My life

I used to have a blog…

When I moved to Tampa three and a half years ago, I was assigned to my agency’s St. Petersburg office. It was a fairly interesting place to work, and I enjoyed the drive across the causeway (when it wasn’t a 7-mile traffic jam). I was isolated out there (it’s a small office) and entertained myself by blogging fairly regularly, and reading other people’s blogs.

However, the St. Pete office didn’t generate much work, so after a couple of years I reluctantly moved to the Tampa office. Unfortunately, the computers here are configured in such a way that WordPress is barely functional. I can read my feed, but if I want to post something, most of the time I get a nearly blank screen when I click on Create a New Post. And when I’m at home, I’m usually with my wife, so I’m not thinking about WP.

All this to explain why I haven’t been here.

Shortly after my last post, my beloved cat Simon (the one I had just taken to the vet) disappeared. I had to work an evening shift, and when I got home after midnight, he was nowhere to be found. He never wandered; he always hung out in the driveway, waiting for me to pull in so he could run to the back porch and meow until I fed him. I suppose some kind of animal got him; we have eagles and huge owls and even coyotes from time to time, since there is a small patch of jungle behind our yard.

I got as far as I could with siding the house and left to spend a month in Colombia. We had a great time down there; we took a week-long vacation trip to the islands of San Andrés and Providencia, plus a couple of days at the National Coffee Park in Quindío. If I were to do it again I would skip all but Providencia. It is an idyllic place; a small island (you can drive all the way around in 45 minutes in a rental golf cart), small hotels (big chains have been desperate to put in their hotels but the locals are very careful to keep things small and local), spectacular and uncrowded beaches, delicious fresh seafood.

One of these days I’ll post pictures.

Alicia’s son and one of his school buddies came for three weeks in January, and had a great time. I scrounged up what soccer opportunities I could find: Juan Manuel tried out for the Orlando City B team (more than 100 showed up) and for the University of Tampa, and he and Santiago played 5-on-5 at Cinco Soccer a couple of evenings. They ran around Brandon and Valrico on the two bikes I inherited from my dad, worked out at the gym, played with an ancient XBox, and generally enjoyed themselves.

After the boys left, we had a quiet winter/spring. Now Alicia is back in Colombia for a few weeks, and I’m busy painting the house, changing it from faded barn-red to a bright cream-yellow. It is very satisfying to see the changes.

And who knows? I may start blogging again.

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Handyman, My life

Stuff I did today

I’ve been working on the siding on the back of my house for about a week. Last weekend I got the old siding off, and a neighbor helped me sheathe the wall with OSB. I wrapped it with Tyvek, used roof tape where the siding boards meet, and improvised flashing for the windowsills.

Today we got just over half of the siding nailed up. Those sheets of Hardieboard are heavy. There’s no way I could get them up there by myself. We used score-and-snap to cut them to length, and I used a tile circular wet saw to cut out the windows.

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Earlier in the day, while I was waiting for my neighbor, I replaced this soffit and put in a new light and ventilation grille. The grille is a little puckered but it will have to come off anyway when I paint, so I’ll straighten it then. I had to cover the hole to keep out critters. Sheesh, I need to figure out a way to get my pressure washer to this corner of the house!

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Handyman, My life

Veteran’s Day Splinter

Since I had the 11th off, I worked on my house, repairing water-damaged soffit and fascia along one side of the garage. For the fascia I bought a piece of 5/4 x 6 pressure treated pine, since there was no 1 x 6 PT or redwood lumber at Home Depot, and I want to use something that will last.

The existing fascia has a half-inch slot routed into the back side, to hold the soffit. To create my slot, I made long cuts with my circular saw and then chiseled out the remaining material, lifting long splinters as I went.

One of those splinters decided to go under my nail, as far as it could go. It hurt.20151111_163824[1]
I tried to pull it out with a pliers, and it broke off. I thought about going to a doc-in-the-box, but it was nearly 5:00 and I would have used up the remaining daylight and besides, what a wimpy thing to see a doctor for. I tried continuing my work, but it was too uncomfortable. So I gave the pliers another try. This time the splinter came right out.
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Here is the board with the channel partway cleared. The line on the left is because I made my first cut on the wrong side by mistake. Putting the channel over there would have exposed a ragged part of the board instead of hiding it.
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I finished installing the soffit Thursday morning because I worked an evening shift that day. Unfortunately I forgot to cut vents in the first two pieces, so I had to cut them in place after I took this photo. It was awkward, made additionally so because I had hidden all the TV cables on top of the plywood and had to be careful not to cut them.
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Cutting soffit vents in place is a sawdusty business.2015-11-12_13.19.27[1]

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My life

Trip to the vet with my cat

I took Simon to the vet today because his nose still looks terrible. He’s been through an oral antifungal treatment and topical antibiotics and antifungal treatments, but it won’t go away. Today the doctor gave him a steroid shot in case it’s allergies. I’m going to keep applying topical antifungal and antibiotics.

