Friday, July 29, 2005

Computers in circles

(sorry it's technical and not fun)

Did you ever feel like you were just running around in circles, and all that you were doing was digging the trench a little deeper each time? I’m sitting at work and need a break from thinking, so I thought (wait a minute, supposed to be taking a break from thinking, but this entry will probably prove that I did) that I’d write something. It’s been a week, and I really should. It’s so nice to bounce around the blogs and see a new post – like somebody you would like to see comes by and says Hi! and sits a while. I usually take some time after lunch and pull up all the ones to the right, then maybe hit one or two links via the comments. Interesting places.

Back to work stuff – (Noooo, not work) I’m a computer programmer for a bank, working in the credit card section. The main program I am in charge of is the one that handles applications, review, credit check and approval. I used to also handle the collections one, that’s the program our telephone people use to keep track of customers they call and ask for money. But I sucked John from my last job into coming here, and they gave him collections. He is doing really well with it, but there is still one change to that I have been involved with. So I am still working on one section – the area where our callers can take a check over the phone. It’s still magic to me – my program talks over the internal web to another program which then talks to still another computer and that eventually flows someplace to verify the checking account. The way all of these things work together (well, sometimes) and get things done. I have always worked on programs that did things themselves, so this new style of programming, where different pieces are on different computers, is new to me.

Anyway, last week one of our analysts (yes, a place that has business analysts, a first for me) found a problem. Last month two new employees started in the collections area, and they had the same names as two old employees. Whenever they took a check all of these computers started talking to each other. And way down the line one of them said “hey, I don’t know what employee is doing this, I’m confused” and dropped the check info. We have to keep track of employees, as they get bonuses based on how much they collect. But when this computer dropped things it didn’t tell the other computers, so the employee (and customer) thought a payment had been made. Last week one of the new people said “where is my collections bonus” and his boss said “according to our reports you didn’t take any payments”. Which led to finding out about the name thingy. Confused yet? Sorry to be techie, but the programmers in the UK should understand.

So it’s been a week trying to figure out what happened and fixing it. Complicated because it goes through different computers, and three different programmers, each knowing what their part does. It’s come down to me to find out how much was lost, and figure out how to reimburse the customers for any late fees charged because we didn’t know we lost their payments. That was done by Tuesday. Then it took a few days for an analyst to get time to look at my stuff, and confirm I did it correctly. I made up a big corrections list to send to the master computer in the sky and was about to do it, when I made the mistake of asking the person in charge of talking to that computer if she needed paperwork approving this. She said yes, and then the problems started. The analyst made up a Change Control form and took it to our boss to sign. The boss said “How are these credits getting posted?” and I said via a big file, like we’ve been doing for years. He said no, use the new way, and so I’ve been running around for two days trying to figure out what the new way is. No, nobody is doing it the new way, despite what my boss thinks, so I’m the first. Go to Jim to see what he does, then to Rowena to see her part, then to Subba to find out what Oracle (another big program system) wants, then off to Jennifer to see what the big computer needs, and back to Jim, then Subba again, and around and around and around. And my boss will probably come by in a few minutes to ask if it’s done, so I better get back to doing it.

No pictures, no granddaughter stories. Sorry. But my wife is off to our daughter's today to watch Eli while daughter does some work stuff. She's a teacher, and found out she needs to renew her hepatitus test, so she is off to the lab for that poking. Then a few days next week of prep, and the following week maternity leave is over and back to teaching third grade. For the last week of the term - year round school here. Then three weeks off for track break, and back at it. So Grandma gets to play grandma, not at our house, with the visious dogs, but at daughter's.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Just reading our Las Vegas Sun newspaper at lunch – we have two papers, the evening Sun and the morning Review Journal. The RJ is strongly Republican, all editorials supporting 'our President' and all his actions. The Sun is the opposite. Unfortunately, as is happening around most of the country, newspapers are not doing well, and in a few months we will be losing the Sun, which will switch to only having a small section as part of the RJ. Oh well, alternate voices disappearing.

Anyway, there was an op-ed piece written by Nancy Sherman reprinted from the Rhode Island Providence Journal. It is titled 'Stoicism has limits for those in a war' and was relatively anti Iraq war.

One of the paragraphs discusses an Ethics course she taught at Annapolis, and quotes from Epictetus, a first century Roman. In his writings is a quote (well, originally in Latin, but close enough) "some things are up to us, and some are not up to us." Of the things that are not up to us, be ready to say "It is nothing to me." Interesting attitude, she relates it to soldiers in war, who she was teaching at the Naval Academy, but it would probably fit very well in almost any situation.

There are many things that I seem to become upset over, but would probably be better off saying "I have no control over that, so it should be nothing to me".

