Thursday, October 27, 2005


OK guys, too many of you were doing this so I had to try. I finally succumbed when Rob had it posted.

I'm just wondering, am I Peter Fonda or Jack Nicholson?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Naples sea story

Wait a minute - where are the pictures?

So I’ve got a bunch of sea stories. That’s what they are called, sea stories. Usually told with much emphasis (hard to do when typing them) and sometimes with a few embellishments. After all, you weren’t there, so how would you know if it really happened or not? (but I would never change things. No, not me) OK, so here are two:

The sailors on most cruises can be classified into two major groups: the ones that are religious and when on shore make the tours of the churches, and the ones that drink, and on shore make the tours of the bars. Usually it was the group in the bars that were the most trouble. I don’t remember too many brawls in churches. On shore patrol duty in Majorca one fine sunny day I was posted in the middle of the ’gut’. That’s the term used for the heart of that area of town that caters to the drinker and carouser, not the average tourist. Come on, every town has one. In small towns it might be as small as the one block where the bar and package store is located. In Majorca it was one skinny street. (sorry, don’t remember the real name of the street). The gut was easy to find in each port, just follow the biggest group of sailors getting off the ship. But I was standing on this skinny strip with my partner, always do shore patrol in twos, never alone. We were posted across from a hotel that seemed to rent the rooms by ten minute periods. Yes, when sailors go out to drink there are usually ‘those women’ working in the bars. We were standing there for several hours, leaning up against the wall just hoping nothing would happen. Not nice to break up a bar full of drunken sailors fighting. One thing worse, when it was a bar half full of drunken sailors fighting a bar with the other half full of drunken Marines. Only thing worse than that was when the police tried to break it up and the sailors and Marines grouped together against the cops. But that’s why the shore patrol was there, to get in between the sailors and the local police.

Back to the street. We were standing in the warm sunshine, watching the parade of girls pulling drunken sailors down the street from the bars and into the hotel. A few minutes inside and they were back out again, usually the girl first, going back to find another customer. The two of us were commenting on the quality of the women wandering back and forth and how drunk some sailors would have to be in order to go by with some of them. Not every woman that inhabits bars and makes a living off of sailors is attractive, but when you are drunk enough almost anyone is attractive enough. It was probably about two in the afternoon. Then one really attractive woman came, pulling along a really drunk sailor. We hadn’t seen her before, not too bad looking. They went inside. After a short time the sailor came out, pulling up his pants. He drunkenly complained to us – ‘she cheated me – it’s a g.. d.. MAN!’. Very drunkenly saying this. My partner and I laughed, remembering what she looked like and trying to tell him he was too drunk. Then she came down, adjusting her clothes. She complained to us that he had not paid her. They started arguing. Then she hit him in the chest, hard, and in a very deep male voice said ‘come on, pay me!’. Then realizing what ‘she’ had just done, adjusted her voice upwards to sound feminine again, said to us highly ‘make him pay me’. Well, in that two seconds something changed, when that deep bass voice said ‘pay me’ we realized that the sailor was correct. My first experience in seeing that not all boys like to be boys. And some sailors can get really drunk and still be able to walk, and still be able to figure out what was going on, eventually.

Second sea story:

A few months later we were anchored in Naples bay. I was on board, on duty working the night shift. So I was lying in bed trying to sleep right after lunch. Then the fire bells sounded and a voice came on the PA system – “fire – fire – fire – fire in 3-240-02. All fire control parties go to 3-240-02”. That was the standard announcement when there was a fire. There were quite a few fires on board, so it was not an infrequent occurrence. Usually it was just an iron somebody left on burning some pants, or an electrical short putting out some smoke. If you were not in a fire party (the name for the fire fighters on ship) you would always listen for the location. If it were near you then you would get dressed and get out of the way, going just far enough to be of help if it got worse. Every sailor went through fire fighting school so that anyone around could help if the fire party needed it. Being in aviation we also received instructions and practice in putting out fuel fires around aircraft.

This was nowhere near my compartment. As I described earlier, I was at about 03-90-16, five floors up and several hundred feet forward of the announced location. After five minutes came fire bells again, and the same announcement. This was a little unusual, a fire that took a second call for a group to go help. Must mean the fire was a little out of control. Five minutes later came a third call for the same location. This was getting serious. Six months on the ship and there never was a fire before that required three announcements.

At sea a fire is the worse thing that can happen on a ship. Yes, there is a lot of water around, but it is supposed to be outside the ship, not inside putting out fires. Usually fires produced lots of smoke, which is the main part of a fire that kills people. And military ships did not have windows or portholes, so all the air and smoke and heat was confined inside. And there are lots of things that can explode on a war vessel.

So when the third fire call came I sat up and tried to figure out where the fire was. Level 3 – that was just under the mess hall on level 2. Frame 240 – just ahead of the aft mess hall about the middle of the ship. 02 – that was close to the center. Yes, there was a ladder there, going down to a locked door guarded by a Marine.

The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, even though they try to deny it. Every Navy ship in the US has Marines on board. The Marines call the Navy ‘their transportation department’. The Navy uses Marines as guards and ship and base security. That was the original division, the sailors sailed the ships and used the ship’s weapons, and the Marines did the fighting on shore. There were Marines posted in front of the captain’s quarters, and at strategic places on board the ship. So if this was a door that a Marine was in front of then it was something critical. Oh, yea. This was the armory where they kept those 100 ‘special’ weapons they loaded on the last night before we left.

Carriers were really nothing more than a big bomb. With 100 war planes that required jet fuel, huge fuel tanks for the ship’s engines, bombs and rockets and bullets for the planes. Shells for the ship’s own guns. Lots of things that can blow up. Think, if just one plane could carry nine tons of bombs, and we could launch 30 planes every ninety minutes, for days at a time between replenishing, how much explosives did that mean were on board? But these were those ‘special’ bombs. The ones the special crews practiced loading in the back of the hanger bay.

