Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Lessons

Things I learned this Christmas:

Donna makes awesome pecan pie.

Spam can be used to make a delicious cracker spread.

Not all reindeer are chosen.

Driving lanes are optional.

Minnesota really values diversity.

2009 Resolutions Revisited

One of the first posts on this blog was a list of New Year's resolutions for 2009. So, how did I do?

1. Lose another 20 pounds. I took off over 20 pounds in 2008, so I know it's possible. Another 20 would put me at about 200 even.

Epic fail. I stayed pretty steady which itself is not bad. But I'm still about 220. Maybe that new Wii will get me in shape.

2. Cook something new at least twice a month. I got the 75th Anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking for Christmas from my wonderful girlfriend. If you haven't seen it, it has about twelve million recipes in it, so I should be able to pull this off.

I started off great with this one. I've made tons of new dishes over the last year, some of them keepers and some not. Let's call this one mostly complete.

3. Post to this blog at least once a day. This one could be tough, mainly because of resolution #4.

I met this one easily via a loophole. While there were days in which I didn't post anything, My total number of posts was well over 400, so my average was better than one a day.

4. Don't be the guy that posts on his blog about what he ate for dinner. You know that guy: tonight I didn't feel like cooking, so I had cornflakes. Since I didn't have milk, I used root beer. Here's a picture.

I sincerely hope I have kept this one. You be the judge.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wii Wii Wii All The Way Home

While we were bravely hiding from the latest deluge of snow over Christmas, Donna and I (and her family) spent a lot of time playing with her Wii. Donna's mother bought it for her grandkids. Well, actually she bought it for herself in order to keep from strangling her grandkids when they come over. But anyway, we played the crap out of it.

Mostly we played Wii Sports, which included boxing, golf, bowling, baseball and tennis. While I am currently undefeated in boxing, it was tennis that consumed us. Ryan, Donna's brother, and I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning after Christmas playing against besprited hell harpies with tennis rackets. In the process we upped our ranking to the point that we only play against professionals when we take on the computer.

The upshot is that as of this writing I can't lift either arm above my head. Yes, it got so bad that I played the last couple of days southpaw.

Anyway, Donna and I voted, and by a tally of 2-0 we decided to buy one for ourselves. I hooked it up on Tuesday and my shoulders bitched at me the whole time. Babies. I assume I can work the controller with my foot.

The best part of the Wii is the creation of your avatars (called Miis). You can customize them in all sorts of ways including designing their faces. We spent a lot of time messing around with this feature, creating likenesses of ourselves, but also any crazy thing we can think of. I made likenesses of Shaft, Ahhhnold, Superfly, Darth Vader, a "gooback" from South Park and Abraham Lincoln. As you would expect, they are all awesome tennis players.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Macy is taking part in a program at school called Discovery. It is a special group to which one must be invited. As you can imagine, I am proud of her for being asked and she was excited as well. The group studies a special non-traditional area outside of the normal curriculum. This year, Macy is studying Scandinavian mythology. After learning about Odin and Thor, Asgard, and other staples of the genre, Macy was tasked with performing a play and teaching mythology to a group of first- and second graders. As a dry run for that, the parents were invited to a lunch-hour presentation.

Did I mention their were costumes involved?

Macy directs a student in the delicate art of ACTING!

I learned about the many creatures of Scandanavian mythology, participated in a short play, and got a tour of the home of Tulip, a troll Macy had "adopted" and taken care of as part of the program.

So... Much... Snow

Well, we made it back to Fargo on Monday and were welcomed by the site of our house and driveway covered in about 24 inches of snow, plus whatever my neighbor threw on top with his snowblower. We started to shovel but about an hour in it became obvious that we were going to use our whole vacation to clear a path to the garage. We called a guy who made short work of it.

As an added bonus, we have a mountain of snow in the back yard which we can convert into a super cool fortress of badass:

Future site of Fort Awesome

Macy will be with me all this week, so we will be busy creating a lifetime of memories, as well as a place from which to bombard passersby with chunks of ice. Man, am I a great dad.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In Other News, I Won The Heisman Trophy

Here's the latest from the You Won The What For Doing What? file:

[Michael] Vick won the Ed Block Courage Award, voted on by his teammates on the Philadelphia Eagles, after the once-disgraced star quarterback returned to the league after spending 18 months in a federal prison for his role in a dogfighting ring.
Not long ago it was President Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing a time machine and travelling to the future to fix all the world's problems. Now it's Vick, who courageously lied about his involvement in a dog fighting ring, selflessly got busted for pot, and fearlessly got a multimillion dollar deal to play football after he got out of prison.

