Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Tis the Season to be . . .

jolly. Broke. Cold. Enlightened. Pick one. Or add one to it.

Two days ago was Christmas. My wife and I decided earlier in the season to not go into debt to pay for Christmas. For the most part, we did pretty good on that decision. I think we only put about $150.00 on a credit card for the two of us and six kids. And that will be paid off the next time I get paid. The rest of Christmas was paid in cash. Thank goodness I got a year end bonus from my employer, or life would have been very bleak. So, what did we end up getting the kids? Here's a run down of presents:

* 1 Nintendo Wii, a few games, an extra controller, numchuck and some Wii points. I paid full retail (considering that a lot of other people were paying several hundred dollars above retail for the console) for the game console. I bought it at the end of October from The Wii and assorted games went to my three oldest kids.

* Geo Tracks Grand Central station for one of my boys.

* A bicycle for another boy.

* Nerf "you'll shoot your eye out" dart guns for another boy. This one reminds me a lot of myself when I grew up as a kid. Scary.

* New denim pants (blue jeans) for the wife along with movie tickets and gift certificates to our favorite local Chinese restaurant. Enough movie passes and gift certs for two dates.

* A shirt, tie and a bench press set (need some free weights) for me. Its sad to say, but I'm getting very fat and flabby in my older age. I need to tone down.

The kids were absolutely estatic about their presents. I must admit that I enjoyed playing on the Wii as much as they did. I'm utterly amazed at how Nintendo revolutionized game play with their game console. I'm even more amazed at how popular their gaming console is. I thought after being out for a year that demand would finally relent. Well, not the case for the Wii. I was in one store a few days before Christmas and I stumbled upon newly arrived Wiis. That is the only time since their release that I've ever seen one in a store. Crazy. Anyway, the thing is fun to play. I played boxing within the Wii Sports with my son. My arms are actually sore from the game play. So if this fat guy can get some exercise from playing the game, then this thing isn't such a bad thing after all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Today, I am lucky to be alive

I am lucky to be here writing in my blog and not in a hospital room or worse, in a morgue. Tom, what is up? And why are you saying that? Well, I am part of a van pool. Today there happened to be seven of us in the van. One of my collegues was driving and I was in the front passenger seat. We had been in the van on the road for about five minutes or so when all of a sudden the driver slams on the brakes and says, "Holy Crap! Holy Crap! HOLY CRAP!". I was not paying attention when this happened and I looked up to see this Isuzu Rodeo rolling (vehicles are not meant to roll) and rolling and rolling... He rolled on the right side (northbound) median, rolled through a fence and finally rolled to rest on the tires on the frontage road next to the freeway. The van stopped. I got out and ran to the Isuzu Rodeo (or what was left of it). I didn't know what to expect. I did not see the driver ejected during the rolling action. The two things going through my mind were - 1.) Is the driver dead or alive (do we need to get an ambulance ASAP)? 2.) Is the vehicle leaking gasoline and will it explode and burn the vehicle and occupant? I'm the first person over to the vehicle (there were other people coming up quickly) and the man was still alive. Whew!! He looked stunned/dazed, but he was alive. He was strapped into his seat with his seat belt. His seat belt saved this man's life. I walked around the vehicle a bit and did not smell any gasoline. Other people who walked/ran up talked to and worked with the driver. Several people called 911. Because he was not in any imminent danger, we left him strapped into his seat in the vehicle. Within about five or ten minutes the police were on the scene. And about five minutes after that the ambulance and fire department were there. The fire department looked like they were using the jaws of life to extricate the man out of his vehicle

I looked around the man's Rodeo. There is a two pound bag of white flour that had come out of a sack that hit the pavement and had partially ruptured, spilling flour over the road. The hood of the vehicle was gone, exposing the engine. The windshield was shattered, but still somewhat attached to the vehicle. On the ground were coins, personal belongings, various vehicle parts, etc. It was a debris field that was scattered over about 100 feet or so. Back at the interstate there were huge black marks where the Rodeo landed. There were gouge marks in the asphault where the rims dug into the asphault, and a chunk of asphault came off the road.

