Sunday, November 20, 2005

I don't want to parent a teenager!

A few Saturdays ago, I had some errands to run. I invited K to come along with me. Initially he was hesitant, until I pointed out that I would not be lifting the parental lock on the cable box while I was gone (he was grounded). At that statement, he enthusiastically embraced the concept of "errand running". However, his enthusiasm quickly waned.

The first place we stopped was a high end cooking store, The Impressive Chef. Kiel likes to cook so I tried to point out some of the cool things they had there. He grew quickly bored. He started walking around the store with his ski vest pulled up over his head. Any question I asked him illicited a grunt or a whine.

When we left the store, I sternly advised him that he needed to change his attitude or I would be dropping him off in front of our house where he could wait on the porch until I, or his father, got back from our errands. He seemed a bit stunned by this prospect. So, we drove to the grocery store. I suggested that he stay in the car and think about what I had said. When I came out, he was sleeping. He sat up when I got in, but then slouched against the window.

We had to practically pass our house before my next stop. For the next ten minutes he continued to slouch against the window without saying a word. I decided that I would rather continue my errands alone than to share the trip with a flesh coated missery. When we pulled into our parking area I told K to get out of the car. His eyes got huge and he protested that he had changed his attitude. I said that it had gotten worse, and that I did not want to spend any more time with him. So, he got out and went and sat on the steps of our house.

Before you think me a horrible parent, let me point out that B was due home within the hour. I only had one more errand to run. And, it was about sixty degrees outside. I also called B on my cell phone once I was out of sight of the house to let him know what I had done. He actually laughed at me for allowing K's behavior to get under my skin.

I ended up getting back home before B. I let K into the house and spent the next couple of hours avoiding him. He eventually gave me a low key appology for his behavior.

K is only twelve years old. I suppose this is just a slight taste of what we should expect to see from him over the next couple of years as far as moodiness and morosity go. Joy. I am SO looking forward to THAT!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pumpkins, Trebuchets, and Pies

While listening to NPR this morning, I experienced a very entertaining convergence. They were interviewing the winners of the annual Millsboro, Delaware, Punkin Chunkin competition. The point of this festival is to invent a machine that can hurl a pumpkin the farthest. Sounds like fun to me. Now for the convergence.

Last month, I co-chaired a pumpkin celebration event at my church. We spent the entire day with pumpkins, mostly cooking them. We also made some jack-o-lanterns. At the end of the cooking, we had about thirty people for a pumpkin-based dinner. Dinner included: pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin pie. It was a lot of fun (and also a lot of hard work).

Also, over the course of the last month, I have been somewhat foolishly obsessed with watching the movie "Timeline". The movie is based on a book by Michael Crichton. The story involves a group of modern archaeoligsts going back to 1357 France to rescue their professor, who recently made the same trip and didn't return. In the movie there is a pretty cool battle scene with numerous trebuchets tossing huge flaming projectiles at a castle.

Last night, I again watched Timeline (since it seems to be on almost every night on one cable channel or another) while making pumpkin pies for a church bake sale this weekend. This morning, one of the Punkin Chunkin competitors described his machine as a trebuchet. He lamented that their first attempt was a "pie". The interviewer asked him what that meant. He said that a "pie" is when the pumpkin leaves your machine in pieces instead of leaving it whole, which disqualifies your attempt.

Since I almost never listen to NPR, I really enjoyed falling upon this interview. There truly is convergence in the world. You don't even have to look too hard to find it.

Which reminds me of my favorite Steven Wright quote, "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

When is death by gunshot not murder?

The only other possibility is suicide.

New Orleans reported the first verified murder in the city since Hurricane Katrina. However, seventeen bodies with gunshot wounds were found in the city after the hurricane. However, the deaths "have not been listed as homicides because of obstacles keeping police from investigating."

Obstacles? What obstacles could they be facing?

Maybe the coroner cannot confirm if the victims died of the gunshot wounds? Perhaps the victims were shot but actually drowned? Perhaps the bodies were in such poor condition it is difficult to discern the exact cause of death? (Really?)

Maybe the coroner cannot discern whether fatal gunshots were self-inflicted? I might buy this excuse. If the deaths were self-inflicted they would be suicides rather than murders. And, if the bodies are decomposed enough, or water logged enough, there was no way to test for powder burns on the victims hands. However, most professional coroners can tell from powder burns at the site of the wound, location of the wound, and angle of trajectory if it is likely or impossible that a particular wound was self inflicted or not.

Perhaps, the most seasoned coroner staff in New Orleans are still among the MIAs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Not for the squeamish

I was glossing over the headlines on Yahoo's News page when a headline grabbed my attention: "Ants eat away woman's eye in hospital". This is just wrong on SO many levels.

