Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who Will I Vote For?

It's coming time to read between the lines ...

PRESS RELEASE
Date Released: Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Source: McCain for President - Comments

ARLINGTON, VA -- U.S. Senator John McCain issued the following statement on the 50th anniversary of NASA:

"Fifty years ago today, President Eisenhower signed the bill that launched the United States on the magnificent journey to space discovery and exploration. In doing so, he sent a powerful message to the world that the United States would harness its creativity, inventiveness and drive to lead all others into this most distant frontier. Since that time, Presidents of both parties have remained steadfast in guaranteeing U.S. leadership in space. Under current plans, the United States will retire the space shuttle in 2010 after its final mission to the International Space Station, and thus lose the capability to send on our own, an American, to space. While my opponent seems content to retreat from American exploration of space for a decade, I am not. As President, I will act to ensure our astronauts will continue to explore space, and not just by hitching a ride with someone else. I intend to make sure that the NASA Constellation program ha s the resources it needs so that we can begin a new era of human space exploration. A country that sent a man to the moon should expect no less."



Obama says he'll support NASA programs
By Eun Kyung Kim • Gannett News Service • July 29, 2008

WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged his commitment to NASA in a statement his campaign released Tuesday congratulating the agency on its 50th anniversary.
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The declaration may surprise many NASA supporters. Earlier in his campaign, the Illinois senator said he would rather see money budgeted for Constellation, the program to replace the aging shuttles, go instead toward education reform.

Yet, Obama said he would support the agency if elected this fall.

“I believe we need to revitalize NASA’s mission to maintain America’s leadership, and recommit our nation to the space program, and as President I intend to do just that,” he said.

Obama took aim at the current Washington establishment — and the Bush administration — for failing to give NASA the sufficient support it has needed.

“In recent years, Washington has failed to give NASA a robust, balanced and adequately funded mission,” he said. “Though the good people of NASA who work day in and day out on new frontiers are doing amazing things, Americans are no longer inspired as they once were. That’s a failure of leadership.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, an Orlando Democrat, has said he has repeatedly spoken with Obama over the last few months about NASA’s importance to the nation, and to Florida, in particular. Obama’s statement, however, was the first suggestion of a change in his campaign’s space policy.

A Little Earthquake

Work a few minutes ago was interrupted by a little earthquake. The floor seemed to rumble like a bomb had gone off, then my whole floor (I'm on floor 5 of 8 in my building) started moving back and forth a few centimeters. It was pretty cool. Popping my head out of my cubicle, some people were headed for the stairs to leave, but a little shaking isn't going to get me out of here -- I've got too much work to do to be chased off by a little earthquake.

USGS.gov reports the following:

Magnitude 5.6
Date-Time

* Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 18:42:15 UTC
* Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 11:42:15 AM at epicenter

Location 33.959°N, 117.752°W
Depth 12.3 km (7.6 miles)
Region GREATER LOS ANGELES AREA, CALIFORNIA
Distances

* 3 km (2 miles) SW (235°) from Chino Hills, CA
* 8 km (5 miles) SE (127°) from Diamond Bar, CA
* 9 km (5 miles) NNE (23°) from Yorba Linda, CA
* 11 km (7 miles) S (178°) from Pomona, CA
* 47 km (29 miles) ESE (103°) from Los Angeles Civic Center, CA

Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 0.3 km (0.2 miles); depth +/- 1.3 km (0.8 miles)
Parameters Nph=144, Dmin=8 km, Rmss=0.42 sec, Gp= 18°,
M-type=local magnitude (ML), Version=E
Source

* California Integrated Seismic Net:
* USGS Caltech CGS UCB UCSD UNR

Event ID ci14383980

A whole slew of aftershocks followed a few minutes later. Good to get some of that tension out ... ;)

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Moment of Unexpected Gratitude

My three-year-old youngest son is still learning to speak clearly. Tonight I had my entire family in the car and we were driving down the road parallel to a train track. My youngest son absolutely loves trains, and he always yells excitedly, "Chain Twak! Chain Twak!"

Tonight, I corrected him and said, "It's ter-ain ter-ack, ter-ain ter-ack." I hoped that enunciating the "t" and "r" sounds together would help him pronounce it clearly. Much to my surprise, he attempted it a few times, then finally spoke it correctly! "Train track!"

