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Rattlesnakes and Root Beer

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

- George Washington

It was a nice April Friday and the kids were in school so the obvious thing to do was to go on a hike with my brother-in-law and his wife.

I felt bad for the kids for about a millisecond before the feeling of playing hooky came over me.

It was just one of those days: the sun was shining, it was a Friday (you know, that “Friday feel”), and everyone I knew was at work or school. Granted, so should I have been but alas, I was out in the sunshine hiking Rattlesnake.

I don’t know if it’s Rattlesnake Canyon, Rattlesnake Path, Rattlesnake Trail, Rattlesnake Butthole, or what. I don’t even know if there were even rattlesnakes around. All I know is that it was an easy, gentle upgrade with overlooks that were really beautiful.

I mean really, check it out:

I forgot what that body of water is called. Rattlesnake Piss? I dunno.

The way this came about was that we got an invite from my wife’s brother and his wife to go on this hike and we thought, great, sounds like a Friday thing to do.

Here is Scott and Kristine with Rattlesnake Piss Lake behind him.

Notice that he is wearing a grey Under Armour shirt, which I have an exact copy of. Good thing I didn’t wear mine, how embarrassing would THAT be? Instead, I went with the all-black motif with the blue running jacket and questionable gay-blue hat.

How that woman can stand there in public next to me with a smile on her face is beyond explanation.

Also note I am wearing what appears to be spandex but let me assure you people, they are running leggings that are looser than Spandex for obvious reasons. I did not want to be in public looking like I was smuggling creamed corn and doorknobs.

The hike went great and afterwards, on the heels of a successful burning of calories, we all decided that the best thing to do was to completely obliterate the progress by going to lunch and since it was nearby, Scott suggested a special treat:

(Notice Scott bringing the root beer. There was an audible CRACK when he removed his hands from the frozen mug handles!)

I have never heard of this place but Scott said it was “da bomb” (he actually used those words. Embarrassing, I know.)

Now, despite the fact that it says “XXX” right on the sign, this was not some perverse sexual modern-day Sodom. That would have likely been cheaper.

OK, I’ll suspend my cheapassedness for a moment. It WAS expensive but this was a treat. It’s not every day you can play Friday hooky, hike a beautiful trail with family, and enjoy what is rumored to be the best root beer and burger joint this side of a lake of rattlesnake piss.

The guy behind the counter, a very chatty Mexican guy who owns it, got out of me that I was retired military (it don’t take much to extract this info, folks) and was all kinds of thankful for my service and proceeded to tell me of his service and every vet he ever knew.

Root beer and burger, please.

No, no, I wasn’t really like that and I really did enjoy talking “shop talk” with people but I was post-hike, very hungry, and trying to forget that the meal for two was dipping into too many high-number digits.

But there was something else I wanted to splurge on….

It was just as decadent as you would expect a strawberry shake would be. I don’t even want to guess the calorie count but I’m sure it was a week’s worth.

Did I enjoy it?

If memory serves right, I think I ate the glass.

Free Advice for Today: “Take the stairs when it’s four flights or less.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Yes, I Will Take Two More Helpings, Please.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.”

- Laurens Van der Post

I have delved into two more projects which brings my total of unfinished projects to …. too depressing to actually count out.

What are the two latest open loops I’ve opened up?

Playing guitar and A+ certification.

I know what you are saying, those are two subjects about as far away from each other as you can get. But along with being a runner and a bibliophile and a scholar, I figure I want to be a musician of some kind AND feed my geek a bit.

OK, maybe I have illusions of grandeur but I never said I actually excelled at any of these things. I just start them.

So I got my hands on this video class of playing guitar and did the first hour. Believe it or not, I was not jammin’ like a guitar hero after the first hour. In fact, I had sore fingers and did nothing but play along with some scales.

It pretty much sucked.

Now I’ve seen some people who play the guitar who look like they are a few chromosomes short of a full set and yet they play the hell out of the thing. I cannot reconcile that I cannot overcome this with intellect.

