I haven’t written anything political on this blog for a long time, but the recent train wrecks in the Trump administration (or should I say the increased frequency of train wrecks) make me feel like our country is in some kind of surreal situation, with a leader who is basically an arrogant, ignorant, petulant child.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, I read that Trump suffers from something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is “the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence.” He demonstrates this over and over, most recently by revealing classified intelligence he essentially didn’t understand.

The Times article ends with this gem, which sums up much of what I feel about our President:

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies buzzing randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand?

Sigh.

LLAMAS

My seminary kids tell me that sometimes I get off on tangents while we’re studying the scriptures, and I think they may be right. For example, today we were studying the book of Revelation, which includes this verse:

14:3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song…

It made me think of a famous song whose words few men know. I did a little bit of research and was fascinated to learn:

* The song was recorded in a single take, and it went terribly. The guitarist missed his cue, the drummer dropped his drumstick halfway through the song, and the lead singer’s voice wasn’t picked up well by the microphone.

* It received a little airplay but didn’t really take off. The band decided to break up.

* A DJ discovered it and played it as “Worst Record of the Week”. Suddenly it became immensely popular, because listeners couldn’t understand the lyrics and thought maybe they were obscene.

* The rumor of obscene lyrics spread, eventually leading to an FBI investigation of the song. After months of work, the FBI concluded the words were “unintelligible at any speed”.

* Not convinced by the FBI, the state of Indiana banned the song.

* Over time, the song has become one of the most covered tunes in music history, with some 1,600 different bands recording versions of it.

* The song has its own web site.

* There’s also an international organization called LLAMAS, made up of people who are fanatic about the song.

* The state of Washington attempted to make it their official state song (but sadly the vote failed).

* It’s played during the seventh-inning stretch at every Seattle Mariners home game.

The song? 1963’s “Louie Louie”, performed by the Kingsmen.

Yeah, pretty amazing stuff. And definitely related to the book of Revelation, right?

Oh, if you were wondering, LLAMAS is the Louie Louie Advocacy and Music Appreciation Society. No, I’m not kidding.

I’m rich! (Well, sort of)

Whenever we use our credit card and rack up “reward points” or whatever they’re called, we cash them in for Amazon gift cards. Every few months I check our balance and realize we can grab a few more cards, so I order them and, a few days later, I have a little guilt-free shopping spree. It’s guilt-free because hey, gift cards don’t count as spending actual money, right?

Last week I realized it had been a long time since I checked our reward-point balance, and I was happy to see that I could order a dozen $25 cards. Woo hoo! Today they arrived in the mail, and I added them to our stash. Now I have around twenty of them.

That’s $500 of whatever random junk I want to buy… expansions for board games! Goofy Halloween costumes! Buckets of Red Vines! Ooh, the mind boggles.

Nostalgia

I saw this picture on the internet this morning:

It evoked all kinds of 1990’s nostalgia:

* A thirteen-inch screen in a compact, fifty-pound CRT monitor
* A mid-tower case with a 24X CD-ROM drive (eventually technology reached screaming speeds like 52X)
* CD-ROMs, or maybe music CD’s… either way, you don’t see many of those any more
* Doom!
* 3.5″ floppy disks in their little cardboard boxes

But best of all…

* The “turbo” button that changed the computer’s clock speed when you really wanted to run stuff quickly (note this particular computer is set to “HI”)

Ahh, good times.

Conversation starters

A couple of years ago, Kyra worked for our friend Emily, who owns a goat-herding business. She rents the goats to organizations– typically municipalities– who want them to handle weed control. Kyra’s job is to put up fencing around the area that needs to be “trimmed”, and then herd the goats into the fenced area. They remain there throughout the day, munching happily on weeds but generally leaving grass alone. At the end of the day, she herds them back into the truck and takes down the fencing.

It’s actually pretty tough work on a hot day, but Kyra enjoys it and has fun with her friend. Moreover, it provides a great conversation-starter whenever people are talking about summer jobs or “what I did yesterday”. For example, yesterday Kyra was working with a llama who got a little excited and spit on her. Why a llama? Because they’re very good goat-herders who protect the little guys from predators (or aggressive people, I suppose). When you’re a sandwich artist at Subway, you don’t get to tell funny stories about being spat upon by a llama.

All in a day’s work…

When all you have is a hammer…

I received my 2017 property valuation notice from Boulder County, and they listed the value of my house way above what it’s worth. According to them, it increased in value by over $80,000 last year! It’ll mean another $700 in property taxes. Not cool.

So I went to the Boulder County assessor’s site to figure out how to protest this valuation, and they provide some search tools so you can find comparable properties. They use “time-adjusted” sale prices, all calculated for June 2016 (the time of the valuation), so it’s a relatively simple matter of finding homes like mine, seeing their sale prices, and finding an average.

