Archive for November, 2009

Rescued from their own devices

29 November 2009 at 7:09 pm
by Jonah

I was vacuuming the car today (I think I’ll let Berck do that from now on, since he’ll have more free time). I pull the car over to the bottom of the stairs of our apartment where, with the extension cord, I can reach both sides of it with the vacuum. I try to do the opposite side as quickly as possible so I’m not blocking the entrance to our parking lot.

As I was finishing up on that side, I saw a couple of very excited dogs come down the hill opposite our apartment. One was a Basset Hound and the other a medium-sized white dog with black splotches and long hair. They both had collars and tags and were obviously on an illicit adventure. I briefly considered going over and trying to catch them, but my experience with that sort of thing is that the dogs run away from you, leaving you out of breath and themselves no better off. Also, I wasn’t sure how I would catch two dogs. I watched as they approached the sidewalk and was happy to see one of the SUV’s coming down the road slow as it passed them, in case they decided to dash out into the road. The Basset Hound looked up at the SUV, and I contented myself that the dogs seemed to know that the road wasn’t some place that they should hurtle into.

I went back to putting the various parts of the vacuum back together and then heard a yelp. I looked up to see another SUV screeching to a stop and the white dog crawling out from under the side of it. Okay, so maybe they weren’t so savvy after all. A woman and a boy emerged from the SUV and started chasing the dogs toward the daycare center next door. Then the dogs came over into my parking lot and into the grassy area between the two apartment buildings. I knew for a fact that they could only get out of the grassy square the way they came in, so I went over to the corner where I knew they’d be trying to run out as the woman and boy chased them. Sure enough, the Basset Hound rounded the corner, caught sight of me in his bloodshot eyes, and put down his head a little lower than it already was and pumped his short legs into high gear. I figured I’d have a hard time stopping his mass, so I let him go by and waited for the white dog. The white dog was surprised to see me there and hesitated, which is all the time I needed. I grabbed its collar and had a catch. The Basset Hound, apparently not wanting to leave his buddy behind, let the woman and boy catch him.

We reconnoitered in the middle of the parking lot. No, these were not my dogs. The woman introduced herself and said that the dogs had been chasing a rabbit across the road. I could believe it, because that vacant area where the hill is, is full of rabbits. I spun the white dog’s collar around until I found a tag that said, “SIDNEY” and H and C phone numbers. I reached into my pocket with my left hand and called the H number while holding onto Sidney’s collar with the other. A girl answered the phone and said she’d call her parents and have them pick them up right away and she was sooo sorry. Sidney had a bit of broken or chewed cord attached to his collar. Despite having just been run over by an SUV, Sidney did not have any injuries we could find.

The dogs licked each other and us and obviously loved people. We waited a while and then realized that Sidney also had his address on his tag, Bill Valley Drive, a couple of streets over. The woman’s husband was waiting impatiently in the SUV and suggested they just deliver the dogs to the address. I called back, and the girl said her dad was almost there. The woman was eager to get lunch home to her parents who had just moved in with them (her mom has the beginnings of Alzheimers, she said), so she left the boy holding onto the Basset Hound and told him to start walking home if the owner came. We moved closer to the street so anyone driving by could easily see the dogs.

Right about then, a guy in another SUV drove up. The dogs went crazy, and it was obvious they knew this car and wanted to see the person inside it very much. A portly guy with a surfer hair cut got out and apologized to us. “We have a regular fence, an electric fence, and this one was tied up…did you chew through this, or did it break? I don’t know how they got out. Maybe the electric fence went out.” The dogs hopped up into the back of the SUV (the Basset with a little help), and then the driver thanked us and drove off. The boy and I told each other goodbye and went our separate ways.

And I finally got the car and vacuum out of the parking lot entrance.

San Francisco

25 November 2009 at 11:26 am
by Berck

I had a really nice time in San Francisco. There’s some photos up on the gallery. I took hundreds of shots, but most of them were awful, underscoring my need for a DSLR. With any luck, Erin will eventually post more to her Flickr. I’m hoping for some good ones of the Computer History Museum.

I got there Wednesday amidst a slew of transportation difficulties. The United flight I’d decided to take canceled because of a broken plane, but fortunately there was a Frontier flight leaving a little more than an hour later. I may fly for free, but I really hate being an airline passenger. It’s no wonder that no one wants to pay for the misery.

