Adios ’17

Another tragicomic year in review by Dave Barry. Happy Wife and I consumed it this morning, each of us reading alternate months out loud.

A personal favorite excerpt from September

September

. . . international tension continues to mount as President Trump, speaking to the United Nations, calls Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and says the North Korean leader is “on a suicide mission.” In response, Kim calls Trump “a frightened dog” and “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” At this point Trump and Kim have no honorable choice but to meet in person, strip to their waists, and settle their dispute by flailing at each other with their pudgy fists until oily rivers of sweat mixed with hair product run down the quivering mounds of flab that constitute their bodies.

Be safe tonight ya’ll. See you next year!

Know Your Domain

Been thinking lately I read too much. It leaves me little to no time to write. When I was really interested in writing well, especially fiction, instead of working hard at it, coming to the keyboard every day for several hours to write the bones down – a habit all real writers agree is a must to get good – I read. For sure, if you want to be a good writer you do need to read, and read a lot, but it’s not sufficient. It would be like thinking you could learn to play guitar well simply by listening to a lot of guitar music. You need to practice too. A lot. Maybe not 10,000 hours, though in some cases it may take more, depending on the amount of native talent one has.

When I’m honest with myself I don’t think I was ever really talented at any one thing, and average at most. Math came easy but I was never going to set the world on fire. Likewise computers. Funny, the only reason I ever enrolled in a Fortran course — way back when —  was because it was a prerequisite for numerical analysis, a 400-level math course I dared take as an undergraduate, which made me feel a little superior at the time, especially around fellow classmates (would-be geologists), many who dreaded having to take even two semesters of calculus required for their degree. By then I’d already passed three, plus Diff-Eq, with relative ease. Physics and chemistry? Average. Geology, my major? Lackluster. Humanities, so-so (though I do recall getting a shout-out for one or two of my term papers). But then came the computer programming course, Fortran, I breezed through it. It was like English for me, an innate language, one I mastered quickly with little to no effort. This was about 12 years before Jeff Bezos arrived in Seattle to start a business in his garage selling books on the World Wide Web.

Oh, what futures pass us when we are blind to our own boon.

By which I do not mean I think I could have started Amazon. Unlike Jeff I was never a national merit scholar. I did not graduate Phi Kappa Beta from Princeton with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. I knew next to nothing about starting a business, and even if I had, probably lacked the guts to try. I only mean that when you find something you’re good at, consider sticking with it. Strive for expertise. Don’t spread your interests too thin. Avoid becoming a dilettante, a master of none.

Example: I once applied for a job at Amazon. Back in 2014 I think it was. I don’t recall the job title, but it was a technical, senior-level position involving the development of novel algorithms to maximize online ad revenue. The only reason the job popped on my radar was because it invited a wide variety of specialists to apply, including Computational Biologists, which by that time is what I was calling myself. I passed the initial phone interview okay, but stumbled on the second one, enough that I was not invited for an in-person interview. The interviewer was very generous, said something like, “I think you understand the technical stuff okay, this just isn’t your particular domain is it?” I had to concede he was right. Ask me about genes, proteins, biochemistry and such, and I’d have been all over it.

When I returned to school in 2002 my grades did improve, though by the time I finished the academic portion of my PhD I had to concede academic excellence would never be mine. By all other measures of success, though, I did quite well.

Fast-forward to now. I’ve been invited to teach genetics at the university. I’m excited about this. I expect the class will be mostly biology majors being it’s required, but also pre-med students and others pursuing degrees in health-related fields.

As I look out over the lectern on day one, gazing at all the expectant faces, it will be humbling for sure; but also, I hope, rewarding, to be back in my domain of academic expertise. 

Recommend!

For me it was when Walter Becker died. Don’t get me wrong, listening to Petty makes me want to take a knee, even before he passed. Now that he has, I’ve half a mind to put on my noise cancelling headphones, retreat to the wine cellar and listen to American Girl over and over while reminiscing the day away. But Becker & Fagen (Steely Dan), man, that was my desert island band. I wore out the grooves on my copies of Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic. 

It makes you wonder dread who’s next in line. I told Happy Wife that when Fogerty goes I may as well too.

We’re back from Jamaica, Mon! Truth be told, over three weeks ago now. We stopped in Atlanta for a couple nights to de-compress first. Spotted this guy at the Georgia aquarium giving us the Gimlet Eye

For the longest time he (she?) didn’t move. I thought it might be plastic. Eventually it did.

I could’ve watched the seadragons for hours. If there’s an evolutionary explanation for these creatures it escapes me

Happy Wife crawled through a tunnel on her knees for her chance in the “Penguin Bubble”

It was also the first aquarium where I saw Beluga whales in captivity. Ordinarily, if we want to see Beluga whales we drive down the road a bit from Anchorage, usually in September, and watch ’em in Turnagain Arm chasing silver salmon.

My favorite exhibit was the Ocean Voyager. Huge!

