Monday, November 30, 2009

30 days

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest doesn't matter. I've completed National Blog Posting Month.

Cheated once, missed the daily requirement once. Not perfect, but not bad. Of course the made-up quality of many of the posts lowered the overall quality of the effort, but that's what happens when you set an arbitrary deadline. A news editor I once worked with early in my career pointed out that even the best columnists have as many misses as hits, especially back in the day when it was not uncommon for writers to produce on a daily basis.

So now I'm freed of the artificial requirement that I say something. I still want to post at least something daily. Perhaps knowing I can skip a day will free my creative instincts.

Or not. For now I have to rush to get ready to catch my bus to American River College for my Adobe Illustrator class tonight.

Below is a video that was part of a larger collection of free music. The artist reminds me of my youth, a time way back when Joni Mitchell sang of Ladies of the Canyon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mean Dad!

I have way together too much fun in my Adobe Illustrator class at American River College. This week's assignment: A movie poster that stars me.

So I took this picture of Rachel Nichols from the Amityville Horror movie:

This brain:

A drawing The Kid did of me for his drawing class at American River College:

And came up with this horror movie poster:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Catch the wind

The Cat jumps and pounces and jumps and pounces. The Cat arches his back. Every hair on his tail stands at attention, twitching in anticipation. The cat twists one way and then turns another. The cat jumps and pounces and then runs the length of the backyard deck and stops. He makes a quick assessment of the area, turns and races back.

This is the cat's first fall outside. The chilled wind has transformed the world into a cat toy of infinite moving pieces. The cat jumps and pounces. Everywhere he turns he finds a target. He is The Hunter. Not a rolling twig or falling leaf or blowing detritus escapes him.

The cat will sleep well this afternoon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

Got up and ran a little more than 3.7 miles (a fraction under 6 kilometers) on a new route that took me to Watt Avenue and Auburn Boulevard. Didn't like the noise of those streets and I had to run in the bike lane for a portion of Auburn, but I did like the single loop with no backtracking or overlapping.

When I reached home I put on a jacket and harnessed up The Dog. We walked around the block, adding just under a half-mile to my morning exercise.

The Wife has the day off, but I'm still working. After a shower, I've set myself up with a laptop and a lap tray in bed. Every room in the house is an office space. The WiFI antenna is centrally located and powerful. And the Suerwest fiberoptic connection to the Internet is just plain fast. That's one advantage of working at home.

Well, I guess it's actually time to get to work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving: Running to stay warm

The Wife and I were up and out bright and early this morning to help out at the Run to Feed the Hungry in East Sacramento this morning. The event organizers said it would be cold and it sure was. The Wife bundled up in her parka and I put on enough layers to look like I had regained all of the weight I lost in the last year.

We were course monitors where the 10K run turns off Elvas onto Coloma, just past the 5 mile mark. I heard there were something like 30,000 people who participated in the event. Not all of them ran the 10K, but when the bulk of the runners arrived at our location it sure looked like several thousand were in our event. It got so thick for a while that the runners overflowed their lane and completely stopped traffic.

The Wife thinks I should run in the race next year. Perhaps. I could warm up with the Komen breast cancer 5K (I walked it with The Wife last year) and then do the Run To Feed The Hungry 10K. Or maybe I'll just monitor with The Wife again.

In any event, I'll bring gloves. It was really cold.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Super 8

The Kid is an artist. Practical considerations are besides the point. This year The Kid is taking a class at American River College on film photography, including printing on photographic paper. He's learning the whole darkroom routine. Who needs that today? I can't imagine anyone who still uses roll film for photography.

Except an artist. And The Kid is an artist. I learned photography from the perspective of a journalist. I look classes at Los Angeles Valley College and the University of Southern California. My first newspaper job was as a reporter/photographer. I took photos, developed the film, printed the photos and wrote the stories. I still consider myself a journeyman photographer.

The Kid is an artist. Film -- real film with silver grain, not the ones and zeroes of digital images -- is the medium. The Kid has two shelves in his room of film cameras. One row has still cameras and the other Super8 film cameras.

This is The Kid's self-portrait -- done in film, developed in a darkroom, printed on paper.

For several months he's been taking his Super8 cameras along with the digital video camcorder he normally uses to film the Shughe skate team. The other day he finally got to see what he had done.

The Kid had a half-dozen Super8 film rolls, all but one black and white, none filmed with sound. He mailed them off to a company that develops film and transfers the movie to miniDV tape. (He prefers miniDV tape rather than DVD because of the interface with his computer and his miniDV camera.) He got the film back the other day and now he's put it together in a 9 minute montage.

This is a teenage boy's young man's art film.

It's All Gonna Break from shughe on Vimeo.

The shughe link below the video will take you to his more traditional skate videos.

Someday you can say you knew The Kid when . . .

The commute

"I'm not going to make it," The Wife said as she donned her parka. "Have you seen the bus yet?"

No. I had not. I told The Wife I was pretty sure it had not arrived yet.

She gathered up her purse, her other purse, checked that she had her ID card and bus pass.

"Do you have your phone," I asked. Yes, she said, as she offered a moving peck goodbye as she rushed to the door and out.

The bus heading toward American River college drove past. That was a good sign since it means the bus The Wife rides to 65th Street light rail station will be along soon.

But how soon? I stood on the front porch and watched as The Wife almost ran across the yard to the sidewalk. The Wife doesn't normally move that quickly.

It is less than 100 yards from our front porch to the bus stop, but it seemed more like a mile as I watched The Wife look over her shoulder, take several quick steps and then look over her shoulder again.

And then I heard the bus as it slowed to cross the speed table next to our house. The Wife heard the bus, too, and turned as if she were about to run the last few yards to the bus stop when the bus driver honked his horn.

The driver pulled the bus to the curb short of the stop and The Wife boarded.

