The Rants, Raves, Gripes, and Prophecies of Paul R. Potts

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Tue, 31 Jan 2006 New Weblog

I have given up on blogging with Bloxsom, at least for the time being. The workflow (editing text files at home and synchronizing them via ftp) was such that I was just never posting; it is clear that the Wiki model and the online editor, where the web browser is the only tool needed, is the better way for me. I have a new weblog up using Google's blog tools. See:

I have also created another programming-specific weblog, currently centered mostly around Scheme:

Thanks for reading.

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Fri, 28 Oct 2005 Veronica Year One

Tomorrow, our little daughter will have her first birthday. One year of Veronica Ruth in the big wide world! Plus those early formative months in the womb, although she was not nearly as much fun then. Grace said something the other day about just how strange it was that a year ago, she wasn't around. It is somewhat mind-blowing. She seems too real to have not been in existence before that. So where was she? It is just as mysterious when people leave the world. It doesn't seem possible that they could be here and then not here so abruptly, but that is indeed the mystery we are confronted with. She will have to confront it too.

Lightening up a bit... Vera is doing great, although she is a constant challenge. She is fond of climbing, so she has a considerable number of bruises. We've tried to make the house fairly baby-proof, but she will climb anything. She has a lot of new skills. She is not speaking clearly, but she stuck a metal CD rack in my face and said "Daddy, eat it!" Grace asked her once if she would like some more food, and she said "That would be lovely." I'm not claiming her pronounciation would be clear to anyone else, but we understood her. This was at ten and a half or eleven months. She doesn't generally speak when you want her to, although she will typically answer questions with "yeah." She chants "ma-ma-ma-ma" as a kind of mantra while playing.

The sign language has not gone as well: she has not learned very many signs yet, and does not use them regularly, so maybe like she skipped crawling, she will skip signing. We are also not very consistent about using the signs. She still loves her They Might Be Giants DVD, and will dance whenever she hears "Alphabet of Nations" or "Clap Your Hands." Or even if we sing it to her and clap. She can clap along. She also manipulates objects in more sophisticated ways. She can't assemble duplo blocks yet, but the other day she had a cardboard box that was open on both ends, and sat and repeatedly put blocks in one and and watched them slide out the other.

I am also coming to the close of the second week of my new job, as a senior software engineer with Lectronix. I am very pleased to be rid of my tedious commute! The new office is only a couple of miles from home, and I may even be able to bike. I even have windows and an office with a door! Heaven. The work is interesting as well, although I am just starting to learn about the embedded platforms and tools. In addition, we should have health coverage again! That can't come soon enough. Medicaid is still bouncing all of Veronica's bills, and some of this paperwork is now almost a year old. They kept sending letters threatening to cut off coverage, with no explanation as to what we had done wrong, and Grace was not able to get a call back. We may wind up just having to eat about a thousand dollars worth of well-baby visits and immuninizations for the past year. Grace has also had some problems with her teeth, and it appeared she might need surgery. On top of that there is her gall bladder, which probably needs to be removed.

In the week between the end of my MicroMax/Visteon job and the start of this one, we were able to take a couple of days off and go up north, to Grand Marais on Lake Superior. Isaac had never been. The trip was beautiful, but too short. And too much driving! With stops, the return trip took over twelve hours. Road construction and endless traffic backups didn't help any. But the U.P. was beautiful. It turned out to be kind of an adventure: we met Governor Granholm in Grand Marais, who was visiting a community meeting to talk, in part, about the harbor breakwall, its state of disrepair and the need for funds to repair it. So we have pictures of Isaac shaking the governor's hand.

I am continuing to occupy my mind with a little bit of reading, in what little free time I can find, and am trying to take a more active role in Isaac's homeschooling. We are reviewing geometry and narrowing in on techniques he's forgotten over the summer, and he is also doing fraction drills. Although I am always hesitant to give him easy drill work, he seems to enjoy it, and at his age he can use all the basic technique work he can get, as long as we also try to move him forward. Isaac is also continuing in the Ann Arbor Boy Choir (a choir boy and an altar boy) and joining a more advanced singing group. I must go... they are performing tonight! It is going to be a busy weekend!

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Fri, 26 Aug 2005 Dead Turtles

When I came home from work last night, after spending nearly 90 minutes to go 32 miles, I found that the kitchen sink was full of hot water that had backed up from the dishwasher, which was running.

And in the sink were my three turtles, Giblet, Bubba, and Sluggo.


Having undergone some combination of scalding and drowning.

