Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Church and State

Scenes from the RNC in New York. Just when you think the Republican Party can't get any more transparently brazen, they surprise you. I know we're supposed to worship Mr. Bush and all, but I had no idea we were erecting churches to him now.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Concrete Bland

Presenting: the site of our future garage. I don't have much to say about it, except that Sussel's concrete crew does pretty good work, and does it amazingly fast. You'd think they'd done this before. :)


Riposte? Anyway, here's something I'd previously posted over at superman-tim.com:

Our House

It's a very very very fine house. Although this picture shows only one cat in the yard, trust me, there are usually two.

We're in the middle of remodeling the second floor (can you call it the second floor when it's a 1.5 story?). As you can see here, it's a cluttered mess. I framed in that cute little alcove to be just the right size for a full-size bed; now I'll have to build one in.

There's also this cozy nook where Kristi wants me to build a windowseat. The last time I built a windowseat was for a 9th-grade production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." Hopefully there won't be any dead bodies involved this time. The windows are the same ones visible from the front of the house.

The new upstairs bathroom still needs lots of work, but you can get a sense of what will happen. The far wall will be a glass-enclosed shower with a bench. My plan was subway tile; Kristi has veto power, though, and may be changing the design as I type. The vague blue rag barely visible through the dropcloth to the left marks the where the toilet will sit; the vanity will be to the left of that, invisible in this pic.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Emma has a new playhouse in the backyard. Her grandfather built it in pieces in Kingsburg and towed it out here, where we set the concrete footing, reassembled it, and roofed it. (Putting those shingles up, standing at the top of a rickety extension ladder rated 20 pounds less than my current weight, may have been the worst day of my life.) Here is a better shot of the base, and one of the spiral stairway entry.

(For Scooter's edification, the roof rafters were all originally cut the same length, which meant that the center rafter on each side extended past the roofline and needed to be cut off with a Sawzall.)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Yard Sale Afterthoughts

Emma made about $20 getting rid of old toys, a bicycle, tricycle, etc. She could have done even better, if she wasn't emotionally attached to everything she ever owned. She'd have spent all of her earnings yesterday on "new" junk from down the block, had we let her; we "banked" it for her instead.

As it was, she had several dollars to spend anyway. She and the almost-six-year-old next door set up a lemonade stand. 25 cents a glass, and Emma was vigorously marketing it. Everybody who passed had to run the gantlet: "Would you like some cold lemonade? Only a quarter!" While some escaped with change intact, nobody avoided the guilt. Since Emma had a fistful of quarters, Emma shopped; she spent the money on things we'll be quietly selling at next year's yard sale.

(Yes, "gantlet" is an acceptable spelling. Thanks.)

One item that didn't move in the yard sale was a Rhode Gear Rhode Taxi -- in excellent condition, with Blackburn rack and abundent mounting hardware included. I may have priced it too high, but damn it, the rack alone would cost more than I was asking. Since Scooter has generously offered long-term use of his backup digital camera, I'm offering it to him, if he wants it.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Free to a Good Home -- I Hope

My skis found a good home today, I think.

It's the Mac-Groveland Neighborhood Yard Sale today. About a quarter of the houses on our street participated.

I haven't skied since Kristi and I married 10 years ago, and I've tried to get rid of them a time or two without success. Finally, at the end of the sale, we got someone to take them for free. He was pretty darned happy, too. The Raichle boots fit him, the skis have Marker bindings, and he got to walk away with the whole package (including poles) for nothing.

Are you detecting a twinge of regret at about this point?

I'm 45, and I've got a lower back that spasms periodically (like today, for instance). Bicycling I can handle; downhill skiing is for younger guys, or maybe for older guys with younger backs, but not for me. And here in the land of cross-country skiing, there really aren't any good downhill runs anyway -- not like those at Sierra Summit, where they have a lodge halfway down the mountain selling hot chocolate because, honestly, you need a break about then.

