Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our Toxic Money Pit

My friend Alix (we survived the doldrums of High School together) asked me what I thought about this whole credit implosion. I responded with a bit of my interpretation of "How We Got Here," and my unabashed opinions on what we should do:
  • I never liked Fannie or Freddie and always wanted them reformed. When the GOP tried to rein them in, the Dems said the GOP were being racists who didn't want minorities to "share the American dream of owning a home."

  • The reality of the matter was that 20 years ago, the banks and investors had more money than anyone wanted to borrow. So they bought some politicians and fabricated a scam based upon difficult-to-understand mortgages, with the ultimate goal of getting people to borrow way more money than they normally could .

  • Even more clever, the banks didn’t actually care so much about lending their money to low income consumers who would never pay it back. They sourced the loans, bundled them together into packages, and sold those packages to other people and institutions at a fictional rate. So a bank might provide the cash for a bunch of sub-prime loans, but then get it back, plus a huge commission, when those loans were packaged and sold to someone else.

  • In the meanwhile, all this credit is flooding into the "market," and there are more cash-laden Home Buyers (ie: suckers) than there are Home Sellers (ie: future suckers), the laws of Supply & Demand kick in, and there is a rapid inflating of housing prices as the Recent Sellers had to buy new homes. With their unexpected profit, these New Buyers take out bigger loans (which they normally couldn't afford) for bigger houses (which they normally couldn't afford,) and the banks make bigger profits.

  • Repeat the process for a decade. Except the banks have grown addicted to their new found fortunes. And in order to perpetuate the Ponzi scheme, they brew a cauldron of investment poison Jim Kunstler describes as: so complex that they could only be created with the aid of computers. The result is that hardly anyone -- perhaps even nobody in or out of Wall Street -- really understands what they represent. In fact, this alphabet soup of engineered securities -- CDOs, CDSs, MBSs, SIVs, etc -- was cooked up from a recipe of Ponzi algorithms. They were designed to be mathematically indecipherable, except by computers, in an alternative universe of model-making that bore only a superficial relation to the real world. That was their dirty secret. And the dirty secret of the Great Bail-out is that, in the real world, we will never be able to discover the actual trading value of these things at any number above zero. This is why they are called "toxic."

  • Ultimately, the cycle ground to a halt, and we discover that all these banks made horribly bad investments. They went to the race track, bet on all the wrong horses, and now expect tax payers to pony up the money the bookies are here to collect.

  • I say: let credit restrictions tighten! I have no problem if credit gets much more restrictive and 21yr old busboys can no longer buy a $500K house, a Lincoln towncar, and a 120" plasma TV on $40000/yr. I never bought what I could not afford and have no remorse for those who did. They can move out of the McMansion and rent an apartment and stop crying that their Xbox was repo'ed.

  • Sure,I will lose money on my 401K, but it was an INVESTMENT, I opted in, but at low risk, and I diversified. My loss is real, but not substantial. And I expect it will recover inside of the next 40yrs when I go to cash out.
  • We learned nothing from the S&L scandal of the 80s.We learned nothing from the Internet Bubble of the 90s. And it looks like the villains who created this recent toxic money pit are trying to push the burden of paying for their mistakes onto the tax payer.

I say let them all collapse. Perhaps it will end the cycle of greed and stupidity. But I doubt it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

MOVIE: Lucky Number Slevin

I 'm sad that I missed this one at the theaters. Packed with big name stars. Lots of action. And most surprisingly, it was able to keep me from deciphering the twists until the very end.

Very good writing. Extremely light on theatrics and fast paced. The directing was great. Made very good use of the actors' various talents and didn't overly rely on special effects. Excellent storytelling qualities for a very modern story.

With the exception of the final scene with the protagonists, the acting was well done. Lived up to the billing. I especially enjoyed Lucy Liu's performance as the bouncy, quirky neighbor.

As noted there was a bit of a drag toward the last few minutes. A right proper ending, but a bit too long in the coming. It was like a long, slow motion car chase. A touch too lethargic compared to the rest of the film. But it wasn't disappointing by any stretch of the imagination.

Aside from my one quip with the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Could make for a decent date flick, however my bride wouldn't have the stomach for it. Not something any kid should see without being in the late teens. Certainly worth the price of a rental.

MindSpring Revisited - Ron Meinsler - 500th Post!

