Monday, December 29, 2008

Youth is wasted on the young, exhibit 42

BUMPED because this post really should have been delayed and didn't get the fair shake it deserved.

This is the apartment where J-Mom and I lived during most of our stay on Okinawa. It was a four-story apartment directly on the beach. If you biggify the picture you'll see a path leading from the beach to the apartment's parking lot. We fell asleep to the sounds of waves crashing.

This is where the apartment complex was in relation to where I worked. It took me less than five minutes to drive. I could almost walk it in that time as well.

I cannot even describe how awesome this was. There was a lot of freedom to this, but all we saw were the negatives of living off base. The apartment was tiny. Our washing machine and dryer barely fit one full set of BDUs. The tub wasn't big enough to take a bath in. We only received Japanese TV. There was only one air conditioner and it was really only strong enough to cool down one room.

So we moved onto Kadena Air Base when housing became available. It was nice to have the conveniences that being on base offered. But those intangibles become a lot more important with age.

I'd go back in a second if I could.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Yes, I've owned the ornaments long before I had children

Captain, we appear to be picking up strange transmissions ... something about trusting your instincts and some kind of heavy breathing.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Christmas 2009: The year when presents and fortuitous photography collide.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


You know, Santa's like the ultimate dine and dasher. At least he leaves a great tip.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Recovery seems to be coming along quite well. I seem to recall hardly being able to get out of bed last time. This time around, I can't seem to keep myself in bed. The pain in my lower back is more intense, but I don't have any aches or pains anywhere else. I also don't feel as drugged as last time even though I am on the same medication.

I think this bodes well in some regards. It feels like my body knows what's going on and hopefully that's a good thing. However, I think I also might feel like I can do more than I really should be doing. In fact, I probably need to be laying down right now.

So, I'll write more later.

Friday, December 19, 2008

8 p.m. and all is well

Made it through surgery just fine. I think I was in recovery longer this time, but it went better. I didn't have any nausea when I woke up. So that's good.

My back is still very sore. I expect that to last several days, but I'm looking forward to getting back on my feet again.

The good thing is that I've got my computer issues fixed and am now exporting high def video and digital audio from my living room computer, so I'm able to watch DVDs and high def video in high quality video and audio. The new Mummy and Hellboy II came in from Netflix today, so I'm looking forward to watching them on the big screen.

Have a good weekend everyone and thanks for the well wishes from all.

Right about now ...

Some dude is cutting on my back.

I should be waking up from anesthesia in about an hour or so.

I'll let you know later if everything went well.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Doing lines

I have a difficult time dealing with large groups of people in public. I don't dislike people, but crowds make me uneasy. I think it has something to do with freedom of movement. I am not a very patient person by nature and crowds just really add time to anything you're doing anywhere.

That said, I don't have a problem waiting for something when I've made the decision that it's something I need to do. If I need to buy some stuff at Wallyworld, I know I have to wait in line. It's just something we all have to put up with. But what gets me is when someone in the line treats the experience as though they are the only person who matters or if the person responsible for moving the line along (cashier, postal clerk, etc.) is inefficient.

For example:
* The person at Walmart who not only has a shopping cart full of stuff, but has to break down the items into three or four different groups and pay for each separately. What the hell is up with that? This person also seems to have to use three or four different methods of payment. You see them dragging out cash, chage, food stamps, checks and credit cards. It's hard enough to deal with this during the non-holiday season, but there should be some kind of rule against this behavior close to Christmas.

Do you remember being taught about citizen's arrest in Civics class? Perhaps we could have something similar in supermarket checkout lines. Citizen's oversight. We could wear berets like Curtis Sliwa's Guardian Angels. "How do you plan on paying for that stuff, ma'am?" "You are just using one method of payment, correct?"

* Worse than supermarkets is the post office. It takes some time to process someone who's mailing a package. That's a given. During the holiday season, there's a rush to get your stuff mailed. What is irksome is the fact that no one seems to be ready to ship their stuff when they get to the counter.

