25 Mar 2009

How many states have you been to?

Submitted by Paul Brown

Holly posted this on Facebook, and it seems interesting, so I'm going to do it, too. I don't remember exactly where we went on some of our family vacations when I was growing up, so I may be off by a few states here and there.

Alabama – Visited family there twice, I think (1)
Alaska – no
Arizona – I don't think so
Arkansas – I don't think so
California – Yep, visited friends there twice (2)
Colorado – I live here now, and visited family in CO many times before that (3)
Connecticut – Yep, visited Sarah and Kevin several times (4)
Delaware – Not sure, but I don't think so
Florida – Yep, Disney World (5)
Georgia – Yep, passed through a few times (6)
Hawaii – no
Idaho – I don't think so, but maybe
Illinois – Passed through many times (7)
Indiana – Passed through many times (8)
Iowa – I lived there for fifteen years (9)
Kansas – Passed through a few times and went for Katie and Theoden's wedding (10)
Kentucky – Toured around for one family vacation, passed through many times. I think Kentucky is a beautiful state. (11)
Louisiana – I don't think so.
Maine – no
Maryland – Passed through, I think (12)
Massachusetts – Yes, I flew into Boston when visiting Sarah and Kevin once or twice (13)
Michigan – I went to visit the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor when I was considering colleges in high school (14)
Minnesota – Yep, at some point I'm sure we went there. I remember that we went to the Mall of America (15)
Mississippi – I *think* so on the way to AL, but I'm not sure. (16)
Missouri – Yes, many times passing through (17)
Montana – I don't think so
Nebraska – I did two co-op terms in Columbus, Nebraska (18)
Nevada – I don't think so
New Hampshire – no
New Jersey – I think we went there on a family vacation once (19)
New Mexico – Visited family there, drove through to El Paso, and a couple of work trips (20)
New York – Family vacation and later some training in Schenectady (21)
North Carolina – Was born there! (22)
North Dakota – I don't think so
Ohio – Passed through at least once (23)
Oklahoma – Passed through on the way to Houston and now visited family in OK. A few work trips as well, and probably one more in the near future. (Ugh.) (24)
Oregon – no
Pennsylvania – Family vacation, I think (25)
Rhode Island – Passing through from Boston to CT. (26)
South Carolina – Family vacations to Myrtle Beach and visiting friends in Charleston (27)
South Dakota – Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills. Also a trombone seminar in high school (28)
Tennessee – Passed through a few times, I think (29)
Texas – Visited family in Houston several times (30)
Utah – I don't think so
Virginia – Passed through several times, visited Sarah and Kevin when Kevin was stationed there, visited family (31)
Washington – no
Washington DC (not a state but…) – family vacation (32)
West Virginia – Passed through many times (33)
Wisconsin – I don't think so
Wyoming – Passed through on family vacation at least once (34)

Holly hit 38 and has me beat by a few. The map below shows which states we claim to have visited. It looks like we're due for a vacation or two across the northern United States!

States Visited by Holly and Paul

(Base map from Wikimedia Commons, edited with Inkscape and ConTEXT to make this SVG file before exporting to png, then converted to jpg with the Gimp.)

19 Mar 2009

A.I.G. Bonuses: A Rant

Submitted by Paul Brown

It seems that our elected officials in Washington are all up in arms about what they consider extravagant bonuses that A.I.G. decided to give to some of their employees after receiving huge sums of bailout money from the government. The furor seems to be coming from both Democrats and Republicans, yet I think that this whole firestorm is, in short, ridiculous.

If I hire a company to provide some service for me, the transaction is quite simple: I pay them the agreed amount, and they perform the service agreed upon. Sometimes a simple verbal agreement may be sufficient, but for complex transactions, a contract may be required to be sure that all parties are clear on exactly what the terms are. At the company I work at, we use specification and contracts for practically all the work that we hire others to do or that we are hired to do. If we are hired to design a substation, our client will provide us a specification of exactly what they want. If something isn't specified, then we are free to do what we want as long as we meet our due diligence to provide a product that is safe and meets the client's needs.

