Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jim Wins at Golf

Warning:  this story has almost nothing to do with golf.

My wife and I exchange gifts on our anniversary.   After three decades, it is sometimes difficult to come up with something original, so I appreciate a suggestion.   This year’s suggestion was surprising, a household item, the Vitamix 5200 Blender Super Package.  Okay then, ordered it from Costco On-Line. 

The package arrived late on a Friday night.  I picked it up (it was quite heavy) and stuck it in the closet in our office.  I shut the door and promptly forgot about it.  I had also ordered something from my wife’s Amazon wish list, and today I decided to ‘hide’ it where I hide stuff, which is in the closet in our office.  It’s not a good hiding place, but it’s not like this is a surprise anyway.

When I went to open the door, which opens inward, I couldn’t.  There is one of those plastic gadgets you can use to child-proof a closet (in our case the child is a 22 pound Maine Coon) and I depressed that.  Still couldn’t open the door.  I removed the device entirely.  Still couldn’t open the door.

Somehow, the box for the blender package was blocking the door, and I could not move it by pushing on the door.  I must have, in my haste, put it too close to the door, or placed it somewhere precarious, and something shifted.  We’ve been having earthquakes in Texas, but they are not the kind that move objects.  This was a problem.  The closet contains, among other things, our security system control panel, all of my photography equipment, all the software that we have in permanent physical form (as opposed to downloads), a useless manual typewriter, and some irreplaceable old documents, and everyday work items such as secure envelopes, printer cartridges, paper for the printer, etc. And a whole bunch of cat toys, which is why the Maine Coon wants in there.  There was no way to open that door other than cutting through the wall, or cutting through from the ceiling, or getting my friend Andy, who used to play offensive line for the Cowboys, and later the Bears, come over and smash it.

So, I tried to think, could I somehow move that thing.  I wasn’t really sure what was blocking the door (later found it was the blender package) and I really couldn’t budge it at all.  I first tried (talk about stupid) using my iPad.  This worked in that it fit under the door, and I moved the box slightly, and could open the door just a tiny amount, maybe a sixteenth of an inch.  But using an iPad as a sledgehammer is not really all that great an idea.  I tried a letter opener, a sturdy metal one, and at least by stabbing the box with it I released some of my frustration.  I tried lying on my back and pushing against the door with my feet, figuring my legs are the biggest muscles in my body.  I could have broken the door doing that, but not open it.

My next idea was one of the things my father always used to find things or sometimes to fix things.  He would use a golf club.  If something falls behind a refrigerator, for example, there’s nothing better than a blade putter to drag it out.  Can’t use one of those bloated boxy things you see some of the pros use.  I went out to the garage to get a putter, and found two of them in my bag.  The last time I played golf was in Hawaii, on Maui, for my 55th birthday, and I brought a few extra things so my Dad could play without having to bring his clubs, and among them was an extra putter.  Both were blade style putters.

I was able to get the putter under the door, and pushing as hard as I could, I could move the box maybe another sixteenth of an inch.  I had sweat pouring down so badly I had to towel off constantly.  We keep our house at 78F during the day, which is okay for sedentary tasks, but for this involuntary full-body workout it was too damned hot.

I kept thinking I needed some leverage, some way to shove the box from left to right to get it away from the door’s edge.  I tried both putters.  I bent a clothes hanger and tried to use it to catch the end of the box, but the space available was so small it was impossible.  Plus, the package was 20 pounds, although I didn't really know what was blocking the door. 

My wife came home from running errands and she was impressed with the predicament I was in.  She ran out to the garage and came back with a large crowbar, with which I definitely could have destroyed the door, even without Andy, but would not fit under it.  Then I thought, what about my old sabers from Xavier High School.  Do we even have them?  Well, we do, but I don’t think we will for long.  They have not done well since I last used them in 1966.  I could do nothing with them.

At this point I could push the door open a bit at the top, and got a flashlight to see what the hell was going on.  I saw the box, and behind it another box containing some old electronics, and behind that the blasted old manual typewriter.  After seeing this, I felt like it was hopeless, and decided to do something else for a while.  So we ran some errands (notably we were running out of Scotch, which I could see being a problem soon) and I took a nap.

I came back to it to try a couple of additional things.  I thought I might be able to drag the box over to the right using our hedge trimmer.  Not plugged in.  It’s fairly heavy, it has lots of teeth to grab on to things, and it would fit under the door.  Well, no luck.  I tried a couple of different loppers (branch cutters) thinking they might grab on to the box.  No luck. 

