One Graham's View

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Run for the border or just act like it

For the sake of discussion, let me ask you a question. Would you like to go to a
theme park
where, for only $15, you get the chance to spend hours following masked men acting as your guide while you are traversing through hot desert sands, across the big river, crawling through thorny underbrush, get tossed around in the back of a truck traveling over rocky terrain at 50 mph, just to understand what illegal immigrants to the US experience? How about if they added in simulated gunfire and US border agents coming in over a loudspeaker telling you to go home and not cross the border, would you want to do this and spend your own hard-earned denero doing it?

Check out that link. You’ll see that I’m not yanking your chain. It already exists.

I might be crazy, but my need to empathize with the plight of illegals doesn’t extend that far. I don’t need to go through their experience to know it is harsh and one that I don’t want to undertake myself…much less pay $15 to do it!
The whole concept of this theme park makes me raise two questions.
1. Does this park glamorize the act of illegal border crossing at risk of personal injury or, even worse, death?
2. Does this have the potential to prove as a training ground for those who plan to make their own in the future?

Okay, here’s the real kicker. The park receives some of its funding from the Mexican federal government. Way to go, Mehico!

Monday, August 28, 2006

What is $160,000 worth?

Good morning,

Nearly every city in America has subsidized housing based on income levels and usually the levels to get into those housing units are fairly low. This is a government program that works well and doesn’t really get too many second looks.

Have you heard about the subsidized housing project being discussed where the family earning income level is
a mere $160,000?
That is not a typo. $160,000 is the earning limit for a family to qualify for getting into the proposed housing project being discussed by the city council in Santa Barbara, California.

Whoa! If the Mrs. and I took in that much cash, I’d be more than happy. Then again, I’m saying that living in the Lone Star State, not Calii-forn-I-a. Out there, what I consider riches, is only welfare status.

It just goes to show that so much in life really does depend on perspective.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On busses, cars, dragons, and dinosaurs

I have been relishing in the role of proud daddy for some time now. I’ve been happily noting the regular advances Austin has been making as he has been getting older. I have also been putting the changes into the context of developmental stages that I learned about during my graduate studies.

Austin is just about where he should be when looking at mental development. He is at the stage of “magical thinking,” where he can use his imagination and create play from objects that aren’t as concrete as he use to need them to be.

For example, we have several of those plastic storage bins, approximately one and a half feet wide and two feet long, with a depth of about a foot and a half. He likes to get inside one of these and take in a couple of his “stuffies” (Austinese for stuffed animals). Quite often, he wants this box on my knees. While I’m sitting on the couch or in my computer desk chair, he’ll put the empty box up on my lap, then gather his stuffies, and get into the box. He’ll then announce that he has to buckle in the stuffies. He’ll then tell me that he’s driving the bus to Sonic. He will rock the box back and forth, telling me when lights are green or red, so I can make either accelerating or braking noises, whichever is appropriate. When he tells me he is at Sonic, he wants me to be the voice in the box and ask for his order. Sometimes, the Mrs. does this. He always orders the same thing, cheese sticks and a blue icee. (Can you guess what he likes to get when we actually indulge him and really go to Sonic?) No trip to Sonic is complete until you get the ticket and pay for your food. He has to get his ticket from me and hands me his money to pay for it. Of course, neither of these is real and I’m loving that he can play like this.

Then there are other times when he tells me, “Daddy, get on bus!” That’s his way of saying it is time to load up his stuffies and he is now Bus Driver Bob from the Doodlebops. (On the Disney show, whenever Bus Driver Bob appears, they sing a song called Get On The Bus.) Nothing much happens here except he loads them up, gets them situated, announces they are buckled, and he assumes the driver’s seat, grabbing the molded handle for a steering wheel. He then rocks back and forth in the box, not really doing anything else until he gets tired of this and takes his stuffies out of the box.

He also shifts gears with the box at other times, and he is “Red Car,” his name for the Lightning McQueen character from his favorite movie, Cars. When he is this character, he just wants to race, which he does while the box is sitting on my lap. He rocks the box and gives me periodic updates about the blue and green cars he has passed.

Another game he has been playing a lot lately is dragons. He is always either the red or pink dragon, Mrs. OGV is the purple dragon, and I’m the green dragon. Every now and then, he gets Boise in the action, calling him the blue dragon, but not really doing anything with him.

The red/pink dragon and green dragon always fight on the couch. He comes from one end and bounces over to the end I’m sitting on, and grabs my shirt to pull me down onto the couch. He likes to win, even if I’ve grabbed his feet and let him fall backwards onto the sofa. He will jump up and tell me that he won, then grab my shirt to pull me down, just to prove he is the winner.

