Tuesday, May 30, 2006

SD road trip

I went on a quick trip to San Diego last week – down one day, back the next. It’s a five hour drive – for short trips I’d rather drive than hassle with the airport (as I’ve discussed before). Most of the drive down is through the desert, wide open spaces with not much to see for miles and miles.

I kind of like the views – thinking about the poor guys that came through on horseback a hundred years ago. I wonder what the first group that came through back whenever, looking at all the dry hills, mountains in the distance, probably wondering where their next watering hole could be found.

About a hundred miles south of Vegas is the town of Baker.

Traveling south you go from the Vegas elevation of about 1,100 ft above sea level to Haloran Pass at 4,700 feet and back down again. Coming over the pass you are faced with this big long slope down to Baker at the bottom. In the above picture the city is about eight miles away (if you can see it in the picture). Every time I drive through I wonder why people live there. Baker is just a gas stop, it is the off ramp from I-15 most people use to get to Death Valley. There are a dozen gas stations, and about that many places to eat. Mostly the chain fast food joints, but there is also the ‘famous’ Bun Boy, site of the world’s tallest thermometer.

That’s the thermometer off to the right – I took this shot driving back, and you can’t see it but the reading is 111f. The top of the thermometer would read 130f, I don’t know if it ever has hit this. The population is about 2,000, it looks like most live in mobile homes (sorry, pre-manufactured housing).

Down in San Diego I stayed at the Town and Country Resort. It’s located in Mission Valley, fairly central. Not close to downtown, but right behind the hotel is a large shopping center and a trolley station. You can take the trolley downtown, to the waterfront, or continue on to Tijuana. It’s a really pretty hotel, with the grounds full of roses and other flowers, all green and cool. A little different than what we have here in Vegas.

I drove up to La Jolla in the morning, a good reminder of what San Diego traffic is like. Lots of lanes on the freeways, filled with lots of cars. The town of La Jolla is out on a point, with the only access from the old coast highway or over from I-5. I picked the major access, and planned for the usual half hour wait to get down the hill.

That’s the normal view coming this way – lines of cars, with the ocean down below and the normal morning fog. I was faced with two beautiful sunny days while in SD, the fog stayed out over the water and didn’t blow in as it normally does.

Driving back north on I-15 it was the normal path, up through Temecula, San Bernardino, the big climb up the hill to Apple Valley, into Barstow, and then an empty fifty miles until Baker. Here’s what it looks like coming north –

Still looks like not much, doesn’t it? Yes, it's down there at the bottom of the hill, about ten miles away. The road continues on past straight north, with the hills in the background another fifteen miles past Baker.

Then fifty miles until the Nevada border. There are two casinos there, one on either side of the road. It used to be called Stateline, but now has been renamed to Primm. There is also a big ‘outlet center’ mall, several gas stations and places to eat, and a big roller coaster.

I don’t know why anyone would stay and gamble in Primm with Vegas so close (another 45 miles). Back when Comdex was the world’s largest trade show, with over 300,000 attendees, all the hotel rooms in Vegas would be filled and late reservations would get rooms in Stateline just to be within driving distance.

I’m going to have to do a series on the roller coasters around town – they got a mention several years ago, during the first two years of CSI, when Grissom would calm down at the end of each episode by riding a coaster.

Friday, May 26, 2006



Who's there?


Banana who?


Who's there?


Banana who?


Who's there?


Banana who?


Who's there?


Banana who?


Who's there?


Banana who?


Who's there?


Banana who?


Who's there?


Orange who?

Orange who glad I didn't say banana?

Jazz again

For the last two Saturdays we’ve gone down to the county center and listened to some free Jazz in the Park. This is something that the county puts on every spring at the Clark County Amphitheater. Music is put on every other Saturday for four or five performances in May and June.

The amphitheater is a large grass half circle facing a stage. It looks like there are around 1,000 or so people attending (but I’m not too good at estimating). The county center is a really nice building – some unusual shapes covered in a nice red sandstone. There is a pyramid back behind, a tall cylindrical tower to the left, and assorted other shapes scattered around.

The music starts at 8, which is just before sunset. We usually stop at a Von’s deli counter on the way and pick up a sandwich and salad, arrive around 7 and sit and picnic. Almost everybody has a cooler and food, with lots of wine in evidence. If you don’t bring food there are some vendors, and last week there was a Starbucks van giving out samples of their new banana smoothies. An area to the left of the stage is usually left empty, and before the performance is filled with kids throwing balls and Frisbees and doing cartwheels down the grassy slopes.

You can see the Stratosphere in the background - that's another thing to look at after dark, with all the flashing lights and moving rides up on top.

The music is usually pretty good. I’m looking forward to a big New Orleans Jazz Band in a few weeks. Temp last week was in the high 80’s when it started, with a nice light breeze. Makes for a very pleasant evening.

