Wednesday, December 24, 2008

So much for auld lange syne

Nothing says "cliche" like a list of New Year's resolutions. To avoid such a stigma, I've compiled a list of to-do items for 2009.

About a month ago, I took Planet Fitness up on their $10/month gym membership offer - and so far, so good. I didn't realize how much I missed running until I started running again. An annoying pain in my knee stopped my previous running effort just as I had completed my first full 5k in 2007. Over the summer I tried again, and the pain returned. It even plagued me on my New England trip: there were some hills I just couldn't manage, and I was lucky to make it up Mt. Cadillac.

But now the pain seems to be gone. I stepped back in to the couch-to-5k plan I started with last year, and I've found this year it seems to be easier. It's like my body remembers what all this nonsense is about, and decided to take it easy on me. "Okay, you fool," it seems to say to me, "have it your way."

I drive across town to the Planet Fitness facility two to three time a week, after dinner, and work out for an hour or more. The first half-hour is dedicated to the treadmill, and the second half-hour is centered around weight training. I haven't used a full-on gym since high school; I used a small free weight and a lot of push-ups and sit-ups to get me through the years since. But now, with a complete gym, it feels pretty darn good to really work myself.

Winter is tough for everyone, and I always seem to gain a few pounds. Not this year. The ultimate goal will be to finally(!) run in a true, organized 5k run somewhere in the area. As long as the knee holds up, and I keep myself motivated, I can finally strike "run a 5k" off life's to-do list.

And you know what? It's like my body remembers what running is like. I've actually skipped ahead of the couch-to-5k workouts because I needed the challenge. Check the weather in hell!

Most people have sensible, easy-to-explain hobbies: horses, scrapbooking, photography. It's a little harder to center your hobby around technology that was discontinued 10 years ago. But that's what I've done, and my little Newton blog has grown and grown in the year since I launched it.

I set a modest goal - 500 visits a day - and once that goal was achieved, I told myself (and my readers) that I would launch Newton Poetry as a self-contained blog. I already switched the domain name from a .wordpress-hosted blog to, and since then there's been a measurable uptick in readership. The magic of the Internet can never be fully understand, I think - only negotiated with.

So sometime in 2009 I will take the blog off of Wordpress and buy hosting space and experiment with PHP and JavaScript and all these crazy languages that no sane person dabbles in without preparation. My prep is in the doing itself, and God Help Me it should be interesting.

It seems like forever ago that Suzanne and I took Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover class, but I only have to look at my savings account, my self-accountability, and my spending habits to realize the lessons we learned have stuck - hard as glue.

I don't have Suzanne around to keep me accountable anymore, but I gotta say - I've done okay on my own. I have $1,000 stored away for my emergency fund, I've paid off three credit cards, and this year - if all goes according to plan - I'll pay off my final and largest credit card. Last year I transferred the balance to a 0% APR Chase card so that every time I make a payment, I'm hammering the principal. It feels damn good when I plunk down $150 on the barrelhead every month. As the year has gone on, I've chipped away at the balance so that, in 2009, I'll make one big payment and have the goddamn thing out of my life forever.

After that, I'll have my two student loans (about $18k) and my car payment (about $4k) to go. Ramsey recommends that I take the credit card payment ($150/month) and add it onto my next debt (one of the student loans) so that I'm making giant payments each month. That giant money hammer will pound that debt, and then I'll add THAT giant payment to the next debt, and so on. A debt snowball. It works like a charm.

I've cut my spending down so that every week I give myself enough to buy groceries, fill up my tank (easier these days), and have a bit of fun - so that I'm by no means "sacrificing." But I think back to my bygone college days and LBD ("Life before Dave"), and I wonder how I put away any money at all.

My point in all this is not to brag (though I do congratulate myself a bit for maintaining this level of discipline), but to point out that even before the economic crisis I was concentrating on getting my financial affairs in order - and 2009 will feature the biggest payoff since I started. To celebrate, I'll overpay by $1.25 on that Chase card so that they're forced to send me a credit check when I close the account. Why? Simple. So that, for once, they owe me money. Cool, huh?

That's not all for 2009. If you really know me, you know three measely goals are never enough for Dave Lawrence. I have one in mind that I meant to tackle at the end of last summer. More will spring up in the meantime, I'm sure. They always do. But 2009 is lucky: I won't put a lot of pressure on the the new year, which means life can go at my speed: methodical, prepared, a slow grind.

No stigma there.

Monday, December 8, 2008

See how they twist and shout.

It wasn't so long ago that music had an appreciable impact in my life. I remember, in high school and in college, making music as big a part of my life as anything at the time - the long road trips for concerts, buying CDs on their release day, talking bands and influences and learning how to play my favorite songs on the guitar.

These days, it's vastly different. In fact, I've always thought one of the markers of old age is when you fail to recognize what the kids are listening to. When that happens - well, friends, it's all over.

That's why I was refreshed and thankful for seeing The Verve Pipe on Friday. The concert at the Small Planet, a great little venue with a bar and Mrs. Pac Man, was a short trip up US-127, and - at $17 a ticket - was very affordable. These things matter when you get older.

Calley was nice enough to tag along with me. We both noticed the mix of Gen Xers and the younger crowd, and I felt the grim suspicion that most everyone was here to hear That Song.

Thankfully, my own Verve Pipe favorite - the catchy video there at the top - came only two songs into the playlist. "Hero" has long been my second most-played song on iTunes, right under Earth Wind & Fire's "September," ever since I downloaded both "Villians" and the self-titled album from Katie. It's the kind of song to start your day with, when you need a reminder that taking yourself too seriously is a disastrous way to live.

Which is why I fear the music of today's generation. The eye liner and the '80s glam and the mood swings - it's a real bummer, in ways that Mr. Cobain's never was. It's a First World bummer, and it's just not the same.

Thinking back, the Post-Grunge rock scene was a super one. Bands like Collective Soul, Live, Our Lady Peace, Sponge, Fuel, and our good friends the Verve Pipe ruled the Earth, even if they failed to gain the super-stardom of the rock scene before them. If you like four people jamming away on instruments they can actually play, it was a great time to be a music fan.

The Verve Pipe, though - they hit the big time in ways that help only VH1 pay attention to you years later. It's sad.

Yes, The Verve Piped played That Song right in the middle of the concert, but I crossed my arms and waited for it to end. And it did, just like the rest, until the band finished with a stellar classic that got the whole joint rolling. They're local boys, though, so it's not like getting the Small Planet excited was a difficult task.

The show left a big enough impression on me that now I want to check out the rest of VP's catalog. They haven't released anything new since 2001, but then I haven't really enjoyed anything (Interpol and a few others may be the rare exception) since then, either. That makes us even.

Sometimes you need a good rock show to give you that boost you've been looking for. That feeling is amplified when the music takes you back to some pleistocene era, when you knew music was worth listening to. It's been that way a lot lately, and I'm learning to accept it. I don't much listen to the radio. Luckily I have a large enough music collection to keep me occupied until Doomsday. But then old favorites spring up and introduce a few albums I had missed, and it's like discovering something new - all over again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We are all one.

self and cosmos

A neat idea from - that all religions, when you break them down, are about one idea: the one dissolving into the whole.

The one (us, our spirit, whatever) eventually finds the whole (God, Brahman, etc.). We lose ourselves in religion.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Everything's amazing, nobody's happy.

Money quote: "You're sitting in a chair in the sky."

It's all so true. My big foible is sitting at red lights, and people not going fast enough down suburban streets. To think: I could be walking in November while it snows.

PBS had a marathon re-showing of "The War," an amazing documentary about World War II and its impact on four American towns. One scene in particular spoke to me, and it's when a lady - a little girl at the time - lives in a prison camp run by the Japanese. Her entire family almost starves to death during the War. She says how, when she got home, everyone was complaining about rations and the bad news coming from overseas.

"They just didn't get it," she said.

And boy, isn't that true for folks our age and younger? I've already talked with my grandma about this. I told her that, in a few rare cases, I've never known the kind of want that her generation and, especially, the generation before hers experienced. For that reason, any complaining I do will be consciously kept to a minimum. What right do I have to complain, when hell - it could be a lot worse.

Happiness comes from within, says the Buddha, not from without, and that lesson keeps popping up in my day-to-day life. Thankfully, I'm very content with my situation right now. Life is good. It might not always be that way. But at this time, and at this moment, I can breathe and eat and stay warm and enjoy typing on my Macintosh computer that also, amazingly, can talk to space.

Who can complain about that?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Party like it's 1979.

Fun with Poladroid

Polaroid film may not be available for long, but man - I'm glad an application like Poladroid is.

