Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

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Archive for the ‘Daily Happenings’ Category

Congress Critters need to become Roadkill

Posted by hyperpat on October 14, 2013

Congress is still working at making assholes out of themselves. At the present moment, they have a simple job: fund the current government day-to-day operation, and increase the debt limit enough to cover what has already been passed for appropriations. This takes a very simple bill, and an even simpler up-or-down vote. There’s absolutely no need to try and drag other issues into this bill; the Tea Party members who insist that this bill must also de-fund the Affordable Care Act are quite simply completely out of touch with reality.

In fact, since if the government does default on its debt because they can’t get their act together, then I think it’s time for impeachment proceedings against these idiots, as it is clear that their actions will be causing real harm to this nation, which should qualify as flat out treason.

There are problems with the Affordable Care Act, and Congress certainly has the both the right and the duty to discuss and amend this act. But trying to shoehorn this discussion into something totally unrelated is doing exactly what the President has characterized it as: holding a gun to the country’s head to try an implement changes that these Tea Party wackos so desperately seem to want that they can’t get any other way.

Posted in Daily Happenings, Politics | Leave a Comment »

A Bit of Everything

Posted by hyperpat on April 14, 2013

Well, it’s been a while (uh, make that a long while) since I posted anything here. Partly this was due to real-life demands of work and family, partly it was simple burnout, of not seeming to have anything to say that was new or needed saying. The same happened to my reviews of books on Amazon; it just didn’t seem worth the effort anymore. But things do change over time, and I’m feeling that urge to write (something, anything) again, as can be seen from the new reviews I’ve put up in the last couple of weeks.

So what has happened to me in this period? Perhaps the biggest change has been in my family situation, as both my children are now out of the house and on their own, one fairly successfully, the other not so much. This has left just my wife and I in the house, with a fairly stable routine from day to day. It has also meant a bettering of my financial condition (it’s amazing just how much money children eat up), to the point where our plans for retirement show a good chance of becoming reality. Also helping in this regard has the been the slow economic and housing recovery – my house is now almost worth what I paid for it in 2006. And of course, the engineering of this improvement has much to do with the changing political environment and the antics of the Fed, both of which have occasioned some rather irascible messages to the leaders of both parties about getting their act together from me.

Then there is the change in my bowling prowess. I’ve gone from about a 200 – 205 average to about 215-220 in the last three years. Along with this is I now have a much greater experience level with various playing conditions from bowling in a fairly large number of tournaments, from local, tiny events to PBA regional ones (still haven’t tried the PBA national ones – I’m still not in that league), with a fair amount of success, averaging out to winning enough to at least pay my entry fees. This has also meant a recognition by both me and my wife that this endeavor is an important part of my life, and our retirement plans need to keep this in mind. Related to that, we did some scouting for a retirement home recently, and had found what we thought was a good fit with what we wanted, to suddenly have the place get scratched off our list, as the only bowling alley in that town was abruptly closed, with no foreseeable time when it would re-open.

I do plan on doing some new posts here on my favorite subjects; the science fiction world has obviously added some new ideas, new works, new authors, all of which are deserving of some comment. So too the political world; the current divide and deadlock between the two major parties needs some observations. Changes in the US economic environment, Wall street vs Main Street, the world terrorist picture, the North Korean idiocy, cultural changes at home and abroad, new scientific discoveries, the state of space exploration, the social effects of the internet, movies and television — it would seem there will be enough things to talk about.

Posted in Bowling, Daily Happenings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

RIP, Mary Travers

Posted by hyperpat on September 17, 2009

Mary Travers is now gone, finally succumbing to leukemia at age 72. But far from forgotten. With her partners Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, the group practically re-defined folk music, made it not only appealing to a very large swath of humanity, but added a richness and vibrancy to the genre that perhaps was lacking prior to their advent. Anyone who grew up in the early to late sixties were influenced by them, even if they didn’t listen to their music, as the group also made their songs into a very effective weapon against social injustice, prejudice, and war.

I have all the group’s albums, and all of their solo efforts. I still play them, listening to at least something by them on a weekly basis. I probably know all the lyrics to just about all their songs, and will often find myself singing them. I don’t think I can say the same for any other musical group, past or present, except perhaps the Beatles, who in their own, very different way, were just as radical and influential.

I had hoped, perhaps, for one more album, one more concert from them, but alas, such is not to be. I am left with my memories and collection of albums, and that will have to do.

Posted in Daily Happenings, music | Leave a Comment »

Australia, Day Seven

Posted by hyperpat on October 16, 2008

Bright and early the next morning, we headed up to Kuranda village and the Daintree Forest via the Freshwater Scenic Railway.

The Freshwater Train

The Freshwater Train

While the train was nicely appointed and appeared appropriately old-fashioned, I was a little disappointed in the amount of things we could actually see from the train windows, as a good portion of the route up into the mountains had heavy foliage on both sides of the track when it wasn’t otherwise obscured by the rock cliffs the roadbed had been cut through. But the train did make a short stop at Barron Falls, which is certainly spectacular enough:

Barron Falls

Barron Falls

At the Kuranda train station stop, we transferred back to our tour bus, which is certainly uniquely decorated, and finally reached Kuranda Village.

The Tour Bus

The Tour Bus

The major attraction here is the Butterfly sanctuary, which had something like 50 different kinds of butterflies merrily flapping their wings all over the place. These little guys were hard to get on camera, as they wouldn’t stay still most of the time, but we did get a few of them, including the gorgeously colored Papilio ulysses:

Papilio Ulysses

Papilio Ulysses

There was also the Cairns Birdwing:

Cairns Birdwing

Cairns Birdwing

We didn’t actually get to see this guy, but they had a specimen mounted in the display room.

