Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Evening amongst the Curio Collection

With Denver snowed in and our holiday visiting prospects dashed, Stacy and I decided to take the girls to see Night at the Museum on Christmas day. It did not disappoint. Besides the PR campaign’s complete lack of showcasing Carla Gugino’s involvement in the film, a fact that Jon says is a big reason not to go see the movie, it looked decent in the previews. It did not disappoint. Even at his most unbelievably awkward, Ben Stiller can still get a laugh from me. There were a few awkward moments, but Stiller got to showcase some of his comedic talents beyond being that guy we all like to cringe at. Robin Williams was remarkably reserved as Teddy Roosevelt. Limiting him to a single character with no zany voices really worked out. Owen Wilson (uncredited!?) was remarkably tolerable as the miniature cowboy hell bent on overtaking the neighboring Roman diorama. Perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing how spry Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs were. This was also the first time I have had the pleasure to see The Office executive producer Ricky Gervais onscreen. Or at least I thought it was. Reading his IMDB entry I found that I had already seen him as a guest star on Alias.

Stiller’s Larry Daley copes rather well with the shock of the museum displays coming to life. More interesting is his progression from get-rich-quick schemer to dependable leader and responsible dad with romantic prospects in the shapely form of Ms. Gugino’s Rebecca. Even William’s Roosevelt finds romance in the movie. We see Larry risk losing his first steady job in years, discover his inner strength, and defeat the treacherous villains with the aid of the entire museum before the end. Besides a couple of scenes that kept Vicki’s feet nervously kicking, such as the T-Rex skeleton bearing down on Larry before he realizes Rexy just wants to play fetch, the movie is an adventure anyone can enjoy.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Wireless Woes

Since we didn’t make it out to Utah before Christmas last week, our days were wide open. Stacy wanted to use the time to clear out the office and move Scarlett’s crib in there. Our hope is that we can let her cry in the crib without fear of waking the girls. Maybe then she’ll learn to self-soothe and we can get a decent night’s sleep again. Part of the office move involved dismantling the computer desk and moving it into the living room downstairs.

It only cost me $230 to do it, too.

Why 230 clams? Because my HP Media Center PC decided to spontaneously fry its power supply in the short trip between the office and the living room. I didn’t want to accept that it was the problem, but the rapidly blinking power indicator on the back of the supply was hard to ignore. We were also leaving the cable modem and wireless router in the room upstairs, so I had to get a wireless card for the HP, too.

230 smackers and a trip to CompUSA later and I have a working computer thrumming along with a powerful 500 watt supply and a brand spanking new Wireless-N network card. Who knew moving a computer one level down in my house could be so expensive?

Speaking of Wireless-N, I couldn’t be more frustrated with Linksys. It’s not really their fault that the industry can’t settle on the next high speed wireless protocol, but damn it, I can’t seem to get the same components in my network at the same time.

When I started building our wireless network, I used D-Link equipment. After many frustrating attempts to keep my computers on the network, I gave up and went for my tried-and-true brand, Linksys. At the time, they had come out with a new Wireless-G overlay called SRX. This used multiple-in, multiple-out channels to increase range and compression to increase speeds. I was ecstatic with the 108mbps connections I was making with my Dell desktop and work laptop.

Then I got my personal laptop. This is when Linksys first let me down. My new laptop has a PCMCIA express port, but Linksys doesn’t make anything but PCMCIA cards. Alas, I was stuck with nothing but the built-in wireless-G connection, back to 54mpbs for me.

Later, Linksys came out with new SRX protocols, including 2.0, 200, and 400. You’d think all I needed to do was upgrade the firmware on my router to use them, right? Wrong. SRX 1.0 is not upgradable. Thanks a lot, Linksys.

The latest wrinkle in my wireless network woes is Wireless-N. CompUSA no longer carries any SRX components. So my new wireless card in the HP is not compatible with my SRX network. If this draft of the wireless protocol happens to be the one that is picked for the industry, then I’ll have one component ready for the new system. In the meantime, I have one more component that is locked down to 54mbps.

How much will it cost to upgrade my entire network to Wireless-N? Around 230 bones.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Brain Hates Me

While going to bed with the wife away sucks, it does usually mean that I get more sleep. Whether it's the getting the baby for midnight nursings, comforting one of the older girls after a nightmare, or being awoken by a flailing arm, my nights (and Stacy's) are regularly interrupted. Add to that the fact that I can never seem to get to bed before 11:00 PM on work nights and you get an idea of how tired I am when I come in to work. Since none of those distractions exist when the family is away, I usually get a full night's rest any given night.

Just to make sure, I took some Excedrin PM last night. I got to sleep around 9:30, which wouldn't give me a full 8 hours, but it'd be more than usual.

That's why I was surprised when I woke up at 11:30. Muddled with sleep, I stared at the clock for a few moments trying to puzzle out how I could sleep all the way to 11:30 without waking up and why it was still dark outside. Ohhhh, 11:30 PM, well that's okay, I still had 5 hours to sleep.

Then I woke up at 1:30. WTF? Whatever, I still had more sleep time.

Then again at 3:00. Ok, now I'm kinda pissed off at myself.

By the time my alarm started going off at 4:25, I was only lightly sleeping. Angry at the entire situation, I hit my snooze out of defiance. I was going to get some more damn sleep even if it was only 9 minute increments!

I finally gave up a little before 5:00 and got out of bed. There's something about not even reaching REM sleep that really bugs me. It may be a wholly psychological thing or an actual physiological effect, but I always feel off when I don't get at least 4 hours of continuous sleep. I have come to the conclusion that my brain is angry at me for some reason. Maybe it was all the paint fumes I inhaled after finally painting that empty spot on the basement wall?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Excuse Me as I Wax Melancholy

There are few card rides that are more depressing than the one immediately following dropping your family off for a week-long trip. I know I'm being maudlin about it, but I'm in a funk right now and I'm hoping this will be somewhat cathartic.

I love my family. There are times when they drive me crazy, individually and collectively, but all the other times make the occasional annoyances well worth it. Nothing compares to the sound of three little girls shouting, "Daddy!" when I walk in the door after work. Snuggling a sleeping child is a close second. I have such a hard time sleeping in an empty bed that I will usually stay up into the wee hours of the morning to avoid it when my wife is gone.

I'm sure that by tomorrow I will feel my usual self. I'll most likely fill my time alone by watching a ton of movies in the theater, playing video games, and watching TV. Im working two days of OT this week, so my usual three day work week will be five. Hopefully the fact that I have to get up for work will help me get to bed at a decent hour. Then again, working OT on the swing shift kinda defeats that idea. However, the OT is uding the holiday, so double time and a half is coming my way. What better way to pay for two Christmases than some holiday OT?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What I Did(n't) Do During Winter Break

I hate Denver. It's all Denver's fault.

Early Wednesday morning found Stacy, the girls, and I up and ready to drive to Baltimore for our trip to Utah for Christmas. Being the experienced traveler that she is, Stacy decided to call United Airlines to confirm our flight reservations before we left the house. That's when we found out that our flights were cancelled. Yay.

Turns out that Denver was expecting 10 to 20" of snow that day. Also turns out that our flight routed through Denver. Bad combination. After talking to a United rep from India for about half an hour, Stacy was no longer in shape to deal with the situation. I took over and dealt with the rude agent for another 30 minutes. We got nowhere. Denver was closed and there were no other flights they could put us on.

We happened to book our flight through Travelocity, roaming gnome and traveling guarentee and all that. I gave them a call and got routed, guess where? That's right, India. The gentleman on the other line was a little nicer, but no more helpful. After an hour of getting even further nowhere, he transferred me to United.

Woo hoo.

This time I got someone that could actually use a computer and look up other flights. There were no flights available that day, but he could split us up and still get us to Utah the next day. Stacy and the girls were on the same flight out of Baltimore and through Denver, hopefully with clear runways by then, and I was out of Dulles with a layover in San Francisco of all places.

Since driving to Baltimore sucks and she would be able to sleep in a couple of hours, Stacy decided to book a room in an airport hotel. We let Vicki go to one more day of school and then headed up to the BWI Red Roof Inn. As we drove, I called Jon to see if he could pick me up the next morning for the drive into Dulles, that way we wouldn't have to pay long term parking fees.

Naturally, the change in traveling plans had to be shared with all of our family, so we spent the drive up making phone calls. Midway through one of the calls, Stacy got a message from United. Her flight had been cancelled again. Denver was getting pounded by a once-in-five-years storm and there was no flying in or out of the area.

At this point, Stacy was just about falling apart and I was quietly seething at United's ineptitude at rescheduling and rerouting flights. We stopped at a Ruby Tuesdays near the hotel for dinner and some decidedly unrelaxing hold time with Travelocity. The roaming gnome's rep couldn't get a hold of anyone at United, she kept getting disconnected after holding. Her solution? Telling me that I would have to call United instead.

