Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Update: 1/15/2010 with links to the recipes that Starla used along with other comments.

This year, we decided to stay home for Thanksgiving and serve a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner to several friends who are from other countries.

Starla started with the traditional foods, but used recipes that gave them a different twist. Here are what we served for Thanksgiving dinner at

"Chez Ling"

AppetizersAppetizers
Soup & Salad
  • Roasted Pear & Delicata Squash Soup
    served in a carnival squash bowl. Note that the original recipe called for butternut squash, but we recently discovered the wonderful flavors of the delicata squash, and so we made the substitution in this recipe.
  • Roasted Pear & Delicata Squash Soup
  • Spring Mix Salad with Dried Apricots and Walnuts

Entrée CoursesOven Roasted Free-Range TurkeySides
  • Home-Style Cranberry Sauce not from a can.
  • Turkey Gravy
  • Creamed Sweet Corn
  • Crescent Rolls
Desserts
  • Home-Style Pumpkin Pie made from fresh pumpkins. Neither of us are fans of pumpkin pies, but ones made from fresh pumpkins definitely taste much better.
  • Home-Style Pumpkin Pie
  • Pear Rosemary Tart from Coquette Patisserie
    We've recently found this wonderful patisserie right in our neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from our house. Britt-Marie Culey, the pastry chef, makes some delightful pastries. We've already sampled a number of her beautiful creations and look forward to trying more. If you want to be wowed by dessert, check out her web site and try some!
  • Pear Rosemary Tart
Here is a PDF version of the entire menu we made up for our guests.

We'd love to hear what everyone else had for Thanksgiving dinner, and what twists you may have added to your fare.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Elevator Social Experiment

A while ago, at work, I conducted a mini social experiment on human behavior.

A group of about ten people were gathered in front a bank of three elevators with me after a large presentation let out. We all stood in front of the elevator doors chatting with each other while waiting for one of the elevator doors to chime.

The idea for this little experiment came to me. I stepped away from the group and walked towards one of the elevator doors and stood directly in front of it.

Everyone in that group, still chatting with each other, followed me and gathered in front of the elevator door in front of which I stood, despite the fact that none of the chimes had sounded to indicate the arrival of an elevator car. Apparently no one noticed that there was no chime, but did notice that I had moved towards one of the three doors.

Then, the chime on a door sounded, and everyone in the group was surprised to find that it was not for the elevator they were standing in front of. What surprised me was that no one in the group seem bothered that I had fooled them with my experiment. They nonchalantly entered the open elevator door and went on with their day.

This non-scientific social experiment taught me a lesson -- examine the facts before blindly believing or following someone else's statements. And if you find out that you've been fooled, at least care and learn from it for next time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Buck Stops Here

This morning, as I'm having my coffee, I looked out into our backyard, and lo and behold: a buck. By my count, he was a 6-pointer.

When he saw my camera, he paused to look over at me casually.

From you're somethin' else

I guess he was here to eat my weeds. If you're interested in this all-natural weed control solution, let me know. I would probably rent him to you for... wait for it... a buck. (groan)
From you're somethin' else

Later, I took Phoebe out to the backyards and she actually chased him and his buddy away. That's right, there were actually two bucks!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Parking Meters in Sweaters

Every parking meter in the Cedar Lee retail district is now dressed in a knit sweater as a part of a Heights Arts public art project.
Makes you want to feed it more quarters, doesn't it?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Over the Rhine at Cain Park

This weekend, we got to see our favorite band, Over the Rhine in concert at Cain Park. You can read all about Over the Rhine on the web site and listen to some of their music. For those of you who attended our wedding, you may recall that Starla walked down the aisle to "Rapsodie" by none other than Over the Rhine.


Cain Park's Evans Amphitheater



We've probably seen them in various venues about a dozen times over the past several years, and it's always been a thrilling and wonderful musical experience. They're on tour now, so if you happen to be near one of their venues, I highly recommend checking them out. You won't be disappointed!

One big difference with this particular concert was that because we won tickets through a local radio station who cosponsored the concert, we got to meet a member of the band -- Linford Detweiler, who writes most of their poetic lyrics. For my Menno-buds, note that he's a Detweiler.

In person, Linford is the same person we see on stage and in his email newsletters -- very mellow. In contrast, I'm embarrassed to say that I was a bit starstruck when we met him and was barely able to stammer out a few words and ask for a photo with him.


