Monday, December 22, 2008

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

My review

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
The first 100 pages and the last 100 pages were quite good. Unfortunately, there were 300 pages in between those.

I discovered in the introduction that this novel was written as a serial, with chapters appearing in the newspaper over a period of time. This really shows. Like A Tale of Two Cities, the story starts to drag and lose focus. Too many characters are introduced and the plot seems to wander.

The very end also seemed a little too neat, with an almost tacked on "Hollywood ending," complete with the door open for a sequel.

I'm glad I read it, but overall I wouldn't recommend it. The story itself has been distilled to a much more entertaining yarn in the various movie adaptations.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tales from the Crapped: Out of Time!

Today's crap: An innocent little sand timer.

I've had this item for a very long time, actually. I can remember quite clearly where I got it, though the actual year is fuzzy. It was many years ago, I believe I was in junior high, possibly younger. A neighbor was having a garage sale, and I purchased the "Scrabble Sentence Cube Game."

Yes, even back then I was very much into both garage sales/thrifting and board games. Some things never change, huh?

The game was a strange combination of Scrabble and Yahtzee, except instead of words you tried to create sentences. There were about 15 wooden dice that had various words on them. After rolling the dice, you would flip the timer (see it there in the picture?) and you had that much time to construct a sentence. The game was rather poor, actually, but I enjoyed playing with it nonetheless. I remember being very frustrated by the timer, but the whole game only cost me a quarter.

Years later I was trying to clear out my vast accumulation of stuff and I came across it again. The game itself was pretty worthless (in every way), so I tossed it. But I kept the sand timer. You see, what I didn't quite get when I was 10 was blatantly obvious when I was much older: the timer was broken.

Sand timers have always been fascinating to me. What an ancient form of timekeeping! Quite a simple design, too. The classic hourglass, obviously, measured about an hour. These days, most of them only run for one to three minutes. They probably seem quaint to most people, what with digital stopwatches accurate to 1/100th of a second.

But as I said, my sand timer is broken. The narrow opening between the two bulbs is far too large. Although it looks like it should run for about a minute, the sand flies through the glass completely in four seconds. Four seconds! I timed it! No wonder I found the game too hard.

This timer has been a cornerstone on many of my desks at different jobs. Whenever people came in to talk to me about issues, I would calmly and thoughtfully say, "You have this much time to explain your problem to me." Rarely did they get more than a couple of words out. Excellent! If only I could actually enforce that rule!

This calls up an interesting question, though. Is the sand timer actually broken? I mean, it still measures time, just not the amount it's supposed to. If you ever had an activity that required you to do something every four seconds, this would prove invaluable. It would certainly speed up other games I have that use timers. Hmm. Maybe this piece of crap is more useful than I thought?

Monday, December 15, 2008

iTunes Tag

I was tagged by this quite a while ago, but I just didn't feel like making the effort. It's too many questions in my opinion. But I'm bored and don't feel like doing work, so what the heck...

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question below, press the next button to get your answer.

IF SOMEONE SAYS "Is this okay?" YOU SAY?
"Idiot Wind" (Bob Dylan)

"Fernando" (Abba)

"She Came in through the Bathroom Window" (The Beatles)

"Full Force Gale" (Van Morrison)

"Shadows in the Rain" (The Police)

"Homeward Bound" (Simon & Garfunkel)

"El Dios Nunca Muerte" (from the Men with Guns Soundtrack)
This is a traditional Latin/Mayan piece that I think translates to "God Never Dies."

"Summer of '69" (Bryan Adams)

WHAT IS 2+2?
"Self-Destruct" (What Made Milwaukee Famous)

"Burning Hell " (R.E.M.)

"Death is not the End" (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds)

"Catapult" (Counting Crows)

"Camelot" (Monty Python Instant Record Collection)

"Knock Me Down" (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

"Venus as a Boy" (Bjork)

"Sky Blue" (Peter Gabriel)

"Thirty One Today" (Aimee Mann)

"The Only Living Boy in New York" (Simon & Garfunkel)

"The Fly" (U2)

"My Sweet Lord" (George Harrison)

"Love is Here to Stay" (Harry Connick, Jr.)

"Bangalore" (The Blazers)

"Got My Mojo Workin'" (Asylum Street Spankers)

"Blackbird" (Sarah McLachlan (cover of the Beatles))

"Lonely Little Bluebird" (Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys)

"Originality" (Thievery Corporation)

"Natural Anthem" (The Postal Service)

"Kiko and the Lavender Moon" (Los Lobos)

"I've Been Everywhere" (Johnny Cash)

"Beat on the Brat" (The Ramones)

"Nashville Skyline Rag" (Bob Dylan)


Well, now that I've done it, I can see the fun in it. Obviously, some of them are nonsensical, but others seem eerily appropriate. Thanks for killing some time with me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow vs. No Snow

Yesterday, it snowed. In Houston. In December. Is this another sign of the coming global apocalypse? I hope so. Of course, it's supposed to be in the 70's this weekend again. That's more like usual.

Even though I've lived in Houston the majority of my life, it still amazes me how freaked-out-excited everyone gets at the prospect of an eighth of an inch of snow. I guess it is pretty cool to get snow in this climate, but we must seem laughably quaint to people in the northern parts of the country.

But, like everyone else, I felt compelled to stand outside and watch it fall. I tried to get a few photos, but I don't think any of them turned out. Flower, our dog, completely freaked out. She's just now a year old, so this is her first real experience with cold weather, let alone snow. She was bouncing four feet in the air, doing somersaults, and darting in six directions at once at the speed of light. It was amusing to watch, but extremely frustrating to photograph.

In other news, I received the big TV yesterday. Woo hoo! Sadly, the reception is very weak with my current antenna. The interesting thing about digital broadcasts is that there's no snow. You can't get a weak, fuzzy digital signal; it's all or nothing. So even though the TV detected 40 channels, most of them only blink on for a fraction of a second. I'm hoping a new antenna I'm getting from a friend will rectify the situation.

Of course, I had to watch a movie on the new TV. Any guesses as to what it was? Believe it or not, I actually had trouble deciding which should be the first, but I guess it was inevitable that it would be Raiders. The really weird thing was, it was almost too clear. At first I had it set too bright, but even with the right settings it was just so crystal clear that it looked, well, fake.

One of the things filmmakers don't like about shooting on video, or even modern digital, was that the brightness and clarity just looked wrong. It's hard to describe, really, because film can look just as sharp, but there's clearly a difference. Anyway, with the new TV, a lot of Raiders started to look as though it had been shot on video. That was weird! The sets were too well lit and looked just like sets. Too much detail actually made it worse. There's something to be said for rough edges, items out of focus, and general murkiness in a movie.

I still have a long list of movies that I can't wait to watch on the big (home) screen. My TV isn't even that big, actually, but it's in such a small room it seems HUGE. It's great fun. I think the next one I'll watch will be either 2001 or one of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm really looking forward to seeing Wall-E, but I think I have to wait for Santa to bring it to me.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Saturday night I was able to join the monthly poker tournament again after being away since my third place finish in September. Of course I was feeling nervous as I always do, but I was also feeling confident due to my win at BGG.Con.

I won't bore you with the entire play-by-play, but suffice it to say that I was doing very well. I made it to the final table (last 9 guys out of 26 players) and I was the big stack. The tournament paid out to the top six finishers, so all I had to do was outlast three guys to make my money back. I was golden. But then, the beer caught up with me.

I had been drinking Saint Arnold Christmas Ale most of the night. This is a rather potent brew. Plus, I hadn't had dinner. After the third one, I realized I needed to cut back. I just kept refilling the empty bottle with water, so my competitors would think I was still getting sauced. The problem was, I ended up drinking a few more in addition to the water, so any benefit was completely destroyed.

So, I'm feeling pretty good. A hand is dealt and I have pocket 9s. Not great, but definitely playable. I raise the stakes fairly high, and that knocks out all but one player. The flop comes and it's AA7. The other guy bets $12,000, which was huge and nearly put me all in. And here's where the beer killed me. I knew he had a pocket Ace. I just knew it. Every part of my brain was telling me to just drop. But my gut, oh my painful and doomed gut, was telling me to call. I did, he had it, I lost. But here's the thing. My gut wasn't arguing with the logic that he had the Ace. My gut was screaming to me that another 9 was going to come out. I don't know why, but I believed completely and without doubt that one of the next two cards would be a 9, and that I would win with a boat.

