Sunday, May 31, 2009

Open Houses Past And Present

This past week has been dominated by houses and homes of all sizes and shapes.

On Tuesday The Wife, Mom, and I went on the second Durham Museum River City Tour - Millionaires and Mansions. The bus tour took us past some 40 old homes and mansions built and owned by a rather eclectic group of, what would be referred to today as, entreprenours. Bankers, Mexican silver mine owners, and the preeminent supplier of cowboy boots in the country at the time, among others. The tour was interesting taking us through some of the older areas of Omaha. When the tour guide pulled out her notebook and started to read, I was concerned that she would be a boring drone but she happened to be a very good reader and the notes were very well written. He fed us enough details, information, and humorous anecdotes to keep me quite interested. The views from the bus were okay but we all had the urge to actually go through the houses.

On Saturday, as a part of her birthday celebration, I took Mom on one of her favorite pastimes - walking through open houses. The annual Omaha Downtown Living Tour takes you through twelve condo and town home complexes scattered around the downtown Omaha area. The buildings varied from the renovated hotel (The Paxton), department store (the Brandeis), and warehouse (Beebe & Runyan Luxury Lofts) to newer row houses and condos. There was an interesting contrast of the old style exteriors and the undated, sometime modern inside renovations.

Here's a question. Many of the newer row houses were three stories. They had more steps than the Great Wall of China. They also were rather small having only two bedrooms. Who are they making these for? Empty nesters? Most seniors wouldn't want to tackle the stairs every day. Young families? Stairs are not young kid friendly and they were a little overpriced for the younger crowd. To me the stairs, size, and price really limits their desireability. Several people agreed.

A free shuttle bus (a full size bus full of passengers) took you from one property to another. We were grateful for this as it was in the upper 80s most of the day and walking it all would have killed us. We ended up skipping two of the properties. One of them is a high rise that hasn't been built yet (only models exist). It was originally supposed to be 20-30 stories high but now, thanks to the economy, it has shrunk to about half that size. This prompted me to suggest that it should be renamed from its current name, the Wallstreet Towers, to the 401k Towers. That made the bus chuckle.

Despite skipping two of the properties, our tour took almost 5 1/2 hours. We both had a great time and saw a lot of interesting places. If I were rich, I would love to live in some of the places. Prices ranged from the $250,000 to $500,000 range. Too rich for my blood but I do like the downtown Omaha area. (One interesting factoid: many of the mansions we toured on Tuesday were build for less than $20,000.)

After the last property, we got in the car and headed to get some ice cream at Maggie Moos. Unfortunately there wasn't a open parking spot within a mile of the place so we gave up. I owe Mom ice cream. I'm sure the summer will offer many more ice cream opportunities.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book: John Scalzi's "Old Man's War"

Most of my sci-fi lately seems to be of the post-singularity type that seems to be in vogue lately. John Scalzi's "Old Man's War" is not. From the start "Old Man's War" has that old fashion Space Opera/Military Sci-Fi feel to it. The book had a quaint, comfortable feel to it reminding me of classic Star Trek and books like John Steakly's "Armor" and Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (Confession: I haven't read "Starship Troopers" but I did see the movie several times). I eased into this book like a pair of comfy slippers.

The story follows our hero, John Perry, as he joins the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) at age seventy-five. Scalzi has created an interesting and somewhat original take on the 'Universe is Hostile' philosophy though, like most military science fiction, he handles the problem in the standard way: Blow all the buggers up! Scalzi basically takes the competition for scarce resources emerging on our world and moves it out into the galaxy. Humanity has moved out into the void and found out that we are surrounded by greedy, hostile, and very hungry alien civilizations.

I liked this book but there are something that bothers me a bit. We learn that the CDF is not beyond genocide to further it's goals. Is this a bad thing? Yes. What if your survival as a people hinges on it? Uhh? Should we roll over and be wiped out? No, I guess not. Kind of like the torture debate raging around us today. Unfortunately Scalzi really doesn't argue the point - he assumes it's fine to bomb a whole civilization into the stone age. Doesn't even blink. Kind of reminds me of a certain ex-vice president. I wish he would have had a little more moral struggle in there and less gung ho, let's blast'em, rhetoric.