Then, he surprised me even more and he said, "That's much better, Daddy. Thank you!" I was floored, pleased, proud, and filled with a whole pile of positive emotions. What a great kid! Imagine, a 3-year-old that is polite! I'm sure it won't last, but I'll take it while I can!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Katsaridaphobia

Say what? I was reading an article about the best man vs. animal movies and strangely enough the movie Arachnophobia came up. Not really being a movie about a fight against an animal, it still scared the bejeebers out of me, and I had to watch the whole movie in fast forward the first time I watched it so I would know where the evil parts were. Nevertheless, I had a weird thought -- arachnophobia being the fear of spiders, what is the fear of cockroaches? Best guess from the internet: Katsaridaphobia. How exactly do you pronounce that?! That'd be a pretty creepy (no pun intended) movie, too, don't you think? But the title doesn't exactly roll off the tongue ...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Man Shoots Lawnmower

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has felt like doing that! And really, why is this illegal? It's his lawnmower, and his house, and his gun is probably legal ...



Man shoots his lawn mower, police say

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) -- A 56-year-old Milwaukee man is accused of shooting his lawn mower because it wouldn't start.

Keith Walendowski told police he felt he had a right to shoot his mower.

Keith Walendowski has been charged with felony possession of a short-barreled shotgun or rifle and misdemeanor disorderly conduct while armed.

According to the criminal complaint, Walendowski says he was angry because his Lawn Boy wouldn't start Wednesday morning.

He told police: "I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want."

A woman who lives at Walendowski's house reported the incident. She says he was intoxicated.

Walendowski could face up to an $11,000 fine and six years and three months in prison if convicted.

A call to Walendowski's home went unanswered.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pioneer Day

It's Pioneer Day! July 24th. I grew up in Utah where the 24th of July is a state holiday. Throughout the state, the holiday is celebrated in ways very similar to that of Independence Day, with fireworks, parades, and barbecues. It always seemed to me like "The 4th of July, Part 2". It was great!

Now, however, I live in southern California. While there is a 24th of July (get it?), it isn't Pioneer Day around here. When we first moved here, we were pleased that the church would still have activities to celebrate the occasion. Where we live now, our stake used to put on a big affair, with a 5k run (which I participated in once -- taking 3rd!), an old-time country band, and a fine breakfast. In the past several years, we've noticed that the attendance kept shrinking, and this year, they decided not to do anything. It makes me sad, as it's something special and unique that I will miss; it is like a part of my youth is now gone that can't be relived anymore.

Ironically, now that I'm a little older, I'm learning much more about my own pioneer ancestors, and am gaining an appreciation for the tremendously difficult task that it was for them to make a living where none had settled before. These ancestors of mine left behind a tremendous legacy of hard work, religious dedication, and family values that I hope to instill within my own children. I just wish I could do so while attending parades and watching fireworks on the 24th of July, which to me will always be Pioneer Day (oh, and my brother's birthday ... ;) ).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dwarf vs Minor

All of you readers out there (all three of you!) may remember that Pluto has been demoted from the lofty position of "planet". Indeed, it was quite the ruckus when it happened, and now everybody is struggling to figure out how to end the sentence: "My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine ..." (it used to be "Pizzas!") This isn't the point of this post.

I just figured out what Pluto really is now. I was confused by the terminology, and kept telling people that Pluto is now a "minor planet." Not so! Pluto is officially classified as a "dwarf planet". According to Wikipedia:

A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity but which has not cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite. More explicitly, it has to have sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces in order to assume a hydrostatic equilibrium and acquire a near-spherical shape.

Got that? So, it's gotta orbit the sun, clear most of it's neighbors away, and not be orbiting some other larger, non-sun object. According to this same article, this means there are now officially four "dwarf planets", namely:

-- Ceres, a big honkin' rock in the asteroid belt. It was discovered in 1801 (45 years before Neptune!) and was considered a "planet" (my, how we miss those simple days) before being reclassified as an asteroid. It's just under 1000 kilometers in diameter.
-- Pluto, our previously demoted planet. It was discovered in 1930 and was considered a "planet" until two years ago. It's just over 2300 km in diameter.
-- Eris. It was discovered in 2003 and was the reason this whole "planet" thing got kicked off in the first place. People just couldn't find it in their hearts to make room for a tenth planet. It's about 2400 km in diameter (um, yeah, that's bigger than Pluto).
-- Makemake. It was discovered in 2005 and was just classified (and officially named) two weeks ago (July 11, 2008). It's about 1500 km in diameter.

