Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dinosaurs: SUV, COBOL and Me

I'm a Dinosaur.

And I'm a Geek. As such, I am sometimes the subject of derision among my peers because I still have a certain amount of affection for COBOL: COmmon Business Oriented Language (a programming language), even though I now use more 'modern' tools such as Oracle, Pro*C, SQL, SQR, DSL and similar uppity Geek things.

And I'm a shooter who competes with an STI "Race Gun in Open Division, even though I harbor a deep and abiding love for the 1911A1 (A.K.A. "The Geek11A1".)

I thought I was finally moving into the 21st Century when I turned in my Jeep Larado for a 1998 Ford Explorer, two years ago. It had a working cruise control, air conditioning that actually worked, power windows, remote alarm/door-lock, power seats, and the muffler didn't go BRAAAAAK every time I started 'er up.

So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I had only adopted another Dinosaur.

This was made clear to me when I read the SFGATE article Remember the dinosaur known as the SUV?

Twenty years. That's about how long these ridiculous beasts stomped the Earth without peer or predator or even much coherent justification, giving soccer moms and frat dudes alike a false and often dangerous sense of security and capability, when all the beasts really offered was horrible mileage and appalling handling and fiery rollover deaths, mixed with aesthetics straight from the caveman-with-a-sledgehammer school of design. Ah, we loved them well.

I believe it was Ford MoCo that fired the opening salvo that shocked both itself and the world when it (sort of) invented the first mass-market SUV back in 1990 merely by tacking some extra seats and a few hunks of cheap leather and soft shocks onto a lug-nut pickup truck. It painted it a pretty color and called it an Explorer and sold about 50 million in a week.
Wait a minute. If I'm not mistaken, what they did was to take the Ford F150 pickup and put on a modular body which enclosed the cargo area.

Result? An enclosed pickup, in which you could carry 'stuff' that wouldn't get wet in the rain, and in which you could lock up your 'stuff' so the goblins couldn't get at it.

Understand that I was none to proud about buying a "Damned Ol' Ford" (DOF); I had owned two Fords before. One was a 1969 Maverick, for which I paid $1,999 ["The last New Car You'll Ever Buy For Under Two Thousand Dollars", and wasn't that prophetic?], new. The other was a 1980-something Brown Ford four-door for which I paid one thousand dollars, used.

I courted SWMBO in that ugly brown Ford, and I paid $11 for a tank of gasoline. Fond Ford Memories, here. Gasoline at $1.14/gallon is a thing of the past, but I still have SWMBO and memories of SWMBO in the front seat when ... well, never mind.

But now I have a black 10-year-old explorer, which holds all my 'stuff' when I go to weekend USPSA matches and runs like a top with a minimum of maintenance, and this San Francisco Wuss had the unmitigated Gall to tell me what an anachronism I am?

I've owned a couple of Corvairs, and got great mileage from them.

The last car I owned before I bought the Jeep was a 1986 Mazda 626 which got about the same mileage that the Jeep got.

I had a Porsche which got great mileage, but repairs ... even normal annual maintenance ... started out at $500 and shot quickly UP.

And this Yahoo has the nerve to tell me that I made a bad choice in buying a SUV? I've spent more money on cars that got much better mileage. This guy doesn't have any connection with people who don't spend most of their auto-time pushing their underpowered rice-burners up Telegraph Hill.

But really, who didn't see the SUV's collapse coming a mile away? Who didn't note the beginning of the end when, five years ago, the world's worst consumer vehicle ever took its place as the poster child for all that went wrong with the condescending American ethos, the oil-sucking war-drunk Bush-mauled mind-set? [Ed: Emphasis Added]
That's where this guy really loses me.

The phrase "Condescending American ethos" relegates the choice of transportation to a "moral element". Translation: "You arrogant American cowboy, you buy a SUV just to show your superiority but you are so provincial that you don't even realize how badly your buying habits reflect on the Left Coast angst in the view of the Eurocentral Community!"

This guy wants me to give up my Explorer, which hauls my guns and my bitter self to the matches every weekend, because he thinks it makes HIM guilty by association in the eyes of his effete feminist Euro-weenie pals.

I've got a message for Mark Morford: I've got the response to your Dick Cheney Hate-fest right here, pal.