Cosdinoscera Hercules

Cosdinoscera Hercules

It’s the world’s largest moth, with something like an 10″ wingspan (the larger female one shown here). The largest ever recorded had a wingspan of 14″.

Continuing from Kuranda our next stop was the Aborigine Cultural village and the rainforest itself.
Here we got to listen and watch a performance of native dances accompanied by the didgeridoo, a full half hour show that kept us spellbound:

Aborigine Dance Exhibition

Aborigine Dance Exhibition

These dances helped illustrate just how vibrant and ecologically aware the Aborigine culture was, a culture and people that have not been well-treated by the white settlers in this country, a treatment as bad or worse than that meted out to the Native Americans of North America. The country in recent years has moved to redress at least some of the most egregious treatments of this people, but Aborigines (and for that matter just about every other non-white group that has come to Australia) are still treated as at best second-class citizens. This is one record that Australia should not be proud of.

Of course, after that show, we had to learn all about how to play one of these weird instruments, which are formed from wood hollowed out by termites. The termites are heavily present in this area, and sometimes form six foot high mounds.

Didgeridoo Lesson

Didgeridoo Lesson

Next up was a lesson in how to throw a boomerang, absolutely essential knowledge for any Australian wanna-be:

Sylvia and Boomerang 1.01

Sylvia and Boomerang 1.01

My own practice throw was pretty poor, but I think I could get reasonably good at it with some practice. Some of the other people in our group did quite well at it, but there was one (isn’t there always one?) who managed to throw it almost straight up, and it returned practically on top of heads. I suppose that’s the reason that everyone except the thrower is kept inside a roofed wire enclosure, as getting hit by one of these things will certainly give you a long-lasting headache. We purchased a couple of boomerangs here to bring home, these being the genuine article, as opposed to some we’d seen in the various souvenir shops that may have been prettier (and a lot pricier, with some at $500 price tags) but certainly not as functional and strictly intended for tourists.

His..

His..

...and Hers

...and Hers

Next up was a spear throwing demonstration, both directly hand-held and using a woomera, a device that helps increase the distance they can throw. They didn’t let us poor tourists try this one, but it was quite impressive to see the distance they could accurately throw one of these things, and one of the demonstrators holds the Guinness record for an aided throw of 147.5 meters (1 1/2 football fields).

Spear Throwing 1.01

Spear Throwing 1.01

After a pretty good barbecue lunch we then seated ourselves in an old Army Duck for a little excursion through the rainforest.

An Army Duck

An Army Duck

These vehicles are over 60 years old, originally constructed for WWII action, and still running just fine today. Now if our auto industry would still make vehicles this way, you’d only have to buy one car for your entire life. Of course, that would mean the industry wouldn’t be able to sell nearly as many cars, which just can’t be allowed to happen in a capitalistic society. Of course, the top speed of about 5mph of these things probably won’t impress you, but they will allow you to get through some very rugged terrain and/or marshes quite well.

I thought the best part of this little jaunt was when the duck took to the water. While we didn’t observe any crocodiles poking their snouts out, there were turtles and snakes along the way. And our guide stopped at one point to demonstrate the extreme flexibility and sturdiness of the rattan wood, something I have memories of from my school days here, as rattan canes were used for discipline of extreme infractions (their use has now been outlawed in all schools in Australia).

Guide and Rattan

Guide and Rattan

After the rainforest, we took a stroll through the wildlife section of this attraction. While many of the animals were ones we’d observed earlier in Featherdale Wildlife preserve, there were some new ones, like this guy whom I unfortunately didn’t catch the name of: (Now labeled with correct designation thanks to a commentor):

A Quoll

A Quoll

We also got a better shot of one the big cassowaries here:

Cassorwary

Cassorwary

Sylvia got brave and actually went up and touched one of the kangaroos:

Kangaroos Can Be Nice

Kangaroos Can Be Nice

This day was still not done, as we still needed to get back to Cairns, for which purpose we took 7.5 kilometer Skyrail cable car ride over the rainforest (Sylvia once again surprised herself at calmly accepting this move to high in the sky).

Katoomba Skyrail cable car

Skyrail cable car

The views from the car were awesome, at some places just barely skimming over the tops of the trees, and allowing a view down to the forest floor some 200 ft lower, at others giving us a panoramic view of the entire area.

Over the river

Over the river

At the Top of the Forest

At the Top of the Forest

View towards Cairns

View towards Cairns

We finally got back to Cairns, and decided on a simple dinner, so we went to the local MacDonalds (yes, they’re everywhere). This allowed us to make a direct price comparison to American food prices. I found my standard Double-Quarter-Pounder combo meal at $14 AUD. Even applying the then current exchange rate, that translates to about $12.50 US, a lot more than the US price. Prices here are definitely high. After dinner,and this very long sight-filled day it was time to pack up and get ready for the flight back to Sydney in the morning.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, Places, Travel | 4 Comments »

Australia, Days Five and Six

Posted by hyperpat on October 14, 2008

We left Sydney early the next morning, with the usual idiocy of the airport, and arrived at Cairns about 11AM. By the time we got to the hotel, it was almost noon, but our room was not quite ready yet, so we checked our bags with the concierge and went for a little walk around the hotel, just to see what was there. Unfortunately, it was pretty hot, and after about a half mile of walking I found myself in bad shape:

