Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why it is good to be a big fish in a small pond

In my job I am one deep. There is only one business manager. There are very few people locally who can do what I do or want to for that matter. Too bad for employees at Circuit City. They just laid off everyone making over a certain wage. Now, that just sucks.

Retail, especially regular stores and those dealing with technology in particular, are facing special pressure. In technology it is not only difficult to keep up with all of the changes, it is hard to hire good employees at any rate of pay. These people were making too much money, as little as $11.50 per hour and up in come cases, hardly enough to pay bills, yet it was too much to pay.

When I go in to look at technology I expect people in the store know the difference between different brands, technology solutions, etc. For $10 an hour you will not get the brightest bulbs in the box, nor will you keep them. No mention was made of the amount of benefits paid to these employees.

Just another sign of how things are changing. Oh, and most sources say it costs about one year's wages every time you change an employee. It really is hard to see how this will pay off.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Technology and Wives

My wife has passed a milestone. While out of town she had the dubious honor of hooking up her parents' new computer to the Internet. Now, they are on dial-up, to it is not just a matter of plugging it into a cable modem or router. She had to find the modem, plug the cord in the correct slot, then find the ubiquitous AOL software on the new computer (I think it must be a law that new consumer computers have AOL software pre-installed on them), run the routine, get the account information from her mother and get them set up. And, yes, she managed to do it. I was very proud of her. She also had a printer issue: no printer port. What was good about this was that she realized that there was no printer port on this new machine. Without a USB cable no one could have fixed that.
I was quite impressed at her ability to work through the issues. Yes, she had to call me, but it was to confirm her own diagnosis of the issues and to suggest a couple of resolutions, not because she was lost.
It is good to see her progressing in this way. I'm not sure when she crossed the line from techno-lost to technology enabled, but she has. I think she retains much of what I teach her because she understands it at a new level and can then use that new knowledge and understanding to learn herself.
"Dial-up sure is slow," was her comment on her return. I guess she likes how I provide for her.

Friday, March 23, 2007

We all own TV, or at least we can.

I am watching the Black Donnellys on my computer courtesy of NBC. I watched a couple of episodes of Andy Barker, PI, the sitcom about the CPA turned private investigator. It is pretty funny. The premise is sort of hokey, but it actually works, and it is funny. One line I liked the most is "You know the feeling I get when I hit the equal sign and it matches the number on the worksheet? Well, that's how it felt." OK, it does utilize some of the stereotypes of CPA's but in sort of a light, funny way.
What do I mean we own TV? Well, we can watch what we want when we want to. True, not everything is like this yet, but it will me. First, there are commercials with this, but we put up with those on regular TV and have to watch it on their schedule. Well, here I am, typing my blog and watching TV at the same time. I could be doing lots of things online while watching TV. OK, the screen is kind of small, but I like it anyway.
The Black Donnellys looks like a pretty good show, sort of like an Irish Sopranos.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tired... very tired

Well, I have been working on my den project now for a week, at least. I got the walls up last weekend, then got the joists up Sunday and more done the other night. Next we got the plywood on top.

These pictures are pre-plywood.

So, I have not been up to a lot of writing, as when I come in my shoulder is hurting so bad I can't stand it, so I take a hot bath and put some Thermagena on it. Well, tonight I did the same. Word of warning, do not put that stuff on right after a bath because your pores are open!! Yikes, did that burn, but my shoulder does feel better.

After a little research I am sure the pain in my shoulder is caused by a rotator cuff injury of some sort. I just hope it will just be outpatient surgery.

My wife is delayed in Seattle, due to a mechanical issue with the plane. They had to change planes, so they will not be here until after 10 PM. I am glad I am taking the morning off, as we will be home rather late.

Monday, March 19, 2007

No-Writing Weekend

Other than a few emails and discussion group posts, I did no writing or computer stuff due to my concentration on the building of my den in the garage. Basically, I am building a den a the back, read that the end away from the door, of our large garage. It is a box, eight feet wide by eight feet tall and about 24 feet wide, or the width of the garage. The walls are what used to close off the garage door when the entire thing was a computer/TV/recreation room for me and my son. After removing it I came to the realization, with the help of a friend, that the entire two pieces are exactly the same size as the wall I intended to build for my den.