Being fortunate enough to know Ron is like drinking a bottle of ice cold absinthe: surprisingly mellow, very refreshing, a touch of bitterness just to keep you on your toes, and if you take too much, you end up going a little crazy. He's an extremely unique individual. part bluesman, part rural Neo-con, and part Zen motorcycle philosopher. He pulls no punches, suffers no fools, and makes the meanest Hot & Sour soup this side of China.

I worked with Ron at MindSpring. He was in HBG. I was in ATL. We had a love-hate relationship on the clock. We drank like villains off the clock. Almost a decade after (literally) parting company, we still swap emails or IMs or the occasional phone call nearly a daily basis. Many are the times I've referred to him as: The Older Brother I Never Should Have Had. And one of our running bets centers on my attempts at "healthy living" versus his "anything but healthy" adventures, but in the long run Ron will very likely outlive me and have the last laugh.

For my 500th post on Tales From The Eye, I present my friend and cohort, Uncle Ron, in his own words:
  • How were you involved with MindSpring?
    I was hired just after the Pipeline acquisition.  Those were the days of 45 minute hold times and every call was an upset new yorker.  I spent a year on the phones and then started working my way up the ladder.  First as a tech support coach, and then into a new project called the bridge where we bridged the communications gap between tech support and the NOC and handled other network monitoring and alerting responsibilities.  Eventually I got the opportunity to build a full fledged NOC in Harrisburg and ultimately became a senior manager of network operations for the unified company of EarthLink.

  • What was one of your favorite adventures at MindSpring?
    Actually, it was after I left MindSpring.  I traveled to Atlanta to visit you and a few other MindSpringers and saw Robinella and the CC String Band.  Frankly, I'm surprised I haven't read about that night in your blog :-D

  • Share a memorable event from MindSpring?
    Beer at every company meeting.  I'll never forget that.

  • What is something other SpringHeads might not have known about you in those days?
    I didn't keep any secrets.  What you saw was what you got.
  • Why did you part ways with MindSpring?
    They closed the Harrisburg office and I declined a relocation offer.  Atlanta is just too far from my family.
  • What are you up to these days?
    Over the years I've come to realize that from a professional perspective, I am much happier working day to day with the technical challenges as a *nix systems administrator than the brutally mundane aggravation of a being a manager.  I am now, and have been for roughly 6 years, an avid Linux enthusiast both for work and for play, and I love my work.  In the summertime my passion is sailing.
  • Did you learn any lessons at MndSpring that you still carry with you?
    MindSpring played such a huge part in my life that I could never do it justice in a short writing like this.  MindSpring's core values and beliefs  changed my life forever.  Not only did I adopt them  as the framework for which to conduct myself  in the workplace, but I  bought into them as a way to build my character and live my life, and I am a much better man for it now.  I am in debt to Charles Brewer, Miller, the other Miller, Stanley, McDougal, Rietmulder and countless others who have given me knowledge, guidance, direction and some unforgettable life experiences which I reflect upon often.

Monday Already?

I usually don't post so early but the deluge has begun.

1) Maybe 4hrs of sleep last night.
2) Missed breakfast.
3) Wachovia is past tense.
4) Still coughing up lunggoblins after two weeks.
5) My clothes are wrinkled.
6) There is no six!


Sunday, September 28, 2008

MOVIE: Batman Gotham Knight

I don't think I've ever confessed this: Batman is my favorite superhero. It's because he is one of the very few characters that is just a man. He isn't invulnerable. He doesn't come from Atlanta ATLANTIS. He doesn't have a golden lasso that makes people tell the truth. At his core, he is a detective with a couple of nifty widgets. He out-thinks his opponents, he over-trains and out-fights his opponents, and he out-angries his opponents. Sure. it helps that he is a billionaire playboy and has a butler that stitches him up every night, but beneath the mask is a normal, flesh and blood person. And I dig that.

Batman Gotham Nights is an anime-style anthology of six animated shorts from different Directors, Writers, and Artists.I think it is supposed to take place before the live-action movie, The Dark Knight.

Liked that we get to see him bleed. Makes him seem more human. And it is an effect that eludes pen & paper episodes.

Didn't like one of the bullet-proof widgets that were introduced. Yes, I get the moral of introducing it. Still diminishes the illusion of reality for me.

Liked the opening episode with the kid and their different interpretations of his appearance.

Didn't like that the character of Batman changed so dramatically between each episode. One time he's a vigilante. The next time he is a detective. The next time he isn't either. Then he is a detective again. Bothers me that there wasn't an over-arching agreement on his role.