We cancelled Stacy's hotel reservation and headed back down to VA. Stacy couldn't get anyone at United to answer. It seems they were having issues routing calls to agents all night.

How convenient.

We decided to stop by Washington/Dulles Airport to clear up the issue with a real person at a desk. The six other people in front of me in line were there for the same reason. As I stood there, the four United reps helping people finished up with their current customers and then two of them inexplicably left.

I don't care what your personal issues are. When you work in a customer service oriented industry, you damn well make sure your customers are taken care of before loafing off somewhere. Queue time was ridiculous, but after about an hour, I got up to the counter. The lady behind it was obviously stressed and bedraggled. I was apparently her last customer and the rest of the people in line were out of luck unless someone in baggage claim was willing to help.

The lady was mostly accomidating, but couldn't really help. This time there were literally no flights out until after Christmas. Naturally, this screwed up our holiday plans royally. There was no way I could get to go since I have to work again on the 27th. I decided to book Stacy out on the 28th since her return date was still January 4th. At least she'd have time with her family and friends. This time she and the girls would be flying out of Dulles, but still going through Denver. Hopefully the weather would be clear by then.

Stacy did some extra phonework this morning and found flights out on the 26th instead, but there was still nothing before Christmas. So now Stacy and the girls will be flying out of Dulles on the 26th, stopping over in San Francisco, and then flying on to Utah. It'll be a long flight for Stacy with all three girls and no one to help her, but I am hoping that the time in Utah will be theraputic.

Fun Little Side Note Dept.
Stacy proactively shipped all of our Christmas gifts to her father so we could have a nice Christmas morning in Utah. The only decoration we put up here was an artificial tree and a wreath on the front door. We are normally in the running for best decorated house, so it was hard for us. Now, decorationless and presentless, we faced a Christmas morning here in VA. Stacy and I found a babysitter today and spent another couple hundred dollars making another Christmas here at home. The kids will have two Christmas mornings now, lucky them.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Asian Hooters Christmas

There is a chance that my one reader has not seen the episode yet, but I've got to blog about the last installment of The Office before my memories of it fall into one of the oubliettes of my mind, forever lost. Needless to say, but I'm going to say it anyway, there are spoilers below. You've been warned.

Holy !$#%^ crap, that episode was hilarious.

Longtime fans of the show will agree that Creed doesn't get enough airtime, but we were treated with another glimpse into his creepy life in the beginning of this episode. Creed saunters in, sees the Toys For Tots box, peruses casually, and just as casually tucks a toy under his arm. Considering he has no kids, I don't want to know why he's taking the toy. When told that he's supposed to put toys in the box, he merely replies with, "And a Merry Christmas to you, too!" and continues sauntering to his desk. Creed rocks.

Meredith is another Office B-Lister. The red-headed alcoholic has more clips in the deleted scenes than any other B-Lister I've seen, and she's usually very funny. The editors kept a few of her scenes this time, and she didn't disappoint. When offered a margarita at Karen and Pam's (more on that most awesome of pairings later) much funner party, she politely refuses with, "No, they're too sweet," and proceeds to walk off with an entire bottle of vodka and a determined look in her eye.

Just like Michelle, I gave a little shout when I saw Oscar make his abortive return to the staff of Dunder-Mifflin. I hope this means we'll see him as a regular when the show comes off the Winter hiatus. Oscar's reactions to the crap that goes on at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton are priceless.

Continuing on in the B-List vein, let's look at Kevin. The poor man's quandary about whether to attend Angela's party or not could be boiled down to a hilarious pro and con. He sat there in the confessional weighing his love for double fudge brownies on one hand against his distaste for Angela on the other. You could really tell that he was hard-pressed, too. If you blinked, you probably missed his graceful exit from Angela's soiree as someone left the door open too long. Brownies in hand, he joined the festivities of the Karen/Pam party.

Speaking of Angela, was she in rare form that night! My jaw dropped almost as far as Karen's as she delivered a scathing dressing down and summarily dismissed the latter from the party-planning commission. A brilliant, but sadly deleted scene, even shows us Angela getting physical with poor, depressing Toby, and not in the good way. At least Her Vileness got a write up for it. The softer side of Angela actually came one step closer to making its appearance in the office when she and Dwight K. Schrute shared a surreptious handholding moment. Awwwww.

Toby and Stanley had a couple of good lines while I can't recall Ryan or Kelly doing anything really memorable. The A-Listers, however, had some truly great moments.

First, the inevitable love triangle, Karpim, er, Jaram, no, Pimen, um, Kkkkkk-Jam, screw it, Karen/Jim/Pam. I'll admit that I'm on Team Karen, doomed though I know it to be. Jim even confirmed that Karen is a rebound from his fruitless attempts to get with Pam in season 2. I understand Jim and Pam have a history and they share in little moments, but Karen is cuter, geeky in a good way, and makes no attempt to hide her interest in Jim. Pam, on the other hand, obviously doesn't know what she wants with her friendly chats with Roy and her frequent attempts to buddy around with Jim. You can't have it both ways, Pam. I'll just leave that relationship with the bittersweet montage of Karen/Jim moments playing in my mind.

Starting at the top of the list, the big kahuna, the best boss in the world, Mr. Scott-o! Speaking of inevitable love triangles, Michael's has now been broken on both sides. Not since Randy had a mariachi player follow him around with the Spanish version of Time After Time on My Name is Earl has a breakup been so entertaining. Granted, that was just a week ago, but still. In order to cheer him up, perrenial suckup Andy invites Michael to Benihana, which shall forever more be known as Asian Hooters. Of course, Michael needs his entourage, bros before hos, after all. So Michael, Andy, Dwight, and a reluctant Jim file out of the office for some male bonding. The funniest bit of the Asian Hooters scenes was Jim falling back into old habits as he explained to Dwight, who had to sit apart from the bros due to a hapless couple's unfortunate seating choice, that the conversation between Michael and the cute Asian waitress was about her difficulty killing and skinning a goose. Of course, ever the helpful know-it-all, Dwight launches into the proper procedure at full volume over the heads of his unfortunate table mates and to the horrified dismay of the waitress. We know that Dwight K. Schrute is an expert in this as he performed the service just that morning on the Christmas Miracle Goose he hit on the way into work.

Meanwhile, Pam felt guilty about not standing up for Karen in the party planning meeting. Since she has no outward reason to dislike Karen, she decides to try to be her friend. Before his trip to Asian Hooters, you can see that Jim is decidedly uncomfortable with the two girls giggling and plotting in the corner. Turns out that he has nothing to worry about yet, as their plotting involves creating the Committee for Party Planning in direct opposition to Angela's Iron Fist Party Planning Committee. Further, their party will start 15 minutes before Angela's and will include margaritas and karaoke! I have to admit that I was smirking right alongside the girls as they shoved their party announcement into Angela's mortified gob. I believe that the Karen/Pam team may be a force to be reckoned with.

To prove that they are gracious in victory, Karen and Pam invite Angela to combine parties once they have succeeded in luring over almost every one of Angela's partygoers. In one last show of her innate snarkiness, Angela reveals that she was the culprit in the Mystery of the Missing Karaoke Machine Power Cord. Even she got her swerve on in the karaoke singing with a stirring rendition of Little Drummer Boy with Dwight's vox drum accompaniment.

Poor Michael Scott experiences heartache once more as his Asian Hooters date decides to split with his bicycle and turns down his invitation to Jamaica's hottest all-inclusive resort. Here is where we get to see Jim wax on about rebounds and the power of that first, true love. Ah, Karen/Jim, we barely knew thee. Mark my words, this is the beginning of the end for them.

Oh, and who was that Michael Scott convinced to go with him to Jamaica on the phone at the end? It couldn't be Jan. She can't be that desperate, can she? I see comedy on the horizon!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More Spam Please!

I've finally added an option to subscribe to My Inanity through email. Check it out in the sidebar. Right under the form you can see a nifty little counter that tells how many people subscribe to my blog. Isn't that tiny little number pitiful? Go on and sign up, one is the lonliest number.

License to Kill, and to Eat Fish, Lots and Lots of Fish

It's been a couple of weeks since I've been to the theater. (It's been a few weeks since I've done anything but schoolwork.) The last two movies I've had time for were the latest 007 installment and the controversial penguin flick, Happy Feet.

Stacy and I caught Casino Royale on our last date night. I am a huge James Bond fan. I have loved the spy flicks since seeing Moonraker as a kid. As I grew older, I found that my taste for Bond matured from the cheesy Roger Moore movies to Sean Connery's more serious fare. The Timothy Dalton years were depressing, but who was better equipped to save us than Pierce Brosnan? He has by far been my favorite of the latest batch of Bonds. I was saddened when I heard that the Powers-That-Be dumped him for a new agent.

