Archive for December, 2004

New years resolutions’ comix

December 31, 2004 2 comments

You’re looking at the parking lot of Gold’s Gym on New Year’s Eve.  It’s packed with cars, and it will stay that way until about the third week of January.  This happens every year when hundreds of people make new years resolutions to get in shape.  And I love each and every one of them for it… especially when they give up and start staying home.  And why would that make me so happy?  Because

Because each one of those well-intentioned couch potatoes has paid for a full year’s gym membership, in advance.  It helps keep the price of my gym membership down, and except for just a couple weeks at the beginning of the year, they’re not in my way.  I don’t have to hunt for a parking place, or wait while they fumble with a machine.

People go to the gym for lots of reasons.  We have regular members who are striving for the perfect chisled bod, and many of them succeed.  Some are training for marathons.  I’ve talked to quite a few who were due to go in the military and wanted to get into serious shape before boot camp.  Lots of folks are just trying to maintain good health.  These are all admirable motives.

My reason for going to Gold’s four times a week, rain or shine, is less admirable – avoidance of pain.  I have fibromyalgia and the pain used to be so bad that when I could sleep, it would intrude on my dreams.  This led to the physical therapy center of Carle Care, located right inside the gym – which makes a ton of sense when you think about it.

They designed exercises for me to reduce pain and increase strength, and it worked.  So I generally make every one of those “PT” sessions.  Every once in a while I meet with the physical therapists for evaluation but usually I just do what they tell me plus whatever else I can dream up.  It’s been very effective.  Three years ago I was having trouble stepping up over curbs and now I do stairs all the time.  Sitting in chairs is still very painful so usually I sit on a stool at work, much to the amusement of my co-workers.  But in ways I never expected, Gold’s gym has become an important part of my life.

The worst – and most common – reason people go to the gym is to “lose weight.”  Not that you can’t lose weight at the gym – I did – but in isolation from other health goals that really doesn’t do so much for your health.  Mind you, I’m not a doctor, but I tell people they should focus on getting strong and developing endurance, and not obsess about the numbers on the scale.

I have not been very consistent about anything in my life but one thing I’m pretty sure about is that I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution – not one.  I’m doing the best I can most of the time.  I make tons of mistakes and try to learn from them – and sometimes make the same mistakes again for good measure.  I try to avoid good intentions as they lead to unnecessary guilt.

This year will be no different.  I’m not promising anything, folks.  I invite everyone to join me in not making promises.  Just do your best most of the time and don’t be afraid to risk making mistakes because tomorrow is another day. 

Categories: Personal

How much would be “enough?”

December 31, 2004 1 comment

Senator Patrick Leahy perfectly captured world opinion when he said he “went through the roof when I heard them bragging about $35m. We spend $35m before breakfast in Iraq.”  But the United States wasn’t the only country caught behind the public opinion 8-ball.  Practically every Western government has had to ratchet up to avoid being embarassed by their own citizen’s generosity.

George Bush’s original response of $35m wasn’t stingy, it was uncalculated. As often seems to be the case, he was on vacation when it hit the fan, and he hadn’t really got the whole picture yet.  But how much, exactly, would be “enough?”

I honestly believe it was the first number that popped into his head.  When it became plain that American corporations’ donations would easily top the $100m mark, Bush multiplied by ten and came up with three hundred fifty million dollars

Now that’s reaching a bit deeper into the ol’ pocket.  But when Bush announced that the US, India, Japan, and Australia would coordinate the relief effort, he was criticized for “undermining the UN” in a crisis where it was exclusively the UN’s role to respond. 

(If you have been following the UN “oil-for-food” scandal you understand why our president might not jump at the chance to hand over huge amounts of cash to the UN right now.  Maybe after a change of leadership.  Even George Bush can recognize corruption when he sees it in someone else’s camp.)

Not all aid can be measured in money.  We’ve sent an aircraft carrier to desalinate seawater for people to drink.  Huge US cargo planes took off hours after the accident to move what resources could be collected toward the affected area.  Satellite data was made available almost instantly.  In fact, much of our navy in the area almost immediately began steaming toward the disaster zone. 

It’s traditional to make predictions at the new year, and here are mine:

  • No matter how much aid we give, it won’t be enough to satisfy some people

  • A tsunami warning system will be built in the area, and the US will be a major contributer to it
  • Since many of the countries hit were friendly toward the US, Islamists will say this was Allah’s punishment
  • US fundamentalists will say something similar, only the god and the reason will be different
  • The art of “disaster relief administration” will be greatly advanced by this experience.  It could serve as an opportunity for nations to improve their information-sharing and handling of aid.
Categories: News

Train station photo

December 31, 2004 5 comments

Update: scroll down to see the same spot 25 years later.

