Cable Television (AT&T U-verse)

My general thoughts about cable go like this:

It costs far too much for the amount of TV I actually watch. That would be about 0 to 2 hours per week (about the cost of going to a movie every week when you divide it up).

So anyway, you know what happened today? We got cable.

Here’s why:

AT&T offers a package that’s a combination of internet/voice over ip/cable and can include cell phones. We had all but the cable through AT&T already. Here’s the thing though… With the standard prices for U-verse, the cost drops by about $40 for us and the cable comes for free for the first month. After that, I can cancel the cable and keep the rest of the package. Alternately I can drop down to a more affordable cable (they give you top of the line for the first month) and end up paying roughly the same as I do now.

We’ll see what happens.

It’s Like They Were Saving It Up For a Big Finish

What follows a seriously fossilized post from earlier this spring that I never quite got around to finishing…

My kids were on spring break the last two weeks. Their school goes all year round with a few longish breaks. They’ve been home for most of that time with care being provided by Kristen and I, their grandparents, and daycare.

They’ve been good for the most part, but after a while at home kids get bored. Thus, here’s what happened on the last day of spring break:

1. Despite not being allowed to watch TV (due to an incident I will not reveal here), they turned on the TV anyway and started watching it. In response, I added another day on to their “no TV” sentence.

2. While bored and trying to find something to do they started messing with the computers. We have password protected our computers in an effort to limit their total TV/computer time to no more than two hours a day. As of this year, however, they can read. Our oldest daughter read the password hint. Our youngest daughter then asked Kristen to spell the name of one of our cats–and then they were into the computer (briefly).

3. When Kristen and I were sitting at the computers doing things that we found interesting, one of our daughters started walking downstairs and asking us questions. What sort of questions? “What is our street name? What state do we live in? What zip code do we live in? And finally, “What does V-I-S-A spell?” That was the point at which we discovered that they were trying to order butterfly larvae through the mail.

4. I ran to the grocery store later that night. When I came back, one of my daughters announced to me that “Abby S. is in bed already.” Here’s how she knew: Kristen taught them to use the phone that day. As such, one of our daughters had decided to practice. Practicing in this case meant that she had called people out of her school’s directory, some of them multiple times.

And told at least one girl chicken jokes (or so we heard from her parents later).

I was so very glad that Spring Break was over by the end of that day…

Fifth Third River Bank Run

I did it again this year. Kristen’s workplace pays for an employee and “a friend.” Husbands apparently count as friends for this purpose. So, it’s free. I like free.

I ran the 25K run (approximately 15.5 miles).

In case you were wondering what that’s like, I’ll go over the key features here:

Friday, May 9: Packet Pickup
Packet pickup is where you pick up things like the chip they use to track when you cross the start or finish line. Also, you get your “bib”–the piece of fabric that has your number on the front. Despite the name, it is too small to protect your clothes from messy eating.

Packet Pickup is something of a runner’s convention. In the larger races (like this one), you’ve usually got a massive room filled with booths. They’re usually for other races, shoe companies (Adidas, Puma, New Balance…), medical personnel (chiropractors, sports medicine, physical therapists) and in the case of this race, Smuckers. I have no idea why.

You’ve also got a stage at the front where people are being interviewed about their training techniques and racing tips. Directly in front of the stage, they held a pasta dinner–which Kristen and I skipped. We went to Ming Ten (sushi, Chinese, and Korean buffet).

Lining Up for the Race
Lining up is an event in itself. Figure you’ve got a few thousand people on the ground. All of them need to line up. They stagger people by race and by speed. In this case, they started the 10K runners at 7:30 am, the 25K wheelchair racers at 7:50, the 25K runners at 8:00 and the 5K at 8:10.

To line up, you need to either be there early enough that there’s not much of a crowd or push, push, push till you find an open gate and can step onto the street. Last year I was late enough that I had to literally squeeze through the fence to be on time. This year was no problem as I got up at 5:45 am.

The street was almost empty as I got on it (the 10K runners had left) and I had 30 minutes to kill. Here is how I spent my time:

10% Stretching
20% Thinking about how cold my fingers were
20% Finding the runners who intended to run 9 minute miles
50% Wondering why exactly I was doing this again

The Race
It started like every other long race–slooooowly.

When you’ve got a few thousand people on the road, the starting gun/air horn goes off and the people in the front start running. The people behind them start shuffling while the people after them continue to stand in one place.

It can take five or ten minutes just to get to the starting line.

