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Monday, July 14th, 2008

Brevity Remix

I was visiting my brother’s family in LA last weekend, and they were hosting some old family friends from Australia, and I really enjoyed the company. We paid a visit to the Getty Villa in Malibu and I surprised myself by really enjoying it.

Rodd, on my request, presented me with a signed copy of his latest book, Brevity Remix:

Brevity Remix cover

Click on the image to buy!

As an expression of his fraternal sentimentality, his inscription asked why I wanted a copy when I’d seen all the included cartoons at least three times. Well, duh, dummy! So I can show it off to other people! Start thinking of me less as a brother and more a minor cog in your marketing engine, if you must.

Also, this book has comments written by Guy and Rodd about some of the cartoons. I thought the commentary was great, and would have loved to have seen even more. Plus, the cartoons are all in color. It’s like Brevity has been Ted-Turnerized!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Travel at 18:56 PST

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Monday, June 16th, 2008


I’m very, very excited about the business opportunities in the Pacific areas – Hawai’i, Guam, Micronesia, and maybe more.

OK, I haven’t written in a while. The big reason is personal – I keep getting a lot of crap whenever I write anything that reveals what I think about what’s going on in my life. So I just shut up. It was easier that way.

I also felt that, minus the personal ponderings, this blog was just turning into a travelogue. So I haven’t written about my trips to Japan, Guam, and Hawai’i. And also, I’ve just been too overloaded with new responsibilities to have much time to write about anything. It’s an ongoing debate in my mind – keep writing honestly and suffer the consequences, keep writing blandly for no real purpose, or quit writing. I’ve really thought hard about announcing that this blog is going to end.

But here I am, writing again. I guess I just want to write.

I gave up on the website because I just wasn’t putting anything up on the site, but I still keep tabs on what’s going on out there. It’s a small world, so it doesn’t take much to have an impact.

So maybe I can keep this thing alive by mixing in the things I care about – they’re listing in my blog’s subtitle. I can’t rant and rave about the things that are wrong about my employer, because they’ve fixed a lot of them. I’m back to actually liking working for them again – I feel that team spirit, and see opportunities by playing along. Real opportunities – like heading a new, or renewed, Pacific office based out of Hawai’i. I’m not even sure about announcing this, because it’s still unofficial, but I think it’s going to happen.

I would like to have a real impact on young engineers who are mildly interested in the field, and internet-savvy enough to find this site. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love my work. I love the travel, I love the variety, and most of all I love the challenge. I’ve been doing this for eighteen years, but every morning I wake up knowing that I’m going to have to think hard about what I’m doing this day.

So what am I doing? I’m writing about it.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, Posts About Me, Travel at 22:45 PST

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Thursday, May 1st, 2008

In the Path of the Tornado

Tonight was my first serious tornado warning.

The sirens were wailing, the rain was falling, and the lightning regularly lit up the low overhead clouds. I, of course, was outside, looking for the circling cone, or at least the reported baseball-sized hail. What else did I have to do? My new episode of Lost was preempted by the weathermen.

Actually, the weather reports were fascinating. The maps showed the blue-green-red-green-blue surface map overlay, with the red focus heading slowly and inexorably towards me. The cacophony of the sirens emphasized the “tornado warning” spouted by the TV. But the animals were fine, and I knew that statistics were in my favor. The plot of the possible tornado, which included me, reminded me of plots of possible asteroid strikes.

I saw Greensburg, Kansas, just four days after that F5 hit. The devastation was awesomely impressive. But it was narrowly focused. I wasn’t afraid. Risk is purely statistical analysis factored with impact. Hell, if I survived a direct tornado hit, I could lose everything and have a great story. I’ve lost everything before. You survive, and when you shake yourself off afterwards, you haven’t lost as much as you thought.

