Sunday, July 19, 2009

24 hours before the 40th anniversary of man's first steps on another world

Here's the list, straight from Wikipedia of the only men to walk on the Moon:

Name Mission EVA dates
1 Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 July 20, 1969
2 Buzz Aldrin
3 Pete Conrad Apollo 12 November 19-20, 1969
4 Alan Bean
5 Alan Shepard Apollo 14 February 5-6, 1971
6 Edgar Mitchell
7 David Scott Apollo 15 July 31–August 2, 1971
8 James Irwin
9 John W. Young Apollo 16 April 21-23, 1972
10 Charles Duke
11 Eugene Cernan Apollo 17 December 11-14, 1972
12 Harrison Schmitt

Since December 14, 1972 -- nearly 37 years ago -- no man or woman from any nation has set foot on the Lunar surface. In fact, no one has left low Earth orbit in that time.

We've accomplished much in the last 40 years: We have personal computers far more sophisticated than the computers available to our lunar astronauts. We have HDTV and blogs and and Facebook and Tweeter and energy drinks. We have microwave ovens. We have an African-American in the White House. We've had two women, and will soon have a third, on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But in this singularly important regard, we've accomplished nothing.

Not a particularly happy anniversary so far as I'm concerned.

If you've read this far, you may also be interested in this essay, Space: Is the final frontier all it used to be? by AP Writer Ted Anthony. An excerpt:
"At the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken, and unrestraint is triumphant." So said Frederick Jackson Turner, the 19th-century historian whose ideas showed Americans how important their frontier experience was to them.

"I wanted to be a spaceman — that's what I wanted to be. But now that I am a spaceman, nobody cares about me." So sang Harry Nilsson, the musician who in 1972 channeled the changing feelings about space exploration in this country.

Today, somewhere between those two absurdly different ideas, sits America's attitude about space.
America needs its attitude toward space exploration adjusted -- or it will be left in the dustbin of history by more vigorous Asian cultures.

A visitor to the past

Click to enlarge. (Stumbled upon at this location.)

I found this a while back and I've been saving it for an appropriate moment -- such as the ongoing 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight.

This would be even funnier if it weren't so darn true.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Are men becoming obsolete? -- or -- Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,788

I stumbled across this cartoon awhile back at a webcomic called Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and thought it was kind of funny:

(You'll want to click to enlarge this one.)

I didn't realize it was cutting-edge science.

But what do I find whilst making my morning survey of the news but this article on ABC News by Radha Chitale: Entitled, "Will Chromosome Y Go Bye-Bye?" with an equally frightening (for me, anyway) subhead, "Is the End of Men Imminent?" the article discusses a new study that suggests that the Y Chromosome is rapidly deteriorating and may disappear entirely... at least within the new few millennia (whew!).

Not all scientists agree, of course. The article quotes Dr. David Page, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- a male, oddly enough -- who insisted, "The idea that the Y chromosome has just bailed out of an airplane without a parachute simply doesn't fit the facts." An additional excerpt:
But the Y chromosome, which once contained as many genes as the X chromosome, has deteriorated over time and now contains less than 80 functional genes compared to its partner, which contains more than 1,000 genes.
You can fill in your own jokes about which is the truly weaker sex. Or if we must become obsolete, we should go out with a bang -- no -- wait -- you'll jeopardize my PG rating if you keep thinking along these lines!

A new Sox vs. Cubs comparison

Couldn't leave All Star Week without this one:

Shortly after this Reuters photo was taken, my phone rang. It was my friend Steve.

"I know you don't always agree with the guy," he began, "but, you have to admit, it's pretty freakin' cool to see the President of the United States pop out of the dugout wearing a White Sox jacket to throw out the first pitch in the All Star Game."

I agreed. Long Suffering Spouse and I were just saying the same thing, I told him.

The White Sox have the President of the United States as their First Fan.

The Cubs have...

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. That link will take you to the copyrighted photo by Jeffrey C. Johnson; this copy obtained, with Mr. Johnson's kind permission, from Flickr.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Older Daughter's wedding, the Moon landing, and advice for Mr. Obama

We've been rehashing my daughter's wedding this week here at Second Effort, and I've told a few long-winded stories already, and I hope to spin a few more before (a) the topic is exhausted or (b) Oldest Son gets married next year, but for today I just want to focus on one scrap of conversation I picked up while hopping from table to table at the reception.

The conversation at this table had turned to the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Moon landing. My friend Steve observed that, if the opportunity presented itself, his 80-something father-in-law would climb on board a rocket in a minute. Steve's wife agreed, adding that she still resents being dragged into the den for every mission launch when she was a kid. "I can't stand to watch that stuff even today," she added with some emphasis.

