Stereotypes

I saw this the other day, and found it both funny and thought-provoking.

"Hello! Do you have a minute to talk about Dracula?"
"No– wait, Dracula?"
"Yes!"
"You’re vampires?"
"Yes. We have pamphlets."
"Vampires have missionaries?"
"Where else would new vampires come from?"
"I assumed you bit people."
"There are many hurtful stereotypes. May we come in?"

Thanks, Trump

For all the high-falootin’ bragging Trump has done about “his” amazing tax plan, I have to report I’m not seeing any benefit at all. I just finished my 2018 taxes, and my effective tax rate is exactly the same as it was in the past– within 0.1%. I thought this trillion-dollar deficit plan by the geniuses in Congress was supposed to benefit all Americans, and especially the middle class. How shocking that in fact it did nothing, although I can’t help but notice that major corporations are buying back record amounts of their own stock since they’re flush with cash from all this. Funny how that works.

Stupid federal government.

Crazy kingdom

A “normal” game of Dominion includes ten “kingdom” cards. Today Kyra and I played a game with considerably more.

Most of them were cards we hadn’t really experimented with before, so it was kind of an adventure to see how they’d work together. She ended up crushing me, but as always it was fun. Dominion is still my favorite game.

Haircuts

Here are the two most important, beautiful women in my life.

They just got back from a hair salon. I guess both of them felt like it was time for a trim. Kyra wanted to show off her gloriously long locks:

I’m pretty lucky.

I’m a bigger deal than you think

I’m shopping for a new server co-location provider with a datacenter where I can move my hosting business. It’s been kind of funny calling the local companies and starting the conversation with something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Jeff and I own a small hosting business… I was wondering if I could talk to you about server co-location.” I guess many of them only hear the part about a “small hosting business” because they respond with “Ooh, the smallest package we have is for half a rack, and I’m sure that’s much too large for you.”

Then I go on to explain that in fact I’m looking for two or three full cabinets to house my 80+ servers. That definitely gets their attention, and then they start taking me more seriously.

The whole process is going to be a gigantic pain, but it’s necessary and I’m doing my best to have the attitude that it’s an opportunity, not a hassle

Today’s healthcare

Anyone who says our healthcare system works hasn’t had to pay forty bucks to hold their newborn baby in the hospital.

Bakes

Just two short weeks after Kyra finished her mission, she wanted to go back.

So she, Laralee, and I hopped in the car and headed southwest on a crazy road trip to Bakersfield. Kyra thought it would be fun to show us the areas where she served, including old apartments and other haunts, former mission companions, and several of the friends she’d made as she taught the gospel in the area. She also wanted to join her friend, who would be attending the Los Angeles Temple for the first time.

Things didn’t start out well. The forecast for the mountain passes was pretty dire: heavy snow, avalanche warnings, and intermittent closures of I-70. We waited an extra hour before leaving Thursday morning, thinking that would give the road crews some more time to clear the snow. As we hit the highway, we received a text from Megan, in which she casually mentioned that I-70 had been closed (again!) due to avalanche danger near Copper Mountain. I continued driving while Laralee used her phone to check road reports, and after confirming that I-70 was closed for an unknown length of time, we turned back for home.

Back there, we looked at some alternate routes. We could take a wide detour along highway 9, avoiding the closed portion of I-70. It would add a little time, but at least we’d be able to get through the mountains. As we prepared to get back in the car, there was an update from the road crews: highway 9 was closed due to a rockslide. Hmm.

After further consideration, we agreed to take the northern route through Wyoming, along I-80. There were warnings of fog and blowing snow, but at least the interstate was open. We left, and sure enough, for at least fifty miles we drove through thick fog with visibility of only a few hundred feet:

But I-80 remained open, and we made it through Wyoming and into Utah. We learned that an avalanche had indeed closed I-70, covering several cars (no fatalities, fortunately). Since our route had taken a huge bend northward, we were actually in position to cruise through Provo where Alex is living. We called him and asked if he’d like to join us for dinner that night. His girlfriend Kaitlyn came along, as well as our nephew Brandon and his wife Kayla.

It was fun to see all of them again, and to meet Kaitlyn. After some burgers we continued on what was becoming a pretty long day. After a night in a hotel, we passed Baker, California: the home of the gigantic thermometer:

It was only registering in the low 50’s, unlike the last time we’d passed it (a few years ago), when it was near the top at 110 or more.

Eventually we reached Bakersfield, where we stopped at the mission office.

We met Kyra’s former mission president and had a great chat with him. He’s a really busy man, so we were lucky to catch him in the office and have a few minutes together. I’m grateful for the service and sacrifice he gave not only to Kyra, but to some 400 or more missionaries that have come through the mission during his three-year tenure.

We cruised the area, meeting her old companions and friends. Despite being widely known as the “Armpit of California”, both Laralee and I found Bakersfield to be quite nice. Kyra says it probably helped that it had rained the day before, so the smog was gone, and it wasn’t over a hundred degrees. True.

