Sky Schemer
20 most recent entries

Date:2012-06-15 01:41

The Milky Way over Chehalem Mountain

The Milky Way over Chehalem Mountain

Heavily post-processed to bring out more detail. When I get my light pollution filter this won't be as much of an issue.

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Date:2011-10-24 21:46

It all makes sense now

I have finally figured out the vampire/werewolf/witch/warlock/shapeshifter/demon genre:

  1. These creatures are ultra-powerful, and should have no problem enslaving the human race.
  2. These creatures are all teenagers, which means that the power and organization needed to enslave the human race is instead spent stabbing each other in the back.

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Date:2011-07-13 11:30

They're not supposed to do what, exactly? Sell for less?

We went shopping for furniture for the new house, which is quite a bit bigger than the old house and presented the inverse of our previous problem: having more rooms and space than we had things to fill them. This search for new furniture included new sofas for the living room, ones that did not smell like dog or have custom detailing in the wood armrests that were also caused by dogs or have torn and faded fabric as a result of several years of being furniture for the dogs. I suspect you are sensing a theme, here.

Our adventures took us to a handful of furniture stores that we are used to dealing with and at least one that we weren't. It was the latter, which we will call furniture store #1, that carried a line of furniture by Stanton, a local furniture maker whose quality is well above what you'd find at stores that are perpetually going out of business, but not quite to the level of being carried by nationally recognized chains who charge a premium for their label (*caugh* Ethan Allen *cough*). As fortune would have it, this retailer also buys furniture in large quantities and is known for selling below not just MSRP, but also MAP, the latter meaning you have to go in, find your furniture and look at price tags or get a quote because you won't find it in their advertising, either online or in flyers. And find our couches, we did.

We're not the type to just buy something on the spot just because it's priced well, however, and at furniture store #3 we found the same line of furniture, the same couch, the same fabric offerings, the same everything, but for $100 more. We also found a number of other things we needed, and this was the point where I let my wife take over because she is way, way better at this sort of thing than I am, and gleefully unapologetic about it. Her goal: get everything from furniture store #3, but price-match the couches from furniture store #1, and add free delivery on top of it.

What was funny, though, and the inspiration for this post was what happened when we pulled out the quote from furniture store #1 as proof of the furniture being sold for less. This, clearly, took the salesperson by surprise because he stared it it quietly for several seconds before saying to no one in particular, "They aren't supposed to do that." We said nothing. I certainly wasn't about to spoil our deal with a sarcastic reply, though I had several come to mind. Sometimes silence is the best response, especially when the other person is fishing for something to hook.

We got our furniture at the lower price. And free delivery. Oh, and at furniture store #2, which I have not mentioned until now? She also got us two accent pillows for free, on top of free delivery, with our purchases for the family room. Furniture shopping with my wife is fun.

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Date:2011-06-16 22:48
Mood: content

"A whilrwind of activity" doesn't even begin to describe it

We bought a new house this year. As crazy as this sounds, it was kind of an unplanned, "we're going to need a bigger house" sort of decision that we were barely mentally or emotionally prepared for. Sometimes, though, you just have to take a leap of faith and trust that there's more there than just that cliff you stepped off of.

How does one suddenly find the need to move? To be honest we'd been considering it for a while but had always thought a year or two out, so really it was the timing that caught us off balance. What happened is that in March we made the deicision to get another Irish Wolfhound puppy and that set the ball in motion. For one, we were tripping over the dogs as it was in our old house, and for two-- and this was the more important bit-- the city we lived in limits residents to three dogs. So with that decision it was time to start looking. Some of you are probably questioning our sanity at this point but picture this: last night I sat down on the couch to relax for a bit and Eleanor climbed up next to me, spread out and rested her head on my shoulder. A couple of minutes after that and not wanting to be out done, the puppy climbed up and laid across my lap. You have to understand that this is what we live for.

The house search itself was stressful because we had very specific requirements for accommodating a pack as big as ours which severely limited the number of suitable properties, and on top of that was the knowledge that we did not have the luxury of time. We probably looked at 10 properties a week for a full month before finding one that was close enough to perfect that we made an offer. We also saw a lot of absolute crap. Given the price range we were looking in, the crap was disappointing at first, then demoralizing, and towards the end it became downright depressing. The last day of searching, the day we saw the house we ended up buying, we saw two houses that were so awful they made my wife ill, and one house that was just a complete train wreck. Note to home buyers: a house almost never looks better in person than it does in pictures. If you ever find yourself saying, "it's probably not as bad as it looks", trust your instincts: it's as bad. Or, more likely, much worse. If you care, the worst of the worst, and the wierdest of the weirdest, has been immortalized in a photo album, complete with captions, that we call The House Search Follies. Finding a way to make this entertaining was the only thing that kept us going at times.