So I was mostly outside, looking. It was disappointing. Frankly, I prefer a good 6.0 earthquake.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 20:57 PST

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Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Letter to Pat – Re: Can’t put the guitar down


It’s 2:00 am and I’m trying so hard to put down the guitar and go to bed, but I keep picking it back up again.

I’ve heard you talk about the experience of breaking through a barrier and suddenly you reach a whole new level – well, I’ve just had my first one tonight. I haven’t been playing much, and I had decided that it was time for me to learn some songs, just to learn chord changes. I have been tinkering with a few – Solsbury Hill is too hard, and it’s too much finger picking. I was trying Tonic’s If Only You Could See, but that is probably too depressing for me right now – and then I found Jack Johnson’s Flake.

It’s all barre chords, and it has a complex (to me) strumming pattern (down, down, down up down up) – and I haven’t even learned strumming yet! But I’ve always liked it. I found a great YouTube instructional video (with a fingering chart superimposed!), the YouTube Jack Johnson music video, and lyrics with chords. Unfortunately, the lyrics and chords were a bad job of matching, and the chord diagrams just wrong – they didn’t match the barre versions in the video lesson, so I was rewriting it myself, and trying to imagine sheet music, where the lyrics are spaced to match the measures, not the other way around. (BTW check out After I figured it out myself, I finally found a lyrics/chord chart that was right.

Every time I set the guitar down, I’d just take a look at one more thing in my notes or online, or thinking of the tips you’ve given me, and I had to pick it up again. And boom, boom, boom – one element after another just came to me. That tip about keeping the pace and not worrying about getting the chord perfect before the first strum is genius! When it doesn’t sound right on the first strum, it’s so easy to make the minor corrections and get it right for the next ones. Once I concentrated on pace, the strumming came naturally. Since it’s late, and I don’t want to disturb my roommate, I wasn’t using a plectrum, and I learned a way to hold my right hand that allowed me to strum both up and down without slapping the body below the sound hole. Coincidentally, it’s the “right” way to hold a plectrum – curling your hand up and bracing against the thumb – not thumb and first finger together.

The barre chords are in the formation you showed me – for major chords, the whole fret with the first finger, second finger next fret on the third, third finger next next fret on the fifth string, fourth finger just below on the fourth string. I’ve always struggled with an F major chord in that formation – so I thought it was a hard formation to assume – but I found out that F major is the hardest one to because of the wide spacing of the frets at the top of the neck. The other ones are easy in comparison. There’s only one minor chord, that just involves moving the second, third and fourth finger down a string.

So I finally got to the point where I was playing the song almost at speed and having it sound almost right. It’s awesome. I feel like I have broken though that next barrier, and am ready to practice it, master it, and tackle more. My fingertips are so sore and it feels so good.

Just thought you’d like to know.



Posted by Greg as Family & Friends at 00:20 PST

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Friday, January 18th, 2008

Classmates Guestbook

I joined Classmates years ago as a way of hooking up with old friends, and the site enticed me to do so by offering free benefits. But lately I’m come to suspect their motives and business practices. They don’t seem to be advertising-supported (of course, how would I know? I use Adblock), so they must rely on paid memberships to derive their revenue. So far, I’ve resisted their attempts to recruit me into a membership. I sometimes got contact information that included an email from visitors that might have known me, and used that to contact them directly (which never seemed to work), but who knows the ambivalence of a casual web-surfer?

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of notices that someone has signed my guestbook. On most websites, that means someone who wants you to notice that he or she has seen your information and is interested in saying “hi” to you. But on Classmates, you have to pay to see who did this. So I tried to hack the system, and posted a photo (viewable by all) that included my email superimposed on the image. I keep getting the guestbook signing notices, but nobody emails me directly.

Is Classmates using an automated system to post guestbook notices just to get me to sign up for paid membership? Or am I getting guestbook signings from people too oblivious to notice the email or too lazy to contact me directly?

In either case, I’m willing to withhold the US$39 from Classmates to find out. So if you see me there, send me an email. Otherwise, I’m not interested.