But that didn't happen.

The next hand I went all in with what I had (which was still a lot, compared to others) and lost to the same guy. But that hand didn't bother me. I made a legitimate decision with that hand, it just didn't work (I had KQ suited, he had AJ unsuited, won with high card).

I finished eighth, out of the money. What an idiot!

But, I did learn a valuable lesson, the kind which is blatantly obvious to even the most novice poker player: don't play drunk! Next time, I'm only bringing one (well, maybe two) bottles of beer. After that, it's just water.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tales from the Crapped: The Creature

Inspired by one of my own recent posts, I'm going to try to blog every Wednesday about one of the countless pieces of sentimental junk I have around the house.
Today, it's a Creature from the Black Lagoon toy.

I love this guy! Where do I start? He's a promotional toy from a fast food chain's kid's meal-- Burger King, I think. His arms and legs are pose-able; he's got awesome translucent green plastic skin; and he spits! There's a tiny little hole in his mouth. Hold his head under water, squeeze his tummy to push out air, let go to suck in water, then pull him out and you have a secret water gun! What could be cooler than that!?

This particular item was given to me by my good friend Flynn. He and I share a love for the old Universal monsters (and their movies): Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and of course The Creature. It's hard to pick a favorite among those guys, but if pressed I'm willing to bet we'd both pick The Creature.

The Creature (or Gill Man, but I hate that name) is rather unique among the other big monsters. His story originated with the movie, rather than from literature or folklore. His movie was also in 3D, just another gimmick that bounces around Hollywood every 20 years or so. He was played by an unknown who was hired for his swimming ability rather than his acting skills. There is a lot of trivia about this movie that makes for fascinating reading.

He was also the star of one of my favorite pinball machines, named the same as the movie. This gives me an excuse to post this great picture of it that I found online. Using a small lens (I assume) on the playfield makes this picture look like it was taken in a giant hallway.

I was playing this machine at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas when my time ran out. I had to leave behind the three free credits I'd won! Someday I'll own this one. Someday!

So there you have it. Do I have any need for him? No, of course not. But I can't bear to part with him! Were it only this one indulgence, I might not feel so bad. But as you will see in coming weeks, I have tons of these little doodads. I can't really think of anything more to add, so I guess that's it for the inaugural edition of Tales from the Crapped!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Greg's Blog: It's Readable!

What's with Bud Light's new advertising slogan? "The difference is drinkability."


The best thing you can say about your beer is that it is drinkable? So is my urine. Heaven forbid you set the bar too high or anything. What isn't drinkable? Sand?

"Hey Carl, what do you think of this beer?"
"It's drinkable."

I suppose the argument could be made that it is a relative market. In that sense, Bud Light is saying that they are more drinkable than their competitors, say Miller Lite. On that scale, I suppose their claim may have merit. It's like the politicians who run on the platform "I'm better than the other guy."

It is here that I feel compelled to put in a plug for my local brewery, Saint Arnold, who's owner Brock Wagner is fond of saying, "We make beer with flavor."

Flavor Tripping to Nowhere

This post is almost two weeks late, and quite frankly I've lost the inspiration. However, I need to at least mention this mini-adventure.

On Sunday, November 23rd, I had the opportunity to try the famed "Miracle Berry" (Synsepalum dulcificum) that is supposed to change the way foods taste. It's all the rage among the trendies in New York and L.A., (tasting parties) so of course I had to see what it was all about.

The idea is that you take this berry, chew it up a bit, let the juices swirl around in your mouth for a bit, and then for the next 30 to 45 minutes you get to experience wacky, mixed up, crazy flavors! Lemons taste sweet! Jalapenos taste mild! Snozzberries taste like snozzberries!

I must admit, I was worried that my super powers as a supertaster might make me immune to the effects of the berry. Sure enough-- nothing. We followed the directions to a tee (I even timed us to make sure no one spit out the berry too soon), but the effect was minimal. I ate a lemon and it tasted somewhat sweet, but that minimal effect only lasted for about five minutes. My wife and friend had a similar experience. I think of us all, my wife had the longest effect. We tried to chow down on as many things as possible to try to taste something different, but for me it was a complete waste of time.

Later on, we bought some concentrated pills that were supposed to have 10 times the potency. We let them dissolve on our tongues per the instructions, then went tasting again. Nope, nothing. Not for me, anyway. My friends faired a little better, but not by much.

Are we not good enough foodies? Are our palates not sophisticated enough to detect the subtle nuances of the miracle berry? Although possible, I think it is far more likely that the "effects" of the berry are enhanced by belief. I'm not saying that it's all psychological, but I think there is definitely some peer pressure to feel something. Especially after shelling out the price of the tasting ticket, one could be intimidated from saying the emperor has no clothes. Not me, though. That dude is naked.

On a positive note, the seeds of these berries are used to make the tastebud changing pills. The pills are given to patients going through chemotherapy or radiation treatment, both of which often cause everything to have a strong metallic taste. Supposedly, these pills combat that side-effect. Proceeds from this "tasting" went to a charity that distributes these pills, and we were able to donate the pits from our berries to them as well.

It was a very disappointing adventure.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Literary Meme

Darn you Peter! Why'd you have to post this while I was at work?

The meme's rules are as follows:
Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
Turn to page 56. Find the fifth sentence.
Post that sentence along with these instructions.
Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the closest.

"Specifying Surname with the AS keyword tells the database system that you want the results to be known as the alias Surname."

Taken from Beginning SQL.

oh - and if you read this, consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Whew! In what has become an annual tradition for me, I once again ventured north to Dallas and the 2008 BGG.Con, which is the BoardGameGeek Convention. It's a gathering of people who share a common interest in playing boardgames, and who share that hobby at the website

I am definitely a geek, boardgame-wise or otherwise. And although I absolutely enjoy playing games, an equally big draw for me is the chance to visit with friends from around the country, and often meet in person new friends who I had previously only known online.

Sadly, the full weekend started a little later for me because I opted to see Metallica on Thursday night. I don't regret that decision at all, but it did reduce the amount of time I was able to spend playing games with friends. A fair trade, but lamentable nonetheless. So, out of the two days I did spend there, here are some highlights:

Tigris & Euphrates -
This game was among the first "Euro" games I ever played, and I immediately fell in love with it. It's hard to describe exactly why. Through the simple action of drawing and placing tiles, players build competing kingdoms in the fertile valley of the title. You can grow your empire, develop an income stream, or attack your neighbors. In the span of about an hour, this game offers a full narrative of civilizations rising and falling and re-emerging. It's wonderful!

Anyway, I don't get to play it as often as I would like. Fortunately, a friend I met through BGG shares my enthusiasm for the game and makes sure he gets to play it every year at the convention. Last year, he even organized a tournament (in which I played some of my worst games ever), that he ended up winning. To show my appreciation for his effort last year, as well as to reward him for the win, I created a special trophy for him. It was a complete shock for him, but he was simultaneously thrilled and embarrassed, which is always great.

This year we only played one game, not a tournament, and I finished in second place by ONE POINT! Fantastic but frustrating.

Poker -
As I've mentioned from time to time on the blog, I enjoy playing Texas Hold 'Em when I get the chance. I'm not a great player. The last time I played at my local monthly tourney, I finished third (out of 50). Certainly respectable (I should have won, but the beer started to catch up with me!). Well, I thought I'd give it a shot at the con this year. No buy in, just a friendly tournament with 147 players.

I thought I'd probably be out in the first 30 minutes or so, then I could go back and play some boardgames. Well, nearly four hours later, I came out the winner. I WON! The WHOLE thing! I was stunned! I made some bad plays and some good ones. I was lucky several times, and I was unlucky several others. It's just one of those weird things, I guess. It felt really good, beyond the obvious winning. I was proud of myself just to hold my own with people who play poker much more often and more seriously than I do. I was thrilled when I made it to the final table.

Quick aside: During one break I was talking with a friend from L.A. who is a serious poker player. A friend of his (also in the tourney) came up and they started swapping stories. One of them said that they recently played in a tourney and sat next to Chris Hellmouth. I had no idea who that was, and I said so. Both of them looked at me as if I had just sprouted another head. Apparently, it was inconceivable that I didn't know who that was (I still don't, actually. Some poker champion, I gather). They literally didn't believe me when I said I didn't know who he was. I guess to me, the game of poker is more interesting than the lore of poker. Which is interesting, because when I was younger it was just the opposite in my love of chess. Okay, maybe not so quick an aside. Are you surprised?