So, what happened? Since this happened around 7:35 AM, I am guessing the man fell asleep at the wheel. He was traveling southbound on I-15. He crossed the median, did a Dukes of Hazzard leap across the left lane of northbound I-15, landed on the right lane of I-15 and then he started to roll his Isuzu Rodeo. I honestly don't know how many times the vehicle rolled. Watching the vehicle roll, it sure seemed like it rolled a lot with stuff coming out like crazy. My guess is at a minimum eight rolls, probably more than that.

Once the police and fire department showed up, we packed up and drove into work. It wasn't until I arrived to work that I realized what had just taken place. Had we been driving just a tad be faster and had been on the road two or three seconds ahead, the outcome would have been much different. Had we been two or three seconds ahead, he would have crashed into our van, potentially killing myself, the driver and other passengers in the van. If we weren't dead, we would have been in the hospital. Luckily, no one else was at the location where the other vehicle landed and it ended up just a single vehicle accident. But nonetheless, it makes you sit and wonder. It makes you appreciate your life. It makes you think about if your personal affairs are in order. Are you "ready to die"? I personally think that the seven of us in the van today were taken care of by a higher power, that our lives were spared. And I am ever so grateful that my life was spared earlier this morning and not taken.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Stock market melt down - August 9, 2007

If you eat too much, you get fat and you die. If you drink too much, you kill your brain and your liver and you die. If you drive to fast, you get pulled over, you're given a ticket (and even possibly hauled off to jail), and you eventually loose your license. Game over.

So, how many credit card offers have you received in the last week? I think we average one or two credit card offers per day. We went on vacation last month. We were gone for about 10 days. When we picked up our mail from the post office, there were approximately 20 credit card offers or second mortgage offers, or "convenience checks" (convenient for who?) that were mailed to us during that period of time. There were two or three from Washington Mutual. There were probably six or more from Chase (I'll never do business with them ever again). There were convenience checks from other people I do business with. Blah, blah, blah...

OK, I understand why we receive all these offers. I pay our bills on time. We're never late to pay on our debt. But what would happen if I started to apply for all these credit cards and I started to use them? I would get to a point where I could not keep up on my payments. Just the minimum payments. I would fall behind. And I would become delinquent. My delinquency would lower my credit score. The "easy" credit cards would go away. If it got really bad, I could loose my house and become homeless. OUCH!

I feel like the banks that issue credit cards are like drug dealers. Instead of being on a street corner trying to entice you to do illegal drugs, they are trying to push easy money. Everyone does it. Practically every store has some sort of credit available so that people can buy on time. Here is the problem.... They don't warn you about paying the money back. Or they advertise low payments (You can pay $15/month for the rest of your life!) that go on forever.

I remember when I was a kid it was cool to smoke. (Tom, what does smoking have to do with credit card offers. Give me a minute and I'll do the tie-in...) Everyone smoked. Then some research was done on the effects of cigarette smoke on the human body. The Surgeon General has been putting warning labels on cigarette packages for years. I remember as a kid reading the warning label: "Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health." Hmmm..... That doesn't sound good, does it. But people still do it. Some people get away with it. Most people end of dieing from cigarettes in some form or another. If there are such dire warnings, then why do people continue to smoke? Because they gain pleasure from smoking. Besides, the effects from smoking won't happen for years to come. BUT, there has been a change in people's perceptions about smokers. Non-smokers have become annoyed. They have legislated that non-smokers should not have to bear the unwanted smelly second-hand smoke. There have been advertising campaigns against smoking. And people are quitting. Fewer people smoke today than they did 30 or 40 years ago.

I believe that easy money is bad for our economy, just like cigarette smoking is hazardous to our health. Maybe, just maybe, businesses should put warnings on credit card applications: "Warning: The Federal Reserve has determined that too much revolving debt can be fatal to your credit rating. It can lead to bankruptcy and foreclosure on your home. You can become homeless because you're buying on time. If you fail to make timely payments, your financial life will be ruined." Then there should be a spot to initial next to it indicating that you have read the and understand the stern warning you've been given.

________ (Please initial here): I understand the above credit card warning. I understand that if I fail to pay my debts that my financial life will be miserable. I will pay more for my car and house loans. I will pay more for home and auto insurance.

Or maybe credit card issuers should be required to send out a one or two page pamphlet that enumerates the consequences of too much credit. There could be a debt prevention hot line that people can call to talk them out of using their credit cards. Or maybe we should create public service announcements that tell people to not do drugs, err.. I mean to not use credit. Right now there is no social stigma against those who are in debt and those who go bankrupt. There used to be, but that stigma has gone away. That stigma needs to come back. People need to learn to save before they buy. It worked for smokers, so it should work for credit card-aholics.