There's a whole pile of other objects out there contending to go into this category, including Pluto's very own "moon" called Charon. Add to this all the confusion surrounding "minor" planets (a term which used to be more widely used but has fallen out of favor in lieu of the far-less-simple-to-say "small solar system bodies" or, acronymically, "SSSBs!", pronounced, um, "sssbs!") which can also be variously considered "asteroids," "centaurs," or "trans-Neptunian objects", and you've got a whole pile of names for the little rocks and ice balls zipping around our solar system.

As for me, there's plenty of room in my heart for as many planets as we can find, dwarf, minor, or otherwise. At least now, though, I know that Pluto is indeed a dwarf planet! (And not that ... other ... thing.)

Tragedy Follow Up

Last night I went to visit with my good friend whose grandson died on Monday, and her immediately family (that part of it which still lives in the home) seems to be managing well. They reported that the media were unexpectedly understanding and let the family have their space. As would be expected, the mother is distraught and having a difficult time coping.

It was quoted last night that 90% of couples who lose a child end up getting a divorce, a statistic which seemed suspiciously high, so I went looking this morning for more information and found this article, which states it's closer to 16%. Much better, but it seems the couple is still struggling, and not really grieving together, but apart.

To make matters worse, they are pretty much spurning all forms of religious comfort. There are so many Christian principles that could be brought to bear here, to help them work through this, a few being: forgiveness of others and oneself, unconditional love, and endurance through trials. Taking the much-longer perspective would also provide them comfort, if they could just believe that there is hope that they can be with their baby again in the afterlife.

Time will tell how things will go with them, and between the child custody hearing and the likelihood of criminal charges coming forth, it's going to be a rocky road.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Worst Sort of Tragedy

Any time a child dies, it is a tragedy. Any time a child dies because of the mistake of its parent, it is a double tragedy. I just received word that a two-year-old grandson of a very good friend of mine just died by being accidentally left in the family mini-van for about two hours. A horrible mistake by a bedraggled mother will likely now result in criminal charges. A few news articles (here, here, and here) have already been published on the matter, and no doubt there will be more. It is a true moment of sorrow, and my heart goes out to the family. My prayers are with them.

3-Year-Old Mimic and Virus Update

I was sitting in church on Sunday with my two boys -- my wife having stayed home with my sick daughter -- and was listening to the people who were speaking. My youngest was sitting next to me, restless, as usual, and playing quietly with his toy cars. Suddenly, I feel him sit up next to me and I look down at him and see him moving his legs really funny, crossing his ankles one way then the other. It took me a few seconds to figure out that he was trying to cross his legs like I had my legs crossed. It was quite funny.

Later, when it came time to sing, he joined in with me and my older son, even though he didn't know the words. That was all right with him, though, as he just made them up as he went along. They usually went something like, "I ... love ... Thomas ..." This was a little chant his sister had taught him earlier, and he had adapted it for singing in church. It was so funny I couldn't help but giggle at him.

Later, when one of the speakers was talking, he stopped, looked at me really soberly, and said, "Dad, I love Thomas, and Percy, and James, and Annabel ... and Toby!" If you are a parent with kids younger than 10, you probably know that these are trains from the "Thomas the Tank Engine" media/toy empire. He was just so cute when he said it, though, that I can forgive the clear and obvious brain-washing the kid has had.

Cute kid!



It took 6 hours to get my laptop fixed yesterday. Well, I think it's fixed. This morning another "trojan" showed up, but this time I think the anti-virus software got it. Most of the time yesterday was spent running a virus scan on the over 600,000 files on my computer, and turning up nothing. Luckily, I remembered the name of the virus, and the tech guy was able to come up with a specialized tool for removing that particular virus, and it worked fine. That one was called "vundo" and the one that showed up this morning is called "pandex". Crazy stuff. Hope this latest one really has been cleaned up!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Illness in the Family

My daughter is sick right now. She's somewhat diarrhetic and has headaches, a fever, a sore throat, and general weariness. She ended up staying home from church today (with my wife) and though she "sounds" fine, it's clear she's not up to snuff. Having a sick child is never fun.

Okay, now my confession. My daughter is sick, but I am far more concerned about my laptop. There, I said it. *phew* I know she'll get better, and seems to be on the mend even as I type, but my computer, on the other hand ...