As the bus left I wondered whether this was the pokey driver she has told me about. To The Wife the driver appears unconcerned with his schedule. He drives so slowly that The Wife misses her train connection. It happens often enough that she threatens to report him to Regional Transit, but not often enough that she actually waits on hold long enough to talk to a representative.

Courteous, but pokey. Reliable, but not flashy. A bus driver to measure others against.

It is bitterly cold outside. I walk into the house, and shut the door. It is comfortably warm. I complete my commute to my home office. I delay the start of my day to get my daily blog post obligation out of the way.

Now it's time to get to work.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In lieu of a blog post, I offer this musical interlude:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monitoring the Run To Feed The Hungry

Got word today that The Wife and I will be working as Race Course Monitors at the Run To Feed The Hungry on Thanksgiving morning. We'll be there for check in at 7 a.m. and won't leave until cleanup is finished. This will be a first for us.

Since I'm not running, I don't have a fund-raising goal. Instead, I'm urging people to help Maya reach her goal. You make a donation here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday on Sunday

Sunday is homework day. I've just finished two pieces for my intermediate Illustrator class.

I take classes at American River College for two reasons. First, I want the free bus pass. I don't have much occasion to hop on a bus right now, but I want it in my pocket, just in case.

The other reason I take classes at ARC is to improve my skillset. I've got more than 30 years of experience in newspaper writing and editing. But, obviously, newspapers are not exactly hiring right now. So I've been expanding my skills with college classes.

So far I've taken a couple of classes in Linux, the Network+ exam preparation course, and a javascript class. I've worked my way through Adobe's Creative Suite, taking Flash and InDesign. (I have 20 years' experience with Photoshop, but I would be interested in an advance class if they offered it.) This year I'm working on my second Illustrator class.

I would love to find full-time work that put all of those skills together. Unfortunately, the only opportunities I've found have been entry-level jobs. I am amazed at what employers expect to get for $12 an hour. If I didn't have a mortgage to pay (and now a kitchen remodel), I'd take one of those entry-level jobs. I really like playing around with Photoshop and Illustrator. And having taken two classes in Illustrator now I'm kicking myself for never taking classes in Illustrator before.

The assignment due tomorrow is two drawings that include cars. We're practicing gradient skills. One drawing is supposed to be a monster car that starts with a pen and paper sketch. The other is a concept car. That too is supposed to start with a sketch, but my basic idea just needed a car to stretch. The only rule: No live-tracing photos to convert them to an illustrator document. We are, however, allowed to use the pen tool to trace and that's what I did.

I wrote about the monster car sketch in a post last week. (Here) Here's the final artwork:

For a concept car, I did a stretch Smart car. Everything on the illustration is created using the pen tool, except for word the "stretch."

I've got some of the other finished assignments online.

Illustrator Demos

Saturday on Sunday

The last thing I remember as I drifted off to sleep Saturday night was the realization that I had not written a blog post. For the month of November I had managed one post each day, although I did postdate one entry a few minutes.

I considered getting up and churning something out. But the bed had already grown warm and the cats had already settled at my feet, one on each side. The desire to fulfill my vow to write once a day just couldn't overcome my need to sleep.

So here I am Sunday morning writing the first of what will be two posts today. I got up at 6:45 a.m. with the idea of running more than my regular 2.5 miles. I ran 3.5 yesterday. I had a 5 mile route in mind when I started. But when I reached the go, no-go point, the Rubicon, which in my route is actually named Winston Way, I chose my weekday route so I would have time to write this before going out this morning to meet friends for breakfast.

My new goal is to smile more often. To help me, I'm going to get one of these:

happiness hat from Lauren McCarthy on Vimeo.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Classical Education

When I drive the Honda, I listen to XM-Radio. If I'm by myself, I listen to the Classic Vinyl station, which plays the songs from the mid-60s and early-70s. Hence the Billy Joel tune in yesterday's post.

When I am at my desk in my home office my musical tastes are much more eclectic. I subscribe to the Pandora One service, which allows users to create "stations" based on narrow categories.

My Pandora stations -- in order of appearance in the player:
  • Johann Sebastian Bach Radio
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Radio
  • Mozart Piano Quartet Radio
  • Frank Sinatra Radio
  • Diana Krall Radio
  • Jefferson Starship Radio (I used this during the kitchen remodel.)
  • The Beatles Radio (The Wife used this during the kitchen remodel.)
  • Tosca, Opera: Recondita Armonia Radio (The Wife's alternative kitchen remodel music.)
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet Radio
  • Andres Segovia Radio
  • Antonio Vivaldi Radio
  • Gato Barbieri Radio
  • Bill Evans Radio
  • Miles Davis Radio

My favorite right now for work is the Bach station. For those of you unfamiliar with the way Pandora works, the station doesn't play just a single artist. Instead, it plays the artist and contemporaries.

So today's composers on the Bach station included Johannes Schenck, Alessandro Marcello, Dietrich Buxtehude, George Philipp Telemann, Antonio Soler, Fernando Sor and Tomasso Albioni, to name just a few. Of those names, only Telemann and, to a lesser degree, Albioni are familiar to me. The rest are part of my classical music education courtesy of Pandora.

The joy of the Internet is the ability to simply click a link in the Pandora One player to learn more. For instance, I was amazed to read that Marcello painted, wrote books of couplets and composed chamber cantatas, violin sonatas and concertos. His link to Bach: Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor was transcribed by Bach and made into Bach's Keyboard Concerto in D minor.

Imagine a guy who is a member of Venice's nobility. He has palaces around Venice decorated with his own paintings. He serves the city-state high council and holds several academic titles. Just an all-around guy.

But the real discovery today was Gabriela Montero, a 39-year-old pianist most famous for her classical improvisations. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, she started improvising at the piano at age 4, according to James Reel's All Music Guide article. She gave her first public performance at 5 and made her concert debut at 8. The Venezuelan government paid for her music studies in the United States. She later studied at London's Royal Academy of Music.