Will there be opposition? You betcha! Big tobacco fought long and hard that their products were not addictive or that they caused bodily harm. That was an enormous fight. But we won. Credit card issuers have really, REALLY deep pockets. The fight to curb consumer debt will be huge. Bigger than big tobacco. So the financial institutions will fight to keep these measures away from the consumer. Will it be work the fight? I think so. Our society's debt will be a hinderance on our financial institutions. One good jolt and the nations largest banks can and will fail...

So the next time you receive that credit card application in the mail for that shiney new credit card, ask yourself if you think its worth it. Chances are, you won't think that it is.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Pentax K10D camera

Well, I did it. I went out and purchased my first DSLR camera. I chose the Pentax K10D as the camera. Why? Because I have Pentax glass and I did not want to spend a lot of money on new glass. And the features (weather sealing, CCD image cleaner, shake reduction) are simply not found on a camera in the price range of the Pentax. No one even comes close.

I've had the camera for a couple of months. I've put 2,500 pictures through it. Here is what I think it does well:

Good stuff it does:
* It takes sharp pictures. Need good glass to get good pictures.
* It fits well in your hand.
* Controls are fairly simply to master and not overly complicated. (Although there were a couple of things that are in locations that are somewhat counter-intuitive).
* Battery lasts a LONG time. In fact, I've never killed a battery completely dead when shooting. Then again, I don't use the internal flash, nor do I spend a lot of time reviewing photos on my camera. That's why there's Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS3.

The not so good stuff:
* Automatic white balance often times is clueless. But nothing you can't fix in Lightroom.
* Photographs seem a little on the dark side, especially in high contrast photos. The camera has a tendency to expose more for the brighter areas than the darker areas. This surprises me because of the multi-segment metering system. In backlit situations, I generally have to adjust the exposure. But I have to be careful because too much adjustment and you blow out the picture. Lightroom can correct dark photos quite well.
* When in auto ISO mode, you don't know what ISO the camera is set at. It would be very handy to see in the viewfinder the ISO setting at all times, in addition to shutter speed and f-stop settings.
* When you are at the high ISO settings (800 - 1600 range), there is a fair amount of noise. A little more than I care to have.

Overall, the camera does a fairly decent job of taking pictures, especially when the ISO is in the 400 and below range. In fact, I took some photos of a friend and his family and the pictures turned out really well. I had about four rolls of unexposed 35mm film left. After I took my friend's photos, I gave the film away. I don't ever intend or plan on going back to film ever again. In fact, I'm going to get rid of my film camera. Mistake? I don't think so. The great thing about digital is that you can shoot and shoot and shoot until you either run out of battery or memory on your memory card. Then you can print what you like and discard what you don't want.

I also went to Yellowstone National Park and took a bunch of photos. I have some great pictures of a bull elk with velvet on his antlers.

The one thing I yearn for is a larger sensor. I like the sensor of the Canon 5D because it is full size 35mm. That full size sensor helps keep the noise down at the higher ISO settings.

Monday, March 26, 2007

New camera - Pentax K10D

I currently own two film cameras. I own an old Pentax ME Super (hasn't been used in at least a decade, if not longer) and a Pentax PZ-1P. Although the PZ-1P is showing its age, it is a great film camera. I hate to give up film, but the cost of purchasing film and the processing is getting expensive. And since I'm a computer guy, I want to import my images without using a scanner or purchasing a photo CD. Also, I typically end up with a lot of OK photos. With digital, I can delete what I don't want or use.

I have finally decided to go digital as in digital SLR. I really want a Canon 5D, but that camera is close to $3,000 and I have no Canon glass to use with it. And you have to use good glass on the 5D or else you're wasting your money. A good friend of mine suggested that I continue with Pentax because of my investment in glass. So I looked at the current Pentax DSLR lineup and I have decided that the K10D is the camera I want. Its also the most expensive Pentax DSLR camera that Pentax currently has to offer. But the features are very nice and it is highly recommended on some internet sites that review cameras.