Fortunately, it isn't required viewing to enjoy the live-action movies. Missing Gotham Knight doesn't diminish the impact of The Dark Knight.

Date flick? Not very likely. Kid flick? Older kids, for sure. For me, a recovering comic book aficionado, it was a great rental.

GAME: Ca$h 'N Gun$

Yesterday, I met up with Pete, Rob, Pat, and his bride Wendy, to try out some new board games, eat dinner, and drink various forms of poison. The big hit of the night was Ca$h 'N Gun$.

(Full disclosure, I "grew up" with these guys. We survived high school together, kept in touch during college, and beyond, and still get together once a year, sometimes every other year. The gatherings are usually extremely juvenile and outsiders wouldn't make sense of a fraction of the things that make us laugh. But I think we privately prefer it that way.)

Ca$h 'N Gun$ is a live-action Tarantino-esque "Mexican Standoff." 4 - 6 players have foam pistols, a character standup card, and eight cards that match that character. Five of these cards say "click" on them, two say "Bang!", and one says "Bang! Bang! Bang!" Piles of “coward” tokens and "wound" tokens are on standby for injuries or chickens. A pile of money tokens ($5,000 - $20,000) are shuffled, and the first round is ready to begin.

Each player picks and conceals which type of round they will fire (remember, you only have 3 REAL shots) and on a count of 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... everyone picks up their pistol and aims at somebody. Usually, at least one pistol is aimed at you. (Example: Picture to the left, four pistols fly and Pete, Son Of James, finds himself on the receiving end of three barrels.) Then you have a choice (knowing each person only has 3 REAL shots) on a count of 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... you can elect to DUCK (which means you don't get shot, but you don't shoot the guy you are aiming at), you can drop you pistol (which means nobody sees your round) or you can flip over your concealed card. Flipping your card means you fire, and risk being fired upon. Three wounds, and you are dead. Three wounds and your opponents are dead. After the smoke clears, the pile of money is split up among people who were not shot or who did not duck.

Great game. Very quick and entirely enjoyable. Fascinating study in psychology because you pick your rounds, decide who to shoot, decide who might shoot you, decide who might shoot somebody else, and then if you find pistols aimed at you, try to weigh the chances of facing blanks or real rounds. (Example: Pictured to the left, Peter draws down on me, Whitebread style. He doesn't like to bluff. Usually brings the heat and saves the blanks for the other kids.)

There are some expansions we're going to try in December, when we gather again. We'll strap up and the last geeks standing can divvy the loot. Highly recommend anyone with good friends and ample spare time pick up a copy of Ca$h 'N Gun$.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cindy E Stops By

Having a wife named Cindy who has a best friend named Cindy is tricky sometimes. Fortunately Cindy E still lives in Atlanta, for the time being. She's one of my wife's coolest friends and I hope she makes the plunge and moves back here once her tenure with the State Of GA is done. It would be fun to see her on the weekends, and Cindy (my bride) needs a good friend less than six hours away.

Anyway, it was a brief visit, but I'm always glad to see Cindy E.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Boudreax's What?

On a random trip through CVS, I stumbled upon something that made me do a double take. I actually said outloud: "Boudreax's what?"

Methinks it is for diaper rash. Picture of a baby. Baby is smiling. I think Bourdreax and his butt paste are responsible for that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blue Haired Fury

In the gaming industry, I'm considered "Back Of House." Under normal conditions, I do not deal with "guests" at work. I usually only interact with employees. And even then less than a third of all employees have any kind of computer access.
Today, I learned why I don't deal with guests. I made the heinous mistake of walking the gaming floor in the middle of a massive, prolonged outage. Because one of the gaming-related systems was offline, the guests could not use the ATM-like kiosks (there are almost 40 of them on the floor) to cash out. They couldn't get their money without going to a cage, waiting in line, and getting a flesh & blood person to cash them out.

In the 21st Century, old ladies are no longer patient. They do not want to wait to get their hard earned money. They do not want to have it counted out three times and then handed to them one bill at a time. Old ladies want a quiet, efficient, blazingly fast MACHINE to spit out their money out on-demand.

As soon as one of them learned learned "the computer guy" was on the scene, they flocked down on me like a pack of vitriolic harpies. It was a bitter, acid-filled, one-sided conversation. The angry masses berated me for my lack of skillz and my inconsideration for forcing them to suffer the indignitity of manually cashing out.