While playing dragon is very physical between he and I, he knows that the purple dragon doesn’t play rough. He goes up to her with hugs and kisses. What’s up with this disparate treatment? Why does the green dragon only get the brutal treatment?

Finally, he also likes to play dinosaur. This is different from dragon. He tells me that dinosaurs fight. When he comes at me on the couch, he roars. See, this is something dragons don’t do. Then he will tell me to fight. We pummel each other softly in the chest area until he decides that one of us has won.

That winning thing is a funny thing with him. With dragon, he seems to think he has to always win. However, when we play dinosaur, he is happy to go back and forth on who wins. He even asks before he comes at me, “Daddy, who wins this time?” Being that I don’t get the purple dragon treatment, I make sure that I get my share of wins as a dinosaur!

Anyhow, that’s about it. The red dragon is off at school and this green dragon is getting sleepy. I think its time for me to drag myself back into the cave for a little nap.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Latest thoughts on Daddy Duty

Here it is the beginning of the second week of school and Daddy Duty is in full swing. I’ve about got a routine down for myself and the little prince in the mornings, but we’ll see what minor tweaking has to take place on Thursday when Mrs. OGV heads back to work. There are things she does in the morning to help get Austin ready that will shift to me because she will need to get herself ready to head off for the day.

By the end of last week, it was very obvious that Austin was loving school. His grumbly bear impersonation on Monday was the only day he showed that side upon being awakened. Until today. Today is Monday again. Let me think about this a minute. Maybe the dislike for Mondays starts a lot earlier than we really know. I might want to keep a check on this as the school year progresses. I’ll let you know what I find.

Now, like I was saying, Austin really digs school. He comes home all smiles as he bounds happily off the bus, jumping into my arms. He will chat a bit about his friends and what they did at school. On Friday, he was very happy heading out to school. He had on his new Doodlebops shirt. As soon as he had it on, he said, “Show to friends.” When he got home and I asked what his friends thought of his shirt, he summed it up well in one word, ”Nice.”

The hardest part for Austin about getting back to school seems to be his sleep patterns. For most of last year, he had afternoon class which allowed for sleeping in every morning. Now he has morning class and he has to get up early. That means getting your sleep without sleeping in during the morning.

Last week, he tried to compensate his sleep by taking a nap on Tuesday and Thursday. The cutest one of those was on Thursday afternoon, when his nap was unintentional. He was sitting at my computer, playing his Pooh game, and fell asleep in the chair. Noticing the game sounds from the study had gone silent, the Mrs. checked in on the little computer whiz. He was slumped against the back of the desk chair with his head leaning on the armrest in, what appeared to be, a very uncomfortable position. It must not have been uncomfortable, though, as he was sawing some serious logs. I picked him up and shifted him onto the leather sofa in the study, about two feet from where he was. He slept soundly for another two hours before I roused him.

I’m sure I sound like so many other parents gushing about their kids when I write this stuff, but I can’t help it. Being a parent brings this side out in me. I think most parents would say the same thing. Or is that the parent side of me just being defensive of other parents? Is this a parent conspiracy?

I suppose I’ll always feel this way, sort of mushy, about my child. As I said, I can’t help it. There is this overwhelming force that comes from being a parent. It defines this to me as one of the most meaningful things that I have ever done. I just don’t see how that feeling can ever go away.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Google: God and Sex? Money and Jesus?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the folks at
are Never happy to sit still, not even for a minute.

I just read a Houston Chronicle
detailing one of the latest free tools Google is offering.

Google Trends
is a neat little gizmo that lets you see what terms, by city, what other people are Googling.

The Chronicle article reports:

“For example, a search on Monday of Cruise, Aniston, Pitt, Jolie and Cage turned up a graph charting the movie stars' Google traffic since 2004. You'll also get a list of cities with the most searches on the actors. Orlando, it would seem, has the greatest number of Googles for these stars — and the favorite is Aniston. New York City was more interested in Cage, and Atlanta searchers had their eyes on Pitt.”

This tool joins the ranks of Google’s Zeitgeist, but lets the user enter the search terms they want to see trends for, as opposed to Zeitgeist’s Google-generated list reporting the hot search terms.

You can’t search by city, but you can Google terms you might think people of a certain geographic area might be interested in. To illustrate, the Chronicle article also showed:

topics you'd think Houstonians may be interested in showed Houston ranks No. 1 for searches on Yao Ming, Ken Lay, Andrea Yates, rapper Paul Wall and oil.
“St. Louis tops searches for God and sex, and Salt Lake City takes top honors in the search for money and Jesus.”