Me at the hotel after our little walk

Me at the hotel after our little walk

From the way I felt, it was probably a case of dehydration, as I was very flushed, light-headed, weak, and felt hot even in the air-conditioned hotel lobby, which we returned to to wait till our rooms were ready. While waiting, Sylvia had some fun taking pictures of herself, trying out some the camera’s capabilities that she hadn’t really been aware of up till now. Once we finally got in our rooms, I took a little rest, which made me feel much better, and we decided to do a little more exploring, since it was now night and not as hot. We took a walk out to the wharf, scoping out where we’d have to go the next morning for our Great Barrier Reef trip, and returned via the Esplanade, on the lookout for a good place to eat. This was done in the rain that had decided to drench the area. While walking by all the shops, we came across one that had a stuffed kangaroo in the window display, and Sylvia naturally wanted to take some pictures up next to it:

Sylvia and Stuffed Kangaroo

The picture taking activity attracted the attention of the store owner, a nice middle aged lady, and we got into a conversation about where we were from and such. Eventually the talk turned to politics and the latest on the financial catastrophe happening on Wall Street. She greatly surprised us with how knowledgeable she was with the American scene, knowing more about happenings in our country than many people in the US. She knew who our Presidential candidates were, what their platform positions entailed, the general economic status of the country, the specifics of the current sub-prime mortgage lending mess, what our Congress’s proposed actions were, and had opinions on what effect those actions would have on her own country’s economic health. It would probably be impossible to find an American who could talk knowledgeably about Australian politics like this! We must have talked with her for an hour. After finding some dinner, we stopped off at the Reef Casino. Just like American casinos, it’s filled with lots of slot machines and a few gaming tables. Almost all the slots were pretty much the same type, a trend that’s also happening in the US. We tried our luck at a couple of them, putting in $5 in each one. Sylvia ending up going broke, but I managed to double my money on mine, so we broke even – not a bad result.

At the casino

At the casino

The next morning we got ready for our trip to the reef. While waiting for our boat to come in, we took some more pictures of the wharf and ships there, including this one:

Eventually we set out in our high speed catamaran, first to Green Island, then off to a mooring pontoon located on the edge of the this portion of the reef.

Our Tour Boat

Our Tour Boat

As you can see, this was a pretty large boat, which was good, as once we got out into the open ocean there was a pretty good chop and about 2-3 foot swells. The size of this boat did much to mitigate the rolling effect, though it was still noticeable, and we didn’t have any problem with sea-sickness. Even with the speed of this boat (I’d estimate it was doing a good 20 knots), it still took us about an hour and a half to reach the reef.

The mooring pontoon had an observation deck below the water, where we could observe the hardier folks doing some scuba diving:

Scuba divers at the reef

Scuba divers at the reef

A little later, after we’d had some lunch aboard the pontoon, we got into a semi-submersible craft and headed off for a little cruise over the reef. We were accompanied by this little guy:

Fish on side of submersible

Fish on side of submersible

Little is perhaps not the word for this fish – he’s about three foot long. The submersible itself:

The trip over the reef was great, giving us a great view of just how rich this coral community is, with lots of fish and some very uniquely fantastical coral shapes:

Corals

Corals

Some of the fish

Some of the fish

Heading back from the reef, we stopped again at Green Island. Green Island is what is known as a sand cay, built up by sedimentation over the corals over a long period of time. Green Island is one of the larger ones, and has developed quite a covering of forest.

Green Island

Green Island

All in all, this day was pretty relaxing (no long walks!). So that evening we headed out to the Red Ocher Grill in Cairns. This restaurant is somewhat famous for its selection of native indigenous fare, and we tried their sampler plate, which included crocodile, kangaroo, and emu as main dishes. The kangaroo we found to be most like beef, but more strongly flavored, and was the least favorite of ours. The crocodile was a little like chicken (doesn’t everything taste like chicken?), and although it was a little tougher than chicken, it was nicely seasoned and quite palatable. The emu was what we liked best, tasting somewhat like duck, but less greasy and with a little milder flavor.

Walking back to the hotel after our meal, another aspect of Cairns showed itself. This town is definitely a partying night-life town, with a large contingent of young people (many of them obviously surfer types) constantly out and about at night, frequenting the pubs and open-air musical shows. Quite a change from Sydney. But for us it was lights out, so we’d be ready for our next day trip to the Kuranda village.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, Places, Travel | 1 Comment »

Australia, Days two to four

Posted by hyperpat on October 8, 2008

After our exhausting first day, we tried for a little quieter second one, going on just a morning bus tour of Sydney’s city sights. Of course the highlight of this was the view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge:

Opera House and Bridge

Opera House and Bridge

But equally interesting was the trip under the bridge, the trip through the Rocks district, the famous Bondi beach (where we managed a morning snack – a single piece of bread that was definitely a full meal in itself), the viewpoints that took in the entire city skyline and promontory points, the Botanical Gardens, the cathedrals, Darling Harbor and the Maritime Museum, Hyde Park, Sydney’s Chinatown (though it’s not up to par versus San Francisco’s Chinatown, it still illuminates part of Australia’s history), the ‘rich’ district and the various styles of home architecture, and including a very distinctive glass house:

Glass House

Glass House

Still, this only occupied us till about 1PM. So now we could relax for the rest of the day, right? Wrong. We decided to do a bit of a walkabout just in the area of the hotel, and found things like the Town Hall:

Town Hall

Town Hall

We also found something rather unexpected in our little walk, the entryway to the State theater, which is spectacular:

Theater Entrance

Sydney State Theater Entrance

But underneath all of the buildings in the district is where we found all the shops, from very high-end fashion stores to pedestrian Subway eateries. Just walking through all of this managed to occupy us for another four hours (and gave us more sore feet to go along with the ones acquired during the prior day’s excursion), as practically every shop demanded at least a look and various items considered for their souvenir qualities. So once again we ended up back at the hotel totally tuckered out.

