I've been listening to American Idiot by Green Day nearly nonstop for several weeks now. Mixing parts of The Who, The Sex Pistols, Ramones and David Bowie into the Green Day sonic wall has produced a masterpiece which will probably be my album of the year. Watch these pages for a review of my other favorites albums of 2004.
Yesterday Tina and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. I'm not exaggerating when I say that all the best things in my life started after I met Tina. I love her more than I ever have and I'm grateful that she married me. We've become closer this year, for which I am also grateful. I can only hope that our relationship continues to grow during the next 12 years.Current reading: Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
My back has gotten much better since I saw my doctor a few weeks ago. He prescribed an anti-inflammatory that appears to have done the trick. I still have a little pain in my right leg from the sciatic nerve, but it really only manifests itself when I have to stand still for an extended period of time. I'm still considering a chiropractor, but I want to see what happens if I do the exercises regularly first.I've added a few links to my Cool Links page:
|The image on the left is from a site that lets you visualize all the states you have visited in our country. There is also a world map that shows the countries you have visited, but three countries (USA, Mexico, Canada) isn't a very exciting visual. The website automatically generates an URL that you can paste into a web page to show people your travels. Send me yours!|
As many of you have requested/demanded, I am at last updating my web page again. I've been going through a period of clinical depression for a few months. I've been on medication (Effexor) for awhile, but still feel sluggish and unmotivated. My doctor has given me permission to increase the dosage, which I did this week. I likely won't see the effects for a week or more.
As if depression wasn't enough, my back problems began recurring in mid-August. As you may recall, I had problems back in February, but it eventually got better. After we got back from Iowa in August, it started feeling sore. I didn't do anything to make it better (like the proscribed exercises) and it continued and eventually got worse. For the last month or so, I'm even less motivated during non-work time because simply standing is painful. Laying down is better so I've been doing quite a bit of that recently. Last week I saw my doctor and he prescribed an anti-inflammatory as well as a muscle relaxant. It has gotten better but I really need to start doing exercises to keep the back muscles strong.
As I mentioned before, we went to Iowa for a Ring family reunion back in August. It was really great seeing all my brothers and sisters and their kids, but also sad. My hometown of Riceville will probably always remind me of my brother, Kim, who killed himself in May of 2003. I think his death marked the beginning of my current bout with depression. Being layed off a few weeks later didn't help much, either.
Shortly before the trip to Iowa, I inadvertently blew the head gasket on my little truck. It's been mostly sitting in our driveway since then. I drove it a couple of times after, but it goes through coolant very, very quickly and then gets hot after that. Too hot. Our mechanic lives on the other side of Portland so it might take me a few days to get it over there. I have to call him to find out how much it's going to cost, but I think I'll be getting it fixed.
Last month Tina's parent moved back to New Mexico. We were all sad to seem them go, but the boys especially were hit hard. Luckily, there life is filled with school, Cub Scouts and tons of other activities that Tina has for them. Lately they've been enjoying going to the gym with Tina. The gym provides child care for members in the form of classes and exercises for kids.
|As you may have seen in the news last month, Mt. St. Helens has recently become more active. There were a couple of minor eruptions at the end of September/beginning of October, but nothing major has happened yet. Nonetheless, most everyone I know here checks this website several times a day. Many people here were very excited for a major eruption, but anybody who has heard the stories from 1980, as I have from friends that were there, knows that is not the kind of thing you want to wish for.|
Last week while I was on my way to work, I turned the corner at 162nd and Halsey as I do every morning. This time there was no need to pause because I had the green light. I was only a half block down Halsey when I heard a loud noise and turned to see a minivan sliding sideways in my direction. It was like a scene from Final Destination 2 as it slid closer to me while tipping at a nearly 45 degree angle. It came within 6 feet of me before it crashed back down on it's wheels and came to a stop. OK, maybe it was 30 feet away and in the middle of the road but it was still pretty exciting. On my way home, I snapped this picture (right) of some accident debris that remained in the gutter. If you click on the picture, you can enjoy some of my (in)famous irony.