I was cleaning out our storeroom and found this photo on a box under a shelf.  It’s about 3 x 5 inches, scratched and it smells like it’s been in a basement under a box for a decade or so.  The memory is equally imperfect.

I took this photo in Johnson City, Tennessee in about 1981, using an antique Contax 35mm camera and Tri-X.  The train station looked like it hadn’t changed since when that camera was new.  The ground was oily, the boarding deck made of heavy planks on even heavier beams.  I was skulking around the city with the old German camera trying to be some kind of art photographer. 

If you like the picture, feel free to grab it.  Just right-click on it to open a context menu, and select “save image as”

UPDATE: 14 June, 2006
Check out this photo sent in by Justin Hoilman of Johnson City:

How cool is THAT!!!”  The same spot, 25 years later! I especially like having a person in the picture, walking on the tracks – an element of mystery.  Thanks for sending it, Justin!

Categories: Art

Tsunami too staggering to comprehend

December 29, 2004 Comments off

As survivors search with ever-decreasing hope and the spectre of disease fouls their already bleak prospects, I’m pretty well stuck trying to say anything worthwhile about it.  By the time all’s said and done, a million homeless and probably a hundred thousand dead.

It’s human nature to measure other tragedies by our most recent ones…

If you live in a town that was recently hit by a tornado, and five people died, then this is twenty thousand times worse – an incomprehensible thing.  It’s about 400 September 11th’s – completely nonsensical.  It covers thousands of miles of shoreline – too big to grasp. 

Sometimes it seems as if man and nature are in a competition.  In WWII we managed to kill about sixty-one million people.  World war one killed hundreds of thousands of people while the 1918 flu, worldwide, is thought to have killed between twenty-one and forty million people.  Add Cambodia, Rwanda, Stalin’s purges, Mao’s “cultural revolution,” though, and it seems that mankind is “winning.”

President Bush called this “one of the greatest natural disasters of human history,” and he is surely right in scope, if not in total fatalities.  There are many ways to measure tragedy but not many ways to talk about them without trivializing the intensity of the grief we see on the news.

Just for example, one news item was that since a continental plate has shifted downward as much as twenty feet, that the Earth is now spinning faster.  Each day is now one ten-thousandth of a second shorter than before the quake.  I heard a radio DJ joking that “it just seems like there isn’t enough time to get everything done lately.” 

The DJ may be on to something.  While the US mobilizes enormous amounts of aid with the international effort (“stingy” – hah!  We do more to help more people than any other country on Earth) it may be worth joking about the reaper.  Death will claim all of us – the least we can do is spit in his eye.

As always, I looked for articles about the scientific explanation because that’s what usually interests me.  But some news creatures just can’t help trying to sensationalize ( ! ) the horror.  I’ve seen several scientists interviewed on FOX news, and each one was asked “could this happen in the US?”  One made the mistake of referring to an unstable volcano that could, conceivably, send an unusually large tsunami towards our country.

News creature: “So this could be the big one, that wipes out the West coast of the United States?”

Scientist: “Well, no, it isn’t very likely at all.  I only meant there’s a theoretical possibility that…”

News creature: (interrupting) “So it is possible, though?”

I’ve heard reports of enormous cargo planes bringing aid, but trucks unable to deliver it due to lack of gasoline.  Also, a report that some governments knew about the wave hours before it hit, but had no system for warning the population.  Not even anyone whose job it would be to send out the warning if a system did exist.

One thing about our interconnected, news-and-policy-driven world: systems will be developed.  Countries can learn from other countries.  Scientists share information.  Even third-world nations have news media, and they’ll recognize the economic value of being able to forward tsunami warnings to listeners and viewers (and increasingly, text-messenging users.)

So there is good reason to hope that we’re heading for a better world.  At least as far as tsunami response goes.

Categories: News

Golden Arches breakfast

December 29, 2004 4 comments

Every so often MrsDOF and I wake up early (usually because my legs are painin’ me & I wind up disturbing her) so there we sit with an extra hour or so on our hands.  The usual strategy in such a case is to throw on some clothes and head North on US 51 to McDonalds for coffee and one of their highly produced breakfasts.  They’re not bad as long as you don’t compare them to actual food…

You wouldn’t expect it, but McDonald’s coffee is really very good.  The bitter overheated solvent they were brewing up a few years ago has given way to a first-class cup just a little too hot (exactly how I like it.  MrsDOF puts cream in hers.)  I actually prefer McDonald’s coffee to Starbucks.  Their “cappucino” drink is another matter, though.  It bears as much resemblence to real cappucino as artificially-flavored orange soda has to a tree-ripened orange.