The next day found us taking a tour up to the Blue Mountains with a major stop at Featherdale Wildlife Sanctuary. This stop simply wasn’t long enough to really see everything there, as they have representatives of just about every unique form of Australian wildlife there (not counting marine life – that’s a later trip). Most charming here was all the various types of birds they had present, from cassowaries, peacocks, kookaburras (a bird whose raucous call used to wake me up almost every morning when I was living there), and cockatoos to Australia’s very own penguins, the smallest representative of this genus in the world. Of course they also had the obligatory koalas, wallabies, wombats, and kangaroos, and a very nice (read: quite large) crocodile:

Crocodile

Crocodile

Continuing up into the Blue Mountains, we were treated to some spectacular views of the area (including the blue haze over everything caused by the great quantity of eucalyptus resin in the air), along with being able to get a very nice lunch in a local small eatery with very personable staff, who, when asked if we could get another one of the glass Coke bottles they had (our sons collect Coke memorabilia, and glass bottles, especially when marked with their place of manufacture, are almost non-existent in the US today), went so far as to open and quickly down one, just to provide us with the bottle.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

Once again, though, we found ourselves doing a fair amount of walking, both in the wildlife park and on a little mountain trail down to our lookout point where we took most of our pictures of the Blue Mountain area. After this little excursion we then took a little ride on the World’s Steepest Railway. This one my wife approached with quite a bit of trepidation, as she has problems both with heights and anything that even looks like a roller-coaster ride (and I’m not fond of those things either), but she did finally get on and take the ride down. It’s only a couple of minutes, and it’s actually pretty slow (about 7 mph), but boy, is it steep – while going down it seems like you’re facing straight down and falling down a cliff. It’s actually not quite that steep, it’s only about a 52 degree incline, but as people don’t normally descend at anywhere near angles like this, your inner ear screams that you’re falling.

On our way back to Sydney, we took a little excursion through the site of the 2000 Olympics venue, whose buildings are still spectacular, and managed to catch some views of Sydney as seen coming in from the west, a very different viewpoint from what we’d seen before, and our second trip over the Anzac bridge, which is just as unique as the Harbor bridge.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Day four looked like we might get away from the walking business, as our selected tour of the day was the Sydney Aquarium, which was just across the street from our hotel. No such luck. The aquarium seems to have miles of walkways between an incredible number of various aquatic tanks which contain everything from various fresh-water fish, turtles, and lizards to sea-water corals, cuttlefish, and of course the walk underneath the shark tank, where there were representatives of that genus both large and small, along with rays and giant turtles. Having one of these great sharks swim right over your head is an experience. We ended up spending almost five hours in this little (?!) place. After a quick lunch we then headed up the street (and I do mean up – the road has a distinct upward inclination from Darling Harbor to George Street) to go to the Skytower, the tallest building in Sydney, with its own distinctive architecture that rivals Seattle’s Space Needle. The view from the top of this is spectacular, and provides probably as good an aerial view of the entire city as you get get from a helicopter. And as it’s a nice, stable platform (as opposed to said helicopter), it’s easy to take pictures from. Descending a little bit in the tower, we then took the OzTrek adventure, which includes a set of dioramas of what life is like in various parts of Australia and a movie trip with 180 degree screens coupled with one of hydraulic powered chairs that move appropriately to the scene on the screen. This was pretty close to a roller coaster ride in a couple of places (especially when the scene was one of white-water rafting), but nonetheless provided a very unique view of some of the other places in Australia that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see on this trip.

Skytower

We had planned on also seeing the Wildlife World (right next to the Aquarium) this day, but by the time we got back to the hotel after the Skytower and investigated the condition of our feet, we decided to skip this one at this time, figuring we’d have another day in Sydney later to catch this. Instead we packed up our suitcases in preparation for our early morning departure for Cairns, the next stage of our journey.

One other item that deserves mention here is the price of food. The hotel we were at was charging $60 AUD per person for their buffet-style dinner, $40 for breakfast. We found these prices to be outrageously steep. We did normally eat breakfast there, as it was included in the price for our rooms, and quality wise it was very good, but we definitely skipped on eating dinner there. Instead we did try some of the other restaurants there, which were still pretty expensive (we paid about $80 for the two of us in each one we tried), but still quite a bit cheaper than the hotel, and I think better quality. But a little more on eateries in my next installment.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, Places, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Australia, Day One

Posted by hyperpat on September 24, 2008

My Australia trip is finally a reality. After our lovely fourteen hour flight from San Francisco (preceded by four hours of getting there plus check-in and security/customs), we landed at Sydney at 6:35 AM. We now proceeded to spend two and a half hours getting our luggage, changing currency, and taking our shuttle bus to the hotel. We dropped our bags in the room, and went for a little hike in the rain to the local train station, where we boarded one of their electric powered trains and headed for Cronulla, another hour trip.

On the train platform at Cronulla

On the train platform at Cronulla

By the time we got there, we were already an hour and half late for our appointment with the principal of the elementary school that I attended in 1954-1955. I then proceeded to compound our problem by turning the wrong way out of the train station, eventually getting us to the Cronulla Public School, which unfortunately was not the right one. A very nice lady there got us straightened around, and after a two-mile hike (still in the rain), we finally arrived at the South Cronulla Public School, only two and half hours late.

South Cronulla Public School main building

Given how late we were, I fully expected the principal of the school to only give us a few minutes of his time. Instead, we got a shock. Not only did he take time from his schedule (very busy, as it was the opening day of the school term) to sit and talk with us, he dug up all the old records of the school (which stretch back to its founding in 1947, and even some records going back to 1943 when the school catered to infants only) and let us peruse them to our hearts content.