When they made the Daniel Craig announcement, I was ready to leave my beloved Bond movies behind, living in the past with my Bond DVD collection clutched to my chest. Have you seen the guy? He's blond, blue-eyed, and craggy. How could he fill Connery and Brosnan's shoes? Not to mention the fact that they wanted to reboot the entire series by making this Bond's first mission as a double-0 agent, with the current Dame M no less. The world stopped making sense. Okay, the world hasn't made sense for a long time, but you get the picture.

I decided to give Daniel "Cragface" Craig the benefit of the doubt. The reboot might work in his favor, who knows? Besides, the critics loved him as Bond, not that I've paid much attention to critics in the past.

I was blown away. The thing about low expectations is that they can be truly shattered by a good performance. I was not prepared for Cragface to not only nail the Bond character (and not nail the Bond girl, what's up with that?) but to add another layer to my favorite spy. If you are a Bond fan and avoiding the movie because of the actor, don't. If you don't watch the Bond movies, check this one out. It's a great jump-in point and many elements that turned off people in the past, such as unrealistic gadgets and over-the-top villains, are virtually non-existent. The movie was great and I can't wait to add it to my DVD collection. A word of warning for those averse to scenes of intense pain, shut your eyes for the torture scene, I still feel sympathy pain for poor Bond weeks after the movie.

What about Happy Feet? Meh. It was a cute movie. I liked their use of a wide selection of popular music to make it a pseudo-musical. The voice acting was forgettable, besides Robin Williams, of course. The problem with his voice acting is that no matter what voice he does, you know it's him. That doesn't stop his characters from being funny, though. I really didn't mind the environmental message they pound into the audience during the last half-hour or so. I have noticed that CNN has had experts and pundits on the weeks following the movie to remark on the horribly inappropriate underlying message of the movie. Apparently, some people are outraged that the creators could be so underhanded as to include an environmental message in a movie about friggin' penguins. Give me a break, people. It's about penguins. I would have been surprised if there wasn't a message included.

"How dare they bring this environmental problem to our attention, in front of our kids, no less! Now I have to explain to my kids that we have to kill the penguins so we can eat their delicious fish in high-scale restaurants! They oughta be ashamed!"

Chill, people. Eat fish from the temperate Pacific. Mahi mahi, now there's a tasty fish. Besides, I'm sure Disney will come out with another schlock-fest for your kids anytime now that won't prompt them to ask inconvenient questions about society's excesses.

Oh, and before I forget, school sucks, database classes suck, professors that give nine assignments every week suck.

Spektacular Spektorama

Thanks to Jon and, I have been thoroughly addicted to Regina Spektor. She's all that's been in my car stereo and my mp3 player all week. I have loved female singer/songwriters that play piano since Tori Amos made the scene in the early '90s. There have been a couple lately that have caught my eye, like Vanessa Carlton (she wants me,) but none have caught my ear quite like Spektor. If you haven't heard her yet, check out the smorgasbord of Spektor videos below. If you have heard her, then you know how good she is and you'll probably watch the videos below. If you don't like her, then there's no accounting for taste, but you should still watch the first video below. I dare you to get the refrain from Hotel Song out of your head for the rest of the day (Little bag of cocaine, little bag of cocaine...)

Hotel Song
(I know it's not an official video, but the song quality is good and the video is tolerable.)




(Another unofficial video, but this one has some professional production values.)


Ode to Divorce

Friday, November 10, 2006

Belated Halloween Pictures

Wow, it only took me 10 days to get Halloween pictures up! Thanks, Stacy! Now if only I could get the Disney World pictures online. You can click on any of these images to see the full picture.

Here's our second-place-winning yard. It is much more impressive in the dark, but the pics without the flash are blurry:

From left: Vicki as Princess Peach Toadstool, Stacy as Luigi, Zoe as Princess Daisy Toadstool, Scott as Mario, and Scarlett as Toad, the toadstool retainer.

From left: Casey as Dick Butkus, Kylie as a Bears Cheerleader, Traven as a Bears Linebacker, and Jamie as, well, I'm not sure what she's dressed as. Hmmm, that's a toughie.

From left: Vince as a Blue Man

And to finish off:
Scarlett as the Frosting Fiend!

Job or No Job

This game show isn’t hosted by Howie Mandel and doesn’t feature a bevy (what a great word, bevy) of beautiful babes, but it’s just as exciting! We’ve been on pins and needles the past few weeks over the 7th annual layoffs at work. Since it is against the very fiber of an executive’s being to reveal layoff plans until the actual day of the beheadings, I didn’t know where I stood until they happened. I still have a job, though, and the layoffs are over and done with.

One of these cases has your job, the rest have crappy severance packages. Are you ready to play Job or No Job?

Or so I thought. It turns out that there is another round coming within the next couple of months. This one has been described as a “bloodletting”. Doesn’t exactly fill me with an overwhelming sense of confidence. In fact, it fills me with an underwhelming sense of dread. To throw another monkey into the barrel that is work life, there was an announcement recently of another department merger. This time, our director is not going to be in charge, though. Since he doesn’t really like that idea, he’s jumping ship to go work with the beautiful people at HQ. Before leaving, he assuaged our concerns about the upcoming bloodletting; supposedly we are safe.

The last few employees huddle under their shields as the bloodletting continues

I have to wonder, though, with new leadership in the form of a VP that knows nothing about how we do things, how can we be assured that the axe won’t fall this way?

Henry had to be let go, cutbacks, you understand.

Speaking of axes, last night’s The Office was excellent. I’m not giving away anything when I say that the announcement of Dunder-Mifflin’s Scranton branch being closed was made last night (it was in the episode promos.) It should also come as no surprise to any regular viewer that Michael Scott and his trusty Assistant to the Regional Manager (Assistant Regional Manager) Dwight Schrute rode off to save the branch. Meanwhile, there was almost unanimous rejoicing among the remaining office workers at the thought of a severance package and end of life as they knew it in the confines of the office. The results of said quest and the twists and turns that the plot takes from there are a surprise that I won’t give away here. Great episode this week. I’m looking forward to the rest of Sweeps Month and the further misadventures of the office staff, whether it’s the one in Scranton or Stamford.

It's round, and it says "to it". It's a round to it, get it? Man, I'm funny!

I finally found a roundtoit and took down our outdoor Halloween decorations after I got home last night. I figured it was a little tacky to have them up a week and a half after the actual holiday. Still, nothing says Thanksgiving like an inflatable madman wielding a knife and circled by bats, right? I actually melted some of the fleece from my sleeve as I tried to fish out the black light we put in our lamp post. You would think the smell of burning fiber would clue me in that the bulb was too hot, wouldn’t you? Well you’d be wrong. I finally ended up unscrewing the bulb with an oven mitt and then dismantling the top portion of the lamp post to dump it out into Stacy’s hands. Now my yard is just another leaf-strewn mudhole. It’s very festive.

Burn cream anyone? Ouch.

Due to a minor mismanagement of funds (read: I spend too much) my payment for my last class at the university was late. The end result is that I have this week off since I couldn’t be scheduled for my next class until I paid for the last one. Since they changed the way classes are scheduled, week-long breaks are few and far between. I usually use this time to catch up on recorded shows and much-neglected video game playing. This week? I can’t think of one productive thing I’ve done, much less unproductive. Maybe that’s just the Alzheimer’s talking.

What was I saying again?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shakes Fist in Impotent Rage


We didn’t win 1st place in the Halloween decorating contest. I’m a little miffed since we spent quite a bit of time, effort, and money decking out our lawn. We had two giant inflatables: an 8’ purple spider complete with lights and a 5’+ tall globe featuring a lunatic with a knife and a cloud of swirling bats. That’s just the beginning! We had:

  • green webbing spanning the front wall lit with a black light
  • a cackling, light-up skeleton hanging from the tree
  • a black cat staring at the hanging skeleton
  • a skeleton breaking out of the ground with a light-up skull
  • webbing stretching from the tree to the lamppost and all over the front bushes
  • black lights in the lamppost and the front porch light
  • headstones with witty sayings

and the piece de resistance,

  • a machine that spewed fog from underneath the purple spider.

Oh, and numerous small pumpkins gutted by local squirrels, which were almost better than carved jack-o-lanterns. While the effect was cool, it was even funnier to watch Stacy driven to even higher throes of squirrelcide fantasies as she chased them away daily.

I’ll post a link to the HOA Web site once they have the pics of the contenders up. We took 2nd place to our house-decorating nemesis from down the street. They have a nice yard to begin with, but this year they used ghosts, a misting birdbath, a portable flaming brazier, and no less than 13 carved jack-o-lanterns. Apparently, the jack-o-lanterns put them over the top. If that’s what it takes, I’ll be carving pumpkins like mad next year, dammit.

Does anyone have the number to some good pumpkin smashers? Oooh, maybe I can transplant some of our pumpkin-hungry squirrels into their yard.

Fade out to sound of maniacal laughter.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Prestige Smash TupperWare!

