Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Heino's coming

The last time I saw Heino was at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, Sunday October 2 2005. You haven't been reading long if you don't know that Heino is my best mate.

It fell to Heino to drive me from the last house I lived in at Footscray to the airport to fly off to a different life in the USA. I know how I felt that day, Sunday November 17th 2002. I think I know how he felt; we hugged but, being blokes, not much was said. Not much needed to be said. We've been mates for a third of a century and I certainly hoped that wasn't the last time I saw him.

I've been back to Australia four times since then. It's been my pleasure to stay at his house but it's always been understood that, given how well I know Melbourne, I go to the places I want to revisit pretty much on my own. That said, we always visit whichever computer market is open the first weekend, be it at Camberwell or Collingwood. Heino and his family always make me feel welcome and it's become the long standing joke that Petaluma Pacific Suites (not the real name) are always open to me.

This time around he's coming here to Phoenix! It's taken some orchestrating mainly because, even though the United Airlines Mileage Plus website says that I can book flights for someone other than myself using my points I've found that hard to believe. The website also doesn't make it at all clear, when booking the flight, that it really is for someone else. Indeed, the first time I tried, the site errored out with the complaint that Heino wasn't me. Well gee guys, I know that - why did you think I entered a different passenger name? The site told me that if I did nothing the booking would expire in 48 hours so I waited 72 and tried again.

It failed again but with a different error message and instructions to dial a 1-800 number. So I dialled it. Half an hour or so later I was put through to India. I fear she had more trouble with my accent than I did with hers and in fifteen minutes it was all sorted. How utterly expected that her first action was to debit my frequent flyer account with the appropriate number of points! That debit happened even before charging my credit card with the minor taxes United won't pick up! (and they are minor - seventy five bucks for a return flight from Melbourne to Phoenix is minor indeed!)

So, on September 21 of this year I have the distinct pleasure of greeting my best mate in a Phoenix Airport and saying 'Welcome to America, you old bastard!'. What's odder is to think I'll be doing that as a US citizen greeting an Australian friend to my new country. If you'd told me, five years ago, that I'd be doing that I'd have said you had rocks in your head!

Of course the poor bastard doesn't get to visit Phoenix without meeting Vern[^] and LaMont[^] and Guy[^]. Everyone has to pay a price! :-)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The opportunist

One of Sonya's cousins passed away this weekend. It wasn't unexpected given that she was in her 70's though I note that her mother (Sonya's aunt) is still kicking at 96. The funeral takes place on Friday in Southern Texas and Sonya was trying to decide if she wanted to attend and, to use an unfortunately apposite phrase contextually, kill two birds with one stone by checking out the local cemeteries for ancestors.

Naturally this news led to questions about how Andrew and I would cope. I opined that we'd cope very well indeed. Obviously I can't just take time off work (much as I'd like to) and the expense of ferrying the pair of em halfway across the continent deserved consideration. I also can't help feeling that at 15 it's time Andrew learned to cope with the unexpected.

His major concern was how would he get to school? School is about a mile away but apparently he's never walked to school in his life. It seems we're just a trifle too close for the school bus so Mom always drives him. The thing I don't understand is that she drives him right to the entrance and therefore has to do daily battle with both the teenagers who are old enough to drive to school and with the 15 mile an hour speed restrictions. I've always said that if I ever had to drive him a block away would be close enough and he could damn well walk the rest of the way. Of course, I'm such a curmudgeon that I'd let him walk the entire mile or so. It's not summer time here yet and he stands a better than even chance of getting there without dying of heat prostration and thirst!

I imagine he knows better than to expect me to be out of bed at 7:00 to drive him to school and the prospect of two days without Mom to drive him weighed heavily upon his mind. Thus he broached the idea of not going to school at all. Uh huh, cheeky bastard! That wasn't going to fly and he was told, in no uncertain terms, that he was dreaming!

In the end Sonya decided not to go. *shrug* She says it's because she'd rather visit the cemeteries there with yours truly. I'll take the compliment and run with it!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Twenty five years

to the day since I first visited the US. It was a company training trip courtesy of Hewlett Packard and the training I attended was for the repair and calibration of the HP 8566A[^] spectrum analyser. We used to call it the 'dc to daylight' box because of the incredible frequency range. My god how things change. Back then they were worth half a million bucks each but one of the links I clicked on to search for an image lists one for sale, calibrated, for under six grand!

For a while there I was the only one accredited in the Asia Pacific region to repair them, which accreditation didn't translate into a lot of travel - nope, HP Singapore or HP Taiwan would ship them to Melbourne for repair. Bummer! Indeed, apart from the US training trip, the only travel I got out of it was an overnight trip to Brisbane to replace the front panel metalwork!

I've written a couple of stories about that first trip[^] but I couldn't possibly have imagined that I'd be living here, a US citizen, a quarter of a century later.

I still remember the confusing instructions given by the rental car dude at San Francisco International. To get onto US 101 northbound go out that gate and then turn right, right, right, right and right. It seemed to me that if I followed his instructions the fourth right would bring me back to where I started and indeed it did, but one road over, a road one could not directly access from the rental car yard. Moreover, that fifth right did put me onto US 101 heading north.

I reckon it took about 10 minutes to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road seated on the wrong side of the car. Back in those days one could smoke almost everywhere (even on the flight) and I discovered that one great advantage, for a right hander, of sitting on the left is that the ash tray is where it ought to be. Nah, that's not the reason I ended up moving here!

This is what I get for breaking the habit of a lifetime

If you've ever met me in person you know that I don't dress well. The truth is I don't much care how I look so long as it isn't outlandish by my own standards. Gotta admit my standards are low! I wouldn't know stylish from styleless and, frankly, I don't care.