If you're a photo fiend, and a Mac user, you have to download this app. Poladroid basically takes your digital snapshots and "Polarizes" them using vintage light filters and settings. You can see the results above after I messed around with a few of my Flickr photos.

Seriously - this is a hoot. What better way to make Myspace or Facebook photos than a higher-quality Polaroid shot? If you're stuck without a Mac, and you're nice to me, maybe if you send me something I Poladroid it for you. Maybe. If you're nice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Don't stop believing.

What is it about Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"?

What is it about that song that has our generation in such a craze? Maybe you've heard: "Don't Stop Believin'" (hereafter referred to as DSB) is the number-one selling song of all time(!) on iTunes. All time. Number one.

It's friggin' Journey, for Pete's sake!

I keep hearing that its inclusion in "The Soprano's" finale, or how the 2005 World-Series-winning White Sox made it their song, that that's why it's so freaking popular now. But I just can't believe it. I think it started years before then, because I've seen how our generation has latched onto it like nobody's business.

It makes sense. Released in 1981, right at the buttcrack of Gen X and Gen Y (and my own birth year), DSB lives in the foggy troughs of our childhood memories. Most Journey songs do. "Anyway You Want It" has always been my personal favorite, because I remember listening to it on our local rock station, Q106, growing up. "Stone In Love" is pretty damn good, too, and makes a great summer song.

DSB, though, is in a class all by itself. I have been struck stone sober as a bar full of twenty-somethings set down their drinks, raise their fists, and struggle to reach the highest notes of "some-where in the NIIIGGGHHHTTTT!"

Andrea's wedding featured a white person's dance floor, complete with air guitars and arena rock. And what song was, arguably, the most popular - besides "Bohemian Rhapsody" (probably Gen X's own DSB, at its height, thanks to "Wayne's World")? You guessed it. Every friggin' person on that dance floor knew the words. It's amazing.

And now I've learned that our generation, the iPod generation, has taken to this song so much that they've blessed Apple with ungodly amounts of money via iTunes downloads. It's not Britney, or 50 Cent, or that cracker Jack Johnson. It's not even other arena rockers like Boston or Foreigner or...hell...even REO Speedwagon. No, it's Steve Perry and his dysfunctional bunch of Frisco hippies.

Don't get me wrong: I like the song. I've probably karaoke'ed it a couple of times in some drunken stupor. Don and I have covered many Journey songs, in fact, and slaughter each one of them. As with Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, bars gravitate toward these kinds of songs - and Jesus Wheeping God, only a few people screw up the lyrics. It's frightening to think that an entire generation of misfits that drink from the well of YouTube and quench their thirst on Facebook would have the brain capacity to remember songs from just before they were born. What sense does that make?

I understand the longing for something from the past to hold on to. Each decade brings back tricks from previous eras (grunge and Sabbath, Interpol and Joy Division, pop punk with whoever that one band is that sucks). Then what, in this grim time on Earth, can we learn from Journey?

Maybe that's just it. There's nothing to be learned. Maybe it's all in the mindless fun. That boy from "South Detroit" (they would call it "Downriver")? He's us. And to a generation who has never been without want, we never stop believing. We don't know any other way.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On the American fork in the road.

After eight years of misrule, we know a few things: that our government spies on us, that it tortures people from other countries, that Americans feel worse about their country than they have in a long time, that hard working people have watched their retirements trickle away, that we are less secure and less safe internationally, that we have given up liberty for a false sense of security, that we have squandered scientific research, that our infrastructure is crumbling around us, and that we have let the foxes run loose in the financial hen house.

These things we know. Back in 2000, as hard as it is to remember the world as it was then, none of this was probable, or even seemed possible. But here we are.

Now we find ourselves at a spiritual fork in the road. Either we choose to, more or less, continue down the path we've been heading these past eight years, thanks to the man above; or we choose to try out something different, something new, and something - admittedly - untested.

If anything, America has been a giant experiment. Thomas Jefferson thought the experiment should be tweaked every generation - that multiple Constitutional Conventions should take place every 20 years just to make sure the United States was on the right track. He, and the other Founding Fathers, knew America was a delicate experiment, ripe with the possibility of misuse and abuse. But they saw change as a good thing; in fact, our whole country is founded on the idea of change when it's needed most. If you doubt me, take 10 minutes and read the Declaration of Independence some time.

Luckily, we get to shake things up every four years or so, when some poor fool decides he wants to be the Head Executive of one of the branches of government. It's in view of this idea, and the radical idea of an experiment called the United States of America, that we can look at our present situation and parse the correct course of action.

Where do we go from here? Which choice, given two (or more, depending on your independent leanings), is the one our country needs?

When we buy a car, or choose which toothbrush would best fit our purposes, we have to look at the evidence. Here's what the evidence has shown us so far from John McCain:
  • He's a senator who has broke with his own party on the big issues of the day
  • Since becoming a presidential candidate, he has remade many of these positions into standard GOP positions (an exception: the environment), like torture and immigration
  • McCain is a war veteran who suffered for his country
  • McCain is known for a hot temper, shoot-from-the-hip decision making, but he can work well with others
  • McCain is mostly a hawk on national defense issues
  • McCain has chosen a running mate who is divisive, incurious, and has a disdain for the media and questioning that rivals George W. Bush's
What do we know about Obama?
  • He's a senator who has just a few years of experience on the national and international stage
  • Obama supports many of the main Democratic ideals, like health care for all, protection of the environment, progressive taxation, diplomacy abroad, etc.
  • Obama has a multi-cultural background, has lived in many states and a few countries, and is versed in Constitutional law
  • Obama is known for his cool head, methodical decision making process, and the ability to take in many points of view
  • Obama has inspired "generation Y," a generation who values multiculturalism, bullshit-free communication, and the Internet
  • Obama picked a senior senator for his Vice Presidential running-mate, a man who has a lot of experience in the international stage and a big mouth

Those are the facts, with a few thoughts thrown in. But underneath the presentation of the two candidates runs a river of inuendo, political attacks, and voter sniping that has only now gained national attention. I speak, mostly, of the caliber of people who attend Obama and McCain political rallies and stump speeches. Obama tends to draw people in the tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands - packing arenas and stadiums and, most recently, the St. Louis/Mississippi River capital lawn. Attendees are young and old, black, white and otherwise.

McCain's rallies? Smaller, but probably equally as passionate. But lately, those passionate supporters have shown the ugly side of American life. Shouts of "terrorist," "ni**er," and "kill him!" can be heard on video feeds from these live events, and sometimes both McCain and Sarah Palin can hear them. Do they chide their supporters for expressing thoughts dating back to the Sixteenth Century? No, they do not. In fact, they encourage misrepresentations by spreading fear and division among the electorate. Using smears and attacks against the "Other" has become a campaign strategy.

That, and many local Republican headquarters, stationed around the country, have gone even further, comparing Obama with Osama bin Laden, questioning his national origin, and spreading lies about taking the oath of office on the Koran.

Other things being equal, the decision on who to vote for president could be made based on the supporters each candidate attracts. If racists and fear-mongerers support McCain so openly, what does that say of McCain, Palin, and their tactics? Nothing good or decent, in my mind.

Because voting for president should be based on what each man or woman can do to move our country forward. Do they have the experience and temperment to lead a nation of 330 million? Or should they do as George W. Bush has done and only govern for half of that 330 million?

What I want is the exact opposite of George W. Bush.

My main factors in deciding any presidential election are as follows:
  1. Does this person respect science, the environment, and our Constitutional rights?
  2. Does this person believe in an open, communicative government of the people, by the people, and for the people?
  3. Will the person's policies support everyday Americans, or do they heap benefits on corporations and the already-blessed wealthy?
  4. Does the person have an open mind, respect disagreement, and have mediocum of curiosity and intelligence?
  5. Does the person see war as a last resort?
  6. Does this person recognize their own limitations?
These ideas seems pretty simple and straightforward, but looking back at the past eight years, every one of them have failed to be realized.

Others have their own priorities - some very specific, like abortion or universal health care. But in the end, I'll vote for the person whose philosophy about government, America, and its people align with others who I would call Great Americans. People like Ben Franklin, and Harry Truman, and Car Sagan, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Jefferson. We remember these people because of the good things they accomplished in their lifetimes, their open frame of mind, and their ability to unite people - not because of lies, fear, and hatred.

