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Archive for December, 2010

Last Thursday, I had my 1,000th workout at the gym in the building where I work.  Friday was off, Saturday was Christmas and yesterday was Boxing Day.  Today, it was back to work.
And of course, that meant back to the gym – for workout 1,001.  When you say you’ve done something one thousand times, it sounds like such an achievement.  When you say you’ve done it a thousand and one, you put it back into perspective.  To me, it’s not: “Did you win the race?”  It’s: “When did you run again?”  Or as some would say: it’s not the goal, it’s the path.
Today was my last day for a while.  I’m going on a detail for work back to Baltimore, Maryland.  The detail is 120 days.  I’ll be leaving in January and back in May.  I’ll be documenting it (the trip) on this blog.  I’m not sure what to expect.  With the exception of Saudi, most of my trips away from my family have only been for a week at most and I’ve usually stayed in a hotel room.  I’m told I’ll be in some kind of longer-term accommodation.  I’m not sure what that means exactly.  I think it means a hotel room with a small kitchen.  We’ll see…
I’ll be taking some books with me, but mostly I’m planning to work, workout and blog.  Again, we’ll see…
I don’t know how many times I’m going to  get opportunities to visit the east coast, so I’m hoping a bit to get a chance to visit some of the Civil War battlefields – Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas are the one’s which come to mind.  Gettysburg is a must.  The other two are names which have always struck me when I’ve heard them, but not being a “true” Civil War buff, I don’t currently know much about them.  Again, I’m not sure what I’ll find when I go looking, but I hear their names calling to me across the haze of history through the fog of bitter conflict.
Reading
Last Friday (X-mas eve), I finished reading “Shit My Dad Says” by Justin Halpern (2008©).  This is one seriously funny book!  More than once, I laughed until I cried.  It is just sooo hilarious.  I highly recommend it!
Movie Reviews
Yesterday, I went to see “Tron: Legacy” with my son James.  It’s a sequel of TRON, a movie which came out way back in 1982.  The funny thing is I remember seeing the original, but it could not have been before 1987, because I didn’t start programming until late 1986, so the movie would not have meant anything to me before that.  As it was, I felt I was inside a little club of folks who knew something about a world that most people didn’t.  I knew about TRace ON (TRON) and TRace OFF (TROFF), CPUs, bits, bytes and the whole speed of light, MHz cycles (light-cycles), etc…
Anyway, this version is not nearly so enthralling.  The animation / special effects are superb, and the story is fairly deep, but it just wasn’t entertaining enough for me.  Pleasant, but not enjoyable.  Reminiscent, but not inspiring.  I’m not sure how to describe a movie you expect to touch you one way, which does mean something, but just doesn’t quite reach you there.  I’m glad I saw it.  It’s worth the $7.25; but, I’m glad I didn’t pay full price and definitely glad I didn’t splurge for the 3D version.
After I got home from TRON, I had dinner and watched a terrific movie with my Hil: “Julie and Julia“.   It’s a movie about a woman who decides to write a blog about cooking her way through a cookbook written by Julia Childs.  Meryl Streep plays Julia Childs and she is fantastic.  The movie is wonderful on many, many levels: a story of newly-weds starting out, a woman finding herself, a new blogger, a new writer, a woman deeply in love with her husband and with living life, cooking (of course), and food.  Some of the levels are Julie.  Some of them are Julia.  And, some of them are both ladies (and all of us as viewers).  I would say this though, it was an intimate movie which I enjoyed watching at home (with just my wife).  I’m not sure it would have been as enjoyable on a big screen and with a crowd of strangers.   Just an observation.
And one final movie review: “Miracle On 34th Street“.  This is simply my favorite Christmas movie of all time.  If you haven’t seen it recently, you need to see the original (in black and white).  It is incredible “Americana” at it’s best.  The details are everywhere.  You really can see history in movies which are meant to be contemporary when you view them 60 to 70 years later.
Art is supposed to speak to us individually.
Enjoy all three – then drop me a comment and let me know if they spoke to you, too.
Oh, yeah.  1,002 may not be for a while, but tomorrow I start jogging at home – after work…  I guess that will be 1.
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Before I forget (and you have to read too far), I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and Saturday is the big day itself…
Today I had my 1,000th workout at the gym we have at the office.  It’s taken a little over 5 years and six weeks.  By my count, I’ve missed 15 days in that time.  Seven because the gym folks failed to show up to open the door and the other eight were on me (mostly an odd day where I just couldn’t face it).  I’m not including weekends (when I’ve had over-time) or sick days, vacation days, etc.  I’m also not counting the days where I walked, jogged, or otherwise got a workout at home or somewhere other than the gym at work.  If I was in the office, I went to the gym, too.
