Tuesday, February 28, 2006

International Woman of Mystery

Still no resolution on documentation of my "previous life". I'm going to give it few days to see if any of the offices I talked to can help. There's pretty much nothing with all the information on it that can be gotten nearly two decades after the fact. I may have to resort to IRS records.

Or, as the Adorable Husband has suggested, I should pop into the local FBI office and demand, as a citizen of the United States, that they investigate me and prove my identity. It would take about four minutes, I imagine. If I could actually get them to do that. I wonder if they would?

In the meantime, since our illustrious government doesn't believe I was who I said I was, I've decided that my previous life should be an International Jewel Thief or Super Spy or something much more interesting. Hm. I think I need a theme song.

The Adorable Husband got the day off (unexpectedly) today -- called about 9am and asked if I wanted him to come home. We never did get to see a movie, but we bummed around Boulder for the day, bought a few cases of wine, found a new fondue pot, that sort of thing. It was an absolutely PERFECT day -- 77 degrees, sunny, lovely. It's entirely strange - the end of February and we have early summer weather (I think we set a record today). Even as late as 10pm it was still warm enough to walk outside without a coat.

Ya gotta love Colorado. Just as much chance for snow and freezing temps in winter as there is for 80 degree days. It's still pretty brown outside, but our trees have started to bud out, and the shrubbery in the front yard is looking mightly green.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I Love Bureaucracy

Apparently, I am not who I say I am. This has been causing some issues with the Colorado DMV and now, with the Social Security office.

When I got married in 1989, I changed my name via my marriage certificate (this is one of the few ways you can change your name without having to go to court, I guess -- just note your original name and the name you want to be after your marriage). I also at the time sent in the necessary stuff to change my name with the SSA. Or so I thought.

They don't have any record of the change, so my SS record has my maiden name. No one thought that this was a huge issue (the taxes and such all are getting done properly), and I have all my current idenfications (passport, employment records, drivers record) with my actual married name. No problems.

So, all the different databases are being compared to find fraud or identify-theft, or whatnot, and my records get flagged because of the name. Easy enough to fix, right? The application to change my name says bring a birth certificate, marriage certificate, and current ID and voila! Fixed.

Not so easy at all. Apparently, they require that I provide certified documents to prove my identity before I got married. The birth certificate - marriage license combo is not enough. So I have to find SOMETHING that clearly identifies me a my maiden name with my SSN and my birthdate on it. A marriage certificate doesn't cut it.

It's been seventeen years. I don't have anything remotely resembling an ID with that information on it. I have a few very old W-2s from previous employers, but those aren't acceptable. My previous SS card is not acceptable. They suggested a medical record or school transcript of some sort. Hello, people! This was almost two decades ago. The information that I brought is all I have. It is supposed to clearly identify me as ME.

Two hours at the DMV to be told that it's really the SSA that's wrong -- shlep across town and sit for another two hours in their office to be told that I can't, actually, prove who I am with the documents the government has previously issued me. I have to find something else. Maybe that works for people under 20, but for those of us trying to prove this from 1989...well, no one I've talked to at the UofM or the Vital Records office of the county in MN have any idea what I can use. They're going to try to find my original marriage license application in the basement to see if that might be usable...but I don't think that comes in a "certified" format that the SSA will accept.

I've talked the SSA three times today, including the office visit, and they're pretty damn vague on what can be used. I've talked to Ramsey County, I've talked to the state. I have no idea where to go from here. Hopefully one of them can come through.

They've set the rules up so it's impossible to actually comply. If they need more info, they should make sure that the stuff they ask for is available! It might be easier to change my name back than deal with the ridiculous requirements.

Insulting Ghandi?

What a classless jerk. Apparently, visiting Gandhi's shrine in India was on the agenda, then off, then back on (accompanied by protests) after this lovely bon mot last week:
His protocol handlers have notified India’s foreign ministry that the American President’s deep belief in his born again faith precludes the possibility of his visiting Gandhiji’s shrine at Rajghat during the forthcoming visit. Asked by reporters on a recent trip aboard Air Force One if he would be breaking the tradition of foreign dignitaries visiting India paying their respects to the Mahatma, President Bush is believed to have mumbled something about how the Gospel of Jesus Christ viewed cremation as a pagan practice. (02-26-2006)
Bush actually is going to visit the shrine (at least according to the latest news) and water the tree his father planted (or, according to some other news reports, plant another tree) and the shrine is being cordoned off and handed to Secret Service security until March 4th. The visit is being protested by many Indians who say that "George Bush knows nothing of non-violence" and that his visit would be insulting to the memory of Gandi. I don't see how any bow to the work done by Ghandi could be contrued as insulting, and I think that he should visit (minus the foofaraw about closing off the shrine for a week of course). To not go would be more insulting -- although I do hope he can keep himself from blurting out something ridiculously and offensively religious.

The visit is apparently just as shrouded in secrecy as the rest of the things that Bush does -- no one is talking about it, and the US group is just rolling in and taking over and entire hotel, as usual. While some of this just basic security, I honestly don't remember any previous president requiring so much in the way of security and annoying so many people in the process. Huge parts of cities must be closed down. Did this happen with other presidents? I don't remember it, but then again, I'm likely to view Bush more negatively since I think he's a classless boob.

A Bit of MS Bashing

I found this in another blog, but I just loved the "Redesign of the iPod Packaging by Microsoft".

If you've seen any Microsoft packaging lately, this will give you a chuckle, at the very least.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sci-Fi Crew

I love to take stupid online quizzes to find out which character I'm like, and whether I'd make a good Post-Apocalyptic Overlord, that sort of thing. The one popped up in one of the forums I freqent.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?
created with QuizFarm.com

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Flying Flouroscopy

I guess I never thought about it, but the radiation that you absorb during a cross-country flight is roughly equivalent to that of a chest x-ray. A lot of people are warning that we should obviously limit unecessary xrays, should we limit flights? Proabably not worth much worry. Fact Sheet here.

Of course, we also absorb an equivalent amount in about 10 days just lounging around in our homes, so I'm not terribly worried. The things you learn on the web!