MrsDOF usually goes for the “breakfast burrito,” a precisely machined facsimile of eggs, peppers, cheese and sausage wrapped in a perfectly round imitation of a burrito.  Not surprisingly, it’s quite good.  Not great, nor memorable.  If you eat one as a child you won’t write nostalgically about it later in life… but McDonald’s isn’t shooting for that.  They’re serving breakfast, not fond memories; and you can count on the same level of quality every time.

I usually get the “Big breakfast” or whatever they call it – perfectly uniform pancakes, flawless scrambled eggs, a calibrated sausage patty and a tasty, flaky biscuit with a packet of excellent grape jam all packaged in styrofoam so you don’t forget where you are.  Again, while this is a good breakfast (in the sense that I can make no specific criticism of it and the quality never varies) it will not cause me to embrace the McEmployees and say, “Thanks for the memories!”  It’s an extremely competent breakfast, which is exactly what the giant corporation wants it to be.

So I’m feeling pretty satisfied with that until I read Cajun’s description of a country breakfast which has left me drooling uncontrollably.  While I’m not exactly a city-slicker, I’ve had a lot more of the supermarket and the chain restaurant than the farm kitchen.  Thanks a hell of a lot, Cajun!  ;-)

Here’s most of Cajun’s post:

I was raised in the country, offspring of country type people. Sure, we bought milk at the grocery store, but for a while my great uncle down the road had a milk cow who was producing enough every day for his house, my great-grandmother’s house, and us. And we drank raw milk.

No, bunky, it wasn’t still warm. Uncle Bush would milk his little Guernsey cow twice a day and refrigerate the milk in glass gallon jugs. That little cow was pampered just like some old rich broad’s poodle. And I’d drive down there and get a couple of those jugs every couple of days.

Let me tell you something. Even the milk marked “whole milk” at your grocery has been stripped of its cream. The dairy that packages that stuff only leaves enough cream to meet government regulation for labelling it as “whole”. You pay extra for the rest. The stuff I got from Uncle Bush was WHOLE! And since it was not homogenized, the cream would rise to the top of the bottle. Grandma would skim some of this off to make home-made butter. We’d usually just shake our jug to mix the cream back into the milk. Once you’ve tasted THAT, factory “whole” milk tastes watered down. And miracle of miracles, nobody died from a product that the government sees fit to protect us from today…

Another thing we got fresh was eggs. Some folks make a big deal about “free-range” eggs. I grew up never knowing any different. Grandma and us, we ALWAYS had chickens. Those chickens would range the pasture all day and come back in the evening to be fed. The eggs they laid were brown. And fresh. You want to know HOW fresh? I’ll tell you how fresh, because I personally know how hard an old hen can peck your arm when you’re trying to slide your hand under her to get the day’s eggs out of her nest. Those fresh eggs were terrible for boiling because they FILLED the shells. And when you cracked one into a skillet to fry, the yolk stood up high and round, and the while clung around the yolk in a tight circle. And the yolk was a deep orange-yellow. To somebody raised on country eggs, that stuff from the market is clearly third-rate. You don’t know how long it’s been from the chicken to your fridge. Of course, USDA never inspected Grandma’s chicken house…

I could go on and on about country food.

We always raised a garden. Dad’s springtime pride was his potato patch, and we’d anticipate the advent of the first crop of tiny “new” potatoes, boiled with butter and parsley. Because those potatoes had been in the ground only a few hours before.

Dad and his brother, my Uncle Pete, used to try and outdo each other with tomato varieties, and if you’ve never walked into the garden, picked a tomato fresh off the vine, and eaten it right there, you, dear unfortunate friend, have missed the tomato experience completely.

And it goes on and on… amazing, isn’t it, that human civilization got this far without the government saving us from Uncle Bush’s milk cow…


Categories: Personal

Our 2004 Christmas Newsletter

December 28, 2004 1 comment

This is our family newsletter – originally printed out on 110 sheafs of dead-tree material but pasted in here for those who find such things interesting …

From MrsDOF:

Looking back over the markings on my calendar, I cannot decide what to put in and what to leave out.  In January there was a baking marathon because I had been given the “starter” for “Amish friendship bread” for Christmas.  In a week, you feed it flour and milk, a week later get together the rest of the proper ingredients, bake it, and find willing taste-testers.  Worked fine until the Starter died.  Oh well, I was getting tired of baking on schedule rather than whim.

In February came a toothache until finally a total replacement.  You won’t guess from my smile which gleaming pearly white is a fake. Our dentist is a genius.

