December 29, 2010

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

We got home late last night on an uneventful flight from SFO. (Thanks Quinn!)

It was a great vacation. We were celebrating two birthdays (My lovely Bride and her best friend Paul's) in San Francisco

From San Francisco and Doreen's Birthday

and Sonoma County:

From Sonoma and Redwoods

Both legs of the trip were great (I wrote a little about our trip to Berkeley for a play and dinner for Chez Panisse here.)

As usual on our trips we ate WAY too much great food (La Mar, Chez Panisse, Wayfare Tavern, The restaurant at the Kenwood Inn, Cyrus, and more that I can't remember) and drank maybe one too many glasses of wine.

The side trips were great:

From Sonoma and Redwoods

From Sonoma and Redwoods

From Museum and a little more

and the company was the best.

From Museum and a little more

San Francisco and points north are always a great time, even if the weather did not cooperate:

From Sonoma and Redwoods

A good celebration!

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to All!

And to all a good night.

Arabian Nights at the Berkeley Rep

Yesterday Doreen and I took the BART over to Berkeley to see the matinee performance of Mary Zimmerman's Arabian Nights at the Berkeley Rep.

From Berkeley

I wasn't sure what to expect, either for Berkeley or the Play, but both were very entertaining. I seem to remember visiting Berkeley once or twice in my ill spent youth, but the town seemed totally new to me. First, getting out of the BART station we noticed an unusually large number of beggars. Not just beggars, but young beggars. And not just young beggars, but young beggars smoking pot. I certainly have nothing against young people smoking pot, but to see them begging (rather aggressively) honestly surprised me. I wonder who gives them money.

But we wandered around town and found a nice little place for lunch called Le Note. Doreen had Ratatouille, and I had a Croque Madam. Both were passable, if not great.

We then wandered about the UC campus to kills some time. It is a very pretty campus:

From Berkeley

From Berkeley

and stumbled into a street festival. Those are always fun.

But getting back to the Arabian nights. We all know the story (The king is betrayed, he promises to kill each wife after one single night, Scheherazade keeps her head by stringing out stories that never end, and the king always lets her live one more night to hear one more story until he falls in love), but each story was played just delightfully. And the stories! There are stories within stories within stories. And each actor just became the role they were in at the moment. It was a long play, and I just didn't want it to end. If you ever get a chance to see it, you can't turn it down.

After the show, we had dinner reservations at Chez Paniesse (careful if you click through. There is music) Alice Water's (justly famous) restaurant. The food was great (you had no choice. But that didn't matter - it was great) and the wines were superb. We started with a roast quail salad with a duck liver crotini on the side. Then lobster bisque. The main course was roast lamb, and dessert was buckwheat pancakes! It was an excellent meal

Doreen living in the land of bliss

Posted by Picasa

December 22, 2010

50 days of Bliss (out of a lifetime of bliss)

My sweet ever lovin's birthday is this Saturday. You may notice that she shares this birthday with a very famous religious figure. That being said, I always try to make her birthday someone special.

This year, for example, we are in San Francisco:

From San Francisco and Doreen's Birthday

That is us on a cable car.

We are here until Saturday, when we drive up to a spa in Sonoma County for even more fun.

Additionally since this is a milestone birthday for her, I have been at her beck and call, honoring her every little wish, and simply put, making her life joyful for the 50 days preceding the actual birthday.

This has become known as her "50 Days of Bliss"

Of course, her life is pretty blissful anyway, so this was sort of just like gilding the lily.

December 16, 2010

Cars - Chapter eleven 2007 BMW 550i

My current car - until tomorrow, when I am selling it - is the best car I have ever owned. Not the best looking, mind you, but the most reliable, and most performant car that I have had the good sense to drive. It is a 2007 BMW 550i, a solid 5 series with a nice sized V8 (oddly enough, it is 4.8 liters, not 5.5 liters like the name would imply). 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, and all that at 20 mpg:

From Cars

Did I say 20 MPG? I meant 19.14 MPG. How do I know with such precision, you may ask? The answer is that I have recorded ever tank of gas that I put in that car. (You can see the data here.) I am not ordinarily this obsessive, but it started when I picked up the car and I asked the salesman what the gas mileage was. He couldn't answer, so I said I would find out. Then after about a year you can't really stop recording the data. The cool thing is that you can also follow gas prices over the past four years.

