Saturday, June 30, 2007

personality profile stuff

I've always been fascinated by personality profiles and tests and such. They're a great way to learn about oneself and what one's inherent biases and tendencies are. I can remember being into that and reading good books on it and stuff, but that was years ago. But I've been hearing more talk about them in my circles recently that has rekindled my interest.

So I figured I'd go to some sites and try that Myers-Briggs thing again, for the first time in 10 years (since Governor's School). I do remember the last time I took it -- actually it's the only other time I can remember -- that I was very strongly INTJ in all four categories, and the description of the stereotypical quiet, confident/arrogant, aloof scientist fit like a glove. But I just took the test three times, twice here (not back to back, of course) and once here, and wound up with ISTJ, ISTP, and INTP. I'm still heavily inclined (80-90%) toward Introversion and Thinking, so no surprises there. But the other two categories are practically toss-ups now, obviously, and the descriptions seem to be consistent in that for all four I match up well with some parts and not so well or not at all with others.*

Not sure what to think of that, and I won't go too deep into the minutia of each type or category, but in general it seems that my shift in recent years toward a laid-back approach favoring freedom and spontaneity over a structured and orderly (and boring, or so I think now) lifestyle has been a major factor, since that desire seems to be tied to the Sensing category. I've also tried hard recently to be more open and genuine, and to a lesser extent kind, in dealing with people, which also seems to match up more with the "new" types and definitely is not at all an INTJ attribute. So I see that as a good thing and a sign that maybe my efforts are bearing some fruit in the way of social skills and interpersonal relationships. I sure don't feel that way now, but looking back I can see that.

Perhaps what hit the most dead-on, though, was a bit from the INTP profile about how our kind is haunted often by a fear of making the wrong decision or things not turning out, or something to that extent. (I tried to retake the test to get the exact quote but got ISTP instead.) Maybe this is 20-20 hindsight here, but now that I think about it that's perhaps my biggest change stemming from my coming into adulthood. My former general take of "just stay on track and things will work out the way I want them to" has been replaced by more of a "take the right action at the right time and don't screw up anymore" approach and, at times, a desire to force circumstances to work the way I think they ought to.

I think this tendency was always kinda there but just didn't reveal itself as much when I was younger because my life was relatively easy and most things seemed to go the way I wanted or expected. But, as they say, everyone must confront reality eventually, and the onset of my college years and the myraid of struggles they brought, and the continuation of a lot of that, has produced a noticeable shift in my personality and thinking patterns. Maybe it's made me seem like more of a pessimist or more jaded in some ways, and yet more hopeful in others, but I'd argue that's basically because I now have to think about and wrestle with big stuff that I was never really concerned with before.

Overall, it's interesting and encouraging to see such a shift. I see it as a good thing because there's a lot I don't like about my personality and would like to change to the extent I still can. I've often read and still believe that the older we get the harder it is to change such traits, and that one's basic personality profile is pretty much set in stone by his early twenties.** This has been proven repeatedly and I don't doubt it, but there's also plenty of room for learning to play to strengths and avoid or work around limitations. What I'd really like to do is take the full-blown test again, not an abbreviated internet version, and see how those results turn out.

*As a quick check I skimmed through a few other profiles and they didn't appear to resemble me at all, so this isn't one of those fishy "any type can more or less match up with any person" things, like that astrological powers crap or something. Plus, the hit-or-miss specifics in each type are telling.

**Others I know disagree with me on this. It came up just this past week at our Bible study and I suspect it will continue to come up. As I understand it, their argument is that Christ changes hearts and thus personalities can change radically as the Spirit works in and through us. This is true and it's a good point, but how radically? The "through" part is key. We have all been gifted in certain ways and God will work through those gifts. I can't think of any example of an adult's personality changing dramatically for any reason, and I don't see any reason to expect that or think it would ever happen. God isn't going to reinvent people into some perfect, warm-and-fuzzy "Christian superman" personality type. That's not to say we can't learn how to use what we've been given differently or have a whole new approach to things, but in general, we are who we are. That core of our personality is ingrained in who we are and isn't going to change. God will work through that, not around it.

people deserve what they tolerate

That's the Fred quote of the day. True in any area of life. And especially true of the masses in this country these days.

Friday, June 29, 2007

the most useless government body

Yeah, that's a heavily loaded title. And I'll stand by it. I've been meaning to get this post up for a while. So, continuing on my anti-government rampage that's lasted three posts now...