Pentax sells the K10D as a kit, but I'm not very thrilled with the accompanying glass. Pentax will be releasing a new star lens, which is the smc DA * 16-50mm F2.8 ED/AL (IF) SDM. What does all that mean? It means that for about $900, you get one heck of a lense. Too bad the glass has not yet released (due out April 2007, or so I've been told). Only problem is that I don't have $900 to burn on new glass. Maybe Pentax will read my blog and sponsor me. One could only wish.

So do I own a Pentax K10D? No, not yet. But I hope to have a copy some time this year.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

West Nile Virus - Should I be afraid or not?

A couple of years ago West Nile Virus (WNV) was a big thing in the news. Every new case that was reported was a big deal. People were talking about it and there was a big buzz (no pun intended). I remember looking at the statistics for WNV and thought to myself, "Hey, this doesn't look too bad... 80% of the people that get infected don't even know they had it. Or it shows up as the flu. Big deal."

I grew up with mosquitos. I've been bitten by them hundreds and thousands of times. I've never gotten sick by a mosquito before. So I thought I was safe. I wasn't in the high risk group for WNV, so who cares. Right?

Where I live, the summer days are hot and it cools off nicely in the evening. It is cool, but not so much that you need a coat or sweater. I enjoy going outside and looking at the moon and the stars with my wife. I enjoy feeling the warm summer wind sweep across my face. It is a great opportunity to sit on my front porch and look south and look for shooting stars, aircraft, and satellites. It is a great opportunity to sit and think. A few mosquitoes weren't going to get in my way of a little enjoyment. And I'm not even going to bother with the bug spray. When I'm done outside, I don't want to clean up. I just want to jump in bed and go to sleep. And so I went outside and enjoyed the moon, the stars, the gentle breezes, and the occasional mosquito bite or two.

Well, one Saturday mid-August 2005, a couple of weeks after the birth of my son Mike, I really didn't feel too good. My head hurt a little bit and my stomach didn't feel right. I felt a little barfy, but not so much that I actually wanted to, well..., barf. I felt tired and run down. Near the end of the day I checked my temperature, and sure enough, I had a fever. It wasn't too bad. It was around 100 degrees F. So I took some drugs (Tylenol or Motrin) and went to bed.

Next day, same junk. Didn't feel too good. So I spent the day just taking it easy. Same symptoms as the day before. Monday, same crud. Didn't go into work. Tuesday, same thing. Again, no work. Go to the doctor and he informs me that I have some unidentifiable virus going on, probably the flu. The flu was going around at that time and some of my kids had been sick. So I thought it was my turn to get sick. No big deal. Wednesday I stayed home and felt quite a bit better. Thursday I go to work and I'm fine. I thought to myself that whatever it was, I was glad that it was over.

Friday I go to work. I work in an office and I don't move around much. I get up and walk around and my joints, especially my pelvis is really sore. Hurts like heck to walk around. And now the muscles in my legs start to twitch. You want to know how they twitch? You ever seen a horse twitch its muscles to get rid of flies and such? Well, that's what my legs were doing. Little zones in my legs were twitching uncontrollably. I was thinking that this was weird. And my legs and pelvis hurt! They hurt to the bone. At the end of the day I go home and my temperature is back up again. Dang!

Next day (Saturday - one week since my symptoms start) I decide to go into the doctor. My regular doctor isn't in. So I see the guy on-call. I tell him my symptoms. He says to me, "I'm concerned about some of your symptoms, especially the pain that you have in your pelvis. Pelvis pain can be a sign of prostate cancer........" Oh great. Cancer. He checks and "Looks good to me!!" So he sends me on my way. No other diagnosis. I still feel like trash. I have all my previous symptoms, plus the leg twitches and a bigger, more impressive fever too. Almost as if whatever I had before came back with all its uncles, cousins, nephews, grandparents and decided to have a party in my body at my expense. (And you thought you were done being sick.....)

Sunday comes. I feel like trash. Legs hurt. Muscle twitching has moved up into my back. Fever is in the 102 - 103 range and doesn't go down below 100 even on drugs (Tylenol AND Motrin together). Absolute and complete loss of apetite. I feel sick to my stomach. Something isn't right. My wife takes me to the ER at the local hospital. They draw blood. They give me an IV. The doctor and nurse think I might have WNV as I have some but not all of the symptoms of the sickness. Ask me about menengitis symptoms several times and thankfully I don't have any of those. They run some tests and nothing comes back abnormal. They said that they will send my blood in to get tested for WNV because they can't test for it at the hospital. Has to be done at an outside lab. They said that I should call back on Wednesday or Thursday to get my results. I thought to myself, "Good freakin' heck! Wednesday or Thursday!?! That's like forever."

