Jim's Journal 2010

   My musings...

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November 2011

Will I ever get back to long form life blogging? I don't know. Facebook has taken over. I still write on this web site when I have a more collected set of thoughts to spew out. But will I go back to writing the kind of stuff below? Hard to say. I've now found that my Facebook life can be captured and shared on this site. If you want to know what's been going on, check out my Facebook Project pages.

Now I'm going back to cyber space...


October 17, 2010

Jury Duty for me. It's been almost a month now. Every weekday I sit for 8 hours listening to sometimes mind numbing stuff, then try to get my real job done over lunch and in the evening. More on this when the trial is over and I'm free to talk about it.

I've said before that Facebook journaling is fun, but now I'm not so sure it's journaling. FB is more like "alerting"; the entries are brief and often mediated by some application feature on their side. It's easy to "check in" at a restaurant or a theater, but how much can I say about the event right then? And typing on the iPhone is painful for more than a few words. It is also ephemeral - once my thoughts are on FB they are subject to FB retention and replay policies. I want this journal to be a longer lasting repository, something I can refer to in the future. On FB I can't go back more than a few months at the most. I'm going to try keeping this up more often.

The San Carlos Dinner Club has been going strong this year. Pilita, Santorini, Kabul, that Turkish place in Redwood City. All have been good. Cara and Irvin have been regulars; I enjoy having them along. Carol hosted one pot luck evening at her place overlooking the entire south bay. We enjoyed the fantastic view through her floor to ceiling windows and marveled at the huge oak tree that spreads over her interior deck.

Cindy and Don and Sue joined us for the Maker's Faire this year. I'm surprised to see how far the 3d plotters have progressed. Last year there was one home kit version, this year there are four. The best are using some plastic rod that looks like heavy fishing line. The device melts it dollop by dollop onto a moving carriage. I'd like to play with one but I imagine the problem will be similar to my ShopBot work - you have to create a 3d model somehow. I also chatted up the Evil Mad Scientist guys now that they've bought the Egg-Bot project. I'm still pissed that my $200 Egg-Bot doesn't work for nothing; a real pile of junk. I'm promised that there will be an upgrade available this summer. We'll see.

Mid July found me trading coasts with Nancy and Greg. They decided to come to Pacifica for a visit on the exact days of the Engelhorn reunion - what can you do? The Wiggers family is hosting the reunion and they have done a great job. Gary and Blu are there. Sandy and Steve. Darryl and Sylvia. A pile of others too. Lynn and Polly bring a plastic tub full of popcorn they've grown and we all take bags of it. I wasn't sure what we'd see in Springfield but the place is well worth a visit; I'm so glad we went. The Lincoln Presidential Museum was built in 2005 and is a fully engaging story of his life and the history of our country. This is not some stoic place filled with documents and campaign buttons. It is a multimedia journey. We spent hours there and I could have spent more. Then it was off for a week with the Coulter-Gunn group in Grand Rapids.

Her house is finally done, finally. I know it because we had the open house! About 100 friends and family came by to oooh and aahhh at the new kitchen and bathrooms. I made another pot of that fantastic vegetarian chili and everyone dug in. The iPad was out but it didn't get as much play this time. The folks were here for several hours, and Doug made the trip from Berkeley. Some Visa folks showed up and we were so pleased to have Morgan come. Turns out Marty and Glenda know Morgan from HP days and spent some time together in a corner of the kitchen. Everyone seemed to be talking to everyone else, so I consider the party a success.

Did I say the house was done? Ooops. The Museum of San Carlos History holds a historic house tour every two years as a fund raiser. For $20 you get to tour three houses. This year the Zeh House was on the line up. She was thrilled. I liked it too as this spawned a whirlwind of cleaning and trash removal. Craig came back to refinish the dining room floor, which now looks great. This required us to remove a bunch of the furniture and boxes that were stored in there. Now the room looks just incredible. Instead of a crowded, messy lump it has turned into a beautiful formal dining room. We had the dinner club over for an inaugural dinner which was well received.

