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Comparing Airlines in 2017 – JAL vs AA

by on Apr.12, 2017, under Recommendations, social commentary

Last month we spent 17 days in Asia.

Needless to say, getting there required some lengthy air travel.  Also needless to say, I have come back with a massive collection of new images.  I am slowly wading through the 1,600+ photos from my Canon 5D Mk III + over 600 just from the Samsung Galzxy S7 I carry.  Eventually there will be online galleries for this.

An example:

Shanghai Skyline Night II

Shanghai Skyline Night II

But that’s not what I’ve set down to write about today.

What I found amazing was the dramatic difference between the two airlines we flew on this trip.  Both flights were almost the exact same amount of time – 13.5 hours.  We flew from Dallas to Tokyo on Japan Airlines (JAL), but came back from Hong Kong on American Airlines (AA).  The JAL flight was on the 787 Dreamliner and it was our first flight on this high tech plane.  Coming back we were booked on a 777.  We’ve flown on these massive planes before, most notably on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Bangkok a long time ago.  We were really looking forward to flying the 777 again.

International air travel is always something we look forward to.  The service is generally far superior to stateside flights and we anticipate vastly improved food service.  The planes are much bigger and the overheads more spacious as well.  This makes dealing with carry-on luggage much easier.  I always travel with one of my specialized Lowepro camera carriers and they are HEAVY – weighing in around 20 lbs when loaded with all the gear I take internationally.

As a little comparison between the two planes, we were surprised at how much smaller the 787 is compared to the 777.  Roughly 45 feet longer, but almost 5 feet shorter, the 777 holds 365 passengers compared to the 210 of the 787.  The portholes (seat windows) on the Dreamliner don’t have the pull-down shade systems that have been around for decades.  Instead, the window itself is tinted by a set of controls below each window.  You can have you  window completely clear or a full range from lightly tinted to dark blue to completely opaque by adjusting the controls.  This is something I’ve been saying we should have since the 70s, when I went to the Disneyland Monsanto ride and realized liquid crystal technology could do this.

Enough about the technical details.

For the most part, our favorite airline is Lufthansa.  The seats are excellent, even in coach.  The staff are efficient and their pilots are absolutely, hands-down the BEST.  They land those planes more smoothly and consistently than any other airline we’ve ever flown.  Is anyone surprised by a German airline with the best pilots?

We did really love Cathay Pacific and I have to say that our flights on Delta have been excellent as well.

This brings me to the point of this post.

Comparing AA and JAL

Japan Airlines

Flying over on JAL was simply serene.  Part of that was due to flying west starting late in the day.  We departed mid-afternoon and flew in relative darkness most of the way to Tokyo (actually Narita).  But the conditions of the plane and JAL’s crew were really the highlights.  The plane was clean, everything looked fairly new.  The service was impeccable.  Fast, polite, friendly and accommodating.  The food was excellent, flavorful, nicely served and preceded by hot, wet towels to refresh ourselves with.  As a lifelong vegetarian, I generally get the best food on the plane – and I’m served first.  Special meals are generally served first to get the complications out of the way for food service efficiency.

This was our first flight with JAL and we are really looking forward to traveling with them again.

American Airlines

Coming back, however, we were on the AA flight from hell.  The plane was DIRTY.  I found trash in the seat-back pocket in front of me that was left over from the Obama administration.  The latch that holds the tray table in place required a plier-like grip to turn the blasted thing.  When we deplaned, it looked like something post-apocalyptic.  There was food trash, napkins and paper detritus everywhere.  It looked like a garbage can had exploded in the plane.

Warren and Slick.The.Dog

Warren and Slick.The.Dog

I travel wearing a cowboy hat.  Always.  I put it in the overhead on top of my camera carrier.  At the beginning of the flight, we are all seated and one of the flight attendants, an Asian man named Daniel (? – definitely began with a D) started slamming around and reorganizing everything in the overhead above us to make more room.

This includes my Lowepro camera sling backpack that contains over $15,000 worth of Canon Pro gear and more than 1600 absolutely priceless image files on CF cards.

In the process of forcefully rearranging the overheard he partially crushed my $120.00 white palm Resistol hat.  I stood up and told him to dial it back and that I was NOT happy about this.  He apologized and stowed my hat in the back, but the damage was already done.

