Friday, March 25, 2005

I put up a quick summary of our cruise yesterday. I dated the entry for March 20, which is when we officially returned home. I can't add any pictures yet due to our still-broken internet connection. When that gets resolved, I will stick some photos into the post.

I started looking for a new ISP today. It's a painful process. Our old one used to be pretty good, but I just called there and had a fairly painful conversation with a no-nothing dweeb who had to put me on hold for every question and ask someone else for the answer. Why do places do this? I understand having front line people to allow the technical staff some time to actually do technical stuff, but when Front Line Guy is clearly in over his head, take the phone and talk directly to the customer. Hearing every question you ask repeated by Front Line Guy to someone else, then hearing a muffled response, then hearing that response repeated by Front Line Guy back to you, is just plain annoying. Besides, I already knew the answer to my question as I had previously talked to the owner. The answer I got this time was different. This is called a test. You failed.

I tried a couple other places: one has a disconnected phone line (never a good sign), and the other is closed for Good Friday. I guess I will start over on Monday.

Other than being pissed that my $65/month internet connection has been down for a week, there really hasn't been much happening. We are just marking time until the snow melts. We did have a friendly letter from the code office that all the permits on our house have been canceled and all work must cease on the house. To which I respond: screw you, asshat. You want to stop me from working on my house, Bob, you come and try. I have a .44 Magnum and a swamp. And no one I've met that lives or works construction in Antrim County would bother to look for you.

Speaking of killing people, the Terri Schaivo case has become positively surreal. Here are my thoughts on the case in no particular order.

1. Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state. She responds. Regardless of how you view her "quality of life," at least get the basic facts of the case right.

2. No one is really sure what her long-term prospects are (although they certainly don't look all that great) largely because anyone who could evaluate her condition has been prevented from doing so by a judge. I know judges like to think of themselves as God's Anointed, but this is completely ridiculous.

3. The Florida judge has ruled that the legislature is not allowed to pass any laws that he personally doesn't approve of. Not that the law is unconstitutional, just that he personally doesn't like it, so therefore, he is ordering hospice personnel to starve Terri to death in direct defiance of the Florida legislature.

4. If Jeb Bush had any balls (and it doesn't appear he does), he would send in National Guard medical personnel to reinsert Terri's feeding tube under the guard of armed, National Guard soldiers.

5. If George Bush had any balls (and it doesn't appear he does), he would send in Army medical personnel to reinsert Terri's feeding tube under the guard of armed, Army soldiers.

6. Neither Bush has balls. There is a joke in there somewhere, but I'm too tired to find it. I leave it as an exercise for the reader.

7. It is unlawful in every place I know of to kill or even, through neglect or ignorance, allow harm to come to any animal by starvation and dehydration. Yet this is what we do to a human being that has become inconvenient.

8. Expect more of this as Medicare/caid comes to eat an ever-increasing share of the economy. We kill the unborn in the name of economic efficiency and convenience. We are now killing Terri in the name of economic efficiency and convenience. If you are over 70, be afraid: you are next. Don't think so? Do some research on medical rationing practices in Holland.

9. If the husband had any balls or sense of decency, he would walk into Terri's hospital room and shoot her in the head. It can't possibly be considered murder as she is already being executed by thirst, one of the most painful ways to die. Shooting her would be the equivalent of hanging a charge of black powder around the neck of someone being burned at the stake.

I could go on, but why bother? No one cares and we all get to watch Terri slowly die on cable TV. The ultimate reality show. What this case has shown is just how far from a republic we have drifted. We are now ruled by an aristocracy of judges who only permit the state and federal legislatures to rule inside carefully proscribed boundaries that the judiciary can change on a whim. The last time this happened, a little dust-up typically referred to in history books as the Revolutionary War took place. I doubt that would happen today. I mean, what would happen to my 401k?

Enough. It's time to head for home.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

No updates for a while mostly because we spent 6 wonderful days in warm, sunny weather on board Carnival's Inspiration. We made port in Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Then we had to come home to snow and cold.