And, of course, the great danger of the Internet is one-click purchases. I bought her Baroque Improvisations album from Amazon's MP3 store. The player below her photo is her take on Pachelbel's Canon.

For a real treat, visit her website and watch the short video produced for her Baroque album.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oh, la la la, di da da. La la, di da da da dum

Time's up. We run on a strict schedule here. There are consequences if you're late.

Today was one of those days.

My alarm goes off at 6:15 am, rain or shine. Well, it's pretty much never shine this time of year. Before we fell back an hour, it was plain dark when I would leave my house for my morning jog. For a couple of days after the time shift, it was nice and bright as I left my house. Now each morning it is a little darker. Soon it will be just plain dark again.

Today, I did my 2.5 mile loop, took a shower, dressed and took up my post in the kitchen.

I'm the people mover. I've held the job in our household since The Kid was old enough to go to school. For the 13 years The Kid was in school, I made his breakfast and then his lunch each school day and then I made sure he got to school on time.

Today, Mr. College Kid sleeps in. He doesn't need his old man making breakfast, let alone bagging a lunch for him.

No, today Mr. People Mover is in charge of getting The Wife out the door in time to meet her bus to work in Rancho Cordova.

Something went wrong this morning. I haven't been able to put my finger on what exactly happened. A chunk of time just disappeared. It wasn't much time. It doesn't need to be. A misplaced couple of minutes upset the balance. I remember being in the kitchen preparing The Wife's traveling cup of black tea with honey. I looked at the oven clock and I was surprised to see it was 7:22. Just as I turned to chase The Wife out the door I saw the bus drive by.

"To the car!" I urged.

Alas, we've been here before. But not to worry. We have plenty of time.

The No. 82 bus meanders down our street, makes two left turns to a parallel street, travels back the way it came, makes two right turns and again is traveling parallel to our street. It's one giant S that allows the bus to get as close as possible to Mira Loma High School and then head back to where American River Hospital once stood and then finally off on its way to points south and west, eventually stopping at the 65th Street light rail station.

So while the bus driver drove a total of 1.7 miles, stopping along the way, The Wife and I clamored into the car and raced less than three-quarters of a mile to a No. 82's stop on the far side of the S.

I waited in the car until the bus arrived and The Wife boarded. As the bus pulled away from the stop I started back home. Billy Joel was singing Piano Man on the radio:
Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he's quick with a joke and he'll light up your smoke
But there's some place that he'd rather be
He says, "Bill, I believe this is killing me."
As his smile ran away from his face
"Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place"

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum
Billy Joel was still playing as I parked the car in the garage and turned off the radio.
Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum
Off to work I went.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Driven to distraction

Damn! I've lost the paperwork. Now I've got to clean up my desk.

Be right back . . .

. . . not finding it . . .

. . . not finding it . . .

. . . found it!

OK. Now. Some numbers:

On May 1, 2008, the mileage on my 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid was 26,778 miles.

On Jan 24, 2009, 268 days later, the mileage was 33,798 miles.

I'm getting the mileage numbers off the service history that's included on the paperwork for my last oil change.

The Honda traveled 7,020 miles over the course of 8 months and 23 days. That's 26.19 miles a day.

The ability to count the number of days, or months and days, or weeks and days (38 and 2) or just weekdays (191) comes courtesy of, that nifty computational knowledge engine.

On Nov. 4, I had the car serviced again. The mileage was 41,375.

In the 9 months and 11 days, the car had traveled 7,577 miles. The average mileage over those 284 days: 26.7 miles.

Fourteen days later, the mileage is 41,646. The 271 miles added to the odometer works out to an average of 19.36 miles a day. If I manage to leave the car in the garage again tomorrow, the average drops to just over 18 miles a day.

Numbers may not lie but I'm trying to figure.

The Wife and I share this car. The Kid has his own. Yes, he does drive the Honda on occasion, but not a statistically significant amount.

Much of the mileage between June of last year and March of this year can be added to the cost of The Wife's cancer treatment. It's 22.6 miles from our home to the UCDMC Cancer Center at 4501 X St. and back again. And if I wasn't driving The Wife to cancer treatment, she was driving to work in Rancho Cordova. That's another 22 miles roundtrip.

While The Wife was undergoing radiation treatment for eight weeks at the beginning of this year, I drove her to the cancer center and then to work and drove home -- 35 miles. I then drove back to pick her up in the evening for a total of something like 57 miles a day.

So I suppose an average of 26 miles a day for every day is "reasonable." But what's the excuse for the 19 miles a day over the past two weeks?

The Wife rides the bus to work now. I work at home. Where's that Honda going?

Yesterday I had a doctor's appointment in midtown. The drive to and back was about 19 miles. That's one day where I drove the average. But the day before and the day after the car sat in the garage.

The Dutch are in the process of eliminating the sales and property taxes on automobiles. Instead of those traditional taxes, the Dutch will start collecting taxes on the number of miles driven with penalties for driving during rush hour.

"Each vehicle will be equipped with a GPS device that tracks how many kilometres are driven and when and where. This data will then be sent to a collection agency that will send out the bill," the transport ministry said in a statement published by AFP.

Under the proposed law, every vehicle type will have a base rate, which depends on its size, weight and carbon dioxide emissions. A standard family car will be charged 7 cents a mile in 2012, increasing to 16 cents a mile in 2018.

Put aside for the moment the "privacy" issue raised by government tracking every place you drive. Being forced to pay attention to where and when you drive or pay the consequences would certainly concentrate the mind.

Dutch proponents of the new distance-traveled tax believe highway congestion will be cut in half and carbon dioxide emissions reduced 10 percent as drivers adjust their driving to reduce the impact of the tax.

If I were paying by the mile today, I would certainly know where I was driving.

Driving 26.7 miles a day works out to more than $56 a month in mileage taxes at the introductory 7 cents per mile tax. At 16 cents a mile, it would cost nearly $130 a month.