Oh, it was somebody’s first birthday last week. My camera finger wasn’t quick enough to get any shots of the princess in her crown.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cartoon Monday

Start up the wayback machine Sherman.

And now for something completely different –

Remember this little guy? Way back I used to have a poster with him and two friends just truckin’ on down the road. I didn’t have a black light, but one of my friends had his garage set up with a waterbed and blacklights and spiderwebs made from gauze that glowed under the light and posters that glowed as well. The truckin’ dudes were up there someplace. (boy, does that date me?)

One of the other Crumb characters that was also popular is Mr. Natural.

He was really psychedelic. Here are some Mr. Natural cartoons with cool backgrounds. Back in the days of ‘underground’ comics.

Oh, while bouncing around I came across this video clip, of a Scottish Star Trek. Rob will probably have no problem with it, but I sure as heck didn’t understand much.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Seeing Rita

We went to see Rita Rudner at NYNY last week. Reports have her leaving there at the end of this month when her five year contract is up. But the gossip column just said she will be moving to the Mirage. Seems like she is one of the last stand-up comics left in Vegas. But I was not too impressed with the show. It was a standard auditorium, with seats angling up the bleachers, probably about 400 or so chairs in the room, with a raised stage up front. For those of you that haven’t been to New York New York, there is a roller coaster that starts out in the lobby then winds to the back parking lot, with a really tall drop out back. You can hear the rumble of the coasters going by from almost anywhere in the casino. It fits the atmosphere, sounding like the old El trains passing overhead. The passing cars were really noticeable while sitting in the quiet theater waiting for the show to start. I could feel the rumbles going by every few minutes during the entire show.

That’s the coaster rails between the parking structure and the casino. Didn’t catch a car on it while we walked.

Rita came out and just started to tell her stories. I like the accent, and the way she enunciates. Here stories were amusing, but for some reason $60 per person seemed like quite a lot of money to hear someone tell little stories for 90 minutes. I don’t know, expected more but I realized it would just be her talking. Just goes to show Vegas prices. No more two drink minimum to listen to somebody good. That was $240 for the four of us – we could have had a pretty good dinner for that, and just enjoyed talking to each other for a couple of hours. Oh well, I’m supporting the economy.

The NYNY casino is made up to look like part of the New York skyline outside, with hotel rooms up in the skyscrapers. And inside the casino is supposed to look like walking around Manhattan.

There is the bridge in central park, and street trees, and a road and sidewalks. When you go to the back there are narrow streets with stores and restaurants lining the roadsides.

The entrance to Rita’s show also is made up like a theatre entrance.

But inside it’s just a black theatre (too dark for my camera). At least they keep up the theme fairly well.

NYNY is across Tropicana Boulevard from the Excalibur. It’s interesting looking over there between the roller coaster supports.

Oh – a final note, on why it’s good to put back those little cabinet hook things we took off after the Swedes left in November.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bad drivers

Wow! Just heard the local DJs about to give away Prince concert tickets - $ 314 per ticket – Wow! I don’t know what kind of show he puts on, but that’s more than the Rolling Stones or Sting were getting. Any of you want to shell out $ 314 (plus fees) apiece to go see this guy?

Getting out of my car this morning in the parking lot here at work I noticed a helicopter just hovering a short distance away. We are really close to the I-215 freeway, right at the off ramp to the airport. This is a frequent site of traffic accidents, so I figured there was something going on at the freeway. Walking across the lot I saw two more helicopters lining up. This indicates that it was either a pretty big accident or there was nothing else going on around town this morning so all of the news copters were here together.

Vegas is a big accident town. I’ve talked before about this place having the worst drivers of anywhere I have ever been. Most major streets have a speed limit of 45, and people have no problem driving 70. When coming up to a traffic light, most people feel that the orange warning light means speed up the light is about to turn red. When it turns red it means really speed up to get here before the other traffic starts across. If I’m at the head of a pack when a light before me turns red the first thing I do is look into my rear view mirror to see how close the guy behind me is, and if he is speeding up. Then as I slow down to stop I brace myself against the seat in preparation for being hit from behind. Hasn’t happened yet, but quite frequently I’ll hear the screech of brakes back there, and loud curses for my not blowing through the red.

When driving to work in the morning I come down Frank Sinatra Drive, which parallels the I-15 freeway, running right behind the big strip casinos. There is lots of construction on this road now, with the big City Centre project and new pipes being placed in the road. But because the street runs from an industrial area down behind the casinos, no cross streets and usually no police it is rather deserted at night, with almost no traffic. That makes it a popular place for drag racing, or just driving your car really really fast. At the south end the road goes through a full turnback and a series of sharp curves. Driving down there in the morning there have been many days were I came upon cars sitting off the road at the curve in the gravel, skid marks on the curb and bent warning signs.

