The Ahmed Mohamed Incident & Texas Stupidity

Texas - Days without being a national embarassmentOh boy was I pissed off when I read about what the Irving school district did to Ahmed Mohamed. I live in Irving (my property taxes go to the Coppell school district though) and even though I have a general distaste for Texas, this felt like it hit close to home in more than a geographic sense.

I have no doubt in my mind that this is nothing more than anti-Muslim bigotry stirred-up by hateful, small-minded idiots.

Such are the types of people that Texans – though many are intelligent and caring people – seem to prefer electing to represent them. The current Irving mayor, Beth Van Duyne, campaigned around not “allowing Sharia law into Irving.”

I was disappointed that Bill Maher (whom I frequently agree with) supported the school district. Maher does clearly draw a distinction between the 14-year old geek who happens to be Muslim and the radical Islamists that routinely – and correctly – draw his ire. However he is completely misguided when he says, “…and the people at the school thought it might be a bomb. Perhaps cuz it looks exactly like a fucking bomb.”

Obviously the school did not think Ahmed’s clock was a bomb. Multiple teachers saw the clock and did not react. The school was not evacuated and the bomb squad was not called. I cannot accept that line of weak sauce reasoning. I have seen enough of the South’s ill-concealed racism to believe that the school was reacting to Ahmed’s name and his religion. Sure, the authorities deny this.

The clarifications that Mark Cuban adds are very interesting. Chris Matthews’ outburst was unexpected and funny but also spot-on.

It was heartening to see so many support Ahmed. That was a nice counter-balance to the spectacular stupidity from the school and from moronic bigots like Bristol Palin. George Takei, Satya Naedalla, Mark Zuckerberg and even President Obama.

Many have called out the support of technical companies like Microsoft and Google as crass marketing gimmicks. That might be true to an extent. However, I think that these companies are also sending a message to the rest of America’s youth – and America’s political leaders. “Hey! Listen up! This is the creativity, curiosity and technical knowledge that we want to encourage and eventually hire.”

This is about more than fear, racism and religious bigotry. This about the United States miserable and worsening performance in the STEM fields of studies.

Foundation Repair

My fears have been justified! A house inspection prior to selling this place revealed foundation issues. This is very common in the Valley Ranch area. So yesterday, I had the repairs done.

It was a fascinating process. I wish I could have taken video rather than just still images. It was rather disconcerting to watch my house lift upward relative to the ground. The noises were mildly disturbing as well.

corner_pierThe workers first had to clear the shrubbery in front of the house. One of the piers had to be placed under my front door patio; so they had to drill through the concrete there.

This pier is the corner where the foundation had sunk the furthest. Ultimately, they needed to push down 28 feet before the piers reached stable ground that could support the house.


front_door_pier This is the pier under the front door patio.

The pneumatic drill played havoc with the glass break sensors in the alarm system.

Once the work was finished, the workers reset the shrubs and patched the holes in the patio concrete. Really great work, I am impressed!

The expansion joint on the side of the house was nearly 3/4” wide. After the work was done it sealed up nicely.

I have a few more pictures of this work in the My Life In Texas Flickr album.

Another Bike Accident (Warning: Gross Pictures)

Michael Garstin's woundsLast Thursday, while riding back home from my lunch break, I had my third major bike accident thanks to idiot Texas drivers. Essentially, if you are not another car or a truck, drivers in Texas simply do not give a rat’s ass about you at all.

You are in their way goddammit! The nerve of your existence!

I typically ride on the sidewalk – call it twice burned. I was taking it easy since I had a Coca-Cola Slurpee in one hand. Just beyond the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Valley Ranch Parkway is a parking lot for a dentist and a dry cleaners. I was approaching that driveway when all of a sudden there was a minivan immediately in front of me.

Of course hitting the brake with my one available hand sent me flying over the handlebars. The Slurpee was an immediate write-off…

The scene of the accident with my spattered bloodDazed, I still managed some damage assessment. Bike lamp was knocked off, retrieved that. Found my glasses and noted that the lenses appeared to be intact but covered in blood. No obvious broken bones. I could stand up.

The elderly (near as I could tell without my glasses on) couple had exited the minivan by now. The gentlemen gave me his handkerchief; that was when I noted blood was flowing down my face. I pressed that above my left eye.

