Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bengies Labor Day weekend movie-thon

I didn't make it all the way through Dusk to Dawn, but was at The Bengies for 4, full-length, wide-screen showings. I packed it in around 4:30 AM, as evidenced by my tweets, transcribed here via

I could have made it to dawn, I think, had I been interested in sitting through Step Brothers. I saw about half of it between 1 AM and 2AM a couple weeks back.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

College dropoff complete

Last year we hit the peak of parental drop off time, noon, and it was muggy, hot and rained a bit.

This time, for sophomore year, we waited until after 3 pm for the drop. Th picture was taken at 4:12, after the cops said to unpack, then move the car (not mine in the picture).

Total round trip time from home - under 90 minutes.

Have a good semester, son.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Battery found on sidewalk

Found this on a short hike from my car to the Baltimore County library branch in Essex MD. I like to park a little farther away, and scout for batteries in the parking lot [see earlier blog].

But yesterday this was was smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk. It looks pretty new, so has to have only been there for a few hours maybe.

Ah, civilization.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Great sunrise yesterday, ominous one today

While Tropical Storm Fay didn't charge up the East Coast as predicted early last week, the remnants are starting to reach Maryland. Yesterday's sunrise had streaks of clouds with gorgeous colors, red, yellow, orange. But today had just a glimpse of color beyond gray.

It's already rained a bit and we'll probably get more through the day. Still, it's nice to see a spot of color before hitting the cubicle walls.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ouch. Oh, bummer.

Words can't really express the situation.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thoughts on "The Murder of Fred Hampton"

I've had a Netflix membership for a few years, which started out as a way to cut down on trips to the local rental place. I've greatly enjoyed the huge selection they have to offer; nearly every obscure film I searched for, they had. In some cases, the delivery originated from farther away (Maine, Wisconsin, etc.), but I've also found films I've never heard of. Berkeley in the Sixties, The Weather Underground, and One Bright Shining Moment led to the latest documentary, The Murder of Fred Hampton.

I'm not going to review the film, but talk about the context(s), then and now.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I was watching this film, I got this response, "Great stuff the black Panther stuff and Daley senior 68 conv machinations will never make it to Chicago Olympics 2016 website". I was born in the 50's, and I remember the 60's. My brother got into the reserves, but I was in the age-group where the lottery started, and had number 364, not to mention heading to college. I was at a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert at the Atlantic City racetrack the day after Richard Nixon resigned. The smile on David Crosby's face as he held up a copy of that day's New York Times was a sight to behold.

I lived in Chicago in the late 1970's and though I was a civil servant, still felt the ire from "Chicago's finest" simply for having long hair. Maybe things have changed there. I hope so.

Once I was invited to a New Years' Eve party on Chicago's South Side, and brought a co-worker along. Charley had been in the Naval Academy, a federal employee, and probably lived in the suburbs. Marlene from the office invited us to her apartment, where we listened to music, danced, ate and drank. It was an awesome party. As we headed out in the wee hours, Charley thanked me for persuading him to overcome his hesitation in visiting a neighborhood he would never have been to otherwise. As I recall, he simply said how normal it all seemed. People are not that different.

If you don't have Netflix service, search for "Fred Hampton" on YouTube. The movie is there in 4 parts about 25 minutes each. A "Must See."

In addition to the documentary there's footage of a "Cicero March". While I recall many scenes from Selma Alabama and other Southern freedom marches, I don't remember hearing about this episode. While it doesn't seem to have been uploaded to YouTube, the fact that the Chicago Film Archives has original footage means future generations can continue to learn from the past.

On the same day that I watched The Murder of Fred Hampton, I happened to have visited parts of Baltimore City with friends from out of town (Pennsylvania and Texas), along with a Maryland Institute College of Art student. An offhand comment about the poor people in the projects preying on the rich(er) people in Bolton Hill didn't really surprise me that much, but when we pulled up on North Avenue preparing to enter the expressway that leads to the suburbs we saw a guy selling newspapers and food (bean pies).