From House search follies

Try as we might, we couldn't figure out how to get into the pool room.

Leap of faith number two was buying the house before putting our own on the market. That may also sound crazy, and admittedly it is on a number of levels, but just imagine trying to sell a home with three wolfhounds and a greyhound living in it. It's not going to happen. We made our decisions, and we knew the consequences of those decisions before we made them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We spent the week after we moved getting the old house in condition to sell instead of settling in to the new place, though those efforts really paid off. New carpets upstairs, fresh paint, new flooring in the master bath, some service calls for needed maintenance, and a lot of money spent on deep cleaning made the difference. The house went on the market on Friday of last week and the first offer came in on Sunday. We countered, they accepted, and we went in to escrow on Tuesday. It all happened so fast that we never even got flyers put out in front. The house sold in like five days. On top of that, it was a cash offer which means we close on Monday or Tuesday of next week. I am reminded of those informercials for weight loss and exercise products where the fine print for the testimonials says "results not typical". Our listing agent said we probably set the record at their office for the fastest home sale in their history. I am still in shock.

The dogs are happy. We're happy. There's not much more to say than that.

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Date:2010-09-30 23:31
Mood: ditzy


Yes, the rumors are true: we have added a cat to the household. Her name is Agatha Kitty. And, yes, that's a pun. We didn't name her but we're not changing it.

The greyhound is not impressed but has so far been tolerant. The wolfhounds started off fascinated then moved through the remaining four stages of cat ownership and have finally reached acceptance, though Eleanor still enjoys a rousing game of "chase the kitty". Honestly, though, she's not really trying; I think she just wants to follow the cat around the house and keep her in sight.

Things I have learned about cats in the couple of weeks since she came to us:

  1. It is impossible to get any work done around a cat. This is because keyboards, laptops, and books are all cat magnets.

  2. Tending a Japanese/Zen rock garden is disturbingly similar to cleaning a litter box.

  3. Cats make a lot of jumps on faith. Like, say, faith that the stove isn't red-hot. (This needs to be addressed before she gets hurt.)

  4. There is no problem that can't be solved by rattling the food dish.

And for those that are curious, yes, we have added a cat cam. Just like Charlie cam, there's not much action.



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Date:2010-08-22 12:20

How to write a Connie Willis novel

I keep coming across comments like "Connie Willis is one of the most beloved and respected writers in the field of science fiction", but to be honest I just don't see it. Maybe I've read the wrong ones (Passage, Doomsday Book, and the latest half-novel Blackout) because all I see is a very tired, very repeatable formula where the primary conflict in the story is people not being able to get ahold of one another.

Want to write your own Connie Willis story? It's easy, and I have laid out the steps for you:

1. Create a handful of characters with doctoral degrees
2. Make them really stupid and unprepared for whatever it is they are doing (bonus points for making "what they are doing" some form of time travel to World War II)
3. Place them into situations that they are completely unprepared for because they are too stupid to live
4. Make them unable to get ahold of one another (bonus points for making them unable to get ahold of one another on the phone)
5. As a result of #5, make them move around a lot trying to get ahold of one another in person
6. Make them miss the person they were looking for because they were moving around instead of staying where they were
7. Have them fret about all of the above
8. Add 400 pages of filler

I have just given away the plot of the three books mentioned above.

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Date:2010-08-16 08:21
Mood: pensive

So what you're saying is, you want something for nothing

Throughout our vacation I was posting photoagraphs of our travels, and of the dogs for the brief period that they were with us, to Facebook and flickr. Part-way through the trip, I get a message through fb from an artist in Washington that had seen photos of the wolfhounds through a group I am a member of and then explored my other albums. The message contained a simple request: she really loved the wolfhound photographs, and wanted to obtain my permission to use them as source material for making wolfhound paintings.