Missed NaNoWriMo

I had no idea that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, Nov 2005) existed. I can't believe I missed it.

Basically, every year since 2000, people have signed up to write a novel of 50K words in 30 days -- Not one word less, not one day more. The idea is to get people to actually DO it, instead of talking about writing, and that the deadline gives people motivation to put out their novel -- good, or bad. The expectation is that it will be bad -- that's what later revisions are for. I would have happily participated, had I known. I write, but it's only for private consumption at this point, and a worldwide support system to write (possible) dreck would be appreciated.

The best part, though, is the "contract" that is proposed by Chris Baty, in "No Plot? No Problem!", the book that explains the phenomenon and outlines the rules:
I hereby pledge my intent to write a 50,000-word novel in one month's time. By invoking an absurd, month-long deadline on such an enormous undertaking, I understand that notions of "craft", "brilliance", and "competency" are to be chucked right out the window where they will remain, ignored, until they are retrieved for the editing process.....

During the month ahead, I realize I will produce clunky dialog, cliched characters and deeply flawed plots. I agree that all of these things will be left in my rough draft, to be corrected and/or excised at a later point. I understand my right to withhold my manuscript from all readers until I deem it completed. I also acknowledge my right as author to substantially inflate both the quality of the rough draft and the rigors of the writing process should such inflation prove useful in garnering respect and attention, or freedom from participation in onerous household chores."
He goes on to stress that the deadline is inviolate, and that there is no prize, just satisfaction. How can you go wrong when the whole idea is just so...odd? The idea is that by stressing quantity of words in a short time over quality of work (that may never end) people will take risks.

I absolutely love the idea, and can't wait for the rush next year so I can be involved. You can do it any month, of course, but it's the momentum and synergy of approximately 59,000 other novice writers (about 9000 of which actually made the goal of 50,000 words in a month) that really makes it appealing. There is more fiction written worldwide in November than the rest of the months combined, according to the forum. Most of it never makes it past the Microsoft Word files on someone's computer, but what a great thing!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Confusing Keys

Ok, this is painful. I have decided to change over to a Dvorak keyboard layout, which has been touted as faster, more ergonomic, and more accurate (well, you couldn't prove that by me on my first few attempts!)., and safer.

Basically, the QWERTY layout that all keyboards currently have was designed for typewriters, and actually is a lousy layout for speed and easy of typing. I have read (but can't confirm) that it was designed with a maximum speed in mind, to keep the little letter-arms in a manual typewriter from jamming up. It also requires that typists have weird hand positions because of the way that common letters are laid out on the keyboard, and some key combinations require twisting or other contortions.

Right now, I type around 80 wpm transcribing something, can easily hit 120 when I'm just writing off the top of my head. Reasonably accurate -- although I have noticed that my typing style includes 'backspace' as part of often-misspelled words. Why change? Well, I have tendonitis in both hands, a serious case of trigger thumb, and I often get numbness and tingling in my hands. That's what spending ten hours a day at the keyboard will do for you.

I already use two different keyboard layouts, since I often type in Irish Gaelic and needed an easy way to create the á, é, í, ó, ú with the right acute marks over them. (You can do this with ASCII combinations, but it's a pain in the ass). With Windows XP, you can switch keyboard layouts using the language bar and Regional settings. I just went in and added English (Irish) and the Irish Gaelic keyboard mapping. Voila, I can swap between them at will. You can do this with many other alternate keyboard layouts to get the specific characters for the language you want.

At any rate, I worked with a woman who had swapped over to the Dvorak layout (she had a very, very slow contract gig and figured it was going to keep her busy) and I've read quite a bit about the benefits of changing, so I'm going to try. It's not like I have a ton of other things to do, you know? And no one is going to be watching over my shoulder as I try to type a few hundred lines of code...at 5 wpm.

Just so you know, I did type the first sentence using the new layout, but I had to switch back or it would take me an hour to do this. I did find a set of lessons online that seem to follow the standard typing-class rules (start with a few fingers, add on from there). It's going to be harder, I think, since I can't change the keys on my keyboard (I have one of those split keyboards and the keys are really not interchangeable). I'll have to find an Irish Dvorak layout, too, or I'm going to be very, very confused. Perhaps I should search for that first....

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Farewell, Used Books

I need support and sympathy. I finally managed to go through the books that line our stairwell (all paperbacks) and get rid of two boxes worth. Previously, I went through the unpacked boxes in the basement and culled out another few boxes that have gone to the library book sale.

It makes me just a bit nauseous. Giving away any books is just so hard for me -- I'd keep every single book that I've ever bought, if it was really up to me. Unfortunately, it's limited by storage space and available bookshelves. But, I think I can part with the two hundred or so seriously bad bodice-ripper romances that I haven't read since the 80s, don't you think? That's about all I culled out and sent to the library, but it left these big gaps in the shelves (we have seven shelves, about 8' wide, in the stairwell just for paperbacks) and I found myself rearranging the books to fill in the gaps sometime around midnight last night. The entire top shelf is empty now, and part of the second shelf, and I hate it.

It does mean that I have space for the books I've unpacked downstairs and decided to keep, however. Don't worry, there's no shortage of books! As a matter of fact, we've reached maximum bookshelf capacity in the house. They've begun to pile up on other horizontal surfaces, and we need a few more shelves!

I was watching a series of these 'fix-your-house-type television shows on the DIY channel last weekend, you know the ones? The "professionals" arrive, sweep through your house and disparage your stuff, force you to get rid of about half of it and then redo your rooms (often hideously). The parallel show is the 'organize-it' type of show, where the guru turns a cluttered house into a zen-like ascetic retreat. Both of these shows scare me.

Firstly, because they all seem to think that books = clutter, and demand that the hapless homeowner get rid of all but two or three books. And it's not like these people had shelves full of them -- maybe two dozen or so -- but the designer insisted that they couldn't have them cluttering up the shelves. "Pick your two favorites!" they say, "You don't need these!".

Yeah, I do. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Get out of my house, you silly cow.