It's got a virus. I think. A few days ago, I was downloading some software for my handheld and I believe said software was bundled with a "trojan" virus called "vundo". My virus protection software found it and attempted to clean it, but it doesn't seem like it succeeded, as symptoms were still present: slowness of response, occasional pop-up ads with no source for (ironically) virus protection software, and refusal to access any yahoo or google domains (such as this here blog).

So, I went online and tried to find out how to deal with it. I found from my virus protection software company a procedure for "manually" removing the virus, which seemed approachable and straightforward. The first step was to reboot my computer into "safemode". So, I used happy-go-lucky "msconfig" to set my boot.ini to include the /safemode:minimal flag, and then went to restart my computer.

Here's where things got miserable for me. Beforehand, with the virus, I could still operate my computer, though with the above-mentioned issues. When I set it to reboot into safemode, suddenly my password no longer works! I can't even log in anymore! And since I can't log in, I can't return to a "normal" boot sequence. My laptop is a work laptop; I don't even have the "admin" password, so I went online looking for a procedure to circumvent the password and after several hours of trying and failing, my laptop remains worse than useless right now.

So what will I do? I will have to wait until work tomorrow morning where I will call the "help line", where I will have to schedule an appointment many hours in the future for a tech guy to show up in my cubicle, where I will have to wait for him to access the computer (hopefully the "admin" password still works!), reset the boot sequence for me, and clean it of the virus, all the while glaring at me as if I'm some great on-line sinner who invited this calamity by being addicted to child pornography.

I don't really have time for that, and I have to get home early tomorrow, so I don't really know how this is going to work. My laptop really is the focal-point of my entire computer-centered existence. It is my livelihood as far as work is concerned. It has all my genealogy on it. It has my church calling stuff on it. I've got the (few) computer games I play on it. And it is my window to the outside world via the internet. So the fact that it is unusable right now is greatly distressing. I just hope it can be resolved quickly.

Luckily, I do regular backups of the entire hard-drive, so if the computer can not be fixed (which isn't very likely), at least I've got the data from a few weeks back. It would hurt, but it wouldn't be a killer.

As for right now, I'm blogging on my home computer, which remains, gratefully, fully functional. I just can't do any of that other stuff on it ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Polynesian Cultural Center

A few months back when my wife and I went to Hawaii, we knew that we wanted to go visit The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. Since we're "museum people", and having read plenty of reviews, we knew we needed to spend pretty much the whole day there. Nevertheless, with a limited time in Hawaii, we visited the LDS temple then took a drive for lunch, then finally made it there in early afternoon.

We walked in and eventually found the "river show", which we were late for. Basically, there's this man-made river that flows through the middle of the center, where they had large, rectangular, flat-topped platforms floating around. Each platform had about 6 dancers and one other man who pushed the platform around the "river." Each platform's dancers were dancing in a style typical of the island that they represented. For example, on one raft the dancers were performing a Hawaiian dance, dressed in blue to honor the "Sky Father." The Fiji raft was much more muted with the women peacefully kneeling and waving their arms around. The Tahitian raft had the men doing some funky knee knocking thing while the women did some amazing hip-shaking action, as seen here:


[Movie 1685]

We only saw maybe half of it, as we came late, then got chased away by torrential rains. We brought an umbrella with us to Hawaii, but had forgotten it back in our room. Really wanting to see the show, though, we eventually coughed up $6 for some cheap plastic rain covers so we could try to stay dry. By that time, we were far too wet and the show was nearly over. Next time, we'll be ready!!

[Image 1696]

After the show, people scattered in all directions. We made our way towards the Samoan area where a guy showed us his palm tree climbing skills.

[Image 1694]

We also had the chance to watch a Samoan fellow, who we later learned was the fire dancer in the evening show (later on that in a minute), start a fire without modern implements. Apparently the secret is to use dry wood, and rub two sticks of the same kind of wood together with a lot of pressure and speed. The heat eventually builds up and can catch other material on fire, such as hair from a coconut husk. After watching him, I think I'm an expert. It was amazing. He also showed us how to open a coconut using just a sharp stick, and that was quite impressive, too. The man's name is Te'o Tafiti and he is quite entertaining. Later that night, I got the following picture of my wife with him.

[Image 1785]

She's terribly embarrassed, but I just had to post it!