I knew this gentlemen with the nice suit and bow tie was a follower of the Nation of Islam. When I mentioned this, I got the idea that no one else in our vehicle knew what I was talking about. I asked if they had heard of Minister Farrakhan or Malcolm X, only a glimmer of understanding. We would not be offered the newsletter or the bean pies; we were an SUV of white suburbanites. Hopefully my elevator pitch summarizing hundreds of years of racial conflict, the continued tensions and inequalities, was heard by my friends.

I tried to explain that this was not a panhandler often seen at traffic lights, asking for handouts. He is selling information and community-produced food. While I don't agree with the theories of separatism, I understand the lineage of thought that brought this gentleman onto the median strip of North Avenue.

After realizing that the Cicero March happened only 40 years ago -- that's 2 generations -- I know that memories persist. I have hopes for improving relations among various groups.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wind energy, charitable giving

Our most recent BGE bill seems to finally contain evidence that we have a sustainable energy supplier. In previous blogs (e.g., "Is it green yet?") I looked into where our energy comes from. The "Pepco green" source wasn't what it was cracked up to be, and I was pretty sure that I asked them to switch us to their other alternative energy source: "100% Wind."

Last month's bill showed the rate that I was quoted for the green source ($0.1511), so I know I wasn't getting what I wanted. This month's bill has us pegged at $0.1571, which should mean we've connected our TV, lights and HVAC to windmills somewhere in North America. I probably should not just assume that's what has happened, but ask Pepco Energy for a little proof. After watching "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" I got pretty cynical about greed and the ability to control excesses like that.

On a different note, I've been using Facebook to build a friends network for a few months, and saw that Leave No Trace has a page. There's a "join me" drive that, at last glance, had over 10,000 members, and a donation slot, with less than $300 donated. My calculator showed that's only pennies per person.

So, I started a pledge to raise $100, and kicked in $25 to start. I've given money directly to Leave No Trace in the past, because I think it's a worthy educational, environmental charity. The on-line Facebook donation went through Network for Good, which I was a little leery about, not because I don't trust them, but because (a) I don't know how much they charge for services and (b) I'm not sure whether I can use the matching gifts program from work.

My research showed that shel israel's company already rated Network for Good, though the details didn't include much financial data. I then searched through their site and found the 2006 annual report, published about a year ago, showing their transaction rate of 4.75% (on page 25 of 26). Correspondence with Leave No Trace people confirmed this.

There is a site called, which rates camping and related gear. If you do a certain amount of rating, and recruit someone else to do rating, then they'll donate a couple bucks to Leave No Trace. Interesting, somewhat viral approach, to marketing and site building. Visit their Facebook page and see the link on the Wall of the Leave No Trace page. And yes, the chance to win a T shirt got me motivated.

I think it's great for us to have convenient ways to be charitable ("click here") but worry that we've reduced helping others to be another form of online shopping.

That being said, if you read this, and would like to support my goal of raising $100, please take a look at the Facebook page for Leave No Trace and join in!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Eagle project -- son with his father

Most of our Scout troop showed up bright and early Saturday morning for an Eagle project. We cleared trail off Eastern Avenue in Baltimore County.

Once Matt finishes his report and Board of Review, as well as a couple more merit badges, he will join an elite group of young men.

Friday morning report - 0 Dark Hundred Hours

So far, I've managed to make to exactly 1 of the Friday Morning Reports my buddy Craig Cmehil has hosted, because he hosts them from his home office in Germany. For him, it's the pleasant hour of 9AM; for me it's prime Rapid Eye Movement time at 3AM, eastern US. The west coast could probably handle staying up until midnight to watch the show; it's definitely more entertaining than Conan O'Brien.