Still ... man, I sometimes think about that rush you get when the pines are rushing by you at some ungodly speed, and you realize you're at just about the limits of your skill, but not quite, you're still in control, and your face is numb and your knees ache and your teeth are chattering and you've never ever ever felt more alive. I've never experienced anything quite like it, and I expect I never will again.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Fair Part Five

Every year we see kids wandering around the Fair in cute little orange Home Depot shop aprons, carting little woodcraft projects they've made at the Depot's booth. This year I figured Emma was old enough to hit things with a hammer, and we went.

The line was long, but there was a canopy over most of it, which was a good thing since it was drizzling steadily. Near the end of the line was a board with about a half-dozen examples of what Emma could build. She'd had her heart set on building a birdhouse, but then she discovered that she could have something far more exciting: a periscope. Birds can build their own homes; they've been doing it for millions of years. But every kid needs a periscope.

Despite its length, the line moved quickly, and we soon found ourselves in a tent around back of the Depot's booth. The perimeter of the tent was lined with folding cafeteria tables; in the center was a huge mass of cardboard cartons filled with project kits. The advantage of going to the Fair on opening day: nobody's run out of anything yet. Emma was assigned to Randy, one of the many people "coaching" kids through their exciting project-building experience. I suspect that few, if any, of these coaches were actual Home Depot employees, since (a) their aprons weren't orange, and (b) Randy, for one, was a total incompetent.

A Home Depot periscope kit includes six pieces of wood and two mirrors. The wood is all cut to size, and slots cut for the mirror; all the kid has to do is put it together using brads and a tackhammer. Each kit has instructions in it, which Randy obviously knew about and obviously was uninterested in.

Randy lined up the boards for Emma and started brads for her; Emma tapped lightly on each one for a while, after which Randy would impatiently take back the hammer and whack the brad in. After six brads had attached the back of the periscope securely to the sides, Randy flipped the periscope over, looked perplexed, and then started prying the back off. He'd set it up for Emma wrong.

Then, after detaching the back, Randy nailed the back on properly, bending over two brads in the process. He then nailed on the front as well; clearly Randy was getting paid by the periscope, not by the hour. He slid the mirrors into place; then he slid them back out because he'd forgotten to take off the protective plastic. Finally he let Emma tap on the last four brads.

Emma's a sensitive kid, but none of this seemed to bother her. She had her eyes on the prize; how she got it wasn't really important. Now she owns a periscope. Next year, she's building a torpedo; until then, I think we're reasonably safe.

arsi is giving me crap for not bringing a camera to the Fair. Here's the next-best thing. Click here for an incredibly lifelike simulation of the Home Depot booth. Note: none of these people is Emma, none of them is me, and most likely none of them is Randy.

Fair Part Four

If I can figure out a way to patent "Deep-Fried Beer on a Stick," I'm going to make a million bucks.

Fair Part Three

Politicians love the Fair. Yesterday John Kerry dropped by unannounced. We missed him; I didn't even know it had happened until after we got home. We'd stopped at the DFL booth in the morning, but it was apparently either before or after his visit. (We came away with a "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican" button.)

Minnesota, of course, has many traditions, among them being represented in the Senate by a non-native Jewish guy. As a non-native Jewish guy myself, I have mixed feelings about this, which can be summed up as "Wellstone was sincere to a fault; Coleman doesn't have that fault." Yeah, if there's one fault Coleman lacks, it's sincerity. When it became clear to him that there were too many Democrats ahead of him in the local pecking order for him to have a shot at a nomination for Governor or Senator, he switched parties. (This, plus his avowed willingness to sell out campaign promises, makes it kind of funny to hear him talking about Kerry flip-flopping.) He talks an awful lot about family values for somebody who had to introduce his wife during his Senate campaign to people who'd never seen that particular woman on Norm's arm. (His wife lived in California, and, rumor has it, her parents were raising their children, leaving Norm to live the life of a bachelor.)