A few days ago I was slowing for a construction truck and noticed a tow truck backing onto the road on the other side of the center divider while a police officer held back traffic. It looked like he was headed for a big dump truck, which was much bigger than the tow truck, when I noticed a car on its side over on the other sidewalk. I’m not used to looking over at the bottom of a car. There is an ‘S’ curve there, to get traffic around where the road is being dug up. So I am assuming that somebody was racing the night before, went through the ‘S’ curve really fast and slid sideways into the curb, which flipped the car up on its side. At least I hope that is what it was, and not some poor person just being in the wrong place and being hit by one of those bad drivers.

Story in last Sunday’s paper discussed another fatal accident. Two kids racing in the middle of the afternoon on a residential street when one hit an oncoming car head-on, killed the kid. In the interview with parents they said that there was nothing wrong with the street racing, they encouraged their kids to do it because working on cars kept them out of gangs, and it didn’t hurt anyone. All I could think of was the family in the car they hit, and the people walking on the streets where they race. There is a reason for speed limits – two cars doing 70 on a residential street, with kids playing and other cars driving and bikes being ridden – don’t tell me it’s OK and encouraged. Let them fix up the cars and show them off, or go to the supported races held at the track, don’t do it in the street. Stupid.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Getting to be a nice Spring

Wow, it’s getting to finally be a really nice Spring.

The water temperature of our pool is now 88F (about 31C). During the summer we usually like to keep it at 93F (34C), which is a really nice temperature for spending a long time in the water. We have an automated cover that we usually keep closed, which prevents evaporation, loss of chemicals, keeps dirt out and helps the water warm up. If we keep it closed during the summer the water can get quite hot – while not using the pool for two weeks last year upon opening it we found the water to be at 103F (40C) which ended up being just a little too hot for a pool, maybe nice for a hot tub but just a little high for swimming.

Saturday at sunset the air temp was also 88F and we thought we’d go in for a swim. Well, we don’t really swim we just kind of float around. But the pool is big enough to swim in – it’s 22ft wide x 42ft long (6.7m x 13m) and at one end about eight feet deep (2.5m). There is no diving board, to prevent jumping, but a long ‘diving platform’ along the deep end. The shallow end is around 3 feet (1m) deep, nice for sitting on the steps.

We stepped in, brought along a floater and some foam ‘noodles’ and just drifted around for a while, watching the sunset, listening to the birds singing, and waiting for the full moon to come up over the strip. It was quite pleasant. We have a quiet neighborhood, not much noise, mornings we can hear the roosters next door and the horses a block away. Our neighborhood is rated RR – Rural Residential, minimum half acre lots (some bigger) and horses and other livestock permitted. We don’t mind the roosters, their owner gives us fresh eggs.

The sunsets and sunrises in the desert are rather unremarkable. The nice red and orange sunsets are caused by moisture in the atmosphere, with our 5% humidity there is not enough water up there to make the sky pretty colors as the sun moves up or down. Sunsets rather are watching the sun go back behind the western mountains and the sky gradually turn from bright bright blue to deep black, with lots of stars visible and the glow to our east of the Strip casino neon. There is just enough dust in the air for the Luxor searchlight to be visible, reaching straight up. It used to be the brightest light on earth, noticed by some earlier astronauts, but I guess the electrical costs seemed a bit high and now the Luxor light is significantly dimmer. But still pretty darn bright, but not as visible from California fifty miles away as you are driving into town.

So we watched the sky get darker and finally decided to get out. By then the air temp had dropped (probably to 86f) so we climbed out and toweled off, then drove down to our local Sonic Drive-in for some late night food. If you haven’t been out west, Sonics are scattered around, we’ve got several in Vegas. They serve the standard burgers and fries, sodas, ice creams and shakes; you can pull up under the shade in your car, talk into a speaker, and somebody on roller skates brings a tray out to your car window.

It was about 9:30 and the place was full. About twenty cars full of people eating, and about twenty more people sitting at the tables out front. It’s a popular place to bring kids – fill up the mini-van, you can wear your sweats as nobody really sees you, and order some cheap food and let them beat each other up over the last French fry. If the kids get to noisy let them out to run around on the grass. We sat there eating and enjoyed the show. The group sitting was rather young, and it was interesting watching the girls flirt with the guys. Of the two waiters on skates one was pretty good, and we kept waiting for the other to fall down (but he never did). After we ate we hit the supermarket to get stuff for our Sunday group BBQ.

It was a very pleasant evening. I don’t know how late they are open, but I think it’s well after midnight. Most of the fast food places have drive through windows, but Sonic is the only one that also comes out to your car. Just like in the old Happy Days movie, hooking a tray on your window if you want. Being Vegas there are always indoor places to go (24 hours a day) including the supermarkets. So if you get off of work at 2am you can still go shopping. When my son was staying with us he worked the night shift, getting off at 7am. He would hit Big Dog’s Saloon, right across from Sonic, and get a burger and some beers (hey, it was the end of his working day, he wanted dinner not a breakfast). Sonic is about four blocks away, and we sometimes walk down, but since we were hitting the market after we drove over.

