Saturday, January 31, 2009

Me and My Johnny Magee

Not much in the way of a new post tonight, since Monique and I just got back from the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. But since one of the headliners was Kris Kristofferson, and since he sang Me and Bobby McGee (which he wrote before Janis Joplin made it famous) I thought I'd pass along a classic song of Detroit rugby:

Me and Johnny Magee (apologies to Kris Kristofferson)

Scrumming down in Baton Rouge, the pack was all in pain
And I’s losing every single take against the head.
Johnny came in off the bench, jersey was food-stained,
But he pushed that scrum across to New Orleans.

I threw in to the lineout while he lifted locks,
I struck for the ball while Johnny propped the scrum.
Standing in a buffet line, Johnny topped his beer with mine,
We sang every song that fat prop knew.

[Chorus]Fat prop's just another phrase for too much weight to lose
Scrummin' don't mean nothin' ref, if that kick was free
And wheelin' scrums was easy, Lord, when Johnny propped the scrum
You know, wheelin' scrums was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Johnny Magee.

From the Kentucky prop kicks to the California scrum,
Hey, Johnny trundled low into the maul.
Through all kinds of weather, through everything that we done,
Hey Johnny baby let me strike for the ball.

One day up near Salinas, Lord, he bought a pontoon boat,
He’s looking for that pub and I hope he finds it,
But I’d trade ten rucks tomorrow for one scrum of yesterday
To be binding Johnny’s jersey tight to mine.

[Chorus]Fat prop's just another phrase for too much weight to lose
Scrummin' don't mean nothin' ref, if that kick was free
And wheelin' scrums was easy, Lord, when Johnny propped the scrum
You know, wheelin' scrums was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Johnny Magee.

La la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la laLa la la la la Johnny Magee.
La la la la la, la la la la laLa la la la la, Johnny Magee, la.
La La la, la la la la la la,
La La la la la la la la la, hey now Johnny now Johnny Magee yeah.
Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na na na na

Hey now Johnny now, Johnny, yeah.
Lord, I’m calling my loose head, calling my tight head,
I said I’m calling my fat prop just the best I can,
C’mon, where is Johnny now, where is Johnny Magee, yeah,

Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lord
Hey, hey, hey, he’s with Detroit RFC!
Yeah! Whew!
Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lord
He’s with Detroit RFC!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tower of Babel, Meet Patioboater's Schedule; Patioboater's Schedule, Meet Tower of Babel

I was just looking at my schedule for Monday and noticed this meeting invitation:

Metadata template for ELT NGS Video and other asset types for ingestion into CAMS (CONF BOS -5- Moakley Bridge (12)).

I challenge you, gentle readers, what do you think this means? God help me, I actually do understand what almost all of it means. We all have bits and pieces of jargon in our work lives, but sometimes it's a wee bit thick around here.

The Crew Slowly Grows

Oooh, now I'm up to *six* followers. Events have already overtaken my last post.

Everybody please squeeze in a bit and make some room on the Patio Boat for Mr. Jim Stoy. I'll stir up another batch of Kool-Aid.

No, no, Jim. You can't sit next to Baby Huey. Putting you two big fellas on the same side of the boat will capsize us all!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Continuing Adventures and Inspirations of Magee 2.0

My little venture into the world of social networking has so far proven to be more social than I expected. I now have five "followers" of my blog. I wonder if Jim Jones started this way? How committed are my followers? If I hand over a cup of Kool-Aid are you still sniffing it first?

Let me know how you think it's going, oh followers of mine. I really have no idea what I'm doing here, mostly just trying to type up a little something every day. At least I know a few intrepid souls who have gone before me. I guess if I had to list my three biggest blogging role models they would be:

Sailor Jim Johnston -- I first came across Sailor Jim via alt.callahans on Google. Alt.callahans is a Usenet group based on the Callahan's Crosstime Saloon books by Sailor Jim, and it was once upon a time one of the largest groups on Usenet, back in the early proto-days of the Internet. His current blog is titled Sailor Jim; Storyteller. I'll probably put together a full post or two on Sailor Jim and some of his writings, but for now suffice it to say that I like his stories and his writing enough to have contributed the index for his book Naked Through the Snow; and other bits of silliness in exchange for three free copies. If there's a style of any sort emerging on here, it's probably some reflection of Jim's blog because that's the guy I've been reading the longest.

(BTW, one of the customer reviews of his book on Amazon.com said, "And don't forget to read the index." That may actually be the peak of my professional acclaim as an indexer. Nobody ever recommends reading an index, but I tried to make an index suitable for that eminently readable book, and I reckon I may have succeeded.)

Ryan Claytor -- Ryan has done a series of autobiographical comic books called And Then One Day. It's taken a couple of different forms over the last four or five years. One of the interesting things about it is that a couple of the more recent volumes were part of his MFA project in which he studied the nature of autobiographical comics. His stuff made me do some real thinking about the nature of autobiography, which was also interesting thing to think about in terms of how it applied to blogging.

I happened to pick up one of his original And Then One Day comics at my local comic shop because it had a fuzzy cover (really) and was for sale for only a couple of bucks and was hooked. Ryan just moved out to Lansing, Michigan, from California. I met him at a comic talk in December and he seemed okay with the Winter, so I think I'll have to get in touch with him again and see how he's holding up now that we're headed into February.

His work is now on display in an exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, and I certainly plan to check it out while Monique and I are out there next month.


Gettysburg Mom -- That's right, my very own little sister Susan Magee Riordan, whose blog is called Gettsyburg Family. She started up her blog at some point early last year or maybe in 2007, and I quickly came to appreciate what a great tool it was for letting me keep in much closer touch with what was going on with her family. She also writes on of the most consistently entertaining blogs on the net, and I'm not just saying that because she posts cute photos of my nephew and nieces. If you haven't read her blog, check it out. She was the true inspiration for me starting a blog of my very own.

Also on the social networking front, I'm also now up to 117 friends on Facebook. Honestly, I figured I might eventually get up to a couple of dozen at some point this Spring once I got around to tracking down various family members and the Meisner for Treasurer crew. And it's been fun, too. At least half of the folks on that list have tracked me down. How they figured out that I was now on Facebook is a bit beyond me, but what the heck. It's been a lot of fun. I've heard from a few people that I haven't heard from in years, and that part's been really great.

Speaking of my ever-growing friend list, I also had a friend request this week from somebody whose name I didn't recognize at all, and who didn't seem to have any common friends with me. So I've sent back a note asking him who the heck he is. I'm happy enough to friend anybody on Facebook, but mostly I'm just curious. Who are you, Peter Ferrara, and why do you want to be my friend? You already have 14 friends and I don't recognize any of them. On the other hand, when I consider the vast number of people that I have known over the years, it would hardly be surprising if a few slipped past my initial memory filters.