I can use this daily when overtaken and cut off in traffic – I don’t control how those idiots drive. Recent news item here about a man cut off in traffic, ended up in the same gas station/car wash as the other driver. He proceeded to yell at her about her driving, she called husband, who came over and ended up shoving the first driver, who fell, hit his head and died. So the husband, not involved at first, is now up for a second degree murder trial. Would have been better for the dead guy to say "she drives like an idiot, I can’t control her actions, but maybe I should go elsewhere and avoid her". Better for the woman driver to say "This idiot yells too much, I can't control that, better if I just leave". Better for the husband to say "Dear, I can't control his mouth, just drive away, or call the cops if he is dangerous".

I can't control our fearless President W, and have no control over the deaths and money spent in Iraq. Does my ranting and putting up a counter do any good? Should I just say 'I have no control' and ignore it? I’ve emailed my congressman, should I now just go on to other things? My wife really rages against this man - as I'm not first at the newspaper I end up seeing the W photos with horns and devil beards drawn on. Does that do any good? Maybe slows down the ulcers, maybe builds them up.

I read about suicide bombers and deaths in England, Iraq, Afghanistan, Australia, Israel. . . and it bothers me. But I can’t do anything about that. I look at this religious rant pointed to by the Lioness and think, how can people, even a supposed religious person, think like this? But what can I do about it? It thoroughly disgusts me, all I can do is ask why?

I think I’ve written something like this before, since I have no control why am I writing again? Guess it’s my way to relieve tension. I can say "I have no control over that" but it still bothers me, and I try to find ways to do something anyway. I stopped reading the newspapers after the election, but then started up again. I do turn off the local and network news on TV and change to the Do It Yourself channels, but my wife turns it back. It’s hard to stop.

Maybe the more I say it the more I’ll mean it. Keep the ulcers from coming, and reduce the blood pressure. Go about your business, you've no control over me (well, I do pay attention to your comments so I guess you do) so just ignore me and keep moving along.

Ok, so it's hot.

Another record yesterday - 117 (well, tied the LV all time high) and the low was 95. Yes, yes, I said before, it's a dry heat - but at 7:40 it's already 94, and humidity up to 28%. Usually it's 7% humidity, and all you feel is the sweat (sorry, perspiration) flying off you. But yesterday was a little much.

Went to see Charlie & the Chocolate Factory last night - at the Imax at the Palms. Here all (well, most) of the movie theatres are in casinos. My first time at an Imax, not much bigger than the regular screens (well, OK, taller). One suggestion - if you ever go, sit far (that's FAR) back. These places have the entrances on the side, about at the middle of most theatres - the Palms has 15 screens. We came in the entrance and it was dark - movie hadn't started yet, but they do not keep this one well lit at all. Couldn't see much, just rows rising off to our right, but rather than climb up we just walked forward and sat down.

Most of the cinemas here are now of the 'stadium seating' variety. Nice high back seats, no head right in front of you. We did see a row of seats in front of us, but then couldn't see anything beyond. After the movie started we found we were in the second row, looking right up Johnny's nose. Liked him in Pirates, as in Edward S. he was a little strange in this one. But we both gave a thumbs up. Different than Gene Wilder's Willy, like a different movie. Loved the Umpha Loompas. Nice computer work. But like Tim Burton's other works (Nightmare before Christmas, etc.) it is an adult picture not a children's movie. Willy Wonka was for kids, but not this version.

Got out of the movie and walked around the Palms, haven't been there in a while. Been seeing movies at the Orleans or Texas Station. Had dinner once at the N9ne Steak House (yes, spelled N9ne). Expensive - but OK. Reading the local paper gossip column they always talk about the movie people being seen at N9ne. The owners of the Palms also own the big basketball team in California - so they have lots of actor friends come by. It's also the favored place of Playboy, having assorted photo shoots and models and Hugh over often. Pam Anderson and Al Pacino this weekend, supposedly Pam was proposed to but denies it. Well, lots of gossip here. The Palms is following the lead of may places here and building a new condo tower - Don't know how long it will take to build, but as in Vegas probably only a few months. They redid the food court (most casinos have a food court, like the malls) and moved things around to squeeze in two poker rooms, the latest fad since it's making it so big on tv and the internet.

We had a groundbreaking a few days ago for Donald Trumph's new condo tower - spaces from $600,000 to $5 mill. And he's only 70% sold out before even starting construction. As is the Palms, and most other new big projects. And these are not primary homes, but down the list for vacation spots. $$$$$ someplace. Some football team wants to buy a whole floor at Trumph's. That's 21 suites at whatever. But he already said he doesn't want a frat house atmosphere, so those guys better keep it down.