The first dinner was my premier of sous vide cooking for others. I'd heard about this in passing on some Food Network shows and at Brian and Jackie's lovely family picnic I got a first hand look at the gear from Gene. He made his own, but I had to buy a set up from Auber. There's much on the web about sous vide, but the general idea is to cook food at the proper temperature for eating, but cook it a long time. Say you like your steak medium rare, 140 degrees. Why cook it any hotter than that? We know that chicken dries out at the 160 degrees needed to kill salmonella. Yet, according to the USDA we get the same salmonella killing power by holding food at 145 degrees for 30 minutes, so why overcook your chicken? With sous vide you bring the food to the temperature that makes it what you want to eat and then hold it there long enough to make it safe. This leaves the food unbrowned, so then I flash brown it in a very hot skillet. The results, according to our guests, are just delicious. We've also had some interesting work with eggs. A 142 degree egg is quite different than a 144 degree egg. An egg has a number of proteins that all change phase at slightly different temperatures. If you want a reference book, try Sous Vide For The Home Cook.

Along the way I got the bad news that the California Citizens Redistricting Selection Committee eliminated me from their candidate pool. I needed to get at least one vote from one of the three state auditors and none voted to keep me. The comment I got was  less than a sentence saying they elimited me as not meeting the "appreciation of diversity" and "analytic skills" section. Huh? In fairness they were cutting from 4600 candidates to 500 and they don't have a lot of time to consider each person. I think my application just didn't grab them. I have read many of the remaining applications and they do have strong backgrounds, so I feel ok about that. Oddly enough, four people from my original work group at HP applied for the commission: Eric Hill, Kalli Louis, Gene Lee, and me. They've reduced the number to 60 and Gene is still in it. Go Gene.

Kim and Lidiya came in to the Bay Area for Ethiopian Heritage camp again. On the long drive to Scott's Valley I let her use my iPhone for a few games which made me a good uncle. When I came to pick them up on Sunday I spent an hour watching the closing ceremony of dancing and photos. I had some fire brewed coffee with the women. I see now why they come back each year. This is a chance to breathe in the culture and bond with others from home. The traditions, the dance, the history would be lost on this generation without places like the summer camp. The place was alive with Ethiopia. We spent Sunday night in San Carlos before sending them off in a taxi. I wish I could have driven them, but this Monday morning was the day I had to lay off four people from work. The less said about that the better.

In August Rick and I headed to Winnipeg and spent the first night with Kim and Pete in their new house. What a nice place they have. Four bedrooms, big living room, remodeled kitchen, swimming pool, hot tub... the fun never stops. We stocked up on scotch and headed East to Vermilion Bay, then North to Indian Chain Lakes and KC's Landing. Larry and Susan met us there. The first few days were cold, rainy, and windy. I wanted to get Rick out on the lake, but the few times we headed out we came right back. Finally, day three brought us sunny, warm weather and we started catching fish. We're a bit later this year and the walleye are all bigger. We're routinely catching 15-inch fish and very few small ones. Rick caught a smallish pike, which left him smiles. Pete latched on to a muskie that was so big they couldn't get it into the net! It would get half way in and be more than half way out; it would flop free. Eventually it let go of the 16-inch walleye it was trying to eat. We spent some time trying to entice that muskie again, but it didn't work. I picked up two small mouth bass of 2.5 pounds each. Very good eating. Lidiya picks up my iPhone and asks to play some games. I look at Kim, "what's my unlock code?" She doesn't know. I hand the phone to Lidiya who then deftly enters the correct code. Kids remember a lot.