Just driving 19 miles a day and paying $40 a month -- growing to $92-- would be enough to discourage my driving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not tonight, dear

Sorry. I had an outline of what I was going to write tonight. I even took some pictures to go with the post. But I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm necessary to break my inertia.

I suspect part of my mental lethargy is caused by my physical exhaustion. I did 100 sit-ups in five 20-sit-up sessions on an Ab Lounge over the course of the day. It's part of my quest to drop another five pounds to attain the perfect BMI.

Using the Ab Lounge is a good example of my talent for focused attention for periods of time followed by distraction and ... well, not focused.

I bought my first Ab Lounge when I weighed more than 200 pounds. I used it for a couple of weeks and discovered to my chagrin that the effect of tightening my gut doing sit-ups just made me look like a pregnant woman carrying high.

We gave away the Ab Lounge to a friend of The Kid. Then, when I started losing the gut last year, I bought another. I think the chair, which allows you to stretch backwards and therefore extend the effect of sitting up, is a great tool. But somewhere between getting laid off and coping with The Wife's cancer treatments last year my enthusiasm waned. This time the chair was "loaned" to a different friend of The Kid. And for months it was gone and forgotten.

And then the other day I found it in the garage where The Kid's car should have been parked. Magic.

I brought the Ab Lounge into the family room, immediately annoying The Wife. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Third time is not the charm.

Maybe it will be useful. Today, for instance, when I started getting cold from inactivity at my desk, I got up and did a 20-count on the Ab Lounge. Felt warm all over about my exercise. If nothing else, I might cut back the heating bill. That's been something of an issue since I started working from home. We used to be able to turn off the heat during the day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

OMG! The World Will End Dec. 31, 2009

And it is not just because that's my 20th wedding anniversary.

No, the proof is right there pinned to my bulletin board. And I'm not alone. The evidence is starring you in the eye, too. Look at your calendar. What comes after Dec. 31, 2009?

NOTHING! The vast emptiness of the universal void! Board the Ark, it's time to sail to the new Africa!!! (hint)

No? OK. So maybe the unlikeliness of completing 20 years of marriage made plausible the idea that Mayans predicted the world's end in 2012. I mean, how likely was that?

NASA has a web page that takes on the movie 2012 point by point. On the fact that Mayans ran out of stone in 2012, the site explains:
Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.
For me, the authoritative voice on the subject of calendars is not the Mayans, but the drug-clouded haze of the '60s and '70s.

Listen to the Oracle in her own words:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old Home Week

I ran 3.24 miles this morning along a new route that I selected the night before. I was concerned enough about not taking a wrong turn that I checked the route this morning with Google's satellite view. It's not like I could get lost, but a lot of streets in my neighborhood just loop around. I wasn't interested in extra detours.

The Wife picked the neighborhood we live in. It's nice, comfortable.

I grew up in a much different place. It was a classic postwar housing tract in the San Fernando Valley. It was working class, with mothers at home with the kids and fathers at work. My mother was the only woman on our block to divorce and raise her kids alone. Although my brother and I had a housekeeper who watched over us (my father's alimony checks paid for this luxury) most of the mothers would not let their kids play at our house.

My block had construction foreman, linemen for the phone company, auto mechanics and even a motorcycle police officer. You could tell the families with something extra by the boats in their driveways.

There are a couple of stretches on Engle that remind me of the neighborhood of my youth, but mostly the area I live in today reminds me of the "expensive" neighborhoods I visited but never felt I belonged in.

My mother had a friend who was a child psychologist. She too was divorced and I suspect that was a major element of their friendship in the early 1960s. She lived in a home in Woodland Hills with two children about my age. My brother and I would go to their home and swim in their pool and play in the large backyard that included a separate barbecue house on the hill overlooking the pool.

The house I grew up in was purchased for something like $14,000. Maybe it was less. What has stuck with me all of these years is that my mother's friend and her kids lived in a house that cost FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Today I looked up my childhood home on Google Maps using street view. It doesn't look anything like it did when I lived there. Long ago someone put in a low scalloped brick fence around the front yard. Cypress trees now tower out of the picture. But parched grass and a discarded sofa on the parkway in front of the house are signs the area isn't as well off as it was when I lived there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Goals And Getting There

I ran 4.7 miles today. That's 7.58 kilometers for the scientific crowd. I say "ran" only to signify that I did not walk. Having run crosscountry in high school, I know that what I do today isn't running.

Here's today's route:

For a long time, and especially when I tipped the scales at more than 210 pounds, I told myself I didn't want to look like the old guys I saw running, trying so desperately to hold on to their youth. And I especially didn't want to look like the really old farts I saw shuffling along. Why bother?

But eventually the self-loathing I felt as I walked past my bathroom mirror on the way to the shower overrode my fear of public ridicule. That fear, after all, was the nut of my disdain for older guys exercising in public.

It wasn't an overnight thing. I didn't just wake up and start running 4 miles a day. No. I started walking for exercise a couple of years ago. I made it a daily afternoon ritual, rain or shine.

I remember the first morning jog. It was nine-tenths of a mile. After only a short distance I was dying, gasping for breath. I was sure that anyone who saw me would think I was gravely ill.

Then I ran the next day and it wasn't as bad. And the next day it was a little easier. Then I added another block to the route and I was up over a mile.

As I continued to run, the pounds melted away. It wasn't long before I was under 200. Then under 190. Then under 180.

The arrival of the WolframAlpha Computational Knowledge Engine (it's not a search engine; it doesn't replace Google) has been a boon for my health goals.

Entering "male 6' 57yrs" returns a number of facts, one of which is the ideal body weight. According to CDC and FDA standards, the ideal weight for a 6-foot man who is 57 years old is 168 pounds.

It wasn't long before I reached 168, dropping as low as 164 and averaging 167.

Then in July, I hurt my back. It was a combination of bad posture while sitting long hours at my desk and the pounding from running more than 3 miles a day. My doctor told me I should stop running. Find another form of exercise.

