Thursday, June 28, 2007

Family Life: Unglamourous, Maybe; Boring, Never

Having a family has very real rewards. For example, I haven't been bored since my wife and I started this one, about a quarter-century back.

Today, one of my daughters decided that her laptop's performance had become so execrable that the only reasonable thing to do was to back up all her data, re-format the hard drive, and re-install what she needed.

I think of that as the 'nuclear option' of computer maintenance.

Everything went smoothly until an activation code was needed. To be mercifully brief, she's now waiting for word to come back from a California warehouse. There may be news for her tomorrow.

Meanwhile, another daughter came home from her job of painting a barn with a two-foot-long splash of oozing red running down her right leg. Since she was walking as well as could be expected, after getting an uber-charlie-horse yesterday, I decided that it wasn't blood.

There had been an incident involving a ladder and a can of paint. An intense session with mineral spirits and some other ingredients my wife and daughter discussed seems to have dealt with the issue. At least, she says she won't be smearing paint onto things now.

I spent part of the morning, learning that last year's hip replacements are doing okay. Meanwhile, my father-in-law got his knees replaced yesterday. Part of this family is minding the shop while he's recuperating.

As for my son, he's been keeping a fairly low profile since starting me on a voyage of discovery on Monday. (Details in Computers and Kids: Home-Based Business vs Bionicles (June 25), Computers and Kids: the Sequel (June 26) and Computers and Kids: Return of the Sequel (June 27).)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

News commentary on Paris Hilton's release from jail included another assertion that Ms. Hilton was a role model for many teenage girls in this country.

As the caveman in the commercial said, "what??!!"

I have nothing against Paris Hilton. I believe that, given the opportunity, she could grow up to be a responsible and productive adult.

However, right now, the really astonishing thing in the Paris Hilton mess is this repeated claim:

That about half the teenagers in the USA
are ditsy enough
to regard a woman with Hilton's public image
as someone to emulate.

It's not as if there weren't women with a successful public life to consider. A short list of women who are now, or have recently, made a difference in public life includes:
  • Condoleeza Rice

  • Margaret Thatcher

  • Mother Angelica

  • Mother Teresa

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

  • Sandra Day O'Connor

  • Shirley Temple Black

So, with people like this to consider, and with due respect, how can Paris Hilton, the girl famous for lavish wealth and skimpy clothes, be in the running for top role model?

Maybe I can't understand. I've got two daughters who passed their teens, and another who's still serving time in adolescence. One of the older ones told me that Ms. Hilton is popular because she's pretty and skinny. When I asked what that had to do with choosing a role model, my daughter told me that teenage girls and logic don't mix. Especially when it comes to their appearance.

(Why Shirley Temple Black? After her childhood film career, she was: ambassador to United Nations, Ghana and Czechoslovakia; the first female chief of protocol of the United States (1976); and foreign affairs officer with the State Department. In my opinion, a non-trivial career.)

Helping Around the House

After supper today, I noticed a pile dishes, bowls, and things I don't know the name of, sitting on the counter between the sink and the dishwasher.

The thought flashed across my mind, "I can wash this!"

One item in particular seemed to call for special attention: what I discovered later was a crock pot. I filled it with a mix of water and detergent, and left the mixture to work its chemical magic on the baked-on grease.

A little later, my wife came to the kitchen, looked at the pot,and said "you probably shouldn't have immersed that."

She's right, of course.

Paris Hilton Turns Over a New Leaf

By my reckoning, Paris Hilton served about half of her 45-day sentence for a combination on drunk driving, probation violation, and acting like an idiot during her trial.

She claims to have turned over a new leaf. Judging from the "sage jacket with white trim over a white shirt and skinny jeans," compared to the whoopee-girl outfits she's modeled, that may be a fig leaf.

Seriously, while having a skimpy social calendar recently, Paris Hilton claims to have found out that there's something to this Christianity thing. I hope that's true, and lasts longer than a fashion trend.