Sunday we had the kids and Canadian grandparents over, did some meat on the grill and sat around the pool. It got up to 103F, and the Canadians kind of melted. No one got in the pool (which still was nice), but we jumped in again after they all left.

So what are your favorite summer evening pastimes?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday party

Sorry, can't leave things with such bitterness for the weekend.
Last week we had a 'play date' over at our place. Neighbor's triplets plus one plus E.

The short one at the table is E, in the background is the 'plus one'. She seems to fit in.

More Friday rants (NSA phone call database?)

“Well, I’ve done nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide, doesn’t bother me.” You freakin’ idiots.

After we find out about the program of listening to domestic phone calls without court orders, because it’s a time of war and congress authorized him to do whatever necessary, so it’s not against the law because the president is the law. After finding that the leaks of classified information were not leaks, because as president he is authorized to declassify something (well, the bad guys leaked, our guys had permission). After finding out that he issued over 750 ‘letters’ and felt that he could ignore laws that congress passed because he had the right to. Now we find that records of every phone call made for the past few years are being analyzed to find ‘patterns’. Don’t worry, no information or recordings are kept. But you can take a phone number and find out who’s it is, and reach back and find a recording somewhere I’m sure. After all, if they did find a ‘pattern’ and wanted to do more investigation they would have to be able to figure out who was making and receiving the phone calls, wouldn’t they?

After all that crap of breaking no laws (because he is above the law). Like the statement ‘we do not torture’, then finding out the official US government definition of torture is different than the definition the rest of the world uses. And the terrorists the CIA keep in Cuba and ‘unknown European prisons’, they are beyond the reach of US law so the president is free to do any darn thing to them he wants to.

What’s next? I have some suggestions:
1. The police are currently installing video cameras around most large cities. New York has a bunch, and Vegas plans to put up 5000 over the next few years. How about a camera over the front door of every house and office building? Face recognition software could look for the face of known Al Quida figures, so we would be proactive.
2. Why not take the next step and put cameras inside of every house? That way if a terrorist climbed through a window we could still see him. Plus you could catch burglars too.
3. Make sure there is a camera in the bedrooms, so we can look out for any illegal acts there as well.
4. Do away with envelopes for letters and just use postcards. That way each could be easily read; we would hire more police to do this so we could be safer. Plus those terrorists couldn’t send a letter bomb or anthrax either.
5. Oh, what the heck, let’s have the police search every house randomly looking for terrorist links. Let them go through all the papers and documents and pictures and make notes and recordings of what they find. Who knows, they might catch a few tax cheats too.
6. With the enlarged police force this would require we might as well establish checkpoints on every corner to photograph people, look at your ‘papers’, and keep track of movements. Patterns could be analyzed by the new NSA’s super duper computers to look for terrorist links. Let the checkpoints stop all cars as well, and remember to check the trunks, who knows where a terrorist might be hiding. This also might catch all of those illegal aliens as well (oh, right, congress says they are OK, sorry, never mind about that last part)

So, I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I worry?

Because it’s my country, I never gave up my rights so that you could feel a little safer. How many years of no airport checkpoints did we have with no problems, and don’t the analysts say that even the checkpoints we have now would not have stopped the 9-11 hijackers? I though the constitution gave us freedoms, not power to the president to do any damn thing he wants to the rest of us, in the name of protection.

I think there is more that enough for congress to start an impeachment proceeding. After call, that is just the process to determine if anything wrong has been done – and it sounds like plenty has been done to me. Sounds more like a dictatorship, or a king, doing anything he wants because he is above the rest. No thanks, I don’t want to live that way. It’s about time for something to happen. I just feel so powerless, not able to do anything but rant. Letters to my congressmen? The Republicans that support this lunacy? Hah.

And I just had to update the Iraqi casualty count to 2436? That is equally disgusting. Invading a country for what reason? How many more deaths before we reach the World Trade Center casualty count? And what did we get for that invasion, besides death and hatred and trillions of dollars of debt our kids will have to pay? Oh, right, cancel my Social Security, I will be paying for it too. And let congress pass those darn tax cuts, can't have the rich paying for any of this stuff. Too important for the economy.

OK, I came up with 6. Anybody care to add more?
Ooo - just thought of another:
7. Put little thought sensors in our brains, with a micro computer and transmitter so our thoughts can be sent to the NSA computers, and they can analyze patterns to see if there is anything terroristy. The average American should not have to worry, after all if you aren't thinking anything illegal you have nothing to worry about. And trust us, we will not do anything with this data.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Last month, just before our Oakland trip, I came down with a beautiful head cold. I spent the two days before we drove out in bed, and was pretty fuzzy during the trip itself. It’s been kind of hanging around since then, so yesterday I went off to the doctor’s to find out what was going on. Well, the results: it’s not a sinus infection; I’ve developed some pretty good allergies.