Monday morning I depart for Apple's World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco. For Macintosh software engineers, it is a week of pure nirvana. You get to learn all about new features in the next version of Mac OS X but you also get to schmooze with Apple programmers and even take home some free stuff. This will be my first time since 2000 so I am very much looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I still have some active projects so I'll need to work on those while I'm there.Bike Odometer: 3761 miles
Once again, I find that I have too many projects and not enough time. Aside from the normal burdens of home ownership, family and the like, I have been helping out a friend who is attempting to start up his own software company. Also, work continues to pour into Critical Path where I am currently working on four different projects simultaneously. The future looks promising for CPS and I'm very glad to be there for it.
Graham has been out of school for a couple of weeks now but Thomas has another week left. I don't understand the school schedules here that have them taking a week off in October but a school year that extends into mid-June. Sometimes I think that teachers and school administrators don't live in the same world that we do.
Today Thomas' Cub Scout pack had a 10 mile bike ride on the Springwater Corridor bike trail. I spent most of the morning getting air to stay in our bike tires and then we spent the afternoon on the ride. It was fun corraling all the boys along the trail and helping them cross the streets safely. The Springwater Corridor is a great ride because it's built on an old railway right-of-way which makes it almost perfectly flat for miles and miles. Even so, after riding 5 miles "out" and 5 miles back, almost everyone was exhausted. And saddle sore. Except me. I do this every day.Bike Odometer: 3641 miles
A year has passed since my brother, Kim, killed himself. I'd like to write something memorable or significant but I can't think of anything other than I miss him.Bike Odometer: 3483 miles
The keyboard I mentioned previously has been lots of fun for the boys and me. I plunked out a few notes on it and created this, a song by Mozart. You'll need MP3 software to play it, but you probably have that already. If you don't have MP3 software already, you can get Apple's iTunes for free (it works on Windows and Mac). I played all of the instruments on the song except the drums and the guitar riff at the end.
A couple of weeks ago we got a package in the mail containing about 30 Pepsi caps that were winners in the Pepsi/iTunes music give-away. There was no return address (which is not allowed in Portland post offices) and only a short note that said, "I thought you could use these better than us." And it had a smiley face drawn on it. Tina discovered the postmark was from Mason City, IA, so we have our suspicions of where they came from. Anyway, we cashed them all in at the iTunes Music Store over the last couple of weeks and got some really great songs. Thanks to our mystery benefactor!
Once again, the NBA playoffs have been a tremendous source of enjoyment for me this year. Although I still miss the days of Michael Jordan, there are many players that I greatly look forward to seeing play. Favorites this year have been Jason Kidd, Joe Smith, Dirk Nowitski, Steve Nash, Peja Stojacavic, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant. The Tivo makes it really easy to watch lots of games. If I watch every single play, I can reduce a 3 hour game to about an hour and a half. However, if one team gets too far ahead, I can fast-forward until I see the lead whittled down and I can return for the big comeback win. Did I mention I love my Tivo?Bike Odometer: 3355 miles
On Saturday our family visited the Apple Store that opened in Beaverton last year. It was the first time I had been in a mall in about five years. We went to bask in the Apple glory but I was also looking for a couple of things. They had one of those: an inexpensive MIDI keyboard that can be used with Apple's GarageBand software.
In case you didn't follow the link, GarageBand is a neat little application that let's amateurs create professional-sounding music. It has a bunch of software instruments built-in as well as an onscreen keyboard to play them. The onscreen keyboard is only good enough to make you want a real keyboard, so that's why I found myself standing in the checkout line at the Apple Store on Saturday.
It only cost $100 but it was worth every penny. The software piano sounds just like a piano. The keys are velocity-sensitive which means that when you pound on them they are louder than when you just touch them. Thomas really digs it and I'm going to start looking for some beginning piano material so that we can learn how to play piano together. Well, I'll be relearning.
In other news, I picked up a traffic ticket for riding my bike in a lane designated for buses only. The ticket was quite unexpected and unmerited on several fronts. If it was for $100 or less, I'd probably plead "no contest" and just pay it. However, it's for $237 and will go on my driving record, even though I wasn't driving! I'm talking to a lawyer and I like my chances of beating the rap.Bike Odometer: 3267 miles
Taxes done. Bought a new computer this week. Life is good!Top 5 Things I Love About My Tivo
Between work and Tivo, I've not made the time to do much else lately. This week I have to get started on my taxes!Bike Odometer: 3177 miles
Last weekend my back began to bother me a little bit and by Monday morning it was stiff and painful again. It kept me from riding my bike all week which I really missed and it didn't help me at work very much. As if that weren't enough, I woke up with a sore throat and felt feverish on Friday. I went to work anyway but have lazed on the couch the whole weekend hoping to sleep enough to drive off the sickness and rest my back enough for it to feel halfway normal again. As I write this on Sunday, I have accomplished the latter and maybe I've got the flu on the run. I guess I'll know more tomorrow.
