March 30, 2008

How to Pick a Peach

I got the following book for Christmas and am just reading it now: How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table: Russ Parsons: Books

It is in the same theme as the Pollen books about food, but it goes a bit further by giving you advice on how to select the best fruits and vegetables - whether from a roadside stand or the supermarket. Well worth the read.

March 29, 2008

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

TMagazine - New York Times


Just for my cloud obsessed brother Matthew:

ASK DR. BOLI. « Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.

Money quote:

"Cumulus.—Cumulus clouds are the puffy white clouds one sees in the sky on an otherwise fair day. The most up-to-date meteorological theory suggests that cumulus clouds are the souls of departed lambs and kittens."

March 18, 2008

Robot Mule: "Big Dog"

It is hard not to personify this:

Don't you feel bad when the guy kicks it? Or when it slips on the ice?

March 16, 2008

Oslo and Bad Travel Days

I am just back from Oslo, Norway. This was a business trip, and was short – only two nights there. (Three nights if you count the night on the airplane)

The outbound trip was uneventful, and the business meetings went well. I even got a cool waterproof windbreaker with a Norwegian flag out of it.

The trip back, however, was another story.

My flight from Oslo to Amsterdam was scheduled to leave at 6:40, so instead of staying at a hotel in downtown Oslo, which I usually do (more ambiance, more restaurants, more interesting things to do) I opted to stay at the airport hotel. Ostensibly to get an extra hour of sleep, but in reality so I would have one less type of transportation to worry about that day.

(You can ask my wife. All modes of transportation make me somewhat nervous. I tend to get to the airport a little before the recommended arrival time, and I am always worried about the next leg of the journey. She things I am obsessive, I think I am prudent)

I stayed in bed (though didn't sleep) as long as I could. I even watched a Steven Seagal movie called Half Past Dead. There is something viscerally appealing about movies like this. Sort of like Pro Wrestling. I mean, you know that the good guys will win, and there will be a lot of head crunching (or flying bullets and broken necks) on the way there. It was not the best movie I have seen late at night in a hotel room (that may have been Hello Dolly).

Since I wanted to get to the airport the recommended 2 hours before the flight, I got out of bed about 4:00 AM, showered and finished packing. The hotel's breakfast room was not yet open, so I figured I would get a coffee and a handful of peanuts at the business class lounge in the airport.

I walked across the street in the snow, in the fog, and got to the airport precisely at 4:40. There was one person in front of me in line, and I waited patiently. When it was my turn, I gave up my passport and the young woman told me I had already checked in. Yes, I said, but I had no printer in my hotel room (To make sure I didn't get bumped, I had checked in and changed my seats several hours earlier.) She gave me my boarding passes, and I noticed that my new seats were not on the flight from Oslo to Amsterdam. SO I asked her to change the flight, which she did gladly.

Now, you need to understand something about me and airplanes. I don't fit. I mean, I am 6'6” and about 218 pounds. That translates to almost 2 meters and almost 100 kg. These little intra-Europe airplanes are three across 737s and little Airbuses (I can never remember their numbers) even in business class. I have one seat I like in that airplane (1D if you must know. It gives me leg room) and I asked for it. I was glad I did.

After checking in (I carried on my bags this trip. Something I am doing more and more these days) I walked though security (Nobody in line at all. That was a first) and down to the lounge. Much to my chagrin, but I suppose not my surprise, it was closed until 5:45. We were supposed to board at 6:10.

So I walked to the gate to wait. And wait. And wait.

We finally boarded at the appointed time, and I got my nice seat with good legroom. Every seat on the plane was full (Norway shuts down for the week before easter – semana santa in Latin America, as well as the two days after. SO everyone was looking to get someplace warm). and then we waited to take off.

Remember how I always am worried about the next leg of my journey? Well, this trip had sort of tight connections in Amsterdam. I had 1 hour and 25 minutes to get from my gate, through security, and onto the Amsterdam to Houston leg of the flight. So I was already planning my exit from the plane and dash to the new gate.


Thu, 13MAR08 KL1143 J AMSTERDAM (AMS) 9:50AM OSLO/OSL (OSL) 11:40AM

Sat, 15MAR08 KL1140 J OSLO/OSL (OSL) 6:40AM AMSTERDAM (AMS) 8:45AM


And then the pilot announced a gate hold. He didn't know why. Weather? Maybe, it was snowing and foggy. More likely was an ATC hold over Brussels. They had installed a new computer system (probably new middleware) and it couldn't handle the traffic. SO we waited.

He said our slot was now 7:40 (an hour late!) and we could make up some time in the air. But then, Hallelujah! we got an earlier slot. You could feel him racing to the runway, but first we had to de-ice.

The de-icing made us lose our slot. Damn that ice! Damn those engines! Why couldn't they just take off with the ice in place? I am sure we had the power. But regardless, we waited.

We finally made the runway at about 7:45, in the air by about 8:00. He said it was about a 1.5 hour flight, and he was as good as his word. Now it was 9:30, and I had to get to another terminal (well, arm, anyway) through immigration, and through security in 30 minutes (if you are closer than ten minutes to your flight, they don't let you on.