Boy, am I gonna be embarrassed if it turns out that Peter Ferrara pulled me out of a collapsed coal mine and then donated two pints of blood to keep me alive ... and I've gone and forgotten the entire incident!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Movie Review - Hellboy II: The Moldin' Army

Monique and I just finished watching Hellboy II. Well, technically I just finished watching Hellboy II, and Monique watched the first hour and thirty minutes or so of Hellboy II.

I think it's safe to say that if Monique had to choose a word to describe it, she might select "crappy". I wasn't quite so down on it, but I have to admit that it was pretty disappointing. The part that's really disappointing is that we both liked the first Hellboy movie. I just don't think the movie ever quite caught the wittiness and tone of the first effort. Also, it felt like the whole film was driven by overly long special effects sequences and battle scenes instead of storytelling.

I guess this makes it the second time this year that Monique has walked out on the sequel to an action flick that we liked. (She also marched out on The Dark Knight, with much more animus in that case. She really hated that movie.)

I don't know quite why it's so hard to capture the magic a second time with an action flick, but it certainly is a rare happening. It's almost as if they're making the same movie again, so why can't they get it right? It kind of reminds me of all the sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg and Lucas got the tone just right in the first movie, but they were never able to get that tone right again for an entire movie. I think the real problem was that they kept trying to top their previous efforts. But there was a relaxed feel to that first one that was what put it over the top. It was the same thing with Hellboy II, it felt like more effort went into trying to top the effects and action sequences of the first one than went into the storytelling.

On the other hand the really good version of The Maltese Falcon (the 1941 version with Humphrey Bogart) was actually the third time in ten years that the studios made that flick, so I guess sometimes a movie does get better the more times you make it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Writer Down....

It sounds as if one of my favorite sports columnists probably won't be returning to the keyboard. Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated fame, suffered a pair of strokes this fall and then suffered a smaller third stroke while in his rehab facility. He still can't speak and has a host of physical ailments to overcome. (Peter King passed along an update on the final page of this week's Monday Morning QB column. It's at point #8 in the list.)

I always enjoyed Dr. Z because he was a thinking man's football analyst back in the days when thoughtful football analysis was in short supply. Come to think of it, thoughtful football analysis may be in shorter supply than ever in this, The Age of the Punditocracy. I always felt that he gave me his opinion based on what he saw and what he thought, not what somebody told him or what was popular. And I could also tell that he did a lot of homework to develop that opinion.

I had kind of lost track of him when I stopped reading Sports Illustrated on any sort of regular basis, and then I came across him on the Internet at SI.com a few years ago and have been again reading him regularly ever since. In addition to his columns he had a really good weekly letters column with a nice, casual tone and a lot of give-and-take between him and his readers. He was a wordsmith and a craftsman in the best way.

I hate losing a good columnist. When you read a good columnist over time you get a good appreciation for his perspective and his flaws and strengths. You also come to rely on that opinion to help give you to see more aspects of a thing than you might otherwise see on your own.

And to lose a man of words to a stroke that has left him speechless ... well, I don't know that I have words for that.

Best wishes on your path, Dr. Z.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Twenty-Five Things about Me That You Might Not Know

This is one of those silly little things that's going around on Facebook this week, and I got tagged by at least four or five people. But I always find everybody else's responses so interesting that I feel obliged to fill out my own. This one is more open-ended than most, it just asks you to write down twenty five things, facts, habits, or goals about yourself.

So here they are, as typed quickly at the end of the workday in no particular order:

1. I have to double-knot the right boot on my favorite pair of hiking boots -- the ones I am wearing right now -- but not the left boot. I have no idea why a regular shoelace knot won't hold on that right boot, and I have genuinely given it a lot of thought over the last eighteen months.

2. I am a federally certified destroyer of Canada goose nests, a Shiva of the waterfowl crowd.

3. I have absolutely no idea what I would be doing professionally if I hadn't accidentally stumbled into indexing.

4. My football and rugby injuries over the years include assorted bruises and scrapes of all degree over my entire body; multiple sprained ankles; multiple concussions, including at least one fairly serious one; a likely fracture in my right forearm that I didn't get x-rayed because I wanted to keep playing; battered fingers and hands, including a torn tendon in my pinkie and a misshapen thumb joint; dislocated shoulder (ouch!); plantar fasciitis; a pulled muscle in my neck; a bulging disk in my lower back; multiple sprained knees; a torn meniscus and sprained medial collateral ligament in my left knee; osteoarthritis in my left knee; and probably at least ten others that I can't remember (blame it on the concussions.) And yet the worst injury I have ever suffered was the time I shattered two bones and a knuckle in my right ring finger while playing *flag* football. Sheesh. Flag football.

5. I always buckle my safety belt in the car.

6. I am continually astonished at how lucky I am to have met Monique.

7. I don't read nearly as many books as I used to, but I probably still knock off forty or fifty each year, about a dozen of which are old favorites that I decide to read again. Yet I still probably have a hundred books sitting around the house that I want to read but haven't gotten to yet.

8. I like to improvise when I cook. It's an artform that's entirely ephemeral, a zen sand garden that you can eat.

9. I can type about 80 words per minute, and it is the one skill that I could always rely upon for work during my unemployed days.

10. Between my work e-mail and my Yahoo e-mail where personal and village stuff arrives I generally get around a hundred e-mails a day, not including spam. Despite the aforementioned typing speed I usually can only manage to write a dozen or fifteen replies per day. Don't feel bad if you sometimes only get a one-sentence or one-word reply from me, or sometimes no reply at all. It's the sheer volume, not that I don't care.

11. I first retired from rugby at the age of 26 because my body was too worn down from years of collision sports. I am inordinately proud of having won three Detroit RFC Old Boy of the Year awards since starting up again at the age of 35 because it would have been really easy to stay retired.

12. I love beer. (Oh wait, this was supposed to be things you might *not* know about me. Let's try again. In addition to drinking beer, I really enjoy brewing it, though I don't brew as often as I'd like. I think I made four batches early last year, but haven't done a new batch in about nine months.)

13. I am a professionally published poet, though I haven't submitted a poem for publication in at least a dozen years.

14. I still read quite a few comic books, probably three or four per week, plus the occasional graphic novel or collection. My favorite is my good buddy Spider-Man, whose comic I have been reading for something like thirty years now.

15. I really like to drive, but I hate traffic. I have seen so much crappy wintertime driving since I moved to Detroit that I now try to work from home if even an inch of snow falls.

