Monday, April 30, 2007

and several unexpected twists and turns later...

Touring Peru: No. Solo camping and biking in Pennsylvania: No. Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology: No. BUT...finally, after several setbacks in just the past two weeks, Jesse's vacation plans have taken a step forward. I am now the proud owner of two airline reservations to Phoenix and back at the end of the month. This should serve to lock in the Grand Canyon expedition -- which, by the way, was also on the fritz at one point but was resurrected after God showed mercy toward me and provided at least one travel partner and maybe more. See, there really is something to that perseverance in the face of adversity stuff.

So, since I don't really feel like typing many details of my trip and I've already done that once -- actually several times if one includes the Creeping Death planning forum -- here's the itinerary as dreamed up by me last night and emailed to a friend.* Feel free to plagiarize parts of this for your own trip to the GC, since it's so cool everyone is required to go at some point in his or her life.

The trip will turn out to be a little longer and a lot more expensive than I had initially planned for -- the latter mainly due to the fact that there are less people going than I had envisioned -- but I can live with that. I just need a good vacation. Now.

So, without further ado...

Tuesday, May 22nd
* Possibly spend Monday night in Baltimore due to the details in the next line.
* BWI -> PHX on Southwest, depart 6:45 am (ouch?), arrive 8:55 am, $568 for two tickets.
* Pick up rental car at terminal -- compact, $170/wk.
* Drive to Flagstaff (150 mi, 2h18m).
* Lunch in Flagstaff.
* Drive to Williams (35 mi, 35m).
* Motel 6 in Williams, $51.
* Get to sleep early, 8-9 pm.
[Based on this itinerary, we'd have a lot more flex time to work with than I thought. Might need to look for stuff to do in Flagstaff.]

Wednesday, May 23rd
* Up super early, ~4 am.
* Drive to Grand Canyon Village (59 mi, 1h25min).
* Check in at ranger station (permits already purchased for $100 total), park, shuttle to trailhead, etc.
(not sure how the shuttle works, need to check details here)
* Hopefully be on trail by 6 am or shortly after.
(this should give us plenty of time for a leisurely hike in and still get us off the trail and into the canyon before the midday heat starts)
* Hike to Bright Angel Campground via South Kaibab Trail (7.3 mi).
* Set up camp.
* Hang out in Grand Canyon, hike short trails, recover, etc.
[Most of the day will hopefully be spent in the canyon getting a feel for basic stuff.]

Thursday, May 24th
* Hang out in Inner Canyon, swim if allowed (or chances of being seen are slim) and if nuts won't freeze off in ice-cold water, explore Inner Canyon trails, place fireworks at inconspicuous locations throughout canyon, etc.

Friday, May 25th
* Tear down camp.
* Explore some more in Inner Canyon if time allows.
* Hike up to Indian Garden Campground via Bright Angel Trail (4.7 mi, halfway up trail).
* Set up camp.
* Explore around Plateau Point (1.5 mi from IGC via Plateau Point Trail) if time allows.
[I don't think there's much to do at the upper campground so we'll probably want to stay down in the canyon for a while and then fight the heat going up, as suicidal as that sounds. And yes, the camping in two different spots thing kinda sucks time-wise, but it pretty much has to work that way -- especially since that's what the permits say.]

Saturday, May 26th
* Up early enough to see sunrise from Plateau Point (?).
* Tear down camp.
* Hike out via Bright Angel Trail (4.6 mi to South Rim).
* Shuttle back to car (I think), leave Grand Canyon.
* Drive to Grand Canyon West/Hualapai Reservation (242 mi, 4h35m), $25 entry fee.
(info taken from
* Walk on Skywalk, another $50 so $75 total. OUCH
* Other activities at GCW if time allows.
* Drive to Flagstaff (216 mi, 3h50m).
* Motel 6 in Flagstaff, $69.
[Will likely get in late because of all the driving, but we don't have anything on our slate for tomorrow.]

Sunday, May 27th
* Hiking & rock scrambling on red rocks at Sedona (?).
* Sleep at Best Western Inn of Tempe, $59 per Orbitz.
[This day is pretty much wide open. The red rocks are awesome and I've only been able to spend a few hours there, but it could also be very hot and there's not a lot of shade from what I remember. Probably need to do some research to figure out what to do here.]

