So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

Good Bye PixelsAfter running this website in all its various incarnations over the last 15 years (1997-2012), I’ve decided to bring the existing blog and a significant chapter in my life to a close. The website reflected the sprawling mess that my life has become in my misbegotten Internet youth. The time has come to leave the past behind and move forward to embrace the future.

I’ll be cleaning up the blog posts for publication as FREE ebooks and making changes to turn this website into a museum. The comments for the blog posts are open for everyone (except spammers).

A new blog with a much tighter focus will be in development in 2013. Watch my Twitter feed for when it becomes semi-public (i.e., new blog postings will be announced there). This blog post will be updated when the new blog is open for everyone (including search engines and spammers). I still blog about writing at A Silicon Valley Writer every Sunday.

24 July 2013 Update: Visit the new blog, same as the old blog. Kicking The Bit Bucket

Review – Jack Reacher (Advanced Screening)

jackreacherLast night I saw an advanced screening of “Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise at the AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara. I wish I could say that AMC and/or Paramount invited me because I was an awesome blogger and I sat in the reserved seating for THE PRESS. Didn’t happen that way. Being a AMC Stubs member, I got an email about this event and requested the FREE tickets last week. I sat with a rowdy crowd that cut across a wide demographic spectrum that’s unusual for a Tom Cruise movie. As for the motley crew that sat in the reserved seating for THE PRESS, only one guy had a notebook out and looked like a reviewer in his corduroy coat.

Other than being a Tom Cruise movie, I had no clue what “Jack Reacher” was about beyond viewing a movie trailer a while back. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie was based on the novel, “One Shot” by Lee Child, which happens to be from the middle of the Jack Reacher mystery series. That’s odd. Glancing through the plot summaries for the other novels in the series, this particular novel may be the most accessible to bring to the big screen.

The movie begins with the going back-and-forth between a man assembling rifle bullets in a workshop and driving a van to a water-front garage. He parks the van and puts a quarter into the parking meter. He fires six shots to randomly kill five people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and leaves behind a single shell casing. The police arrives to find the shell casing and the quarter with a clear finger print. An arrest is made in what appears to be a slam dunk case for the detective and the district attorney. Except the suspect asks to see Jack Reacher.

Who the hell is Jack Reacher?

A former military police investigator from the Army who tried to put the suspect away for killing civilians with a sniper rifle during the Iraq War. The suspect escapes punishment due to the “murkiness” of war. After seeing the shooting and suspect’s mug shot reported on the news, Jack Reacher shows up at the DA’s office to make sure that the suspect is put away for good this time.

The defense attorney, who happens to be the DA’s daughter, convinces him to investigate the shooting. He starts unraveling the set up for the shooting from the perspective of a professional sniper, determines that not all the victims were entirely random, and the person most threaten by exposure is the DA. The violence, killings and car chases escalates to a very satisfying conclusion.

Tom Cruise was brilliant as Jack Reacher. I never read the novels so I can’t make a direct comparison between the two. Rosamund Pike as the defense attorney gave a nuanced emotional performance when the camera did a close-up on her face. I haven’t enjoyed a movie like this in ages.

The Kidney Stones of Thanksgiving

I spent the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving  Day in the waiting room of an urgent care center. The last place I wanted to be during my four-day weekend from working at a nearby hospital. My friend, however, had a confirmed 4mm kidney stone in his bladder. I’ve been calling it “Little Shatner” after William Shatner sold his kidney stone on eBay. Passing a kidney stone is the closest thing that a man will ever get to childbirth. I know because I delivered my own kidney stone on Thanksgiving Day 1995, which forever changed my life as a Christian.

After being kicked out of San Jose State University in Spring 1995 for failing calculus, I took a literature class each semester in the 1995-96 school year at San Jose City College to figure out what to do with my life. I felt a sharp jabbing pain in what I later learned to be my right kidney and started having trouble urinating in mid-November. I went to the nurse’s office on campus to have the doctor looked at me. She suspected that I had urinary track infection, prescribed some antibiotics, and sent me over to Valley Medical Hospital to be poke and prodded by an emergency room doctor to see if I had an erupted appendix.