16. For the first couple of months after I moved to California I slept in my tent in the backyard of some friends in San Diego, until the fateful day when their dog ate my tent.

17. I started collecting original comic-book art pages a few years ago after reading an article about it. Before then it had never occurred to me that you even *could* buy this stuff, much less that a lot of it was pretty cheap on e-Bay. One of the things I really like about it is that it's production art that was created for a purpose, not just to be a piece of art. There's a usefulness about it that appeals to me.

18. I started up a blog this year. I call it "Patio Boat" and it can be found at http://patioboat.blogspot.com/. (Oh wait, if you're reading this here you probably *do* know this! Substitute fact: I dislike canned green beans.)

19. When I was going to school at Cornell I was so broke that I would sometimes walk around for weeks at a time without enough money to buy a postage stamp. When you say that to your classmates at an Ivy League school they usually think it's a metaphor of some sort. It wasn't a metaphor.

20. Our beagle is the cutest beagle in the history of all beagledom, but she has truly awful breath.

21. I really like to fish, but I don't really care all that much whether or not I catch fish.

22. I wish I stayed in better touch with old friends. I'm terrible at it, and there are a lot of people who have meant a lot to me that I'm not in touch with any more.

23. Driving a jet-ski makes me paranoid because I feel as if I should be wearing a helmet.

24. No matter how tired I am, I always have to read for a while before I can fall asleep.

25. I'm a sucker for these assorted questionaire/fun facts things when they go around because I always learn new things about people that I care about.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Time flies when you're accomplishin' this much stuff on a Sunday

Wow, so much that I meant to do with this day, and now it's already 10:24 pm. Let's check off the accomplishments for the day:

  • Slept in a bit and then lazed about in bed reading the paper.
  • Took Katie the Beagle for a good walk.
  • Ate a yummy brunch cooked by Monique: fried egg sandwiches on English Muffins with a nice, sharp Irish cheddar. At long last a harmonious fate for the English and the Irish -- deposited in an American belly!
  • Futzed around on Facebook for a while.
  • Watched the recording of yesterday's Mecum Auto Auction. I loves me some classic autos for sale in high-def.
  • Wrote a note to Pete Cole, who tracked me down via Facebook.
  • Rescued Lenny the Lumpymobile from the body shop's parking lot. Lenny is no longer lumpy! Hurrah!!
  • Shopped at Costco: coffee, ziploc bags, dog food, sliced ham, oranges, chicken thighs, pasta, and a new portable external hard drive for the new laptop that's arriving next week -- on sale at $100 for 500 GB. That's 20 cents per gig. One of the programmers I used to work with told me the tale of when he was in college at the U of Michigan and helped put together the business case for buying an entire megabyte of memory, which they considered to be a real deal at about a million dollars.
  • Marveled that the sun was already setting as I drove home.
  • Washed the dishes.
  • Futzed around on Facebook a bit more.
  • Watched the Pistons lose to the Rockets.
  • Made a yummy stir fry with the chicken thighs I picked up at Costco, plus some curry, ginger, snow peas, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, scallions, red cabbage, a potato, and some coconut milk.
  • Ate the yummy stir fry.
  • Fed the dog.
  • Petted the dog.
  • Played with the dog.
  • Washed the newly dirtied dishes and made some coffee for the morning.
  • Petted the dog some more.
  • Watched a fifteen-minute special on the making of "Making of the Planet of the Apes".
  • Started writing today's blog entry.
... and now I seem to have fired up "My Darling Clementine" on the DVR, a John Ford western with Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan, Victor Mature, Ward bond, and a cast of favorites, so I reckon I might be done accomplishin' for the day.

Whew, that was a full day of accomplishment. A fellow keeps accomplishin' at that pace and he might end up well rested.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Comics", not politics.

I've been futzing around with my new DirecTV video-on-demand service, and I downloaded a copy of the new "Wolverine and the X-Men" cartoon. The villain in this particular cartoon was an American governement agency that imprisoned a bunch of people without trial, and then tortured them for information.

Boy, am I going to be glad to have that sort of thing returned to the realm of comic books, cartoons, and science-fiction films.

(Note the label. "Comics", not politics.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Because I said so, that's why

And now, a question from my Mom:

Question: I'm not sure, John, why you're keeping political comments off your blog. You generally have interesting opinions. I would much rather have read some of your observations on the innauguration the other day than the item about your lunch.

Short Answer: ‘Cause I don’t wanna.*

Long Answer: There are a lot of reasons, let me list a few:

1) Because I am a public official and this is a public forum. Essentially, whenever a politician (no matter how low on the totem pole) makes public comments about politics, it usually comes off as either self-serving or as the repetition of entrenched talking points. I found that when I adopted my year-in-review summary that I felt obliged to remove a couple of comments from the e-mail in which it originated. I don't want to go through a continuous process of self-censorship as I write this thing because it is in some ways an experiment in autobiography. (Heck, I don't even want to proofread these posts, as I'm sure my eagle-eyed readers have already noticed.) You may have only gotten my thoughts on eating lunch in my cube, but rest assured those were my uncensored thoughts on eating lunch in my cube.

2) Because genuine political thought and discourse is complicated and requires a commonly understood frame of reference. Putting together items on that level takes a lot of time and effort, which is why the Internet is full of people calling each other names and attacking each other's positions without much effort to understand why the other person is saying what they're saying. And a blog isn't a good format for that sort of thought, unless it's genuinely dedicated to political thought, in which case it has enough time to develop a full framework and context around specific items. I'm not trying to build a political framework here, I'm just capturing a few random thoughts in words.

3) Because I already have more than enough opportunity in other venues to discuss my opinions on matters of both local and national politics. I also have more than enough opportunity in other venues to have my opinions on matters of both local and national politics ignored by people who aren't really listening, but just want to make their own points. Just because I won't be blogging about it doesn't necessarily mean that I won't be thinking about it or even possibly writing an e-mail about it.

4) Because I'm mostly doing this for fun as something other than work or politics, which already take up a big chunk of my time.

5) Because I'm likely to occasionally comment on aspects of politics, anyway, despite items 1-4. For example, I'm sure that I'll put together a post on the fact that our village is honoring Jim Donahue and Gene Matkowski for their years and years of service on our village's water board. That'll be a political post, but hopefully it will discuss something not obvious in politics and something that isn't being discussed elsewhere on 100,000 political blogs. I guess another way of saying that is that I didn't have anything particularly new to add to the public discussion of the inauguration or the election.