Of course, with tens of thousands of homes in Longmont alone, that “relatively simple” matter gets complicated quickly. Looking at a map isn’t a good way to identify homes of roughly the same square footage, or with a similar basement or yard or year of construction or whatever. Luckily the county provides a downloadable Excel spreadsheet that lists properties which sold in the past two years (which is the time period for the valuation). I downloaded it, and was a little dismayed to find that it contained 5,900 property records. Hmm.

Sorting by square footage was a first step, but not useful because I’d find houses the same size as mine, but 50 years older… or without a garage… or in a ranch style. After a few futile attempts to sort the spreadsheet in a way that would show me comparable homes, it occurred to me what to do. I’m a database programmer, right? So I wrote a little PHP script to load the spreadsheet data into a database that I’d quickly created, and pulled all of those values into the appropriate fields.

Then it was a relatively simple (I keep using that phrase…) matter of writing some SQL queries to find homes that matched my criteria, and calculate the average of their sale prices. I could look for homes with floor space within 100 square feet of mine, or built within a few years of mine, and so forth. After a few queries I narrowed it down enough to identify some houses that were more similar to mine than the ones the county had selected. I went back to their web site, filled out the protest form, and submitted my calculations. In three months they’ll respond whether they accept my proposed valuation, and hopefully my tax bill will be $700 lower.

I’m not sure what other people do in a situation like this, but if you’re a database guy…

A rare compliment

The other day I was driving with Zaque, and out of the blue he said, “You know, Kyra is pretty cool.” I asked whether she’d done something in particular to merit such high praise, but he just shrugged. “No, she’s just cool.”

8/7c

This cracked me the heck up.

Quote of the day

American astronaut Jack Fischer reached the International Space Station yesterday, and described the experience as

“A burrito of awesomeness smothered in awesome sauce.”

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all have experiences like that frequently?

Finally

It’s official: we’re on the way to Hawaii.

Over twenty years ago, Laralee and I talked about taking a trip to the islands for our honeymoon. Of course we were flat broke back then, so we kept putting off the vacation. Finally, a couple of months ago our friends Kurt and Megan decided they wanted to go to Hawaii for Kurt’s 40th birthday. They invited us, we accepted, and now we’ve booked our trip. Well, technically Megan booked our trip and paid for everything. She texted this:

Yeah, she picked up some broccoli for Laralee at the store, so I guess we owe her for that too.

Happy belated honeymoon!

Bigger and better

Last night Zaque participated in a youth activity at church where they played “bigger and better”. They divided into teams of about four teenagers, and each team was given a standard #2 pencil. Then they were supposed to go out to the surrounding neighborhoods and talk to people to see if they could “trade up” for something better. Whoever had the coolest thing at the end of the night was the winner, so to speak.

One team headed off to the home of one of the kids, and came back with their SUV. I don’t think that was in the spirit of the game, though…

Anyway, Zaque’s team walked to our neighborhood and saw an older woman sitting on her front porch smoking a cigarette. They walked up to her, explained who they were and what they were doing, and asked if she’d be willing to trade for a #2 pencil. She agreed, went into the house, and came back with a nice souvenir pocketknife. Very nice!

They went to another house and knocked on the door to find an “older dude”. That’s what Zaque said– he could’ve been 30 or 60, I don’t know. Anyway, this guy apparently used the phrase “right on” quite a bit, so after the boys explained what they were doing, he kept nodding and saying “right on”. After thinking a moment, he told them to wait while he found something in the house.

Returning to the door, he gave them sixty dollars in cash. Yeah. Apparently Zaque and his friends were dumbfounded… they didn’t expect that at all. Of course they were pretty happy about it! They were going to leave, but the man asked if they’d be willing to pray with him for a minute. Since they were from a church, he thought maybe they could all pray together. Zaque said they knelt in a circle, held hands, and the guy delivered sort of a rambling prayer that, at points, asked that the boys be blessed as they walked around the neighborhood looking for good things.

After that I guess they decided they didn’t want to give away cold hard cash, so they went straight back to the church. Splitting that four ways worked out pretty well, and Zaque said it was a “really fun activity”. Now I’m sure he’ll blow it all on Hot Cheetos or something.

Still, that’s admittedly better than a #2 pencil.

Champs

Last night was our indoor ultimate league tournament. True to form, my amazing team managed to win all of our games, and we were crowned the champions. It’s been a few years since I’ve won a league, and I’ve never been on an undefeated team. It felt pretty good.

We had a lot of fun together– what a great group of players.

But it still works…

A few weeks ago, Laralee and I decided that we need to do some serious de-cluttering of our house. Our motto is:

It should either be useful, or joyful.

Stuff that doesn’t meet one of those criteria needs to go. We started with the crawlspace and managed to get rid of a ton of boxes that were neither useful nor joyful. While I was visiting Missouri, Laralee tackled our bookshelves, removing all kinds of books that she knew she’d never read again, or that she had electronically on her tablet, or that were duplicates of others (paperback and hardcover, for example). I told her not to touch any of mine, although the day is coming when I’m going to need to cleanse my bookshelves.