Keeping the two walls(basically 8 x 8 foot squares made of read cedar 2x4's and exterior siding) intact (mostly), I made room for them, including cutting a swath out of the workbench on one side for it to slide into. Well, Calvin came over yesterday and we got the one wall in, then attached the other. The next task was to frame in the main door opening. That done, we needed to put the 2x6 plates on the wall, then attach the hardware and put the joists for the roof in place.

Of course, this is not all go as planned, as it turned out the door to the garage, which is a 3x8 foot monster metal door, is too high, so I will have to make some modifications to that part of the roof. That is as far as we got, since I need some hardware to made the part near the door work. Besides that my shoulder was killing me, so I took off and did what I had to do, then soaked in the tub. My shoulder was throbbing with pain... I really need to see a doctor about this.

I will try to take some pictures of the work tonight and post them.

Friday, March 16, 2007

300 by Frank Miller

Being a fan of Sin City by Frank I was very excited to purchase the last copy of 3oo by him at the local Walden Books. The new movie by the same name has come out and is a great hit. No, it is not precisely historically accurate, but it is also, as with others of his work, a study in a way of the human condition. He always puts his spin on things, taking his own viewpoint without regard to for common social values. Sin City has a collection of the most ugly, beautiful, virtuous and evil characters on modern literature. The heroes are flawed in deadly, unlikable ways with little or no common humanity in them.

300 is about warriors and their commitment to an ideal, not the battle so long ago. That is the stage on which these man fight and die. Miller takes them to a new level, a new place, one that we can only hope to achieve in this day and age. Bloody, violent, but beautiful in its own way, the story will probably never lose currency.

If you want to purchase the original graphic novel it is on Amazon, with a link to your left.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Art from maps

This morning I started reading my morning Technology email from the Washington Post and came across t his article about a guy using maps to make art. His name is Nikolas Schiller and he seems to be quite the digital artist. He does not like Google, so you may have to go to the Washington post article above to get to his site. The art is just plain impressive. I am not so sure about his politics, but we all have a right to opinions. .

He has done a lot of maps, including most of the state capitals, even Bismarck, North Dakota!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Half Swede

Yeah, I am half Swedish. I was messing around on Blogger and found this blog: The Emigrant. He is from Sweden and had a link to information about Swedish Americans, on Wikipedia, of course. Well, it turns out that North Dakota has the second highest percentage of Swedes of any state, 5%, but does not make the top ten numbers-wise. Why? Because hardly anyone lives in North Dakota, I guess.
Swedes are a hardy bunch and yeah, they were Vikings back in the bad old days, but most of the really bad-asses moved to the islands now called Great Britain after killing most of the men and marrying the women left, or something like that. That left the nice guys and farmers who made a really good country, make good furniture and pancakes. OK, they are known for more than that, but you can read Wikipedia for more information.
This is sort of tongue in cheek, as I have never been in touch with my Swedish half, preferring the kinder, gentler German-Russian half. Yeah, there actually is such an ethnic group, sort of. Kinds of gets confusing, but a lot of them moved to North Dakota as well in the late 1800's and early 1900's. They were a tough bunch of people and survived those cold winters just fine and in fact thrived there.
As for myself, I am drawn, psychically to rainy, windy, rocky places with lots of cold water and dark winters. I guess that is the Swede in me. I could have been Norwegian as well, but I will leave that to my friend Jarle (we call him Jerry because Jarle just does not sound right).
I hope this leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy or something, but that is not the point, is it?