In the school staff room going over records

I couldn’t find any record of my own time there (the records were very sketchy for the first/second grades), but I did find the entries pertaining to my older brother Mike, which showed at one point that he had an injury that I’d was not previously aware of (a “poisoned foot”) that took him out of school for a couple of weeks, and a class photo of him for 1955 that I didn’t have in my current photo collection.

Mike's 1955 Class Photo

Mike is fourth from right in the back row. As far as I was concerned, this already made the trip a success. But the principal wasn’t done with us yet. Just after the kid’s lunch hour, he assembled all of them, put us in front of this crowd of bright, clean, and well-behaved students, and let them fire questions at me about what it had been like there fifty years ago. Then he had the students present us with some nice souvenirs of the school, and led us off to another conference, this time with just four of the upper grade students for some more in-depth questions. And then, as if he hadn’t done enough, he went and bought us lunch.

Myself with school principal and students

Myself with school principal and students

Now I don’t know how an American elementary school would react to having an alumni from fifty years back show up, but I must give a strong two thumbs-up to this man. He absolutely went far out of his way to make us feel welcome, and was genuinely interested in what I could tell him about my experiences in that school from so long ago. From what I saw of the students in this school, he also runs a pretty taut ship – I doubt if I could go to any public school in America and find such a bunch of decorous, disciplined, and bright kids. And this same feeling also applies to the teachers we met, as they were definitely set on working together to get the job done, and obviously were dedicated to seeing that the kids were getting the best education they could provide.

After we left the school, we took a short stroll through Shelly Beach Park. Back when I went to school there, this park and the beach were visible from the school grounds. Now there are too many buildings in the way. But it’s still a truly great park and beach.

Shelly Beach looking south

Shelly Beach looking south

Shelly Beach Bath

Shelly Beach Bath

Shelly Beach looking northeast

Shelly Beach looking northeast

This will have to do for now, as after finally getting back to hotel at about 6PM that night, we found we really were exhausted, with no energy left to do much else that day, and with the prospect of an early rise on the morrow for the first of our planned sight-seeing tours.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General | 3 Comments »

Fortress America

Posted by hyperpat on September 18, 2008

Over the last couple of days, we have managed to accidentally trip our home security alarm three times. While this is no disaster (and the offending family culprit has had a couple of lessons in just how to operate this thing), it got me to thinking about why we need to have this thing in the first place.

Back when I was a child, we lived in a couple of different houses in England, both of which most people would consider pretty high-end houses, large enough to require gardeners and maids. Did we have security alarms on these houses? Did we even lock the doors at night? Nope. And the same was true in our house in Australia, and later still our houses in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Illinois. Did we ever get burglarized? Nope. But thirty some-odd years later, when we first moved into our newly purchased home in San Jose, we got hit in the first week! And this house was locked up tight. And although we’ve now moved to a new house in a very nice neighborhood, we feel it’s necessary to make sure every door is locked, every window has a locking bar, and we had this lovely security system installed. Nor do we normally go out for a nice stroll around the neighborhood at night. What has changed in the course of the last forty years to make this necessary? Has crime really become so rampant and all-pervasive that we have to turn our homes into fortresses?

According to the latest statistics, property crimes such as burglary aren’t any more common today than back in the fifties. But what has changed is our awareness of it. The nightly news almost always reports some robbery somewhere in the area, and kidnappings and muggings are also pretty prominent. Thanks to great advances in technology, all this information about the nasty underside of city living comes into our living room nightly in living color, often with phone camera shots of the acts in progress. And of course the news media play these incidents for all they’re worth, because that’s what sells newspapers and drives viewership numbers. We’re being trained just like Pavlov’s dogs to expect crime to occur. And this induced fear extends to other areas: few parents today will even let their children go out trick-or-treating without being right behind them, and many have started to track their children via mobile phone and/or RFID tag chips all day, every day.

Now as my own experience indicates, crime does happen. But when I really think about it, the incidence rate (once in 60 years) doesn’t really justify the fear and all the precautions (and the precautions themselves don’t necessarily stop the crime from happening). The scenario that Heinlein painted in I Will Fear No Evil of lawlessness so out of hand that you needed to hire security guards and drive around in the equivalent of an armored tank has not happened (yet) in this land of the free. And I sincerely hope it never will. But I do wish the news media would tone down the crime reporting a bit, and offer us more stories about people doing nice and helpful things for their community.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, science fiction, SF | Leave a Comment »

Venturing into the Big, Wide World

Posted by hyperpat on May 7, 2008

My son, as part of a school project for his class in government, had to attend a city council meeting last night. His comment about this three hour meeting: “I don’t speak politic”. He found much of the discussion totally opaque, and about as interesting as watching mud drying. This is not too surprising for a couple of reasons: local politics, even in a large city, most often deals with minuscule issues, normally of interest only to those directly affected, and discussions about same are almost necessarily couched in bureaucratese, a totally mind-numbing language seemingly designed expressly to obfuscate just what is being discussed and confuse any normal person. Heated interesting arguments and world-changing consequences are just not part of this picture.

Of more interest is the fact that the school course has such projects at all. And the city council is only one part of what my son has to do – he also is required to put some time in actually working for a political party office (of his choice – anywhere from Democrats to GreenPeace). And of course do a write up of his experiences and what he learned from them. These outings into the real world will at least provide him with a much better picture of what government is all about and how it really works than I got from school.

Back when I was his age (an incredibly long time ago), the classes I took in U. S. government and civics were pure lectures, and almost totally divorced from any current events or the practicalities of the political world. Now these classes gave me a good grounding in the Constitution and my civil rights and responsibilities, but they did not provide any type of picture of why or how I should get involved in politics. The high schools of my day pretty much left this up to the colleges and real-life experience after graduation, when suddenly the effect of a change in, say, zoning laws could have a real and very visible impact on your daily life, and made you realize that all these talking heads spouting esoteric mumble-mumble were important.