Craig started an online poll, after a few of us suggested a later hour. Moving the sho to the afternoon in Germany would require renaming it, etc., so the latest time proposed is 11:15 CET. That's 5:15 AM for me, I think, until we fall back or spring forward off daylight savings time.

I've already voted, and it's now 3 for 11, 0 for 10 and 0 for 9. Let the ballot-stuffing continue!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Car P00l update

The carpool has been running for a week now, and I guess it's OK. I know I'm not saving a huge amount of gasoline, maybe driving 40 miles less per week, so it's probably just over 1 gallon saved per week.

We need to find others in the area who have similar hours, drive to the same location, and can deal with working to someone else's schedule. It should not be too hard, but there you are.

I should report our success back to the corporate folks who started organizing this effort, maybe get a mention on our intranet.

Today I found out we're both driving the same "last mile" to the rendezvous point i picked out, since it's supposed to be a park and ride lot. Not doubling over that route will save an extra 2 miles of driving each day. But the dilemma is where else to park. The ideal spots are taken by commercial establishments that will object to cars, owned by non-paying customers, sitting on their lots for 10 hours per day. The alternative spots don't look so great: a main street that's in front of someone's house, or maybe a school, or on a side street near a community park.

I need to check if there are signs posted like they have at malls "no long term parking" or "customer only".

Anyway, I'm driving solo tomorrow as the other guy is working a half day. I wonder if I can deal with the sudden isolation?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oak tree, you are not in my way.

Photo of an acorn:


Story of an acorn:

Today as I was mowing part of the lawn, I glanced at the health of one of the 2 oak trees that are in my back yard. I planted both from acorns that I picked up on one hike or another, with the implication that it isn't "Leave No Trace" to take a germinating acorn from a location where it would not survive or thrive and moving it to where it will grow. What I saw surprised and pleased me: an acorn growing.

What this means to mean is that I've not only nurtured another tree to a healthy life, but that the tree has gotten to the point in its maturity where it can reproduce. Almost like I'm a step-grandfather.

When I was around 5 years old, I took an apple seed from an apple I had eaten and started a tree in a small container. After it sprouted my parents let me move it to the edge of our yard. As it was surrounded by other vegetation, it grew tall and skinny. After 10 years or so, a tiny apple, smaller than a golf ball, appeared. How was I to know at that age you are supposed to trim apple trees so the fruit is close to the ground, not 12 feet up in the air?

As the months move into fall, I will be keeping an eye on this and hopefully other acorns, to see how they grow. My Peterson's Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs tells me this one may be a Chestnut Oak, which grow 60-70 feet. Whoa!

The other oak tree is a bit smaller, and a different type, probably a Pin Oak would be my guess. A picture on another day.

(This blog title is a skewed homage to Lynryd Skynryd, who's apocalyptic song about crashing their plane has a line "Oak tree, you're in my way." In my case, not.)

Tech note: the photo started out in the camera around 1MB:
-rw-r--r-- 1 jim wheel 1011058 Aug 10 08:56 DSCN3929.JPG
I ran it through a pnm resize on NetBSD UNIX:
$ jpegtopnm DSCN3929.JPG | pnmscale -xysize 800 600 > DSCN3929-800x600.pnm
After going back to jpeg, I added back the original tag data with jhead:
$ jhead -te DSCN3929.JPG DSCN3929-800x600.jpg
-rw-r--r-- 1 jim wheel 921615 Aug 10 11:16 DSCN3929-640x480.pnm
-rw-r--r-- 1 jim wheel 83484 Aug 10 11:20 DSCN3929-640x480.jpg
Without the tag info, it would be around 43K.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Carpooling alone

While I was in the woods the other week, people at work were having a carpool "meet and greet". That event was definitely spurred by raising gasoline prices, and was set up by folks in our central office. It reminded me of the "ride share" boards we had in college in the '70s (and I assume students still do this) where people would self-organize combined trips for weekends and semester end.