The book really felt like a throw back to the cold war times. Good is good. Evil is really evil. We can do no wrong. They do no right. It's probably my age but that really made me feel comfortable. I guiltily felt at home with the blast'em mentality. The moral certainty in the book felt so much better than the moral ambiguity that we are struggling with today. (I know, I'm remembering the cold war era with rose colored memories. Sorry.)

There are two more books in this trilogy. I'm looking forward to adding them to my reading list. There is more story there and I want to read it. A great first book from John Scalzi. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day To All

I hope everyone has a happy Memorial Day with family and friends.  Keep our men and women of the armed forces in our thoughts and prayers.

"On The Way To War"
by Bruce H.

P.S.  Don't Panic, Happy Towel Day!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thanks For The Breezuz

The AC is on the fritz, on a holiday weekend no less.
With temps in the 80's, why did you fail us?
Thank cheesus for the breezus!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Photograph: Myth - Busters

Found this recently. I wonder if 'Myth' has a sense of humor.

"Myth - Busters"
by Bruce H.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Mind Keeps Wondering.

I occasionally geocache and when I do I try to move trackable items like geocoins and travel bugs. These items have individual serial numbers that let you track them at Geocaching.com. It's kind of fun seeing where your bug has gone. One of my bugs has been to Guam, Okinawa, and Hawaii and traveled 18,293 miles. Those who geocache know the lifespan of trackables can be pretty short. Some people don't understand the concept of trackables and often mistake them for cool collectibles.

My first travel bug, called "The Mind Wanders ...", disappeared spring 2006. I thought it would, like so many other trackables, never be seen again. I was wrong. Two days ago, after three years of limbo, it reappeared. Seems that last cacher to pick it up lost track of it and re-found it in a storage box. He was considerate enough to drop it off in a cache near Denver.

The cool thing is that we will be passing through Denver during out vacation next month and I have a chance of picking up my bug. If it's still there next month, I'll grab it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Weekend Overfloweth

This post is about last weekend - one of the most hectic for the wife is a long while.  (It was a little less hectic for me.)

It started with the Wife chaperoning the dreaded High School Prom.  I didn't go, though I should have been there to keep her company.  I spent the night watching Batman: the Brave and the Bold , Star Wars: The Clone Wars , and Ben 10 Alien Force.  The Wife arrived late (early) Saturday morning and was out for some nine or ten hours.

The Wife's friend, the Loon Whisperer (LW), had called the night before asking if she'd like to go out for a movie.  The Wife, staggering out of the bedroom at 10:40AM-something, called her and said sure.  I decided to bow out of the movie so that the Wife could have some girl time and I really wasn't very interested in the movie they were seeing (Angels & Demons , "It was entertaining but not as good as the first").  I spent the afternoon with laundry and literature (literature is a strong word for the pulp fiction I'm reading but I'm easily entertained with awesome alliteration).

After the movie the Wife put some steaks on the grill and, as always, we enjoyed a yummy dinner.  The Wife and the LW, not wanting to sit still too long, headed over to the LW's sister's place to get some horticulture tips.  They left with the promise of returning with an Oreo® Brownie Earthquake.  At 11:00PM I gave up (both on the ice cream and the crap on TV) and went to bed.  This was all for the better since I really didn't need the sugar, fat, and calories only a couple days before my latest lipids blood test.  The girls arrived home laughing just after midnight and eventually made it to bed sometime shortly after 2:00AM.

We all got up surprisingly early on Sunday.  The LW had an assist by Homer ("Go on, give her a smooch Homer!").  We went to Lisa's for an awesome breakfast before the LW left.  We now had just over two hours before our next scheduled activity so naps were in order all around.

Sunday afternoon we went downtown to do a Public Art walk put on by the Omaha Public Art Commission. The walk was supposed to be two hours and visited 22 of the many public art pieces in downtown Omaha.  Our tour was led by the current president of the commission.  He was a very likable guy.  He had been worried that the walks would be a waste as funding is tight right now but he seem quite surprised when close to 50 people showed up for the first of three tours.  