I went up to Sacramento to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. The antibiotics didn’t seem to work. After we had Thanksgiving dinner and I laid down for a nap, I felt the urgent need to urinate and made a mad dash to the bathroom. As I leaned over the toilet, the pain from waiting to go became agony.

Ever see a snake swallowing a whole egg that moves through its tubular body? I stared in horror as an egg-shaped bulge slowly moved through and distorted the shape of my penis. When the kidney stone finally exited, a river of blood, pus and urine poured out as my bladder emptied for the next ten minutes.  My mother knocked at the door, asking if I was okay. I was shaken but never felt so relieved in my life. My father said I had passed a kidney stone.

The school doctor later conceded that I might have passed  a kidney stone.

I commiserated with my roommate, Bruce, who had also passed a kidney stone a few weeks earlier. We first met eight years earlier at a church workshop on a Saturday morning a week after I was baptized into Christ. Until I moved in his household, we had little contact during those years. He confided to me that he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease and wanted me to take care of him until the day he died. Without passing that kidney stone, I doubted I would have said yes. I became one of five brothers who took care of him until he died five years later, watching him become angry with God for losing his ability to live an independent life and peacefully accepting that his life was in God’s hands in the end.

Falling Back From Daylight Savings Time (DST)

The end of Daylight Savings Time (DST) couldn’t come any sooner. My body’s internal time clock knew for some time that turning back the clock was fast approaching. I kept going to bed earlier each night for a month, sometimes crashing in bed after getting home from work, to sync up with the soon-to-be time adjustment. With the clock turned back one hour, I’m now falling asleep between 9:00PM and 11:00PM, waking up at 5:45AM and getting on the freeway to my non-writing job by 7:10AM.

Of course, this may have more to do with being on a low-carb diet than turning back the hour.

As part of this biannual event, I went around my studio apartment to change the time and switch out the batteries on all the clocks. A single AA battery went into each of the analog clocks in the office, kitchen and bathroom. Areas where I can lose track of time if I didn’t have a clock to watch, especially in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work. The AA battery in the analog travel clock and the backup 9V battery in the digital alarm clock next to my bed were also replaced. The smoke detector felt neglected and started chirping for a new 9V battery as well. Like a broken clock that tells time correctly twice a day, all the clocks in my apartment are now correct for a second time this year.

Should DST be abolished as some people have advocated over the years?

I would say yes. We live in a global economy that is no longer dictated by the dawn-to-dusk cycles of an agrarian economy. That’s true even for farmers. I have an uncle in Idaho who owns a top of the line John Deere tractor with air-conditioning and floodlights that allows him to mow and bale hay for 16 hours per day, whether the sun is shining or not. He works three months during the summer and takes the other nine months off, making a cool quarter-million a year before taxes and equipment expenses as an independent contractor.

Then again, how would I know when to change out the batteries in my clocks?

On Hiatus For NaNoWriMo & Holidays

Holiday AgendaAfter my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer this year, I threw myself into blogging more frequently and consistently than I have ever done before since starting OUAA as a website 15 years ago. Limiting myself to writing 500 words or less, I posted three times a week through the summer and five times a week until it recently tapered off. Plunging into non-fiction writing was my escape from my father’s death. Now I need to put OUAA on hiatus for NaNoWriMo 2012 and the holidays.

NaNoWriMo is the mad dash in November to write a 50,000-word manuscript, typically but not limited to a novel. I’ll be writing a collection of 100 flash stories based mostly on weird news headlines from the Internet. A 500-word flash story (or blog post) takes two to four hours to finish. I need to write the rough draft of five flash stories in the same amount of time from Monday through Friday. (I’m keeping the weekends open for other writing projects.) I can’t do that and still blog while working a full time non-writing job. Being a short story writer, I’m looking forward to writing so many flash stories in so little time.