She's not "getting off," though: she'll be on probation until March 2009. Maybe she'll handle probation better now than she did before.

Meanwhile, in news from the United Kingdom, I see a report that Princess Di is still dead.

All things considered, and even after a long night, dealing with the intersection of kids, a 3d graphics program, and my small business, I wouldn't want to trade places with either of those ladies.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ego Adjustments: Another Benefit of Having Kids

I was very pleased with myself this evening, as a 3d art project I've been working on came closer to completion. I'd solved a thorny problem with atmospheric perspective, and learned a technique for carving shapes and applying textures.

Hearing one of my daughters walking behind me, I drew her attention to what was on the screen, expecting some sort of affirming response.

In a mildly surprised tone she said, "so you actually managed something!"

And then, after some consideration, "well, it's a lot better than the polka dots."

It's wonderful, having a family whose members see to it that my feet stay firmly planted on the ground.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Computer for My Son

Clearing out an attic, someone we know found a computer, a keyboard, and a mouse. The kind with a little plastic ball inside. Somehow, my 11-year-old son laid claim to it.

This afternoon, he got it hauled up to his room, where he connected it to a monitor that came with a now-defunct computer, and hadn't been discarded.

That old computer works! It seems to have Windows 95 on it, and thought that it was still January 0f 1980. My son straightened it out as to what century it's at, and has been having a high old time, working out how to make it boot the way he wants it to.

I've enjoyed several hours when I didn't have to pull rank to get at the computer I use for most of my work. Convenient: but, as with most things in this world, it's a mixed blessing.

We know who first owned the computer, so I don't have to worry (too much) about what sort of software is on it. With a computer to work with, my son may be less gung-ho about getting a laptop of his own now, although I'm not counting on it. And, since this clunker hasn't been earmarked for any projects in this household, he can experiment without risking anyone else's work.

On the other hand, A computer in his room is very close the edge of what's permitted in this house. I think that within 48 to 72 hours, he'll get the idea of adding a wireless modem to the thing. That's when he'll learn about our Internet policy (no kid-used connections outside open, general-use areas).

Finally, it's one more thing in a household that my wife is trying to make relatively clutter-free. She wasn't exactly overjoyed when this digital anachronism appeared. I don't blame her: I've got mixed feelings about the thing, myself.

Shooting on I-94: News, Videotape and Iraq

Brian William Skold, a 28-year-old man from Sauk Rapids got drunk back on May 27. His family called the police, saying that he drunk, making threats, and had a shotgun with him.

The family stayed in touch with Skold via cell phone. He let them know that he was still armed and "threatened to come out shooting." To their credit, the family relayed information to the police.

A chase through Alexandria, Minnesota, surface roads, and finally I-94, ended around mile marker 115. Law enforcement stopped Skold's pickup with stop sticks. That's when he called the Stearns County dispatch center. After he found out that his tires were flat, he "became increasingly agitated and threatening."

Sadly, Skold decided to fire a shot in the air, and then aim at police officers. A hearing determined that they were justified when they shot and killed Skold.

Thankfully, the police had one of their squad car video cameras as a witness. The Army Times reported that the tape shows the incident ending after "Skold had fired a round of birdshot in the air and threatened that the next round would be 'lead.' The tape, made from a squad car, shows Skold chambering a round, dropping into a crouch and pointing his gun toward officers."

Echo Press, the Alexandria newspaper, did a pretty good job of reporting the incident.

Elsewhere, on the state and national level, news coverage of Skold's inebriate death dutifully reported that he was Iraq veteran who had returned from Iraq. And that he was depressed. After returning from Iraq.

The Star Tribune's Wednesday edition that week had "Did war's demons follow Iraq veteran in I-94 chase?" splashed across the top of the front page.

The post hoc ergo propter hoc argument was obvious.

Problem is, Skold's depression didn't seem to be connected to his tour in Iraq. His family "backed off" (as the Star Tribune put it) the news report that Skold had been suicidal since returning from Iraq. As an off-the-front-page article in the Star Tribune later put it, "one source had never met Skold. The other knew him only in passing."