This car has some great technology that is now pretty much taken for granted. Sonar in backing up and driving forward (for help in parking), satellite radio, heated seats, bluetooth connection to your phone (though I seldom talk on the phone while driving. It is much easier to text [just kidding]). And fast? This car was probably faster than 95% of the cars on the road. Did I drive fast? Well, not really fast. Maybe occasionally. But it was nice to know that the power was there when you needed it.

I will miss this car.

December 14, 2010

Cars - Chapter ten 1997 Mercedes Benz E420

I think that this is the best looking car I have ever owned:

From Cars

I first saw this style while living in Singapore - I think it was the first model year. I like the "organic" curves and round headlights. I never drove an E420 before I bought this (via fax!), but I did drive its younger sister, the E320 (V6 instead of V8). I tried to put this car on my American Express card. AE had no problem doing that, but the dealership was not game. I guess the % cut to American Express was too much for them.

The photo above, along with the photo of the car in Chapter two, was used in a Mercedes ad a couple of years ago. They asked owners to send in photos of themselves with their cars. I had the old one, and then several years prior to that ad campaign my wife took the photo above, recreating the earlier photo. We got paid, as did my brother Matt, who (probably) took the earlier photo. A minute of fame.

I always felt good while driving that car. It was pretty quick (there is no replacement for displacement) and as I said, i felt it was just a really attractive automobile.

The first day I was driving that car I was (honestly) speeding down Memorial Drive, the curvy part eastbound just past Sheppard. A cop pulled up along side me and simply gestured for me to slow down. Now that was nice of him! The car still had paper (new car) plates, so I guess he was cutting me a break.

The oddest thing that happened to me is that I ran that car for over a year on expired plates. Long story, that - let's just say I didn't get the paperwork in a timely manner, and, quite frankly, who looks at your registration sticker date?

Then one day when driving to the office (in Alvin, home of Nolan Ryan) I was stopped by a state trooper on Highway 6 in Manvel. I had NO idea why he was stopping me. I pulled over, and he asked "Do you know why I am stopping you?" I told him I had no idea. I said I was probably driving a couple of miles over the speed limit, but that just couldn't be the problem. Then he pointed out that I was OVER a year expired! I apologized and made some excuse about not getting my mail. He wrote me a warning ticket. Nice guy.

That was on President's Day, 2002. I know that because during the day I was trying to find out what I needed to do to re-register the car, and all Harris County offices were closed.

THEN, on my drive home, I was stopped AGAIN, by a different cop! I showed him the ticket, and told him my story, as well as the fact that it was President's Day, and all the county offices were closed. He said "I can still give you a ticket, you know!" Which I acknowledged, and he let me go, too.

Here is the odd part of the story. If you are late in paying your registration fee (I think more than a month) you need to pay a fine to get it reinstated. But if it is over a year, it is considered a NEW registration, and not only do you not pay the fine, you don't pay for the back registration! What a deal. I was a lucky boy with that.

I really liked that car.

December 12, 2010

Cars - Chapter nine 1994 (ish) Volvo who knows what

In January of 1995 I moved to Singapore. I inherited my predecessor's Volvo. It look just like this:

From Cars

But that is not it. I don't have a photo of that car.

It was convenient having a car in Singapore, but I did not like anything about that car. What I liked most about that car is that I could drive out to Pungoll Seafood for Black Pepper Crab and Salt and Pepper Shrimp.

The first time I went to Pungoll Seafood I didn't realize they did not take credit cards. The owner was as nice as she could be, and said that I could return later with cash. Nice! I think it was the Volvo that made her trust us.

There are not many funny Volvo stories, but the night before I left two of the guys I worked with (now they are both high rollers at their respective companies - Halliburton and Chevron) came over and we drank all of my remaining wine, which I had got from another ex-pat who had left Singapore.

We drank and drank, then we went out to a bar, I think it was called Saxophone, or something like that. I was so tight I sang St James Infirmary on the bar.

I had an early flight the next morning, and no car booked. I had hoped that one of these jokers would give me a ride to the airport. The car (that stinking volvo) was almost out of gas. Luckily for me, one of the guys did give me a ride, well hung over before a 24 hour flight.