On any other flight, a flight attendant has asked me before rearranging an overhead.  This is appropriate.  Having ZERO respect for the belongings of your passengers is NOT.  Some bullet points regarding the overall American Airlines experience:

  • Food service was just OK.
  • Food quality, flavor and options were not anywhere near the level of JAL.
  • The crew were brusque, sometimes rude, and generally a lot less pleasant than JAL.
  • The plane looked Tired.
  • It was full of people wheezing, hacking, coughing, sneezing (and some other dwarves).
  • The takeoff felt like the wheels were coming off.  I can’t remember the last time I was on a flight with so much lateral travel just getting off the tarmac.  No, it was not especially windy at the time.
  • The landing, likewise, had a lot of “shimmy” as the plane touched down.  It is a very disconcerting feeling – and I am far from an uneasy flier.
  • The turbulence on the flight was pretty strong and frequent.  I personally don’t mind turbulence.  I find it entertaining.  But then I like roller coasters too.
  • At one point, severe turbulence was projected ahead and the cabin crew all hustled out of the aisles.  You would have thought the Apocalypse was coming based on the announcement over the PA by our flight attendant.  It involved a great deal of shouting and he sounded like he was seeing his life pass before his eyes right then and there.  Not exactly professional or reassuring.  At all.  As it turned out, it was much ado about nothing.
  • Prior to arriving at DFW, one flight attendant coming up the aisle distributing customs forms.  He was rude, loud and yelling at the passengers.  His overall demeanor on the flight was far less than pleasant.  Why he is doing this job is a mystery.

We are NOT looking forward to flying AA again.

In fact, we will make every effort to avoid them after this experience – which is inconvenient, since Dallas is their hub.

AA is certainly not responsible for a flight full of sick people.**  Nor are they to be criticized for turbulent conditions.  No one can control these things.  They can and should, however, be held responsible for an under-maintained plane, dirty conditions and a cabin crew with attitude problems.  As travelers, we have an increasing number of choices in terms of carriers.  We don’t have to settle for substandard quality and AA seems to be setting the bar pretty low these days.

 

United Airlines …

And now United Airlines decides to literally drag a 69 year-old man off a flight, badly injuring him in the bargain.

Seriously?

I think this is a good opportunity for us all to apply for United cards so we can cut them up and mail the pieces to their headquarters.

Here’s their mailing address:

United Airlines, Inc.
Attn:  Oscar Munoz
PO Box 06649
Chicago, IL 60606-0649
United States

** Fortunately we were both very careful and came home from this lengthy trip in perfect health – or as close as we ever get to this condition.

Hong Kong Skyline Panorama

Hong Kong Skyline Panorama

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Cleaning Up American Politics

by on Feb.14, 2017, under Instructional, social commentary

American Politics

So full of floating turds, someone needs to pull the flush handle

I think we can all agree that American politics – and politicians in general in this country – has become so corrupt as to be far more than an embarrassment, but actually an abomination.  Our founding fathers put together a document (our Constitution) that was – and is – nothing short of genius.  They did their very best to ensure our country would not be another England, where religion was mandated by the government.  They wanted us to be free to practice (or not) any religion without government interference.  In addition, they endeavored to construct a system wherein the citizens would be able to protect themselves from government corruption and tyranny.

This system worked pretty well for a very long time.

Many improvements were made to our country over the last 2+ centuries.  Women won the right to vote, all colors and races have earned some semblance of equality (this last election cycle has proven we have a very long way to go on this score) and recently even LGBT rights have been established.  These are all excellent examples of how our system should work.

This most recent election cycle should be a source of embarrassment to every adult in this country.  The complete lack of civility and subsequent explosion of hate crimes is nothing short of an abomination.  Fifty years of progress went down the tubes.  The entire world watched as we matched the two least-likely candidates against each other – at our expense.  Two candidates that were terrible choices.  We were screwed.  No matter who won, we lost.  This was the best we could do?  Seriously?

But back to my original topic…

Unfortunately, our elected officials have cleverly subverted the brilliant system put in place by our founding fathers to their own advantage.

  • Numerous politicians have had their snouts in the public trough for over three decades.
  • They have established the best health care system our tax dollars can buy for themselves, meanwhile saddling us with the Affordable Care Act (which is neither affordable, nor care for many of us).
  • Their children do not have to pay back their student loans.  Ours do.
  • Lobbyists and special interest groups line the pockets of our representatives at ridiculous rates.
  • Our representatives “retire” with over $150k per year for life even after only one year of service.
  • They spend 30 hours per week telephoning potential donors for campaign funds.
  • They are only in session around 133 days per year.  You and I work around 240 days a year.
  • The average pay per representative is $174k per year.  More for party leaders.
  • This averages out to $163 / hr, most of which is spent trying to raise re-election funds.

So what do we do about this?

Did you know that in Iceland after a 2008 financial crash like ours, the citizens took to the streets en masse, demonstrating until the conservative Prime Minister and his entire party resigned?  They jailed bankers and re-wrote their constitution to ensure this would never happen again.  Haven’t heard about this?  The mainstream media certainly never covered it, did they?  Why do you think that is?

Again… What do we do?  Several things.

  1. By a vote of No Confidence we recall every single elected representative.
  2. We try the lot for treason.  A firing squad for those found guilty.
  3. We vote in an entirely new batch of people who swear to actually uphold the Constitution and represent us fairly.
  4. We eliminate the Federal Reserve which prints money faster than anyone can count it.
  5. We start jailing everyone responsible for the 2008 subprime lending debacle.

