Tag Archives: Arizona

It’s Xmas and why not blog a little?

It’s been quite the rainy day here in Phoenix for Christmas, which is fine, since we spent the day indoors anyway. Certainly, we can always use the rain.

A couple of amusing stories so far this year, starting with my gift to Irene. Recently, I was really, really stretching to think of a gift for Irene when I came across the weekly David Pogue technology video for the New York Times, talking about the Flip MinoHD, a flash memory-based HD camcorder. Pogue gave it quite a good review, which is what got me thinking about it. My wife really should be shooting more video of the kids, but our existing camcorder is totally inconvenient to carry around. This seemed like a perfect compromise.

This is not a high-end HD camcorder. The compression is noticeable, and the CCD is of the inferior type that can produce “bending” artifacts if you move too quickly. I reported on this same phenomena with my iPhone’s still camera. (It has to do with the speed of the data being read off the CCD, and the pattern that it reads the data in. If the objects moves before the CCD has dumped the data as it moved from top left to bottom right, the object appears to be bent.

This same effect occurs on the MinoHD. Still, for the price, about $200, you get a tiny camcorder, solid-state, with 1 hour recording capacity. It plugs right into your Mac (or PCs, I’m told) and you pull the clips right off. It’s charged via the USB connection that “flips” out (hence the name).

I got the camera a couple weeks ago, and, thinking about it, decided that my wife would want to use it on Christmas morning, so I unboxed it, and I charged it, set the date and time, made a few test videos (Deciding if I should send it back, which, ultimately, I did not) and then carefully repackaged the box and wrapped it for Christmas. When we got our tree, it was the first present under it.

Then I got to thinking, “The kids are going to want to open their presents first, indeed, it will be difficult to hold them back. Then, there’s the excitement of seeing all those presents under the tree. Surely, we want to guarantee that the camcorder is open and ready before the kids wake up.”

Come last evening, after the kids were in bed, I insisted that Irene open her present on Christmas Eve. She balked at the idea, but I insisted, so she say down, carefully unwrapped the present. Inside was the MinoHD box, which is noticeably similar to an iPod box. She opened the box and there, inside was…

…an empty box!!!!!

I was flabbergasted. I ran to my office and started searching frantically. Sure enough, I had forgotten to put the camera back in the box when I packed it up. At least Irene had a good sense of humor about it, and it was funny. I am glad the kids weren’t there, though.

And then there’s my sneaky daughter.

My dad had gathered from Michelle that she’d like some Ultraman/Godzilla stuff. My dad searched online and found a store that had some imported Japanese toys. He asked me which ones they had and which ones I thought they’d like. She’d already got most of the Ultramen figures that she knows, except for Ultraseven X, which I suggested. I also suggested Godzilla and Mothra figures in the same scale as the Ultramen. So my dad ordered them.

I poked around the website and found some other Godzilla toys in plush figures, so I decided to pick up one each for the kids, a Godzilla and a Rodan.

When the toys my dad ordered arrived, he decided that he wanted to split them up and give one to James, so I suggested Mothra for him. (Michelle has some plastic insects which she already pretend are Mothra, and James feels left out.) I figured that I’d give James the plush Godzilla, since Michelle was getting the other Godzilla, and give her Rodan, since James was getting a different flying monster.

Instead of wrapping them, Irene wanted to use them as stocking stuffers, so, as we went to bed last night, I carefully placed Rodan in Michelle’s stocking, peaking out, and Godzilla in James’, peaking out.

This morning, to Michelle’s credit, she woke up well before Irene or I, and she didn’t open her presents (she’d been warned) and she didn’t wake us up – but the second any noise came from our bedroom, she was in next to our bed like a shot.

“Santa’s been here! Santa’s been here! he put a Godzilla in my stocking and he put a Rodan in James’ stocking!!!”

Bleary eyed and still asleep, I was thinking, “What? That’s backwards.”

Sure enough, when I came out, someone (I wonder who?) had swapped them in the stockings.

I thought long and hard about that, because it was obviously dishonest of her, and she didn’t know she was getting a Godzilla when my dad arrived. Finally, I tried this gambit: “You know, Michelle, the Godzilla and Rodan weren’t from Santa. Actually, I got those for you and I put Rodan in your stocking and Godzilla in James’. I don’t know what happened, maybe Santa accidentally knocked them out and didn’t know which one to put each one back in and they got swapped.”

Michelle thought for a moment – you could really see the gears turning – and said, “I’ll put them back.” And she swapped them back.

Perhaps she learned from that one.

Homemade Prime Rib and Yorkshire Pudding for Christmas dinner, plus the Next Doctor. Review coming soon.

Am I loosing my “leave me the $^#@ alone” face?