Today I was going to vacuum my office and noticed a pile of computer parts sitting on the floor. They were overflow from the closet, where I keep all kinds of old components… because, you know, you might need them someday, right? I opened the closet, gave a heavy sigh, and decided to start a purge.

How many keyboards does a guy need? I had about twenty, most of which had PS/2 connectors (PS/2 was replaced by USB at least a decade ago). Oh, and one ancient model with clackety keys and a connector I can’t even remember:

That was probably from one of my very first computers, circa 1992. Anyway, I kept one PS/2 model– still brand new in the box, in fact– because someday I might need one. I also kept a couple of newer USB ones, and chucked the rest.

CD-ROM drives were cool… in 1994. I had almost thirty of them. They’re all IDE-cabled, meaning they won’t work in a modern system, and I have a fancy little external USB unit that can read and burn CD’s and DVD’s. Even that I don’t use much, because who uses CD’s these days? So a pile of drives headed to the heap.

A scanner from the late 1990’s that probably weighed ten pounds? Gone. Power supplies for cases I don’t even have… hard drive caddies for IDE drives… speakers that don’t work… 16MB RAM sticks… an Apple mouse from an old PowerPC… all gone.

After heaving quite a bit out of the closet, I admired the pile of stuff.

The sad thing is that much of it still works! The keyboards are fine, the CD-ROM drives spin up, and so on. They’re just from a bygone era of computers that you can’t buy any more (except maybe on eBay from junk dealers). It seems a shame to get rid of perfectly good components. The pile probably represents thousands of dollars of purchases.

But, neither useful nor joyful. Away it goes.

Everybody loves cuties

Yesterday in seminary I was teaching about the book of Galatians in the New Testament. As a class we talked about the influence of the world (or, as Paul puts it in his writing, the “lusts of the flesh”) and the things we can do to resist temptations. Part of that, of course, is considering the “fruit of the Spirit”:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…

I’m not terribly creative, but every now and then I come up with a zinger. For this lesson I pulled out a bag of cuties (mandarin oranges if you want to be precise) and handed one to each of the kids. They had little ghosts drawn on them:

Fruits of the Spirit! Ha! Get it?

What else would you do with a Mac?

It’s sort of a long story, but I have a really nice iMac now. It’s a late-model 27″ with a fast processor and a ton of memory. Of course I’m not much of an Apple guy, so I wondered what interesting things I could do with it.

Of course: I could install Linux on it!

I popped in a Mint Linux USB installer, and a few minutes later I had a running system. I think Mint is a great distro, but it’s not really for me: it doesn’t have KDE3. I figured I’d see if I could run Jinux on it. I popped in a Jinux USB installer, and to my surprise, the installer ran flawlessly. I had to wrestle with the bootloader a bit, but after a few tweaks I had a running Jinux system (with KDE3):

Since I’m a certified geek, I’m actually triple-booting for now: stock MacOS Sierra, Mint Linux, and Jinux. I figured Laralee might want to give this puppy a spin. She’s out of town, but when she comes home I’ll see what works.

Well that’s a strong team

Last night was the end of the regular season in my indoor ultimate league. As usual, I was a captain and had a great time. Not as usual, my team is actually pretty good. Well, not just pretty good… amazing. We finished the season undefeated:

If it’s not obvious, the league theme was Star Trek, and we’re Jean-Luc Pick-Hard. Not only did we win every game, but we did so with a tremendous lead: our point differential is over 100, meaning on average we won by 7 points each game. Wow.

But I can’t be too over-confident; next week is the tournament and more often than not, top-ranked teams come into the brackets with a bye and lose their first game against a lower-ranked team who’s won their first round and is warmed up and hungry for victory. That’s what happened to my team last season, when we were also in first place during the season but lost in the tournament semi-finals (so did the second-place team). So I hope we do well and manage to snag some championship swag and bragging rights.

Braces, part 4

A few days ago, Zaque became the fourth member of our family to get braces. He certainly wasn’t very excited about it, but recognized that something has to be done about (as he calls it) his “snaggletooth”. Like Laralee, he’s missing the lateral teeth that are on either side of the top front incisors. Instead, he has canines in those spots. By dragging his teeth around a bit, the orthodontist thinks he can organize everything nicely.

Here’s my boy before heading off for the procedure:

And here he is afterward, making me wonder if he caught a whiff of nitrous oxide or something…

Well, we’re off on a two-year journey now!

D Board

Whenever I’m captain of an ultimate team, I keep track of our defensive plays on something I call the “D Board”. I’m a firm believer that defense wins games, so it’s important to reward* those plays.

Last night were the first games of the spring season. We rocked the D Board.

We won the first game of our double-header, then tied the second in a grueling match under high winds. They were both good, balanced games, and I really like my team this season. We’re going to have a lot of fun together.

* The “reward” in this case is eternal glory.