Us and Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine



Maybe at their next concert, we'll get to meet Linford's wife and lead vocalist for Over the Rhine, Karin Berquist. For now, I'll revel in my happy star moment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The weekly farmer's market report

So what's at the farmer's market today? I bought some:
  • curly red lettuce
  • bok choy
  • tatsoi
  • yellow squash
  • red raspberries
  • green and yellow beans
  • green pepper
Also available were:
  • zucchini
  • black raspberries
  • a variety of tomatoes, large and small, yellow to red
  • corn!
  • honey in little bear bottles

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's in store for us today?

From the Farmer's Market at the office, I got some fresh strawberries, tomatoes, snow peas that looks much better than the flabby stuff at the grocery stores, red and green leaf lettuce, zucchini and yellow squash, cilantro - Starla's mom's favorite herb, and asparagus, which unfortunately, I will not be sharing with Starla.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

LOL

This made us laugh out loud.

In a recent NPR story about China, reporter Louisa Lim interviewed a young Chinese author, Guo Jingming, stating that "in person, Guo is a 5-foot-1 androgynous sprite." Ha! (This is what she says in the audio report. The written script differs slightly in wording.)

If you watch Chinese television, especially the reality competition shows akin to American Idol, you'll see that Guo is representative of most young Chinese pop stars.

A farmer's market right in your cubicle

All right, not actually in my cubicle, but pretty close.

Starting this week, my company is bringing a local farm, Rainbow Farms of Madison, Ohio, on site during lunch hours, offering their fresh produce of the season to employees.

Rainbow Farms had set up a tent and tables right outside our building on the grass. And today, the weather was sunny and just beautiful - a perfect day to enjoy fresh produce. The only problem with this was that everyone going to the produce stand had to be careful not to step on the goose droppings all over the grass and walkways. I was careful and came back unblemished.

I went down during my lunch hour and picked up some kohlrabi, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, and fresh strawberries. Prices are comparable to other farmer's markets. I was then able to call Starla to tell her what I bought so she wouldn't need to get these items when she goes grocery shopping later.

The farmer's market will be on site every week through fall, so now I have my lunch hour planned until then as well. Between this and the veges that I'm growing at home (at least those that will bear fruit), we'll be eating very well this year. Speaking of which, I'll post some photos of my garden at a later time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fat Pooch

PhoebePhoebe had her annual trip to the vet last week, and the diagnosis came back that she's overweight, by about two and a half pounds. She's weighing in at 14.85 pounds right now, but I guess she should be about 12 pounds. I wonder what her BMI is. They must have a chart for dogs.

So Phoebe is going on a diet. We're cutting back a little bit on her food and giving her more exercise. The vet said that her food quantity is probably at a good level, but we also give her treats and rawhide bones sometimes, so that probably added to her beefiness.

She does look a bit chunky, but still very muscular, so we had no idea that she was overweight. Now that the weather is nicer, Phoebe is loving all the walking that we're doing. However, over the past couple of days as we've cut back on her food, she does appear to be somewhat more anxious when her mealtime nears. Maybe it's just my imagination, but she acts more hungry than before.

Hopefully by the end of the summer, she'll be closer to her target weight, but she'll probably look thin to us and make us feel guilty.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Me and Flo

Here's me chillin' with Flo.

I've also got my "I (heart) Insurance" button, just like Flo.

Best Job in the World - Filled!

Earlier I mentioned in a post about what's called the "Best Job in the World."

Well, that job has now been filled, by a bloke named Ben Southall from the UK. Now I can only read about his good fortune in his blog. I guess it shows that blonds do have more fun.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Earth Day is not just a once-a-year reminder to think about how we can help protect our planet and conserve our natural resources, it can be a starting point for a more sustainable style of living.

Making lifestyle changes can be difficult and seem daunting, especially in a society that focuses so much on consumption. What we are trying to do in our daily living is to make changes one at a time - some small, some larger. Then it's not so daunting, and it helped us see the difference we can make, and encourage us to make more eco-conscious changes in the future.

I got many of the ideas from a very nice website and email newsletter called IdealBite. I encourage everyone to sign up for their daily tip. Some are easy and cheap to implement, and many will save you money as well as help the Earth, and some are downright wacky.