Mile 1: Once we’re started, I decide that my plan is to stay next to the official pace setters for my mile pace. That way I would definitely make my goal time. One of the two pace setters intends to go faster during the last few miles. The other plans to keep a steady pace. I decide to follow the former.

Mile 2: I bump into a volunteer handing out Gatorade at an aid station. Now there is Gatorade on my shoulder and arm.

Mile 3-4: Nothing worth mentioning happens, but it feels good to run.

Mile 5: Melissa, the pace setter I decided to follow goes much faster than the other one. I lose track of her, but decide it’s okay since she doesn’t seem to be following a 9 minute mile pace anyway.

Mile 6: Melissa reappears behind me with a few other people from the 9 minute mile group. How did I get ahead? I decide to try to stay with them.

Mile 7: The turnaround point. We cross the Grand River and start back. Melissa and a couple other people get ahead of me. I never see them again.

Mile 8-11: Hills suck.

Mile 12-14: I begin counting down the miles, knowing that it will be over soon. Confusingly, there are still signs from the 5K up. At one point I see that I have two miles to go. Then I see that I have two miles to go again. This is very demoralizing.

Mile 15-15.5: The other 9 minute mile pacesetter (I didn’t catch his name) passes me. I consider trying to stay with him, but just don’t. He runs at a 7:30 mile pace normally. It’s just not worth it. I do push myself a little during the last half mile, but not to the extent I thought I would earlier. I’m tired.

Finish: I finish at 2 hours and 22 minutes according to the clock, but according to the chip (which takes account of the actual time I passed the start) I have a 2:20:01 time–an almost perfect 9 minute mile pace.

After the race, I passed in my chip, collected my medal for running, and ate some watermelon and oranges. I considered getting free beer at the beer tent, but didn’t have an id with me. I got Pepsi instead. In the end this was okay. I like micro-brews and darker beers. They had Michelob Ultra. To be honest, I don’t particularly like that beer anyway.

At that point I left for my car. So I’m done–at least for this year.

So… New Car

Here’s how that sort of thing happens around our house…

Sometime in the summer, a mechanic at Zandee’s Auto Repair points out that the van I’m driving has a rusty frame and floor boards.

How rusty? Rusty enough that they aren’t sure it would come down in one piece if they put it up on the lift.

That’s not good.

So Kristen, being Kristen, thinks about this a lot. More to the point, she checks the used car classifieds regularly. Over the course of a few months, she talks about how nice it might be to have a Volvo station wagon. The idea being that we’d buy a used (but still new-ish) wagon that she would drive and pass on her Saturn to me.

Which would be fine.

I’m totally OK with having the second best car because I really don’t care what I drive–as long as it works. Oddly enough, this is exactly why I’m a bit leery about European imports. When things do go wrong with those, the parts are often insanely expensive. I know. I had an Audi at one point. It had many good points (the speedometer went up to 200 mph for a reason), but one painfully bad point–the cost of repairs.

Except here’s what happens…

Kristen sees an ad for a Volvo wagon in the paper. It’s a good price. An affordable price.

I go for a test drive.

It’s nice.

I decide that we might as well buy the car, but that I should talk to people who know cars well about the potential risks (like maintenance) as it’s a 1998.

After talking to mechanics, I learn that it was a good year for that particular model. I decide it would be good to take it into Betten Imports as a last step before buying it to make absolutely sure…

Except I don’t.

The owner calls me and let’s me know that someone else has test driven it, wants desperately to buy it, but that I’ve got right of first refusal…

So I buy it.

I find out later that the other potential buyer actually called back trying to outbid me, but the Volvo’s (then) owner said, “No.” He didn’t feel comfortable doing that.

Which makes me the owner of a 1998 Volvo v70, a car that Kristen likes, but oddly enough doesn’t drive because it’s older than the Saturn.

Wacky.

P.S. Our daughters both like it better than the Dodge Caravan it replaced. There are a variety of reasons. For example, there’s a third seat in the back that pops up, allowing them to sit facing backwards–and possibly make funny faces at the people in the cars behind us. Another reason… The fabric on the ceiling doesn’t hang down (as it did in the van) and touch people’s heads.

Personally I just like the fact that the gas doesn’t randomly cut out for no good reason. Near the end, the only way I could stop that from happening on the van was by gunning it every so often. Or maybe constantly. It just depended on the van’s mood that day.