I fixed an old bike The Kid had long ago stopped riding and tried daily bike rides between home and distant Starbucks. But to get the same level of exercise required much more time. My time management skills aren't very good and shifting more time to exercise was not going to have a good effect on my work productivity.

Images of swelling back to 220 pounds eventually pushed me to ignore my doctor's warning and return to running.

When I weighed 220 pounds, I had a body mass index of 29.8, just two tenths of a point away from being obese.

This morning I weighed 166 pounds. That gives me a BMI of 22.5, which is on the heavy side of the normal range.

I used WolframAlpha's suggested ideal body weight as a goal. Now I've decided to use the center of the normal range -- a BMI of 21.75 -- as my new weight goal. That translates into 161 pounds. That'll make those new 32-inch waist pants an even better fit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Little Fib

OK. I cheated. This wasn't posted Saturday Friday. I back dated it. But it was close. Just a little fib. (UPDATE: Writing after midnight doesn't help my writing.)

I spent most of the evening playing with Adobe Illustrator. I have a homework assignment where I'm supposed to create my own monster car from a sketch. I was originally going to cheat and use a picture of monster Smart car.

But then I was doodling before bed the other night and come up with this.
I've gotten this far in turning it into an Illustrator file.

This is too much fun to be work. That's why I never took art in school. Art was fun. I figured I had to suffer in as a Science major to get a real education. When I discovered I didn't have enough math talent to continue as a Science major the whole foundation of what I thought I was doing in school collapsed. I ended up spending the final year of high school between the beach and lost weekends of drugs and alcohol.

And that's how I ended up in the U.S. Navy, where, while writing letters home from the Gulf of Tonkin, I discovered that maybe I could be a journalist.

Should have stuck to art, although I probably don't have a real aptitude. It's just fun.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cookie Monster

It's late, I'm tired and I have no to blame but myself.

I just finished more that two hours of watching the first disk of The 10th Kingdom television series. It's a three-disc set. A co-worker of The Wife's collects TV series on DVD. Since we don't have cable, we borrow the discs and work our way through.

That indulgence was made worse by The Wife's Brazilian cookies. I don't eat that much sugar since I changed my diet and dropped from 220 pounds to less than 170. But when you put a stick of peanut butter cookies in my hand, old habits take over.

The cookies come from The Taste of Brazil store in Rancho Cordova that sells nothing but products of Brazil. The store is owned by a relative of another of The Wife's co-worker. The cookies are great. I'm wondering if they have any Girls from Ipanema.

Most of the hours before The 10th Kingdom and the Brazilian sugar overdose were spent playing with an idea I'm working on for a website devoted to George De Groat. This is the header I'm proposing.

The full size version is 960 pixels by 125. I've got a series of images in a slideshow that show the steps that took me from the original scan of the signature to the header.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Ugly Truth

This is my 20th year of marriage and the Ugly Truth is just what you'd expect.

Actually, I'm talking about the movie.

The Wife's favorite genre of film is the romantic comedy. I've watched so many in two decades that the fact that the Ugly Truth is predictable and formulaic and the jokes painfully bad is the opposite of a surprise.

The Ugly Truth's plot is a lot like He's Just Not That Into You. Guy teaches gal what guys really want. It's just that Ugly is, well, ugly in its crassness.

But it is not the absolute worst example of a romantic comedy. That award goes to New In Town. That was just so bad on so many levels.

Having such a limited range of movies we watch, it's no wonder that The Wife and I are big fans of the self-service Red Box movie rental machines. For $1.09, you really can't be too disappointed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Passing me by

My home office has a large window looking out on the front lawn and beyond to the sidewalk and the bike lane and the street and the bike lane on the other and the far sidewalk.

For hours on end, I sit at my desk behind that window and gaze on the outside word as if watching from a cage at the zoo.

I ignore the cars. The vinyl dual-pane windows with their argon insulation block all of but the loudest cars. Even the RT buses that pass by each half-hour are easily ignored.

It's the traffic on two wheels and two feet that catches my attention.

The elderly couple who walk each day. The husband can barely shuffle his feet, his progress arduously slow. He leans heavily on his wife, who patiently waits on her husband.

A chocolate lab with an owner who walks him around the block twice and sometimes three times a day. Lucky dog.

The quick-walking retiree in a straw hat. He holds his arms bent at right angles at the elbow, pumping forward and back in time to his long strides. He travels from west to east and doesn't return for many minutes.

Pregnant women pass daily. There must be many in the neighborhood. Most walk alone or with a lady friend. Seldom are they accompanied by men.

Drivers stop and check directions under the five large evergreen trees that line sidewalk and shade the street. Unfortunately, SMUD's butchery in the name of power line safety has lopped the top of three trees, leaving the afternoon sun unhindered access to my south-facing window.

Teens from Mira Loma High School, which is just a few blocks down my street, parade by.

Today, I watch a boy walking away from school intently texting, oblivious to his surroundings.

A woman stops across the street and carries on an unheard conversation with someone unseen on my side of the street. The woman carries something in each hand. She holds one of the items up as a goodbye gesture and turns and walks away.

A female jogger runs on the sidewalk across the street. She is stylishly dressed in black with pink trim. Her blond ponytail swishing to and fro with each stride.

A woman talks on a cell phone as she walks briskly by my window. Places to go; people to see.

A man wearing a yellow ballcap over gray hair, a navy polo shirt and pink (he'd say coral) shorts walks by, headphones visible as wires falling out of his ears.

A man with gray hair, a blue t-shirt, brown slacks and an uneven gate enters my view. Is he recovering from some illness? He walks on.

Two Mira Loma students ride by on their way from school. Wearing helmets! What makes some kids so law-abiding and others so unwilling to follow the rules?

The man with gray hair and the uneven gate returns, rewinding his journey.

Carmichael Towing's Battery Service pickup truck parks under the trees. Recharging?