We put some Constitutional Amendments into place:

  1. Congress shall make no law which applies to citizens differently than Congress
  2. Repeal Citizens United
  3. No elected representative shall make more than 5% above the mean of their constituents as a result of their position
    (sucks if you represent Appalachia – pretty good if Manhattan is your district)
  4. Abolish lobbyists
  5. Put a bounty on lobbyists
    ($10 an ear should be sufficient)
  6. Term Limits – the President remains unchanged.  6 years for everyone else.
  7. Establish a 3rd party.  A 3 party system ensures no single party can lock up the entire process with a majority.
  8. Election campaigns will run exactly 6 weeks.
  9. No candidate pays for campaign ads.
  10. As a requirement for access to the public airwaves, all TV and radio stations must give a finite amount of time per week to local / national candidates for this time period.  This gets a lot of the money out of the political process and levels the playing field.
  11. Zero tolerance for negative campaign ads.  Anyone trying such tactics is disqualified.
  12. Replace “In God We Trust” with “E Pluribus Unum” as our national motto.
    (back to the way it was prior to 1956 when religion was injected into politics)

Continuing on…

  • Remove the tax exemption for churches.  These are legitimate businesses.  They should pay tax on what they collect.
    Separation of Church and State was something our founding fathers viewed as critical.
  • Repeal outrageous tax breaks for the very wealthy that enable people like Donald Trump to pay ZERO taxes.
  • Reconstruct our welfare system so those in need of help are fast-tracked out of the “system” and on to jobs that will support them and their families.
  • Single payer health care should be a right, not a privilege in any developed country.
  • Eliminate Common Core in public education.  Start building a system that actually teaches children to learn as opposed to teaching children how to take tests.
  • 2 year college degrees funded by the State.
    This way we find out if someone is serious about higher education.
  • 4 year plans available to those who apply themselves in a productive field.
    (no free liberal arts degrees)
  • College loans go back to zero interest as an incentive.
  • All current college loan interest forgiven.
  • Start an immediate draw-down of troops in any other country.  We need to stop being at war.  This is only beneficial to the military-industrial complex.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against this in 1961.  Our country benefits from war and conflict to an extent we should be ashamed of.  Enough!
  • Immigrants who truly want to assimilate should be welcomed.  This characteristic is what made America great.  Those who want to establish sub-cultures should be discouraged.
  • Zero tolerance for bigotry and racism.  Germany has done a pretty good job of this.  We should follow their example.

 

I could go on a lot more (and I might), but I think this is a pretty good start.

What do you think?

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Cognitive Dissonance, Hypocrisy or Both?

by on Oct.09, 2016, under social commentary

Alright. That’s enough.

The recent revelations regarding leaked tapes of Donald Trump making lewd, insulting comments about women, his daughter and his celebrity status have saturated the news cycle for long enough to create some very ugly reactions.
Every other (sometimes more) post this morning has everybody and their dog (except our dog – he knows better) posting offensive things Bill or Hillary did – or said in the past – which somehow justifies Trump’s misogynistic, boorish and far-from-presidential behavior.
 
You realize this is like saying “Oh yeah!? So’s your mom!” right?
Did none of you evolve past 6th grade?
 
This is the very definition of cognitive dissonance.
Also… hypocrisy
<feel free to Google both if these don’t sound familiar to you>
 
You simply cannot intelligently justify the bad behavior of your favorite politician by the bad behavior of the one you hate. Have you never heard the phrase “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” (but three lefts do…)?
 
Using this kind of “justification” just makes you look small-minded and stupid. If you want to be taken seriously by even semi-intelligent people you cannot behave like this.

Along the same lines, this would be like the following scenario:

I come racing through your neighborhood in a big Chevy truck like a lunatic, plow through your fence, run down and kill your dog, barrel down the street and off into the distance leaving a trail of destruction in my path.
Next Friday night in your (little) mind, this justifies you doing exactly the same thing to a total stranger on the next block.
Do you see the problem with this logic?
No Pussy Grabbing, Please

No Pussy Grabbing, Please

 
The gene pool clearly needs a lot of chlorine.
Oh…
And lest anyone decide this is an endorsement of either candidate… It’s not.
This election is the most embarrassing “choice” we have ever had to make in the history of this country.
We should all be ashamed that we can’t do better than this.  We have on one hand a candidate most people dislike and distrust.  On the other hand we have a candidate who has failed more times than succeeded, who makes a habit of offending as many sub-classes of citizens as possible and clearly feels above the law of our great land.

Neither is acceptable in my opinion.

  • But to not vote is simply stupid.
  • To vote for some fringe candidate is to throw your vote away.
  • To do nothing is to be a fool.
  • In all things we are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
  • Don’t be part of the problem.
No matter how you feel about both of our very poor options, you have to ask yourself one very important question:
“Which of these candidates puts forth the more professional, polished, moderate image which will cement our position on the world political stage?”
<as opposed to torpedoing this image for perhaps eight very long years.>
Then go out and cast your VOTE!
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UVerse Support is a Joke

by on Oct.09, 2014, under Instructional, social commentary

Not that this is probably new to most people that have contacted them, but AT&T’s UVerse support is an absolute joke.