Isaac had been feeding the turtles, at my request, but wandered off to play and left them there, for I-don't-know-how-long. Grace was busy with the baby.

The backing-up of the dishwasher drainage into the sink happens commonly, and can be fixed by running the disposal or making sure the plug is firmly stuck in place.

It was a bad idea to feed the turtles while the dishwasher was running. And an even worse idea not to keep an eye on them and notice when the water started to back up, and stuff the plug back in, or run the disposal to clear the blockage (the turtles are much too big to go down the drain). Or take them out.

I did not know that the water was hot or that they were dead, and so we yelled for Isaac to come finish feeding them.

This is where it gets weird.

He drained out the water, rinsed them off like he is supposed to, and put them back in the tank. Apparently not noticing, or deciding to not bother to mention to us, that they were dead -- two completely limp, and one stiff. Not moving. Eyes closed. Bubba with his mouth open looking like he was in agony.

Which he probably had been.

Isaac has been feeding them for a while now, and has a lot of experience with them now... he knows that they hate being handled, and always try to wriggle their way free. It is not normal for them to have their eyes closed, for Bubba's neck and limbs to be sticking out stiffly, and for Bubba and Giblet's heads to be flopping loosely.

It was an accident, but accidents happen a lot less often to the observant and attentive. Isaac's response was just surreal, but the lesson we are trying to teach him from this is that being an observant person, paying attention, and taking responsibility for the helpless are the most important things we can teach him.

We are not giving Isaac a specific punishment, because this is at least partially an accident, although he felt the need to ground himself for a few days.

A brief eulogy for three turtles:

Turtles aren't pets in the same sense that cats or dogs are pets. You can't really train them much. They don't adjust to being handled; they don't like it. They are mostly for watching. Graceless and awkward on land, they are remarkably agile in the water. When they are not swimming around looking for food, they either lie on the bottom of the tank or bask on a rock. Occasionally I would even find all three of them stacked up, in order, from largest (Giblet) to smallest (Bubba), but if they saw me move, they would immediately jump back in the water. Oddly, although they are normally very shy, when I practiced my guitar, they would line up and appear to be watching me. Baby Veronica loved to watch them. They are relatively low-maintenance pets; unlike fish, they thrive in plain tap water, and with a large-capacity filter unit with a biological "waterfall" attached, I did not need to change the water very often. Since I am allergic to most furry pets, they were just about the ideal pet for me.

Giblet, a female red-eared slider, was purchased by my brother Brian perhaps seven years ago when she was tiny, about the size of a silver dollar. He kept her for a while, but she was not thriving; her tank did not have a proper heater and tank filtration, and Brian was over-extended with two children and several other pets to cope with. So, I took over Giblet's care and brought her to Ann Arbor. She grew, and grew, and grew some more, until she was about the size of a dinner plate. Her hobbies were basking, stealing food from the other turtles, and occasionally climbing out of the tank and hiding in obscure corners of our apartment. She bit me on several occasions, once drawing blood. She was mean, and you got the sense that she would eat you if she could, but she did a good job at being a turtle. Turtles can live fifty years or more with proper care. She might have lived several decades more, and she might even have outlived me.

I purchased Sluggo, a male red-eared slider, as a companion to Giblet. She was very small, and I did not want her companion to be large enough to take her head off while they were eating together, so I found the smallest turtle I could find. He was still quite a bit larger than Giblet. Now the tables have turned, and she is much larger. When I got Sluggo, I thought he was young, but it seems that he was the full-grown runt of the litter. He had a parasite and a soft shell. I was able to remove the "slug" (hence his name) and harden up his shell by feeding him turtle mineral supplements, although it remained somewhat distorted as it grew. He improved under my care, but always behaved kind of strangely; he seemed terrified of everything, including his own food. He seemed to have a neurological problem and his claws would sometimes twitch violently. Amazingly, he managed to fertilize Giblet several times, although the eggs always got eaten before we could collect them. He must have had a traumatic childhood, but did come out of his shell, so to speak, under my care. Sluggo did his best at being a turtle. I am glad that I was able to improve his life a little bit.

I purchased Bubba, a yellow musk or mud turtle, to keep Giblet and Sluggo company. He was more friendly, and his was shaped such that it always appeared to have an affable grin on it, hence his name. He had a remarkably long neck, which he could stick out to an absurd length. Instead of basking on the rocks, he enjoyed lying on the bottom of the tank and occasionally extending his neck all the way to the top, where his nostrils would just barely break the surface, to sip some air. He had an interesting hinged plastron. He developed a strange lump on his foot, and I was afraid it was some kind of tumor, but it went away after I put a sulfa antibiotic for turtles in the tank. He was not able to bite nearly as hard as Giblet or Sluggo, and resisted less when being carried to and from his dinner. He seemed a little bit more intelligent, although that is pretty subjective. Bubba was a great turtle. I'll miss him the most.