A few minutes later came another announcement. On ships each announcement was prefaced with the blowing of a ‘pipe’ – that unique Navy whistle thingy that Boatswain Mates learned to blow in their training. Kind of like the army that uses bugle calls to signal different things during a battle. There were many patterns, each indicated something different: information, commands, warnings, etc. After the whistle somebody would announce what we should do. The one we liked in port was the call every morning at 10 that liberty was now commencing, and the port or starboard group could now go ashore.

This whistle call was a new one. The announcement said to “make emergency preparations for getting under way. Prepare to cut loose the anchor”. Now this is something unusual. A carrier has two big (really big) anchors that hold the ship in place when in port. Usually only one anchor is used, and depending on direction of the tide the ship swings back and forth slowly pointing into the current. The chain holding the anchor is also big. We could only see the anchors hanging on the front of the ship, but I went up to the chain room (way forward, right under the front of the flight deck) and was able to sit on the chain. The links were each about six feet long, made of metal about two feet in diameter. I guess it takes a lot to hold a ship that size. When leaving port it usually took quite a while to pull up an anchor. So I guessed that leaving one behind was fairly expensive, and not done lightly, wanting to save the twenty minutes it would take to pull it up. I don’t even know how they could break a chain that size.

We could hear the engines starting up; they made a real rumble. There were four big propellers (those I had never seen) and an engine driving each one. I figure it takes a heck of a lot of horsepower to make a boat this big move through the water at forty miles an hour. And we would be leaving behind that half of the crew that was ashore. Guess this is why they keep half of us on board.

OK, so putting this all together, it did not seem very good. Three announcements pulling all the fire parties from all over the ship down to a room a Marine was guarding. Getting ready to leave. And getting ready to cut off the anchor. My conclusion was that we were about to make a really big hole in the water, a really really big hole, leaving a mushroom cloud behind. And the captain did not want to take Naples along with the ship. The Italian government probably would not like it if there were a big chunk taken out of their coastline. Better to try and get out a little bit first. Yea, we hear that those things are safe and can’t go off in a fire and all, but 100 bombs would leave a heck of a lot of radiation behind even if the big part of them didn’t go off. There is still quite a lot of basic explosives in every one that starts the process and would spread stuff around.

But as you can tell it worked out all right. After all, I’m here typing this. Shortly after the last announcement, as the ship was starting to move forward to put slack on the chain, we heard another announcement, to ‘stand down’ from getting under way. Sounds like they finally had the fire under control and the threat of explosion was past.

OK, so that was not a typical sea story. A typical sea story usually starts with “Now, I’m not about to sh*t you” and ends with “no sh*t”. Kind of like “once upon a time” for fairy tales. And a typical sea story is either funny or a brag. Neither one of those here, sorry. Go back and read the first story if you want funny. Well, it was funny to me, not to the guy that thought he was about to have some fun.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A week until Halloween

Going to have a pumpkin carving contest here at work. Programmers usually do not become involved in anything, I’ve talked before how our EA (Executive Assistant – no, not a secretary!) plans lunches and nobody comes (did one Friday, two analysts, two DBAs the EA and myself, out of a dozen programmers only one). Last week while shopping I saw the big bins of pumpkins, and thought it would be nice if something were done with them. So I talked to some of the managers here and suggested a carving contest. Got some money and ended up buying 48 pumpkins, clearing out three local Vons stores of the cheap ones. Came in yesterday and scattered them around the cubes, with instructions to take them home and bring back next Monday. Sorry, no photos of the pile of pumpkins in our garage, or the back seat all full driving them over here. I will take shots of the results next week and post.

For those of you overseas – Americans have developed a holiday called Halloween. It’s the last day of November, based on the old ‘All hallow’s eve’ from long ago. Kids dress up in costumes and go door to door asking for treats. At least they used to, until several years ago some strange people in some areas put needles and pins inside of chocolates and now lots of parents are afraid to let their kids out. But may still do, so it is difficult to drive home that day in the evening with little ghosts and goblins and princesses and all running back and forth in the dark. One of the traditions is pumpkin carving, where you take some poor unfortunate orange globe and hollow them out and cut out a face.

I still remember our youngest, when we lived in LA and took him out for his first trick-or-treat evening. He was about three, we got him a simple costume (like his big brother and sister) and walked him next door. He was afraid at first, didn’t know what was going on. He rang the bell, whispered his ‘trick or treat’ (the traditional question) and the neighbor put something in his bag. He walked back to the sidewalk and looked in his bag. He saw there was a candy bar in there, this strange look came on his face, and he was off running door-to-door for more.

Our friend from Sweden thought the concept amusing, and so he started a tradition in Sweden of the adult’s Halloween party. He sends us photos of them all dressed up. Most of his friends find it amusing, but do go even though it is American.

Sitting here at work typing this, and Jim, my new project leader, just brought his pumpkin over saying he ‘didn’t have time’ to participate. Boy, some example our project leader is projecting, doesn’t even want to try (he leads a team of five others). See – I said programmers don’t participate. Guess I was hoping for too much in pushing this. Well, we will see how may carvings show up next Monday.

Ok, for Clare here are my three things.

1. Funny traditions that don’t hurt anybody but provide time for laughter.
2. Funny Halloween costumes and children laughing.
3. The smell of fall – cool nip in the air in the morning, smell of drying leaves, and the crunch underfoot.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Next part of the boat story

OK, last installment on my boat story, at least until I forget what I posted and do it again. But this took a lot of writing, so I should remember. DM – feel free to ask questions.