And thanks to Miranda, I had to go try:
This site is certified 35% EVIL by the Gematriculator
(I like the evil better than the good). Guess I better up the dirty word count and get a better score. -

Wow - after I posted this one I jumped from 27 to 31 - had to redo the link. Better score just by linking to them? Now up to 33. - wow - the more I change it the better score I get! Started at 27%, now up to 35% - keep it up, Joe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More numbers

Since I didn't have enough numbers I thought that I would add some more. Reading the Lioness' web site I followed a link to Lorem Ipsum 's site and down at the bottom she had a money counter. Looked like something I talk about, so tried it out to the right - Cost of War in Iraq. Now all I need is a link to someplace that increments the deaths and I'd be set. Wish I could do more about that- ???

Hay - cooled down today - it's only 107 now. We were looking to have a string of ten days of over 110 weather, this should be day eight, may not make it. But yesterday was 116f - tied a record for the date. The hotest reading ever in Vegas was 117f recorded back in 1942. So almost made it. It was 120f down at Lake Mead - just a half hour drive, so if I really wanted to get hot guess I could go there. Sunday was interesting - the morning low was 93f - that's the highest low we've ever had. Which means that things usually cool off at night, then warm up as the sun comes up - if it only goes down to 93 there isn't much cooling off to do. Well, it was 23f lower than the daytime high, so I guess it is cooling off.

Kept the pool cover off for a few days and on Saturday night the water temp was back down to 90. Seemed a little cool so we closed it up, and last night it was back up to 96. My wife likes 92, which seems to be about right. So it's open again.

Haven't been doing much around the house. Seems like a good time to just lay around. I'm about a fifth through Harry, something to look forward to in the evening.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Summer stuff

Driving in this morning I was thinking about how nice it is in Vegas. Yesterday it got up to 114f, not a record but tied. Due to be up there again today, then cool off this weekend, down to 109 (woo-hoo). But it was around 80 this morning. Driving in with the windows down, I’ve started coming in early so there are very few cars on the road. Some clouds this morning, so I didn’t need the sunglasses – in Vegas sunglasses are really a required item, along with sunscreen (spf 50 or so). It’s 9:30, already up to 101 – went outside to make a phone call (usually do that, it’s all tight cubicles here, go outside to make personal phone calls).

Driving home yesterday it was probably at the top – our electronic thermometer wasn’t showing the outside temp when I got home, but it was pretty hot. Our pool temp was 90f on Sunday; we’ve had the cover on since then and last night it was up to 96. That’s a little warm, last year it got up to 98 once. So I opened the cover and we’ll leave open for a few days – last week it was up to 96 and three days open it evaporated about a half inch of water and dropped down to 90. That’s a lot of water to move – our pool is 44’ by 24’, pretty big. But with humidity at 7% you can almost see the water moving up. Went swimming anyway, and after floating around for a while the 96 felt pretty good. Floated around and watched the sunset, the bats flying overhead, the stars coming out. Turned on the TV at 9:30 and found that it had cooled down to 105f. Again, felt cold on getting out – still don’t understand how you can get out of 96f water into 105f air and feel cold. After I dried off (at 7% humidity it took about seven seconds) it started to feel warmer. And going into the house it was freezing – we follow the electric guidelines and set the air conditioners high, around 80. But that still was freezing.

Back to my drive – I head east for half the drive, usually with the sun in my face. Closer to the strip the hotels block the sun. My drive is 9 miles, but I take the surface streets, speed limit 30. With all of the traffic lights that’s about a 25 minute drive. I keep it under 35, and find that usually I am the slowest guy on the street. Perhaps once every three weeks I come behind a slower car, but usually people are zipping past. Most smaller streets in Vegas are four lanes - two in each direction. Bigger streets are six lanes with a center divider. Residential streets are just two lanes, in older areas parked cars intrude on the street, but newer areas the streets are wider.

Listening to the news – I usually don’t because it’s too depressing, we’ve got a PBS jazz station here that I’m usually tuned to, but even they have news on the half hour. Yesterday some idiot (stronger names come to mind) left his one year old in the car seat while he went in to visit relatives. Three hours later (three hours!) he came out to find the kid broiled. Vegas ends up having about a kid a week die during the summer from being left in a car. Figure it out, measurements show the temp in a car goes up 40f in the first half hour it’s parked in the sun, 50-60f in a few hours. If you start with an air temp of 114f and add 50f to it you end up with something that no one can live in for very long. Yea, the guy is heartbroken from losing his kid, but something should happen to him. Maybe roll up the windows and make him sit in the car for three hours. If he lives then lock him up in an air-conditioned prison for manslaughter. If not murder, as he did it on purpose.

But after living here for two years – this is our third summer – the 114 still feels HOT. Back in Rochester, NY there were winters where it would hit -20f (below zero). (I don’t know how to convert below zero to Centigrade, I think it’s –28C) And when it warmed up to –10 it was noticeable – your face didn’t freeze immediately, it took a few seconds. Well here the small differences are noticeable. Moving from 111 on Tuesday to 114 yesterday there was a difference. Strong sun on your face, it was HOT. Yes, dry heat, but an electric oven is dry heat and that roast still comes out cooked. Used to it – the 105 last night felt really nice. We have out of town visitors, and they almost die. Just move from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car (well, hot when starting but eventually cooler) to air-conditioned casino or store. They still are melting, and asking how we could live here.