I know, different abilities but still, I am convinced that through sheer force of will and intelligence, plus some dedication and practice, practice, practice, I should be able to play.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The other subject is the A+ certification. I talked about this back on April 2nd.

It is kind of the first step if you want to get into the certification game and with my MASTERS in IT (not to mention my personal involvement in computers since the early 90s!), it should be cake.

Plus, I have discovered that there are terabytes worth of free training online. In fact, the challenge is picking which you want to go with, stick with it, and do the work.

This, I have started but quickly became bored. The funny thing is, I spent hours researching all the FREE online training and spent more time ogling the free offerings but when it came time to pick one and go for it, yeah, lost interest quickly.

So, like so many other things on my plate, my challenge continues. Pick a training package, set up a schedule, DO the scheduled training, and make it happen.

I guess I should take that advice for both the guitar and the A+ training.

Any vampires out there want to help me out so I can have eternity to perfect this?

(and if it’s all the same to everyone else, I’ll take ….

over …

Thanks.)

Free Advice for Today: “Be gentle with the earth.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Ashes to Ashes, Buster To Dust

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves.”

- Laurens Van der Post

I got a call today.

He was ready to come home.

Again.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made as a pet owner was when my beloved cat of 13 years, Sidney, died in 29 Palms, I didn’t chose to get the ashes back. To this day, I wish I would have paid the little extra money to have it done and bring home the ashes.

I was not going to make that mistake again.

When I picked up Buster’s ashes today, they were in a proper little wooden box. They had also included a round clay disk that they had imprinted Buster’s paw on. It was a surprise and a welcome remembrance of a wonderful dog.

We decided that we would put the ashes in a vase we received years ago from good friends who had been stationed in China. It is a beautiful blue and white vase with Chinese writing on it and gave an honorable look to a very special shrine we set up in the living room.

I want to thank all of you for the touching outpouring of condolences. Everyone who knew Buster absolutely loved the little knucklehead and he touched a lot of lives. Most of all, ours and we miss him greatly.

One of my readers sent me this and I thought it was wonderful:

THE DOGS WHO HAVE SHARED OUR LIVES

The dogs who’ve shared our lives.
In subtle ways they let us know
their spirit still survives.
Old habits still make us think
we hear a barking at the door.
Or step back when we drop
a tasty morsel on the floor.
Our feet still go around the place
the food dish used to be,
And, sometime, coming home at night,
we miss them terribly.
And although time may bring new friends
and a new food dish to fill,
That one place in our hearts
belongs to them…
and always will.

Free Advice for Today: “Every now and then, bite off more than you can chew.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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My Not-So-Well-Read Life

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “I don’t generally feel anything until noon; then it’s time for my nap.”

- Bob Hope

I’ve talked about this before and you all know I have a Kindle. It’s just about the greatest little invention one can imagine, if you are a bibliophile like myself.

But now I find myself at a crossroads with my library. Like many people I have talked to, I love books. I mean the physical kind (of book, not love, you pervs!).

I like the feel of a book in my hand, seeing the progress I’ve made, noted by the placement of the bookmark, and even the smell of the paper. This is why I think no matter what kind of electronic gadgetry comes about, the physical book will never completely go away.

And yet, I am a gadget guy and the Kindle scores extremely high on the geek meter.

So here I have this huge, mostly unread library of physical books and this cool gadget that will hold more electronic books than I have physical ones!

My temporary solution is to read one of each, alternating until I run out of physical books (around …. never) and then concentrate on the Kindle.

The other big industry I notice coming about is books on tape.

Wow, that really showed my age. Let me update that for ya … audio books.

(sigh)

Going on the internet, you can get just about any book on tape until your head explodes. And now that I have figured out how to easily get them on my iPod or iPhone, overcoming the problem I had with starting up where I left off, I am exposed to a whole new world.

OK, so here is where I stand:

- I have probably 1000 physical books, less than half I’ve actually read
- I have, for all intents and purposes, access to enough e-books to make my eyes bleed
- I have just as many books on tape

So what is the limiting factor in all of this?

That’s simple: time.

