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Remembering Fred December 24, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in In Person.
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Fred.  A big fuzzy friend who would head butt us with such vigor to show his affection for us.  He would bring us a toy to throw for him and fetch it back so we could throw it again.  He would open the medicine cabinet and steal a single Q-tipp, running down the hallway with it dangling from his mouth like a cigarette, and eat the cotton off the tips.  Every night he would follow the same routine, first sitting on my nightstand to attack my hand as I attempted to turn out the light, then running off down the hallway to curl up with my daughter for a bit, before finally retiring to his bucket on the cat tree where he would sleep away the night.

He and his sister came home with us a little over four and a half years ago.  He was just a little thing.

Fred and his new favorite toy

Fred comes to stay

But he grew up to be a big cat, weighing in at 15 pounds and long enough that he was able put his front paws up on the bathroom counter to see what was up there while his hind paws were still planted on the floor.  He was so full of life and interested in everything and everyone.

Fur at rest

Full of coziness as well

And then I found him on the floor in our room, on his side, completely still, having choked on something.  He was gone.  We miss him so much.

Fred in the Lights

Fred in the Lights

The holiday spirit has left us.  We feel sad and empty today.

The Random Game April 5, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, In Person.

My daughter and I have a game we play.

I sort of pulled it out of the blue one day while we were sitting at the kitchen table and introduced it to her without telling her what I was doing.  I looked at her and said a word aloud and then sat there obviously waiting for a reply.  She would say something and I would reply, “Bzzt.  No.  Wrong.  You lose.”  Occasionally I would just say another word, and get another reply from her.

There wasn’t any real pattern at first.  It was yet another random act of dad-ness.

But then I had to start coming up with some rules in my head, just to make sure it wasn’t totally random.  It was initially just saying something and trying to get her to say something unrelated to what I just said.  Then it became nouns.  And then it was nouns, but they could not be related to what I said or her previous answer.  Oh, and you could not repeat any words previously used.

She started to figure out the game and we ended up talking about the rules, or at least where the boundaries might be.  There are few hard and fast rules.  For example, to “lose” the other person has to call you out on repeats or declare that your last response was too much like the previous two and why.  But if you can explain your way out of the challenge, then the person calling you out loses.

It isn’t a game you can effectively play in a hyper-competitive mind set.  Arguments would be constant if you did. For me it is just more fun to see if I can follow the thought process… both mine and hers… and then how the mind falls into patterns.  Over time it becomes difficult to NOT say something related to the last two things that were said.  And I totally lose track of what was already said and whether it was in the current match or a previous match.

As one of my parental experiments, it was a success.

Or, it was certainly a bigger success then when I got it into my head to simulate what having a sibling was like by following my daughter around the house and repeating everything she said in a high pitched whiny voice.  That made her (and my wife) angry and cranky, which I would count as a huge success at achieving the desired simulation, but which did nothing to improve my stature in the household.  I think even the cats shunned me for the rest of the evening.

I was kind of done with the game after a couple of tries, when the rules were finally discovered and mostly agreed upon.  But my daughter still likes to play.  We rarely ever say, “Let’s play the random game.”  It just starts with one of us saying a word.  Ad she likes to do this in front of other people, so that we appear to be just saying totally random words, often with accompanying nods of the head as though a clever move was just made.  That adds a whole new dynamic to things, and we try for really odd words.

Mostly we play it in the car together when it is just the two of us. Though the last couple of times we did this, it became quite obvious that we were both drawing our next word from things that were going by on the side of the road.  We’re random, but “dry cleaner” rarely comes up in our conversations just by chance.

I am thinking of introducing a new rule where you lose if the other person immediately spots the source of your word.  And so the game evolves and goes on.

Sixty Signatures and the Title Company Staff February 10, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, General, In Person.

We recently finished refinancing our home again.  It is part of the homeowner’s tradition in the US.

The dance is a little different these days.  Back in 2006 when we bought the house, the loan company was happy enough to let me finance it 100% before we had even sold the old place.  For a month or so I was in debt in the seven figure range.  Do I get an achievement for that?

Since the boom, interest rates have come down.  The last time we refinanced, the rate was low enough that we told the finance guy we work with that he would probably would only ever hear from us again via a yearly Christmas card.

And then rates went down even further, so that we could shave off more than a full percentage point from our rate, which in turn would peel a decent chunk of money off of our monthly payment.  Some of that comes from resetting the 30 year clock and the fact that we have paid off a chunk of principle as well, but the low rate helps too.

Getting documentation together took more effort this time around, all the more so because I had been self-employed for the last couple of years.  I had to document where all the money came from since 2010.  The years of really easy money are over.  It is back to the way it was in 2000 or so, and then some.  But we managed it.