Monday/Tuesday. No food intake, only liquids. Popping Tylenol every 4 hours and Motrin every 6. Writing down on a piece of paper when I took my meds so that I don't accidentally OD. I am getting weaker. It is hard to get up. When I do get up and walk around, I stumble around. I am not very coordinated. Fear starts to set in. Am I going to die? Is this how I'm going to check out of the world? And what the heck do I have that is making me so stinking sick? My legs and body still ached incredibly. I seriously contemplated giving up and not fighting any longer. The thoughts of my wife raising all of our kids by herself helped me to not give up. I decide to not give up and to fight.

Tuesday/Wednesday. I get this impression that if I want to live (and not die) that I need to eat food. Without food, my body will only get weaker and I will die. With food, I will be able to give my body engergy to fight this sickness. I am still incredibly nauseated and I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to eat a thing. I get up and force myself to eat. I start by gagging down 1/2 cup of applesauce. I start eating a little bit of food as much and as often as I can stand it. I eat 1/2 a slice of toast (no butter). This is my absolute lowest and sickest point in this whole time. Fever still raging (102 - 104 range) and I'm getting real tired of being sick. Will this ever end?

Wednesday: Call the hospital to find out WNV test results. (Note: If you have WNV, they can't do anything for you. You have to tough it out. But at least you know what you have.) Hospital has not sent in the blood to be tested! Oops... They remedy the problem and submit the blood for testing. Will need to wait a few more days.

Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday: I get progressively better. Fever still there. Pain still there, but I don't feel as bad as I did earlier in the week. Each day I feel a little tiny bit better than the day before.

Monday - Labor day: Fever finally breaks. Still feel very week, but at least I'm not running a nasty fever. Legs still hurt incredibly.

Tuesday: Get a call from the county health department. I am informed that I tested positive for WNV. I go and visit my doctor. We discuss my WNV confirmation, symptoms, etc. He gives me Percocet for the pain in my legs. I take the Percocet at night so I can sleep. It only lasts for about 4 or 5 hours max.

Wednesday/Thursday/Friday: Stay home from work. Sleep a lot. Still weak from being sick, but each day I feel better and stronger.

Saturday/Sunday: Go to church for the first time in about 4 weeks. It is good to be out of the house.

Monday: Go back to work.

So, I ended up having a fairly significant case of West Nile Virus. I was the 15 or 20% that had some significant symptoms. I have a new found respect for the illness and I do not venture outside after dark, unless I have some DEET on my body. So, what did it do to me? Well, I lost 20 - 25 pounds of weight. I would say most of that was muscle mass. Prior to getting sick, I was able to get off the floor without any assistance just by using my legs. After I got sick, I had to have help, or use my arms to pull myself up. Before I got sick, I could run. After I got sick, I could not run. Period. The first time I tried, I about fell on my face. It took me about 6 or 7 months before I could jog/run again. The problem is that I could not move my legs fast enough to run. My legs aren't as strong as they were before I got sick, but I would say I'm back to 85 - 90% of my original strength. I don't know if I'll ever get the other 10 - 15% back. At this point, I'm just glad to be alive.

Should you be afraid of West Nile Virus? I would not fear it. But I would suggest a healthy dose of respect. You can't live your life in fear. If you lived in fear of catching something all the time, you would never leave your house. And do you really want to live like that? Personally, I don't. Last year, I didn't go outside after dark to watch the stars, the moon, and the airplanes. It was too close to being sick. This year I will probably go out, but I will put on some DEET. I've thought about purchasing a mosquito trap, but those things are expensive.

If you want to read some WNV survivor stories, please go to . You might be a little more careful with how you deal with skeeters in the future.

My first blog!

Miracles never cease to happen. Why? Because I'm actually posting material to a blog, something that I thought I would never be doing. However, I believe it will be a good thing to do, to post some of my thoughts, interests and ideas out on the web. Will anyone read my postings? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Life has been good to me. So I figure I should probably share a few of my stories online for the rest of the world.