It always seems like someone waits in that 20-to-30-minute line to ask what they need to mail this package. The postal clerk then spends several minutes going through all the different delivery options and the associated rate. Then the clerk provides the person with the needed items to send their package and has them step aside to finish putting their packages together. The clerk handles other customers, but when the person finishes readying their package, the clerk allows them to come back to the counter.

Now, I've been on that side the post office issue. I've had packages to send and have had to get some advice. I understand that sometimes you need to do that. The problem is that during the holiday season, the post office workload goes up by an order of 5 to 10. It's cool if you need help, we all do sometimes, but acting as though you're the only person in that line when there's 20 more people there than normal is just wrong.

What has added to this anti-crowd feeling is the internet. Now that so many things can be done online, it makes trips to the store even more bothersome. Yesterday I waited in line to buy some forever stamps (our post office here on base does not have a stamp machine) and kept having to remind myself that it was too late to order them online.

I'm sure this whining sounds petulant to folks of my parent's generation or older. I think those from my generation or younger just have different customer service expectations and experiences than did our parents. I'm sure that my kids will too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Burn, baby, burn. Disc inferno

As many of you know, I had back surgery in September. It went well. I was feeling fine. Up until about a week ago. Then the back pain returned with a vengeance.

This image to the right is my MRI from August. That circled area is where my discs were poking out. The top one was the problematic one.

Yesterday I went to see my doctor and he sent me out for another MRI and had me come back in afterward to go over the results.

While I don't have the actual images from the latest MRI, this quick shop illustrates what I saw yesterday.

Apparently, after cutting off a bit of a disc, there is a slight chance (like 7 or 8 percent of patients who undergo these surgeries) that the disc will shift and re-herniate. I guess I'm now part of the slight chance statistic.

So, I'm going in Friday to get it taken care of and will be laid up most of the holiday season. I was going to wait until next year, but we've met our annual insurance caps, so the surgery will be free as long as I have it done this year.

The upside is that the chance of recurrence after this surgery is phenomenally low. Hopefully I'm not phenomenal.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

All I wanted was a Pepsi

You ever revisit a movie that you loved when you were young expecting not to like it now, but are shocked at how much you love it? Yeah, that happened to me the other day. I watched Repo Man for the first time in at least 10 years, probably more like 15. So long that while I remember the basic plot, I'd forgotten a lot of the movie's nuances.

What I love about this movie is that while it's fictional and satirical, it still manages to capture some of the angst and attitude of the generation that preceded mine. That's probably because it's the same angst of youth that my generation faced and the same that every late teen/early 20s youth faces. It's just captured against the backdrop of different cultural influences.

Thanks to Netflix, I've been picking up some of the movies I loved from my youth. This flick found it's way to the top of my queue because they recently announced there would be a Repo Man sequel: Repo Chick. Alex Cox, the original director, is on board and David Lynch is producing. That gives me some hope that it will be a good movie, but I do worry that the soundtrack will be lame. We'll find out.

Below is one of my favorite scenes from Repo Man (LANGUAGE ALERT):

Monday, December 15, 2008

Studiously avoiding anything that I could comment upon

Ugh. It's hard enough trying to think of something from my life to comment upon. There's no way I'm turning pundit on any of the recent national events. There are far better out there than I.

On the home front, the most exciting thing that's happened is that the boy and I went and got haircuts. Woo. I know. Living fast, living large.

But, after the semester I just had, it's nice that things aren't too hectic. Add to that the fact that my back has gone out again and it's quite a good thing that there aren't more things to do.

Hopefully you all are doing as much or as little as you'd like.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fixed until fixed

Goodness it was more difficult than I thought it'd be.

But eventually I was watching Prince of Darkness via Netflix on the TV. Still no audio from the HDMI, but I'm just running audio from my regular 3.5mm jack and an RCA adapter. Still sounds good.

Fix it until it breaks

Man, I have issues. This is not news to J-Mom or some of my other readers, but for the sake of posting something today, I'll elaborate.