Posted by Greg as Networking, Posts About Me at 18:12 PST


Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Astronomy Therapy

A couple of nights ago I had an awful lot on my mind, and despite thinking that I really needed to go to bed and get some sleep, I went outside and looked up.

It was a cold, clear night, and viewing by the naked eye was probably as best as it could get (unless you happen to be driving across the middle of nowhere in New Mexico.) Even so, I grabbed a pair of low power binoculars and was rewarded with huge new perspectives.

I’ve been trying hard over the last year to finally learn something about the stars at night. I’ve always been interested in space, but never bothered to learn any astronomy. When I first started playing with Linux I encountered KStars and loved it, then I found Stellarium, which is even better, and I could load a copy on my Windows machine. I started in the summer and learned the basics – the Summer Triangle (Vega, Deneb, Altair), Rasalhague, Polaris, Cassiopeia, The Big Dipper, Arcturus, and Spica. Jupiter was in Scorpio, near Antares, and as the season progressed (or if I stayed up really late), Andromeda crept up. I knew there was a galaxy there but couldn’t find it. When I went to Diego Garcia I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go out for a sighting of the Southern Cross. Unfortunately, there was no way I could see Alpha Centauri again that time of year.

But I longed to see Orion again, and to really try to learn about the northern winter stars. So this night was the time to really delve, and I was rewarded.

I saw Orion, with Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph. And I saw the Winter Hexagon, with Rigel, Sirius, Procyon (which I learned to pronounce), Castor and Pollux, Capella and Aldebaran. I watched Regulus in Leo come up, and saw Saturn. Mars was just underneath Alnath. And I pulled those laughable little binoculars out. I couldn’t see Saturn’s rings, but I saw the little fuzzes of the Great Nebulae in Orion and Andromeda. I located my own Zodiac sign – Cancer – and also discovered the cluster Praesepe without knowing to look for it. I finally found out why the Pleiades were so cool (although I don’t know why they’re called the Seven Sisters – I count six, and several possible contenders for the seventh.)

With the help of the binoculars, and my laptop with Stellarium (and Wikipedia to answer questions, and a couple of tequilas to keep me warm) I was able to actually see constellations. I saw Leo and Canis Major. I saw Hydra’s head (I used it to find Cancer), and Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and Perseus. I don’t know why Andromeda is a woman’s shape, but I saw where the stars were. I even lucked out and saw a meteor go across half the sky, and two satellites plod away. I recognized the motion from seeing Skylab before it fell in 1979, just before I left for America. I want to know why Cancer is listed as “small and dim” on Wikipedia when Pisces is even dimmer – what is that, “large and even dimmer”? I want to know why I’m considered to be a Cancer when the Sun was actually in Gemini when I was born. No, wait. I read about the difference between tropical and sidereal zodiacs – it just makes my head hurt, and astrology is all a bunch of BS anyway.

I went to bed when I realized that I had watched Procyon rise and now Arcturus had been up for a while – Spica was about to be visible again. Amazingly, considering the amount of warming I had turned out to have required, the next night I still was able to reel off a bunch of these names that I had learned.

If you want to lose yourself for a while, go outside at night with binoculars and Stellarium and Wikipedia. Take a friend if you want – maybe José or Jim or Johnny.

Posted by Greg as General Science, Posts About Me at 22:02 PST

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Melanoma Contact

With everything going on in my life, there is apparently still something that will make me drop everything else and respond.

Hi there. I just read your page on I hope you are still NED!!! That is encourging. My 34 year old sister was just diagnosed in Sept and has just started her shots at home of interferon. She had her 3rd one last night. So far, shes not doing to well. I dont know if it doesnt get better I dont think she will be able to continue. She has 2 young boys too. I dont see how people get through it!! Do you think it is worth it?

Here’s my response:

It’s worth it only if you think living is worth it.