This is one change in modern education that I think is worthwhile. More practical, real-life things are very helpful in making the kids realize that what the teachers are trying to instill in them is useful – especially as far too many schools have discontinued the classes in shop, home economics, auto mechanics, and other such classes that used to provide at least a small taste of reality. Robert Heinlein, in Tunnel in the Sky, proposed a much harsher taste of reality, a school course in survival, where the final exam was to be dropped into some unknown land and forced to really survive for some time period. It’s doubtful this would ever become a reality, with its real risk of fatalities, and parents simply wouldn’t be willing to take that risk. Though in today’s world, their kids sometimes enlist in the military very shortly after graduation and are really placed in harm’s way – but most people wouldn’t be able to see the equivalency of these risks.

The real world is neither safe nor comfortable, and young people do need to learn how to navigate its reefs and shoals. Schools that don’t provide at least a small taste of what the big, wide world is all about are doing their students no favors.

Posted in Books, Daily Happenings, Politics | 2 Comments »

Web Site Demise

Posted by hyperpat on April 8, 2008

My web site hosting service has, once again, and one time too many, updated its servers/database, and in the process has made access to my site (HyperPat’s Science Fiction) impossible. Each time this has happened before, it has taken me a week or more to get things fixed, usually involving emails, phone calls, and sometimes re-writing some of the html code, adding up to quite a bit of effort.

This time they apparently can’t even be bothered to answer my emails about the problem. So I’ve decided to call it quits for that site, which I started in 1999, and move some of the better and more useful information from it to here (no dummy I, I always kept backups of everything I had posted there). Over the next few days you will see new PAGES appear in the top line header containing what used to be on that site; I’ve started with my suggested reading list and my essay on why SF is worth reading. Please peruse these new pages if you’ve never visited my site, and comment appropriately!

Posted in Daily Happenings, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | Leave a Comment »

$250,000 Shootout Jitters

Posted by hyperpat on May 4, 2007

Well, I’m back from Vegas, and for a change I return somewhat richer than when I left.

We began the bowling shootout bright and early Wednesday morning, and were allowed 20 minutes of warmup practice – but even that generous number wasn’t enough, as the lanes were just what I feared, very heavy oil, though not down quite as far as they could be – appeared to be something like 39 feet. This meant that it was possible to get the ball to ‘break’, though not a large amount, something like 6-7 boards for anything other than the power bowlers. This, while difficult, was not an impossible condition, and I managed to throw a least a couple of balls that got it right, with good results.

But my main enemy was not the lanes, but myself. I found I was incredibly nervous for this thing; my legs were actually trembling in the first match, and my approach timing was off. So for much of the tournament I watched helplessly as the ball would drift high, then light, and then (once or twice) completely off line. Still, I did manage to win the first round, even though I shot only two strikes in that game – but they were at exactly the right time, the first one allowing me to gather up the points available for the 7th and 8th frames, and the second to capture the 10th, giving me enough points to win the round and collect $500.

The second round was played an hour and a half later, and while for this one I wasn’t as nervous, lane conditions had changed quite a bit, with a lot of carry-down oil from the prior matches, and I spent the entire match trying to find the ‘line’. I had two strikes in this one also (compared to my normal 5-6/game), but this time they weren’t in the right places, and I was eliminated.

I don’t know the results of the final round against Pete Weber and Chris Barnes, as my return plane’s departure time would have made it difficult to go and see the match and still make the plane.  Of course, if I’d made the finals, I wouldn’t have had any problem, if necessary booking another flight. But when my wife and I actually got on the plane, after a fifteen minute delay while they had ‘maintenance come and look at the plane’, we found ourselves sitting on the tarmac for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. Then the captain announced that there was something wrong with the parking brakes on the plane, and we would be returning to the terminal. Another hour and half went by while they fixed whatever the problem was, and we finally got on our way, arriving only two and half hours later than expected. But if I known that things would be delayed like this, we could have gone and watched that final round.

Still, a lot of fun, and some cash in hand. Not bad.

Posted in Bowling, Daily Happenings | 3 Comments »

Vegas on the Cheap

Posted by hyperpat on April 23, 2007

I made the cut for the $250,000 Bowling Shootout! This means I only need to beat another 502 bowlers to win this thing 🙂 I’ll be leaving on the evening of May 1 to go to Vegas (expenses paid!), with the tournament being held on the 2nd and 3rd, in four rounds. The final round, with the two amateur finalists going up against Pete Weber and Chris Barnes, is supposed to be televised on ESPN on May 20th. In preparation for this, I’ve ordered up a new ball, a Total Inferno, and will have it drilled aggressively for the greatest hook potential. Hopefully this new weapon will give me enough power to actually reach those finals, as I expect that lane conditions for this tournament will be extremely tough, with heavy, long oil.

But if nothing else, I get a free vacation to Sin City. Of course, I do have to pay to bring my wife along, but that’s still cheap.

Posted in Bowling, Daily Happenings | 2 Comments »

The Real Web

Posted by hyperpat on April 20, 2007

My brother, who normally resides in South Carolina, has been visiting here for the last four days, courtesy of a seminar/work assignment that his wife had to do in southern California. As with the large separation we don’t get to have really extended conversations too often, these last few days have been pretty much filled with just such, on anything from family history to world politics. Which is great. It also gave my eldest son a chance to meet his uncle, which had never happened previously (which says a lot about how frequently we’ve managed to get together).