I heard about the meeting ahead of time, and talked to the people setting it up, since I would not be there. They had planned to set up a city map, then let people tack up their ride data on slips of paper. I think someone took pictures, but have not seen them or the map yet. From what I heard, less than 50 people attended, which is better than none, but still a small percentage of our workforce.

After I got back, I got a spreadsheet with peoples names, hours, and contact information, organized by county (directions from where we work, for those unfamiliar with Maryland geopolitics). There were 3 or 4 in my area, including a couple people I know. However, most of their locations were not on routes I normally take, nor the early work hours I prefer.

I found 1 person whose coordinates resembled mine, so I called him. Well, we traded phone calls and email for a couple days before actually speaking. I suggested a park-and-ride-lot that I knew about, but that he didn't. So, Thursday this week we started a carpooling experiment.

My first connection was almost lost, as I expected it would take me 15 minutes to drive the 10 miles to our meeting point; it was about 17 minutes, meaning I'll need to leave a bit earlier than my original guess. But we got to work about 15 minutes later, so my total commute was only 5 minutes longer than if I drove "straight" to work.

Leaving work is a bigger coordination effort, since sometimes projects or incidents run over. But I like the idea of not attending those very late in the day meetings that are sometimes proposed.

The "alone" part of this blog title is the fact that the park-and-ride lot is empty but for us. On the first morning, there was one (1) truck there. In the afternoon, there was a taxi waiting for calls, and a couple practicing parallel parking. On the second day, no one else was there either in the morning or afternoon.

It's sad that these lots were set up as a result of earlier gas crises, yet we continue to drive alone in our cars the majority of the time.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Summer camp photo recap

A few photos I've sprinkled in different places on the web showing our Scout troop summer camp in July 2008.

Trailer waiting for the troop.

Driving to camp. Silliness cropped.

It rained. "Tramp tramp tramp. The troops tramped through the night."

Great Buck Lake. Bucks County. Get it?

The trail to the rifle range. It's a 30 minute hike. One way.

Rest spot off the trail - creek with awesome cliffs on opposite bank.

Thursday cookout for first year campers. I cropped out the silly boy on my left.

Driving home. Sleeping Scouts cropped.

Is it really green energy, yet?

I was going to blog about finally getting the right alternate energy choice, after stupidly picking the "green" energy that wasn't as green as it seemed. But after looking at my July statement from BGE, I can't do that yet.

In an earlier blog, I described why I wanted to switch from the "green" energy supply to the "100% wind" supply, even though it was going to cost us even more than the premium we chose ($0.1571 compared to $0.1511 per kWH). This EditGrid snippet shows the impact.

BGE is charging $0.1169 per kWh, although this is a calculated rate; during summer months the peak rate of $0.13 kicks in when air conditioning runs the hardest. Plus, I'm still paying the distribution price of $0.025 (2.5 cents per kWh) so my electricity is costing more like $0.182 per kWh).

I never received the confirmation email or paperwork from Pepco Energy Services to switch from Green to Wind, though I'm certain I mailed them the paper copy before the June 16 deadline they imposed (it's now August 2nd). It's possible they got my change and will be applying it on the next bill cycle. It's also possible they misfiled it and I need to start a complaint cycle. In the beginning of this process I praised how easy it was to sign up on the internet to a colleague in the SAP users community, but I'll now need to tell him that the remainder of the process is not praise-worthy. It made no sense to me how I could commit on the web, but could not switch to a higher-cost option that way.

In any case, conservation, not running the air conditioner, and having a higher efficiency heat pump than previously has allowed us to lower our energy use for the first month of this summer. The chart says "July", but is based on a billing period roughly June 10 - July 10 each year.

Average temperatures for these July periods all fall between 74 and 76 degrees F.

Prior blogs:

* green-energy-or-partly-green-energy
* energizing-myself-to-switch-providers
* hey-buddy-got-light
* dark-hour-plus
* electric-rates