If you enjoy watching animals eat, poop, and lounge about in a predator-free sanctuary, this aquarium is for you. Recommend.

Our first night in Atlanta, jet-lagged though we were, we Googled a wine bar and headed out. Being we are by nature pedestrian and like to explore, we set out on foot. No biggie, except 1.8 miles in wedgies with 3″ heels proved a bit much for HW’s feet, and who could blame her, neither of us is used to the heat and humidity. Two thumbs up, though, for the Inman Park area. Lots of restaurants, bars, and pretty-faced millennials. We squeezed into the Barcelona Wine Bar (reccomend) and eventually came to rest on two stools, jawed with the bartender, enjoyed some novel eats, emptied several glasses of wine, eavesdropped some conversations, then Ubered back to the hotel, where we slept like dead people.

The next day was the aquarium, followed by more walking about, then by late afternoon it was time for a Margarita (which turned into two, given it was Happy Hour). Then back to the hotel, short nap, shower, etc., then we Ubered back to the Inman Park area and dined at Sotto Sotto. Decent Italian food, generous service; the Barolo was delicate with notes of rose petal and fresh soil, the way I like ’em, albeit it was a tad expensive for the bottle. Then back to the hotel via Uber for a short night of sleep. By 6 am we were up again, showered, packed up, and out the door to catch Uber to the airport – off to Jamaica, Mon!

By the time we landed at Montego Bay it was stinkin’ hot outside. We made our way to the Couples Resort counter, checked in, and before we knew it were whisked away, bags ‘n all, to a large van waiting outside ready to convey us to Negril, a 1.5 hour drive west along the coast. They’d jammed around fifteen of us into a van, which was, blessedly, air-conditioned, so it was “cozy” to say the least. Soon after we got underway a couple wedged into their seats to my left – she sporting tattoos half-covered by a flirty tank top, he with intentions unknown behind his wraparound black sunglasses – pulled a full bottle of vodka from a beach bag and decanted a healthy pour into each of their plastic cups. The party was on! For the next hour and a half we heard Bob Marley’s entire body of work blare over the speakers. By the time we arrived in Negril I felt a little withered from all the travel. The vodka bottle, I noted, was near empty.

I handed the very nice man at the Couples check-in counter a credit card for incidentals, though wondered what that could be given this was an all-inclusive resort. Another nice man gave our group the lowdown on all the restaurants, bars, and activities at the resort (including the dos & don’t of the adjacent nude beach), and then another nice man whisked us and our bags off to our room, a second floor garden suite with a peekaboo view of the ocean. We unpacked and tested the firmness of the bed… no, not that way! Then we showered, slathered each other with SPF 35 and were out the door to explore the property

Pretty expansive. Three restaurants, numerous bars, activities galore. All free, all the time. Want your Mai Tai made with Meyers Rum instead of the house rum? No problem, Mon, just ask! Don’t want to get up from your beach chair and take the long walk to one of the bars – no problem, Mon! Just put your red flag in the sand next to your chair and one of the nice staff will arrive promptly, take your order, and deliver it to you! Any time of day.

Tired of booze all the time? No problem, Mon. Belly up to the juice bar and these ladies will take care of you, any time of day, no charge.

Too hot for the beach? No problem, Mon. Hop in the pool for a rousing game of volleyball, then continue to cool off at the swim-up bar

Left to Right: HW, Andy (groom), Me, Kelly (bride), Hannah & Taylor (nieces), brother Steve (Elvis on the photo bomb). Sister Gail? Why, I don’t know where she was just then. Possibly the nude beach?

The rest of the days were pretty much copy & paste. The hospitality was amazing. Never before been to a place where you’re waited on hand and foot pretty much 24/7.

One day we left the resort and shuttled over to Rick’s Cafe. Where, among other activities, you can jump off cliffs. Yeah, Mon. Don’t remember who, but somebody caught me mid air

It was higher than it appears! The nice man on the jump platform strongly urged entering the water with arms tightly at your side. Ta-da!

Another day many of us boarded a large catamaran and visited a very cool swim up cave, one with lots of bats, though they didn’t seem to care we were there. Fun was had by many who braved  a turn in The Net

HW, Elvis, and Andy. Nobody spilled their drink!

Overall we had a blast. Congrats Kelly and Andy. Recommend!

Hang Time

This past weekend we went to the State Fair, together. This pleased HW greatly. Which pleased me greatly! A really fine day in the valley it was, sunny (here and there) and overall pleasant. Deployed the new S8 from my back pocket and snapped some pictures at the BMX event

Texted my brother-in-law this one and he says back, “That You?”

“Once upon a time, maybe, my friend, once upon a time.”

Men behaving like boys.

No, he didn’t do both those in the same hang time, trust me.

Whoa!

Je suis Texas. 🙁

A Few Pics From the Past Weeks

A late evening on the beach, HW explains something (don’t recall what) to a curious tourist.

A fire in August? I agree, seemed unnecessary. Unless you’re from Chicago I guess.