Last weekend I finally relented to pressure from all parties and ordered DirecTV for our household. We got a two-room installation with a DirecTivo in one room. If you don't know what a Tivo is, it's a Digital Video Recorder - basically, a VCR that uses a hard drive instead of tapes. It holds up to 35 hours of video. It's so much more, though. Ours has two tuners so you can record two things at the same time while watching a third. Their most-famous feature is the ability to pause "live TV" but the coolest part is the way that you tell it which programs you want to record. Essentially, you pick the program you want from a standard TV Guide-style listing. You can choose the "Season Pass" option which will record the program whenever it is on. If the network decides to move the program, Tivo knows and adjusts. We have spent the whole weekend camped in front of the TV exploring all the Tivo options and watching all of our favorite shows and movies. It's awesome!Bike Odometer: 2988 miles
This week the same-sex marriage debate reached our little city. On Tuesday night the news reported that Multnomah County, the most populous county in Oregon and home to Portland, would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Wednesday morning. Hundreds of people began lining up that night to be among the first gay couples in Oregon to be wed. 422 licenses were issued on the first day.
Needless to say there has been a great deal of reaction. On Thursday morning, I rode about a mile out of my way to work in order to pass by the county building where it was all happening. Again, there were hundreds of people lined up around the block. Every couple of minutes a couple would come out holding a manila envelope and everybody in line would clap and cheer for them. Several couples walked by me and I congratulated them. They were visibly elated. It was inspiring and heart-warming and moving.
The powers-that-be set up a little area in front of the courthouse for any protestors that wished to be heard and/or seen. There were only 4 or 5 when I was there and only one was protesting against the proceedings. Nevertheless, he was enough to put the whole situation in perspective. He wore a big sandwich sign that asked "Why do you love Satan?" in big red letters on the front. On the back, it had a list of all the Satan Lovers including (and I quote):
I laughed out loud when I saw that last item! Alas, I did not have my camera with me!Bike Odometer: 2988 miles
Once again several career choices came together simulataneously and Monday was the crossroads. Last week I had a job interview that I think was successful and likely would have resulted in a job offer, but I don't think the situation was right for me. On Monday I had lunch with my supervisor at ProDX and he was very anxious to get me back there, but I turned him down. I told him I felt like an outsider the whole time I worked at Extensis. So what does my future hold? After I got back from that lunch, I met with my boss at CPS and he extended an offer for permanent employment. So it appears that this long journey is over and I'm back on the road that I was on last June. It is a relief.Bike Odometer: 2954 miles
Friday was a very good day for me. Some people at CPS get together late on Friday afternoons and play poker. The stakes are low and it's mostly for fun, but I did very well on this Friday. After counting my winnings I hopped on the Max and headed across the river to the Rose Garden to see a performance of Neil Young's Greendale. Greendale is the story of a small town in California and the Green family that lives there. Last year a CD featuring Neil Young and Crazy Horse was released that told the story with 10 songs. Now he is touring with Crazy Horse and a company of actors and dancers. During the performance Neil and Crazy Horse provide the music while the story is acted out on a set that surrounds the band. A big projection screen provides easily changed sets as well as background material. I can't describe to you how much I enjoyed this show other than to say it was the greatest performance I have ever seen. I can't recommend it highly enough. If you're anywhere close to any of these locations, you should go see it.Bike Odometer: 2883 miles
We still don't have cable. This is the first NBA All-Star Weekend that I have not watched since 1990. What's worse, the current NBA deal utilizes cables stations like TNT and ESPN more than ABC, who won the bidding war for the NBA a couple of years ago. This is fine except the actual All-Star Game is on TNT tonight! I'm going to Uncle Buddy's house with Thomas to watch it.