Life on the boat in the Mediterranean was basically boring. The shifts were standard military – twelve on, twelve off. At the squadron level the on shifts were full of work. Had to keep the planes up, during flight ops the tech crew was on deck so that you could help with the planes, and if a problem arose hopefully you could fix it so the planes could take off. When not flying you were usually working on a plane. At least in the Med we weren’t also loading bombs on the planes. That work is fast, hard on the back and hard on the toes when you dropped things. That’s why we all wore steel toe boots.

But down in AIMD we just had to fix boxes. And if you were good you could keep ahead of the workload and then just sat around drinking coffee (if you were a coffee drinker). Lots of cribbage games going on – that is the popular card game in the Navy.

During off hours you mostly slept. But with a hundred guys in the room it was usually noisy. There were periods of lights out, but people kept coming in and going out, and somebody was always walking around. I had a bottom bunk, which was six inches off the floor, so got to watch feet walk past all night. The Saratoga was an older boat, for personal storage we had lockers inside of our bunk, just next to us. So the locker was basically two feet high, six feet long and about six inches deep. Inside of this you had to get all of your clothes and what was left over you could use for personal items. Guess this is why we spent so much time in boot camp learning to fold clothes and stuff everything into our sea bags. Those are the big green bags you can see sailors carrying over their shoulders in the WW2 war movies. On the Ranger the lockers were under each bunk, so you had to get out of bed, lift up the thin mattress pad and cover, and look down into the six inch deep space.

Stacked three high the bunks were only a two feet apart, so you did not even have enough room to sit up. Most of us put up curtains for a little privacy, and to keep out the light, but then it felt even more like a coffin. Each bunk did have a reading light, so you could lay there and see what you were doing. But with the curtain closed it was just a little bigger than a coffin, and much noisier.

Ships at sea are never quiet. It might be nice and calm on sailing ships, but for metal military vessels it is never quiet and calm. There are big engines running, lots of water going past the hull, and lots of other equipment - pumps, air moving equipment, fans and such. On aircraft carriers you also had the additional noise of the aircraft. Our boarding space was up near the front of the ship, just under the flight deck, under the front catapults.

Even though modern jets have engines that can push them along quite fast it still takes some distance to get up to enough speed where the air will hold up a multi ton metal aircraft. Back in WW2 planes were much lighter, and with a propeller pushing air over the wings there was enough space on a flight deck for them to just take off. Heavier jet planes with thin wings need to be up to at least 150 mph or so in order to fly, under that and they just fall. So aircraft carriers have steam-powered catapults that basically throw the planes into the air. Modern carriers have an angle at about the middle, so that planes can take off from both the front and the middle of the ship. There are two catapults at each location, side by side. The catapult is about two hundred feet long.

A plane taxis up to the start and a metal bar is used to attach it to the catapult while another bar holds it back. The hold back part is very important. After attaching to the catapult the cat operator adjusts his controls for the type of aircraft, it’s weight, how fast it has to go, and other parameters. Never learned that position so I’m not sure exactly what all is done. When ready the pilot pushes his throttle full on, bringing the engines up to full speed. Some fighter planes have afterburners to push then even faster, and these also are set on. Afterburners basically throw fuel at the end of the engine, creating a dramatic flame coming out the back. Takes a lot of fuel for this, so they aren’t used much. That’s why the plane has to be held back, so that it will not just roll off the front of the boat. The holdback is a small metal bar that looks kind of like a dumbbell. It’s about six inches long with a bulge at each end. The bulge fits into slots in the deck and on the plane front wheel. The middle part is different for each plane, bigger planes with stronger engines have heavier holdbacks. They are also different colors, designating the weight range of the plane it’s made for.

When the engines are full, and the pilot is satisfied that everything looks good he gives an OK to the cat operator, who then pushes a button which sets off the catapult. The initial force causes the holdback to break and throws the plane off the front of the ship. A plane basically goes from zero to 150 mph in two hundred feet and two seconds. With the engines on full hopefully the plane can then keep flying and keep going. Sometimes an engine might fail, or the catapult not operate properly, which results in the plane going off the front of the ship and just falling into the water. This is not a good thing. Planes are not made to fall into the water. Usually they sink. Hopefully the pilot gets out.

When we were in the Med the other carrier that was there kept having catapult problems. The cat would fire and break the holdback, but then stop pushing the plane. With just the engines pushing the planes did not get up enough speed to fly before they got to the end of the deck. I think they lost about a dozen planes at launch. This was not very good. Pilots do not like swimming when they should be flying, and at $20,000,000 or so per plane it was rather expensive. They also had A-7s, and found that if they used the whole length of the flight deck and had a good wind the A-7 could take off without the catapult. The COD (Carrier on board delivery) planes, which are big old propeller driven cargo planes, could also take off the same way. But the rest of the planes were too heavy, and could not do this. So most of the A-7s were flown off and over to our ship, and that carrier had to go back to wherever for repairs. The Navy usually does not advertise problems like this.

We saw some shots of the takeoffs (they film everything for reviews) and it got so bad that the pilots started putting one hand on the face curtain during takeoff. Military planes have ejection seats with parachutes built in. On Navy planes there were two ways to fire the ejection seat; a handle on the front of the seat between the pilot’s legs and a handle over your head which also pulled down a ‘face curtain’, which helped to keep your head back against the seat when the rocket fired. During cat launches pilots were supposed to keep their right hand on the flight stick in front of them, which is used to steer, and their left hand on the throttle, to keep it pushed forward at full. In the films we saw the pilots started putting their left hand on the ejection handle above their head, so they could pull it down and eject in case the cat didn’t fire properly. This left the throttle free – there was supposed to be a lock to hold the throttle on full, but sometimes the jerk of the cat launch would slide the throttle handle back from full. In one of the films a pilot had his left hand on the face curtain handle. The cat worked properly, but the jerk of the sudden pull evidently slid the throttle handle from full down to low. Without having his hand on the throttle to keep it at full the engine shut down, so even though the catapult threw the plane forward without the engine pushing it just glided down into the water anyway.