I've never had a request like this before. On the one hand it is of course very flattering, but on the other it creates an uncomfortable situation where I now have to assign some concrete value to my work which has been, up to this point, mostly just a hobby (with a few exceptions) and I didn't know how to do that. In general, I am pretty open with my pictures, and have allowed a few here and there to be used on Web sites and digital magazines in return for just the photo credit. I've also had people ask for large copies of an image or two for framing, and have been happy to offer those for free as well. In this case, though, a quick exchange established that her goal is commercial, namely creating paintings for sale. Low volume, and not much profit. And I was completley fine with that, but it further complicated the question of "what are your photos worth?"

So I turned to Google which seems to be able to solve any problem if one is patient enough, and the general consensus of photographers around the net in similar circumstances was to ask for a high-quality image, either a photo or a scan, of the derivative work in return. In other words, when you are done, take a picture of your painting and send it to me. This seemed like a reasonable idea, as it is basically free, doesn't give up her rights to her original work, isn't a commitment to make additional paintings, and so on, and since she photographs her work regularly anyway it's not a request for something that she's not already doing. I offered her the use of any of my photos posted to date, and agreed that the images she sent to me in return would be for my personal use only and that I'd have no other rights over her work. I also added that I'd be willing to consider counter-offers.

The reply I received was this: "Well, I appreciate the offer, John. But probably as a last resort, as there are lots of others to choose from at no cost. I am squeeking by as it is trying to make a living as an artist in this economy."

My initial reaction was to repsond with "What cost?" since I wasn't asking for money, paintings, commissions, or really anything except a photo that she is already taking, followed closely by "So you value your work, but not mine". Instead, I politely acknnowledged her response and left it at that.

For my artist friends, do you think I was being unreasonable? Was I asking for too much?

Photography is a funny medium, since really anyone can take great photos with even inexpensive equipment. It's a very accessible form of art, and really requires nothing more than the ability to see, compose, and shoot at the right time. She's right that anyone can do it, but that does not mean that the value of an individual photograph is zero, particularly when you are the one who is approahced as opposed to soliciting one's work. And, to be honest, I've done the free thing for years: I photograph theater for friends and for ComedySportz, dog shows for our wolfhound community, and have even done (passable) headshots in emergencies for friends. I'm willing to do this...up to a point. I don't know precisely where that dividing line is, but it feel like this request had clearly crossed it.

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Date:2010-02-16 15:58

Extended Warranty FTW

Replacement transmission, installed: $2460
Economy car rental: $250

Extended warranty covers: $2570

Out-of-pocket cost: $140

The replacement transmission is used, but had fewer miles than mine so that's a win, too. The cost of the warranty was less than $700 about six years ago, so we still come out way ahead on this one.

Oh yeah.

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Date:2009-12-10 07:17

Waiting for wheeker

The Waiting

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Date:2009-12-08 08:31
Mood: tired

So much for that good night's sleep

There must be some sort of law that smoke detectors fail at 3am. I don't know about the rest of you, but at that time of the morning I can barely operate a step stool, much less locate the ailing detector in the network, disconnect it from the ceiling, locate a fresh battery, try that, reconnect it, and then repeat 20 minutes later when they all go off again.

It took a while to get through all of this. The first challenge was to understand that I was hearing the alert tone, a repeated high-pitched but low-volume beeping that sounded not quite like a phone off the hook. The second was to figure out which one had the fault, because they all beep in unison thanks to the networking, and it took a while to understand that the culprit was the only one flashing its LED (hey, you try figuring this out in the wee hours of the morning). Then there was the task of disconnecting and removing the thing from the ceiling, a process I will only describe as "comical". The last was finding my stash of 9V batteries, which for some reason proved exceedingly difficult despite the fact they were exactly where they were supposed to be.

When the alarms went off again, even with the fresh battery in place, I figured I was dealing with a unit failure. There was not much to do at this point other than disconnect it from the network, pull the batteries, and leave it off.

Given that these are the detectors that were installed when the house was built, I'm overdue for replacing them all, anyway. I see a trip to Home Depot in my future.

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Date:2009-11-28 16:10
Mood: confused

And the trigger for this was, what, exactly?

I received a questionnaire in the mail today from an agency that is "contracted by your health insurance company to review claims that may be the result of an accident or injury at work." The medical procedure in question was the dilation of an esophageal stricture. I am still trying to figure out what part of acid reflux disease they thought might have been caused by a workplace injury.

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Date:2009-09-23 15:16
Mood: mischievous

Pete and Repeat

Over the last couple of weeks, we've received letters addressed for other people in our mailbox and like any good citizen, I of course dropped these back in the mail for re-delivery just as the USPS says to do. What I was not expecting was for both of them to be delivered to our house a second time, and then a third.