Interferon sucks, big time. No one can say what side effects the patient will encounter, and the list of possibilities is very long. If your sister is just starting, the physical effects are huge – hot/cold flashes, not being able to sleep, then passing out from exhaustion. Those subside, but although I was told I might be able to continue to work on interferon, I ended up taking disability and not working for a year. I got into a cycle were I slept for about 4 hours, got up and was reasonably fine for another 4 hours, then needed to sleep again. It’s hard to work on that kind of schedule, but I was able to cook dinner every night and take care of my daughter’s needs. I traveled by air and went to my sister’s wedding on interferon.

The first month is really hard because you take the massive doses. My liver showed bad results and I ended up cutting back. After the first month, I went 3 shots a week instead of five and things got better. Surprisingly, I found giving myself the shots in the belly was easier than the legs, but maybe that’s because I had more flab there! Your sister will definitely get over any fear of needles, but there where times when I looked at the full syringe and loathed what I was about to do. But I knew that if I put it off, the hold/cold symptoms would come back.

I ended up with depression, and got myself on meds to help that. Then I had to fight the side effects of the meds. I really missed wanting to get laid every now and again! I lost about 60 pounds over the course of the treatment, from about 240 to 180. I don’t really care for it, but smoking pot gave me back some of my appetite.

The interferon really messed with my mind. Your sister will not be herself for a long time. Everyone around her will have to understand this and just try to be supportive. My family and friends’ support was crucial in getting through this.

I give the most credit to surviving this (yes, I am still NED after 7 1/2 years!) to my deep-rooted belief that I would beat the cancer. Your sister has to be encouraged to believe this to the depths of her soul.

Please give my cell phone number to your sister. I generally don’t answer from numbers that I don’t recognize, so leave a message and I will call back. She can call 24 hours a day as long as she can hang in there while I wake up. I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to help somebody else through this.

Get yourself some therapy when you need it. Interferon therapy is not only tough on the people who take it, but tough on the people who love them.

Best wishes,


I really hope her sister calls me. Anything I can do to help somebody else through this is worth it.

I’ve heard from a couple of melanoma patients over the years and done my best to try to encourage them while they get through the treatment. I’d love to be able to help more.

Posted by Greg as Melanoma at 20:30 PST

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Monday, December 17th, 2007


Some of my old D&D buddies did it, so I tried it too. I can’t say I’m impressed with the result. I’m guessing warrior-types have to have been jocks in high school:

I Am A: Neutral Good Dwarf Sorcerer (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Dwarves are known for their skill in warfare, their ability to withstand physical and magical punishment, their hard work, and their capacity for drinking ale. Dwarves are slow to jest and suspicious of strangers, but they are generous to those who earn their trust. They stand just 4 to 4.5 feet tall, but are broad and compactly built, almost as wide as they are tall. Dwarven men value their beards highly.

Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Detailed Results:

Lawful Neutral — XXXXXXXXXXXXX (13)
Chaotic Neutral – XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Lawful Evil —– XXXXXX (6)
Neutral Evil —- XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Chaotic Evil —- XXXXX (5)

Law & Chaos:
Law —– XXXXX (5)
Neutral – XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Chaos — XXXX (4)

Good & Evil:
Neutral – XXXXXXXX (8)
Evil —- X (1)

Elf —— XXXX (4)
Gnome —- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Halfling – XXXXXX (6)
Half-Elf – XXXXXX (6)
Half-Orc – XXXXXX (6)

Barbarian – (-8)
Bard —— (-4)
Cleric —- (-2)
Druid —– (-4)
Fighter — (0)
Monk —— (-19)
Paladin — (-19)
Ranger —- XX (2)
Rogue —– (-2)
Sorcerer — XXXXXXXX (8)
Wizard —- XXXXXX (6)

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 19:22 PST

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Monday, December 10th, 2007

Left My Cell Phone Behind

After a couple of weeks back in the San Diego office, it was time to go do my Road Warrior bit again. The company Christmas party was Saturday night, and early the next morning I drove the borrowed pool vehicle back to the office to drop it off. I might have been a little hung over (and no, I didn’t drive home from the party), and certainly I hadn’t had much sleep, so when my cell phone rang on the way, I took it off my belt, then put it in the truck’s console. And when I went to turn it off on the plane, it wasn’t there. Yep! it was still in the console!