1) Why is Reuters reporting this kind of thing?
2) How is it that one of the most populous democracies (India) on the planet has state run hospitals where this kind of thing can happen?
3) Why was this one of the most popular stories on Yahoo today?

OK. Never mind. I actually DO know the answer to #3. I read the story. Many of you will read the story. Many people who see the story in the "Most Viewed News Stories" will also be intrigued by the story, and read it.

People are sick. We are all fascinated by the odd and the macabre. It's not just the riveting, and ever present, accident on the side of the road, that gets our attention. It's other gross or ridiculous things. Think about it. Ever catch someone picking their nose? Do you immediately look away or do you watch to see what they do with the result? Heck, the television industry counts on our fascination for this stuff. Think about "Fear Factor". And, while not nearly as straight out gross, think about all those other reality television shows.

Other than television, what real situation have you encountered where good taste told you to turn away, but you just couldn't?

A taxing view?

Does two posts in a row make a theme?

"Live Free or Die" was not initially meant to refer to taxation. However, New Hampshire residents will fight to the death to avoid taxes. New Hampshire has no sales or income tax. There are meals and lodging taxes, and capital gains taxes, and business-based taxes. However, the largest revenue generator for state and local governments is property taxes.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Public services need to be paid for somehow. We all understand that. And, it is generally understood and accepted that real estate taxes will increase over time. However, any significant increase to a tax bill will generate more fervor in New Hampshire than any state in the union. Perhaps that is why there are so many tax-related stories in the local press on any given day. ( Others would argue that there just isn't that much else worth talking about in the area. )

The town of Orford is currently enmired in a battle over, what is popularly being refered to as, the view tax. The independent assessment firm that was hired to reassess properties in the town has raised the valuations on many properties by $100,000 or more based on "the view" from a particular property. The Union Leader article gave one example where a one room cabin with no electric, phone, or septic services, was valued at $22,900 — plus $140,000 for it's view of rolling hills. The assessment firm argues that "view" has always been part of any assessment formula. Residents and Town Selectmen argue that the increases in local values is outrageous and unwarranted. Most of the fervor over "the view tax" has been that the assessment forms now have a distinct line for the valuation of properties labled "view".

Assessments are supposed to be based on fair market value of property. While I am sure that the town has a right to be concerned about an overly steep increase in the valuation of its properties, I have to wonder if this situation would have generated less hype had the details of the valuation not been broken down so clearly on the assessment forms. Then again, that guy with the primitive cabin who was assessed at $162,900 probably has a right to know why HIS cabin is worth more than some guy down the road whose identical cabin was only assessed at, say, $25,000 since that cabin only has a view of the town dump. Then again, if I were in the market for hunting cabin, would it be worth the HUGE difference to have a lovely view from my primitive hovel. Perhaps. I certainly hope that the assessment firm has enough substantial comparable market data to back up such differences.

I wish Orford well in its fight of the assessments. The State is looking for revenue in some tough economic times. It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Taxing the Arts, or asking for a fair share?

I was curious to see that a somewhat local item had made the national AP site. The Board of Selectmen of the town of Peterborough has recently reversed years of tradition by taking away an artist colony's tax-exempt status. Since 1907, The MacDowell Colony has hosted hundreds of writers and artists each year on its 450 wooded acres. One of the town's lawyers argued that the artist colony does not benefit the general public, merely the artists in residence.

The town has reevaluated the status of several large charitable organization recently in an attempt to keep overall taxes down, and meet the community's growing expenses. If taxed on the value of its 450 acres, MacDowell would owe Peterborough $156,000 annually in property taxes. The town opted for compromise. It initial assessed the colony $50,000 in taxes, stating that it would be willing to accept $17,000 in order to recoop the cost of supply the colony with town services. However, it threatened to take the colony to court when MacDowell refused to pay, based on its tax exempt status.

Many who live in Peterborough feel that the town is becoming greedy. Should charitable organizations have to pay taxes on their real property like everyone else? Probably not "like everyone else". However, if part of the charter of the charity is not to preserve property from development, I think charities that hold large tracts of land should be taxed on any land not used to further the charter of the charity. The tax could be at a much lower rate that the rest of us pay, but there could be some tangible give back to the community.

If I were administering the MacDowell Colony, I would partner with another charitable organization, such as The Nature Conservancy. The bulk of the land could be donated to a land-trust organzation, whose main mission was to keep large parcels of land undeveloped. The writers and artists that visit MacDowell could still benefit from having gentle access to the inspiring isolation of that wilderness, but Peterborough would have less 'ground' to stand on when it game to taxing the Colony.