I’ve never had problems before, with all the growth and plantings we did in San Diego I never had a reaction to anything. B was hit in the springtime, and is very knowledgeable in all over the counter allergy medications available. But three years in the desert and now I have problems.

I was out spraying the olive trees again this past weekend. We have two big trees out front that right now are just full of blooms. We spray then with a product that is supposed to stop fruit set and prevent the flowers from turning into olives, it works, but not totally. Which is why the ground under the trees is covered with olives from last year. We’ve got pigeons down there eating the olives all winter, and this morning as I walked out there were still some doves and a mockingbird munching away. If I didn’t spray we would end up with tons of olives instead of just a few buckets full. Hope I sprayed in time this year, our driveway is covered with purple stains from driving over the fruit last winter. As I was spraying I could see drifts of yellow pollen falling down. Our sidewalks are covered in what looks like yellow chalk from all the pollen. Now the yard looks like it has had a light snowfall from all the blossoms falling down.

Spring is an active time in the desert for allergies. Because plants are so far apart and insects so rare most plants have come to depend on the wind for pollination. This means that lots of pollen must be produced, which really flies around on any slight breeze. Springtime is a big desert bloom period, as plants are still thriving off of winter rainfall and trying to get seeds out before the summer heat sets in. This way the resulting seeds will be ready next winter for any water that falls. But there are so many different plants that something is in bloom almost all year ‘round, so those with allergies can get hit any season of the year. But the nice thing about spring is the fragrance – every bush has a different scent. So as you walk around besides seeing the flowers you are enveloped in the real feel of them.

My doctor is rather amusing – she also has only been in Vegas for a few years. It’s strange having a doctor about the same age as my kids. I never thought that I would get old, but somehow here I am. Playing with grandkid when it seems like we were just talking about having kids. But Dr. Mary said that she too has developed allergies since moving here. She asked if I was taking any over the counter medications, and when I asked her if she was she laughed and said no, she just hit the samples cabinet. She said that nose spray that is getting lots of advertising time – the one with the bee and the flower – works very well. And it’s going generic in a few months. But then she offered me an injection for allergies. I don’t remember what the stuff is, but she said it lasts for a year and is fairly broad. I must admit that my nose has dried up and I can breath pretty well right now.

Our daughter came over to borrow the pickup truck on Sunday. Several years ago oldest son gave us his old pickup when he bought a new one. He is in construction, so needs to have a fancy new truck on the jobsite. The old truck is a ’74, and a nice color of faded red and rust – it is just about what I want in a truck. I just wished it didn’t leak so much oil. I’m debating about replacing the engine with a new one, will cost money but be much cheaper than buying a new truck. But the truck resides in our back yard, and I get to pay insurance and pass smog inspection every year. It gets out about once a month for a Home Depot or plant run. Sunday was a Home Depot run, to get some fencing to go around daughter’s swimming pool. Since E is starting to walk she figured it might be safest to finally put in that fence that we offered to install a while ago. Doesn’t sound like she is doing it right, but even when they are big kids refuse to take advise. Oh well, I’m the same way.

The weather is warming up. We had a cold front move through at the end of last week. On Friday it only warmed up to 81f, much lower than normal for this time of year. But it’s forecasted to hit 96f tomorrow (36C) so we are back on schedule. Water in our pool is up to 84f (29C) and on Sunday I was the first to jump in this year. Looks like it’s time to do some weekend BBQs and have people over before it starts getting too hot. May and June are usually pretty nice months for doing things outside. With our big patio we like having groups over, guess I better email B and schedule something. For some reason she likes to be informed before I start inviting people over. Don’t know why, usually I remember to tell her as the doorbell rings with the first arrivals.

Back to our Oakland trip. On our last night we walked down to a BBQ place we kept walking past. It was always packed with people, with others out on the sidewalk waiting for a table.

Oakland has a very large diverse population. The section of downtown across from our hotel is labeled as ‘Chinatown’ on city maps. All of the storefront signage we saw out the hotel window was in Chinese characters. We watched every morning as stands were set up in front of all the stores with fruits and veggies. On our Friday there the street was closed and the weekly farmer’s market was set up. We wandered around before catching the BART into SF and admired all of the fruits and veggies that California produces.

Driving up the central valley we were able to see all of the farm production. California’s central San Joaquin Valley produces a very large percentage of the fruit and veggies eaten in the US. The valley is about 60 miles wide and 300 miles long, running from Bakersfied in the south up past Sacramento to the north. We drove up I-5, which runs in the foothills on the west side of the valley. We could look down at all of the acres and acres of plants. The southern section is warmer, and filled with lots of nut trees – walnuts and pistachio groves run along side the interstate for miles and miles.