So yesterday I flew from San Diego back to Kansas City, missing yet another Chargers game. The Bolts were down 3-10 at the start of the fourth quarter when I got on my connection at DFW, so I was mystified when the pilot announced the scores before landing. I didn’t believe it until I was able to verify it myself later. I missed a come-from-behind and OT win!

Breaking through the clouds at KC, I was amazed to see everything covered in white. It had snowed. And, off course, my car was just a big mound of ice and crusty snow in the long term parking lot, and my scrapper was in the garage. Oh well.

Today I drove about 1 080 km (670 miles) from Kansas City, Missouri, to Clovis, New Mexico. In between was Oklahoma, which was busy having one of the worst ice storms it has had in a long time. The whole state was in a declared state of emergency with more than a dozen dead in road accidents and hundreds of thousands without power. I navigated west, along Highway 54, passed through at the Panhandle, and managed to miss the worst of the storm before it headed north. I counted myself lucky making the trip in twelve hours, but there was a point in western Kansas were I had to pull over and knock more than a centimeter of ice off my windshield wipers, hood and lights. It was freezing rain, but it wasn’t sticking to the road.

It was also my first long trip with my new toy, a Garmin Nüvi 660 GPS navigation device. It seems to be designed more for local work – it started recalculating every time I pulled off the road for gas or something to eat. And although I had checked the route earlier (after putting in a waypoint to keep it from plotting a route through the iced-in areas), after one of those recalculations it decided it was faster to take me on a shortcut through backwater Texas roads just when I was looking forward to hitting the next town for dinner. I ended up with a chicken fried steak sandwich from a gas station off the I-40. I wish the find restaurant function had an option for selecting along the planned route. But hopefully it will come in handy here in town.

I can’t believe I’m back in Clovis. Not that there’s anything bad about the town or the people, it’s just that twelve or so years ago I come here as a coating inspector on a lead abatement job that turned into a nightmare. One morning we found one of the paint crew had hanged himself in the garage the night before, and had left the garage door open at the house were they were staying (yeah, the job kind of dragged out) so we would notice sooner.

Posted by Greg as Football, Travel at 21:46 PST

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Friday, December 7th, 2007

Killed Plugin

I got a report of extremely slow load times for my blog, something to do with scripting, that locked up the browser. At first I thought it was Internet Explorer, but when I checked it myself, it was even worse on SeaMonkey (the latest in the Netscape Navigator – Mozilla evolution, and my preferred browser.) Even though I was wrong about the browser, I was right about the culprit – my Inline Google Maps v2.1 plugin. I’ve noticed problems with it before.

When it came out, IGM was a spiffy tool that allowed you pull a customized map from Google and include it on your web page. You had to use your own Google Maps API key, but I already had one of those because I had been thinking of trying to write something along the same lines. But I guess lots of people had that idea, and Google noticed the traffic; so they wrote their own solution. (Or they just had the same idea, I don’t know.) Now, when you click on the “Link to this page” option in Google Maps, instead of just getting the url with the form data set, you also are presented with preconfigured HTML code that you can just cut and paste onto your site.

I doubt it was the IGM plugin’s fault – after all, it worked fine before – so the Google Maps API must have changed. Maybe they did it to deliberately screw with all those other guys’ solutions. My only option was to shut down the plugin, and now I’ll have to go back through previous posts, use the existing url that had all the map settings in it, go to Google Maps, and get new HTML code to overwrite what I had before. What a pain in the butt.

But I do love my little maps.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 11:57 PST

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