In the massive bailout of A.I.G. and other companies, the government was apparently handing out money without any clear specification of what those companies were to do with it. Was there no clear service that was to be provided? And if the money was being provided with no expectation of anything in return, is the company not free to do with it whatever they think best, including giving bonuses to their employees?

I see three possibilities:

  1. A.I.G. has not met the terms of their bailout monies. In this case, the government can pursue corrective action so they receive the services expected.
  2. A.I.G. has met the terms of their bailout monies, but the result is not what the government expected. In this case, the fault lies with the government for agreeing to a contract that did not adequately express their intentions and expectations. Everyone knew the bailout was being rushed, and oversights like this are the result of being hurried. There's an engineering adage that says, "Quality, Speed, Cost: Pick any two". (My sense is that in this case all we will actually have gotten is speedy action. It will be exceedingly costly and all screwed up.)
  3. A.I.G. has met the terms of their bailout monies, and the government is getting what they wanted and expected. In this case, everyone needs to simmer down and let A.I.G. do what they think is best for their company. If anyone should be punished for this debacle, it is our elected representatives, not the A.I.G. employees who did nothing wrong with respect to this whole situation.

Frankly I think the bailouts will turn out to have been a bad idea, and from what I've seen in the news, more and more companies are realizing that their objectives and those of the government don't match up—to such a degree that they would rather not receive bailout money than submit to all the conditions that the government is putting on the funds.

The following graphic demonstrates how severe the flood of bailout money into the economy has been:

Moneytary Base: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/AMBSL?cid=124

With that much new cash in the system, how can massive inflation not eventually result? (HT: Glenn Beck)

My friends, we certainly live in interesting times!

18 Mar 2009

A Lesson in Parenting

Submitted by Paul Brown

Last Tuesday Holly and I were getting ready to lay down in bed (two twin mattresses on the floor, at the time), and we noticed that there was a wet spot on the sheets in the middle of the bed. Then we pulled back the covers to find several more wet spots. Not just wet, but also smelly—smelly like cat pee. We were thoroughly tired from a few busy days after getting back from the honeymoon, and having to spend half and hour changing sheets and blankets just as we were ready to go to sleep was really frustrating. At least one of our two cute cats had decided that the bed was a nice place to relieve herself.

What to do?! Holly said that the cats would not learn from any discipline since they weren't caught in the act and wouldn't remember what they had done, but I was frustrated and tired, and what would keep the offending cat from doing it again if they didn't learn something from it? So I spanked the cats. Both of them. It was not nearly as satisfying as one might think it would be. Aspen and Derby just ran off and shied away from me for the rest of the night and into the next day.

When we went to bed the following night, we again noticed that there was a wet spot on the blanket. Ugh! This time I didn't spank them, but I did kick them out of the bedroom and didn't let them on the bed. I'm sure they were able to pick up that I was upset with them, no doubt about it. Since then, we have been keeping the bedroom door shut and not allowing the cats in unless one of us is available to supervise them.

I did some research the latter part of last week about "inappropriate elimination" in cats—just a fancy way of saying "peeing where they aren't supposed to"—and found that almost every time a cat pees where she isn't supposed to, there is something wrong. They are naturally clean creatures and will only do something like that if they have a urinary tract infection that makes it painful to pee or they are stressed out and out of sorts or something similar. Experts in cat behavior said that punishment like what I had done is almost always actually counter-productive since it tends to make the cats fearful of you and exacerbate the problem that is causing the inappropriate elimination.

After learning more about what might be going on, Holly and I have been careful to give the cats plenty of attention and affection, and I have found ways to move them when they are getting into somewhere that I don't want them to be that demonstrate care rather than frustration. The cats are easier than toddlers, I think; I can just pick them up and pet them and move them somewhere else and they quickly find something else that catches their attention—no kicking and screaming.

This experience with the cats has provided some lessons that I think will be valuable as I look to becoming a daddy in the future. I learned that sometimes there is something going on behind misbehavior besides just plain disobedience. Doing something besides punishment might work better to correct the bad behavior. And getting angry is easy but won't help. (Thanks to my sister Sarah and her two cute kids, I have some idea of what could be coming with children!)