At first I missed the green grass – back east we had lots of trees. Here it’s desert landscaping, some trees in yards, but you can see the mountains, and the strip hotels miles away, and when driving out of town just the long flat vistas of open desert, short bushes scattered around. Yes, I like the trees when we go on vacation; but I like the bright sun all year, the warm weather, the fresh air, and think I would rather stay here. Vacations are nice elsewhere – hoping to get back to France (my fav) and see our friends in Sweden, but also London (I did like the big city even if the food was . . .) and now adding the British countryside, Scotland and Portugal to the list. Thanks guys.

But where else do you have a street with all those fancy casinos right near by? As said before, we can walk from New York to an Egyptian pyramid to Venice and the gondolas to Paris and the Eiffel Tower over to whatever the heck TI and Wynn are supposed to be. Lots of people to watch – best place is to sit on the patio at Paris and watch the people walk by.

Statistics show there are usually 100,000 tourists here every day. Last month the casinos in Nevada pulled in over 1.2 billion (billion) in gambling revenues. For those of you that come here to gamble, that means they took in $1,200,000,000 US more that they paid out. In one month. Thanks. That’s before expenses, but it is what pays for all of those fancy buildings. Keep coming, we like to see you.

Ok, got to end up with a good line. Even if it’s not mine. I’m listening to the local radio show, and heard a good line.

The local hosts are interviewing Dennis Miller on the phone (this couple talk to entertainers coming into town, helps advertise things) - the comedian with his own talk show - and he was telling jokes and talking about how hard it is to book guests on his show. They were discussing somebody who wanted to have their own talk show and this person is kind of obnoxious. Dennis said it was hard to get people even if you were nice to them. I guess if you say something unkind about or to somebody they respond by ignoring you.

He relayed a story about when he was on the Letterman show just before his show was to start up. Waiting to go on he was talking to another guest, a herpetologists (snake expert) in the 'green room' before the show. When sitting next to Letterman Dennis talked about meeting the herpetologist, and started telling some jokes about other people. Letterman said 'you're not going to tell jokes like that when you have your own show, are you?' Dennis asked why not? Letterman replied - 'why do you think I'm booking herpetologists?'. Guess if I was good at this I’d be paid instead of having a blog, eh? (little Canadian there. - ok, very little).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Summer update

It's not hurricanes,

but it is warm. For tomorrow

but it will only feel like 103. That's 45c for you 'normal' people. Still not a record though.
Some new links. Thanks to Rob (thanks, Rob) I've been looking for French blogs, but posted in English. I loved France during my one trip there, and would like to go back, as soon as the $$$ are lined up. Now I can add one - Petite Anglaise (France). And she has lots of links to others.

One more link for those of you that like interesting places, it's Movie pooper, where they give away the endings - so don't look unless you want to. They have one of my favorite strange movies - Eating Raoul. Guess what the pooper ending is? - "They eat Roul". Well, duh. Oh - another quirky movie, Being John Malkovich.

Boat update - ok times on the cruise

Noticed on my boat story that I didn’t mention too many of the enjoyable moments during the vacation.

First on the list has to been gaining a new son. Those of you with daughters know that after the wedding you haven’t lost a daughter you’ve gained a son-in-law. If you marry off a son you will soon find them lost to the girl’s family (yes, our oldest son is now lost forever, or at least a little while). And gaining some Italian relatives.

You can see below in the middle photo our daughter in her wedding dress. This was hand made by her great grandmother years ago for my wife. Minor adjustments (made a little wider, don’t say anything) but it still looked OK. Her husband is a Canadian, from Hamilton, Ontario – up near Buffalo NY. They met in Barcelona, Spain, but that’s her long story to tell. His parents are both Italian, mother from Canada, but sent to Italy to get married. Sounds like an arranged marriage, but haven’t heard the whole story there. Father is Italian moved to Canada after their wedding. I think Fab was even born in Italy. That’s Fabrizzio, called Fab, but I like to call him Spike. He needed a tough nickname and I’m a Buffy fan.

Even though she tried her best to avoid a big function at the wedding she found out that you can’t avoid the Italians. The wedding was in December, and the following June required a trip to Canada for the wedding party. We went, never having been to a real event like this. One of the popular ‘shows’ here in Vegas at the Rio is Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. It’s a dinner show, and the show really takes place around you instead of on a stage, pretending that you are guests at an Italian wedding.