I’m not a fan of TupperWare parties. Actually, I’m not a fan of any party where girls get together to “ooh” and “ahh” over household products, whether they’re candles, cooking utensils, or plastic containers that need to be burped. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Stacy is in to that kind of thing, because our house usually benefits, but I would rather not be in the room when they happen.

That’s why Vince and I went to see The Prestige last night. We went to the Manassas Cinemas Café, a fourplex with one theater converted to a cinema eatery. It’s a cheap place and the ability to order food in front of the big screen is a fun novelty. Vince and I had eaten dinner earlier at the behest of Stacy, so we weren’t too hungry. I ordered the nacho plate, a medium popcorn to share and some twizzlers. Vince ordered the appetizer combo and a pitcher of root beer. If you did the math and came up with the answer that this was way too much food for two fed men, you win the booby prize (I said booby) which is much like Marvel’s No Prize in that I don’t give you anything, thanks for playing. As a result, we had a lot of food left over by the end of the movie. Sorry, starving kids in Africa.

The Prestige stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, but is not Wolverine Versus Batman, which is the only unfortunate thing about the movie. The supporting cast wasn’t half bad either with Michael Caine, Andy Serkis (of Gollum fame), David Bowie (as Tesla, natch) and the always gorgeous Scarlett Johansson. The plot revolves around Jackman and Bale’s characters as competing magicians with very personal grudges. The action takes place in a convolution of present-day and flashback scenes that can be very confusing if you aren’t paying attention. This elaborate timeline allowed the creators to weave in some excellent plot twists ending with the best plot twist I’ve seen since The Sixth Sense (What a tweest!) I will say this, you will find it difficult to sympathize with either of the main characters. There really is not a hero as the two magicians struggle in a back-and-forth game of obsessions. You will find yourself feeling for each of the supporting cast as their lives are either ruined or ended from the tumultuous fallout of the feuding magicians. It is a riveting story and worth the admission price (though maybe not all the extra food.)

The Blue Man Group

I didn’t want to write another post until I got some pictures from Disney World up here, but I can’t stop myself.

My brother is in town this week. Our mom bought him a ticket out here as a birthday present. Stacy and I decided to get him a ticket to see The Blue Man Group as our present to him. Naturally, I had to go with him.

Wait a sec. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back a little bit first.

I was born in 1975 at a military hospital in central California.

Wait, too far.

Stacy and I went to CES (Computer Electronic Show) in Vegas the first year we were married.

Yeah, that’s the spot.

We stayed at Excalibur because its cheap. Excalibur is connected to the Luxor by a walkway thingie. The Luxor is the one that looks like a black glass pyramid with a flashlight tip. Since we heard they had a decent buffet (doesn’t every resort in Vegas?) we headed through their walkway thingie. I was taken by surprise by three blue heads emerging from multicolored pools of paint. It was disturbing at first, but the music they played during the ads intrigued me. I’ve always been a fan of heavy percussion, and this sounded cool. As we browsed Luxor’s gift shops after dinner, I came across a video of the blue guys performing. It was then that I learned they had a very descriptive name, The Blue Man Group. I had to see them in person. Naturally, we didn’t have the time or money to book tickets. I satisfied myself with their CD, which I listened to steadily on the entire drive back to Utah. Excellent driving music, by the way. Even though we made it to Vegas another couple of times before moving East, I never got to see the show.

Fast forward to my first year here in Virginia. A friend of mine was getting married. She was quirky and liked quirky things like me, so Stacy and I got her a pair of tickets to see The Blue Man Group near their honeymoon spot. Those were the hardest tickets to give away. I mean, New York is just a 5 hour drive away. I could give them a nice toaster oven and then…ROADTRIP! I didn’t, though, and she loved the show.

The years stretched on, I kept having kids, the Blue Men released another CD, and I still hadn’t seen the show. It was actually Stacy’s idea to take Vince to the show. I resisted at first, wanting to share my first live experience with Stacy, but she insisted. Vince was overjoyed. He discovered the Blue Man Group after me, but was just as into them. He’s dressed as one for Halloween even. So, with tickets in hand, we made the drive to New York on Tuesday.

The drive was easy. I’ve made it a few times before and it is much shorter than driving to Orlando. I stuck Vince in the back of the van with my remastered Super Dimension Fortress Macross DVDs (Robotech from the 80’s) and tooled up I-95. The trouble didn’t begin until we got near the Lincoln tunnel. Apparently, 5:00 PM on a weekday is not a good time to try to get into Manhattan. Who knew? About an hour later, we found ourselves circling blocks trying to find the parking garage printed on the ticket. We spent half an hour of fruitless searching before parking right across the street from the unmarked parking garage we were looking for. Parking achieved, we set out looking for the theater. It wasn’t until we entered the small police station in Times Square, our heads hung in defeat like the lost tourists we were, that we found the garage was way downtown from the midtown theater. Curses! The kind cop with the Brooklyn accent told us which subway train to ride to get to our street. It would’ve worked, too, if Vince and I could read signs and figure out how to get out of the subway right. I used my own personal Talking Google Maps (thanks, Stacy!) to point us in the right direction. The end result? Leaving two hours early got us to the theater 10 minutes before the show.

The first thing that struck me was the size of the theater. It was tiny. We had mezzanine seats and were fairly close to the stage. Speaking of the stage, it looked barely big enough for three people. A little leery, but excited to see the show we had both been waiting years to see, we waited.

We were not disappointed.

In fact, my expectations were far exceeded. The Blue Man Group was hilarious, talented, skillful, and very interactive. I heard they had an interactive show, but I didn’t know that meant I’d get a Blue Man’s behind shaken in my face as he balanced on the handrail, or that he’d be catching burgled Toblerone pieces in his mouth mere feet away, or that I’d participate in a rave-like TPing of the entire theater with white crepe paper. I still have my Official Blue Man Group Headband (about a yard of white crepe paper.) I didn’t think they’d drag people up on the stage and have a romantic dinner of Twinkies with one or practice body painting with another. It was a singular experience that I want to repeat. So much more happened in the show, but I cannot do it justice in print. My vocabulary, writing, and editing skills are lacking far too much to really describe the action.

If you have a Blue Man Group close by, you must go see this show. Scratch that. Even if you don’t have a venue close by, you must go see this show. The Blue Man Group is worth the effort and money. Trust me on this one.

My goal now is to save up enough for front row seats and a train ride for my blushing bride and I to go see them in New York. I’d also love to see what they do with the much bigger stage in Vegas, but that is for another time.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Highly Anxious to Get Over the Hedge

So I’m sick as a dog. Wooooo! I picked up whatever Vicki had minus the vomit, so that part is good. The bad part is I’m at work. I’m hitting the Dayquil pretty heavily. So far so good.

I grabbed Over the Hedge for the girls this week. That was one that Stacy took them to, so I hadn’t seen it yet. I snuggled down with the girls and watched it Tuesday night. It was pretty good. Excellent animation, as I am accustomed to when it comes to DreamWorks. The great thing about the company that Shrek built is that they can afford top-notch voice actors. The cast was filled by A-listers to C-listers. As far as A-listers go, Bruce Willis got back to his Moonlighting roots as the wise-cracking con raccoon, RJ. Filling out the B-list was Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes and Nick Nolte. Shandling did a passable job as the straight man/turtle, Verne. Sykes was Sykes as the skunk with an attitude, Stella (has she ever done anything that is not just Sykes being Sykes?) I’m not a fan of Nolte, but his villainous bear, Vincent, was only on the screen for a few minutes. The C-list included William Shatner, Thomas Haden Church, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O’Hara. Shatner did what he does best and lampooned himself as an opossum named Ozzie. His death scenes (and there were many) were subtle and nuanced as only a Shakespearean actor could deliver. Church played one of my favorite characters on the 90’s sitcom Wings, Lowell, the maintenance man. Here, he played a self-important graduate of VermTech, Dwayne, called in to rid the neighborhood of the harmless woodland creatures. Where I was exaggerating with Shatner, I am serious when I say that Church gave a subtle and nuanced performance. He apparently ad-libbed some of his funniest lines and peppered his dialog with humor. Levy and O’Hara played husband and wife porcupines, Lou and Penny. Their work is reminiscent of the old SCTV days (Canadian SNL for the uninitiated) and passably entertaining. The reason I left Carell for last should be obvious for anyone that has seen the movie. He is a show stealer. His hyperactive squirrel, Hammy, dominated every scene he was in for very good reason. Carell could possibly be my current favorite comedic actor. I look forward to his work on The Office every week, as should you!