Secondly, most of the designers also believe that wierd-ass-ugly-avante-garde crap is "style". They paint every single piece of wood furniture (including one memorable case where they painted an antique mahogany armoire). Obviously, they are never coming to my house.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Making Faces

This flash-based "face-builder" might be the coolest thing I've seen on the web in a long time. It's fascinating, and kind of creepy at the same time. Wow.

Details, People! Details!

I'm settling in for the evening -- after being off for a month, my day has shifted from "normal night owl" to "walks with the dead", apparently. I've been rustling around the house until 3 or 3:30 AM and dragging my sorry ass out of bed at 11 AM or so. This is not unexpected, of course. The last time I had any extended non-working time, my day rotated to just about opposite that of the Adorable Husband. He'd get up at 4:30, we'd have breakfast, he'd leave and I'd go to bed. Admittedly, he was in the army at the time, but I definitely became nocturnal, if not actually one of the undead afraid to emerge in daylight.

I'm a night owl, always have been. But usually my tendency to stay up futzing around is limited by the fact that I have to be at work at a reasonable hour. Remove the deadline, and I just stay up and enjoy the silence of the house and the freedom to get things done (well, the quiet things, at any rate) until the wee hours of the morning. If I have to get up at four in the morning, I'm probably better off just staying up. I simply can't go to bed at ten o'clock. I just lay there, staring at the ceiling and listening to the sonorous snoring of the Adorable Husband until I want to put a pillow over his head, just to make the noise stop. He, of course, is a morning person. A chirpy, industrious morning person. Oy.

At any rate, since I appear to have joined the ranks of the third shift workers for awhile, I've spent some time randomly reading other blogs (the link at the top of the blog lets you go to the next random blog) and seeing what other people think of the world. It's interesting -- everyone from the most eloquent observers of human nature to the barely-literate have blogs. They are in turns funny, sad, dramatic, banal, informative, provoking. Much like having a random conversation with someone on the bus; you never quite know what kind of turn it will take.

But I have a nit to pick with an awful lot of blog authors -- update the template of your blog. I mean, really, people. It's not that hard to remove the "Link me" blurbs in the sidebar that are defaulted by all the templates. Get rid of them, replace them with something interesting, but for goodness sake, don't let them sit there like a beacon of idiocy. I'd say about 3/4 of the blogs that I scanned through today have the default links in place. Do they not notice?

If you can't be bothered to clean up the basics, it's a lot harder for me to take anything you say seriously. It's like wearing battered tennis shoes to a job interview, or misspelling someone's name on a letter. Just wrong, and noticeably sloppy. People get judged on first impressions every single day. Fair or not, lack of attention to details signals that you just don't give a damn.

Then again, I tend to (quite irrationally) discount the opinions and intelligence of people who very obviously can't put a coherent sentence together. Oh, typos aren't too bad -- everyone makes them and sometimes they slip through. But out-and-out bad grammar, wrong words (every time I see 'your' for 'you're' or 'there' for 'their' I want to throttle someone), or blatant --and correctable -- misspellings (like rouge for rogue on an RPG board, or athiest for atheist on a board discussing that very topic), my brain kicks in with "Idiot!" and my perception of the person's actual IQ drops 5-10 points. It's not that hard to look up words: just typing it in google will often result in a suggestion for the correct spelling you're looking for!

Which of course suggests that I think I am always perfect. Not on your life. I mess up and typo with the rest of them (especially when I type quickly), and I certainly hope that everyone reading it docks my "virtual IQ" a few points every time. But I can string together a competent, if not always eloquent, sentence and I do try to spell check. Not perfect by any means, but I try.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Marriage in Jeopardy

DOMA. Gay-marriage bans, civil unions, the 'war on marriage'. The news in the last year or so has been hyping the often-repeated fact that marriage is in jeopardy and we have to act immediately to make sure that this most celebrated concept remains true and pure and...well, whatever the hell it is they think it ought to be.

I've been married almost 17 years. My marriage is certainly not changed or threatened by the evolving concept of what marriage is in the world. I find the squawking and hysteria by the anti-gay-marriage crowd pretty pathetic. A current article in the New York Times has a bakers dozen of true/false questions showing just how our current views are usually false. Marriage is in better shape than we all think -- and some of our basic beliefs are wrong.

What do we really know about marriage? Most of what we believe to be true is patently false, which makes all the hoopla about marriage just so much background noise. All the much-publicized screeching about how marriage is 'being threatened" is crap. One of the primary arguments to "protect" marriage comes from religious dogma, or some nostalgic view of the 'perfect couple' of the 1950s, which had a divorce rate of nearly 33% and certainly doesn't represent some model of perfection we should strive for. Marriage hasn't always been seen as positive:
"Early Christians thought marriage was inescapably tainted by the presence of sex. According to the medieval church, virgins ranked highest in godliness, widows were second, and wives a distant third."
Marriage has not been historically a foundation of a stable society (in fact, it was seen as detrimental to a man's social responsbilities), and for thousands of years, marriage has been a political or economic contract.

The whole "marriage is between a man and a woman" idea is just wishful thinking, and is hypocritical from those who want to quote the bible as a reason to ban gay marriage. For nearly all of of human history, polygamy has been the norm -- usually one man with many wives (indeed, this is the actual biblical model), occassionally one woman with many husbands. And those born-again bible-thumpers? They're just a likely (in some cases more likely) to divorce than non-religiou couples. Indeed, divorce rates are higher in the bible belt than anywhere else in the US. I always thought that was amusing.

Marriage is not in jeopardy -- true, fewer people are getting married nowadays in the traditional fashion, but those marriages are less likely to end in divorce and often last longer than they used to. Good news.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Ask anyone in the office: they absolutely believe they have less free time and are working more hours than "we used to." I would certainly have said the same thing. But, a recent study by Mark Aguiar (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) and Erik Hurst (Univ. of Chicago) shows that this is not quite true. Americans are working about 8 hours less now than in the 1960s. Depending on how you classify leisure (ie, just "not working", or on activities people say are "fun"),
"Over the past four decades, depending on which of their measures one uses, the amount of time that working-age Americans are devoting to leisure activities has risen by 4-8 hours a week."
This certainly seems contrary to "common knowledge", but by collecting data using time-use diaries, they have found that at least some of the gains have been because we're spending less time on normal daily chores like shopping, cooking, and housework.
"However, Messrs Aguiar and Hurst show that Americans actually spend much less time doing them than they did 40 years ago. There has been a revolution in the household economy. Appliances, home delivery, the internet, 24-hour shopping, and more varied and affordable domestic services have increased flexibility and freed up people's time. "
Nice to know that online shopping and cleaning services have helped!