Brings a tear to my eye, the courage of that man. What was his take? Let's just say the phrase "Obama-like humility" never occurred to him:

"I've overcome a lot, more than probably one single individual can handle or bear," Vick said. "You ask certain people to walk through my shoes, they probably couldn't do. Probably 95 percent of the people in this world because nobody had to endure what I've been through, situations I've been put in, situations I put myself in and decisions I have made, whether they have been good or bad."
All that's missing is references to Jesus or the civil rights movement. The Eagles were smart to release this over the Christmas holiday so as to minimize the column inches that will be spared to address it. If only they had used those smarts and given an award for courage to someone who actually deserved it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry F'n Christmas, Ya'll

Hapmerry ChristKwanzanhukkahmas, everybody. I'll be busy eating lots of food and being glad I don't have to drive in the expected blizzard. If you're trapped by snow or just annoying people, take a few minutes and reflect on the things that make this time of year so darn special:

Mash-ups of cartoon classics with pseudo-rap songs:

Soiling the memories of cherished childhood icons:

Receiving the most heartfelt gifts one can steal from a Perkins:

Terrifying your children:

And being reminded of the dangers of operating a sleigh without the protective magic of reindeer:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Snowplow Cometh

We made it to Donna's parents' house, a little southeast of Brainerd. The weather forecast is for the entire United States to get around 400 inches of snow, so we may be staying here longer than we anticipated. They're actually calling for 12-18 inches this evening into tomorrow, with some areas getting up to 22 inches. That's perfect, because there's nothing I like more at the holidays than driving 200 miles at a slow crawl on icy roads so I can get home and shovel the driveway.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Have Railroad Tracks Behind Fences

A woman in Atlanta is planning to sue CSX railroad after her son, chasing his dog, got hit by a train. Amazingly, the train only knocked the boy off his feet. He was out of the hospital and playing the next day, a scar on his forehead the only permanent injury.

Despite a police report stating the train could not possible have stopped in time and that the boy was trespassing (he's not being charged), the mother has hired a lawyer. Her aim: to get the tracks behind a fence.

This seems reasonable, until you realize that there are tens of thousands miles of track in this country. Coupled with the fact that fencing only some of it makes a lawsuit over an unfenced area that much easier, and you can understand why it normally isn't done.

The best part is this though:

"I’m so blessed. He’s so blessed,” the mom said. “We have all the presents we need.”

Except for the millions you'll no doubt be seeking from the railroad.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hail To The King, Baby

The first first person shooter I ever played (not counting a two-minute go on the orignal Doom) was Duke Nukem 3D. It was awesome, because it used humor as an integral part of the gaming experience right alongside blowing things to hell. Duke admired himself in mirrors, threw out pithy one-liners whenever he killed something in an especially gruesome manner, and generally acted like a smug jackass. At one point in the game, you can wave some cash at a stripper and she'd flash you. It was that kind of game.

It was pretty obvious the writers had been big fans of the Evil Dead movies, as many of the lines were ripped off from the character of Ash.

Even though it was a huge success and made the developers rich, there was never a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. The reasons were always nebulous, but it turns out that a case of engine envy was to blame.

The decision to lock things down and "go with what you've got" is always a challenge in the software business, and it's especially true in the world of game development. There's always some fancy new game engine (the software used to render the environments and control the physics of the game world) coming out. Sometimes games get caught in between leaps in technology and a brand new game gets dinged for looking out of date. It happens.

It looks like 3D Realms couldn't abide letting that happen. And so began an endless cycle of switching game engines midstream, which essentially meant all the development work had to be thrown away. Now, almost fourteen years after ruling the gaming world, the company is out of business and Duke Nukem is dead. Too bad.