Ken D'amico organized a lunch of a few ex-SIDO HPers in August. Gwen, Bob, Scott came. It was nice to catch up with everyone. These guys are working at corporate HQ and said, "oh, something is going on today. Everyone is running around like crazy. Probably another acquisition." Near the end of our lunch a random person from HP walks up to Scott and asks, "did you hear the news? Herd resigned." We didn't believe it, but a quick check with six smart phones all brought up the news. I knew I had a scoop and sent quick SMS messages to a couple of other ex-HP folks. It only took minutes to get back the note "and over sexual harassment!" Wow, the internet works quickly. No wonder dissidents love it. How odd that the very day we get together for our five year lunch, big news breaks. Those still at HP say good by and hurry back to work. Gwen and I have no where to go and enjoy a couple of more glasses of iced tea while waxing philosophic.

After spending a week with Bob and Carolyn I was so happy to host a little cocktail party at my place for them and a few close friends. Morgan and Judy came, Dean too. And another couple. Even Margaret and her friends stopped by long enough to pour some tequila into their glasses of punch. (Note: tequila does not go with banana mango juice drink. Who would have thought?) It was a quiet party of talking and eating. Quite lovely. At the party Morgan tells me of their troubles getting some new wireless router to work. A few weeks later they take me up on my offer of a few hours of IT work and I find myself staring at a brand new Mac. I've never seen one up close and it is a beautiful thing to behold. It's like a solid slab of glass with a rim of steel. It floats on the simple stand. Wow. Of course I don't know Macs so I ask them, "do you know how to work the Mac?" And they answer, "Nope, it's brand new and we've always been PC people. We just switched." Oh. And a nephew had already tried to get the router working a few weeks ago. Gulp. I plunge in. One step at a time we turn things on and hook them up. My God, the thing just worked! The Mac asked if we wanted to join the wireless network and the next thing I know we're surfing the internet. Give the printer the SSID passcode and the Mac prints to it. Once again I am stunned by how easy the Mac is to run. Apple certainly got this right. I'm on my way to fanboi-dom.

My work with Friends of the Santa Clara Library goes well. Maria Daane, the ED, is a very nice person and I enjoy being re connected with Joy Hansen too. The advisory committee has met a couple of times. The first meeting was slow, but the recent one was more satisfying. I'm not a good person to cold call donations without a solid understanding of the service. I like to know what's going on so that I can speak from the heart. Before each meeting I spend about an hour sitting in the library and it's growing on me. I just wish it was closer to home. The Friends, like most library foundations, takes in an enormous number of donated books each week. They sort them into four classes: for the stacks, for sale on the internet, for sale on site, for pulp. It turns out that half the books they get will never sell and St. Vincent DePaul drives them to Oregon to turn into pulp again. A very few are rarer and hard to sell. This month they happened to have two beautiful books about Ireland. One published in 1790 and one in 1825. Maria told me how hard it is to sell them over the internet. The market is specialized, you don't know who's buying the book, sometimes they complain about the condition, etc. I ask what they sell for. Turns out they are not that expensive. I've always wanted to own some old books so I bought these. I now have sitting on my bookshelf a book that was printed in 1790. Every time I pick it up I am in reverence of its antiquity.

We were lucky enough to see Jen and Alain twice this summer. We came a bit late to the two year old's party, as we were told they'd all be asleep by then. Wrong. Those kids were still running around like jackhammers on concrete. I think the bouncy house keep them wound up. I met some interesting people. One woman does environmental monitoring, mostly of ground water remediation. I shared some stories of Reynold's experience which resonated with her. A guy there is switching careers. He's been a programmer. Then quit and build his family a high energy efficient home. Now he's trying to figure out how he can make a living doing this for others. One interesting device he told me about is an air based heat exchanger. Today's houses are so sealed that people lack fresh air. But opening a window in the summer or winter leads to much higher energy use. There's a device that sits in a window and blows air into the house. Rather than an open fan housing, this device uses a complex baffle system to effect heat exchange. In the winter, air entering the house is warmed by the air exhausting. In the summer the air entering is cooled by the exhaust air. It sounds interesting and he claims it works really well. I also talk with this woman who's been a manager at her company for a few months in very challenging circumstances. I casually offer some of my thoughts and a few days later she invites me to lunch to talk some more. Over lunch we talk about how hard first line management is and I share some of the techniques I've learned over the years at HP. I loved the chance to talk about management again. The old days at HP working with new managers was some of the best times I've had. I love coaching people. A few weeks later she calls again to say that some of the ideas I gave her worked really well. Yea!  Jen and Alain also came up to San Carlos for a quiet dinner of just us adults. We went to Pilita. It's one of my favorites and yet the chicken guvec was again dry and tough.