The problem, according to the study, is that we view our leisure time as much more valuable. We try to make the most of every hour not working by multitasking or choosing tasks that are completed quickly instead of long-term projects that are more satisfying. Most people simply don't relax anymore and as a result feel more harried and stressed about our time.

It certainly rings true to me. I constantly multitask. Right now, I'm editing this blog entry, watching a movie on television, doing a backup of my laptop, and writing photos to DVD. I tend to fold clothes in front of the television, or download music while I do bills. It's second nature now. Only a few things really require that I do them as a singular task -- cooking, perhaps; even my driving overlaps with listening to an audio book or class.

I wonder if we (as a group) really need to stop all this instantly-available-always-connected urge to do everything at once. Turn off the cellphones, sit down and do ONE thing at a time. Read a book. Write a letter. Clean the closet. Take a walk. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in completing a long-term task, or learning a new skill that took months of classes.

Current Project

I've finally managed to settle on a new stitching project --a very large piece! -- and actually managed to focus on it for more than a few minutes at a time. That was part of the problem that prompted my time off; I was unable to concentrate on things long enough to get anything done. I was flitting around aimlessly.

But, I tracked down a lovely chart and I've ensconced myself on the couch. In the course of beginning the project, though, I discovered that my favorite needlework shop (The Dove's Eye, in Boulder) is gone, and that only the most basic of supplies can be found at local craft stores. Floss? Easy to find. Fabric? Well, since I don't stitch on Aida, it's a bit more problematic. At least there are mail-order sources (like Nordic Needle).

But that takes a lot of the fun out of it. Browsing through stacks of charts and feeling the different kinds of fibers and fabrics really is one of the pleasurable parts of stitching, at least for me. Looking at the mechanics of cross stitch or needlepoint, I have to admit that there are certainly better ways of creating pictures than one tiny stitch at a time. But I view it as more of a zen-like process: tiny, precise work requiring attention to detail and careful planning to do right. It makes the Adorable Husband twitch, just to watch. I like the precision of it. And, of course, the organizational parts of having the right colors, labeled in little bags, and slowly but surely marking off the completed pieces of the chart. Yes, I'm strange.

Speaking of the Adorable Husband, he has gone up to Steamboat for the weekend to ski. They've had 320+ inches of snow and the skiing is lovely, he says. I don't go along -- I don't ski, and when I'm there, he feels guilty about me sitting around and tends to ski less. Given that he only goes up a few times a year, I figure he should ski as much as possible and not worry about amusing me. I can read books and watch movies at home just as well as at a hotel. And, of course, the time home alone is nice, as well. It means I'm staying up until the wee hours of the morning (3:30!) and not getting up until 10, but since I have no actual plans, it's working out all right.

And it's cold here. It was fifteen below last night and I don't think it's been above 0 all day. Pretty chilly for us Coloradans. Can't complain too much, though. It was in the 60s last week, and probably will be again next week.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Get A Guy In

We went to the enormous Home and Garden show in Denver last night -- you know the shows? Hundreds of booths selling everything from windows, kitchen cabinets, and hot tubs (lots of hot tubs) to homemade dips and magnetic bracelets. They're actually kind of fun, if you can get past some of the sheer cheeziness of the things for sale. And, they are a good source for contractors for painting and basement remodeling, which we are in the market for.

The house is only three years old, but the paint on the window sills and across the top of the garage is already starting to peel. A combination of the fact that we're about a mile from the blazing sun in the summertime and so incredibly dry all the time. It's also a sad consquence of having all-wood windows instead of those fiberglass or vinyl brands. One of the reasons we bought this house (the first reason was doors to the kitchen) was that it had real solid wood windows -- and the four-pane window style is actually four panes of glass with wood mullions, not just plastic inserts between the panes, or a grating over the top. But, wood windows need more care than vinyl-clad or other types of windows. So-- we're in the market for a painter who will scrape and paint everything on the house that's red or yellow. We don't want to change any of the colors, but we do need a "freshening up". It's definitely harder to catch up if we get behind on the schedule and have to paint everything all at once.

The other thing we're looking at is finishing out the basement with a theater. We don't really need more bedrooms (although a second guest bedroom would be nice, I think), but we want to put a real-live movie theater in the basement: velvet curtains and all. We like to watch movies, and it would be nice to do so on a really humungous screen. We have plenty of room downstairs (heck, we have plenty of room upstairs -- this house is way too big for just two people!) and it's dark -- perfect theater space. A bit short (only 8' ceilings), but it should hold a theater and a comfy couch very well. We're looking for a projector and on-wall screen.

We'll probably close in and insulate an area for a wine cellar as well. We have a few hundred bottles now, and they are mostly in metal racks against the concrete foundation walls. It stays cool enough (well, not quite cool enough, but it's consistently about 60 degrees) to be a good place to store wine, so we don't need anything fancy, just a smaller space that's better organized. When my nephew was here, he ventured into the basement, came upstairs and asked his mom,
"Why do they have a wine store in their basement?". We're not really that bad, but we do tend to accumulate wine by the case. We're trying to set aside some good reds for a few years and it would be nice to have a nice place for them.

So -- at the Home show, I signed us up for free estimates and got us put on every single mailing list for contractors in Denver. I'm sure I'll be getting dozens of calls over the next few weeks looking for my business. There are two companies that do only home theatre (one on the lower end, the other sky's-the-limit with a 22K video library system!) and about fifteen painters. We've been very lucky finding contractors to do the other jobs we need (landscaping, plumbing, electrical, even faux painting) so I hope to weed through all the contacts and find some reliable people.