They put curses on my children. They openly chanted and prayed for my quick, painful demise.

All I could do was nod stupidly and say, "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry. Yes, ma'am."

I'll never go down to the gaming floor again. I fear the blue haired fury.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

MOVIE: The Band's Visit

This is a small movie. Very diminutive in scope and quite lacking in budget. The characters are mostly flat. The setting is an un-noteworthy Israeli desert town. And the whole movie spans a single day and night.

Fortunately, The Band's Visit is much larger than the sum of its small parts. Stripped of all pretense and cruft, it is a clean, uncluttered story centered around Tewfiq, the leader of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and their unexpected, overnight delay in a slow, desolate city.

Things I thoroughly enjoyed:
  • the clone-like appearance of the band members' uniforms
  • everyone speaking in mottled English
  • the informal and lighthearted aspects of Dina versus the rigid formality of Tewfiq
  • "My Funny Valentine"
  • The band members going in different adventures but all ending up at Dina's apartment
Very crisp. Very clean.  Subtle, unintrusive direction. Fluid acting. Unpretentious dialog. Satisfying and pleasant ending.

Great date movie. But too slow for the kids.

Rent it. Enjoy it. I did.


Lovely plethora of activity today:

After more than nine years of computational effort, I broken into the top 4000 SETI contributors today. #3996 out of 1418448 user to be exact. I'm generating almost 10,000 work units a day. I should be able to break into the top 2000 with my current systems. But the top 1000 will be tough. I'd need a big boost to get there. But maybe I can work some magic. My stats are here.

My younger brother, Jason, wrestled with his first cancer screening this morning. He did real well afterward and was back to normal by lunch time. No signs of any problems. And he was all worried about nothing. I think he said he won't need another screening for five years. I'll probably get another one in three years, if not sooner. The amount of discomfort required for the exam is greatly outweighed by the knowledge that you're cancer free. And colon cancer is nobody's idea of a good time.

Speaking of good health, Cindy is back to firing on all pistons. In response to a bunch of questions I received about the whole adventure this past weekend:
  • Yes, it was the same thing that happened a couple of years ago. Her potassium levels dropped and her heart came close to not having the essential elements required to do its job. 
  • Yes, she was on potassium supplements. In fact, she thought she may have been taking too much. Good thing she didn't cut back... 
  • As far as I know, the solution was to give her intravenous potassium for three days.
  • She shares the symptoms with her mother. But her mother didn't have similar issues until she was well past 55.  I think it is a genetic pre-disposition toward insufficient potassium absorption. But I'm a computer goon, what do I know?
 On the other side of the equation, looks like I'm going to require a THIRD round of prolotherapy for my shoulder. The first round resolved problems with my anterior deltoid. The second round worked on my rotator cuff. And (hopefully) the final round will fix my subscapularis muscle. Not keen on thinking what comes next if I'm not good after that.

And this just in... ...Meg got a DOLLAR from the tooth faerie!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MOVIE: Deep Water

Deep Water is a modern day reflection of Homer's Odyssey. By Homer, I mean the Greek poet. By Modern Day, I mean the 1960s. And by Reflection, I mean a well-told documentary about the events surrounding a much celebrate sailing race around the globe.

Being a fan of good story telling as well as obscure tales, I was mesmerized by Deep Water. I had never heard of the forlorn Donald Crowhurst or his lonely endeavors. But I was drawn into the pageantry and suspense of the race. I can not begin to fathom the sense of anticipation created around the world as the racers sent in their all too infrequent updates via radio telegraph. And surely it was the "HELO WORLD" heard across every civilized country when Crowhurst eventually came up for air. But I get ahead of myself.

Deep Water is directors Louise Osmond's and Jerry Rothwell's completely factual documentary about the events before, during, and after the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Nine lone sailors took up the call to complete a solo trek around the world via sailboat. Bear in mind, this was 1968. No interactive radio. No GPS. Nothing but one man per boat with only their wits and determination lending them to the finish line.

Last to arrive on the battlefield is the hero of this neo-Greek tragedy: Donald Crowhurst. For his chance to touch fame and glory, he abandons his wife, leaves his children, goes heavily into debt, and departs all alone into the race as the obvious underdog. For him, like Odysseus, it isn't the journal it is supposed to be.