The next morning we picked up a couple of missionaries, crammed them into the back of our car, and headed south to Los Angeles to attend the temple. Sadly, I only had my nifty fifty camera lens, so I couldn’t get a good wide-angle shot of the entire temple.

We took some photos on the temple grounds. Here are Kyra, her (favorite) companion Sister Williams, and an old MTC friend Sister Woodland:

And of course me and my sweetheart.

We drove back from Los Angeles, visited a few more people, saw a few more sights, and decided to get started on our long trip back home. We ended up in Barstow that night.

On Sunday we’d planned to drive about halfway home, stay for a night, and then finish the trip on Monday. But I-70 was once again in dire straits: they were running hourly “avalanche patrols” in helicopters, the road was reported to be icy for about a hundred miles, and we were cautioned about “powder clouds” which are apparently precursors to avalanches. Also, there had been a “record-breaking” avalanche near Aspen. Although it wasn’t directly on our route, clearly there was some concern on the part of the highway department. We decided to take a chance, and bomb it for home in a single day. We girded our loins and headed north.

Along the way we saw gazillions of Joshua trees, and felt like we should stop to see what they felt like. As it turns out, they’re incredibly sharp.

We stopped in St. George to visit Cil and Jim, and had the added bonus of Kenzi and Spencer! All of us enjoyed an awesome two-hour lunch, but then it was time to hit the road again. We took deep breaths and turned east onto I-70, hoping for the best. As it turned out, the interstate was dry almost the entire way. No avalanches, no ice, no powder clouds. We rolled into our driveway at midnight after a one-day drive of almost 950 miles. Total mileage: just over 2,600 in four days, for an average of 650 miles per day. I think that’s a new record for us.

All in all, it was a good time and I’m glad we could support Kyra in visiting everyone. It was fun to see where she’s been hanging out for a year and a half. Now we have to start preparing for another multi-thousand-mile trip to Montana next week…

Phone background

This was the background Kyra managed to set on my phone, without my knowledge.

Yep, that’s my beautiful daughter.

Tiny snowman

Kyra and I saw this miniature snowman at the store. He even has a little snow hat!

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Karma

I’m here to tell you that karma is real.

Going out on a high note

Yesterday was probably my last ski day for at least a few years.

When I first moved to Colorado in 1995, I decided I should probably learn to ski, since everyone around here does. Mel came to visit that winter and was kind enough to show me a few things (she’s a very accomplished skier) and then suggested I pay for a lesson. I didn’t– I just kept practicing until I hit a plateau of mediocrity.

Over the years, I’ve gone skiing every winter, averaging maybe two times each season, and sometimes as many as four or five. Throughout all of it, I’ve maintained that level of mediocrity. I’m not a great skier, but I’m not terrible either. I can hold my own on the blues, and tend to shy away from the blacks (too steep and often too bumpy). It’s been good.

For roughly the past decade, I’ve had a tradition with a group of friends to go out once or twice, and yesterday was our day. We headed up to Copper Mountain and had a fantastic day of skiing. The temperature was perfect: not too hot, not too cold, and definitely not warm enough to turn the snow to slush and ice in the afternoon. It was snowing throughout the day, but not heavily, so there was fresh powder everywhere. I’m used to groomed slopes, so this was a refreshing change and, if I’m honest, a bit of a challenge since I’m not used to navigating powder and carving my own line.

Here’s the gang: Mark, Jer, and Jason.

One of the lifts at Copper has been “renovated”, and has big blue plastic bubbles that lower over the chairs while you’re riding. We laughed at how ridiculous they looked, but after riding the chair, all of us agreed they’re amazing. They’re warm and cozy, you avoid the wind, and they’re quiet so you can have a normal conversation. Maybe in a few years, lifts everywhere will have giant plastic bubbles?

After a great day of powder, we made the traditional stop at Beau Jo’s in Idaho Springs for some pizza.

I love these guys, and I’m definitely going to miss them (even more than I’ll miss the skiing). But I’ll be back… in a few years.

And probably still mediocre.

My phone smells like spam

I saw some anecdote the other day that the FCC expects “spam” phone calls (automated marketing junk) to exceed 50% of all calls this year. I believe it. Today alone I’ve had seven automated calls advertising things like solar panels, chronic pain solutions, and tax preparation help. I can mark the number as “blocked” on my phone, but all that means is the next time they call, my phone doesn’t ring but I still get a voicemail message with their recorded garbage. Ugh.

She’s baaaaaaaaack!

It’s been almost a year and a half since we welcomed Alex back from his mission to Peru. And today we had the same opportunity to welcome Kyra back from California, as she finished her mission in Bakersfield.

We piled into the van and headed to the airport. In the parking lot we found one of those luggage carts, so we decided to hijack it. I pushed Zaque about halfway to the terminal (of the half-mile walk we did from long-term parking) and then he took a turn pushing me.

Then we positioned ourselves in the terminal where the trains empty, since that’s the closest we could get to the gate. While waiting, Zaque and I noticed a big bronze statue of some aviator dude. His shoes were very shiny, and I figured it was because countless people rub his shoes for good luck. We figured it wouldn’t hurt to get a little of the luck for ourselves.