Most of the valley is flat, and suitable for growing just about anything. California has a vast network of canals coming down from the Sacramento delta bringing water to all of the crops. There are seemingly endless cotton fields, and areas with just about any fruit tree you could imagine. It doesn’t get cold enough there for fruit that needs winter cold, like apples and such, but most citrus and stone fruit (peaches, apricots, etc) do well and are represented. The Midwest US is better suited for vast corn and wheat growing, but California has just about everything else. We didn’t do many photos during the drive – shots of flat fields are kind of boring.

Back in Oakland we again were amazed at the California housing prices. The house right across from our son’s had just sold – take a look

It’s around 900 square feet (275 sq. meters), two bedrooms, one bath, about 80 years old. Being older it has somewhat of a yard, but nothing too grand. Want to take a guess at the sales price? $895,000. Wow.

Monday, May 08, 2006


We went to visit the kids in Oakland a few weekends ago. Oakland is on the east side of the bay, across from San Francisco. We drove out and stayed at a hotel in downtown Oakland. On that Friday we took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit – the SF subway) to San Francisco and walked around for a while. We passed by the main trolley stop, and viewed the normal line of tourists waiting to take the trolley, which I think is usually rated as the number one tourist thing to do in SF. We also wandered up the hills and over to Chinatown, which is the #2 thing to do. B wanted to look at furniture, and we were hoping to find some stores out that way (no luck) but did enjoy a nice warm sunny day, which is unusual for SF. But don’t worry, the rest of the time we were there it was cloudy and wet.

Didn’t take too many pictures. We are more interested in gardens and plants and stuff, so ended up taking a bus over to Golden Gate Park. Got some sandwiches at a small store and had a picnic on the grass. This was in front of the conservatory, by a large area filled with flowers. There were lots of kids wandering around, and in the center was a photographer taking assorted pictures of a wedding couple. Well, we assumed it was a wedding couple, as he wore a tuxedo and the girl wore a long white dress and veil.

You can see the white from the dress in the center of the photo.

While wandering around we saw quite a few dogs. Knowing this was San Francisco, we noticed that the only place we saw dogs was in areas marked ‘no dogs allowed’. And the only place we saw dogs running free were in areas marked ‘keep dogs on leash’. People in San Francisco tend to do the exact opposite of what ‘oppressive government’ requests, it’s been that way there for years. One of the dogs was not of the type that would do well in Vegas.

At least I think that bundle of black fuzz is a dog. It just wandered around smelling things (as dogs tend to do). The guy standing behind him also wandered around, leading me to think that they were together.

We ended up over by a relatively new art museum. Our surveyor son and daughter in law both worked at this construction site when it went up. It’s the De Young museum. We wandered in, but because it was so late, and our son was picking us up, we didn’t hit the galleries. The building itself is interesting, covered in copper and with a wispy framework around the tower.

The area across from the museum was filled with these strangely trimmed trees, which haven’t fully leafed out yet. They are all laid out symmetrically, and were very interesting.

While in Oakland we wandered down to the Jack London Square area, which is the new touristy section of town on the bay. It’s filled with buildings and tourist shops, but unfortunately does not seem to be doing well, as a large number of storefronts were vacant. Walking around looking for a place to eat we came across Yoshi's. This is a Japanese restaurant that has an attached club. I had not heard of it, but B always listens to the local jazz stations, and she was quite excited.

There seem to be only three or four clubs in the US where live jazz is presented and recorded. Most are in New York, but Yoshi’s is the only one on the west coast. Many of the songs she hears on the jazz station were ‘recorded live a Yoshi’s’. So we ate there, and being a Thursday night seemed to be relatively open. We were able to purchase tickets for the 10pm music session, and she was quite happy to be there. Nice atmosphere, groups of four at small tables with drink service.

I was very surprised, as tickets were only $15. This is an unusual price, as the cheapest show in Vegas is $60. There are some casino bars where you can listen to live music for the price of a drink, but unfortunately the groups playing there are usually worth that price.

Yoshi's is located on Washington Street, which is the major road along the bay. Oakland has a very large shipyard, which is located at the end of Washington. Dual railroad tracks run down the center of the street, and trains go by quite often. They service the shipyard, going back and forth with assorted boxcars and stuff, and piles of shipping containers. This is the western terminus for Amtrak passengers, as it has been for quite a while. When trains first came out to this area of the coast passengers would get off here and ride the ferry over to San Francisco, as they still have to. Trains from LA and south to run along the peninsula on the west side closer to SF, but coming from the east this is where you would end.