With real footage of the race, newspaper clippings, and well narrated portions of Crowhurst's journals, the plot of the race slowly unfolds. The battle to the finish line is every bit as epic in scope as anything from Homer. The multiple endings for the different racers is baffling. And the suspense behind Crowhurst's tale carries through, even in a modern light. Without spoiling any elements for potential viewers, I'll leave it at that.

For a documentary, Deep Water kept me glued to my seat. The pacing was excellent. Almost a touch long in the middle. But not distracting. The direction is wonderful. Osmond and Rothwell weave a very clever web with all the clippings and murky audio and grainy photos and nautical maps. Fantastic atmosphere set and maintained throughout the movie. A constant revelation of intriguing events and surprises. And ultimately the ending did not disappoint.

Definitely an entertaining date movie for a rainy night. Possibly something older kids would like. Well worth the price of a rental. I'm very glad I caught this obscure film before it faded into the twilight. I'd recommend it to anyone with a thirst for interesting history.

Monday, September 22, 2008

MOVIE: Half Nelson

I picked this flick up because I really enjoyed Ryan Gosling's performance in The Believer. (Have to review that some time.) In Half Nelson, Gosling plays Dan Dunne. He's a zealous, free thinking teacher at an inner-city junior high school in Brooklyn. Well, that is his day job. It pays the bills. By night, he's an utter junkie. Crack, crank, coke. Washed down with some booze. And some hookers.

Throughout the movie, he teeter totters between his roles. Valiant champion of forgotten children by day, villainous dredge of society by night. A modern day Jekyll & Hyde.

The acting is incredible and utterly invisible. It is like watching a prolonged episode of A&E's Intervention. I hated the guy. I loved the guy. I wanted to wring his neck. I wanted to carry him in my own arms to a hospital. Very satisfying acting on all parts.

The direction and pacing are top notch. Very quick movie. Very flowing and seamless. Great writing. Engaging. Realistic. Contemporary. And phenomenal dialog.

Easily one of the most intriguing movies I have rented in recent months. Not something for the kids, but certainly worth the price of a rental and a bucket of popcorn for a date. I wish I had caught it one night at the theater with Cindy. We could have had diner and wine afterward and compared thoughts. Awesome flick. An unsung victory of a movie.

MindSpring Revisited - Chris Miller

Trying to describe Chris Miller to somebody who doesn't already know him is like trying to describe Reggae music to a deaf person. He is one of the slipperiest characters since Keyser Söze and seems more likely to be found in a Hunter S Thompson novel than in one of my adventures. But I spent the better part of four years with him at MindSpring, being the coyote to his road runner. Looking back, it was more of a cartoon chase than a job. And every episode was funnier than the next.

I caught up with Chris, today. The phone had an odd ring when it connected. That was due to him being in Sweden. He was roaming the streets and trying to get directions to a meeting. Fortunately, between harassment of unexpecting Swedes, he had some good advice for me and we may end up meeting in Savannah next month. Miller hasn't changed in a decade. The only difference now is that he has some foreign coyotes to beep at.

For the curious, here is Chris' "Where Are They 'Springing Now" update in his own words:
  • How were you involved with MindSpring? Tech Support Desk
    Tech Support Mngr
    Call Centers Director
    Harrisburg Director
    Network Installer
    Network Planning Provisioning and Installations
    Dir Enterprise Systems Management
    Dir NOC
    VP NOC
  • What was one of your favorite adventures at MindSpring?
    Landing in H'burg and setting the H'burgers free from the wicked witch.
    Hiring masseuses for the Hburg holiday dinner in the dungeon to give half naked massages at the table to Charles, McQ and JonR
  • Share a memorable event from MindSpring?
    Charles singing at company meetings
    the back deck party we had
    'Spring events around the country
    McQ getting pied on the back deck
  • What is something other SpringHeads might not have known about you in those days?
    Hhm, I think it was pretty well all disclosed
  • Why did you part ways with MindSpring?
    I never did.  MindSpring parted from me when Gary Betty took over.
  • What are you up to these days?
    Social/Economic Entrepreneur
    - city branding
    - urban dev
    - econ dev
    - strategic foresight
    - technology consulting
    travel - Africa, Scandanavia, Europe
    sailing - E. Coast
  • Did you learn any lessons at MndSpring that you still carry with you?
    CVB's have been an integral part of all my for and non-profit endeavors since.  Also learned that results kick process in the ass everytime.