I hadn't thought of this. President Kennedy inspired a whole generation of men and women to reach for the stars -- and some of these men and women turned their kids off to space forever by 'forcing' them to watch it on TV. Some of those one-time kids are running the country today.

I suppose it's human nature. People like to decide things for themselves. And kids in particular are not always inclined to share their parents' views. In fact, like Steve's wife, a lot of young people tend to rebel against things their parents think important.

The 40th anniversary of man's first lunar landing precedes by only a few months the 37th anniversary of man's last lunar landing. The first anniversary would be so much more meaningful if the second anniversary did not exist.

It's long past time to inspire a new generation. Mr. Obama has his hands full, of course, with the recession and other matters. He's been trying to "stimulate" the economy back into smooth operation with costly public works programs. But these tend to be highway projects or other infrastructure projects -- too long deferred, perhaps, but subject to criticism because they don't move us forward toward new, more energy-efficient modes of transportation or other, greener technologies.

And there's even some argument, among Mr. Obama's own supporters, as to whether the stimulus has worked. One of his long-time boosters, a Mr. Buffett of Omaha, Nebraska (you may have heard of him), has suggested that, in fact, a second stimulus package may be necessary.

I have just the thing. Mr. Obama can announce that we are going to colonize the Moon -- and land an expedition on Mars. He can even paraphrase President Kennedy's September 12, 1962 speech at Rice University in his announcement:
We choose to go to Mars before the end of the next decade and do the other things, like colonizing the Moon, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too...Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there." Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Photo obtained from Yahoo! News; Mr. Kennedy's actual Rice University speech is quoted in this Wikipedia article.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Curmudgeon flies around the country but not off the handle

I don’t know why anyone voluntarily takes a scheduled commercial flight in the United States.

I had the privilege of traveling to South Florida on Wednesday, arriving at O’Hare in a pre-dawn rain shower for a flight to Ft. Lauderdale. From Ft. Lauderdale I would rent a car and drive up to West Palm Beach. I realize that there is an airport there, too, but, after consulting schedule after website schedule, it was obvious that I could not get into that airport directly and back to Chicago in a single day.

Part of the problem was the timing of the deposition: The witness insisted on a late afternoon start.

But the day started out well enough – if you don’t count my spilling coffee all over myself in the car on the way to the airport. It was a beige shirt to begin with – but entirely inadequate to cover the evidence of my sloppiness.

Anyone still harboring the notion that air travel is romantic or glamorous has been in a coma since 2001. Today air travel is a joyless shuffle from one line to the next. One can prepare for it to some extent – I put my driver’s license in a shirt pocket this morning; I left the house with my shoes untied. But I still had to bring a laptop, and I still had to peel it out of its case. I needed three bins at the airport security check-in – and some time to put myself back together when I had successfully run the gauntlet.

The next two lines were for boarding – first a line to get on, and thereafter a line to get into one’s seat. On two of my three flights yesterday, I had the distinct privilege of sitting in the middle. Sitting in the middle seat on a crowded plane might be used – instead of jail time – as an effective punishment for minor, nonviolent offenses.

The lines inside the plane are caused by people trying to hoist “carry-on” luggage into the overhead bins. Carry-on luggage seems to consist of giant, lumpy blocks of granite. In theory, these should stack like Lego bricks; in practice, stuffed with who-knows-what, they constitute a hazard to anyone who sits beneath the opening and a hernia-risk to anyone who tries to loft one.

Flight attendants must be among the strongest people, pound for pound, because they are so often called upon to assist in lifting and rearranging these “carry-on” bags.

No one actually puts their carry-on by their seat. No matter where you actually sit on a plane, the bin above you is full when you arrive. I’m always in the last group to board, so I can’t prove it, but I believe this must hold true even for the first ones on the plane. You’d think the airlines would be suspicious of carry-ons that are never carried off.

But shed no tears for the airline industry. I’d thought they were in dire peril before the economy crashed – but, yesterday, I rode on two planes that were filled entirely. My third flight late last night, home to Chicago, wasn’t entirely full, but it was nearly so. Years ago, I’d been on flights where I had the row to myself; this apparently doesn’t happen anymore.

And while lines are cheerless, joyless things that must be endured, the people in them are not always sour or mean. Even the TSA agents I encountered yesterday were polite and not overly officious. Straggling out of my flight from Ft. Lauderdale, trying to find my gate in Charlotte for the Chicago leg of my journey, I asked a U.S. Air employee for help. He wasn’t actually working that counter, he told me, and I apologized for bothering him – and began to walk away. He stopped me. He could sign into the system, he told me, and he stepped behind the counter and did so. In a minute he’d given me my location. This was unexpected courtesy.

