Saturday, March 28, 2009

musings on a busy hotel

It has been a while since I visited this spot. As I warned in my first post, I write only when I have something to say.

This week, there was a meeting I had to attend. The hotel I chose is quite crowded today. It's raining and people are standing around the lobby, waiting for their rides or whatever. But last night, I noticed there are several sports teams staying here. There are other notable folk as well.

A track team from Minnesota is here. They had their meet end yesterday. There is a soccer team from Wisconsin who begin play today... unless the rain stops them. Not only is it raining, but the temperature is low and scheduled to drop. In fact, the town expects snow by nightfall. The final sports component is a girl's softball team. I'm not sure if they have played or are going to play. But the restaurant was filled with highschool kids in everything from uniforms to pajamas chowing down on the complimentary breakfast.

Last night, I saw only two types of people. There was a group or party of enormously obese people. These were dressed in sweat suits, or shorts and t-shirts, anything they could buy that was comfortable. The second group that made itself seen was cross dressers. Each man was very well dressed and perfectly made up. These congregated outside the entrance to smoke. It was amazing to see them do so. A couple of them had long cigarette holders and flouished them like a 1920's queen of fashion.

This morning, I ran into a woman whose house has been bought by the hotel so they can build another hotel. She alternated between cheer and tears. Her house is an old one (over 100 years) and her children have become attached. On the other hand, they are excited by the possibility of a larger garden for play. She is sad to be leaving the home on which she worked so hard (single mom) and pleased at the prospect of having enough ground to build a large garage/workshop/office.

Then there the people like me. More or less what the world considers normal, and here for whatever business brings people to a hotel.

There may have been a wedding reception at the hotel restaurant. I saw several hung over men in evening clothes, or what they still had on, rumpled and wine stained shirts, trousers with silk stripes down the sides, hanging bowties staring glumly at the breakfast buffet.

At any rate, I'm leaving this afternoon. My mother, her sister and a cousin invited me to lunch. Since they all have other plans for this evening, I'll head south and hopefully avoid the snow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Broadcast news coverage

I've just finished watching 90 minutes of local and national news on television. While there are serious time constraints on what can be discussed in a news broadcast. The choices made and the paucity of information offered truly appalls me. For example, tonight, our local news consisted of:
- Capture of a suspected robber and a suspect in several murders
- List of three bills introduced in the state legislature
- Opening of new UAMS hospital
- Opening of Hot Springs racing season
- Corned beef sandwiches served at track opening
- Weather
- Weather broadcaster's 25th anniversary with station
- Children's inventions
- Sports
-Person of the week

The national news discussed:
- US Airlines crash
- Bank losses and the economy
- Obama's trip to Washington, prospective weather at inauguration
- mid-east peace process
- Person of the week (Captain of US Air plane)
- Death of Andrew Wyeth

I just looked at one source and found that lots more went on today that was never even hinted at:
- East Arkansas judge appeared before a judicial discipline committee
- Governor was asked to pardon an ex-drug dealer (to allow him to work on a community group he formed)
- Portions of an important road will be closed this week
- Judge ordered another parent to jail for contempt in the Tony Alamo under aged sex case

One source gave these world and national happenings:
- Hertz to drop 4,000 jobs
- Venezuelans to vote on Chavez term as president
- EU accuses Microsoft of harming competition (I'm not sure that is news anymore)
- Rebels in Congo declare truce
- UN agrees, in principle, to peace keeping forcer in Somalia
- Ethiopian peace keepers leave Mogadishu to cheering of Islamists
- Gas fire continues to burn $billions in Nigeria
- World class oil discovery in Uganda
- Thai military arrests more Burmese refugees & stories about treatment of previous lot
- North Korea's Kim il-Jong is reported to have chosen a successor
- Saudi Arabia deports Chinese workers
- Gunmen abduct three aid workers in the Philippines
- Israel to vote on Gaza cease fire
-Uganda bans meeting of African traditional rulers (kings) who were to discuss African unity

Perhaps some of these seem trivial, but each of them could have an impact on many of us.