We really did do most of this work ourselves in the previous house. There isn't anything in the basement that we can't actually do ourselves: I can wallboard, the Adorable Husband does electric and plumbing, I can do finish work and design. It's just that we never seem to have the time to finish jobs. We can start them well enough, but we run out of time before things are done, or we just can't commit to the many weeks it would take us to finish a project when we can hire someone to do it in two weeks. At some level, I feel a bit of guilt about this. I don't want to be one of those people who "has staff" to handle all of this stuff, but we have realized that there are simply things that we don't really enjoy doing, even though we enjoy the results -- Fr example, gardening. I really like managing the roses (pruning, shaping, etc), but the day-to-day weeding of a garden plot is not something I like to do, not even a little. I really like the results though: lovely, well-tended, colorful beds; healthy trees; new annuals in the spring. I just don't have a green-thumb. So we hired a garden service to come a few times a year and "clean up" the yard. We still manage the basic lawn care and the big stuff, but the spring-cleaning and winter prep are things we leave "our staff".

A lot of this new attitude towards household chores raised its head when we moved to the new house. We needed a fence fast to keep the dogs in, we had a limited time to get landscaping in, based on the HOA requirements, our builder neglected to put in even one overhead light or junction box upstairs and we wanted ceiling fans. Oh, we still painted and we prepped for the new countertops, but we are much more likely to hire someone to do these projects than we used to be. This seems odd to me. The Adorable Husband is Mr. Fixit: manages most of the minor projects around the house (putting in the living room speakers, removing the old countertops, changing out light fixtures and adding electrical service to the basement, that sort of thing. I really do feel that we should be doing these things ourselves. (Well, I felt the same way about cleaning the house, until the first time the cleaning people came. Then I was all, "Oh, yeah! Never clean again!") No guilt there!

Any suggestions on the details we should look for in quotes for either a) painting or b) basement refinishing are much appreciated. Is there something you really liked (like having outlets in certain places or adding in a specific feature) or hated? I'm used to dealing with old houses, where I want to change as little as possible. With a new house, anything goes!

Cute Overload

Ok, I need to stop randomly surfing. I find the oddest things --- and sometimes, come across something that's just raises the "Awwwww...." factor. For a overdose of sugary-sweet cuteness, take a look at Cute Overload.

I happen to love the bunny pictures.


The (slightly strange) Adorable Husband just called from work and asked me to find an mp3 of the Muppet Show song..."You know," he said, "the mna-mna ba-doopy-doopy one!"

The funny part is that the music was originally written for a Swedish porn movie, (no worries, the link is not actually porn) according to the blurb at adtunes. The song was repopularized by a recent Dr. Pepper ad, and was voted the top ad song of the year.

The original skit (with some bizarre pink cow-like muppets) is a hoot. I don't think anyone in the 30-40 age group doesn't immediately start singing this one when they hear it. It's a completely ear-worm and you'll spend hours trying to get it out of your head. Hah!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Greenies Warning

There's a report on CNN that Greenies, the edible breath-freshening dog bones that are so popular have caused 13 deaths due to intestinal blockage. I'm sure people will be freaking out about it, but 13 compared to the number of dogs is probably very, very small -- thus the risk is very, very small.

We have fed Greenies in the past, and will again. It's important to make sure you get one that your dog actually has to chew apart, and doesn't just swallow chunks of it. That's hard when you have big dogs. We do not give our dogs Booda Velvets or Booda Bones, because they bite off chunks and swallow them. Despite being "vet approved" and "total digestible" these can still cause problems.

We do give the beasts Busy Bone Ultimates (which are the biggest bones we can find) with great results. Their teeth are cleaner now than they have been in years, and they absolutely love "Giant Bone Day" at our house.


One of the movies on my Netflix queue is 'Mrs Henderson Presents", which is a period piece about a women keeping a theatre open (The Windmill) during the buildup to the second world war.

I was reading a bit about it and discovered that there was a completely bizarre rule regarding nudity in theatres in the 30s and 40s in England -- it was allowed, as long as the women did not move. (and, apparently, were supposed to clutch carefully arranged feathers or bits of scenery to cover their pubic hair). This is is funny enough, but the British, who love beaurocracy, had an agency within the Chamberlain's office to monitor this sort of thing. Their chief official -- who attended each new show to ensure that the rules were being followed -- was named George Titman.

I just got a giggle over the fact that there was actually a specific office required to monitor naked girls on stage. And the name of course. Shallow humor, that's me.

Hunting Mishaps

A cursory search of any news website has been topped by the news that Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face while hunting quail. Now, accidents do happen, hunting (even the sort where they drive you to the location they loosed farm-raised birds) is a dangerous sport. This actually a fairly common accident, as hunting accidents go -- in the heat of the moment, following a flying bird out of the 'safe arc' and turning to face your hunting companions in the process.

But the stories I've been seeing have an alarming tendency to actually blame the victim for "walking into the line of fire", or that he should have "known better" by being so close.

No. A primary rule of hunting: know where everyone is. If you don't know where everyone is, don't fire. In accidents such as these, it is absolutely, completely the fault of the shooter. It is his responsibility to know where his fellow hunters are and if he shoots one, he's negligent and careless.

I'm waiting for Cheney to step up and take responsbility. All he has to do is say, "Well, shit. I'm really sorry. I got caught up in the moment and I wasn't paying attention and I shot him. I never should have turned like I did. It was stupid and I should have been more careful."

I have a feeling I'll be waiting for a while.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Plague Monkeys

Well, I thought we'd survived the snot-plague that my sister and nephew brought...we both went through some weird snorfling and feeling sort of icky. But over the weekend, we were pretty much ok.

Until this morning. The Adorable Husband spent the night roasting and sweating, and I woke up and quite literally couldn't make a sound. By noon I was squeaking like a demented chipmunk, and only now is my voice somewhere near the normal register. No sore throat, but complete laryngitis. Weird. And the cough is back. Oh, how fun.