Anyway, given Norm's pronounced Brooklyn accent, it's kind of amusing to see his booth at the Fair: a plastic log cabin. Perfecto. Wish I had a picture.

Fair Part Two

You may have heard about our family's Father's Day tradition, in which Kristi, Emma and I ride our bikes to downtown Minneapolis and Kristi blows out her knee in the process. We've done it for two straight years.

We've now added the Fair to the mix. After physical therapy and stretching exercises and yadda yadda yadda, Kristi felt ready for the ride to the fairgrounds. (It's about six miles, following a roundabout route to avoid the worst of the hills and traffic.) She did all of her stretching in advance; I took the rear rack off my bike so that Kristi wouldn't have to pull Emma's AllyCat. None of it helped; by the time we reached the fairgrounds, Kristi was in pretty severe pain.

Fortunately, walking doesn't hurt her; it's riding (and stairs) that cause the pain. So we were able to spend the day at the Fair without issue. Kristi wouldn't let me go home solo and come back to pick her up (as I did last Father's Day), so the ride home was slow and (for some of us) excruciating. At least it didn't rain en route; it had been showering on and off all afternoon, but we stayed dry all the way home.

While we were gone, we got a new driveway and garage slab. The neighborhood kids, who have been using our former garage site as a BMX track, are going to be really, really disappointed. This makes me happy.

Fair Part One

I've got a lot of make-up Worth work to do today, so I'll be doing my Minnesota State Fair report in bits and pieces.

Let me start by saying that I have no idea how I managed to live 45 years without seeing a pig being born. Here's hoping I can go another 45 without seeing it again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

15 Minutes: Over

John O'Neill, the Swift Boat Liar who's been after John Kerry's ass since 1971, claims in his book that "Kerry was never ordered into Cambodia by anyone and would have been court-martialed had he gone there." Really? What makes Kerry so special, Mr. O'Neill?

O'NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.

NIXON: In a swift boat?

O'NEILL: Yes, sir.

So really, I don't think I'm going to write about this again. They're all demonstrably lying.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

It just gets worse

I just watched the second commercial from "Swift Vote Veterans for 'Truth'", in which they mangle John Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony and claim that he "sold out" his fellow soldiers. If you're in any way prone to believe this garbage, I urge you to read what John Kerry actually said -- every word of what he said -- and then tell me he had anything but compassion for his fellow soldiers, whether American or Vietnamese.

Not very swift

The whole "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" thing has served at least one useful purpose: nobody can credibly claim anymore that the broadcast media is liberal. Period, end of story.

Consider: a group funded by Karl Rove's pal spends a relative pittance buying commercial time in three markets, and then gets millions of dollars of free airtime courtesy of the punditocracy on Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Hardly anyone on television will point out that the commercial itself is full of misleading crap and outright lies:

Al French: "I served with John Kerry." No, you didn't. You were on the same river at the same time, but you didn't serve with him. You signed a sworn affidavit regarding events of which you admit you had no first-hand knowledge, which an attorney really should know is a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Bob Elder: "I served with John Kerry." No, you didn't either.

George Elliott: "John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam." Huh. 'Cuz at the time, you regarded Kerry as "unsurpassed". See page 22 of the linked doc, where you call Kerry "the acknowledged leader in his peer group." Today, you say you "wouldn't have awarded Kerry a Silver Star if [you] had known the details" -- but the details you "know" now were supplied to you by people who weren't there and didn't know.

Louis Letson: "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury." Yeah, maybe, except your signature isn't on the reports, bub. And even if you did treat him, and did so with a band-aid, why would you remember such a trivial event 35 years later?

Van O’Dell: "John Kerry lied to get his bronze star ... I know, I was there, I saw what happened." Yes, but your account is contradicted by Kerry, the man he rescued, every man on Kerry's boat, all of the contemporaneous documentary evidence, and the physical evidence that showed that another boat involved in the same skirmish took multiple bullet hits that day.