If the Board of Selectmen are truly being greedy, I would just love to see them attempt to take on The Nature Conservancy. Peterborough would end up spending more in that losing legal battle than they could hope to recoup in decades of taxes on the disputed property. I wonder if the Colony has considered such a strategy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Which gods do I have to sacrafice to for this to turn out well?

I just read on Yahoo News that Fox has ordered a pilot for a new Terminator-inspired TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It will supposedly be character-driven, and will follow Sarah and John as they are on the run, hiding from the machines, when John is still a teenager.

I really loved The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The third movie, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, was a disappointment. I think the main reason I was unhappy with the flick* is that it didn't live up to the story development of the first two. In addition, and probably more importantly, I had read a great interpretation of what should have come next. S.M. Stirling wrote a trilogy of books: T2: Infiltrator, T2: Rising Storm, T2: Future War. If you liked the first two movies, you will love this series. Reading the series got me reading some of Stirling's other books. (All of which I got him to autograph at World Con in Boston last year.)

The new Fox series sounds more along the lines of Stirling's books in focus, though it will probably bridge the official story gap between the second and third movies. Science fiction television series have a hard road to travel to be successful. I wish this pilot well. Heck, if it succeeds, I will have another hour of television to look forward to on my very scaled back schedule.

*The above is a hint of a post to come: "Flick, Movie, or Film: Three distinct products of Hollywood"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I am cursed, I tell you!

I love word games. Until a couple of years ago, I was pretty smug about my skill with them. Our church has a family game night several times a year. So, I glommed right on that when we joined. I met my match in Scrabble. My (now good) friend Chris is unbeatable, as far as I can tell. I feel good if I can come within a hundred points of her.

However, I assumed that Chris was an abberation. Surely, I could still beat just about anyone else. Or at least give as good as I get. I am not so sure any more.

My good buddy Brian and I started playing Scrabble online a few months after he moved to California. We were pretty eveningly matched for quite a while. We basically took turns winning. And then, about two months ago, I really slaughtered him in one game. I felt very proud of myself. I crowed about that game around my house for days and days.

STUPID, STUPID, STUPID! The Fates do not like when you do stuff like that. Now, I fear that I may never win again. Brian has beaten me more times in a row than I can count now. (Ok, it's been at least five times.) And, the first few times he basically more than doubled my score. The gap the last couple of games has decreased to less than a hundred points. However, the games have not even been close at the end.

Anyone for a rousing game of checkers?

The Youngest Mayor Ever?

I just read on Yahoo about an 18 year old high school senior who may have won a write-in campaign to become the next mayor of his town of 9,000 residents.

I am really impressed! My opinion of politicians, in general, is pretty low. Most seem incompetent, power hungry, and/or corrupt. However, I like this kid's optimism and energy. If only there were more like him out there!

I hope that he really did win and that he has a possitive and productive political future.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Yes, I (still) Like to Watch

OK. I admit it. I have never actually watched "Being There". However, I am familiar enough with the movie to know that the simpleton main character says "I like to watch," and is refering to television.

While I don't watch that much television these days, I still enjoy spending a few hours a week indulging in that particular 'inactivity'. I'm not fool enough to try to justify my choices as having any redeeming value, or even being overly well written or well acted. I just like them. Every year, my choices get more and more limited. This year I'm watching "ER", "One Tree Hill", and (sometimes) a new show that's on after OTR, "Related".

While that is three measley hours a week, I also will flip about randomly and glom onto an in-progress movie a couple of times a week. In addition, I will purposefully sit down a few times a week to watch a DVD. About half the DVDs I watch are actually TV shows that I have purchased on DVD, either because I liked them so much that I can watch them again, or because I didn't catch them when they were originally on.

Here are some of the TV shows that I have acquired this year: "Once and Again: Season 2", "Battlestar Galactica" (new series), "Earth 2", "Firefly", and "Rosewell: Season 3". I am eagerly awaiting "Once and Again: Season 3" and "Alien Nation: The Complete Series". I may actually pick up Season 1 of "Lost", since I've become intrigued with all the hype around the show.

The bottom line is this: While I agree that watching television every night can be mind-numbing, I enjoy watching television on a somewhat regular basis. There was a point in my life where I watched TV for several hours every evening. I just can't do that any more. I have other interests. And, recently, I've really rediscovered the joys of both reading AND writing. However, I see no reason to give up television completely. But, with the advent of TiVo and television shows on DVD, I can enjoy my guilty little pleasures without having to put up with the commercials.

Take that Madison Avenue!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

To VoIP or not to VoIP?

When we moved this summer, we order Vonage and Verizon telephone service. I was all ready to take the VoIP plunge, but I wanted to make sure I had stable phone service before I ventured into the unknown. Plus, I wasn't ready to tackle the set-up of multiple phones from the single access point of my cable modem.