*6) Because I flat-out stole the short-answer bit at the top of this post from Ryan Claytor's FAQs at his Elephant Eater Comics site. I put it to you, gentle reader, would you trust political commentary from a blogger who steals his best bits from Ryan? I also put it to you all that you should go over to Ryan's site and order "The Collected And Then One Day - Vol 1" which is really a much more entertaining and insightful read that this long bit of metablogging. Plus, I won't feel guilty about stealing Ryan's comment if somebody buys a copy of his entirely excellent book.

7) Because Patioboater and Patio Boat Blog (TM) reserve the right to change any of the rules they've made up about this blog at any moment. We're just winging it, folks.

(Offer to keep my commentating nose out of politics may not be valid in your state or metropolitan area. Consult with your attorney for full details. Side effects include indigestion, insomnia, inflammation of the lower extremities, and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Please consult your doctor of political science before taking Patio Boat Blog political comments internally.)

P.S. That "public forum" bit up in #1 is also why I probably won't post much in the way of specifics about my job in here, either. The word "Dooce" has meaning to me!

Technology Triumphs Over Entropy, this week, anyway

I had a genuine technological triumph last week. After several false starts that involved returns and receipts of electronics parts, I managed to get my DirecTV receiver hooked up to the Internet via a wireless connection that will allow me to access video on demand. I shall spare you all the technical details and instead sum up my experience as follows:

Plug-and-play, my ass.

Still, the point ultimately was not that I entered the magical kingdom of video on demand. The point was that I managed to make the damn thing work even after it proved more difficult than I had expected. Now we'll see how long it works, though I'm rather hopeful that the solution is at least semi-permanent. And if there are problems, I've at least learned an awful lot more about the arcana of the world of IP addresses, subnet masks, and WiFi standards 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n.

I've been doing a lot of technological upgrading lately, perhaps starting when Monique and I bought Lenny the Lumpymobile, our Honda Civic Hybrid, at the end of the Summer. Among the options that it came with was a combination satellite navigation system and XM satellite receiver. We probably wouldn't have ordered it up that way, but since it was the package on the available car, we took it. And I have to say that if I had it to do again, I would order it up that way.

The upgrades really started to pick up speed at the end of November when Monique gave me an iPod Touch for my birthday. And now in 2009 I'm blogging, Facebooking, and hooking up WiFi on a whim. The rising tide will probably reach its crescendo next week when my new laptop arrives.

But all of this stuff takes time and effort to figure out. And it seems that as soon as you've established a nice all-around equilibrium, everything starts to slowly degrade again. Software gets outmoded, network connections change, giant piles of snow fall on your new car and destroy its new roof, and then when the body shop hands it back, the XM antenna still isn't working (apparently much to their surprise, too, since the FM antenna was just fine. They were very nice about it when I brought it back and immediately ordered up a new antenna.) And so the work of technological maintenance goes on, sometimes preventatively, but more often when something just stops working.

Thus Lenny the Lumpymobile is at the body shop today, getting a new XM radio antenna installed, and thus our ol' pickup Sprout will be at the mechanic next week getting a power-steering leak fixed.

It's a big complicated ball that we all roll uphill when we seek to make things happen. And the minute we stop pushing it begins to roll back over us. In short, it's a reflection of our old friend the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the universal law of increasing entropy. In any system without an external source of energy, the level of disorganization will always increase.

Perhaps an additional information-technology corollary might be that in any system without an external source of money, the number of parts that don't work will always increase.

Still, my little technological triumph has put me in a rather philosophic and optimistic mood about the whole thing. As people we keep rolling that ball uphill in dozens of different venues: home repair, cleaning, cooking, tending children, manufacturing things from automobiles to little paper umbrellas for drinks. It's what we do. Every day we seem bent on defying the second law of thermodynamics in our own localized systems.

Good for us!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lunch Chez Cubicle

Here I am, eating my regular lunch fare in my regular lunch locale: leftovers in my cubicle. Today's noontime feast consists of some leftover hash browns from Monday morning's brunch and a bit of pork-and-eggplant stir fry that was leftover from last night. I also have two apples and an orange with an astonishingly dried up skin that is proving remarkably difficult to peel.

Most of my cubicle lunches feature leftovers. Monique and I usually cook larger amounts than we need for dinners, and I plan on eating the leftovers for lunch. An actual sandwich in my lunchbag is a pretty rare happening, usually just a couple of times per month. Not that I have anything against sandwiches, mind you, it's just that a nice hot bowl of stew or spaghetti or what-have-you is a bit more like a meal. Plus, we usually have some delicious leftovers in the fridge. When I don't bring something, I usually head down to our cafeteria for a salad and a soup or a bowl of chili.

Once a week or so I head out for lunch. This is more based on the principal that I need to visit the sunlight every now and then -- especially in the wintertime -- that it is based on any particularly exciting lunch options. When I used to work in places with some good scenery in easy walking or very quick driving distance, I liked to eat in a place with a view. Mostly all I have near our corporate campus in Farmington Hills are more corporate campuses, but every now and then on a sunny summer day I'll drive over to the edge of Walled Lake and watch the water.

But usually it's just me in the cube with some leftovers. Lunch Chez Cube.

I also used to conduct most of my fantasy sports news-gathering and transactions at lunchtime over my computer. Now that I've got this little blog, I suspect there'll be more lunchtime posts and less fantasy sporting. We shall see.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Upstairs at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show

Okay, enough of the oddities in the Auto Show's basement. What was going on upstairs where the big boys exhibit? Well, the first thing we came across was another oddity, something called the Bertone Bat 11. Looks like a nice, clean sports car from the front, doesn't it?


But feast yer eyes on these freaky fins!


I can't imagine those fins serve any useful purpose whatsoever, but I thought it was a nifty-looking concept car. I'm definitely ordering one up as set dressing when I make my science-fiction flick one day.

On to the Mini Coopers! I don't really fit in them, but they are cute as the Dickens:



We didn't get a shot of the new Mini Cooper Convertible they unveiled this year, but rest assured it's cute as the Dickens' dimples.

I'm not sure how well this photo comes across, but this is the back seat of a Maybach luxury sedan. It's worth clicking on to see the full detail:


This thing was plush. Note the comfy reclining leather seat with legrest and the convenient holder for your champagne bottle. It also has a window that can be raised to separate the back seat from the front seat when the chauffeur gets too familiar and chatty. I hate when the chauffeur gets too familiar, don't you?

This is a picture of me with the new Tesla sports car:


Aside from looking like an angry and squatty red bug, and being named after a crazy electrical inventor, what really distinguishes the Tesla from other high-performance sports cars is that it's powered entirely by an electric engine and a really big battery pack:


Impressive. This may be a slightly higher performance option than the ol' Stealth Boat with its three 12-volt batteries and a trolling motor.