We did not bury them; they went into the dumpster. We don't have a good place to bury them, and I couldn't bear the idea of having a funeral for pets which are not even mammals. But they will be remembered. This weekend I will be dismantling the tank. I'm not going to replace them.

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Wed, 17 Aug 2005 Hump Day in Hell Week

This week Grace is attending an insurance sales class in Lansing. This means that our pattern for the summer so far -- in which I get up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at about 6, and leave about 7, and Grace and Isaac get up after I leave -- is all scrambled. Now we're getting up at 5 and we're both commuting. Veronica and Isaac are both getting sitters or day care, and Grace is pumping milk for her. Although Vera likes day care (she loves to play with other babies), when I come home it reminds her that Grace is not there, so she starts to cry "mama" and is very hard to distract. By that point I badly need a nap. She seems to be on strike as far as drinking her mom's milk from a bottle goes (although she is eating and drinking other food before Grace gets home, and nursing when Grace gets back). All the pumping isn't going to waste, exactly, since it is relieving Grace's engorgement and ensuring that she will keep up milk production, but now we seem to have an oversupply that the baby won't drink.

Meanwhile, we're all recovering from a nasty cold/sinus infection. Veronica fortunately seems to have stopped throwing up on Grace and the bed during the night, and no longer has a high fever. My cough is just about gone. In addition to comforting Veronica in the couple of hours between the time I get home and Grace gets home, helping Grace get some dinner on the table and clean up afterwards, I'm also trying to complete a consulting project, writing a Windows installer. To help make sure neither of us drives off the road after waking up at 5 following a night of broken sleep, we are trying to get to bed by nine. That isn't working terribly well. Grace just had her fuel pump replaced, and her van now smells like gas, so there may be a leak somewhere, as if she didn't have enough to worry about, without the fear that the van will blow up or catch on fire.

Fortunately, it is Wednesday already, so the crazy week will be done soon, and perhaps we can get back into a routine. Veronica will get her mom back. With luck and some concentration I can finish this consulting gig successfully, which will pay for Grace's class and the day care this week, and also make it through the next month at Visteon. Grace will take her licensing exam and with luck pass it, which will make the class worthwhile. Veronica will make it to ten months, Isaac will get through the week without losing his mind, and everything will be back to normal... just in time for me to start worrying again about what I'm going to do when this temporary work assignment ends, around October... Urgh...

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Tue, 02 Aug 2005 Veronica at Nine

Our baby girl is nine months old. She is now walking pretty well, although with that hilarious arms-out, tottering side-to-size zombie gait. She says "mama" fairly clearly and makes the sign for "nurse." What she doesn't do anymore, though, is fall alseep without a fight, no matter how exhausted she is. She will only take very brief "power naps" during the day. At night, we practically have to sit on her until she gives up the struggle, and then she goes out like a light. She's also less content to sleep on her own bed, and wakes up wanting to get back in our bed.

She's got approximately four teeth at different stages. She chases down and eats ants. Her other hobbies lately are "freestyle nursing" in which she wiggles and contorts herself into all kinds of crazy positions while nursing, causing Grace no end of pain.

We've been watching the They Might Be Giants DVD of alphabet songs, "Here Comes the ABCs." We've also just gotten a baby sign language video, so we'll see how that goes. Sleep is not quite so easy to come by these days, but I can still usually get at least four or five continuous hours and another hour or so of broken sleep, which is enough to get by, so we aren't too bad off. And she's a lot of fun to play with. One of my favorite games is the "rasberry contest." I usually get tired of it first, so I guess she wins!

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Wed, 06 Jul 2005 A Squeak in the Wilderness

Blah blah apologies blah blah long time since I've written blah. Blah busy.

I guess I'm not much of a blogger. I was especially chagrined when my brother told me he hadn't seen anything new in a long time. I didn't even realize he was reading! Hi, Brian!

