Friday, October 31, 2008

Senior Recognition Night

Two of the seniors whose names were called for Senior Night—most dressed up for Halloween.

The band seems very injury prone tonight—sort of like a football team. One kid showed up with a sprained ankle that the RN had to tape. Another had a bum knee. And yet another tripped and hit his head against a fence. He jumped up again really fast—I guess to avoid embarrassment—only to pass out. He seems to be OK, at least well enough to play with the band at half time.

Halloween seems to have kept most of the usual suspects home, even though it’s Senior Recognition Night. I’m posting a bunch of band pix on a Facebook album.

The kids all seem to have had fun, dancing and yelling. The drum line and cheerleaders even set up an improvised nosh pit after halftime. And it was fun listening to the director bantering with the kids as the game clock wound down.

McNeil even won. As Suna put it, “They sucked worse than we did.” Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this team a decent coach wouldn’t fix. Put one on my Christmas wish list.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: Any Given Doomsday

Buy the book on Amazon. Handeland, Lori (2008). Any Given Doomsday. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks. Photo source: Amazon

Any Given Doomsday is an urban fantasy novel about an ex-cop turned bartender named Elizabeth Phoenix, who is also a psychic. This is the first novel in a series to be called The Phoenix Chronicles. (A scene from the next book is even included as a teaser.) “Chronicles” seems to be the current word in fantasy to indicate a series.

The book is a fairly quick read, and it held my interest. While it did not keep me up nights reading, I wanted to pick it back up every time I laid it down. Even so, the style is distracting. It reads more like a 1940s private investigation novel. It’s a lot like reading an old Mike Hammer novel—but with vampires, werewolves, magic, and lots of graphic, gratituitous (if not very erotic) sex.

In short, Doomsday is a good book to pass a few hours with. It’s not high art, but it doesn’t pretend to be. This book does not take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. Just relax and enjoy the ride—if you can.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Uninsured and Unacceptable

Nonelderly Adult Uninsured Workers by Firm Size, 2006
This chart shows that even larger employers are not providing health care for their employees. Small employers just can’t afford to do so.

Source: Cover the Unisured

Texans without Insurance” is a really scary story. It is also why I urge everyone to vote against John McCain this election. The Republican health care initiative will only exacerbate the current situation.

According to the article, two-thirds of people without insurance in Texas also work. This number includes both Suna and I. Finding insurance as a contractor that costs less than a catastrophic illness is a daunting task. The Republicans just don’t get it.

Marching Bands Galore

McNeil 2008 Marching Season T-shirt

So this weekend was jammed packed full of all the music in the world.

Friday night was the high school football game. We were the visitors. So I didn’t get to hear or see the band very well. We met the grandfather of one of the other Tubas. He went to the home side to watch and listen to the half-time show while the other chaperons and I cleaned up after the kids. I’m glad he had a chance to see his grandson play.

Saturday was the UIL Regional competition. Thirty-one 5A bands competed for six slots to go to State. McNeil placed dead in the middle and went home before the finals. Once again, I took too many pictures to do anything with. But because it was daylight, I think most of them will be pretty good quality (I haven’t looked at them yet). Anyway, the bands were good.

I didn’t add any pictures of this band to the Facebook album for the competition.

The most amusing was one that based their show on cars and traffic. It included a traffic jam where the drill team and other parts of the band kept getting in the way of marchers with cars. It also had a gas pump with prices that kept going up and up until one of the members fell over. An ambulance came rushing up. They performed CPR. Then they carefully laid their instruments in a stretcher and carried it off to the sidelines, leaving the “unconscious” band member laying by the pump. At some point he got up and started marching again, but my attention was fixed on the instrument stretcher.

Sunday, the choir sang “Sweet Day,” a really nice Baroque (?) piece at a service on preparing to die. Most of the rest of the music used in the service consisted of the songs from Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? that I really dislike. The guest lecturer was a retired professor who talked over the heads of most of the congregation and droned on for way too long.

Ms. T enjoyed watching the Festival of the Bands despite being cold. More photos are in the Facebook album for the festival.