I bought a 25' HDMI cable to connect my computer to my TV. HDMI is supposed to carry both video and audio signal, but when I connected it to my TV there was no audio. I messed around with all the settings as best as I could, but still had no joy. So, I began to practice my Google-Fu and learned that my video card -- a Diamond Radeon HD 3650 -- is known for having issues sending audio via the HDMI connection. I found many different solutions and attempted as many as I realistically could. Still nothing.

Was that good enough for me? Of course not. I kept messing around with the video card drivers until I crashed my freaking computer. Now, not only do I have to fix a video card issue, I have to fix an entire freaking video problem because I can't even get to the login screen. The computer boots up, I just can't see it because I screwed up the video drivers. In safe mode, things work.

The fix is to reinstall the drivers for the built-in video, disable the ATI card, remove all the traces of ATI drivers and software and start over.

Why I couldn't accept that I was just going to have to run audio via the standard output jack is beyond me. This is a fatal flaw in my character though. I do this kind of stuff all the time. If it won't work the way it's supposed to, I will fix it until it doesn't work at all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

20 Favorite actresses changeup

Pics are hard to do at work, so I just did a list.

Simple enough subject matter, right? I do a lot of these memes where they’re music-related, but sometimes don’t touch the actor/actress ones. What’s interesting about this list is how hard I had to think about it. I never realized just how much of a boy’s club movie fan I am. Most movies I like kind of throw women in as an afterthought. It’s interesting how some of them shine through the window dressing roles they were given.

I’m also surprised how contemporary a lot of my list is.

My list isn’t in any order other than it’s the order in which I thought of them.

1. Kristin Chenoweth – She tops my list because I was just talking about Pushing Daisies with a friend. Daisies is the first show I’ve come to recognize Chenoweth, but she’s already become a favorite. Her bubbly effervescence is matched only by her screen appeal.

2. Amanda Tapping – I was reluctant to get into the TV Stargate series. Mainly because it replaced my then-favorite show Farscape. But I gave it a chance and came to greatly enjoy it. Now on Sanctuary, Tapping shows a versatility and confidence you didn’t see in Stargate. Wonderful actress.

3. Geena Davis – Sure. There are some really great movies Gena Davis has been in – A League of Their Own, Thelma and Louise Tootsie – but you know why I really love Geena Davis? Because of Earth Girls are Easy. She was willing to do that movie. She also did The Fly and Transylvania 6-5000. She’s awesome.

4. Goldie Hawn –Movies with Goldie Hawn are ubiquitous with my youth. I associate her with warm, soft-focus memories of watching HBO at home or on vacation. All good memories. From Private Benjamin to Overboard – she’s a mainstay of my childhood and I enjoy her still today.

5. Kate Winslet – I did not like Titanic, but there was something about Winslet I found interesting. Years later, in The Life of David Gale, I found it. She’s compelling, forthright and honest. A joy to watch on screen.

6. Joan Chen – I am a huge fan of Joan Chen even though I am unfamiliar with the vast amount of her work. I first noticed her in one of my top-10 favorite movies, The Hunted. Not the doggone Tommy Lee Jones schlock, but the super-awesome 1995 Samurai vs. Ninja vs. Highlander Christopher Lambert movie. While resting in B-movie ideas, this film transcends its mold and part of that is due to Chen’s haunting performance (yeah, she shows up as a ghost/memory, but that’s not what I mean). I also loved her work in Twin Peaks.

7. Jennifer Connelly – I don’t know what red-blooded American boy in my age group didn’t have the hots for her when Labyrinth came out. While I haven’t enjoyed all of her films, I’ve yet to see her turn a bad performance. Again, there’s an honesty in her portrayal that’s visceral.

8. Catherine O’Hara – She shows up in so many of my favorite movies. I first fell in love with her watching Second City TV reruns and then came Beetle Juice. After that I’ve watched for her in all her outings. Most importantly, she’s a Christopher Guest regular and that really says it all.