Here are some of the changes we've made over the years. I know many of you are doing some of the same things, as well as some that we're still trying to get to.
  • We've switched most of our light bulbs to CFLs. CFLs use a fraction of the electricity of incandescent bulbs. They do contain mercury, but they last much longer than incandescent bulbs and can be recycled when they burn out. I plan to switch to LED lights as they become more affordable and available for household lighting. LEDs use even less electricity and contain no mercury.
  • Starla has switched from regular deodorants to the Thai Deodorant Stone. It costs about $8 at Whole Foods Market, it's all natural with no chemicals, and it lasts for years. This saves money compared to buying regular deodorants, reduces the amount of plastic waste in packaging, and I can testify to the fact that it works just as well. Plus, it because it contains no artificial chemicals, it does not leave white chalky stains on clothes.
  • We now eat less meat, because it takes a lot more energy to raise animals for meat, especially for beef cattle, than it takes to raise crops. Farming grains and vegetables can feed a lot more people than if they were used to feed cattle that is then used for beef. We're not vegetarians, and we don't plan to become vegans, but eating less meat and eating more fresh vegetables and whole grains is not only a good choice for reducing the amount of crops used to raise beef cattle, but also good for our health.
  • We keep containers in our car to take in with us to restaurants when we eat out. I have to admit that I love seeing the looks on the faces of other diners and servers when we pull out our own containers at the end of the meal. Instead of getting styrofoam or plastic to-go boxes, we use our own reusable contains for leftovers. Not only does this reduce the use of non-biodegradable containers, but this also has several other advantages. First, we don't have to worry about leftovers leaking into the car because our containers have sealable lids. Second, because the leftovers are in closed containers, we no longer get the whiff of the food when we get into the car later (not that the smell is unpleasant). Third, we don't need to transfer leftovers into reusable containers later at home -- they can go straight into the fridge and be taken out later for reheating or the lunchbag.
  • For lunch, I take real silverware and a cloth napkin to work for lunch. This helps to reduce the use of disposable non-biodegradable plastic utencils as well as paper napkins. Plus, when I'm eating my lunch at work, it has the feel of a meal at home when I pull out my cloth napkin and silverware. Along the same lines, we've switched to using cloth napkins at home as well.
  • Some of you know that I love coffee. I used to get coffee at work either from a vending machine or the little convenience store inside our building. Now I bring my own coffee to work. We get fair-trade organic coffee that's freshly ground, and I use a french press coffee maker. This means less waste in disposable paper/plastic coffee cups and gourmet coffee for me.
  • Starting last year, we joined a CSA program. No, it's not that CSA, but Community Supported Agriculture. This means we bought some of our produce from local farms, most of whom grow organic fruits and vegetables. Of course, local growers won't have the same variety as offered by supermarkets that get their produce from all over the world, but it does mean that we're getting really fresh stuff that was picked the day before or even the same day. What we're not getting are the pesticides, fuel, and other chemicals that are used in the growing and transporting of these produce from far off places. Like cutting back on meat, we're not completely going local, because we do love the variety of foods that come from all over the world, but getting more local produce helps a little bit, and we're support local family farms.
  • We're trying to use vinegar for cleaning in place of chemical cleaners. I find that it works great in the kitchen to clean and disinfect. Plus, because it's just a mixture of 1 part 4% white distilled vinegar and 1 part water, I don't have to worry about spraying poisonous chemicals around the kitchen. And to give it a lemon scent, I put a little bit of lemon juice in the mixture. I also want to try other scents in the future, maybe vanilla. I found that it doesn't work quite as well cleaning up in the bathroom, though.
  • We've reduced our use of the clothes dryer. We have an EnergyStar qualified washer which spins clothes faster than typical washers to get the clothes mostly dry. Then, for most clothes, we just hang them up on clothes racks. In the winter months, this also helps to humidify our upstairs rooms. Over the summer, we'll be trying to hang our laundry outside in the backyard. I've got to keep a close eye on the weather forecast and watch out for rain when we do that.
  • A few months ago, I've started carpooling to work with a coworker who lives in my neighborhood. We carpool twice a week. This saves a little bit of gas as well as wear-and-tear on our cars. This arrangement also allows flexibility if we need to run errands on other days before or after work.
  • Earlier in the winter, I installed an electronic programmable thermostat in our house and set the daily temporature settings to match our schedules. I wasn't sure if this would save us anything given our variable schedule and the fact that previously we had set the old thermostat to a relatively low temperature for the winter. However, after getting the next gas bill, I was amazed at the difference. The new thermostat paid for itself within the first month of use.
Other things we've done are buying a Toyota Prius hybrid, using reusable cloth bags when shopping, and remembering to turn off lights when we leave a room (as my parents use to say when I leave lights on: "do you have a long tail?" All this may seem like a lot of changes, but we've done them over years, so the change has been gradual. After doing each one, we ask ourselves - what else can we do?