I also finally watched the movie Jon got me for my birthday, High Anxiety, this week. Thanks, Jon! High Anxiety is standard Mel Brooks fare. I have not been a fan of him in starring roles of his own work in the past, but he pulled this one off. Brooks played a renowned psychiatrist with his own deep-seated psychosis taking over an asylum whose previous head had left in suspicious circumstances. It was made as an homage/parody of Alfred Hitchcock movies. I haven’t actually seen many of Hitchcock’s thrillers, but I recognized a lot of the references. The movie featured many of Brook’s recurring actors such as Hedy LaMar, I mean Hedley LaMar, I mean Harvey Korman, Frau Blucher, I mean Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, and Dick Van Patten to name a few. Korman and Leachman stole the show as the psychiatrist gunning for Brooks’ job and the dominatrix nurse behind his treachery respectively. It was good for a few laughs, which I needed as I lay in bed coughing my lungs out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I’m Baaaa-aaack

Before I get to your irregularly scheduled blog entry, I’d like to take a moment to express my condolences to Jon and his family. Jon’s father suffered from a stroke this week and passed away. On the off chance that any of my readers did not get here from his blog, please check it out here and lend him your support.

I know all of you missed me ever so much. Disney World was a blast. I’ll have to share some pics when I get a chance. We drove back last Monday and I have been catching up with schoolwork ever since. Note to self: don’t go on vacation while in the middle of a class.

We had enough time out there that we were able to go to each of the four parks twice except for Animal Kingdom. That one we only hit once. The girls had a great time for the most part. Zoe wanted nothing to do with the characters, as we expected. We got a surprise from her the first night we were there, though. We ate at a very nice restaurant in Epcot’s Norway where the Disney princesses greeted diners at each table. The first one to visit us was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Zoe got right down from her chair and sidled up to Belle to give her a great big hug. Stacy and I were amazed. She hugged each princess that visited and stood with them patiently to have her picture taken. We had also purchased Disney autograph books, which Zoe was insistent that each princess sign. When asked about her favorite, Zoe will invariably say Jasmine. I think Jasmine was my favorite there too. I’ll post pictures of the princesses later and I’ll let you be the judge.

Zoe gave us another surprise later, this one not so nice. The poor kid got some kind of virus and was sick in the hotel room, two restaurants, and a couple of other places. She took to walking around with a paper cup just in case. I think the cup became a security item of sorts after a while, because she would not go anywhere without it. Thankfully, she did not carry that habit home. She’s all better now, but nearly a week after we got home, Vicki is doing the same thing. Zoe recovered in three days or so, we’re hoping for the same with Vicki.

Speaking of Vicki, she had a fabulous time. She couldn’t wait to see all of the characters, talk to anyone that would listen about what she had done already, ride as many rides as possible, and go to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. We paid extra to get into the Halloween party, but it was worth it. The characters even dressed up! For instance, Minnie had on Mickey’s sorcerer outfit from Fantasia while Mickey was dressed in a farmer’s outfit. We waited in line for the princesses but gave up on them after an hour went by. All in all, our trip was a success.

Now for things that have happened since I’ve been back. Well, Scarlett has started to furniture crawl. She stands up and hangs onto the furniture as she takes baby steps sideways. She’s also balanced by herself with no support a couple of times. That’s not too shabby for a kid that just learned to crawl last month. Stacy and I are in fierce competition with the other houses that decorate for Halloween this year. We put up a new inflatable in the front yard to accompany our 8’ foot spider. This one is a globe with a grinning madman in the middle surrounded by a whirlwind of flying bats. It’s pretty dang cool. That, along with some more decorations we plan on adding should clinch us for the best-decorated house this year.

I’m on to page two of this post, so I’ll bring it to a close with a review the Venture Bros. Jon has done an admirable job of posting reviews of the two I missed, so I’ll jump right into the last one, Showdown at Cremation Creek Part II. Sadly, this is the season finale, though with the comments about great ratings in the bumps, I am hopeful for another season. Phantom Limb’s wedding crashing turned out to be part of a coup to take over the Guild of Calamitous Intent. However, with Brock leading a brigade of Monarch’s Minions (I like the way it sounds better than henchmen) and the wily stylings of the current Guild Sovereign, David Bowie (who else?) was foiled. Brock shines of course, but not in the usual manner. This time, he kicks ass as he musters the minions for a suicide charge at the Phantom Limb’s far superior forces. Armed with silly string and poison darts, it is truly a miracle that they win, a hilarious miracle. By the way, is Dr. Girlfriend or isn't she? I guess we won't know if/until next season. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer cram so much visual and aural goodness into each episode, masterfully weaved jokes that deliver the punch line and tie together the plot pieces in genius strokes, tiny gags that you’ll miss if you blink, bits that poke fun at the most obscure pop references (thanks for watching out for us nerds, Jackson and Doc!) that no review I write, filled with spoilers as they are, can do them justice. Go check out the Ventury goodness at Adult Swim’s The Fix now. Right now. Go!

Oh, and before I forget, Murderflies would make a great name for a rock band.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ribbons More Inane than Me

As I was driving home last night I noticed, not for the first time, the proliferation of "Support the Troops!" ribbons on the back of cars and SUVs. I was going to post a rant about the fact that slapping a ribbon on your vehicle does not actually support anyone but the money-hungry opportunists that make the darn things and that it is almost guarenteed that the drivers of said vehicles went no further in their "support" than buying the stupid ribbons, but this video illustrates my point so much better. Props to who give props to boingboing for bringing this one to my attention.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Other Drivers = Jerkwads

For the purpose of this post, you may substitute any instance of the word “driver” with “jerkwad” or your expletive of choice.

I don’t know what contributes to my aggressive driving. Is it what I learned from my dad’s driving growing up? I still remember the time he was going to “turn over a new leaf” after receiving a ticket. That lasted all of a week. Is it just an extension of my impatient nature? I don’t appear to have a short temper. Most of the time I just get quiet when I’m mad, so it’s not obvious unless you’re paying attention. Is it my six years of driving in Virginia? If a light changes to green and the driver in front of you doesn’t move within one to two seconds, it is a common courtesy to lay on your horn until they driver goes. I suppose it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, the end result is that I hate all other cars on the road.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that every driver has the right to be on the road just as much as me. It’s just that they should not exercise that right when I’m driving. That’s right, if I’m on the road, all the other drivers should be off. If only I was that important.

It’s that attitude that causes me to daydream about creative ways to reduce frustration on the road. A few years ago I saw a comedian that wondered what it would be like if everyone’s license plate was also their cell phone number. I can think of a few choice words I’d have to say to the drivers that fail to notice me as they merge blithely into my lane.

Remember that old school game where you’d whisper something into a neighbor’s ear and tell them to “pass it on?” The physical variant involved punching your neighbor’s shoulder as hard as you could before telling them to share the wealth. Ah, youth.

I was stuck behind an annoyingly slow line of cars on the way home from shopping with Stacy last night. We knew traffic would be bad with the rain and rush hour, so we postponed it for a bit by spending some time at the mall. Apparently, we didn’t postpone long enough. As I was driving 10 miles under the speed limit in the left lane, I could see the driver in front of the pack just poking along. I thought back to that comedian and the old school game. How great would it be to call your fellow frustrated motorist in front of you and give him or her a sweet, polite, expletive-filled message to pass on? I imagine it would get pretty creative by the time it reached the driver at the front of the pack.

Who are these people that don’t follow the speed limits, anyway? What are their motives? What reason could someone have to slow down miles of traffic by going well under the speed limit in the fast lane? Are they completely unaware of the frustration they cause in other people? Is it a good thing I don’t have a gun in my car? I can only answer one of those questions, but the answer depends on how you’re driving when you’re on the road with me.

Completely Unrelated Dept.

Man with 10-year erection may not get his cash

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A former handyman from North Providence who won more than $400,000 in a lawsuit over a malfunctioning penile implant may not get the money after a judge dismissed his claim.

Click here to read more.

I just had to share that to make a point. “10 Year Erection” would make a great name for a band.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dr. Henry Killinger’s Magic Murder Bag OR I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills

Dr. Henry Killinger’s Magic Murder Bag OR I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills!

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, I love Venture Brothers. Tonight’s episode was another phenomenal send up. First, we’re treated to The Monarch’s ultra-violent entrance into the lair of…his accountant. It looks like prison has hardened the pansiest villain in the guild. We also got to see Rusty’s long-anticipated reunion with Hank and Dean’s mom courtesy of a matchmaking Japanese demon. This puts to rest the theory that the boys were conceived and born in the lab once and for all. It also introduces a delightfully insane character that I hope will reappear in the future. Considering Rusty’s lack of action, I’m not completely sure why he doesn’t hook back up with her, crazyhead and all. Speaking of reunions, the oni’s counterpart, Dr. Henry Killinger not only rocked The Monarch’s cocoon (not nearly as nasty as it sounds,) but he reunited Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. Now that the guy that writes way-too-specific poems about butterflies and the chick with the way-too-masculine voice are back together, the cosmos are once more at peace. Some good lines?