It's for this reason that I will vote for Barack Obama this Tuesday, Nov. 4. When I cast my vote, I know it will be in support of a man who exemplifies the good things about our wonderful country. Having traveled our land from shore to shore (multiple times), I've come to respect the dignity and resourcefulness and divirsity of this beautiful land. And everything I love about America seems to me to be embodied in people like Barack Obama. He gets it, I think. He doesn't see our country as some divided territory, as it was in the Civil War, shattered and broken and ugly. There is no "real" America and "false" America. As he said in his famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, there is only the UNITED States of America. Who can argue with that? Or, who can argue with that ideal?

The details of governing always get figured out. If John McCain becomes president, the country will survive and limp on and be here in another 100 years. It has survived worse.

But is surviving enough? Will limping on - our economy broken, our armed forces stretched to the max - realize the American ideal?

Not to me. So I will vote for someone who hopes for better, believes in better, and sees us - all of us - as practitioners of our own destiny.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On backing up.

The collapse of Washington Mutual was called the "biggest bank failure of all time," meaning that - in today's times - no one is "too big to fail."

So it's good to have a backup plan. That's what blogger Khoi Vinh recommends, especially when it comes to anything you have stored online.

This advice is applicable to most areas of our lives: fire escape plans, fire-proof lock boxes for valuables, generators for power outages, etc. Planning, "just in case," can be a real lifesaver.

Just this week, I had an instance at work where I'm glad we made a backup plan. Our marketing department stores our files (ads, newsletters, web site graphics, etc.) on a network disk. That network disk has failed before, and the first time we had no backup plan. We lost all our files in an instant. Then we started to store our files on our work computers, and copy them to the network disk. But that didn't always happen, so when our network drive went down again, Marketing had a big scare. Luckily, we were able to recover most (but still not all) of our files.

After that crash, we bought an external hard drive to backup all of our files. I do this personally every other day or so: move files from the network disk to the external disk. So when we lost our network drive again this week (thankfully, only briefly), I didn't freak out. We had a backup plan.

Do you? If you store files online, like I do all over the place on Flickr or in my Gmail account, do you have them stored somewhere physical? What about your money? Do you have a few dollars of spare cash hidden somewhere, just in case? Maybe a spare gas can for those "uh oh" moments?

My brain seems to be in constant survival mode. I'm constantly backing up my Mac files, regularly buying canned goods, having my trusty sword available for intruders, and keeping food on me at all times. But there's always more I can do.

Vinh's bigger point is that, anymore, no one is "too big to fail":
The size of a company is certainly not a reliable shield against failure, but being small doesn't necessarily guarantee a company will be around in the long term, either. I just don't think that it's realistic to assume that all of the data we're storing online is safe. So a friendly reminder: back up.
He makes the point about online items (Facebook profiles, e-mail messages, banking information), but the point can go further to life in general. Anything can fail.

Things can easily get out of hand. Guys building bunkers in their backyard during the Y2K scare (remember that?) took things a little far. But hey, as long as you've got the storage shelter there, it's one less thing to worry about.

You know, just in case.

You don't have to be a paranoid person to realize that unexpected things happen. A wise person will set time aside to think about the "what ifs" life throws at us, and plan for them as much as possible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Operation: Oooh, Sarracuda

Maybe this is a news flash, but Barack Obama is a Muslim. He also hates America, isn't a patriot, and wants to kill us all in our sleep.

If you didn't know all this, it's okay. Just open up your e-mail inbox and it's all right there.

I say that in jest, of course, but the fact remains: the right-wing uses e-mail like a pro. They've used it against the Clintons and against John Kerry, and now it's being used against Obama. Probably because it only involves hitting the "Forward" button, and it doesn't involve much creativity. Why pay for ads when you can just type up some bullshit and hit "send" to your family members?

The left-wing has its own form of propaganda, but it involves a little more work. Liberals get off their asses and does some on-the-street reporting, in blogs and in commenting forums and in Twitter feeds, like journalists used to do (and should be doing today).

The Twitter feeds I read are alive with protests and linking. John Gruber, who authors my favorite blog Daring Fireball, has made it his goal to uncover everything evil about Sarah Palin. And Andrew Sullivan, over at The Atlantic, has hit the governor everyday. But who actually reads this stuff? Do average Americans really jump on The Atlantic's site for their political news? How much influence do they have?

There's a great new blog that has surfaced since the Palin VP announcement, called Mudflats, and its written by a guy up in Alaska that reports as an Alaskan on the whole ordeal. It's great stuff, like when he attends an anti-Palin rally that's actually larger than her "welcome home" rally.

But then I watch the Sunday morning political shows, like "This Week," and all of them were gushing over Sarah Palin and her "dramatic invigoration" of the Republican base. No truth-telling, no in-depth questioning - just idol worship. How can blogs compete with ABC? My good friend Andrea has had some great posts about the awfulness of the Governor, but even her and me combined don't get the audience that major media outlets do. Not even close.

So we need an e-mail campaign of our own.

We need to take what these go-getters, these guardians of the public interest (most of which are underpaid or not paid at all - just passionate investigators of the truth) are finding and spread them like a virus. We can finally test whether the truth will set America free, and whether lies fall under the weight of their own hypocrisy (though are are some exceptions).

Take what you find, copy the link or the text, and send them to your relatives. You know the ones: the same aunts and uncles who send you those "send this or die in five days" kinds of e-mails. Send them all the shit that's been dug up about Palin. If that's the only way we can reach people about this lady, then so be it. Because I'll tell you, McCain's cronies are working hard to assault Obama through e-mail (by calling him a Muslim, anti-American, a socialist, and so on). We can fight back.

The key will be not to send them to people who think the same way you do. That's preaching to the choir. Instead, send it to people who you know are either undecided or are so pro-Palin they're going to get their Sarah beehave hairdo. Set your sights on folks who don't pay attention, in any sort of detail, to news from the political front. The fact is, these folks aren't going to find out the truth unless it's shoved in front of their face. So let's do the shoving.

To get things started, however, spread the good word amongst your friends. They can then take what we've found and spread it to their non-believers. It has to start somewhere.

Is this back-handed? Is it the cheap way of doing things? Is it even right? Yes, maybe, and probably not - but listen, we're on the losing side of a fight that's been raging for years. We can hope that people will suddenly care about what goes on in the world, and we can hope that people will read blogs and watch the news and do some research. But hope only goes so far, and eventually we need to do the work ourselves. Part of it is the good people who are researching the candidates and putting the information out there. But that's only half the battle. The other half is making sure people see the stuff. And friends, that's where you and I come in.

You know what the great part is? Most of the stuff being spread about Barack Obama are lies. Shit-storm, muddy, dirty lies. But the information about Sarah Palin? That's all true. The difficult part is already done, because we don't have to make anything up. Her husband really did want Alaska to secede from the Union. She really did say the Iraq war was "God's will." She look into banning books at her town's library. All this makes the entire job easier.

This begins "Operation: Oooh, Sarracuda." But what should our hub be? Should we have a blog? A website? Some kind of resource people can go and find all the ammunition they need? Let me know, and we can build a hot-and-heavy coalition of people who really care about who is going to govern their country. Nothing is out of bounds, but there is one limitation: we're only going to spread stuff that's true. No lies. Nothing that might be true. Just truth, fair and square.

The moral high ground is a good place to start, and as the Jedi say - the truth hurts. Let's make it hurt really bad. While we may feel a bit dirty and slimy at the end - anything that deals with spreading e-mail propaganda is always a bit messy - our hard work will be worth it. A side benefit? Maybe your neighbor, the one who sends you all those lottery offers and racist jokes, will leave you the hell alone.

The war will not be televised. It will be forwarded and spread and will catch fire in the inboxes of the unbelievers. We have nothing to lose but our dignity - we have a country to gain.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why I wish '' wasn't taken.

Joe Klein from, on John McCain's new war on the media:
There is a tendency in the media to kick ourselves, cringe and withdraw, when we are criticized. But I hope my colleagues stand strong in this case: it is important for the public to know that Palin raised taxes as governor, supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, pursued pork-barrel projects as mayor, tried to ban books at the local library and thinks the war in Iraq is "a task from God." The attempts by the McCain campaign to bully us into not reporting such things are not only stupidly aggressive, but unprofessional in the extreme.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nice to meet you, Mr. Vice President.

We all learned that Joe Biden is Obama's choice for VP running mate.

But just who the hell is this guy?

I have to admit: my recollection is his "clean and articulate" description of Obama during the primaries, but more that he was the anti-Edwards. Shoot-from-the-hip, wise, seen it all before, really knows his stuff kind of guy - that's Biden. And here I would've loved to vote for Edwards more than anyone, and found out what a disaster that would have become, Biden become the next best possible VP choice. If his mouth doesn't get him in trouble again.

Anyway, to learn who this guy is, I recommend a big GQ profile on him, written during the primaries, that handles everything in a nutshell.