9. Parker Posey – Another Christopher Guest regular, I first became aware of Posey in her ’95 film Party Girl, though I later learned she was in both Dazed and Confused and Coneheads – I probably just wrote her off as “random actress” in those films. The fact that she can blend in so well to her surroundings is perhaps one of her greatest strengths. In Partly Girl, her personality doesn’t overwhelm the film even though the movie is about her, yet she’s not overwhelmed by the chaos around her. Her comedy turns in Guest’s movies are always a treat.

10. Laura Kightlinger – It’s nice to see how busy she’s been when most people think she dropped off the map after her run on Saturday Night Live. While generally overlooked during her one-year run on the show, I think she was one of the best things about the season that year. Aside from Norm MacDonald, most of the other popular actors were busy doing side projects that they were obviously more interested in. I enjoy her in everything in which I see her.

11. Meryl Streep – Well. Can’t leave her off, can I? It’s almost cliché to have her on your list, but, damn she’s a good actress. In the face of criticism that she just a critic’s darling, she went and did movies like She-Devil and Death Becomes Her which were perhaps less critic’s choice kind of movies but were still damn good. Anyway, I can’t say anything about the woman that’s not already been said. She becomes her role while distinctly remaining herself. She’s uncanny.

12. Jennifer Coolidge – Another Christopher Guest alumn, she’s here because I think she’s one of the funniest people on the planet. In many of her movies she plays the kind of roles that many people over-play. They put too much into it. Coolridge had the ability to pull that energy back in while letting everyone know that it’s right there under the surface, ready to burst out when necessary – which isn’t too often, honestly.

13. Maria Bello – I am a huge fan of William H. Macy. I watch the Cooler because of him. I watched it a second time because of Maria Bello. I haven’t seen her touch that level again (though there are a lot of her movies I have yet to see), but knowing she’s capable of this work is enough to make me look for a film when she’s in it.

14. Monica Bellucci – She is not afraid to bare her soul on film. Yes, she’s had her share of bad films, but I think any film that sacrifices substance for style is going to hurt a good actor. Her role in Tears of the Sun is enough to earn her a spot here.

15. Naomi Watts – Yes, she’s a good actress. But more than that, she does movies I like. Tank Girl, Strange Planet, Mulholland Dr., The Ring, 21 Grams, I Heart Huckabees, there’s a lot to like here.

16. Kelly Lynch – For the longest time I thought Kelly Lynch and David Lynch were related. I think I was in my 20s before I realized they weren’t. There’s something about her presence in Road House that makes it, I don’t know, more legitimate or something. It’s every bit a part of the genre in which it resides, but it’s better than it too. Lynch has a lot to do with that. Then we’ve got Drug Store Cowboy ... ‘nuff said.

17. Gretchen Mol – She quickly became a favorite after watching her stunning performance in The Notorious Bettie Page, but she has quite an impressive resume leading up to that role. However, my favorite role of hers is her current run in the U.S. version of Life on Mars.

18. Lili Taylor – In her early career, I think Taylor owned the whole “manic, perhaps crazy girl” roles. She was so good at them, is so good at them. I Shot Andy Warhol was a success because of her. Yet there’s a great humor and a great sadness to Taylor. Both of these aspects present themselves in her performances. They lend a depth of character that many actors would kill for.

19. Maggie Gyllenhal – I really like her. I don’t know if she’s any more talented that a lot of other actresses out there, but there’s something about her I just like. Admittedly, I am more fond of her early work – Cecil B. Demented, Donnie Darko – but she’s still likeable.

20. Uma Thurman – Kill Bill. Really, what else needs to be said?

Inspired by Sheila and others.

The path to getting well hung

This is an addendum to yesterday's quick post. And, before I get too far into this, having used the word hung, it makes me wonder, what happened to using hung or pled? It seems that on the news I'm always hearing hanged or pleaded. I understand that both are correct, but you never hear that someone pled a certain way or that someone was hung. Interesting.

Anyway ...

I mounted our new TV to the wall the day we received it. It wasn't as difficult as some have made it out to be, but I had problems with aspects of the process I didn't think I would.