We were herded around from piece to piece.  The variety of Omaha art is impressive.  One of the pieces we visited, in the Hilton Hotel no less, was a Steven Dinsmore - I think we know someone who knows him.  Two hours later we weren't even half way through the tour and both the Wife and I were starting to wear down.  As we had even more planned for that evening, we decided to cut the tour short and headed home.  We weren't alone as the group had been shrinking over the two hours.  I wasn't too disappointed as I'd seen most of the pieces on my walks and the excellent pamphlet that they gave out filled in a lot about what we'd skipped.  I added some public art pictures to my 2008-2017 Omaha And Surrounding Cities Google Pho9tos album.

After some more napping and eating we headed to the Stir Cove in Council Bluffs, IA for a Joe Cocker concert.  The venue is a rather intimate, open air, grassy amphitheater.  We had folding chairs which are a must have at the Stir Cove.  The place got chilly really fast after the sun set and the breeze cooled everything down so we layered up and waited for the show to start. The warm up act was a Welshman named Paul Freeman.  He turned out to be okay.  Just him, his guitar, and his harmonica.  As good as you could ask for a warm up act, I guess.  He knew why we were there.

Joe Cocker ... was awesomey goodness.  He sounds just as gravelly as ever.  The guy is getting long in the tooth but he can still belt it out.  His mannerism are so unique - a style all his own.

I managed to take a few good pictures.  I took over a hundred and fifty pictures at the concert and the majority came out.  I took so many because I thought I wouldn't get any good ones.  I guess the camera class helped.


We made it home before 11:00PM and we both crashed pretty hard.

Totally awesome weekend.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book: Rosemary Mahoney's "Down The Nile: Alone In A Fisherman's Skiff"

After my disappointment in Rory Stewart's travelogue “The Places In Between” I wasn't sure if the travelogue genre was for me. I decided that one data point was not enough to judge so I chose another travelogue as my next read.

"Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff” describes Rosemary Mahoney's attempt to row a boat down the Nile by herself. When I read the description of this book, it sounded fascinating. There is some mystery associated with the Nile, Egypt, and Muslim society and I thought this would be an interesting way to tap into that mystery. Unfortunately Mahoney's adventure did not meet my expectations.

Since Mahoney is a woman, she has an interesting perspective on how Muslim men treat their women and how they treat foreign women differently. The first time she brought this up, I was very interested but eventually the repetition became old – this may be Mahoney's attempt to show how tiresome the Men's behavior was.

For a book about rowing down the Nile, there was very little rowing down the Nile. When does she get to the rowing part? Page 214, just 54 pages before the end. Oh, there's some rowing stuff earlier in the book but the rowing alone part doesn't start until 214. Most of the 268 pages of this book were about the author trying to buy a boat, Egyptian history, Muslim male chauvinism, and her favorite, the views of past tourists to Egypt. The vast majority of the book is occupied with quotes of other travelogues, especially those of Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale. Flaubert and Nightingale are quoted so much they should be given equal billing on the cover.

I guess you can sense that I was a little disappointed with this book. It felt like, after she wrote her story and realized that it wasn't that interesting, padded it with tangential facts and travelogue quotes to meet her editor's goals. A shame. I can't quite recommend it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Perloined Plexiglass

I like to feed the birds in our backyard. I've got a feeder hanging from the back fence. I fill the feeder every Monday afternoon. The birds, sloppy and ravenous, usually empty it out in less than 24 hours. Often in less than 12.

I went out there today and opened the feeder to fill it and I was surprised to find one of the two Plexiglas sides completely missing. I looked around on the ground and looked over the fence to see if it was there. I couldn't see it anywhere and I was sure that some neighborhood kids stole it.

At the urging of the Wife I went back behind the fence to do a more thorough search. Our back fence backs up against a road and there is a pretty good drop from the bottom of our fence and the road - eight to twelve feet I would guess. When I got there sure enough the piece of Plexiglas was at the bottom of the ditch.