We switched from Time Warner (Toad Warthog to us) for our broadband / Television service yesterday after one too many times of having our bandwidth be inadequate to stream a movie from Amazon.com.  The problem with cable-based Internet is that it is a “shared network“.  What this means is that the pool of bandwidth is shared over subnets (neighborhoods) so the more people online and downloading data, the slower the speed for every user.  There is a finite amount of bandwidth divided among all the users in the neighborhood.  During peak usage periods (after dinner for most areas), the overall speed diminishes greatly for everyone in the neighborhood.  Services like UVerse are a conventional network design where my usage does not impact that of my neighbor.

Winston-DISLIKEThe installation went very well and everything worked properly, but the default IP address scheme for their modem / router was incompatible with our network.  They have a default of 192.168.1.254 for the router address and therefore, the network will have a 192.168.1.x series of assigned IP addresses.  Our network uses a different range of addresses and reconfiguring 3 network printers for the AT&T subnet – and then reinstalling each printer on every computer — is simply unacceptable.

The installer gave me the info to log into the router and I found the control panel very friendly overall.  I located the configuration page to change the IP addressing scheme and proceeded to enter our network settings.  Then the infernal interface DENIED the settings, saying they were not acceptable.  We use a perfectly normal private network IP schema, but UVerse will not allow it on their ARRIS NVG589 router.

Very frustrating.

Before going further, let me clarify that I have been configuring routers of all kinds, including Cisco for over 20 years.  It’s what I did for a living for a very long time.  This should be child’s play – and normally is.

So I had to call support (I hate calling support).

Over the course of at least 90 minutes I spoke with no less than seven different people, including basic tech support, tier 2 support and their advanced La-Dee-Da tech desk (which is a pay-as-you-go option).  There was no way in hell I was going to pay them to solve a problem with the interface on their router.  I tried in every possible way to convey the exact nature of the problem.  All but one of these people simply could not wrap their tiny minds around it.  The one who could had no idea how to solve the problem other than to take control of my computer in an attempt to configure the device (not acceptable) and needed to get authorization to do this without charging me.

Ridiculous.

All but the last person had the very same speech pattern (think Coneheads — “we’re from France”).  I don’t know where these people are from, but they all sound like Martians and are virtually useless from a purely technical standpoint.

I finally gave up, installed my own router and disabled the WiFi in the Uverse box.  I still need to Bridge the ARRIS to streamline communication speed, but at least the network is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Pathetic – and ninety minutes of my life I can never get back.

#UverseFAIL #AT&T #routerconfig

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#5MPHDisplayLock – Simple Solution to Bad Driving

by on Mar.17, 2013, under Recommendations, social commentary

I posted this on my Facebook page 2 years ago:

#5mphdisplaylock – Simple Solution to Bad Driving

#5MPHDisplayLock

#5MPHDisplayLock

OK, maybe not All bad driving – but a lot of it, anyway.

Hop into your WayBack machine and journey back around 20 years ago.  Observe how, when we saw someone weaving around the road, or driving way too slow, we knew they were drunk.  Also observe that when we saw someone walking down the sidewalk having a conversation with no one, we assumed them to be schizophrenic.  Today things are different.

When we see someone crossing into adjacent lanes, braking for hallucinations and the like, we can now be pretty sure they are either texting or dialing the phone.  It’s dangerous – and Stupid.  But it happens every single  day.

There is a very simple solution to this “problem”.  Since too many people think they can drive and text (read email, look up restaurants) at the same time (they can’t) why in the world don’t we just solve the problem for them?

How?

Simple.

Disable dialing / keypad / display on all phones when moving more than 5 miles per hour.  Most phones in current use have GPS and accelerometers built-in.  This means the phone knows when it’s in motion.  Simply mandate that all phones cannot be dialed (except via hands-free voice dialing) when going more than 5 miles per hour.  Have an emergency key combination (9 +1 pressed simultaneously) to call 9-1-1.

Problem solved.

Naturally there would be the option to permanently override this for emergency personnel, the Secret Service, FBI and similar agencies.  But the rest of us have to learn that every thought does not have to be communicated while we should be concentrating on driving.

And while we’re at it, how about programming the accelerometer to know when a crash has occurred and cause the phone to either dial 9-1-1 or ask if it should dial for you.  Another simple solution.

We have the technology.  All we have to do is use it.

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How Can You Not Love Texas?

by on Aug.02, 2012, under social commentary

Some of this is rehashed from an article I wrote in 1999, entitled “Some People Think We’ve Lost Our Minds

  • We moved to Texas and started over from scratch in June of 1999.
  • I was not relocated – I owned my own business in Marin County, California at the time.
  • We were not under duress to relocate.
  • We did not come to The Lone Star State to be near relatives.
  • We did come here for the economic advantages.
  • And none of our exes live in Texas.
  • I’d venture  a guess most people don’t move to Texas for the weather.  I did!  I love the weather, but then I was raised in Medford, Oregon, where the climate is almost identical to North Texas.  (I know you think I’m delusional, so go look it up.)