YOU try hauling a hundred pounds (and 10 cubic feet) of range bags, lunch, guns,ammo, sun-block, folding chairs, water, rain gear and other accoutrements for two to in a fuel-efficient
rice-burner to a pistol match where you're on your feet for six hours, and you'll decide that you need more hauling capacity, too.

This ho-dad even badmouths Soccer Moms, because they need to haul kids and supplies to the local schoolyard for their matches. I thought that Soccer Moms were sacrosanct to Effete Liberals.

(Notice how I managed to work in the word "effete" TWICE in this article? That's because I'm on my best behavior. This is, after all, notionally a Family-Safe Blog.

Here's the Death Knell:
It's not completely their fault. Big Auto knows that big, graceless, overpowered vehicles are a cornerstone of the all-American identity. Even with President Obama's imminent new environmental policies, thoughtful, permanent change is going to take a while.
Note to San Francisco: the Presidential Election hasn't been held yet. I know y'all really like Obama-Rama, and you're really big on Environmental Issues (such as the policies you're imposed upon us which prevented us from drilling for American oil, making us dependent on Foreign Oil supplies; encouraging farmers to turn productive food-source acreage into a source of Ethanol, causing a world-wide food crisis; environmental policies which have shut down most American oil refineries and preventing the building of new refineries, no matter that they can be built without the tax surcharge on 'improvements' which prevented the Evil Oil Corporations from making existing refineries "eco-friendly", and shutting down almost ALL nuclear power plants, making the generation of electricity dependent on coal-fired power plants.)

You and your buddies couldn't' possibly be responsible for the dependence on foreign power sources and pollution of the environment, because your intentions are high and your hearts are pure.

The solution to America's Energy problems are obviously to get rid of the Sports Utility Vehicle, and it's only RIGHT that Americans are required to pay four dollars for a gallon of gasoline, because it will 'force (us) to consider alternate energy sources'.

Yeah, right. I recall reading articles in SFGATE ten years ago stating that when gasoline reached two dollars a gallon, it would be economically feasible to mine Shale Oil in Alaska.

Now we're at twice that devoutly-to-be-wished economic precipice, and your people still won't give us a break.

The obscene article listing how wrong we are to cleave to our SUV's (along with our Guns and our God) is just another reason for Fly0ver-Country America to become embittered, and distrustful of Urban Liberals who think they know better than we do how we should live our lives and spend our money.

Liberals and Environmentalists: A Pox on Both Their Houses.

Monday, August 04, 2008

SWMBO and the Oncologist

I took SWMBO to her first meeting with her Oncologist Monday morning. Nice German chap, we could hardly figure out what he said. It took me a half-hour to understand that the chemotherapy would include being dosed with Platinum. He kept referring to the treatment as “the poison we feed you”.

SWMBO went in with the understanding that she had six months, max, even with chemotherapy. On the way out she declared that she was going to be that one-in-two-hundred who was cured. So we went out to lunch.

As we were driving off I mentioned that I had posted her plight on the blog. To my amazement, she announced that she had actually read it. That’s not something she does very often. (No man is a king in his own castle.) Then she said she received an email invitation to come up for dinner with The Usual Suspects, and she was enthusiastic about it. Now, anyway, if not later.

She’s going in for a PET CT (?) on Saturday, and possibly also an MRI to make sure she doesn’t have a brain tumor. Doctor Major (pronounced "Mayor") doesn’t think so, but he wants to be sure.) Then on Wednesday she goes in for her first chemotherapy. It takes six to 8 hours, and she shouldn’t drive herself home because they don’t know what her reactions will be to 'the poisons we feed you'. It’s a cocktail, more or less, and they have to administer it very slowly so the body doesn’t reject it immediately.

I suggested that I would drive her to the appointment, but perhaps a taxi ride home would be a good idea. “At least, you can puke in somebody else’s car.” She said she would consider it. Her sister also volunteered to drive her to and fro. I’m thinking of yielding to her generous offer.

So we’re not being dreadful today, and that’s a good thing.

Oh, yeah. Let's drop this "SWMBO" thing. It was fun while it was fun, but "She - Who Must Be Obeyed" is yesterday's nickname.