This is one of the last places in the US where trains still run on public streets. Common a hundred years ago, now there are too many cars and people to make it practical. But with all of the buildings and businesses in Oakland it’s not possible for the railroad companies to change. While eating at Yoshi’s we saw four trains go by – two Amtrak passenger trains and two cargo trains. One was almost a hundred cars long. Since the trains go rather slow because of the traffic it took quite a while for this one to pass, closing down the cross streets and pedestrian access all the while.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday complaints

Follow on to his Supreme Majesty.

Just read an article in the Feb 27 New Yorker magazine about Alberto Mora, former Navy general counsel, and his battle with the Pentagon and White House over memos authorizing torture. Oh, wait, it’s the redefinition of torture, we don’t do torture (did I use that word (torture) enough yet?), we agreed not to do it so we don’t. Only the definition of that word that the rest of the world uses, and that we signed treaties regarding, are currently at odds with the definitions being used by my government.

Seems like our president, and the providers of his legal opinions, have their own interpretation of things. This includes the Geneva Convention, UN articles we agreed to, laws passed by congress and signed by him, and even the US Constitution. Yup, there is a new interpretation of the constitution being used, which all of the wimps in congress and the rest of the government are somehow not bringing up with the courts. Of course, the new interpretation negates court decisions too, so it doesn’t really matter. So you don’t have to violently overthrow the government to become king, you just issue signing statements, redefine words you disagree with, and basically ignore the rest of the government and do what you want to do anyway. When Nixon tried this he was impeached (almost) (eventually). When you are W just do it and ‘your’ Republicans will keep Congress so tied up nothing will be done.

Congress gave the president a declaration of war on terror, and since that war has no boundaries and no defined end date it seems our government is doing whatever it pleases in the name of national security. I am impressed with that interpretation – it shows some real initiative; to assume that you can do anything you want. If anybody objects say they are weak on terror and don’t care enough about their country; in the past you could call them communists, but that word doesn’t mean much now.

I’m back to looking at New Zealand for a move. I’m trying to come up with a country that speaks English, is warm, and is small enough to not have dreams of world domination. Though I love France I think it would be hard to get a job not knowing how to speak French. Any other suggestions?

Back to something completely different:

Having a great time at work this week. Rob explained what he does at his bank, somehow it sounds like programmers worldwide end up with the same problems. Imagine that.

One of the responsibilities I have picked up is support of the help desk. If anybody in the company has a problem they call the help desk for help. The guys there know hardware and networking and how to set up programs, but if the programs fail then I get called. This job was formerly done by John, but after working here for almost ten years he has moved on to other things and did not want to keep doing his old job, especially since his boss told him to do the new stuff. So in addition (not as a replacement for) my existing jobs I also now do support. This has added an additional twenty hours or so to my workload, which has not decreased.

We mainly do credit card processing. I support a big group of people in the collections group, where they call people and ask for money. When credit card payments become too overdue we pass the job onto one of several outside agencies we pay, and they then try to collect the money. There are programs that run every night to pass new accounts out to these six agencies, most on the east coast. The programs that do this have not been changed in three years, and work quite well. Until this week. For some reason the transfer to an agency in Montreal, Canada has been failing every morning. This means that I have been getting a phone call around 3am from our night shift guy, and I end up on the computer for an hour jumping between remote computers in order to run things manually. Then back to bed until 5, when the alarm rings so that I can come in and continue on. This early morning wake up call has gotten to be a little tiresome (well, it became bad the first time it happened) and I am ready for the calls to stop.

I’ve been searching for three days to try and figure out the cause of the problem. None of the program authors still work here, so I am on my own in figuring this out. Except my boss for some reason wants me to work on things important to him, so I have not had the time to search, after all I’m the one woken up at 3, not him. This morning I told him I will not be working on anything else until I can get the Canada problem fixed, and chased him away. But it’s hard to turn down people asking for help. Aaaaaaaaaaggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh. I need a good uninterrupted nights sleep. So sorry if this post appears disjointed, I'll blame it on the lack of sleep instead of my careening mind.

And somebody is walking quite well, as long as there is something to hold on to.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Signing statements

There was a brief mention on the news last night, and an editorial in the paper yesterday about something called a ‘signing statement’. Credit was given to the Boston Globe for the first investigation and writeup of this. It’s the first time I’ve heard of the concept.

When a new law or bill is passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives the president has the option of vetoing it or signing it into law. If the president vetoes a bill then congress can override the veto by voting again and passing the measure with a two thirds majority. If this majority is met then the bill becomes law even without the presidential signature. When our constitution was created this was a concept inserted to provide some independence between our three parts of government; congress, the president and the courts.