Win some, lose some

Good news. Cindy is home. She had a stress test early this morning. Treadmill and such. Heart rate reached 155 bpm without any problems. Her ticker passed with flying colors. And all is well in potassium land. So the doctors let me bring her home around 3PM. One big happy family again.

Bad news: Meg lost her second tooth today. Eating Cheetos during snacktime. One minute she has orange fingers. The next she's cleaning up a canine. She isn't keen on posing just yet. But I caught a nice image of the setting sun coming through the front blinds. I'll get a picture of that snaggled smile soon enough.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hospital Blues

One more night (hopefully) for Cindy.

Her potassium is still low, though it has come up a good bit. The doctors want to keep her (surprise!) for another night and give her a stress test in the morning. The thinking is that her levels will have returned to normal and they'll have the results of the test for reference.

Anyway, I took the kids up there to visit. Then Liam hung out with his friend Thomas. Meg hung out with Gigi (Cindy's Mom.) And I picked up groceries (Super Walmart.)

We all miss Cindy and want her to come home. I'm sure she has the hospital blues by this point.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Illness At Every Turn

I'm still sick. And my meds make me loopy.

Meg is still sick. But she's on the fast track to recovery.

Liam is much better. Almost good as new.

Cindy's potassium is collapsing. It's down to critical levels again. They admitted her to the hospital a couple of hours ago. Have to get it back to normal levels. I hope she'll be home tomorrow.

Should be in for a fun week.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

FOOD: Monterey Grill in Biloxi, MS

I watched them slowly build Monterey Grill / Cafe / Cantina , on Pass Road, in Biloxi, MS, across the better part of six months. So the property is brand new. Means it is very nice and very clean. Some interesting murals, too. I especially liked the fact that there was a full length glass partition between the bar (ie: smoking section) and the rest of the place (non-smoking.) Since we took our Meg and her cousin Alex, it was nice that we didn't have to worry about sitting too close to the bar. A smoke free dinner is a great dinner.

I had the "Monterey Special" which is three burritos prepared with three different ingredients and covered with a cheese sauce. The first burrito was of the fairly traditional steak (ground beef?) variety. Good stuff. Liked the seasoning. Liked the flavor of the meat and the cheese. Didn't even spice it up with salsa. The second burrito was my favorite: spinach! Never had that anywhere else. It was fantastic. Very tender spinach. Great idea, if they came up with it. The third burrito was chicken. Nothing surprising or overly interesting about it, though. Paled in comparison to the first two. Next time, I'm going to try to order ala cart, with two beef and two spinach, with red sauce on them. (Mister Parker at the office recommends the red sauce!) And I didn't like how NOTHING else came on the dish. No beans, no rice. Nada. Could have been a better presentation, too.

Cindy had the shrimp burritos. She was a big fan. Said the tortillas were very fresh, the ingredients were very fresh, and the shrimp were not only huge but also well prepared. And her dish came with several extras. Much better presentation. All told, she loved it. She said it is her new favorite Mexican spot. Well worth the extra travel time.

The kids had cheese quesadilla. I think they mainly enjoyed being out, being together, and not having any boys around to distract them and be silly.

Cindy and I had a drink from the bar. She had a clever frozen drink that I can't remember. I had a margarita on the rocks. Both were good and adequately priced.

The price of the meal, as a whole, wasn't too bad. With the tip it barely broke $50.

We'll be back. Maybe this weekend.

Visit From George

My former boss and long-time friend, George Williams, drove through Gulfport on his way back to Atlanta, and paid me a visit. It was great to see him and we hung out for a couple of hours. Had some BBQ. Watched some football. Talked about geeked-out security shizzle.

Good times. Certainly made me miss the proximity of my friends while I was in Atlanta. Too bad I couldn't get them to relocate en masse to MS. The whole hurricane thing is a put-off though.

Rumors Of My Demise

I took some time off from writing. Just too many pins in the air and not enough resources to juggle them all.

Bad news: I'm dreadfully sick. Bronchitis, bordering on possible pneumonia. The Nurse Practitioner could hear crackling in all of my right lung and the upper lobe of my left lung. She actually asked me if I was a smoker!

It started on Saturday. I woke up feeling like my throat was shredded. As if I'd been coughing for a week. But I hadn't coughed at all. Very odd. I just suffered through it. Sunday was worse. Added coughing to the mix. Probably the beginning of a sinus infection migrating into my chest. Monday was much worse. The fever hit. Barely measured at 100 degrees, but felt much higher. Very lethargic, very achy, and very hot. Did not enjoy it. It continued today.