Shortly after I began at the gym (in Nov 2005), I had an “incident” and had to go to the emergency room.  They shaved my chest in anticipation of zapping me to restore a normal heartbeat.  In the end, the doctors were able to restore a normal heart rhythm with an IV, so they didn’t have to go all PG&E on me.  It only takes a single experience like that focus your attention on what has to happen to stay alive.  So, now I’m on drugs for this, and pills for that, and every workday – I’m there at the gym.
Every day I get to see my kids and hold / kiss my wife, it’s an extra day to enjoy the wind, rain, sun, a roof over my head and a relatively full belly – all the graces of God.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
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I’m Just Askin’…

I read today that it costs about $150 to $200 Million to build ONE F-22 Raptor aircraft.
I read today that we’ve built fewer than 200 F-22 Raptors (about 180 are deployed and in service).  The total cost of development (and purchase) is about $65 Billion.
I read today that the United States has 11, 12, or 13 aircraft carriers in service (depending on your source and what’s considered “in service”).
I read today that the average US aircraft carrier can carry about 85 to 90 aircraft.
Given the number of F-22’s we have in service and the number of carriers we have in service, that means we have about 12 to 15 F-22’s per carrier.  So the other 70 odd aircraft must be of some other type.
I guess 12 to 15 are enough to protect the carrier and do all of the other missions required of the F-22.  But it sure doesn’t seem like many fighter planes to me…
I read today that the US graduates about 700 computer and information security majors a year.
I read today that there are about 25,000 graduates in parks, recreation, leisure or fitness majors every year, and 55,000 English graduates.
I read today that it costs about $22 thousand dollars a year to attend college in the US.
Now, it seems to me that if we are really serious about getting ahead in information technology and computer security, we could trade one single F-22 for ALL the computer science majors four years of education and they would graduate debt free.
Now, it seems to me that if we are really serious about getting the best math and engineer graduates into our classrooms, we could trade one single F-22 for ALL the math and engineering majors four years of education and they would graduate debt free.
A “full and free ride” would encourage a lot more folks to go into technology and security (or math and engineering).
Now I don’t know if two F-22’s are worth 700 computer security graduates or 55,000 English graduates or “X” number of math and science teachers.  I just think about what the trade-off for an unnecessary war in Iraq and a continuing war in Afghanistan are costing us as a nation each year (and I’m not even talking about lives lost and injuries suffered) and I have to ask myself…
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Here are another couple of my own poems.  The first is titled: “For Those Still Here“, and comes from my musings about the cancellation of manned space flights to the rest of the solar system and beyond.
The second is titled: “Seasons Change“, and was written while I was stationed in Hanau, West Germany.  I was sitting on the window sill in my room, watching the snow fall on the street outside our kasserne and thinking about not being home for Christmas, missing family and friends – feeling lonely and sorry for myself.  But, I was also getting “short” (due to complete my term of service) and so it also seemed a hopeful time…
Enjoy.
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Here are two more poems for times gone past.  The first is titled: “Whispered Names” and the second: “Mountains & Valleys, Rivers & Streams“.
Do we regret having lost friends and loves?  Do we regret the friendships and love?  Maybe it’s a little bit of both…  Is it “better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all“?
Enjoy (or maybe just consider).
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It’s Gettin’ Deep In Here

Here’s another of the poems I wrote many years ago.  This one is titled: “The Deluge“.
Enjoy…
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Thank You – Senator Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont!
Today, America was treated to a mini-Fillibuster.  Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, spoke out against the up-coming tax reduction extension (of the Bush deficit expansion plan passed ten years ago) for those making over $250,000 per year.
For about 8-1/2 hours today, an Independent – not a Democrat, not a Republican, got up and spoke the truth to America!  The 2% of the wealthy who would most benefit from this extension of the tax reduction don’t need it.  The 98% of America who would benefit from the deficit reduction DO need it – that is, we (your fellow Americans) do need you to pay your share to get the country back on its feet and start us down the road of building our future greatness.
I would like to remind the 2%, you can share the future greatness or you can share the decline of the America we have known for the last 100 years (and certainly since the end of World War II).  If it means a better America, for me, for my children, for my fellow Americans, I’m willing to let the the entire Bush tax reduction end.  Yes, it will mean I’ll have to pay more in taxes.  Yes, it will make my personal economic situation more difficult.  But, I feel my country and my children’s future are worth a little more taxes.  How ’bout you?  Please let me know when you rediscover your patriotism and love for America.