Thus, I perceived a certain we’re-all-in-this-together spirit of shared suffering in air travel. But I still want someone to blame. Especially for sticking me in the middle seat on two of three flights.

Still, no matter how cramped I was, there was still an opportunity to learn. Yesterday, I learned where Dave Barry finds his annual Christmas gift lists. Let me explain. In the middle seat, I couldn’t reach my computer; I couldn’t reach my briefcase. After I finished the morning paper, I had no choice but to spend a happy hour or so with the Sky Mall catalog.

There were audio and video accessories aplenty. There are now as many add-ons for iPods and iPhones as there are uses for duct tape. There were a surprising number of spy devices: Cameras to monitor your home from the road. GPS devices you can conceal in your car and track the location of your child (or spouse) even while traveling. And there was a hat that supposedly repels insects (a bargain at $79.95) and a “travel adapter” useable in 150 countries (for only $34.95!).

But what really caught my eye was a full size suit of armor – perfect for the house – but probably a bad idea to wear at airport security. I was tempted – until I noticed that the catalog said “No Rush Deliveries.” I wanted it right away... or not at all.

And then there was the collection of garden statuary. I’ve never seen such variety. There were garden fairies and a seated St. Francis – complete with birds perching – but also a two foot tall Yeti. I would think that, if one was going to put a Yeti statue in the backyard, it should at least be seven feet tall. My favorite, though, was “The Zombie of Montclair Moors” Statute. The illustration shows the head, shoulders and arms of an undead gentleman seemingly clawing his way up from his grave. The catalog boasts that this statue is “[c]aptured in meticulous detail in quality designer resin” and “finished so realistically that you’ll swear you can hear him breathing.” And such a bargain: Only $89.95!

I thought this would make a unique surprise for Long Suffering Spouse – she's the avid gardener in the family -- especially if I planted it in the garden without telling her about it. But I gave up the plan when I saw the dreaded words: “No Rush Deliveries.”

Update: I found the illustration at the design toscano web site. In case you want one for your own backyard.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another obvious moment in animal science

The first animal domesticated by early man was the dog. Down the millennia, man has domesticated several other species.

Only one other species of animal has ever successfully domesticated another: Somewhere, thousands of years ago, cats domesticated humans.

Now science weighs in with entirely unnecessary proof. The link will take you to a July 13 article on The headline? "Cats Do Control Humans, Study Finds."

Somebody apparently spent money to determine that cat fanciers are entirely in the thrall of their so-called 'pets', responding automatically to meows or purrs that compel gullible humans to fulfill various feline needs. My only consolation, reading the article, is that the study apparently comes from the University of Sussex, making it unlikely that American tax dollars were wasted in arriving at this head-slappingly obvious conclusion.

(No, the Curmudgeon family has no cats. We're "free range" humans.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Older Daughter's wedding -- part 2 -- getting there is no fun at all

I mentioned, last Thursday, that Youngest Son left with his oldest sibling for Indianapolis early, supposedly to help set up the apartment that Older Daughter and her husband-to-be had just rented -- but also (and not coincidentally) to get away from me and Long Suffering Spouse.

We were putting some heat on the boy because of his recent auto accident. We were told that the car was a total loss. I was spending office time looking at Blue Book values and Illinois salvage laws to see if maybe I could persuade the insurer differently. At this point in my life, I can't afford to buy a new car -- I know Detroit needs the money, but I just don't have it!

And I've always felt that buying a used car is just buying someone else's problems.

Anyway, the 'inside adjuster' at the insurance company was very nice -- and tolerant of my windy emails. She wrote me last Thursday that a total loss adjuster was to be assigned. She gave me his name and said I could peddle my fish with him. Only she was nice and didn't say 'peddle my fish'; in fact, she even copied me on the email she sent the total loss adjuster, informing him that I'd be out of the office Friday in anticipation of my daughter's wedding Saturday and asking if he couldn't possibly touch base with me before close of business Thursday.

I sat by the phone expectantly all day Thursday... but there was no call.

Friday morning, though, as we're loading up the family van and the rental with our luggage and other people's too (I'll come to that) the phone rings: It was the total loss adjuster. He'd seen the car and the write-ups and talked to the man running the shop -- and he felt the car could be fixed after all. There were some papers we'd need to sign to get the repairman started.

So the call was not timely, but it was welcome, and we didn't go that far out of our way to get the papers signed -- and the shop owner was only too happy to have everything ready for us to sign right away.