That "Iraq Veteran" tag added to Skold's name in the news reminds me rather unpleasantly of the "Vietnam veteran" used to identify alleged suspects back in the seventies. True, the guys who were caught robbing convenience stores and liquor outlets had served in Vietnam, but they were also in the age-and-sex demographic that's most likely to commit violent crime.

Journalists do, of course, have high and noble reasons for what they do. And if you have any doubts about that, just ask them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Transitions in life

My father still has enough breath to keep a conversation going for about ten minutes, but he has to work for it.

He's checking into what sort of medical interventions are possible, but he's also taking care of some details about what will be done when his life wraps up.

This is hardly unexpected. He's almost exactly thirty years older than I am, which puts him in his mid-eighties.

Just the same, I'm anticipating a great sense of loss some time in the next few days or years. Up to this time, I've been able to talk with my father, share experiences, get direct access to the knowledge and wisdom he's collected.

I'm not particularly looking forward to being the eldest in my line of fathers and sons.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Through One Dad's Eye in the Big Blogosphere?

Maybe not, but I finally got around to creating a Technorati Profile. looks like a pretty good service for finding interesting and/or useful blogs.

Also, I'm going to see if Technorati can help more folks find this blog. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day 2007

The family did pretty much what we usually do on a weekend. I grilled burgers Saturday noon, and would have today, if a task hadn't taken a great deal longer than I expected.

We had grilled burgers: our second daughter produced some of the best burgers I've tasted. Nothing quite matches my burger briquettes, though.

Weather was perfect yesterday noon, so we ate outside.

It just doesn't get much better than this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Harassing Phone Calls from Dallas 3

Although I cannot condone the practice of cursing, a dandy one for spammers and those who hijack websites and forums came to mind today: "May the static discharge of a thousand dry woolen socks infest their motherboards!"

Some good has come of this colossal waste of time and effort: I've taken a good look at this family's credit card history, and re-acquainted myself with our credit card company's online information service. An email to a family member regarding a non-existent eBay purchase. Under the circumstances, I decided to do a credit check. We're okay, thankfully.

A new wrinkle: we got two bright yellow-and-red packages from DHL, a Florida shipping company I'd never heard of. The DHL address on the shipping labels was (from the point of view of someone who grew up on the edge of North Dakota) close to the "escort" services that share a number with whoever kept our phone ringing over the weekend.

And the sender was identified as "The Alliance." The same name that came up over the weekend.

I waited to open the packages until a police officer was present. On the remote chance that there was something of an extralegal nature inside, I wanted an outside witness to see that we hadn't broken the seals.

Someone had seen to it that we got about a hundred of those cardboard shipping envelopes, along with enough forms and laminating material to use each one, with some left over.

Judging from what's happened to date, my guess is that whatever person or persons is behind this is immature, malicious, and has entirely too much leisure time.

DHL has their material back now, following a cordial chat with someone at the office back in Florida. (If I need to ship something, I'm going to keep DHL in mind. Those yellow-and-red packages and envelopes are the most eye-catching containers I've seen in a long time.)

I had hoped that the unwanted calls had ended, but we got another today. I'm assuming it's the same outfit, since the tinny music was of the same execrable quality as we'd heard before.

At least now we know what to look for. I think that, with a little learning at this end, we can demote this annoyance to "trivial."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A House Full of Family

Two and a fraction of the families that make up the extended family that I married into appeared at the door a few minutes ago.

Three of the grown, and one teenager, are practicing a song for the upcoming celebration for our common father/father-in-law/grandfather's 20th anniversary. I had a brief glimpse of several younger nephews, and possibly a niece, but they were rather fast-moving, so I don't even have an exact count. I heard their father, too, but now there aren't any background sounds except the rehearsalers, so I assume that the bulk of the kinfolk are at the church by now.

And now it's time to go to the church.

If this entry sounds breathless, you're very perceptive.

As I said somewhere, I've not been bored since starting this family.