So, for my troubles (and no buy-in), I was awarded a gorgeous mahogany box filled with hundreds of custom poker chips made for BGG.Con. It's incredibly nice. I also received a set of plastic playing cards for making the final table. Plastic playing cards may sound cheap, but they're quite the opposite. They glide across the table and last forever. So, when do we get to play poker next, guys?

Werewolf -
One of the unique things about the BGG website is the forums. Like other websites, these are just places for people to post messages and interact with other visitors to the site. They have topics for each specific game, general game interests, and then just general discussion topics. One enterprising person came up with the notion to simulate a game of Werewolf in these forums, and a whole addiction was born.

The Werewolf games played in these forums have morphed and mutated into wild adventures. They are often themed on popular movies, and they offer many nuances that aren't possible in a face to face game. For example, keeping track of who voted for whom, having permanent records of everything said, and allowing partner wolves to chat privately to discuss their plans. It is tremendous fun.

So, having all of these "Online Werewolf" players together at night at the convention is equally fun. Everybody taunts each other, tells tales from the games, drinks a lot and has a great time. Oh, and we play some werewolf as well. This year I was able to moderate a game as well, using my iPod speakers to play mood music during the night phases. We had a great time meeting new faces and re-connecting with old friends we hadn't seen since last year. Always a highlight.

The drive back to Houston was sad, as it seemed like I had just come up the other way. Now I have to wait a whole year before I see all these great people again. Exhausting but worth it, every time.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Yes! Simply awesome.

I've been a fan of Metallica for many years, and I finally got a chance to see them live. It was fantastic. They are amazing musicians, and they really give it all when they play. Thursday night was no exception.

To be honest, I have actually seen them one time before. It was about 10 years ago, and for some crazy reason we spent the entire show walking around the venue. I was very unhappy about it, and have instead decided to pretend I never even went to that show. I don't even remember a single song they played.

When my friend Flynn told me they were coming, my first reaction was, "Let's spend whatever it takes to get the best seats we can!" Sadly, I later found out that the show was on the same night that I was planning a trip to Dallas. Dilemma! I thought about it briefly, but it really was no contest; the trip would have to wait. We were doubly lucky in that we were able to get amazing seats for an amazing price.

The concert was held at the Toyota Center, where the Rockets and Aeros play. It's a great arena, because it feels much smaller than it is. The stage was in the middle, and the band played in the round, walking all around to give each side a good view. The drummer, Lars Ulrich, had a platform that rotated after every 5-6 songs. Our seats were on one side, nice and low, with a phenomenal view.

You can click here for the Chronicle's review, so I won't bother listing the songs or any of that. Suffice it to say that it was incredible. Did it break into my Top Five Concerts ever? Probably not, but it's definitely in the Top Ten. They really put their all into the show. The vitality and talent that pours from the stage just has to be experienced.

One thing I found amusing, however. Towards the end of the concert, they brought the house lights up and played in full view. No spotlights, no lasers, no smoke, just a group of guys rocking out. Then for fun, they dropped over a hundred giant black beach balls from the ceiling into the crowd. It was great! Just silly, really, but it looked cool and it was fun to bounce the balls around. For about a minute. Then people started holding them. What's the point of that? I mean, these things are pretty huge, about four or five feet in diameter. What in the world are they gonna do with a souvenir like that? Can they even get it in their car? But typical of people these days, rather than continuing to bounce them around for everyone to enjoy, they had to grab it for themselves. I'm sure the next morning they think to themselves, "What the hell am I gonna do with this thing now?"

And no, I didn't get one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A New Top Three!

I have a firm belief that the type of car you drive reflects your skills as a driver. I don't apply this theory to people I know, only to random strangers I see on the road.

In general, it seems as though the more expensive the car, the more likely the driver is terrible. There is some logic behind this. If you have a more expensive car, you probably make more money than most people. If you make more money, you probably believe yourself to be more important than others. If you believe yourself more important, of course you're not going to be courteous or even observant of other people on the road. This doesn't even factor in the likelihood of a cell phone.

Here's my ranking of the top three worst drivers by car. I've added my suggested exclamations for situations involving them as well.

#3: Lexus
Always a favorite on the list, although it is down from the number two spot last year. I'm also seeing a lot more older Lexi on the road these days. Has this become the used car of choice?
Exclamation: "Son of a Lexus!"

#2: Nissan
This one came out of nowhere. Not even on last year's list, these drivers are rapidly shooting for the number one spot. And surprisingly, they aren't all that expensive a car. Way to go, up and comers! Update: I meant to write this originally, but it took my friend Pete's comment to remind me: The assholery of Nissan drivers seems to be unique in that it's pretty well confined to the SUV and Crossover models. Sorry, Pete!
Exclamation: "Nissan!" but said with a hiss through clenched teeth, much like Seinfeld's "Neuman!"

#1: Mercedes Benz
No surprise here. Consistently whether I'm being cut off on the freeway, nearly sideswiped from a parking lot, or just generally encountering jerky driving, I look forward to seeing that damned tri-sected circle.
Exclamation: "Mercedeeeeees!" screamed to the heavens while shaking your fist angrily at the sky.

I'm very surprised that BMW didn't make the cut this year. It has been a pretty constant performer for the past five years. Perhaps the market has diluted the BMW driver pool too much.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What is this?

Click here to find out.

Here Comes the Flood

Yeah, it's been a really, really, really long time since I posted to the blog. Sorry about that.

I've been a little busy in the interim, what with getting married and all. And that's partly what's led me to finally picking up this digital pen and scribbling online once again.

I'm in the (very painful) process of clearing out my apartment in a weak attempt to cram my sizable fortune of doodads and junk into my tiny new home. It's a difficult activity in many ways. I've always been a pack-rat, holding on to the silliest things for far too long. Is it sentiment, or materialism, or what? I don't know, and it doesn't really matter. But as I sort these things into the various piles (garage sale, trash, keep, store), I'm reminded of why I have them. They all have their own stories, and I could conceivably start another blog telling the tale of a different item each week (note to self: start another blog telling the tale of a different item each week).

But what I'm really reminded of, beyond the mountain of things, is the mountain of ideas. The same thing has happened here on this silly blog. I have all these things I want to write about, but for some reason I never do. Partly, it's because I want to refine the idea in my head before "committing" it to the blog. That's just silly.

I've whined several times about how I promise to do better about contributing to this thing, but this time I mean it! ;) I've got a backload of ideas to spew forth (some of them already half written drafts waiting to be published), so I'm not going to hold back anymore.

The next entries over the next week or so will probably seem totally out of order (especially the next one), but that's the price. My new goal is a quantifiable one: at least two posts a week. That should be pretty easy for the next couple of weeks, but the trick will be how I continue after that. Anyway, that's my thought for the moment. More to come.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Games, Games, Games! v2

This post was written in August, but I'm a little late in actually posting it. I left the date the same, not sure where Blogger will put it.

On the second leg of my little vacation, I find myself in Las Vegas. Here, the games I play take on a much different (and costlier) nature.

So, game number one is, of course, blackjack. This is generally the only game I play in the Casinos. I love it, but it's amazing how as I get older, the more little things bother me. It can take a lot of table hopping to find a good dealer and good players. But when you do, it's usually worth it.

I did find a great game that always pays off: Pinball! The Pinball Hall of Fame is located in Vegas. It's an arcade with over 200 pinball machines, all ready to be played. it was fantastic.
The picture above is just one aisle; imagine three more just like it. I was in heaven! I wish I could have spent a lot more time there, but it just wasn't in the cards. I had to abandon a game of Creature from the Black Lagoon with three credits and the last ball still to be played because I ran out of time. Not to mention the pocketful of quarters I still had. This will definitely be a must-stop for any future Vegas visits.

Third game is a Wii. Yes, the object of my drool the past few months happened to fall right into my sister's lap. After taking a surprisingly short amount of time to set it up, I got to see what all the hype was about. Lots of fun! Wii fitness age of 48. I don't like the sound of that!

Okay, this post has a lot less in it than my mind did when I started it. Sadly, it's been over two months, so I don't remember all the clever things I was going to say. Oh well, I'm happy just to be clearing out the clutter of my "Drafts."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Games, Games, Games!