I was going to put up a quick run-down of our trip at some point, but our internet connection has been down since we got home. The whole wireless thing looks to be a rather expensive experiment in technology that doesn't quite work. I will be contacting our old dial-up service provider about getting set up with a dual-modem router and a nailed-up connection. It won't be as fast, but I know it will work. It's hard to call a 300+ kbp connection that never works a "high-speed connection." The dual modem setup will cost more, but I have to have something that I know I can use at any time day or night without having to wait until normal business hours and make a bunch of phone calls, wait several days for a tech to come out to the house, etc. I get calls from work at 3am that require that I have a working internet connection to fix. Either that, or I drive 70 miles round trip to Traverse City. The first time I have to do that I will be well and truly pissed.

This week so far has been just going to work and going home. Tonight is youth group, which means I get to see all the kiddies. For some reason, when I miss a Wednesday night, it seems like I haven't talked to them for weeks. I am hoping several specific people show up; one I need to yell at, the other three I need to follow up with regarding questions they had at the retreat a couple weeks back. We won't be doing the usual youth group thing; I volunteered the teens as slave labor to stuff the several thousand plastic Easter eggs for the community Easter egg hunt we are doing on Saturday.

That's it for now. I will work on a trip report today and possibly post it before I leave work this afternoon. I will try to post more routinely now that our lives have gone from absolutely crazy to just chaotic.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Debbie and I go Cruising

Saturday, March 12, 2005

We frantically pack stuff and try to get ready to drive down state. We make sure we have the two most important things: our passports and a credit card. Everything else you can buy as you need it. Yea, right. At long last I throw three very full suitcases and three very heavy carry-on bags into the truck. We both give Nestina big hugs and say all the stupid things adults say to their kids (be good; be careful; no drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, or fun; yada yada yada). We made it down to Debbie's mom's house in Burt. The three of us started warming up for the cruise by heading to a local buffet for dinner.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

We got up early and went to the 8am Mass with Debbie's mom. Strange church; their 8am Mass starts at 8:30... We came home and organized luggage, then, realizing we had over an hour to wait for Debbie's aunt who was riding with us, we sat and stared at each other and the clock. Luckily for us, Debbie's aunt showed up an hour early because she was just sitting around her house staring at her clock. Cool. With the help of a complex packing algorithm and a bungee cord, we got the four of us and our luggage into Debbie's mom's car and off to Bishop Airport.

We got there and got ourselves and all of our group on the plane without anyone being arrested by the TSA goon squad. My 92-year-old WASP grandfather, who closely resembles the profile of a typical terrorist, was singled out for the full once-over. At least they spared him a body cavity search. Thank you TSA for terrorizing my grandfather the first time he ever stepped foot on an airplane.

The flight was uneventful as we were saved the trauma of someone hijacking the airplane with a pair of tweezers by the ever-vigilant TSA. The in-flight meal was excellent primarily because we stopped at Subway on the way to the airport and bought lunch for ourselves. Otherwise, we would have had to be content with a bag of nuts (complete with warning label that it may contain nuts). There was more chaos at the Tampa airport getting everyone herded off the plane and into the ground transport to the hotel. Once there, all was more or less quiet until one of our party decided to start singing loudly by the pool at 2am. We suspect alcohol may have been involved.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Early morning chaos as we loaded over 60 people into vans and busses and shipped them all to the port. We managed not to lose anyone, although it was a close call. I don't think there is an orderly way to transport that many people and their luggage without a lot more organizational skills than either Debbie or I have. It doesn't help when you are not really sure just what will be showing up to transport everyone. If we had known that there was going to be one bus that held n people and n2 vans that each held n3 people, we could have had everyone grouped up and ready to go. Unfortunately, that information seems to be classified.

At the pier, more chaos mainly because all the front line people that work for the port authority don't speak English. At all. I know I don't follow the news very closely these days, but I am fairly certain Tampa is part of the United States and, it follows, that the port employees are employed by the United States government. If you are going to make a living off my tax dollars, then you best learn to speak my default language. I know saying that makes me a horrible person and I'm sure to burn in Hell for eternity, but there it is. We also had to endure an organized shake-down by the porters who first ignored our luggage, leaving it lying in the middle of the street for 20 minutes, then using force to prevent us from taking our own bags into the gate, then holding our bags hostage until they had been given sufficient "tips." I thought our van drivers had missed their exit and dropped us in some in Central American banana republic. That certainly would have explained the lack of English skills.