My first mistake was mounting the bracket to the wall before the TV was delivered. I just kind of eyeballed the distance vertically and went with it. Turns out, I really should have waited and measured because I mounted the bracket about four inches too high. Of course, you don't figure this out until after you've put the 75-pound TV on the wall, which, at the same time, you realize is also hanging crooked.

Then came the fun of trying to get the TV off of the wall bracket. You see, the bracket mounts to the wall and there are brackets you mount to the back of the TV that hook onto the wall bracket. It's not terribly difficult, unless you're me. J-mom and I tried several times to get the TV back down. I strained to lift the TV straight up. I strained and strained. It just wasn't coming. I sure didn't remember the TV being this heavy when we were lifting it up in the first place. J-mom says to me, "Are you pulling it out and then lifting up?" I was like, "Yeah, whatever."

We tried lifting a few more times and then I just gave up. I was like, "There's no way. I need some more help." But, s-l-o-w-l-y, realization sank in and I understood what J-mom was trying to say. "Ooooh. Pull the TV bottom out and then lift up." So we tried again and pulled the TV bottom out slightly and lifted the TV right off the wall bracket. Sure seemed a lot lighter that time after trying to pick up the wall. See, those brackets on the back of the TV have hooks at the top to keep the TV on the wall bracket and have an area at the bottom that keep the TV from being bumped out of the bracket. Duh.

After getting the TV off the wall, I moved the bracket four inches down (thankfully the TV covers the old holes) and verified that the bracket was plumb. It is, it was, it is. We lifted the TV back up. It was crooked. We took it back down. I adjusted the brackets on the TV. We lifted it back up. It was still crooked. We repeated this process about five or six times before I realized the mistake I was making in adjusting the brackets on the TV. I finally got it right and we finally got it on the wall. Ugh.

The moral of the story ... maybe it's worth it to pay for the home set-up charge.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Welcome to the 21st Century Mr. Cullen

I finally wore my wife down enough to get a flat-screen TV. It came in yesterday and I am a happy camper. The shiny, new LCD replaces a more-than-10-year-old 32" CRT. That big monster was a good TV and probably has a couple of more years left in it, but it was time to embrace current technology.

Now we'll have to see about getting HD programming ... :)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Galaxy weekend post

Thanks to Michele for making me think of this, although it was a different song. The Youtube version of that song was really bad though so I decided to post this because it's both a rocking song and I used to own a Custom 500 which is the same car as a Galaxy. It was my first car (that worked longer than a couple of weeks that is). Anyway, watch the video, it's a great song.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Why I voted “Yes”

It is not in my conservative nature to support a union, yet this morning I found myself enthusiastically checking the “Yes” box on a ballot affirming my desire to be represented by a union.

The simplest answer as to why I checked “Yes” is that my being employed in a bargaining unit position is the only thing keeping me from being converted to a new, horrible personnel system.

The National Security Personnel System is a new “civilian management system” that is in the process of replacing the current Government Service system. NSPS was designed because many of those who manage the DoD felt/feel that the GS system is not flexible enough. This new system was created to reward performance. Unfortunately, this is a bill of goods.

The reality is that NSPS does not reward any employee other than those most recently hired. One of the major complaints about the GS system is that it rewards longevity rather than productivity. While this is a legitimate gripe, NSPS goes a full 180 and practically punishes longevity.

For those who do not have any familiarity with the GS system, let me explain. There are 15 GS levels, each higher level being a higher level of pay. Within each of those levels are 10 steps, each step being a higher step of pay. When you are hired at a level, you progress through steps at certain intervals of time. You earn your first four steps each year. Subsequent steps take more time. But, as you can see, the more time you serve, the more money you make. And, you can put in for jobs at higher levels and earn promotions – more pay – that way.