New cat in the house

Just as my wife and I have sort of started to adjust to being alone in the house we brought in a new face, a little female cat. She is only 7 months old but is a pretty good sized kitty all the same. Actuall, her tail is just about as big as the rest of her. No, no picture yet, as she has not stayed in one place long enough to take a picture of her. She is very friendly and wants to be near us when we are in the house, at least most of the time.
She is very active and I have yet to see her sleep, which is strange, since all of the other cats we have had are older and sleeping is their favorite past time. Her name is Muffin. No, we did not give her that name.
So far she had knocked over one little wooden figure from Germany and he fell apart, but can be glued back together. The high window sill in the living room is her favorite place, but she has to climb up on the piano, then the china cabinet and then up to the window. Kittens are definitely more interesting to have around than adult cats. Spazz, the male we have had for about 5 years, is not her favorite cat, if the spitting and growling she did last night is any indication. He went back outside for the night.
They are both fixed, but he is a male and strange (most males are strange if you ask my wife) so she is not very friendly with him.
I will post a picture when I get her to sit still long enough.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Choices made, Part 5

This is the continuing story of Major Teri Johnson of the Army Space Command and her personal and professional challenges. She has just decided to go on a year-long fellowship to Oxford in the fall, while being involved at the same time in a super-secret weapons project, a crumbling marriage and a fling with a married man. The choices we make...

She woke early as usual and dressed in running clothes. Putting her uniform and boots into her bag she went downstairs. It was quiet, the coffee already made and no Jason. She looked out the window and Sport was in his kennel. She smiled as he saw her and his ears went. Well, not this morning, she thought. He sometimes left early so she poured coffee into her travel mug and grabbed an apple on the way out the door. She drove to a popular running path near work and ran three miles before finishing her drive to the office. The ASC, as they called it, was surrounded by a pair of high fences with barbed wire at the top, patrolled constantly and under surveillance at all times via closed circuit cameras. The guards at the gate were civilian Army employees, mostly retired enlisted men. Inside security was run by uniformed soldiers.

The guards watched as she approached and swiped her card through the gate lock, activating it. She pulled in and they checked her ID and scanned her car. Only then did the second gate open, allowing her into the facility. It was still another hundred yards to the parking lot, covered at all times by security cameras and sensors. There were signs telling drivers not to stop until they reached their designated parking section. She had never tried it and was not in the mood to do so today. Visitors, the few that there were, came in another entrance on the other side, parking in a special parking lot set aside for them and were escorted, then driven to the underground garage in a van where they were met by an escort who would take them upstairs to the security station.

She could remember her first visit here and how impressed and at the same time miffed at the level of security. She was a captain then, had a top secret clearance and was being interviewed by the commander. She took it all in stride, though and was accepted. Later she discovered that the other officer who had been selected to be interviewed had made a stink about the level of scrutiny he had undergone, acing himself out of the job along the way. General Haverman took security very seriously and expected his staff to do the same.

Using her card again to enter the tunnel into the underground parking, she drove down the ramp, into the cool darkness. There were no names or even titles on the parking spots, only numbers; hers was A45. Parking she carried her laptop and gym bag upstairs to the locker room and showered and changed. They were having brass visit today and she wore her new Class-A uniform. New uniforms always made her nervous. She was proud, though, of her decorations, including a bronze star with a V for her actions during the latest altercation in the Middle East. Teri grimaced a little, though, thinking of the friends that had not come home.

Leaving her workout clothes in the locker she took the elevator to the floor she worked on, where she had to use a cipher code to enter. It was early, just before 7:30 and none of the civilian workers were in, but Sergeant Major Vouchly and Colonel Lerner were already in the briefing room, going over the slides for the brass that were visiting that day. The looked up and waved as she passed and she returned it. She took the envelope out of her portfolio and put it, with appropriate postage into the outgoing mail box, then unlocked and entered her office. The building had originally been built as an office building for a major construction company. The Army had purchased it and secured it, but the offices were pretty much the same, spacious and well lit. The windows had been covered with special shielding to prevent any electronic eaves dropping, but the offices were large and well appointed. As the second in command of the Combat Systems Branch she was given a large office, a secretary (a young male E-4 who could type like a demon) and good furniture.