Channel 3 Clubhouse and West Michigan Children’s TV Programming

I don’t know how much TV I watched as a little kid. It was enough that I still know the schedule of the programs I actually cared about. On weekdays, Bozo the Clown on WZZM–an ABC affiliate, Captain Kangaroo on WMMT (then WKZO), and Channel 3 Clubhouse following it.

Pretty much everyone’s heard of Bozo and Captain Kangaroo. Outside of West Michigan, Channel 3 Clubhouse is unknown.

It lasted from 1955 to 1985. It included a host (Cynthia Kay when I was watching), puppets (Nigel and Lambert the lion), a crowd of local children, games and possibly (I’m not sure of this) cuts to cartoons.

As it happens, Cynthia Kay has since gone on to run her own media production company. The website includes links naming her as one of the most influential women in West Michigan, her business as a top women-owned business in West Michigan, and also as small business of the year (2005).

Oddly enough, one of the places I work for regularly contracts her to create video presentations. On Friday, I dropped by her business to pick up a stack of DVD’s she’d produced.

Though she’s been at various offices that GRACE has owned, I’d never actually talked to her before and thus never mentioned that I’d watched her on TV.

I did this time.

She put her hand on my shoulder and said (exactly as she might have if I’d been five and on the show), “So, what’s your name? How old are you?”

I laughed, and we moved on to talk about things relevant to the task at hand.

I told my wife about it though.

“I’m jealous,” she said. “I always wanted to be on that show.”

So yeah, no matter what honors and success Cynthia Kay achieves she will still be known (to people who spent the 1970’s watching children’s TV in West Michigan) as the host of Channel 3 Clubhouse. I’ve no idea whether this amuses or disturbs her. Perhaps I should have asked.

P. S. Oh, and should Cynthia Kay google herself and read this entry, I have a question for her. My wife wants to know what happened to the puppets after Channel 3 Clubhouse was canceled. Do you have any idea?

One of Those Horrible Catch-All Posts

As the title says, this is going to be one of posts where I write about all the things I ought to have written about if I’d been writing much of anything in the past few weeks.

The thing that sucks is that I’m not going to devote an appropriate amount of time to any of them.

Without further preamble:
1. I went to Florida around Christmas, visiting my younger brother and his wife and son. Also visited Disney World with my parents and sister while I was there. Saw an alligator from a distance. This is the best way to see an alligator.

2. Have been viewing season one of Heroes on DVD. I missed it while it was running. It is incredible. Hopefully it will survive the bad reviews of the first half of the second season and the WGA strike.

3. I’ve been writing a web fiction blog, currently devoted to a superhero web serial. It has actually attracted a few readers that I don’t know–which is cool. It’s also cool that a few people I do know are reading it.

4. The Michigan presidential primary is tomorrow. Thanks to our brilliant leaders’ attempt to beat New Hampshire and Iowa this year, the Democratic leadership will not allow the primary’s results to count. The state’s leadership claims that the Michigan delegates will ultimately be counted, but I’m not holding my breath. On the bright side (for Ed), this gives Kucinich the best chance he’s got to win an early primary.

To be honest, I’m not sure who I like most on the Democratic end of things at the moment. I have things I like and dislike about each candidate.

The Republican party does not appear to be punishing its people for disobedience and as such their primary does count. I’m tempted to vote in it. We’ll see. Given the choice, I’d prefer McCain to anyone else on the Republican side of the fence. If I thought of myself as Democrat, I might think it inappropriate, but as an independent I don’t have to feel guilty about voting in the Republican primary at all.

Remembering Erdin Elmi

In the mid 90’s I was in graduate school for sociology and working at a market research firm. I’d initially been working part time in the phone room, but was moved into the Analysis and Consulting department when one of the professionals there noticed I was reading a book on multiple regression (a statistical technique).

My supervisor in A & C knew that I was interested in web development and mentioned that Nermin Elmi, someone he knew through his place of worship (the Islamic Center), needed help getting a web page going. Nermin was trying to raise money to help her cousin come to the United States to get treatment for leukemia.

In the course of working on the web page, I met her family–her husband, daughter and Erdin, her son. I didn’t really get to know him, but he seemed like a decent guy. He was going to high school at the time.

Nermin Elmi succeeded in bringing Elmira (her cousin) to the US for treatment–though complications from the chemotherapy ultimately killed her.

Nonetheless, I’ve still kept in touch with the family on and off. It’s been a little while though and that’s why it was a bit of a shock to read the following article in the paper:

25 year-old steps in front of commuter train

The 25 year old man is Erdin.