Other than McCain, this is the guy that has a handle on the way the world works. Obama having him on the team is a boon for both of them, I think, because - like McCain - there's a certain sense of having earned where they are today. I dig meritocracy, and there's enough merit in this race now to banish any thoughts of none-of-the-above voting (as I've mentioned before).

It all makes sense. We finally have a couple of guys who know what the hell they're doing when it comes to intelligence and industry and hard work - everything that Bush lacks. We also have a VP nominee who would whip Mitt Romney's fake fucking ass in a debate, and I can't wait to see it happen.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Take your font and shove it.

Today I went off on someone at work over a font.

A few years ago, it was excusable to go off on someone over the Comic Sans font. It was everywhere. And unless you were a daycare or a school, you had no business using Comic Sans. In anything. It was tacky, and overused, and it made no rational sense to use Comic Sans. Unless you were a child, in which case you still should've been scolded and sent to the corner.

Today, that font is Papyrus. It's everywhere. And unless you're a salon or Egyptian, you have no business using Papyrus. It's become so prolific, in fact, that's it parodies itself.

A non-profit has me working on a banner for a golf outing. The organizer asked if I could use Papyrus in the banner since "that is what the rest of our golf lit uses."

Excuse me, but a golf outing does not call for the dusted, desert-ish, foreign-looking font. This is golf tees and carts and cases of beer - not the fucking sphynx.

Here's my response:
I'm sorry, but I am philosophically opposed to Papyrus font.

Not kidding - I really think you should consider another one, even if you donít like mine. Look around town sometime and tell me how many places use it. Everyone uses it.

I can see it for salons or if youíre doing something Egyptian. Otherwise, we can be more creative than that.

My two cents.
Not as harsh as I had it in my head, but keeping my cool over issues like font usage is a big step for me. Especially when the goddamn font is Papyrus.

In this age of everyone's-a-designer, mysterious and stylish mutants like Papyrus come along every few years and dash any hope of progress or enlightenment in our dark age. I found instances of Comic Sans used throughout our corporate intranet, and I puked blood for a week straight. It's horrific, and barbaric, to use a child-like font like Comic Sans anywhere other than where it's intended. But thanks to cretins like Microsoft Word, Comic Sans and its playful style was unleashed upon the world with no consideration of common sense or taste.

And now that Papyrus is out there - even on fucking real estate signs - there is little hope of stemming the tide. Little hope, that is, until some other useless fucking font comes along and steals the spotlight. Like Chinese character tattoos ("hope," "dreams," and "creativity" - that last one's ironic - permanently in Mandarin text) or those little Calvin windshield stickers, where he's pissing on something, the American sensibility can't handle anything that's mass-marketable enough to be placed on stationary or logos or, Jesus Merciful God, body parts in mass quantity.

So it goes with Papyrus. Most probably hope to appear edgy or, even during wartime, desert-dwelling enough to be considered innovative and stylish. It doesn't work, because everyone else thinks the same goddamn thing - and then the whole thing becomes cliche.

Papyrus is the trans fat of the design world, and should be limited to graphic projects that involve mummies, camels, or maybe a kangaroo somewhere.

But a golf outing? Don't you know what the Egyptians did to the Jews?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I don't now, but I used to.

I used to watch a decent amount of TV. I'd get up in the morning and watch CNN while eating breakfast, come home and catch the news, and maybe grab an episode of "The Simpsons" with Don. Now I can honestly say I watch maybe a half hour to an hour of TV of week. I don't watch a lot of TV now, but I used to.

But that got me thinking: what do I do with my time now?

I only have to look at the hand prints on my iBook to know what I do. I'm on the computer constantly, either writing blog posts like this one, or that one, or researching trips and trip ideas, or doing tons and tons of reading, or I'm actually inside the computer trying out DIY projects and living to tell about them.

And I'm not alone. People are watching less TV these days, and finding far more productive uses of their time. Just like me.

In fact, I feel like I'm busier nowadays than I ever was when I was in tons of organizations and zooming off to meeting every night and spending a ton of weekends in Adrian. Now, I look back on that time and wonder, "How the heck did I manage?" I guess I managed by spending my time differently. It's no better or worse than before.

Now, though, I actually look down on people who watch a ton of TV. "Jesus," I catch myself thinking, "don't they have anything better to do?" It's not very fair. Television can have its redeeming qualities. But to me, the real world happens outside of that glowing box. Maybe I've said this before?

The change began, I think, when I first discovered MySpace in the spring of 2005. It became my cognitive heat sink. I read the vast amount of blog posts from back when I first discovered MySpace and - again - I wonder where I had all that free time. My political and social and personal thinking was all there, out for everyone to see, and now I'm lucky to post something new to MySpace once a week. I don't post to MySpace so much these days, but I used to.

Part of it is that, while I'm not involved in so many things as a whole, I'm deeply involved in the organizations I participate in. It seems my to-do list for my recycling group is never ending. But what could be a better cause? My political and environmental passions both get stoked, and I'm doing what I love. Same with Rotary.

So all that time I spend watching TV - wasted time, when you get down to it - I'm busy doing something else. Not to say that watching TV is a bad thing. I still adore my "The Office" episodes, and football on Saturday, and watching "Wheel of Fortune" with grandma. But the news? I listen to NPR religiously on the way to and from work. Or I read it online. And trust me: I'm reading or listening to the smarter news these days.

After that, I'm busy taking walks or going for a bike ride or undertaking whatever "wouldn't it be fun if..." project that shapes and grows my brain a little bit. It's been a blast. What's more, you'll never hear me utter the words, "I'm bored." Never.

Because I'm never bored these days. But I used to be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On biking to work.

Tomorrow I'm riding my bike to work.

It's nothing compared to the Falling Water Trail, of course, but shit, why not? It's supposed to be pretty nice out tomorrow, and I'm dressing down at work for a project.

My route is barely 3 miles long, and most of it is downhill (it's uphill on the way home). And it shaves about .7 miles off my usual driving route. According to Google Maps new "walking" time option, if I hoofed it on foot it would take about an hour. A bike? Hard telling. But my guess is about 15-20 minutes - just a tad longer than driving.

My car doesn't suck down that much gas driving to and from work, but every little bit helps, right? And why sit inside any structure during the summer when Michigan winters are long and life-threatening? There's sunshine, there's fresh air, there's exercise - its waiting to be enjoyed.

Plus my new bike hasn't gotten the workout I had hoped. It took me down the Rose Parade route, and down the Falling Water Trail a few times, but that's about it. The machine needs to work to be an efficient work-saver. So I'm putting it to work.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The week in iPhone pictures.

One of the reasons I was so excited to get an iPhone was the camera: most cell phone cameras strike me as pretty shitty, but even at only 2 megapixels, my 3G camera doesn't do too bad a job. I've had it for a week now. Let's see how it's going.


Wah-wah. Keith and I, a day after the madness, stopped by the Ann Arbor Apple Store to shop for phone cases. The folks at the store said they sold out that morning. Lucky me!


On our way to Detroit, Keith and I stopped by a giant used book store downtown so he could grab a book for his doctoral research. Inside, I found the complete editorials


We found Driver, in town from D.C., by the statues at Comerica Park. The Tigers lost by a run, but we had tons of fun with Driver's crew from Deadspin. Those bloggers are funny folk.

Grilling out

Tuesday, Carolyn hosted a grill out at her house - complete with horseshoes, watermelon, and plenty of burgers and dogs.

Grandma in the garden

Grandma in the garden. The beetles were after her roses again. Everything has been in full bloom this year, she says - more than any year before.


Thursday I took a Macintosh IIci over to Curtis's to see if we could get it working again. We did, but not before I played a little Galaxian on his Apple IIe (left).


Downtown Jackson on a hot-ass Friday afternoon. We were setting up for our Teen Idol event, which takes place at the wonderful Riverwalk Amphitheater by the Consumers Energy HQ. Nothing is alive in this section of the Grand River, but it makes for a nice scene.


This morning I hopped into my car to find this little guy (or girl) sitting on my windshield. My grandma thinks it's a little baby hawk. It was fat, that's all I know, I didn't fly away until right before I drove off.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Helping out via the Intertubes.

This morning I donated $5 to a guy running for Kansas state representative, Sean Tevis, because he's a funny guy.

When you get right down to it, people come up with far lamer excuses for voting for politicians. I think there's something to be said for humor in politics - especially from someone who gets Internet memes, cultural references, and the absurdity of it all. Tevis's comic was pure fun, and in it he asks for a few thousand people to donate $8 to his campaign to beat some Intelligent-Design-spouting yahoo. Hey, sign me up.