Once through the gate and in the hands of the Carnival people, everything changed. Service was prompt, efficient, and polite. In no time we were on our ship and waiting to leave port. We stood with a good percentage of the rest of the passengers on the far forward decks and watched Tampa Bay go by. It wasn't very scenic as it was largely oil terminals, but it was warm. For the first time in 6 months, I actually felt warm. We had our first meal in the main dining room and the first show. That was pretty much the day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

This was a full day at sea, which meant for us that we sat in the sun and read, sat in the sun and napped, and sat in the sun and ate. We didn't participate in any of the activities on board or even make an effort to watch them. Snow became a distant memory; something we had heard about once, but couldn't quite wrap our brain around. Another excellent dinner and a pretty good show.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

We "docked" in Grand Cayman very early. The harbor isn't deep enough to allow cruise ships up to the piers, so we anchored off shore and rode a tender to the dock. Debbie, her mom, her aunt, and I all went on one of the tours to Stingray City, a sandbar populated by very friendly stingrays. You can feed them, hold them, pet them, swim with them, etc. Very cool. The surprise to me was how cold the water was. It wasn't like Torch Lake or anything, but it was obvious we were a long way from the Gulf Stream. That took up most of the time we had in port. In fact, we were technically late getting back to the pier, but as we had booked the shore excursion through Carnival, we were in no danger of being left. That didn't prevent one lady from absolutely freaking out that she was going to be left in Grand Cayman because her ship was leaving at 2pm. No amount of talking could convince her that half the people on the bus were on the same ship and no cruise line is going to leave several dozen passengers stranded on shore. Besides, I was trying to figure out why being stranded in Grand Cayman would be a bad thing. There was a lot of construction going on due to the last hurricane and I can swing a hammer as good an anyone else. The climate is such that you can essentially live in a tent.

Anyway, when we got back to the pier, about 1,000 other people from our ship were standing there waiting for tenders to take them back. Another ship had "docked" and all the tenders were busy shipping those people on shore and left us with no way back to our ship. Another of the ships actually used its lifeboats to retrieve passengers. We got to stand in the hot sun and bake for a couple hours. If anyone tried to complain, I just said, "Think snow." We got back on the ship in time for another awesome dinner and a show.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Today we docked for real in Cozumel. Debbie was staying on the ship to relax and the rest of the group were doing various beach, snorkel, scuba, and drinking packages. I wanted to swim with dolphins. So I went on a shore excursion all by my little self. It was absolutely awesome. I always knew dolphins were way cool, but this really proved it for me. We spent a good half hour swimming with, petting, and kissing dolphins. I bought the DVD of my group for around $35 bringing the total cost of the excursion to $190. Worth every penny.

I will digress here to make some observations. I've figured out why Mexico is stuck in chronic poverty in spite of the billions in US dollars that pour into the country through tourism alone. I was always told that Mexicans were lazy. I didn't see any lazy Mexicans in my time in Cozumel. What I did see was a lot of very busy Mexicans not accomplishing much. My first example is when I walked on shore, found where my tour group was supposed to meet, and tried to purchase a bottle of water. Now this doesn't seem like a hard thing. But this is Mexico. I found a store that sells bottled water easy enough, but then I tried to pay for it. First, stand in line for 20 minutes only to find out that the register I was standing at was credit card only. Well, I wasn't going to charge a bottle of water on the Visa, so I moved to the cash-only line. There were only two people there and none of them had that much. How long could this take? Did I mention I was in Mexico?

It turns out that it can take a very long time. The reason was not the fault of the people at the registers, but in the procedure they had to follow to accept US currency (which despite all appearances, is not the national currency of Mexico). Ring up the sale in pesos on the register. Calculate the exchange to US currency on a small hand calculator. Fill out an 8.5x11 form. Staple one copy of the register receipt to the form and place in a pile with several hundred other forms. Fill out a smaller form. Staple the yellow copy of the register receipt to that form and place in a second pile. Finally, take my money and give me my change. All of this was for a $3 bottle of water. Now understand that this was not because I was some sort of arrogant American that refused to change my dollars to pesos. The person in front of me attempted to pay for his purchase with pesos and was not allowed to because this was the US-currency-only register. There was yet a third register if you wished to pay in pesos.