Monday, May 28th
PHX -> BWI, depart 10:55 am, arrive 6:25 pm.
Drive home.


* It's worth noting that this friend had promptly responded before I arrived at work this morning. I am completely not used to that sort of thing when it comes to organizing trips with others. Good travel partners are in astoundingly short supply these days it seems, but I have perhaps found a second one out here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

a much-needed nfl draft reality check

Joe Thomas is at least down-to-earth enough to not buy into the mega-hype that surrounds the NFL draft every year. The likely top five pick is skipping out on a day of fame and glory, not to mention a chance to be lavished with all sorts of attention from just about everybody who has anything to do with the draft, so he can instead go fishing with his father and some friends. How cool is that? And he seems to have a decent perspective, too -- especially about the draft itself.

All of the obsession and scrutinizing surrounding this year's draft makes me sick. For a while I was looking forward to it and keeping up with the rumors and mock drafts and all, but recently it's gotten so out of hand I just want the thing to be over so I can stop being bombarded with it on every sports page I go to. Heck, why can't we just wait until draft day and see where folks end up? It would actually be more exciting that way, and you wouldn't have the sort of scenarios Thomas talks about where some poor guy suddenly gets all eyes and criticisms drawn to him just because he slips a few spots from where the omniscient draft pundits projected him to be selected.

As with most big events in our society, the whole thing has come to resemble a circus more than anything real and meaningful. It's a lot easier to just wait until it's over and read about what happened than follow the play-by-play coverage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

humbling fact of the day

John Calvin was 26 when he completed his Institutes. So he wrote one of the most influential volumes in Christian history when he was two years younger than I am now. Yikes.

the phone call from hell, #65,297

You know what I really needed today? No, I mean, really, really needed? Another thing to piss me off this week. Enter the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. Anytime a government regulating agency is so brazen as to even include the word "regulation" in its name, that's unspeakably bad. And a precursor of things to come for anyone who would dare attempt to interact with such a beast or force it to serve a useful function in any manner. Allow me to narrate...

While on break this afternoon at work, during one of those days that make me ponder anew my prospects of one day finding a job I can tolerate on a semi-consistent basis, I'm struck with the urge to pursue some needed details concerning licensure as a Professional Engineer in this great state. As is usually the case for an information gathering exercise, I figure the web would be a good place to start. And so I open my web browser. My first mistake...

I go to the DLLR site and try to look at some forms, only to find that I have to be a registered user to go any further. Okay, this is a really dumb and pointless step just for browsing general info, I think to myself, but the screwy system has trapped me and so I click on the registration link. Turns out you have to enter your Engineer In Training registration number to even sign up. I'm not registered as an EIT in Maryland. Great. I can't even look at any PE exam info online, much less take any steps toward applying to take the thing.

Well, at least they give a phone number. Not my first choice but it'll work. Right? But of course. After hitting a bunch of numbers and holding for a few minutes, I finally talk to what I presume to be a human. I do my best to be friendly and ask a simple question, and am promptly transferred to someone else. Apparently simple and should-be-basic facts about their department are not shared with DLLR employees. I bet they don't even know why they work there.

Anyway, I get a long message on the other end about the myriad of info available on the web -- they of course don't mention that you can't see it if you aren't already registered -- and am finally told to press zero to talk to someone. This only directs me back to the first person I talked to, who informs me that whoever it is I need to speak to will be back in the office tomorrow. Thanks for mentioning that up front, by the way. So apparently there's only one person in the entire department who knows the basic info I need and that person is not at work today. Outstanding.

It's right about now that I realize this is one of those calls that is going so miserably it can only get worse and worse until it ends in a most frustrating way, as these types always do. If I still had any patience left I'd give up on it now. If I had any common sense I'd throw in the towel and hang up now. But since I have neither at this point, I stupidly stay on the line and hope for the impossibility of obtaining useful information from deep within the bowels of bureaucracy.

Back in reality, my maybe-friendly-but-definitely-not-intelligent attendant transfers me over to this person's voice mail so I can leave a message. Well, bleep. I'm not going to be in the office the rest of the week and may not be able to take phone calls for much of it either, and I'd really like to just get some simple freaking information, but so much for that. Next, I get a voicemail response asking me to leave a message for the director of licensing for interior designers and she'll call back when she can.