Why donate to some guy I don't even know out in Kansas?

I donated for the same reason I'd give some mixed-race Hawaiian I've never met $5 to run for president: he speaks my language. And he could use the help.

All politics may be local, but Tevis strikes me as a guy I could have a beer with. Or sit down and talk Macs with. He seems like a guy who represents - finally! - a break from guys who think the Internet is actually a series of tubes.

Tevis won't be the last. Every week, I plan to give $5 to some politician, either local or otherwise, who Speaks My Language. There's a state senator here in Michigan who wants to take on Tim Walberg, our state rep in Congress. He's a good guy, a hard worker, and he's pretty smart. So he gets $5.

And on it will go, for the rest of the political season. And if I can't find someone worthy one week, well, some cash-strapped charity or organization will get it. Groups are hurting out there, after all, and while $5 does seem like a lot, (a) I can afford $5 a week, (b) it can buy some stamps for a mailing, (c) it beats the hell out of getting nothing at all.

What's nice about the Intertubes is I can send my money where it's needed most instantly. I gave Tevis his $5 via PayPal, which made it really convenient.

This will also force me to do some research and get to know the issues this year. Before I give anyone their $5, they'll have to reach me. And to reach me, I need to do some reading first.

So $5 a week. No big deal, right? Well for guys like Tevis, a few thousand $5 donations can make the difference between kicking the old-school bums out and suffering from more cranky men who Don't Give A Shit.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Waterboarding as a weekend activity.

Christopher Hitchens in this article from Vanity Fair:
As a boy reading the climactic torture scene of 1984, where what is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world, I realize that somewhere in my version of that hideous chamber comes the moment when the wave washes over me. Not that that makes me special: I don’t know anyone who likes the idea of drowning. As mammals we may have originated in the ocean, but water has many ways of reminding us that when we are in it we are out of our element. In brief, when it comes to breathing, give me good old air every time.
Every one of you needs to stop what you're doing right now and watch the video of Hitchens getting waterboarded. It's what our government claims isn't torture, and it's what makes me respect guys like McCain for denouncing it (though he's backed off that quite a bit lately).

Of all the things I hate about the current administration, this is number one. Period. Anytime scenes from 1984 become reality are scary times, indeed.

Notice how quickly Hitchens gives up, and you can imagine what the full 15 minutes would've been like.

Here's hoping we can knock this bullshit off, whoever takes over next January, and get our fucking head on straight.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 11: I'll be there

It's official. I took the day off work. I have a fraternity bro who might be joining me.

I'll be there.

Come July 11, I'll be one of the fools in line at the Ann Arbor Apple Store waiting for an iPhone.

Let me preface that, friends, by saying we live in a humorless time, one fraught with terrible blunders and a creeping National Depression that threatens our very dignity. Where, oh where, can we find a ray of sunshine in these dark times?

Where we can get it - that's what I say.

And it's going to be a hoot. Last year the lines were long in spots, but not as dramatic as everyone thought, and people found ways to pass the time. This year could be different.

The news I've been reading says things may be crazy. The scripts are ready. The lines are forming. And the hour is pretty well known.

If that doesn't make for an exciting adventure (and only 40 minutes away from my front door), what can? What hope do we have?

The whole weekend is turning into a bash of epic proportions. The Return of Driver, a standing-only ticket to the Tigers game, and perhaps even a trip to Toledo with Keith. That, coupled with this weekend's big trip out west to Portland and Parts Unknown, makes for a hectic July.

There's always the possibility that the Ann Arbor Apple store will sell out before I grab one. But then the possibility of getting mugged by some meth-addled junkie outside on State St. is present, too. The only thing that scares me about this entire deal is AT&T and their goddamn rate plan. It means I'll have to pay a bit more each month (about $15) just to use the Jesus Phone. That's the price of progress.

All in all, I'm still grateful I waited a year. I miss the previous iPhone's aluminum backing, but otherwise the 3G iPhone is a better deal. Come July 12, the day after the release, I will finally be able to say I Was There, and I lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The end of "none of the above"

It was back in February that a thought first occurred to me: I wouldn't be upset if either Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain won the presidency.

Now that Sen. Clinton is out, I feel the same way.

And here's why: at least two of those candidates have high cross-over potential. We in Michigan preferred McCain over Bush in 2000 because of the help of state Democrats, and there are reports of tons of Republicans crossing the red/blue state divide to support Obama.

Now that's cool. Take, on the other hand, the 2004 (or 2000, or 1996) campaigns, where partisan divisions ran deeper than the Hatfields versus the McCoys.

Are we reaching a point in this country where we're attracted to people who aren't so divisive? Are we ready to really bring the country together, instead of appealing to some primary-colored base? Are we ready to get some shit done? Or is this what politicians need to do to survive in our age of hyper-cynicism?

It could be that the folks still running are respectable enough that considerations could go either way. I know I feel it. If McCain were elected, I wouldn't be looking forward to the 2012 election as a solution - not like I would if, say, Romney had slicked his way into the nomination.

On the other side, how can a Democrat not be proud of what Obama's done? My grandma was in near tears at the prospect of electing a black man to president during her lifetime. "And I remember riding on the bus on the way to Florida in the 1950s, when they had to sit in the back," she told me. Part of me feels prouder of our country because we can talk less about a politician's race and more about his "experience" or "substance."

Things may change and November creeps closer. Who knows? The ugliness could come roaring back. But until then, I think there's a real loss of the "none of the above" feelings we've had since 2000. Think about it. Was anyone that excited about Bush vs. Gore? Not until after the election night, when all hell broke loose. Then people got passionate.

In 2004, it was the same story: people picked the person they disliked the least. Is that any way to vote for president?

This time. something has changed. Yes, the candidates offer starkly different ideas about how to govern and run our country. But if Obama suddenly turnes into a salivating, baby-eating hunchback, I'd be just fine with voting for McCain. And if McCain starts ordering e-mails containing launch codes, Obama will be my man with pride.

These men offer vastly different ideas about governing our country, and there's no doubt which way my vote will go. It wasn't always this way, but recent events - like McCain reversing his stance against offshore drilling - have made the difference even clearer.

But he's still a cool guy.

"There is a time to campaign, and a time to govern," McCain said the Tuesday night Obama clinched the nomination. "If I'm elected president, the era of the permanent campaign of the last sixteen years will end. The era of reform and problem solving will begin."

We've heard words like that before, but coming from Sen. McCain, my first instinct is not to break out into hysterical laughter. The guy is different, and he's speaking to something we've all felt: politics is one big PR effort. Maybe this time, though, things are just what they seem. It's hard to imagine either Obama or McCain with some hidden ax to grind - some secret agenda that would mean more money for oil buddies and political offices for golf buddies.

And frankly, I'd trust McCain or Obama's golf buddies over Bush's any day.

Each of the candidates came from an America I can relate to. George Bush didn't; he came from privelege. He's never known want or suffering or struggle. Obama and McCain have, all too well.

There are a lot of people who feel the same way I do. That speaks of good things for our country, and the election. So let's call this the end of the "none of the above" voting philosophy. What do you say?

Monday, June 16, 2008

New adventure?

Perhaps. Only 3 days to get there? No problem.

Gas? That's the problem.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finding old America in New England.

It's the middle of May, which means it's also time for adventure.

I leave first thing tomorrow morning for the big New England trip - a 10-day quest to discover the roots of our country at its birthplace. The trip starts in Philadelphia, the philosophical center of America, and continues to New Jersey, New York, Boston, and circles into Maine, New Hampshire, and then Vermont. I'll be exploring Revolutionary War sites, famous monuments to our country's birth, and the cities and towns where an entire generation of men found the courage to strike out on their own. I'll also be drinking lots and lots of beer.

Feel free to keep in touch during the trip. I'll have my trusty iBook with me, now with wifi, and will post pictures and progress to my trip blog:

Puritan's Progress

Why "Puritan's Progress?" If you remember, John Bunyan wrote "Pilgrim's Progress" - one of the most famous pieces of English literature - that was subtitled "From this world, to that which is to come." My trip isn't so grand (or so well-written), and instead focuses on "that which already came." This is a history trip, and because our country was founded by religious zealots who got kicked out of their home country, it only makes sense to apply the Puritan work ethic to my travels. And, like Bunyan's character Christian, I'm heading out of the "City of Destruction" (Jackson, MI) to the "Celestial City" (Boston? Bar Harbor? Time will tell...) in search of heavenly light. There's probably no more "heavenly light" left in New York City, or in the entire state of New Jersey, but I do seek the founding philosophy that made America such a fun place to live, work, and watch TV.