But I went to the medical building and got some help from Nurse Posey. She hooked me up with a breathing treatment, some drug samples, and a shot of steroids, to speed the healing. Let me say for the record: that shot HUUUUURT! I actually jumped when he hit me in the "hip" with it. (For some reason, medical professionals say "hip" when they mean "buttocks.") After she hit me with that juice, it felt like I had an angry monkey fist in my back pocket for hours.

Hopefully, all of the meds will help me out and I'll be back at work tomorrow. Had to leave early, today. Took a two hour nap. Seemed like 6 hours has passed. Best sleep I've had in days.

Goods news: Contiued to work on several of my projects. The adventure with Roger is moving along. The house is coming together, too. Worked on the hallway this weekend (crown molding!) And Cindy has been wrapping up the painting in the bathroom. Labor Day marked the official One Year point of working on the house. Not as far as I'd like to have come, but we've got three rooms done, and have four more to go.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This Olde House - Hallway Trim Work

I finished the sheetrock and mud and paint in the hallway a while back. Now it is time to work on the trim work. I'm going to put in some 8 inch crown molding, 6 inch baseboards, and 8 inch corner pieces.

Of course, everything starts with a trip to Lowe's. And I had to drop several hundred bucks on material. None of which would fit in my truck. I had canter-lever the long boards out the window!

I bought the corner pieces in order to avoid having to cope the angles on every corner. I like to think I'm good at working with trim. I'm not good at coping angles, though. The one time I tried, it took a long time to produce very unimpressive results. Pre-fabricated corners install in minutes and look great.

I also plan on fixing a gap between the kitchen and the hallway. There used to be a useless door there. I removed it and opened up the whole area. But a weight bearing board still hangs down about a quarter of an inch below the rest of the sheet rock. So I bought a nice piece of wood normally used to separate gaps in floors and plan to use it to span the gap on the ceiling.

One or two days to install the trim. One or two days to spackle and sand. One day to paint. Then have to find some new lights and paint the ceiling.

Friday, September 05, 2008

TFtE Gets Wordle-ed

My abundance of sleep from earlier this week is plaguing me. Nigh on midnight and I'm wired.

Fred, from One Project Closer send me this link: Wordle.

According the site: Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.

I pointed it here. And it wordle-ed my mad rantings. I wish I could feed it all my posts. It's clearly jaded by my recent entires about hurricanes.

Wish I could sleep.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Long Drive In

Highway 90 (a road traversing the length of the entire Gulf Coast) re-opened this morning. It wasn't as bad as I thought, but it wasn't good. Gustav certainly extracted its toll on the beach.

The first (and obvious) thing to notice was the mounds of sounds on both sides of the road. I'm guessing they were about three feet high. Tons and tons of sand blown off of the beach and onto the highway. (A close look at the background shows one of our lighthouses!)

Once I actually cruised into Biloxi, the beach became littered with vast expenses of odd brown debris. Seriously, I have NO idea what that stuff is. I didn't see anything like it in Gulfport! Seaweed? Clumped up grass? It looked like tattered old ropes. Miles of it.

Certainly don't envy whomever has to clean up that mess. They've got several days (weeks) worth of work ahead of them. Hopefully some kind of mechanized unit that can be driven around the beach all day. But they don't exactly make "Cleanup The Beach After A Durricane" style lawn mowers.

Finally, almost to the office, I caught sight of some of the serious debris. Snapped a picture of a big mound of the stuff. I'm guessing it approaches eight feet high. Maybe twenty feet round, at the base? A hulking jumble off wood, pipes, boards, and metal beams mixed with tons of soggy earth.

Of course Katrina was easily 300% worse than this. Where I only saw a couple of mounds of debris from Gustav, Katrina created unbroken MILES of debris, walls of it, almost ten feet tall, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Gustav could have been much worse.

Hopefully we won't get anything worse this season.


A surprising change: I SLEPT!

After the first day of re-opening, I went home to do three things: eat half a meal of prosciutto ravioli, crawl into bed, and go to sleep at 8PM. I rarely get six hours of sleep. I'm thrilled to get eight hours. But last night I proceeded to sleep for an unimaginable ten hours.

Guess I needed it.