We waited for the vet in a waiting room with a closet. Simon immediately took refuge there.

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On the way home, he rode in the front seat with me.

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He even rode on the dashboard for a while.

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That candle on the floor is an extra I was going to return to Dollar Tree. It fell out of the bag and I missed it.

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It hurts just to look at Simon’s nose. The marks above his eye might be from squabbling with another cat.

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My life

Extremely grumpy movie review: Lucy

I got this movie from Redbox because it was an action movie. It turned out to be a very disturbing story.

Lucy (Scarlett Johanssen) is forced into becoming a drug mule for a Korean cartel. The Koreans implant a packet of some kind of crystal in her abdomen, and she and her fellow mules are to be sent on commercial flights to various destinations in Europe. While she’s being held in captivity by the Koreans, she gets beaten and the bag of drugs bursts in her body. As she absorbs the drug, she discovers that it is opening her mind and giving her new powers.

Meanwhile, the renowned scientist Morgan Freeman is at a conference, babbling nonsense about how humans only use 10% of their brain and speculating about what powers could be unleashed if we could access the remaining 90%.

It turns out that not only does the drug give Lucy super powers, it also gives her an extremely utilitarian set of values. She goes to a hospital to have the drug bag extracted, and shoots a patient whom she determines to be terminal, in order to occupy his bed and hurry up her surgery. She goes back to the leader of the Koreans, wipes out his bodyguards, and spikes his hands to his desk with knives to hold him while she telepathically extracts the information about the location of the other drug packets. She leaves without killing him, even though he is responsible for the slavery and deaths of many people. At some point she shoots a taxi driver for protesting when she said where she needed to go.

She goes to France to meet Morgan Freeman, after reading all his writings on the internet. He tells her the point of life is to pass on knowledge.

As the drug modifies her body and brain, she becomes able to read wireless internet and telephone signals, and use the networks for her own communication. She finds a French cop, tells him who the drug runners are and where they’re landing, and tasks him with collecting the drugs so she can use them. He sees her disable a dozen men without touching them, and is impressed. She commandeers a car and drives him across Paris, mostly going against traffic, leaving a trail of massive (probably fatal) crashes behind her.

As the story winds down, she’s in a lab with a bunch of scientists. They inject her with the remaining drugs, and she starts absorbing computer equipment and converting herself into a supercomputer. Meanwhile the Koreans have figured out where the drugs are, and a couple of dozen of them come to the building and shoot their way through security. The cop and his team are protecting the hall outside the lab. They stop most of the Koreans, but one shoots a rocket through the door, and the leader (with bandaged hands) enters and approaches Lucy to shoot her. Meanwhile she’s exploring time and space with her growing abilities and turning into a computer.

The Korean fires, but as he shoots, her conversion into the supercomputer is complete, and she disappears, leaving the computer and her clothes behind. The French cop shoots the Korean. The computer emits a thumb drive, presumably with Lucy’s answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything, which Morgan takes. The cop asks where Lucy went. His phone drive flashes a text message: “I am everywhere.” Lucy’s voice says, “Life was given to us a billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it.”

So bogus. So very bogus. So arrogant, pompous, twisted, perverse.

Why the assumption that a more advanced human would be completely utilitarian and pragmatic? Nothing matters to Lucy but to get the drugs, achieve her goal of full knowledge, and share her insights. It’s fine to shoot a dying man and an unhelpful taxi driver, crash half the cars on the Paris streets and highways, let the security staff get blown away, let the cops get blown away, all to make her transformation into a computer a few minutes faster. Apparently her project isn’t capable of being paused for half a minute while she projects herself downstairs or even just outside her lab long enough to incapacitate the gangsters before they slaughter everyone. Knowledge for the good of all, as fast as possible, far outweighs the lives of individuals, according to the writers of this movie.

Why does Lucy say, “I feel no emotion and have no desire”? I would assume a “fully evolved” human would have stronger human characteristics, not fewer. Lucy has no compassion, no love, no concern for justice. I would not trust whatever guidance she left behind, because she has made it impossible for me to admire her for anything but her intellect.

Likewise, the assumption that expanded intellect will bring expanded spiritual and philosophical insight is clearly bogus, judging from history. We have more information and processing power available now than all the previous generations of humanity put together, but humans are no more upright, honest, unselfish, or loving than our ancestors. We can heal diseases that a few years ago were terminal. We can also kill people faster and at a greater distance, and have new ways to exploit each other. Criminals have grown in knowledge and technology along with the rest of humankind.

Lucy herself is nothing like the outstanding humans we have admired throughout history. Jesus, for instance, was characterized by everything that Lucy is not: love, compassion, empathy, humor, connection. These traits characterize those we consider the wisest and best. And they are not provided by any kind of drug or physical transformation.

