About Me

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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gadzooks! It's been a while...

I am *this* sorry for denying you fine folks the privilege of being bored with my ramblings for so long. It's been a rather nutty time of it, and I know that this time of the year (early Spring, in my patch of the world) is burdened with a million things to do for a lot of folks.

One thing that I did recently was to buy a small hydraulic log splitter (why doesn't blogger think that 'splitter' is a valid word? Incomplete freaking spell checkers...you'd think that they would be now be linked up to merrriam-webster or something). It's surprising how much fun one can have with one of these little contraptions if one has a few felled trees to turn into a Spring night's calming social time. Or a couple of years' worth of Spring nights.

Also, it's the end of the fiscal year at work. Apparently the bean counters and upper management don't understand the Gregorian calendar: something that every school-child is exposed to and knows seemingly innately when vacations happen as well as all the myriad holidays to be had during the year. I'm not sure why we put the short-yellow-bus-riders in charge of international companies, but here I am with them signing my checks.

But end of the year means that it's "crunch time", and that means long stressful days and early bed times (of late as early as 8:30 falling asleep in my recliner, which my beautiful wife shrewdly had connected up to a sleeping gas cylinder that she has secreted below the floor, thus ensuring her the peaceful nights that she deserves...I have my revenge though, since I usually end up asleep with the TV remote under me...hehe).

In any event, this sh...stuff means that I've been mentally fatigued, physically sore, and mostly asleep the last week or two. Ergo, you have all had relatively peaceful lives free from the intrusion of my incursions.

Today I've gotten a lucky break:
A nice, gray, drizzly morning that I can understand other people calling "cold", which means no yard work.
The two middle kids are at a music festival, and the wife (a better parent than I) is in attendance there.
The youngest is still asleep, and may remain so until tomorrow morning if I let him. Which I'm sorely tempted to do! He's a veritable angel while asleep.

So, a nice personal breakfast and a bit of time, and I feel like a regular human...alas. In playing catch-up with personal e-mails and whatnot, I've popped my very favorite movie of all time into the Blue Ray player, and I am content.

The movie watching and Blue Ray experience provoke thoughts, which I try to not have, but there they are, and here they come:

Our Blue Ray player is pretty darned new, and I'm still getting used to it, but it's got a number of pretty cool, sensible features that I rather like. For instance, when I insert a disk into the device (a roller-feed mechanism rather than a sliding tray mechanism), the player starts itself up, turns the TV on, changes the TV input to pay attention to the player, and starts the disk a-goin'.

This is SO simple, and obvious a feature, and many players may do it these days, but this is the first that I've been exposed to. Previously, I'd load a disk into our DVD player, then turn on the TV, grab the TV remote to change the input (of which there were six), grab the DVD remote to control the player and get everything going. Not a real challenge, but it makes sense that when I insert a disk, I must be planning on actually watching the movie that is on that disk, and therefore I'm going to have to do all these things...why not let the device do it? This is one time when I'm glad to have someone else assume my intent based upon my actions.

Human Factors, ergonomics, call it what you wish; to me, it's just common sense, and we should all be blessed with it. It probably helps that my TV and Blue Ray player are manufactured by the same folks: Samsung. They play together quite nicely.

The movie of the morning: 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood", with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, the brilliant Claude Rains and equally brilliant Basil Rathbone (who's very name sets him as an excellent villain, though his stint as Sherlock Holmes was admirable as well).

I often lament at the evolution in movies over the years: the old ones, in my opinion, are the best. There are good newer movies around, but by and large the older ones were better by far than what are made today. That said, Russel Crowe's Robin Hood was pretty darn good.

I've owned this Robin Hood DVD for a number of years, and my very favorite wife recently bought the Blue Ray copy for me. The colors and scenery in this copy are...hmm...I'd rather not use the word 'brilliant' again, but it's quite appropriate. Vivid would work too. You can really see a great deal of detail in the Blue Ray that you can't in the DVD; Blue Ry is as superior to the DVD as the DVD is to the VHS tape.

Now typically, I would decry the colorization process; movies that were shot in black-and-white should continue to be shown in black-and-white; the directors in those movies went to great lengths to utilize shadows of various depths to affect parts of the story, and to help emote intangible parts of the stories that they told. I feel that a lot is lost in the colorization process, and while I'm all for machines doing tedious things for me, I feel like the colorization of old movies alleviates much in the way of the watcher's application of imagination. It's just not the same experience.