What blows my mind si that I don’t have a job. So if I figure in about 8 hours of sleep, that leaves me with 16 hours a day to do whatever the hell I want to do. Consequently, there should be NOTHING I get behind on.

Of course, that is not the case because I am me but in theory, I should have time to read like a maniac.

But I don’t.

I normally only find little slices of time throughout the day and maybe an hour at night. I alternate between the Kindle and a physical book but never dedicate big chunks of time to eat up the pages like you would think I would.

As far as the audio books, I used to use the commute time to and from work but without a job, no can do. Then I used the hour on the treadmill but then I started using a set up at home where I watch videos on a TV I set up at eye level.

I might need to get back to running so I can do the audio books on the run (literally) but music is so much better for that (rhythm, familiarity, motivation, etc.) I have tried audio books while running and it’s hit and miss. Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention when things get rough. And they ALWAYS get tough.

So there you have it. I have the Kindle, I have the physical books, I have the audio books, I have the iPod, now all I need to do is get better at managing the time. If ever there were a case of “easier said than done,” this would be the granddaddy.

Pardon me, I have to go read…

Free Advice for Today: “When friends offer to help, let them.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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A Little Girl And Her Dog

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things – a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

- John Grogan

My daughter was given an assignment to write about something sad.

This is what she wrote.

She got an “A” and the teacher cried.

Buster
By Stephanie Grose

Tonight I can write about the loss of a friend.
I can write about his young, strong body.
How he came running to me, wagging his tail wildly.
When I laughed he would get happy and excited,
and when tears ran down my cheeks he would lick them away.
Running around and getting lost on walks together.
Truly man’s best friend.

Time passes and it is like a bond that holds us together tighter.
Youth is kind to me as old age creeps up on him
His movements aren’t as swift anymore.
Legs quivering like an earthquake.

Everyone goes along faking a smile, fighting back tears.
I lay my head on his chest to hear the steady, ticking clock.
It is working hard to keep constant.
Then I see him collapse to the ground,
shaking, grinding his teeth until they crunch.
There is no choice, we need to let him go.

We take him to his grim reaper, and we see the puppy in him,
momentarily prancing around without a care in the world.
But that doesn’t last long.

He lies down with his loved ones surrounding him.
The pink liquid goes into him and slowly stops the clock in him.
He looks as if he is sleeping,
but then he is lifted and his body hangs limp.
His tongue hangs out like a deer who has been hit by a car.

Weeks pass and the pain is still fresh.
He comes back home in the form of ash.
Still part of the family, he sits in the corner.
Always in the hearts of everyone who loved him.

-R.I.P. Buster

Free Advice for Today: “When walking a dog, let the dog pick the direction.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Buster: 2000-2010

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

- Josh Billings

Bad news. Bad day.

My dog died today. People with dogs know how crushing that is. People without dogs may see it as cliché. Just think of it as one level down from losing a child.

Buster was part of this family. An integral part who was included in DAILY interactions.

The story of this day is hard to tell so I will just try to do it chronologically.

My brother came over and brought Sam, his black lab who is a little older than Buster. Without a family, Sam is Chris’s child and understands what it means to have a family whose members include a dog.

Buster had a good night last night but it’s sad that “a good night” is defined at this point as uneventful.

For the last few weeks, we have had to help him get up on the bed and he moves rather slowly. We knew the end was near and Friday night’s seizures were stark reminders that we needed to make a decision very soon.

Buster had two seizures today when Chris was here. The first, over by his doggy door, started when we heard him thump to the ground and start convulsing. I ran over to comfort him the best I could and was saddened to see that he lost control of his bladder. I had always said that when that goes, we would not make him suffer.

What was worse was looking up and seeing the look in my brother’s eyes. He watched the entire episode in horror, unable to say anything. I know he loved Buster like a nephew and also suspected he was considering the obvious: this might be Sam some day.

The worst part was the grinding. His teeth chattered as he convulsed and then that degraded into a grinding sound that I will hear for the rest of my days.

The second seizure was even more unfortunate than the first. Chris was getting ready to leave and we were standing near the garage door, saying goodbye to Chris and Sam. Suddenly, Buster paused, laid down, and started to seize.