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Not Be Exposed To Turbulance On An Airplane

That's apparently the theory that two flight attendants are working under, anyway. They are suing the National Weather Service for failing to notify them that there was a pocket of turbulance between Seattle and California.

The lawsuit is being filed now because the statute of limitations runs out on Christmas Day.

This was a terrible accident that resulted in one of the plaintiffs needing several surgeries, but it was an accident nevertheless. I have no doubt that some sympathetic jury will see the poor attendants, note that the government must have millions laying around (they can't have given it all to banks and cash for clunkers, amiright!) and award it to the ladies. Which is reason number 426 why no trial lawyer in his right mind would ever allow me to sit on a jury in a case like this.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Carols

I'm not so big on the traditional Christmas songs. Too cutsey for me. But I turn these up when they come on the radio. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just For Kix Winter Show

Macy is in Just For Kix, a dance troupe that does shows throughout the year. Their first show was last Friday night. They performed two routines and Macy was awesome in each one. She was clearly having fun, which is a good thing to see.

Let's go to the video:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wake Up Dead

Last night I did something I haven't done in about twenty years: I went to see Megadeth in concert. They're touring with Slayer and (apparently) decided to use their off day to rake in a little extra cash by driving over to Fargo to play a gig. Donna and I went with a couple friends from work (both of whom in true metal fashion were in the bag when we got there).

Of course, in situations like this you have to put up with the one-off opening acts. In this case, there were three. Some would say three too many, and I would be one of those people.

First up was some band who's name I can't remember. They sucked, so it's okay. They had a late 80's Nine Inch Nails looks to them, but their music was more like that time Trent Reznor's cat got gang raped by those rabid banshees who were in turn being gang raped by Polish police sirens.

The second band was called Warbringer, and with a solid early-eighties metal name like that, I was hoping for some good metal. I got some pretty heavy riffs accompanied by this guy:

I am become death, the destroyer of comprehensible lyrics.

They could be pretty cool, but even as a teenager I wasn't into the growl-really-low-and-don't-say-anything-that-can-be-understood school of singers. Dave Mustaine ain't Pavaratti, but his vocals work for me.

The third act was a true abomination in the eyes of the Lord, Suicide Silence. Jesus Christ. This band is apparently on the forefront of the movement to replace bridges, verses and solos with breakdowns. Each song lasted about twelve minutes, and consisted entirely of a ten-second lightning riff followed by a two minute breakdown consisting of atonal screaming and the lead singer stomping in rythm to the bass drum. Kids eat this crap up apparently, but then that's why kids are morons.

The singer looks like he's on the ginko biloba and heroin diet, as he was so thin as to cease to be visible when turned sideways. I shall call him Trainspotter. Fashion tip, Trainspotter: if you're going to wear sneakers on stage, buy jeans that don't end halfway up your socks.

Suicide Silence: this band committed neither of
these things and we were all the poorer for it.

Easily the highlight of Suicide Silence for me was when Trainspotter introduced a song by saying he wrote it for his daughter. He then proceeded to screech for eight and a half minutes. Here are the lyrics, as I understood them:

Yeaaargh blaf brop brop
Zheeeyaahhh brot brot glumphhh
Neeeyahh rarrhh brop brop
Wraaaa norf nughht yearrgh

And so on.

Donna and I had quite the time holding pretend conversations between Trainspotter and his daughter: "Daddy, play that song you wrote for me!" "Of course, pumpkin. Yeaaargh blaf brop brop..." Good times.

This would be a good time to comment on the state of moshing in 2009. That is to say, it is both tamer and more annoying that I remember it. Tamer in that I saw no blood. I saw people spend large parts of concerts on the floor unconscious at a Slayer concert in the late eighties. They'd wake up ten minutes later, realize where they were, get up and start the devil signing anew. Last night was more like square dancing for short bussers.

It was more annoying though because I was constantly getting hit from behind. Blindsiding is uncool and leads to poor hygine and cancer. I simply began keeping one eye behind me and raised my elbow when appropriate. Okay, so I threw an elbow when appropriate. Which turned out to be when anyone under the age of thirty approached me. I have to admit, throwing elbows at the heads of teenagers is way more satisfying now that I'm over 200 pounds and can get some force behind it.