But the older I get, the more I value such family things. Back when I was a stripling and serving in the Air Force, it didn’t bother me that I was neither talking to nor visiting my father, as that relationship was very strained. But when I did finally re-contact my family, and found out that my father had died in the interim, it was a pretty large blow. There are many times today when I wish I’d been able to talk more to my father, and learn what he’d done and what he felt was important, when I was old enough to really grasp such things. Too much of my father’s life is a black hole, and that leaves something of a hole in my own life.

I suppose you can never really know everything about someone else. But life is a web of interconnections and happenstances, and when the web has gaping holes in it, it is less secure, less complete. A hermit’s life is hardly worth living.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

Looking Backward

Posted by hyperpat on March 12, 2007

This will make my 100th post to this blog, and a total volume of words equal to a short novel. As such, it’s time for a little rumination on how well this space has met my original expectations.

When I started this eight months ago, my only real plan was to put forward of few of my pet hobby-horses to a wider audience than just my friends and family – things like various trends in science, the extolling of some the better science fiction works and the ideas embodied within them, a few riffs on the political scene, and just a general diary of daily happenings. In this I think I’ve been pretty successful. The other half of this, to interest other people in these things and get meaningful feedback and commentary, has not been quite as successful as I would like, not because those who have commented have not been intelligent, reasonable, and interesting in their feedback, but merely because there haven’t been enough of them.  I have found a few other bloggers with similar (though not identical) interests, and reading their blogs has enriched my life.

Now perhaps what I’m peddling is just not that interesting to large number of people. But I like to think it’s more a matter of publicity, of getting this site more well known. Which doesn’t happen overnight, given the incredible number of blogs out there competing for everyone’s attention.  Writing these posts has probably helped me focus and organize my thoughts, and given me considerable practice in how to present those thoughts, so I will continue slogging on, and wait for the fame and fortune that will surely be mine when this site gets discovered by the great unwashed masses 🙂

Posted in Daily Happenings, General | 4 Comments »

Dull Boy Jack

Posted by hyperpat on March 5, 2007

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. This is not too surprising, as I indicated in an earlier post, as my working hours have been nothing short of outrageous. While I didn’t quite hit 100 hours a week for the last three weeks, I was running over 90. The end result of all this effort is a prescription for even more effort to finish this system and make it work right – but it’s no longer an all-out, do or die effort.

Now all this work has left Jack a very dull boy, and a not very happy wife.  Companies that think they can require this of their employees all the time and thereby achieve greater productivity are at the very least fooling themselves, as after only a little while of working these kinds of hours your brain turns to mush, stupid mistakes multiply, and the employee’s basic attitude becomes more and more pessimistic. In extreme cases, such policies lead to companies losing some of their best employees, which will end up costing the company huge amounts, both in dollars and in time lost while they try and train someone new for the position. Happily this is not my company’s attitude – they only request something like this when it is truly necessary and it looks like the extra effort will bring immediate benefits, but it’s still a drag when it happens.

But at least maybe now I can get back to posting here on a reasonably regular basis.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General | Leave a Comment »

It’s the Silicon Valley Way

Posted by hyperpat on February 14, 2007

Haven’t had time to post anything lately, as there have been a few things happening at home, my car broke down (happily fixed at no cost under warranty coverage), and I’m working a seven day week right now. As the saying goes, it’s crunch time, as my company tries to ready a brand new system for customer acceptance.

For our systems to work, there has to be mating between hardware, firmware, software, and applications program, all at once. Some pieces of the hardware didn’t even arrive till last week, and there were large ‘place holders’ in the software and firmware code waiting for that hardware. It’s my job to make all this stuff come together (not counting the work I’m doing as being primary engineer for one the board designs). So I’ve been running around getting everyone to hurry up and get me something that has at least minimal functionality – not easy given the traditional rift between the hardware and software guys. But the extra hours and effort seem to be paying off, as we did manage to get a simple pattern to be produced by the hardware a couple days ago – now the goal is to do the same thing from the software interface level.  Almost there – but the customer arrives in just one week’s time, and it will definitely be a race against the clock to finish this up.

I fully expect to be working something like 100 hours this week.

Posted in Daily Happenings, Science & Engineering | Leave a Comment »

A Difficult Adjustment

Posted by hyperpat on February 1, 2007

Starting last Thursday, my bowling center started using some of the PBA oiling patterns. For last thursday, it was the regional/seniors pattern #3. This is probably the second easiest of the PBA patterns (easiest may be the Cheetah). Between my practice and league games last week I at least proved to myself that I can get to the pocket and have reasonable carry on this pattern.

But last night was a enough to give me a headache. For my practice games I was at one end of the alley, where this same PBA pattern was laid down. To play this pattern, which has a lot of oil on the lane, I lined up on the 13 board and shot 7th board, with a soft, easy delivery, and I averaged 193 over 5 games (199 for the last four, first game was poor as I figured out where to play it) – pretty reasonable. Then I shifted to league at the other end of the alley, and found that they had laid a ‘house’ pattern which was very stingy on the oil. To handle this I had to move over to board 20 and shoot board 10, with a hard, fast delivery.  And it took me awhile to make these adjustments. Net: I only managed a 181 average for league, and got very frustrated, as I left 10 pin after 10 pin even when I did get lined up properly. I just hope that next week the house uses the same oiling pattern, whatever one they choose, across all the lanes. Switching between patterns that are this different is a fast way to mess your mind over.

Posted in Bowling, Daily Happenings | Leave a Comment »

Word Addiction

Posted by hyperpat on January 12, 2007

Due to some incidents at the house, my wife imposed a restriction on my reading time here lately. This was intended to get me out my normal space, and more into an interactive mode. What’s it’s done is turn me into a something resembling a addict trying to de-tox. Nervous, jittery, pacing all over the floor, with a brain that keeps running around in circles trying to figure out what to do. I mean, those synapses get very upset when they don’t have new input to keep them firing!

