Monday, March 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

Mom and Dad (when he had hair)

Photo by Olan Mills

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She lived a long and difficult life, but she always kept her sense of humor. I remember her making the ICU staff laugh just days before she died. She always had a kind word and a smile, no matter what.

Dad was, Mom’s third (at least) husband. I don’t know because she didn’t talk much about her past until the end. She was too busy looking ahead. So I only knew of one other when I was growing up.

Mom and Dad were married more than 40 years. Dad was disappointed that they didn’t make 50. She said he was the best thing that ever happened to her.

So today I am grateful for the years Mom and Dad had together. I’m also grateful for what she taught me about the healing power of humor.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Just Workin’

This week I am grateful to be working to much to do much blogging. Writing under an accelerated deadline saps my writing creativity this week.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diffusion and Diversity

This red rose is one of the success stories of building the side yard bed last year.

I may ramble a bit today, because I’m not really focused on what I want to say. It was a nice day of catching up on chores, watching TV, and recuperating from the stresses of the work week. Suna and I went to a party this evening while the boys went to eat pizza and listen to Jeff play.

I didn’t do much in the garden today, except to enjoy its progress. Suna and I sat on the front patio for a little while watching the wrens and other neighbors. The wildflower garden is making good progress, but the shade garden is having problems. The ginger, which looked for awhile as if it might wilt, seems to be making a comeback. But many of the coleuses, which seemed to be flourishing, have turned to mush. Still, I’d rather replace a dozen plants that cost a couple of bucks than one that cost nearly forty.

Then I made salsa for the party. G & R have a beautiful house near the church, and many of the people I only know passingly from church were there. It was refreshing to see Republicans mingling with gay people instead of bashing them. I had a nice long conversation with two of the most right-wing members of the church while enjoying the sunset on a deck that was probably ten feet above a back yard that falls away rapidly toward a greenspace. I was impressed with the house, its appointments, and color scheme. And it was a pleasant evening getting to know people better.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Food for Thought #9: Theoretically Speaking

The irony is different today than when Hugo Rheinhold first sculpted this statue in the 1890s.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

This week, a Texas legislator introduced a bill to allow a Bible institute to offer a Master’s degree in science education without obtaining certification from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “Why are people who call themselves scientists afraid to hear two sides of a debate?” complained Representative Leo Berman (R-Tyler). Berman introduced his bill after The Institute for Creation Research was denied authority to offer the degree last year.

So that brings me to this week’s menu:

Appetizer: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
A delicious Slimfast bar, Oatmeal Resin. Got to watch my figure!
Soup: Phish or Monkees?
I love the original Monkees, especially their cover of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer.” Phish reminds me of the Grateful Dead: long, rambling, and loose, but the Dead had better vocals.
Salad: What is your first reaction when you hear the phrase, “I don’t believe in evolution”?
—I don’t believe in you, either.” Evolution, like gravity, is not subject to belief or disbelief; it is. We have demonstrable proof that species evolve. We don’t even have to look at the geological record. Species change over centuries, sometimes within a short time than that.
The questions that remain unanswered are:
  • Why did the process start?
  • What does it mean?
  • Where will it go?
Entré: What do you think about attempts to legislate science or even just how science is taught?
We know what happened when the Soviet Union tried to legislate crops to grow during a drought. As a wise man—I won’t say who to avoid displaying my overt geekiness—once said, “Ya canno’ change the laws of physics!”
Similarly, if we pass a law that requires we teach that light travels in a spiral, it won’t mean that kid who learn that will be able to see around corners. All it would accomplish is to prevent those kids from being able to understand how lasers, and therefore CD players, work.
Dessert: Has the word “theory” been stripped of its scientific meaning or become loaded with excess emotional baggage?
I think so. One of the arguments the Luddites make is that we should teach creationism along side evolution because they are both theories. But they are not. Evolution is a theory in that it is backed by empirical research that can be reproduced by anyone willing to do the work. Creationism is a myth backed by a book written long, long ago. Attempts to wrap it in the scientific mantle disrespect the basic tenets both science and Christianity.
That is just one example of how the meaning of “theory” has become degraded.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Library Thing

I know there’s supposed to be an illustration here, but like I said, I’m tired. And apathetic. Would something random be better than nothing?

