Irony Alert

Note – I’ve nothing against the author (Versie Walker), but when one is touting a book called “Success” and subtitled “How I ended up here,” it just makes me wonder.

How I ended up signing books in an airport book stall? That’s “success”?


At Ronald Reagan National Airport, Sept. 17, 2010.

Hope he does well…(Some Amazon love)

Back from the East Coast

Egret, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

US Capitol

Yesterday Romy and I returned home from a short trip to the East Coast.

Specifically, we hit the bucolic – the eastern coast of the Chesapeake Bay – and the crazy urban: Washington, D.C.

Quite a difference.

Before I begin with some overall impressions of the trip, I want to begin with how our trip began, especially the can of crazy contributed by Boy Genius (BG, i.e. me).

We booked an early flight Monday – out at 6:30am Chicago time – so we could maximize the day, especially considering the travel time and the lost hour going into the Eastern time zone.

OK, so we’re at the airport at 4:30am and BG finally realizes that, of all things he could have forgotten to bring – of all things – he has forgotten his camera.

For those who don’t know, my first career was as a photographer. Couple of careers later, I’ve been getting into digital photography as a (hardcore) hobby. A big part of any trips we take is – for me – photography. How the frick could I forget my camera? I had all the batteries, charger, backup charger, memory chips blah blah.

But no camera.

Short story: Quick (nerve-wracking) round trip via taxi to my house; made the baggage check with all of five minutes to spare. (Shout out to 303 Taxi; they made it happen.)

Disaster averted, but not a good start to things…

OK, the rest of the trip went well (because Romy planned it; no thanks to me!), and here are some reflections on the trip out East. (NOTE: I’m slowly getting pics into a gallery; it’s going to take some time to get if fully populated.)

The most important is that I don’t ever see going back to either area in a general tourist manner. If some big event happened in DC, sure, might go for a night/weekend. If we were to get access to some house on the bay for a week just to chill out or whatever – that might be nice.

But to go to either area as tourist attractions: Not going to happen. Well, not for some time, at least.

But that’s today – maybe the memories will be fonder as time goes by…


We traveled to the east coast of the Chesapeake Bay, ultimately staying in Cambridge, MD. From there, we took trips: Everything is close to everything else; there’s not much to Maryland.

Here’s my thoughts on what we saw in Maryland:

  • There really wasn’t much there. I expected – viewing the maps and all – to be able to hit the bay just about everywhere – the necks (peninsulas) that stick out into the bay are very narrow. But – even though the bay was a couple of hundred yards on each side of the road as we drove, there was no access to the bay. All private land. I guess that makes sense (in a way) – the Chesapeake area is a very old region of the US; by the time people thought it might be nice to preserve parts of the land, it was all private and farmed. Weird. With the exception of the water visible on both sides, driving down the necks felt like a drive through Indiana or Illionis farm country. Corn, soybeans and sorghum growing with pine/deciduous tree windbreaks on flat, flat land.
  • The fishing industry – to my completely untrained eye – seems to be dying. Much less activity than I saw in Seattle or the Maine coast (Portland and smaller towns). That’s a shame, because the seafood was – to me – outstanding. Catfish, cobia (a whitefish), clams, oysters. Yum! But I didn’t see the activity, and the activity I did see was usually ships piloted by older men. The young just don’t seem to be following in their father’s footsteps. Caveat – again, an untrained eye reporting.
  • The area of the Chesapeake we visited is still structured with an agrarian-type workplace/workforce. By that I mean that there seem to be roles for the men (fishing, farming, very physical work) and the women (retail, restaurants). With the exception of our hotel – a very-much-a-resort hotel – all the waitpersons at the restaurants we ate at were women. Cooks, bartenders, waiters. In the local places we ate, all the workers eating were men – the women I saw eating were not blue-collar workers; they might not have been workers at all (a fair amount of apparent mother/daughters – so not in the workforce per se) . When we visited Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the two workers in the gift shop were women; the clutch of Rangers that poured out of a meeting were all men. Just an observation.
  • What do people do for fun in this area? We’ve been in rural/remote areas, but there always seemed to be posters for this or that festival, a VFW or Elk Lodge. Here, not so much. The couple of times we spoke with people about things, they seemed to think Cambridge was the Big Town: Cambridge is a pit (they are trying, but it looks like years of neglect are going to make a comeback slow, if at all). There’s about three blocks downtown that are the downtown, and – while you can see efforts to restore – it’s not there yet, and the areas all around this small renaissance are brutally decrepit. House after house with “No Trespassing” signs in the windows. Not encouraging.
  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was what I expected a lot of the Chesapeake to be: Lots of wildlife; you can get to the rivers/bay shore. We saw (via an eagle cam and spotting scopes) an osprey eating in an (empty) eagle’s nest, turkey vultures, turtles, egrets, herons and so on. And lots of marsh grass, a view of the bay and so on. Very nice. Not spectacular, but recommended.
  • The resort we stayed in – the Hyatt – seems to have been built on the Disney World model: Buy a huge chunk of land near – but not too near – a town (Cambridge/Orlando) for pennies on a dollar; build a big resort and watch the area around it spring up and help support this huge, largely undeveloped resort. Very nice hotel/resort, great view (we splurged, but it was nice on the balcony evening/morning to just watch the ships in the water; see the stars at night). But the Disney World effect hasn’t kicked in yet: Cambridge is trying but not there, and there’s nothing else near. I can see this resort in trouble if the economy doesn’t bounce back shortly.

