PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

October 11th, 2006

Brown Acid has nothing on Black Coffee

A coworker of mine was complaining the other day about the coffee at work. I hadn’t really thought about it, I guess. The coffee in the office is very nearly infinitely better than what I was drinking at my old job. Besides, I usually get coffee on the way to work, instead of drinking what’s there.

Then I was reminded of my friend clu, and his recent quest for better coffee. Why should I settle for inferior coffee? Why should I be spending so much of my hard-earned simoleons on lattes?

Well, there’s actually a very good reason. I’m the only person in my family that drinks the stuff. I’ve tried French Press, drip, and espresso machines, and have yet to find a brewing method for the home that gave me both flavor and convenience when I made a small amount of coffee. The closest I ever came was back in the day when I was dabbling with a French Press, but glass is a lousy insulator, and my coffee was always cold by the time it was ready to drink. Plus, I could never get it the right strength.

But, technology has marched on, and there are new and improved methods of brewing the noble bean. I stopped off this morning and picked up: the Starbucks Barista Travel Thermal Press


It’s a little insulated travel mug with a small built-in French Press. Genius! I took it to work, and made a mug of coffee. After letting the grounds steep, I pressed the little plunger all the way down, then took a cautious sip. Not bad. I worked on that cup of coffee while I read my emails. An hour or so later, I decided I wanted to make another cup, in the interest of experimentation. After all, the mug looked like it held about sixteen ounces, which is what I usually drank. So I would be having two cups instead of one.

Well, this cup seemed even smoother than the first one. No acidity at all, no bitterness, and it stayed piping hot. Success! I could make my own gourmet coffee whenever I wanted! Huzzah!

My self-satisfaction did not last long, however, as I began to feel somewhat lightheaded. My vision grew a bit blurry, and I could feel my heart beating in an oddly syncopated pattern. Was it possible that French Press coffee had just a tad more caffeine in it than drip coffee? I did some quick research, and it seemed that, yes, French Press coffee could be a bit more efficient than a drip coffeemaker at extracting caffeine, since the grounds stayed in contact with the hot water longer.

Ah, but as I was doing my research, I stumbled across a product description for my new little coffee cup. It actually holds twenty ounces, not sixteen. Yes, I had powered down forty ounces of extra-strong coffee before eleven o’clock. This was not good.

It took a while, but after Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” had finally stopped playing inside my head, the tapdancing geckos were finished chasing the technicolor dragonflies across the top of my monitor, and I had returned from the men’s room, I was feeling much better.

Despite the abuse to my central nervous system, I remain optimistic about my new coffee cup. I’ll just have to be very sure to have just one cup a day from now on.

October 10th, 2006
October 10th, 2006

Popping up from the Background

When my wife became pregnant the first time, I suddenly began noticing pregnant women everywhere. It seemed like every time I went shopping, every time we went out to eat, every time I left the house, I would see pregnant women. The same thing happened when we bought our old Subaru Outback. Suddenly we became aware of how many Outbacks there were in Eugene. It seemed like there were two or three at every stoplight. It’s like that for anything that you take an interest in. Suddenly you are aware of them everywhere.

A while ago I became a reader of Omegamom’s blog. Omegamom and her husband adopted an adorable little girl from China a few years ago. She writes about parenting issues (which I can empathize with and appreciate) and adoption issues (which I cannot). Reading about the added issues that arise when you bring someone else’s child into your home and your heart, I don’t know if I would be strong enough to do it. Add in the whole issue of culture and appearance, and it becomes a fine bucket of worms indeed.

Anway, I have been peering over the shoulder of Omegamom, and her support group, and now I find that I am seeing Asian children with non-Asian parents everywhere. It feels like every time we go out to eat, we see a couple of parents with their little tot, her shiny black hair and epicanthic folds an obvious contrast with their 100% Caucasoid appearance. And now that I notice them, I wonder about their stories. How long did they try to have children before they considered adoption? How many hoops did they have to jump through? How much do they know about the birth mother? These are questions that never would have occurred to me before ‘meeting’ Omegamom.

My family was having dinner out the other night, girls on one side of the table, boys on the other, and we starting comparing facial features between parent and child. It’s obvious that our children are our children. The curve of an eyebrow, the color of an eye, the shape of a cheekbone. We could not deny them, even if we wished to. But even as we laughed and pointed out this characteristic, and that, I was acutely aware that those are moments that adoptive parents cannot have. And I wonder how that feels.