Still, there are many more things we can do to change how we live to be better stewards of God's beautiful creation. Here are some of the changes we plan to make in the future:
  • We have bought a couple of rain barrels to collect rain water to water our yard and garden. In fact, I picked them up on Earth Day and will be installing them this week. A local company makes them out of used plastic barrels. You can either have him install it for you or in my case, I'll be doing the installation. He mentioned that he'll be trying out solar electric pumps in the near future, so I may get that later as well. You can also get rain barrels from other places. For example, in Cleveland, rain barrels are also available from the Shaker Lakes Nature Center and the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
  • We will be trying to grow some vegetables in our back yard this year. We've grown tomatoes and a Chinese winter squash in the past. This year, we'll be trying to grow those again, as well as some other types of squashes, beans, and several varieties of herbs. Note that I said we'll be trying to grow -- this is my first real attempt at this, so it may be a failure. I'll give updates as they grow, or not.
  • We will try to start composting this year. As mentioned before, we eat less meat and a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits. And because we try to minimize the use of disposable items and reuse or recycle everything our city's recycling program allows, much of our trash is vegetable matter. Combine that with our attempt to grow vegetables leads naturally (pun intended) to composting. This will greatly reduce what we put out in the trash. I don't think we'll be able to completely eliminate our trash output, but the less the better. I've never done composting before, but I've found a lot of good advice on home gardening from Mother Earth News. It has step-by-step instructions on how to do it, including videos.
  • We're in need of new windows. Our house's original windows are rather leaky in the winter and summer, thus wasting our energy trying to heat and cool it each year. Hopefully we'll be able to afford to replace at least some of the windows with new energy saving ones this year.
What things are you doing to celebrate Earth Day? I encourage everyone to try some of the ideas we've tried. And I welcome your comments and suggestions on what else we can do to make daily living into simple and green living.

Updated: April 24th at 9:30 a.m. with addition details and links.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Joined Twitter for no good reason

I've just joined Twitter a few days ago for no good reason, and I've become quite fascinated by some of the status updates from some of the people I'm following. It does feel like I'm watching every move of some of these people. I do feel mildly embarrassed by this, for some reason.

At least we're still resisting using Facebook or MySpace.

Friday, March 27, 2009

All of our lights will be off on Saturday, March 28th at 8:30 pm, will yours?

UPDATE 3/28/2009 10:14pm: Photos from around the world as people observe Earth Hour.

----
Turn off all of your lights at 8:30 pm your local time, March 28 - that's this Saturday, for Earth Hour.

Pledge to turn off your lights at http://www.earthhour.org, and get Earth Hour updates and tips. Check out a video and photos for last year's celebration of Earth Hour.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Coyote vs. Gosling

An update on the rubber coyotes that have been placed around our office park to scare away the Canadian geese.

Based on this photo, I'd say that it's not really working.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Staycation

Continuing on the theme established in a previous post, I will be writing a few posts on our upcoming "staycation". I know this word is causing many people to groan and roll their eyes, but I think it's a perfect neologism to describe what we're about to do next week.

Starla will be on Spring Break, and I'm taking the week off from work. We won't be holed up in our house the whole week, however, as we'll be sampling some of the wonderful cultural and other offerings of our home city.

For previous vacations, Starla usually does the planning of where to visit and when. This time, however, I've done the event planning, so be worried!

I've got a full week's worth of events planned out that include a wide range of activities, and I'll write about some of them in future postings. Stay tuned... and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update on ooma

In a previous post, I described switching to the ooma VoIP service to replace our home phone service. It's been about 2 months, so here's an update.

After trying it ooma out for a few weeks, we decided to take the next step and port our home phone number to ooma. I guess I should have separated our home phone number from our DSL service before starting the porting process, because the porting process closed our account with our phone company, and thereby also deactivated our DSL service. This meant that anyone calling us during this time received a "this number is no longer in service message." It also meant that ooma was not usable since we didn't have a broadband connection, but our mobile phones filled in this communications gap.