And the car didn't run out of gas, as far as I could tell.

December 11, 2010

Cars - Chapter eight 1993 Jeep Cherokee

This is one of my two company cars, but I though I would include it anyway.

This is the only photo of the car that I have:

From Cars

That is it to the right of the photo. You may be able to tell from the picture that I was not living in the US at the time I owned that photo. I was in Venezuela. The gentleman in the photo is a good friend - he was a retired Colonel of Artillery in the Venezuelan Army. The picture was taken on the way to his finca at San Juan de los Moros:

View Larger Map

It was always fun riding with the Colonel. He had, of course, his military ID with him at all times, as well as his 9mm automatic. When we would come to a military checkpoint (of which there were many in Venezuela) he would let the soldier swagger up to my window and ask me what I was doing, and where I was going. He would then lean over me with his ID in his hand. The soldier would immediately snap to attention and wave me through with a very deferential "Sigue, sigue, me coronel!"

That car was OK. Called a "mafioneta" in Caracas as it was well liked by the drug dealers in the country, it was an often stolen car. Someone tried to steal this car too, but they were not successful. But they did ream both locks out with what I assume was a screwdriver. The only way to open the car was with the remote control.

These cars were stolen so frequently, I had to have secondary anti-theft devices in the car. I had two - a "tranca palanca" and a "tranca pedal". The first one locked the shift knob (it was a five speed manual transmission) to a piece of angle iron welded to the floor board. The second was a device that locked the brake to the clutch pedal. That way, you could not depress either. We had these two locks installed by different shops, because I was told that if you had them both installed by the same shop, they would keep the keys and then steal the car if they happened across it in the street.

I loved driving in Venezuela - it was really survival of the fittest. Once, I had two folks down from our Houston office. The guy the back kept having a sharp intake of breath as we would come close to other cars. The fellow in the front seat said, "You should just close your eyes when Dan drives. It is safer that way." I replied "Yes, that is how I manage to get by in this city"

I never even had a fender bender.

December 8, 2010

Cars - Chapter seven 1989Ford Taurus SHO

The Saab lasted me about seven years, and it was time to pass it on. I sold it to my younger brother Matthew for a steal, and he drove it for quite a while. I am not sure of the final disposition, but I think it met a violent end.

But what I got nest surprised many of my friends, a Ford Taurus SHO:

From Cars

This was an unusual Taurus. It had a Yamaha Marine V6 3 liter engine that generated 220 horsepower (a lot at the time) and did 0-60 in 6.6 seconds (very fast at the time. For comparison the BMW M3 coup from 1989 had a 2.3 liter engine that generated 195 HP, and went 0-62 in 6.9 seconds)

It came with a five-speed manual transmission (only) and was a front wheel drive car. It generated so much torque that it would pull the steering wheel out of your hands in a sharp left turn if you really tried to floor it. But it was a fun car. (Partly because nobody knew how fast it really was!)

I only drove that car for about three years. I bought it when I started working at Landmark Graphics as a salesman, and kept it in storage while I was living in Caracas, but finally sold it to another Landmarker (you know who you are, John) when I moved from Caracas to Singapore.

A friend bought a similar car, and we would occasionally see each other on the freeway. Mayhem would ensue. He tapped his car out on the freeway one day in a one car accident. He was fine, though.

I enjoyed that car. Not a car to love, but certainly one to appreciate. I liked what Ford did with that car. IT kept it low-key and high performance.

December 6, 2010

Cars - Chapter six 1982 Saab 900 Turbo

Finally! My first new car ever.

Seeing as one of my life motivators is to be different, when I finally realized that I could afford a new car (even at a usurious interest rate) I opted for a Saab instead of a BMW. One of my buddies in the office (Dave Smith. He was a mining engineer from Wyoming, and my partner in crime during one of the worst incidents in my Exxon career. That involved a vehicle, too. A Chevy Suburban. Now, back in 1981 a Suburban was a working truck. We used ours mainly for a surveying truck, not a housewife's succor transporter. And it was big and ungainly, with a manual transmission with a crawler first gear. The less said about what actually HAPPENED in that truck the better, but suffice it to say that beer, and a fire hydrant, were involved) had a Saab and he loved it:

From Cars

Quirky, of course, but who doesn't love quirky? I mean, the ignition key was on the floor between the seats! (That had something to do with Saab's origin as a aircraft manufacturer. But I am not sure what. Not like Porsche, who puts the ignition switch on the left side of the steering wheel so that in a Le Mans style racing start you can have your right hand on the shifter.)