After that, we wandered around the center. They had different "villages" where they had replicas of the type of dwelling-places in which Polynesians from the various represented islands would live. Clearly each one was just a snapshot in time, but it was still very interesting to us. We spent a lot of time reading about the different islands and a little about how people used to live on them. We had a great time listening to the Tongans beat the tar out of their drums, playing games like spear tossing and a neat ball-tossing game; and my wife even danced with the Tahitians. I promised her I wouldn't post the video, but I feel safe posting a fuzzy picture.

[Image 1704]

Later that night we went to a "luau" and it was great. It was this very large amphitheater-like place with tables everywhere that served thousands of people. A large buffet, the food was good, but not over-whelmingly so. Nevertheless, they did have roast pig (cooked in the ground):

[Image 1716]

No good luau would be complete without that. We were also graced by the presence of the "Royal Court", and it seems that no one can eat until they appear (check out the guy with the hat ...).

[Image 1721]

After the meal, they invited people who were there for their honeymoon or anniversary (hey, that's us!) to go up and dance on the stage. We did so (me doing so badly), and that was silly and fun. Somebody from our table took this picture:

[Image 1730]

Once the meal was over, we went over to their big show for the evening, called the "Horizons" show. There we saw a lot more dancing on this incredible stage that rose several stories from the ground floor.

[Image 1744]

People wandered around with torches and we were again able to watch the different dancing styles from the different islands. We also were pleased to see the Tongans beating the tar out of their drums again, and that was very impressive.

[Image 1755]

We didn't get a very good picture of it, but the woman in this next picture was jaw-droppingly astonishing at shaking her hips with that red thing she was wearing. Let me say it clearly: WOW.

[Image 1760]

There were some silly numbers they did, too. At one time, they had some fellows wearing grass skirts who were flopping down on their back sides on top of fiery strips. Apparently, it was to demonstrate an old game of "bravery", which was probably done historically when the men were drunk and stupid. In the demonstration, it was actually quite funny and played to be so.

[Image 1763]

The highlight of the evening, however, was Te'o Tafiti, who showed us how Samoans used to dance with fire sticks. The video speaks for itself.

[Image 1768]


[Movie 1773]

It was a very memorable day. We shared the sorrow of most who realize what a shame it is that these cultures are, for the most part, gone, and reduced to what little can be retained in that place. There was a lot of culture and art that has been lost (though we can do without their brutal or warlike ways). In hindsight, we wish we would have had more time to really learn more about all the islands. Next time we go, we will definitely spend the entire day there. Oh, and we will bring our umbrellas with us. It was definitely worth it.

Fat vs Carbohydrates?

I stumbled on this article today where they address the question of which is worse: calories from fat or calories from carbohydrates. An excerpt:

There are some interesting questions about whether eating carbohydrate calories versus fat calories will make you eat more calories, but based on what you put into your mouth, it's pretty clear that the source of the calories is really not important.

Then the article went on to talk about the different kinds of fat vs the different kinds of carbohydrates:

... the type of fat is very important, and so is the type of carbohydrate. So we find that trans fats, again, are particularly harmful with regard to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are actually beneficial in terms of reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It's the same with carbohydrates. The total amount is not important. But high intake of refined starch and sugar is related to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, whereas high-fiber whole-grain carbohydrates are related to a lower risk.

So, for a guy who's a bottom-line kinda guy, I learned:

-- Don't stress about occasionally eating high-fat foods, except where they're all trans fats.
-- Eat high-fiber whole-grain foods.

Nothing earth-shattering here as that's what the "experts" have been saying for years, but it's good to regularly see it in black-and-white on occasion to know that the state of the art hasn't changed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Benefits of Losing Weight

Okay, I'm a white male who is slightly overweight. So far, after becoming ... The Phantom Weight Watcher! ... I have lost 14 pounds. That's pretty significant and a few people have commented on my new slimmer physique. I'm down to where I was when I left college, and I'm not stopping now -- I still have about 10 pounds until I hit a "normal" BMI and I intend to overshoot.

