August 26, 2006

Crime in the City

It wasn't as dramatic as the SWAT-team stakeout a few blocks away from us earlier this year, but there was violence and commotion just a few doors down from us last night ... and we were totally oblivious.

The woman who lives two houses south of ours has an twenty-year-oldish son who lives with her. It's not clear what the son does with his life, beyond hanging out with an assortment of his buddies in the garage behind the house. Go down our alley any time of the day or night, and you're likely to find their garage door up, with five or six people sitting on chairs inside.

Last night, the group was hanging out in the garage as usual, when someone came up to them and (after an unelaborated-upon sequence of events) stabbed one of them in the chest. In short order, there were paramedics, police, a crime-scene investigation team in our alley — and we had no clue that all this was going on until this morning, when our neighbor sent an e-mail to our neighborhood mailing list. Sure enough, I went out to the alley, and there were still remnants of cut-down "POLICE — DO NOT CROSS" tape dangling from each side of the garage door.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. On one hand, a stabbing is a stabbing, but these people seem to be the single focal point for any dirty doings taking place on our street. In the time that we've lived here, we've never had any problems with crime. When we moved in, our next-door neighbor told us a story about how he'd left boxes full of household items and a television set on his front porch for over a week: they just sat out there, completely untouched. And I'm not sure that we're getting the full story yet: earlier this year, the owner of the stabbing house sent an "omigod, my son's friend's car was just stolen in broad daylight!" e-mail to our neighborhood mailing list. Only later did it come out that the friend had left the car, unlocked and unattended, in the back alley with the keys in the ignition. Sure, people shouldn't steal cars, but the guy might as well have listed his name in the phone book under "Joyrides and Joyriding Services". In a second email tonight, thanking everyone for their kind words and letting us know that the stabbing victim would be all right, we were told that while the attacker was still at large, "we know who he is" — not "we know what he looks like", or some other more-distancing construction — and "the cops are hot on his trail".

And the son and his remaining buddies? This morning, they were so shaken by the events of last night that they were . . . back to hanging out inside the garage.

Posted by Kevin at 11:56 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2006

Conference Call Thoughts

There's a woman on the conference call that I'm on right now who sounds eerily like Sarah Vowell. I'm waiting for her to stop talking about CEF fonts and Unicode cmaps and start telling us entertaining monologues about her family or John Wilkes Booth.

Posted by Kevin at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2006

Philmont Photos: First Pass

I'm working on a deluxe narrative-with-pictures of my Philmont trip. Thanks to the demands of work, adoption paperwork, and miscellaneous household tasks, I haven't gotten very far. As a stopgap measure, here's a Photoshop web gallery of all of the pictures that I took. Use your imagination to fill in the captions until I come along to fill them in for you.

Photographer's Note: Unfortunately, some of what I thought were my best pictures didn't turn out, with poor focus being the number one cause of ruination. I blame operator forgetfulness, combined with the world's stupidest autofocus. Due to worries about running out of battery power in the backcountry, I put my digital camera up on the shelf for this trip and took down my real film point-and-shoot, a Yashica T4. The T4 is renowned for putting a German-made Zeiss lens inside of an affordable Japanese camera body; sadly, some of the 'intelligence' that they put in along with that lens wasn't of comparable quality. After five years of leaving the T4 to gather cobwebs, I'd forgotten the skills necessary to coax its focus lock into focusing onto what I wanted to take a picture of, rather than, say, some random point in the background ...

Posted by Kevin at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2006

Happy Updates

Food: We went back to the Napa Rose on Wednesday night. It was a two-part celebration: one part being accepted by our chosen adoption agency (for both of us), one part "welcome back to civilization, you don't have to eat dehydrated food anymore" (for me). The food was excellent, and this time the service was excellent to match. So now we can highly recommend a trip to the Napa Rose, as long as you don't go there near a major holiday. (Our first trip was for our anniversary, which falls near — or on — Thanksgiving; the food was great, but our waiter was clearly having to cover a much wider area than he was accustomed to.)

Corkage is normally seventeen dollars, but our waiter waived the charge; did he do it because we had a sufficiently interesting special occasion, because we ordered both the cheese plate and individual desserts, or because we were able to talk convincingly and at length about the wine we'd brought (a 2004 Nalle Pinot Noir)? The Napa Rose has a decidedly mixed crowd — dressed-up folks like us rubbing shoulders with T-shirt and pin-lanyard wearing folks who'd just finished their day at Disneyland — I wonder how many people come in with a Yellow Tail or a Two-Buck Chuck and pass it over to the waiter as their "special wine"?

Medical-Billing Hell (see last installment here): Ended! Wednesday afternoon I got a call from a rep for our insurance company, letting me know that she'd finally heard back from the cardiologist's billing office . . . after a call she'd placed four weeks ago. The billing office person informed her that they had closed our account and were writing off any remaining charges.

So that's that, I hope — with an extra "screw you!" to the billing office (there's nothing to "write off", because we didn't actually owe you anything more, you bastards) and the cardiologist herself; I can only dream that someday she'll end up in a strange emergency room, and walk out with a mishandled bill that requires that she deal with people who only keep their "customer service" line open from 11 to 2 (while taking an hour for lunch!), and who consider a month to be an acceptable waiting period before returning phone messages.

And you can bet that I'll be watching our credit reports to make sure that these people don't try to slip something on there ...

Posted by Kevin at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2006

Carpetbagger Update (More Tan Nguyen)

Now that he's once again started trashing up our neighborhood by planting a profusion of campaign signs well in advance of any other political candidate, I think it's time to revisit our household's least favorite political wannabe of the season, Tan Nguyen. (See last installment here, including insightful comment from a Tan supporter.)