By this point I've lost what little self-control I may have ever possessed and could burst into an uncontrollable rage at any moment. Were I not so intensely focused on hating this whole system I'd probably notice myself trembling violently and frothing at the mouth. So, I decide that today is not a good day to be sent for for-cause fitness-for-duty testing because I'd obviously fail and then find myself without an income, and thus I should hang up. And maybe go outside and smash some cars, kill some small animals, bust a hole in the wall with my head, and otherwise relieve some fury. As it is, I settle for slamming the phone down hard enough to probably jolt my office mates and cause folks to say a prayer and think about their loved ones every time they pass my cube for the rest of the afternoon.

All in all, not a great experience. Once again, the uncontrolled monstrosity that is bureaucratic government has thwarted the reasonable but futile attempts of one lowly servant to gain access to some most basic information. Apparently the ungodly huge amount of taxes I get fleeced for every year is not enough to provide adequate access to information or hire/train decent workers who can perform basic tasks. I love this state. Oh well, back to searching the out-of-state job listings...

Monday, April 23, 2007

back for more

My overall record in the stock market is not that great. Correction: it sucks. Speaking of sucks, Sux Flags has more or less stayed constant at a measly few bucks since I bought it and is currently slightly lower than what I remember buying in at, so that's a wasted investment. That is, unless I can remember to sell high in mid-summer, though any more that trick isn't as predictable. Cedar Fair has lost money over the years, too. But that one's not all bad; I haven't to fill out any tax forms for my partnership gains because I've lost money every freakin' year. Healthsouth scored me a little bit at the beginning and showed some monster promise but has since fallen back into mediocrity and is showing no signs of emerging anytime soon.

But, overall, I'm still ahead by a good few hundred bucks at least, due to one stock. When SunGard was bought out, their stock jumped something ridiculous, from $15 to $25 or thereabouts, that day. That was a good day to have several hundred dollars of their stock. So, what's the moral of the story? Lose all you want, and you still only have to hit it big here and there, or only once if you hit it big enough, to make the stock market work in your favor.

So, with this wisdom in mind, I've decided to take up stocks to a small extent once again. I've got too much money sitting idle in my bank account, and I'm far too poor and behind the curve financially to let that happen. I'd rather either win big or lose big than wallow in mediocrity and wonder what might have happened. The catch is, to get anywhere in the market you have to have loads of money in it. Which means, well, a lot of my house savings could end up in stocks in the near future.

Just to test the waters, I took some advice from what should usually be a reliable source and emptied my money market account (my old Sungard stock was cashed out for reasons unknown to me, so I had some dough laying around collecting dust) into a small-ball stock. And promptly lost one quarter of my investment on the same day. (To my friend's credit, he predicted this after the fact before I told him about it, so I should have talked to him more about exactly when and on what day to buy.) Woo hoo. But, unfazed by my losing record and general inability to invest wisely in stocks, I shall press on and continue to plunk down ever-increasing sums of money into a system I barely understand and can't predict. Hey, that's the American way ain't it?

griffon media day(s)

Weird as it is, not going to Peru has some unexpected side advantages. One of those is saving money. Another, and far more important at this point, is saving vacation days. And little did I know, having extra vacation days between now and my Grand Canyon trip could prove to be indescribably valuable.

I was just reminded by the local ACE rep that there are still slots available for Griffon Media Day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. And due to my sudden "abundance" of leave time, I can afford to spare a day in the middle of the pre-GC week instead of having to work nutso hours right up to our departure. So, provided I can hurry up and renew my membership fast enough, I'm on the list! Methinks.

I know this sounds cool, but it's actually much cooler than it sounds. This is an ACE-only event, FREE to members, that lasts all day on Wednesday, May 16th, and half the day on Thursday the 17th. The park will be open 5a-630p Wednesday and 6a-1p Thursday, so that's a serious chunk of time. The best part is, all in attendance -- and that hopefully won't be a huge amount -- will get unlimited rides on Griffon.