While I never was in a wreck with this car (that was left to my brother Matthew) it was sort of jinxed. The heated seats never heated (not that big a deal) but you could never turn the regular heater OFF. (Not such a big deal in Denver, where I was living at the time, but a BiG problem when I moved back to Houston. This caused one of the strangest fixes I even did to a car. I was able to figure out how to divert the cooling fluid (which that car used in the heater coil) back to the radiator hose bu cutting one of the hoses and installing a manual valve. Then, whenever I would need the heat, I would have to open the hood and switch the valve. The problem was that the valve could not take the heat of the coolant, and failed, spilling all the coolant onto the roadway. I had to have the car towed to the dealership and my "fix" fixed.

The car also had a problem with its transmission. Right before the warranty expired, I was able to convince the dealership that there was something wrong with the transmission. They opened it up, and had to replace first and second gear.

By the end of that car's life it turned to a very noisy car. It had a ton of rattles and squeaks, exacerbated by the fact that the read seat was a fold down seat, thereby adding a whole new level of noise producing joints.

But it was my first new car ever, and I certainly still think of it fondly.

I just will not ever buy another Saab.

December 5, 2010

Cars - Chapter five 1968 BMW 1600 (with a 2002 engine)

After selling the Olds, I was back to my old German cars again. Another 1600, but the previous owner had replaced the smaller 1600 engine with a 2002 engine:

From Cars

This was another very fun car that slowly degraded over time. Cars just didn't last as long then as they do now.

From the first day I owned this car I was never sure if it was going to start when I needed it to start. I always kept a can of ether in the trunk to help. (You know, you take off the air cleaner, squirt the either in the carburetor, then run into the car and hit the ignition before all the ether evaporates. If you are luck, it gives you enough juice to start the car and get the fuel into the engine.)

I was living in an apartment complex called Indian Springs on Watonga street in Houston at the time. I thought it was pretty cool to own a BMW, even on old, unreliable, rusty, beat-up BMW. The woman who lived downstairs from me drove a brand new Porsche 924. I was always trying to make time with her to no avail. I think that once I even said, "I own a BMW" to impress her. The problem was that she knew which BMW it was, so it didn't work.

I moved to Denver in the summer of 1981 and drove this car up there. It made it all the way, and then promptly failed. I was in the parking lot of a large liquor store between Denver and Golden and was trying the ether trick when the battery went dead. A fellow in a Ferrari drove up to give me some advice. "You're flooding it" he said. Floor the gas pedal and it will dump the gas". I told him that what I really needed was a jump, as my battery had died. He just raised his electric window and drove away.

This was the only car I have ever had that was broken into. While it was parked at the apartment complex in Denver someone slim jimmed the door, popped the hood, and stole the upper radiator hose and the little plastic cover that protected the fuses (the fuse box cover). I was able to replace both for about $10.

That was the last totally unreliable car I owned, but not the last car to leave me stranded.

Cars - Chapter four 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88

After the 1600 was totaled, I needed a car fast. Not a fast car, at least not that I could afford one.

One of the guys at the office, our Electrical Engineer, Larry Goetz, told me he would sell me his Olds Delta 88 (This is not it, I don't have a photo of this car, either):

From Cars

But that is the right color, and it was cold when I owned it.

Larry was a good guy and was trying to help me out. In my youth I probably didn't realize that he was doing me a big favor, and I did not return the pleasure.

I did not like that car, and started trying to sell it as soon as I took possession. For some reason, I was acquainted with a recent Russian immigrant. He wanted the Olds, and I sold it to him less than a month after Larry sold it to me, at a profit. I didn't even have clear title!

Not something I am particularly proud of, but there you have it. I made some money, but upset Larry.

If you are out there Larry, sorry about that. I was just a dumb kid.