Evidently some past president came up with the concept of a ‘signing statement’. This means that when the president signs a bill into law he sometimes also creates and signs a statement that he believes the law is unconstitutional and so will not do anything to implement it, and he directs all departments to ignore the law. During the four years of Bush senior’s service he created signing statements 232 times, Clinton in eight years did it 140 times, and our current president has done this more than 750 times. Other presidents usually veto a bill that they do not like, or at least let the courts decide if a law is constitutional, which is the job of the court system.

So basically we have a president that is admittedly ignoring the laws passed by congress. These laws include restrictions on the CIA ‘secret’ prisons overseas, handling of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay as well as torture tactics, wiretapping of phones, and in many other areas. His aids say he is not merely ignoring laws, he thinks these laws infringe on the power of the presidency, and he is not ignoring all laws. The Globe lists this as more proof of the ‘Imperial Presidency’, where Mr. Bush does anything he wants to do regardless of laws and congress. And unless congress starts reacting it will continue. I think this is grounds for impeachment, obvious proof that we have a presidency that feels itself free to do as it pleases.

And now for something completely different.

Around town:
Cher will be replacing Celene Dion when her contract is up in two years. If you’re into Karaoke you might be surprised at who is singing after you if you hit one of the places in Vegas, Harvey Firestein, who plays Ms. Turnblad in Hairspray, frequently hit Karaoke bars to sing. But his time is up, and he went back to New York last week, so you will not be sing him here. A few weeks ago Bono from U2 showed up at one place and sang several songs. He didn’t stand up and say his name, but enough people took photos and heard him that this sighting was reasonably confirmed. Sting was NOT heard singing at a Karaoke bar for free, he did his thing for a million dollars at the new Red Rock Casino. (yes, $1,000,000 US for an hour). Reba McEntire is now at the Hilton, $128, $134 or $225 with a meet-and-greet (all plus service charge)

And even more completely different.

She has learned to use a spoon.

But evidently not fully figured out where the mouth is.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More Tuesday fun

Oh my, sitting here reading stories of people getting on in age, and bodies getting too soft for bikinis, and memories going away, and keyboards typing Hebrew, and thinking about getting old. Back as a kid time seemed to take forever. I think third grade lasted for five years (no, I did not get left back that many times). Now it just flies. I thought it was just a few days ago that I promised some pictures for HNT, and realized that for the past four weeks I missed it. Well, this week I’ll blame my computer.

With the new hard drive and Windows XP I now find that I have to reload everything. Even though I can still access my old hard drive, the programs there expect Win 2000, and refuse to run on XP. So, it’s down into the vault to try and find all of those CDs and reinstall. Not fun, considering I’ve been using that computer for four years and have been building up a pile of useful programs and tools. So I need my Photoshop, to get to that pile of pics we took in San Fran.

It’s finally warmed up here in Vegas, into the 90’s every day. But this means the end of my lunchtime walks. I do like walking in the warm, but not coming back to work and thinking of people putting up with sweaty stinky me all afternoon. So I’ll shift to evening walks when I get home – my neighborhood is so much nicer to walk in than this industrial place. But I just put on the Ipod and my mind drifts away anywhere, so it really doesn’t matter.

Construction is still proceeding around town. I drive down Frank Sinatra Boulevard each morning, and get to see the progress on the City Center parking garage and roadway trenches for pipes. Just waiting for them to move on to the buildings and fancy parts. Today I had the pleasure of being behind the longest dump truck yet, a long truck and trailer, both painted bright yellow, that seemed to go on forever. It was a side dumper, where the whole part that holds the dirt tips sideways to empty. It was about four times longer than that double decker bus we passed on the Strip. I guess that some of the basements are being dug at the construction site, which is then carried far away someplace, but in the direction I commute in so I end up driving behind all of these big trucks.

Lots of exciting times at work. Last Saturday night a group tried to install some new software and upgrade several servers. It did not go well. So I received a call Sunday night at 9 (thanks for the advanced notice) asking me to be at work before 5am Monday in case things didn’t work. Well, our collections group works on Sundays, so I had already been getting calls all day about problems. Then coming in at 4:30 after not much sleep to find all of the other things that didn’t work. It’s so nice to have a support group that does not publish what they do, so that when things don’t work we have no idea what to look at. Thanks for the opportunity to learn about so many things. It took three hours yesterday to get our collections group talking to one of our service companies. Ended up being because we upgraded our internet connection, which resulted in new IP addresses, which resulted in our service company refusing our messages because for security they checked the incoming IP address. With a new address we were no longer recognized. But nobody said we were upgrading in advance, so that the people that know could say ‘wait a minute – we need to register the new addresses’. So much more fun having the phone people say ‘we can’t collect money’, so our company president starts screaming as does everyone on down.

This morning is no better, still overcoming things half done on Saturday. And boss wondering why I haven’t done any of the new projects yet. Too busy fixing the old stuff, making up for somebody else that messed up. I’m ready for another vacation. A month in France sounds pretty good. But I might not come back. (big loss)