Holiday cheer is one thing: Peace, goodwill towards all men – all those non-Christian ideals that somehow got associated with Christmas. It’s at this time of year that people who normally wouldn’t say word one to strangers will chip with some platitude, and, let’s face it, you can’t not respond.

Twice today I was accosted by holiday “cheer”. The first was at Jack-in-the-Box, as I was leaving. A man had driven up to the front door and parked his truck in a no-parking zone. He’d opened his door but hadn’t gotten out, nor had he turned off his engine. He looked for all the world like someone who’d just been through the drive-through, and they’d asked him to pull out of the way because his food was going to take a while. It’s not uncommon, especially at around 10:00AM. People are starting to order lunch items, but they’re still geared up for breakfast, sometimes things like chicken take 5 minutes to prepare. It really bogs down the drive-through window if they don’t ask the people to pull up to let other cards through.

So, as I walk out of the store, the man in the truck says, “Merry Christmas!”, to which I respond, rather imaginatively, “Merry Christmas”.

And then the attack, “Hey, could you do me a favor? Come take a look at my leg.”

My reaction: (!!!!!!) The man’s “leg” was still blocked from my view by his car door, and I made sure it stayed that way.

“This happened to me earlier today on my motorcycle. We don’t have money for bandages or stitches or antibiotics or anything, but I’m not asking for money for that, I just need some money for gas. I’ve got my Marine Corps ID card right here, if you want to see it.”

How the hell do you respond to that? That’s got to be the creepiest, least plausible, money come on I’ve ever heard. He’s driving a great big new gas-guzzling truck, trying to show off his wounded leg and asking for gas money – and he can’t be bothered to turn his engine off. If he was after medical attention, he was about 2-3 miles from a VA hospital which, if he had his Marine Corps ID, they’d have taken care of. Somehow, I just think he was trying to get me closer to his truck, for what nefarious purpose I cannot imagine. Stranger Danger on that one!

This evening, we stopped in Taco Bell for a quick snack. It wasn’t very busy. A man of African American descent, wearing a hoodie came into the restaurant and went up to the counter, where he started talking with people – by name – working in the back, things like, “Hey Marion, Merry Christmas!” Obviously, they knew who he was. I didn’t give it another thought, until I went up to refill my drink at the soda fountain.

That puts me about 6 feet away from the guy. He turns and looks at me, steps forward, holding out his hand to shake saying, “Merry Christmas!”

Rather unimaginatively, I respond with, “Merry Christmas”. I hesitate on the hand shaking thing, but, it’s almost like a trained response. Someone offers a hand, you shake. He noticed the hesitation and altered to the knuckle-bump thing, which, I’ve never done in my life. So I end up doing this absurd knuckle-bump and handshake.

“So, you all ready for Christmas?” he asks.

“That remains to be seen,” I say.

“Hey, you and I are about the same age.” He points out.

I’m thinking, “OK, that’s a weird line of conversation. What does that matter?” Instead I respond, “Maybe thereabouts.”

“Are you 40?”

I don’t know why I responded to that, probably because this was just too bizarre, “Older”

“50?”

“Nah, not that old.”

“You got your Christmas shopping done? ‘Cause, I know what you need for Christmas. It’s great for guys our age.”

I am completely, %$&#ing baffled by what this guy is going on about. By this point, I’ve decided he’s one of those insane, homeless people who talk to cardboard boxes. Instead, he goes on, putting his hand to his ear, which is obscured by the hoodie. “I know what’s a great Christmas present. Weed, man. It’s the best Christmas present.” He presented a small plastic bag up by his ear.

In all my life, no one has ever tried to sell me drugs. From what you see on TV, I thought you had to go downtown somewhere, and meet behind garbage cans to meet the drug-dealer scumbags, but no, they deliver to fine eating establishments like Taco Bell. Clearly, the guy was a regular, too, since he knew the names of the crew.

The best thing I can say for this guys is that he backed away immediately when I said, “no.” However, he was hanging out outside when we left and was making with the Christmas cheer chatter, talking at my wife as we went to the car.

Damn, that’s hitting way too close to my children. It’s time to have a talk with them.

Here come the trains!

The December 27th arrival of the light rail is just around the corner and I’ve even seen a train or two out on the tracks near the house.

Unfortunately, more often than not, what I usually see are morons, and I’m not the only one to notice. According to light rail operator Kim Zablonski:

“People are walking down the tracks to get where they’re going, riding their bicycles, ignoring the fact the tracks are for trains only, they’re driving their vehicles down the tracks”

You can read a bit more about preparations at ABC 15.

Link: ABC15 => Metro Light Rail prepares for debut.