In March, there was a speaking engagement and book-signing by children’s book author Tomie dePaola over at the high school.  I was sitting in the auditorium and about 18 rows into crocheting a cotton yarn baby aphgan in the colors of orange, teal, and purple.  The mom had said she wanted brites, and this certainly fulfilled that.  That aphgan was the first of a dozen done this year.  Never counted the crosses, bags, dishcloths, or bookmarks.  I crochet heaps.

In April I filled in at the “beginner room” (2-year-olds & potty training) for another teacher who was out on medical leave.  I was not exactly having fun, but as April stretched into May, I carried on.

On Mother’s Day, my sister called to say that my Mom in Ohio was in ICU with a DNR bracelet on.  It turned out to be a reaction to her medications.  She even sent a picture taken at Thanksgiving, with my brother and his two sons. She’s doing fine, now.

June was a jumble of doctor’s appointments, a dentist appt, a Con-Ed class about “Tolerance,” and a visit from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law.  Family of the female persuasion!  Clothes shopping with other Ladies! Hadn’t had someone else outside the dressing room waiting to give any opinion for quite a long time.  I ended up with two tops, a nice skirt, and some very fond memories.

The last Monday in June, I lost my job at the daycare center.  It caught me unawares, but when one door slams shut, another opens into opportunity.

My crocheting output over the summer was stupendous.  Many donations to Craft sales, nursing home bazaars, birthdays.  However, sitting for hours in the living room, thread and hook in hand, watching movies on videotape wasn’t very sociable. At the urging of the guys in my family, I signed up for a Children’s Literature class at the community college, where I earned a strong B for the class and B- in sanity.  I’m not sure if that could be printed on a job application.

Someone at our church suggested I take up being the hostess for the fellowship class, and I surprised myself by saying, “Yes.” I make the coffee, set out supplies and goodies (if any have been donated), help with serving, then do the clean-up.  The church kitchen has a really nice dishwasher/sanitizer.  Don’t tell anyone, but I really do like working in a kitchen, even if it is for only a couple hours on a weekend morning.

The holidays were really low-key.  Husband is taking well-deserved time off, working on his weblog.  Oh wait, he wrote all that.  And you can check the Internet for pictures.  We are working on beginning a weblog for me.  Cross your fingers!

(Our oldest son J~ is still away from home and hasn’t been in touch since May 2002.)

Middle son L~ works part-time as a cook in a little bar-and-grill just off campus. He is a Mathematics major at the University of Illinois/Urbana, and he sends Greetings!

Youngest son C~ spends most of his time hanging out with school, working on guitar, and playing and practicing his lady love, S~. Err… Wait a minute… I mean… I think I got those mixed up, but you know what I mean.  He told me to pass on his wish for everyone to have “a happy Easter or whatever.”

I second that!  And my best wishes for a wonderful year coming up.  Love and huggs,

From DOF:

Hi, everyone – I hope you had a great year!  Ideally a Christmas newsletter should be all happy stuff.  But to be honest we took a few hits this year.  In the end it’s working out just fine, though.

Back in January, I wasn’t sure how the year would pan out (because of state budget concerns.)  But I lucked out and now work for two departments. And things are looking up on campus, too.  In December one of the departments I work at – the College Of Business – moved into a beautiful new building.  I took the family for a tour – all good.

In August I had a bicycle accident, my first-ever experience with a broken bone (and my eighth concussion – which seems to explain a lot, eh?)  Well, what’s more physical therapy?  I’m almost mended and determined to make the best of it.

I have started a new web-log (“blog”) called C~ says I’ll lose readers who can’t spell “decrepit” but I’ve been using DOF as an online handle for a long time now. I’m not about to change to suit the convenience of people who don’t own a dictionary.

Surprise… MrsDOF wants me to set up a blog for her so she can post her “Dear Ones” letters.  I’m workin’ on it. 
Well, happy 2005!  Man, weren’t we supposed to be driving flying cars and have robots doing the dishes by now?  I guess I’ll settle for the Internet and vastly improved coffee shops.
Take care,

Categories: Personal

Computer sound from Yard-Sale Tech

December 27, 2004 1 comment

My hearing was never very good, and it’s getting worse.  Tired of the über-crappy computer speakers I once rescued from an office trash can, I decided to go upscale and get my sophisticated computer sound system from 2 different yard sales:


The speakers are Radio Shack, c. 1995, priced $4 for the pair.  The amplifier is Radio Shack, c. 1970, and priced $3. 

