Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Attack of the Killer Squirrels

My dogs love to chase squirrels. Actually, when they see a squirrel, they focus in on the squirrel to the exclusion of anything else. I bet that if I let them tree a squirrel and left them there, they'd pass out from exhaustion before they'd give up trying to get the squirrel.

This is actually very annoying - dragging two 80 lb dogs in the opposite direction of a squirrel they want to chase. If only my dogs could read and understand the following news item, they might give up on chasing squirrel's entirely: BBC NEWS | Europe | Russian squirrel pack 'kills dog'

If you think that this is just something that happens in Europe (they're kinda weird over there, aren't they?), think again: When Squirrels ATTACK.

Beware! Beware!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Feeling fine

Just a quick post to follow-up on my earlier post... I had the stent removed yesterday and I'm feeling completely back to normal now, which makes Ray a happy boy. The stone never passed, but the urologist said that it might still pass in the next day or so. Oh boy, something to look forward to!

As for the stent removal - yikes! ouch! And he didn't even buy me a drink afterwards.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Please note that I titled this Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas. I'm not saying this to be politically or un-politically correct, I'm saying Holidays because I'm not a Christian and I don't celebrate the birth of the mythic Jesus baby. I'm an atheist. I celebrate the passing of the new year and, for convenience sake (everyone else's convenience, that is), I participate in a gift exchange on December 25. I do it because I like to give presents to my family and friends and, since I grew up in a religious family, that's the day they do their exchange.

For years, I've been pissed about the "Jesus is THE reason for the season" billboards that pop up each December, but I'm happy to say that I haven't seen any of them this year. Jesus is not the reason for the season - the Earth's orbit and the Northern hemisphere's tilt away from the sun is reason. Unfortunately, this is just one of many science facts that are lost on most fundamentalists.

This year, I get to be pissed about the entire "Happy Holidays is wrong, Merry Christmas is right" campaign of the religious right. This is yet another case where these fundamentalists want freedom of religion, but only if it means that everyone is a Christian. If they want to wish me or anyone else a Merry Christmas, no one is stopping them. But if I (or name-any-corporation) wants to be inclusive and wish them a Happy Holiday, you'd think I shouted out, "Jesus is not only fake, he's a gay cowboy on Brokeback Mountain!" Which, by the way, is probably true.

Oh, and for the even smaller percentage of people that call themselves Jewish (smaller percentage than atheists, that is), have a happy Hanukkah. At least from what I know, Hanukkah represents a historic event as opposed to a mythic one (the birth of baby Jesus). (If I'm wrong about this, post a comment and let me know.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

My Thanskgiving Vacation

I just got out of the hospital after a six-day stay. It was the day after Thanksgiving and I went in for a visit with my oral surgeon to "expose" my implant. Before, during, and after the visit, I was experiencing abdominal pain, but when I got home from the visit, the pain became unbearable. I phoned 911 and an ambulance brought me to Sharp Mercy Hospital.

I could barely move without pain in the emergency room. I was given a CT scan and an X-ray, but the initial diagnosis was pain in my kidneys related to PKD. They checked me in to the hospital, put me on an IV drip, and administered morphine, then Dilaudid, for the pain.

Every day I spent in the hospital, I thought for sure that I would be checking out by the next day. But, the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. First, they thought I had ruptured some of my PKD cysts, but that diagnosis changed to pancreatitis (all the symptoms matched) until they finally decided it was a kidney stone in my right kidney.

Armed with the stone diagnosis, I went in for a procedure where the urologist stuck a telescope up my urethra and injected dye into my bladder to find the blockage. They also placed a stent in my right ureter and tried (with no luck) to locate the kidney stone and extract it. I was under anesthesia during the procedure, so I don't remember anything from the time I entered the operating room to the time they wheeled me out into recovery.

Since they were unable to recover the kidney stone, I was left with a string attached to the stent in my ureter that hung out of my penis like some sort of sick fly fishing bait (my friend Steve should enjoy that imagery). Oh, that and blood in my urine for the next 4 days (until today).

Two days after the procedure, I was finally let out of the hospital. I was (and am) still in a bit of pain, but nowhere near what I experienced in the hospital. The pain now has to do with the string in my penis, my swollen hand and wrist from an errant IV site, sores in the back of my throat from the breathing tube (for the surgery), and general pain in my stomach from the antibiotics. All this and I still have (presumably) a stone in my kidney that I'm waiting to pass.

At this point, I really don't care about the kidney stone. I just can't wait to see the urologist (sometime later this week) for a visit to have the stent pulled out of me. Oh, joy!

Monday, November 21, 2005

There is No God

I was driving up to HelLA this morning when I heard this wonderful essay by Penn Jillette as part of their "This I Believe" series, entitled "There is No God". Here's an excerpt:

I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word 'elephant' includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?"