After that is was on to the main event. Megadeth was pretty awesome considering 1) the show got moved to a smaller venue[*], 2) the acoustics in The Venue are not conducive to heavy metal, and 3) Dave Mustaine is like 48 or something which is 116 in metal years.

I managed to shoot some video. The audio is pretty bad early on. Once the solo kick in it improves somewhat. Dave can still play.

All in all is was a good time. Megadeth can still bring it, though Dave Ellefson not being on stage with Mustaine is just plain weird. I'd love to see them in a venue with better acoustics. Oh, and play Devil's Island next time.

Dave Mustaine's dad? A roadie? Both?

[*] Another data point in support of the idea that only concerts that feature someone wearing a cowboy hat unironically can sell out a big venue in Fargo.

Monday, December 7, 2009

They Tend To Take Orders Literally In The Military

I served in the United States Air Force for six years (four on active duty and two years in the Reserves). I do not recall a single instance in which I was given an order, whether it was to assemble for a parade, get a haircut, arrive at a certain missile silo at a certain time or shine a boot, that wasn't to be taken literally.

I can assure you that if I had ever been in a position where I was given orders to design a battle plan that would "defeat the Taliban", I would have all kinds of cool maps and footnoted designs for troop placements and pincer movements and ambushes and kill zones and other cool military words. There's be all kinds of equipment plans and rules of engagement and a list of high-priority targets. All with the intent to "defeat the Taliban".

Does anyone not know that military types tend to take orders literally? Outside of the government, I mean?

"Nuance" and "intent" is the stuff of politicians. There is no such thing as a non-literal order in the United States military. Orders to a commander are not the place to try to walk a fence. That's what press releases are for.

Building The Tower

Have you ever wondered what it's like to erect a ham radio tower? Of course you have; why else would you ever read this blog? When we were down in Georgia for Thanksgiving, I got to relive a part of my youth that I had apparently buried deep down inside, as I have no memory of having done it before.

Anyway, my various brothers and sisters and cousins and random passers-by all chipped in to allow my father to talk to that one guy in Turkmenistan that he couldn't reach before.

The antenna is actually a fallen part of SkyLab we found
lying in the backyard when we moved into the house.

Who needs "cranes"? Or "hardhats". Or "OSHA".

We took a a beer break, but then the supervisors
came by and threatened to take away our bonuses.

And finally, the elusive mating ritual of antenna and tower is
completed. With luck, they'll raise a healthy litter of young
and the species will endure.

In lieu of cash, we were paid in Krystals.
Worth. Every. Injury.

See the rest of the story here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

NOW It's Winter

We had a good, late run of warmish weather well into November this year. But today Macy and I got to shovel the walk for the first time this winter. The high today is about 15. Here's a view from the deck, where light, fluffly snow is still slowly coming down:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Building The Perfect Frog

Macy received a Build-A-Bear kit for Georgia Christmas[*] this year, though the bear looks suspiciously like a frog. I told Macy to pretend she was a vet and that the frog was hurt and needed to be "fixed". She got pretty excited at getting to play veterinarian. Anyway, we documented the process for posterity. Click on the images to enlarge.

[*] Also known as Every-Other-Thanksgiving-When-I-Have-My-Daughter Day

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hard Advice (12/4/2009)

My boyfriend and I are a couple of years out of college and doing very well. Many of our friends are not as fortunate. My problem is that we have a housekeeper who comes every month, but her work is not good. Without checking with me, my boyfriend offered the job to two of our friends who have the time to clean and need the money. I think money and friends don't mix. I feel awkward trying to back out of this, but I want to do the right thing.
You think the problem lies in the potential awkwardness in having your friends clean your toilets. I, however, see the truth. The truth is that you can't figure out how you ended up with such losers as friends. You envision yourself hanging out with doctors and novelists (if not movie stars and senators) and instead you're stuck with an endless parade of losers. Hire these people to clean your toilets and scrub your floors. When they ask about your plans this weekend, tell them you don't discuss such things with servants and ask to see their green cards.

I work for a very large company, and on our floor, we all share a refrigerator in the kitchen. Over the course of several months now, many of us have had food taken, sometimes directly from our lunchboxes. The thief happens to be not only a co-worker but a very good friend whom I spend a lot of time with away from work. I don't know how to handle this.
If you like her, bake a laxative into your next batch of cookies. If not, use bleach instead.