Washington, D.C.

The Associated Press says to never abbreviate our nation’s capitol; it’s either Washington, D.C. or District of Columbia.

Whatever. DC it is.

And what a change of gears it was to go from the “there’s no there here” Chesapeake to the urban jungle that is DC. I grew up in suburban Chicago, so big cities don’t faze me, but there were elements of DC that were, let’s say, disquieting.

  • I’ve been to DC before, but that was years ago. Today, the city is a virtual Police State. Seriously. Yesterday, I was walking by the Holocaust Museum. I took a picture from across the street of the entire facade, and then crossed the street to take a closer pic of the facade. Now, there were two uniformed officers in front of the building (which is set back a hundred feet or so from the sidewalk). One on the sidewalk, one right in front of the building. When I started to take the picture, the officer on the sidewalk said I couldn’t take a picture that included the officer near the building. What?? The officer near the building wouldn’t budge (I tried waving him to one side), so I took what I could, showed the pic to the sidewalk officer and was on my way. Crazy. I have dozens of pictures of monuments and so on in DC with security in the picture. It’s virtually impossible to take a wide-angle picture of any high-profile building in DC (from the White House down to the Department of Agriculture) without including one or more security personal. Everywhere you go in DC there are the white-shirted security personnel posted, well, everywhere. And that’s not counting the FBI and Secret Service agents I saw (and those I didn’t…).
  • Where do people eat in this town? Both doing the Mall crawl and back near our hotel, there was a dearth of restaurants. The latter is due to a lack of research on my part, but the former? Do all tourists eat at the museums and all government workers eat at cafeterias in their department? Seems that way. Very bizarre, and I’ve been in many big cities.
  • The DC monuments – almost trite yet iconic – are breathtaking. The Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, Jefferson Memorial and – especially – the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument are all sites one should see at least once.
  • We were only in DC for about two days total. Obviously, there was stuff we missed. I would have liked to go to both the National Gallery and the U.S. Botanic Garden, but one of the things I decided before the trip was to maximize stuff we can’t see in Chicago: We have a great art institute and botanic gardens here. Can only see so much… Also, the National Air and Space Museum – I could have spent a half day there instead of the hour or so we were there. I think Romy would agree. But we did a lot with the limited time we had; my biggest regrets are those that I have no control over: Can’t get close to the White House’s southern exposure; can’t get into the Supreme Court build at all (not even the foyer); can’t take any pictures (even sans flash) in the National Archives. Things like that.

All in all, a great trip.

As I’ve mentioned, while these are two places I’ve no compelling desire to go back to (unlike Maine or Montana), I’m glad I went. Saw some fun stuff; ate some awesome food (fodder for another entry). Relaxing. A much-needed change of pace.

Do I really have to go back to work on Monday?

I’ve now been back home for about a day (arrived Friday evening; now Saturday evening).

Yet it seems like a week ago that I was in DC just wandering around – but that was only about 36 hours ago. Wild.

Embarrassed in America

Today is the 9th Anniversary of the coordinated attacks on the US – the biggest attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor.

So it’s a little disquieting to see this solemn anniversary usurped by radical, anti-muslim groups.

On 9/11, was America attacked by Muslims?

No, we were attacked by terrorists who were Muslim.

Important distinction.

Lee Harvey Oswald shot President JFK with a rifle.

Obviously, all gun/rifle owners are against the US government; we should arrest, interrogate, deport same, right?


Get the distinction?

It’s situations like this, where the US touts religious freedoms – but some say, well, not for Muslims…makes my head explode.

Money quote from (emphasis added):

One man who opposes Park 51, Lance Corey of Westchester, New York, carried a sign that said “Muhammad was the first radical Muslim. Osama bin Laden is following directions.” He described himself as a “militant progressive liberal’ who voted for Obama, and who “cannot tolerate intolerance.” But, he said, “I don’t think this is discrimination against Muslims. It’s discrimination against Islam.”