I highly encourage you to read or listen to the entire essay by clicking the link above. I feel very much the same way that Penn does.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Random thoughts - Robertson, election results, and movies

This just in... Pat Robertson is still an idiot, as indicated by his recent statement on the 700 club:

I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city....

And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there.

In case you haven't been following the Dover story, the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania was packed by idiots that wanted to teach "Intelligent Design" in a High School Biology class. They were all up for re-election and they were all voted off the board in Tuesday's election.

Speaking of elections, San Diego elected another old white guy to replace the old white guy mayor that resigned in disgrace. I voted for Donna Frye, so I lost that one.

The nice thing about the election is that all those terrible initiatives were rejected by the state. I was particularly glad that Proposition 73 was voted down, but I'm also particularly disappointed that the majority of San Diego county continue to demonstrate their conservative-Christian/Republican leanings by voting for these things.

Finally, I'd like to mention that Kara and I have attended two sneak preview screenings in the last two weeks, and both movies were worth watching. First up was The Weather Man, starring Nicolas Cage as, well, a weatherman. Gore Verbinski was trying to make his American Beauty, but the result fell a bit short. The movie was entertaining, but nothing spectacular. One scene with a rambling, stream-of-consciousness narration of the private thoughts within the main characters head was probably the funniest scene in a while.

Then, we saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and it blew the other movie away (and pretty much everything else that has come out this year thus far). The movie stars Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, and a Liv Tyler lookalike (Michelle Monaghan). I went into this movie knowing nothing about it, not even seeing the trailer, so I won't tell you anything about the story. I'll just tell you that it was hilarious and that I will buy it when it comes out on DVD.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Kara Church, the website

Just a quick note that Kara's web site is up and running at Kara Church Hand-knit Clothing & Accessories. You can see samples of her blankets, Afghans, scarves, purses, and more.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Change of pace

CUTEK logo
It's a bit anti-climatic to mention it at this point, since the cat was let out of the bag while I was on vacaction, but I'm leaving Symitar after 13 and a half years to go to work as a consultant to credit unions that run Symitar's Episys software. My last day with Symitar is this coming Friday.

I'll be working with the guys over at CUTEK , starting on Halloween. A press release should go out in the next week or so and I'll blog about it when it comes out.

One of the best parts of my new job is that I'll be working from home. Buster and Gracie are very happy about that. Kara will still be working for Symitar, though, so the downside is that we won't be within walking distance of each other during the work day.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Back from Arizona

We had a great time in Arizona and I just finished posting the photos from our trip to My Flickr Page. You can browse by tags or by sets (hint: the Arizona Vacation set contains all the trip pictures while the Sedona, Verde Valley Train and Grand Canyon sets contain a subset of the pictures).

Our trip began with a flight to Phoenix. We then drove to Flagstaff, stopping to see the Montezuma Castle along the way. In Flagstaff, we stayed for two nights at a bed & breakfast with a host that didn't seem to like us very much. (She was annoyed that we didn't want to eat red meat.) You can e-mail me for the name of the place, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Flagstaff served as a jumping off point for a hike near Sunset Crater and a visit to the Wupatki ruins. The lava flows at Sunset Crater were amazing and Kara really enjoyed the pueblo ruins.

After our stay in Flagstaff, Kara had a surprise for me. We drove down to the Verde Valley for a ride on the Verde Canyon railroad. The line used to be a regular Santa Fe line, but now it is exclusively a four-hour tour ride through the Verde Canyon and back. The scenery was beautiful and I even caught a quick glimpse of a bald eagle, up on top of a tree. (Unfortunately, it was too quick to catch on camera.)

After the tour, it was already dark, so we drove to Jerome, AZ to try to find a place to eat. We'd never been to Jerome, didn't know if there was anything there to eat, but it looked interesting on the map. The town of Jerome turned out be a town carved into the mountain wall on a switch-back road. After navigating a few very narrow roads up to dead ends, we finally found a little hole-in-the-wall bar and grill with the slowest waitress and had a late dinner. After dinner, we were treated to a quite spectacular desert lightning show for our drive to the hotel for the night.

In the morning, we drove to Sedona. Sedona had spectacular views, but it took us half the day to get our bearings and find a place to hike. After a bit more of a delay (due to the need to find and buy a parking pass), we had a wonderful three-plus-mile hike along a trail and up one of the red rock hills. Against the advice of our guide books, we went off the trail and hiked to the top of one of the red rock hills. We were rewarded with some spectacular views (and photos) of the Sedona mountains under partial clouds (click here for a larger version of the above photo.).

Kara had arranged a tour bus and guide for a 10-hour trip from Sedona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and back with Pink Jeep Tours. I had never been to the Grand Canyon before and I enjoyed taking pictures while Kara enjoyed reading about the sights we were seeing. Our only disappointment was in realizing that we could have saved money and time if we had just planned to visit the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff by driving ourselves; this would have allowed us some time for some nice hikes. We did have a nice lunch at El Tovar, though, and our tour guide was informative.