Under NSPS, there are three pay bands with salary ranges. No levels, steps or otherwise. Under the system, everyone is going to be in pay band two or three. Those hired at level one are basically considered in a training position until they reach their full performance level and will be promoted up to band two. Since there are only three bands, you only get a promotion when you move from one band to another. So, while under the GS system you get a promotion every time you move up a GS level, under NSPS, the most promotions you can ever hope to get are two and most current GS employees will only see one because they’ll be converted to pay band two. The most a promotion from one pay band to another can be, by law, is 20 percent, however, most services do not authorize this full amount. Most employees going from a pay band level two to three only see a 10-percent increase in annual salary. That’s a one-time deal.

Further, under the GS system you have your step increases, but you also have annual cost-of-living raises. Under NSPS you have neither of these. Every year, there is a “pay pool.” You and a certain amount of your fellow employees are in a pool. This pool has a certain amount of money in it. Your performance is rated at the end of the year and your score on your performance rating determines what percentage of the pay pool you will get. You will see this money as either a one-time bonus or in an annual raise. The problem here is that this annual raise, even for above-average performers, has been, on average, less than the annual increases for GS employees. Also, there is no set standard for how the money has to be distributed to employees under NSPS. A bonus counts a lot differently in both taxes and in retirement than does an annual raise.

Where NSPS does offer a clear advantage over the GS system is in the hiring of new employees. When hiring someone who has never worked for the government before, there are no restrictions on how much salary you can offer that person except within the limits of the pay band and the budget for that position. So, let’s say an organization really needs engineers. They have a position available and their budget is from $45,000 - $75,000 a year. They can competitively offer new hires up to that $75,000 a year rate. Now, that means that employee is pretty much locked into that pay rate for the rest of the time he holds that position, but for getting someone into that position, it’s a good carrot.

The downside to the above scenario is when it comes to government employees looking for new jobs. When a current government employee within the either the GS or NSPS system moves into a new NSPS job, and it’s considered to be within the same pay band, it’s not a promotion but more like a lateral transfer. The greatest increase in pay in such a transfer can only be five percent. That’s a pretty sorry excuse for a job system that has prided itself in offering employees the ability to be upwardly mobile and have the ability to move around the world.

But the “not said yet everyone knows why” reason NSPS was introduced was because many felt (and feel) that it is too difficult to discipline and fire employees within the GS system. This is complete and utter crap. The problem is that supervisors didn’t take the time to do the correct amount of counseling and documentation to properly discipline or fire those employees. So they gripe. And they have been presented with a new system that will take up so much more of their time that they’ll have little time to do anything but personnel management. For proponents of NSPS, you got what you deserve.

So, I voted “Yes” to be covered by the union because if I’m part of the bargaining unit, they can’t convert me to NSPS – at least not yet. They’re still working on getting us to convert. I’m not happy about that, and I’m fighting it as best I can, but if the time comes, I’ll take it like everyone else in my predicament has. Swallow the bitter pill because in the end we still have it pretty good.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


One last paper to complete and this semester is dead! Not finished. DEAD.

This semester, more than any other in my academic career, has beaten me down. It’s not just that there were many aspects of it that have been demanding – I can handle demanding – but so much of the work has been trite. I can understand having things conform to a set standard, but it’s kind of hard to get your specific project to align to some kind of established orthodoxy when your organization doesn’t publish much of its methodology. I have plenty of published actions and results, but no underlying philosophy to tie it to. That’s very difficult.

I’m not sure any of that made much sense. Unfortunately I am being a bit vague out of necessity. It is suffice to say that I am attempting to complete a job-related project for my class and my professor keeps ripping up my stuff because my literature review doesn’t sufficiently incorporate research from my organization.

This sounds excessively whiney, I know, but I’m just glad it’s over. Until next semester anyway.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Go Go Phone

Hey, that Norm MacDonald/Steve Buscemi Go Phone gingerbread man commercial is back on! I love this thing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Easy post

There Are 0 Gaps in Your Knowledge

Where you have gaps in your knowledge:

No Gaps!

Where you don't have gaps in your knowledge:








Monday, December 01, 2008


We made it home Saturday night.

We are safe and sound.

We are now dogless (we just aren't good dog people, it turns out).

We are all sick.

Work sucks when it feels like there's a cloud of fog in your head.