I'll have my phone on me, but I prefer e-mail, or comments on the blog. Should I happen to plunge off Mt. Washington, however, and explode in a glorious fireball-induced death, please feel free to take my stuff. Except the Wii. That gets buried with my mangled corpse.

Off I go, friends, on my annual quest. I'll return either Saturday, May 24 or Sunday, May 25 (depending on weather and gumption), with Memorial Day reserved as a return-to-Midwestern-living day.

Ben Franklin set off from Boston to Philadelphia with little more than pocket change and a heart of fire. My car will have tons more stuff, but the fire stuff is the same.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Puritan's Progress: my New England trip blog

Working on a blog for my New England trip as a way to keep my friends and family up-to-date on photos and where I'm at, etc.

Feel free to drop in and leave me a comment.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Links of the week.

That last one is interesting, because I noticed the big brew-haha that went on during the week of Earth Day. Can we really be "green" by buying (and throwing away) more stuff? Probably not.

My Wii number is 6476 1454 1227 5966

It really is everything I'd imagined.

Sure, I played "Super Mario Galaxy" at the Best Buy display this winter. Kirby and I even kicked ass at "Smash Brothers Brawl" at a console in Lansing.

But unless you see it in action, and see it sitting in your living room, there's no judging a Nintendo Wii. You must hold it and play it and experience everything for yourself.

And it all happened by pure, dumb luck. Saturday I was out testing Canon point-and-shoot cameras (deciding between the SD1000 and SD750), because (a) I take forever to purchase something and (b) I like to get the feel of the thing before I plunk down $200. I made up my mind (the SD750) and was about to walk out of Best Buy when I almost ran into a table at the front of the store. They had a Wii dispaly set up, with the new "Mario Kart Wii" everywhere, and I saw the Wii boxes sitting there.

Now, before, I've seen Wii boxes, and everytime I lifted one up in hopes that This Was The Time I was disappointed because the box was empty. "For display only," it would taunt me.

Saturday, though, the box had heft. I lifted it, and gravity told me This Time Was Different. I shook it, and even carried it up to the sales clerk.

"Am I dreaming?" I asked. "Is this for real?"

"Yes," she said. "We've had a few all week long."

Well no shit. I immediately hugged the box in my arms, and went back to the table to start grabbing games. "Mario Kart" was the obvious choice, but - having been out of the video game arena since...well, since the original Playstation - I was a virtual rookie. What cables do I buy? What controllers would I need? Did I need to buy it dinner before I took it home?

Thankfully the helpful guy in the video game section steered me toward Nintendo-shaded bliss. Yes, the one controller and nunchuck was in the box; no, I wouldn't need those component cables; yes, "Mario Kart" would replace family and friends in due time.

This is what I bought: a rechargeable battery station, a copy of "Mario Kart Wii," and the gleaming-white Wii. It cost $350, all-together.

I didn't want to spend anymore than that because I knew I wasn't thinking clearly. I called Don and told him the good news, and walked out of the store a changed man. But I knew I'd be back. "Mario Galaxy" is still out there, unclaimed, and those classic controllers to play the old standards (you can play the original "Mario Bros." and "Donkey Kong Country" - my old NES and SNES favorites!) have to be purchased.

All in due time. I got the thing home and, as luck would have it, left for Kalamazoo for the night. Sunday, however, I was back and carefully unpacking and hooking up the Wii and its sensor bar and charging the controllers. Getting online was a snap, making my Mii was a hoot, and watching the disc slot glow and throb like my iBook's sleep light was a true joy.

Now I'm planning on taking the Wii to my grandma's (I'd love to punch her legally sometimes - now's my chance) and my dad's (he'll love the golf and baseball), and to hold the First Invitational Alpine Lake Apartments Mario Kart Wii Tournament (entry fee: one beer).

My teenage years were spent either working or playing video games, but from college on I strayed from the world of Mario and Mortal Kombat. There's too much life to live, even though I sometimes will pop "NCAA Football" in and rush for a few hundred yards. Life is still too short to waste it on video games. That doesn't mean a few hours a week can't be spent racing my little brother Andrew, who lives clear out in California, and enjoying a tennis match or two with friends. That's what I like about the Wii: instead of the stanard controller/game combo the new Playstation and XBox platforms offer, with Nintendo you get a whole new experience. It's social. And it's fun.

And the search is finally over. Game on.

Monday, April 28, 2008

News from the front [April 28, 2008]

Meet Too Tall.

Too Tall is a chocolate bunny that is, incredibly, too tall for his packaging. Too Tall is so tall, in fact, his ears have burst through the box top.

But is this the truth? Is Too Tall truly taller than his bunny comrades? It turns out Too Tall isn't tall enough.

As you can see, there is plenty of room in the bottom of Too Tall's box. His feet could rest comfortably on the real bottom, and there would be clearance between his "too tall" ears and the box top. There's no need for the hole.

Removed from his packaging, the effect is even more astounding. What would happen if you or I were to lie to little children like Too Tall is doing? Is his ego the only true thing bursting from the box?

I believe so. I believe Too Tall has an inferiority complex. It could stem from his hollow nature, or his average height, or a lack of a loving relationship in his parental rabbit den. Whatever the origin, Too Tall is simply telling a too-tall tale.

What kind of society have we become?

In other news, I got promoted last Tuesday to "Senior Communications Specialist." That means I'll be doing more of this, and some other video- and web-based projects. Which is cool.

But it also means I have to toss out my unused business cards and order new ones. Not cool.

Have a dirty...anything?

Two words: Magic Eraser.

I tried it out on my iBook this weekend, and it looks like a new friggin' laptop. Amazing. And all from simple abrasion.

Running season is here again, and the new Nike+iPod kit is doing wonders. Just to have numbers (calories, average time per mile, etc.) to go along with my workouts is a dream come true.

What's better is the iPod Nano is so much better to run with than my clunky 30 GB model.

Worked 24 hours in two days this weekend. Joy.

A few birthdays, mine included, came and went without much celebration on my part, and I'm sorry for that.

Keith, hope your par-tay was fab.

Mine? Simple enough, and much appreciated. Just a nice relaxing weekend at home.

Spring is here, which means the entire universe changes direction, and moods lift like evaporating snow.

This year, I've really started to pay attention to birds. Not just my good friend the whip-poor-will (who I swear I will actually lay eyes on for once), but also the cardinal and the starling and all the noise-makers who are so cheerful first thing in the morning.

Buds are budding, trees are greening, and the birds are returning, as they do every year, to fill our hearts with gladness.

Now to figure out which ones are making which noises.

Speaking of noises, I got my bike fixed so that I can tackle the Falling Water Trail - all 10 miles (one way) of it to Concord.

A quick breakfast, and off I'll go on some sunny Saturday. Eat lunch in Concord, and bike back. If that isn't the perfect day, I don't know what is.

And speaking of perfect, my BBQ chicken breast is sizzling. Off to dinner.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Look what I found...

Another version of myself. From 2003-2004.

Hot damn. Nothing like cringing at your former self.



I started running last summer after seeing a set of podcasts that made the whole thing really easy. I even ran my first 5k (not a sponsored one, just me out running one night), the longest distance I had run since track season in high school.

Near the end of the season last year, I hurt my knee because of the way I run. It turns out that I roll my feet on the inside, which wears away the soles of my shoes and is rough on my knee. This season, now that the weather is breaking, I decided to grab some supporting Nikes. While I was at the shoe store, the salesman offered me the Nike+ sports set - which fit my style of shoe - and I decided to give it a try.

It seems like for $30 you'd get more, but the whole set only involves a little red and white sensor and a white plug-in receiver for your iPod Nano. Setup is super easy: simply put the sensor into the little hole in your shoe (you don't need a Nike shoe, either), and plug the other part into your iPod. That's it.

To calibrate the sensor, I charted a mile walk around a nearby park. The sensor read the mile distance very well, reading out "0.98 miles" by the time I reached the actual mile. After the calibration I set the iPod to a normal workout to see how it did. Here's what I got:


I only walked a mile, but it still charted my pace and how many calories I burned. Pretty cool. You can set your iPod to give you voiced encouragement (in male or female), and set it for miles or metric.

After iTunes logged my first "run," I went to the Nike+ site to upload my info, and it showed me a cool visualization of the whole thing:


But that's where I got my first hiccup. I tried registering for the Nike+ community stuff, and accidentally logged my birth year as "2008." The site then froze, saying "children under age 13 are not allowed to register." After logging off, then logging back into the sight with Safari, it was still locking me out. A quick call to Nike HQ, and a friendly guy name Mike (who works on a Sunday!) told me that the site resets these kinds of things after two hours.