Partly to rant about an organization that seems to serve no purpose except inflict enormous hardship on millions and millions of people, and partly as my "I see your encounter with pointless rules and raise you by this much" to Brian's post about getting stopped by headwear nazis in the mall, allow me to recall a recent experience with my favorite publicly funded nuisance to hate: the (drumroll please) Transportation Security Administration. Now we all know that there is no shortage of wasted government resources, but I seriously don't think any bureaucracy is on the level of the TSA. I present the following example as just a small sample of the mounds of evidence.

So I'm boarding a flight recently, en route from Baltimore to Arizona, and, of course, I have to go through the security clearance thing. I get to the sign that says I have to get a little clear plastic bag and put all my liquids and gels in it. I feel my irritation level start to rise as I dig out my toiletries bag, empty my potentially dangerous chemicals into the clear bag, and send them through the detector. Much to my dismay, I notice the guy on the other side move my stuff back and forth on the belt a couple times and then grab it off. Great, they found my stash of radioactive poison, I sarcastically think to myself. The guy figures out it's mine -- maybe the look on my face gave it away -- and informs me I'm attempting to bring contraband items into the boarding area.

Slightly surprised, I stammer some and manage to ask for an explanation. He points out the "3-1-1" rule, and I don't remember what it all stands for but the 3 is for the maximum size, in ounces, of any allowable container of liquids -- not the actual amount of liquid in the container, mind you, or the total amount of liquid in all containers, but the maximum allowable size of any one container with liquid in it. And I know one of the 1's is for only one bag worth of stuff. In other words, a quart worth of liquid in 2.99-oz bottles is allowable -- and I'm convinced their little baggie would hold that much -- as long as your quart container in your travel bag is empty when it passes through the detector. Tell me, does that make a heck of a lot of sense or what? I feel more secure already.

Anyway, maybe I'm the dumb one, but such a stupid line of reasoning hasn't occurred to me yet as I'm confronted by the TSA guy. So I point out that the 4.25-oz toothpaste tube is mostly empty and the 4-oz mouthwash bottle is clearly missing enough mouthwash to be under the cutoff. It doesn't matter, he says, because it's the container size that is in the rule. I point out that that's ridiculous because there is very obviously no way any of my carry-on items in dispute are approaching the limit. He says it's the container size that counts. Shifting more and more into smartass mode by the second, I politely tell him I heard him the first two times. He says I can't bring it into the boarding area. I say, "Seriously, does that make a bit of sense to you?" or something to that effect. He says it's not allowed into the boarding area and is clearly becoming annoyed with the banter.

I realize that there's no hope at this point for a reasonable conclusion. I have seemingly encountered a human being so stupid it must be a marvel of genetic engineering. So, rather than risk further delay and a missed flight that could smash my whole travel schedule, I surrender my battle for liberation from the tyranny of absurd and ineffective rules and tell him his reward for enforcing stupid rules is free toothpaste and mouthwash compliments of yours truly. Thoroughly pissed off by this point and having already grabbed the rest of my stuff, I take my slightly lighter clear bag of possessions and wander to a chair to put my shoes back on, hoping that my friends won't find something else to hassle me about or get on to me for resisting idiocy. I don't remember when I met back up with my travel buddy after we went through different lines, but I figure he guessed I wasn't feeling great about something.

Looking back, I admit the guy was just doing his job by enforcing a useless rule, and he probably encounters so many folks like me every day he just stonewalls and doesn't bother arguing back. And I certainly could have carried myself a little better without sacrificing principled resistance. But it seems like every experience I have with the TSA is a bad one. And given the hatred it garners at airports and from anyone I've ever heard say anything about it, I can safely say it's right up there, if not just below the IRS, for gross amount of inconvenience and discomfort inflicted upon citizens. If my blog were more popular I'd open up a nomination period and then post a poll on the most useless, worthless, pointless government body that's not the IRS. But it'd likely be a waste of time; I've tried for a while and still can't think of any other contenders.

But let's look more at the rule that's the problem at hand. Think about it. Is that humorously pointless 3-1-1 rule actually improving safety at all? Any? If they think that will limit the total potency of chemicals, someone will come up with a more powerful solution. But it'd only take a little bit of fireworks and explosives to send a whole cabin of drones into a panic anyway, so they can't be thinking they're preventing someone from inciting an airborne riot. And there's no real limit on the amount of fluid when you consider several people could combine their stuff after they get past the checkpoint, so that purpose is easily thwarted. Does any thinking American -- admittedly I just greatly narrowed the field -- but really, does anyone out there with a working brain think this rule is doing a damn bit of good? Does anyone feel more safe because of it? Does anyone feel less safe because of the anger it produces and the potential for tempers flaring?