Checking her voice mail she walked down to the briefing room and watched the two men go through the slides. The Sergeant Major was a tall man, over 6 feet, with short cropped hair, a scar on his forehead from a helicopter crash and all the presence that comes with over 20 years in the Army. He also had an MBA and was working on a Masters in Systems. The rows of ribbons on his chest, including a purple heart, showed he had not always been a desk jockey. The Colonel would have been at home at the top of most large corporations in the country. He wore his hair much like the Sergeant Major was tall and well built and had a way of making people want to please him or he would tear them a new one. He and the Sergeant Major made a great team. He had come from Artillery and Air Defense, then through the War College and was on the short list for a star in the next few years. He had an MBA from Stanford and was ideal for the job of running a branch of two hundred sixty people scattered over 10,000 miles and encompassing over 100 skill types, including 20 or more Phd's and more than a few prickly personalities. Teri liked him a lot and would be very sorry to leave his command.

"Morning ma'am," the Sergeant Major said, getting up with his coffee cup. "Want some joe?"

"That would be nice," Sergeant Major, she said, smiling.

He nodded and left for the break room.

The colonel leaned back and looked at her.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well what?" she asked.

"You going to take it?"

She nodded.

"I thought so. I know it won't be easy leaving and all, but it will pay off."

She smiled.

"Thank you for your support," she said.

He snorted. "You did it all on your own, Teri, and you know it. Your old man would be proud of you."

Though he had not known her father he knew the story of her fathers' death.

She blushed a little and felt a tingle up her spine.

The mood was broken by the return of the Sergeant Major.

"Sir, let's have the Major here look at slide ten, I think she may have input there," he said, handing her a steaming cup.

The rest of life set aside, she helped them tweak the presentation, pointing out small items they may want to include or change. By the time the office was full they had it ready. She took a break to go to her office and check her emails and answer some calls. It was going to be a long day, she thought as she leaned back and closed her eyes. The program had been in existence before the much talked about Star-Wars program of Reagan, but it had also been very secretive. ASC had struggled for funding and survival through the years. Between Congress and the changing situation in the world it had been hard to get them to understand the need to invest several billion dollars a year in space weapons research. Well, the team had just hit a home run.

One of the things they had been working on for years was the ability to hit something in space with a laser and kill it. There had been tests and even some success, but the power demands had made the applications limited. A year before a team working with some new laser technology had found a way to concentrate a relatively low powered beam in a vacuum that made it not only possible to build such a weapon in quantity, but one that would be feasible for deployment within five years. The implications for warfare, not only in space but within the atmosphere were far reaching. As a result only the people in the Combat Branch, the commander of the ASC and one or two high level DOD people had been told about the development until full scale testing was completed.

Two weeks before she had watched the screen as a laser mounted on the back of a five ton truck with a conventional generator had fired a pulse of coherent light at a drone plane thirty thousand feet above and destroyed it. It fired again and hit the next plane five minutes later. Sweeping around, the laser hit an armored car moving at forty miles an hour three kilometers away and set it ablaze. If she had not known it was real she would have thought it a setup. Today a delegation of generals, congressmen and high ranking civilians from the DOD would attend a briefing and view the film. It was a very important day for the organization, the Army and the country and every member of the team was very nervous and excited about it.

Shadow Wolves sent after bin Laden

A US military unit, used to track drug traffickers in the Southwest has been recruited to help find bin Laden and his cronies in Afghanistan. The US Army has employed the skills of Native American scouts, trackers and guides for a couple of hundred years, so this is no real surprise. Someone on the ground that can read sign at ground level will certainly be more effective than high tech gadgets in space!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Where is my mojo?

I cannot seem to move ahead with my writing lately. It may be the stress of what is going on at work; it may be the need to write when I really do not have the drive to write. Well, maybe I will break the logjam tonight. I have to get my assignment posted for my creative writing class.

On the bright side, Google is taking over the Internet and I am being dragged along on its coat tails. Yes, I am glad the big G is taking over, because this means fewer places I have to remember passwords for. Currently I am using it as a home page, using the Docs and Spreadsheets, Blogger, Notepad, Gmail, Reader and Talk. If I travel I can log on and get all of this anywhere I can get on the Internet. As a result, I am more productive.