So this past weekend I joined a bunch of my California friends for Summer Spiele. It's a private get together where we meet at a hotel, reserve one of their meeting rooms, and play board games the whole weekend. Nerdy as it may sound, it's a great deal of fun. It's also perfect for me, because it gives me a chance to catch up with all of my friends from L.A. in one spot, while simultaneously having fun playing games.

Over the course of three days, I played 22 unique games, 13 of which were new to me. Some highlights:

Metropolys: This was the game that I was most curious about, and I was fortunate enough to get to play it twice. It's a bidding/area control game with a very unique mechanic. Players place bidding pieces on a map, and each subsequent bid is put on a new, adjacent location. This forms a little trail, so the winning bid is often quite far from the initial one. Everyone also has private goals for certain colors or combinations of locations. At first, I was bothered by the seemingly distracting artwork, but you get used to it rather quickly, and then you can appreciate the beauty of it better. The game required some thought, but wasn't too heavy. It's definitely risen on my want list.

Tinner's Trail
: I had only just heard about this from my friend Mark's podcast "Boardgames to Go" a few days earlier. Ordinarily, I probably wouldn't have been interested. But since my home group often shies away from the more complex games, I thought I should give it a shot. I really liked it! It simulates mining tin and copper in southern England at the turn of the century. Exciting, no? Actually, it was. Each player has to manage the cost of extracting ore, time the acquisition of new equipment or property, and try to sell at the highest price. There were a lot of different factors that all seemed to integrate very well as a game and with the theme. I would love to try it again, but who knows when I'll get the opportunity.

Schnappchen Jagd: A perfect little trick-taking game for three. Sadly, this one is long out of print, so it will cost me a pretty penny to get a copy. Each player begins the game by picking a number they hope to collect (like 6). They'll get a point each time they take a trick that has a 6 in it. Unfortunately, they'll receive negative points for each card that isn't a 6. However, at the end of each round, players have the option of clearing out their junk pile. This reduces their negative points, but also gives the option of switching to a new number. My description doesn't do it justice, but it was really quite an interesting concept. Sometimes you could score more by taking "trash" than by pursuing your target number. The best part is that the "theme" of the game is junk collecting! Each card value is represented by a cartoonish smiling item of junk like a hairdryer or toaster. A really fun little game that I will try to get my hands on (although I bet the game could be played with other specialty decks).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Party is Over!

Well, it's done! Finally! My 10th Annual 30th Birthday Party went off with hardly a hitch. As every year, I'm disappointed by those who weren't able to make it, but this year I was wonderfully surprised by all of those who were able to come. I had a great time, and from appearances, so did most everyone else.

I'll post photos as I get them; I can't believe I didn't take a single picture. Thanks to everyone who did. Actually, I have a lot of people to thank: My parents, for their help setting up, bringing snacks, and setting up the slideshow on the computer; Karen, for being an excellent co-hostess; everyone who came in costume, too many to name here, I loved all of them; Brad and Trisha for the awesome photo collage; everybody who came and braved the heat to help me celebrate my 30th one last time.

Hopefully, I'll have an update post with some photos later on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Man on Wire

Several months ago I posted a video of a man (Philippe Petit) who in 1974 tightrope walked between the towers of the World Trade Center. Last night I was able to see a preview screening of Man on Wire, a new documentary about this same event.

The movie used extensive footage from the time, contemporary interviews with the players, and dramatic re-enactments using actors. It was all interwoven very well, and despite "knowing" the outcome, it managed to be filled with tension and suspense. But it also had moments of comedy and great awe.

It was quite incredible. Not only was the act itself amazing, they had a large amount of footage of Petit and crew as they made their preparations. Clearly, they realized at the time what a momentous undertaking they were attempting. The players involved were interesting people with unique perspectives and motivations, making it just as interesting to hear their stories.

It was truly a fantastic tale well told, and I highly recommend it.

Now that my brief review is done, I want to talk about something else in the movie that bothered me.

The spectre of the attacks of 9/11 will forever haunt the World Trade Center. I don't think it is possible for anyone alive at the time to not associate the Twin Towers with that tragedy. And I don't mean that as a bad thing, it just is.

I think the filmmakers for Man on Wire must have been aware of this, and their movie, in a way, is an attempt to glorify the towers, and to restore some of the awe and beauty that they once inspired. No mention is ever made of the attacks, since they have nothing to do with the story they are telling.

But what bothered me were several haunting juxtapositions that hinted at the tragedy without acknowledging it.

The first was the most jarring to me. The main character, Philippe, is talking about the danger of the stunt and the risk of death. He says, "Yes, I knew that I could die. But what better way to die is there? To die while you are pursuing that which you are most passionate about." While he is speaking, the visuals cut from him to a shot of an airliner. It hangs for a few seconds before turning to descend into an Australian airport. To me, that brought images of both the terrorists sacrificing themselves for their cause and the passengers who fought back on United 93.

Throughout the film, there was a very Indiana Jones-like map showing Philippe's travels to and from New York. But at the head of the red line, there was a computer model of an airliner. When it reached its destination, it seemed to nose-dive towards the map.

Lastly, there was a picture of Philippe as he was on the wire. It was a black and white shot taken from below, and above and behind him is another large airplane, seemingly aimed right at one of the towers.

Everything in film is intentional. The filmmakers had to be aware of the eeriness of these images, yet they chose to use them anyway. I found it unsettling. Am I overreacting? Perhaps. They could have kept Philippe's quote in the first example, but used a different cut scene. They didn't need an airplane at the head of the traveling line. They could have cropped the photo or used any number of others without the airplane.

But should they have?

I am not so sensitive that I think one shouldn't mention or allude to the attacks. As I said earlier, one can't help but think of the attacks in association with the towers. What bothered me about it was that they never directly mentioned it.

It wasn't enough that there was an elephant in the room that nobody talked about, but they also kept cracking peanuts and making elephant sounds while not acknowledging the large beast. To me, you can't have it both ways. They should either say something or say nothing. Without acknowledgment, the little hints seemed cheap and tacky.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


This post is loooooong overdue, but it took me a while to figure out how to embed that song. Actually, embedding wasn't as difficult as finding a host for the tune (without violating copyrights).

Anyway, I'm a Supertaster! I've always known I was special and destined for great things. This just confirms it. Now I just need to figure out how to use my Supertaster abilities for good (or evil- I'm still undecided on that part). I mean, "With great power comes great responsibility," right?

From Wikipedia: "A supertaster is a person who experiences taste with far greater intensity than average...due to an increased number of fungiform papillae." That's right: fungiform papillae. I rule.

Let's look at some more of the things that make me extraordinary:
  • Perceive all tastes as more intense than other taster types, particularly bitter tastes
  • Tend to be fussy about their food and have strong food likes and dislikes
  • Usually don't like coffee, grapefruit, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and spinach
  • Have lots of papillae, the tiny bumps on the tongue that contain taste buds
  • Around 25% of people are said to be supertasters
That third one is definitely true, except for spinach. I've actually grown to like spinach over the years.

If you'd like to find out how you rank on the Supertaster scale, there's a quick test you can take here. But don't get your hopes up. Not everyone can be a Supertaster like me. Only about 25% of the population in fact, so don't be too heart-broken if you don't make the cut to be among we privileged elite.

But this new knowledge about myself opens up so many questions! What am I to do with these strange and wonderful powers? What would happen to me if I went to one of those tasting parties where that weird berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) changes flavors? What should my crime-fighting costume look like? Who came up with the term "foodie," and why have they inflicted it upon us? Is it this decade's version of cigar smoking?

So, where do you rank on the supertaster scale! Maybe you could be my arch-nemesis.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Into the Wild x2

When I first read Into the Wild, by John Krakauer, I was fascinated by the story of Christopher McCandless. A young man who left everything behind to commune with nature, with tragic results.

However, I actually hated the book. Krakauer comes across as an ass when he inserts himself into the story and tries to equate his experiences with those of McCandless. And no matter how much the author lionizes him, McCandless was still very clearly an idiot. Idealistic, poetic, determined, but still an idiot. Anyone who would go into such dangerous wilderness as he did with so little preparation, well, the results are not very surprising.

But still, I was fascinated. Why? Because that easily could have been me. McCandless was born just eleven days after I was. I bet we read a lot of the same books, falling for the romanticism and shallow philosophy of Walden, On the Road, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I often fantasized about abandoning everything and hopping on a train to who knows where. I wanted adventure, excitement, and most of all new experiences that couldn't be planned. Had I hopped one of those night trains that I longingly watched pass me by, I would most likely be just as dead as Chris. So I feel comfortable calling him an idiot, since I know I was one, too. I understand him.