I had to open a new DSL account with our phone company, which wasn't too difficult, and we were only off the net for a few days. And fortunately, our home phone number was properly ported to ooma.

Since then, ooma has been handling our home phone calls without problem. And I just paid my last local phone bill, which after all is the whole point of ooma.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lent

Every year for Lent, we try to commit to giving up something or actively do something in the hopes that it will spur us to become better disciples. We do better in some years than others.

During Lent of the year that I moved to Arkansas, we gave up watching TV. I was very resistant to the idea at first because I had really enjoyed watching TV, especially cable news. I was a TV news junkie. After Lent that year, I found that I really don't need to watch TV or even want to watch TV any more. And even now we still don't watch TV at home. There's nothing good on anyway. The few occasions when we do watch TV at someone else's house, I'm bored by it very quickly, and I especially get really annoyed at the commercials. Looking back on that Lent, I'm glad we gave up watching TV and I'm glad we've stuck to it.

Last year, we tried giving up sloth for Lent. In other words, we wanted to become more physically active. We signed up for membership at the local community center, but that idea didn't go far. I haven't set foot in that community center since we signed up. I'm hoping to change that this year, not for Lent, but in general.

This year, I decided to give up elevators at work. I know this is not much, but it's a first, small, and realistic step that I hope will gradually turn into a lifelong commitment to physical fitness that's more successful than last year. I think some things are better done cold turkey, like stop watching TV. Others, like physical fitness, are better done gradually. This is especially true for someone like me, whose current level of physical activity involves walking from the parking garage to the office.

On the first day of Lent, I almost failed my commitment right away. Out of pure habit, I headed straight for the elevator banks, pushed the button, and almost stepped in when after the ding and the elevator doors opened. But I caught myself, turned, and headed towards the stairs. I work on the third floor, so that's three flights of stairs (the entrance is on a ground floor) at least once a day. I've been doing good so far in avoiding the elevators. The morning climbs are the toughest right now because I've just walked in from the parking garage and I'm usually parked at the far end. I'm also wearing a heavy coat and carrying my bag and lunch.

I hope that when Lent ends this year, I will have never taken an elevator ride at work and the morning climb will be a breeze. More importantly, I pray that better personal physical fitness will translate to a healthier lifestyle in general and a healthier walk in faith.

Coyote Ugly

The area around my office building is also an unofficial habitat for Canadian Geese. We often see them walk across the office park, resting on the greenspace between office buildings, and sometimes stopping traffic as they waddle across the road. I've never felt that they are a bother - it kind of makes me feel as if I'm closer to nature when I see animals around. And I've never killed a goose with my car (or golf ball).

But I guess the geese been troubling others, probably mostly due to the presence of their droppings. So the company's groundskeepers have come up with various humane ways to dissuade the geese from taking up residence around the office park, including the use of trained shepherd dogs.

The latest tactic involves placing several rubber coyotes around the office park to, I guess, scare the geese away. These coyotes look pretty menacing, and the company has warned employees so people aren't startled to see a growling predator as they walk from the parking lot to the office building.

Frankly, I hope the geese stay. Maybe I can use of these rubber coyotes to guard my vegetable garden this summer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How many presidents are left-handed?

Most of us know that Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. I noticed today in this news story image that he's left-handed.

It made me wonder how many U.S. presidents are or were left-handed. The answer, apparently, is that the number is disproportionately higher than in the general population.

It is estimated that less than 10% of the population of the U.S. is left-handed. Yet, at least eight of the 44 presidents are or were left-handed -- that's nearly double the norm. These include recent presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford.

The reason people say at least eight is that up to about a hundred years ago, left-handedness was often thought of as a disability, and one that was to be cured by forcing left-handed children to use their right hand. Thus, there may have been even more left-handed presidents who learned to be right-handed.

Some people have even jokingly termed this curious phenomenon of left-handed presidents as A Vast Left-Handed Conspiracy. I don't think so, but it is pretty curious.

So, any left-handers out there thinking about running for President?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why I won't buy a Roomba

Those of you who know me personally know that I like technology. Not only do I work in a technical field, but I like to follow technology trends, as evidenced by some of the blogs I follow. I'm not, however, the kind of person who's got to have the latest gadgets, but I like to know where technology is headed and what creative things people are doing with it. And sometimes, it's amusing to see what silly things people are doing with it.