Now I mentioned that we were taking other people's luggage besides our own. We had a bunch of stuff that Older Daughter had left on the premises in her haste to depart on Wednesday -- stuff that she'd need for the wedding. So we had to bring that. And Youngest Son, in his haste to depart, had forgotten to pack a belt. And then my mother-in-law was flying to Indianapolis, so she asked if we'd take her suitcase so she didn't have to check it. Oldest Son's fiancee heard about these arrangements. She chose to fly, too, and left her bag with Oldest Son.

Oldest Son doesn't live with us -- but he found out this past week that (a) he has no insurance when he uses his company car for personal use and (b) he couldn't have it anyway. The person he shares the car with had commandeered the vehicle for the weekend.

Middle Son wanted to get a half day's work in at the baseball camp he'd been helping out at this summer. So we figured he'd drive the van, pick up his brother, and take the bulk of the luggage. Why the dresses alone filled up quite a chunk of the cargo space -- and the wedding dress was not among these; it was waiting for us in Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, Long Suffering Spouse and I and Younger Daughter set out in the rental. We beat the worst of the traffic, slowing through the Loop and the Spaghetti Bowl, but opening up fairly promptly by the time we reached the express lanes on the Dan Ryan. There's a lot of construction on I-65, but this weekend, at least, the lane closures and delays were all on the northbound side. It was while driving north, on Sunday afternoon, that we saw the topless biker chicks. But that's a story for another morning.

If you behave, that is.

Anyway, we left at 10:30am Chicago time and did not dawdle. We did check into the hotel -- five our six rooms were ready when we got there -- and we had to pick up the wedding dress from the local branch of the Somali pirate band to which it had been shipped. And there was about a 20 minute loss of time when I had to run out and buy a dress shirt to wear with my suit for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. (We all had to manage to forget something, didn't we?) I swear this caused no real loss of time because no one else was dressed before I was.

And yet, somehow, we were a good 30 minutes late for the scheduled 5:30pm rehearsal.

It was an inauspicious beginning to the wedding weekend... or it would have been without the news about the car.

Programming Note: No wedding stuff tomorrow because I'll be out of town for a deposition. Way out of town. In West Palm Beach, Florida, actually -- which shows you how dumb I am. What kind of lawyer gets backed into coming to Florida for a deposition in July? (Answer: One who's hard up against a discovery cut-off. I wasn't in the case in February... which would have been a much better time to schedule this thing.) I hope Bee won't be mad at me -- but this is truly a flying visit. I hope to be in and out in the course of the day without having to put up for the evening -- but it will, if it works, be a loooooong day.

Programming is in the pipeline for Wednesday morning. I make no promises about Thursday, though.

Heads or Tails #99 -- pile

In today's Heads or Tails, our mistress of ceremonies Barb asks us to write about "pile."

I tried, but failed to resist, the temptation to re-tell the old joke about the farmer up in the hills who never had any learning but wanted better for his boy. Maybe it will be new for someone:

The farmer was a proud man and he managed to conceal his inability to read from everyone -- but after his only son had been away for many years, and the stack of unopened letters from the boy had become quite substantial, the farmer found that his curiosity outweighed his pride. He confided in his preacher. The preacher took the letters in a bundle.

"You should be proud of your boy, Zeke," said the preacher when the old man opened the shack door a couple of days later. "The boy went and got himself a B.S. degree, then an M.S., and, just last year, a PhD." The old man didn't look too happy, so the preacher asked why.

"Well, Reverend," said the old man. "If he's happy I guess it's alright. But I had hoped he'd do better."

"What do you mean, Zeke?"

"Well, everybody knows what 'B.S.' is. I reckon 'M.S.' just means 'more of the same.' As for PhD, I expects that stands for 'pile it higher and deeper.'"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Older Daughter's wedding -- part 1 -- an overview

Older Daughter looked beautiful; I looked like a waiter. A rather over-stuffed waiter. On the plus side, I made $5 in tips before leaving the hotel.

It was raining Saturday in Indianapolis -- at times, it was pouring. Older Daughter, Younger Daughter and the rest of the bridal party were, nevertheless, determined to keep their hair and make-up appointments.

The Curmudgeon family took up residence for the weekend in a hotel not too far from either the church or the reception hall. It was a rather large hotel, in the middle of a shopping mall; there were comparatively few amenities, not even free coffee in the lobby.

Well, the coffee was free -- but the cups cost $2. And you had to use their cups.

I expect to fill in more of the details as the week goes on, but let's skip ahead to the ceremony itself.