I waited until Monday afternoon to try again, entering my true birthday, and things were smooth sailing. I set a goal for myself, and typed in a resolution:


There at the top, it shows my profile information and custom icon. It also logged my mile-long Sunday walk. The coolest part of the whole deal is the challenges.


People from around the world post challenges based on distance, most miles accumulated, fastest time running a certain distance, and a distance goal - say, 50 miles during a month. You can do it individually or in teams, and if you meet the challenge you get awarded a trophy. I signed up for a few simple challenges just to get me started:


So for this one I have to run seven miles. That's it. Some of them, however, are pretty challenging - made for only the hardcore runners you hear stories about. But the competition is there, and I could feel the motivational effects before I even took my first run. After reading some of the challenges, I wanted to lace up my Nikes and get started on those challenges.

Forums, a store, customizable maps of your routes - the whole thing is pretty comprehensive. One thing that turned me off, though, was the site's Flash interface. Sometimes it would grind to a halt, and the transitions between the site's areas were painfully slow. I did try a desktop application, HERE, but it may take me a while to get the hang of it.

I still have to get out and try the Nike+ kit on a true run, but until then I'm pretty well impressed. As the running season goes along, I'll report anything else I find. But I've picked my "Powersong" (KMFDM's "DIY"), I've got my iTunes playlist ready, and my shoes are broken-in.

Someone cue "Eye of the Tiger."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Americans are masochistic in Maine.

You start throwing around phrases like "economic downturn" and "...not since the Depression," and it makes one question the sanity of cutting out of town on another cross-country trip - where even the Hamptons are facing declining real estate values.

Gas. Wheat and milk. The price of everything, except houses, is going up, and here I sit on the edge of discovery, ready to journey into the heart of Old America and look into our revolutionary past. What shaped us as a country? Where did the Founding Fathers come from? Is fresh-off-the-boat crab meat really that tasty?

The answers to these questions, and more, I hope to find when I set out on May 16 to the original colonies. I’ll land on my own version of Plymouth Rock, I’ll walk down the streets of Philadelphia, bread in hand, and I’ll swim in the same pond that taught Thoreau to abandon his fellow citizens and embrace the wilderness as the last respite of a sanity-seeking intelligence. If he could spend time in prison to protest his country’s war-mongering, then surely I can sit on the banks of the Delaware and find out if Washington’s late-night crossing was worth the trouble.

Jefferson taught that a government should keep its powers within the confines of the Constitution, except while he was president, and so I don’t feel so bad taking my government money and putting it into my gas tank to run wild all over New England. If Route 66 was a quest to discover the world and my place in it, this trip is a journey to the roots of our country. What makes us tick? Where do we come from? Why can you talk about the weather with anyone, anywhere, anytime and not sound like a raving lunatic?

I’ve decided that I renting a car for this trip would be a waste. The states are so small, and the driving so non-perilous, that my little Suzuki should do just fine. It would have croaked on the side of some Colorado mountainside, but I believe the rolling hills of Vermont will not be such a chore.

I’ve also decided that, since the states are so close together, the back roads and state highways will be more than adequate to see everything I want to see in a reasonable amount of time.

The trip begins where our Declaration of Independance did: in Philadelphia, a logical starting point to a trek so historical. I’ll lay eyes on the Liberty Bell, and Mr. Franklin’s printing shop, and the building where demigods, as Jefferson called them, met and decided to try out a nation-sized experiment. From there it’s down to Maryland, up to Delaware and New Jersey, and straight through for a night (or two) in Boston and on to Maine, where I’ll stream through Route 1 and 3 on back to New Hampshire. Vermont is a resting stop before tackling Saratoga and upstate New York, with a finish through wherever I think the Adams Family (presidential, not kooky) would want to see last.

These trips are the travel equivalent to a Greatest Hits album: not a full picture, but a quick browse-through of the catalog. I may not get to a Red Socks game, but I’ll be sure to grab a picture of Fenway if I’m in the neighborhood.

The vacation time is set, the money is in the bank - what I need now are a few B&B ideas and a map of rest stops for those nights I feel like braving the New England spring nights in my spacious backseat. Nothing beats an economic downturn like a trip out of town and a few adventures along the way. Clinton and Obama can fight for the few remaining states until they’re blue-er in the face; I’ll be finding out about the prize they so greedily seek.

All that’s left is the getting there.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

On taking inventory.

Even before I interviewed a local sheriff deputy about his house burning down, and asked what our credit union could do to help his family out, I knew a complete listing of everything I owned was a good idea.

After all, fires happen all the time. I’ve already had valuables stolen from my car. And shucks, zombies could take over any day now.

So I decided that March would be "taking stock" month, a sort of spring cleaning that put all my material possessions in order, taking photos of everything I owned, and keeping information like serial numbers and replacement costs in a handy spreadsheet should disaster strike. Little did I know how much work it would entail.

But it’s all been supremely worth it.

Little did I know, for instance, that my comic collection includes almost 800 comics worth more than $3,200. Just my Spider-Man collection clocks in at $1,500, give or take a few hundred. It took a day in a half, with some online help, to figure all that out.

Few things scare me more than the thought of someone breaking in to our apartment and making off with one of my Macs. While it’s true that I lock my Apples down with enough passwords to make Fort Knox jealous, and I do a decent enough job of backing up all my data with external hard drives, but still.

What’s funny is that, if you take my comic collection, it’s worth more in ashes than it is sitting in the five or six boxes that store them. People aren’t willing to pay a good price for the latest edition of "Ultimate X-Men," but if they all burned up my insurance company would have to give me top dollar for them.

Everything I have is worth something. It’s hard for me to guess what the exact values are, but I’ve read that as long as you keep some sort of record, you’ll be paid back if disaster strikes.

Part of this project has involved cleaning and gutting as well. I have magazine subscriptions that date back years, and some of the issues I’ll never even look at again. Into the recycling bin they go.

All of this will be documented in spreadsheets, photos, iTunes lists, and burned onto a CD that will be kept off-site. After all, it doesn’t make sense to keep an inventory if the inventory melts in the flames with everything else, right?

So here’s my advice: if you have things you value, and they’re not all indestructible, take the time and effort and document everything. Everything. Stand in each room, even, and take a general "here’s-this-side" photo, just in case you forget anything.

Photos, quilts, childhood toys - those you can’t replace. But no sense in watching everything go up in smoke. We’re not all Superman, and we can’t keep everything in the Fortress of Solitude.

It’s called CYA - which means "Cover Your Assets" or something like that. There’s no better time to take stock than now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Renew subscriptions online, save a tree

A thought occurred to me today, just as I was about to drop two magazine subscription renewal envelopes in the mailbox:

Why not do this online?

I subscribe to two monthly magazines, Wired and Harper's, and both have been bugging me for months to renew my subscription. Harper's even sent me a letter saying that, by renewing early, I could save them the cost of several more notices.

Now I realize what a smart idea that was. Renew early and save the company postage and printing costs AND save on the fuel it takes to ship that envelope from Red Oak, Iowa to my apartment in Jackson, Michigan. Harper's wins, and so does the environment.

But then I thought, shucks, I betcha I could do this online. Sure enough, both sites had a renewal section. All I needed was my name and address, and a debit card, and in two minutes both subscriptions were renewed. No postage needed, no mail infrastructure to engage, no check to write, no yucky envelope taste on my tongue.

I should've thought of this a long time ago...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

$600 rebate check rich.

Michael Bloomberg, the plucky mayor of New York, recently compared the tax rebate checks to giving an alcoholic a drink: "This country has a balance sheet that’s starting to look more and more like a Third World country," Bloomberg said.

In which case, we’ll all be tested. Binge, or resist temptation? Splurge, or save?

Nevermind the moral questions regarding this tax rebate deal (here are the details, from the IRS) - others have done more thinking on this than me.

All I know is, I’m probably getting $600. And most of you are, too.

But what to do with all that cheddar?

Because I’m like most Americans (and especially like most people our age), I have what’s called a "negative self worth," meaning I owe more money (car loan, student loans) than I have in the credit union. So I’ll tip the balance at least a few hundred dollars in the "savings" column. A nice deposit of $300 into my emergency fund would do well for my security gland (that one in your head that beeps and swells every time you write a check you don’t know if you can cash). That’s smart thing number one. There are many others.

Smart thing number two would be to donate some of it to my favorite charity or cause. Right now our local organizations are hurting because Michigan’s economy (and, good lord, Jackson’s) sucks right now. So a few dollars here and there would do a lot of good.