When I first heard of the Roomba, I loved the idea. No one I know enjoys vacuuming -- it's a chore in every sense of the word. It is difficult work to push and pull the vacuum around the house; it's difficult to get to the walls and corners without bumping and scuffing everything; and, what I think is the worst part -- it's loud and really scares the dogs and cats. Though we're still far away from having a Rosie around the house, the Roomba is a big step closer. And iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba (along with Scooba, the floor washing robot, among others), makes a large selection of Roombas for every need, including the ability to schedule cleanings during times when you're away and virtual walls to keep the Roomba within a specified area.

But before this post begins to sound like a review or recommendation of the Roomba, let me explain why I would not buy a Roomba.

Aside from making the Roomba, Scooba, and other housecleaning robots, iRobot also makes robots for military use.

On their website, iRobot touts their "government and industrial" robots as "protecting those in harm's way", suggesting that they're used purely for defensive or protective purposes. It describe uses such as detecting and clearing land mines and IEDs and surveillance. However, iRobot also develops robots whose capabilities include the use of machine guns and grenade launchers.

Many of the articles describing these "wardroids" or "killbots" from iRobot reference the film Terminator and its sequels, describing these new army robots as predecessors to the fictional robot killers of the sci-fi blockbusters. Though the iRobot Warrior military robots are not autonomous killers, they do pose a different issue, a moral issue, given that they're remote controled by military personnel who are often stationed thousands of miles away from the battlefield.

What this means is a scenario where a soldier sitting at a control station on a military base in the U.S. can remotely control a iRobot Warrior robot armed with real weapons, scanning for enemy positions through a computer display. Then, by pushing buttons on a controller, launching missles or firing machine guns at the enemy and killing people without ever endangering himself. By the way, the controllers used look like video game controllers. Would it be easier for a soldier to push a button on a controller to fire his weapon than if he had to see his target through a gunsight and pull the trigger?

How can I watch a robot whiz around my house and clean my carpet when I know that the same company's robots are out destroying other people's houses? How can I use these robots to make my life more convenient when that technology is also used to extinguish other lives?

I know that part of the taxes I pay are going to the military budget that are funding the development and deployment of these robots. That's a broader question which cannot be easily addressed. But what is an easy question for me to address is to not buy a Roomba. I'm sure there are other companies whose businesses deal with things to which I object. When we find them, we should examine them and the choices we make, and choose not only based on what benefits ourselves, but also what impact those choices may have on other people in the world.

A wormhole or a rip in the fabric of space-time?

Check this out on Google Maps.

Also interesting to read are some of the comments about the above "phenomemon" on the bookmarking site Reddit.

[Source: Google Blogoscoped]

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Snow Drill

Today, more snow fell in Cleveland.

As the snowfall reached blizzard-like conditions outside, we had a severe weather drill inside the office. And why not? Seems like a perfect time to do a drill. Initially, some people were unsure - do we need to go outside? Should we go back to our desks to get our coats?

I was in a meeting on the fourth floor. When the announcement came over the PA system, along with everyone else, I walked slowly down to the ground floor into the sheltered area. The atmosphere was a mix of bemusement and annoyance as everyone gathered in the designated assembly points and chatted with those nearby. I think everyone welcomes a break, but maybe not for an emergency drill.

The drill was over pretty quickly and we were told to return to work. I sat in a corner to avoid the crowds and started to climb back up the stairs after everyone else in my assembly area had gone up.

Here, the Emergency Response Team members re-open the metal shutters that had covered the windows during the drill. They're using a special tool that cranks the shutters up or down through a mechanism in the ceiling.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fun in the Snow

This weekend, we spent some time playing in the snow at one of our city's parks. The sun was out and the sky was blue, and the snow glistened in the sunlight.

We had a snowball fight (no one got hurt), built a snowman that we named Simon, and made snow angels.



Simon the Little Snowman
Simon the Little Snowman

Friday, January 30, 2009

Banana Barcode

I preface this post by stating that it's Friday.

I noticed yesterday that my banana had an individual barcode on it.

That brings up the question of why Dole is barcoding individual fruit? Or was this banana just the lucky one in the bunch, or even the entire crate, to bear the identifying mark?

Apparently, this particular banana came from Costa Rica, as stated on the label (sorry about the fuzzy image). So did Dole tag this banana in Costa Rica, and tracked it's entire movement through their supply chain and found that someone in Cleveland purchased it? Do they know that I ate it? Will they now track the peel through the garbage into the landfill?