Worse yet, realize how this rule must have made it into the books in the first place. Some idiot somewhere in the dark recesses of bureaucracy came up with it, a group of idiots agreed on it and collectively forwarded it on, several idiot-filled levels of management bought into it, even the high-brass staff idiots of cabinet members approved it, and into the volumes of travel regulations it went. Through this whole process nobody on its government path -- and come on, there are boatloads of people in the way of anything happening in government -- mounted enough resistance to stop it. Such a stupid rule, yet with the backing or silent endorsement of so many people. I don't know if that's more sad or just flat-out mind-boggling.

Do people just get dumber in groups? Are we seeing some of the deeper evils of mob rule and groupthink being worked out here? The Despair slogan fits so perfectly for government: "None of us is as dumb as all of us."

vox quote of the day

This one's a two-fer:
The fact that we have prevented our teens and now our twenty-somethings from maturing with experience is a very good means of ensuring societal collapse. Whining about the world and turning to Mommy government to save you isn't a mark of youthful idealism, it's just a mark of being ignorant and infantile.
Veddy nice...managed to get in a slam on bad parenting and bad government back to back. There's only one Vox.

a good measuring stick for politicians

As have we all, I've been seeing and hearing more and more hype about the presidential race. I don't know for sure and often try to stay out of the loop on such things, but I thought the next big election was still a year and a half away. Did I miss something? Did it get moved up to next month? I mean, there must be a good reason we should all care about all these minute details if they're being tossed around so much. Right?

Anyway, some time back this topic came up at the lunch table. Such discussions are often either boring as all heck, because some folks in the lunch crowd are hard-core ideologues capable of twisting any situation into an opportunity to support their homies and trash the other side, or quite interesting, because others in the crowd are more inclined to carry on intelligent discussion and make points that are worth pondering. This one was somewhere in the middle I'd say. But at one point our floor's new hire pointed out that any real leader will show leadership before he gets in a position which forces him to (such as president), thus proving himself to be more than a loyal and reliable follower. So he'll tend to have a track record that indicates not only consistency but a willingness to take charge and carry the flag for stuff instead of just join the throng. This may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning because it shows that what one believes is nowhere near as important as one's willingness to stand up for those beliefs and take ownership of them whenever opportunity arises. And it is therefore a mark of any good leader.

So, using that as a measure of worthiness, let's look at the current slew of candidates. None of the Democratic candidates -- zero -- have shown that. All will talk about where they stand, but they can't say much about when they took that stance or how they were one of the leaders to stake out the position others later flocked to. For example, Edwards likes to claim "the poor" as his territory, but where's his walk to back up his talk? Heck, Barack doesn't even have a track record at all much less one of consistent leadership. Billary managed to butcher the only thing (health care) she's been asked to lead on. The rest stink as bad. I'll admit that Kucinich of all people gets some credit here, as he's not afraid to be unpopular and say what he thinks need to be said, but he also gets credit for being a total nutjob who is so out of touch with real issues and consequences he couldn't be trusted to run a 7-11 much less a developed country. None of the other Democrats have anything to speak of.

The Republicans as a whole are about the same. McCain has maybe shown some leadership here and there, but he's been all over the map ideologically and is far from a reliable conservative.* Fred Thompson is a joke when measured against this standard, having done nothing whatsoever of note during his political career and being better known for a brief side stint on a TV show than his years in office. Guys like Gingrich, Tommy Thompson, and Brownback have shown varying degrees of commitment to the party line but haven't distinguished themselves the way a gutsy leader would. At least Brownback has shown some defiance when it comes to moral issues and that alone is worth a bit, but we're talking about leadership and being proactive on issues, not just reacting to stuff like stem-cell research and right-to-life cases.

Others aren't quite as bad. Romney and Huckabee at least have some scattered accomplishments as governors, but to say Mitt's consistency isn't quite there would be to vastly understate his inability to take a solid stance for any length of time. And, well, Huck wrote a book about losing weight, but come on. We're talking about the presidency. We don't need a damn role model and encourager, we need a leader.