So, I'm spending most of my time ensconced on the couch or recliner with a box of tissues and watching bad movies and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I've come to the conclusiong that Tim Burton is a seriously disturbed person (based on Corpse Bride) and there is no real excuse for me wasting almost two hours watching Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo. That's two hours I'll never get back. I have no idea what prompted me to put those on my netflix list. A few episodes of Reminston Steele and 21 Jump Street should be better. I'm having a ball now that a whole bunch of 80s television shows are showing up on DVD. C'mon, admit it -- you loved Miami Vice, too.

And, if you haven't seen Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, hie thee immediately to the video store! Immediately!

Malted Milk Biscuits

I am having the most intense craving for cookies we found while in Ireland -- Chocolate Malted Milk biscuits. With a cow on them. I think Tesco's is one brand.

I cannot find any place to order them online and I've never seen anything like them in our grocery stores here. I could get them shipped to me if I was in Japan, but apparently not here! Aaargh!

Splitting off as Gaeilge

I've been puttering on and off trying to learn Irish Gaelic on my own -- bought the books, have CDs in the car, the whole shebang. I never learned a second language in school (well, beyond the one semester of German in high school that I have completely forgotten) and the oft-cited fact that it's harder to learn a language as an adult is absolutely true.

Why Irish? Well, I don't really have a good answer for that, beyond: I want to. I have no Irish ancestors that I know of, I don't belong to any particular groups that speak Irish. I did pick up fiddle in the last few years (also on and off) and focused mostly on Irish music, with words in Gaelic, so I guess that is reason enough.

Irish is spoken by about 70,000 people as as first language, and by roughly a million people as a second language. Until 1974, proficiency in Irish was required for government work, and it had been a compulsory class for all Irish schoolchildren. The Irish are proud of their native language, though, and have succeeded in making sure that it will continue: it will be an official working language of the EU starting in 2007. Cool!

At any rate, I've been approaching this rather haphazardly and while I understand quite a bit of written Gaeilge, I was rather quickly disabused of the notion that I could actually speak it during our month-long trip to Ireland. I'm sure I sounded like a nursery-school child, but my attempts were at least greeted with smiles and polite corrections, not outright laughs.

So, I started a secondary blog where I'll post bits about Irish and the trials of a hapless English speaker trying to learn Gaeilge. I'm not sure just what I'll include, but I figured it was a bit out of scope for this blog, which seems to swing wildly from short rants about politics to the daily events at the Phouka household. So, I've shuffled it over to a different blog, called Cúpla Focal (A Few Words). We'll see how it goes. I should have plenty of time, at least for awhile!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I just heard in passing that there is more Nutella sold worldwide than peanut butter (from Wikipedia). Nutella -- a hazelnut-chocolatey sort of thing -- is the primary "spread" in Europe (and having had peanut butter in Europe, I can see why people have switched!).

It's not that popular here. I really like hazelnut stuff, but Nutella is too..."plasticky" tasting to me. And I can't quite think of things that taste like dessert topping as nutritious. Nutella does have more sugar, but it has much less fat than peanut butter.

I suppose either one is better than Vegemite or Marmite, both of which I've had the misfortune to encounter. I worked with a woman who loved Marmite and ate it by the jarfull. The yeasty weird smell of the stuff reminds me of bad sweat socks.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Look! Over there!

I have to admit that I'm angry/confused/disgusted/pick one that the focus of the warrantless wiretapping issue seems to be the investigation of the leak and not the actions themselves.

Bush characterizes the leak as "shameful" while defending his illegal wiretapping. I feel that any government employee witnesses blatantly illegal acts is morally bound to report them. Yes, this is a 'secret program', but I really need someone to explain to me how breaking the news that they are listening to domestic phonecalls and wiretapping without a warrant actually "helps the terrorists", as the spinmeisters have claimed. They didn't know that they were being watched? Not having a warrant made it...more secret? The whole FISA process is classified secret already.

Let me be clear -- I absolutely want the government to listen in on conversations with Al Qaida or any other terrorist organization. I expect them to. I urge them to. But I also expect that they do so within the laws already in place to support their actions. There is no law prohibiting the wiretapping, there is simply a legal process that must be adhered to to ensure that the power is not abused. All this foofaraw about the leaker and investigating who-done-it really draws attention away from the real issue here.

Bigger Brains

I finally succumbed and ordered courses from The Teaching Company -- they offer comprehensive courses on CD or DVD on a ton of subjects. Most are college-level courses, and they look really interesting. I've been longing for the History of Ancient Egypt class for months, and when it went on sale, ordered it and the History of the English Language.

I figure the half-hour classes will be a welcome distraction from riding the exercise bike or walking (which I am trying to do with more regularity, but it's not something I really stick to well without some sort of enticement). If I can only listen to them while doing one of those things, I'm hoping it will be enough of an incentive to keep at it. With 48 lessons or so, it will take awhile.

I've only listened to the first to sessions on the English Language class, and so far, it is really interesting. The professor actually demonstrates some of the older dialects and I assume that as we move through the class, he will continue to do it. I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately (the long commute to work was made much more tolerable by a good book to distract me) and I've discovered that I really enjoy them. The current bookshelf and booklist contain a lot of non-fiction and history, so things are a bit dense. I was trying to listen to language tapes in the car (I really am trying to learn Irish Gaelic), but I discovered that it needed a part of my brain to process that apparently conflicted with the parts I need for driving...not a good combination. Even the densest audiobook (I've been listening to JM Roberts' History of Europe, and Shakespeare: The Biography) seems to be ok. For some reason, though, I can't really listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch. Since I can pretty much listen to an audiobook (prose) and write (prose) at the same time, I think that this is a mental block because i've always done cross-stitch in front of the television. My brain says Stitching = TV Movies. Ah, well. There are worse things. Netflix loves me.

I've been watching eBay for Teaching Company classes, and they tend to be expensive, so I'll just wait until the ones I want are on sale from the company directly -- I'm keeping an eye on the History of Rome and Appreciating Music right now. (Hm. Must give hint to Adorable Husband that these are cool gifts)

Of course, the Adorable Husband is not-so-subtly poking me to register for the last three classes I need at Regis. I've checked the schedule, but I need to talk to one of the advisors and so far I've been procrastinating. I'm not sure why -- it's not like the classes I need are very demanding, but I've really been enjoying the "nothing to do" meme that I have going. I'm still a bit directionless, but I feel like I'm finally unstressing, and I don't have that weird anxiety of "must go do something" that I was having before. I'm enjoying the library, reading a lot, playing some mindless computer games, and just generally not doing anything that stresses me out. Seems to be working.