Until then, it seems there is a new LION in the Senate!  Thank you, Senator Sanders!!
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Yesterday, I picked up my copy of “Inception” on DVD and watched it when I got home.  It’s a terrific movie!  On second viewing, the love story (the main character and his dead wife) actually make the movie for me.  Yes, there is the Sci-Fi, and yes, there is the action and convoluted plot, but to me, the power of the movie comes from his enduring love.
I still feel the movie (as stated above) is terrific, but in all honesty, it does NOT translate to the small screen as much as I had hoped.  It’s a bit like the movie “2012” in that regard.  The special effects are so grand, they lose detail when compressed on to a TV (I have a 48-inch HD TV).  The scale is particularly lost in the mirror and folding city scenes.  Still, I know it’s a movie I’ll watch again and again over time, so it’s nice to have the convenience of owning the DVD.
I’m still undecided about the ending…
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This week I attended a training class on Management Analyst provided by the Graduate School (which used to be part of the US Department of Agriculture) but which has recently spun off into its own little not-for-profit educational foundation.
Part of the class was a primer on statistics.  As it’s been awhile since I’ve done any real studying of stats, I found this portion of the training quite intellectually refreshing.  It’s always nice to reinforce old learning.
Anyway, as part of the instruction a site was mentioned / recommended and I thought I’d add it as a link to my own blog and mention it in one of these posts.  The main site is www.RobertNiles.com. The direct link to the statistics pages is: www.RobertNiles.com/stats/.
The session reminded me (once again) how mentally stimulating learning math can be.  Enjoy!
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Last Friday, 3 December 2010, was our 26th wedding anniversary!  I took Hil out for dinner and she had on a new evening dress and looked stunning.  In my mind’s eye she looked twenty-nine again and we were newlyweds!  I know (and used to sing) that old country-western song: “The Girls All Look Better Come Closin’ Time“, but just seeing her across the table and holding her hand still makes my heart race.  I hope and pray we have at least another twenty-six years together (and that she still makes my heart race).
This was the first weekend in December.  As with every other first weekend in December for the last twenty-six years, Hilary and I went out and got our Christmas Tree.  Our daughter, Sarah, joined us this time.  This was the first time I can remember it raining on the day we got the tree and it was a bit of a mess bringing it in the house.
Sarah was a big help in getting the tree in the stand.  We got it on the stand and set it upright and then moved it into position in the front room.  Most of the serious rain came off the branches and onto the kitchen floor.  It was really a good thing I had Sarah to help out or it would have been an even bigger mess.  Anyway, it’s up and tomorrow we’ll decorate!!  Hilary and Rebecca went out over Thanksgiving to get our annual Christmas ornament.  We have one (at least one) for each year we’ve been together.  They range from the cute, to the simple, to the nerdy – but they are uniquely us as a collection – and precious.
At Mass today, I was moved by saying the Profession of Faith.  We recite it every Sunday, but I guess thinking about our anniversary, and the kids, and the upcoming shopping trip to get the tree – it seemed extra special as a way of thanking God.  So I decided to add the Nicene Creed as one of the poems on my blog.  I hope you’ll take a moment to read it and consider it – not necessarily for yourself, (I’m not trying to convert anybody) but to wonder about the prayer as a description of faith in the heart of at least one person you know.  I would also hope you take a moment to read some of the background for the Nicene Creed which can be found (among other places) on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed
Finally, I hope you can find in your beliefs (religious or otherwise) the peace I find in my faith. God bless you!!
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Okay.  After yesterday’s rant about what’s going wrong with the Obama Administration, let’s take a deep breath and remember some of what’s gone right (maybe not perfect, but better than anything we could have imagined under Dubya).
I can spend all evening listing the many things President Obama has worked on and gotten correct.  But rather than do that, I’ll quote the words of Bill Press from his WorldNetDaily blog http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=185313  dated 30 July 2010:
You’ve heard of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight?  Barack Obama’s the man who can’t shoot straight.  His first 20 months have zipped by with nothing to show for them.  He’s broken every promise he made.  He’s achieved not one major legislative accomplishment.  It even took him three months to plug an oil leak.
That’s the rap on President Obama, from commentators on both the right and the left.  It’s ubiquitous, it’s loud, it’s earnest – and it’s dead wrong.