I am not a germaphobe. I do, however, expect people to wash their hands after using the restroom, and I am amazed, in this day of swine flu hysteria, to find that there are still people who don't. How do I, as a reasonable person concerned for the health of my young family, encourage better hygiene practices from my co-workers and family members, not only after using the restroom but as a general rule?
I'm amazed that someone as seeming literate as yourself used the word "hysteria" unironically in describing the current swine flu mania. I mean, you do realize that your whole letter amounts to complaining that others don't show enough concern for what you yourself describe as an overwrought emotional reaction. In other words, you liken the swine flu uproar to a mental disorder, then complain that people don't take it seriously. Tell me honestly: does anyone ever actually try to shake your hand? They don't, do they?

My brother is schizophrenic and has a violent history. Years ago, when I was 18, my brother and I were driving around when we saw a hitchhiker. We picked him up and took him back to our house. The next day, the hitchhiker was gone. I had an uneasy feeling, like maybe my brother did or said something that creeped the guy out, but maybe something else happened. So how do I ask my brother if he murdered the hitchhiker?
You should just walk right up and ask him. Seriously. Straight out ask him. When he offers to show you where he buried the hitchiker and casually mentions bringing an axe and a shovel along on the trip, take solace in the fact that I will win $20 in my office pool with my selection of "passive-aggressive sister, in a hole in the park, with the axe."

As always, compare my advice to someone getting paid and see how I did.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

One of the most important things you can teach a child is how to read critically. That many adults I know can't do this is disheartening, but it doesn't diminish its importance as a skill. Kids are bombarded with opinions from television [1], books [2], and their parents [3].

The most insidious of these however, are news sources. Kids are taught from a young age that newspapers and news anchors are sources of fact, with opinions clearly marked as such (but backed up with supporting facts).

The world described in the above paragraph has not been my experience.

I don't know if things have really changed or if I've only slowly come to pay attention, but news articles today increasingly remind me of opinion pieces sprinkled liberally with "facts" designed to sway a reader's thinking, rather than the reporting of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

All people have biases. Reporters are people. Therefore all reporters have biases. My understanding of the job of a journalist is to present the facts by doing one's best to set aside those biases. I don't see a lot of that lately. Instead, I see "news" pieces riddled with language meant to tell the reader how to feel about the piece's subject.

This isn't exactly news, of course. But now the slippery slope of opinion journalism masquerading as news has given way to an avalanche of activist news in which the writer attempts to steer the reader around to the correct way of thinking ("correct" being equivalent to how the writer thinks) about a news story. It's all about ideology now.

Take this piece [4] in which a Pulitzer Prize winner effectively makes up a backstory in order to paint a picture. That the actual facts paint the exact opposite picture is of no consequence; there is a battle to be won! In this case, the battle is over healthcare. But that's not the only battle being fought in print.

That many readers are okay with this sort of manipulation (as evidenced by the comments section of the article, in which the defense amounts to claiming the author is creating an archehtypical case study in support of government healthcare) is sad; you'd hope that people would value truth over the lie. (Of course, it also begs the question: if the made up version of events in the story are so typical, why couldn't the author have found a story which didn't require making up facts to fit the narrative?)

The fact that the linked article is an opinion piece only reinforces my point: straight opinion backed with supporting facts is not enough any more; the reader must be swayed at all costs. If that means making things up, inventing backstory where none exists (or is the opposite of reality), so be it. Being "right" on the issue is more important than truth.

If opinion journalism has slid so far down that inventing facts is okay, how far down has straight news sunk? The answer should be "not at all", but if straight news contains more and more opinion, and opinion can use falsehoods to make its point...

I intend to teach Macy to read the news with a critical eye. The days of taking a news anchor or Pulitzer Prize winner at his word are over.

[1] "Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs are an important part of a balanced breakfast!"
[2] "Republicans are evil!"
[3] "That plaid jumper makes you look so grown up!"
[4] Yeah, I know. Extreme right-wing pundit alert. It was the best article that both sourced the original article and had first-person accounts of the investigation into the patient's actual circumstances.