 

“HiHo” and HW. I just call her “Ho,” HiHo that is. She’s our neighbor’s dog (Seward neighbor). She likes to tag along when we walk Chester-Lebron, who for reasons unknown was really into fetching this day

Nothing happier than a dog with a stick in his mouth

Except maybe a husband on date night

Sum sum summertime

The Killing Fields

Red circle with arrow – that’s a fish head tossed skyward by the man with the outstretched arm. A great day to be a gull. Bad day to be a Sockeye trying to make it upstream past the gauntlet of dip nets. We absolutely slayed ’em

Among the five of us (Gloria not shown as she was taking the pic) we brought home fifty or more Sockeye salmon (aka Reds). Being men, there is something deep in our Amygdalas that causes us to want to hold up dead things and appear proud. Later that same evening back at home with HW, I smeared one of the fillets with olive oil, sprinkled it with salt ‘n pepper and grilled it until just warm in the center. I do like salmon, although being it’s a rich protein I have my limits, but it doesn’t get any better than that, with the possible exception of cleaning and eating it right on the beach. My neighbor offered to smoke a bunch for us and I gladly took him up on that. He covered the fillets with salt and brown sugar overnight, then smoked ’em for about eight hours. Knocked on our front door the next day and handed them to me, fresh out of the smoker. Tasted like seafood candy. Atop a cracker smeared with cream cheese – heavenly. The Dog eyed me the entire time I sat in the recliner with my feet up gorging on one after another, “What, you’re not sharing any of that?

Our friend Chris who lives in Virginia is up for a two week visit. She and HW drove to Fairbanks to visit with HW’s brother and family. One of his two daughters is now taller than HW. Crazy, it seems like it was just yesterday they were mere munchkins playing us for the amatuer parents we are.

As the garden grows higher the days grow shorter. Bad year for tomatoes and peas, yet the potatoes – if the volume of their greens is any indication – are loving the cool weather. The raspberries are starting to come, yet it’s too early to predict the size of the harvest. The grass keeps growing like mad. Must’ve been that fertilizer and lime I dumped on it a few weeks ago. Note to self: Don’t do that again, you won’t have to mow so often.

I recently got a new phone, a Samsung S8, along with a pair of 3D virtual reality goggles and a wireless charging station for a ridiculously low price during one of those super-duper, 24 hour-only Amazon Prime shopping days. I saved like $275. I prefer to buy locally but with deals like that whatya gonna do? I invited HW to try the 3D experience. For her demo, I played a snippet from Jurassic World where a life-size Brontosaurus stands up and walks right at you, then peers into your eyes from what seems like two feet away. She was like everybody else who tries it for the first time, head bobbing and squirming in her chair the whole time – “Whoa! Whoa!!…” Funny.

The user manual for the goggles included an unusually long list of cautions, like how to avoid seizures, interference with medical devices, repetitive stress injury, etc. The most amusing one was: “Do Not Bite or Suck the Device.” That reminded me of an instruction that came with a complimentary shower cap in a hotel where we once stayed – “Fits Just One Head.”

Seriously?

Look honey, we can save the hotel money if we stretch this around both our heads and shower together!

Recently, one of our senate critters was one of only three republicans to defect and vote NO on a bill to continue the debate on the Repeal & Replace act. Like most things I’m of two minds about this. 1) Not surprised that hard core republicans are pissed at her. For them, she’s a traitor to her party and its most hallowed cause (now defeated). 2) Completely understand why she did it – many people in Alaska are on Obamacare (~ 16,000 of 19,000 receive a subsidy) and many more are on medicaid, which would have been threatened by the Repeal & Replace act. Given those facts she voted to protect many of the very people who sent her to Washington to represent them. I think that’s what we’ve been told is the way representative democracy is supposed to work?

Nevermind that the cost of a premium in Alaska really has skyrocketed, way higher even than the rest of the country, over 200% in the past four years. Worse, there’s only one insurer left up here writing individual policies – Premara.

The way I see it, either way Alaska is screwed. Keep Obamacare and premiums continue to rise (even if the increase is paid by the government in the form of a subsidy, doesn’t matter, somebody has to pay the increase). Repeal Obamacare and whole lot of Alaskans can no longer afford health insurance, or will eventually have greatly reduced medicaid benefits.

Oh well, it’s above my pay grade to fix the problem. Think I’ll fix myself a martini instead.

Summer, At Last

Happy Wife’s kayaking in Schoop Bay with the Merry Mermaids

Me? At home with The Dog.

Who turned up the heat?

76o today. People and animals were beside themselves.

Got my chores done, showered up and went downtown for dinner. Ordered a Maytag bleu cheese salad (small portion) topped with prawns and picked at it amid a few glasses of Bridlewood cabernet. I don’t get downtown much anymore. It was a pretty night for sure, the Lobelia in full bloom

A tourist enjoys a reindeer sausage

Tomorrow I leave for the Kenai River. Meeting up with friends to dipnet Sockeye.

Recall.