It’s a sad and strange thing. I remember hearing that when Nermin and her husband immigrated from Romania (at that time a communist state), the state would not allow Erdin to go with them. Ultimately, bringing Erdin here would involve Grand Rapids’ congressional representative (Rep. Paul Henry?) as well as (I think) the State department.

I’m sure that this event will prompt me to reconnect with the family again soon, but a card or phone call seems such a small thing in the face of something like this.

The Medical-Industrial Complex

I do work for non-profits. At one non-profit I actually draw a part time salary in addition to my computer consulting. For a while, in fact, I did all my work for that non-profit from my house, connecting via a VPN.

It’s thanks to that, I suspect, that I got a call tonight.

As I was sitting down at my laptop, catching up on email and meditating on how soon I should make supper, I received a phone call that asked for one of my supervisors at work.

The caller wanted to know exactly what we did as part of our AIDS related program.

I told him. I also attempted to make it clear that we weren’t doing much with it at the moment because all our state funding had been cut off.

It didn’t make much of an impression, but it was after that that the call turned a little weird.

He wanted to know if any of our patients were ever cured of AIDS. I explained that no one gets cured of AIDS. At best, your virus load gets down to near impossible to detect levels.

“That’s with pharmacia,” he said, “not God’s medicine.”

Over the course of the next half hour, I learned a number of things:

1. That disease is not caused by bacteria or viruses. It is caused by chemicals, and parasites. For example, people with AIDS have benzene in their pancreas (or maybe their liver? I forget). Also, cancer has been cured in at least one person by removing a tape worm.
2. AIDS has been cured in Africa by using seven herbs plus a little bit of electricity.
3. “Pharmacia” (sp?) is the original word for our current style of medicine and it comes from a word that meant sorcery.
4. The real reasons for disease have been known since the 1930’s and are in every public library.
5. The reason you’ve never heard this before is because the government does not want you to find out.
6. Doctors know all this too, but they’re using the current methods because it will make them more money.
7. That whatever form of medicine this guy is using uses the “qxci.” Search for it on Google. The results are… wacky. Oh and incidentally, qxci is short for Quantum Xeroid Consciousness Interface device.
8. I can learn even more if we get together everyone in our office and watch a videotape. At that point, all will be explained.
9. And we may even make some money…

The end of the conversation left me thinking that I need to learn to be considerably less polite. The guy talked for more than half an hour, needing no encouragement at all beyond “mm-hmmn” and a brief yes or no.

I would have hung up on him if he’d been a telemarketer, but hanging up on him as a salesman would probably reflect badly on the organization. Also it seemed like he was about to wrap up three different times.

He never did.

In the end, I gave him the organizational number, made clear the fact that he was calling my house, and directed that he leave a voicemail for someone that I’m quite sure will be out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m sending everyone an email…

Last Night I Dreamed That…

I was working and someone wanted me to get information out of a database and I ended up moving from one computer to another even though the database should be accessible to everyone.

Then I decided to go to lunch only somehow in the process of leaving I stripped down to my underwear.

Instead of going to lunch, I then went to the Dominican Center (as in Dominican Order as in full of priests and nuns) for some sort of book reading about J. K. Rowling. No one paid attention to the fact that I was attending in underwear, but I nonetheless picked up a sheet (with green fringe) to cover myself.

After that I left.

In walking, I found that I was no longer in Grand Rapids, but was actually in Denver.

So, I went to a mall in Denver (but not one I’m familiar with) that somehow included a swimming pool. It was there that I discovered that I was in a t-shirt and shorts.

After that I got on the bus. While I was on the bus, I realized that I had an airplane which I could use to fly home except that the engine wasn’t inside. I didn’t know how to fix the engine.

When we passed a park (which included some amusement park rides) it occurred to me that I could ask one of the ride operators how to put the engine back in.

But I didn’t.

While riding the bus, however, I did talk to one of the other people on the bus. He invited me to stay in the park. I declined. Thus, when he got off the bus, he and others in the park urinated on the bus, some of it coming through the windows.

Yuck.

In any case, soon after that, I realized that I was really at home sleeping in bed and that I really didn’t have to find my way home from Denver after all.

At some point after that, the dream ended. I don’t know whether I woke up or not.

Whatever happened, I think I can safely say that this dream made no sense at all and I can’t imagine why people have ever bothered to try to interpret them.