I immediately had trouble with the Airtrain, which spent about 10 minutes at each stop, before it finally brought me to where I could hop on BART, which I think is a bit of a misnomer, and ought to simply be referred to as BAT. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to work the ticket machine, which wanted $8.10 to get from the airport to the Mission, which is patently absurd. While it’s possible to put an arbitrary amount of money on a BART card, whoever designed the machine that sells the ticket was apparently worried about patent claims on a device that allows direct entry of numbers, that is, a keypad. I waited about 10 minutes for a BAT train to arrive, during which time I tried to explain to a woman how she could get to the Millbrae station from SFO. I quickly became the local transit advisor, since, apparently, I was the only one who could read a map.

In their defense, I was surprised at the difficulty I had in figuring out the process. I’ve ridden public transit all over the world, but there’s simply no standardization. The signage on BART platforms is particularly unhelpful, and, in general, I think the rest of the world should take a clue from the NYC MTA about how to do public transit in the modern world. Admittedly, the MTA has its problems, but it’s an easier to use system than any other I’ve tried. Admittedly, I have not ridden Tokyo subway, which is supposedly impressive.

After the train arrived, it spent another 10 minutes sitting in the station before it finally departed. I was bewildered to encounter upholstered seats in the BART cars. The seats all have rather unpleasant and scary-looking stains, as you might expect would happen to upholstered public transit seats. I will admit that once you get past the odd stains, they are much more comfortable than the NYC Subway seats.

Dad called to ask why I was in San Bruno. Since I didn’t know I was in San Bruno, this wasn’t an easy question to answer, but it’s hard to argue with where Google says I am. Jonah IM’ed to point out that I appeared to be journeying away from the SFO airport, although the position reports were spotty. Since I was often underground, this was not surprising. I should be a bit disturbed by Google Latitude and the willful violation of my privacy it’s causing me to commit, but it’s convenient not to have to answer endless, “where are you know?” questions. And it’s cool.

Erin, who graciously agreed to meet me at the train station, even though I was sure I could my way to her apartment with some Droid-assistance, had understandably wandered off by the time I got there. I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the bustle at 16th/Mission, and stood for awhile trying to acclimate myself. It had been a couple months since I’d been somewhere that urban, and it takes a little while for me to adjust. Erin showed up in no time and walked me back to her apartment where I dropped off my small backpack. I’ve gotten really good at traveling very light, and could have carried the backpack around, but it was nice not to have to. Erin gave me a few options for afternoon/evening activities, and I elected to wander around the city.

I had a wonderful time wandering around, we ate some good food, wandered many more miles, and then stopped for some Belgian beer and fries at “Fritz”. I had a glass of Grimbergen, which I don’t recall ever having before, and both of us agreed it was excellent beer. We eventually went back to Erin’s apartment where we drank some more beer. Since I don’t generally interact with many people, it was a strange surprise for me to have a face to face enjoyable conversation with someone new. Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis (who are not Jonah) bore me terribly. The weather was wonderful both Wednesday and Thursday, and it was so nice to be outside in the cool air with blue sunshine. I really do understand why so many people love the bay area so.

We slept in fairly late Thursday morning, then Erin took me to Boogaloo’s for brunch. I had a fairly good breakfast burrito with bacon; Erin’s breakfast included biscuits and gravy. Where the gravy was green. And tasted wonderful and totally unlike gravy I’ve every had. Our tummies full, we decided on the De Young and the California Academy of Sciences for tourist activities for the day.

The De Young was currently showing off the touring Tutankhamen exhibit, which while not bad, did not seem to be worth the very expensive tickets. The De Young’s permanent collection proved to be a bit more interesting to me, including a largish model cathedral constructed entirely out of guns and bullets. Erin got tired of arting, so she took me up to the tower which had a wonderful view of the city in the late afternoon light. We played with our cameras for a long time, and eventually decided to head back to Erin’s apartment where Jonah and Dave would meet us.

Jonah flew into the SJC airport, was was not convenient to public transport, but it was her best opportunity for a flight with seats. Dave wonderfully agreed to drive down there and pick her up, then take her back up to San Francisco. Dave, not surprisingly, pulled up to Erin’s apartment with the top down on his BMW, because he’s cool like that and I’ve trained Jonah well. He did a marvelous job of shoe-horning the BMW into the theoretically 2-car garage that hadn’t been used as such in awhile since Erin has no car. Amusingly, he was unable to actually open his door, fortunately door opening is optional for convertible egress.