"SHE" is Sandie. Sandie, who is no longer an anonymous internet icon, but a very real, very important woman. Sandie is too important to me to continue as a symbol. I hope that those of you who aren't personally acquainted with her will recognize her as more 'real' than I had ever allowed her to be here.

We went into the consultation with the hopes that, with chemotherapy, she would have six months. When we left, Sandie told me that she expects that she will be the "one-in-two-hundred" who respond completely to chemotherapy and resume full, normal lives. She also found, when she went back to work, that she had a couple of phone messages scheduling other tests. The Doctor(s) are being very thorough, although intrusive.

She has a good chance of achieving this goal: she doesn't smoke, she's physically stronger than she believes, and she doesn't exhibit any signs of debilitation, other than the tendency to cough a lot. As Doctor Major said: "Looking at the two of you, I can't tell which has Cancer".

Sandie had expected to spend the next weekend in a conclave with her four (!) sisters in a cabin in the high mountains. Unfortunately, the PET CT test is scheduled for Saturday. She will be required to forget her plans for spending quality time with her sisters, in favor of the tests which will determine whether, among other things, she also has a brain tumor (not likely, but would require priority in treatment over Lung Cancer) and other things which are Good To Know for an Oncologist who is trying to save his patient.

We knew that treatment would be intrusive in many ways, but we didn't realize that tests and treatments would negatively affect our weekends. How naive we are.

Today we received several more emails from friends who offered support, prayers and advice. Thank you, all of you.

We heard from Dave F., who we met at the 1998 Area 1 match in Reno, Nevada. We have seen him ONCE since then, but continued to keep in touch via email. Dave is a mortician in Montana, and has encouraged us to refer to him as "Digger". (It's a Mortician thing, not my fault.

You know you are loved, as I told Dave, when the mortician sends you a "Get Well Soon" card.

Dave also suggested that we contact support groups in our area. I had not thought of this, but Sandie had. At least she said so when I talked to her.

What's next?

Sandie will be tested for every bit of Cancer which may be in her body. I had originally stated that she is in "Stage 1" of the Cancer, but Doctor Mayor informed us today that, since it was 'deemed" to be in both lungs, that definitively constituted "Stage 4" cancer, because it was found in two organs.

But we don't really know this. They never ran a biopsy on the left lung. The PET CT test will find all the metastasizing tissues, and then at least the doctors will know the battleground.

The bottom line, for now, is that we don't really know how scary this is. But our friend Sherrie O. wrote to say that she was just completing her last chemotherapy for Breast Cancer, and it sounds as if her doctors don't feel the need to continue treatment for the foreseeable future. Hooray for Sherrie! I hope she beat it, she's good people.

In response to the flood of emails we've received over the past two days, Sandie said to me: "You're right about the messages from our sporting community (not surprised here). We've always known that they are exceptional people. Our circumstances just emphasize it."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Dillon's KISS Bullet Feeder Testimonial

A recommendation received last week on the KISS bullet-feeder: available from "Reloading Heaven":

I just bought a KISS bullet feeder for mine. Loaded 100 rounds in 2 minutes and 38 seconds....

Rob Shepherd
Major Nyne Guns

SWMBO Update

SWMBO and I have been the "Significant Other" (SO) in each other's lives for the past fourteen years. We have never married, in part because we have each lived alone for so long that it's difficult for us to give up the 'private space' which we have each enjoyed since before we met. It's a personal decision which our mutual friends questioned. It doesn't mean that we love each other less than any of our married friends do. In fact, she is the love of my life and the woman with whom I wish to spend the rest of my life.

Several months ago (to recap), SWMBO suffered a bad 'Spring Cold', with a cough that hung on long after the cold departed. The doctors decided it was a form of Pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. When these failed to alleviate the discomfort, the dosage was doubled. Finally, She - Who Must Be Obeyed, was subject to various medical procedures (biopsy) to determine the exact nature of the problems in her lungs which caused her to be lethargic, without energy or stamina, subject to a continuing 'non-productive' cough.

During this period she did not feel well enough to attend competitions, as was our habit for over a decade. Instead, she stayed home while I continued to compete. Our friends and acquaintances would see me at matches and ask how she was doing. I would reply with news of the current course of treatment, and then relay to her their best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.