And so forth. I don't have the patience to finish this now; maybe I will later. They're all liars. The fact that they continue to appear and be talked about on cable news and Sunday morning talk shows demonstrates quite effectively where control of the media is concentrated. Hint: it ain't the left.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Renaissance, Man!

If you look around you and all the guys look like Kulstad and all the women like lilwolf, and they're all packing steel, odds are you're at a Renaissance Faire -- in our case, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

This was Emma's first Renaissance Faire. We went to the MRF the first year we were in Minnesota, a month or so after Em was conceived. We hadn't gone back until now for a variety of reasons. One obvious one: in the realm of the roast turkey leg, there's a shortage of vegetarian options. Another reason: Emma's unfortunate preoccupation with breasts -- or, as she prefers to call them, "udders." (And I thought breast-feeding was supposed to yield a well-adjusted kid!) Kristi suspected Emma would see all of those bodice-busting bosoms and go nuts.

As we passed through the ticket gate, Emma was greeted by a fairy. Not a cast member dressed as a fairy -- a real fairy. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. She looked to be about 15 or 16, dressed in green and with beautiful translucent dragonfly-like wings (they don't sell wings like that anywhere I've seen). She didn't speak a word -- just knelt down, caught Emma's eye, and conversed with her silently while pressing a crystal, swimming in glittery fairydust, into Emma's palm. Then she threw us a very impish sideways glance and flitted off to great another child.

Emma was literally speechless for the next 5 minutes. And trust me -- with Emma, that just doesn't happen.

It was "Mid-East Mirage" weekend, with belly-dancing and such -- but most importantly, with Arabian horses. Kristi's in love with Arabians, and so am I, ever since I read "The Black Stallion" in elementary school. So we went and watched them prance and race for a while. Then Kristi and Emma took the world's shortest elephant ride. No, it wasn't the elephant that was short; it was the ride. (What are elephants doing at a Renaissance Faire, you ask? You're not alone.)

Mostly, Emma wanted to shop; she had over $6.00 burning a hole in her purse alongside the fairy stone. So we stopped at the interesting-looking shops, with Emma (surprisingly) taking our advice to shop around before buying something. We saw some fine juggling, some dubious fencing, and some bodice-busting -- well, honestly, I didn't notice that part. Neither did Emma.

We met the fairy again, late in the day, after lots of shopping, juggling and quaffing of enormous flagons of lemonade. We were on our way back to a candle shop to buy Emma's selected treasure, a dragon candle. Suddenly the fairy was in front of us. She seemed to recognize Emma. Still, she did the same thing she'd done before: locked eyes with her and presented her with a fairystone, this one twice the size of the first. Then she vanished. I was disappointed; why would a real fairy give her the same thing twice? Suddenly I had my doubts; maybe this was just a high-school sophomore from Chaska with a weekend gig.

After I paid for the dragon candle, we sat on the grass so that Emma could empty out her purse to repay me. She was shocked, and a little distraught, to find that the first, smaller fairystone was gone; she'd lost it at some point during the day. But now, it made sense. The fairy knew. All doubt was gone.

Like I said: that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

(Not five minutes after we got home, the almost-six-year-old next door had broken the candle. Just a small part broken off, and Kristi patched it up nearly good as new. Emma is convinced that it was a deliberate act; I didn't witness it, and I haven't asked Kristi her opinion. But I wouldn't be shocked.)

Saturday, August 21, 2004


We spent the morning with a number of other L'Etoile du Nord parents helping to assemble one of these alongside the school. (Actually, it looked completely different, with a way-cool climbing wall -- but same company, same approximate size.) These things are well-engineered, and you get a professional installer to supervise the effort. Everything went together surprisingly smoothly, despite a few skinned knuckles, and the cement truck showed up at the absolute perfect time. The hardest part was keeping the kids off of it while we were working.

I met fellow Worther and French Immersion parent "Ibarus" there. I hope he won't mind my leaking the fact that his last name is Mayo: it was the Meeting of the Condiments.