I found the time this weekend to finish preparing and packing the various prizes for people who have won them during Sunday chat. If you have won recently, expect your prize soon. If you haven't won, you only need to show up one Sunday and make me laugh out loud.Bike Odometer: 2842 miles
On Monday I introduced Graham to The Dark Side of the Rainbow. In your not familiar with that phrase, it refers to the strange and wonderful synchronicity that exists between The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. The idea is that you play Dark Side while you are watching Oz. The music matches with what is happening in the movie, sometimes to surprising detail. Graham dug it.
Work seems to be getting better every week. Last week I was promoted from performing QA (quality assurance, i.e. testing) to doing research on an engineering project. Work is starting to pour in at a great rate so I expect to return to "permanent" status soon.
My back is now at about 90%. I can do everything normally again including getting dressed in the morning which was a big problem a couple of weeks ago. I still have slight soreness and I can still detect a little crookedness when I look at myself in the mirror. I went to the doctor after the first week of pain and he had some x-rays taken of my back. The x-rays show that I have a slight curvature which I think was exacerbated temporarily by the injury. The doctor concluded that it is not serious enough to merit serious medical action like surgery. He gave me a series of exercises to avoid future injury.
We finally got the doors on our van fixed. The passenger door stopped closing many months ago but we didn't want to pay to get it fixed since I didn't have a job yet. Instead we duct taped the handles and lock to prevent it from being opened. This was not a big problem because we don't use the passenger seat that often. However, recently we began having similar problems with the driver door. Eventually, it got so bad that it would not shut at all so we took it to the shop to get fixed. Over $400 later and they both work like a charm! The body shop guy says lots of American cars have the same problem.Bike Odometer: 2811 miles
As I mentioned in my last update, I had some choices to make with regard to employment opportunities. Unfortunately, none of the choices were as good as I would have liked. The job I decided to take returns me to Critical Path Software as a temporary worker. CPS hopes to bring me on full-time and permanently, but they are not in the position to make that commitment yet. I returned to work there last Monday.
Thomas turned eight on Friday. He celebrated with some of his school friends Friday afternoon and then Grandma Ring took us out to dinner at his favorite restaurant, Chang's Mongolian Grill. We also had a small birthday party for family and friends last Saturday, which was also successful. It's seems impossible that Thomas has been eight, but it also seems like he's always been a part of our lives.
In preparation for the birthday party last Saturday, I did a little cleanup outside and around the house. The most important task was to take the Christmas lights down. Cold weather and busy weekends had prevented me (or at least provided an excuse) from taking them down prior. Most of the lights are the big, old-fashioned C9 bulbs that I hang from clips on our eaves. Taking them down is easier than putting them up and if I stretch a bit, I don't even have to use a ladder. However, I stretched once time too many, or perhaps too far one one time. Throughout the day at the party I noticed a little soreness in my lower back. That evening it got worse and by Sunday morning I had officially "thrown" my back out. Not wanting to spoil my return to CPS, I worked throughout the week even though walking to my car at the end of some days was quite a challenge. This morning I took a successful trial run on my bike so I think it is getting better. Tomorrow I'll start riding my bike to work again and hope that it gets better this week.
Our van is going to be in the shop most of this week to get the doors fixed. Some of you may recall the story of the sliding door falling off the last time that my mom came to visit. This time, it's the passenger and driver doors that are giving us fits. The passenger door has been duct taped shut for several months and the driver door has recently refused to shut.
My mother left for California after visiting here for two weeks. The boys loved having her around and we were all sad to see her go again. We're hoping we can see her again this summer. She's visiting my sister, Maridee, in Moreno Valley for the next two weeks. They are all driving to Phoenix after that and my mom is returning home from Phoenix, but only for a few days before jetting off to see my sister, Mardy, in Savannah, GA.Bike Odometer: 2753 miles
Monday was my last day at ProDX/Extensis but it seems to have come at the best time possible. I have several very promising job leads that I am pursuing this week and it is almost certain that I will have a job next week. It is likely that whichever job I land will not be a permanent situation, though. Watch this space for news soon.
My mom arrived late Sunday night and will be here for a couple of weeks. Being unemployed this week has given me a chance to spend more time with her.Bike Odometer: 2751 miles
Yesterday Extensis decided to fix a few last bugs and projected that Friday would be the final day for the project. Barring some new developments, I will be unemployed next week.Bike Odometer: 2717 miles
The weather let up a little today, but only a little. I did not go to work today but Thomas and I ventured out for a walk and reconnaissance mission. It was very slippery because there is a quarter inch of ice on everything. The streets look good outside our neighborhood where they have been plowed, but the city does not plow side streets here so we have to wait until it melts enough to be passable.