The whole refinancing effort culminates in the signing “ceremony” at the title company.  You go sit in a conference room with your loan guy and a title company representative and sign all the documents the loan company wants you to sign.  The title company verifies this, tells the loan company you have jumped through all of their hoops, gets the money, pays off your old loan, and gives you whatever is left over.  That is pretty much how escrow works.

We had our daughter in tow this time around, and while I had the iPad handy for her to play with, she wanted to sit and watch what we were doing.  So I asked her to count how many times I had to sign my name during the process.

The answer: More than 60 times.

That number includes pages I just had to initial.  For every multi-page document, I had to initial each page and then sign the final page.

But given my scrawl of a signature, writing out my initials takes about as much effort as signing something.

Some of it was the usual stuff.  The multi-page document with all of the loan details.  The special document with the interest rate, which includes an explanation of how interest rates work, for people who missed it in the previous document.  The line in the notary ledger.  The detailed list of where all the money was going.

Some of it though was kind of silly.  I had to sign no fewer than three documents that basically said that the house being financed was my primary residence.  There were a few cases of signing documents that seemed to have the same purpose as some other document. And at one point I had to sign a photocopy of a signed document I had submitted on a previous occasion in order to verify that I had indeed signed it.

My wife had to sign and initial nearly as many documents.  There were a few just for me, but she was still over the 50 mark.

This is what happens when you make people accountable for their practices.  They make you sign a bunch of forms to “prove” that they have done everything required by law, whether or not you know the law or the relevance of any given document.  I recall back when a federal regulation came out saying that doctors could not share you medical history without your express written consent.  At my next visit to the doctor, I had to sign a form authorizing the doctor to share my medical history with whomever he damn well pleased or they would simply refuse to treat me.

That is how it always plays out.

Anyway, during a lull in the signing, I asked the woman from the title company if I could ask her a stupid question.

She laughed and asked me if I wanted to know why I had to sign so many documents.

I said no, my question was much sillier.  Besides which, I have worked at big companies, I know about papering over processes with documents and signatures to CYA.

What I wanted to know was why title companies seemed to be staffed entirely by women.

This was my sixth or seventh time to the title office for signing papers in my lifetime, and I could not recall there ever being a man working in any of them.

At this point our loan guy said he hadn’t actually noticed that in all his years of hanging out at title companies, but that in hindsight I seemed to be right.

The woman from the title company told us that, basically, the job involves getting yelled at a lot.  Pompous real estate agents, shady loan officers, cranky buyers, they all seem to target the title company staff when things aren’t going right or closing fast enough or what not.  She said that they do get men in the office from time to time, but that they do not have the temperament for that sort of thing, so do not last very long.

At least that was her theory.  And it certainly has some merit.

Based on what she said, I suspect that pay enters into it as well.

In financial organizations, the people who actually do the customer facing work tend to be paid poorly.  Go ask a bank teller how much they make.  This, along with the fact that she said that the sales end of the business (where commissions come into play) and management over a certain level (where the pay is good) were heavily staffed with men makes me think that, among the things she and her colleagues have to put up with, mediocre compensation might very well be on the list.

But I did not say the part about pay aloud.  That is just my theory.

And my sample set is just title offices in Silicon Valley, so it could be a regional thing.

Anybody out there with title company insight that can confirm or deny my theory?

United 737-900ER in 1950s Continental Airlines Livery July 15, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, In Person.
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This picture taken at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on July 1, while we were returning from our vacation.  Our plane was the 737 behind it, a couple of gates further down the concourse.

(Signs you’re in Texas: They have a Fox News store in the airport.)

Out on the tarmac

I took this picture for a long time employee of Continental Airlines, which recently finished its merger with United Airlines.  The combined company kept the United name but the Continental colors and logo.

This airplane (N75436 – Google that to find more pictures) was painted in the livery to celebrate Continental Airlines’ 75th in 2009.

I will have to stow away the Continental logo items I have with some Pan Am stuff I have in a drawer.  They might be worth something some day.

Not Distracting At All… June 16, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, In Person, Rift.
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Two of our cats, Trixie and Fred, decided that climbing up on top of the bookshelves in my office would be a good idea.  And then they sat up there and loomed over me as I sat at the computer.

Don’t mind us…

They were, essentially, six feet in the air and about three feet behind me.  Since Trixie likes to jump on things and is fond of perching on my shoulder, I kept an eye on them.

I wonder if it was the fact that I was fishing in Rift that fascinated them.