I’ll be thinking about the future of OUAA during the holidays. My core audience consists of two dozen spammers who often leave wonderful comments about my blog postings and my urgent need for penis enlargement pills. Needless to say, no blogger wants a suck up audience (unless they’re clicking on the ads). That means making some major changes to find a better audience.

I’m leaning towards ending OUAA (but keeping it online) and starting a new blog with a different focus in the New Year. Out with the old, in with the new. Starting with clean slate is very appealing to me. I would be closing a significant chapter and opening a new chapter in my life. (I wished I had this idea before ordering new business cards for next year.) Something to think about and plan for during the holidays.

Meanwhile, plenty of stuff will be happening that I want to throw in my two-bits in between now and the end of the year. I’ll be blogging on an irregular schedule. Maybe once or twice a week. Or maybe not.

Adventures In Extreme Couponing (Part 3)

Our adventures in extreme couponing came to an ignominious end by the San Jose Mercury News that hosted the seminar back in September. My roommate got a phone call from the newspaper’s sales office that they were rescinding the Sunday-only subscriptions for $10 USD each due to being “unable to handle the volume” of delivering five copies of the paper every week. We would get a refund for $40 USD in two weeks and receive one Sunday paper each week. The funny thing is that no one told the delivery person to stop bringing the extra copies.

I suspect the real reason for curtailing multiple subscriptions came from pressure by the coupon manufacturers. With changed coupon policies at most stores and less generous coupons becoming common, extreme couponing is getting more difficult to put into practice. While filling up a shopping cart with $1,000 USD in groceries and handing over a thick bundle of coupons to pay absolutely nothing at the checkout stand makes for good television, it requires more time and effort than the average consumer is willing to put in.

Besides, extreme couponing didn’t quite work out for us.

My roommate insisted that we can’t use the coupons until a special website tells us which coupons to use at which store that have a good promotion for certain items. I guess the stores in Silicon Valley don’t have any great deals over the last few months. The growing pile of coupons—the few that we can use—remain unused. I never understood why I have to wait for a website to tell me when to use the coupons. The last thing I want to do is stampede with the herd to clear out the store shelves.

Without waiting for the herd to stampede, I took a different approach to extreme couponing that might be called reality couponing.

  • Going on a low-carb diet to trim my weight and food costs at the same time. Nothing focuses the mind than looking up the nutritional labels to count the carbs.
  • Buying the same items from week to week. Unless you have a baseline of your existing food costs, you won’t know how much money you’re actually saving.
  • Some of the best deals aren’t announced in the newspaper or on a website. If a store is overstocked on an item and/or the expiration date will soon expire, the price will be reduced to move the item off the shelves.

I’m now in a better position to use the few available coupons to save money than I was when I first attended the extreme couponing seminar.

Third Presidential Debate (Horses & Bayonets)

My roommate and I didn’t watch the third presidential debate. The World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers was on. That’s right. The World Series was far more important than who will become the next leader of the Free World. We did, however, monitored the Tweet stream on our iPads while watching the game, calling out what we thought were relevant and sometimes funny tweets. The “horses and bayonets” line from President Obama became our favorite. Out of three debates, the middle debate was probably the most engaging with both candidates landing hits than the first or second debates.

After the debate was over and the game was still playing, I went back to playing Tiny Tower on the iPad. I have already constructed the 75th floor, which I haven’t expected to do before the third debate as it takes three days to earn enough coins to construct a floor. Being sick for four days last week left me with plenty of time to keep restocking the stores to earn more coins at a faster rate.

Which presidential candidate is getting my vote? That was a done deal immediately after the Republican and Democratic conventions. I’m voting for President Obama.

The Republicans are under the delusion that 2012 is 1980 again, with President Obama being President Jimmy Carter and Governor Mitt Romney being the future President Ronald Reagan. Uh, no. President Carter had high inflation, the energy crisis and the Iranian hostage crisis during his four years. President Obama has inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression and a Republicans Party committed to turning him into a one-term president.

Should the American public reward the Republican Party for eight years of incompetence under President George W. Bush and four years of hindering President Obama’s attempt to turn America around?

As a moderate conservative, I would say: “Oh, hell no!”

