Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 into 2011

One year ago today, I was spending the end of 2009 with family in Mexico. This year, I'm spending the last day of 2010 with my wife in Dallas. Days are days are days, so I don't attach an inordinate amount of significance to a day that ends one year or a day that begins another one. But the transition from one year to the next is a convenient milestone for us to reflect on what has been and what we hope will be.

All in all, this past year has been good to me with the notable and very painful exception that my sister died early in the year. While I wasn't able to retire, I was able to live a pretty decent lifestyle with the woman to whom I've been married for 30 years. I have no complaints, at least none that merit memorializing in an end-of-year post.

For the coming year, I hope all my family and friends enjoy good health, good friends, and time with and for their families. Financial prosperity would be nice, but the most important prosperity is the prosperity of being surrounded by people who matter and who care about you. I wish that for everyone.

Now, showing my irrational side: Be sure to eat your black-eyed peas on New Year's Day and do NOT wash any laundry on January 1!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Athlete's Wishes, a Glutton's Soul

Despite being reasonably careful about food and not overdoing it, this morning's weight suggests I have been a gluttonous pig during the past week or so. I'm up by almost 8 pounds from my low weight, which is utterly inexcusable. I blame the fact that I'm eating "real" lunches instead of my usual 200-300 calorie salads. Plus, I've been less than careful about portion control. It just goes to show how quickly bad habits can return and how quickly weight piles back on. I will not permit this to continue. My target is now 8 pounds further away, thanks to my lack of discipline. I will return to my disciplinarian ways.

Oh, but I do wish I could behave like a glutton and look like an athlete. Sadly, that is not to be.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Practicing Junk Collector

In an attempt to convert myself into a junk collector, I bid online on four old bathroom sinks and four old blue chairs. The items were being auctioned by a school district in rural east Texas.

Thanks to my stellar timing, I was successful in my bids. Today, I must drive to the auction-house to pay me $35.73. Then, I will receive the appropriate documentation to allow me to pick up the goods, which will require a 300 mile round trip. When I include gas and wear-and-tear on my car in the calculation, I think the chairs and sinks are going to average $20 each. That is not a good investment. Maybe I'll become a better junk collector with practice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Nonbelievers are sometimes chided for participating in the Christmas season. You know, exchanging gifts, putting up trees, partaking of the celebrations. The "chiders," of course, usually are Christians who secretly believe the nonbelievers really, deep down, believe in God, Jesus, and Santa Claus. They want to believe the nonbelievers are just ornery but, ultimately, that they are just like them.

Well, nonbelievers are "just like them." But not because of their religious beliefs.

Nonbelievers, like almost anyone else, want a better world. Nonbeliever want people to be at peace. They want all people to love their fellow man, as it were. Nonbelievers want to eradicate poverty. They want an end to war. They value "the human spirit," but not in a religious sense.

Nonbelievers enjoy the good cheer, comaraderie, and spirit of giving that surrounds the Christmas season. We, too, care about humanity and this earth and we hold many, perhaps most, of the same core values that believers hold. The only real difference is that nonbelievers don't believe in a supreme creator, a conscious being who guides us into goodness or punishes us for our failings.

We're not being hypocritical when we celebrate the Christmas season. We're not taking advantage of a Christian tradition without "paying our dues" as Christians. We're simply accepting and agreeing that the celebration of human goodness is a good thing. We're happy to acknowledge that many of the values of Christianity, and Judeaism and Islam and Buddhism for that matter, are good, honorable, fine values that should be HUMAN values.

I say "we" as if I spoke for other nonbelievers. I don't. I don't belong to a church of nonbelievers. I hold no membership in a club of atheists. But I think I understand what other nonbelievers must feel and believe when they celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is good. For me, Christmas is NOT about Christ. I know, it is to Christians and that's OK by me. But for me, Christmas is about humanity and the desire for all people to get along and appreciate our commonalities as well as our differences. Christmas is an opportunity to openly appreciate goodness. And for that, I am grateful. Not to anyone or anything in particular, just grateful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In Progress

The morning is burning and the evening is hot;
your daydreams can't take you from this terrible spot.

You must consider the source of your pain.
Decide what it's worth, this measurable gain.