And tonight is the ninth annual Festival of the Bands, a showcase of all the marching bands in RRISD. Even the middle school bands participate, so we get a preview of the talent in the pipeline. This year, that pipeline looks pretty good. Of course, the high school bands are at a near-professional level by this time of year—even if those that are not going to State are starting to unwind. The only drawback was the cold front that blew in today. It was cold in the stands.

So today I am grateful for a life filled with music. If I can remember where, I think I’ll even buy the DVD of Saturday’s performance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oops! Wrong Color

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Yesterday ended and today started poorly. Suna didn’t sleep last night worrying about the house getting painted the wrong color, in spite of my saying repeatedly that we would get it fixed. The way the world works, we are extremely lucky to be this far into the project before the first miscommunication happened.

And I take ownership of this one. She told me what color she wanted the house, but I got confused when we only picked out two colors. That was because she didn’t realize we were painting the body of the house as well as the fascia, sophets, and trim. Sigh.

The contractor was very nice and volunteered to eat part of the cost of repainting since he was involved in the miscommunication—even though I had already told him it wasn’t his fault. He even said it wouldn’t throw us that far off schedule. He will pick up more paint and have it fixed by the time we get home from work tomorrow.

The fascia looks good…better when it’s painted

I guess it’s part of getting older. I make more mistakes than I used to. Or maybe I’m just more willing to admit them.

While we were talking about the paint, he also pointed out that one of the vent caps on the house was missing. I guess it blew off in one of the storms. We hadn’t noticed because you can’t see it unless you are standing in the neighbor’s driveway looking at the chimney. At least we know how the squirrels were getting into the attic.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Work Can Be a Pain—Literally

This is how my neck has been feeling by the end of the day.

Photo source: Juvenile Brain Trust

I think that both of my readers have noticed an increase in the number of typos in my recent posts and that they are running late. As you might have guessed from what I’ve been writing about, I have been busy as all getout lately. Not much time for blogging, and when I have been home to blog, I have been in pain and not felt like touching a keyboard. 

Luckily, my iPhone has enabled me to do a bit of catching up during lulls at other activities. Then it doesn’t take a whole lot to clean up the posts to a point where I feel comfortable publishing them when I eventually get to them. As I am writing this, there are three prior posts in the queue waiting to be cleaned up.

So the busy explains the delay, and the iPhone explains how I have been able to post at all. Now I’ll explain the pain.

I love my new job and my new cubicle. The desk is one of the most comfortable I have ever used. The problem I have is that the computer at my new cubicle is not designed for people who wear bifocals. It is sleek and sexy, but hardly ergonomic—no way to adjust the height of the integrated display, which is fixed at about six inches above the desk surface. It does tilt a bit, but that still leaves me tilting my head back to see the upper two-thirds of the display. And I have had to sit like that for hours on end—one of the pitfalls of writing for a living.

The constant pain has been making me very grumpy. Suna has thought that I have been upset with her, but I have not. I’ve just been hurting. When I woke up yesterday, I couldn’t move without whining until I stood in the hot shower for a half hour.

When I came in this morning, the guys from facilities had already lowered my desk the two inches suggested by an ergonomic survey. That’s a bit low for comfortable typing, but I can see the whole display by moving my head minimally. And I think that much motion is good for my neck.

I feel better after only one day. Maybe the old me will be back soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What’s in a Dining Room?

The Pile

Suna was relieved recently when we turned the dining room back into a dining room for a church get-together. Alas, that is no more.

Tonight the boys and I took everything off the walls and stacked the furniture in the center of the room. Why? It’s all part of the remodeling project.

Since I am afraid of heights, I don’t feel comfortable painting the high walls in the entry hall and dining room. They are way up there. I don’t even own a latter tall enough to reach the top.

So we made ready for the contractors. It was fun working with the boys—even if they didn’t think so. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TrackGrease Contacted


Photo by:

After playing phone tag for several weeks, I finally got to have a nice conversation with TrackGrease. He is working as a software tester at a company that makes games for the Wii, among other products. Since there is an undisclosed new product—luckily he and I both understand and honor NDAs—in the next few days, he has been in crunch mode, working in excess of 70 hours a week for the last few months.