Like I said, it's Friday.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cursing on the Job, Part 2

Another scenario that may cause a person to curse on the job - now rectified.

Today, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which amends 1964 Civil Rights Act and extends the statute of limitations to file a claim against pay discrimination another 180 days for every alleged discriminatory pay. Previously, the time to file a claim was limited to only the first 180 days after the initial discriminatory pay.

To me, this is a no-brainer. In the case of Lilly Ledbetter, a previous Supreme Court decision said that she missed the 180-day window to file her claim because she found out that she was being paid less than her male counterparts after working 19 years for Goodyear. So basically, as long as an employer can hide from an employee for 180 days the fact that her pay for doing the same work is lower than her male colleagues, then they're scot-free.

Critics of the law argue that this will only bring more lawsuits against employers and enrich lawyers. This is likely to be true, but this particular argument is a falacy because it can be said of any employment law and many other laws. The point is, if an employer doesn't want to get sued, then don't violate the law. An honest employer should give equal pay for equal work, and I think this applies to more than just gender, but also race, age, as well as citizenship status. And if the employer discriminates, it should be justly punished, with no loophole in the form of a statute of limitations.

Cursing on the Job

A shocking blog title, but here's the explanation.

We had a rather heavy snow day yesterday, and when Starla was driving, very slowly and carefully, to work, she saw a garbage truck picking up trash along a neighboring street for trash day. One of the workers, wearing a coat that was probably not thick enough for the weather, was climbing up a snow bank and digging out a bag of trash that had been buried by several inches of snow. She wondered what he must have been thinking while doing that.

I think if there was ever a reason to curse while on the job, this might be one of them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!

It is, of course, the Year of the Ox, which is my year, so everyone please congratulate me (and anyone else who was born in the Year of the Ox)! You can't see it, but I'm wearing red today.

We enjoyed bountiful meals at my parents' house this past weekend in celebration of the New Year, and was able to see my brother and his wife for the first time since their wedding. As always at my parents' house, my Mom (with assistance from my Dad) cooked up a storm, and all of us who were at the table now feel a little more like cow than ox.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

President Barack ObamaToday, this hour, I feel more proud to be American than I have felt in a long time.

Today, this hour, I see a brighter future for my children.





The song I'm listening to:

"The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world"

- Lyrics by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.
- Recorded by Louis Armstrong

Monday, January 19, 2009

ooma

We're currently trying out a service called ooma. It's a VoIP service provider whose distinction is that you pay upfront for the VoIP device, then pay no monthly fees for using their service.

Vonage and other similar VoIP providers sell a relatively inexpensive (sometimes free) box that connects your telephone to your high speed internet connection, and then charge a monthly service fee of around $25 for unlimited domestic calls. This is similar to the mobile phone plans that most of us have, where the cost of the mobile phone is subsidized by the mobile phone providers via the service contracts.

ooma's premise is that instead of charging for monthly service, they earn money by:
  • selling the ooma device up-front, which costs quite a bit more than devices from other providers, though the device looks like it's well-designed and well-built;
  • encouraging their subscribers to sign up for their Premier service, which includes some extra features for $12.95 per month. I think we'll be fine using their basic service, which includes all the telephone features we use today; and
  • charging for international calls, for which their rates are similar to those of other providers.
We've used it for a few days now, and the voice quality is pretty good. I don't think anyone on the other end of our calls can tell that we've made the switch. The user reviews on Amazon.com are pretty positive regarding both the device and the service - giving it 4.2 out of 5 stars, and they are a must-read if you're considering trying out ooma for yourself.
There's a 30-day money-back return guarantee, so we'll see how this trial period goes. If it continues to be good, we'll be cancelling our local phone service in a few weeks. I'll post an update when that decision is made.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Best Job in the World

This was in the news today.

The tourism board of Queensland, Australia has posted what's being called "the best job in the world". The job pays US$105,000 for a six-month contract to be the "Caretaker of the Great Barrier Reef". Basically, you get to swim and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, walk the white sand beaches, and the only "work" is to write a blog with photos and videos about your experiences.

In addition to the salary, you get to live rent-free in a beachhouse with a golf buggy, and you get free airfare from your home to your "workplace".