To achieve the enlightenment, to bask in the good,
you must be fire and I must be wood.

This is as far as it's come. I've written this and rewritten this a thousand times. But this is as far as it's gone.

Waiting for the World

My brother from Falba come in yesterday afternoon, bearing chili that became our dinner last night. He thought it might be too hot for my wife's taste, but I think not. But she turned up her nose at dinner, period, having eaten pizza earlier in the day after we ordered in pizza for our staff for lunch. In my view, the chili was excellent. I'm glad he did not bring more, though, as I would surely go through it quickly, to the chagrin of my waistline.

He and I spent time listening to the CD of Asleep at the Wheel that he bought after seeing them in concert recently, then reviewed Facebook and then watched HGTV programs on home renovation. None of the above were particularly enlightening, but then I felt like I needed to engage in mindlessness for awhile.

For reasons unknown, I awoke before 5 again today and have by now (at 5:45 am) made coffee, finished putting away the dishes I washed last night, read many Facebook postings, and read the news online. Now, I'm enjoying my coffee and waiting for the rest of the world to wake up.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Candle

Risk is a relative thing. Some people think there is a reward that is equal to any risk, a goal that is worth so much that the worst-case outcome is worth that risk. I used to think that way, though I never delved deeply into just how much risk I might be willing to take. Instead, I just assumed I would do almost anything for the right ROR...return on risk. But, seriously, what reward could possibly permit one to risk something like one's life? Or someone else's life? Looked at from a purely rational perspective, I doubt many people would say any reward was worth such a risk. Obviously, though, people take such risks every day. Are those risks irrational? Or, more appropriately, are the people taking them irrational?

Although I no longer have high risk tolerance, I still tend to step toward the edge from time to time. I'm stepping in that direction now. Again. Oh, is ever AGAIN! Christ, not AGAIN!

Yes, again. The question: is the risk of financial ruin, hunger, and abject poverty worth the potential reward of abandoning my business, my day-by-day routine? Would I really risk my house? My car? More importantly, would I allow myself to put my wife at risk? Would I put her at risk of poverty and exposure to financial ruin and healthcare emergencies that couldn't be met...that is, just how selfish am I?

The other question is whether FAILING to take the risk puts me, and her, at far greater risk than TAKING the risk. I think that question is borne out of desperation at the answer to the question of whether TAKING the risk is worth it. That answer, of course, must be "no." But if I can convince myself that avoiding the risk could put us, or her, in even more danger, then I could have the answer I want. But that answer would be based on a lie, or at least it could be. The rationale for getting to that answer would always be suspect. Self-indulgence and egotism might be answering the question, rather than love and caring.

Goddamn it, sometimes life is too hard. Even though I have it easy, relative to 98% of the world's population, life feels hard. It's so brief; it ought to be overflowing with easy joy. Difficulties should serve simply to punctuate the glory of living. But we allow them to take on a life of their own. The "royal we." Known in other circles as "I."

The problem with the question, regardless of how it's posed, is this: the answer always will be wrong. Always. A quotation I've found remarkably full of wisdom tells me what I need to know about everything, but it doesn't help, nonetheless: "The game is not worth the candle."

Lunar Eclipse

I'm glad I got up to see the total lunar eclipse. It was pretty spectacular. If I'd been truly prepared, I would have taken pictures. But I wasn't, so I didn't. Such is life. Next time there's a total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice, I will get the camera out and take a shot. Hah!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Got the Bike

I bought the bike I wrote about yesterday. As you'd expect, I haggled a little and got it down to $160, which still seems like a chunk of money for an old bike, but it seems to be in extremely good condition and works quite well. And I'm no longer intimidated by the fact that it's a 21-speed bike. Of course, I had to get a helmet, which was pricey (I got a cheap one...high-end helmets can cost as much as a car). And I got an air pump. Now, I need clothing that won't make it hard to ride...and won't get stuck in the gears, etc. I now understand why I see people riding their bike while wearing spandex's not a style statement, after all.

Like anything else in our magical capitalist system, though, when demand is there, prices skyrocket. I'm in the market now for used clothing. Who would have thought?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Time for a Bike?