Not only did poor Chris have to see this scene again, he was kind of obligated to stand there and watch it happen. I mean, he couldn’t just walk out while Buster was convulsing and everyone was crowded around him.

“See ya, I’m outta here.”

So he had to watch the entire grim scene.

The mood around the house was sullen and we hung around the house, keeping Buster nearby. It was unspoken but we all knew that the end was near.

The practical side of me hoped everything would calm down and if we could make it through the weekend, we could see how he was doing next week when vet hospitals were open during business hours.

But then in the late afternoon, Buster seized up again. The episodes were getting closer and closer, gaining in strength and violence.

As I held him, he convulsed for a very long time and once again lost control of his bladder. And then the worst of all happened.

After the chattering came the grinding. Then after the grinding, as I held him, I heard a small moan escape Buster. It was very small but it was there.

If you own a dog, you know their capacity to endure pain. I always said that if he is suffering, I would make it stop. But I was always afraid that since dogs do not react to general pain as we do and they cannot convey their state completely like humans can, that Buster could be suffering without me knowing.

So when I heard him moan, I knew it must be bad.

My heart shattered.

I knew what I had to do.

I gathered the family and told them what that was. We all discussed it and agreed that in a couple of hours, we would take him to the vet. We found a 24-hour vet hospital that would do what needed to be done so we spent the next hour in the backyard, playing with Buster, taking pictures, and telling him how much we loved him.

I called my brother and my mother to tell them what was going on.

I wanted to use Truckasaurus. My 1992 extended cab truck had brought both of my kids home from the hospital after they were born.

It had brought Buster back from the pound when I got him in Monterey California in 2001.

Buster and I had spent many a trip together in Truckasaurus and I thought it only fitting that it should serve this final purpose for Buster.

It had brought him home and now I was going to use it to TAKE him home.

Buster was up for a ride, of course. We had to help him into the back and on the way to the vet, I kept looking in the rearview mirror and seeing his dopy head staring at me. Just like always.

I was silent during the ride. I know, as the father of the family, I should have said something but my strength lasted only as far as to not start crying. Silence the best I could do.

We got to the hospital and parked in the empty lot. Around the parking lot, there were green patches of grass and we let Buster run around, sniff the grass, and pee on the bushes.

There was no really good option here. I mean, should he be decrepit and unable to run around or should he be tail-wagging, happy, and energetic?

The former was heartbreaking to see the noble beast in such a state. The latter felt like we were bringing a perfectly healthy dog to his untimely demise.

In the end, it didn’t matter. We were not in control so why dwell on it?

For the record, he was tail-wagging, happy, and energetic. He was, for an achingly short period of time, once again the puppy we remember.

Finally, it is time and we take him into the clinic. He is curious, sniffing around like he always does, unaware he has seen his last sunset, his last sunrise, his last sniff of grass.

We are put in a room and told that when we are ready, to push a button and the vet would come in.

We have to say goodbye.

How do you say goodbye to a family member who has been a daily joy for 9 years?

There are no words. There is no amount of hugs. There are no adequate reassurances.

We are all crying unashamedly.

Buster does not know what the fuss is about. He is content to be the center of attention and senses deep, emotional heartache in all of us. He absorbs the kisses. The hugs. The assurances.

We call in the vet and he comes in with the demeanor of a funeral home director. He bends down and pets Buster behind the ears as he explains to us in a soft whisper how this is going to work.

He asks us if we are ready.

I cannot think of a situation that would warrant a stronger “NO!”

But it is time.

It’s Buster’s time.

The vet injects Buster with a pink fluid as I hold Buster’s face in my hands, looking him straight in the eyes. I want the last sight this wonderful dog ever sees to be the love in my eyes I have for him.

I see his pupils widen and then his head is suddenly heavy.

And just like that, my dog is gone.

The vet waits while the sniffling sounds of 4 heartbroken people fill the small room. He puts the stethoscope to Buster’s chest and after a moment, he tells us what we already know.

Buster is gone.

He stands and tells us to push the button when we are ready. We can take as long as we need to. He leaves.