The church was beautiful, and beautifully decorated. Either flowers are dirt cheap in central Indiana or the kids' florist made a mint. The bridal party was established in a library (after, of course, certain pictures were obtained). I found the groomsmen with the celebrant and the groom in an adjacent room. At my wedding, I'd been stuck in a little broom-closet-sized room across the altar from the Sacristy. Maybe one other person could come in at a time without it looking like a fraternity prank. But Saturday, my new son-in-law was in a common room suitable for formal dinners. Large formal dinners. Episcopalians really are different than us Fish-Eaters.

I bade the groom good afternoon and offered encouragement, then went to sit with my daughters and Long Suffering Spouse and her mother in the library. I didn't tell Long Suffering Spouse until this morning how close together the holding pens had been. "I would have been a nervous wreck if you'd told me," she said.

"Didn't you see how Barbara [a bridesmaid who's known the groom since childhood and was a member of that church] attacked that door every time someone went in or out?" I asked. "Nothing was going to happen."

Nor was it just Barbara who was policing the area. There were three ladies, a wedding coordinator and two assistants, who were stage managing everything. I called them the church nazis, which was not very polite, but does indicate, in an irreverent way, the martial ferocity with which they approached their coordinating duties.

One by one we were plucked from the library-slash-holding pen: Abuela went first, to be escorted to her seat, as if she'd only just arrived, by one my sons. Then Long Suffering Spouse was pulled out.

And what profound thoughts are exchanged at so important a moment? Older Daughter complained that her feet hurt already and confided that she felt like throwing up. One of the flower girls, my six-year old niece -- Older Daughter's godchild -- proceeded then to regale us with a tale of how she almost threw up at Chili's one time. Long Suffering Spouse did her best to change the subject, while she was there, but the conversation kept coming back to this.

Finally, it was time for the bridal party to go. It was a long processional (the Pachelbel Canon in D) so the bridesmaids were sent down the aisle at widely spaced intervals. Finally it was just the ring bearer and the flower girls and me and Older Daughter. Older Daughter and I were banished to one side by the church nazis lest anyone in a back pew catch a premature glimpse. We could see that the little kids were feeling nervous so we tried to catch their attention by tap dancing.

Well... it was more of a very simple shuffle. But it got the kids smiling and it broke the tension and even Older Daughter wasn't talking about throwing up any more.

Which was nice.

When we started down the aisle, and I began to see familiar faces, I admit that I choked up just a bit. I don't think I actually cried, but my eyes watered, and they must have matched the red vest I was wearing. Long Suffering Spouse told me later that Older Daughter looked so happy she was afraid her face would explode.

The ceremony was familiar... and unfamiliar. At many points, the ceremony tracked the Catholic liturgy -- but not at all.

And, in this church, apparently, when the Gospel is proclaimed, the celebrant leaves the sanctuary and marches down into the central aisle. They hadn't covered this at the rehearsal. I thought for a moment they'd gone on strike.

But the priest halted at the midpoint of the center aisle for the reading. At that point, turning to watch, I could see the clear windows in the vestibule -- and the water falling in sheets beyond.

By the end of the ceremony, however, the clouds had parted and it was sunny. Apparently my new in-laws have some serious clout.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Curmudgeon fails to click with wedding photog

Back in the days of Matthew Brady one could understand, perhaps, why a wedding photographer might take up a lot of time on the big day.

Of course, there was no insistence on getting thousands of photographs -- one would be attempted, if any at all.

Photos took a great deal of time to set up. And one had to remember to sit stock still throughout the long shutter exposure or ruin the shot.

Parents did not take pictures of their kids. At least, they didn't take pictures of their children while living: It was, at one time, fashionable to take a photograph of a dead child, as a memento for a stricken family.

But technology advanced. Film replaced glass negatives. Bulbs replaced stacked pans of exploding powder.

But wedding photographers continued to take up an inordinate amount of time at many weddings. Now multiple exposures could be obtained -- many poses -- posing with the bride's family -- posing with the groom's family -- posing with the bridesmaids -- posing with the groomsmen.

My friend Steve and I remember this story differently; perhaps we did something like this at more than one wedding. I seem to recall slipping Steve a double sawbuck at my wedding to give to the photographer to keep the guy from being too obnoxious. And I was paying him anyway! Steve remembers attempting the bribe; he doesn't remember me giving him the money.

The photographers, back when Long Suffering Spouse and I got hitched, made their real money by selling pictures to the guests. So they wanted lots of options from which prospective customers might choose. Lots and lots of options. Thus, the need for the occasional back-off-buster-type bribe.

Today, digital photography has all but replaced film. But wedding photographers are, if Older Daughter's upcoming wedding is representative, more obnoxious than ever.

Older Daughter's photographer supposedly wanted the happy couple and all the bridal party at the church for "thousands" of pictures 90 minutes before the service.