In order to throw a twenty ton airplane at 150 miles an hour a catapult has to be rather powerful. Steam driven, there is a BIG piston thrown forward suddenly. When planes are launching, they alternate between the two catapults launching one about every thirty seconds. The noise is a howling roar as the jet engines come to full speed, and sit like that for five seconds or so. Then a big whoosh as the catapult fires. A big BANG when the piston hits the stop. A huge howl as the steam from behind the piston roars down pipes back to the condenser. Then smaller roars as the next plane taxis over to hook up. Not quiet time during launches. They launch every ninety minutes. In the Med it’s usually only four planes or so. In a WestPac when things are being done it’s usually thirty planes at a time.

And the landings – at least being forward we didn’t hear much of the landings. But the squadron spaces are near the back, right under the number three wire. Carriers have four wires, cables stretched across the deck about twenty feet apart, to capture airplanes. These are cables about as thick as your arm, unless you have real skinny arms. When landing the planes are coming in at the same hundred and fifty miles an hour, more or less depending on the plane type. There is a big hook hanging from the back of the plane. The pilot is supposed to line the plane up with the middle of the deck and touch the hook down just before the number three wire. One and two are there if he is down short, four if he is down long. At first you hear the scream of the engines coming from behind. Then there is a big BANG of that twenty ton airplane hitting the deck. The bang-screeeech of the tailhook hitting and sliding. Then if the hook catches the scream of the cable playing out, and the screech of the breaks on each side slowing it down. If the hook does not catch then there is the decreasing roar as the plane takes off again. Either way, as the pilot hits he pushes his throttle to full power, just in case he misses and has to go around again. So you hear the huge ROAR and scream of the engines every time. Slowing quickly if he catches and turns things down, disappearing in the distance if he misses and goes around again. But the pilots are scored on how well they do, too many misses and he is sent off for remedial landing training again, bad marks on his record. We had several pilots that in hundreds of landings never had to go around. And a few that missed every three tries or so. Rob points to an interesting story in the comments a few posts back. And that was right off the California coast. (no, I’m not pointing to it here. Take some effort and go look for it)

And they have to land every plane that takes off. Or at least they hope to land them. In the Med ours always came back. On the WestPac quite often there were fewer landing than taking off. But that’s what they are paid for, unfortunately. So thirty planes launched in fifteen minutes is followed by thirty planes landing in twenty minutes. Then a pause for it to start all over again, load new bombs and ammunition, check out the planes that just came in, refuel and prep them to go off again.

I don’t know which is louder overall. But to me the landings were most annoying. Good that they were coming back, but you would just be dozing off after a hard shift. You might sleep through the slow buildup as the plane approaches, but you definitely did not sleep through the bang of it crashing on the deck. That’s what it is, a controlled crash of a twenty ton plane at a hundred fifty miles an hour.

Try laying in bed night after night listening to that. Every day at sea, unless you are traveling between places. But that’s the job, it’s not a vacation cruise.

There were places to lounge around. We had tv sets scattered in the rec areas, but usually only one channel with a movie. Now they get satellite TV. You could sit in a soft chair and watch or read or just sit. You could go down to the mess hall for coffee and something to eat. There were regular meal hours, but since everybody worked different jobs there had to be food available whenever people could get away. During flight ops that might be hard to do. On WestPacs they had flight ops every ninety minutes, every day for weeks.

There were stores where you could buy candy or a soda or treats, or books and fancies. Overseas there were big catalogs, and you could by things at really low prices – in the Med everyone came home with fancy cameras and stereo systems. In the Pacific it was motorcycles. Usually the last port on a WestPac was Yokasuka Japan. (pronounced Yo koos ka, at least by the sailors) People ordered motorcycles (at about a quarter the cost stateside, no shipping, tax or profit) and they were loaded on at the last call. So we would return with hundreds of motorcycles parked on the hanger deck.

When in port we would just basically sit around on our duty days. In the Med it was Port and Starboard liberty. You got off every other day. Sometimes duty day was spent on shore patrol. That’s the Navy equivalent of a policeman, only just keeping control of the military guys. I ended up with an armband patrolling Majorca, Spain on that stop, and some time doing the same in Naples, Italy. We had some good ports there – a carrier is a big ship. And letting off two thousand sailors at a time would be quite a hit for anything but a big city. Since we needed a deep port that meant big cities anyway. The destroyers that came with us got to hit the little towns, sometimes places that had not seen an American sailor in many years. We stopped at Barcelona, Majorca, Malta, Naples, Athens, Corfu, Rhodes – yes, a couple of small Greek islands. But deep water right off shore, and docks to put the launches in at.

OK, it was too big to put up all at once. Sorry to make you read all of this, but I guess if you got here you were semi-interested or else you would have clicked elsewhere. Next time, the sea stories, I promise.

Bon Jovi Tattoo

Just heard on the radio John Bon Jovi – interviewed by some local DJs. They were following up on something John said on Oprah earlier. They asked him what was the strangest thing a fan had ever done. He said one young woman had his face tattooed on her butt. (so that she could sit on his face whenever she wanted to). He said it was a very good likeness, but strangely enough his mouth opened when she sat down. They asked him how he knew, he said he saw it but did not go any further. How did he know the mouth opened???

Probably obvious, but I am having a problem figuring out how it was put on so that his mouth opened when sitting. (sorry, never said it was a family blog)

Friday three

Three Friday things. Thanks to Clare.