Tomorrow I have to return to work to help finish up the project I've been working on since September. After that, there will be a couple days of documentation and then it will be over. My employer, ProDX, is working on getting some more work for me, but nothing is definite yet. It looks like this week is a precursor to more idle time ahead for me. I'm a little relieved, though, since there are a lot of things that I have been procrastinating on pending the end of my work for ProDX. The cold weather has not increased my productivity in that regard either!
On Monday night another winter storm moved into Portland and brought snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Because I am under deadline pressure, I drove to work very early Tuesday morning amidst swirling, drifting snow. However, accumulation was light so the drifts were small and the drive was uneventful. I even stayed pretty warm since I layered up really well before leaving. My heater in the truck has not worked well for some time and is completely worthless in this weather.
As I worked I noted that the snowfall had increased and the size of the flakes had also increased. I finished up work shortly after noon and headed home with great trepidation. Once I got onto I-84, I thought it was going pretty well until the sleet started. Evidently sleet is small ice balls that are partially unfrozen - that's what the local news calls it at least. These tiny little balls were being driven into my windshield by a strong east wind coming out of the Columbia River Gorge. Instead of bouncing off when they made contact, they splattered and cemented themselves to the glass. Within a short while my visibility was affected. The windshield wipers were ineffective because my defrost could not make the windshield warm enough.
To further complicate matters, I-84 is a like a canyon in spots with high cement walls on the sides and no real shoulder to pull over on. I was afraid to pull over both because I might get stuck and also for fear of being struck by an out-of-control car. Finally, I got an exit and pulled over to scrape the ice from my windshield. Not wanting to dive back in the canyon, I decided to take streets the rest of the way home. This added a further complication because the streets are not nearly as well traveled or plowed as the freeways. Aside from having to pull over every 10 blocks or so to scrape my windshield, the most difficult part was traversing hills, especially with slow drivers in front of me.
Last night it was obvious that the roads would be impassable so I slept in this morning. When I arose, the landscape was covered with a half inch of ice. Not even the postman would brave the conditions today, so I took my cue from him and did not go to work. The temperature has been slowly increasing but not fast enough so tomorrow morning will probably also be inadvisable for driving. Perhaps in the afternoon.
How is the rest of Portland handling this weather? The city has essentially shut down. There are stories here and here. Max lines have been closed for two days. No flights arrived or departed from the airport today and 60% of flights were canceled yesterday. Truckers who have been stranded on I-84 for days are running low on fuel. 33,000 people have lost power because of downed power lines. Schools have been closed since yesterday and will be closed tomorrow. And the Blazers had to cancel their game against the Grizzlies.Bike Odometer: 2717 miles
Last Monday was the beginning of a weeklong snowfall in Portland. It did not fall heavily that first day so I once again decided to brave the weather on my bike. Everything was fine until I stopped at my first red light, 20 blocks from the Max Station. I downshifted before stopping and when I started I immediately began having problems with the gears. The chain kept slipping off the gears so I stopped to have a look after about 3 blocks. I found that the gaps between all the gears in the back were filled with tightly packed slush which didn't allow the chain to fully engage the teeth of the gears. I hadn't noticed the problem prior to stopping because the slush couldn't get in around the gear I was in. Evidently I was in that gear for most of the time prior to stopping and all the others got jammed with slush. I tried to shake loose the slush, but finished the remaining 15 blocks in the equivalent of a bike limp. I had to use my mini-Leatherman on the Max to clear out all the slush before I attempted the final leg of my commute. All the snow melted before the end of the day so I had no problems that night. Nevertheless, that will be the last time I ride my bike in the snow.
Snow continued on Tuesday and Wednesday and the Portland Metro area has been in upheaval since. The last of that snow melted yesterday, but it has gotten very cold with the threat of freezing rain or snow tonight. It's been well-timed since the boys are on vacation and really have enjoyed spending most of the day outside in the snow. They don't really have "snow clothes" so we've been making do with having them change every couple of hours. They are having a blast. It snows so seldom here that I think this is probably the first snow that Graham can remember.Bike Odometer: 2717 miles