Harassing Phone Calls from Dallas 2

It could be worse. The frequency of these anonymous calls is much lower than it was during the day.

On the other hand, I generally get to sleep more during the night. Following advice received, I'm logging the times that these "unknown caller" calls come.

A bright spot in this experience is the customer service I've encountered with our telephone provider, Charter. The package my wife set us up with includes call blocking, which I think helped slow down the nonsense today.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

20 Years in the Deaconate

Not me, my father-in-law.

The family has been gathering this weekend to help celebrate my father-in-law's 20th anniversary of being a deacon. It's a pretty big deal for us: and for him.

My daughters #2 and #3 have been having the most fun with the visiting cousins.

This sounds schmaltzy, but I'm very grateful to have married into my wife's family. They're good folks.

Harassing Phone Calls from Dallas

Starting at about 11:58 am today, this household started getting phone calls that were either from an "unknown caller" or from a Dallas phone number that showed on our caller ID as "INTERNATIONAL 214 586 0999".

The first several times the phone rang, we took the call. Usually we heard silence, but three times our youngest child was identified by name, and we were asked to put him on the phone. I'm going to be a bit vague about other details, since we may have to involve law enforcement and don't want to complicate an investigation.

The phone calls were coming at one-minute intervals several times. This is no way to run a household.

Eight hours later, we may have reached at least a temporary solution, thanks to a few phone calls and our telephone provider's services.

I've been angry, frustrated, and concerned for this family in various mixtures since this incident started. This is not how I had planned to spend this Saturday afternoon.

Son of Blogkeeping

Aha! I think I unintentionally disabled the ability to comment on this blog.

I also think that I've fixed the problem (oops: resolved the issue), but I've been wrong before.


This post is a test of some changes I've made in this blog's settings. I'm still learning how this system works, and trial-and-error testing seems to be the best way to get familiarized.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Here We Go Again?

Just when my blood pressure was going down, figuratively speaking, from the evolving Paris Hilton debacle, I ran into a really imaginative legal defense for rape.

A Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center psychiatrist got together with some of his colleagues, studied sleep-related behavioral disorders, and came up with sexsomnia. Carlos Schenck, the psychiatrist, told Live Science "Any basic instinct can come out in the context of sleep," (Have Sex While You Sleep, June 2, 2007). "All sorts of things can happen" he added.

The legal system being what it is, the sexsomnia defense has already been used. Scott Axelburg, accused of raping the babysitter, said that he wasn't guilty because he was asleep at the time.

And his legal defense trotted out the Minnesota study.

Good news: He was found guilty.

Not-so-good news: This has been almost a non-issue in the news media. To be fair, KIRO 7 in Seattle, WA, headlined a May 23 article. "Molestation Suspect Says He Was Sleepwalking" and another mention on Fox News covered Mr. Axelburg's conviction on May 25. Beyond that, though, this has been a non-event that never happened as far as news coverage is concerned.

I did find a thoughtful blog on the subject, Sexsomnia, in the courtroom, which is a relief. I'd hate to think that I'm the only one who noticed this judicial hand grenade and understood its significance.

I'm going to make two points, and and then get back to work.

1. Despite the origin of the study, Minnesota is not infested with somnambulistic rapists.

2. Keep an eye on the back pages for more cases like this. I'm afraid that the Mr. Axelburg's conviction won't stop other lawyers from trotting this defense out again. It's too sexy, too scientific, and too convenient to be ignored.

This could be as big, and as profitable, as whiplash was, back in the day.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Paris Hilton's House and Living Well in Minnesota

A detail that emerged today made me appreciate how well-off my family and I are, here in central Minnesota. Paris Hilton's "pocket-mansion" is a 2,707-square-feet residence. What struck me most was that Paris Hilton's hideaway is about the same size as the house my family and I live in.

And we seem to have a bigger yard.

I'll grant that Ms. Hilton got her two million dollars worth, with three baths, four bedrooms, a seriously large outdoor deck, and Mediterranean styling. And, the neighborhood's much more posh there in West Hollywood.