Certainly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Biloxi's Open For Business

Driving into the office, I noticed almost no damage worth mentioning. Only a lone, tattered Taco Bell sign littering Pass Road. Otherwise, Gustav was only marked by the surprising number of businesses that remained closed in its wake.

Then I noticed three reoccurring themes.
  • First, all major name brand stores (KMart, Burger King, Shell stations, Dominos, etc) were closed. I think it is due to the fact that they serve the lowest common denominator of clients. They are quick, cheap, and employ cheap labor. And I bet their staff fled town since their job was worth staying for. 
  • Second, the smaller and locally owned restaurants were all opened. And they were all PACKED! I think it is because they cater to local clients, have established themselves with the community, use fresher ingredients, and have a more dedicated staff that cared enough to stay and return as soon as possible. 
  • Third, every single liquor store in the city was open for business. I won't dwell of the social repercussions there. But it made for an interesting drive to work.

Pre-Opening Silence

Drove into the office this morning. Past two checkpoints. Right up to the front door. The barest skeleton of a staff. Aside from Security (guarding the place) and Engineering (repairing the place) we had about 20 people to occupy three million square feet.

The gaming floor continued to sleep. Completely unpowered, protected by waist-high rope barriers, and guarded by extra security, in case somebody (somehow) slip onto the floor, power up a machine, and play a game of chance without MS Gaming's express consent. Such activity is expressly forbidden and carry fines which could bankrupt small nations.

The main atrium was equally devoid of life. A couple dozen front-desk spaces neatly covered with plastic. Their PCs powered down. Nobody but us within ear shot. Normally the place is a fulcrum of activity. Abuzz with guests and high rollers.

In the pre-opening silence, I caught some interesting details that I had never noticed before. We have REAL GAS LIGHTS. Not flickering electric bulbs, but dancing gas-powered flames under glass. All the trim work on the front desks is made from wrought iron. Not painted plastic. Real, hand-work metal. And I really enjoyed the signs next to each station. They can spin to different positions allowing the staff to adapt their location based on the need of the guests.

During the morning, they mostly read, "Check Out." In the afternoon, they are spun to read, "Check In." But today, all of them, every last one, read, "Next Window Please."

For the next couple of hours, we hear you knocking, but nobody is home.

Monday, September 01, 2008

And Afterwards

And afterwards, we're only a little worse for wear. Maybe four hours of punishment. Lost power for a micro second,  several dozen times. Lost cable for a micro second, several dozen times. Otherwise, the experience at my house was not unlike a severe thunderstorm. And the results were similar.

The front yard had some excess water, closer to the front of the house. Nothing unusual there. It will likely be gone by this time tomorrow. Some debris along the walkway, but it is small. The kind of stuff the kids can  collect.

Along the edge of my property, there's about two inches of water. Again, nothing I haven't seen before today. I think the neighbor has more debris in her yard than we do. On the corner is the remains of a fence of hers. It was flattened during Katrina. She never fixed it. Anyway, the water there will take a couple of days, but it will go soon enough, too.

My backyard did pretty well. Almost no debris and the flooding didn't  get too wonky. About six inches of water at the deepest point. It will run off by the time I have to mow it again.

As far as the Mississippi Gulf Coast goes, here are some of the bits I caught on the news:
  • Highway 90 (still under re-construction!) fell beneath two feet of seawater. It is officially closed until 5PM tomorrow, for cleanup.
  • The Gulfport Yacht Club had some significant degree of flooding.
  • Waveland lost power pretty early, upwards of 14000 people affected.
  • Long Beach lost power, too, but only for a few minutes.  
  • Biloxi had a 9' storm surge late in the game. Likely going to be a lot of cleanup as a result of that.
My money says I'm back to work by mid-day tomorrow. Business as usual. And we'll be on the lookout for the next storm.

Gustav's Landing

I didn't know he was upon us. No unusual wind. No strong rains. Almost quiet as Gustav began to roll across the Gulf Coast. If Cindy had not sent me a text message, I may have slept another hour.

Peeking outside, it looked as calm as it sounded. No flooding in the yard, not even along the far side of my property. No debris littering the driveway. My car hadn't floated away. And the street was surprisingly clear and completely free of looters.

Might as well fuel up and get ready for some hot recovery action. There will be trees to dice, widows to rescue, and orphans to shelter. At least that is what CNN leads me to believe. So, I grab a NOS and an energy bar. Breakfast of champions. Just me and Gustav. He's cleared for landing.