There is another point. Broadcast news is strongest in reporting breaking stories. Newspapers are strongest in prolonged coverage and in-depth reports. Why then, do the networks continue to try in the areas where they are the weakest? It seems to me that smart reporting would be headlines and pictures where available and important. (I don't think photos of neighbors talking about someone in the neighborhood accused of a crime are germane to a story. Besides, they usually say "he seemed like a quiet fellow. I don't believe he could have don it."

Many years ago, TV networks decided that their news should be a profit making program rather than a public service (the original reason the FCC mandated news programs). This has led to an emphasis on the sensationalist stories about movie stars and former football players to the exclusion of news that could affect each one of us.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Update on travels to date

No pictures on this one. I'm using the hotel computer in Phoenix, Arizona.
Fran and I drove to Los Alamos the weekend before Christmas. Then our daughter drove us, our granddaughter, grandson and three of his friends to Telluride, Colorado. Granddaughter was in an ice hockey tournament there and grandson with friends was going snowboarding.
Granddaughter is on the New Mexico state U18 girl's hockey team. They played teams from Telluride and Durango in the tournament. They played very well, but both the other teams were stronger. Ah, but it snowed every day we were there. The boys had terrific snowboarding. We had a couple of fine meals in the town restaurants,then drove back to Los Alamos on Christmas eve.
The day after Christmas, we loaded in the car again, just the family this time. Grandson is on the New Mexico U16 team and was playing in a tournament in Phoenix. His team played teams from Arizona, Alaska and Colorado. They won one, lost one and tied two. We'll see tomorrow if they made the finals.
The drive here was exciting. Interstate 40 runs all the way to Phoenix, but it is shorter to cut off early and follow US and state roads south. Remember I said it had been snowing in Colorado? All that moisture came up fromthe south. It left snow and ice on many of the roads. We made it to Payson, AZ without trouble, stopped there for a really excellent meal at Fargo's Steak House. About 20 miles out of town, we were stopped and toldthat there was black ice on the road ahead. We were steered east about 40 miles, then were able to turn back toward Phoenix. Hunddreds of cars had been steered in the same direction. It made for a traffic jam hours long. We found our hotel about 2 in the morning and collapsed.
The first game was that afternoon and the boys played very well. But they fell apart the next morning before they pulled themselves together.
I just wanted to fill faithful readers in on our adventures since from here to the end of our trip, there won't be Internet available.
Hope your Christmas was merry and that hou have a wonderful 2009.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

General catching up

I haven't been writing much in the past month. Summer turning to fall, then to winter has depressed me. The dim, gray light of overcast days makes me sleepy and then I don't sleep well at night. All part of getting older, I suppose. But I don't have to like it!

Tomorrow, I'll be in surgery again for a short procedure. The battery on my pacemaker is getting low and needs to be replaced. Actually, Nurse Holly told me that they will just pull the old thing (pacemaker, defibrillator and generator) out and replace it with a brand new one. They leave the leads in place since they have scarred into the tissue around my heart. I get to keep the old one so I can look at it and know what that thing in my chest looks like. Another nugget of knowledge from Nurse Holly was that if one of the leads (wires connecting the device to the heart) goes bad, they don't pull it. Instead, the surgeon runs another lead. Pulling the bad lead out might damage the heart.

Sammi, our neighborhood cat, has returned. He jumped into the drive this morning as I was leaving. I tried to coax him into the garage so I could dry and feed him. But he preferred to run around in the rain. His owner has finally put a collar around his neck. There is no ID or rabies tag on the collar, but all the neighbors know and feed that cat. He is affectionate and very "Helpful" when Fran and I are gardening in summer. Alas, he is also an excellent hunter, He has caught and eaten two birds that I know of and has chased the lizards all over our rocky slope garden. Last summer, he caught a ground squirrel but let it go after playing with it for a few seconds. I suspect that he has taken a toll on the local rabbits as well.

