its mouth way down below and tends to be rather quiescent, so divers would think that they're docile and pick them up by the tail and even wave them in the water a little. And the sharks, not surprisingly, would take exception to this and turn around and try to take the diver's wrist off, with varying degrees of success. And all the while they were saying this, there'd be this periodic "CLOP!" and there'd be one less piece of fish. Point made.

After all of this, they said "Okay, we're going to let you touch a shark," and the guide who'd been doing the feeding got a 2-month old shark that was about 18" long from the pool and held it carefully and firmly and told us to touch the shark near the tail. The first guy to do this was quite surprised when the shark suddenly thrashed around and tried to bite him. The rest of us laughed nervously. I know what shark skin feels like (rough, in a very interesting way), but I'd certainly never felt it on a live shark before. It was pretty neat and I jumped when the shark thrashed when I touched it, too.

We'd killed most of the time prior to our safety briefing and dive, so we headed out to the dome. Our guide briefed us on safety and hand signals and we got dive shoes and gloves on and headed down.

I volunteered to go first. I stepped down the ladder until my shoulders were in the water and they put the helmet on my head. It was heavy, which I expected, and I felt claustrophobic, which I did not expect! I was having trouble adjusting to this as I went down and I was worried that I'd not be able to go through with it but I kept pushing myself and finally got used to it, although it took me a little effort. But once I forced myself to relax, it was okay and I stopped worrying about it. I was also digging the ability to look around underwater, which I'd never done before.

The Babe was next down and we had fun mouthing "I love you" at each other and laughing in excitement at what we were seeing. It was very cool being down there. One of the things we both noticed right away was that the helmets, which have bends in the plastic faceplates, are hard to see out of. The air-to-water refraction caused depth perception problems, so when we reached toward the chain set up on posts as a hand rail, we'd miss it.

The rest of the party assembled and the guide directed us to move forward. There were all kinds of fish around us, silver fish with yellow stripes about 9" long and large metallicly-silver fish about 18-24" long with big eyes that, frankly, looked like really good eating. Every so often, there were incredible iridescent blue-and-rainbow fish that I found out were parrotfish of various sizes up to 2' long. We moved forward along the chain, looking at mosses and corals and many other smaller fish of all kinds.

We stopped after about 40 feet along the chain (the chain on posts marked out an area perhaps 40' in diameter) for us. The guide had been holding a mesh bag of fish food. He opened it up and squeezed it so that fish food came out. The fish mobbed him! I couldn't see him behind the cloud of fish. He handed me the food bag a moment later. The fish, no fools when it comes to finding food, mobbed me. I felt them tugging at the food bag and banging into me. I was laughing my head off. After a moment, I felt the guide pulling on the food bag from me to give to the Babe (I couldn't see him from behind all the fish), so I let go.

Except it wasn't the guide, it was the damn fish! They'd tugged so hard at the bag that it felt like the guide yanking on the bag. I leapt upwards and snagged the bag back from the scaly greedheads and gave it to the Babe. She loved it, too, but at least she didn't have them steal the bag from her.

As the bag got to the end of the line, the guide motioned for me to take my glove off. He showed me that he had a sea urchin on his bare hand and then slowly turned his hand upside down and the sea urchin held on to his hand. He put the sea urchin on my hand, and after stroking it slightly, it adhered somewhat to mine. I carefully passed it to the Babe and the guide stimulated the sea urchin so it would stick to her hand, too. We played "Pass the Uni" down the line to the other people, after which the guide carefully deposited the urchin back on the rock.

The guide brought us forward another 20 feet and had me squat down to look at a fish. (If you bend over with the helmets on, the air bubbles out of the bottom of the open helmet and you get a helmet full of salt water. It can be alarming if you it happens, but all you need to do is hold your breath and lift your head back up and the air pressure forces the water back out.) The guide motioned for me to hold my glove out and this little fish--I found out when I came back up that it's a damselfish--started nipping at my hand!

The guide also showed us a brittle star, a fast, animated starfish that crawled over his hand and then ours in turn like a spider. A couple of the women were a bit phobic and didn't care to hold it. The Babe and I squatted down and looked at a live coral and could see the individual polyps questing for food. As we got back to toward the ladder, the guide showed me a type of anemone that looked like multiple fans hanging out of a small tube. He brushed into it and they all snapped back into the tube out of danger instantly. Very cool!

We went back up the ladder and dried off, but we all had a fine patina of salt. The bus driver had been told we were running a bit late (we had to make it back to the ship by 4:30 because the ship was leaving at 5:00). Our driver got us back at 4:30 without any incident and we headed back on board, straight for the showers to debride.

After yet another wonderful dinner, we had the TV on and saw a broadcast of a late-night show from the Metropolis theater on ship hosted by Graham Seymour, our indefatigable cruise director, entitled "The Love & Marriage Show." He pulled three couples from the audience: newlyweds, a 25th wedding anniversary couple, and the longest-married couple there. The newlyweds turned out to be the couple that our dinner companions Don and Susan were there to take part in the wedding of (small world).

Graham asked the couples ten questions, which each person filled out separately. The couples were seated facing away from each other. The first was "When and where did you meet?" and there were many more like that: "Guys only: without looking, what is your wife wearing?" and "Was last night like Fourth of July fireworks, Thanksgiving turkey, or Memorial Day: remembering the dead?" For each answer that both people got right, the couple scored a point.

Graham Seymour did a good job of hosting the process and then had fun scoring the questions. Things took a weird turn when he got to question 6: "Sex took on a whole different turn after we made it *where*?" The newlyweds answer turned out to be "In the balcony of this theater late last night." This clearly broke new ground for the host and was the cause of a good deal of commentary by members of the audience. At the end of the game, everyone got prizes. It was a heckuva show.

The following day, we got to St. Maarten, but I've been typing for hours and hours and hours now and I'm going to stop now and post this and go shave and put on my tuxedo for another formal dinner. More soon.
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