I picked it up and, using the skills I learned watching CSI, I identified the perpetrator:

A Raccoon


The amount of wildlife around these parts never ceases to amaze me. The biggest thing we saw in our backyard in Oxnard was a possum. Now I just need to catch the raccoon in the act with my camera.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

River City Tours - The Magic City

Last Tuesday the Durham museum started River City History Tours and we were on the first one. There are four tours and the first was the Magic City. We entered our trolley decorated bus and immersed ourselves into the history of South Omaha.

First the name of the tour. Omaha, like many cities, have nicknames. New York has the Big Apple. Chicago has the Windy City. Omaha is sometimes referred to the River City being on the west shore of the Missouri River. South Omaha was called the Magic City. Magic City was coined to described how fast South Omaha was growing. At one point it was well on it's way to be as big or bigger than Denver or Kansas City.

The Magic City tour concentrates on South Omaha, an independent city until 1915 when it was annexed by Omaha. South Omaha was dominated by the stockyards. The stockyards, slaughter houses, and packing plants surpassed those of Chicago in 1955. That same year the Omaha stockyards had a record one day run of 53,000 head of cattle. In the 60s and 70s the stockyards and packing plants fell victim to stricter Environmental Protection Agency rules and more efficient cattle slaughtering methods. The newer, smaller packing plants were located closer to the ranchers and they could process meat so quickly that stockyard holding pens were no longer needed. The Omaha stockyards were done in by the environment and more efficient killing.

Surrounding the stockyards of South Omaha were the immigrant neighborhoods. Our tour guide, Gary, of Polish ancestry, pointed out the locations of businesses and homes of Polish, Irish, Lithuanian, Bohemian, Mexican, and many other ethnic groups who once lived there. The old ethnic neighborhoods are mostly gone as most of the ethnic groups moved to western Omaha. After the stockyards closed and the various ethnic groups scattered, a lot of South Omaha became desolate until the 90s when the next wave of immigrants, the Latinos, moved in and filled the void, helping revitalize parts of South Omaha.

Gary was a pretty good guide. You could feel his love for South Omaha and his interest in the history of the city. He was full of stories and anecdotes that brought that history alive. Over the hour and a half tour, which took me through areas I had already walked through and a few I hadn't, I learned quite a bit. Who knew that at one time Omaha had more bars per capita than any other city. We were on the bus the entire time so my camera went unused.

I'm looking forward to the other three tours and I'm sure I will post about them.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Movie: Star Trek

I don't think there are any spoilers in this review.  You be the judge.

Until 2005, the year Enterprise was canceled, I was a Star Trek fan.  I remember asking my Mom to describe the episode she had seen the night before - I was too young to stay up and watch it myself.  She wasn't that into it so I had to wait until it re-ran to get my first real Star Trek fix.  I didn't consider myself hard core - I never owned a uniform or wore pointy ears - but, by most people's standards, I was a full blooded trekker .

In college I would come in from eating dinner in the cafeteria and sit down to watch the first few minutes of each show.  We played a game on my dorm floor to see who could name the episode soonest.  My record was somewhere between three and five seconds.  To get my Trek fix I would read Trek novels.  There are a lot of them but very few good Trek writers.  

When I started working in 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation started and, for the next 25 years, I was thoroughly saturated with Trek goodness.  The last series, Enterprise, was canceled right when it was starting to get good.

The cancellation of the fifth Trek series was soon followed by my loosing interest in most things Star Trek.  I no longer read the books.  I no longer was interested in watching the old shows.  I decided to move on.

When the new movie was announced, I was surprisingly underwhelmed.  The excitement that I used to have for the TV shows and the movies (even the bad ones) wasn't there.  Up to a few days ago my plan was to wait for it to come out on DVD and then I might rent it.  I wasn't sure.  When old Facebook friends found out that I might not go see it they seemed flabbergasted.  I don't think they recognized me.  The Wife too was a little surprised.  All this surprise made me reconsider and, today, we went to see the new Star Trek reboot ... in IMAX.