God and sex? Money and Jesus? Interesting pairings in the Gateway City and the Land of the Mormons.

I played around with the site a little myself. When I searched the terms “blindness” then “disability,” most of the top ten list were cities outside of the U.S., predominantly in Canada and Australia. I also entered the name “Hillary Duff,” which the Mrs. and I had discussed earlier after the young, actress with Houston roots was on a national talk show. Out of the top ten cities that generated searches for her, there was only one U.S. city among them, which was her hometown Houston at #10. The list was as follows:

1. Caracas, Venezuela
2. Perth, Australia
3. Auckland, New Zealand
4. Brisbane, Australia
5. Melbourne, Australia
6. Sydney, Australia
7. Ottawa, Canada
8. Toronto, Canada
9. Montreal, Canada
10. Houston, TX, USA

Carracas, Venezuela? Wow! I never would have guessed that Hillary was such a popular hottie down in South America. And, what’s up with so many Aussies Googling her?

Okay, I’ll get serious again. There is another tool Google has rolled out, called>Google Analytics.
This one is a practical tool that, while some report being slow and bloated, should be of interest to web masters. It is a web application that tracks traffic to your web site and analyzes the information for patterns and trends.

According to the official web site:
“Google Analytics tells you everything you want to know about how your visitors found you and how they interact with your site. You'll be able to focus your marketing resources on campaigns and initiatives that deliver ROI, and improve your site to convert more visitors. “

I don’t see this one to be as much of a fun time-waster that Google Trends can be, but I guess I’ll let Google off the hook as they are offering tools that let web masters operate more effectively.

I hope I made this report of today’s tech news a little entertaining.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More back to school thoughts

Good morning,

Standing outside the house this morning while waiting for the school bus gave me a few thoughts I wanted to share with you.

First, it is so darn muggy outside. I was strategically standing on the shady side of the driveway, to keep from getting too hot while waiting, just in case the bus got slowed by traffic like yesterday. Within 1-2 minutes of going outside, my forehead felt like a soaked sponge. It wasn’t so much the heat, but the humidity.

Then again, my own body heat might have been raised by the little boy I was holding in my arms. He is more than capable of walking outside on his own, but he was so cuddly this morning with no grrrrumbliness that I thought it was the least I could do for him when he asked me to hold him. While I was holding him to my shoulder in my left arm, there came a moment when we cast a shadow behind us and he got very intrigued with it. I thought two things—First, “That’s so cute,” and started raising my free arm, waving the hand so he would have a more interesting shadow to investigate; Then I thought, “I’m not as good as staying in the shade as I thought I was.”

For the most part, Austin was content to just hang out there, looking back towards the house, and occasionally dropping his head, nestling against my shoulder and neck. Then came that distinctive diesel sound rumbling down the street towards our house. He shifted, swinging his head around to see the school bus coming at us. He got a little excited, but that was no match for the point where we got up to the bus. Then, I put him down and he giddily jumped up to the steps of the bus. He was so happy to go to school, even more so than yesterday.

While Mrs. OGV and I waited there for the aid to get our son secured in his car seat, I noticed the smells and began doing some mental associations that took me back to my teenage years.

The smell of diesel exhaust in the morning seems so different than any other time of the day. Maybe it’s the heat just beginning to come on for the day, maybe it’s the humidity, maybe its how it all blends together, or maybe its all in my mind…it just seems so unique. That smell always makes me think of the summer I worked with my Uncle Hans, helping him out on his delivery route when he worked for the Coca Cola Company. It was only a few days that summer while my father was stationed in Germany, but they were so rich in detail that it marked that thirteenth summer of my life with an imprint I’ll never forget.

Mom or Pop would drop me off at Uncle Hans’ house, then he and I would go to the bottling plant. We’d go to his truck, fire it up, and pull it into the loading area. That was where I would get that first blast of diesel fumes. It would always seem so rich and strong. He was given a manifest, telling him where his route ran and what each client had ordered. Uncle Hans used this manifest as a loading ticket to make sure we had the proper supplies to take care of the customers. He then set about on a forklift and loaded the truck.

While he loaded the truck, I was free to roam through the plant, which was actually a huge warehouse with several trucks pulled in for loading and a small army of forklifts wheeling about with pallets of Coke products to put on the various red and white trucks. The whole atmosphere seemed busy, but at the same time, the cavernous expanse of the building made it seem like the bustling activity was insignificant in the larger scope of things. The neatest part of the plant was the several soft drink fountains that were scattered throughout the building. We could go up to any of them and get as many cups of the drinks as we wanted. Boy! That job was any teenagers dream gig.