I may not have fit in the Mini Cooper, but Monique thinks the Smart Fortwo fits her just fine:



Is it a car or is it a fashion accessory? Since it's made by a Swatch/Mercedes joint venture I leave it to you to decide. Either way, I have to admit she looks good in it.

Back in the more serious tech advances, here's a view of a hydrogen fuel-cell system from the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, another joint venture, this time between Ford and Daimler:



There were several hydrogen fuel cell displays among the other alternate-fuel vehicles. The technology's obviously not quite ready for retail, but it's a nifty idea if we can figure out a decent source of hydrogen. In theory, if you can get to cheap electricity you can create hydrogen by electrolysis of water. We're not at cheap electricity yet, but I think that concept has to be one of the big drivers for us to really push towards cheaper, cleaner sources of electricity.

When we were showing this picture to Monique's mom Brigitte afterwards, she seemed a bit discomfitted by the idea of driving around with several tanks of hydrogen. I pointed out that it was really no worse than a nice big tankful of highly explosive gasoline. I'm not sure that really helped her overall worry level.

Here's a picture of me sitting in the nifty new Dodge Challenger:


I must confess that this Summer -- when we had to buy a new car and were mulling over several nice, sensible options -- somebody in our neighborhood had just picked up the new Challenger with the really big, honkin' V-8 engine. And a little part of me kept thinking, "Oh, that thing is so cool."

Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely happy with Lenny the Lumpymobile, the little Honda Civic Hybrid that we chose, and I wouldn't actually trade it for one of these. But it would be great to have one to cruise in on the occasional Summer weekend. Alas, I fear Chrysler might've been better served to stake its future on fuel-efficient hybrids instead of a return of the muscle car. But they really did make a nice muscle car here.

Now on to a couple of convertibles that I dug:





The top ride is the Saab convertible and the bottom is a Chevy Corvette convertible. Both of them came in with a price tag around $45,000 or so. The interesting thing about the Corvette is that there's a Cadillac sports coupe convertible based on it that I didn't like nearly as much. I'm not sure why, but it just didn't feel comfortable. The Corvette felt like it was hugging me and asking me to take it home. The Saab just said, "Hey, let's find a windy road and go for a drive," with a bit of a Scandinavian accent.

Sweet rides, both.

Now, a ride that I didn't dig so much:


This is the new 2009 Chevy Malibu hybrid. Its mileage is comparable to the Toyota Camry hybrid. (Hurrah!) Unfortunately, just like my experience with the Toyota Camry that we looked at this Summer, I'm eating roof in this car. In fact the Malibu was the worst that I tried all day, including the Mini. When I looked straight ahead I was literally looking at roof, not windshield. That lack-of-headroom experience was similar to my experience in the other two American manufacturer hybrid sedans that are rolling out this year, the Saturn Aura hybrid and the Ford Fusion hybrid. Monique talked to a tall guy who owned a Malibu model from a couple of years ago and liked it, and he had the same beef about this 2009 model.

In fact, this is my number one pet peeve about a huge number of the sedans and compacts made by the Big Three and Toyota: no freaking headroom. If I have to bend my spine to sit up, and I have to turn my head sideways and duck to be able to see the road, I'm not going to buy your car -- no matter how "aggressive" your swept-back windshield and roof looks. Criminy.

Also new to the main floor in 2009, the Chinese auto manufacturers:



Two years ago these companies were all in the basement and had maybe two cars among them. This year they had a nice row of display vehicles. They're not yet ready to meet U.S. regulations, but I think it's safe to say that we're going to hear a lot out of them before this century is done.

And now, a couple more cool concept cars:


The top one is a smallish Chevy that was supposedly designed to capture the styling feel of a small Asian tuner hot rod. Monique and I both thought it looked pretty sharp. The bottom two pictures are of a nifty Lincoln sedan. You might need to click on the bottom picture to get a good look at what really caught me, the "steering wheel." It's really just a ring with buttons on it. Apparently this car is entirely drive-by-wire.

Maybe it's just that I've owned too many old junkers over the years, but I feel about a car that loses its steering altogether if there's an electrical problem the same way that Brigitte felt about driving around with several tanks of hydrogen under her seat. Images of the Hindenburg flash before me! It is a cool concept, though, and I know that there are lots of jets that run just fine on fly-by-wire. It's just that I might not be ready to go there yet. Show me 20 years of better-than-linkage reliability and then we'll talk. (Monique had a similar feeling about the cameras that replaced the side- and rear-view mirrors in the Cadillac Converj concept car.)

And in what really was a sheer coincidence, the absolute last car that we saw at the auto show caught our eye. It was the Honda Civic Hybrid. Look who looks at home in it:






I'm a little slumped in this picture, but rest assured there are still inches and inches above me in which I can stretch my neck. And when I do so, I'm still looking out at windshield, not roofline. Finding the Civic Hybrid right before we hit the exit was great because it let me stack it up against pretty much the entire automotive output of all of the North American retailers. Even aside from my headroom issues, this is a really well designed car. I'm more convinced than ever that we made the right choice when we pulled the trigger.

There were lots of other things we liked but didn't get a good picture of, so I'll list a few here: the BMW Z4 convertible with its nifty foldaway hardtop; the sleek-looking Audi Fastback and Volvo s60 concept cars with their great curved lines; the new 2009 Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, both of which look set to battle it out for top of the hybrid market. And then there's the Chevy Volt, which will supposedly get the equivalent of 100 mpg and is now slotted to start its production run in November 2010 if GM is still here to make it.

Final note to Bob Lutz (the GM exec in charge of the Volt project): in the extremely unlikely event that you're reading this, please please please put enough headroom in the Chevy Volt. If I can't sit upright in it when it makes its floor debut in the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, I'm going to find you and kick you in the shins.

And that's my report from the 2009 Detroit Auto Show.

In the basement of the 2009 Detroit Auto Show

It's certainly an interesting time to attend the annual Detroit Auto Show, what with GM and Chrysler on death's door and all. One of the interesting aspects is the anti-buzz that's going on among folks we know in the auto industry, who are talking about how scaled-down everything is this year, and how many fewer truly blue-sky concept vehicles are on display. Ticket sales for the big charity gala were also way down this year, probably a reflection of slashed corporate budgets more than anything else. That part's really too bad because it's usually one of the biggest charity fundraisers in the Detroit area, and we sure could use some charity funding this year. And some of the usual manufacturers pulled out this year as part of their own budget cuts, so there was no Nissan, Land Rover, Porsche, or a few others.

There's also a theory floating about that the real source of the gloom about this year's show is that the number of ridiculously expensive over-the-top media shindigs has been curtailed, so the automotive press is sulking a bit about having to cover the event without glomming on to the usual goodies and perqs.