So There!

The very second I left the plane and set foot on the pavement after we closed on our new home in Plano, I had this incredible feeling of “coming home”.  I immediately knew I was finally where I belonged.  Texas was then, and is now my Home.  I will never leave.  I Love Texas as much as any Native Texan does.

The great state of Texas has a lot to offer the person who is willing to open their mind to it.  There is not a thing that needs to be changed for anyone to make a great life here.  Sure it’s flat in most cities except Austin, but that’s reality.  The big cities were built where the railroads intersected.  It was a matter of necessity.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t incredible beauty and grandeur to be found all across this massive state.  If you drove the back-roads of Texas your entire life, you’d never see it all – which is a real shame.

I’ve been photographing, cataloging and researching Texas for several years now, and my list of places to investigate just gets longer every day.  We routinely go on day or weekend trips, taking different routes, just to see what’s there.  The rustic charm, history and beauty of Texas is everywhere you look.  People will inevitably come out to greet you, offer assistance and become your new friends on the spot.  One of the best things about this state is the people.  Anyone who doesn’t know that has never spent any time here.

On one of our trips to Lubbock, out in just about the dead center of no-damned-where, we had a flat tire.  This was back in 2000 or 2001.  So here we are broken down on the side of the road and the security lug-nut adapter shatters so we can’t get the wheel off to change the tire.  And it’s 100 degrees.  While waiting for AAA to send a tow-truck (over 2 hours) no less than six different people stopped to try and help.  Two of them were going the other way and turned around and came back to offer assistance.  Only in Texas.

The wide open spaces of the prairie give way to the Piney Woods of the east, the mountains of the west, Palo Duro Canyon in the north and the Hill Country of the south.  For me there is nothing so peaceful as cruising the endless 2-lane highways and Farm-to-Market roads on my Harley, immersing myself in the texture, fragrances and variations of the land.

Try it sometime.  Open your mind and your senses to your surroundings and it will be like when you were six years old, riding your bike down a rural country lane, smelling the leaves, grasses, water and being acutely aware of minute changes in temperature and humidity.  As a child you probably were not thinking about these changes, but you were at some level aware of them.  It was – and is – wondrous to be in touch with nature at that level.

Can you do this in any other state?  Sure you can.  But why would you want to when Texas has so much to offer?  (Just kidding … mostly)

We have culture, architecture, incredible artists – and opportunity you simply cannot find anywhere else.  In addition, Texas is the Last Bastion of Personal Freedom.  For better or worse, the Texas Legislature is going to infringe on your personal rights as little as possible and I find I like that a lot.

Texas is a state that guarantees you the right to protect yourself and your home from the lowest elements of society.  Texas could  secede from the Union if and when it so chooses.  Think about that for a minute.  We could actually be our own Country at some point — which is starting to sound pretty good at the moment.

If you’d like a brief overview of what I see around The Lone Star State, check out my book, Texas As I See It (the first of at least 4 on Texas)

Following is the article I wrote in 1999 on the topic of moving to Texas:

Some People Think We’ve Lost Our Minds

(Why would you ever want to leave Marin?)

©1999 Warren P. Harris

 

As a result of a family get-together in Dallas last year, my beloved and I have decided to pull up stakes and move to the Lone Star State. It’s not because I’ve been relocated. It’s not because any outside forces have dictated this to be necessary. It’s not because we must be closer to an ailing relative. It’s simply because we feel we can achieve a much higher quality of life in Texas. Consider this: We just bought a home twice the size of the one we’re in – for 2/3 of what we sold this one for. Even after moving costs are figured in, we’re so far ahead it’s like winning the lottery!

I’ve spent the last five years building a successful computer consulting firm here in Marin which will continue to operate in my absence and I will simply start over in Dallas. Start over!? Some of our friends have expressed concern over this. OK, most of our friends have questioned this move. However, as I have said before, this is not my first business-from-scratch adventure. I have done this (successfully) on several occasions over the last 25 years and actually enjoy creating a business more than the day-to-day details of justrunning one.

It’s interesting how when we tell people here we’re moving to Texas, we get a fair percentage who just can’t understand why in the world we’d ever leave The Bay Area – “I mean it’s God’s country — the most beautiful place in the world. Have you lost your mind? And what about the rolling hills? They don’t have any hills in Texas, do they? Isn’t it all just flat?”

Nope! No rolling hills where we’re going – no non-rolling hills – no hills to speak of at all. The highest point in Texas is a freeway overpass (not really) — but how important is that, in the grand scheme of things? As a result of the ‘no hills’ thing, you have a really BIG sky with millions of stars. And how about those balmy (hot) summer nights. I just love hot summer nights. When was the last time you were able to go outside after dark (how about dusk) in a t-shirt and shorts and not come inside suffering from hypothermia 45 minutes later? Isn’t this ‘dress in layers’ thing a bit tiresome? While all of our little micro-climates are certainly ‘charming’, I personally find them to be most inconvenient.