Fran and I are about to depart for Christmas. Our grandchildren live in New Mexico. We'll go there next week, then drive up to Telluride, Colorado to watch a hockey game played by both kids. It will be the first time we have visited Telluride in winter. We'll have Christmas in New Mexico, then head down to Phoenix, Arizona to watch hockey tournaments that the kids will play. These "holiday hockey tournaments" have become a staple in our family. I'm not sure how we'll spend the holidays when both have grown too old for the leagues that sponsor them. I suspect we'll find something to do. There lots of jigsaw puzzles around our daughter's and, of course, there is always televised football and hockey.

So here's wishing all of you a wonderful set of holidays and hoping for the best new year that can be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

ExtraSensory Perception

Believing in ESP is almost like believing in a certain religion. While there are many experiments that fail to show it exists, a few, a very few seem to point to it being a real power... a sixth sense. Unfortunately, most of the tests that have shown ESP to be an effective force were questionably designed or simply stage shows that mystified the crowd, scientists included.

A very religious man once told me that he believed that things like witchcraft and demons simply proved that one side of the spiritual equation existed. He could then, by inference, believe in the other side... God, angels and Heaven. It was a working argument for him. Alas, I've never seen an experiment that showed ESP or any spiritual belief is demonstrable. That doesn't matter to me. I believe what I believe. That kind of belief requires no proof or duplicatable experiment. It is a gut feeling that doesn't have to be justified.

All this is leading up to what almost convinced a very hard nosed psychologist that ESP was a working force. During my senior year in university, I took a course in experimental psychology. It was fascinating. The experimental designs and statistics used to interpret the results were rigorous and could actually be duplicated with similar equipment and environment.

We were assigned the task of designing and implementing an experiment that would either show that ExtraSensory Perception existed or not. Of course, it was a given that the negative hypothesis in this case would not prove ESP's non-existence. "Absence of proof is not proof of absence." I don't remember who said that, but it applies.

We were given access to state of the art, electro-mechanical test equipment and used it to see if a subject, chosen at random from the student body could predict which of five symbols was going to appear on the screen in front of him. Results were tallied on the experimenter's control board. I was running a subject through the test and didn't notice Dr. Gardner entering the lab. The first I knew of his presence was when he asked, "How long have you been doing that?"

He had been watching me and I was recording the results without looking at the tally board. Dr. Gardner was just a little spooked. While none of our results indicated that any of our subjects could forecast what would appear, it looked like I was doing just that with the results.

Calm down. Remember that we were using electro-mechanical equipment, not digital. Each of the symbols' tally used a different electric motor and gear mechanism. My hearing was still good enough that I could detect the differences between them. That hearing is about gone now, thanks to the Army, but the memory of Dr. Gardner's face remains.

Sorry, no pictures for this memoir.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Three book reviews

Some time ago, I noted a few of the authors that I particularly like and recommend. I have just finished the books whose reviews I will write this evening.

"The Accidental Time Machine" by Joe Haldeman, Ace Books edition published August, 2008. ISBN 978-0-441-01616-7
paper back $7.99

Matthew (Matt) Nagle did not set out to invent a time machine. He was working on a calibrator. When he pushed the 'reset' button, the thing disappeared for a second. When he pushed it again, it disappeared again, for a little longer this time. Matt is a bright, young PhD candidate at MIT. It doesn't take him long to work out that he has a time machine and that each time he pushes the button, the machine goes farther into the future. After all, Einstein worked out that you can't go backwards in time.

Matt works out how to go along with the machine, then proceeds to head farther into the future. His first trip takes him just far enough that he discovers that his vehicle (borrowed from a friend) is in the middle of traffic and has no tires. He also discovers that his friend has been murdered. Matt is the prime suspect, but the authorities lock him up for auto theft. A strange person who looks like Matt pays his bail and tells him to take the car and go. He pushes the button again and goes farther ahead in time. Soon he picks up a companion, Martha. She is from a time when radical Christianity dominates the east coast of America and has nothing to do with the west. Each time Matt pushes the button, he not only goes into the future, but moves west as well.