In the end, I guess I’m happy that I see so many parents with Asian children now. For one thing, it means that there’s a couple that really, really wanted a kid, and proved it in the most visceral way possible. When I see an adopted Chinese child, I know that it is a wanted child. Also, seeing so many adoptive parents indicates that there is a large enough population of them to form a viable support structure. Parenting is hard enough without throwing in all those additional complications. We need all the help we can get.

Note: I had to edit this post because I unthinkingly referred to a representative adopted child as a ‘he’. The reality is, more than 95 percent of the children adopted from China are girls, both due to China’s population control policies, and the perceived relative value of boys versus girls there.

October 8th, 2006

Hunting for Bargains

Let me say that, all issues of appearances aside, I like bicycle shorts. They provide support to the large muscles of the thighs and once you rip the chamois out of them (which I don’t need because I ride a recumbent) they don’t feel like an adult diaper. So, I’ve been looking for something comparable to work out in, because I do ride a recumbent exercise bike. I believe the technical term for what I want is ‘compression shorts’. However, when I ordered some compression shorts online, I got something so thin and so tight that, as the old joke goes, you could tell my religion. OK, those are fine for wearing under something else, but they weren’t really what I wanted.

We went to REI today, and I picked up some workout gear, but still couldn’t find anything like the shorts I wanted so I decided to swing by a sporting goods store on the way home. When we got there, we discovered that Copeland Sporting Goods was having a store closing sale. It looks like they are shutting down that location, and everything in the store, and I mean everything, was 30-50% off.

It’s really absurd how much you can convince yourself you need when it’s marked down that far. I got two pairs of shorts (not exactly what I wanted, but cheap), two tank tops for $5 apiece, and a new pair of sneakers. I didn’t really need a new pair of sneakers, and solid black is not a color scheme I like, but they were cheap, and they were actually New Balance with a 4E width, so they actually fit me and my overly wide feet. My daughter got new shoes, as well. Size NINE, for crying out loud. I also picked up some stuff sacks, and we even got a new pair of binoculars for the family. It’s funny, I originally planned to just duck in and look for shorts, and we ended up spending an hour and a half there. Crazy. The lure of some kind of bargain.

October 7th, 2006
October 6th, 2006

Music Video Madness

As you know, this blog doesn’t cater to the vagueries of current events, and isn’t swayed by fads and fashion. So you can rest assured that this week’s MVM theme has nothing whatsoever to do with Mark Foley.

Deniece Williams - Let’s Hear It For The Boy

Duran Duran - Wild Boys

The Cure - Boys Don’t Cry

Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Relax (banned version - contains significant adult content)

October 5th, 2006


If you followed me here from my old blogspot blog, you should remember that I used to link to ‘Game Under’, a video game-oriented blog by clu. Unfortunately, after a promising start and building up a decent audience, Game Under inexplicably went AWOL.

Ah, but after wandering in the wilderness, after refining his vision of what a blog should be, after getting down to fighting weight and unlocking 6 out of 8 of his chakra gates, clu has returned with a new blog, Thumbuki. Not limiting himself to just gaming, clu will address a myriad, nay, a plethora of subjects including digital photography and photomanipulation, electronic music, do-it-yourself tinkering, and God knows what else.

By all means, go check it out.

October 5th, 2006

Darkness, Light, Darkness

This claymation short film by Jan Svankmajer is not particularly funny. In fact, it’s pretty creepy. It also features some anatomically correct body parts, including some ‘wobbly bits’ as the British say, so parental discretion is advised. But it is also quite brilliant, and as perfect a use of clay as a medium as I’ve ever seen.

Jan Svankmajer at Wikipedia

October 4th, 2006

If Pirates Had Press Conferences

CAPTAIN BLOODBEARD: “Arrr. Thank all of ye for comin’ down to the docks. We just wished to present our side ‘o recent events an’ address some recent accusations, afore we had to shove off again.”

PRESS: “Captain Bloodbeard!” “Captain!” “Mr. Bloodbeard, sir!”

CB: “The laddie from CBS, there, what be on yer mind?”

PRESS: “You just now indicated that you would be ’shoving off’, does that mean you will be leaving before the Smelling allegations are addressed?”

CB: “Narrr! First of all, we’re Pirates, lad. We needs to be gettin’ back to sea. Every day we be stuck here in t’harbor is money out of our pockets. Second of all, all Smellin’ has done is make ‘is baseless and foul claims against us, what got no credence whatsoever.”

A man in a well-tailored suit steps up to the microphone

CB: “Arr. This be our lawyer, Mr. Henderschott.”