This didn’t last long.  They got bored and went off to nap on our bed.  We call them the “day shift” in our bedroom.

EVE Vegas 2012 – Coming in October May 11, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, In Person.

EVE Online fans will return to Las Vegas again this year in an event that has been going on sporadically (to my knowledge) since 2009.

EVE Vegas 2012 – Titan not included

Full details, including links, prices, forum thread pointer, and such are at the official EVE Vegas web site.

The highlights of the event are:

  • A two day event made for fans, by fans
  • Officially sanctioned by CCP but without control over content
  • EVE player personalities and CCP Devs presenting together on one stage
  • An open bar reception to meet your alliance mates and other random eve players
  • Free swag
  • at least 4 different development teams will be represented talking about the state of the game

The event will take place at the Paris Las Vegas hotel October 5-7.  The event price is $250 and there are reasonably priced rooms at Paris and the adjoining Bally’s hotels.

Vegas is close by, at least for me, so this is tempting.

Close Up with a Battleship – The USS Iowa in Richmond March 4, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, In Person.

Yesterday we were able to find the time to drive up to the Port of Richmond (California, not Virginia) to see the USS Iowa, which is currently resting there awaiting a tow down to the Port of Los Angeles where it will become part of the Pacific Battleship Museum.

Google Maps Picture of the Iowa

Previously, since March 2011 to be specific, the Iowa sat tied up in Suisun Bay as part of the US Navy Reserve Fleet, and where I saw it whenever we were headed up to Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, or other points northeast.

Iowa at Suisun Bay, still in Google Maps

It was actually tough to get a measure of how big the Iowa was out at Suisun Bay since the cargo vessels it was tied up with are pretty big themselves.  But now we had a chance to set foot on the deck of the ship.

Unfortunately, years of sitting in the bay with little in the way of maintenance takes a toll.  Part of the work to be done is just to scrape off the rust and get things cleaned up.  So while we were allowed aboard the ship, we could only walk around the two forward 16″ (410mm) gun turrets.

Turrets 1 and 2

16" Guns with me for scale

A lot of the rest of the deck looked like this.

Rust never sleeps

Part of the problem, as it was explained to us, was that teak, the traditional wood used for the deck surface, and which holds up well in salt water conditions, was unavailable at some point, and so pine was substituted.  Pine, it seems, rots and lets the water through.  So there is a lot of scraping and painting to be done on the deck.

We were also kept about 100 feet back from the ship along the dock, by a chain link fence, thwarting close-up pictures, while buildings across the parking lot kept us from getting the whole ship in a single shot.  Still, we walked around and took pictures of the ship and some of the display that was setup in a warehouse.  As always, you can click on the pictures for the full size version.

5 inch mount

Me for scale against some hatches

Harpoon and Tomahawk Missile launchers

Turret three

16 inch shell and powder bags

Powder bags again

Harpoon missile

Iowa profile dockside

The USS Iowa tours in Richmond will last through the end of April.  There is no charge to visit the ship, but they are asking for donations to help fund the refurbishment.

Addendum: From the comments, an interesting story about some people sneaking into the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay. Includes a picture of the Iowa.

A Brush with Somebodys 15 Minutes… January 11, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, In Person.

I suppose all I can really say is that I know this guy.

This is Mark.  Our wives are pals, which means I occasionally see him at a child’s birthday party or when he is really stuck for somebody to help him with a computer issue.

He just won the Vicks NyQuil Most Dedicated Fan contest.

Mark's Moment of Glory

Mark is a very dedicated San Francisco 49ers fan.  He has season tickets.  He travels to an away games now and again.  He even went to the exhibition game the team played in the UK a couple years back.

He is really, really into football.  Read his contest page.

And he is my go-to guy when I need to demonstrate that my online gaming and blogging hobby is, if not normal, at least relatively inexpensive.  Season tickets to the 49ers cost more than I spent on games and computer hardware in the last five years.

And I almost never paint my body the colors of any in-game faction and the extent of my gaming apparel is limited to a Meridian 59 T-shirt and that Warp Drive Active polo shirt I won ages ago, which I almost never wear because the comic on the front gets a disturbing 3D effect when laid over my somewhat expanded middle-age waistline.

But today is Mark’s day.  All that dedication and painting his body red has paid off.

He won the Most Dedicated Fan contest, which means he gets an all expenses paid trip to the Superbowl, a loaded VISA gift card with which to do some shopping, and a bunch of other swag I am sure.

And the 49ers even have a shot at being in the game.  How lucky can you get?

How can my hobby even begin to match that?

The closest I can come up with is getting elected to the EVE Council of Stellar Management for a free trip to Iceland.