The problem is how to get back to bail himself out of jail and whether Martha will go with him or return to her own time and place. The situation is made more interesting when he discovers that he is the only one who can push the button and get a time displacement.

Haldeman is an outstanding writer. This novel caught me within a few paragraphs and held me through the end. The physics are all too plausible. We have a good adventure story with a little romance, a lot of mystery and some humor.

"The Bell at Sealey Head" by Patricia A. McKillip, Berkley Publishing Group, published September, 2008. ISBN 978-0-441-01630-3, hard cover $23.95.

In the coastal town of Sealey Head, a bell rings at every sunset. No one knows why. Nor does anyone know where the bell is located. The bell has been ringing for so long that most town folk don't notice it anymore. Judd Cauley still notices. He runs an inn at Sealey Head, just as his father did. Dugold, his father is now blind. Judd reads to him every night. Another person who notices the bell is Gwyneth Blair. She and Judd have been friends since childhood. But her family is rich and the inn, both poor and declining. Their meetings are infrequent, but welcomed by both.

On the day the story begins, a stranger comes to Sealey Head and stops at the inn. He is Ridley Dow and he has come to investigate the bell.

Emma is a maid at Aislin House. Since she was small, she has been opening doors that do not always lead to her Aislin House. She has met Princess Ysabo, a resident of the other house. Ysabo is caught in a mysterious ritual that enfolds all the residents of her house. She is shortly to be married and is well trained in the ritual that keeps their world turning.

The owner of Emma's Aislin House, Lady Eglantyne, is old, ill and declining. The heir is sent for from the big city of Landringham. Miranda Beryl will soon arrive with her staff and friends for the death watch. Among the friends is a Mr. Moren. Apparently Beryl is afraid of him. At the same time as the guests arrive, Judd is lucky enough to hire a new cook. (His old one is possibly the worst cook in the world.) Mr. Pilchard, the cook says that he has been a sailor and can cook for two or two hundred. His cooking is superb.

Ridley makes his way to Aislin House and meets Beryl. He also meets Emma and, through her, Ysabo. Ridley does something that neither woman has dared. He crosses from Emma's world to that of Ysabo. Ridley has the talent for being inconspicuous to the point of invisibility. He stays in Ysabo's world for a few days, then is chased away by the ritual crows and the knights of the House.

Ms. McKillip writes in a fascinating, dreamy style that has always appealed to me. Her way of conveying mystery and magic are irresistible. The complex story lines of her novel are expertly woven together to produce a startling, but altogether satisfying ending.

"Carol for Another Christmas" by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Ace Books, published October, 2008 (first publishing 1996). ISBN 978-0-441-01646-4, paper back $7.99.

This is a retelling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". What Ms. Scarborough has done is to bring the story into the 21st century, replacing Scrooge with an irascible software company CEO (Monika Banks) and Marley with her brother, one of the geniuses who began the company. The company is failing. Banks has hired a team of software specialists to develop a program for the US government that will track people without their knowing.

The ghost of her brother works a program manager into the computer system. Scrooge, now converted to a Christmas spirit gets the job of guiding Banks around her Christmases past, present and future with the desired result.

This is not the first time that Ms Scarborough has updated a fairy tale. Her "Godmother" was a wonderful look into the business of being a fairy godmother. Her style is engaging and the story has all the tender, tear jerking pathos of the original. This is definitely a six Kleenex novel. She has managed to insert believable technology, humor and a bit of romance into the original. This book is going out to most of my friends who like to read... as a Christmas present.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tiger Toy

That's my nickname. I'm attaching some pictures so my new writing group can see them.
The kitties are Siberian tigers (also known as Amur tigers). They're the biggest of the natural cat family still in existence today. There are a couple of "ligers" that are considerably larger. But ligers do not occur naturally since the ranges of lions and tigers are pretty well separated... even in India, which has a lion area in its far west.