All that being said, I expected to hate the movie as much or more than the book. A dreamy individualist going against all odds to follow his spirit to the end. Blecch. But in spite of myself, I actually liked it.

The acting is pretty mediocre, but Emile Hirsch does well as Chris McCandless. It also has the always wonderful Catherine Keener, the always conspicuous Vince Vaughn, and the increasingly wooden William Hurt. The directing by Sean Penn is uneven, but mostly effective. There are times when it seems as though he doesn't know how to tell his story. Of course the story glosses over the foolish decisions he made, even more than the book, but that was to be expected. In some ways, the ending of the movie makes it appear as though Chris didn't even try to avoid his fate.

The key for me came early on, and I'm not really sure what triggered it. As long as I looked at it as a fictional story trying to appear real, I liked it. Whenever I looked at it as a true story trying to have a narrative, I hated it. Yes, they beatified him. Yes, the ignored, omitted, and changed facts. But it was an interesting journey to watch.

For another story of an idealistic fool who tragically met his end in nature, I highly recommend the Werner Herzog's fantastic documentary Grizzly Man.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Literary Meme

A friend tagged me with the following literary meme

The rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Hey, if you're gonna steal, might as well steal it all, right? Actually, this friend has tagged me several times, and this is the first time I've responded. I'll get around to those others eventually, but this one was simple and interesting enough to get me off my butt and post. Anyway, on to my quote:

"Bricusse's treatment surmounted one major hurdle when it received the enthusiastic approval of Hugh Lofting's widow, who called his work 'a complete surprise...he has caught the spirit of the Doctor himself. The lyrics are...right in the vernacular of Dolittle. I predict nothing but success.'"

From Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Holllywood by Mark Harris.

I'm really loving the library right now. I don't know why I've ignored this fabulous resource for so long. I've loved picking up cheap books at thrift stores for years, but more often than not they go unread. Sure they're intriguing, but they are usually just whims. Now that I can get on the library website and request a book, everything is so much easier. And I'm reading books that I want to read, not just that I happened to find for 50 cents.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This won't be a review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as much as just a discussion. As a huge fan of the character, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject (as evidenced by my previous post).

First, my nutshell review: I didn't like it. It's a pretty good action movie, but not a great Indiana Jones movie. I went in with very low expectations. It surpassed those. There were many things in the movie I liked, but just as many that I didn't. As I was watching it, I was enjoying it. Then as the movie wore on, I started to like it less. When it was over, my feeling was it was pretty good. As the days wore on and I thought about it more, again I liked it even less.

Regarding my predictions, I was pretty spot on for most of them.
My expectation for Crystal Skull is more "unrealism."
Yep, got that. I mean, surviving a nuclear explosion? Can't get much more unreal than that. And aliens? Please. Actually, though, I didn't really mind the aliens, per se. I guessed correctly about them from the trailer. My problem was that a) Indiana Jones didn't seem to have a problem with them and b) they were still around. I would have much preferred for Indy to have debunked them as a myth, or to have discovered the long dead remains of aliens (as opposed to the long dead but somehow still alive remains).

Prediction for Crystal Skull: more comedy, more one liners from Jones.
I think I was only half-right on this one. Although there were definitely more one-liners from Jones, the comedy in the movie on the whole seemed more restrained and in line with the tone of the others. I was quite worried at the beginning, however, as it seemed as though all Indy could say in the first 15 minutes were one-liners.

Prediction for Crystal Skull: lots of CGI.
Right on the money. It started less than 30 seconds into the movie with the prairie dogs. Ugh. It was fairly restrained for most of the movie (with obvious but acceptable exceptions), until we got to the Brazilian jungle. From then on, it was like watching a bunch of CGIs CGIing other CGIs. Extremely disappointing.

Things I hated:
-CGI prairie dogs
-Super magnetism
-Tumbling refrigerator
-Tarzan Mutt
-Three waterfalls

Things I loved:
-Indiana Jones
-Wilhelm scream in library
-Reference to Pancho Villa & Young Indy

Overall, it was entertaining. Nothing will ever live up to the first one, and that's okay. If I were to sum up my feeling for the the movie, it would probably be "wasted opportunity." There were several, which I'll probably address in a later post.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

IJ Day!

Well, this is it. The big day. The new Indiana Jones movie opens today! Sadly, I'm not going to see it until tomorrow. I actually have very low expectations for it, which I think is the way to go. I might even go as far as to say I think it might suck. But, we'll see.

In preparation for the new movie, I watched the original one last night. I love this movie. I can't count how many times I've watched it. That being said, there are a few things about it that have always bothered me. These are definitely nit-picks, and several of them are probably going to sound ridiculous. In a movie where natives create light-sensitive booby traps out of stone and people get their faces melted off, you would expect a certain suspension of disbelief. I have no problem with any of that stuff. No, my complaints are about niggling little details that have bothered me from day one.

Dr. Marcus Brody - This is actually a complaint about The Last Crusade, but I mention it here because it was the first thing that riled me when watching last night. In Raiders, Dr. Brody is a competent, knowledgeable colleague of Dr. Jones. For some reason, in Crusade they turned him into a bumbling idiot. I have no idea why they did this. Comic relief? For a few gags? It really bothers me. Is Dr. Jones' ego so fragile that he has to be the only competent person on the screen at all times? In Raiders, this was certainly not the case. Belloq, Marion, Sallah, Toht. Everyone of them appeared to be reasoning human beings with skills and personalities of their own. By Crusade, the returning characters are almost laughable. To me, this pattern does not bode well for Crystal Skull.

Shot glass tinkle - Okay, now you know I'm really talking trivial stuff. I have great admiration for foley artists. They're the guys who add sound effects to movies. You would be surprised by the sheer volume of work they do on any typical movie. If they do their job right, the sound effects sound natural and are unnoticeable. Sure, Indy's gun sounds like a small cannon, but that's for effect. Here's my problem. Indy comes to Nepal to pick up the headpiece for the staff of Ra from the Ravenwoods. Marion is holding a couple of shot glasses to her temples to cool her head. Indy walks in, and she dashes them against the floor. The sound they make is so incredibly wrong. Have you ever dropped a shot glass, especially one of the heavy glass kind as shown in the movie? They do not "tinkle" like a fragile wine glass. They "cackle" more like the sound of billiard balls hitting one another. This has always bothered me. Not only because the sound is so wrong, but because it so obviously sounds like a very standard, stock sound effect. Come on, guys! You're the people who hit guy wires with wrenches to make laser blasts for Star Wars. Are you telling me you can't break a few shot glasses? I cringe every time I hear it.

"Belloq, Belloq" - This one is stupid, I know, but it just bothers me because it doesn't make any sense. Indy is visiting with his old friend Sallah, who is describing the German operation. He says, "They have not one brain among them, save one-- a Frenchman. They call him 'Belosh.'" At which point, Indy laughs and corrects Sallah's mispronunciation. The problem is, Sallah said that's what they call him, meaning he had heard it. That means that it's the Germans who are mispronouncing it. But how could they do that if Belloq is right there to correct them?

Well, that's enough nit-picking for now. Clearly, they are trivial. Were I not such a fan of the movie, they probably wouldn't bother me at all.