1. Nice warm cup of coffee in the morning, over the paper at home or at the computer at work. Starbucks - I’m in to the whole giant corporations taking over the world and driving small guys out of business thing, but damn Starbucks makes a great mocha Valencia.
2. Soft warm bagel and cream cheese to go with the coffee. (see a theme going here?)
3. Fridays. With thoughts of no alarm tomorrow so we can have a lie in and read the paper on the patio with coffee and the color funnies on Sunday and just not be here. (small Snoopy dance)

Hope I don't repeat myself every Friday, but if I do, hey, I'm still happy about it. Never said I couldn't be happy about the same things every week.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Just realized I made a big mistake. Bought a big bag of haloween candy at Costco a few weeks ago, and have been imbibing of the sugar too frequently. As I've said, we have been in this house through two haloweens, and have and absolutely zero trick or treaters over, but need to have some handy just in case.
Anyway, in order to save myself I brought the bag in to work, and a nice bowl, so it sits in my cube and others come by to partake. Unfortunately, I can't look at that pile of malted milk balls and peanut butter cups and keep my own hands out. It was better hidden at home.
Wow, three posts in one day - must have my mind elsewhere.

Three more

When more than three things come to mind, so you just do a second three thing post. Thanks to Clare, and today’s guest ideas from Melinda and DM.

1. Having a rough day at work, going to lunch and then taking time with a really good dessert and cups of coffee with somebody nice to talk to (Tira Misu sounds pretty good for this, but yesterday was a great lime tart) blowing off the early afternoon meeting you didn’t want to go to, then finding it was canceled so you weren’t missed.
2. Having friends that you can go to karaoke with that don’t care what you sound like. (but maybe you do sound pretty good, haven’t heard)
3. Having a boss that appreciates you and takes you aside for some personal time, be it computer sites or drinks. (mine doesn’t, but the concept is nice)

OK, I started visiting Clare’s site because she was making comments on Jane’s site and I sometimes click on those linking in the comments. I liked how she kept putting up Three Beautiful Things, and thought it might be nicer at times to put up something positive instead of all of my negative complaints. So I’ll still be complaining, but trying to intersperse three things sometimes. I promise to try and become regular, Clare. Not living in a beautiful green village I thought I might have a hard time coming up with three beautiful things, so I am just trying to put up three things that I am happy about, or like doing. My choices, if you don’t like them then put up your own, or use the comments to add some more. I try to horn in on Clare’s by adding a #4 that matches here three when I can think of one, she hasn’t complained yet.
I try to get to the sites listed to the right as often as I can, that’s why they are there, for me to keep my favorites where I can click on them, but if you want to go visit then feel free. Today’s posts are based on some of the listings there, not everybody – I’ll get to the rest of you later.

Three things Thursday

When you want to post but no funny stories come to mind. Thanks to Clare, and today’s guest ideas from Tess and Brighton.

1. Having ten toes, with my little toe keeping the rest of them in line.
2. Being a guy and not having to wear nine inch heels, or even short ones, but big clunky comfortable shoes.
3. Having girls around that do wear nine inch heels, and the pictures in my mind they conjure up, especially when they talk about not taking them off.

Sorry Clare, not as picturesque as fog and church spires, but we Americans sometimes appreciate the dumbest things.

I've still got the big post to end my boat stories, to come soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sorry Clare (again)

Sorry Clare, keep forgetting.

1. Sitting in an airplane looking out the window at the passing ground and imagining people down there looking up.
2. Looking at planes taking off, thinking about people going places, looking forward to vacations and new experiences.
3. Coming home to jumping barking doggies happy to see you after a week away, and still remembering who you are.


Just had to pass these on - thanks to Ana at the Little Red Boat.

Go look at this cake. Imagine cutting into it - wonder what kind of filling they use. And go up to the gallery and look at the rest - I really liked the monkey and banana cakes (top row right), and also found the Kilt cake (towards the bottom, on the right) a little strange. It must take a lot to make these 3D style cakes - there are some of the standard flat cakes with pictures, but the shapped ones are just interesting. Starting prices around 130 pounds (British after all), I'll have to look for places in the US that make things like these. Lots of wedding cake places in Vegas, but haven't seen many creative shapes.

Technical training

Went off to training last week. I’m a programmer, and have been working mainly in Microsoft FoxPro for the past few years. I started working on mainframes a long time ago, and moved to the IBM PC when it first came out. I worked on the second IBM PC sold in San Diego, converting a program that was the forerunner of the spreadsheet from a mainframe over to the PC in Fortran. I then had some projects in PC Cobol, assembler, Basic and C. But then I worked in dBase and really enjoyed the ease of manipulating data. FoxPro was less expensive and faster so I moved there.

But Microsoft purchased FoxPro several years ago. There have been rumors about Microsoft wanting to drop the product, but too many people buy it and it is profitable. Unfortunately there is no formal FoxPro training available. I traversed the Microsoft training web site and found all of their other products, but no Fox.

Back in southern California there were lots of FoxPro jobs and programmers. But I find here in Vegas there are not many of either. I guess the two go together – if there are people available to do something then more companies will match. And if there are jobs available then people will move to fill the positions.

So here I am, working in the credit card section of a bank. Most of the programs are written in FoxPro, but management has bought into the new Microsoft direction of .NET programming. Every few years Microsoft changes things. Some people think it’s just to encourage spending on upgrades – after all, if your computer works with Windows and does what you want, why change? But then when a ‘new’ windows comes out, with programs that only run there, and needs more disk space and computer speed then companies have to follow the line and move up.

This bank has stayed steady for a while, but it looks like they have had problems in getting good Fox programmers. So they are starting to change everything over to C#.Net. I am supporting the credit approval programs, along with several other support systems. Another Fox guy works on the collections programs. The rest of the group includes a bunch of Oracle database analysts and .NET people. My group has just finished converting the approval programs over to C#, so my workload in Fox support has decreased. I need to learn the new way (follow the Path my young Jedi) and have been going through a C# programming book – about halfway through the 1500 pages. But when my boss suggested I find a class I jumped at the concept. Up to now I have always had to pay for training myself, but with an offer for the company to cover costs I figured it was the time.