And yet with all that, there's also been quite a bit of discussion of the really large number of new hybrid, fuel cell, electric, and other alternate-fuel vehicles that are there this year, and honestly that's the part that most interests me. Where is this industry going if it manages to survive the next couple of years? I remember very clearly looking at the hybrid offerings a couple of years ago and thinking that it looked obvious to me that the U.S. manufacturers really weren't serious about going in that direction, despite talking a green game.

So, Monique and I headed out into our wintry Sunday very interested to see what was actually going on this year. And it was indeed interesting.

We started down in the basement of Cobo, which is usually the most interesting spot for me because it's where all the really outside-the-mainstream stuff ends up. This year many of the usual basement dwellers got promoted to the main floor because of those larger manufacturers pulling out. So much of the display space was taken up by a large exhibit by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that let attendees drive actual hybrid and alternative-energy vehicles through a little forest of actual trees and flowers that they had created to give it that "green" touch. Here's a picture of the exhibit that I grabbed off the web:





I thought the idea of this exhibit was particularly interesting, since I don't recall anybody actually driving vehicles at the auto show before. I think the idea was to get people comfortable with the idea of driving something powered by something other than a standard internal-combustion engine. It looked as if the drivers were having a good time.

Much to my surprise Monique told me that this was one of the more controversial exhibits. Not because of anything to do with the alternate-fuel vehicles, but because all of the mulch used for the live plantings was apparently really stinking up Cobo Hall. I didn't think it was all that whiffy, though.

There were a couple of other pretty good exhibits down there. One was a windmill company (mariahpower.com) that produces a nifty-looking windmill called the Windspire. Here's a scenic picture so you can see what it looks like:




It supposedly costs $5,000 minus a 30% tax credit, which I guess means that it really rings up at $3,500, and produces about 2000 kWh per year, which is about enough to run the average house. The lady at the exhibit said it usually pays back its cost in about three years. Interesting stuff. The idea of living "off the grid" and producing our own power has great appeal.

One of the other interesting items in the basement was the University of Michigan solar racing car. Here's a picture of the car at last year's show:


We talked to one of the guys at the exhibit. This car uses the same sort of extremely high-end and very light solar panels that they use on satellites, which meant that it's top is covered with about $250,000 worth of panels. I reckon that means it might be a smidge farther from commercial viability than the Windspire.

Here's a photo of the car in action at the Solar Car Challenge:


I find it enormously cool that a car can run on just solar power. Sure we're not likely to be driving around in solar cars anytime soon. But in the upstairs displays Toyota was showing some sort of solar-powered moonroof option (yeah, I know, kinda oxymoronic when you think about it) for the next generation of the Toyota Prius. So it seems to me that some of this technology is slowly making its way out of the labs and the concept cars and into production.
Next post, on to the main floor! (Where we actually remembered to pull the camera out of the bag, so we have some photos of our own instead of these that I had to Google.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Initial report from the 2009 North American Auto Exhibition

Monique and I went to the Detroit Auto Show today. And after looking at quite a few of the Cadillacs, I decided that I just don't like their styling.

Then I had this thought. Maybe they don't design them to appeal to guys like me. Maybe they design them to appeal to guys who can afford to buy a Cadillac.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just a nice, cozy day....

A nice, cozy day -- if you're inside, anyway. If you're outside, it's ridiculous. The good news is that the temperature has warmed up all the way to a balmy 12.7 degrees this afternoon. The bad news is that the warming trend has also brought several inches of snow.

Monique and I had planned to go down to the Detroit Auto Show this morning and over to her folks in the afternoon. We had even arranged a playdate for Katie the Beagle with the little girls next door. Instead we looked at the Winter Weather Advisory and the snow already falling outside, and pushed any plan that involved driving anywhere off to tomorrow. Katie the Beagle did get to go next door to play -- so as not to break the hearts of little girls who were excited as can be to see their beagle buddy -- but other than that we've been lazing about the house today, reading papers, listening to the folk music on the radio, and enjoying the smell of a big pot of chicken curry chili that I'm cooking up.

We also just watched Obama's speech in Baltimore as his presidential train moves up to Washington. I'm going to generally avoid political commentary on this blog, but I think that old English majors of all political stripes can agree that it's going to be exciting to once again have a president who can speak in complete sentences!

And now Katie is back from her doggie playdate, we're popping "Master and Commander" on the Blu-Ray player, and all three of us are settling in on the couch for a good epic movie while the snow continues to pile up outside.

Just a nice, cozy day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Monique's counter-argument

Rather than debate the merits of her sanity any further, Monique wishes to submit photographic evidence that I am not qualified to judge whether it is cold or whether anybody else is crazy:



... then she added something else about "Normal people wearing pants outside in January," or somesuch.

In my defense I would like to say that ... well, er ... um ... the birds were really hungry?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A few funny Facebook exchanges

At risk of crossing the blog and Facebook and making everybody's laptop explode at the speed of light, I reckoned I'd pass along these message exchanges that recently cracked me up:

My Status: John is off to tonight's Wolverine Lake village council meeting.
Steve Mace: I smell dictatorship!
Me: I prefer the phrase "strong, authoritarian leadership."
Steve Mace: You say "tomato", I say "Mussolini".
Me: At least our pontoon boats run on time.

----

(Background for those not from Glens Falls: Jim Stoy is an old high school buddy of mine who used to tend bar at Sandy's Clam Bar, an establishment that is best described as "the opposite of a wine-and-fern bar.")
My Status: John is thawing out. Damn, it's COLD outside!
James Stoy: Try living in Syracuse, quit your bitchin.
Me: Minus seven on my porch last night. Expect me to bitch plenty more.
James Stoy: Pull your skirt up, you're from the Adirondacks for Christs sake.
Me: Yeah, but I lived in Northern California for seven years. It ruined me ... It could be worse. At least it didn't ruin me so much that I went into Sandy's and asked Richie if he had a "frisky merlot" behind the bar.
James Stoy: I would have hated to have thrown you out.

----

My Status: John is blogging. A blog, a Facebook account, ain't I just the 21st century hipster?
Steve Mace: Let's not get out of control now.
Me: I may even learn how to send a text message before the year is out.
Michael Magee: My phone isn't holding its breath....

It's too bad about Monique

It's really too bad that I'm going to have to commit my lovely wife to an insane asylum. Really, through eight years of marriage I thought we were suited for one another and that I had married a caring stable (well, stable as long as she's been fed recently) soulmate.

Alas, it turns out that what a friend of mine told me long ago is true, "You have to look out for the beautiful ones because they're all crazy."