I dug around in my coffee-can of leftover electronic “culch” and soldered up a 1/8” mini-stereo-to-twin-1/4”-RCA adapter to cross 30 years’ difference between the computer sound card and the ancient amp, and a pair of 1/4” RCA-jack speaker cables to bridge the 25 years between amp and speakers.

It works perfectly – the sound is clear and strong.  And when I don’t want sound (such as when working in the middle of the night) I don’t have to hunt for an icon – I just reach out and hit the “power” switch to turn off the amp.

This is a high-quality amp, made in Japan probably by Matsushita and sold by Radio Shack and several other companies.  I don’t know the watts or signal-to-noise ratio but here’s what I mean by high-quality: after decades in someone’s basement, it still works and sounds like new.  The switches still work crisply, the knobs turn smoothly and there’s no scratchy noise at all in the speakers as you turn them.

It is also (audio equipment manufacturers take note) well-designed.  It has an attractive wooden case, with black letters in English clearly screened on brushed aluminum – very easy to read.  The controls are logically designed.  It doesn’t have non-essential controls. 

(This is one of my big beefs about current design in media equipment.  Only a 25-year-old designer would think to use grey letters on a black background.  I keep one of those bright LED flashlights dangling on a string inside my TV cabinet so I can find/read the controls on my DVD player and VCR.)

The speakers have a nice wooden case and black metal grille.  They’re quite heavy, have polypropylene cones, and are shielded for use near monitors.  The left speaker is shown but I didn’t move the right speaker to include it in the picture since they look the same.

All that stuff you see stuck to the speaker is not part of the sound system.  For convenience I Velcro’d my USB hub and card reader to one of the speakers.  When I decide to get a different hub or reader, Velcro will let me swap easily.

Total investment in this sound system (including the sound card I rescued out of a junk computer someone threw out)…  seven dollars.

Categories: Artifacts, Personal

Firefox link is back

December 26, 2004 Comments off

If you scroll down a bit, you’ll notice the brightly-colored Firefox logo to the right, just below the “Most recent entries.”  Firefox is a free, next-generation web browser from the Open-Source people at the Mozilla Foundation.  It is a well-designed, easy-to-use application and about as secure as can be expected for a web browser.  (Internet Explorer is famous for NOT being secure.)  Firefox also has some really cool productivity features (just click on the link to read about them) and I recommend it for everyone!

You won’t have to remove Internet Explorer to install Firefox – they get along well.  (In fact, unless you’re a real expert, you can’t remove IE.)  Besides, you’ll need IE for a few sites that absolutely require it, including Microsoft’s system update website.  But for everything else, I recommend you use Firefox.

No browser is bulletproof, by the way. You still have to exercise good sense in your web browsing.  But at least using a more advanced browser gives you a fighting chance against the bad guys.  And it has some really handy features, too.

Categories: Geeky, Software

He said, “Buckle your seat belts…”

December 26, 2004 2 comments

My friend Darren and his family had a terrifying experience while travelling.  Just click on the picture to read his account…

They’re OK, and he has an important message for everyone:

“Buckle up every time and tell your family you love them every day!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”


Categories: Uncategorized

How our Christmas day went

December 25, 2004 2 comments

As kids grow up and move away, traditions erode.  Parents try to take it all with equanaminity but the absence of each family member is deeply felt. 

We’re down to one son at home and we’re trying not to drive him crazy. 

Our traditional Christmas breakfast is French toast, made using the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook but 1/2-inch thick slices of skinny mini-loaves for the bread instead of the big thick slices they specify…

It cooks fast, so serve hot 1 person at a time while the next person’s is cooking.  Use real maple syrup, not the fake kind.  And put a pat of butter on each slice before transferring it off the griddle.

Normally, we serve it with sausage or bacon, but this year my sister sent a delicious Honey-Baked ham, so we used that instead.

It’s been really cold lately.  Our furnace is a Lenox “Pulse” model that exhausts out the side of the house.  On cold days (10o f.) the water vapor condenses and forms an ice column under the pipe.  ;-)

After breakfast (that is, 1pm!) we opened presents.  Each of us got high-tech earmuffs, and we got some wonderful popcorn, cookies, tea, (and the ham of course,) and each of the boys got some Christmas bucks.

Then MrsDOF and I went to Bloomington to see the new dome on the County Historical Society building (which was once the county courthouse – if I am not mistaken, built after the 1900 fire that demolished most of downtown Bloomington.)  Doesn’t the turquoise color of old copper look nice next to the red-orange of new copper?

Oscar stayed outside while we were gone, and he was ready to come inside when we got home!

MrsDOF crocheted and listened to Christmas music while I worked on the blog downstairs.  Now it’s dark and the day is almost over.

Categories: Personal