It wouldn't surprise you then that the shoes I wear are cheap but comfortable. I walk enough that I go through three pairs a year but it's only the wear that dictates the time of replacement. And even then the wear has to be pretty severe! Once I get a comfortable pair they have to be at the point where the heel is worn through before I think it's at all important to replace em. Would it surprise you that I usually own only two pairs of shoes? One new and one very worn pair? I thought not.

When I visited Australia in September 2003 and stayed at Heino's my shoes smelled so bad that Heino's lovely wife wrinkled her nose and ordered me to buy a new pair! One does what one must :-)

It ought not to come as any surprise, given the above, that my purchasing is perfunctory. I need new shoes? I usually buy the first pair I try on. I can't remember the size I used to buy in Australia but here in the US it's ten and a half. Hence my first trying on ten and a halfs about six weeks ago. I usually put both feet on, lace em up and walk around the shop. If they feel ok I buy. These didn't feel quite right so I went down half a size. They felt good for the entire 20 feet walk so I bought the buggers. Notice - the second pair I tried on!

Old shoes back on to front at the cash register. Got home and changed to the new shoes and went for a long walk. They still felt kinda ok.

Now you'll remember that 17 years ago we made a movie. As part of my costume I was wearing riding boots borrowed from my girlfriend. About a size too small. During rehearsal they felt ok but as the day wore on they felt tight. Of course I hadn't thought to bring my normal shoes and by the end of the day my feet were really hurting. We were shooting on the weekends and during the week I could return to my normal shoes. At the end of the second weekend both toenails on my big toes lifted away when I took off my socks. Hurt like hell! Never having experienced childbirth I can't comment on the relative pains but I have been kicked in the balls - the pain usually subsides within a couple of hours.

Let me tell you, the pain you'll feel from the loss of both big toenails goes on and on and on for weeks!

So I've been rather sensitive to the possibility of a repeat experience. Those new shoes hinted at the possibility and I found myself walking back home from that first long walk with my feet arched in order to reduce the pressure on the big toenail.

Well, maybe it was a one off. Wore the new shoes into the office and spent the rest of the day in pain. So that night I went back and bought the next half size up - ten and half.

Ever since then I've been limping around. It hurts enough that I've had to curtail my daily walk. That'll teach me to NOT buy the first pair I try on!

Monday, February 19, 2007

I must have misheard that!

You already know I'm rather more fond of wine than is good for me. About half a year ago I decided to change the way I drink it; now it's half and half, half wine, half water. If you've ever tasted Phoenix tap water you already know that's not an option. Nope, bottled drinking water for this little black duck!

Gotta say it was a good idea. I still drink every night and drinking much the same amount of liquid. Which means that I'm drinking half the wine I used to. Actually it's a bit less than that; the ballsy red I used to enjoy now looks distinctly rosé. I've gone from two bottles a night to three nights a bottle! As a result I'm feeling much more like facing the world the next morning. It's hard to describe. I imagine you'd have to have been drinking as much as I was half a year ago to appreciate the difference.

As an aside; a sure sign of a heavy drinker is when they hit the gatorade first thing in the morning! Uh huh. I don't think I've tasted gatorade in half a year, coke about the same length of time. Probably a good thing - they're both foul but not half as foul as Dr Peppers.

We buy those half litre bottles of drinking water by the slab; 24 at a time. I've given up the argument that it's cheaper to buy it by the gallon and manually refill the empties. They (Sonya and Andrew) just won't do it. So I no longer do either. On the other hand, Sonya doesn't always remember to buy a new slab when we're getting low.

I don't usually notice the shortage until it's late in the evening; time to sit down and enjoy a glass and let me tell you, when it's that time I really don't want to jump in the car and head over to Fry's or Basha's to get a slab. So I've taken to hoarding the buggers. I have six and a half bottles sitting on the bookshelf adjacent to the computer as I write this.

Last week as I sat at the computer listening to a string quartet Sonya discovered that Andrew had his own private stash. I could half hear the conversation as it unfolded. Sonya said 'so you're hoarding too?'.

But what I thought I heard was Sonya asking Andrew, her son, 'so you're horny too?'. I fear my incredulous 'what?????' didn't convey even a tenth of the surprise. That question, had it been asked, was wrong on so many levels!

Andrew blushed. Sonya and I laughed.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Not dead yet!

Yeah, I've been a slack bastard and let more than a month go by without a post. Thanks for reminding me Iain C :-)

There's been a bunch of stuff happening at the office that I don't feel I can write about. Let's just say that I'm becoming an ambitious bastard. Another way of putting it might be that they're getting to me. But it's still only during working hours and I still don't let them get fifty hours a week for the price of forty. I can be bought but it has to be at a fair price!

Outside of work? Music music and more music! Of late I've discovered the string quartet! Those of you who are members of the CodeProject last.fm group[^] (scroll to find me - it won't be difficult) might have noticed, if you could be bothered checking what I'm listening to, that I've been doing Gavin Bryars[^], Ernest Moeran[^] and Arnold Bax[^] to death. Well I hope not. The latter two are already dead but Gavin's going strong and I'd be delighted to hear his fourth, fifth and sixth string quartets!

How curious that I'm listening to Aqua as I write this!

Speaking of last.fm. Interesting concept but it's rather weighted against musical snobs such as myself. The problem is that they count tracks regardless of the length. If I listen to a three minute aqua song it gets the same weighting as a fifty four minute symphony by Martin Scherber (sorry, the only link I can find is in German outside of the online shops flogging his third symphony). Just watch my stats get skewed by tonights enjoyment of some mindless pap!