Give me enough time, and I'll work my way through the Teaching Company inventory, I can predict. If you live long enough, you can learn everything. Or at least you can try!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Faulty Fondue

Hm. We bought this fondue pot, and embarked on cheese and then broth fondue. I'm usually very impressed with AllClad stuff, and this certainly looks like a fabulous fondue pot. It uses the little sterno pots, instead an electric element, but we thought it was going to do the trick.

Nope. It was ok for cheese, keeping the double-boiler with the ceramic insert plenty hot for that, but it was completely inadequate for broth (and I can't imagine any better for oil). We boiled the broth on the stovetop and poured it into the fondue pot, assuming that the burner would keep it at the simmer point --- it didn't, not without taking off the fuel-pot cover, which then let the flames lick out over the sides of the pot, making a reach for a fork a bit more exciting than it should have been.

The pot itself has a 'cover' of sorts that has slots for the forks to rest in, which keeps them separate and upright. Good idea, except you then can't see into the pot at all, and it requires that the pot be very very full to submerge the food, since the forks are quite short. Remove the cover, and the all-metal forks resting on the side of the pot are heated by the flames and impossible to use.

The food was pretty tasty, though, although we somehow ended up with cheese soup instead of fondue-consistency (didn't stop us from eating the whole pot with chunks of garlic-rosemary bread, though).

Bad design, at least for us. I'm definitely not happy with the fondue pot and I'm taking it back today. William Sonoma is good about taking it back, so away it goes. As suggested by my MIL, I'm opting for a plug-in model, which is what we shoudl have done in the first place. We were just sucked in by the romance of an open flame and spiffy pot. Feh.

Cushy Landing

Well, losing his position as #2 didn't seem to affect Delay too much. He has slipped right into a seat on the Appropriations Committee. Shouldn't that be the MIS-appropriations committee? What is it with Republicans? The man is under indictment -- shouldn't they perhaps be a bit more circumspect about putting him a position of power? I suppose it just doesn't matter to them.

And, even better:
DeLay... also claimed a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers.
Fox watching the henhouse, anyone?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mimes on Crack

Another very amusing video bit --Men in Coats. It starts a bit slow, but wait for the dancing bit at the end. The site is in French, but the video is music only, no worries.

Body Armor, $710

Geez. Busy tonight. This one had the Adorable Husband just spitting mad:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Feb. 8) - A former U.S. soldier injured in Iraq says he was forced to pay $700 for a blood-soaked body armor vest that was destroyed after medics removed it to treat shrapnel wounds to his arm.

First Lt. Rebrook, seen here during a 2004 gun battle in Najaf, had to pay $700 for his Kevlar vest destroyed by medics when he was injured.

First Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, 25, had to leave the Army because of his injuries. But before he could be discharged last week, he had to scrounge up cash from his buddies to pay for the body armor or face not being discharged for months. Rebrook was billed because a supply officer failed to document that the vest had been destroyed more than a year ago as a biohazard.
Apparently, this is not unheard of. A statement from his commander would have cleared up the issue, but his commander declined to sign one. I'm thinking that here is one officer who won't be on the promotion list, eh?

More info here -- note that the headline says "Soldier says..." Yeah, let's automatically assume that a wounded soldier is lying so he can profit from the loss of his body armor. Note that he is being offered a refund. Not an apology, mind you, but a refund.


Flowerboxes in Venice usually contain geraniums, which have a natural insecticide which keeps the many mosquitoes from the canals at bay.
[photo from BlackDog's wallpapers]

Penitential Food

I was reading through a guidebook for Scandinavia today (our next big trip) and came across the following bit:
Most Scandinavian nations have one inedible dish that is cherished with a perverse but patriotic sentimentality. These dishes, which often originated during a famine, now remind the young of their ancestors' suffering. Norway's penitential food, lutefisk (dried cod marinated for days in lye and water), is used for Christmas and jokes.
Having been faced with lutefisk, I can attest to the "and jokes" part of the description, and I think that the description "penitential food" covers it pretty well. (Of course, lefse makes up for the boiled-in-lye fish, if you ask me).

Other countries have the same kinds of food, though. Haggis in Scotland, for example. Kimchi in Korea. Or French dishes involving brains or something. Ugh! Some national dishes are awfully good, too - Mole sauce in Mexico, Paella in Spain, the ubiquitous Pizza Magherita in Italy, but I was inspired by the sentimental and usually inedible dishes that seem to pop up as a "national dish". I shall have to find more of them.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Blissful Silence

Aaaah. Blissfully quiet in the house. Nin and Peter headed home this evening, and we're relaxing in the lovely quiet. The dogs are happy that the small, spazzy, screeching person is gone, too.

It was a great visit. More once we've returned to normal!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Plague Returns

Well, Barky and his alter-ego Snot Boy seemed to be feeling much better this morning. We, on the other hand, were all a bit delicate after a three-hour long fondue dinner with a lot of wine. But, one of the things we always do when Nin and Peter visit is go to the science museum in Denver (actually, the Denver Museum of Science and Nature) to see the latest show at the planetarium, and whatever IMAX movie is showing. And walk around aimlessly looking at bones and dried bugs.

Since Peter was actually looking and acting pretty perky this morning, we packed up and headed to the museum -- which was blissfully empty, as it is Superbowl Sunday and most everyone must have had other plans. After a few hours wandering, Barky the Seal Boy reappeared and we headed home where everyone napped. We're a lazy lot at Chez Phouka.

We managed to watch enough of the football game to figure out who won and decide that the commercials (the only real reason for watching the superbowl, as far as I can tell) were quite disappointing this year. Other than a few cute Budweiser commercials none of them were very inspiring.

Now, of course, Nini s starting to sound a bit hoarse, and I feel like I've been run over by a truck. We all have the Horrible Snot Plague and I'm expecting the barking cough to show up any moment. Ugh.