Regarding the new movie, I have a few more things to say (before having seen it). Upon watching Raiders again last night, I was able to reflect on the changes the other movies made to the franchise.
  • Realism - In Raiders, they made a serious effort to somewhat ground it in reality. The Ark of the Covenant is real; Tannis is real; the legend of the mystical powers is real. However, the next two movies became more mystical and much less grounded in reality. Shankara Stones? The Holy Grail? Not real. My expectation for Crystal Skull is more "unrealism." This is a great shame, actually, for a couple of reasons. First, there are many fascinating, yet real, historical mysteries that could be explored. Second, the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles went to such effort to be historically accurate and introduce Indy to real historical figures. What a waste that the movies have gone in the opposite direction.
  • Comedy - As mentioned above, there seems to have been a shift towards making Indy's friends and allies more comedic relief. This is regrettable, but fairly easily overlooked with the minor characters. However, it is also true of Indy himself. In Raiders, he had some comedic moments, but they were mostly situational; Dr. Jones himself rarely said anything funny. This changed in the later movies (particularly Last Crusade). While it is nice to laugh with the hero, it is also hard to take the story seriously if the main characters in it do not. Prediction for Crystal Skull: more comedy, more one liners from Jones.
  • CGI - I lamented this months ago when I first viewed and reviewed the trailer. It's just a simple fact when dealing with Lucas-- he likes CGI. It doesn't matter whether it looks good or not. Again, this is almost a complete reversal from the Young Indy series, where they took pains to shoot on real, exotic locations. Ironically, it was also in that series that Lucas started toying with digital compositing. I accept the fact that CGI is a permanent effect process of filmmaking today. I expect it to improve over time. However, it isn't there yet. As good as many effects look, they are all still almost immediately recognizable as effects. I will always prefer real effects. Prediction for Crystal Skull: lots of CGI.
I'll write more once I've seen it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Water Cooler Ethics

I drink a lot of water at work. I have a nice big Saint Arnold pint glass that I fill several times a day. Now, because I am visiting the water cooler frequently, it stands to reason that my chance of having to be the one to replace the bottle is increased. I accept that. I don't really mind replacing the bottle at all. But what really bugs me, and what prompted this rant post, is how often I have to replace the bottle before I can get my water.

That may seem insignificant, but in reality it is fairly meaningful. You see, when I have to replace it before, that means that the last person to get water finished off the bottle. This also means that they chose not to replace it, and preferred to force whoever came after them (me) to do it. And since they are far from the scene when the crime is discovered, they get away with it in anonymous impunity.

Now, you may think, "Perhaps they didn't notice the bottle was empty." This sounds like an honest defense, but actually it is nearly impossible. When I find the empty bottle, it is bone dry. The previous drinker drew every last drop out of that bottle. There is simply no way they didn't know they had emptied it.

Why is this a big deal? In the larger scheme of things, it really isn't. I don't mind changing the water bottle, and I do it without complaint (well, except for this blog). The big deal comes from how this reflects on the character of the person or persons I work with. This is the essence of ethics, really. How one deals with seemingly trivial choices reflects how they would deal with more significant ones.

In this case, it shows to me someone who is more selfish than selfless. This person is willing to take (water) but not willing to give (replace the bottle). The fact that this is a closed community (everyone using the water cooler works in the same building for the same company) makes it worse. I can somewhat understand not wanting to "give" to a complete stranger, but this person is screwing over his/her co-workers. Is this a product of our age? Is it a characteristic of software companies? Is it just one person? Who knows.

The real test will come if I'm ever in line for water and the person in front of me leaves it empty. Then I will have met the culprit! I suspect that this would never happen, however. I believe societal pressure (i.e. a witness) would override the usual selfishness and force the person to change the bottle. We shall see.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Crusader for Postal Justice

Man, I really don't like people. I really like postal workers. Especially the ones at my local station. I'm always polite to them, and we've actually shared jokes about other irritated customers in line. So this morning, when I found myself in the presence of two self-centered asses, I was compelled to speak up.

I supposedly had a package fail to deliver on Monday. I say supposedly because I didn't get the package or a failed delivery notice, but the tracking number online says it happened. So I went to the post office to see if I could get the package without the notice. After thoroughly searching, no package. Sucks for me, but this is all ancillary to the real story.

There was only one lady at the counter when I walked in. She greeted me and helped me right away, which entailed going to the back. Right behind me was some young business guy on a cell phone (of course). He continued to talk loudly, as all cell phone users do, but surprisingly he finished his call and didn't make another. Perhaps he actually read the sign forbidding cell phones while in line.

Next came a young lady who probably doesn't have to work. She was dressed sort of grunge-soccer-mom-chic. As soon as she walked in she saw me at the counter, the young man waiting, and no postal workers. "Oh, I see they're working at their usual pace." snide snicker.
Dude: "Yeah, that's for sure," snort, snicker.
Me: I just shook my head and looked away.

Some time passes as the worker helping me continues to look for my package. Clearly not able to just wait patiently in silence, the young lady feels it's time to express her irritation again. After all, she can hear people talking somewhere in the office, and she's already got the business dude on her side.
Bitch: "Something selfish and bitchy." I don't really remember what she said, but I'm sure you can imagine something approximate.
Jerk: "Yeah, that's the way it always goes. Must be nice to not have to work." Or something like that.
Me: "You know, just because they're not out here doesn't mean they're not working."


There was a minuscule pause as they took in what just happened. Did that guy, did he just contradict us? Did he actually defend the postal workers?

Bitch: "Well, there are stereotypes and generalities, but that's because generally they're true." That wasn't it exactly, but seriously it was something that inane and nonsensical. I guess she wasn't mentally prepared to defend her bitchiness. I caught her off guard.
Me: "They're job is to deliver the mail, not so serve you." That's exactly what I said. I wanted to add more to it, but I couldn't think how to phrase it just right. In my mind, I kept thinking things like "Do you expect there to be 3 or 4 workers at the counter, twiddling their thumbs most of the morning, just on the off chance that three people come in at once?" or "Are you really so important that they should stop everything they're doing to help you?" I even wanted to make some comment about whether she was always on call at her job, but then I figured she was just a housewife. Oops, I mean "Stay at home Mom."

That's really pretty much the end of the story. It didn't come to blows, and I just decided to ignore her. I was tempted to say something snide about them to the postal worker, but thought better of it. I know people are in a hurry, and I know people expect employees in a service industry to be at their beck and call, but I'm just tired of this crap. Show a little patience. Show a little kindness. I'm quite intolerant of intolerant people.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tomato or Tomato?

I'm in a bit of a tough spot with my manager. It has nothing to do with work; I appear to be fine in that regard. But she seems to have a slight speech impediment, and I don't know what to do about it.

My manager is a nice woman from New York, although she has no significant accent. She's probably about my age, give or take three years. We get along fine, and although she sometimes talks too much, overstating simple things, it's certainly not a problem.

The problem comes in her pronunciation. The first word that jarred my ears was "onus." Except she pronounced it "onerous." I even looked it up to make sure it wasn't a word I didn't know. Nope. Not a word. Okay, now that's weird. I'm positive I looked it up before and found nothing, but in the last few pages of "The Razor's Edge," there it was. I looked it up again, and it IS a word. I'm sure she meant onus anyway, by the context. She said it several times in one conversation. I can't really correct her, right? I guessed I could've played dumb, and asked what the word meant. I'm never too proud to play dumb. Heck, I'm often not even playing. But I don't think that really would've helped in this situation.

The next word popped during one of our weekly lunches together: "facade," which she pronounces fuh-kaid. At first I wasn't even sure what she was saying. It was like doing an aural crossword. "The building had a really interesting ______ that hid the structure inside." Hmm. I'll give her some credit, though, as I certainly understand how someone might never have heard this word out loud.

The same is true for the next one: Riesling. This is a type of wine, made from the Riesling grape. For those of you reading at home, it should be pronounced reese-ling, not rice-ling as my manager does. Again, though, this is totally forgivable. It is the compounding of all three that gets me on edge.

The problem really comes from within me. Now, whenever we talk at length about something, my ears are constantly on alert for some other weird pronunciation. Not only that, but I'm tempted to deliberately pepper my speech with the proper forms of these same words, just to see her reaction. One of these days, it's most likely going to bite me on the arse.

April 4th Update: Okay, I have few more that I didn't think were worthy of their own posts, but I wanted to record them anyway.
euphorism instead of euphemism
grandiose pronounced gran-doice
And the worst: varocious instead of voracious.
The reason this one is the worst isn't because of the word, but what she said afterwards. She said, "I used to be a varocious reader. Is that the right word?" then continued talking without pause for an answer. I was stunned! I was so busy mentally note-taking on the word that I wasn't even able to respond to the opening. These last two made me decide that maybe she has some form of oral dyslexia.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gogol Bordello!

Wow, what energy! I had been looking forward to seeing these guys for about a year, ever since I first heard one of their songs. As the date approached, I sort of lost that enthusiasm-- not for lack of interest, more just because I had other things on my mind. But last night their show threw me back into fandom. I mean, look at this picture: How could you not expect a good show from people like this?

Led by a Ukrainian now living in New York (you can read more about them here), the band calls their style "Gypsy Punk," and that is definitely fitting. There were about seven people on stage playing instruments ranging from violin to electric guitar to banging on a metal pail.