Again, made a small vacation of it. My wife has never been to upstate New York or Canada, so we went early. I attended Rochester Institute of Technology up in Rochester NY, and wanted to show off what I talked about. Weather was nice – that year all of the snow had melted by the time we went in June. (local joke, but at least we didn’t do one of those 20f below zero weeks in February). It was an open house weekend, so we got to walk all around campus. RIT is a big brick complex, just built on a new campus when I went there. Looked almost like I remember it from thirty years ago, but seemed a lot smaller.

Flew into Buffalo, then rented a car. Time in Rochester with some old friends, then off to Niagra Falls. A few days there, even took the boat down near the falls. Yes, it’s a lot of water, and green compared to the southwest. Then off to Canada. After the party we went to Toronto for a few days.

The party – probably everything I imagined an Italian wedding party would be. Tons of people, all relatives somehow – “this is Fab’s third cousin of his second uncle on his mother’s side” kind of thing. Lots of food (lots, lots, lots of food). Held on the lawn behind a place used to hold events. Backing on the lake, under a big tent. Started around 4, we left around 2 and except for those with small kids were about the first to leave. I don’t know how much longer they played.

I’ve been to Italy once, back in my Navy days. Had some big meals there, but this was something. My wife doesn’t eat much and really had a problem. First soup, then proshuto and melon, then chicken, then tomato and mozzarella, then fish, then pasta. Then came the salad and the main courses. I’m sure there were little things brought around between all of the big dishes. If you don’t think we were filled by the pasta course then you must have experience with these things. I don’t remember how many courses were served – yes, all sit down served courses. After all this came the coffee, then a few hour break for dancing while they set up the desserts in their own little tented area. We then got to walk around and pick up sweets and coffee, probably around midnight, it all got a little fuzzy after all the wine. The served food was all from the facility, but half the desserts were made by various family members. Stared with two wine bottles on the table, which magically were replaced every time they got near empty, so I don’t really know how much we went through. Eight people per table, probably about two hundred people there. Glad it was the father of the groom that paid for everything, I don’t even want to thing of the $$$$.

And everyone had to dance with the bride (or groom). Against her wishes (well, the whole thing was against her wishes, so why stop now?) she had to carry a little white purse. Everyone that danced with her put something into this bag. She didn’t fully tell us what, but I think the ‘take’ was over $50,000 US. Problem is, of course now they are expected to attend every event of every cousin, and drop something in their little bags. Or send a check if they can’t attend. So I think there is a fixed amount of money and it all just circulates.

It was nice back on the lake. Not too many mosquitoes, warm breezes, a place to walk and try to bounce down the food and make room for more. Since I wasn’t paying it was a really nice time.

And the wedding on the boat was nice. I stood next to some grandmother that was on the cruise and just heard there was a wedding and had to come. She was on the boat with about twenty relatives, all there for Grammy’s big number birthday (she wouldn’t say, but I think it was 80). It didn’t take too long. Nice standing up in the warm breezes, looking at the boats. We were anchored off of a fancy resort at Nevis. Not too far from us was a private yacht. We saw some pretty fancy boats down there, St. Bart’s bay was filled with smaller boats – those with crews of six, garage in the back with smaller boats and jet skis. This one was larger – it had two, not one but two, helicopters parked on top. It probably had a crew of over a dozen for the boat, plus a few for the helicopters and two pilots. Don’t know who owned it (probably a corporation, for the tax breaks) but even our captain was impressed at the size. He was on my other side during the wedding, and kept looking at that boat too.

After the wedding my wife and I went ashore (on one of those little boats) and went horseback riding on the beach and around the area. Then up to a botanical garden. Then back to the boat to change and go off to the fancy wedding dinner.

The carnival at St. Kitts the next day was different. My first time on an island like that with a festival going on. Similar to other small town events I attended. Probably half the town was in the parade, the other half watching, and each year they take turns. It was the boxing day party – Nevis/St. Kitts was a British colony. There were big flatbed trucks filled with piles of speakers, playing LOUD music. Lots of Bob Marley. Each followed by a coordinated group of singers and dancers. Similar to the carnival parades I’ve seen pictures of in Rio. Groups of 40 – 50, all with the same color t shirts (no fancy Rio carnival type costumes) following each truck, dancing and singing and waving at all their friends. Stood against a building, and we could feel the wall shake from the volume. Probably about twenty trucks, each playing different music, moving slowly by, each about a block apart spread out by the dancers. So the music passed – as one went away and the volume dropped to something that was almost acceptable the next one came into hearing. So it was never quiet.

I liked walking around St. Bart’s. It’s another French island. The resort of the rich. Reading the gossip columns there are always movie stars just back from St. Bart’s. As I said, lots of big private boats tied up, even bigger ones anchored out in the bay. Our sailboat was anchored a ways out, probably pay according to how close you anchor. So it was a 20 minute little boat ride in to the dock, past all of those big boats, some longer than our Windjammer. All taller because they were not sail boats but motor yachts, with may floors. The more you spend the longer and taller the boat. Not many with helicopters but almost all with the garage in the back for the smaller water toys.