Last night, I spent some time looking on Craigslist for bicycles. I found a few that look interesting, though I'm not quite sure how I judged them. I haven't ridden a bike in years and I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for. Something suitable for "leisure" riding, rather than conquering mountains or reaching maximum speed, is probably suitable for me.

I found a Univega Hybrid that looks interesting. The seller suggests it is "every bit the equal of the Trek's and Raleigh's and other well known brand hybrid bikes of this time period." Reading further, I found that "this time period" is approximately 1996. The seller says it is equipped with "Shimano 21 speed set up having 7 gears in the rear and a triple up front." Whatever that means.

The seller is asking $175; the bike (or one like it) supposedly was $429 new (in 1996). The asking price sounds a bit high to me, for something older than my old Ford Ranger...and the bike has no bed, no engine, and no heater or AC.

But I'll see. I still have 30 pounds to lose. If I'm going to get six-pack abs and add three inches to my height, I have to do something.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ho, Ho, Ho

I was expecting it, but it still came as a shock. Another client, a small one, has decided they cannot afford our services, as I learned in an email this morning just after I got up.

Even though we charge them next to nothing, they want us to cut our prices. The tough part is that they're tied to another client. So if we say we cannot do it, I know they will try to tag on to the other client and get the work done by us anyway, just using the "back door" approach.

It's a jolt to look at next year's likely revenue and see a hole amounting to about $45,000 from two small clients. The only way to plug it is to replace them or to cut staff and for the owners to take on more...which is not reasonable. Not sure just what to do about this one, but it sure mucks up the holidays.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Leaf

Let's see, last night I complained about Facebook and the way it automates the process of hounding me to join whenever a FB friend plays a game. I realize, of course, that it's the system that interrupts me, not the players. (But nasty complaints tend to place undue blame, so there you go.) So I can't legitimately blame the players. (Except when I'm being a surly jerk, which happens on occasion...I'll work on that.)

Tonight, I won't complain. I'll try to turn over a new leaf.

Monday, December 13, 2010

No Maybes

I have decided there are some aspects of Facebook I truly loathe. For example, getting repeated invitations, from the same person, to play Zoo World. Or being inundated with requests for Jewelry Glitz or something of the sort. I am not a big game player. I am especially not a big player of online games with people I barely know (or do not know at all, except for Facebook).

And then there's the fact that all my "friends" on Facebook apparently can see when I'm online. And they can decide to chat with me. I like chatting with friends. Or family. Or acquaintances. But I do not enjoy chatting with strangers who desire to engage me in mindless discussions about online games or nighttime soap operas.

I'm being nasty and antisocial. And it's not the season for nastiness and antisocial behavior. If people would tip their hat and say "evening" as we drift by, it would be fine. But some folks want to engage in mindless banter as if we were good friends. I know, they may be lonely. I'm that way sometimes. But I am conscious, I think, that people may not want to be cornered into lengthy "chats" about my state of mind.

OK. I've vented a bit. I'll try to go back to being my nice, indulgent, friendly self. Maybe I need to work on that. No. Not maybe.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pollyanna Politics

Let's suppose one's country is involved in an international activity which many citizens find reprehensible and which they publicly criticize. And let's suppose someone, maybe another citizen or maybe a non-citizen, takes that criticism to an extreme by launching a bomb attack on a busy street in protest of this international activity.

Because of the emotions released by the bomb attack, it becomes difficult for the citizens who originally condemned their country's actions to continue to criticize without being branded traitors. Some of their countrymen would argue that, now that the attack has taken place, if the government were to withdraw from the international activity, it would be seen as bending to a terrorist act. So, of course, the government cannot do that. Regardless of how right the original citizen protestors were, the government cannot act to "correct" its behavior for fear of being considered an easy target for terrorists' extortion.

If the government were mine, I would want concerns about seeming to "cave" to pressure from terrorists to play no part in its decisions. I would want it to do the right thing, regardless of perceptions about its motives. But I would want it to be upfront about the matter.

For example, I'd want it to say something like:
  • Citizens' criticisms of our policies have caused us to reconsider them;
  • Based on that reconsideration, we have decided the original policies were wrong and we have decided to change them;
  • Coincidentally, a terrorist act was undertaken in an attempt to force us to change our policy;
  • That act had no relevance to our decision to change our policy...only our own reassessment and our citizens' criticisms led to the change;
  • Regardless of our policies on this matter, terrorism will not be tolerated and we will pursue any threats of terrorism and any acts of terrorism with absolute dedication to bring the actors to justice;
  • While we acknowledge our previous policies were misguided, we did not and will not bend to extortion as an acceptable way of getting us to change our policies.