A Mira Loma student rides toward school, a huge backpack threatening to unbalance his progress. No helmet.

A man and woman, both retirees, walk on the sidewalk under the tree branches. She leads. He follows, 10 paces behind. They are silent as they pass my window.

A man pedals a recumbent bike in one direction as a student from Mira Loma rides in the other.

A balding gentleman in a long sleeve red shirt, blue jeans and sneakers walks by.

A woman jogger dressed in baggy blue sweat shirt and orange shorts offers the counterpoint to the woman in stylish black and pink. Her short hair doesn't swish as she runs.

The balding gentleman returns, retracing his steps.

Across the street, a Mira Loma student walks home from school. He is wearing a sweater over shorts, ear buds dangling from his ears. The huge backpack he carries requires repositioning twice in the short distance he is in sight.

A 10-speed bike rider races by. No helmet. Then a Mira Loma student on a BMX bike heads in the other direction. He's wearing a helmet.

A Mira Loma student wearing long sleeve shirt and shorts runs toward school.

A woman wearing a ball cap and lime green top and white pants chats on cell phone as she walks.

At 4:13 p.m. it's getting dark. I don't like sitting behind the window when the office light is on. I don't want people to see me watching them. I don't want people to watch me.

I close the blinds and continue working.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The longest day

Monday's are a trial. Today even more so.

The day starts with the daily 6:15 a.m. run and doesn't end until I get out of class at American River College at 10:30 p.m.

Add a beer with a late snack and an episode of the Hitchcock Hour on Hulu and there's just no time or inclination to write something worth posting.

But write I do just to say write I do. It's a very good thing that my promise to write daily for the month of November did not include any measure of value of what I write.

Not that there wasn't something to write about. I spent more than an hour in Department 91 of Juvenile Court today with a dozen juveniles and their parents. (I'll leave out why I was there.) The assembly line nature of the proceedings was amazing. You didn't really need a judge or a clerk. All you really needed was the bailiff to make sure the boys pulled up their pants and tucked in their shirts.

I imagine there will come a day when juvenile infractions and petty misdemeanors will be dealt with without the judge or the clerk. The kids will instead face a camera. A recorded voice will offer them a deal, their acceptance of the deal will be recorded. They will then leave the courtroom and go pick up the forms they'll need to complete the requirements of the deal.

We had a real judge, not a commissioner or some other stand in. The kids and their parents were supposed to appreciate the occasion, the judicial luxury of it. The fact we had a real Superior Court judge and not some lesser being only made the assembly line nature of the proceedings that much more farcical.

It's late. I've got to get to bed. 6:15 a.m. comes quickly.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

For the exercise

I ran 3.5 miles in a loop around my neighborhood this morning. I do it for the exercise.

I've been running for less than a year. Before I ran, I walked. In my last year or so at The Bee I would walk around midtown every day, rain or shine.

There was a time in the not-very-distant past when I weighed in at more than 220 pounds. Each morning when I walked to the shower I had to pass a large mirrored wall. Each day started with a reminder of how overweight I was. It was depressing.

And then one day I started paying attention to what I ate. I read the labels on food looking for high fiber content and low sugar. I stopped eating chips and between-meal snacks, and developed a real love for fruit.

The diet and the exercise soon started showing results.

This morning I weighed in at 166 pounds. For a 57-year-old, 6-foot guy, that's a couple of pounds under the ideal weight. This afternoon I purchased a pair of pants with a 32-inch waist. Before I started losing weight, I had 36-inch pants that were uncomfortable to wear.

There are times when I can do things. There are times when I can't. I may want to do things. I may know I should do things. But nothing happens until it happens.

This weight loss experience -- the sudden ability to put aside sweets and make time for exercise -- mirrors what happened with smoking.

I started smoking at age 17. For years I knew smoking was bad. I knew I shouldn't smoke. But I smoked. And I often smoked two or three packs of cigarettes in a day. Then one day in 1980, I got a cold and a bad cough and I said enough. And I never smoked again.

I'm here writing every day for the exercise. The benefits will be just as measurable.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Art and Love

Five of the artworks I rehung yesterday (see this post) are by a California artist named George DeGroat. He was my mother's lover in the 1970s. Or she was his lover. Or they were lovers. My mother is dead so I can't get any clarification on the point.

My father divorced my mother in 1960. He threatened to name the local congressman as a co-respondent if she didn't agree to the divorce. She never remarried.

I know of only three men she dated. Once, and only once, I saw her kiss someone not my father. It was in the kitchen of our house in the San Fernando Valley. I had gotten out of bed to get some water and surprised my mother and her date as they embraced.

As a child, I always wanted my mother to remarry, but she repeatedly told me that it wasn't going to happen.

For a time, she dated a guy who was the head of security for the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. One winter my mother, my brother and I were invited up to Yosemite to stay with him. That must have been something serious. I remember thinking it would be fun to have the guy as a step dad. He told stories about climbing Yosemite Falls in the winter to blow up ice buildup to prevent avalanches. In the fall, he led the roundup of the park's wild horses so that they could be fed during the winter.

After I moved out, she dated DeGroat. I never met him. The only evidence of his existence was the artwork he left behind. My mother was obviously proud to say she was his lover. And it was, according to her, really good, too.

I was in my early 20s at the time. I was in the Navy, world wise, a gal in every port (when I had enough money to buy their services). But the image of my mother as a lover was, well, disturbing.

My mother was quite frank. Shockingly frank at times. In fact, I often felt she liked talking about here relationship with DeGroat just to make me uneasy.

The DeGroat prints have become family heirlooms. The image below is a pencil sketch he used as the cover of a card he sent to collectors of his work.

I remember finding it rolled up in a drawer in my mother's Culver City apartment. My mother wasn't the best caretaker of the art left to her. The bullfighter in the picture at the top of this blog and the "Triumbirate" print below suffered discoloration from years of exposure to my mother's serious tobacco habit.