December 4, 2010

Cars - Chapter three 1967 BMW 1600

The third car I owned was a 1967 (pretty sure on the date) BMW 1600:

(This is not the actual car. I can't seem to find any photos of this car.)

From Cars

I look back in wonder at that car. I wonder how BMW got so many horsepower into such a small package. I wonder how they managed to keep that first gear SO LOW. (you had to shift at about 4 mph). But mainly I wonder why I bought that car.

This was in 1980, and I had just moved to Houston to start my first real job. I had no money, but good prospects. I tried to get a new car, but nobody would loan me any money. (Remember 1980? 20% interest rates on car loans for the GOOD prospects!) I had to buy a suit (you had to wear a suit to work at Exxon), some furniture, gosh, all sorts of stuff.

And Houston was going through it hottest summer in years (I moved down in mid-July). There were something like 9 days in a row over 100 degrees. Exxon Mineral's offices were in a building downtown (then Dresser Tower, now KBR Tower) and there was a bank right across the street with a rotating time and temp sign. So I remember the heat quite well.

But getting back to the car. Anyone out there who is familiar with the 1600 would know that it did not have air conditioning.

Let me clarify:

I bought a car.

In Houston.

In July.

In 1980.

That had no air conditioning.

So, as I said, I wonder, baby, why I bought that car.

But it was some kind of fun. Quick and hard to drive, the synchronizers were toast, so you really had to know what you were doing in order to shift that car without grinding the gears.

I owned that car from that July until it met an untimely demise when a car turned right in front of me and I smacked into her front quarter panel.

Oh, did I mention the car had no front bumper? It was not a fair contest. She was driving a big Cadillac, I was completely wrecked.

I was coming back from the post office on 43rd street with a Christmas present. (I can't remember from whom) when she turned in front of me.

She got a ticket, I got almost nothing for the car.

Very sad way to lose a car.

Cars - Chapter two 1965 Mercedes 220S

Here is the second car I owned, a 1965 Mercedes 220S in deep blue:
From Cars

I bought this car in Madison, WI for $400. I needed it to drive to Kemmerer, WY for my second co-op engineering job at the Kemmerer Coal Company.

In retrospect, it was probably not the best choice of a car to drive half way across the country, and live in a small town in western Wyoming. The greater Kemmerer area (which, of course, included Diamondville and Frontier) had about 3,000 people. Of course, I was not thinking about that when I bought a car that immediately needed about $200 worth of work. But all I could think of was, "I own a Mercedes!"

The car had numerous problems while I was in Kemmerer. The clutch, a hydraulic clutch, leaked. So I had to continually add hydraulic fluid and bleed the hydraulic line. Well, at least until I broke the bleed valve and had to ask my brother Mark to carry a Clutch Kit from Madison for me when he visited Kemmerer on an interview. I found a local mechanic to install the kit and the car worked fine.

It got really cold in Kemmerer, but I never had a problem starting this car. It turns out that this was because the fuel pump was leaking gasoline into the crankcase lowering the viscosity of the oil to the point where it was probably useless. But oddly enough, this wasn't much of a problem until I had to drive to Salt Lake City to pick up brother Chas, who was going to drive back to Madison with me.

His plane got in early, very early, so I had to leave Kemmerer at about 4:00 AM. I can't remember the exact day or date, but it had to be something like December 20th. I could probably figure it out because there was a new moon, and Venus was so bright it was casting a shadow.

I know that because the car broke down on highway 189. At about 4:30 in the morning, about 7,000 feet elevation, and about -20 degrees F.

Not the car's finest hour.

The problem was that the aforementioned fuel pump issue. The car would stop, I would let it rest for about 20 minutes, and then I could drive it again for about 20 minutes. Not the best way to travel 150 miles.

Every car that passed me stopped and asked if I needed help. That was (and is, I guess) Wyoming for you. When the first couple stopped I thought I would be able to limp into Evanston, but then reality snuck in and I hitched a ride.

I was dropped off at a 24 hour truck stop in Evanston, and had to wait for the town to open up. I was probably there, drinking coffee, for about three hours before a tow truck came by. We drove UP to get the car, then BACK to Evanston. We called a couple of parts stores to see if they had a fuel pump for a 1965 Mercedes 220S. That seemed to have caused great merriment in town. I had resigned myself to having to tow the car into Salt Lake City.