Purchasing the DVD of my dolphin swim was even more painful. There were over 70 people in our group. We were divided into smaller groups of 10 or 11 and assigned a letter. We were group "D" as in dolphin. Easy enough. We do our swim, then head back to shore to watch our DVD. We never find it. Several people point us in several directions, but we never do find where our video is being shown. I head into the gift shop and ask where the group D photos and DVD's are and get directed to the correct line. Wait in line for several minutes only to find out that our stuff isn't ready yet. I have time; no problem. Numerous times while I am waiting, the same person asks what I am waiting for. I respond "Group D's DVD." This would spark a flurry of shouted Spanish to other workers in the gift shop and into his two-way radio. After several minutes he would tell me, again, that it would be ready soon. Understand that this is the same guy asking every time. In any case, our DVD is finally done and I get to view it on one of the TV's set up for that purpose behind the counter. I liked what I saw and asked to buy it. Out comes a form full of bar codes representing the various photo and video products. Circle what I am buying, scratch out everything else on the three-part form and point me to a register. This time I'm smart and find the credit card register without first standing in line at the wrong register (I noticed the three-register system; credit card register, US dollar register, peso register; used in many places while in Cozumel). I'm paying with a Visa, which I assume would be much simpler than cash because the sale would just be rung up in pesos and Visa handles the currency conversion. Silly me. More forms (three in all this time), more stapled register receipts, more piles. After more than 10 minutes at the register, I am handed the pink and blue copies of my forms stamped "Paid" and sent back the photo/video counter I started at. Another 20 minutes of rummaging around behind the counter and several people running (literally) back and forth before they find a copy of the DVD I just bought. The DVD is played to confirm that it is the correct one. The pink copy is stapled to a form that I have to sign and date confirming that I did in fact view said video and that it was indeed the video from my group. At long last, I finally had my DVD in my hand and could leave to catch my ride back to the ship. The entire operation took over an hour, and involved no fewer that 5 employees that I saw. (I assume there were others that actually produced and duplicated the DVD's in some dark, locked room.) All for a $35 DVD. No wonder the Mexican economy can't seem to get rolling. It's like trying to run a marathon with cement blocks tied to your feet.

In any case, I headed back on ship. While I was off swimming with dolphins, our ship had to move away from the pier to make room for another ship. The tender service was far superior to what was in Grand Cayman. The boats ran on a regular schedule. They were large, comfortable, and efficient. The retail people could learn something from the tender people. I found Debbie, and headed straight to a buffet as I had not eaten in several hours. We meet up with my niece and her friend and sat down for a relaxing meal. Now the real adventure begins.

I noticed a line of black clouds racing towards us and make some comment that it looked sort of nasty. Suddenly the wind slams us broad-side and the ship is tilted about 10 degrees to the port. Hmm. Crew members frantically stack and tie down deck chairs that start going airborne. Several people are trapped out on deck because four men, two pulling from the outside and two pushing from the inside, are unable to open the door into the wind. I look the other direction and notice that we are slowing being blown into another ship. The entire ship starts vibrating as the engines are panic started. Several maneuvers are tried and we continue to get closer to the other ship. Finally, the captain slams the throttle to full ahead (Did I mention that we were pointed directly at the shore at this point?), and does a tighter U-turn than I would have ever thought possible for a ship that size. We finally get back out into deep water, position the ship with the stern into the wind and drop anchor.

The storm passes, and around 6pm a slot opens up at the pier so we can tie up. We end up being there several hours later than our scheduled departure. The intercom says that we are missing two passengers. I know cruise lines make a big deal out of their customer focus, but I found it incredible that Carnival would hold a ship for three hours because two people don't make it back. The rumor mill starts up at this point: two crew members were missing, the captain was missing, the captain was drunk. The next day, one of our group talks to a crew member. Yes there were two people missing. No, normally they would not have held the ship that long for two people. The ship was held by the Mexican port authority because our little maneuver put us in very shallow water (those on the back of the ship reported seeing a lot of mud kicked up by the screws). They held us either to determine if there was damage to the ship, or to determine if the ship damaged the coral, or both. We never got a straight answer to that one. In any case, we had a little adventure on the high seas.