“It’s HOT in Texas, you fools!” Y’know, that’s why God invented Air Conditioning (That’s what Karen says). You see this is not necessarily a problem. Some people (myself included) actually like hot weather. I’m quite comfortable when the temperatures reach the high 90’s and even exceed the century mark. For many people I’m sure it’s a problem, but for some of us it just makes our arthritic joints all the less painful – bonus!

“How about the people? I mean, my God, isn’t Texas in the South? Ewwww!” People here say to me ‘but you have to live with Texans’ (like they’ve got leprosy). Almost 100% of the time when I ask ‘have you ever been to Texas?’ the answer is ‘No’. OK, so who’s the bigot now? Geez! I’ve been to Texas on both business and pleasure numerous times over the last several years. All the Texans I’ve met have been friendly, helpful, polite (virtual Boy Scouts – OK, some may have been Girl Scouts) and would go out of their way to be helpful. What a nice change! In Texas, people actually talk to strangers in public (my gawd!) and even get to know their neighbors – scary isn’t it? A few months ago my beloved’s mother had her car die on 101 here in Marin and she was stranded on the side of the road for over an hour before anyone bothered to stop. Are we so self-absorbed here in California that we won’t even stop to help and elderly woman in distress? Apparently so. How pathetic.

“And what about San Francisco? Won’t you miss Beautiful San Francisco?” Well, true enough, San Francisco is a remarkable city and the Golden Gate bridge is an absolute marvel. But after you’ve been there a few hundred (thousand) times, you begin to notice the homeless problem; the traffic; the nightmare of parking; the fog; the cold. Need I go on? Do I love San Francisco? Yes. Do I need to be next door to it? No. Dallas is a fabulous, cosmopolitan city with manifold opportunities to experience culture, music, art, shopping, whatever winds your watch, so to speak. It’s not some hick big-city wannabee. It’s the real McCoy.

“But aren’t they awfully Conservative in Texas?” How simply awful! In case no one has noticed, Marin is much more conservative than most would like to admit. Skateboarding is almost criminal behavior here. Being a teenager in Marin is boring – and we’re doing everything we can to make damn sure it stays that way. Heaven forbid someone, somewhere should be having fun! It seems Marin is intolerant to nighttime entertainment of any kind. If you want to go out at night (past 8:00 or so) a trip to San Francisco is in order. Even Sonoma County has more musical options than Marin – and we have more than our share of World-class musicians who call Marin ‘home’. I’ve seen so many musical venues go out of business in the last two decades I can’t even keep track any more.

How about proximity to the rest of the US of A? The contiguous forty-eight states abound with natural beauty, marvels of human ingenuity and engineering and points of historical significance. From Marvelous Marin, it’s a long schlep east to get to most of them with the exception, perhaps of Oregon and Washington locales (I personally think this whole Pacific Northwest thing is a bit overrated, anyway). However… Texas is smack dab in the middle of the United States and boy howdy does that make exploring the rest of the country do-able. Dallas is only 2 hours and 40 minutes by air from New York, a day’s drive from Santa Fe or Chicago (OK, a long days drive), and within 3 hours by air to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America — hot damn! A weekend trip to Cozumel for some world-class drift diving is actually feasible — try that from The Bay Area!

“But what about your 16-year old? What about uprooting him to take him halfway across the country?” Well, lucky for all of us, he possesses the same spirit of adventure as us loony adults. Added bonus: The schools in Texas overall rate much higher than California schools (that’s pretty easy). The school district we’ll be in is #1 in the state, boasts an average SAT score of 1400 and a student-teacher ratio of 16 to 1.

Speaking for myself only, I’ve lived here in Marin almost all of my life (an actual California native) and while it certainly is nice, I’ve been to a number of gorgeous places in this country (and others) and many of them are quite livable. Marin is beautiful, no doubt, but I prefer my rolling hills green and find them pretty unattractive when they turn brown (as soon as the rain ends) and this cold, wet, windy s__t is really getting on my nerves. The unrelenting traffic congestion, overpopulation and outrageous expense associated with living in Marin County (where else in the world can you buy a ‘fixer-upper’ for $500,000) all serve to significantly detract from the beauty. Our weather here is no more (or less) perfect than anywhere else. We have torrential rains, floods, regular 100+ degree days in the summer, cold snaps (we lost all our outdoor plants this winter), fog (we call it ‘natural air-conditioning’) and more than a fair amount of wind (I’m soooo tired of the wind). The Pacific Ocean is so very close — but it’s also so very COLD! When was the last time you actually swam in the ocean here (ok, how about just wading in a few feet)? You’d have to be out of your mind most days — that is if the wind doesn’t sandblast a frosted finish on your sunglasses before you make it to the water.

Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed the traffic here. It’s not going to get better, y’know. Really. Think about it. We continue to build homes. Sonoma County continues to build homes. People continue to move into them and commute to where? That’s right – San Francisco (and Marin). There is only one way into and out of Marin County – highway 101. The only way the traffic will not get worse (notice I did not say ‘improve’) is if we add another deck onto 101 or drop a low-yield thermo-nuclear device on Sonoma. Neither of these is likely to transpire. I was in junior high in 1964 (?) when the voters of Marin voted against BART. The general reasoning? “If we have mass-transit, more people will move here and our quality of life will be diminished.” True, but what happens if we have no mass-transit and we continue to build homes? Hmmm… Same problem – only no relief valve. Very short-sighted reasoning and now we’re stuck with it. Face it. There is no possible way to ‘fix’ the traffic problem here.

Where else can you go and find almost everyone you meet determined to convince you of just how wonderful (and what a privilege) it is to live there? In order to maintain our sanity, we must continually justify our decision to live here. We do this by exclaiming to anyone and everyone who will listen, just how terrific this area is, and how the expense and inconvenience are such a small price to pay to live in ‘paradise’. Marin is a beautiful place. It has much to offer. So does Dallas. Let’s not oversell Marin, OK? It seems to me if it’s that wonderful it is also self-evident, no?

 

We haven’t lost our minds — just changed them — I’m really enjoying the change.

Yeehaa! Texas, here we come!

Warren Harris and Karen Foster (and Scott and Raven and Max)

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Slave or Free? You Have The Choice

by on Jul.13, 2012, under Instructional, News, Recommendations, social commentary

Most of us in the United States think we’re free.  We think slavey was abolished in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  Actually it was in 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution.

Slave or Free

Slave or Free?

But did you know this does not apply to prisoners?  We can (and do) take full advantage of forced labor in prisons to supply “friendly” corporations with cheap labor?

And are you aware that most new US prisons are privatized?  Operated by large corporations as a very profitable enterprise, 10% (200,000) of our total prison population are in privatized prisons.  Why?  It’s a cash cow!

The United States incarcerates more people per capita  than any other country on earth,  Russia is second.  Here is the up-to-date graph.

It seems FEMA has had a staffing requisition in place to manage Detainment / Internment camps in Every State of the Union.  These are defined in the requisition (HSFEHQ-10-R-0027) and allow for long-term detainment for “displaced citizens“.  Not the typical short-term housing situation we would expect for a natural disaster.  The requisition also specifies the minimum size for each “cell” as 65 square feet (roughly 8′ x 8′).  This is less than the Federal standard for prisons of 72 square feet.  For displaced citizens?  Seriously?
This seems to be something else entirely from what FEMA has been tasked with in the past.  I urge you to research and read up on what Our Government is doing behind our backs.  One of Many Articles on this topic.

On a similar note, can you imagine any reason for the Department of Homeland Security to need 450 MILLION .40 caliber hollow-point rounds of ammunition?  DHS contracted with ammunition manufacturer ATK to supply exactly that amount recently.  Why?
Better yet, why would they need 175 MILLION rounds of .223 rifle ammunition (what they use in the M-16s you see camo-clad airport security personnel clutching in both hands)  DHS is not supposed to be doing a lot of shooting – or so they’d have us believe.  Unless they’re planning on putting down an uprising – that they expect… Why do they need all this armament?
One of numerous reports on this topic.  Google it yourself.

Think about it.

And if you still think You are free, consider the choices you make and the choices you think you have.

 

  • Did you decide to follow your current career or was it the only thing available to you?
  • Have you “settled” for where you are and what you do or are you truly following your dream?
  • Have you researched healthier job markets / economies that would benefit you and your family?
  • Do you buy the best food for you and your family or the crap laced with GMO that is altering your DNA every day?
  • Do you shop carefully for the healthiest choices or grab the cheapest thing on the shelf?
  • Is your take on the world what you see on the 10 O’clock News or do you research the world news to get some perspective?
  • Are you aware that the 2012 NDAA signed into law by President Obama declares every square inch of the United States a battlefield?
  • Did you know that as a result of the NDAA you can be “detained” indefinitely without due process?
  • Do you realize that while detained you can and will have no choice but to participate in forced labor?
  • Are you aware that since the Patriot Act the last 2 administrations have been gutting the Constitution?
    Democratic View
    Republican View

Read this page:

10 WAYS TO STOP BEING A SLAVE AND BRING DOWN THE PYRAMIDS OF CONTROL

  • Educate yourself
  • Prepare for the worst
  • Buy your food at local farmers markets
  • Support local small business
  • Buy American
  • Read our Constitution
  • Familiarize Yourself with all of The Amendments
  • You’ll be glad you did.
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Living (Dealing) With Scoliosis

by on Jun.25, 2012, under Instructional, Medical, News, Recommendations, social commentary

To set appropriate expectations…  This is L.O.N.G.  So acquire your favorite beverage / snack / lounging attire, get comfortable and cover the kiddies’ eyes and ears, as it is also NOT G-Rated.

OK?

OK.

The reason this blog exists is to help others suffering with similar debilitating and painful spinal conditions.  Aside from Scoliosis, there are numerous other congenital or injury-related problems that can be so painful that the very idea of living one more day under these conditions is unthinkable.  I know.  I was there more than once.  If I can help one person make sense out of what’s happening to them, provide some support, useful suggestions, or just make them laugh – and realize they’re not alone in this – I’ve achieved my goal.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might benefit from it.