It's nice to have the paintings back on the walls. The remodeling is now officially over.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lost Day

It's 10:57 p.m. as I start this. Oops. Nearly missed my daily posting goal.

I'm tempted to leave it at that. I spent a good part of the day updating content on a website. It was mind-numbingly tedious work -- sizing, cropping and uploading images of maps and data; updating links in pages.

When I finally decided to call it a night, The Wife and I sat down with dinner to watch "My Life In Ruins." I found the movie painful to watch. In fact, about halfway through I got my Blackberry out and checked blog posts in my Google Reader. The movie became so predictable it was no longer necessary to actually watch.

After the movie, The Wife and I started rehanging paintings. The paintings have been in storage since July, when The Wife's grand kitchen remodel began. You can read about that at (Need to update that blog!)

Two weeks ago, the last part of the remodel -- the floor in the kitchen and the adjacent dining room and living room -- was finished and we started moving furniture back in. And only tonight did we get around to rehanging paintings.

We did the "easy" stuff tonight. Tomorrow, we'll hang the larger pieces. It has been so long since the work started that it feels "new" to have the paintings back.

But even when everything is back in place we will only have a brief respite. The remodel at one end of the house has set in motion an avalanche that will tear through the family room next and eventually the rest of the house, carpet will be torn up, floors refinished and finally a major overhaul of the master bathroom. At least that's The Wife's ambition. Personally, I'd just like to enjoy what we have for a time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Out and about

My goals for November, each very simple, are interlocking. I suppose I did that on purpose.

Today was a two-fer: "Find something to do outside the house" and "Don't take the car out of the garage." (Three-fer if you count this as "Write something daily that's not job-related.")

This morning I got out of the house and left the car by riding with The Wife on the bus.

The Wife takes the bus from our house to Rancho Cordova, a ridiculously long trip whose only redeeming values are (1) she doesn't have to deal with traffic and (2) she gets to spend the time reading books.

I rode with The Wife as far as the Starbucks at Morse and Arden Way. I camped at Starbucks until noon, working on my laptop.

It would be nice if it had been a four-fer -- "Run at least five days a week" -- but The Dog barked.

About 3 a.m., The Dog entered my bedroom and made plaintive noises. Something like "I need to go outside" in dog whining. When I didn't respond she barked, "Now!"

I go to bed around midnight with my alarm set for 6:15 a.m. I run in the morning for 2 or 2.5 miles depending on the whim of the moment, shower when I return and then help The Wife catch her 7:24am bus.

Being awakened at 3 a.m. cuts short my sleep, and I've learned from painful experience that running without enough sleep will destroy my concentration when I finally settle down to work.

I was not happy to have the dog mess up my interlocking plans, and I was telling the beast exactly what I thought of her whining as I tossed the covers aside and rolled out of bed.

"Don't put the dog out," The Wife said from under the covers on the far side of the bed. "She'll just chase cats and bark to get back in."

"What am I supposed to do?" I asked.

"Tell her to lie down," she said.

I barked at the dog, "Go lie down" and climbed into bed.

When the dog returned 15 minutes later whining to go out I told The Wife it was her turn.

The Wife worked her magic on the dog and we made it through the night.

Since I didn't get to run, I walked. Or at least that was the rationale when I set off n a hike from Morse and Arden to Watt and Butano.

Actually, I was having a bad day bus-schedule-wise. I misread the Google Maps transit instructions and missed the bus at Morse and Arden. I didn't want to sit around another half-hour.

The walk would be good exercise, I told myself. And I certainly couldn't complain about the weather. It was ideal.

When I was near Watt and Butano I checked Google Maps on my Blackberry. The directions said I had 10 minutes before the next bus home would arrive at a nearby stop.

And then I saw the bus arrive at the stop.

I don't run for buses. I shrugged off the missed connection and decided to walk to the Starbucks at Watt and Kings Way. From there I could either catch the next bus or walk home.

But the bus didn't leave the stop as I crossed the street and approached. As I got closer, the ramp went down and a wheelchair rider got off. Another wait and then an elderly woman with a walker departed.

I was just 10 yards from the bus when it rolled up its ramp and pulled away from the curb.

Well it attempted to pull away. Traffic was backed up from El Camino all the way into the Butano intersection. The bus didn't get more than a foot from the curb.


Catch next bus?


I reached the door to the bus and knocked on the glass with my ARC student bus pass in hand.

The driver tried to ignore me but realized the stalled traffic wasn't going to let him escape. Finally he opened the door. I thanked him for waiting as I took a seat.

That was enough adventure for the day. Tomorrow I've got a lot of work to keep me at home.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The dreamcatcher

I woke myself up this morning apparently alarmed over my inability to breathe.

It took a while to separate the dream about my inability to breathe from the reality of my less serious difficulty breathing.

A woman was displeased with me for not doing my job. She wasn't any person I recognized from outside my dream world. Still, she was clearly my immediate supervisor at whatever job I wasn't doing. She was not happy with my unwillingness or inability to do an unspecified task.

I tried explaining that I just needed something to end my problem breathing. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what that remedy was and that added to my problem with my supervisor. I could tell my explanation and confusion wasn't helping.

And then the scene abruptly shifts. I found myself seated in front of the desk of a guy in a white shirt and tie. He too was unrecognizable as anyone in particular, but again I clearly understood that he was my boss's boss.

Honest, I explained to him. I'm not shirking my job. I want to do the work, I said. I just can't breathe. Really.

My boss's boss seemed marginally more sympathetic than my boss.

Then I woke up.

For a guy who works from home for more than one woman and no men in white shirt and tie, that was a lot of angst over my job performance. Where did that come from?

When my son was in elementary school we put an American Indian dreamcatcher on his wall and explained to him its purpose. At least my wife explained its purpose. I'd never heard of dreamcatchers and considered the concept about as likely as the tooth fairy.