Praise God for these little frustrations that help me grow to be more of the man that God calls me to be!

17 Mar 2009

Just Married: Honeymoon Pt. 3

Submitted by Paul Brown

To record some of our memories from our honeymoon last week and to let some of our friends and family share in the experience, Holly and I wrote up some of what we did and saw. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, follow the links to go back and catch up. All our photos from the honeymoon that were fit to publish are now posted, and photos from the wedding itself are quickly hitting the gallery.


Paul: On Wednesday, we started the day with a walk over to the west side of Stanley Park along the sea wall. At first the idea was to just find a nice place to sit and watch people, but I wanted to see the big 100' diameter tree that I had heard was in the park somewhere. There was a location called "Hollow Tree" on the map, so we thought maybe that was it and headed up that direction. After a somewhat lengthy walk to arrive there, we found it to be less than we expected.

Holly: BIG Disappointment Number One: Hollow Tree!

Paul: Apparently it was a big tourist attraction seventy years ago, but dead trees just don't last like they used to.

We hoped to catch a free bus back to the park entrance, but we never saw one as we walked all the way back down. Poor Holly's feet were killing her from so much walking the previous days, but as it would turn out, Wednesday would be our biggest walking day yet. Once we got out of the park, we ate some lunch and then caught a bus toward the Space Center and Planetarium.

Holly: BIG Disappointment Number Two: Planetarium!

Paul: The space center started off well with a cool physics demonstration in the Rocket Lab. There was a blowtorch and an explosion and an air gun that launched balls to demonstrate Newton's three laws. Unfortunately, this was the only science involved in any of the space center and plantetarium. The planetarium didn't really show us any stars, just a lame movie about a myth that one of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest had about some lady being taken up into the sky to be the wife of the Sun God, Gong. The main idea of the movie seemed to be that cities were blocking the view of the night sky and thus making it difficult to recognize Mother Earth and Father Sky. Something like that.

Holly: After the stupid film, we made our way through the museum, which aside from a really cool Apollo-era space suit, consisted of kids games and aliens, mostly on computer displays with joysticks. And then the Mars Mission Simulator.... It was better than the planetarium but still totally unrealistic.

Paul: It was one of those little theaters like they have in malls where it shakes you around as the story goes so you feel like you're really there.

Holly: We flew in a spacecraft to the corona of the sun to charge some ball-looking-thing with gamma rays so we could then fly it to Mars City to start the new-fangled nuclear generator and save the city. All in ten minutes.

Paul: If escape velocity from the earth's gravitational field is 11,200 m/s, I wonder what the escape velocity is from the sun when you are in the corona? I don't think they mentioned that in the Rocket Lab. It must be pretty fast, because we got from the Sun to Mars in about ten or fifteen seconds.

From there, we walked down to Granville Island.

Holly: On the way, we passed by dealerships for Lamborghini, Aston-Martin, Bentley, Jaguar, Lexus, so we know where you should buy your cars.

Paul: Granville Island was very nice for the postmodern consumer. Everything there was free-trade, organic, local suppliers, etc.

Holly: I had the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life at Pedro's Organic Coffee Bar. No joke! It was seriously the best.

Paul: There was a pretty good-sized market with fresh produce and meat for all types of ethnic foods. We also saw a nice rainbow ferry taking people from one side of the water to the other, from one rainbow dock to another. A number of art shops and live entertainment venues rounded out the scene.

As it was starting to get dark and "under the bridge" didn't seem like the best place to be alone after dark, we made our way toward Pacific Theatre, where we had tickets to see Holy Mo that evening. We walked several blocks up the street, stopping for a wrap and smoothie for a light dinner.

Holly: Walking into the Pacific Theatre, we were offered free coffee to complete a survey. We weren¦t much help in the survey since we hadn't been there before. The venue wasn't quite what we expected; it was in the basement of an Anglican church, and when we went in to take our seats, we saw that it was much, much smaller than we had anticipated. The stage was simply the middle part of the room, an area roughly 15' by 20' set off with props. I was skeptical as the play started, but it turned out to be the funniest play I think I've ever seen. I laughed so hard I cried, which doesn't happen very often for me.