Anti-Mosque Rally All About How It’s Not About Intolerance

Yeah, can’t tolerate intolerance, but discrimination against Islam is A-OK!

Embarrasses (and more) me.

Flash Crash

Flash Crash

Ever since I installed the “new and improved” version of Flash (10.1.x, with hardware acceleration), I’ve been seeing this message (right) a lot.

I’ve an older system – about 6-years-old – but pretty robust.

Yet Flash keeps crashin’ (NOTE: doesn’t take down anything [browser, OS] with it. Good).

Reload pages and all is good, but still – not a good user experience.

New and improved my ass…

Is it just me or does this icon look like an unhappy Lego piece?


Home-grown tomatoes

Hey, it’s not much, but there’s nothing like the taste of home-grown tomatoes.

It’s been a good year for tomatoes; yum!

Tremendous year for pickles (peaked a month or so ago), and we’re getting some Bell peppers. Whoo-hoo!

The tomatoes have been great this year (had to give away most; too many for us); it’s been a good growing year.

A couple of basil plants that have turned in to shrubs. Pesto-city!

Overall – Fresh grown stuff. Awesome.

Hard to vote against…

CraigslistA lot of political votes – at the local, state and federal level – are heavily influenced by what your future opponent will say about your vote in some future election.

Part of that is good – accountability.

Other parts of this are bad because it forces politicos to vote against something they really like (or vice-versa). Especially hot-button issues: race, religion, sexuality, drugs and so on.

Support shorter terms for white-crime, first-time offenders to cut prisoner costs? Soft on crime!

For gay marriage? Against the centuries-old institution of marriage!

Support a path for citizenship to illegals living here for X years? Pushing for amnesty!

And so on.

Such realities also exist in the court of popular opinion, where – for example – Apple was forced to do something about the iPhone 4’s antenna issue when it became an internet firestorm (free bumper cases to fix potentially lowered connectivity when held “wrong”). I’m not going to go into the merits of Apple’s/Apple nay-sayer’s arguments; the end result is that Apple caved because it – from a PR point of view – had to. To keep the issue alive is just too expensive (dollars and goodwill costs, among others); so cut and run.

Craigslist, sadly, is caving in a similar manner: They are just dropping their Adult (formerly Erotic, I believe) services section in response to pressure from a number of state’s attorneys general.

Wow, I guess this means prostitution in the US will evaporate! (Not.)

I understand the push to get these listings eliminated – prostitution is illegal in the bulk of the US. But does anyone really think these ads, masked/modified, won’t be published in some other section of Craigslist or on some other sites? I mean, really. Of course not; it’s just political theater (for the most part – human trafficking is real and needs to be addressed).

And I know that Craigslist made a point of saying how they manually screened each Adult listing, worked with police and so on. Whether they really did or not and to what degree I’m not privy to, but I don’t read about any other site listing adult ads saying anything like this.

This’ll just drive the ads further underground, and make it more difficult for law enforcement (and johns, yes!) to find the true prostitutes, especially the human-trafficked individuals.

Also, it’s – to a degree – a turning point in the internet. I said this when Craigslist changed from Erotic to Adult services (the Wild West mentality was gone), and it was true then and now. This is the net gentrified, mainstream. Perhaps not all bad, but still not the net I’ve been on since before the Web.

Update 9/8: Danah Boyd – an activist attempting to end violence against women and children – backs up what I’ve said above, with more eloquence and veracity: How Censoring Craigslist Helps Pimps, Child Traffickers and Other Abusive Scumbags.

Google Voice

Ghost Writer, The
Director, Roman Polanski

I’ve mixed opinions about this film – It’s extremely well done (duh – Roman Polanski), I enjoyed, but I have no desire to see it again.

And the shot that Ebert gushed over – the passing of the note (doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen it): When it began, I said to Romy “He’s trying to get artsy!”

But it was a nicely understated film with a couple of twists. Great cast, and I loved that the lead character (Ewan McGregor) has no name – he’s “the ghost[writer].” Nice touch.

All movies

Hey, first impression only: Google Voice (call from Gmail) rocks. Currently free to US & Canada, low rates internationally.

Will it continue to be free for US/Canada? Whatever.

Google Voice

I stuck a (very old) microphone on Romy’s computer (the mic didn’t work on mine; older computer – need to reboot or whatever), and it just worked.

She talked to her brother in Indiana. For free.

She talked to her folks in Minnesota. For free.

The voice on the phone is great (I’ve called my cell and home phones); a little tinny on the (computer) receiving end. Bad speakers?


One question I don’t know the answer to is what this could do to a smart phone (browser-equipped)? Can one install this in Gmail on smart phone and 1) It works; 2) Hey, receiver is smart phone, just like a normal call?? (In the later case, doesn’t have the “tinny” sound on receiving end, perhaps…)