Two Things

"I can say leads from that program have been valuable in identifying would-be terrorists in the United States, individuals who were providing material support to terrorists," Mueller testified."

I see. Then two things: 1) provide some sort of documentation to back this one up and 2) for each of these situations, explain why a warrant was not sought.

And a hint? "Because we don't have to" is not an acceptable answer.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Barky the Seal Boy

Not much to report from the Phouka household, except that my nephew has a horrid cough and head cold. Nin is pretty convinced he has either whooping cough or tuberculosis, but she's always been easy to rile up. Poor Peter is snugged on the couch watching bad Saturday morning cartoons, when he's not wandering around wiping snot on anything he can reach. Poor kiddo.

We did drag him all over creation yesterday -- Nin wanted to go to the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, and she has finally decided to stop smoking and needed to buy those Nicoderm patches. By this morning, Peter was pretty much soundling like a seal. We haven't had much luck convincing him to cover his mouth when coughing, so I'm sure we'll all get this in a week a so.

I've been spending a lot of time coloring with the munchkin, and the Adorable Husband is the only one who can manage to make the Transformers actualy transform (without detailed instructions, I mean). It's been fun!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Women should stay in the kitchen

I haven't been paying attention, although I remember a brief news blip that scientists had discovered a vaccine for HPV, which has been shown to have a strong causal link to cervical cancer. Vaccinating against HPV before people are sexually active could prevent women from developing cervical cancer later on. Great idea, right?

Well, here's the part I hadn't actually seen: some fuckwit at the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group, is speaking out against the vaccine because it might suggest that girls could have sex, and other religious groups are following suit. WTF?
"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus."
These morons would rather have their daughters get cancer than have sex.

Yeah. There seems to be a large group of people who are in such denial about human sexual activity (or are so freaked out by the very idea) that they are willing to see their kids die (AIDS, cancer) or be debilitated for life (Hep A, B) because they think that not talking about sex will mean that teens won't have sex. OH, no, can't talk about birth control, it might give them ideas. Can't discuss the various STDs, it might suggest we approve. Yup, their kids are so virtuous they won't have sex 'til marriage, never mind that they are completely wrong. That level of denial is astounding to me. And dangerous.

No, they don't get my respect or "tolerance" when they espouse such ideas. They get my contempt.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Only Brown T-shirts allowed

As everyone knows by now, Cindy Sheehan was ejected from the SOTU and arrested for wearing a t-shirt with the number of dead soldiers in Iraq. She was not disruptive, she did not say anything, she did not interrupt the proceedings. Security saw her shirt and rather forcefully 'escorted" her out. She has since been released.

Yup, yet another example this administration's disregard for free speech. They seem to think that anything critical of the king must be removed from his sight and effectively silenced.

A few examples, from the Huffington Post:

In August 2004, John Prather, a mild-mannered math professor at Ohio University, was removed by security from a presidential event on public property because he wore a shirt that featured John Kerry.

On July 4, 2004, Nicole and Jeff Rank were arrested at a Bush event in West Virginia for wearing T-shirts that criticized the president. (About the same time the Ranks were being taken away in handcuffs, Bush was reminding the audience, "On this 4th of July, we confirm our love of freedom, the freedom for people to speak their minds." The irony was rich.)

In August 2004, campaign workers removed a family from a presidential event in Michigan because Barbara Miller, a 50-year-old chemist, carried in a rolled-up T-shirt emblazoned with a pro-choice slogan. (She wasn't even wearing it.) Miller later said, "I just wanted to see my president," and brought the extra shirt in case she got cold.

In July 2004, Jayson Nelson, a county supervisor in Appleton, Wis., was thrown out of a presidential event because of a Kerry T-shirt. An event staffer saw the shirt, snatched the VIP ticket, and called for police. "Look at his shirt! Look at his shirt!" Nelson recalled the woman telling the Ashwaubenon Public Safety officer who answered the call. Nelson said the officer told him, "You gotta go," and sternly directed him to a Secret Service contingent that spent seven or eight minutes checking him over before ejecting him from the property.

In October 2004, three Oregon schoolteachers were removed from a Bush event and threatened with arrest for wearing t-shirts that said, "Protect Our Civil Liberties."

In each instance, the "accused" had tickets to see the president. Moreover, none were disturbing the peace, disrupting an event, or causing a ruckus. Their crime was their shirt.

Yup. Don't you just love the government's definition of freedom? Aren't we supposed to be better than that?

Karaoke for the Deaf

Another hilarious bit -- you have to watch and ad before it plays, but it saves duplicating the file everyone, I guess. If it doesn't start to play, click on the title in the right-hand pane. I can't hear the song now without seeing this!

[note, this uses RealPlayer. If you use a different player, start from here]

Beetle Bits

The battery in my car croaked yesterday. Went out to start the car and...nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, the fan actually came on, but the radio, lights, etc were dead. Didn't even turn over -- I got a pathetic whine out of the starter and...nada. I didn't leave anything on, as far as I know., it just died.

Now, normally this isn't a big deal. Buy a new battery, disconnect the old one and plop the new, shiny battery in place. When we opened the hood, I was forceably reminded that my car has a teeny, weeny engine compartment. The battery is velcroed in and we coudln't see how we were supposed to get it out. We wondered for a moment if the front quarter panel had to come off!

So we dropped it off at the local import garage..where they charged me 172 bucks to replace the battery. I apparently can't buy just any battery for my car -- it's a special munchkin size and requires and hour and a half of labor at the shop to get in place. Yikes! Maybe they did have to take off the body panel.

New cars are more efficient, better designed, safer, and all that -- but does anyone actually work on their own cars anymore? YOu used to be able to practically stand in the engine compartment to replace parts and change the oil. Nowadays, things are packed in there like some jigsaw puzzle and you cant even find some of the parts, much less fix them. Plus, cars have complex brains that simply defy normal humans to fix them. They should just put stickers on them that say, "no user-maintainable parts inside".

It's probably a good thing. I remember people changing their own oil and discarding the used oil down drains or in buckets in the garbage. Definitely not something we ought to be doing.