We didn't really have any time the next morning before our drive to Phoenix and flight home to San Diego to do much except to find a place to grab a bite to eat. The hotel we were staying at in Sedona offered a free "breakfast", but I was not impressed with the dry bagels and packaged cream cheese, so we skipped that and went on a drive to find a better place to eat. After a bit of a drive along Highway 89A, our decision to forgo the free breakfast was rewarded with a wonderful breakfast at the Coffee Pot Restaurant. My recommendation to find a good place to eat is to look for the place with the full parking lot and that's what led us there. The menu had something like 101 omelette options, but I chose the Egg Benedict with Smoked Salmon (instead of ham) and Kara chose the short stack with strawberries. We'd both go back in an instant and give the place a hearty two-thumbs up.

Despite a few less-than-stellar hotel experiences, we both had a wonderful anniversary vacation. I think we both would be willing to go back to Sedona and the Grand Canyon again.

We went back to work the next day, but that's another story that I'll get to later.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Termites, maybe?

A co-worker alerted me to a news item about a house collapsing in my neighborhood. Apparently, the house was undergoing foundation repair when it collapsed, trapping a worker underneath. (He's been pulled out and he's OK, according to the news.) The house is a few blocks from our house, so we stopped by after work, took some pictures, and posted them to my Flickr site Link. Keep in mind that this was a two story house.

Now, a house falling down isn't a funny thing, especially if it's your house, but the local news headlines are funny. Especially the breaking news headline (from local CBS affiliate News 8), "Home Explodes In South Park; One Possibly Trapped".

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Exciting week to come

The coming week promises to be quite eventful. Hopefully, I'll be able to make an announcement before Wednesday (can't say what it is yet), because Kara and I leave for our mini-vacation on Thursday for our 4-year anniversary (Friday). We're flying to Phoenix and driving to Flagstaff to visit the Grand Canyon. We'll also be staying in Sedona for a few days.

This will be my first trip to the Grand Canyon and Kara's first trip to Sedona. We'll be taking the Grand Experience Deluxe pink jeep tour, but most of our trip will be self-guided. I hope to be able to take lots of cool pictures while we're there.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Fighting Crime! One Black Baby at a Time

As you've probably already read elsewhere, conservative commentator Bill Bennett was quoted as saying:
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. (San Francisco Indymedia story)

On the face of it, Bill Bennett has a point... but it's wrong. Mass genocide based on skin color would severely tweak the population numbers, which in turn would tweak the crime rate. The crime rate would actually increase, since babies represent a very small percentage of the population that contributes to crime... with black babies representing an arguably very small percentage of that same population. As the population re-stabilized, the crime rate would probably go back to its old numbers but might go up or might go down. So, as a scientific statement, its about on par with "Intelligent Design".

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Intelligent Design is a Myth

It is a sad commentary on America today that there is any debate whatsoever about teaching "Intelligent Design" in a science class. Anyone that claims that "Intelligent Design is a theory doesn't understand science. Science is about testing and proving and re-testing and refining and re-proving. Intelligent design is just wishful thinking and not science.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Tomorrow (less than 15 minutes from now) is the autumnal equinox. If your calendar says otherwise, it's wrong. Fall has always been my favorite season with my favorite holiday, Halloween. In a few weeks, Kara and I will be celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary (years, not weddings) with a trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Although we'll be in the desert, I'm hoping that we'll see some fall colors in the trees.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I'm Now a Flickr Pro

I've been playing around on Flickr for the last few months and finally decided to take the plunge by buying a pro membership and uploading a bunch of pictures.

This one was taken in April, 2003 in Santorini, Greece.

Walk for PKD

Just a quick note to say that I am participating in the PKD Walk in San Diego this Sunday, September 18, 2005. You can sponsor me or find out more here: Ray's PKD Page

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

One Nation Indivisible

U.S. citizen Michael Newdow is my hero. The pledge of allegiance, in its current form, is unconstitutional. I also find it disconcerting that people want to pledge allegiance to a flag, rather than pledge allegiance to the country that the flag represents.

If you don't know the history, the original pledge of allegiance enacted by Congress in 1942 did not include the words, "under god", but was otherwise identical to the current pledge. In 1954, in an anti-Communist fervor, Congress modified the pledge to include the unconstitutional phrase.

Aside from being unconstitutional, the current pledge also makes no sense - if this is one nation and this one nation is indivisible, why would anyone divide it by adding two words? (Don't bother answering, I'm being rhetorical.)

