Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Suddenly Spring

Spring arrived yesterday with a flourish of green.

We had pouring rain on Monday, but yesterday was warm & sunny, with a clear blue sky. In the course of a single day, the grass changed from drab brown to bright green. In a few days, there will be daffodils blooming everywhere, and in a week or two, the first flowering trees will start to blossom...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Miami Minutia

I've been to Miami about eight times in the past year and a half, so I think I'm getting to be a pretty experienced traveler. I know the schedule for all of the direct Delta flights between Cinci and Miami, I know which hotels I won't go back to, I know how to return rental cars to the airport, and I know some pretty good restaurants. Here are a few other things I've learned along the way:

  • Tuesday is Ladies' Night at the Doral Ale House. I know this little factoid because we go there a lot after working late, and on Tuesdays it's packed, which means that an already late dinner winds up being even later. But I do have to say that their Zingers taste pretty dang good at 9:30 at night.

  • Miami has very limited options in the way of radio stations. Your choices are: A) Salsa or B) Hip Hop (in Spanish, obviously)
    If you don't like those choices, you'd better hope that your rental car is equipped with XM radio. (As if the completely insane traffic isn't reason enough to hate driving in Miami...)

  • Cuban coffee is served three different ways-- cafe, cafe con leche, and cortado/cortadito. You can't make any of them using a standard drip coffee maker, but you can get get them at almost any restaurant down here.

  • If you come to Miami, you'll need to know the following information about the roads here:

    1. The city is divided into four quadrants: NW, NE, SE, & SW.

    2. Most of the roads are numbered. However, there's no rhyme or reason as to which numbers are actual roads-- For example, in the area that I'm staying, the only thru-roads are 25th St, 36th/41st St, 79th Ave, and 87th Ave. Some numbered roads also have names.

    3. Roads that run East-West are called Streets. Roads that run North-South are called Avenues. Roads that don't run anywhere are called Terraces. (I can't figure out why they would use that term, since it implies some sort of elevation change. Clearly the entire southern Florida peninsula is only about 6 feet above sea level at high tide, and the variation in altitude can't be more than plus or minus a foot and a half, if you exclude the drainage canals and highway overpasses.)

    4. For any given location, it's important to know the address number, the city quadrant, the road number, and whether it's a street or an avenue. (Ex: 3271 NW 87th Ave.) If you don't know all four of those things, you may wind up somewhere else.

    SIDEBAR: Personally, I absolutely hate numbered grid systems for cities. Since I have virtually no sense of direction, you would think that I would be a big fan of these systems. People say, "Oh, it's so easy to find your way around!" But they're LYING. Because I have yet to see a city with a grid system that doesn't have a half a million little "exceptions" to the system, and that's where all my troubles come in. I love Salt Lake City, but I have been lost there more times that I can count, and it's all due to the exceptions to the numbered grid system. Miami is especially tricky for me, because I've never paid that much attention to whether something is a street, or an avenue, or a road, or a drive. Suddenly, that little tag at the end is really important, and I haven't got any brain circuits specially designated for storing that information.

I'd like to close by quoting one of the guys that I work with down here-- "You know what the great thing about Miami is? It's so close to the United States."

Morning News

I'm in Miami again this week, and I was down here last week as well. One thing I'm starting to hate about staying in a hotel is that I have to face the day's news as soon as I walk out of my room in the morning. USA Today's front page article is about a school shooting in Minnesota, and it gave me a flashback to another newspaper story from a trip I made to Miami over a year ago-- I walked out of my room in the morning, picked up the paper, and headed for the elevator. As I was riding the elevator down to the lobby, I glanced at the paper and immediately became almost physically ill. It was the story of the first American hostage who was beheaded in Iraq.

Now I'm not saying that the news shouldn't be reported, or that I shouldn't read the news and deal with the stories that are presented. All I'm saying is that I'm not especially well-equipped to deal with these sorts of tragedies so early in the morning. I'd just like to have a cup of coffee before I'm forced to contemplate why there's so much hatred and violence and despair and sorrow in the world.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


This morning at my church, the band performed a song that really made an impression on me. It's beautiful, a little bit haunting, but also very hopeful. The song is called "Maybe There's a Loving God" and this evening I downloaded it from iTunes so that I can listen to it while I'm traveling this week. The singer who recorded the song is named Sara Groves, but I have to say that the girl who sang it today had a wonderful, expressive voice, and in my opinion, her performance was better than the original recording.