How do I know my wife's trolley has slipped around the bend?

Because when I headed out the door to go to work this morning she said, "Enjoy the beautiful day out there."

Folks, it was minus two degrees Fahrenheit when she said that. I assure you that any judge in America would sign the writ sending her to the Loony Bin.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The token post

I was simply not the owner of my schedule today. I'm not sure what was going on, but several of the things I was scheduled to do didn't happen, and several new things popped up in their place. It was a productive day, but not at all what I had planned.

The whole thing seems to have left me a bit discombobulated. And so before I leave work tonight, I am writing this token post, so as to at least stay on track. 'Cause I have no faith that planning to write one after I get home means bupkus today!

We also had an Alberta Clipper drop a couple of inches of snow on us this morning ... and a cold front tonight. Man, I do not look forward to heading out to the truck!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Return of My Precious

The proper tool for fixing my satellite was indeed a qualified technician. After one trip down the ladder and back to the truck to fetch an important screw which was apparently missing, plus fifteen minutes of ladder dancing by a trained professional -- and no I didn't have to pay for it one dollar bill at a time in the tool belt -- I am once have 637 channels of satellite television calling to me in its seductive love. In fact, as I write the Red Wings are beating the Stars 3-2 in 50 inches of plasma love.

So, the satellite interregnum is over, and truth be told it did me no harm at all and may have ... oooh, nice goal, Dallas, dang now it's 3-3 ... and may have done me some good towards one of my goals this year, increasing my attention span and the amount of time that I spend focusing on one thing at a time.

In the meantime, away from My Precious, how about a progress report on my general goal of becoming all Web 2.0-ish this year.

Facebook -- One week after establishing the account, I'm now up to an astonishing 83 friends. More surprisingly, I personally know almost all of them. I friended Kevin Brauch, the host of The Thirsty Traveler, just for the fun of it. And I think two or three other folks may have slipped in there that I'm not sure that I recognize. But I really do know almost all of my friends. Really, I do. Of course, about fifty of them are Detroit RFC players. We'd probably be a better squad if we spent more time practicing and less time Facebooking.

The Blog -- You may be the judge of the broader success here, gentle reader. My own fairly limited goal is to try to write something every day and to see what happens. So far, so good.

MMO -- Yes, a massive multiple-player online game. I didn't really set out to accomplish that one in 2009, but an old buddy of mine from high school sent along an invitation to the Vampires game on Facebook, and I reckoned I'd give it a whirl. I'm now a Level 6 Animalistic Vampire. Since I think I saw a Level 821 vampire out there somewhere, I reckon I might have a ways to go on that one.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just a few thoughts on the state of serial television shows these days....

I went through a period in which I whittled away most of the televised serials that I watched regularly, mostly because I felt it had gotten to be a bad use of my time and I hated watching all of the commercials. But getting a DVR a couple of years ago has made broadcast TV a bit more watchable for me again. So I'm back up to double-digits in the number of current shows that I watch fairly regularly:
  • Daily Show - Comedy Central
  • Colbert Report - Comedy Central
  • Survivor - CBS
  • Mad Men - AMC
  • My Name Is Earl - NBC
  • 30 Rock - NBC
  • The Office - NBC
  • Monk - USA
  • Doctor Who - SciFi
  • The Thirsty Traveler - Fine Living
And just to prove that I'm participating in the decline and fall of broadcast television ad revenues even beyond fast-forwarding through commercials on my DVR, I'm watching Battlestar Galactica on DVD and The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon via YouTube on my iPod Touch.

Firefly is probably my favorite show to come out in the last ten years. But it's also a really good example of exactly why I think the broadcast networks are declining even faster than they might have otherwise. That was a great show and Fox stuck it into a bad Friday night time slot and cancelled it after fewer than a dozen airings. I can understand yanking a stinker that isn't drawing ratings, but you can't possibly tell me that Fox had anything in development that would've been more likely to succeed than taking a flyer on another 13 episodes of Firefly. I'm sure I would've come across it and become a regular viewer had it made it longer than two months. But instead, before starting to watch it on DVD on a friend's recommendation, about all I remember of its broadcast career was thinking, "Hey, that looked pretty interesting. Too bad it was cancelled."

It's a vicious circle, since the propensity of networks to yank shows so quickly has made viewers pretty reluctant to commit to any show until it's been around for a season or two. And so new shows get cancelled quicker than ever. It's no wonder that most of the good TV these days is on cable channels that are more willing to give a show a longer chance to find an audience.

I'm kind of hoping the growth of the DVD after-life for most shows will help to give good shows a longer window of opportunity. I recently heard an interview with one of the producers of that new Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon who said DVD revenue was an important part of the business model that led Sony to green-light the production.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Beard - Day 16

Methinks that "Cues to Care" dodge suffers a bit when you're just standing around in a bathrobe. But here it is....




Good heavens, I now have more hair on the bottom of my head than the top of my head!


The Legion of the Damned

I had thought that 2009 would bring a fun year of joining the "Web 2.0" crowd, what with my new wireless iPod Touch, this little blog, and my new Facebook account. Heck, I may even learn to send a text message before the year is out.

Instead, I officially joined The Legion of the Damned on Jan. 9, 2009.

(Now at this point you're probably wondering why this blog entry wasn't tagged "Comics", so that all of you non-geeks with a life could just skip by it and get on with your life. Stick with me another paragraph or two, folks. I'm going somewhere here.)

The Legion of the Damned are not a group of super-villains. Nor are they any one of dozens of annoying folks -- people who talk on cell phones while driving on a crowded road in a cell phone come to mind -- who will obviously be consigned to one of the lower levels of Dante's Inferno when they shuffle off this mortal coil.

No, The Legion of the Damned are those sad souls who show up to a meeting at work with their laptops or Blackberries, and then spend the entire meeting working on something other than the point of the meeting: typing, reading, or perhaps just surfing the web. They can be distinguished by their vacant eyes, their zombie-like tendency to drool, and the phrase, "Could you give me that question again?" which they state attentively whenever they hear a syllable or two that may resemble their name.

These sad individuals first started appearing at meetings at my workplace a few years ago when we first installed wireless access in some of our meeting rooms. Initially the infection was limited to programmers and their ilk. Then it swept through the marketing and sales staffs. And finally -- despite a vigorous prevention program that included mandatory paper agendas and innoculations conducted with a ball-point pen -- the editorial staff began to join The Legion. Yet somehow through some freakish dart of fate I had managed to avoid indoctrination into their numbers. Oh, I was always a good bet to doodle, to daydream, to play word games against myself, but I had managed to avoid a full-out incident working on something altogether different than the topic of the meeting while sitting in a meeting.