I accidentally got split up from my buddies (had to get another beer), but that turned out to be a good thing. Once I didn't have to worry about hanging out with my friends, it freed me up to move closer to the stage. I weaved and dodged and squirmed and finally hit a stopping point at the third "row," about 5 feet from the stage.

It was great! The massive throngs of people were crushing me behind, and the people in front were in turn crushed against the stage. There wasn't exactly moshing going on, but there was a lot of jumping and dancing. Had I known beforehand that I would be in this mob, I wouldn't have worn my sandals. Pretty early on, I had my big toe crush, breaking the nail. It was quire painful, but easily ignored for a good show. There were also several people who tried to body surf the crowd, with mixed results. Since I was trying to watch the show, I was often blind-sided by a stray leg or foot. In addition, the combination of sweat coming from me and water coming from everywhere, I ended up being soaked to the bone by the end of it. Not even noticeable while in the club, but quite chilly in the open air outside.

And one thing struck me as funniest of all-- The whole time I'm getting shoved and crushed, stepped on and kicked in the head, soaking wet and laughing with joy, the one thought that goes through my mind is not "I'm too old for this" or "I should be more careful." No, the one thought that kept occurring to me was, "Hmm, maybe I should get Lasik so I don't have to worry about my glasses at times like these." Really a wonderful show.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why there is Road Rage

So, I have to run a few errands this evening. First, I grab my bottles and head for the recycling center. There's a place not far from me that has a drive-through. You still have to get out and dump your stuff, but otherwise it's pretty convenient. There are two lanes: one for parking and dumping your stuff, the other for driving through. Sometimes, all the parking spots are taken, so I park at the curb and walk the 20 feet to the actual bins. What I didn't realize was that I was suppose to just park in the drive-through lane and block traffic for anyone who wants to leave. That's what the guy in the silver BMW Behemoth or whatever they're called did. He waved to me as I'm waiting to get out. What am I supposed to do? Wave back? Does the wave make it okay? Exactly what is he signaling, anyway? "Hi! Yes, I know I'm a jerk. Howyadoin?"

From the recycling place, it's a quick jaunt over to the grocery store. This one is always crowded for some reason, and the weekends are even worse. The rows in the parking lot are two-way, but the spaces are angled so that one side is outbound, one side is inbound. Unless, of course, you're driving an SUVwagon. Then you're allowed to whip around right in front of me, make a five-point turn, and take the space on my side of the aisle.

Once in the store, I make the mistake of not getting a basket. This is a mistake for a couple of reasons. One, it's a clear signal to everyone that I'm trying to get in, get out as quickly as possible. That's like sending up a flare. Second, it doesn't allow me to block the progress of others or smash their cart out of my way. For example, as I'm heading to the beer aisle, a man stops his cart directly in front of the aisle. Not inconveniently, we're talking completely blocking entrance. Then he just stands and looks around as if he forgot where he is. I barely manage to squeeze by and try to shake it off.

Next, I head to the dairy section for some milk. Here, some other mannerly couple has parked their cart directly in front of the one case I need to get into. And again, this isn't about it being merely in the way, oh no. It's parked so close that it's not even possible to open the door were I able to reach it. Needless to say, they're deciding on something in a completely different case.

After these hurdles have been passed, I head to the auto-check out lane. Silly me, I actually came at it from the front. A woman cuts across from behind and to the side, and cuts directly in front of me! It was unbelievable. Fortunately, she wasn't paying attention and didn't realize that the other check out counter was open as well. Haha! I easily side-stepped her blocking move and made it to the one closer to the door. Victory is mine!

I make it to the car, and take a deep breath before heading out. "Just stay off the freeway," I think to myself. Nah, I give up. The other errands can wait. That's just too many jerks in too short a time; I can't risk it. I made it safely home.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mediocre Poker

Well, last night was the monthly poker tournament, so let's see how I did on my goals. In the last tournament, out of 20 players, I was the second out (but only by a few minutes-- I should have been first out). Last night, out of 18 players, I was 6th out. So I definitely hit my primary goal of improving my standings.

I played tighter and more conservatively, which is good, but honestly, it wasn't much because of my own self-restraint. My cards were pretty awful all night. I believe I had only four hands where at least one of my hole cards wasn't lower than 6. My final hand, when I was the short stack by a very wide margin, gave me my first pocket pair: 10s. I went all-in pre-flop. Flop was 3, 4, 5, followed by 6, then Q. The guy who beat me stayed in with 4, 5! What the heck is that?

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with my play. It isn't where I want it to be, but it was a definite improvement. I think my two biggest flaws were waiting too late in the evening to get aggressive, and not being aggressive enough when I finally did. Being the short stack, I was hesitant to bet big; so my $300 raises didn't pack any threat when others were raising $600 - $1,000.

So, did the poker book I read help? Yes and no. The strategies offered by the book were mostly irrelevant, and it did a very poor job of explaining pot odds. However, it did make me rethink the game and look at my play differently, as well as pay more attention to the right things when watching others. I'll be keeping my eyes open for other (cheap) poker books, but I'm not in a big hurry.

Next month, I'll need to finish as well or better. I'll still give myself another month before I expect to be at the final table. As far as finishing in the money, I'm putting no time pressure on that goal.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Picks Part II

Hollywood loves a sequel, and I'm no exception. At the time I posted my first round of Oscar picks, I said they were likely to change. I just wanted to put my final predictions up today, so I could be on the record for better or worse. Sure, I could back date a post and make it look like I picked 100%, but where would be the fun in that? Anyway, here are my picks for the major categories.

Original Score: Sticking with Atonement.
Cinematography: I want Atonement, but my guess is There Will Be Blood.
Animated Feature: I'll stay with Ratatouille. The arthouse pick is Persepolis, but I really don't think it has a chance.
Original Screenplay: Juno. No doubt.
Adapted Screenplay: This one is really tough. I think they all deserve it. I'm switching from my previous pick to No Country for Old Men. A few thoughts on this category, though. I think Atonement is the source material most likely to have been read by Academy voters. Will that help or hurt it? I think There Will Be Blood is the most different from the source material. I'm a little worried that whatever wins this will not win Best Picture (sort of a consolation prize).
Supporting Actress: Another tough one, but for different reasons. Everybody loves Cate Blanchett, but I'm going with Ruby Dee so the Academy can show some color.
Supporting Actor: Staying with Javier Bardem.
Actress: Another tough one. Originally I had Ellen Page, but I've since seen La Vie en Rose, and Marion Cotillard was incredible. Plus, there's the lifetime achievement factor for Julie Christie. I think I'll stick with Page, but I have no confidence in this one.
Actor: Well, it ain't gonna be Viggo, although I did have good reasons for picking that originally. The smart money seems to be on Daniel Day-Lewis, and who am I to argue.
Director: My original pick for Julien Schnabel for Diving Bell was really just wishful thinking. I gotta go with the Coens for No Country.
Picture: Staying with No Country for Old Men.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

TABC Torture

Well, this isn't the post I intended to make, but maybe I'll make two posts in one day.

Right now, I'm taking an online class to get my TABC certification. This allows me to serve alcohol as a bartender, or in my case, as a volunteer at Saint Arnold Brewery. They offer the class at the brewery, but I didn't feel like going to it, plus it's a little cheaper online.

However, what I didn't realize is that the online version is deliberately and excessively sloooooow. It said at the beginning that it would take six(!) hours. I thought it meant "up to" six hours, but clearly that is not the case. Even when I finish reading a section early, I have to wait for the timer to count down before it allows me to continue. Not that I'm just allowed to read anyway. No, each section has to be read aloud to me, apparently just to waste time.

I took an online defensive driving course last year that was similar, but at least it was reasonable. In that one, you would have segments that lasted about 5 to 10 minutes, or films that ran as long as 15. With those times, you can easily do other things. This one has much shorter segments (3 to 6 minutes on average), but worse, it requires a mouse click about every 30 seconds to continue. It's maddening! I tried to do laundry-- fold a shirt, click, fold a shirt, click, fold a shirt, click. I'm trying to post to the blog-- write a sentence, click, write a few words, click, write a few... oops, what was I saying? I had to go click.

Another bad comparison, the defensive driving course could be broken up over the course of several days if I wanted. Not this one. As far as I can tell, I've got to sit here for the next six hours (well, only four now). However, I'm on lesson 8 of 10, so maybe I'm wrong and I'll finish this ordeal much sooner.