Then I started thinking, I might try to reach past the box and move what was behind it.  I could feel, using the putter, where the back end of the box was, and then push against what was there.  After doing that a few times as hard as I could, it moved a tiny amount.  But the putter was too short.  I needed one of those long putters like Adam Scott uses, the ones that are about to be banned by the USGA and R&A.  Instead I went back to the garage and got a three iron. 

The three iron would just barely fit under the door, and could reach whatever was back there, and I could shove it around, but I couldn’t open the door.

In desperation, to avoid using explosives on my closet, which would be a violation in Richardson TX, I decided to try pushing on the other side of the box.  I had been pushing on the left side (as I looked at it) and now fumbled around with the putter and pushed on the right side.  I felt like it was not resisting as much.  I pushed again, as hard as I could (which wasn’t hard because I was by now pretty damn tired) and it seemed to be moving.  I got to my feet and tried the door one more time, with a mighty shove.

It opened.

I let go of a pretty loud scream.  My wife asked if I had hurt myself.  I replied that the door was open.  Brute force always wins.

I gave her the present early.  I’ll let her deal with where to store it.

It was my best golf day in years.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Update - life as a rail commuter

From approximately December 2014 to the end of May 2015 I rode Dallas Area Rapid Transit (http://dart.org ) light rail to work.  I had documented my initial reactions in an earlier post.  Link here.

I rode the train three or four days a week.  My client’s office was pretty much deserted on Monday and Friday, and there was often no one to talk to and no real point to going in.  If the weather happened to be horrible, I always had the option of working from home, since most of the team I was on were based in other cities.  So my experience is not the same as that of someone who needed to take the train every day no matter what.

The trains run pretty much on time, but there is a tendency for what they call, in the airline business, “irregular operations”.  I ran into this a few times:

  • ·      A woman had her face slashed at the Pearl Street station, which is my station.  There is only one pair of tracks through downtown Dallas, and the light rail system was effectively interrupted for half a day while they investigated the crime.  This displaced approximately 30,000 people.  As far as I know, they didn’t catch the perpetrator, despite having him on video.  They used buses to move people from the last available station to downtown.
  • ·      There was an electrical problem at Pearl Street where a train somehow snarled the overhead power lines, dragging them down to the ground.  This put the trains out of service for a while.  But I got a nice tour of Old East Dallas on the bus.
  • ·      During the torrential rains we had in North Texas this spring (2015), electrical problems put half the tracks out of service near downtown for a while.

Also, during the multitude of ice storms we had this winter, rail service was often interrupted.  When ice forms on the power lines, the trains can get no power and everything stops.  I wasn’t affected because I chickened out when it was icy and worked from home.

I learned that I wasn’t using our health club when I parked at the Bush Turnpike station.  This station has a couple of major advantages – 1) it is five minutes from the house, and 2) you can park more or less under cover, since the parking is below the elevated turnpike.  But it’s nowhere near the health club.  So I started parking at the LBJ/Central station, which is really convenient to Texas Instruments.  The health club is at TI.  Using this station had one other minor advantage in that the Orange Line goes all the way up to Plano only at peak periods, otherwise terminating at LBJ/Central.  So if I snuck out of work early, I could still get to where my car was parked.  (We have two lines, Orange and Red. Red always goes all the way north.)

To my credit, I never blew off my exercise, if the car was parked at LBJ/Central. 

The key to making the whole thing work, for me, was the DART Go-Pass app.  It is a free download. You can purchase your daily or monthly ticket using the app, and show the pass to the fare inspector when required using the app.  If you remember to bring up the app while you are waiting for the train or just as you board, it will even show that the ticket is active when you are in the tunnel and have no internet connection.  One of the fare inspectors let me know that when I asked about what happens if they check for a ticket when there is no cell service.  The app also has a panel for Where’s My Train.  You select your station and it tells you what trains are coming to that station on what lines and in how many minutes.  I used it sitting at my desk at work to time when to leave, when the weather was poor, or just too hot.  It works very well.

The office where I worked was right next to the Pearl Street station.  It was literally a stone’s throw away.  It would have been a 30 second walk except Dallas police will ticket you, or at least yell at you, for jaywalking, even if there isn’t a car in sight.  It could not have been more convenient.

The trip from Bush to Pearl was around 30 minutes.  In the mornings, I could have driven it in 15 or 20, but in the evenings that drive could be anything from 30 to 90 minutes.  The trip from LBJ/Central was less, maybe 17 minutes.  I got a seat right away all but one time. 