Searching the Microsoft site (boss said go to an approved training center) I found there was no formal training in Las Vegas. Most casinos and hotels (the majority employers in Nevada) use large computers and old RPG and DB2 programs, the same ones used by hotels all over. And the casino side uses the same programs that banks use to keep track of money. Not many PCs there, except as terminals. I found the nearest classes were in California, in San Diego, LA and the San Francisco Bay area. Wanting to go quickly (if the boss says now then push for now) I found one open at a training facility in San Jose. So last week I spent out of town learning.

It was a combination of two weeklong classes squeezed down to six days. They spend three days on the C# language then three days on applying C# to the .NET ‘framework’. During that class I learned why I stopped doing C programming. Compared to Fox it takes a lot of work – everything is complex and way complicated. But if that’s the way the boss wants to go then that is how things will be.

So here are some pics of my trip. Let’s start with the terminal

A scene you probably don’t see at too many boarding gates: rows of slot machines. So while waiting for your plane you can spend whatever money you didn’t lose at the casinos right in the airport. And if you are arriving and just can’t wait, then you can dump your bucks right away. And the machines take credit cards! No cash required.

I see the planes taking off when I go for my lunchtime walks, but didn’t realize how big the airport here was. I’ve been in and out from San Diego, but that was using SouthWest airlines, which has it’s own little island. This time was on America West, in the general area. The airport is nowhere near the size of Chicago or Kennedy, Vegas is a destination city not a disbursal point, but it is quite a walk out to the planes. Left just before noon on Sunday. After the push away from the boarding gate our plane ended up just sitting for an hour waiting to get to the runway to take off.

This is looking west, you can see the mountains that surround us in the background. It was a traffic jam on the taxiways – over thirty planes lined up waiting. Looking to the right you can see the gold Mandalay Bay tower as well as the Luxor pyramid.

The airport is at the south end of the strip, stopping expansion of new casinos to the south. For some reason the plane took off heading north, instead of the normal westward departure. Guess the wind was in a different direction. Driving to work this week I see that there is construction work on the main runway, so that's probably why there was a backup and use of the alternative runways. We taxied past the executive terminal – I usually drive past this on the other side every day.

A nice group of private planes, you can’t see all the smaller LearJets from this angle – they line up against the fence to the right. Must be nice to have your own plane, go where you want when you want to.

After takeoff the plane turned west. This brought us past Red Rock and the new Summerlin housing area.

Just a dozen miles west of the strip, you can see how Las Vegas disappears into the surrounding desert and mountains, unlike most of California that just blends city into city.

The San Jose airport was a little different.

Here you had to use stairs to get off of and onto the planes. I haven’t been to an airport where stairs were used in the US in years. On our daughter’s wedding trip the St. Martin airport was small enough and the weather good enough to deplane like this. I thought that with all the computer companies, and money, near San Jose the airport would be fancier.

San Jose is at the south end of the San Francisco bay and peninsula. There are typical California rolling hills all around – if you drive down the central valley from San Francisco to LA most of the coastal range, for five hundred miles, looks like this.

From the Fry’s parking lot. Fry’s is a supermarket for electronic freaks. They started in the Bay area. Imagine a hugh store, big enough for a dozen football fields (or soccer pitches) inside, with nothing but computers and monitors and parts, newly added are TVs and stereos and other home electronics. And computer books, software, CDs, DVDs and assorted other gadgets. I stopped in to get a C# programmers reference book.

No shots of the class. It was a ‘standard’ classroom, but with a computer on each desk. There were only four other students in this class. All female, as was the instructor. Three of the others were Indian – half of our programmers at the bank are Indian as well. I asked the teacher about this, and she felt that technical stuff was emphasized early over there, joking that kids learned Oracle in grade school. I can see why the US is falling behind in technology, here some high school students don’t even get to use a computer at school. But I came home with a full head, and two books the size of large telephone books. Now I just have to apply all that I’ve been through.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Thanks, DM, another quiz

Pig Pen
You are Pig Pen!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Bathroom redo pics

Finally pulled together some shots so I can compare bathrooms with Ana. My work in no way compares with the pretty stripes that she put in her remodeled bath or the nice tile in the other one.
This is our smallest bath. It’s about 7 ft x 4 ft. Not big enough to get pictures inside very well.

We just stripped the 70’s wallpaper off, scraped the textured ceiling and painted it a pale green. Replaced the sink with a smaller one, and B used some of the tile we put around the fireplace to make a frame for the mirror. We left the big stuck-on-the-wall mirror in place. Just noticed the poster - one we bought on our Paris trip, some show in one of the museums. We like the art Neuveau style stuff, don't have anything around this house but the poster, though. B made the little ceramic thing at her university ceramics class.
Then we hit Ikea on a recent San Diego trip (none of them here in Nevada yet) and filled the car with these skinny CD racks. The white checkerboard looks pretty good up against the green background. Now just trying to figure out what to fill all those small shelves with.

This room is right off the laundry room and kitchen. It’s where everybody that goes swimming ends up changing out of their wet (well, with our humidity usually almost dry by changing time) bathing suits. Sorry it’s so small, but that’s what we have. Maybe some day we’ll do something out by the pool, but other projects are first. We are in the middle of redoing the one bedroom, Pergo wood floor, more wallpaper and ceiling stuff down, redo of the closet. I’ll do photos this weekend – hopefully I can finish up before my trip next week.

I’ll be leaving Sunday for beautiful San Jose (the first Silicon Valley) and a week of C# and .NET classes. Probably no posts or reading time there, too busy learning the latest Microsoft religion.

But here is what our fireplace is looking like.

It was white brick. I covered that over with wallboard and we put small glass tiles around and big tiles in front. Still have to replace those oak cabinets on the left and do some type of mantle shelf.