Brent has been down several times and we're making the Oasis our regular hangout. Ray's been by a few times as well, sometimes just a few days after Brent. One of these times we'll get everyone sync'd up for a visit.

And this brings me back to Jury Duty. I'm already getting a head ache. More on that in a few weeks.



April 18, 2010

Since getting on to Facebook with the iPhone, this journal has suffered. But I also know that fewer people are reading it, and that this is now more for me.

2010 continues bad news. Dick Tibbets died, one of my work buddies from Cal Poly. Dick was a large figure with a hearty laugh and appreciation for life. I remember my first summer working at Poly when I had the honor of slathering Yellow-77 on cables that were being pulled between buildings. The stuff was soapy-slick and let the guys on the far side use a winch to force yet another set of wires through the conduit. Dick and the other techs watched, happy that they didn't have to do it. At the end I was covered with slime. Dick and Jerry also used to step out of the office when a cool train engine was coming by the adjacent tracks. He taught me to be serious about work, but to remember to have fun. Lynette worked there after I left and married Dick sometime later. She's a great person. Bob knows them both better than I do. It's a sadder world with out Dick.

A few short weeks later I got word the Simon Cutting died on a business trip to New York. Simon worked for Rob in the escalation team at HP years ago. Rob and Simon remained best friends. His memorial service was packed with friends and so many fun stories of his life. As people spoke their tales I could often hear Simon in the words they used. So many people miss him.

Ken and JD had a big holiday party at their place in December. I tried to duplicate Kathy's almond-mushroom pate and it didn't work. The stuff was edible, but it didn't have the same spark. I don't know what went wrong.

Her spectacular new heater made me reevaluate my own. In December a guy Herbert knows replaced both my heater and A/C unit. Both were 20 years old and the A/C has been serviced too many times in recent years. I'm happy with both, but the new heater makes a lot more noise. I wanted to get the Federal rebate, but that requires a 90% efficient heater. And that requires new venting. Being a 3 story townhouse that meant a lot of wall ripping up. In the end it would have cost more to put in the new vent then I'd get back in rebates. Instead I went for only 80% efficient. I'm really looking forward to lower electricity bills in the summer when the A/C gets a workout.

I also decided to blow some cash on new carpet for the stairs. It was worn through in the middle of each tread and bugging me every time I went upstairs. S&G came out to do the installation. Of course the first thing the installer says, "did they tell you this was a one day job? It's clearly 2." Those guys! They had to know it was two days, but what was I to do now? Cancel and start over? Crap. Not that it cost me more, but I had to arrange a second day off work. The carpet looks good, but I'm not happy with S&G. The installer worked diligently and finished in a day and a half. He did a much better job than the original installation. Fewer lose ends and gaps around the stairs. At least that's good.

Bill and Georgia had us up for a very nice pot luck overlooking the Santa Cruz mountains open space preserve. The people were nice, the food was good, and the view spectacular. We watched through binoculars as the open space caretaker walked us through the delivery of new cattle to the land. After dinner discussion turned to the scent gland that is supposed to be in the hoofs of deer. What was it for? Did it really exist? Etc. I had nothing to offer except an iPhone with marginal service. While others were taking educated guesses and vowing to look it up on the internet, I just did it. "Do you mean the inter-digital sebaceous gland the mother uses to track her fawn?" Score again for ubiquitous internet access!

Christmas Day was another big hit. This time everyone was in town, so we filled the place. Michelle and Bob came over; we enjoy their company very much. Los Gatos meats supplied the ham and we all raved about it. It was sad that Uncle Rich was gone. He was great for conversation and showed an interest in everything. Lauren brought Dan, newly inducted into the Marines. About half way through they announce an engagement! Cool. Dan fits right into the family. A great addition.