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Movie review

Grumpy Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending

This movie has the best musical score of any movie I’ve seen this year. In terms of graphics and special effects, it is huge, much too lavish for my pathetic little 32″ TV. There were some appealing characters, most notably the former soldiers Caine and Stinger. However, I got the impression that the script came from a story written by a teenage girl (like Twilight or Divergent).

Wikipedia indicates that critics faulted the movie on the incoherence of its script. I agree with them, and was very surprised to learn that it was written, not by a teenager, but by the Wachowskis, who wrote The Matrix movies.

The main character, a girl called Jupiter, whose father loved astronomy and was killed by thugs who stole his telescope, lives with her Russian mother in Chicago and cleans toilets as part of the family housekeeping business. She is abducted and discovers that aliens planted humanity on the earth and many other planets thousands of years ago, and are waiting for the population to hit critical mass in order to harvest the humans and use their bodies to produce a serum that has kept them alive for thousands and thousands of years.

It turns out that, by some means that isn’t clearly explained, Jupiter is the genetic reincarnation of the late queen of the aliens that run this human-farming business. The three heirs of the queen are involved in intrigues against each other, and Jupiter gets kidnapped by one after the other, for each one’s nefarious purposes. In the process she discovers that her genetic link to the late queen makes her the new queen, and in an episode clearly ripped from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s visit to the planet Vogon, she gets taken from office to office to office, dealing with a never-ending series of bureaucrats, to get her official title, symbolized by a globe hologram embedded in her wrist.

One of the three heirs manipulates her to marry him, like a villain in an ancient Flash Gordon film, and as in those old films, Caine bursts in just in time to break up the ceremony. The other even slimier brother kidnaps her family and uses them to extort her, demanding she abdicate her crown, which has given her ownership of Earth (it had been part of his inheritance until she came along). She realizes just in the nick of time that if she gives up her crown, he will proceed immediately to harvest the rest of Earth’s population, so she turns him down. They fight, Caine shows up again and rescues her family, the city on Jupiter where this is taking place begins to disintegrate, she fights her way through the mess, another rescue, etc., and at the end, Jupiter is back on earth, happy to clean toilets, and flying around the skyline with Caine when they have a date.

The reasons I thought this was written by a teen:

The whole queen thing. Jupiter is genetically identical to the most powerful alien of them all, and considered her reincarnation, but except for a pointless ability to get bees to swirl around her, she seems to have no power of her own. In most of the scenes where she’s getting pushed around by aliens, she’s totally passive. It’s only at the end that she shows a little spirit, punching one obnoxious little alien in the face, kneeing the guy who wants her to abdicate, then fighting with him and struggling her way through buildings that are falling apart around her. The other way in which she is assertive is in pursuing Caine romantically. We get no sense of what it actually means for her to be queen except that it gives her control over the destiny of the earth. But we never actually see her govern, and at the end, she’s back in her tawdry little life in Chicago, except that now she’s happy and has an amazing boyfriend.

The werewolf thing and the wings. Caine is a genetically manipulated soldier. His makeup includes wolf genes, so he is a lycanthrope. He also has scars where he used to have wings. They were removed prior to this movie’s events, when he got into trouble for ripping out the throat of a member of the royalty. The werewolf thing never really comes into play, except that he has a keen sense of smell and a dangerous but noble disposition. The really cool things about him are his boots that allow him to skate through the air, and his holographic shield, neither of which has anything to do with being a werewolf or having had wings. So why make him a werewolf at all? And who needs wings? Those boots are awesome!

Sloppy writing. The royal family are so very slimy and deceitful. I get really tired of villains like them. It’s lazy writing. Having Caine burst in at the very last minute, not once but twice, to rescue her from the villainous brothers, is also sloppy writing.

Bad science. A large chunk of the movie takes place on Jupiter, but gravity is not an issue, despite the vastly greater mass.

Another annoying thing: Jupiter (Mila Kunis) wears twice as much makeup as any other character, especially around the eyes.

If a sequel comes out, we’ll watch it, and we might rent this one again to look at the special effects more closely, but this is not a movie that I would buy.

If the Wachowskis are smart, for the sequel they’ll ditch Jupiter and focus on Caine and Stinger. Those guys are in a completely different category from the rest of the cast.

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Music, My life

Minnie the Moocher

This great song was played on WMNF this morning as I was driving to work. It reminded me of watching Jeeves and Wooster with my kids, laughing at Bertie’s analysis of the meaning of the lyrics, and especially Jeeves’ chorus: “Ho dee ho dee ho dee ho, sir.” A couple of the most memorable lines from the Jeeves & Wooster are included in their skit.

Here are the two versions:

Man, I miss my kids.

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