One might argue Giuliani has some cred here because of 9/11, but basically all he did was react and deal with a messy situation that was thrown at him. Seriously. Granted, he did a decent job of it, but that can't count for any proactive points. I'd look more at his willingness to call a spade a spade (his dissing of some NYC-funded modern art BS comes to mind) and be hard-nosed at times when dealing with opponents, but there's still not much to work with there. And as a leader, there's no telling where he'll land on too many issues after the political winds get done with him.

But two guys clearly stand out. And seriously, I didn't rig this whole thing just to put my favorite candidates on top of the heap. But I'm glad it does seem to show some consistency on my part in that issues I think are important also tend to be issues the guys I support are strong on. For one, Tom Tancredo has shown a very powerful willingness to get up in arms about what he thinks matters greatly and even isolate himself in unpopular positions for what he believes. He's of course solid on immigration issues and has led the charge there for some years, and he's shown consistency when dealing with other issues such as faith and economic matters. (I think he originally ran for office because he was disgusted with laws he had to deal with in the business world, but don't quote me on that.) And for the record, he was one of only three or so candidates at a Republican debate to raise his hand high when they were asked if they believed in creation. I don't remember the specifics of the question, but I know there were alarmingly few Republicans on the stage willing to claim that belief.

However, the one who is clearly leagues ahead of the others in this area is Ron Paul. He has been an unbreakable defender of the Constitution for many years and has shown a remarkable ability to think deep and address root issues as a politician,** which naturally has led to consistently rational and well-developed stances that demand consideration even from opposing views. Moreover, he's been waving the flag since he's been in office about the government's trampling of the Constitution on both well-known and ignored issues. He's even earned the nickname "Dr. No" for often being the lone opposing vote on bills he doesn't think are constitutional. He brings to mind the old "statesman" image of a guy willing to lay down anything for what he believed and what he thought had to be done. And yes, he was one of the ones besides Tancredo who raised his hand that night.

So...where does that leave me? This wouldn't be worth as much if I didn't admit my own bias by saying who I support. Tancredo and Paul are obviously the two who are up there, and believe it or not -- and some of you will love me for this one -- I'd rather see Paul as president for mainly the reasons outlined above. He's a reliable, proven leader who lets his views be known and sticks to them. Even if I don't agree with some of his stuff, such as his suggestion that we vacate Iraq post haste, I'm willing to concede such points in favor of his strengths. And he's great on immigration, which is Tancredo's pet issue. In other words, Paul covers Tancredo's bases and is easily the most fervent supporter of the Constitution to boot.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the populace in this country is far, far too dumb to think on Paul's level and give his ideas the consideration they deserve. And equally as dumb, people refuse to think outside the box and vote for who they think is best, choosing instead to "be relevant" and go with the flow. Am I the only conservative who finds it bizarre that those who would seemingly fear mob rule the most are some of its most ardent defenders when election time comes around? As I often say, truth is stranger than fiction.

* I'm not trying to take sides here (though it's probably obvious anyway) but someone running as a conservative and claiming to be a conservative should actually be one.
** That of course doesn't win over crowds in debates, but he gets huge props for not degrading himself to the level of the populace by going for an emotional response and instead sticking to the issues and questions at hand. One instance that comes to mind is his calling out of America's historically bad foreign policy in the Middle East and how that certainly contributed in some way to what we've seen recently, and Giuliani's crowd-pleasing response that, basically, America was wrongly attacked and needn't be questioned further. Paul demonstrates an ability to think about root causes and understand deeper factors in play, and Giuliani goes straight for the mindless "we're right, they're wrong, end of story" patriotism that knows not what it stands for or why but that it simply is right. Roland Martin, CNN's "religious" commentator who seems to be reliably liberal, correctly points out that it was Paul who actually addressed something worth talking about and debating.

hot deals to greenland

Not! Just got a brochure in the mail advertising great rates for Greenland vacations -- ever since subscribing to those National Geographic travel magazines I've received those advertisements frequently -- and I figured Greenland might just be close enough and untraversed enough to be a hidden diamond in the rough as a cheap adventure destination, so I opened it up. And saw that their two featured sweet deals are...minimum $2,675 for 5 days/4 nights in Kangerlussauq (wherever the heck that is) or $3,100 for 4/3 of glacier sightseeing. Um...okay, those don't fall into my "affordable" category so I won't waste my time going to the website. I did Egypt for three weeks and change for the low end of those prices. And that was with dropping $1,600 on the plane ticket alone. Granted, that was three years ago and the U.S. has dug itself into a crater in the world economy since then, but still...what the heck. Buncha fools...or maybe Greenland is instead a high-end playground for the wealthy and not the common adventure-seeker's undiscovered paradise.