I guess I need to explain a little about my situation in Kemmerer. I was a co-op engineering student, so I was being paid like a junior engineer, and I was saving that money to pay for my final year of school. So I had my last paycheck in my hand, all of $600 or so. I had almost no other cash. With this money I had to pay the tow truck driver, the mechanic in SLC (I had an appointment at the Mercedes dealership, as I knew the car had some problems) and my share of the gas to get home.

The tow truck driver was kind enough to agree to charge me for a one-way tow to SLC, so that saved a little money. But when I got to Salt Lake (I remember now - it was a Saturday. What would that have been the 23rd? Chas, were we traveling on your Birthday?) I knew I had to cash that check.

Think about this - a Wyoming Check, a Wisconsin Driver's license, and I needed cash. The funny thing is that I had no problem at all. I found a local bank, told them my story (remember when you could talk to bankers?) cashed the check and moved over to the Mercedes dealer.

They must have felt sorry for me, as my billed seemed unreasonably low. Maybe $200? But at least the car was running.

The drive back to Madison was late, long, and cold. It didn't help that the rocker panels were rusted out and you got -20 degree air blowing in while you were trying to sleep, nor did it help that the A-frame was rusted and the car pulled so hard to the left that you could turn a corner by just letting go of the wheel, but it was a fun ride none the less.

I remember that car fondly.

Cars - Chapter one 1966 Chevy Impala

Earlier this week my older brother Chas asked some folks their opinion of a Subaru Outback. While I don't have personal experience with this car, it made me think of all the cars I have owned.

I have owned 9 cars, and for four years had a couple of company cars, so that makes 11 cars that I been driving over the past 34 years.

I will post them here one at a time.

1966 Chevy Impala:
From Cars

My father found this car for me. I think it belonged to one of his friends. I bought it in January of 1977 because I needed a car for my co-op engineering job - in a coal mine in Southern Illinois (The Hillsboro mine from Consol Coal). I was living in Greenville.

The car was cheap - I think I paid $350 for it. It had some real problems that I never fixed - the manifold gasket had failed, so it was really, really loud. The gas tank had a leak, so you couldn't fill it up more than half way, the radiator leaked, so I had to put in "drugs for cars" which would plug up the holes. But other than that it was a great car. Cheap and reliable.

I won't talk here about driving it one-eyed.

December 3, 2010

salman rushdie

We went to listen to Salman Rushdie talk tonight.

More on this later, but he is a very entertaining speaker.

November 27, 2010

TSA overstepping bounds

Here is a video of a young woman trying to get through TSA security with breast milk:

Here is the punch line:

They don't let her, violating their own guidelines.

Write your congressman, senator, and airline.

I have opted out before, and I will again. This must stop.

How to Draw An Owl

Ben Casnocha: The Blog: How to Draw An Owl: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

October 14, 2010


I have worked underground.

I worked in an underground coal mine in Illinois for about 9 months, and worked in an underground oil shale mine for about a year.

Working underground makes you appreicate your fellow workers. You rely on them unconditionally. I am not sure if it is a universal signal, but in the underground coal mines in Illinois if you shake your "bug light" (hardhat lamp) back and forth horizontally at someone they stop IMMEDIATELY. It does not matter if they are the president of the company or the lowest red-hat (that would have been me) on the crew - you react to that signal without question.

You do that because you hold your co-workers lives in your hands at all times. And you never take that for granted.

Now, that is not to say that there was not a certain level of horseplay underground. But you would never, ever knowingly endanger someones life.

We were talking here at the office about the Chilean miners, and how they survived the first 17 days through the strict discipline and rationing by their shift boss. One of the guys here said that he would have just knock the boss out, and taken all the food.

I said he wouldn't - because that is not how those miners think.

When you work underground you are the member of a very small fraternity. And you worry about everyone you know.

But I will point out one very sad thing about this rescue.

Where were the mine owners when the guys came up?

Flying can be 'hell' for tall passengers -

Flying can be 'hell' for tall passengers - "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Not sure why Hell is in quotation marks.

That is my life!