Yeah, unlimited. That's HUGE, folks. Depending on the number of ACErs who show up, that could be worth 50+ rides. On what could be the greatest thrill ride ever built on this planet. Holy freaking crap. Now that's worth hurriedly shelling out $50 to rejoin ACE!

If things go as I hope then I'll be signed up for all three shifts on Wednesday -- i.e., all 11.5 hours of 'em -- and will have a day at the park that dwarfs the greatness of any other single day I've ever had at any park. Firedrilling on Kraken at Sea World is way up there, as is the Islands of Adventure day that included multitudes of Dueling Dragons rerides and the day I was on every set of Gwazi trains for a few hours straight at Busch Tampa, but a similar experience on Griffon would surely crush them all in any metric that measures repeated thrills. And the first day at Cedar Point was something else, too, though the total ride count isn't high enough to put it up there with the Florida excursions. (Come to think of it, every day I've spent at a Florida park in recent memory has been an amazing one. That trend needs to continue.) But Griffon is Griffon, and the rest are the rest.

Throw in the always-welcome escape from the confines of southern Maryland and a chance to meet and mingle with other coaster freaks from the region, and that looks like a much-needed awesome day in the making. So, yeah, that's at the top of the dream list for now. If there is any justice, fairness, hope, or any other goodness to be found anywhere in the world these days, then I will be in Williamsburg three weeks from Wednesday.

UPDATE: God has once again exercised dominion over the dark powers of the world that would separate me from an event I have clearly and obviously been called to attend. I am on the list for all three Wednesday shifts.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

vox vs. legalism, #289,391

A quick Vox quote, in response to someone claiming he's out of line with the Bible in his occasional cursing:
There is one verse about rough speech, but in general, the Christian is commanded is to avoid making vows, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit or taking the Lord's name in vain. There's nothing about the inherent sin of using old Anglo-Saxon terms for defecation or fornication.
Slam. Although I am quite curious as to what that one verse is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

things that make me think

Hey, everyone else is piling on the Virginia Tech story, so I guess if I wanna be cool then I have to join 'em. But this is insane on so many fronts. The scenario itself was a tad bit surprising, but the totally overblown and emotionalized (I think I just created a word) news coverage wasn't. I'm sure the Iraq and Hillary vs. Barack stories were starting to run out of marketability, and the media has proven it will stop at no boundaries to hawk its crap to a public that can't wait to lap it up. And along comes a school shooting, complete with gore, side plots, traumatized kids, fear angles to play up, openings to spin up controversy where none exists, and on and on. The media apes must be throwing one heck of a party right now. Freakin' pathetic. So allow me to be a total hypocrite by tossing my two cents in.

The first thing that occurs to me here is, that shooter was a machine. Folks have been known to flip out and go berserk, but not this guy. Anybody who can stay collected enough to get in a raging argument with a girlfriend, storm out only to come back and kill her a few minutes later, and sit down and pen a long goodbye-world note has nerves of steel. And not only that, the guy then managed to stay calm and "normal" enough to march across campus armed to the teeth and not arouse much of any suspicion, then carry out one of the more methodical bloodbaths in recent history for several minutes without showing any emotion or letting the circumstances of the situation move him at all. That's just nuts.

That tells me the guy had been so depressed for so long that he was basically numb to the world. I don't think he was a psychopath with a serial killer mindset but rather that he had given up on life so much that he had no ability to care about anything and was basically just trying to be heard and cared about for once. Any person can only take so much pain before they crack. I actually feel really sorry for the guy. Not that I think he was in any way justified, it's just that his actions revealed a lot about his life story. He put up with a lot more pain for a much longer time than any of the victims of his rampage. Of course they didn't deserve to die, but in a sense he didn't deserve the crappy hand he was dealt in life either. It's amazing he managed to hold himself together for long enough to pass himself off as only slightly abnormal for so many years, because I'm sure his outburst had been building for a long, long time -- as in, his entire life probably.