Seats are not comfortable, but adequate.  I witnessed some of the same passenger behavior that I saw all the years I commuted by subway and train in New York – man-spreading, people hogging the whole seat, one way or another, people standing in and blocking the exit, people trying to force their way on before letting anyone off. But in the 21st Century, we have other ways for people to aggravate you.  Talking loudly on the phone is one, and playing music on the phone at maximum volume with no earbuds or headphones is another.  And there is the ever-popular, hold a 42 ounce drink using your knees and drop it on somebody when the train stops suddenly.  Only got my shoes.

I witnessed one attempted crime – a guy had his bike on the train, and was standing up holding on to it.  A young man tried to grab the bike and run off with it as the train stopped at the Forest Lane station.  There was a scuffle but the thief was unsuccessful.  I also witnessed dozens of people who had not paid for a ticket and got caught by fare inspectors.  The fare inspectors are nice and just scold people, or have them buy a ticket on the spot using their phones.  However, one time the fare inspection was being done by a DART police officer, with a gun and handcuffs, etc.  They do not fool around.  He issued a citation to the guy sitting next to me for not having a ticket.  It was a $50 ride.  Then the cop asked for ID, and the unticketed passenger had an out of state license.  The cop asked how long he had been here, and he replied a few months.  The cop explained that he could issue another citation for not having changed the driver’s license within thirty days, but he didn’t.

As I rode the train for a while, I became less and less comfortable with it.  I started out watching movies on my iPad, until I realized some guy was watching me, and I wondered if what I was doing was really smart.  I think it wasn’t.  After that I switched to an e-reader, or just brought a book.  Mornings felt safe, but I sometimes would leave a little early in the afternoons, and, just like in New York, you felt less safe if there were fewer people on the train.

My most recent DART trip was after I stopped commuting for work.  My wife and I went to the Dallas Museum of Art, and took the train.  On the southbound leg, there was a middle-aged white woman wearing what looked like nurse attire who was talking very loudly and very clearly on her phone, with earbuds in both ears.  It was really loud, and was obvious that it was a work-related conversation.  Sitting behind her was an old black man, who started yelling at her, ‘Shut the f___ up’, over and over again.  I kind of agreed with him.  The woman got up and moved as far away from him as she could, never stopping her conversation.  Then the fare inspector came.  The man had no ticket, argued with the fare inspector for a while, and finally bolted off the train at the Mockingbird Station.  So, my wife got the full experience.  Our trip back in the afternoon was more routine.  And we had parked at LBJ/Central, and we did go to the gym.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A modest proposal

We need to do away with the anachronism known as the Bill of Rights.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment has been an unending source of problems preventing a just and equal society.  The ‘religion’ clause has been perverted by the radical right to prevent the much needed and popular distribution of birth control, for free, to any woman who wants it.  Instead the Catholic Church has been supporting the religious right in opposing this just and progressive initiative.

Furthermore, churches have vast fortunes which are not being subjected to normal taxation, which means a less fair society.

Also, the freedom of speech has been abused so badly that it needs some sort of limitation.  As Martin O’Malley has pointed out, we need to silence the National Rifle Association.  And the relentless attacks of radical right wing organizations such as Fox News on our President should not be allowed to continue.  A just, fair, progressive society cannot be created with such a background of vituperation.

This amendment needs to be repealed.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

This amendment isn’t even clear.  What it appears to say is that because the Redcoats might come back, everybody needs to have a gun, so they can get out there and fight them off.  The Redcoats are not coming back. 

We need to take guns out of our society for everyone’s benefit.  We need to allow Congress to pass laws restricting guns for all of our safety, and if Congress won’t act we need for our President to be able to take action by Executive Order.  Guns should be allowed only for licensed hunters, who have had background investigations, and hunters should be re-licensed every year.

This amendment needs to be repealed.  Even Karl Rove agrees that we can’t have gun control in this country until this amendment is repealed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

This is another completely obsolete amendment. The Redcoats are not coming back.  It needs to be repealed.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In order to enforce the new Federal gun laws, it will be absolutely necessary for the police (hopefully the Federal police, another much needed reform) to be able to go into any place in order to search for illegal firearms. The necessity for a just, peaceful, progressive society trumps the old, obsolete, Eighteenth Century notion of individual rights.  Anyone who has ever been on the Internet has already waived any right to privacy anyway.