When the truck was loaded and my uncle was ready, he would tap twice on the horn. I would then climb up into the truck cab ready to head out. The truck was loaded with cases of the old glass bottles in plastic crates, canisters of soda syrup for fountains, and several stacked cases of canned beverage. As soon as we pulled out of the warehouse and into the sun, he would stop and have me reach in back to get a couple of bottles out to take into the cab. These were for us to drink while we were on the road.

We made our way to a whole list of stops, mostly different grocery stores, some of them chains and others the smaller, mom and pop variety, to a snack stand at a resort area on a local lake. I remember marvelling at my uncle’s ability to put that big truck wherever he needed in order to unload. He could pull in to the tightest spot and leave not even the slightest rub mark behind. Many of the streets in Germany are narrow and work well for the smaller cars most Germans drive. However, when a delivery truck pulls in front of a grocery store to unload, if there is no rear entrance, the driver often has to make his own space. This leads to hurrying to get unloaded so you don’t impede traffic.

To keep our parked truck from being a traffic hazard, we would work quickly at most stops. We’d load up the two-wheel handtrucks and dolly the drinks into the different stores and set them wherever they were to be stored. Looking back, I guess Uncle Hans knew his customers well, because I don’t recall him ever asking anybody where they wanted him to put the sodas. As we made our way through the store aisles, I can also recall the distinct aromas that permeated the air, the smell of fresh baked brotchen and the always-present meat markets.

I also remember that my favorite stop was at the lakeside snack stand. There was this young girl I met there that made me feel tingly inside. I never learned her name and can’t remember what she looked like, but I’ll always remember how she made me feel. I think it was just the eye contact and my own imagination. I remember thinking that she would be impressed by this strapping American boy who could heft the cases of soda like they were made of styrofoam. I hoped she was impressed. I remember how I was so shy when my uncle introduced me to her after we finished unloading the drinks. I said, “Hi,” and shook her hand. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. More than that, I was so bashful that I couldn’t look at her. It was such a deflating moment after I had made this big, romantic story in my imaginative mind while I was unloading her parent’s order for their family business.

Like I said, that summer job didn’t last long. It might have been only two or three days total, (I know the job lasted for at least two days, because we went back to the lake for another delivery and I was disappointed when the daughter wasn’t there on my second visit.) but the memories I have were all stored forever and can be pulled up so easily by something as simple as diesel fumes in the morning.

These are happy memories from my past, deeply engrained because they were so meaningful. I don’t know if my uncle remembers me going in to work with him that summer, but I know it is a time I’ll never forget. These are the kind of memories that I hope Austin gets to experience growing up.

Only time will tell what other thoughts and memories come to mind as the school year progresses. After all, this is only the second day of class.

Monday, August 14, 2006

School days once again

Good morning,

Its that time of year again that is familiar to all parents and drivers—back to school time. So it was this morning around OGV house. At least it was for Austin. The Mrs. is still off work for more than another week as she is still recuperating from her surgery.

Getting up at 7 is something that Austin didn’t take to very willingly. I’ve always known him to be a little grumpy if awakened too early, and this morning was no exception. He grumbled a bit while I got him dressed. I don’t know if that was because he didn’t want to be awake or if I was interuppting his viewing of the Disney Channel.

Boy, I’ve got to get down a routine for this school year. Last year, he went to school just before noon, so he could sleep in until he awoke on his own, which wasn’t that difficult for me to schedule. I knew what time I had to have him up by so he could get bathed and dressed, then eat lunch before heading down to catch the bus. With the bus coming so late and him being gone until about 3:30, that left my afternoons free for lunch with friends. No more!

Now, I’ve got to figure a whole new routine so he can catch the bus just after 7:30. Mrs. OGV leaves shortly after 7, so she might be a little help getting him stirring, but the final heading out of the door thing is all on me after she goes back to work next week. I got up at 6 this morning and this gave me time to feed Boise, take him out, and have one cup of coffee while reading the news on-line. Then, when the clock showed seven bells, I went to begin the new routine. This seems like a good and workable schedule for now, but it will take practice and repetition to fine tune.

The bus ran more than 10 minutes late. The driver said that traffic was heavy. Traffic is beyond his control, so I guess I shouldn’t begrudge him that. There were a few other kids already on board, so I know he has some pick ups before getting Austin. I suppose the driver will need to work the bugs out of his schedule just as we will here.

The final result this morning, was that no matter how much he disliked getting up early, the little prince was smiling when the bus pulled up. He loves school and I hope he always does.

And, after the bus took off, I got to go back inside and have that second cup of coffee.

Ahhh. Life is good.