We are left with Buster, or what is left of him. Before I know what I am doing, I reach down to cradle him and pick him up. Carrie looks at me with confusion, wondering what I am doing. I wanted to hold him one more time.

As I pick him up, he is heavy. He is dead weight and I am confused on why he moves so differently now that he is not alive.

His head lolls to the side and his tongue hangs out. Without a thought, I reach up and gently put it back in his mouth.

I cradle him like I would a baby. He is heavy.

Everyone crowds around and we are embraced in a family hug, all of us crying.

Carrie asks me to tell him he is not an idiot. It was a long-standing joke that I would call him this playfully, mostly to get a reaction out of her and the kids.

Carrie wanted me to set the record straight.

I knew that he never understood the English word “idiot” and like I said, it was done to get reactions out of the family. In my sorrow and pain, logic took a back seat and I was momentarily horrified to think that he actually heard and understood me calling him that and worse, actually thinking I meant it.

So I told him he was not an idiot and kissed him, telling him how very smart I thought he was.

Anyone outside our family might have been amused and confused at this little exchange but to us, it meant so much to all of us. I was coming clean with Buster and letting him know that I did not, in fact, think he was an idiot.

I finally set him down on the blanket and called in the nurse who came in and wrapped Buster up. I noticed she did so with his head poking out, treating him like something alive rather than a slab of meat.

We exited the room, took a right, and she and Buster took a left. We all looked back before she walked through the door to the back and we saw Buster’s face, framed in a blanket, looking serene.

It was the last vision I ever saw of Buster. Despite my heartbreak, I had to give a little smile. He looked content as can be.

We got in Truckasaurus and to my surprise, we started telling Buster-stories all the way home. We laughed at the good memories.

There would be plenty of time later to let all the other emotions out of the cage but for now, we celebrated our beloved Buster.

Walking into the house, it was silent. Empty.

No Buster running from wherever he was when he heard us come home. No little bark when we came through the door as he sometimes would if he didn’t realize it was us.

It was just silent.

Free Advice for Today: “Never say anything uncomplimentary about another person’s dog.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Painting Sucks, If You Didn’t Know

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “Any sufficiently advanced bureaucracy is indistinguishable from molasses.”

- Unknown

After last night’s episode with Buster, we thought about postponing today’s events but we had already done that once and I wanted to get it done so we decided the let the kids watch Buster during the day and we would go paint a house.

The owner of the house was an old friend and she owed a property that needed painting inside. The previous renter, a convicted child molester (nice, I know), had finally slimed away and Sylvia needed the inside of the house repainted before she could rent it out again (hopefully to a non-child-molester, preferably). She asked if I wanted to do it and I said, sure, easy money.

The problem was, I had never really painted an entire house all by myself. I mean, how hard could it be: you get some paint, some rollers, a little bit of work, no problem.

My wife had to step in almost immediately.

Then, because my in-laws are the people they are, they volunteered to help. I assured them they didn’t have to blow an entire Saturday doing this but they were more than happy to help. Lyle was a handyman to the black-belt degree and Sharon had helped him paint hundreds of times over their long marriage. In other words, they were experts.

I was …. not.

I thought it would take ME a couple of days but after it was done, I realized that without their help, it would have taken me a week of back-breaking work. Once again, my in-laws came in to save the day and with their expert help, we got it done in a day and it looked professional.

I don’t know if you know this but painting is a supreme pain-in-the-ass.

With the help of my in-laws, I made a long list of supplies I would need. It wasn’t just paint and brushes. There were tarps, tape, rollers, rags, a step stool, etc. I sent the list to Sylvia and she got everything we needed.

I felt kind of bad because we later told her we would need another 5 gallons of paint and she brought it …… and we didn’t need it. Oh well, eventually she would, right? (Note the justification…)

There were some shady details about the child-molester’s palace. The bathroom was this dark purple.

Who has a dark purple bathroom? Man, I don’t even want to know an answer for that.

We had to put some thick primer before we applied like 4 coats of paint to fix that one.