We all BAT’ed out to the Hyatt Atrium where we met up with Erin’s boyfriend who was using the atrium as a convenient, cozy, free-wifi hideout while he waited for us. We had a drink at the hotel, thus becoming one of those really weird groups of people who utilize hotel bars despite not actually staying there. We walked to the Ferry Building and the Adjectived Door and arrived at precisely 8:15pm for our 8:15pm reservation and were informed that it’d be a short wait. The Slanted Door is popular enough that there only a couple of slots left for reservations on a Thursday night when Dave made them a week out. The food was excellent Vietnamese fusion, and there was no bad food among the dozen things we ordered and shared.

The next morning, Jonah and I were planning on going to go see the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brian as well as the submarine at the Fisherman’s Wharf with Erin. Erin slept instead, so we went without her. This was just as well, since despite the website’s claim otherwise, the O’Brian was closed, and when I got there, I remembered that I’d already seen the submarine 5 years ago. We walked around the wharf, took some pictures, and decided on the touristy activity of drinking beer out in Erin’s courtyard.

It was a bit chilly for the non-Coloradans on the porch, fortunately there was a gas-fueled heater that made it quite pleasant. It turned out that Erin was expecting her California Bar exam results at 6pm Friday evening. We did our best to distract her from glancing at the time and hitting refresh a thousand times on the bar website. Erin’s boyfriend showed up just before 6 with flowers. At exactly 6:00pm, Erin made us all not watch her computer screen while she read her results. She, of course, passed. Kevin also brought a bottle of Champagne, and Dave showed up after we’d opened it. We made Erin pick what she wanted for dinner, it being her night, and she picked sushi. It ended up being excellent sushi (and even some sashimi for Berck, since he’s not a sea weed fan) with much sake.

After dinner, we wandered over to the Bi Rite ice cream place, which was wonderful. Most astonishingly, I had some Earl Gray ice cream, which in spite of my total inability to predict what it would taste like, tastes exactly Earl Gray ice cream should. We wandered up to the top of the hill in Hipster Park once again, but this time at night. The view was great, and while I’d reminded Erin to bring her tripod, the mounting plate for it was missing, so we balanced cameras on the park bench for some night shots. It was a lovely night, and Jonah and I headed back south to Menlo Park with Dave.

Dave got up earlier than Jonah or I and ran 9 miles, because he’s weird like that. He was, after his run, appreciably hungry, so we headed back to the Mission for some burritos. While quite good, I thought the burritos Dave had fed last year were better, but the mind’s eye is always favorable to the past. Satisfied, we headed back to the wharf to catch a ferry to Alcatraz. Dave, having already been there several times before as tour guide, was gracious enough to go with us. Seeing Alcatraz was wonderful, and it’s something everyone should do. Once. I felt bad for making Dave brave the tourist nonsense yet again for our sake, but I’m glad he did.

After Alcatraz, we planned to pick up Erin at the Embarcadaro BART stop. (Isn’t that just the best street name ever?) Erin was on the median of Embarcadaro, and I convinced Dave to just stop in the (slow-moving) traffic, in the left lane, to let her hop in. The only empty seat in Dave’s car was behind Dave, and it’s a 2-door convertible. Erin Dukes-of-Hazarded it into the back seat, soliciting a honk in the process, all of which took under 10 seconds.

Dave sped us across the Golden Gate Bridge, racing the sunset we’d hoped to catch at the Marin Headlands. Unfortunately, we missed the sunset at Marin, fortunately, we caught it on the bridge, and the view of the city from the top was excellent. Jonah and I have actually been there before, and had tried unsuccessfully to camp. We had no idea what a view we were missing out on.

After much photography, I convinced everyone that we should go check out Pizetta 211, which I’d been wanting to try after it had been recommended in Peter Reinhardt’s book American Pie. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to get a table, what with it being Saturday evening, and their having only 4 tables. Astoundingly, we lucked out, and took a seat. We ordered 4 different pizzas, the most excellent of which was the Pizza Margarita, which I’m sure to order when trying out a pizza place. I thought it was great, but I’ve had better pizza. I think it might have been excellent if they’d had a forno, instead it was cooked in a normal commercial pizza oven. I love that wood flavored crust taste, and will one day have a forno in my backyard. (Of course, I first need a backyard, and probably a job.)

We dropped Erin off back at her place, and then headed backed down to Menlo Park where we were going to hit Dave’s stumbling-distance bar, but thanks to the Cal-Stanford game earlier in the day, the bar was packed. We instead retreated to Dave’s apartment for beer and margaritas, which were excellent. We headed to bed a little early so that we could start early on Sunday.