I recognize both envelopes on sight since they had stood out the first time they were mis-delivered: one is light blue, stiff, and probably a greeting card since it bears the American Greetings embossed rose on the back, and the other is long and skinny, but thick from several sheets of paper likely tri-folded inside. Examining the recipients reveals that both letters have been sent to the same address, which is quite a coincidence, and that the intended destination shares our house number but not, obviously, our street name. The addressees are two different names, however, which is odd, but consistent with a Google Maps search that turned up a senior living facility at that address (ie, multiple people, same street address).

Before dropping them back in the mail, I have been adding a small, red checkmark in the corner of each, one for each delivery to our house. I am now considering my options in the event that they are, for a fourth time, sent to our home:

1. Take the hint from the universe that these are really meant for us, even though they are addressed completely incorrectly. (Alas, this is illegal. And what am I going to do with a random greeting card?)

2. Throw them away, assuming that the Postal Service will never get it right. (Alas, destroying undelivered mail is also illegal, but it would remove them from circulation and break the potentially infinite loop.)

3. Mark them with "Return to Sender" or "Not at this address", using the same logic as #2. (Not what the USPS says to do, but I don't think our exact scenario is covered by their FAQ. And, it may break the cycle.)

4. Take them to the recipient myself. (Ha! Fat chance. And probably illegal, too.)

5. Hand them to a Postal worker and explain that they keep coming to our house. (Would require effort on my part, and offers no guarantees.)

6. Continue dropping them back in the mail, and see how many checkmarks they accumulate.

I'm gonna go with that last one, and I'm taking bets on the final tally.

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Date:2009-08-20 08:51
Mood: annoyed

I'm from your insurance company and I'm here to help

I got a call from my health insurance company last night. Normally, I use caller ID to screen calls that I don't want to receive, because I don't care about the latest service offerings from Verizon, don't want to participate in a poll of randomly selected households, and really am not interested in a pre-recorded message from my Congresscritter. My brain's simple heuristics work like this: if it isn't a number I recognize, the machine can have it and if it's important, they'll leave a message. So when the caller name of "YOURHEALTHPLAN" showed up on the display, my instinct was to just let it roll over and deal with it later.

And then, dear readers, I had a thought. How often does your health insurance company call you unsolicited? Particularly at around 7:00pm in the evening? I had just been to the doctor's office not two weeks ago, because I just couldn't take the constant string of migraines any longer. That visit had, in turn, led to a CT scan of my head and sinuses (and, yes, that means that we can now make jokes both about being a rocket scientist and having my head X-rayed: just have at it), which in turn led to a diagnosis of a fairly pervasive sinus infection, which in turn has me on this horse-pill-sized antibiotic with a list of potential side effects that can be summed up with the phrases "watch for rashes" and "stay near a bathroom". So maybe, just maybe, this spontaneous call is related to all of that, and might just Be Important, and I might save myself some time by answering it now and getting it out of the way.

What I was told, once the conversational pleasantries were exchanged and I had confirmed the legitimacy of the phone call, was that I had now been enrolled in some unnamed health plan, which is a free benefit of my health insurance, and that I was going to be stepped through the process (What process? I don't know, as that was never really explained). The nice woman on the phone confirmed my date of birth, made a few more comments about the wonderful nature of the I-still-don't-know-what-this-is health plan, and then started with her first medical question:

"Now, I am showing a diagnosis of diabetes. Is this correct?"


At which point the conversation rapidly went downhill.

Just to clarify, I do not have, nor have I ever received a diagnosis of diabetes.

I asked the reasonable question "Where did you people get the idea that I had diabetes?"

Answer: "[some vague response involving test results and a nurse reviewing things and a bunch of stuff that does not include a doctor actually saying that I have diabetes]"

I point out that there must be some flaw in their system since I am not actually diabetic, and in return I am met with promises that This Will All Be Straightened Out and that they'll bring in a nurse to Review The Case And Find Out What Happened. And then, the curve ball:

"When would be a good time for a nurse to call you?"

"Why do I need to speak to a nurse?"

"Because she needs to clear this diagnosis from your record."

"Why do I need to talk to someone else to do that? Just do it."

"I can't remove it because I am not a nurse."

"Why not just tell a nurse to do it, then?"