He seems happy to have parted ways with the leather company. I think he’s finding out that there is more money to be made and more fun to be had in areas other than retail management. Granted, he’s contracting now—so he has no benefits—but there is an opportunity that his gig will become more permanent. At least working with the software engineers—he calls them “officers”—he’s learning that a degree can make the difference. He is planning to go back to school under the Hazelwood Act—a Texas law that covers all expenses for veterans who want an education. That is in addition to his GI benefits.

He and his SO are planning to marry in March, and he is going to try to make it here for the big day in November. He said he also wants to visit before then so that we can just hang out. That would be nice.

It is so wonderful to hear him being happy and planning for the future.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Grateful Monday

Suna and I are extatic that the work has begun.

The contractors showed up and started work. Granted there were a few frantic phone calls when their compressor didn’t start. They thought that the power was tripped on the GFI circuits outside. But it turns out that the compressor was already fully charged. So it didn’t turn on because it didn’t need to.

They worked until it was almost fully dark outside putting up trim and hardyboard. The house looks better already, and they only have done one side—and that side isn’t visible from the street.

So today I am grateful that we have finally got everything together and they have started work.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hands on Housing

No larger image available.
The Happy Homeowners

Photo by: Jon Montgomery

Yesterday while Suna took the kids to the UIL competition, more than 100 volunteers and I participated in Hands on Housing (HoH)—a project of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries (AAIM).

Twice each year, AAIM organizes a massive number of volunteers to repair up to 35 substandard homes. Beneficiaries are typically elderly persons who own their homes but who are financially unable to maintain them. Often, physical handicaps prevent the beneficiaries from helping on the projects, but the beneficiary from the Spring project was among the volunteers on Saturday. This time we worked on two houses in the same neighborhood.

We do a lot of what both Presidential candidates would call, “putting lipstick on a pig,” but the beneficiaries appreciate any improvement. Besides, the lipstick will probably last as long as many of them do, even if we don’t or can’t fix the underlying problems.

More than 100 people helped. These are some of them. I’m in the red hat, helping hold up the Live Oak banner.

Photo by: Jon Montgomery

Among the projects I helped with are:

  • Putting siding and trim on the back of one of the houses
  • Covering up a water-damaged ceiling on the front porch of the other house
  • Putting 1x4 trim in one kitchen to inconvenience the rodents that had eaten through the walls
  • Rebuilding and hanging a weather-damaged door

And as proof that no good deed goes unpunished:

  • I gave my knee a good twist, and it bothered me most of the evening.
  • Rev. Kathleen’s car was rear-ended, incurring fairly significant damage.
  • I know of a couple of other minor injuries.

I only hope that the combination of these negative occurrences with good intentions pays double on any karmic debt we have or will accrue.

28 October Update: If you’re interested in more pictures of the even. Jon posted some on Picasa.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Banking Weirdness

The peak above the entry shows some of the deferred maintence we will be taking care of with this project.

Suna and I have decided to do some much needed maintenance to the house. We’re going to replace all the exterior trim with hardy plank, put up new gutters. Replace one of the front flower beds with a brick patio. Paint the tall walls in the front entry way.

This flowerbed will be ripped out and replaced with a brick patio. That way we can enjoy being outside when the weather permits without being eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

I went to the bank to talk about borrowing against a couple of CDs. Imagine my surprise when I found out that my existing unsecured line of credit has a lower interest rate than a secured, fixed term loan. I just don’t understand modern banking. But at least there isn’t any additional paperwork to fill out. We also signed the contract with the contractor who is going to do the work. They will start having material delivered on Monday and should be finished well before the wedding.

I’ll keep you advised of how it goes, gentle reader, as I spend the net of my fruit company contract.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Check’s in the Bank

Another photo from my trip home to see Dad.

Well, I don’t have a lot to talk about.

I finally got my first chef from the fruit company put in the bank. After all the trouble I had getting the check in the bank, it was such a relief to finally get it deposited. But then I couldn’t find the record of the deposit online. It eventually showed up. I just couldn’t find it because the pending amount didn’t show up in the balance on the summary screen as it normally does—probably because of the bank holiday.

So, I am grateful that I eventually found it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

20th USSBA Marching Band Competition

This over-the-shoulder shot shows how well the kids can behave on the bus.