But worse than the inconvenience are the stupid animations. Every lesson has several slow animations introducing the lesson. It looks like someone was really bored with PowerPoint.

But the absolute worst part of this whole deal is the reasoning behind it. I was recently listening to the Get-It-Done Guy's podcast (quite interesting, I recommend it), and he was talking about finding the "why's" behind actions. That really made me think about this stupid online certification process. Why does it take six hours? What is the goal?

Since I have to take and pass a test at the end to receive my certification, it seems to me that the goal is to ensure that I am familiar with the information they are presenting. If that's the case, why can't I just read the information at my own pace? I'd still have to pass the test, but I wouldn't have to waste so much time.

If instead the goal is some sort of punishment, then they've got it right. I understand that in the context of defensive driving, but not at all in TABC certification.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Indiana Jones Trailer!

Of course, by now this is old news, but I'm very excited about it anyway. I'm a huge Indiana Jones fan, and despite everything, I'm still really looking forward to seeing this.

Now onto my criticisms.

  • Wow, Harrison Ford looks old.
  • Roswell? Really? Geez, as if that event hasn't been played out enough. However, I do like the idea of tying it to the Maya and the theory of the Ancient Astronaut.
  • Cate Blanchett = awesome.
  • It looks like Spielburg has changed his style for these movies, and I don't like it. Not one bit. There were a lot of overhead shots, which really breaks from the more traditionally shot previous films.
  • The CGI bothers me a lot, too. That's gotta be Loony Lucas' influence. The grandeur of Raiders comes from scenes where they really crashed a giant Anubis statue through an Egyptian wall. What's awe-inspiring about watching people mug in front of a green screen? Hopefully, in the next few months of post-production they can make it look more realistic.
  • So I guess the kid is going to be Indy's son. I'm okay with that, but I have trouble understanding how he wouldn't have been there for him. It seems quite out of character for Indy to either be a deadbeat dad or to not know he had a son.
  • The trailer has a pretty comedic tone; I can only hope that the majority of the movie isn't played for laughs.
Bottom line, I'm worried that this installment won't be very good, but I'm still thrilled to have a new Jones adventure. I'll be there opening day regardless.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Terrible Poker

So, the other day I was able to play poker with my friend Rich and his regular poker group. These are a bunch of married guys who play tournament style on the first Saturday of every month. Not only is there money for the tournament that night, but you can win points based on your finishing position. Rich does very well, and last year won the whole year on points.

I, on the other hand, have not played in over a year. This made me nervous, which is never a good way to play poker. Without going into what would be a long and boring story, suffice it to say I played terribly. It was just plain awful. I wasn't the first out, but only by a few minutes. I'm still glad I went, but it sucks when you don't have a job and you blow $50 playing poker. That voice inside your head keeps reminding you of bills, groceries, rent, etc.

But the real point of my post has to do with the aftermath. I decided to buy a book on poker (specifically Texas Hold 'Em) so that when I go next month (oh yes, I'll be back) I'll play at a respectable level. I just wanted something simple that covered the basic strategies, the lingo, and maybe talked a little about pot odds. A guy at the tournament had a tiny, pocket-sized Dummy's Guide to poker, and that would have been perfect.

I was unable to find that Dummy's Guide or even an Idiot's Guide that wasn't too expensive. But I did find an Everything book. Apparently, these are some sort of knock-off like the other two. It was less than $10, so it seemed perfect.

Well, it kinda sucks. I'm going to read the whole thing anyway, because I'm sure I'll pick up some useful information. Unfortunately, the book is constantly using hip poker lingo without really explaining it. Sometimes, it comes across as using it just to show how cool they are and how uncool I am for being confused. And that's another thing-- for being a helpful guide, it really isn't very helpful. Too often they gloss over things that I would have preferred to have explained more clearly.

But hey, it's just a dumb poker book. However, there was this one paragraph I read that just sent me over the top. My last post was about terrible writing on TV, so I couldn't let this one go without a comment here. Have you ever heard of a mixed metaphor? Well check this out:

Think of your hole cards as your new bar squeeze at closing time. The flop will sober you up quickly, and suddenly the squeeze can appear a lot different. Other times, your hole cards will stay true and faithful, but it's still a long way to that mountaintop where the pot of gold awaits. If you're still in there swinging, you want to be aggressive. The flop is no place for the faint of heart.

What the hell? That first sentence alone is probably wacky enough for a post, but then it just keeps going. "Okay, so my hole cards are like some chick I'm trying to pick up at the end of the night when I'm drunk and desperate, and when the last call lights come on she could end up being hideous or pretty, but then I have to go climbing and hope I find a leprechaun, because if I'm still at bat, I have to be brave." Huh? The whole book is like that. There's another quote I wanted to put in here, but I can't remember where it is. Basically, it was so overloaded with poker jargon as to be indecipherable. I guess that's to make the reader feel cool when he finally figures out what the writer is talking about.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I may need another poker book. Hopefully, I can find something cheap that isn't as ridiculous as this one. My goals for the next tournaments are on three levels. My primary goal for every tournament, I would like to do better than the previous one (that should be easy for March). My secondary goal is to make it to the final table. My tertiary goal is to win money. I expect to meet my primary goal every time, but I don't expect to meet the others for a few more tournaments at least. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Terrible Writing

Although I like to think of myself as a writer, the fact is that I'm not. However, that doesn't stop me from having a critical eye when it comes to watching television or movie writing. I often criticize things for having "terrible" writing, so I thought maybe it was time I defined what I mean.

To me, terrible writing is any writing that calls attention to itself. It's conspicuous. Anytime you're watching something and you think, "That would never happen" or "No one would say that," then you're experiencing terrible writing. Now, to be fair, suspension of disbelief or strong likable characters can overcome those thoughts. In that case, it's more like bad writing that works, or a plot or characters that are so good, the little bad things don't hurt them.

I have a favorite quote from the movie The Rocketeer, as a director gives advice to a hapless young starlet: "Act, but don't act like you're acting." I believe the same applies to writing. If the viewer (or reader) forgets the writer by getting wrapped up in the story, you're doing a good job. Anything that reminds the audience there is a writer is bad.

So, I'm watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles yesterday. Honestly, I don't expect it to be good. But the first episode surprised me, and I thought it was quite good. The second episode, however... terrible.

The first infraction was admittedly minor, but it was so stupid it yanked me out of the show so hard I got whiplash. Young John Connor is working on some random electronic kit. He complains to his mom (the titular Sarah), "You got me the wrong needle-nosed pliers." She responds, "You said the red handled ones, right?" He holds up, gasp, blue handled pliers. Then they get in a little argument about why he isn't allowed to go outside.

What's wrong with this scene? The writer needed something to spark the argument. Grasping at straws, he decided Sarah bought the wrong tool, thereby also establishing John as a Radio Shack genius and his mom as unable to stop the blinking clock on the VCR. But "wrong needle-nosed pliers"? How many types of needle-nosed pliers are there? And seriously, the color of the handles makes a difference? I've used needle-nosed pliers with red, yellow, and black handles. That was the only difference between them. If he had said, "No, the kind with the bent tips on the end" or "These are regular pliers, I asked for needle-nose" I would've been fine with it (dumb as it is). But, those options would've taken a few seconds and not been as effective as the visual of holding up blue pliers. Terrible.

The next infraction was far more of a violation. I use that word both to reflect the seriousness, but also because it broke one of the laws established in the show. I mean, come on. It's only the second episode, and already you're breaking your own rules?

The rule is this: When traveling through time, only flesh can be transported. Clothes don't go through; weapons don't go through; the only reason the Terminators go through is because they're covered in human skin. At the end of the first show, John, Sarah, and Cameron (nice nod to the creator there) pop through a time bubble just as they explode the Terminator about to destroy them. They arrive in present day, naked, in the middle of a freeway. This provides a nice gag and some eye candy. No problem. In the second episode, we discover that when they blew up the Terminator, his head popped off and came with them through the time bubble. Which they had just said couldn't happen. It's another clear plot device (borrowed from a Star Trek: Next Generation episode) that allowed the writers to reassemble the Terminator. Boo. Terrible.

There were many other terrible things in that episode, but I just wanted to point out the two that bugged me the most. It stayed pretty consistently bad the whole time. To their credit, though, I thought the third episode was a little better. Being starved for new sci-fi (or new anything, these days), I'm willing to keep watching for now.

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