Dinner was excellent, once again. Tonight was supposed to be the guest talent show. There was exactly one person who participated. We thought maybe we just had a uncooperative group, but then we remembered that try-outs were scheduled for 2pm yesterday when half the guests on the ship were standing on shore with no way back to the ship. In any case, the comedian that followed was really lame. Part of the problem was that she came prepared with 15 or 20 minutes of material, then ended up doing an hour show because there was only one gig for the talent show. It was obvious she was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. This was easily the worst evening entertainment of the cruise. She also had a midnight adults-only show which we passed on.

We didn't pass on the midnight Mexican buffet, although rough seas from the storm certainly kept me from taking full advantage of it. There were a lot of... interesting dishes which I would have experimented with under normal circumstances, but not on a heaving ship. Vomiting up Mexican food once in my life was enough for me.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Our second full day at sea, and it is a rough one. The storm yesterday was really kicking up some wind and surf. All night we listened to the bow of the ship hitting the swells. Boom! Boom! Boom! Up, down, up, down, up, down. Debbie was looking noticeably green by morning. I was doing OK, but I could tell right away that there wouldn't be any heavy eating that day. I was up early and wandering around the ship. The whole thing was creaking. Loudly. I was trying to get on one of the upper forward decks to take pictures of the bow wave which, from our balcony, looked like it was hitting up around the fourth deck. The crew had roped off the stairs to all the upper decks due to the wind. I wandered around until I found one they had missed. As my head cleared the deck, I realized there was a good reason for the upper deck being closed; I was nearly blown backwards down the stairs. So, logically, I continued out onto the top deck. Standing was a major challenge. Moving was nearly impossible. Due to the shape of the front of the ship, the wind was blowing down onto the deck as hard as it was blowing across the deck. I was nearly driven to my knees several times. I made it to the front of the ship only to realize that I didn't dare let go long enough to take pictures. In any case, I couldn't see what I wanted to take pictures of. So I went staggering back to the stairs with the wind now slamming into my back. I had to think a second about how to approach the stairs so that I wouldn't go down them on my face. I figured out a method that at least worked once. I wandered around the ship some more until I finally found a decent place to take my pictures from, but I was frustrated by the lag time of our digital camera. I would press the shutter button when I wanted the picture taken, but of course the camera takes a full second to actually record the image. Normally, that doesn't matter much, but I was trying to catch the spray at its peak. I never really succeeded, but at least digital images don't cost much.

The seas calmed down in the afternoon, although we still had a noticeable bounce. We had our last meal in the dining room and the final show was pretty amazing. We hosted an "open house" in our room because we had the biggest room you could get on this ship as a sort of thank you gift from Carnival to Debbie for booking over 90 people on this cruise. That took up most of our time between dinner and the show. After the show, we had to pack, which occupied us up until the midnight buffet. We ate until we were tired, then went to bed.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

We woke up at the Tampa pier today. Vacation is over. I stuck my nose out our balcony door. It was cold. If Tampa felt cold, I was going to be in big trouble when we landed in Flint. We had our last meal on the ship, then wandered over to our gathering point for leaving the ship. Something was wrong with the intercom because we never got an announcement to leave. We finally just got up as a group and left. That was the only major bobble I observed in Carnival's crowd management, and wasn't anything major. We claimed our bags and headed for the door. You are supposed to have proof of citizenship to get out of the building. For cruises, they accept either a passport or a birth certificate and photo ID. The feds have been making a big deal that since 9/11 everyone needs to get a passport instead of relying on a birth certificate/photo ID. So I spent the $120 to get one. The idiot at the port didn't just not look at the thing, but actually refused to look at it, telling me to get moving when I stopped to open it up and show him my photo. I have to half-undress to get on a domestic flight due to "security concerns," but I can walk off a ship returning to the US after being at two foreign ports without even a glance at my passport. Tell me again how all this crap has anything to do with preventing terrorism?