Friday, August 20, 2004


Sometimes -- and I've never figured out whether the primary cause is diet, allergies, stress, biorhythms, or voodoo -- I get jangly. Which sounds a lot like getting jiggy, but it isn't. My temper gets short, loud noises annoy me, and I feel like most of my nerve endings are exposed. Usually it lasts a few hours; sometimes the better part of a day.

This was manageable when I lived alone. It was even manageable with just Kristi and the cats. When you add a six-year-old to the mix, it's torture. On jangly days, Emma seems little more than a loudspeaker wrapped in sandpaper. It irritates me greatly to be around her, and it irritates me even more to know that it's not her fault at all; it's me. She's just being six.

The morning was hell at work. Suddenly the stuff I'm primarily responsible for wasn't working for paying customers, and it appeared my fault. As it happened, it wasn't my fault at all -- but due to some unfortunate timing, I couldn't even view my application logs to prove it. For a couple of frightening hours I half-believed that I was responsible for a significant service outage. And given that I've already been pegged as being responsible for a couple of hundred thousand dollars of unnecessary charges against the company this year (there's some truth to that, though the story is more complicated), my stress level was

By the time I was able to clear my good name, the day was pretty much blown. I blogged a bit, Worthed a lot, and tried to get myself back in one piece for the evening, but I didn't quite make it. Emma rubbed me every wrong way there is tonight, and I'm afraid it showed.

Some days I don't feel like a very good father.


arsi writes about his work pal, Mikey, who is abandoning him to an office full of humorless engineers. I know what he'll be going through; I kind of suffered the same thing when my friend Kevin left West a couple of years back. Kevin and I collaborated on some of the funniest corporate memos this place has seen. We also wrote some pretty good code together. I don't think a day goes by when I don't look over at his old cube, right across from mine, hoping to see him there.

Fortunately, this is a ginormous place, and finding what Anne Shirley would call "kindred spirits" isn't all that hard; I still have friends (even if they can't Photoshop worth a rat's ass). arsi's likely to have a tougher time of it. He's got my sympathy.

Of Baby Mice and Little Women

Wednesday evening, Emma ran into the house shouting her little lungs out. Seems she and the almost-six-year-old living next door found a baby mouse outside. Probably about 10 days old -- it had fur, but was the tiniest little thing. Its head was nearly as big as its body, and it had spindly little legs. Adorable.

Kristi, being Kristi, knew exactly what to do -- or if she didn't know it, knew to find out. She watched over it for a while to protect it from cats, hoping that its mother would come for it. When that failed, she got a box, lined it with various soft things, and brought the mouse indoors to try to rehydrate it. She also called the veterinarian across the street, made a quick run to PetSmart for some artificial mouse milk (I have no idea what it's really called, but that's effectively what it was), and generally did everything that could be done.

None of it helped, sadly. Before she went to bed Wednesday, the mouse had passed on to wherever it is that baby rodents go when they expire. Emma, of course, wanted to keep it anyway; gentle explanations had to be made as to why that wouldn't be a good idea.

This was just one in a series of wildlife rescues Kristi has attempted over the years we've been married. She's had successes and failures, but she never stops trying. Heck, she's invested more time in keeping our goldfish alive than anybody else would, ever. (They're at least four years old now; Finnegan is painfully fit, and while Gilligan has continued issues, Kristi makes heroic efforts to keep him happy and healthy.) Gotta love her for it.

Garage Banned

Yesterday morning Kristi called to tell me that, finally, the garage was coming down.

We bought our house in February of 1998. In the middle of winter, in Minnesota, it was a little difficult to do things like inspect the alley-side foundation footings of a garage, seeing as the snow was deep and (since the house was unoccupied) largely unshoveled. So it really wasn't until spring that we got a decent sense of what kind of shape the garage was in.