I say that not as an Obama apologist.  Indeed, I’ve been as critical of Obama as many conservative commentators, although for different reasons.  In my opinion, he’s spent too much time sucking up to Republicans and too little time paying attention to his political base.  He settled for too weak a bill on both health-care reform and Wall Street reform.  He’s dragged his heels on getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  And he escalated the war in Afghanistan when he should have pulled the plug on it.
Still, when you examine the record, whether you agree with everything he’s done or not, you must conclude that Obama inherited the worst problems and has already taken bolder actions than any president since FDR.  The facts speak for themselves.
On the economy.  With America on the brink of economic collapse, Obama’s first act was to push through a $787 billion stimulus package – already credited with saving or creating more than 3 million new jobs, with almost $200 billion still unspent.  Obama also propped up banks large and small with the second round of TARP money, of which $194 billion has been repaid, with interest.  And he saved GM and Chrysler from bankruptcy with an $86 billion bailout, of which taxpayers are expected to recoup at least $74 billion, if not actually make money on the deal.
On jobs.  With unemployment stuck at 9.5 percent, it’s hard to celebrate job growth.  Yet the fact remains: In January 2009, according to Department of Labor records, America lost 598,000 jobs.  In January-June 2010, employers added 982,000 new jobs.  Too many Americans are still out of work, but we’ve turned the corner from monthly job losses to monthly job gains.
On health care.  Without a public-plan option, private insurance companies still rule the roost.  But they must now operate within tough new guidelines.  Thanks to federal subsidies, 32 million Americans who couldn’t afford health insurance before can now do so.  That means 95 percent of Americans are covered, which is the closest we’ve ever come to universal health care.
On Wall Street.  Obama recently signed into law the toughest regulations on banks and financial institutions since the Great Depression.  That bill also creates the first-ever consumer-protection agency for financial transactions.
Oh, and, along the way, Obama also dealt with an H1N1 epidemic, started bringing troops home from Iraq, expanded the war in Afghanistan, named two Supreme Court justices, took 13 foreign trips to 22 countries, met with 93 foreign leaders, signed a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, hosted 47 nations in a nuclear-proliferation summit in Washington and marshaled federal forces to deal with the worst oil spill in history.
Please note: Bill Press’ blog is copyrighted material and I am quoting it without his or WorldNetDaily’s specific permission.  Again, I am not trying to make any profit from my own blog and I am fully acknowledging both the writer and the content provider.  If either learn of this citation and object to it, I will happily remove it and / or paraphrase it (still citing the source) at their choice.
I would also like to point any readers to another source of information about the accomplishments of the Obama Administration:  http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/
This website is useful because it has both the accomplishment and the link to further reading so you (the person seeking to become a better informed American voter) can get some background facts.
I follow Bill Press on his weekday radio show.  While I don’t always agree with him, at least he is normally rational and thoughtful.  If you are up and awake before 6AM (or want to subscribe to his podcasts), I highly recommend you give him a listen.
Finally, I would rather have President Obama representing me 40% of the time, than have ANY modern day Republican never represent me.  The last GREAT Republican President was Theodore Roosevelt.  The last moderately useful Republican President was Eisenhower (who warned us about the dangers of a military-industrial complex).  Since then, Republican Presidents have been a criminal/resigned in disgrace (Nixon), incompetent and probably criminal (quid pro quo – Nixon pardon for the Ford Presidency), a criminal or a liar or both (Reagan – Iran/Contra-gate), tolerably incompetent (one-term Bush, Sr.) and a self-confessed war criminal (Dubya Bush).  With a batting average like that, it’s a wonder the United States survived the last half of the 20th century.
Okay!  Two days, two rants.  I better take a few deep breaths and go watch Jon Stewart for a while…
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Dear President Barack Obama,
I know you are NOT listening to me – after all, I’m just a life-long Democrat – but I’d like to update you with my view of your progress in Office.  Let’s just call it your mid-term report card…
Health Care – C-minus;  At least we got something passed.  Almost completely without your leadership.  No, make that completely without your leadership.  As near as I can tell, you simply didn’t get in the way (much).  The results speak for themselves.  They have to, because you still haven’t communicated any value to what all the birthing-labor was about.
Iraq – D-minus;  Ok, I’m being generous.  It should probably be an F.  WE ARE STILL THERE!!!  Why?  Oh, yeah, all “combat” troops are gone.  I guess that means the non-combat troops we still have there are on patrol with daisies instead of rifles.