Long Suffering Spouse hit the roof on this one. In many cultures, it is considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other between the rehearsal dinner and the beginning of the ceremony. Older Daughter claimed never to have heard of this tradition. She fumed about stupid superstitions. My wife said she would boycott all pictures before the ceremony and -- moreover -- if Long Suffering Spouse's own mother got wind of this proposal, she'd almost certainly refuse to attend the wedding at all.

Older Daughter seems to have backed down on posing with the groom before the ceremony... but she's still issuing demands about how we must all be in place at least an hour before the scheduled start of the service for photographs.

Well, 60 is less than 90. So that's progress of a sort.

But can we be practical here? It's July -- it may not be stiflingly hot Saturday in Indianapolis, but only because its supposed to rain and storm. Humidity will not exceed 100%, but only because it can't. I'll be stuffed into a tuxedo with a vest for crying out loud. If we were to accede to these crazy demands the entire wedding party will all look like pitted-out dishrags by the time the actual ceremony begins.

When the ceremony concludes, I would gladly towel off and pose for a few pictures before heading off to the reception... and to the, ugh, cash bar. (How could they do this to me?)

I'm sure we'll reach some accommodation on the day itself, although at this point I'm ready to cuff the photographer-artiste about the head and shoulders.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Older Daughter's wedding approaches

Approaches, that is, like a stampeding herd of bison. Or is it lemmings?

We'll be off tomorrow to Indianapolis, where thunder, lightning and rain are forecast for the weekend.

I have begun, ever so tentatively, to think about what bottles I might bring. In the meantime I was amazed to observe this morning in our living room a stack of boxes and bags ready to be packed into the van. There's the ring pillow that Long Suffering Spouse made from scraps of the wedding dress, of course, and the 200 artsy-craftsy flowers, the satin blooms also being made from dress scraps (it's a big dress) and already stuffed with birdseed. The groom's church, where the ceremony is to take place, does not allow rice to be thrown.

And there are all sorts of other things as well, packed and not yet packed. My mother-in-law is flying down. Her dress is going in the van. Oldest Son's fiance is also flying down. Her dress is going in the van, too, along with my wife's dress and Younger Daughter's. The giant bridal gown has already been shipped to Indianapolis, apparently in a C-47 cargo plane chartered for the occasion. It is -- I am assured -- a really big dress.

For what it cost, the dress should have been large enough to cover the nakedness of the entire assembled congregation.

Youngest Son is already in Indianapolis, ostensibly to help his sister and her husband-to-be set up their newly-rented apartment. By newly-rented I mean they signed the lease last week. No sense in waiting to the last minute....

Long Suffering Spouse remarked last night that Youngest Son would likely be bored to tears in Indy, waiting for the rest of us to arrive. It occurred to me, however, given Youngest Son's recent car calamity, that he might have been particularly eager to get out of Dodge. I voiced that suspicion to Middle Son -- who looked at me and smiled in surprise.

I actually figured something out!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Dolphins, arctic seals and a gasping Curmudgeon

I don't know why the marine allusions spring so readily to mind; I've only been in the vicinity of an actual ocean five times, and one of these was for a document inspection and another for a deposition.

Perhaps it stems from nearly 40 years of reading the National Geographic. Like the fictional George Bailey, I keep dreaming of places to which I might escape.

See, for years now, I've seen myself as a dolphin, swimming in the ocean, avoiding tuna nets, and looking for my opportunity to leap above the waves. It's my way of thinking about getting ahead -- getting all the bills paid on time, putting a little money aside, having enough left over to splurge on a new pair of shoes or getting my suits drycleaned.

The dolphin will fall back into the ocean quickly -- nothing good in this life lasts forever -- but there is always the chance that he'll be able to breach again.

In the last several years there have been so many times when I've reached the ocean surface, ready to leap heavenward, only to be pulled back at the last moment by an unforeseen contingency.

Actually, few of my contingencies can really qualify as "unforeseen." I run my life like a politician, focusing on keeping up appearances for my constituents while neglecting to maintain the infrastructure. Politicians have roads and bridges. I have brakes and air conditioners and tires and... well, lots of things.

And I shouldn't complain. Not this year. While the world is crumbling around me, I've been paying down my enormous credit card debt (a side effect of my 2007 brush with cancer) and, mostly, keeping current with everything new. I have two appeals due this month -- and I don't know how the heck I'll do either one -- but I'm hoping to muddle through somehow.