I grabbed my bags, and rushed out the door. I stopped twice in the terminal. Once to confirm my gate (E18) and once to grab a cart. Sure, my bag has wheels, but my sweet, lovely, and long surffering wife has taught me many things, one of which is always grab a cart if one is available. (click here and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page)

Rushing through an airport always makes me feel like OJ Simpson. (the pre-murder one, not the killer one). I don't mind bumping into people who are lolly gagging or blocking the transit way. They need to either get moving or get out of the way.

I got to through immigration without a problem, and got to the gate with a few minutes to spare. Those of you who have flown through Schiphol Airport lately know, every gate now has gate security. I had to take out my laptop and blah blah blah. I set off the buzzer (and I have no idea why. I don't ever set of the buzzer here in the USA) and got the most thorough pat-down I have ever received. This fellow knew that I dressed left, if you know what I mean. But I was clean, and was able to walk right onto the gangplank.

The plane was a 747, and I was on the upper deck. It was a nice enough plane, and I got settled in quickly. The flight attendant came by with water, juice, or champagne, and I had to have a drink. I chatted with the ExxonMobil environmental engineer sitting next to me.

And we headed out to the runway. And we stopped.

The pilot said that we had a problem with our flaps. Not good. Not good at all. He said that maintenance had been called, and we would be heading back to the gate.

But we didn't head to the gate, we headed to a maintenance facility. For about an hour we could see the folks working on the wing. During this time, I took the opportunity to check the flight status using my phone.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the flight had been canceled! I told my seat mate and others nearby. there was a flurry of activity as everyone (including myself) started calling our travel agents or airlines to try and get a new flight. Continental told me that there was nothing they could do until we were off the plane and the flight was officially canceled.

Oddly enough, I was not at all worried by the delay. After all, it was my last leg! Sure I wanted to get home, but I knew that my Sweet Everloving had some errands to run and I would not see her when I first got home anyway. So I waited.

The crew decided to turn on the entertainment system and had out sandwiches and drinks. That was fun, and I got to see Scoop, the Woody Allen film (Better than Half Past Dead)

Finally the pilot came on and said that they had to replace a motor. This would take another two hours. We settled in for the long hall.

In the end, we took off (and arrived) five hours late. It was a bad travel day, but I got home none the less.

If you can't win by the rules, challenge the rules!

Burnt Orange Report::: Clinton Request Violates the Law

March 4, 2008

Caucus confusion

Here is how we started the caucus:

We were waiting in line to sign in for the caucus, and the precinct chairman came to explain the rules. He told us all that we had to sign in, and pick our presidential preference, but if we did NOT stay until the end of the caucus, our vote would not be counted.

When we got to the front of the line, Doreen told the guy that we had read in the paper that all we had to do was sign in and leave. He went to check the rules, then came back and told her that she was right – all we had to do was sign in and go. But he wanted us to stay until the end, because that is how we picked the delegates and passed some rules.

We were there when the votes were counted, as described below.

Precinct 34 Caucus

The Texas Democratic Primary is complicated. It may have always been complicated, but it never mattered before – or rather it has not mattered since 1976. Or was it 1968? In any case, it matters now.

A quick recap – about 2/3s of the delegates are allocated by the primary. But not proportionally by voter (one man one vote) but allocated per Texas Senate District. We live in Senate District 13, and we have 7 delegates. Only one district has more – one of the Austin Districts, which has 8. The Senate Districts in the Rio Grand Valley have about 2. So our votes are more valuable than the votes down south. These delegates were allocated by Democratic voter turnout in the past two elections. Go figure.

We have just returned from our caucus. There were about 300 people waiting in line yet.

Now we are just back from the finalization of the caucus. We returned shortly before the started counting the votes. Now, you have to remember that this is a Democratic voting place. They had a tally of the votes, and they added them up BY HAND! Nobody had a calculator! My gosh!

After electing a precinct chairman and a secretary, they told us the final vote. 172 Obama, 120 Clinton, 2 uncommitted (What the heck? Uncommitted? Who comes to a caucus and votes uncommitted?)

That makes our precinct, #34, 59% Obama, 41% Clinton.

GO Obama!

March 3, 2008

Women voters in Houston

The woman who hosted the party for Linda Worthheimer is on Doreen's board. (She is the one who says that she likes and respects Hillary, but is voting for Obama)

NPR: Texas Women Reflect Shift in Political Sentiments

A brush with greatness!

Starbucks vs Walmart (updated)


March 1, 2008


The CEO of the Orange County Register has endorsed Barack Obama.

So what, you may ask?

Scott Flanders is a well known Libertarian.

Here is the article.

Here is the punchline:

“But there was a hush as Flanders reasoned that Obama is the best candidate to work on four top libertarian reforms: 1) Iraq withdrawal, 2) restoring the separation of church and state; 3) easing off victimless crimes such as drug use; 4) curtailing the Patriot Act.”

It's a lead pipe cinch in my book.

Cedar Waxwing

Today while riding our bikes down to see the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Trail Riders, we noticed a small bird sitting in the middle of the road looking like this:

I stopped and gently picked it up and placed it on a big rock in a side yard. After I set it down, I gently stroked its breast, and it quickly flew up to the trees to join its compatriots!

I have always liked these Cedar Waxwings, and it was nice to see one up close, and even better that it seemed to be unharmed.