I wouldn't trade places, though. Our house is a good size for a family with four kids and miscellaneous cousins who come to visit, we've got a lived-in yard that's large enough for the kids to play in, and the housing code allows our neighbors to set out garden gnomes and flags.

And we didn't pay anywhere close to a million dollars.

Paris Hilton, Victim of Society

Paris Hilton, after serving five (official) days in jail, seems to have tired of playing prisoner there and is now confined to her humble home in West Hollywood.

She condescended to grace the LA County jail system with her presence after attending the MTV music awards last Sunday.

Arrangements with the county legal system had originally been for the hotel heiress to raise the tone of the LA jails for 45 days. This was later reduced to 23 days. Hilton's reason for refusing to prolong her personal appearance in Los Angeles' jails has not been officially proclaimed. Rumors of staph infections or overcrowding have been denied.

Ms. Hilton's visitation at the jail was the result of a conviction for "reckless driving stemming from a Sept. 7 arrest in Hollywood. Police said she appeared intoxicated and failed a field sobriety test. She had a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, the level at which an adult driver is in violation of the law." (from the AP, May 04, 2007)

The hotel heiress subsequently violated terms of her probation, apparently as a result of following legal advice given by her publicist.

It's hard to take any of this fiasco seriously. I suspect that a commoner who had endangered others while driving in a state of marination would have had a more inconvenient encounter with law enforcement and the judicial system.

Ms. Hilton was released because of an unspecified "medical condition." Why the LA jails' medical services couldn't handle the heiress' complaint wasn't disclosed.

Despite appearances, our betters are almost indistinguishable from the rabble in terms of physiology, and may be evaluated and treated with the same medical procedures.

To be serious, this is disgusting. Whatever the facts, the appearance of this practical joke of a legal procedure is that those with wealth and position are held to a different, and much lower, standard of behavior than the rest of us.

Such preferential treatment is understandable, since we can neither reward nor punish those we deal with as effectively as those with wealth and position. That does not make it right.

In my opinion, separate rules for the wealthy and the riffraff encourages commoners and our betters to hold the law in contempt. That does not tend to encourage socially acceptable behavior.

In the long run, the big loser in this affair is Paris Hilton. Eventually, the shock of being confined to her multi-million-dollar abode, unable to attend award ceremonies and night spots as is her wont, will wear off. When that happens, I'm afraid that the lesson she learns from this will be that she, with the help of her family and vassals, may do as she pleases.

To someone with my beliefs, that state of mind is very bad for a person's interior welfare.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Grim humor

Seen by one of my daughters on the license plate of a white hearse in Fargo-Moorhead:


Being a Dad: The Adventure Continues

A doctor, my wife, and an insurance company practicing enlightened self-interest got together and convinced me to start exercising at a local exercise outfit earlier this year.

Somewhat to my surprise, I'm still at it. On putting on the approved exercise-floor shoes today, I noticed an obstruction in the right shoe.

A visual inspection of the shoe revealed a blue-and-red plastic scorpion. I haven't asked yet, but I'm quite sure that our youngest kid, a pre-teen boy, put it there.

That's one of the perks of being a dad: life isn't boring.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Last year, in brief

My third summer layoff in a row started in the spring. The timing was pretty good, as things turned out.

With no job to complicate schedules, the family doctor and my wife convinced me to get some long-overdue repairs done:

  • Carpal tunnel, left and right wrists
  • "Trigger finger" tendon trouble, left and right hands
  • Hip replacement, left and right side

It's a good thing I didn't have to go to work. I don't seem to bounce back as fast as I did when I was seventeen.

So far, last summer's layoff has lasted through fall, winter, and spring. My family hasn't had such exciting financial times for decades.

In a way, this is a wonderful opportunity. I'm getting a few minutes a week now, on average, at my day job, which gives me a great deal of time to develop my own business.

Things could be better: but not by much

Typically, I didn't leave enough time to create a decent post. I'll be back, after church and grilling.
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