Index:

First Sign of Trouble
Osteoarthritis
Bad Habits
Physical Conditioning
First Sign of Real Trouble
Pain Management
Oxycontin
Constipation
Psychological Impact of Chronic Pain / Painkillers
A Partial List of painkillers
User, Abuser or Addict
Magic – Some Things That Actually Work
The Waiting Game
Running Out of Time
A Little Prep Work
What Else Can They Do to You?
Pain, Painkillers, Erectile Dysfunction and You

 

Warren's Twisted Spine

Aren’t you glad this isn’t you?

When I tell people I’m going in for surgery to correct a major scoliosis deformity the response is invariably “But you look so good!”

Well… Thanks for the compliment… (I guess) But that right there is part of the problem. For me. Diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 12 or 13 by a Chiropractor in Crescent City, California, I really had no appreciation for the long-term issues that go along with this deformity. And as a result, I lived my life like there was no tomorrow and did pretty much anything and everything I wanted without regard to the effect on my twisted spine.  There is a definite up-side to this, such as: the one thing my tombstone will Not have on it is… A Bucket List.

First Sign of Trouble

As a roadie for The Grateful Dead at the age of 18, a shot of pain like I had never imagined,  sliced through the middle of my back.  Searing, blinding white-hot pain that showed no sign of abating any time soon.

WTF?

The first of many nexus points, that’s WTF…

Damn!  This was a whole new experience for me. You know how teenagers think they’re bullet-proof?  Well, I found out I wasn’t in a very educational collision with the side of an Econoline van at the age of 16. Perhaps this sounds familiar:

  • 16-year-old on a motorcycle.
  • No helmet.
  • No boots.
  • No gloves.
  • No sense.

Street-racing on a Honda 150 (really?  Yep).  Coming to an abrupt halt at 50mph is nothing if not educational. And painful. And 6 months on crutches is pretty informative as well…

But I digress…

A little glitch…  If you don’t see a numeric listing of the rest of the pages in this blog, a “More” button shows up at the end, after the Tags and the Comments.  Press this so you can see all the pages in this post.  Still working on figuring this weirdness out.

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The Big Day

by on Jun.25, 2012, under Instructional, News, Recommendations, social commentary

Segment 2 of this 3-stage blog picks up where Living (Dealing) With Scoliosis leaves off (read it for the history of my scoliosis) and is written to assist those living with scoliosis and similar spinal disorders only correctable via surgery.  It’s LONG.  Very L.O.N.G. and you should take this into account.  It covers my spine from the time I elected for surgery and the ensuing recovery that will take the next year or so.  I’m trying to be as complete as possible, while employing as much of my characteristic levity as seems prudent along the way.  I will use personal examples, solutions I’ve sound successful – and not so much – and recommendations I believe are worth trying.

Just to set reasonable expectations, I’ve had quite a few surgeries (7 to be precise) and possibly associated with this (or maybe from having been a Black Belt instructor for 10 years) I have a fairly high tolerance for pain.  Therefore you will see the following statement from time-to-time throughout the balance of this post “Your Mileage May Vary

I am NOT a medical professional.  Do NOT try anything based on what I’ve posted in here without assuming all risk yourself – and consulting your physician.

Got it?  Let’s get started…

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Scoliosis Surgery Recovery at Home

by on Jun.25, 2012, under Instructional, News, Projects, Recommendations, social commentary

Segment 3 of this blog picks up where The Big Day left off
And to reinforce what I’ve said before, I am NOT a medical professional of any kind.  Consult a doctor or at least a physical therapist before undertaking any suggestions found on this blog.  You take full responsibility for using any of this information.

We were originally led to expect a total of 14 to 18 days away from home, split up pretty evenly between Baylor Plano and the Baylor Rehab facility in Frisco.  So like the smart little squirrels we are, we plugged that information into our calendar, I produced little plastic bags of daily supplements to last that long and off we scurried to Baylor.

As early as ICU, we started hearing that Rehab was unlikely due to my rapid  recovery – which sounded pretty good.  On Friday, they were saying we’d be going home either Sunday or Monday and that would be our call.

So when Sunday came around and I was feeling pretty good, that seemed like a good time to say “Adios” to all our friends, nurses and doctors on the PCU and head for the Old Homestead.  And we did.  (insert “I’m an old cowhand… from the Rio Grande…” chorus here) We arrived home around 1400 hours  And then it was time to work on Logistics and get our Love Nest converted  (temporarily) into an Invalid Nest.

Fortunately we have near-Zero clutter, a single-story home (built that way on purpose) and   the right flow of energy to make it a really good place to recuperate.  Lots of open spaces define our living areas, and my wife has transformed both front and back yards into an Oasis.  I cannot think of a better place to Rehab.  And No.  We do not rent out rooms, ain’t gonna happen.  Don’t even think about it.

Index

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