A short while later, there she was!

Not surprisingly, there were hugs and laughing and tears. Laralee got a hug that seemed like it lasted forever, while the rest of us stood around awkwardly waiting for our turns. Then again, moms probably miss their missionaries more than others.

We posed by some DIA construction sign, together again for the first time in over three and a half years.

After a stop for lunch, we came back home to a big banner:

And that’s all she wrote! Eighteen months of service, hard work, and tremendous sacrifice, in the record books. I’m so proud of Kyra and her decision to serve a mission. And I’m so glad to have her back!

The last email

Every Sunday, I have a repeating item on my to-do list to write an email to Kyra on her mission:

Today I closed the item as “complete”. It was the last email I’ll write to her while she’s serving in California. Laralee and I are both excited to see her again when she flies back to Denver on Wednesday. Eighteen months sure flew past. I’m so proud of her for choosing to serve a mission.

De-Google-ifying

For a while now, I’ve been increasingly concerned with how much information Google has about me (yeah, I know many people feel this way). The problem, of course, is that they make it so easy to use their services, and when you get an Android device, you’re pretty much locked into their ecosystem. There was a time I thought maybe being locked into the Android/Google world was better than iOS/Apple, but I no longer think that. So I’ve been thinking about how to migrate away from them, without losing the convenience many of their products provide.

Last week, I was surprised and dismayed when Google announced they were changing how their Tasks system worked. It essentially killed the interface I’d been using for years to manage my daily to-do list. Since I’m a guy who absolutely depends on my to-do list, it was crushing. Their new Tasks UI is clunky and terrible, and I immediately hated it.

Luckily I’m a web developer!

So I sat down and started building my own to-do list platform. Because I was building it from scratch, I could make the user interface exactly how I envisioned a “good” task system would behave. Over the next few days, I spent a few hours here and there poking at it. I connected it to Google’s API so I could still manage my to-do list through them (since I have a phone app for it, and don’t know app development). Things were good, but today I decided even that’s not a good solution. I’m still providing Google with a list of everything I do, and although I don’t think there’s some poor employee who reads the to-do lists of millions of users, I also think there’s no reason Google should have that information about me.

I started poking around NextCloud, which is a fantastic platform I’ve been using for years for file-sharing, and found that the calendar and task tools are first-class. They have all the functionality I need to manage my schedule and tasks, and I found some apps that integrate directly with them. Best of all, the data is completely under my control (running on a server I own) so it’s all private to me.

Now I’ve successfully switched everything over to NextCloud, imported my data, and deleted all of it in Google. Laralee saw what I was doing and asked if I could set it up for her as well, so I did. Now we’re both de-Google-ified, at least in these two areas. Woot!

100% Dominion

Dominion remains my favorite board (card) game, and I’ve been a faithful collector of all the sets since it first came out many years ago. For Christmas, Mom and Dad gave me a set of wooden dividers, and I promptly bought an “Artist Supply Case” from Hobby Lobby– the dividers were specifically designed for that box, and provide a way to insert six rows of European-sized gaming cards.

After spending a weekend sanding, staining, and varnishing the box, it was time to load up the cards. They all fit– barely– but I needed a better way to organize them so I’d see what was what. With almost 400 unique cards (10+ of each type), there are over 4,000 cards that have to be sorted. So I found a list of all the cards online, downloaded an icon set, matched the font on the game cards, designed and printed everything on colored paper, glued them to a bunch of bridge-sized playing cards, and inserted them into the stacks of cards so everything is organized.

The result is awesome. Everything is color-coded by set, alphabetized, and squeezed in perfectly. The box is exactly big enough to hold all of the expansion sets. Laralee says that’s great because it means I won’t order any more expansions in the future. She also saw what I was doing and commented that she couldn’t believe I’d spend so much time on something so trivial, but that only proved she’s a Philistine when it comes to board games.

So now I’m all ready to crush Kyra again, when she returns from her mission in a couple of weeks. Yay Dominion!

The Golden Broccoli Award

Today in seminary I gave the class a “pop quiz”, which I do fairly often as a good way to start discussion and get everyone talking at 6am. Because we were discussing the Word of Wisdom and being healthy, I made a little trophy for whoever did the best on the quiz. I called it the Golden Broccoli Award, and it was breathtaking.

Yes, I actually spray-painted a sprig of broccoli, then painted a base, and mounted it. Awesome.

Of course Laralee thinks I’m the biggest dork she’s ever married.

That’s food?

I opened the fridge and seriously thought we had a bag of birdseed in there.

Apparently I’m uncouth and uncultured, because I didn’t recognize that it’s quinoa. I told La she can call it whatever fancy name she wants, but it still looks like birdseed.

Now that’s love

La and I went out for lunch at the new(ish) First Watch restaurant in town. I liked their napkin holders:

Yay, stock market

Ooh, the stock market is so much fun. I’m not sure I’m timing my retirement very well…