Today we are heading into the wild lands of northern Hays county, just outside of Buda, for a marching contest. The band squoze onto five buses for the trip.

Taft High School Marching Band

Everyone practiced for an hour before checking out their uniforms, eating a bite, and boarding the buses. Percussion rehearsed for an additional hour plus before that. I worry that they—especially the percussion director—may be pushing the kids too hard right before the competition. I know Suna was worried about Beccano being out in the sun for that long.

But at least they are quite on the bus. (I’m starting this on the ride down.)

Taft HS did a very pretty/difficult performance called The Forgotten People, complete with Mayan props and Native American percussion. I really enjoied the visuals. Me—the guy who listens to the marching bands and ignores that marching stuff.

Maverick Color Guard Tosses Flags

We followed them with our rather uninspired choreography and arrangements. Our director seems to have something against the audience enjoying the show. I certainly don’t see how they can win anything with this show.

Maverick Pit and Tubas

OK. I stand corrected. The kids played awesome. They made these tepid arrangements come alive. I didn’t even recognize it as being the. Same performance as they played Thursday. I am so impressed! The dynamics were better than ever, and tuning was impeccable. They ended up third of five in their division and were awarded the best percussion section. Go, Beccano!

LBJ’s Dancer

LBJ HS, who followed us had a balletino. He was spectacular until he lost a shoe. But he recovered well and rejoined the color guard smoothly.

Weslaco Marching Band

The most impressive band of the evening—and I hate to say it wasn’t ours—played last and drove the farthest—all the way from the valley. Weslaco was musically impressive, and their marching was completely entertaining. They didn’t double-time; they ran full speed in some of their maneuvers. They danced. They swayed. They ran some more. And they did all this while playing some difficult charts. All this entertainment out of a small band from a city of about 26,000 people!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday’s Famine

This picture captures my mood for much of the day.

This week was even busier than last week. There has been no shortage of things to keep me busy at work. The hard part has been convincing people that what I do takes time. PowerPoint presentations don’t become web pages instantaneously, as if by magic. Especially when they are made in an application that is like PowerPoint but doesn’t like being on the web.

But at least I like the people, and they seem to like me.

The big problem this week came when my check didn’t show up today. The guy handing them out didn’t have a clue, and admin didn’t get back from lunch when he thought she should. But when she did, she dove right in and started working dilligently to solve the problem. She kept at it until she found out it had been mailed because I’m on a new project code that nobody recognized as belonging to the Fruit Company. I owe her a box of thank you chocolates. I’ll get them as soon as I can get my check in the bank on Monday.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Dad Hates Smell Apples. Did I Tell You That?

Dad shows off his smell apple pulling skills. Not bad for 85!

Well the politicos in Washington have figured out a way to give more money to the corrupt in the name of saving the country from the greedy, corrupt, nasty, idiots who have been running things since Reagan gave them a license to steal (my Dad’s phrase even if it is an Al Stewart song, but I agree). I just can’t go on with how angry I am right now, and more angry that both Presidential candidates backed the theft. So much for change and hope.

Speaking of Dad, I went to see him again this weekend. It’s very irritating to listen to him go on and on about the state of the country—especially since he’s right. Most irritating is when he starts reminding me that he won’t be around that much longer—again because he’s right. I will really miss him irritating me then.

So for today, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to have him around this long. I hope to be able to be irritated by him for decades more.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Saturday Update

I didn’t have any pictures of the game, so I added this playful picture later.

It has been a wild week. I have been so busy at the new contract that I haven’t had time to either blog or keep up with my blog lurking. That’s good. I like being busy, and I’ve been doing work I like doing—creating a web interface for a training department.

I have been so busy creating a web structure that I haven’t had much time to focus on instructional design. But I hope that will come later, once the structure is up and stable.

In other news, last night the Mavericks unexpectedly won a football game. It was close, and they had many opportunities to blow it. But they didn’t. It almost made up for the butt-kicking they took last week when they only scored a safety while the other team racked up almost fifty points.

On the ride home, the kids all sang some incomprehensible song at the top of their lungs. Suna told me they were singing their parts of the fight song. I didn’t recognize it as such.

Anyway, now I’m off to see my Dad.