The rest is difficult to write. I'll just give it to you straight.

Ten days ago her doctor performed a 'needle biopsy' which was finally successful in gathering enough material so that they could determine the cause of her malaise.

She received the diagnosis last Tuesday, July 29, 2008.

They were wrong, all along. It wasn't pneumonia, in any form.

SWMBO will begin a course of chemotherapy sometime after the appointment with her Oncologist tomorrow morning.

The biopsy determined that she has cancer in both lungs. It is at Stage 1. It is inoperable.

(More information about stages of lung cancer here.)

The doctors so far refuse to offer her an encouraging prognosis. We hope that the Oncologist will be willing and able to prescribe a course of chemotherapy which has the possibility of slowing, even delaying, the progress of the disease. SWMBO wants to be able to refer to herself as "A Cancer Survivor". I want that, too.

I would not have been surprised to discover that I had Lung Cancer. I smoke cigarettes. She doesn't. I don't smoke around her, except when we're outside in the open, where she won't have to breath it. Somehow, it hardly seems fair. Most of this doesn't seem fair. None of it seems fair. Fairness doesn't seem to have much to do with it.

I would not impose this discouraging news in such a public forum, except that SWMBO's circle of friends is so wide-spread that it is impossible for me to otherwise inform all of them of her medical condition. And again, at every match her many friends ask me of her progress.

Frankly, I'm just not tough enough to stand in the middle of a shooting range and one at a time tell our friends that Sandie (SWMBO, when she's at home) -- who begins every match by hugging everybody who stops by to say good morning -- will not be joining us for the foreseeable future.

But I won't say 'not ever'.

The past five days have been difficult for us. Besides dealing with her personal fears and doubts, SWMBO had to tell me (last Tuesday), and watch me virtually fall apart. After I had got my head and my heart around it, she has had to tell her family, her employer, and her co-workers. Nobody is taking it well.

I have told most of my family, who regard her in the same way as they would if we were legally married. I have told my co-workers (who know her only as 'that paragon of Virtue that Jerry keeps talking about since he started working here'), and they were very supportive.

In fact, they were so solicitous that I finally had to tell them "Thank you for your concern, and for your support and your prayers. But right now, I'm still dealing with the first stage of 'dealing with it' and it's hard not to be emotional. I would rather not talk about it. Please just let me do my job, and I'll say more when and as I can."

In the meantime, SWMBO and I have spend a lot of time talking about the dramatic changes which this diagnosis presages for not only her physical condition, but for the quality of life changes she can expect.

Her doctor recommends that she quit her job "right away". She has no other income, she has no way to pay her basic bills without working, and even if she quits immediately and draws her pension, it will be 92 days before she can receive any pension benefits. Quitting her job means that she will have to pay her own health insurance (a fiscal impossibility) or go on Medicare ... with lessened medical options than under her existing health plan.

The questions we face are unanswered, and at the moment almost as debilitating as the disease promises to be.

The only way we can deal with them is to decide that we are not going to be 'morbid' about this ... this thing which threatens to overwhelm us emotionally.

What do I say next? I don't know how to write this, but we want to live our lives to the fullest every day, taking God's grace as it comes. We are going to beat this, one way or another, and if we have to live on little more than her indomitable will and personal strength and determination, we will do so without flinching.

Without flinching ... much.

We spent this weekend together enjoying our own company. We went to a movie, we went shopping, we had Roast Beef for dinner, we watched some bad Cable TV, we watched some favorite old movies. This is how we will continue, just living from day to day as best we can.

And I will blog, writing as if there are no clouds above.

To some of you, it may seem as if I am indifferent.

Those of you who know how much we love each other will understand. We have always been the two who walk hand in hand. We are still hand in hand. We are determined to maintain ourselves with the things that fulfill our lives. We will not, either of us, give up ONE THING that we can do and can enjoy, so long as it is possible.

To those of you who offer prayers, thank you. We'll take all we can get. Those who would suggest that "God does not send us any more than we can handle" ... well, I hope you're right. To those of you who have already responded: yes, we will continue to "Stay Positive". And thank you for your understanding.

We may not be able to beat Cancer. But it will not beat us.

Still, we bought a lot of hankies this week.