Sunday morning, we got up entirely too early and headed for breakfast in Menlo Park. The place Dave wanted to take us was packed, and his second choice ended up being adequate, but not wonderful. We headed up the road to Millbrae, the southern-most BART stop, where we picked up Erin. We let her use the car door this time, and we headed south on scenic route for the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

The scenic route was questionable-looking with many clouds, some drizzle, no sun, and plenty of cold. But Dave is hard core, and forged ahead with the top down. Eventually, I offered to sit in the back, since the back seat is a lot colder with less wind protection and no seat heaters, as long as whoever sat in the front seat moved the seat forward enough I had some leg room. I did, indeed, have enough leg room, and with the top down, it wasn’t too cramped. Erin seemed a lot happier in the front. The drive was beautiful, even though the usual stunning views of the Pacific were, instead, views of grey cloud. The sun came out by the time we got down to Mountain View.

We arrived just in time for the 12:00 guided tour of the visual storage area. The continuity of the collection is astounding. Everything from a piece of ENIAC, a working PDP-10, a Cray 1, a Cray 2, to an Apple I, a Be Box, and one of Google’s first racks of servers (cheap Pentium-II’s mounted with… cardboard). Not to mention the huge array of mechanical computational devices, hand-held calculators and other nonsense. After that tour was over, we went out to the front of the museum to see Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2 demonstrated. Here’s the video I took with my Droid, though there appears to be much better videos of the same thing on YouTube. It was amazing to see such a fantastical device in person, and sad to think how it took over 100 years for Babbage to be proven the genius he clearly was, but not until he was already obsolete. Erin took many hundreds of photographs on the museum, and Dave took some as well, so I didn’t take any. I’m sure they’ll post them eventually.

After the museum, we went to Amber for an Indian Buffet Lunch. Some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had has come from Amber. As always, the buffet was no where near as good as what came off the menu, but it was still very good. After lunch, Dave dropped us off at SJC for our flight. We were quite early, but it seemed to be the best choice. In retrospect, since Dave was taking Erin back up to San Francisco anyway, it would have made more sense for us to take the flight out SFO, but the flight out of SJC worked out just fine.

All in all, an excellent trip out of what may be the last time I get to have free travel benefits.

2009 Wish Lists

23 November 2009 at 9:34 pm
by Jonah

We each have Amazon wish lists, so check those out.
(BDU pants on sale for $25!)

For Joanna:

A Camelbak

Thick cotton boot socks, black

A nice desk chair

A bottle brush

A music stand

A boot jack

A cotton baseball cap, preferably unadorned

For Berck:

Nikon D90 with Nikkor 18-200 VRII lens

Settlers of Catan board game

A pizza rocker

For both:

Amazingly, our Amazon wedding registry is still active. As is the one at (Berck is especially keen about knives).

31 Days Off

23 November 2009 at 3:59 pm
by Berck

I just got my schedule for December. I have 31 days off. This means that my last day flying as an airline pilot will be November 30. I’m absolutely clueless about where to go next. Aside from applying for unemployment, I really don’t even know what the next step is. Last time I found myself unemployed, flying jobs were really easy to come by, as we were in the middle of a huge pilot shortage. It’s a very different story now, with tens of thousands of pilots out of work, many of whom are far better qualified for what few jobs there may be out there.

It might be time to move to Alaska, but there’s not much hiring going on there, either. I’m willing to consider just about anything at this point, but there’s also the issue that I like living in Colorado. If I take a job somewhere else that doesn’t pay any better than what Jonah’s making now, I’m not sure that we’re much better off. Things will get better, and in 2 years or so, I think it’ll be pretty easy to find a flying job again. But I’m not really sure how to hang out in the mean time. I’m considering going to college, but that means a lot more loans, and I’m not sure that a college degree would get me anything that I don’t have now.

I probably should have started searching for jobs today, but I can’t seem to find the motivation. The whole thing is just terribly depressing these days. I’ll probably see if I can find any part time flight instructing work in the area, but even that’s very doubtful.


21 November 2009 at 10:17 am
by Berck

November 20, 2009

Dear Berck,

Recently, we announced the loss of 26 CRJ and 10 Dash 8 aircraft from the United Airlines system. As a result of the loss of business, we must continue to reduce our staffing levels.

Due to these circumstances, we find it necessary to furlough you effective December 7, 2009.

A furlough is never an easy decision, and I assure you we have exhausted all of our available options.

Thank you for all your hard work and support. It is our intention to make every effort to recall you from furlough as quickly as possible.


VP, Flight Operations

Mesa Airlines, Inc.