In any case, I won't be buying my tickets anytime soon. Third world countries are still where the action is when it comes to good trips at good prices. More and more I think the only good way to see developed countries is to land a short-term job assignment in one of them...which I need to work on.

Monday, June 25, 2007

ongoing masters degree dilemma

My roommate just forwarded me a link to a job advertisement for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Sure, working for the government is all but off-limits, and it's in DC so no reasonable salary could possibly offset the stratospheric living costs up there, but it's nice to see nonetheless. They're looking for folks with plenty of experience, but it's basically an all-call with no specific details or requirements, and the low end of the salary range is $110k. In other words, they're looking to do what the NRC is doing and hire boatloads of experienced engineers by throwing huge stacks of cash at anyone who even makes eye contact. Apparently the government has hopped on board the "holy crap, the power grid in this country sucks and although we can't correct decades of neglect very fast we'd better get out there and grab our share of power engineering experience before everyone else jumps in and the labor market dries up" boat.

Of course, this barely affect me if at all because I'm not even in that ballpark in power systems experience. But, let's say I had an MSEE with a power engineering focus, a few years dealing with nuke plant interconnection agreements, and just for good measure a PE license as well. Then I could at least be a candidate for that stuff. And the available jobs should only keep going up.* Better yet, such a skill set could eventually be in high enough demand that I could become a mercenary and do short-term contract work. That MSEE is looking pretty damn worthwhile right about now.

* One of the presenters at the conference I just attended was a guy from one of the several regional grid operators around the country. I found his presentation the most interesting of any last week, so I talked to him for a while afterward. As an older guy, he seemed very concerned about the pending state of the power engineering industry when lots of folks start retiring and there aren't enough young guys around to pick up the load, and thinks anyone with nuclear and/or transmission experience will be on the good end of such a huge feeding frenzy in a few years that he'll basically be able to write his own ticket, as he put it. He's doing everything he can to get his kids to go into this field because he doesn't see an upper limit on its potential. I don't exactly share his level of optimism, as the rapid importation of enginerds from overseas will quell any major labor shortage (seriously, when have engineers ever caught a break recently?), but it is worth pondering what the future of the power industry will look like and perhaps positioning myself now to best take advantage of that later.

socal traffic II

Once again, on my trip back from San Diego just now, I hit unreasonable traffic delays. This time it was the classic gapers' delay. But there was nothing interesting to gape at, just a couple of cars on the side of the road and some blinking lights. Yet traffic came to a halt and was stop-and-go for a few miles, and of course started moving as normal right after the scene of an apparent crash. Overall people here do seem to be slightly more respectful than the losers I'm used to sharing the road with, so I must give credit where credit is due. Or maybe it's just that all the freeways have 4+ lanes on each side and so I'm able to keep the pedal on the floor and weave through traffic to get around the usual logjammers. (As you may have guessed, I've made frequent use of every lane available on every road I've been on for the last week and a half.) But nobody gets a free pass for grinding traffic to a halt just to look at some dumb crap that probably happens every day around here.

Overall, I can't describe how bad the traffic is around here. I could never live in this area just for that reason alone. In other places, even D.C. and Chicago, you kinda hope for a better-than-usual ride and are disappointed but not surprised when you hit traffic problems. But around here you don't even hold out hope. You get on any freeway without any doubt that you'll be parked before long, and it's just a matter of how many miles you'll go before you get bottlenecked somehow. It's unlike anything I've ever driven in.

This area of the country is very pretty and does have a lot going for it in the way of nearby stuff and activities and such, but it has so many drawbacks -- traffic, gross overpopulation, outrageous living expenses, proximity to the intelligence and decency void that is Hollywood, and on and on -- that living here one day isn't remotely an option and I can't see it ever becoming one.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

doin' socal

Okay, so the trip didn't get off to a great start with that nightmarish drive through L.A. But it's been smoother sailing since then. The conference was okay but the info presented was way over my head, with the depth and detail of experienced users. Since I've only dabbled with the software and we don't even have the base model set up where I work, I couldn't contribute much or take much away, except for the reinforcement of the obvious fact that my lovely employer needs to quit playing games and cough up the resources so I/we can actually do something productive. I'll continue my quixotic ongoing quest to bring them into the light when I get back. But I'd do as well banging my head into a brick wall repeatedly as trying to drive home basic engineering ideas and foresight to 157 levels of management and a bunch of non-engineers. Big companies suck. Anyway, enough work talk.