In the meantime, there are distractions aplenty. Older Daughter's wedding, which she and her fiance are largely handling themselves, has nevertheless cost me $5,000 so far -- most of it in dresses -- and also, arguably, one of the two family cars. But for her distraction with Wedding Frenzy, Long Suffering Spouse would never have let Youngest Son drive to school last week on his own... and he'd have never been tempted to take the car on an entirely unauthorized trip to a game about which we knew nothing... and he would never have been able to attempt an ill-advised left turn. Yes, that car is a total loss -- and I'm waiting by the phone this morning for word from the insurer.

And there were repairs to the surviving family vehicle, our van, a couple of thousand worth of work on the brakes and air conditioning." After recent events, I owned up to the fact that I could no longer defer new tires for the van either, and these were installed this week. That bill will arrive with the hotel bills for the wedding.

Everyone has problems, I know. But I take no comfort in the fact, if it is a fact, that your problems are currently greater than my own. (Conversely, if you're doing well, I am truly happy for you. I am.)

And things could be much worse for me, I know. Long Suffering Spouse has pointed out what a close thing it was for Youngest Son to escape serious injury in last week's crash. He did well to avoid being spun into a light pole. He might have been killed. His passengers might have been killed. Any of them might have been seriously injured. I am grateful they were not. But I must deal with what did happen, and that is problem enough right now.

I probably can't replace that car. Under Illinois law (which I've had to look up) I'm apparently not entitled to fix the car, even on a salvage title. By statute, as a total loss, the insurer becomes the owner. At best, if I attempt replacement, it would be from the proceeds of the total loss check... and that will buy something far short of a comparable vehicle, even in this depressed market. And, no matter what, if I buy a used car I buy someone else's troubles.

At this point, I'm supposed to be gearing up for Older Daughter's wedding (Saturday). But I'll be operating from a hotel room in a strange city, attending an unfamiliar church, a church to which I don't belong. Even if it's not exactly the case, I feel like the groom's family has taken over the entire affair. I have promised to relax and enjoy it anyway... but the easiest promises to break are those we make to ourselves.

And then, this morning, on my voice mail, I had a message from my sister Betty. She had two items of business. First, she won't need the hotel room we procured for her for Friday, only for Saturday. And, oh, by the way, her son, my nephew, has been arrested for aggravated battery. He's had mental health issues for years and my sister has been advocating with increasing desperation to have him placed in some sort of residential facility where he can get the treatment he so badly needs. He's going to hurt somebody some day, she's been telling anyone who would listen -- and quite a few who wouldn't. Now, apparently, she's been proved correct.

On days like today, the dolphin analogy just doesn't work. I'm more like an arctic seal, swimming under the ice, making widows and orphans out of the fish I can't quite catch. What's important for me is to remember where the air holes are in the ice, and not to let myself wander too far away. At the moment, I can't see where the next air hole is. Eventually, of course, I'll work through my self-pity and be entertaining again.

I hope.

Very early morning fun with numbers

I've scheduled this to post at 04:05:06 on 07/08/09.

Well, as close to 4:05 and six seconds as Blogger will let me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,787

Ziggy comic obtained from the Houston Chronicle website although
I saw it this morning --
in print -- in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Actually, if you pop bubblewrap, do you really need any other hobbies?

(See this page for some virtual bubblewrap; I previously linked to that site from this post.)

Heads or Tails #98 -- spin

In today's Heads or Tails, our meme-master Barb asks us to write about "spin."

I never completely understood how a needle riding through grooves of spinning vinyl (or, before that, wax -- thus, "stacks of golden wax") could somehow extract music and convey it to the stereo speakers. But I could see that a discontinuity across the spinning grooves (a scratch) could cause the needle to skip. I could look at an album and see where the music was and wasn't. I'm not saying I could see drum solos... although some people, I believe, could. The best I could do was put the needle down just at the start of a song... and sometimes, with practice, right at some other spot I most wanted to hear. I could see, when the playing surface was not level, how the needle would bounce. I could even fix that, sometimes, with a carefully taped dime on the tone arm, if it was flat enough. Of course, too much weight on the needle and the music was literally carved out of the grooves.

I know CDs spin; I can hear them whirring around in the disk drive. And scratches can sometimes fatally injure these, too, though not always. CDs go a lot faster, however, than the 33⅓ RPM of my old albums -- or even the 78 RPM records of my late father's original collection. Laser light is involved, somehow, so we can not watch the CDs spin and imagine the music being lifted from the surface. And the music doesn't come from the surface anyway, on a CD, it comes from beneath. From the underside. It is pulled out of the disk's... well, it's not the same as watching a record spin.

On my desk now, here at the Undisclosed Location, there sits an iPod dock. I put my iPod in the cradle in the morning and press "play." I hit "pause" when I answer the phone. I (usually) remember to take the iPod home with me at night. But nothing spins on the device, except for the search wheel. It's nice. But something's lost when you can't see the record spin.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Best laid plans may be totaled?