Brock: Jock rock my ass! Listen to those lyrics, man It’s all about love and
longing- Meep meep beep meep
Brock: Yes, and hobbits, too.

Rusty: You uh, you want to go halfsies on a skin flick?
Orpheus: …kaaaay.

Dean: How come we don’t remember her then?
Brock: You don’t remember because you’re clon…clooo…cl…cl
Rusty: Clo…clo…clo…whoops!
Hank: I can’t help feeling like we’re just not getting the whole story here, you know?
Dean: Right? Maybe she was telling the truth.
Rusty: Alright, so I [BEEP]ed her. What of it?
The visual gags were even better. I love Venture Brothers! Oh, and before I forget, Dr. Henry Killinger’s Magic Murder Bag would make an excellent name for a rock band.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Eeek! A dragon!

My birthday was a couple of days ago, but since my in-laws were leaving on the day, Stacy decided to celebrate the day before. I usually don’t go in for birthday parties. They make me uncomfortable for some reason. It was nice to have family and friends nearby, though. I also got some nice loot.

I used to make a mental list of my gifts the day after I got them, just to keep track. I figure now that I’ve got this here blog thingie, I can do the same thing here. So, for those of you not interested in my gift list, you can skip down to the geeky pictures I took of my new dragon.

Here they are, with gift givers and in no order whatsoever:

Rappan Athuk Reloaded numbered 456/1000 – Stacy

Races of Destiny and Races of the Wild– McCoards

Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf for Nintendo DS – Vincent

Star Wars Legos II for Gamecube – my girls

Mythology – Jon

High Anxiety – Jon

Fomorian Giant – Ryan & Katie

Papasan – Ryan & Katie

Sofa, Loveseat, & Tables – Frisbys, Ryan, & Katie

$25 – Frisbys

$40 – Mom

Keane, Switchfoot, & Jack Johnson CDs – Julia & Brad

Colossal Red Dragon – Neil & Jo

This is where I geek out. Stacy made me guess what was in the last present before I could open it. Judging by the overall theme of the gifts and the size of the box, I figured it out and I couldn’t have been more excited. Here is the Colossal Red Dragon in all its miniature glory.

Here you can see the full model

Ground level so you can get a feel for scale

This is my favorite shot. How would you like to be at the business end of this fireball?

Thank you to everyone that wished me a happy birthday and especially to those that gave me gifts!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm Still Alive, Just in Training

Finally! I actually have some time to write. Ugh, these past couple of weeks have been sorely lacking in recreational PC time. I have either been at work, doing school work, helping Stacy around the house, or showing the visiting in-laws a good time every single day this past week. Now, I'm sitting in Red Hat training. I have once again found myself with some free time at the end of a lab. The book provides twice as much time as I need for the labs and the instructors generally let even more time pass before moving on to the next section.
Classmates, what ya gonna do?

Speaking of instructors, this is my first Red Hat training here that has a different teacher. As you may remember from a previous post, my instructor for the first three courses was Wooly Willy himself. This week's course is being taught by Robby Coltrane's sister. Well, I don't know for a fact if they're related, but if she's not his sister, then she's Coltrane in drag. She's a nice Norwegian with an English accent, which sometimes has the odd effect of making her sound Russian at times. Plus, she laughs like a chipmunk. Hmm, Robby Coltrane in drag as a chipmunk. I need sleep. She's the same instructor that Jon had in his last class. Apart from her, this class is a total SausageFest. Seriously, she is the only person here without a y chromosome. Ah well, it's not like I'm here looking to score. The receptionist down the hall is cute enough during my all-too-frequent trips to the bathroom.
Sadly, Robbie's audition didn't go as well as he'd hoped

In related news, although I caught it late, I did watch this week's premier of Family Guy. Peter's prostrate problems aside, Stacy and I got the biggest laugh at Stewie's sudden dependence on Lois. If Scarlett could talk, that would have been a direct translation of Stacy's daily life. I guess it's a wonder she hasn't dumped Scarlett in a washing machine yet. I maintain that God made kids cute as a defense mechanism.Baby animals are almost as bad

Venture Brothers, although in the midst of an on again, off again season, did premier a new episode this week, too. The reappearance of the haplessly old-fashioned astronaut, Col. Manstrong, was great, as was Brock's fued with one of the president's secret service men. We also got a glimpse of Jonas Jr.'s new home life with Mr. Incredible's wife and good friend Ned (hilarious Venture Bros analogues to Marvel's Invisible Woman and Thing). Brock is incredibly restrained in this episode with any ultraviolence kept off-screen sadly. We do actually see Rusty shine for just a few minutes as he traps the president, Monica Lewinsky's parellel, Brock, Brock's SS rival, Rusty, Col. Manstrong and Mama Manstrong in the oval office with a force field generator. Rusty shines that is, until the final post-credit scene when the white house maid dissolves the force field with the Universal Cleaner, club soda. Not going to protect many men in the field when all the enemy has to do is bring a seltzer bottle. It does, however, open up entire realms of possibilities with enemy uniforms. Imagine, the base camp is perfectly safe under their Venture Industries Force Field when suddenly, they are assaulted by a platoon of circus clowns crammed in a tiny VW Bug. What's next, exploding cream pies? Hmmm, exploding pies...
Latest in military firepower, the laser-guided multi-warhead tactical cream pie

I promised some pics of our New York trip and have not delivered yet. Sorry. I'll get them up next time I can blog from home. We've since been to the Civil War Manassas Battlegrounds, the Natural History Museum, and Luray Caverns & Garden Maze to name a few. Like I said, it's been a busy couple of weeks. I actually look forward to the relative quiet of my work week now.

Friday, September 01, 2006

New York, New York, New York-What, It wasn't so Nice that They Named it Thrice?

Stacy’s brother and his family came into town last week. Between them and my other obligations, recreational time in front of the computer is minimized to slow periods at work, like now.

We suggested a few places to go for sight seeing and such, including a possible overnight trip to New York. Naturally, they waited until the day before to decide on going to NYC. After a mad dash to reserve a hotel room in Manhattan and plan the trip, we were ready.

The drive up to Manhattan is five to six hours long, depending on whether you drive like a bat out of hell or my grandma after she forgot her glasses were propped up in her mass of the blue light-bulb-head hair. We drove somewhere in-between, which would have gotten us to NYC in about five and a half hours. I say would, because that’s not what happened.

Stacy’s sister-in-law has a bladder the size of a baby titmouse’s. I lost count of the times we had to stop on the New Jersey turnpike so she could avail herself of the facilities. In spite of her overactive plumbing, we got to NYC in about six and a half hours. That got us there just in time to check into the hotel room.

We had reservations at a place run by Woo-Go. I’d never heard of them and had a hard time taking any company with a name that rhymes with Yugo seriously. After circling the block umpteen times, we found the building, unnumbered and unnamed. The lobby was clean but looked like it was original 1930s interior. We tried to check in at the front desk but once the clerk found out we were using Woo-Go, we were directed to apartment 14A. Wait a sec, this is an apartment building? Curious and withholding judgment, the four of us dragged the six kids up the elevator to the 14th floor (which, incidentally, was not a renumbered 13th floor.) Apartment 14A was too cramped to fit more than one or two of us. From what I glanced from the doorway, I figured it was a residence apartment, complete with a dumpy galley kitchen and a couple of desks in the living room. Stacy’s sister-in-law checked us in and pointed us to our apartment, 8A. Another quick elevator ride and we arrived at the door to our room.

Behind the door the wondrous land of New York apartments greeted us. We had a three bedroom suite with a fold-out couch in the living room. There were ten of us with sleep arrangements for eight, but the babies would be sleeping with the parents anyway. The entire apartment had bare wood floors complete with unidentifiable stains in every room, doubtless some sort of bodily fluid. The stains were not restricted to the floor alone. The walls were a dingy, marked off-white in dire need of repainting or cleaning.

The concerns about the room ended there, though. The furniture was in moderately good repair and the entire apartment was very clean. I was waiting for the night to set and the famous cockroaches of NYC to make their appearance, but not even a NYC-street-vendor-hot-dog-induced midnight trip to the dark bathroom coaxed them out. Woo-Go may need to find better offices and refurbish their apartment, but other than that, the room was a great value.

Our first day there was Tuesday, which was overcast and drizzly. After we checked in we decided to do a guided tour of the major sights in NYC the next day. With the rest of the day left to us, we decided to go to the top of the Empire State Building. Our hotel/apartment was two blocks over and twenty blocks down. It’s a good walk, but not unreasonable. We bundled the kids into strollers and frontpacks and headed into the city. Luckily, we had the foresight to pack ponchos and three umbrellas. Between those and jackets, we kept the bulk of the drizzle at bay.