January 1 was spent with Don and Cindy having waffles for breakfast. They bought a shiny new high-end iron and gathered fresh fruits and other delectable additions. Sue and Dave were there and so was Toni. Of course we talked over the political situation and held out hopes for passage of Obama's health care bill. Fingers crossed.

Early in the new year Michelle invited us over for a tamale making party. Her mom and sister were in town and this served as a bit of a housewarming too. The initial plan was for us to each bring some filling. I suggested a core of chicken, green onion, ginger, and sesame oil. Kind of an Asian fusion tamale. That was nixed - Michelle later told me her mom was horrified - and we arrived to find most of the tamales already made up. Our job was to do a few more to take home and then enjoy a dinner of the more professional jobs. Great food, as always. Curt and Karen were there, good to see them. Curt regaled us with tales of open space animals, with an interesting story of mountain lions and wild life corridors.

In an interesting twist, the local Sierra Club had Chris Wilmers, a professor from UC Santa Cruz, talk about his work tracking mountain lions. For the last year they have trapped lions and put GPS collars on them. The collars take a position every 20 minutes and upload it once a week. He was able to show us tracking maps of several lions that lasted almost a year! The collars also include accelerometers and 3-axis magnetometers - like a little iPhone. They review the data and if they think a lion has made a kill, then they visit the site a few days later to find what it killed and under what circumstances. All this data can lead to a better understanding of the lions and better ways for us to co-exist. I sent UCSC a donation to continue the work.

Back at the Ravizza's holiday party I talked with Jim Lyon's about the California Redistricting Commission. It's a state wide commission to redraw our districts based on the 2010 census. For the first time in history it will be done by unbiased citizens instead of in political backrooms. My own state Senate district is a gerrymander and this has bugged me for a long time. Early in the new year I decided to apply for the commission. It will be a lot of work if I'm selected, but I think a well done redistricting can help solve a lot of our State's problems. As I write this now the second application period closes tomorrow. The selection committee will interview 40 people from the pool I'm in, and there are only 300 in that pool! My chances are good.

Also back at the Ravizza's, Dave mentioned that his wood shop at Oak Grove High School had a ShopBot. These three dimensional computer controlled routers have fascinated me for years. The ShopBot was donated two years ago. Dave got training on it, but over time and graduating students the learning had left. "Jimbo, you got to help me out on this." Perrrrfect. With my Friday's off work I had time to take on a project and I could help the school and learn something myself. The first week I took home the manuals and read up on them. I installed the design software on my laptop and was off to the races. A couple of students had been working with the ShopBot but were stuck. There were a few key concepts they were missing about tool paths. Once I got them over that hump they were able to do all kinds of things. I came back the next week to find that one student had set it up to carve the cattle brand of another student. Then we set it up to carve a couple of names in wood; that was popular. I've made about 10 trips down there so far. Each time I'm surprised at how nice the students are and how interested they are in doing something serious. More to come on this topic.

Along the volunteer lines, Joy Hansen contacted me. She's on the board of the Friends of the Santa Clara Library. They are creating a corporate outreach advisory board, and would I like to join? I met Maria Daane, a most delightful executive director and said, "yes." It's not a big time commitment. They want creative ideas, and that's my forte. We had our first meeting just last week. The other members seem like good folks. We brainstormed a number of ideas and I took an action item to write up a summary of the current library programs that get funded. The library does so much more than loan books. Youth reading, homeless shelter outreach, early childhood reading, job skills training, homework help, and the list goes on. I hope to make a difference.