Well, this was a horrible week in the news. Many of my friends lost jobs last week, and today wasn’t any better. It turns out that AIG paid—perhaps was legally required to pay—hundreds of millions of dollars to the people who raped the economy. President Obama is so angry about that, he said he was choking. The Dow didn’t make five consecutive days on the positive side, even though it would have been the first time in recent memory.

But Suna is getting interviews before her contract ends, and my dad said a well near our property hit gas. My job continues. So, all things considered, I have a lot to be grateful for today. Picking one thing for the week is a challenge, but I’ll give it a go.

This week I’m going to be grateful for my online book community, Library Thing—not what you expected after the economics intro, but what the hell; I’m tired. They published a cool screen saver for the Mac this week and are trying to get one together for Windows. They have given me intelligent acquaintances all over the world who share my love affair with the printed word—especially if you count online media, however volatile. They power my church library and my personal library online. They provide much of the book and author content I link to from this blog.

I’m making a committment to upload higher resolution book covers for the community than they can get from Spamazon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pop?

I didn’t have my camera with me, but the sign looked like this one—except that it had a blue background. At least this one’s in Austin, too.

Photo source: rutlo

This morning on the way to church, I saw a new billboard. It featured the new Pepsi logo as the “O” in the word “POP.”

Why am I commenting on this sign? Well, this is Texas. I’ll come back to this later.

The purpose of advertising is to arouse a desire to purchase the product. This sign attempts to arouse desire by equating the Pepsi brand with the product through being included in a community through the common use of pop.

The problem is that using the word pop in Texas defines you as an outsider. Pop is a sound, not something you drink—unless you’re from someplace else. Native Texans say “soda,” “sodawater,” or (despite litigation) the generic use of the trademark of Pepsi’s chief competitor. (Notice the careful circumlocution!)

So this sign is a classic example of a major corporation and its advertising agency not bothering to understand its target audience.

The tinfoil hatters might say this is part of a greater conspiracy to further homogenize our culture. But I agree with the wise words a friend once told me. “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.” Unfortunately, I don’t know who first offered that advice.

Let’s hope our corporate leaders get a clue before all of our jobs move elsewhere.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Food for Thought #8: Mentoring

Stephen King is another of my long-distance mentors. Reading his book On Writing is like having a long, personal conversation with a master and being able to revisit parts of the conversation as you choose.

Photo source: Twilight Blog

Everyone is a mentor, and everyone has at least one mentor who has helped defined the guiding principles of their lives. (Ignore the numeric disagreement between noun and pronoun. It’s a symptom of my current contract where that disagreement has been institutionalized in the style guide.) Mentoring can be anything from helping a friend with homework to providing life-changing guidance.

Appetizer: Do you view yourself as a mentor? Why or why not?
Yes. It’s in my job description. Part of my job is to develop young trainers and instructional designers without being directly responsible for them. It’s like having the fun parts of a management job without the icky parts.
Soup: Other than your parents, who was most influential in shaping the choices you made in your life?
I guess there were really so many people, really. Here are two:
First was Louis Taylor, the stepfather of two of my best friends in high school. Louis was stable, impossible to rile, and funny with a very dry humor. I never realized how much he influenced me until his funeral. Then it was too late to say thanks to him, but his wife appreciated it when I told her.
Second, there is Robert Heinlein. Now I never met the man, and I doubt he would have given me the time of day. I was anti-war and against the military/industrial complex—you might say the anti-Heinlein. So, how could he be my mentor? I read all of his books, many of them more than once. His values regarding service, self-reliance, and intelligence permeate his writing. Some of my earliest concepts of spirituality, self-worth, and discipline could be described as “Heinlein quotes.” To this day, I find he influences me, and I know he influenced Trackgrease. Anyone who know the word grok knows what I mean.
Salad: Other than your children or siblings, whose life have you influenced most?
I really don’t know. I’ve tried to lead by example and to be open to question. I’m sure I have, but I don’t want to grab the credit for anyone else’s achievement (or the blame if they followed my lead and it didn’t work out for them).
Entré: What is your favorite experience as a mentor or mentee?
I love “watching the lights come on.” I get a real thrill watching someone wrestle with a concept or problem and find their own solution.
Dessert: Do you have to know someone personally for that person to be your mentor? Please explain your position.
Since I claimed Robert Heinlein as a mentor, no, I don’t. I think all writers are mentors of people they don’t know, especially if they take the time to answer their fan mail. Teachers are also mentors. And although they usually know their mentees at least causally, they may not. Trainers in industry don’t always have the luxury of knowing the people they train, sometime hundreds at a time. Neither to university professors. But in the end, mentoring is a relationship. It works best when you can have a cup of coffee—or an occassional beer—together.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pick of the Picks