You can read the details and apply for the job here http://www.islandreefjob.com. Applications are due on February 22nd. Don't worry about competition from me, because as much as I'd love to spend six months playing in the azure waters and blogging from there, I'd miss shoveling my driveway.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Something frightful this way comes

Over the past couple of weeks, Phoebe has suddenly developed a fear for the middle of our kitchen. We cannot recall any incident which would have been so traumatic, or even atypical, for her to have suddenly developed this fear. After all, the kitchen is her domain - it's where her crate is, where her food and water bowls are, and where she naps when we're away.

Now, whenever she approaches the kitchen, she stops short at the doorway and whimpers. If we're in the kitchen cooking or something, she'll just sit at the doorway. Sometimes she circles in an anxious state while whimpering, as if trying to work up the courage to enter the kitchen.

We've tried to encourage her to play in the kitchen, but it's obvious that she's trying to avoid the middle of the kitchen. If she finally decides to enter, she scurries around the edge of the room by the counters and races to the other side of the room to her crate, her paws slipping on the hardwood floor.

One day last week, I had the dishwasher open, thus blocking her path by the counters. I called her into the kitchen, and she kept to the edge of the room, slithering underneath the dishwasher door rather than go around the door, which would have meant that she'd traverse the middle of the room. Like a good trainer, I tried to associate good things with this area by calling her to the middle of the kitchen floor and feeding her a handful of treats. She ate them eagerly, though nervously. This effort, apparently, was for naught, because she remains frightened by the unseen force that occupies the middle of our kitchen.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Eco-Font

Last week, I heard a story on the radio about a Dutch design firm which has come out with a "eco-font".

The font by SPRANQ, called "Spranq Eco Sans", is designed to save printer toner or ink by including holes in the type face. Apparently they've determined that this saves up to 20% ink when printed, while maintaining the readability of the printed type face.

You can download the font for free from Sprang and install it on your computer. It will then be available for any of your programs to use.

Here's the link to the story from NPR News.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The not-so-secret life of Cleveland

I hope this will be the first of many blog posts about life in Cleveland.

Today we visited a couple of the little gems in our city. I'm not saying that other cities don't have gems of their own, but I do tend to see surprised looks on people's faces when I say that I love Cleveland.

First, we stopped by the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse, which is located at the end of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, to see some of the Christmas poinsettia as well as their normal displays. I know, it's after Christmas, but it was nice because there were not too many people, which allowed us to stop and take some photos.

 

 

It's not a huge greenhouse, but there are some lovely orchids, palm trees that reach the ceiling, and quite a few aptly-named species of cacti.

Afterwards, we stopped by the Cleveland Playhouse to see their annual Christmas tree display, where people from around the city put up and decorate Christmas trees that line the corridors and atrium of the Playhouse.

This was their last day, and workers had begun taking down some of the trees, though most were still up. The top three trees received ribbon awards. I'm not sure who or how they were judged. The first prize went to this non-tree tree created by a local architectural firm, which, with its twisting steel spires, reminds me a lot of the Peter B. Lewis Building nearby.

Starla noted that many of the trees this year featured peacock feathers, and still more used copper-colored decorations. One of my favorites is this one decked out in purple.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009

Happy New Year to y'all, and to all, a blessed 2009.

Update 1/22/2009: This morning, "Benjamin Button" topped the Oscar nominations with 13, including one for "Best Picture."

And now, for somethin' else, a movie review.

This past weekend, we saw the recently released The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is based loosely on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald adapted for the 20th century. You can read the full text of the story online. I haven't.

The story, and the film, is about a man who lives his life backwards -- growing younger from an old man to a baby. The film stars Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button and the amazing Cate Blanchett as his love interest Daisy. The filmmakers did a great job of creating the make-up, scenery, production design, etc. to immerse the audience in the historical times depicted in the film. And more importantly, for most of the film, the story is told from Benjamin's point of view. The fact that Benjamin is growing younger seems to only amaze his father at the beginning of the film. The rest of the people in his life take it as just the way things are. As his adopted mother, Queenie, says when she first brings Benjamin home -- "He's still a child of God."

The film follows Benjamin's life as he discovers the world. His learning of the cycle of life at the house where he lives -- a sort of nursing home -- was quite an enjoyable montage. Aside from Benjamin and Daily, all the secondary characters who intersect Benjamin's life, like Captain Mike and Elizabeth Abbott, were also well developed.

This film is well worth the approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes. After all, it's a lifetime for Benjamin Button.