Stacy and I have been to NYC a couple of times, so we weren’t too keen on snapping a bunch of pics on the way to the ESB, but her brother had his camera at the ready the entire time. I kept my eye out for Michelle sightings, but sadly, there were none. I don’t know what I would have done if I had seen her. Run up like a star-crazed fan and ask her to sign my boobs? I think we’d both exit that scene embarrassed and slightly ashamed. If we had more time and Michelle was making a comedy club appearance nearby, I would have made a point to go, though.

The Empire State Building was empty. The only people we saw on our trek up to the observation deck were employees. Each of whom made it a point to tell us that there was zero visibility because of the clouds and that we should pay extra for the audio tour so we knew what we were missing. Isn’t that a little masochistic? Stacy and I had seen the view from up there, so we didn’t mind. Her brother and clan still wanted to go since that was their only chance. Go we did. The observation deck was a sight to behold. The top of the Empire State Building was wreathed in misty clouds. Occasionally, the wind would shift just right and the clouds would part enough to reveal a nearby building or the streets below. The rain didn’t so much as fall as hang in the air. The overall effect was very surreal. If we didn’t know we were on the top of the building, we could have been in a deep, isolating fog anywhere.

We stopped by a hot dog vendor on the way back to the hotel and I wolfed down two of the greazy sausages and half a pretzel. I would later regret that decision as mentioned before, but I won’t go into the details. One of these days I’ll have a Papaya Dog when I’m up there. If Food Network is to be believed, they’re one of the best East Coast dogs you can get besides the Coney Island dogs.

Besides the unfortunate trip to the bathroom, the night passed uneventfully. We got up early to pack up the room and check out before our tour. The shuttle parked one block down and three over, so the walk was much shorter that morning. The weather was cool and overcast, but the rain held off. A native New Yorker named Robert guided our tour. Working on eight years of guiding tours, he was knowledgeable about every site we saw, even imparting some little anecdotes from past tours and famous happenings.

There were a lot of highlights on the tour, too many to impart in the limited time I have before I’m relieved today. One of my favorite sites was Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi kitchen. I’ll be back later with pics and a little more on the tour.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When Love Bheits, I Laugh

Another fantastic episode of The Venture Brothers aired tonight. In this decidedly twisted tale, one of our titular brothers is mistaken for a lovely lass resplendent in a gold bikini circa Princess Leia of Return of the Jedi by Baron Underbheit, the jawbone-challenged despotic ruler of Underland, apparently formerly the state of Delaware. Not sure what McCulloch has against Delaware. Underbheit begins plans for a wedding and hilarity ensues. The triumphant return of Cataclopse, with one of his cat head’s eyes missing, Girl Hitler, and Manic 8-Ball also feature in this episode. If you haven’t seen The Venture Brothers yet then this is probably not a good jumping-off point. I recommend checking out the first season, now out on DVD. It's under 20 bucks for the entire first season, buy it! Heck, I'll even float you the $20 if you don't end up liking it! However, if you have seen it (Jon, I’m looking at you) you’d agree that Brock outdid himself in this episode. As I watch the show every week, I have to wonder how they are going to top the previous episode’s mayhem and carnage that is Brock in action. An early episode had him kill a man by clamping on another man’s hand during a body cavity search and slamming said body cavity searcher into the first man. In a recent episode, he forced a man’s thumb into the guy’s own—well—cavity. In last week’s episode, Brock conducted his sanguine gorefest completely sans clothes (“It’s intimidating.” Yup, it is.) How did they top it this week? Brock bats a spear out of a charging Underland guard’s hands, it spins up in the air and buries itself deep into the skull of the guard. Seeing another guard charging with a dagger, Brock grabs the spear, still embedded in the first guard’s gourd, and plunges it into the new assailant’s friggin’ face! What does Brock have now? A double-ended guard staff! I am not kidding, he uses the guard-capped spear to mow through the rest of the enemies. This is all after he uses Dr. Venture himself as a human battering ram to take down the first few guards (“Useless in a fight, eh?”) Bravo McCulloch, bravo. I eagerly await the next installment of The Venture Brothers and Brock’s over-the-top act of ultra-violence.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Diet is Just Die with the Letter "t" at the End

Stacy and I started a diet this week. Stacy wants to get rid of the few ounces left from being pregnant. She’s almost back down to the same weight she was when we got married. This is mostly due to hours of hard work as she’s gone to the gym 6 out of 7 days a week for the past few months. Me, I’ve spent hours of hard work building my gut to massive proportions over the years. It’s about time I take care of that. I want to be around for a long time and bordering on morbid obesity may put a crimp in that plan. I could easily stand to loose 150 pounds and still be healthy. Stacy’s sister-in-law lost quite a bit of weight on this diet, so we’re giving it a go.

This is after an aborted attempt at another diet from a leading heart clinic that they use to get patients’ weight down before surgery. That diet consisted of eating nothing but a particular vegetable soup and assorted fruit on the first day, nothing but the soup and vegetables on the second day, a mix of soup, fruit, and vegetables on the third day, the addition of meat on the fourth day, and the addition of legumes, nuts, corn, etc. throughout the last three days of the diet. We were supposed to loose 10 to 17 pounds by the end of the week, not to mention have extra energy and feel great by day three. We made it to day two before we realized how prohibitively expensive the diet was going to be. Stacy spent $80+ on groceries for the first day, we spent about $50 for the second day and decided that we’d break the bank by the time day seven rolled around.

That brought us to the current diet. In this one we have to eat something every two hours. The theory is that waiting longer between meals and snacks causes your body to shift into starvation mode. Anything you eat after two hours is stored for fat instead of energy. We’re trying to keep it relatively healthy, but I still have something sugary once or twice in a day. There is a bit more to the diet, but that is the main thrust. The first day I weighed in at 240. I’ll check again in a couple of weeks to see if I’ve lost anything. If not, I’ll have to get more strict on myself.

I’ll be joining Stacy at the gym soon, too. I will probably just stick to Nautilus and Ellipse machines for the beginning. I’m too body-conscious to work out in a group like Stacy does every time.

On a different note, I get into all sorts of interesting conversations in some of my online classes at University of Phoenix. Since I’m required to post substantive comments four out of seven days, I try to stay up on all of the conversation threads. I had a classmate in my last class that worked in the airport industry. I do not remember how we got on the topic, but one conversation was about the levels of service as affected by security measures in airports. He was very vocal about his feeling that flying was a privilege and not a right. If we (meaning those upset by the lack of good service) didn’t like the way things were, we shouldn’t fly. He went on to state that we should be grateful for all of the things that TSA is doing to make us more secure and that if TSA didn’t continue to take similar steps, we’d all get into trouble. My point is that we as consumers should expect a certain level of service that we do not get at airports. Jon sent me a link this week that expounds upon that subject by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. He writes much more eloquently than I can cuz he talk gooder than me. Here’s a preview, check the link for more.

It's not enough that the Transportation Security Administration wastes
hours upon endless hours of time. It's not enough that they confiscate our
Chapstick and toothpaste and claim that it is for our own protection. It's not
enough that we must fork over our ID at five different checkpoints before
boarding a plane, and have strangers paid with our tax dollars rifle and snoop
through our bags again and again.

No, that's not enough to keep us secure on our airline flights. Now we
must be careful not to wrinkle our noses, press our lips together, raise our
upper eyelids, or – Heaven forbid – thrust forward our jaws.

Here is a graphic from the New York Times that illustrates what the TSA
will now regard as suspicious behavior:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sunday, Bloody Sunday and the Hazzards of Jessica Simpson

Now that I have traded Thursday with Sunday for days off, I find myself with one fewer relaxation day. As most of readers of this blog know, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the LDS church, or a “Mormon” depending on whom you ask. As such, my Sundays are as busy as a workday. Actually, considering how slow my weekend workday is now, Sundays are even busier.

Not hanging out here anytime soon

Let me lay out standard Sunday meetings for those of you not familiar with the way my quirky religion does things. The church is split into geographical areas depending on population. The individual areas are called wards. Multiple wards make up a stake, multiple stakes make up a district, and multiple districts make up an area. I’m a little fuzzy on the larger units, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s split (heh heh, I said unit.) Every ward meets for three hours each Sunday in a yearly revolving schedule depending on how many wards use the same building. Ours starts at 9:00 AM this year, ugh. The three-hour block is split into Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, and Priesthood or Relief Society, depending on gender.

Gotta keep 'em seperated

Vicki goes to Primary School for the second and third hours, Zoe goes to nursery, and Scarlett goes to my arms. Stacy teaches Vicki’s primary class each week, so the Screaming One can’t burden her. Instead, it is my job to convince Scarlett that the thing she wants most in the world is to sleep. This kid doesn’t even want that in the middle of the night. Convincing her of that in the middle of the day takes everything short of a miracle. That “everything” involves me pacing the halls for the hour after Sacrament Meeting. By the time the third hour has rolled around, Scarlett is usually asleep and my back is killing me. I’ll usually sneak into Stacy’s class to help her with the five-year-old hellions while trying to keep Scarlett asleep on my shoulder.