Next projects – hopefully get some cabinets and a bench seat in the breakfast area before our Swedish group gets here Nov 11. We’ll see how fast I can build that. Then probably French doors to replace our front window and rip up and redo the front patio this winter. Winter here means lots of rain (yea, probably a whole inch and a half scattered over six rainy days between December and April) and not over 100f temperatures. We usually have nights around 50 and days around 75, so it should be nice for swinging the sledgehammer and breaking up the old concrete. After that I want to redo the kitchen. I’ll try to get pics for here.

With the advancement of winter I now get up when it’s dark, and am usually in the car headed east when the sun comes up between the hotels on the strip. But here I’ll end with a recent sunrise, from my front door as I went out to get the morning paper.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Eli update

OK, OK, haven’t posted any of these in a while.

Granddaughter Eli with Dad. We were just swimming in the pool, she really seemed to like that. We’ve got some mechanical fish that swim around, and she would just concentrate on them when they went by. She just loves to look at ceiling fans (we’ve got a lot of those in Vegas) and whenever she is put down anywhere she immediately looks at the ceiling to try and find a fan.
And tell me,

will not this be the most spoiled kid around? Most of these are from dad. Looks like she will need a bigger crib soon.

Grandpa gave her her first Barbie for her first month’s birthday. Mom was mad – guess she doesn’t plan on Eli being the type of girl that plays with Barbies. But she will have them at our house, after all isn’t that what grandparents are for, to spoil the kids then send them home?

non Vegas wedding photos

OK, back to some pictures. But this time not of Las Vegas.

One of the other programmers here was recently married. As stated before, about half of our programmers are from India – most not directly, that is this is not their first US job. But they all go back to visit periodically. Last month Pandi went back and was married. He showed us the photos of his wedding and it looked quite different than a typical US wedding.

I was just struck by the colors. And the crowd all tight together. For US weddings the predominant colors are black and white. Usually the groom is in a black tux and the bride in a white wedding gown. About the only splashes of color are the dresses of the bridesmaids. There are too many stories about brides picking out horrible colors and styles for her group to wear, and of people spending lots of money on an outfit they will only wear once. The guys get off easy – it’s usually just a one day tux rental. Even if the bride pics colors for the tux it still is about the same price as black. I didn't see an Elvis anywhere in the crowd, so it must not be Vegas.

But this seems so much more of a celebration – instead of a bouquet it’s flowers all over the place.
Besides the small shots he also came back with some larger ‘formal’ pictures. These are about 9x14 inches, (bigger than US standard, probably some metric paper size) and very different than what you see in American photo albums. Almost reminded me of a Ballywood musical. All had interesting photo print masks, some with shots of the parents scattered someplace on the image.

The groom had both traditional dress photos and western style suit photos. The bride had traditional henna hand tattoos.
She came back to Vegas with him, but is returning to India tomorrow, still has another year of school to finish. We’re off to lunch with the couple to say goodbye.

For Clare (I keep forgetting, sorry)
1. To have friends that share their experiences with you.
2. Things are different around the world, leaving a lot of new experiences available.
3. To learn something new about somebody else.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Name for a day

OK, I've had enough holding-it-in-laughing-at-work. You can go do it too - over at Dorky's, and find out what your name should be. And let the rest of us know (as if we couldn't figure it out anyway)

Crusty PottyDoodle

seven things

Somebody gave me some homework a while back. I will not name names, you know who you are. They haven't come asking to see why it wasn't done, but here we go:

7 things I plan to do before I die:

1) Learn to speak French. (so I can understand things when I go back)
2) Go back to school and get an MBA (good dream on this one).
3) Live in France for a while. (I just loved the place, and the food . . .)
4) Pay off all my bills. (who hasn't dreamed of this?)
5) Ride a gondola in Venice (Italy, not Vegas).
6) Look good on at least one drivers license photo. (OK, show me yours)
7) Own a new Mercedes SL (love the sports cars).

7 things I can do:

1) Install new lights and wiring around the house without burning it down (yet).
2) Make one hell of a chocolate cake. Actually, cook in general.
3) Understand computers.
4) Say no.
5) Put in plants and have them live.
6) Put together a great BBQ gathering. (No, Melinda, not for a thousand, but I can do 100 in my backyard)
7) Drive in Vegas for two years with no tickets or accidents. (with these drivers? You try it)

7 things I cannot do:

1) Put up with obnoxious people. (just want to punch them in the nose)
2) Sing. (No, DM, no karaoke night with me up there)
3) Keep my mouth shut. (I always have to make my opinion known, but getting better at shutting up)
4) Eat what I want whenever I want. (Both my stomach inside and my wasteline outside prevent this one)
5) Run marathons. (puff too much just walking up hill)
6) Remember where I put my (fill in the blank).
7) Accept things as they are as opposed to as they should be. (see #3 - and I'll tell you about it)

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex:
(In no particular order, well, OK, in order of importance.)

1) Brains. (OK, Jessica looks great in those Daisy Dukes, but swimming chicken?)
2) Class. (well that shuts out Anna Nichole, as if she would make the list anyway)
3) Great frequent smiles and the ability to laugh. (See the Brits below)
4) Appearance – not too skinny. (no Paris Hiltons for me)
5) Willing to try new things.
6) Happy doing good things again and again.
7) Confidence in themselves.