This, of course, will be viewed as a Pollyanna approach to the world. I just want the world to be less inclined to save-face and more inclined to save lives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Gift of Time

At least one of my brothers will join my wife and me for Christmas this year, which will add to the festivities of the season. He'll bring home-made chili with him, the results of a recent chili-making binge. I am a fan of chili-making binges, having been involved in such things more than once in the past.

I've grown into a fan of "layering" the flavors of different chile powders, something I'd once suspected was a scheme to sell more expensive chile powders without actually having and effect on flavor. My wife's efforts one year to replicate an award-winning chili recipe converted me. She blended about four or five different chile powders during the course of the chili-making, adding each one at a precise time before "finish time" so that the flavors of each of the spices could reach their peak at precisely the right moment. I don't yet understand how that all works, but I can attest without any reservation that it does.

Something else I may do during the one-week hiatus from work over the Christmas holidays is to tackle re-doing the little wet-bar adjacent to our two living areas. The counter is black laquer (obviously a refinish of the underlying formica counter) and the cabinet paint is shiny black laquer, as well. The back and sides (and even the top) are mirrors. I don't attempt to remove the mirrors, as that would entail tearing out the walls (the mirrors are affixed with construction adhesive, I think). But I may take out the counter or, if that proves likely to result in mirror breakage, tile over it. I'm thinking of using a mottled black and reddish-brown granite tile, if I can find it. And the black laquer paint will be stripped off and replaced with something much lighter. My wife wants the sink to remain (I hate it), but she likes the idea of installing a small wine refrigerator-cooler in the space, too.

We'll see. I could just as easily devote my time to something more productive and more urgent, but I think I'll leave those tasks to someone more capable than I (tile-setters, plumbers, sheetrock pros, etc.).

A gift of time to do this sort of thing is all I want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Plans

I'm not a big fan of Christmas. Oh, it's OK, and I'm glad to have the time away from work that comes with it, but it's not a religious holiday for me (well, NOTHING is a religious holiday for me). But it is a time for family, though over the last many years the number of family members with whom I spend some of my Christmas holidays has generally been small.

Even though I haven't spent many Christmases with my oldest sister in the past several years, there was almost always at least a phone call or Skype call or SOME communication with her on Christmas. But this year there won't be. Her death earlier this year put an end to those calls and the temporary closeness they permitted on what has always been, at its core, a family holiday for me.

But there will be other calls and other Christmas greetings. My other sister may be convinced to come to Dallas to visit. And we can always hook up Skype or make traditional calls to my brothers...and maybe one of them will make the trip up to visit for awhile.

We'll make it a merry Christmas, though, one way or the other. You just have to get used to change, I suppose. You have no choice in the matter.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Computationism as Religious Experience

My business bought me a new computer yesterday. That is, I bought a new computer for myself. I own the business, so I can do those sorts of things on occasion (on those occasions when we have the money which, I am sad to say, is not often). I await it with bated breath. It should be delivered to my office within a week or so.

Computers have a way of wearing out, fast, in my office. I don't understand it. I buy decent stuff, but within 2 years, it's like the machine has been "rode hard and put away wet." Of course, the ones I buy, personally, seem to do the same. Maybe it's just me. I tend to use them to the extreme, constantly switching between multiple programs and creating and modifying and saving literally hundreds of files, of one kind or another, every day.

Anyway, this time I bought a computer with a nice-sized monitor, a 23-incher that I hope will enable me to actually see words and symbols on the screen. There is a distinct possibility that I will latch onto this new computer for my home office, where I do a lot of my work. At the moment, I use my laptop, which is showing signs of compuzeimers, exacerbated by criminal tendencies and hatred of its master. A nice big monitor and a desktop computer could spoil me. I enjoy being spoiled, though that is a rare occurence.

The nice thing about a new computer is the fact that it's not yet old. I know, I know, but it makes perfectly good sense if you think about it without letting yourself get too hung up on logic and intellect.