Nevertheless, there have been a few unexpected benefits to losing weight that I hadn't really considered before. I'll list a few of them here:

-- My clothes are baggy on me. I didn't really think losing that little weight would make a big difference, but it has! I now have to cinch my belt up one more notch tighter. For those clothes which used to be tight, they suddenly fit me quite well now.
-- My belly doesn't hang out like it used to. For a guy who jokes he's a hairy beach ape when he's seaside, that's pretty impressive. My self-consciousness has gone way down.
-- Climbing the stairs is a piece of cake now. Again, such a modest weight loss shouldn't make such a difference, but I find myself literally bounding up the stairs at home nowadays. I'm impatient by nature, and my impatience quotient just exceeded my extreme aversion to physical discomfort, and now I'm a bit more spry and just can't see wasting all that time climbing the stairs when I really want to be at the top!
-- My posture has improved and I don't have as much back pain anymore. Since back pain is what really keeps me from lifting my children, the fact it doesn't come around much anymore is very encouraging! Now, if they'd just stop getting heavier ...
-- The quantity of belly-button lint that I generate has gone down substantially. Seriously! On this topic, check out this link, where it says, in part, "Your typical generator of bellybutton lint or fluff is a slightly overweight, middle-aged male with a hairy abdomen." Um, that'd be me.

When I'm done losing weight, I'm going to train for a 5k run again. I did that a few years back (at my heavier weight) and really loved it, so I'm expecting it to be easier when I do it again. Maybe I'll even do a 10k or a half-marathon!

So, my health is improving, but it seems it really doesn't matter, 'cause I died 102 years ago ... for those who know me, do a search here and search for an obituary with my name. Quite the scandalous story!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Amazing Kids

My wife and I just got back from the store where we bought some ice cream for a treat for the kids. We also rented a movie (Nancy Drew) for them to watch, but we have a few things we need to do first before we wanted to let the kids start the movie. (Okay, I'll be honest, we really want to watch it, too.) So, we've asked them to busy themselves doing something else. What are they doing? All three of them, our almost-9-year-old, our almost-7-year-old, and our just-3-year-old are sitting in the family room on the couch reading/looking at books. I'm just shaking my head here in amazement -- these kids are astounding!

Neighbor Insanity

We have some neighbors across the street with whom we have absolutely no relationship at all. They keep very much to themselves and between zipping in and out of the house at odd hours of the day, letting their dog run free (and go to the bathroom on my grass -- the nerve!), and having a lot of punk teenagers hanging around their too-sparsely-dressed teenage daughter, we don't exactly have a lot in common. We've had quite a history at a distance with them, as they tend to do whatever they want to do with their yard. In most neighborhoods, this wouldn't really be a big deal, but we live in a community with a Homeowners Association (HOA) with some fairly stringent CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and regulations). CC&Rs are defined as:

The restrictions governing the use of real estate, usually enforced by a homeowners' association and passed on to the new owners of property. For example, CC&Rs may tell you how big your house can be, how you must landscape your yard or whether you can have pets. If property is subject to CC&Rs, buyers must be notified before the sale takes place.

A lot of people complain about having an HOA with CC&Rs, but one of the reasons we moved here was because it had an HOA. You see, when we lived in our old house, we got burned by some nuts-o neighbors -- one who wanted to sue us for damage that the roots of the tree in our front yard had done to his driveway (years before we moved in), and the other who kept sheep in their backyard -- ten feet away from our bedroom (imagine hearing "baaaah!!" at 3 am in the morning and having flies constantly swarming your yard).

Needless to say, we were delighted to move into our new house where people couldn't park their RVs in front of their house year-round, permanently leave (unused) basketball stands at the curb, and have their roof torn off for years on end with only pretty blue plastic tarps covering it while they did the work themselves to replace it.

So it has been that our neighbors across the street have been the source of much frustration. We have taken cookies over to them, but only had them rebuff our attempt at cordiality. Now we pretty much just let them be, and would be content to do so except that they have a tendency to landscape any way the please. With our HOAs landscaping rules, that's a serious no-no, the consequences of which can be monthly fees and even law-suits. Our neighborhood is surrounded by HOA-maintained hills, public walls, and stretches of grass and shrubbery. In addition, architectural changes to their property, such as landscaping (even in the backyard) must be approved by the HOA's landscape committee and have the approval of nearby neighbors.

They treat all of that with disdain. Some examples:

-- They cut into the HOA-managed hill right behind their house by about 5 feet in order to lengthen their back yard.
-- They re-routed the fencing around their yard to surround it, building an extension to the community property wall.
-- They gutted the HOA-controlled landscaping on the side of their house (they live on the corner) and replaced it with landscaping of their own choosing.

This family has been the source of nothing but consternation to the HOA board members, many of whom I know very well.