The footings were crumbling. Although it was ostensibly a two-car garage, one side was nearly unusable because of a concrete ramp that had been built from a point on the driveway up to the lawn, right in front of the door. Only one door had an opener, and it didn't work. The back wall of the garage had been extended with a lean-to for a longer car at some point, and the roof and walls of the lean-to were in bad shape. Strange vining weeds grew through and spread across the cracked concrete floor and ancient scrap-carpet dripcatcher. It vaguely felt like something out of a Stephen King novel, something somehow alive, and just a little bit malevolent.

Kristi rarely used the garage as a parking place, and after a while, I stopped too. It became a storage place for things bound to the dump or yard sales or whatever. And eventually, those things just stayed there. For years.

We'd talked about replacing it for a long time. We'd also talked about remodeling the kitchen. Ultimately, the garage won.

Yesterday morning Sussel took a backhoe and tore the roof open. According to Kristi, the whole garage just sort of imploded. Unfortunately, no photographic record exists of the carnage. By the time I got home at 3:30, the entire back of our lot, property line to property line, was a reasonably flat chunk of clay, separated from our lawn by a large berm of more clay.

So in a few weeks we're going to have a new, big garage, with a little extra space for workshop and bikes (and crap bound for the dump or yard sales or whatever). But I have to say: I'm going to miss the old one just a little. I'm sure it wasn't really evil.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


Yesterday I was in a project meeting. The project in question -- a large, weighty beast with many heads -- is running woefully behind for reasons mostly unrelated to me, but possibly related to the fact that we waste an hour every morning discussing how late we are.

I find the meetings incredibly painful to attend, since approximately three minutes of every hour pertains to something I care about or can contribute to in any meaningful way. Usually, I doodle in my planner, or (if I'm feeling particularly mature) work on code design.

Anyway, yesterday I'm dutifully doodling or designing or doing something equally irrelevant, when I hear one of our directors, discussing the schedule, say something very similar to "Doesn't she realize we have a goal set for Friday? Does she understand what goals are?"

Since I'm male (verifiable upon request), the comment in question didn't pertain to me, so I very nearly tuned it out. In fact, it was in reference to a very competent programmer (I'll call her "Joan") who had, the day before, been assigned responsibility for several showstopper issues related to a software system on which she had never worked. Would Joan have them done by Friday? Who the hell knows? Is it reasonable to expect Joan to have them done by Friday? Again, who knows? Well, the director did, that's for sure. To this particular director (dubbed "The Eye of Sauron" by another developer), the completion goal set for Friday wasn't merely a goal; it was dictated somewhere in Deuteronomy. "And she who doth not resolve her showstoppers by the Sabbath eve, she shall be an abomination unto the Business Unit."

It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that there may have also been some underlying prejudice in the statement as well, as Joan isn't a native English speaker. "Does she understand what goals are?" Yeah, I think she does, thanks for asking.

Anyway, this all got me reflecting on time pressure and urgency, particularly as it relates to software development, but as more of a general concern as well. Why is it that almost everyone whose workspace has a door that closes thinks that rushing to complete something entails no additional risk of failure?

I've been rushing to get my part of the megaproject complete. While it's almost there, the more pressure I get because of deadlines, the worse my work becomes, making it harder and harder to meet those deadlines. And the worse my work gets, the more tempted I am to just walk away from it for a half hour and take care of business at Worth1000.com instead. Or blog.

I've always claimed I work best under pressure, but I'm beginning to think that's not at all true. I work best with the possibility of reward for quick results, but not with the threat of punishment for failure to achieve quick results. I suspect lots of people are like me in this, and I wonder why management (even "enlightened" management) doesn't do more to provide positive reinforcement.

Oh, we get achievement awards here. The last award I got was a pen. There's a supply cabinet full of pens 30 paces from my cube; a pen is supposed to motivate me? I once got a $25 gift card for the Mall of America that was only worth $20; it had already started to lose value because it was over a year old when it was presented to me. On the other hand, the negative reinforcement here doesn't involve whips and chains, so I suppose I should be grateful.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

First Entry

Because everybody needs one.