Today, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled in Newdow's favor and has signed (or is expected to sign)
a restraining order prohibiting the recitation of the pledge at three school districts in Northern California where Newdow's children live. Unfortunately, this is just the first step in a long court battle as the ruling is appealed again and again until it reaches the Supreme Court.

Congress can and should act now to stop this fiasco - they should restore the pledge to its original 1942 version.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mi Cinema Paradiso, Part 1

My earliest moviegoing memories are two: I remember going to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at Radio City Music Hall when I was a really little kid and I remember going with my mom to see Young Frankenstein in the early 70s (also when I was a little kid, but I think later than Snow White).

I can remember going over to a friend's house in the late 70s to watch channel 100, which was like an early version of HBO. I don't really remember the movies that they showed on channel 100, but I think Jaws might have been one of them. I also remember having HBO and Cinemax in the early 80s, but I seem to remember that HBO always seemed to be showing the Apple Dumpling Gang non-stop. I guess they sucked back then as much as they suck now. Cinemax, on the other hand, rocked. We didn't always have HBO or Cinemax, but we always knew when there was going to be a free preview weekend. Cinemax always showed the good stuff late at night and I would stay up late whenever I could to watch Cinemax.

My second real job (first was a data-entry job over the summer and not counting tutoring or babysitting) was as an usher for UA Cinemas 3 at Parkway Plaza in El Cajon. This was back in the summer of 85, right after high school graduation. I worked all summer before college and then was re-hired as a "third-manager" (third-person in charge of the theater after the manager and assistant manager) in spring when I dropped out of USC. I stayed there for a few months until I got a much better job at Video Library, where I worked for 2 and a half years.

The coolest thing about working at the theater was being able to start my own screenings of films with friends after the regular showings were done for the day. I can remember many after-midnight private showings that I would run for myself and friends. And even after I stopped working at UA, just having worked there previously and still knowing the management gained me free entry to movies all over town for many years. That on top of my free, multiple, nightly viewings of videos from work meant that, after 3 years, I probably saw about 400 movies.

The downside, if any, to working at a movie theater, is the number of times you have to see some of the crappy films. I was an usher at the same time that a great movie, Aliens, was showing at my theater in 70mm, but I also had to suffer through the ending of Rambo: First Blood Part II several dozen times, so many times that I still remember Sylvester Stallone's last lines in the movie, a short absurd speech that I would repeat under my breath as I waited to open the doors in the back of the theater as soon as it ended.
I want, what they want, and every other guy that fought, spilled his blood, and gave everything he had... wants... for our county to love us, as much as we... love it. That's what I want.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

To eat or not to eat... red meat

I don't eat red meat. Well, actually, that's not true since I eat maguro, which is definitely red, but not "red" meat. More specifically, I don't eat mammals; that's cows, pigs, and other animals with nipples for all you Kansas Board of Education members out there. I wear mammals, but I don't eat them. I eat chicken, turkey, and I love fish and seafood.

I haven't intentionally eaten mammals since some time in the late 80s. I even check the labels and ask restaurants if they put ham or bacon in their clam chowder before I'll order clam chowder. There are a few exceptions, though: I love turkey or chicken sausages and they're usually packed in sheep intestines, I also have no problem eating gelatin, although if given a choice, I'll choose pectin over gelatin. I also don't have any problems with eating dairy products.

When I tell people that I don't eat red meat or that I don't eat mammals, I get a lot of "oh, you're a vegetarian" comments. But, I'm not a vegetarian. Sure, I order "vegetarian" on airplane flights and in restaurants, but that's more a matter of convenience. I eat meat, damnit, just not all types of meat.

I gave up red meat for health reasons; my cholesterol was sky high, the doctor said I should cut back on red meat, and I listened. It wasn't as if I really liked the taste of steaks, so it wasn't that big of a deal to me. The hardest things to give up back then were the enchiritos at Taco Bell and the Beef and Cheddar sandwiches at Arby's. I also really missed summer sausages, but I can get the turkey summer sausages from Hickory Farms during the holiday season, if I'm lucky.

I wear leather shoes, though. See, it's not about animal rights for me; it's all about health. And, quite frankly, mammalian meat is not very healthy for humans. Or, at least, it's not very healthy for me.

The biggest pain for me, though, is the fact that I'm allergic to soy soy intolerant. I can't eat anything made with tofu or "textured vegetable protein" unless I want to spend a lot of time reading in the bathroom. You can't imagine how much a bitch that is unless you've tried to go vegetarian. Damn soy is in everything.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Boring Entry 1

I used to consider myself an early web pioneer, but really, I was more of an early web stalker. I've had my own domain for many years and my own web site that I used to update regularly, but it's seriously out-of-date. And, instead of reading my own e-mail, I've found that I spend a ton of time using RSS Bandit reading news blogs.

Since I spend so much time reading feeds, I figured it was time to start publishing my own. Let's see how long this lasts.

By the way, I'm Ray.