Beccano gave me this super-awesome guitar pick made from a peso. I’m told it is like the one Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top uses. The shape is perfect, and it plays with surprising speed and accuracy.

Check it out at Peso Picks.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Still More Music

I didn't get any pictures of the kids at church, so I'm recycling a picture from the Triskelion gig last month

Sunday was the annual youth service at church. It was all positive, focusing on service at all levels but starting with random acts of kindness. There were fewer partially thought-through ideas than last year, but the best part was the music. A cover of imagine made Suna get all weepy. There were a few other really good songs, too.

So this week am again grateful for music and for the passing of the torch. I find that music is in good hands with this next generation. I just wish I knew how to mentor them better. But to do that, I would have had to have accomplished something with my music. Maybe it’s not too late for that. Probably, but maybe not.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

JT and the Quartertones

Suna dances and says, “Let’s go listen to some music!” in her new nearly-completed sweater.

Tonight is the midpoint between Suna’s birthday and mine. To celebrate, we went to see Jeff’s new band play at cafe segovia. I guess they spell it in all lower case in a misguided attempt to be trendy.

To me there is nothing trendy about good food, and the food there is superlative. It is Spanish rather than Mexican or TexMex. Suna and Parker had a beef stew seasoned with a hint of cinnamon. I had a suckling pig that was cooked to succulent moistness if a little under seasoned. I guess the chef wanted to let the natural flavor of the little piggy carry the day, and it was almost up to the task. Beccano had a rib eye, which he consumed in it’s entirety.

But the culinary star of the evening was the vegetables. They were fresh and crisp. They were also seasoned to perfection. I have never eaten veggies before that I preferred to a tasty entré. Mmmmmmmmm.

I said culinary star because Suna chose the restaurant because of the entertainment. Jeff’s new band had their debut performance. I’ve heard Jeff play around the house, so I knew he is a hot picker. I’ve heard him at a couple of singer songwriter gigs, including our wedding, so I knew he could fulfill both halves of that category. But this was the first time I’ve heard him rock.

The band did a mix of classic covers and originals. My favorite of the first set was a long medley based on “Pretty Woman.&rquo; Parker on Beccano both enjoyed “Sultans of Swing.” And I liked the originals, too.

We didn’t get to stay for the second set because we had to get the kids home. That was disappointing, but it was also a good excuse to drag this tired old butt to bed.

Go see JT and the Quartertones play at a venue near you if you get the chance.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Coleus Garden

A variegated ginger, several coleus, and some hypoestes—more images on Facebook

I decided to plant a bunch of coleus in the shade garden I built last fall. The shade garden is on the west-y side of the house. It is shaded by our house, the neighbor’s house and the huge oak that attacks the house and will eventually have to come down. When that happens, the fence will still provide shade from that direction.

So Suna and I made a trek to Round Rock Gardens today to stock up on all the varieties of coleus the have in stock.

  • Black Dragon (I think we got one of these to overwinter, too.)
  • Festive Dance
  • Oxblood
  • Wizard Jade
  • Wizard Scarlet
The wildflower bed is filling in nicely.

To that I added the plants we got to overwinter in the kitchen window. Sometime I want to build a greenhouse so we don’t have to keep replacing these wonderful shade-and-heat-tolerant plants.

Suna had the great idea to anchor the beds with some Ginger. The stripey leaves go well with the coleus, and all the colors complement.She also suggested planting the Hypoestes at the front of the beds. I chose the Rose SplashTM Select variety with pink in the leaves because it’s was between the red and white in the coleus.