Last Sunday's trip to Sequoia was good, to say the least. I had intended to hit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon, but I had vastly underestimated the beauty and uniqueness of Sequoia and so it took up the whole day -- almost literally, as I was rushing to get off my last trail and out of the rapidly darkening and chilling forest with maybe a half-hour to spare before sunset. The trees there are like nothing else, much bigger at the base and much, much taller than anything else I'd ever seen. An opening walk through a forest for a couple of miles was well worth it; I'm glad I didn't get lazy like everyone else and just drive into the overlook rock and park. What a bunch of lazies. But hey, the trail was plenty quiet and undisturbed as a result so I can't complain. The overlook was great, as they all are, and was complete with an arduous climb (400 steps) to the top and frightening heights. It even had a "wall" on parts that was maybe knee-high and really served more as a tripping hazard than a protective barrier, and of course that and the fact that the trail was barely wide enough for two-way traffic greatly added to one's feeling of security when creeping close to the edge. Although I managed to hit more trails than I expected, a lot was left unexplored. So Sequoia and Kings Canyon are on the list of places needing an extended return visit.

One thing about Sequoia required a lot more driving than I expected. It's about 3.5 hours north of Brian's, about twice as far as I expected (California is bigger than it looks on maps) and surprisingly close to Yosemite and San Fran, so I was gone all day and didn't get back until well after midnight. It also takes a good couple of hours to drive through the park. The main road is unbelievably steep and windy -- rangers near the south entrance warned that the 17-mile climb usually takes 50-60 minutes and they weren't kidding -- such that the Pig Trail would not even register as mountainous in comparison. I'm a little surprised my tiny, crappy Chevy Cobalt was able to climb it with little obvious trouble. I probably spent as much time driving as walking that day.

But before I move on, it's necessary that I rant about idiots trying to drive motor homes or tow campers on such roads. What the bleep is wrong with those people? Doesn't it occur to folks that some roads just aren't made for large vehicles? A few times I had to almost run my right tires off the road to avoid colliding with another clown trying to drag his monstrosity of a trailer along the park's narrow, shoulderless main road. Presumably people would think ahead about this sort of thing if they're going to visit a park. But hey, it's not like we didn't already know there is an abundance of very stupid people in the world. The NPS needs to clamp down and ban those things from the parks altogether, or at least not let them go past the first campground in either direction. Hey, ever wonder why they're called CAMPgrounds? Anyway...

The conference week was cool even if the sessions were not as informative or interesting as I'd hoped. The host vendor provided all meals, including nice dinners at Laguna Beach, Medieval Times, and a Persian restaurant with belly dancing for entertainment. Much to my surprise, the dancing was actually quite cool and not nearly as risque as I'd earlier believed. Medieval Times was neat, though it would have been many times more awesome had I been a lot younger and not noticed that the show/tournament was obviously staged. There's one in Kissimmee, Florida, and if it was around back in the day when we used to visit and yet I never went there then some folks in my life have some explaining to do. But, thankfully for them, I think the chain is relatively new. The beach place was nice, though it drove home the fact that in California the setting sun is always accompanied by a meteoric drop in temperature. It was hot when we showed up for dinner but we were cold and struggling to keep from shivering by the time we left. (Some guys gave up early and retreated off the patio to some flame pits nearby.) I encountered this on the trails at Sequoia as well but chalked it up to the forest canopy keeping the temp down. Every western state I've been to so far suffers from this phenomenon, yet I haven't learned to prepare for it.

I managed to make it down to San Diego today, after more than two hours in traffic. The San Diego Maritime Museum is excellent and rivals the Smithsonian for depth on its topic. My friend and I spent the afternoon there and still didn't see a lot of it, and we didn't even make it onto one of the five ships before it closed. I'm sure I could spend at least another full day going through the exhibits on the ships. We also didn't visit the Midway (decommissioned aircraft carrier with planes and realistic mock-ups and stuff), which was the one floating museum in the harbor I really wanted to see. But we'll catch that some other time, and now I'm convinced the Maritime Museum is as good. San Diego seems like a nice place but so far it hasn't lived up to the hype as the gem of SoCal. It's worlds better than useless L.A., but that's not saying anything. Maybe I'll know more tomorrow, after a day at the zoo and possibilities like an Amtrak ride there and back, a Padres beatdown of the Red Sux, a Midway visit, hours in traffic jams, and maybe even some ocean cave spelunking by kayak. To be continued...?