Paul: The play was in two acts. The first act retells the story of Moses and the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. The second act tells some of the story of David. The twist is that the story is told by a trio of clowns. With no real set or costumes or even much dialog, the acting of the three actresses really carries the show. It was very engaging and brought the story to life. All the names were shortened to child-like (or clown-like) form. Moses=Mo, Pharaoh=Rambo, Yahweh=Yam/Yama, David=Davie, Philistines=Queen Phylis and the Stiners.

Holly: Redeeming Point Number One: Holy Mo!

Paul: By the end of the show, we were both quite tired, but we caught our buses back to the hotel and hit the sack. According to our best estimates from routes in Google Maps, we walked about 9 or 10 miles that day. Whew!


To be continued....

11 Mar 2009

Just Married: Honeymoon Pt. 2

Submitted by Paul Brown

To record some of our memories from our honeymoon last week and to let some of our friends and family share in the experience, Holly and I wrote up some of what we did and saw. Here is Part 2. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here. All our photos from the honeymoon that were fit to publish are now posted as well.


Paul: Our first full day in Vancouver, we set out on foot to explore the downtown area. It was interesting to see the diversity of the neighborhoods even within the downtown area. We started in the West End, where our hotel was, and went past all the fascinating ethnic restaurants we had seen the night before. Then we passed into the more trendy, upscale area near the cruise ship terminal. Eventually we ended up in a more run-down neighborhood, and finally we headed back when we got to Chinatown.

Holly: We visited the Christ Church Cathedral, a staple of the Canadian Angelican population. We also walked near the waterfront.

Paul: Then we stopped by the Vancouver Art Gallery where we decided we didn't want to pay $20 each to look at upside-down black-and-white photographs of trees or litte replica trees constructed of twigs tacked together.

Holly: From there, we walked to the Vancouver Lookout, which gives a 360-degree view of Vancouver, serviced by an elevator that lets you look out (and down) as you are lifted 258 feet into the air. Paul was a little squeamish.

Paul: What?!

Holly: You were a little squeamish!

Paul: *sigh*

Holly: When we had taken in all there was to see from the Lookout, we went to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It was closed. So we walked in the park next door.

Paul: By then we were a bit tired from all the walking, so we thought we would catch a bus back toward our hotel. The first bus stop we went by indicated that the bus I wanted only stopped there during peak hours, which we weren't in. I figured we could just walk another block or two down the route and see if the bus would stop there. As it turned out, the next stop was probably at least a mile or two down the road, and the route to get there took us basically underneath the stadium and a couple of bridges—not exactly the cleanest, most scenic place in Vancouver.

Eventually we did get to another bus stop, and by good fortune another bus was coming that way. This bus took us along a route that followed the coast of the English Bay, hardly a bad way to go. When we got back to the hotel we took a nap before going out for some scrumptious moussaka and souvlaki. On our way back, we swung by Safeway to pick up some food for breakfast. It was kind of fun to get to use my Safeway card in a foreign country!

Holly: On our second full day in Vancouver, we had a nice breakfast in the suite—a nice way to wake up. After breakfast, we walked down to Stanley Park. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we were a little cold. Because of the rain, we made our way to the Vancouver Aquarium first. My favorite, as usual, was the sea otters. But I also like the turtles. And the frogs.

Paul: I was rather partial to the beluga whales.

Holly: Grandma (beluga whale) is pregnant! When we left the aquarium, I was hungry, but the weather was nice, so we walked to the totem poles in the park. On the way back to the city, we walked along the seawall and took some pictures. We had lunch at a YUMMY fish and chips place called Mr. Pickwick's.

Paul: Fish and chips were redeemed for me after several less-than-delicious experiences in the past.

Holly: We had fun making fun of the server's accent. "Sit wherever ye' liyke..."

Paul: Back at the hotel, we played cards for the afternoon before reheating some leftover pizza for dinner and exploring the hotel in search of sugar for Holly's morning coffee fix and a night-time tea.


To be continued....
Part 3

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