I initially ordered the low-level 500 minutes plan from Vonage, which costs us about $17/month (with taxes and such). Our unlimited Verizon plan costs us about $70/month. Even if Vonage were our only phone service, it would be a rare month for us to come even close to the 500 minute threshold. We just don't use the telephone that often.

I am ready to take the next step in my VoIP adventure. I am planning to acquire a decent 5.8ghz wireless phone system, whose base station will live next to the VoIP cable modem. However, I couldn't help but smile when I read this news story today: Verizon Reduces Prices For Phone Service. Basically, Verizon is supposedly dropping prices for its unlimited phone service plans by about $15/month. Even if that turns out to be true, that'd still have my Verizon bill peaking out to about $55/month. And, even if I decided to up our Vonage service to the unlimited version, that would only take us up to about $28/month. Still around half the cost of Verizon.

Even with the cost of buying some new wireless phones, it's pretty much a no brainer. I plan to be Verizon-less by mid-January.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Whatever happened to relaxing on the weekend?

When we became parents, I don't think we realized that the nature of weekends would change so drastically. Prior to becoming parents, we had the commitments on the weekend. However, we usually made sure that we didn't have commitments every weekend. At least once a month, we had NOTHING PLANNED. Ah, those were the days!

While much of K's early childhood is now a blur for me, recent years clearly involved planned activities of one variety or another virtually every weekend. Currently, K is signed up for tennis and swimming lessons on Saturday mornings. We also usually attend church several Sundays each month, and some other church activity at least once a month. None of this is inherently bad. However, I miss a basic day of leisure now and then.

I think we might actually have one coming up soon: the day after Thanksgiving. We currently have no commitments. Everyone is off from work/school. I am thinking that I will resist any attempts to schedule anything. We can sleep late. Do whatever comes to mind (definitely avoid any shopping areas, it being one of the biggest shopping days of the year). This will be Family Leisure Day.

Since I was raised an only child, I also crave large blocks of alone time. Sadly, I rarely get them. I love my family. However, I also REALLY like being alone. But, this year, I am getting one of THE best Xmas presents ever. Three days all to myself. B and K are going to Texas for Xmas weekend to see my in-laws new house, and to celebrate my mother-in-law's 70th birthday. I decided not go. While I enjoy my in-laws immensely, I do not fly very well. First off, I suffer from severe motion sickness. Secondly, I am very afraid of flying. That said, I seriously considered taking this trip. It sounded like fun, and it would be cool to see everyone for the holiday's and the birthday celebration. I planned on getting massive drugs to deal with my flying issues. Then my back pain started flairing up big time recently. And, it made me realize that I probably would not do well spending five to seven hours on airplanes in the course of a day. And, the one thing that makes it tolerable for me to sit for very long, my TENS unit, probably wouldn't be allowed on the plan due to security concerns (I might use it as a weapon to hijack the plane). So, I decided that I wasn't going.

We're planning a family trip to the Baltimore-Washington area for April. K and B will probably be flying for that one. I won't be. I will be taking the train. I love train travel. Yes, it will take the better part of a day. However, on a train, I can freely get up and walk around. The seats are a bit roomier too. Plus, there's a train station at BWI airport, so we can coordinate our travel to arrive at relatively the same time. That will be very cool. Now, only if I could be sure that I'll still have a job then, I'd be a very happy camper. But, I'll save that concern for another post (or perhaps one-on-one emails with inquiring minds).

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

We miss Comcast!!!

Before we moved, we had Comcast digital cable. We never had an real issues with them as a cable provider. When we bought our current house, we were very sad to find out that we wouldn't be in Comcast's service area. Unfortunately, we are in Adelphia territory. Here's what we like better about Adelphia than Comcast:

  • Parental controls include the ability to block viewing by day/date/time
  • ...
  • ...
  • ...chirp...chirp...chirp

Here's what we miss about Comcast:

  • Better picture quality
  • Better Music Choice fidelity
  • Better 'on demand' content and menus (by leaps and leaps and bounds)
  • Faster Internet service for the same price
  • Quick and easy setup for online bill pay (have to wait a full billing cycle for it to kick in after registration for Adelphia)
  • Better overall channel selection

Every day we hope to hear that Comcast has purchased Adelphia, so we can have a decent cable company again!

Hurting for something relevant to say?

I know I don't post here very much. I always have the best intentions, but I let life get in the way. My friend Brian always has TONS of relevant and interesting things to say on his blog. Then again, he's not above posting links to the inanities of the web. Of course, I'm so lazy and bored that I can't help being sucked in. Blame him for this little gem:

Your Monster Profile

Shadow Lunatic

You Feast On: Bananas

You Lurk Around In: Movie Theaters

You Especially Like to Torment: Pop Stars