There's more to write here, but I'd have to choose my words so carefully it'd take forever. And I just don't feel like going there anyway. So I'm gonna hold off on that for now. Plus, it's getting late and I still have stuff to do. Working 12-hour days this week doesn't leave me with much time to work with, although I find that it seems weirdly more enjoyable than working regular days and being too exhausted at home to do much else anyway. And it could be training for a future job that requires such craziness. Or so I hope, at this point in my career and life. And if lightning strikes five times in the same place between now and Saturday then I'll have been putting in hours toward a Peru trip. Nah, I'm not holding my breath either.

yet another hogs story

Nutt releases letter refuting rumors

Disappointing? Of course. Funny? Yes. Irritating? On a lesser level, yes. Shocking, surprising, or even in the least bit catching anyone off guard? Heck no.

That whole program crossed the line into total absurdity long ago. First a good football season somehow turns into a huge disappointment in a matter of weeks, then players (and coaches) start fleeing the program faster than they can be stopped, then the Hogs steal a b-ball tourney birth from lots of equally deserving teams, then King Broyles fires a decent coach anyway, what happened next would take far too long to report here, and now we have Nutt defending himself against all sorts of crazy allegations from what were once his fans. One obvious conclusion here is that the Powers That Be and/or Hog fans are completely spoiled and think the athletics world revolves around their school, and their actions are making a mockery of whatever credibility the U of A sports teams may have had left at some point in recent history. I guess for the school as a whole that's a good thing that's been needed for a long time, but it sure is dumb that athletics matters so much in the first place that it can turn into the never-ending soap opera that it has become at Arkansas. What an enormous state-wide embarrassment.

I'm half-tempted to start another blog just to keep up with all this bullbleep. Though on second thought that'd take up far, far too much of my time. This madness shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Um, yeah. Woo pig sooiee.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

kurt vonnegut quote

Heard an awesome Vonnegut quote on the way home from work today. I've heard others of his here and there, enough to know that he seemed* to have a knack for capturing nuggets of truth in a humorous way, but this was perhaps the best I've heard yet. And that's why it pains me greatly that I can't remember it now, not even enough to find it on the internet somewhere. But what the heck, I'll give it a shot. It was something along these badly paraphrased lines:
All humor plays on some sort of insecurity we have about the world and therefore has some amount of truth to it. The best humor often hurts the most to those whose insecurities it plays on because it displays the deepest and most painful truths about those people.
Wow, I'm sure I completely butchered that, enough so that it's a crime to even attach it to Vonnegut's name. That's the best I can remember though. The actual quote was much better and much more to the point than that, but at least that's the basic premise of what he was saying.

This came up on a sports talk show, and the guy was talking about Don Imus' recent gaffe with respect to the Rutgers women's baskeball team. (Unfortunately, this misstep cost Imus his job.) His point was that people get so hyper-offended about seemingly insignificant words or simple mistakes on the part of those who uttered them because the joke reveals something deeply painful about those people while it gets laughs from others. Thus, anyone who gets terribly upset at such a joke, or at any words for that matter, should look within themselves and see what it is that just got revealed.

Now I'm not saying the Rutgers women are a bunch of "nappy headed ho's", and from what I can tell they're not the central characters spinning this whole thing up.** But I do think the ones who are so uptight have a lot of introspection to do concerning their own views of themselves, others (especially those they claim to be siding with), and the world. Take that for what it's worth.

[Correction: He referred to Rutgers, not Tennessee.]

* Kurt Vonnegut died today. That's why the guy had the quote in mind in the first place.

** This is usually the case with such situations it seems. Why is it that we have armies of offense-claimers out there who reflexively react as though mortally wounded and leap to the "defense" of those supposedly on the receiving end of any comments they deem inappropriate, without first trying to understand the situation or even figure out if any offense was actually taken? Buncha crap, I tell ya...

Monday, April 02, 2007

random bible observations

Numbers 7 has 89 verses. Holy crap. That makes it the longest non-Psalm 119 chapter I'm aware of. It's very repetitive too. Seems that Moses could have saved some time and effort by just summarizing the totals and then listing the names, rather than listing the exact same offering 12 times. (Interestingly, the grammar isn't the exact same, though I would have expected each event to be recorded the same way.) But I suppose that shows attention to detail too. He could have conveyed the same info in less words but didn't. That indicates to me that he went well out of his way to show exactly what happened and in what order and such, as if it's some sort of legal document. Which in turn makes it more reliable as a historical document. To me anyway.