The fourth amendment needs to be repealed.  It has been ignored for the most part by the Federal Government since (at least) the Clinton Administration and has certainly been obsolete since September 11, 2001.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Fifth Amendment has been long abused.  Look, for example, at George Zimmerman.  Why is he walking the streets and getting into more trouble?  He should have been arrested for the murder of Trayvon Martin and should still be locked up.  Why is it even necessary to try an individual such as that?  Why do we have to spend taxpayer money on this Roof individual?  Everyone knows he is guilty.

The takings clause is widely ignored anyway.  Any prosecutor can just confiscate anything he wants to for any reason or no reason.  In New York City they can take your vehicle and not even have to tell you why.  Look at what happened to AIG.  The government seized the company and paid nothing, and then sold off the stock it seized.

As far as someone being a witness against himself, ‘taking the Fifth’ is widely understood to be an admission of guilt anyway, so there is no real benefit to it.  As for the prohibition against double jeopardy, the Federal Government has worked its way around that any time necessary.  For example the police officers who beat Rodney King were retried for the same offense (they only beat him once) on civil rights grounds.

The Fifth Amendment interferes with the just, equal, progressive society and must be repealed.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The Sixth Amendment is obsolete and should be repealed.  Do you think for a moment that an impartial jury can be found for someone like Roof?  And when that videographer made the anti-Muslim video that caused the Benghazi tragedy, wasn’t the President right to have him locked up, held with no charges, and throw away the key?  Why should a Zimmerman have to be given equal treatment in court with some innocent defendant? And why should we have to pay for his lawyer?

The Government is already ignoring this amendment whenever it needs to (cf. Gitmo) and it should already have been repealed.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Twenty dollars?  Absurd.  And courts overturn facts found by juries all the time – all you have to do is assert improper influence or bias and you can do it.  This amendment no longer serves any purpose and should be repealed.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This is another obsolete amendment.  The bikers in Waco were all held with $1 million bail even though most of them were just spectators.  Who decides what is excessive?  And our President imposed fines on the oil company responsible for the big leak in the Gulf without any legal proceedings at all.  With the near-elimination of the death penalty, which a more progressive Supreme Court will completely eliminate soon, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments will be obsolete.  This amendment should be repealed.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This sure sounds like States Rights to me, and in order to prevent outrages like the Confederate Battle Flag appearing anywhere except in a history book, it needs to be repealed.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Oh, please, more States Rights.  The power should be in the hands of the Federal Government.  It is the surest way to a fair, equal, progressive society.  The states missed their chance.  This amendment must be repealed.

The Bill of Rights is really the Bill of No Rights, according to the Federal Government, and its repeal is basically already done, but we need to make it official.  This will help lead to a more equal, just, peaceful, and progressive society for all Americans.

Let's start the movement now!  Repeal the Bill of Rights!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Life as a train commuter

This week I took the train to work every day.  Not a big deal, right?  Well, the last time I did that was in 1980, so it’s a big deal for me.  My client relocated to downtown Dallas, where parking is not free and where traffic is awful.

The train I am riding is Dallas Area Rapid Transit (http://www.dart.org).  It is light rail, not a full sized subway or anything like that.  Tickets can be purchased through an iPhone app, GoPass.  A monthly pass is $80, but due to my advanced age I only have to pay half of that.  The ticket machines are finicky, so having the ability to buy tickets by phone is very, very handy.

During peak times, the trains seem to run every 7 or 8 minutes.  I have gotten a seat every time so far, but the seats seem designed for someone who is maybe 5’7” and 150 pounds, which is me in the ninth grade.  Add a briefcase and you have a tight fit.  I am traveling a little off peak, which is probably why I can get a seat.  The train stops at Pearl St downtown, about a 30 second walk to the building where I work.

My ride is around 30 minutes, and I’ve been passing the time by reading on an e-reader.  I would like to read the paper but it’s just too confined a space.  I am hoping to watch movies on my iPad as a diversion.  The train is very noisy, with continual reminders that you have to pay to ride the train, and to activate your GoPass prior to boarding, etc.  Very annoying.  

I have seen fare inspectors twice in one week.  I wonder what will happen if they want to check my ticket when the train is underground, because the GoPass app needs an internet connection.  

It’s definitely a change from what I’m used to.  One problem is that the train does not stop at my health club.  I have experimented with using a park-and-ride station that is close by to the health club, but I’m not sure yet if that will work.

Check back in a couple of months.  I may be used to the train, or I may be retired.