The shade garden also smells very good. Part of the bark mulch came from shredding our Yule tree.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Food for Thought #7: Weekend Edition

Photo source: WGTE

Maybe I’ve been asking questions that are too tough lately. I wanted to provoke thoughtful answers, but I also want my readers to be happy and participate. So this week, I’m lightening things up a tad. I’ll put off asking the hard questions a while, even given the example of our previous administration.

Here’s this week’s menu:

Appetizer: When it comes to the weekend, do they usually measure up to your expectations?
Yes, because I try to set such low expectations. If I get a couple of things done around the house and have a couple of nice dinners with the family, I’m happy.
Soup: What good thing happened this week that you were not expecting?
When I wrote this question earlier this week, I didn’t think it would be such a stumper. I think I’m going to have to go with the Dixieland-ish performance at FRED. It was more fun than I expected, and we didn’t suck nearly as bad as I had feared. The audience seemed appreciative. Suna and I even were treated to some very good crockpot “bar-b-que.”
Salad: If one end of a scale is, “I like to have every second of my day planned and executed according to that plan” and the other end is “I like to take life as it comes, completely spontaneously,” where do you fit?
I’m somewhere in the middde. I like to have a plan, but I don’t panic if the plan falls apart. I also like to have some degree of spontaneity in my life. I would like to be able to wake up one Saturday morning and say, “Let’s go to Fredericksburg today and buy peaches”—then do it.
Entré: Do things just happen, or do we control what happens in our lives?
I tend to have an internal locus of control. I am more likely to believe I have some degree of control not only over what happens to me but, more specifically, how I react to it. This belief is at the core of my practice of focused intent and controlled folly. Still, there are things that happen that are beyond my ability to control, or sometimes even understand.
Dessert: What are your plans, if any, for the weekend.
Suna and I are planning to have a nice birthday dinner. This weekend falls between our birthdays. I also hope to get a shade garden planted in front of the fence on the right side of the house. Then there is a benefit for a musician friend of ours who had all of his equipment stolen from his truck.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sunset and Concert

Beccano enjoys an awesome sunset.

Tonight, Beccano pointed out the most awesome sunset, but I didn’t get the camera out in time to get the best pictures. The three of us walked around outside appreciating nature at her prettiest. Beccano danced in the street—literally.

Then we went to Junior’s in downtown Round Rock to hear a band that features Parker’s dad’s guitar teacher. They did a short set outdoors in the cold. I wish I had found out their name. Sigh.

I really enjoyed the R&B stuff they did, once they turned down the vocalist’s mic enough that he hardly clipped at all. He had a good voice when the PA wasn’t cutting out.

The guitar player was very good at his style, but the cold interfered with his playing a bit. He was really good at making his mistakes look and sound intentional.

The bass player was rock solid and had a good sound. He played a Schecter 5-string that played really nice. The neck was not humongous as the Fender’s I’ve played. And the body was very light.

But my favorite was the keyboard player. She was awesome—clean, fast, and funky. I wish I knew enough about playing keys to describe it better.

Weekend Update—Not SNL

Buddy and Rose often have head-on collisions at the doggy door.

I got to work in the garden a bit this weekend. I also had some time to myself. I tremendously enjoyed both.

Then yesterday, I played in the Dixieland-ish band at church, and the people seemed to genuinely enjoy it. We stayed late for a Music Committee meeting, which I think went really well.

Last night, I put together a cheap stand so the bird can move up to the media room and rejoin the family. I’ve missed that bird since we started using our portables in the media room so I could transform the old office into a music room. (That hasn't even really got started yet, but it will.)

As I was walking around campus today, I saw a fat pigeon go after a bug only to get picked off by a hawk. I wondered if the insect were aware of the pigeon’s fate, would it see the incident as divine intervention or a lucky coincidence.

So that is what I am grateful for this week: life in all its permutations, varieties, and plot twists.

Life is what we make it. Let’s choose to make it good.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Gardening Update

Suna made this on her desktop image.

I wanted to catch up on the state of the garden this first day of March. Here is a teaser. I put more pictures up in a Facebook album.

The blue pansies to the right are in the front bed. I took the picture by holding the camera at ground level and snapping. Thank goodness for autofocus.

The flowers to the left are some of the wildflowers I planted last Fall. This patch did better than the others, some of which never came up at all. Hopefully, this one will fill ne more next year.