I posted twice last Tuesday, relatively promptly, and then settled into the gruesome business of my law practice.

The phone rang. It was a client calling with news about a response being filed to a sanctions motion I had recently filed. (I made an oblique, and hopefully indistinct reference to a draft of that motion in a prior post.) To no one's surprise, the response included a prayer for sanctions to be entered against me personally and my co-counsel. Ah, civility. (My motion, though it asked for many things, asked for nothing against the individual lawyers. But I should have known that would not protect me.)

And the best part was that my mail for the day had not yet arrived; I hadn't seen the papers yet. Something to look forward to, surely!

I spoke with Long Suffering Spouse around lunchtime, as is my longstanding custom, and I mentioned the pending receipt of the sanctions motion. While we were speaking, Youngest Son -- the one who's been licensed now for about two weeks -- asked permission to take the family's second car to school for a "team lift." I could hear this quite clearly through the phone. My wife gave her assent... going to and from school is exactly the kind of limited driving we want him to do at first... and off he went.

A couple of hours later I was on the phone with another client; the precise nature of the crisis escapes me now, but crises tend to bunch up before court holidays. When the other line rang, and I saw it was Youngest Son calling, I quickly put my client on hold -- just to tell the kid to hold on until I was done with this call.

"Don't put me on hold!" he shouted. "I've had an accident."

"WHAT?" I did put him on hold, long enough to blow off my client, and jumped back on. "Does your mother know? Where are you? What happened?"

Yes, the objection to multiple questions was clearly in order here.

Somehow the boy had decided his limited permission to go to school for a "team lift" could be extended to his driving multiple teammates to a summer league game in a different suburb -- this despite the fact that it is against a newly-enacted Illinois law for a newly-licensed driver to carry more than one passenger to whom he or she is unrelated. Both the driver and the passengers may be ticketed.

Youngest Son had also decided, having nearly made it to his destination without incident, to attempt a left turn despite the fact that his vision of oncoming traffic was obscured by a large truck opposite him, hoping to turn south.

There was in fact another vehicle opposite Youngest Son, in the right lane of westbound traffic. She couldn't see Youngest Son at first either, given the presence of the aforementioned truck. If she was paying attention at all, I believe she must have seen him crossing her path at some point, given the fact that he had nearly cleared the intersection before she slammed into the right rear quarter-panel of our second family car, sending the car spinning toward the streetlight on the northwest corner of the intersection. The deep skid mark in the turf adjacent to the pole and the gouges along the driver's side are mute testimony to how Youngest Son wrestled for control in the aftermath of the collision.

The good news is that none of Youngest Son's passengers were injured. Youngest Son may have hit his head against the driver's window -- he had headaches for a couple of days following -- and he got the ticket. (Only one ticket, though, and that for the ill-advised left turn: The policeman exercised his discretion and didn't ticket him for carrying passengers... or his passengers for being carried. He understood and respected that they were going to a school baseball game.)

Depending on the severity of the damage, we may have become again a one-car family. This burden would fall most heavily on Youngest Son -- so he may be paying for this incident, as I certainly will (in increased insurance premiums) for some time to come. The unnatural splay of the rear wheels following the accident suggests that the car may have been totaled. We should find out today.

I don't need a second car often. I needed one Wednesday. I had a meeting in the suburbs that could not be rescheduled. All teens and post-teens were made aware of this need well in advance... but the accident intervened. The insurance has, so far, covered a rental.

And we had planned on the possible need to have both cars in Indianapolis this weekend for Older Daughter's wedding. Though I secured permission to take the rental across state lines, the process of moving our little group has become that much more difficult.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A glass bottom boat... above the clouds?

Herewith, dear readers, a Chicago tourist attraction on which you will never, ever find me: The new "ledges" on the Sears Tower Skydeck -- on the 103rd story of the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere... and, for a time still, the third tallest building in the world.

Those white and gray and fluffy things below the man in this picture? These are called clouds. He is standing on GLASS.

Strong glass, to be sure.

Really, really strong glass.

And you couldn't pay me enough to get me out on that for even five seconds.

I have troubles going up stairs that don't have solid risers.

I'm having palpatations just writing about this -- but these kids show no fear.

Should somebody be calling DCFS?

Anyway, if you're brave enough, or sufficiently foolhardy, don't miss the Sears Tower ledges next time you visit Chicago.

Just don't expect to find me there. * Shiver! *

For these and other photos and artists' depictions of the Sear Tower ledges, follow this link to the Chicago Tribune website.