Still, The Kid appeared to by comforted by it. And now I'm wondering whether I should build one for myself out of talismans from my home office. I imagine a network cable hoop with thin copper wires knotted into a loose netting inside the hoop. Dangling from the hoop would be USB thumb drives and wired mice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Son and Father

Someday The Kid will be a famous artist, and I will tell everyone, "I changed his diapers."

Not that that's the extent of my involvement in his life. I can boast any number of other fatherly entanglements with my son and perhaps even show some influence on his development. But his art is his own. I'd say "God given" if I were a Christian. As a Buddhist, I shrug my shoulders and wonder where he came from.

The most I can say about my influence on his art is that I stayed out of his way.

My wife and I encouraged Richard to take art classes. He has always had talent. He painted a pair of colorful birds in kindergarten that had all of the teachers buzzing. His first oil painting was amazing.

More important, and something I see as Richard's real talent, is his ability to imagine what he wants to do and then execute it, an artistic hand-eye coordination that really is amazing.

From Richard Art -- Son & Father
On Sunday Richard asked me to sit for him while he sketched my portrait in charcoal. He's taking a drawing class at American River College. He's drawn three or four self-portraits for the class. (Examples are in this collection of his art.) This week's assignment was to draw someone else.

I sat in bed. For lighting, Richard had me watch TV on my computer with all of the other lights off except for a closet light that provided enough illumination for Richard to see his drawing table.

So I sat and watched the final episode of Dollhouse on Hulu. I love the show's writing. I love the discussions of right and wrong when it comes to playing -- literally -- with people's minds.

After that 45 minutes, Richard said he needed more time. So I watched Lie to Me on Hulu. When my fulltime job in Oakland got cut back to half-time, we dropped cable as a cost-cutting move. I miss weekend soccer games, but not much else. Hulu's archive of current and past programs is more than enough for my limited television tastes.

When Lie to Me finished, I asked Richard, "Now?"

"No," he said. So I watched another Lie to Me. The show is not bad. It certainly held my interest while I attempted to keep my head still and my eyes fixed on the computer screen.

When the second Lie to Me finished, Richard refused to quit, and now I had his mother telling me to be still. She came in and snapped the photo above of Richard drawing. At that point, I had no idea what the drawing looked like.

So I watched the two pilot episodes for Stargate Universe. When we had cable I watched Stargate Atlantis some. It was OK. Unfortunately, this new show suffers from some pretty awful writing that is made worse by lackadaisical acting.

My butt was sore and my eyes hurt by the time Richard finally finished. When I saw the drawing for the first time I was really very impressed.

From Richard Art -- Son & Father

In January of last year, Richard did a pen and watercolor drawing for his high school art class. Here are the two side by side. The advancement of his skill in less than two years is amazing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Goals for November

I got the idea of posting my goals from Maya, a local blogger I've followed since I first started exploring the regional blogosphere for The Sacramento Bee three years and 13 weeks ago give or take a week. I believe Maya has been blogging for a decade or more. I don't mind modeling my ideas on a real pro like her.

Unfortunately, I'm not real good with goals. When I was younger I would say things like: "By the time I'm 30 I want to be settled in a career on a major daily paper.

Interestingly, I don't remember what I wanted to achieve by my 40th birthday, but I do remember that I was late a couple of years. Now as I see the approach of my 60th birthday in a couple of years, I'm bereft of long range goals.

But Maya's goals are for just a month. I can do that. I can make something up.
  1. Run at least five days a week. (I made all 7 last week after missing a full week because of calf muscle pull in my right leg.)
  2. Revise my resume. (I need one for writing proposals and one for web building.)
  3. Get accounts at freelancer job sites. (Both writing and web building)
  4. Write something daily that's not job-related. (NoBloPoM0, the cop-out for those of too limited skills to participate in National Novel Writing Month. )
  5. Find something to do outside the house on at least three workdays. (I will save my explanation of "Barnsour" for another day.)
  6. Don't take the car out of the garage for at least three days a week. (This is a throwback to my Transitarian days. Mondays I can ride the bus to American River College and get a two-fer. On the other "outside" days I can take the car, but I'll be looking for bus more ideas.)
  7. ...
And that's as far I've gotten on my lunch break today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Welcome to National Blog Posting Month 2009

It's 4:37 p.m. and the sun is setting. The fading light outside complements the computer glow inside my dark home office. I've got maybe a half-hour before I'll have to turn on some lights.

OK. I'm obviously struggling to find a handle for this job. It is NoBloPoMo time again and I've decided to use that occasion to return to blogging. I'm rusty. It's hard to pick up blogging again. It's especially hard since I don't have a guiding purpose here.

I shut down my former blog -- -- on Aug. 16. That blog had the advantage of being about something -- my experience riding Regional Transit to and from work. But when I lost my job with The Sacramento Bee and ended up working from home, I lost my reason to blog.

Now I want to get back into the rhythm of writing. All I have to do is silence that voice in my head that keeps dismissing this as sophomoric "dear diary" crap. The medium is the message. The exercise is the goal.

This is the second time I've used this blog to attempt to restart my writing engine. I created this blog back in 2006. For background, try my first two posts here -- National blog posting month and National blog posting month Day 1.

Back then I was attempting to follow local and regional blogs for The Sacramento Bee at, a website I built as a demonstration site. A grand old time, full of optimism. Not a dark cloud on the horizon.

OK, a short-lived grand optimistic time. The death of innocence.

By mid-2008, The Bee had already made it clear that my efforts were unwanted. Certainly was uninterested. And a year later The Bee let me go in the first layoffs in the company's history.

Today, continues on. Not because I have a particularly strong interest in local and regional blogs. No, it's just because the website doesn't require any maintenance. That was the whole point of the demonstration project. This was content sacbee could have for free and it wouldn't cost them I dime of labor. just does what it does, which is mostly just capture content from blog RSS feeds.

Since IpsoSacto is the name I use for Tweeting, I figured I'd return here.

Welcome to National Blog Posting Month!