WP_20150806_003I declined the ladies’ offer to call 911. I guess it looked pretty bad – I didn’t think it was that big a deal aside from the extreme annoyance and immediate pain that would surely subside. After a few minutes, I decided to walk back home.

The cut above my eye was quite clean. I realized that the edge of the left lens must have been pressed hard enough into the skin to slice it open.

The chin wound was actually quite a bit worse. It is several millimeters deep and probably should have required stitches.

I went to a walk-in clinic on Friday (and snapped the sidewalk picture as I hobbled past the scene) but there was no doctor that day. I had to wait until Saturday for an appointment. By then, the wounds were closed up or scabbed over. Well – except for that chin – it was too late for stitches, but the doctor stated he would have put some in if I had gone straight to the clinic on Thursday.

I wasn’t thinking entirely straight. Maybe it’s a macho, guy-thing.

I’m still keeping the chin wound and a nasty scrape on the side of my left hand covered with bandages.

What A Difference Two Months Can Make

For the last few weeks, there has been a lot of rain across Texas and into Oklahoma. It has washed away homes and bridges. At around 3:30am this morning, I awoke to the wailing of the tornado sirens. That’s usually pretty scary – I grabbed Debug and spent several minutes in the closet beneath my staircase.

Yet, only two months ago, there was inches of snow in my backyard. Wow, what a difference!

I took some photos of the (fortunately minor) flooding around my neighbourhood. They are uploaded to the My Life In Texas album on Flickr.

Coppell_River_01The Coppell Creek separates the cities of Irving and Coppell. Normally it is only about 12 to 18 inches deep and in the middle of summer can dry up completely. But in this picture it is at least 5 feet deep!

I included a short video clip on Flickr showing how fast it is flowing too.

More Texan Snow

It was not long after moving here that I quickly learned of the old joke, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait 30 minutes.”

My Backyard - March 5, 2015 01Seeing snow in Texas always amuses me. It has been getting more severe in a very noticeable way – unless you are a member of the Republican Party that is. It often shuts the city down and drivers are moving slower than I can walk. They honestly think that black ice forms with any snowfall at all!

Get used to this Texas; climate change is real and most of you insist on electing idiots who would prefer to deny reality. These politicians are just whoring themselves out to the fossil fuel industry of course.

During the night of March 4-5, North Texas received a fairly deep blanket of snow. It was about 5:30am and the sun had yet to rise when I grabbed my camera to capture what my backyard looked like. Most of the illumination comes from the floodlights on my house.

My Backyard - March 5, 2015 02I think these turned out rather well given how hastily I took them.

By noon, the temperature was above freezing and climbing higher. Most of this melted before the end of the day and by Friday morning only shaded areas still had some snow on the ground. It was fun while it lasted.

Minor Earthquake In Irving Last Night

Last night, just as I was beginning to fall asleep – with Debug curled up beside me – a rumble shook the house. The entire structure creaked. Freaky. My first thoughts were that my furnace or water heater had broken; but the sound was not mechanical.

Debug was on immediate alert – she was sitting at the edge of the bed and prepared to move if necessary! I managed to get back to sleep and planned to investigate in the morning.

When I woke, it felt colder than normal. That reinforced my thoughts that my furnace had died. Everything seemed okay, there was electricity flowing and the water heater appeared to be intact. So I made breakfast.

imageMy former trainer, Patrick, had stated on Facebook that it had been an earthquake. Why didn’t I think of that? Off to the USGS website. Confirmed!

I live in Irving but I am actually between the words “Coppell” and “Carrollton” on this map. So the quake was south-east of me by several miles. It registered 3.3 on the Richter scale.

There have been tremors in this area before but I had missed on those. I can remember experiencing a few tremors around Hamilton when I was kid too.

Six Years In Texas

Today is my sixth anniversary of moving to Texas. Wow, time keeps on flying.

I must confess, I have started to wonder how much longer I’ll continue to live here.

I have thought about moving to Seattle now that I am working for Avanade; but the cost of living in Washington is pretty much ruling that out. Should I move back to Canada or go to Australia? That depends on what kind of money I could make at a new job in either country.

In spite of the insane fundamentalism and right-wing politics, I think I’ll be sticking around here for a bit.