The California Community Colleges Crisis

College Diploma

When I went back to San Jose City College to learn computer programming ten years ago, I knew it would be tough. The dot com bubble went kablooey. Computers were out, health care was in. I couldn’t get the classes I needed in the beginning because there were too many students, and the classes I needed towards the end were cancelled for not having enough students. After five years of going to school on a part-time basis while working full time, I made the dean’s list  in my final semester for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in my major.

Unless I won the lottery and returned to San Jose State University to complete my bachelor degree in something (I was a mathematics major before they kicked me out in 1995), I wouldn’t dream of going back to a community college for classes. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the community colleges are so impacted from the Great Recession that many students are lucky to get any classes at all.

Frustrated students linger on waiting lists or crash packed classes hoping professors will add them later. They see their chances of graduating or transferring diminishing.

It’s a product of years of severe budget cuts and heavy demand in the two-year college system. The same situation has affected the Cal State and UC systems, but the impact has been most deeply felt in the 2.4-million-student community college system — the nation’s largest.

Taking forever to get a college degree used to be optional. Now it’s a requirement. If you want it, persevere until you get all your classes. If you don’t want it, work at Taco Bell until you retire.

Perhaps I was lucky to return to school when I did. Uncle Sam paid for my books and classes with a $3,000 USD tax credit meant to transition workers into a new career. Ironically, I never did get a programming job after graduating in 2007. The only programming I do now is for maintaining my websites.

I got a help desk job at a Fortune 500 company in Mountain View in 2005. Unlike finding and reporting bugs in video games, I was finding and documenting solutions for problems that users were reporting. The pay was better ($24 USD versus $16 USD) for fewer hours (40 hours versus 80 hours). I stayed at this job for nearly three years. Help desk, like becoming a video game tester years earlier, became my new career almost by accident.

The only educational opportunities I have is updating my tech certifications. The A+, Network+ and Microsoft Windows 2000 certifications that I got while in school are long in the tooth. The certifications that I need today are Microsoft Windows 7 and Apple Mac OS X. I can study for those without taking any classes. Between working help desk during the day and writing at night, I have very little time to sit in a classroom even if I could get classes.

Second Presidential Debate (Binder Girls)

Like many new Hollywood movies this past summer, I kept my expectations deliberately low when watching the second presidential debate on TV. Unlike the first presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate, this one was less entertaining than a girl fight at a women prison. President Barack Obama was more spirited than his previous zombified self. Governor Mitt Romney was frustrated that he couldn’t get the last word in every single time. The real girl fight should have been between their wives for wearing nearly identical pink dresses.

Of course, no one asked the governor why he stiffed the broads of The View and The Late Show with David Letterman. Much less if he preferred pepperoni or sausage on Pizza Hut pizza. Although Big Bird wasn’t mentioned this time (the hottest costume for Halloween), his “binders full of women” quote is provoking fond memories of the Trapper Keeper binder from the 1980′s. Yeah, it was that bad. The last thing I need to do during the election season is remember my teenage years.

After an hour of the debate, my roommate switched the channel to the baseball game. We started talking about the new product rumors that Apple is expected to announce next week at their media event. Was Apple going to introduce a new iPad with the smaller docking connector six months after releasing the third-gen iPad and six months before releasing the fourth-gen iPad? A sore subject for my roommate. A new iPad would make the third-gen iPad he got six months ago obsolete. Nothing worse than having your bragging rights on the bleeding edge cut short by an incremental update.

On a happier note, Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, was knocked out of “Dancing of The Stars” last night. Proof that the Tea Party’s influence—at least, on reality TV—is coming to an end. On the other hand, we can look forward to Momma Bear’s new exercise and diet book.

As for Tiny Towers on the iPad, I wasn’t able to add the 75th floor while the girl fight—the presidential debate—was going on. The process of collecting 900,000 coins and building out the floor is taking three days now. With the last 25 floors in sight, I doubt I’ll finish the 100th floor by election day—or even Thanksgiving Day. Like the 2012 election, the home stretch is far, far away.