The Smell of Fear

I was born in Arizona (albeit in a more liberal city than where I currently live), and there are a lot of things that commend this state.

The politics of the majority of its people is not one of them.

You can generally rely on Arizona to be a Republican state in any election – which is one of the reasons that I think we need a whole new electoral system, since my vote is almost invariably completely lost in the noise and I am effectively without representation. (Yet I’m still taxed. Hmmm… Taxation without representation. That’s got a catchy sound to it, doesn’t it?)

Today I heard something that gives me hope.

I telecommute on Wednesdays, which is usually one of my most productive days. No one is around to bother me and I can really go heads down and get some computer work done.

The only thing that interrupts me are phone calls at home. Since I’m at work, I generally let the answering machine answer for me, only picking up if it’s actually something important. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from hearing what the call was about. Imagine my surprise when I heard this:

I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC because Barack Obama is so dangerously inexperienced, his running mate Joe Biden just said, he invites a major international crisis that he will be unprepared to handle alone.

If Democrats win full control of government, they will want to give civil rights to terrorists and talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the experience and judgment to lead America. This call was paid for by the Republican National Committee [and phone number]

I got a McCain Robocall!!! He’s running scared in his own state!!!! A state that wouldn’t elect a democrat if you covered him in butter and bacon and served him on a sandwich with some nice fava beans.

And I love the fear-mongering tone of the message… “…he invites a major international crisis that he will be unprepared to handle alone.”

Thank goodness that a good president surrounds himself with competent advisors and cabinet members so he doesn’t have to do things alone. (Unless he’s a cowboy moron.)

“Civil rights to terrorists…”! Gasp! Or does he mean, “Suspected terrorists”, read: People, not found guilty of a crime. Come to think of it, even murders and pedophiles in our jails have, by laws, “civil rights” (certainly, somewhere diminished civil rights, but civil rights nonetheless.)

And he would, “…talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror”!!!! Again, gadzooks! Talk to them?! I suppose he means as opposed to, as past administrations have done, given them money, military aide and sold them weapons.

F-ing hypocrites! And besides, what fool wouldn’t at least try to talk first to someone with an opposing point of view before adopting a posture of belligerence. There will be plenty of time for belligerence later.

I hope this portents great things to come… ie, the crushing defeat of McCain even in his home state.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Billboards

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Imagine No Religion” billboards have gone up in a few places around the Phoenix. One of them is near Indian School and 23rd Street – which I happen to drive past each and every day – and had never seen it. My friend, John, and I were even in the area a couple times for lunch and didn’t see it.

We saw every other billboard in the area, but not that one. We were beginning to suspect that the whole controversy was a clever ploy to get atheists to pay more attention to billboard advertising.

Finally, however, this week we went searching until we found it. (See John here doing his very best Jimmy Olsen imitation with the camera.)

This morning, quite by accident on my way back from a meeting down at the State Capital, I passed another on 19th Ave, near the I-10.

When you’re looking for one, you can’t find one. When you don’t need one, they’re everywhere.

Curved Kitchen

Finished? Finally!

Construction on the kitchen has finished… which is not to say renovation has stopped, there’s still a lot of painting to do.

Here, then, is the final cabinet arrangement along the east wall. Photoshop couldn’t quite cleanly stitch the 12 photographs together… the wall isn’t warped (at least not like this) and the countertop is actually flat.

It’ll never look this clean again…

Snake oil isn’t dead

OK, we’re all feeling the pinch with gas prices, but I really hate it when people start taking advantage of others when they’re vulnerable. That’s bad enough, but when the local news helps them, I’m appalled.

Today, the local ABC affiliate, channel 15 published this story.

It’s about a company that sells magnets (yes, magnets) to improve your gas efficiency by 10%. Hmm, if only it were that simple. Why is it they just have testimonials from people who say things like, “Gosh, I sure was plumb skeptical of your claims until I tried this amazing product” rather than some real science explaining the principal rather than the pseudoscience babble on their site?

You’d think one of those darned smart scientists would have come up with this 50 years ago, wouldn’t ya? But, we all know, magnets are magic and their properties aren’t fully understood by modern science.

So remember, just because there’s no evidence for it, magical can magnets change the molecular structure of gas making it more efficient, they can realign the iron inside algae, making your pool more algae resistant, and they can filter free radicals from your blood.

I believe you can even buy magnetic condoms that go around your ankle. This system allows one to fully experience sexual intercourse without troublesome physical barriers and still prevents all forms of pregnancy, HIV or STDs. </SARCASM>

So this is a shame on ABC 15 for helping take money from people that could use it for something better – like a proper tune-up, which could actually help. What’s next? Psychic pet detectives can improve gas mileage by telling you where your dog should sit in your vehicle?