We walked up to the old fort and took photos of our small boat way below. Hit some small bakeries and got some great pastries (my favorite part). Had a jambone and fromage sandwich with Orangina – just like when we were in Paris. Too bad I couldn’t afford that place. As below, we didn’t have cheeseburgers in paradise, but most of the other passengers did.

Then back to St. Martin’s and the airport, to Puerto Rico airport and a four hour wait for our connecting flight to Atlanta. On the way in the plane we took from Atlanta into Puerto Rico was the same one that continued on to St. Martin, but with an hour wait in PR. This time we got to walk around the terminal. Several hours in Atlanta airport. Then back to California. This was before we moved here to Vegas.

So if I forget the week on the boat itself it was a really nice time. If I remember the boat (please, don’t make me go through that again) and average that time in, it was two weeks in hell. That’s one week in paradise, great food, time on the beach in warm warm water, totally obscured by that little metal coffin. So I try to only remember the good parts.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Baby update

Our neighbor across the street was taking the triplets for a walk yesterday and I just had to -

The look so nice bouncing around the front yard in their little hats and outfits - I think they are 14 months now, walking quite well.
But our Eli is OK (with the evil red eyes)

Oh - and July is here in Vegas

110 due tomorrow - 113 on Wednesday. I can never understand that stuff - it's 103, but feels like 97? What's that supposed to mean?

And sorry to be so long in saying it,

I am very sorry our stupid president talked you guys into this. The results are not pleasant for anyone. I appoligize for all.

Friday, July 08, 2005

One of my boat stories

Bouncing around yesterday I was reading Rob’s site and he linked to a story about boats by Ana of Little Red Boat (see Rob’s site for the link to the story) where she talks about how her site got the name. I asked Rob for his boat story, meaning (I thought) for him to explain his site name and origins. Instead he told a delightful tale about boating around the canals, which I found to be just as nice a story as Ana’s. His response was to ask for my boat story. This sounds like a nice path, so I invite all of you to come up with boat stories (boy, lots of “stories” in this paragraph) of your own.

I’ve got a ton of boat tales to tell. I spent four years in the Navy, and a lot of that was floating around. I was raised in New Jersey, and my father and uncle loved to go fishing. My uncle owned an outboard motor and we would periodically pile in the car (the three of us) and drive out to the tip of Long Island. They would rent a boat, install the motor, and we would float around for the day. I would get dreadfully seasick. I hated fish (eat it now) and would never eat what we caught. I just remember the sun on the water and the sad stomach.

Anyway, this is leading up to a Navy tale, and that one will come later. For now let’s move on to my worst time on a boat – my daughter’s wedding.

My daughter is a little strong minded (little?). She usually tries to rebel against anything ‘standard’. Wanting to get married (which sounds pretty normal in itself) she did not want a big wedding or any type of party. She was living here in Las Vegas, and we were living in San Diego, about a six hour drive south. I offered to pay for the ceremony, as long as there was an Elvis around. Being Vegas there are always Elvi (Elvises?) around someplace. Many wedding chapels offer Elvis weddings, either with Elvis driving his pink Cadillac to pick you up or singing or even as the minister. I figured anything Elvis would be cheaper than a big formal affair, and her being her she would probably not take me up on it, saving me even more money. But she decided on something even more far out. She wanted to be married on a boat.

Now, I understand ship captains can marry people, this being included in many a movie, but didn’t quite know how she could plan this. But she found something so far out that she figured nobody would attend, thus providing a simple ceremony. She picked a tall ship Windjammer cruise in the Caribbean as her location of choice. After hearing this, I told my wife I would be quite happy to send her off to it, not wanting to go anywhere near a boat that size. But after months of “but you can’t miss your only daughter’s only wedding” I was forced into agreeing to go.

She picked a cruise that went out over Christmas, a week floating around and visiting smaller islands. We were to board the ship at St. Martin and she would be married at a later stop, Nevis. The minister would come out to the ship, and perform the ceremony off shore. This is a special wedding package offered by Windjammer Cruises. We would come on the cruise, along with the groom’s parents, coming from Hamilton, Canada (near Buffalo NY).

One of my major complaints, besides the floating around stuff, was that it was so expensive that her brothers would be unable to attend. Not only because of the cruise and flight costs, but the time off from their jobs as well.

After agreeing to go I started investigating the cruise. It sounded worse than I originally thought. A small boat (my US Navy time was spend on aircraft carriers, the smallest boat I felt comfortable with. Over 300 meters long, 120 airplanes and a crew of 5,000) in my estimation, only 80 passengers and a crew of 12. Tall masts, a week floating around. Help!