Recently, Nguyen had a fit, sending Loretta Sanchez (our current Congresswoman and his Democratic opponent) a letter stating that she was misrepresenting his position on illegal immigration: "As there are many issues which we legitimately disagree on, I am sure it is not necessary to misstate each others positions." With a letter like that, Tan is all about probity, straightforwardness, and telling the truth, right?

While I was at Philmont, the Nguyen campaign sent us the postcard to the left (click the image for a larger version). With the header "Why Would Someone Living in Oakton, Virginia Give Money to California Politicians???", it lists fifteen of Loretta Sanchez's campaign donors — with the added twist that these people also gave money to Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (who, the postcard helpfully reminds us, was "Sentenced to 8 yrs, 4 mos for Corruption"). OMG, they have the same donors!!!1!!!!

So this means that Loretta is as crooked as a snake, right? Well, look at the FEC records for both Sanchez and Cunningham — she has 5,308 individual contributors on record, and he has 1,735. Finding fifteen names that match out of a pool of seven thousand is more a triumph of mail merge than anything else. Is it all that shocking that out-of-state donors with business interests in Southern California might give money to more than one Southern Californian politician? (And no, none of these people made the illegal donations that sent Cunningham to jail. Search "(donor name) Cunningham" on Google if you don't believe me.)

But Tan Nguyen must have lots of local donors if he wants to make a big deal out of this, right? I'll bet that this "telling it like it is" stuff must be getting folks in the 47th Congressional District all fired up. Let's look at his FEC reports. Hmmm ... it seems like he's got one donor who actually lives in our district. And Tan can probably count himself as his largest non-local contributor, since as recently as January 2005 he was filing papers with the FEC that listed his mailing address as being in San Diego County (this while he was wrapping up a campaign where he ran as a Democrat for a different Orange County congressional seat). Think he'll stick around and remain our neighbor after he loses his run for the 47th?

Tan Nguyen — telling it like it is! Or alternatively, as he'd like you to believe that it might be!

Posted by Kevin at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2006

I'm Back

I'm back (as of early Tuesday morning). My boots are still damp from the world-beating, totally-unprecedented-in-our-experience rainstorm that we were hit with in the last mile of our trek.

Pictures and a detailed narrative to come — some observations in the meantime:

  • All of the Scouts enjoyed themselves. I observed a lot of crews on the trail that were emphatically not having fun — their experience had basically broken down, with crew members sniping at each other, adult advisors ready to recount their tales of woe to anyone unfortunate enough to be standing nearby, and everybody looking depressed and hangdog. Thank goodness we were able to face monsoon rain, long days, and dehydrated Hawaiian-Style Chicken (with pineapple chunks!) without breaking down into one of those crews.

    I don't know if anyone in our crew had some kind of transformative or religious experience at the end of their Philmont trek, but I think that everyone was pleasantly surprised and pleased by what a strong-hiking crew we turned out to be (particularly those who hadn't been doing so well on our pre-trek training hikes). Since much of the Philmont experience hinges on taking part in program once you've reached your daily destination, it's important to hit the trail early and make good time as you hike to your goal for the day; our relatively young and scrawny crew was leaving much older, burly-man crews in the dust. Go us!

    While my fear before we left was that certain crew members weren't physically ready for the demands of a trek, it turned out that emotional readiness was the key component. Some crew members did better (a lot better) at working as part of a group than others.

  • Things in my old workplace, the Philmont photo lab, have changed even less than I'd thought in eleven years' time. Old favorites like the Pentax 67 (a venerable medium-format camera) and the Jobo Autolab (the film processor than I once had to disassemble, diagnose, and repair, following over-the-phone directions from a guy in Santa Fe) are still seeing daily use. The biggest change is that they have two Noritsu photo printers (much like what you might see behind the photo desk in your local Costco) to rapidly print crew photos. Back in the day, if we needed to print twenty copies of one crew's photo, we'd set up an enlarger with the negative, expose a piece of photo paper, and then carry it over to the print processor. Twenty times in a row. Kids today don't know how easy they have it.

    The next couple of years may be when the lab finally cracks and goes digital, though. Apparently running a lab becomes more and more of a creative enterprise as Kodak retires various items from its product line — for example, glacial acetic acid (nasty stuff, the only thing we always wore a respirator and rubber gloves to handle) has been discontinued and is now replaced by bottles of white vinegar from the kitchen. They're in the market for a digital-capable Noritsu or two. I left behind my E-mail address and told them to get in touch with me if they wanted any help buying copies of Adobe software.

  • Amtrak: man oh man. I know that some people don't like Deutsche Bahn, but I would have given anything for an ICE train between Los Angeles and Chicago. Despite the fact that we'd reserved our tickets as a group weeks ago, the conductor onboard the outgoing Southwest Chief was shocked, shocked to find that there were people boarding his train in Fullerton; we ended up spending the 22-hour trip sitting in noncontiguous seats spread across two levels of two cars. (Thankfully, the station staff at Raton and the on-train personnel during our homebound trip were much more clueful; they knew we were coming, and had a block of eleven seats saved for us.)

    But more than the 1950s lets-move-chits-around-on-paper 'reservations' system, the biggest thing holding back the passenger-rail experience in America is the fact that Amtrak owns little of the rail that it travels on. In our case, the rail owner (BNSF) had no incentive to improve the rail beyond its own needs or to prioritize Amtrak traffic over its own, meaning bouncy-bouncy-bouncy travel for us and long, mysterious stops in the middle of nowhere as stacked-up BNSF freight trains passed us by.

Also: bleah. Today is the first day since my return where I didn't wake up feeling completely out of it. This is a good thing, as in addition to the demands of work, there's a giant stack of adoption paperwork waiting for me to read through, and Shelby is exceedingly eager for me to get started at filling out my half of it.

Posted by Kevin at 02:26 PM | Comments (5)