That all said, this is not an issue with this Robin Hood movie, as, when it was shot in 1938, was one of the very first productions to be shot in the then cutting-edge 3-Strip Technicolor Process. It, having been produced with color in mind, and having been shot in color, means that I can enjoy it in color too!

Just now Maid Marian is on trial for treason in front of Prince John and Sir Guy of Gisbourne and all I can say is "wow". They have a very dark background with Marian illuminated by a pretty single-minded spot light. The colors that I see this morning are colors that I am confident were there all along, but looked more white than not on the DVD. Today, her dress is more lavender, and the contrasts are stunning, as the producers and directors intended.

Go Blue Ray!

One last thought about this movie though: Robin just stumbled upon King Richard in Sherwood forest; you'd think that the Baron of Locksley would know the King by sight, but this is not the case. Too funny. It's not until King Richard shows his tabard that the men of Sherwood know who they've got in their midst.

"I'm sorry, your Highness...I didn't recognize your face, but I know you now because of your shirt!" HAHA!

I'll be back sooner than not! Have a splendid life in the meanwhile.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sittin' Around, doin' Nothin'

Sometimes I feel like I'm all alone in the world in that I don't really spend a lot of time sitting around doing nothing. Yet it seems like there must be a lot of people who do (sit around and do nothing).

I say this because it seems like there are a lot of solicitors who come down my street to chat about one thing or another, and they always seem to behave as though they're doing me a favor by stopping in and occupying my time.

And it doesn't matter what I'm doing, either. One time I was working on building a deck. They showed up at the gate to my yard, hailing me in between hammer swings. I've got nails in my teeth, dirt and grime all over me, a helper calling out for measurements for him to make cuts with a circular saw. "Excuse me, do you have a minute?"

"Really?!?! Does it look like I have a minute?" I would often like to ask (and where's Bill Engvall when you need him??), but maybe it's something quick. But no, it's never quick. It's most often my friendly neighborhood Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons from the nearby church who want to talk religion. And one thing that I dislike is folks trying to talk religion at me while I've got things to do. I've had kids coming around to sell me encyclopedias (like that's a worthwhile investment in this day and age), or magazine subscriptions...whatever.

And these guys go on and on and on, like I'm doing nothing at all and have the time to sit and have tea and have a long conversation. Ah, if they only knew me, they'd know that I don't even want long conversations with people that I KNOW and like, let alone with people I don't know. Add to that and the topic of conversation isn't to my liking, and they won't stop... GAH!

Kids selling magazines, folks trying to convert me to one cable vendor or another, political "word spreaders", or drunk family and / or friends. They all MUST have lots of time on their hands, because they seem to think that I do.

In part, I understand their reticence to "letting go" of me: if I stop talking to them, they don't get a sale (or a convert). I don't like being rude to strangers, but eventually you have only one option: be rude. Close the door while they're still talking (or start the chainsaw, as I once did), and walk away. One time, the fellow had me at the front door when I had a meal cooking and a toddler roaming free. I CAN'T just stand here and entertain you; my food is burning and so might be my kid.

"Oh, ok. I don't want to keep you [caughBULLSHITcaugh], but just one last question..." I know from his three or five previous "last questions" that this is not his last question.

SLAM! When I'm out of earshot, I *might* mumble 'have a nice day', but I might not. Depends upon what they were wasting my time with and whether or not I burned supper...or the kid.

These folks are everywhere, aren't they?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fashion Advice from THEM?!?

I spent this past week largely playing nursemaid to my lovely wife who had her shoulder repaired on Monday morning. Surgery went very well, which is a change for her, and she's well on the mend. This is hopefully the last hurdle for us as we try to bring last year's car accident remediation to a conclusion. Of course, after that there's the lawyers.

One of the things that I did was to read the book "The Man Who Would be King", and thought I'd give a quick book report.

Ahem: don't bother. Fortunately, it's very short, but really: just don't bother.

On to other things:

While working from home I was subjected to some of her TV tastes (as she can do nothing but sit there). On one of the days she landed on a fashion make-over show called "Head 2 Toe". It's like Trading Spaces, but the two friends get a make-over.