Plus my daughter picked Christmas week. The winter is prime time for Caribbean vacations. Rates double after hurricane season (which has started already) through the Spring. But the double again over the Christmas holidays. So this event would cost us four times as much as an off season cruise.

One of the places I loved to visit was France. The atmosphere was great (I liked London too) but the food was tremendous! (England, food not the best) St. Martin was a good starting place – half the island Dutch and half was French! So we (OK, I) decided to go a week early and stay in France. The Grand Case Beach Club was chosen, after may hours on the Internet. A little expensive, but right on the water, a short walk from a small town full of famous French restaurants. A nice way to calm down an start preparing for the boat. My wife and I even decided to get scuba lessons and try some diving, but that’s another story on it’s own.

We flew down, another adventure – LA to Atlanta to Puerto Rico to St. Martin. St. Martin airport is right off the beach, there are some famous photos of people laying in the sand looking up at big airliners flying just over their heads about to land (I’ll look for some and link later). The flights were ok, just long waits in airports for connections. San Diego fogged in and having to drive to LA for the first leg, almost missing that one which would have messed up the rest of the connections royally.

Really enjoyed St. Martin – warm water, beaches, and the food was even better than I imagined. I do plan on going there again. We had five days, then the about to be in-laws showed up. We had a day with them, then off to the boat.

Brought our stuff on board in the evening, planned on spending the last night at the Grand Case. Our daughter flew in and was spending the night in port on the boat. It sails early, so you have to come in the day before. Putting our stuff in the cabin was worse that even I dreamed it could be. Picture an old iron fishing boat, converted to tiny cabins for cruising. They put a few cabins up on top, with windows, but those were all booked years in advance. The rest are down below, no windows, little tiny metal boxes. Bunk beds, welded to the wall, room in front for only one person at a time to stand. But at least each cabin had a ‘head’ – toilet and shower. So one person could stand in the bathroom and one in front of the beds. I took the top bunk. Ceiling not high enough to let me sit up. Head and feet touching both walls. If I forgot and sat up quickly my forehead would hit the ceiling. It was covered in a roll-on fireproofing stuff that was worse than sandpaper. I think I still have scars on my forehead from that stuff. Metal walls, noisy, and cold.

After seeing the cabin I told my wife that I would stay on shore, and join them on their return. Again the line, “but your only daughter’s only wedding” came to the fore. A sleepless night ashore, dreading the next day. We took everyone out to eat. My daughter being herself refused a ‘nice’ restaurant and we ended up at some ‘charming’ local place where I didn’t eat much. I don’t like seafood but will now enjoy a good piece of fish. Of course a local place in the Caribbean would have nothing but seafood. My daughter and wife love the stuff, so that’s where we went. Couldn’t even get a decent last meal.

Off to the boat in the morning, in the dark. It was tied up at one of the big piers in St. Martin. This is a popular stop for cruise lines and there were two big ships tied up on either side. Big boats, with 1000 passengers or so. From our little tiny thing it was like looking up a big wall at people way up there waving down at us. Into the tiny cold cabin – I don’t know why, but when it gets warm people crank up the air conditioning to horrendous levels, leaving places colder during warm weather than they are during the winter. Besides being under the water level the cabin was well supplied with cold air. So the metal wall was cold, the air was cold, and quite a breeze. No blankets (it was warm season – of course no blankets on board). I lay in my top bunk, noisy water rushing by along side me, wall too cold to lay against. Metal ceiling inches above my face. Cold air blowing on me. Noisy water, noisy engines, noisy generators. Even stopped the little metal coffin was full of sounds. And I say coffin, for that is what I imagine it would be like, put under the cold ground in a little metal box. Except this one was noisy and kept rolling back and forth and bouncing up and down. If I die and go to hell I imagine mine would be that little box. I have never been in a place so horrible.

Up on deck was a little better. But it was a small boat – even with small waves it continually bounced around. Sea sickness came quickly. Lots of pills, which still leave one feeling not quite right. Rolling back and forth, front of the ship moving up and down. And being down low we were splashed often. Small ship, nothing to do. We’ve been on big cruises, where there was always amusements. This was a small boat, either sit in your cabin (well, sit on the lower bunk, lay on the upper), sit in the galley (not big enough for everyone, and closed during prep and cleaning) or sit on top. Wow. Some great time.

Now I am not knocking those of you that like sailing ships. This was a sailing ship. But there was a crew, and besides the sails the engines were always running as there was a schedule to keep and the wind is not always blowing as desired. So there were people pulling on ropes and moving things about and yelling ‘out of the way’. Of course, for amusement, the paying passengers got to pull on ropes and raise a sail once in a while. It’s why you go on this type of cruise rather than on one of those big boats where you are always served. It’s a ‘barefoot cruise’.

First stop was a tiny piece of sand a few hours off of St. Martin. Christmas day on an island that wouldn’t support Robinson Cruso. But it looked pretty.