More chaos with the ground transportation. Some people are going back to the hotel, some are going directly to the airport. Lots of yelling, most of it accomplishing little that was useful. I don't know if it was my look of pure hatred or what, but the porters gave us a wide berth and we took our own bags out to the vans unmolested. We got to the airport with nearly seven hours to kill before our flight left. So we slept, ate, and read. The difference was we had to keep paying money to get food. What conversation there was went something like this: "Hey, we're missing second breakfast. What are we going to do for early lunch? Where can I get soft-serve ice cream at midnight? Who is going to make my 2am pizza?" Reality bites.

The TSA at the Tampa airport are obviously under the spell of The Mouse. They were pleasant, efficient, and actually managed to smile on occasion, rather than glare at everyone who dared to make eye contact. The only person I saw having difficulty was a guy with a rather strange looking laptop. Given that laptop batteries do look a lot like explosives on x-ray (and, in fact can be easily made into a bomb if you know how), a little extra scrutiny is probably warranted. But even then, they were pleasant and everyone was smiling and joking while the procedure was going on. Based on what I have seen personally, and the horror stories I have heard about the TSA at other airports, the Tampa TSA could become a profit center by selling lessons on how to treat everyday air passengers like citizens of a republic instead of subjects of Empire.

In any case we landed safely back in Flint, gathered our bags and headed back out to Debbie's mom's place for the night.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

We attended Mass with Debbie's mom and aunt, then had breakfast at a place that claims to be the only 501(c)3 restaurant in the US. They hire individuals from a nearby group home to wash dishes, work in the kitchen, bus tables, etc. The food was good, plentiful, and cheap. I wish these people luck. What they are doing could be a model for others to follow. After lunch, we grabbed our luggage and headed home.

The drive was uneventful, and Nestina did a great job keeping the house running while we were gone. (Thanks, babe!) We crashed for a bit, then headed into church for evening service, then dinner at Big Boy, and home to get ready for work.

Monday, March 07, 2005

And another week sneaks by without any posts. Most of last week, we were fighting off diseases. I could barely get myself off the couch. Of course we got hammered with a foot and a half of snow in three days, so I spend ten hours on Wednesday plowing snow at the church, my parent's place, and here. At least I got a complete clean plow for once. I've been doing mostly piecemeal plowing this year just because of time constraints.

This weekend, we had a retreat with the Jr. and Sr. High at a place just outside of Kalkaska. I was afraid there wouldn't be enough to keep the kids busy, but they had plenty to do. We were only there for about 24 hours (noon Saturday to noon Sunday) due to some scheduling problems, but everything worked out. I had one of the guys from my college study group come over and give a talk Saturday evening. I think what he had to say made some people really think including myself. I need to follow up with a couple of the teens over the next week or so. Everyone liked the place we used, so we will definitely be using it again. It is close to town, cheap, decent facility, and it is owned and operated by a couple that used to attend our church many years ago.

Needless to say, there wasn't a lot of sleeping going on Saturday, so we did some extra sleeping once we got home Sunday afternoon. All three of us were in bed before 10pm and morning still came way too early.

My truck is in the garage because the engineers at GM are retarded. Silverado trucks are having the electronic modules on the transmissions replaced like crazy because every time you make a left turn, the front tire sprays water directly into the electronics that are sticking out, unprotected, on the side of the transmission. GM needs to change their ads from Like a Rock to Like a Head Full of Rocks. In any case, it should be fixed by tomorrow morning and will only cost me several hundred instead of several thousand dollars, like I was expecting. Bunch of morons. I wonder how long it will be before the Japs start importing heavy duty trucks into the US? I've seen their big stuff they sell other places and it looks nice. I will not be buying anything built in the US again. It is obvious that we now only build mechanical junk that is designed to fail after a short period of normal use. This is only the third year my truck has been on the road and it is already experiencing major failures. That is just not good enough.

Anyway. Some reading assignments:

Vox Day is tearing things up over at WorldNetDaily. First he takes on the feminists. Then he takes on the stock market and the housing market. All three of these are important. You really want to read and understand what he is (and as importantly is not) saying.

And that should be enough for today. I need to get some photos up one of these days. I will work on it. Promise.