Now I normally read at about 450-500 words/minute, occasionally kicking up to about 1000 wpm for certain kinds of material. Coupled with my normal reading time of about 1-2 hours/day, this works out to something like 30 – 60 thousand words a day, which gobbles up the average book in 2-3 days. Which does put a dent in the budget of something like $100/month, as I normally buy all my new reading material in hardback, and the library is hopelessly inadequately stocked with the types of things I like to read (and this doesn’t count the books my wife buys – she may not read as much as I do, but her library shelves are fairly well stocked, too).

So this enforced period of non-reading has saved me a little money, and it’s been an interesting time, filled with more talk and family activities than has been typical, which are not a bad things. It has also meant a little more TV time, something I usually only pay attention to for about two shows/week plus maybe a movie. Which has made me a little more aware of just how much advertising has invaded the network schedule – what used to be 1-2 minute commercial breaks has now morphed into, in some cases, 5 minutes at a crack, by which time I’ve forgotten what was happening in the show. And the average show content just isn’t enough to keep my little brain cells happy, except for a few shows like Jeopardy and Nova.

So I’ll be glad to get back to my normal reading schedule. I’ll just remember to be a little more attentive when other things need to be done or said, and be willing to put the book down at a moment’s notice.

Posted in Books, Daily Happenings | 8 Comments »

Positive, Think Positive

Posted by hyperpat on January 3, 2007

‘Tis a new year, and hopefully a great one. That’s one thing people can always have, plain hope. Now 99% of the time, all the hopes don’t pan out, and you end up with something less than envisaged, but that’s alright, new hopes will come along to replace those that didn’t make the cut. It seems to be something that is hard-wired into the human makeup. If that wellspring ever dries up, the end result is a broken person, a stick figure that looks human but is really a zombie. So, anyway, my hopes/projections for this year:

1. My family will end the year together and happy. There have been some rough times in the past, and there probably will be quite a few shoals this year, but so far we’ve muddled through, and finally it looks like there will be some conclusion to a few of the ongoing problems.

2. Congress will get hip to the fact that this planet is a very fragile place and start doing something about it: provide truly adequate funding to the space program,  develop rational plans to handle all the various eco-catastrophes waiting around the corner, initiate a major upgrade to the nation’s infrastructure to make it more efficient and less taxing on the world’s resources, and actually develop a road map for the future of this country that encompasses a time frame longer than the next election, with strong enough controls enacted that they’ll actually have to follow it. Yeah, I know – this is blue-sky dreaming. But I can hope.

3. While Congress is doing (2), they’ll also wake up to the fact that security is never a 100% guarantee, and repeal the most obnoxious intrusions into personal privacy and the almost limitless police-state powers they have granted to various federal agencies. This country was built by people who took risks, and one of the major reasons they did is that they could see the direct benefit to themselves, without fear of the government tromping all over them.

4. Wars will continue to happen. It’s a given. But perhaps there will be a few places where compromise and real discussion will break out. It would be very nice to see the almost 60 year debacle of the Israeli-Arab conflict get to a point where “suicide bomber” is no longer a revered profession and the reasons for them no longer exist.

5. I could win the $250,000 bowling shootout in May. This one actually has a real chance of happening, though the odds aren’t great.  It would certainly go a long way towards making my financial position tenable. Along these same lines, maybe I can at least get my chess rating back into the Class A category. Higher than this doesn’t seem to be in the cards – I just don’t see enough time to do the really heavy studying Expert and higher would require. But here again, I can hope!

6. I’ll get off my tail and actually finish writing a story, and be able to sell it. Even if I only get $2 for it, this would be an accomplishment I’d be happy with.

7. I’ll be granted a couple more patents this year. This one is pretty likely, as the applications are already in, the concepts are sound, the technology exists, and my company is already building systems that utilize the concepts.  Now I won’t get any great financial reward for this, and the patents are ‘group’ things, developed along with quite a few other people, but I like the feeling that I’ve help add to the world’s knowledge by developing something new.

8. We’ll be contacted by the aliens from Acturas IV about next Christmas time. Fermi paradox be damned, they’re out there somewhere, and what better time for humanity’s hubris to be taken down a couple of notches when it finds out that it’s not unique, that intelligent life exists elsewhere.

9.  They’ll actually implement a fix for Social Security and Medicare and develop a real, workable universal health insurance plan. More blue-sky stuff. While they’re at it, they’ll revise the tax code so Mr. Average Joe can actually figure it out.

10. People will actually act more rationally to world events, instead of reacting with hysteria over every blip reported by our excitable (and deliberately provoking) media.

You never know. It all could happen.

Posted in Bowling, chess, Daily Happenings, General, Politics, Science & Engineering | 3 Comments »

Commercials, Commercials

Posted by hyperpat on December 22, 2006

It’s almost Christmas time again. A season that has now become a celebration of commercialism, with darn little reference to its supposed roots. In some ways, perhaps this is not a bad thing, given the track record of just about every major organized religion. Unfortunately, every religion requires its adherents to trust in faith, to accept without any provable physical evidence a concept of a supreme being. And of course, once you allow such a thing, logic disappears, replaced by emotion. All too often, that emotion is distrust and hate for those who are not adherents to your own particular concept of god, which leads, again and again, to strife and wars.

Religion may not be the only cause of wars, but it’s certainly a major player.

Still, there are times when I wish that this season would be more like it was when I was kid, when church, carols, apple cider, and small, heartfelt gifts were more the rule, and I was watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time. The sentiments that Christmas is supposed to have are admirable ones,  and it seems they’ve been shoved under the pile of sell, sell, sell.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, religion | 2 Comments »