Henderschott: “Yes, thank you. I just want to reiterate that no charges whatsoever have been filed against my clients. Mr. Smelling has been trotting his story out in front of the press, but that’s all he’s been doing. In the absence of any interest by the authorities, my clients have the right to come and go as they please. If the District Attorney has any issues with my clients, he knows where my office is, and we would be more than happy to address those issues if and when they do arise. Thank you.”

PRESS: “Captain!” “Captain, sir!” “Captain!”

CB: “Urrr. Yon blond feller. Speak up.”

PRESS: “Mr. Smelling has repeatedly indicated that while he was aboard your ship, ‘The Wicked Wench’, he was subjected to many indignities and atrocities. In particular, he states that he was repeatedly placed in stress positions, denied both food and sleep for long periods, and periodically tortured.”

CB: “That’s a bloody lie! What Smellin’ has been belly-achin’ about is what we call ‘four on, four off’. You keep watch for four hours, then you have four hours off, round the clock.”

PRESS: “So, you can’t get more than four hours of sleep at a stretch? Isn’t that inhumane, Captain?”

CB (chuckling): “Inhumane?!? Every manjack on that vessel has paid ‘is dues working four on, four off! I meself, when I were naught but a cabin boy, spent many a long month not knowing what day it rightly was, or whether twas mornin’ or evenin’. It’s part ‘o the job. If ye can’t bounce up, full of vinegar on three hours of sleep, than you have no place on a pirate ship!”

PRESS: “What about the allegations of torture? Is it true that Mr. Smelling was subjected to ‘waterboarding’?”

CB: “Absolutely not! That’s a damned lie!”

Henderschott steps up and whispers briefly in Captain Bloodbeard’s ear

CB: “Ah, let me just state that no one in my crew has EVER been strapped to a board and ‘ad water poured on ‘is head. That is a barbaric and unforgiveable act, and to any Cap’n that would use such a procedure, I say ye ain’t rightly a Pirate Cap’n, what has concern for ‘is crew.”

PRESS: “What about keelhauling, Captain? Was Smelling ever keelhauled?”

Captain Bloodbeard blinks

CB: “Keelhauled? Oh aye. but that’s just keelhaulin’.”

Henderschott steps up and whispers urgently in Captain Bloodbeard’s ear

CB: (to Henderschott) “What? Don’t be a complete ass!” (to press corps) “Keelhaulin’ ain’t torture! It’s just a bit ‘o creative discipline.”

PRESS: “Captain Bloodbeard, according to our sources, keelhauling involves tying a prisoner to a rope that is looped beneath the ship, throwing the prisoner overboard, and then dragging the prisoner under the ship’s hull and up on the other side of the ship.”

CB: “I object to the use of the term ‘prisoner’ when discussing the free members ‘o me crew.”

PRESS: “Isn’t it true that the keel of a sailing ship is often covered with barnacles, resulting in severe lacerations when someone is dragged across it?”

CB (leers menacingly): “Well, laddie. If you’d like, I can arrange fer ye to get a real close look at one!”

HENDERSCHOTT (hurriedly interrupting): “What the Captain means is that certain selected members of the press would be more than welcome to inspect The Wicked Wench themselves, so that they can verify the safe and hygienic work environment that exists aboard the vessel.”

CB (continuing to grin): “Aye. And ye can meet the ship’s cat. It’s a fancy one. It has nine tails.”

HENDERSCHOTT: “Ok, this thing is over.”

October 2nd, 2006


I used to donate blood quite often. Even when I wasn’t, though, I was always getting poked, prodded, and bled by various physicians. I have a keen understanding of how much fun it is when the phlebotomist can’t find the vein, or the vein collapses, or ‘rolls’ under the needle.

It ain’t fun.

But the folks at Luminetx have developed the VeinViewer, an absolutely nifty system that lets a doctor see the veins under your skin. This is a very cool application of infrared photography and digital imaging. This is how it works:

An infrared light source illuminates the site you are interested in viewing. The infrared wavelengths are differentially absorbed by the tissue. That is, tissue reflects the IR, while the blood within a vein absorbs it. The reflected IR signal is captured by a digital camera and immediately analyzed. The resulting IR image is converted to visible light and projected back onto the surface of the site of interest with exact registration, and in real time.

The result: A projected image of the blood vessels beneath the skin, in real time. Time magazine named the VeinViewer the “coolest invention of the year” in 2004.

Here’s a still image:

and here’s a video clip:

Is that cool, or what?