Three Years In My House

Today marks the third anniversary of my house purchase in Irving. I’m still loving living in this neighbourhood even if Texas itself is starting to grate on my nerves.

Honestly, I wanted to post some pictures of the place – especially since my dad and his wife visited recently – but the memory card is corrupted. Damn!

Five Years In Texas

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of my arrival in Texas.

How much has changed in my life in that time; I would scarcely have believed it if predictions were made to me just six years ago. I would become an outspoken atheist, a home owner, healthier and wealthier than previously imagined. I would make many awesome new friends, re-discover LEGO and get into board gaming and 3D computer graphics.

Of course, all of those those things do not have to be predicated upon Texas. They could have happened anywhere. But they happened in Texas.

This weekend will be a new Texan experience for me. I’ll write about it later.

Some Rain In Dallas At Last!

I certainly do not think that our governor’s prayers did this but I awoke this morning to the wonderful sound of rain falling on my roof. Yesterday there had been a 30% forecast for rain – experience has shown me to not take those forecasts seriously until they hit at least 50%. So I am pleasantly surprised.

The Dallas area was just two days shy of breaking the record for the most consecutive days of triple-digit Fahrenheit temperatures. The city of Irving had implemented drought-condition by-laws (not sure how long that link will remain valid) to reduce lawn watering and such.

It is supposed to rain until about 5:00pm. I sure hope that that is enough downpour to ease the pressure on the area’s water supplies.

Texas judge puts state’s death penalty on trial


Is Texas actually becoming civilized? A Texan judge in Houston is challenging the legality of the state’s barbaric death penalty. This will be something to watch over the coming days.

There are certainly some people who should never be permitted back into society. However, the risk of executing an innocent person can never be reduced to zero percent. That makes it a chance not worth taking.

With any luck, Texas might become a state enjoyable to live in…

Mikey’s Got A Gun

Alright, not really. Yet, I could not resist the word play on the Aerosmith tune.

This afternoon was a first for me. I shot my first guns. As a teenager, I briefly owned a pellet gun. Mom didn’t want me to buy it, but I did anyway…so it did not last. In my 20s I fired off about four paint gun rounds – a rather underwhelming 5 seconds of my life.

060910163209 My good friend Mark suggested that after work today, we would head over to Bass Pro Shops and use their shooting range. I shot Mark’s .22 target pistol (a Ruger MK III) and a .22 holdout pistol (a Beretta 21 Bobcat). I also fired a few rounds from his 9mm (a Bersa Thunder 9 Ultra Compact) but did not like the accuracy loss that comes with that extra kick.

Target #1 was the .22s from a distance of 10 feet.

Target #2 was the .22 target pistol and one clip from the 9mm; also from 10 feet.

Target #3 was the .22 target pistol from 21 and 32 feet.

060910164522 From my first week in Texas, many Canadian friends have been asking, "So have you bought a gun yet?" All kidding aside, the answer remains an emphatic, "No." I just do not see myself succumbing to this crazy notion about gun ownership as a right (besides, I am not a US citizen so my rights here are curtailed).

To me, gun ownership is a privilege not a right. Privileges can be taken away if necessary.

However, I do see myself target practicing again some time.

Three Years In Texas!

Last Wednesday marked the third anniversary of my arrival in Texas. The only other time I had been in Texas was 3 months earlier when I interviewed for my Blue Badge (i.e. full-time employee) position. What a ride it has been!

Microsoft CSS has a tradition – not everyone follows it fortunately – of bringing in one pound of M&Ms for each year you have worked. Naturally, I had to bring in 1.360 kilograms of candy since I enjoy promoting the metric system in the only nation whose citizens have yet to adopt it. I mention that it is fortunate not everyone follows this tradition since some of my colleagues would cause organization-wide diabetic comas on their anniversaries.

Why Texas? Honestly, my first choice was Washington and the support site at Issaquah. I spoke with my mentor Jerome (who is now a SQL Server developer) and he convinced me that Texas was the better choice. The cost of living is cheaper here and for SQL Server support, Bob Ward and Bob Dorr are here.

I certainly never expected to own a house so quickly – the real estate slump helped with that. The next biggest hurdle would be to stop procrastinating getting my driver’s license (still no plans in that department since I enjoy riding my bike too much).