"The nurse has to talk to you to verify your date of birth."

At which point I gave up, because I knew-- just knew-- we were off her script for this phone call, and nothing was going to happen until I spoke to someone who was paid more than minimum wage to simply call people and ask them a pre-set list of questions. So now, I have to wait a few days for a nurse to call me, in the evening (many of you know what my schedule is like: good luck with that!) to verify my date of birth and then delete the word "diabetes" from my file.

Next time I am letting the machine take the call.

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Date:2009-06-17 22:09

Oh, how quickly they grow

She won't be able to do this much longer.


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Date:2009-05-17 14:20

My father died this afternoon.

It was not unexpected. He passed in his sleep, quickly and painlessly, and this was much better than what he was facing. There are little blessings even in death.

Date:2009-05-01 23:11
Mood: giddy

I bet you didn't see this coming


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Date:2009-04-16 16:21

Every now and then, meetings aren't so bad

Chair: PersonA says they will only stay for the meeting if your presentation is wildly entertaining.
PersonA: I didn't say "wildly" entertaining. Just "entertaining" will do.
Presenter: Would you like me to start with a trailer?

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Date:2009-04-02 00:24
Mood: happy

Decisions, decisions

Problem Statement

The couch is too big

Rejected Solutions
  • Get a smaller couch
  • Host more events with lots of people in attendance
  • Store clean clothes in laundry baskets on the chaise lounge instead of hanging them up in the closet
  • Buy more pillows
  • Put sheets on it and turn the family room into a guest bedroom
  • Move to a larger home
  • Re-orient to repel Mongol invasion
  • Use half as a coffee table
  • Spend more time in the utility room until we learn to appreciate the extra seating space

Chosen Solution
Get another Wolfhound.

Meet Carroy Eileanóra MacDuncun, aka "Eleanor". We pick her up in early May.

Photo by D.R.

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Date:2009-04-01 23:59
Mood: contemplative

Smart phone, questionable owner

There is a smart phone sitting next to me and I don't know what to make of it. For years I think I was at risk of becoming a luddite without realizing it, hanging on to this ancient belief that cell phones were, at heart, basically phones and intended to be used as such. I remember once a few years ago, in fact, getting frustrated in the Sprint store because I couldn't find one that didn't come with a camera, and at the ridiculous list of options that included mobile web, picture mail, JAVA applications, qwerty keyboards on miniature buttons, and the emerging craze of MP3 ring tones. Clearly, the world was going insane, to the point where plan-subsidized phones were necessary just to make the darn things affordable. The question, then, becomes this: have I sold out my principles, or did I finally have a moment of clarity and enter the modern age?

Sometimes I think there's no question that I spent more than I should, even with the subsidy underwriting a good chunk of it, but then I am reminded of what it means to be able to consolidate so much onto a single device. I used to (and in fact still do) own a PocketPC which I purchased on a heavy discount some years ago, with the intent of using it for managing my work calendar. That lasted for a few months until it was clear that carrying around something that size was just not very practical, and even less so with a cell phone added into the pile. Yes, I am a geek at heart, but there are limits to the amount of gadgetry I am willing to carry on my person, if not because I don't want to advertise "dork" everywhere I go, then for the fact that the more there is hanging off your waist or in your pockets, the more difficult it is to do everything from going somewhere in a hurry to sitting in a chair to relax. It was one more thing to keep track of, one more thing that can potentially fall and break, and one more thing to have to put somewhere at a restaurant. It wasn't long before the impracticality became a liability, and I stopped carrying it around. And at that point it ceased being useful.

Flash-forward a couple of years, and now there is this smart phone. The enlightenment, if you can call it that, was that the one electronic device I always had with me, no matter where I went, was the phone. And so the idea was born.

Do I really need it? There is something to be said for having conference rooms and phone numbers for meetings right in front of me, as opposed to hidden deep within the bowels of Microsoft Outlook, which always finds a way to hang indefinitely when I am most in need of the secrets it keeps. Particularly when I am short on time. It is also quite useful to be able to be able to look at the calendar a couple of weeks in advance to schedule everything from car service to medical appointments without fear of conflicting with the work schedule. To know that the calendar is always up-to-date, thanks to the wonders of automation.

But do I need it?

Or is such a question even relevant?

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Date:2009-01-12 18:12

According to Caller ID, we got a phone call tonight from "Moses".

This turned out to be something of a disappointment.

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