This is one of those things that sounds like a good idea (not that I'd watch it), but the implementation left a lot to be desired. It's either extremely new, or only had a couple of episodes, because finding information on the net about it is a tough thing to do.

The show is hosted by a fairly pretty chick named Tanika Ray. I got this image from TV.com:

Tell me she doesn't put you in mind of a hairy troll doll

The hair really gets me; she does it that way on purpose too, since it was fairly easy to find images of her with what I'd call "normal" hair. I know that I'm coming from a place of relative weakness in criticizing folks for their fashion sense, but really?

I kept peering over my laptop as this show aired, drawn to it by some macabre, almost Kafkaesque sense of  awe and curiosity.

Tanika had a few fashion consultants on the show:

One for clothes (a young lady who dressed, in my opinion, rather harlequinnish and wore way too much makeup);

A male hair stylist who sported a full head of deliberately messed up hair topped by a spiky mohawk;

A nail specialist, a woman (I think) who looked a lot like a more severe version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter with salt-and-pepper hair that was all but shaven off.

I could get used to Tanika's hair, but I just can't wrap my tiny mind around why one might seek fashion advice from the rest of the crew. Might as well get your fashion advice at a nudist colony.

Based upon this concept, these shows seem viable to me:

"The Oscars": You get your home redone by Oscar the Grouch wherein the Grouch has Oscar Madison as head of the cleaning crew.

"HELL'NS Kitchen": You get your menu prepared, cooked, and served by Helen Keller.

"Parisian SATs": Prepare for the Standard Aptitude Test with Paris Hilton

"Bush Chat": A talk show hosted by Xi, of "The Gods Must be Crazy"

"Rare Cuisine": A food show that discusses flavor and texture differences between foods like Spotted Owl, Polar Bear, and Cheetah

"Hair of the Don": Hair pointers from Donald Trump

"Smooth Talkin' Dons": Vocal lessons by Don Adams and Don Knots

How about you: any shows that you'd like to see in this genre?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Reading Tastes

When I wan in high school I started reading. Not that I *couldn't* read by that point, but I didn't get any desire to read until then. The book that sucked me in was "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks. I then read the sequels to that book (I think back then there were only two), and followed up with Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone books, and on and on. Eventually I tackled the Lord of the Rings (right after The Hobbit), and up until about four or six years ago was reading and writing the fantasy genre pretty much exclusively.

I do have a book in the works that is about 120K words, but I have more or less abandoned it, perhaps to return to it eventually. Pretty much all of the work that I've done has been done in the name of RPG (yeah: I'm that geeky) within a close circle of friends.

But of late, I have had no taste at all for the fantasy genre. It's a broken genre, in my estimation. To be fair, perhaps I just need to look deeper for better books, but it seems to me that there is one basic story floating around with different characters and different subplots (if there are any of those), and different writing styles.

That story is:
This young person (most usually an early teen girl, but sometimes an early-to-late-teen girl or boy) finds themselves inexplicably tied up in a confusing array of goings-ons perpetrated by a very, very powerful antagonist. Through a series of harrowing adventures, running for their life, perhaps being guided by a bunch of older, experienced "professionals", and working against impossible odds to overthrow that very, very powerful antagonist, this youthful protagonist discovers an unknown power within them and saves the whole damn world.

To put it another way, its:
Antagonist: Some extremely powerful antagonist who has the cards stacked so far in his favor (and it's usually a male) that his victory is triple-assured. He may be a sorcerer, or a warlord, an evil king, whatever. He ALWAYS has huge armies and resources at his command, and often has some super-powerful pet like a dragon.
Protagonist: A yute (as Vinny Gambini would say) who's been working on a farm or is a serving wench in her parents' inn, or is a cobbler or leads some other mundane life who has never left his little village in her or his life, and has no idea how to go fist-a-cuffs let alone has any military training.
Plot: Turns out (very surprisingly) that the Protagonist is the last descendant of some forgotten Wizard King, or was chosen by The Powers Above (see that weird birthmark that is strangely shaped like a Winchester rifle?) and must be cajoled into leaving the inn or farm to save the planet or race (sometimes the universe).