UPDATE: Just got back from the model railroad museum and zoo in San Diego. The museum was very cool, with several realistic models of local train routes. As much as I enjoyed it today, I wish I could have gone about 20 years ago. I might still be into model train stuff as much now as I was then if I had seen such an amazing collection of stuff. The zoo was also great, of course, but it actually wasn't quite on the level that I expected. A lot of the animals were hiding in their mini-caves or weren't visible at all when we passed by, probably due to the heat. (Come to think of it, they were being more sociable during the evening hours.) And after paying $15 for what can only be called one of the most horrible lunches I've ever eaten (basically a three-week-old burger and rock-hard fries that must have been dug up from the stone age), I felt quite sick for a while and wasn't really up to par for most of the day. The facilities there are sparse too, as there was nowhere near enough to avoid constant lines -- which, by the way, sucks that much more when you're sick. There were some good exhibits, such as the koalas, pandas, polar bears, hippo, and a lot more. We also witnessed some amusing animal kingdom brawls, such as a mother hen chasing another duck one all over the pond for several minutes, apparently intent on not only scaring it away but driving home a lesson as well. Note to self to never stick my hand in the water close to a mother hen and her chicks. The crowds were heavy but surprisingly didn't cause much trouble for us. So, all in all, it was a day well spent. But it could have been a lot better had I not partaken of the exceedingly crappy food inside the gates, so I'm still a bit frustrated about that. Such a reputable institution should not be trying to kill its guests. Next time I shall employ some common sense beforehand and bring my own food.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

the unspeakable horrors of driving in los angeles

One thought is stuck in my mind today: road construction in western states sucks. I mean, sucks. Arizona was bad in the way they resorted to Rube Goldberg methods to route traffic in construction areas, and it seems California -- or at least L.A. -- is as bad. Must be a western thing. These dang hippies need to put the joints down long enough to rationally think through construction plans.

Anyway, so I'm driving up through L.A. on I-5 from the Santa Ana airport last night, and suddenly the traffic stops. Well, surprise, welcome to L.A., I think to myself. But it's as if there's an accident -- moving fine, then stops for no apparent reason. After several minutes I see a construction sign that says the left three lanes are closed. Excuse me? Three out of five lanes on a major urban interstate are closed at the same time for construction? Now that makes sense. Worse than that, they were closed for maybe a quarter mile at the most and there was no sign whatsoever of construction or reason for construction in that tiny stretch. Brought back memories of the "let's just rotate pylons around our freeways" approach to "construction" in Chicago.

So that sucked. But finally I'm through that and on my way. But wait...there's more. A few miles up the road splits three ways, and the ramp for 5 north is blocked. Not just a lane missing, but the whole thing is pyloned off. It is impossible to continue north on 5 at this point. What the crap? So I take my best guess and try 101 north, because it appears to be taking me more in the general direction (north) I want to go. Wrong choice. That freeway ends less than a mile after I get on, and 45 frustrating minutes later I make my way back onto 5. Problem is, I get back on south of the blocked ramp, so I very soon approach the same dilemma that got me lost the first time. Okay, this time I take I-10 west. West? I'm on the freakin' coast. How much further west can I go? Much to my chagrin, there is never a detour exit to get back on route 5. And I find that I wasn't so close to the coast either. Several miles later I finally get on 405 north and manage to run that all the way north of L.A. until it meets 5 again. So, after all that pain, I'm back on the road I should have been on all along. All because the road crew flat-out blockaded an on-ramp for the major north-south freeway in southern California. These people are idiots.

So, all in all, I took about three hours to go a distance that the rental car guys told me would be maybe an hour and a half max. Of course, they also said there'd be no traffic at all on the roads so late at night. I don't know how they define "no traffic," but it wouldn't be how I define it. Traffic was moving -- except in construction areas -- but the roads were clogged all night. Reminded me of Chicago again in that no matter what time you're on the interstate it's guaranteed to be busy.