I wish I could share the song with you, but unfortunately, I think the best I can do here is to share the lyrics:

I'm trying to work things out
I'm trying to comprehend
Am I the chance result
Of some great accident?

I hear a rhythm call me
The echo of a grand design
I spend each night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars in the sky

I have another meeting today
With my new counselor
My mom will cry and say
I don't know what to do with her
She's so unresponsive
I just cannot break through
She spends all night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars and the moon

They have a chart and a graph
Of my despondency
They want to chart a path
For self-recovery
And want to know what I'm thinking
What motivates my mood
To spend all night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars and the moon

Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that's a selfish thought
Or maybe there's a loving God

Maybe I was made this way
To think and to reason and to question and to pray
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there's a loving God

And that may be a foolish thought
Or maybe there is a God

I think the song is about our quest for significance. Why are we here? Do we have a purpose? Do our lives have value? You may not believe that there is a God, but you still have to come up with your own personal answers about the meaning of your life.

I've been doing a lot of reading recently on the debate about Evolution vs. Intelligent Design. One of the many arguments for intelligent design is based on the idea that our Earth and our Sun are far more unique than scientists first thought. Earlier predictions said that we orbit a type of sun that is probably very common, and that there were probably millions of planets similar to ours. Now scientists are starting to say that our sun and solar system are unusual and rare, and that there may be very, very few planets like ours. Some experts say that our planet and our solar system seem to be not only uniquely well-suited for sustaining life, but also located in a position that is especially good for observing the universe.

So maybe the universe was made for us, for lying on our backs in the middle of a field, and maybe we were made this way, to think and to reason and to question and to pray...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Speaking of Lunacy...

Remember how I said that skiing is only as dangerous as you make it? Well, here is Exhibit A:

This guy is practicing for a competition where the goal is to go off a jump and run into a tree. Maybe the people participating in the Tree-Ski-Jumping competition are suffering from seasonal affective disorder due to Norway's short winter days-- Most people get depressed, but obviously some people manifest other forms of mental illness.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"Opportunity" Knocked

Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to working in Corporate America. I enjoy the benefits of a steady income, a good health insurance program, and lots of free SkyMiles accumulated through frequent business trips. And, for the most part, I manage to cope with the bureaucracy, political maneuvering, layoffs & restructurings, bland decor, and "business casual" dress code. But now I believe that a devious plot is infiltrating the corporate world, and I fear it will spread rapidly.

Last Friday, I had to attend a certain meeting.
  • For those of you who do not work in a corporate environment, let me just say that Dilbert cartoons are not "comic" strips so much as they are mini-documentaries. (This particular type of meeting has probably already been portrayed in some previous strip.) Scott Adams doesn't exaggerate.

  • For those of you who are already intimately familiar with typical corporate environments, I will further explain that the purpose of the meeting was to introduce a new "competency model" for professional development.

The meeting was led by a couple of manager-level-equivalents who were training us on how to use what is essentially a very large Excel spreadsheet with macros embedded in it to "make it easier to use." Apparently, there are a few tricks involved in retrieving the file off of our intranet and opening it up for editing. In passing, one of the manager-level-equivalents said, "So please just bear with us until we resolve some of the programming opportunities with this template."

For some reason, my mind latched onto that sentence and started looping around it. Finally, the grammar-checker region inside my brain spit out:
ERROR - There is a context discrepancy with the word "opportunity."


When this manager-level-equivalent made that statement, he didn't put any emphasis whatsoever on the word "opportunity," which would have implied that he was being facitious. In fact, I don't believe he was being facitious. I actually believe that he has forgotten what the word "opportunity" is supposed to mean.

Corporate euphemisms are subverting the English language! It's part of a plot to assimilate us all! We must resist!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

More on the Importance of Philosophy...