7 things I say most often:

1) "That sounds interesting"
2) "And so you would like to .."
3) "Sorry about that"
4) "I love you" (to selected people of course)
5) "Thanks for doing that"
6) "Are you sure you want to do that?”
7) "OK, looks like you were right"

7 celebrity crushes:

1) Catherine Deneuve (as she was in The Hunger - now that's classy)
2) Linda & Carol from Trading Spaces (love those British/Scottish accents and laughs)
3) Grace Kelly (as in Rear Window - that accent, more class overall)
4) Lauren Bacall
5) Martina McBride (the smile)
6) Elizabeth Hurley
(OK, does an interesting accent theme seem to be happening here?)
7) Hillary Clinton (I love the brains, and ability to put up with all the bullsh*t and with Bill)

7 Favorite movie scenes (not movies) and why:

1) John doing the Twist in Pulp Fiction – now that’s class.
2) On the bandstand in Back to the Future – what nerd never dreamed of being in front of the group and getting applause?
3) The diner from Harry Met Sally – OK, what guy can not watch that one?
4) The banquet from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast – with the faces in the fireplace and arms holding candles – just dreamy and romantic.
5) Out in the parking lot in Thelma and Louise – guys that force themselves deserve to be shot.
6) Out on the boat at the end of Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein – after putting up with all that, now this?
7) Any dance in a Fred and Ginger movie – don’t have to watch long, and they did move beautifully together.

7 people I want to do this:

Do it if you want to, no homework given here.

I added the movie scenes - if you haven't done them then add to your list. And give explanations for things, I always like to know why people think the way they do.

Thinking of flying

Went for my walk at lunch yesterday. Since I sit on my butt in a cubicle all day I do need some exercise, and taking the Ipod and walking at lunch seems to be acceptable. I’ve tried the gym, and had an exercise bike, but it seems that I can handle walking better – at least I keep at it.

My company is located in and office park just south of Vegas Airport, between the runways and the 215 freeway. For some unknown reason the Clark County (we are not in Vegas, it’s the township of Paradise – get that, I work in Paradise!) building regulations don’t require sidewalks! I guess nobody walks in Vegas except on the Strip. There are some sidewalks here, usually only on one side of the street. I would rather be on a sidewalk than out in the street walking, so usually do the two blocks that have sidewalks. One big block to the west, that brings me a long way along Sunset across from the airport runway. As I walk I like to look at the planes and think about where people might be going. The trip around the two blocks is about 30 minutes. Monday I started doing the bigger block twice, so I bumped the time to 50 minutes, more like the hour I am shooting for.

Some of the airlines really paint some planes in fancy patterns. I saw one yesterday, I think it was SouthWest, but hard to read the name, that had random shapes in blue and white in front of the wings and a black and red harlequin pattern on the back. Very interesting. The only 747s I have seen taking off are Virgin Air and JAL – I guess they go far enough to justify the big planes. Looking at the Virgin Air I imagine flying off to London, having some tea and scones and enjoying the atmosphere. Only made one trip to London, and I really liked it. At least I was in a foreign country and could almost understand what people were saying. Japan has never been high on my list of to visit places, I’d rather wander around Europe.

I like my house, and like Vegas, but still imagine taking off for other places. B feels tied down and grounded watching granddaughter Eli, but I’m ready to go at any time. Anybody else feel that way? Look at the sky and think of taking off for other places?

Off next week to the exciting town of San Jose – my company is sending me for a weeks training in C# and .NET. Have to move up in the Microsoft world from FoxPro into .NET. Don’t like it, but it is the direction things are going here. Lots of FoxPro work in San Diego, but Vegas is moving along the Microsoft way, since I’m here guess I have to change directions.

For Clare (welcome back):
1. Being able to imagine other places.
2. Remembering places you’ve been.
3. Watching the planes take off and thinking of what people did while here on their vacation.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The price of Vegas

Looking through the papers this weekend, amazed at some of the prices around here.

The price of land – the average price of an acre of raw land around Las Vegas is now $600,000. Down near the strip, in the Harmon area where lots of new things are being built, it’s $3,000,000 per acre. The federal government owns about 90% of Nevada. Periodically the Bureau of Land Management puts parcels up for sale. This is the only place developers can buy big plots of land to create new developments. Parcels are usually two to three hundred acres. In this size the average price per acre is around $900,000. So considering the overhead that streets and parks take, even with the tiny lots new houses have now, that probably adds up to $150,000 per lot just for the land. No wonder new houses cost so much.

The price of a steak – somebody was writing up what good steaks cost on the Strip. The top of the line steak, a Kobe beef filet at the Bellagio goes for $190. Looks like Kobe beef is the major type. Varies from the above down to a low (low?) of $140 at the Mandalay Bay. Personnally I think the best steaks are the broiled in butter ones down at Ruth Cris’ Steak House, but even then that’s $50 for non-Kobe beef. That’s just the steak, extra for a potato or sides. Guess my driving down to the Twin Creek’s at Silverton Casino for $20 (with sides and salad) isn’t too bad.

The price of French – Joel Robuchon, rated as probably the best French chef working today, has opened his first US restaurant. Robuchon at The Mansion inside the MGM Grand, is supposed to be exquisite. Joel was the first chef to earn three Michelin stars over three consecutive years for his Paris place. Reviewed in the paper on Friday, looks like his place here is probably equally fine. But it also looks like I may never get to eat there – there are two price-fixed offerings: nine coursed form $165 or 15 to 18 courses (depending on the season) at $298. That’s without wine – and who can eat a French meal without wine? I’m embarrassed to pay $55 at Rosemary’s for their five course tasting menu, no way can I come up with over $300 (per person), but from reading the review it seems like quite an experience. And evidently there are people with money, for the place is booked solid.

The price of a condo – lots of condo projects going up around town. The cheapest lists a price range of $300,000 - $3,000,000. One I am impressed with is going up on Fort Apache, about ten miles from the strip. Those prices range from $700,000 - $7,000,000. And it’s under construction, which means that they have already sold at least 60% of the units. It’s a tall tower, probably a few hundred units at least. Most of these are not sold as primary residences, but for people that visit Vegas frequently.

So, wow. Looks like lots of people have lots of money.