Put down that rake, boy, we need you to save everybody else in existence. Over and over and over.

I read, and very much enjoyed, David Eddings' "The Belgariad". Farm boy knows nothing about where he came from, Child of Light, Child of Dark, go save humanity.

I also read David Edding' "The Mallorean". Another series that I enjoyed. New Child of Light who doesn't know who he is, Different Child of Dark who knows everything about both sides, go save humanity.

Much later I read Mr. Eddings' "The Ellenium". Different characters entirely, but same story (except that this time, the chosen hero was at least a Paladin). "The Tamuli" Same thing.

"Wheel of Time". Farm boy, didn't know what powers he had, go save everyone. That series wasn't the same series over and over, it was the same BOOK over and over.

The first series of Dennis L. McKiernan's that I read was "The Iron Tower" trilogy. This series is about a kingdom at war, and the main antagonist (the king's brother, who is possessed by a demon, as I recall, but it was a long time ago) is causing all kinds of mayhem. The primary protagonist is what Mr. McKiernan calls a "Warrow", which is a humanoid creature of small stature (something like two or three feet tall), and they live in a small sequestered community. Three of these little fellows end up embroiled in a great war to overthrow the bad guy.

Sound familiar?

In Mr. McKiernan's "Hell's Crucible" duology we find two of these little fellows hard at work thwarting yet another uber-powerful sorcerer who has a huge army of foul things / undead at his command.

I recall that at the end of that series, Mr. McKiernan expressed that he wanted to tell a story wherein normal people were pivotal in great schemes, because you never see that in fictional literature.

Really? You never do? Isn't that what happened in The Hobbit? In The Lord of the Rings? The Sword of Shannara (and all the Shannara sequels that I read)? All the books that I list above? There are many others that I've read that have the same basic story (Tad Williams "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn comes to mind).

Just so that I've given them fair due, these writers also have books and stories that DON'T quite follow this mold:
I very much enjoyed reading the Belgariad. David Eddings writes excellent characters and I did get to feel that I knew all the players in a very complex and comprehensive setting. I'd just like to get a different story.

Dennis L. McKiernan also wrote The Silver Call Duology, which was a love story and was very good.

Terry Brook's "Magic Kingdom for Sale: SOLD" was a fun book too.

Piers Anthony's Xanth series is fun and clever, and I also enjoyed the Apprentice Adept trilogy.

But overall, it seems like this is the only story that sells in the fantasy genre these days. And this is what has pushed me into historical fiction for the last several years. In my old age I'm more drawn toward the "King and Country" mindset like The Three Musketeers.

The Count of Monte Christo was a great (great, great) story, and very much unlike the movie. I stumbled on The Scarlet Pimpernel Series and highly recommend it (my favorite is "The Laughing Cavalier", the second in the series). I've been reading classics that I ignored in my misspent youth: King Soloman's Mines, Treasure Island, Scaramouche, and others of this sort.

Books have taken a turn much like movies: back in the day, they had stories; today, it's all special effects. I like old movies too. :)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Just too Damn Tired, and by the Way: Most Modern Forms of Sugar Suck

Over the course of my career working in the realm of Product Safety & EMC Compliance, my work tends to be a feast-and-famine sort of living. Often, for months I'd work hard, long hours and sleep like the proverbial log (which doesn't so much sleep, does it? I guess that proverb is broken!). These months of long work were typically followed by a month or more of relatively little work, which would allow me to catch up on paperwork, review test equipment, justify purchases, and even publish articles in trade magazines.

The feast-and-famine work cycle isn't a bad one to have. There are days when you want to be very busy, and you get a good productive feeling, but before you get burned out, famine arrives and you can shift gears and recharge. Then again, before boredom can set it, the feast arrives again and gears are shifted...you learn stuff about a new product and usher that new product through the last stages of the Product Development Cycle and into the marketplace. Then: famine.

This cycle for me has been broken for the last two years or so. During this time the cycle has been feast-and-feast-harder. I've currently got three extremely high-priority projects on my hands that need to be delivered in the next two months. Days are long and non-stop and I end up doing some of the famine-time work on the weekends.