But this was nothing compared to what we came across when we headed for the garage. From inside the house, he had installed a key lock that locked from the INSIDE. We didn’t have the key so we called Sylvia and she called him. Here was his answer…

“I don’t have it but you can get into the garage by going through the crawlspace from the other garage attached to the duplex.”

OK, and you would know this how?

(Uncontrolled heebie-jeebies)

Luckily my father-in-law stepped in when we were trying to figure out what we were going to do. He said all we had to do is remove the hinges and we could just take out the door.

“Wait a minute, Sylvia, you kicked a child-molester out of here, he installed a lock on the garage from the inside, and you haven’t BEEN IN THERE since he left?”

I didn’t have the warmest of warm feelings about what we would find when we removed this door.

We removed the hinges and took the door off as I braced myself for the worst. I figured baby-bones or some other evidence of some set-up I really didn’t want to see. I really didn’t want to shine a flashlight into the darkness.

It turns out the garage was dirty and almost empty. There were two things in there though that made my skin crawl.

First, there was a peephole drilled into the garage door, looking out. Why would someone put a peephole in a garage door, unless they wanted to see who was coming up the driveway…. ug.

The second shady item was some paneling which I didn’t think much of until my brother-in-law told me it was soundproofing board.

Soundproofing panels in the garage, peephole out the garage door, lock from the INSIDE of the house, crawlspace access to the next house….

“She puts the dog in the bucket…” I hope that guy burns painfully in Hell.

It took us all day but we got the entire inside painted and by the end of the day, I was completely and utterly destroyed.

Let me just cross off that “Professional Painter” from my possible employment list.

The good news was that I made some cash, I got to spend the day with my lovely wife and in-laws (who would not take ANY money for the full day of work!), and when we got home, the kids told us Buster was fine, all day without an episode out of the ordinary.

That was the best news of all!

Free Advice for Today: “Do a good job because you want to, not because you have to. This puts you in charge instead of your boss.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Buster’s Bad Night

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Quote of the Day: “Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one’s levels of aspiration and expectation.”

- Jack Nicklaus

Bad night.

I was sleeping soundly at about 2:00 AM and all of the sudden, somewhere deep inside, I register my wife getting out of bed but this did not cause alarm due to my deep state of rest.

What happened next decimated that deep state instantly.

Carrie screamed.

I did not know what she was saying, only the tone registering as I grabbed my blankets, whipped them aside, and literally jumped out of my bed.

I weaved drunkenly the couple of steps to my bedroom door and lumbered out into the hall. I could hear Carrie screaming in the open door of my daughter’s room and as I bolted toward the light, I could hardly see.

For some reason, I was bent at the knees with my arms out a bit, in what I can only guess, a position ready for combat. I didn’t know what I was going to see but I was in a state of sheer and utter terror, not knowing what the next moment was going to behold for me.

Carrie was standing in the doorway and Stephanie was sitting on the bed looking down.

Buster was on the floor, legs flexed straight out, and he was convulsing. As he shook, he had a look of confusion, his lips pulled back to expose his teeth in what was not a frightful look but a frightened one.

Stephanie quickly explained that he was fine, went to get off her bed, and then stopped and hesitated before falling over and going into convulsions.

Carrie had to leave the room. Stephanie stayed but was crying.

I bent down and put my arms around Buster, whispering that it was going to be OK. I petted him, assured him, did all I could which was simply to be there with him as he rode the storm ravaging through his body.

After a couple of minutes, his body relaxed and he lay there on the floor looking exhausted. After a couple minutes of that, he tentatively got up on shaky legs, and eventually was back to normal.

“Should we call a vet?”

“Carrie, it’s 2:00 AM on a Saturday morning. Anyway, what are we going to tell them and what could they tell us? He seems to be doing fine so I say we just go back to bed and see if he gets worse over the weekend.”

We knew that this time was coming. Not that it makes it any easier but we knew that Buster was in failing health for over a year now.

We hope and pray this is not the beginning of the end.

10 years is too soon.