That’s our boat with St. Martin in the distance. Now I don’t swim, and sunburn easily. So this day (probably seven hours) on this island I just sat under a tree looking for shade. Staring at St. Martin in the distance, seasick, hungry, and tired. I was ready to swim back over there, realizing I would probably drown after only a hundred yards or so. It still seemed better than a week of this. Considered bribing a crew member to take me on a launch back. But “it’s your only daughter’s only wedding”. But I was right, it would have been better swimming back.

After a week of great food we were now subjected to some of the worst stuff I have eaten, not even rivaling the week at summer camp when I was a kid. Mostly cold sandwiches, the rest usually seafood salad and stuff common to the Caribbean. I just about starved over the week. The stops were not too bad – but I like big cities, not small islands. After four days of my wife not talking to me because I was wanting to die we finally hit Nevis and the wedding.

Plastic flowers on deck, that kept blowing over in the wind. I did as I promised and showed up. And as I promised I wore a tuxedo – well, a t-shirt with a picture of a tuxedo on front. And shorts. But they matched the black tie painted on the front. And nice red buttons painted on as well.

Nevis was OK – we had a wedding banquet at the best restaurant on the island – an old sugar plantation turned into fancy resort. Up on the mountain top. Our cab did not return (only two on the island) but we bribed the one cab driver waiting to return his fare into driving us back down when it was over. We had visions of the boat leaving without us, even though they were the ones that arranged this as part of the wedding package. I remember a winding fast ride down the mountain, just making the pier to catch the small boat. Oh – our sailing ship had too deep a draft to come up to the beach, and to save money they didn’t pay docking fees in most ports but anchored off shore and used these two small open boats to ferry us back and forth. Yes, even smaller boats, bouncing in the waves. Even more sea sickness, even with pills.

Next day was at St. Kitts – the ship moved at night and spent each day at an island. This was nice – annual carnival and noisy parade. Then last day at St. Bart’s – about the most expensive island. Where all the movie stars play. Millions of dollars in yachts tied up here. We had coffee across from the place where Jimmy Buffet wrote ‘Cheeseburgers in Paradise’. Most of the passengers had to go there and have a cheeseburger. And if I wasn’t so sick, and just stayed on the island, it would have been paradise.

Then back to St. Martin. Anchoring off shore around midnight, I could not spend another night in that noisy coffin. I sat on top, looking at the lights, again almost swimming back, knowing I would drown before I got half way. But I made it to daylight, and the launch ashore with the luggage, and early to the airport. Daughter spend a few days in hotel after the event, we spent the week before.

If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t. I would go to St. Martin. Stay there while everyone else went off on the boat. That would have been paradise. Even if I would have missed my “only daughter’s only wedding”. Let everyone be mad at me. I think of it as a week in hell. And it only cost me around $10,000 for the pleasure.

So that’s one of my boat stories – pretty long one, did you really read it all? Killed an hour here at work, and forced to remember all of that horrid stuff. Thanks’ Rob. But maybe my next boat story will be a funny one. So on to the next guy – who wants to do the next boat story? Jo? Miranda?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

End of Spring

Last weekend (June 25) we caught the last of the free jazz concerts in the park. Held behind the Clark County office complex, four or five free concerts in the spring. The evenings were gorgeous - warm with a little breeze, nice on the grass. Just sit and have a picnic, drink wine or whatever, and listen to music.
Last concert was a big band.

Started at sunset, around 8, finished about 10 in the dark. You can see the top of the Stratosphere over to the right.

Watching the tourist helicopters go by over the strip, seeing the rides on top of the stratosphere, really nice way to spend an evening.
Oh - can't avoid the grandkid fix -

Up to 11 pounds, out of the infant diapers into size 1. What is it, eight weeks old?

4th of July 2005

How I spent two hours of my 4th weekend.

Sean at work is the group prankster. He's been gone for a week's vacation, and missed all of our 4th of July celebrations. We didn't want him to feel left out so we thought a shot of color would help. The lower cube walls are about five feet high, so it made a nice pile. Around 420 eleven inch balloons.

I tried to get consecutive shots during the process, but found out that the camera chip was all full of baby shots and I could not save any more. Hesitant to delete said baby pictures, not knowing if they were moved to our computer yet, I decided to just stop. The final photos were taken this morning.
Sean showed up and proceeded to complain for about twenty minutes. He then grabbed a pin and popped all of the balloons. Unfortunately, most people were late after the long weekend and missed it all. Oh well, at least we laughed doing it. He still doesn't know who did it - revenge being his best suite - but the security team caught us at work, so when more than one person knows then it's not a secret any more.
Took three of us a little over an hour. I brought in my air compressor, but it is a cheap one (note - buy better quality stuff) and we only got about 150 balloons out of it. We manually inflated the other 250 or so. It seemed to go faster just blowing them up.