I just found this article about Google and of course more could be done, but they are doing a lot to help us all see the benefits of the Internet.

Microsoft, China and others are after Google because of its success; jealousy is a great motivator.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Chicken Adobo Ketchikan Style


I first ate Chicken Adobo at the Galley Restaurant in Ketchikan, Alaska a number of years ago and loved it. It is spicy, tasty and has lots of onions in it. Well, I have been searching for the secret to the unique flavor of this recipe for some time and finally think I found it, coconut milk. This recipe is modified from the original found at, but not a lot. It lacked onions and had too much sauce when done. Another thing is they use apple cider vinegar. I got good Asian white vinegar and dark soy sauce at the local Asian grocery and have used that in my various Adobo attempts and used it in this one. I highly recommend these over the garden variety vinegar and soy sauce.


Part Four, a Decision Made

Note: I have named the heroine in this story Teri. This is Part Four...

Teri heard him in their bedroom for a while, then several trips back and forth between the master suite and the guest bedroom at the end of the hall, carrying clothes and whatnot. She sighed and, taking her beer, went back to the den, where she found the envelope in her portfolio. Looking at the return address she took the letter out, unfolding it carefully and reading it for the third time.

We are pleased to offer you the fellowship you have applied for, to include the 2008-2009 term, with appropriate stipend and allowances. You need to read the following contract and agreement and sign where indicated and return this letter no later than thirty days from the date sent. Once we have received this further information will be forthcoming.

Was this what she really wanted? she wondered to herself. Of course it was, the chance to complete her doctorate, work with some world class minds and move one step closer to her dream of spaceflight. Her commanding officer had encouraged her, giving her glowing recommendations and her colleagues all agreed that she should take the Fellowship in Applied Astrophysics. One of the civilian staff, a rather dower man with little of no personality had become positive animated discussing the opportunity at lunch one day.

Taking out her pen she found the places to sign and completed the contract, keeping the second copy for herself. Looking at her signature on the papers she felt scared, happy and sad all at the same time. She loved where she lived, enjoyed her rides at the stable and the comradship with the rest of the Army Space Command, but if she was ever to be what she knew she could be she had to take some chanced and steps. As a Major she had to get education to advance in her field and this was considered a great opportunity. Better yet, the Army would pay her the entire time she was away.

What would this mean to their marriage, she thought, looking for an envelope? What marriage, was the operating question. She knew it was a mistake to marry Jason a year into it. His reaction to her nine months away at training had been to take up with Sylvia, a coworker who seemed to want everything she did not, kids, a boring life, etc. Now, five years later, where were they? Sport was about all they had in common. He had his job, a normal, civilian job where he worried about things like profit margins and stuff like that, while she was off shooting guns, riding in helicopters and wearing combat boots, or so he seemed to think. Actually, she worked for the super-secret Army Space Defense Agency and spent most of her time assisting civilian scientists in researching all sorts of cutting edge technology. All she could tell him was that she worked in a large, windowless building on the nearby airbase and had to travel a lot, go to meetings and maybe, just maybe, go into space someday.

Her husband came in as she completed addressing the envelope to return it in the morning.

"I am moved," he said.

"What do you want to do with the house?" she asked.


"Do you want it or do we sell?"

"I didn't say anything..."

"No, you didn't, I did," she said, putting the envelope in her portfolio.

"You took the fellowship."

She only nodded, looking at the floor.

"You said we would talk about it," he said, raising his voice a lttle.

"We talked, just now."

"I'll buy you out,"he said.

She nodded OK and turned to her laptop.

"I have work to do," she said.

He left without a word and she could hear the TV in the living room as she turned her computer on and logged into her work network. She could keep nothing on her hard drive that was classified, but their network allowed her, with proper encryption and a secure connection, to edit some reports from home. She almost locked herself out, entering the passwrod wrong twice before getting in. Distracted, she only worked about an hour before closing out and putting her computer away. The beer was stale, but she finished it and finally fell into a deep sleep, her mind on what it would be like to live in Oxford.