Free Advice for Today: “Kiss your children good night, even if they are already asleep.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Job Searching, Paper-Filing, and Buster-Worrying

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Quote of the Day: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”

- Will Rogers

Today I decided to go and make some positive gains in the job search by visiting a counselor at WorkSource which is like the unemployment office around here. I was directed to Robert who specializes in military and was himself an Army Major so I thought he could be of some assistance.

Careful what you ask for.

Robert is like that super-network guy who knows everyone and smoozes like a champ which I guess is good considering the line of work he is in.

The first portion was him getting to know me and my situation. I spilled it all and he came back at me with some tough questions. Was I part of this or that organization? Do I volunteer? Have I done any personality tests to see what line of work is best for me? Have I called any old commanders and asked for references?

My short answer was no. Can’t get much shorter than that.

I had done a lot of work on my resume and done a lot of homework for the world of job search but after talking to this guy, not nearly enough.

The first thing he wanted me to do was to go through this course that walked me through the process but even he admitted that he was using me as a guinea pig to see if it actually worked. I don’t give it much hope since it starts off way behind where I’m at but it couldn’t hurt, I guess.

After that he is going to help me to use the database of jobs open for mostly government work. He praised this monstrous database that, if used correctly, should be of enormous help.

So I will be busy with this “homework” I got from him and see where it takes me.

The other accomplishment I did today was to finish my DITY (Do IT Yourself) paperwork. I think I have written about this before but the short of it is that I needed to submit the final paperwork for the last military move I did from San Diego to here in Seattle.

I really have no excuse for waiting all this time to get it in and all it took was some photocopying and a letter that ended up saying this:

To: TVDC:
From: Grose, Jason D. MAJ/USMC (Ret.)
Date: 4/22/2010

I am enclosing a claim for a DITY move I completed last summer after I retired from the Marine Corps.

I was authorized the move and was given the paperwork but in the move, the papers were buried and forgotten until now and I have had to reconstruct the move from memory. I have filled out the paperwork the best I could and am sending it in now in the hopes that it is not too late to recoup the authorized expenditures.

I was authorized two vehicles but am only claiming one (my Honda Pilot) and have provided the before and after weight tickets for that vehicle.

I did not receive any advance pay for the DITY move.

We left San Diego on July 29, 2009 and that is the start date I used for the travel claim. We made some stops along the way and therefore did not arrive to Renton until August 3, 2009. I am only including the gas receipts for the distances we travelled directly from San Diego to Renton. I am not including the stops we made on the travel claim, only noting the departure and arrival dates from San Diego to Renton.

I noted that part of the required paperwork is my registration and I want to note that I have transferred my registration to Washington State now that I had to get new tabs and license plate. I am sending the current registration.

Also, at the time of the move, my address was as follows (and is on all the paperwork):

(old address)

My current address is:

(new address)

Lastly, I am enclosing my wife’s Power of Attorney. She initiated a lot of the paperwork when I was overseas and therefore signed some of the documents.

Please let me know if I need to provide any other information or forms. My contact information is below.

Thank you for your patience.

Jason D. Grose
jason@grose.us
Cell: (cell #)

I know I made it more complicated by waiting and likely hosed up the paperwork with changes in address, changes in vehicle paperwork, and a 9 month gap in submitting but I finally got it done and off my plate. We’ll see how much I get, if anything. Maybe enough for a steak dinner or something.

Lastly, Buster isn’t doing too well. He has been listless and been hanging out in the backyard, sometimes behind the trees. This worries me for a couple of reasons.

First, that is the behavior of animals when they know they are about to die.

Second, Buster is a princess and as such, only goes outside to piss, dump, or hang out if we are out there. If none of these conditions exist, he does NOT hang out alone in the depths of the backyard.

Bad juju, to be sure.

Free Advice for Today: “Wage war against procrastination.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Because You’re Amazon

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Quote of the Day: “We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.”

- Ray Bradbury

I spent a lot of time today with my Kindle.

Well, my Kindle and Kindle-related stuff on the web.

You see, I discovered that you can get all kinds of free ebooks on the web and put them on the Kindle. The trick is the format you find and getting other formats to translate.

I see this will take some explaining.