Bottom line: avoid driving in L.A., or any area in a western state with road construction, at all costs. Buncha crap.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ozzie guillen

There has never, ever been a human quote machine as reliable as Ozzie Guillen. Not Abe Lincoln, not Bobby Knight, not Dubya, not anybody. Guillen is absolutely in a class of his own. It's as if every time the guy gets a chance to offer an opinion on something he snaps and flies into a profanity-laced tirade on whatever the subject of the hour is, and when he finally runs out of gas you're laughing hysterically, shocked that the guy actually said all that, wondering if you should really be laughing, or (usually) all three. Broadcasts of White Sux games should have him miked up all the time. Now that would be must-see TV...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

random question

If you're a professional athlete, why the heck would you ever get within 200 yards of a nightclub? Those things are trouble magnets rivaled only by the worst slums and ghettos. Just seeing the headlines gives the impression that dudes get injured or killed at them on a regular basis, and who knows what goes on that doesn't get reported or discovered. Can't these fools think of any better ways to entertain themselves, especially with all that money, than going to nightclubs? How often do we hear of players either getting wasted and starting something or somehow getting caught up in some part of the myraid of crazy bleep that goes down regularly at those places? Geez.

I guess they're not paid athletes because of their superior reasoning skills and maturity levels. As some guy recently said (rightly) about Robert Horry, you can take the player out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the player. No matter how successful a guy gets, he'll senselessly return to his roots until someone helps him by teaching him something different. Sad but true -- for all of us really, but it's especially obvious in the pro sports ranks.

bike trip

Just got back from riding 135 miles over three days, from the Pittsburgh area to Cumberland, MD, with nine others. Great time! Overall this trail was much better than the C&O Canal trail, albeit a bit harder, because it offered better views and the trail was in considerably better condition. (This one was a much newer trail too, though, so no surprise there.) It had more hills, and some tough ones, but it also had about 24 miles of good trip-ending downhill work that was almost steep enough to coast down. It also had plenty of great viaducts and some tunnels too, including one that required riders to get creative to get around a couple of rather annoying barricades that the trail alliance had put up. (Presumably they had been put up for safety reasons of some sort, and it was easy to see why upon entering the tunnel, but when the other option is pedaling an extra mile and a half when you've already pedaled 30+ miles of mostly gradual uphill stuff that day, safety takes a back seat to route length.) We stayed in a great hotel the first night on the trail and a cool B&B the second night, and we had good stopping places for meals too, so the accommodations were awesome as well. And heck, the weather even cooperated for the most part. How often does that happen? Overall a very good trip that will likely be repeated with an even bigger crowd next year.

Pics will likely come, but after I get a picture CD. I didn't take but a few this time, mainly because I was often too worn out during breaks to mess with the camera and I knew I could rely on our unofficial tour guide to handle that end of things anyway. But I've already seen some good ones so I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the CD.

Interesting side note: During the trip, someone in the group pointed out to the organizer that he puts together enough group adventures that he ought to start his own non-profit company whose purpose is putting together outdoor excursion packages for clients to keep them healthy and active, and then come tax time he could write off all of his research expeditions, gear purchases, organizing time, trip expenses, and all that stuff. That's an incredibly brilliant idea that could totally work. The guy's an idiot if he doesn't do it. Heck, I'll start the company and employ him if I can get a slice of the write-offs.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

i am such an idiot

Was talking to a guy at work today, and for the first time since high school someone has managed to get me to think seriously about graduate school and even agree to look into it further. Something to push well into the background for at least another couple of months, but it could actually be workable. A program at Drexel (very good engineering school, btw) offers a mostly online MSEE with a focus in power engineering and some solid, shockingly-useful-in-the-real-world courses to back it up. This guy is trying to round up a crew at work to go in together and do study groups and stuff, which would make it about 3452374x more worth the trouble. And it'd be free as long as we didn't flunk out. (I already tempted fate once and slipped by; do I want to test it a second time?) So, should I mortgage the next 2+ years of my life pursuing continuing education, I could find myself 30 years old with a graduate degree, a PE license, and a few years of nuclear design experience, and no reason to not want to travel. In a world that craves more nuke plants, that just might be a sweet position to be in. Dunno if it's worth flushing more years down the tube, but the potential payoff is there in a big way methinks.

I guess that's just more proof that I am indeed getting dumber as I get older.

more pics to come

Just swapped picture CD's with Mark. He's got a lot more than I do, and I haven't looked through them all but he showed me some highlights and he has some good ones that I don't have. One that comes to mind is a straight-down shot from the Ribbon Falls ledge that shows the width and has his feet for perspective...very nice. We're idiots for pulling that off, but it was still well worth it. Wisdom is always best gained through experience -- as long as it doesn't linger long enough to prevent further experiences of a similar nature.

Will post some of his pics at a later time. This week has been insane due to my needing to put in 40 hrs in about 3.5 days before heading west, but slightly closer than Arizona, for a bike trip.