Well, this past week, they've been re-landscaping their front yard. Again, their plans needed to be approved by the HOA landscaping committee, and I have serious doubts that they were. Some of my neighbors have called it "Jurassic Park" landscaping, where they've been putting in funny concrete walls and shaping them to look like jagged rocks. I was just going to let it ride for the front of their house, which really doesn't face me directly, until this morning when I looked out my window and discovered that they were covering the entire HOA-controlled wall that faces my house with gray concrete and were shaping it to look like rocks.

I was appalled, first; infuriated, second. I got on the phone and called four of the HOA board members, and the HOA management company. I'm really glad I did, too. If I hadn't, the concrete on the wall would have dried overnight and it would have been far more difficult to remove. As it was, one of the HOA board members took a walk and instructed the workers to remove it immediately.

I took several pictures of it. Their landscaping doesn't even match their home -- their home is "French Country" style. Click on the image and scroll from left to right to get the whole story.

These pictures were taken from my front door. You can see on the left that they've added some odd, low walls to basically surround the entirety of their front yard. They've also put in these large concrete block-like things, which we believe they intend to shape to look like boulders. We anticipate they plan to put in similar shrubbery to what you see to the immediate right in front of the slump-stone wall.

The slump-stone wall itself is that brownish color. You can see where they were covering it with the concrete, and putting grooves in it and shaping it. To the right of the image, you can see the workers taking it off at the behest of the HOA. They took square nosed shovels and scraped off what they could, then used a hose to wash it off. It looks mostly back to normal right now.

I am sooo glad that I saw them doing this and was able to make some calls to stop it. My wife and I intend to stay in this house for "the next 30 years" and I really didn't want to face that wall for all that time. The landscaping along that wall, as you can tell, which they put in without asking permission (but got subsequent approval from a too-kind-hearted architectural board) is tastefully done, even if it doesn't match the foliage in the rest of the community. It isn't even their property to manage -- it's HOA property that is cared for by the HOA gardeners and watered by the HOA!

So, a close call this time. I'm very grateful that the HOA board sees things my way.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Epistlistically

I heard this word used on the radio this morning, where they were debating it's meaning and spelling. I missed the source of the conversation, but apparently somebody called in and used it when describing a movie. They had dozens of callers trying to spell it correctly or to guess at it's meaning.

It seemed clear to me from the get-go that the use of the word to describe the movie implied that the film was attempting to communicate an important concept in a brief interlude, similar to the epistles of the Bible's New Testament. The apparently irreligious people on the radio didn't have a clue.

Coming in to work, I decided to look it up in Merriam-Webster Online, but it isn't listed there, so no, it's not a "real" word. But for not being a word, I kinda like it!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Somebody Noticed!

I just went to lunch with a (now exceptionally good) friend of mine, and he's the first person to notice that I have lost weight! Awesome. At this time, I've lost about 12 pounds, and my wife says that my church suits are hanging on me funny and my face has thinned out. Pretty cool!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

4th of July

This last Friday (the 4th of July) we had my wife's sister's family staying with us. It was a great time, and we troubled them to go to our local parade. The parade itself doesn't really well-compare to what I grew up with (big military vehicles rolling down the street, beauty queens throwing gobs of candy ...), but it was still nice to go and watch everything go by.


I was surprised at the fact that there were no bands marching in the parade, and the liveliest group that went by was from a local church who were blasting music and goofing off in the street. (Knowing what little I do about them, I'm guessing they had nearly their entire congregation walking down the street!) For our local parade, towards the end it really turns into the "local businesses getting free advertising" parade, so we eventually left when that became utterly apparent. With the temperatures soaring and the sun beating down, we were ready to go anyway.

The rest of the day we just hung out together as a family, having a barbecue and socializing. With our three kids and their four boys, the house was quite loud, but it was sure great to have them. We don't have family stay with us very often since they all live at least two states away, and it's always a pleasure when they do.

That night, we went over to the local mall to watch the fireworks. It was nothing short of awesome! We went to the "center court" outside the mall and took our lawn chairs. With the fireworks launched just a few buildings away, we were up close and personal. The force of the blasts from the fireworks literally shook our bodies. The sound from the fireworks echoed off the walls of the mall behind us so that we would first see the fireworks, a fraction of a second later hear/feel the blast, then a fraction of a second later we'd hear the echoing reply. It was loud enough to keep even the MP3-playing-hearing-impaired nephews content. The display was spectacular and there were some I'd never seen before.

It was a great day!

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