The Kindle is made by Amazon so of course they make book files in a special format that can only be read on Kindles. It has the .AZW extension and you can buy books on the Amazon site for around $10. Then you can either upload them through your computer or through their “Whispernet” which is just their wireless connection. They make a big deal of this because from just about anywhere, you can look up a book, buy it, and have it delivered across the airwaves in less than a minute.

But I discovered that the Kindle also supports other formats:

- Mobipocket (.MOBI or .PRC): there are a lot of books out there with these extensions

- Plain Text (.TXT): useful when you can get your hands on old stuff out of copyright

- Topaz (TPZ): I have never run across this

- PDF (.PDF): at first they didn’t but now they do but read on, there are issues.

There are a couple that are really common the ebook world which the Kindle will NOT natively read which I can only chalk up to proprietary bickering or “just haven’t got around to it yet,” although you can send the file to them and they will convert it (see below)

- .JPEG, .GIF, .PNG and .BMP graphics

- HTML (.HTML or .HTM) and Microsoft Word (.DOC):

The one glaring hole in the support arena is the .EPUB which one of the major ebook standard formats. Again, there are ways around this discussed below but I am afraid that these differing standards will continue to stay apart which is bad for the user but ensures that the publishers keep proprietary control as long as they have the propitiatory formats.

So, Amazon also offer a service that lets you send them a file and they will convert it to .AZW. There is a free version where you email it and they email it back, requiring you to hook up your Kindle to the computer to transfer it or, for a fee, they will Whispernet it right to your Kindle.

Personally, I don’t see why you would pay since the free version only involves one extra, extremely easy step but I am a cheapskate so there you have it.

At first, the Kindle didn’t support PDF which is very common in the ebook world and results varied if you sent it to Amazon for conversion. That is why I was THRILLED (I really was, as geeky as this is) when they came out with an update that read PDFs. I thought, hey, my library just got HUGE! (there are soooo many ebooks out there in PDF format)

But then reality set in. When I opened up a PDF, it was barely readable and there was no ability to zoom in and out of the text like you can with the other formats.

I was teased. I don’t take teasing well.

But them they came out with ANOTHER update that promised the ability to zoom in and out of PDFs. I blindly accepted this as an answer to prayer and got a geekified tingly feeling all over.

I loaded up a PDF and waited to be wowed by my newfound ability to put any PDF on my Kindle.

Then reality once again set in.

Yeah, it lets you zoom but not like the other formats that readjust the pages as you zoom. In these other formats, if you bump up the font, you obviously have less room to fit on a page and it goes about to repaginate everything.

Not so with PDF. You are basically looking at a static picture and when you zoom, you just zoom like you would a picture. The result is that the words spill over the border to the right and you have to scroll right to finish each line.

In essence, this is a game killer. The scrolling control is a square nub. There is no way to comfortably maneuver line by line, scrolling left and right.

Once again, teased.

So I turned my attention on the offer to send Amazon my PDFs and have them send me back .AZWs. But since they now “support” PDFs natively, the automated translator simply sends back the PDF. Even they SAY they will send back .AZW, they don’t.

All is not lost though because I found a free program called Calibre. This program will take just about any format and translate it into .MOBI which the Kindle can read. So with this, I have all the problems solved.

Except….

The PDF’s still have a bit of a challenge. The program uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on PDFs which means that it “looks” at the picture of each letter (which, in essence, is what a PDF is, as opposed to an actual letter a computer understands) and then translates it into the code of the letter which the computer understands.

This is kind of the what you do with the CAPTCHA challenge-response test used on some sites where you have to interpret the picture of letters which a computer can’t do so well.

Anyway, using this technology, the computer takes its best guess which is pretty spot on most of the time but it has trouble with line breaks and certain punctuation. What you get is a 95% success rate with messed up formatting.

If you can live with this, yeah, converting the .PDF to .MOBI works but most of the time, it’s pretty damn annoying.

But for now, it’s what I have and most of the books I’m finding are in one of the transferrable formats so I can load up electronically just as I have with paper books: more than I could ever read in a dozen lifetimes.

Free Advice for Today: “Don’t say no until you’ve heard the whole story.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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