Don't let the yawn fool you. This kid'll be up for hours yet

By the time we limp home, we’re pretty beat. It’d be great to slink off for some Sunday afternoon naptime, but the fun isnt’ over yet. For one thing, the kids would never tolerate such laziness, at least not for both Stacy and I. Instead, one of us has to amuse the locals while the other one grabs some illicit rest. For the other thing, I have been busy home teaching every week for the past three weeks.

Still not going here.

Another quirky thing my religion does is home and visiting teaching. Every growed up man in the church is partnered with another, or his son if he’s old enough (yeah, not going to happen in this family!) and they are given a few families to visit. The home teachers see their families monthly (or semi-annually for most home teachers,) share a spiritual message, and make sure the family doesn’t need anything. This way, we take care of our own.

We're here to take real good care of youse. Reeeeaaaal good.

It also means that I have been out and about with my home teaching partner, a man I barely know, every week. I am a shy person. I try to overcome that problem by making conversation, but I am really no good at it. If I don’t have something in common with a person, the chances are we’re going to end up talking about the weather or Virginia traffic at length, at nauseating length. Guess what my home teaching companion and I have been discussing every week as we drive from family to family? Traffic, nothing but traffic. He reminisces about how well traffic flows in his small central California home town and I just nod, agree, and interject about Virginia traffic madness once in a while. It’s fascinating, scintillating conversation, let me tell you. It’s almost as interesting as this post. Why are you still reading, anyway? I probably would have given up reading after the first or second paragraph myself. **YAWN** Ah well, it’s your ocular cancer.

Bout as entertaining as talking to this guy would be

To make an already unnecessarily long story a little shorter, Sundays have been no day off. I enjoy spending the time at church with my family, but as weekend days go, I think I miss Thursday just a little bit.

On a completely unrelated and decidedly more secular note, Stacy and I watched The Dukes of Hazzard last night. I know it’s been out for a while, but we just got around to renting it. I don’t know why it didn’t do too well in the theaters. Sure, it’s no masterpiece, but it’s definitely entertaining. They captured the spirit of the old TV show rather well. It had its shortcomings, of course. Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott as Luke Duke and Bo Duke respectively came off a little more American Pie than Appalachian American, but they still did a respectable job. Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse spouted more one-liners than down-country wisdom, which had me scratching my head a little. (Here's another one; drunk walks out of a bar and runs into a guy carrying an antique grandfather clock. The guy drops the clock, breaking into a million pieces. He looks at the drunk and says, "Why don't you watch where you're going?" The drunk looks at him and says, "Why don't you carry a wristwatch like everybody else?") Burt Reynolds added a little more menace than comedy in his menacingly comedic role of Boss Hogg. Enos, Rosco, and Cooter were along for the ride, but I wouldn’t give them credit for much more. Lynda Carter was looking a fine 55 as Pauline. Wonder Woman has aged well! Not one of them holds the barest flicker of candle light to the stars of the show, though, Jessica Simpson’s twins. Catherine Bach had to be crying as she watched her Daisy Dukes stride across the screen above Simpson’s stunning gams. Holy smokes! This movie is worth the rental just for Simpson’s scenes. I’ll warn you, though. She’s not that great of an actress. Don’t expect to be amazed by her skills as a thespian. As a matter of fact, you’d appreciate the scenes just as much with the mute on as off. Her video in the bonus materials section is worth the cost of the rental alone. Go relive the spirit of NASCAR’s beginnings and treat yourself to the guilty pleasure of The Dukes of Hazzard and you’ll see what I mean.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Hurricane Stacy Makes Landfall!

This week went by rather fast. I decided to check out Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby on Monday. Being a Will Ferrell fan, I thought I was in for a treat. It turned out a bit dull. There were funny moments, to be sure, but it was certainly no Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Will does his signature screaming act, which is funny at times. Throughout most of the movie, he comes off more like his George W. Bush character as a racecar driver. Sacha Baron Cohen (of Ali G and Borat fame) turned in a marvelous performance as Ricky Bobby’s arch-nemesis, the Frenchman Jean Gerard, who was married to Andy Richter’s Gregory. Yeah, try to flush an image of those two locking lips out of your head. Leslie Bibb played Ricky’s extremely hot, superficial, extremely hot wife, Carley Bobby. This being a rise-fall-rerise story, she doesn’t last long as his wife, but she’s still great screen candy. Gary Cole gives a standout performance as Ricky’s recalcitrant father, Reese. Mediocre performances by The Green Mile’s Michael Clark Duncan and John C. Reilly (who I saw most recently in A Prairie Home Companion but you may recognize from his supporting roles in movies like The Aviator, Chicago, Gangs of New York, or The Perfect Storm) rounded out the cast. There were a few other characters, but none worth noting further. The movie had possibilities, and maybe if I were a NASCAR fan I would have seen more, but it ultimately fell flat for me. If you still want to see this one, I would definitely wait for the DVD.

What's that you see on the horizon, Ricky? High DVD sales?

Stacy and the girls flew in on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Stacy came home to a house that changed little from when she left. The lawn was still only half done and I never got around to buying ¼ round to finish the floors. It seemed I only had enough energy to keep up with standard chores like laundry, dishes, and taking out the garbage for the past two weeks. Rather than going to a ton of movies the past two weeks, I should have been fixing things up and doing more housework. I was in the doghouse for that until the tidal wave of frustration hit the shores on Wednesday. With a good fight out of the way, Stacy came up with a plan for ensuring that we do an equal share of housework from now on. I have never been able to keep a real schedule. Any time I try to organize my life in such a way, I am able to adhere to it for a couple of days before I leave it behind. Stacy has drawn up a schedule that should account for housework, homework, and work, leaving room for family time. I am not optimistic, but I’m game. I can’t really complain, I was pretty lazy for the past two weeks.

Projected path of Hurricane Stacy

On the plus side, I did finally finish Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil on the PC. I had a long spiel written here about the game both in its tabletop and computer forms, then I realized that anyone reading this doesn’t really care. The short of it is that I had a good time seeing a well-crafted graphical representation of a place I had only seen on graph paper and heard described. I know that this doesn’t sound too impressive to non-RPGers (read: it sounds über-nerdy.) The only reason it is a noteworthy accomplishment to me is that I have started and restarted the game multiple times in the past. A very clunky interface made was almost a deal-breaker for me. Why take all the time to create a game so true to its roots and then screw it up on the interface level? I hope that 1) they keep making games along these lines and 2) they learn from their mistakes on this one.

Then I cast magic missile on the ogre!

Back to housework: Tuesday was the first day in the past two weeks that temperatures have not been in the 90’s by 11:00 AM. I finally got outside to finish the lawn. By this time much of the grass was above my waist. I waded to the shed for the mower. I felt like I should have been using a machete instead. Insect life of all kinds fled the light as I hauled open the door. There were spiders along the walls, crickets the size of my thumb hopping to the back of the shed, beetles running for the grass, and a mass of ants that would make your skin crawl. They did mine. The ants were centered on two rolls of trash bags. They happened to be the bags I had to use for grass clippings. I picked one up with the intention of shaking off the ants, but immediately dropped it. Underneath the bags was an entire ant colony. I know it was a colony because of the larvae all over the place. If I saw the queen, I would have called Brian down to stock his ant farm. She never showed up, though. I grabbed a couple of shots with my camera phone, then went inside for my camcorder. By the time I came back out, half the larvae were gone. The ants were scurrying about crazily, picking them up and ferrying them off to I-don’t-know-where. I’m assuming they’re living under the shed now. By the time I had some footage and went for the bug spray, the ants were all gone and only a few larvae remained. It was almost as if they were never there. Kinda creepy. I sprayed the crap out of the shed anyway. Damn ants.

All the black spots are ants, you can guess at the white spots

We have a tiny little electric mower that chokes at three-inch grass, so I had my work cut out for me. After a couple of swipes, it stopped working. I’m used to it jamming up, so I checked underneath; no jam. The circuit breaker on the mower wasn’t tripped either. Great, I thought, I’ve fried our mower. I trudged to the front where Stacy was using the carpet cleaner on the van. That had died too. Apparently, running the computer, fan, and clock radio upstairs at the same time as the carpet cleaner and lawn mower outside was too much for the 15 amp circuit. Go figure. I hit the breaker and got back to work. About an hour later, I had finished terrorizing all of the bugs in our yard and the grass was cut. I gave up on grass catching early on. I just let the grass fall where I cut it. I figure it will cover up the dirt between clumps of crabgrass in case of rain. That and I’m lazy. I’m also a fair-skinned, red haired bald man. Do you know what happens to fair-skinned, red haired bald men in two hours of direct sunlight? I’ll give you a hint, it’s lobsterific! To make matters worse, I was wearing a sweatband. Now I have a retarded halo of unburned skin around my head. I think I’ll leave you with that pleasant mental image. Good day.