This is a bad way to live for too long. I'm thinking that it'll be over shortly (since those projects have such firm deadlines), but in the meantime I'm exhausted every night, and looking for some mindless time on the weekends. Thank goodness it's tax season! :)

As the wise ones say: this too shall pass. Hopefully Gandalf isn't standing in my way too!

In the meantime, I'm also constantly looking for ways to be a healthier person. It's a rotten paradox that when we're young we don't pay too much attention to doing things to improve our long-term health, but as we get older and lose our health we regret not behaving better in our youth and we look for ways to recapture our health.

One of the things I've been looking at in the last months has been my intake of processed sugar. Everywhere I have been looking, I'm reading what a scourge this stuff is on society. I read over on my fellow New-Englander's blog (Austanspace) about how just a couple of donuts ruined at least a full day.

This put me in mind of a news item that, while sitting in an airport, I caught a piece of a short time ago. I went out to youtube to find it, and I think it's one of those things that everyone should watch. It's long (like an hour long), and some of it is very dry, but overall I found it very interesting. You can see it here:

YouTube Video "Sugar: The Bitter Truth"

As I've come off of the processed sugars, my weight didn't change immediately, but my shape changed within a month: I lost my pear-shaped gut almost completely. I've been concentrating on consuming simple sugars instead of processed ones; I use honey in my tea, nothing in my coffee, and moved to the Kashi cereals and snack bars (which are surprisingly good, actually...I think they are better tasting than the Quaker or Granola ones that I used to eat).

If you can tolerate being off of the sugar for about a month and a half, my experience is that you won't want to go back, because it tastes gross. It ends up being what you're used to, I think. As a "for instance": initially, coffee without sugar was hard to drink, but I was motivated and kept at it. A little more than a month later, I noticed that I had a broader pallet for what made an acceptable cup of coffee, and having had a sip of sugar-filled coffee, I found it disgusting.

The last time that I had a cup of coffee that left me with that "mmm...good coffee" feeling, it had sugar in it. But, as I say, I have not since leaving the sugar behind had a cup of coffee that left me with that "ugh...I can't drink this crap" feeling either.

Watch the video, watch your sugar (and start using whole grains as well, instead of the stripped-down variety), and be healthier.

I'll no doubt have more of my work-to-health information in the future. From a scientific / engineering point of view, I'm seeing some interesting results and patterns in my health and weight, but that'd make for a very long post here today.

Be well!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Intent of an Accident

Ok, so today I'm going to discuss the catalyst that put me on my accident posting...

My second boy seems to be studying to become a lawyer. A crooked lawyer, to be sure, but some maturity may straighten his crooked out (and you *know* what I mean...), but he's certainly angling to be a lawyer.

He has very adeptly and ingeniously managed to pull together snippets of things that I've said over the years, and put some of them through his pretzel-logic machine to use them for validating his actions. Usually his more dubious actions.

The one that most recently had me shaking my head was his use of my admissions that people make mistakes. They are an important part of our education, and our growth as people. We all make them, and Billy Joel will tell you that they're the only things that you can truly call your own.

So the second jamoke decided that he could use this as permission to do things that he knows that he's not supposed to do. Like break curfew (for instance). Or eat certain foods that were being saved for certain events (for instance).

Thus it was that I found the need to discuss with the ingenious idiot the difference between an actual accident and an error in judgement. The distinction of the various kinds of "mistakes", if you will.

For instance, we can not use the "I made a mistake" defense to absolve one from a punishable offense. As in, "I made a mistake when I robbed that bank. Oops...sorry [tee hee]." I often like to use extreme examples when I try to explain such nuances.

Among the more mundane examples:
"I didn't intend to drop that glass...sorry."

"I got angry and threw the glass on the floor to shatter it...sorry."

"I was swinging the stick and didn't see that person there; I didn't mean to hit them."

"He made me sad, so I hit him with my stick...sorry."

I feel a little like George Carlin when he was going through "is a clean" and "is a dirty": Mother is a clean, Muddah is a dirty...hehe

A lot of what makes a "mistake" (or an "accident") acceptable is intent, I think. Well,  more specifically, LACK of intent. You can't justify unacceptable conduct by claiming that you have to be allowed to make mistakes.

And with that, I'll abandon these thoughts on accidents, mistakes, and malice. However, I will revisit stupidity, since I happen to have an abundance of that.