There is a beautifully written article on MSNBC by Rabbi Marc Gellman. It's called "'We Hold These Truths to Be Sacred' - What Thomas Jefferson would say about the Ten Commandments today." (As a side note, I also really liked his article called "Deep Gidget" from last week.) The article is about what Thomas Jefferson might say regarding the Ten Commandments and how they relate to the First Amendment.
He might teach the court that there are only three ways human rights are accorded to citizens. Either they are the rational construct of people trying to avoid “the war of each against all” in what Rousseau called the "State of Nature." This way sees civil rights as a rational outgrowth of our fear of those who want to hurt us or steal our iPods... ...Freedom in this theory is merely protection from the guy down the street. The problems with this theory are severe despite its appealing claim on human reason. In this view, some people can easily be excluded from rights because of some rational argument claiming to prove that it is not rational to protect them...

The second possibility for the origin of our rights is that they are gifts from the state to all or to some selected inhabitants of the state. This view sees rights as like a driver’s license. They are a privilege bestowed by the author of privilege, which is the government. This was not the communist theory, the theory was that the workers ran the state, but it was definitely the communist reality in which the state decided who had rights and that decision did not reach beyond the Politburo. It is also the present view of every dictatorship in the world—and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The third theory of how and why we have rights is the one Jefferson authored, the one I revere, and the one I hope the high court affirms without too many subjunctive clauses. This is the theory that our rights come from God through the state, which is created by the consent of the governed to protect the dignity of all its citizens, who are all made in the image of God. The state, in this view of rights, is always subject to critique based on its success or failure to respect the God-given freedoms of its citizens...

...What people forget, Jefferson might remind the court if he still had a larynx, is that our rights do not derive from the beliefs of any one religion. They derive from a nonsectarian national religious belief that our rights are secured by our being created in the image of God. Even though all Americans do not believe this, it is the reason why the rights of all Americans are secure... ...Only a national belief that we are created beings can do the job. Now that job is on trial by morons (and I say that without any negative connotation) who want to set adrift our God-given freedoms, represented perfectly but not exclusively by the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps Jefferson would say all that, or perhaps he would do something more dramatic and more profound. I bet he would approach the justices and place before them a yellowing piece of paper upon which was written his first version of the Declaration of Independence, the one that does not begin with, “We hold these rights to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights …” At first, Jefferson did not write “self-evident” because he knew that such rights as he imagined were absolutely not self-evident to reason or to the state. The rights that created America are the result of a spiritual/political leap of faith that grounds our rights in a formative national religious belief that we are all made in the image of God. From this belief has grown an exceedingly great and tolerant nation where people with different faiths and no faith at all have flourished.

The words on that yellowing paper, the words Jefferson’s wanted to open the Declaration of Independence contain no contradictions. They are made of whole cloth and they are woven on the loom of faith and freedom. This is what Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be sacred …”

My previous posting on Philosophy touched on the idea that our beliefs have ramifications that affect our actions. I do believe that we are created by God in His image, and Jefferson's grand idea that people are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" is just one of the many, many logical consequences of this belief.

You know you're an adult when...
...your back goes out.

Yesterday I suddenly became 80 years old...

  • It takes me about 30 seconds to transition from standing up to sitting down, and a minute-plus to make it from sitting down to standing up straight.

  • Getting in and out of my car is time-consuming and painful.

  • This morning I had to apply some strategic problem-solving skills to put on my socks. ("OK, so the immediate goal is to get all of my toes into the top cuff of the sock. If I can accomplish that, I think I'll be able to figure out a way to get the sock pulled up over my foot and ankle.")

  • When I drop something on the floor, I spend a few moments debating whether or not it's worth the trouble of picking it back up.

  • I think I'm starting to scowl at people around me-- partially because I am in pain everytime I move, but also because I know that if anyone bumps into me, I will certainly fall right over, and then I'll hurt worse than I already do. So now I view everyone walking around me as a potential threat to my (not-so-)well-being.

The problem is, I haven't had 50 more years to prepare for being 80-- It came on all at once, without warning of any kind. So I don't know any coping mechanisms.

I don't know why my back has suddenly gone into spasm. I wish I did, because then I could ensure that I wouldn't do whatever it was again. I guess I'll have to plan on doing preventative maintenance-- As soon as ski season is over I'm signing up for Yoga or Pilates.

Getting old sucks! I'm not mature enough to be old!