Then the fun part comes in (we’ll call it "not-so-smart-thing number one"). I’m leaving for my New England trip sometime this spring, and a few hundred dollars would be welcome in my gas and food budget. This depends on when I get the check, of course, but most signs point to sometime in May.

If it doesn’t come in time, I’ll just consider it a New England trip rebate, and the rest of money can pad my checking account for rent or an emergency.

An iPhone? Not with this money. I’ve already set aside the funds for the Jesus Phone, thankyouverymuch, so it’s already a given.

How about you? What will you do with YOUR tax rebate check?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Warning: fake news story

Lawrence is carted away from The Parlour after failing the Dare to Be Great Challenge.


A Jackson man was hospitalized today after attempting The Parlour's "Dare to Be Great" 21-scoop ice cream challenge.

Dave Lawrence, a 26-year-old Brooklyn native, was taken away from the Parlour's Wildwood St. location after lapsing into a diabetic coma - one bite away from completing his quest to be placed on the ice cream vendor's wall among others who had completed the task in years past.

Lawrence was spurred on by a 48-year-old Oklahoma man's completion of the challenge earlier this week, as well as a dare by his friend Chris Spielman.

"Chris is in Wisconsin, and should've been here to help," Lawrence said, his breath labored in between full system flushes at Foote Hospital, where he was being treated as of press time. "That wimp...couldn't have come as I did."

After eating most of the 21 multi-flavored scoops of ice cream, Lawrence collapsed with his last spoonful on its way to his mouth. Patrons called the ambulance after repeated attempts to massage the last remaining bit down Lawrence's throat.

"We thought we would help him finish it, even if he was passed out," one woman on the scene said. "The rules don't say you have to be awake the whole time. After a few minutes of trying, we finally gave up and called the hospital."

Lawrence is being treated for glucose shock, hypertension, and acute bloating - all due to a catastrophic system reaction because of his Type I diabetes.

"To hell with sugar-free ice cream," Lawrence was heard screaming when he began the challenge. "That's like eating tofu burgers, and it's a laxative."

Family members refused comment, but had purchased a trophy with Lawrence's name and the Dare to Be Great Challenge carved onto a brass ice cream scoop in anticipation of the challenge's completion.

Foote Hospital doctors are pessimistic about Lawrence's chances of making it out of the coma any time soon, but one surgeon said any hope of recovery rested in Lawrence's chance of digesting the 10 pounds of chocolate chips, sprinkles, and strawberry chunks.

"He may never walk again," the surgeon said.

The Parlour claims no responsibility for the incident, adding that the Dare to Be Great Challenge wasn't meant to be attempted by diabetics. The restaurant's proprietor says he will add Lawrence's name to the "attempted" list, however.

Donations can be made to the Lawrence Dared to Be Great But Shouldn't Have Even Tried It fund, which will help pay for the stomach pump's electricity costs, at any Jackson-area American 1 Federal Credit Union branch location.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chaos and tomfoolery at the Restaurant Rally.

John and I drink to ease the pain of living.

Midway through my first margarita, I knew that the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce's Restaurant Rally would be trouble from the start.

The idea was crazy enough: a group of local restaurants offering free food to anyone wearing a bracelet, with chamber members slung around town in short school buses, herded like cattle into the waiting arms of Jackson entreprenuers. Pay $20, buy the ticket, take the ride, and eat 'till you puke.

Our table was casually munching on the free chips and salsa at the Crazy Cowboy when the chaos of the evening took its toll.

"We need a plan!" I said.

We were missing sombreros and donkeys with tutus.

But no one heard me. One minute we were drinking $1 margaritas and chatting about the evening's plans, and the next minute we were leaving in a huff - off to the next restaurant in line.

We stuck to the downtown restaurants at first, which seemed like a good idea at the time. since most of the spots were within a block of each other, we could maximize our Restaurant Rally experience in the shortest amount of time. Crazy Cowboy to Lenny's Sub Shop to Bella Notte to Daryl's Downtown - it all seemed so easy.

When one travels with rowdy companions, however, ease became merely a misguided state of mind. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Bill (or was it Bob?), the owner of Lenny's, who had a feeding trough set up for the chamber members who trickled in off the bus. Imagine four yellow submarines zipping around town full of hungry business owners and their dragged-along employees. I remember hoping the bus drivers were earning time and a half.

Suzanne showed up midway through our free sub sample (a simple club sandwhich, with a glass of water). She had volunteered to host one of the four buses, and we were one of her stops. We asked where she was going, and whatever she said didn't interest our party.

We called the cops soon after this.

Instead, we moved on to Bella Notte Ristorante, a preppy Italian joint that held steam trays full of pasta and sauces. Noodles, tomatoes, cheese, broccoli, chicken - again, all buffet style, and thank goodness we showed up early. Soon the line was 20-patrons deep, their eyes twitching with hunger. Some folk singer was bellowing "Hallelujah" in the corner, and Captain Jackson showed up to restore order to the madness.

"Have we lost all sense of decency?" I asked, pushing my way through the half-starved food line in order to make my escape. Our party left before the drinks even got there, and we no doubt pissed off a good many chamberettes with our cries of "excuse me" and "I have to use the restroom."

Andrea nurses her drink.

Walking into Daryl's, probably the classiest joint on the whole tour, one couldn't help imagining some secret business deal taking place while we were herded to the backroom - some waiter standing gaurd to make sure the rabble behaved themselves.

And that was hard, because when we arrived the buffet (again!) had run out of Daryl's famous dinner rolls. Instead, we made fools of ourselves devouring barbeque wings in front of William Ross, Jackson's city manager, who looked on in horror at the amount of booze placed in front of us.

I was six wings into my meal when the drinks finally arrived, and was on my way to grab a few more brownies (which they also ran out of), when we again left in a huff. Carolyn's sister, Andrea, even pushed me into the door - the restaurant turning their heads in unison at my "ouch!" - to make her getaway.

This time we loaded onto one of the buses, bravely corraled by an Ambassador Committee member who had given up on all sense of order and logic. We behaved like savages, and were told to "Quiet!" by the hapless bus driver during a railroad crossing. The destination was Ground Round, but after some lobbying a lady convinced us to stop at the Greystone. All she said was "seventy-five cent beers" and clawed my way off the bus. What else needed to be said?

Greystone's idea of a "deluxe meal."

The Greystone Tavern, made famous by its delicious hamburgers, was my kind of place: narrow, smokey, full of long faces and blue-collar sensibility. The waitress tried to place us at a long table in the back, but it was all in vain. Our group headed directly to the bar. I stumbled my way to the bathroom and found it clean.

We had nachos (they call it, oddly enough, "Beef and Greens") and peanuts at the Greystone - more like a night at a ballgame than a dine-and-dash, but whatever. Some 18 year old calmly passed out our food, and deferred to the angry looking waitress who kept having to shout her demands.

"That's fine," I answered back, "at least the bathroom's clean."

And what do you know, our circus-on-wheels exited the Greystone in a cloud of peanut shells when another bus arrived to take us to the Time Out Bar & Grill. The bus ride there was a blur, but I do remember trying to leave my Greystone nachos on the bus for the next person to board.

Found her!

We ran into Suzanne again at the Time Out, along with the dart crowd - that group of hard-core gamers who considered lawn darts a bastardization of their fine art.

"I just hope there's no crime tomorrow," Captain Jackson said, smoking a dark-brown cigarette, "because my utility belt won't fit."

Alex searches for meaning admist the madness. "Want a shot?" he asked.

We all knew how he felt. By then we had consumed so much of Jackson's finest food - and yet had only visited a few select restaurants - that the night had to come to a conclusive end before someone got sick.

Time Out offered fried cheesecake and cold pizza, all presented behind a stronly-worded sign to let the locals that this was a bourgeois affair. We weren't as spirit as we were at the Cowboy (which seemed like an eternity ago), and I think we all felt like the Restaurant Rally had run its course.

Jackson isn't known for its politeness.

"Find the fire exits, Dave," John told me. "I'll follow you."

Instead of making an exit fit for any movie, we simply loaded onto a bus bound for downtown, our origin point, and unloaded back at the Crazy Cowboy. We had come full circle, in spirit as well as in destination, and we said our goodbyes.

My companions blatantly stole this fine glass from a struggling downtown business.

It was an epic evening, for sure, and there's no better way to take in all that Jackson's fine eateries have to offer than loading drunken chamber members on cramped buses and shout orders to them in between crude jokes and pornographic picture messages (that last one involving two ladies and Subway's current slogan, which I didn't get), with no time to discover the personality of a place because you're too busy whisking away to the next stop.

Complete chaos, and I felt it first thing that night. But what could I do? I had bought the ticket. I had taken the ride, and eaten the nachos.