There is lots of news with baby Veronica. She is eight months old. She weighs twenty-something pounds, has one tooth, can stand briefly, "cruises" (walks with support), climbs stairs unaided, blows rasberries as a form of conversation, wrestles, giggles, sings, and dances to the theme music from "Red Dwarf." Although her main food is breast milk, she loves to eat bits of asparagus, bananas, and little bits of any kind of bread or pasta. She does not say clearly recognizable words yet (although she sort of says "hi"), but she tries to imitate words we say. We have to do much more baby-proofing than we expected. Apparently Isaac did not require very much baby proofing, but Vera moves fast, and likes to pull things off shelves. She especially loves to tear up books and eat the pages.

My time at home is considerably shorter than it was before, since I'm spending upwards of two hours commuting each weekday. When I do get home, I am spending more time chasing the baby and trying to run interference for Grace. Getting a little uninterrupted time to sit in the office to write or program has become a luxury. Grace has taken the kids camping with her sister-in-law, so I have a few free evenings.

Much more has happened; Grace's brother Ben Benjamin died without warning, and we are still in shock about that. He had undiagnosed hypertension (high blood pressure). He leaves a wife and four children, one teen-aged, two toddlers, and one small baby who was born with a dangerous heart condition and who is, happily, recovering from surgery. It makes me think hard about what Grace would do with Veronica and Isaac if something similar should happen to me. We've seen a lawyer to get complete wills drafted and I just had my physical for a new life insurance policy.

I've been working for Visteon in Dearborn, doing software testing for a satellite radio product. I'm technically a contractor on a limited- time project; hence the commute. If it turns into a permanent position we might move to Dearborn.

Meanwhile, I've not been able to do much free-time coding. I have put together a little tool in Ruby to do some assorted processing on SREC files. The SREC format is used in embedded software to hold downloadable code segments. The original file format seems to be attributable to Motorola, although there seem to be a lot of variants floating around. It started out as a tool to scratch a personal itch: the need to merge multiple SREC files. If you have a particular problem you need to solve with SREC files, get in touch ( I'll talk a bit more about this program in another entry.

I had planned to do some work in Common Lisp and/or Scheme while Grace and the children were away, but it turns out that I procrastinated too long, since she cut her trip a week short to return to Ann Arbor for her brother's funeral. She is taking another trip in early July, though, so if I can avoid procrastination, perhaps I will have something to show. It might be interesting to compare Common Lisp and Ruby implementations of my SREC tool; how concise, yet expressive, can I be in each language? This also might serve to shed some light on whether Common Lisp has fallen behind as far as libraries for typical file-handling and scripting-type tasks.

I haven't written about the war in Iraq or other political issues in some time. It doesn't seem that very much has changed except the daily details.

By any fact-based measure, America is not succeeding. Even rational Republicans are wavering. But Bush did not offer any changes in strategy. Bush's prime-time address last night boiled down, basically, to more of the same: "there was some connection between 9/11 and Iraq," "we're winning," and "we're not leaving before we've won." Oh, and "we can continue to win this war on the cheap, without increasing troop strength, and without sacrificing the tax cuts." Also, that there is no viable plan to get more assistance from the U.N. or from other nations, and apparently no movement on the situation with detainees, hundreds of whom appear destined to remain imprisoned for perhaps years into the forseeable future without even the pretense of a trial.

It would be nice to hear some acknowledgement that this failure was predictable. But I don't want to gloat; I want to see lives saved, both Iraqui and American. This just can't be achieved by inflicting futher terrorism on a country that didn't, and wasn't capable of, attacking us.

My son is about to turn 11 years old; he'll be old enough to serve in the military in 7 years. My daughter, in just over 17 years. Will we still have troops in Iraq then? Will we have an economy in shape to provide them with any other prospects for employment? Will they be drafted?

Without leaders who are willing to acknowledge mistakes and change course, it doesn't look promising.

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Sat, 12 Mar 2005 Baby Drinks

So, we had eaten dinner, and were having some hot chocolate: Isaac, Grace, and I were drinking it out of mugs.

Baby Vera started yelling (not crying or screaming, just kind of... yelling, and waving her arms to get our attention, basically saying "Hey! Hey! I want some too!")

She would not calm down until we gave her something to drink (a small amount of water) in a cup with a handle like ours. She neede a little assistance with the fine adjustments, but had the basic movements right, and managed to drink some water out of a real cup, holding it (mostly) herself, and then she appeared to be satisfied and stopped yelling.

She was born October 29th. That puts her age at... hmm... exactly 9 weeks from her date of birth to the last day of December 2004, plus 10 weeks to the day to reach 11 March 2005, for 19 weeks, or if you measure by irregular calendar months, a couple of days shy of 4 1/2 months.

She is nearly crawling, too. We've got to start getting the house baby-proofed!

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