We sat in a theater surrounded by the majority of Omaha's IT staff.  If you had a computer or network problem this afternoon, good luck.  The movie started late - technical difficulties.  I think the polarity of the tachyon field flux modulator was inverted or something.  Actually, the previews came up inverted and upside down and it took them 20 minutes to make it right.

The movie.  It was a good movie.  Not all trekkers may agree.  Hard core Trek fans religiously follow canon.  When the writers sat down to write this movie, I think they said: "We're going to shred canon and we'll make them like it!"  They then proceeded to create a semi-plausible way to explain it all away and rip the canon apart into tiny little bits.  Some fans will hate this.  I'm not so bothered by it.  There was always something so restrictive about canon and Trek wore it like a straight jacket.  This movie may finally set Trek free.

What did I like about the movie?  Well, besides the loosening of the canon bindings, they dirtied the place up a bit.  Removed some of the perfect world that was Trek.  The action was cool.  The actors played their roles well.  Technobabble was kept to a minimum.  The humor seemed spot on.

What didn't I like?  I realize this is science fiction, but I prefer more Science with my Fiction.  The science in the movie was very weak in spots.  The time travel (I hate time travel), supernova, and singularity talk seemed way off.  I especially was irritated by one non-scientific macguffin that drove the whole plot - it reminded me of some of the technobabble driven plots on Voyager .  The actions of the villain, after he found himself in his situation at the start of the movie, didn't do the smatest thing (If he had done it he would have won and the movie would have been pretty dull I guess).  I didn't like Chekov's accent.  You can't see Vulcan from Delta Vega (OK - that was a hard core Trek geek comment but it's true).  There is also the question of the deep gorge/trench in Iowa.  I wish I knew where that was.  Looks like a good place to hike ... if it existed.

So,  for what it's worth, a modern take on the space opera, I liked it.  I don't think it will relaunch the whole Trek worship thing, at least not in me.  It depends on how they follow up the movie.  More movies is the most likely path but it gets tiring watching the same ship and crew save the world/universe over and over again.  A series would be better as the adversaries can be made less grandiose, the situations so less world destroying, and the chances for character development would be greater.  We'll have to wait and see.

One last point.  All you who have seen the movie, when the new Spock was on screen, did you have the urge to yell: "Watch out! It's Sylar !" like I did?  Or when you saw Harold ... I mean Sulu ... sitting at the helm that Kirk should have said: "Set a course to White Castle." or was that just me?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Happy Odd Day!

Following my Star Wars day post, I bring you:

Odd Day
05-07-09

This, three consecutive odd numbers in the date, will only happen six times this century. The last one was 03-05-07. This next will be 07-09-11.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Happy Star Wars Day!

Today is Star Wars day! May the Fourth be with you!

"ARG, may the Force be with ye, matey"
by Bruce H.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

From The Classroom To The Real World

On Saturday I attended a six hour photography class at the local community college.  The class, actually two three hours classes - beginners and advanced - covered the basic stuff - ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc. - and it turned out to be a pretty good overview of digital photography.  I learned a few things and clarified many others.


Today the Wife and I went to the Hot Shops Art Center open house and I figured this would be a good chance to put by classroom learning to use.  It turns out, while I have more knowledge, I need even more practice.  I took some thirty pictures and really only got five or six okay pictures.  Practice, practice, practice - that's what I need. 


The Hot Shops open house was pretty good.  I was surprised to see just how many resident artists were there.  Omaha has an impressive art scene and the variety of art styles displayed in the three story building was impressive.  I especially liked the blacksmith shop and the glass blowing.


Today also marked the start of my SoFoBoMo 31 days.  I decided it would start when I took my first picture that I thought was good enough to include and I think I managed to get one today.  Just 34 to go.  This should be the kind of practice I need.  I've decide not to post any pictures from the book until I've completed my photo book or I give up, which ever comes first.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Photograph: Gene Leahy Mall 2009-04-23_006

Some flowers for May Day - sorry, no basket.

"Gene Leahy Mall 2009-04-23_006"
by Bruce H.
I'll be going to a photography class tomorrow. It's only six hours and it sounds pretty basic but I think I need some formal introduction to photography terms and concepts so I can improve my photography skills.