Then SUPERBOWL weekend. This year the group came to San Carlos to celebrate her new kitchen. We had plenty of rooms and plenty of food. We started with a nice dinner at Pilita, one of local favs. Don and Cindy joined the crowd so we could talk about our POM trip of years ago. Then the food fest moved indoors and we cooked and ate like the world was going to end. Paul reprised his egg in muffin cup breakfast treat. Carolyn had an excellent cioppino one night. And Paul's burgoo was very tasty. I made balsamic chicken, which I know has been made by others since then. It was a classic celebration to have everyone together. The Godfrey-Prince clan came over for a lunch - wow the kids are big now.

Carson and Edie came over on Saturday before he headed in for major heart surgery - again. God, they were going to do a million things to him. I guess that once you pay the entry fee to have them crack your chest, you might as well get your nails done too. We ate a dinner of Low Fat Chili Verde over rice. The tastes were very good. A nice mix of chicken and bell peppers. With a few glasses of wine we sent them off. I'm very pleased to report now that Carson came through it al in great shape. We just had dinner with him at Hong Kong Saigon Seafood restaurant. It's like a little bit of Hong Kong in Sunnyvale. Big, noisy, and excellent food.

The San Carlos Dinner Club has been active as well. We started off at a local Italian place. Then we ate at Santorini. And again we made it to Pilitas. The club is just a lose agreement to get together once a month to explore.

Angela couldn't make the last club meeting because she was on the road with Aunt Heather, over from the UK. Heather was here for two weeks and the girls saw it all. A week in SF doing Victorian walks, Alcatraz, MOMA, and Beach Blanket Babylon. Then they hit the road to drive through San Juan Bautista, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, the Queen Mary, Palm Springs, and finally to San Diego for a few days with cousins there. Whew. Then the long drive back here in a day to make her plane on Tuesday. Heather was a delightful house guest. We walked to the Plantation coffee roaster and she was taken with the American "bottomless" cup of coffee. "No charge for refills? I could get used to this." She also got to spin the customer waffle iron at a Comfort Inn. On her last day I wowed her with iPhone tricks. When it recognized the song playing in the background she was agog.

Speaking of visitors, I got an email from an old college chum of hers that was stopping in SF on his way to an Australian vacation. We invited them to stay with us, and a few weeks later Stuart and Judy showed up. They just wanted to relax between flights and we enjoyed their company around the house. They made us dinner of pignoli and zucchini over pasta. We opened a bottle of wine and took a spin at the board game Pandemic. They had to leave before we finished. Once they were gone we picked it back up and lost in two more turns.

Don / Cindy and Sue / David came over a few weeks ago for vegetarian chili and Pandemic. The chili was good, but not as spectacular as the first time. I used short grain brown rice and I think that was a mistake. We ran the Pandemic board three times, I think we won two.

Stephanie and Dave invited us over to Consuelo's Mexican Bistro with the gang for a birthday celebration. We won't say who got older, but Stephanie still looks young...

And we've had Brent stay at my place several times. When he's down we usually have dinner with Dean too. And Pat and Richard have been dinner companions more than once.

Somewhere in there was a Kiwanis crab feed in San Carlos where we found Pat and Camille. The crab was good, but someone thought the Boy Scouts should make a power point presentation about the history of scouting while we were all eating. Oh boy, that was a mistake. No one paid attention, the speaker could see it was a bad idea but had to continue. A few others in the crowd would periodically whistle a "pay attention" as if the crowd of paying crab eaters were antsy youth. Next year we'll try a different crab fest.

Rhona and Gary found me alone on Easter while she was in San Diego. They invited me over for their family gathering. It was super! Chris had just got his first mechanical engineering job out of school. He's working on an unfolding solar sail to prove that the concept will work for interstellar flight. And he's making a rocket to simulate some Chinese ordinance for shoot down practice.

San Jose Rep had a good season. We just saw Ain't Misbehavin' - it was a hoot. Sad to see that the house is often only 70% full. I remember when it used to be packed. The lecture series this year was ok. Laura Bush was a bit boring. Robert Ballard was interesting. And Jeffrey Toobin gave a lot of insight into the Supreme Court. Next year's line up looks pretty weak and I think we won't get tickets. In between all this the Foothill Astronomy Lectures have given me things to think about.