Afghanistan – D-minus;  The simple fact is – and has always been – we have no business trying to create a civil society in a country the size of Texas on the other side of the planet when we can’t create a civil society in Texas in our own country.  Yes, nine years ago they were harboring terrorists.  The correct response, then as now, should have been to blow them (the terrorists) the hell up and LEAVE.  If they came back, you blow them up again!  You don’t apologize and you DO NOT occupy!  A well defined objective, relatively inexpensive, and achievable.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – D-minus;  I’m starting to sense a trend here…  Two years and what do we have?  A survey of the troops asking them how they feel about serving with gays and lesbians.  Their response, “We don’t really care as long as they are willing to fight and are held to the same competency standards as straits.”  And you STILL won’t tell the military (you know, give an ORDER) to do the right thing.  Oh, yeah, I forgot, it’s against the law.  And we’re SOOOOO afraid of Presidents breaking the law.  That’s why we have a self-confessed war criminal selling his memoirs and proudly stating he did what was necessary (authorized the use of torture in “enhanced” interrogation)  to protect America.    Sorry, Mr. President.  I forgot this is your report card – not “Dubya’s”.
Saving the economy from a Depression – B-plus;  not that it matters much since it still feels like a depression to 85% of all Americans.  The reality is we DID avoid a depression.  The downside is the only folks getting ahead these days are 2% with 50% of the country’s wealth.  (Yes, I know it’s actually more like 80% of the country’s wealth, but why split hairs?)  800,000 fellow Americans lost their unemployment benefits today!!  The average benefit was $305 per week.  Unemployment is currently about 9%.  If those lazy Americans would only take jobs at $1.90 an hour they could make that benefit amount and hold their heads up with pride because they are gainfully employed.  Heck, if they would just take jobs at the Federal minimum wage ($7.25), they would make over $1,100 a month.  Oh, but there’s that little detail that there aren’t that many jobs out there.  Details, details.  As Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake!”
Prosecution of past Presidents as war criminals –  F-minus-minus;   The real Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still around.  If we don’t ask why you haven’t done anything, you don’t have to tell us why not.  My only hope now is that Dubya goes to visit a European country and gets arrested for war crimes.  Then the State Department will have to acknowledge the President committed the crimes, but he shouldn’t be prosecuted because he was President of the United States.  We’ll call this the modified Pinochet Defense.
Gitmo – F;  If anyone there is guilty of anything, bring them here and try them.  Otherwise, in America we don’t keep people in jail because we think they might commit a crime at some time in the future.  Well, we’re not supposed to anyway…  But that was before Dubya scared us out of our civil liberties.  You remember, the Bill of Rights – the Constitution, the thing the Tea Baggers want to adhere to so absolutely.
Negotiating with the Republicans – F;  Hello!  Wake up and smell the coffee!!  The Republicans are not interested in compromise.  The Republicans are NOT interested in “common ground”.  The Republicans are not interested in helping you run the country.  The Republicans ARE interested in your capitulation and complete failure as a President and Administration.    Judging from my report card, how are you doing?  How are they doing?
Finally, why am I “under the bus?”   Because when it came time to BEGIN negotiations, you made a concession.  You didn’t even bother to wait for the Republicans to state their initial bargaining positions on Federal employment (“fire us all”) / wage decreases.  You just jumped up and said, “No raises for civilian employees for two years.”  Full Disclosure: I AM A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.  I am fortunate enough not to currently be working in an overtly dangerous job: forest firefighter, DEA agent, FBI, Marshal’s service, IRS tax collector, Border Patrol, etc.  But, there are thousands who are in those civilian jobs.   I’m not saying I deserve a raise “just because”…  I’m not saying anyone, military or civilian, public or private sector deserves a raise “just because”…  I am saying, part of YOUR job is looking out for US – Federal employees – civilian and military – because we are part of the American public.
This is the same thing (make concessions before the beginning of negotiations) you did on Dubya’s war crimes and the health care bill…
And in doing this you have shifted the discussion of the burden of the economic downturn and deficit from taxing the wealthy to “sharing the burden” by government employees.  The problem is the Republicans have no interest in sharing the burden.  They want the entire burden of taxes to fall on the non-wealthy.  Most state governments are near bankruptcy.  Most local governments are near bankruptcy.  Most state and local government employees have faced zero wage increases, layoffs and furloughs for several years.  Now, it’s time for Federal employees to “share the burden”….   So, here we go – under the bus.  Thanks a lot.
Looking forward to your re-election campaign against Sarah Palin,
Signed
A Democrat
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