I hear Reykjavík is nicer than Indianapolis… at least during the months where there is daylight.

I Beat Some Little Girls at Laser Tag December 31, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, In Person.
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My daughter picked laser tag as her birthday activity this year, a step up from last year’s ice skating party in my opinion, because I got to participate.

So we headed down to our local Laser Quest with a pack of her friends and a few parents, where my wife had reserved a party plan which included two rounds of laser fun and a party room, checked in, got suited up, and went to war.

It was a free for all game, so there were no team and you could shoot anybody.  I did team up with some of the little girls from time to time because, in addition to our group there was a pack of teenage boys in the game.  The match ran for 20 minutes and, despite it being cold out and there being a “no running rule” to which I strictly adhered, I came out of there winded and sweating.

And much to my surprise, when they announced the results of the match, I had the top score.

Not bad for a guy close to 50 and at least 15 years older than the next oldest person in the match, one of the other dads in our group.  And he’s a fireman.  So I was pretty happy about that.  My wife said I was acting like a 9 year old at that point.

They even gave us a print out of our score.

Wilhelm Ranked #1

Of course, being a data nut, I thought the printout was pretty cool.  It shows you the list of people you hit (everybody picks a handle for each match), which of their sensors you hit (front, back, laser, or shoulder), and your point total (10 points per hit), in addition to your shooting percentage, who hit you and where, and your total score.

I was interested to see that the actual laser gun, which has multiple sensors on it, was the place I hit most.  It is clearly the biggest target.  So for the second round I told the kids to aim for the laser if possible.

We also agreed to team up, even though it was another free for all match.

Some of the Team Getting Suited Up

An iPhone 4s in a dark room lit only with black lights… not going to get you your best picture ever. (Are there any good digital camera options for indoor flash photos?)  Still, that is most of us, with my daughter and I in the back.

So in the great big indoor room, we took over one of the up stairs positions and sniped a lot, which is what I did for the most part in the first round. (All that training in Desert Combat paid off, I became the annoying sniper guy who got the top score.)  We did end up assaulting one of the other upstairs locations to flush out a group of teenage boys who had hold up in there.  It was a bloodbath.

As a group we did much better during the second round and there were relatively few friendly fire hits.  I managed third place this time around, with fireman dad getting second, and one of the teenage boys (R2-D2) getting both first place for the match and the high score for the day at that location.

All in all, it was a blast.  The gaggle of 9-10 year old girls all seemed to have a lot of fun and there was talk of coming back from most of them.  My daughter wanted to forget the cake and presents and play another round right then.  I suspect we might see a couple more birthday parties at Laser Quest this coming year.

Farewell Steve Jobs October 6, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in General, In Person.
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He grew up just a couple miles from where I did in the Valley of Heart’s Delight, the valley that became Silicon Valley in his youth, and in mine.

He was one of the founders of a company that influenced me greatly.

There was a small Apple II lab at my junior high school, which backed up to Apple’s Mariani Avenue campus, back in 1978.  It had been donated by Apple.

I was 13 at the time.  He was only 23.

Being able to use that lab, loading programs with cassette players, was a seminal experience for me.

I finally wrangled my own Apple II a few years later.  It was the gateway into my future.

But even as I acquired that precious machine, the next wave at Apple was emerging, the machine shaped by him, the Macintosh.

My goal was to some day work at Apple.

My own career followed the Macintosh, and I worked closely with Apple at different companies, but never for Apple.

At times that was a disappointment.

At other times that was a relief.

It was especially a relief in the dark days of the mid 90s, when Apple was faltering.  The companies I worked for started slowly developing Windows products.  At low ebb, in early 1996, having a resume with all Apple focused experience was a serious liability.

And then he came back to Apple.

Micheal Dell at the time said of Apple, “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

But Apple flourished.  Michael Dell has since had to eat those words.

Legends were born, stories oft repeated in the valley, rumors and the like, about him.  There was Fake Steve Jobs, which gave voice to what we thought was going through his head, and the legendary reality distortion field that seemed the only explanation at times as to the fierce loyalty people had for Apple products for people who failed to grasp the “less is more” design philosophy.

And while I moved away from Apple products professionally, I do not have to look far around our home to see things that he influence, my wife’s iPhone, the iMac in the family room, a selection of Pixar films on the shelf.

And, of course, the memory of half a lifetime’s worth of influence.

So when my wife called me at the office to tell me that Steve Jobs had died, it was a blow.

It was like somebody in the family had gone.

Steve Jobs Announcement from Apple

It is hard now to imagine a world without Steve Jobs.

It is hard to think of someone who has had as much influence on my life.