October 9, 2010

Questions Of Travel - Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

The Long History Of American “declinism.” | The New Republic

Latest Entry In The Long History Of American “declinism.” | The New Republic: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

October 3, 2010

The Case Against Expatriation: Not Cutting the Mustard - James Fallows - National - The Atlantic

The Case Against Expatriation: Not Cutting the Mustard - James Fallows - National - The Atlantic: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Having lived overseas I can understand this fellow's point.

And I met many Americans (and Brits and Aussies and Dutch) who fit that mold. I toyed with the idea of never returning, but never seriously.

September 25, 2010

Goodbye OpenSpirit Corporation

I started work at OpenSpirt on June 1, 2003. The company had 18 employees and under $2 million in sales. We were about to release the best version of the software ever - about two orders of magnitude faster than the currently released version.

We slowly grew the company using cash flow, with a little bit of equity from the then current investors. We targeted specific accounts and specific functions, and then delivered what we promised. We had a great relationship with our investors and cut no prices (we doubled them when I joined, and then increased them by 2.5x a couple years later.)

In 2006 we took on another investor to enforce of view of Vendor Neutrality (one of our founding principles) and it worked. We got an outside Board chair. We got a bunch of cash, and used it judiciously to expand overseas. But we still made money. We were cash flow positive for six years in a row.

OpenSpirit saw the growth of, and helped promote, Petrel - a wonderful piece of modeling software. We piggybacked on much of their success.

Then oil companies started seeing us not as an interesting science experiment, but a necessary part of their work-flow.

We had the growing pains that all small companies do. We had to add better benefits (expensive!) infrastructure (painful) and process (don't tell me what to do!).

By late last year we had over 65 employees, and were seen as the undisputed leader in integration and interoperbilty software in the oil and gas upstream vertical. Nice place to be, but it was sort of a small niche.

One of our owners decided that it was time to sell. Probably not the best environment to sell into, but he who pays the piper calls the tune. All we had to do was dance.

And dance we did. We selected an investment banker (Houlihan Lokey out of San Francisco) and started the game. We had the first term sheet in about a month (nice job, guys!) but it took a long, long time to negotiate the deal. More on that later. Or maybe not.

So here we are. Closed and funded last week. The investors can't be unhappy (well, they can be - but if they are it is their own damned fault). The employees are by and large happy (what about my vacation?) and we are looking forward to a great time as part of TIBCO Software.

Good luck to us!

September 20, 2010

Schumpeter: Down with fun | The Economist

I can tell you how to have fun at work:

1. Clear Goals
2. The tools and training to be able to reach those goals
3. Reward (not necessarily financial) once those goals are reached.

THAT is fun

Schumpeter: Down with fun | The Economist: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

September 19, 2010

September 4, 2010

August 31, 2010

Here is one explaination for the forms of the plantations

Of course, river front was very valuable, as the river was the means of transportation. I think that had as much to do with the shapes of the plantations (getting your goods to market) as the taxes

Form Follows Tax Laws « Candy Chang: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

I always liked this map

My paternal grandfather (a sugar farmer in Louisiana) had one of these maps on his wall:

1858brno.jpg (JPEG Image, 1302x4770 pixels): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

August 25, 2010

Building a Nation of Know-Nothings/ We all lose

Building a Nation of Know-Nothings - "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

20% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

More Americans believe in UFOs than in evolution.

You may call it arrogance, I call it a damned shame.

Just August

My wife and I had the good fortune to get reservations at the Just August Project last night.I didn't bring my camera with me, as I sometimes find I concentrate too hard on the photos and not enough on the food, and I didn't want that to happen this time.

I am glad I did.

The food was great, and the kids running this place were fantastic. (anyone under 30 is a kid these days)

Here is the menu, and it was fantastic. Some superlatives to point out - the sweetbreads were some of the best I have ever had. And I seek out sweetbreads. I have eaten them on four continents and have enjoyed them all. But these were some to write home about. The bread breads were also great. Now that I am baking weekly it is fun to see what others can do with a little yeast and gluten.

But it really was special to see the heart that this crew poured into the pop-up. I hope they get their own place soon.

I feel sorry for anyone who wasn't me last night.

Is the web really dead? - Boing Boing

Is the web really dead? - Boing Boing: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"