Until yesterday.

It is perhaps worth digressing briefly into my usual work schedule at this point. My typical Monday through Thursday schedule looks more like a game of Tetris than an orderly calendar in my Outlook calendar. Hour after hour of meeting, often compounded by double- and even triple-bookings. This isn't quite as ridiculous as it might seem; my team has a lot of projects going on, which means that there are lots of checkpoints, clarifications, etc., needed. I even occasionally define my job as, "I go to meetings so that everybody on my team doesn't have to."

But the last couple of years I have successfully blocked out big chunks of time on Fridays, so that I actually can accomplish at least a few of the many "action items" that I acquire during those Monday-Thursday meetings. So you can imagine how I felt when I saw that my first post-holiday Friday had been entirely glommed by a debugging and scheduling meeting for a project that I hadn't even been involved in until now. This wasn't even a regular Friday pile that was imperiled, this was three weeks worth of action items that piled up while I was away, many of which were already overdue by the time I got back from my vacation.

So, when the introduction to the meeting contained this phrase, "... and then from one to three we'll look at search paths and subject guide bugs. John, that's the part that we really need you for, " out came the plug, out came the mouse, and the whittling away at the e-mail and action item pile was under way.

It was really quite peaceful giving myself over to The Legion of the Damned. I've heard that dying of hypothermia is similar: just a slow fading away of the world, a growing numbness, and the onset of a quiet acceptance of your fate.

Any questions?

Could you give me that question again?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Movie Review - One half of "Superbad"

Oooh, I just "walked out" on another movie at home last night, and this time Rotten Tomatoes differed as to its merits: Superbad (87% on the TomatoMeter.)

I have to admit that I was really disappointed. I really , really, really expected to like this movie a lot. I'm a big fan of the dumb teenage sex comedy genre, and I think Michael Cera's a genuinely funny young actor. So it seemed as if this should have been right in the groove. (And mind you, this review comes from a guy who even liked Beerfest.)

It wasn't actually terrible. But I just wasn't finding it funny. So after an hour I decided to turn it off and move on with my life. It could be that I just wasn't in the mood, but I think the real problem was that the writers mistook the f-word for a joke, so they never got around to writing actual jokes.

Oh well, comedies are kinda like that. Either they make you laugh or they don't, and that's ultimately the only valid measure of their merit.

No second opinon from Monique. She was asleep, which is why I was watching Superbad in the first place. It was on my list of "movies to watch when Monique isn't around" because it pretty obviously wasn't going to be her cup of tea. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it wasn't my cup of tea, either!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Beard: Cues to Care

I haven't shaved since Wednesday, Dec. 24, which means that I now have two weeks of growth on my face. This really wasn't a planned beard, though. After I shaved before we went to church on Christmas Eve, I set my razor down and thought, "Well, there, I'm done with you for the rest of this vacation."

And then when I picked the razor up again on Monday morning I looked at it and thought, "Eh, I think I'm mostly done with you for a bit longer." Then I trimmed the tiniest little bit around the edges, just to make the rampant growth appear a bit more purposeful.

This is a tip that I learned in a gardening class on native plant gardens. It's called "Cues to Care." The idea is that if you just have a bunch of native plants in front of your house instead of a lawn, people call them "Weeds." But if you instead put a little border around them, or add a small slate path, or perhaps a wee corner of turfgrass next to your walk, then it looks as if you have planted those things on purpose. Then you have a "Beautiful Native Plants Garden." A garden of native plants is much easier to maintain than a yard because they're plants that are supposed to grow in that climate. But it looks as if it takes a good deal of sorting out.

The "Cues to Care" for my beard must be working because whenever I've walked into a meeting this week, somebody has inevitably asked, "Why did you decide to grow a beard?" You see, there's an assumption that this beard was something intentional and purposeful, not sheer laziness.

"Cues to Care," your key to looking as if you're doing something on purpose, when in fact you're just doing less!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I love you Spider-Man....

I was looking up episodes of the new The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon on YouTube (okay, I'm letting my geek flag fly here) and I came across this comment about one of the episodes that just cracked me up:

bphoebe4 (1 day ago)
i love you spiderman i have a whole collection of you and my room my name is myzel and im 5 yrs old

I haven't seen a youngster that excited about something since ... well, since my four-year-old niece Atlee was unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. I guess it gives me hope that Atlee may be able to maintain that enthusiasm level when she hits the sage old age of five.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Speaking of movies...

... this was a pretty good exchange from an off-topic movie discussion we've been having over on the BaseballHQ boards:

JVR: On another level, has anyone heard anything about the Wall Street sequel?

Patioboater: Poseidon Adventure 3?

DAVITT@HQ: Starring Shelley Winters as the vessel.

Patioboater: And Gene Hackman as the fighting young priest who vows to lead Lehman Brothers back to profitability.


(Yes, yes, I am indeed continuing with the content generation model known as "reusing stuff I wrote elsewhere." Don't expect that to change anytime soon. I think we all just have to hope that I'm a good enough editor to limit my repostings to funny little exchanges, insightful meanderings, or genuinely newsworthy items, and that I will not post any of the usual eight-paragraph analyses of polyhierarchical thesauri mapping projects or metadata tagging process re-engineering proposals that make up the vast majority of what I write during my day.)

Movie Reviews - Once, Unfaithful

Monique and I finally got around to seeing Once last night and we both really liked it a lot. (Not really a surprise, since it hit 97% on the ol' TomatoMeter.) The real surprise is that if you took the entire cast of The Commitments and asked who would go on to one day win an Academy Award, I'm pretty sure nobody would've guessed, "The guy who played Outspan."

The worst movie I've ever seen? Probably Unfaithful with Diane Lane and Richard Gere. It climbs to the top of the list for three reasons:

1) Richard Gere, always the sign of a bad movie. (I'm not anti-Richard Gere. It just seems to me as if I end up hating every movie I see him in.)
2) I walked out on it about 2/3 of the way through, and I was in my own house at the time. (Monique was still watching, so I went upstairs to read a book instead.)
3) Item #2 happened despite the fact that Diane Lane was running around buck nekkid in a good deal of that film. I would've bet good money that no movie could be so bad as to make me walk out on a naked Diane Lane.

Movie Reviews - The Host, Cloverfield

Monique and I watched a good Creature Feature pairing last week on DVD: The Host and Cloverfield. I was a little disappointed in The Host, but I think it was a matter of having set my expectations too high. (It scored a whopping 92% on the TomatoMeter.) Taken as just a good, rousing Korean monster movie, it was good stuff.

And Cloverfield (77% on the TomatoMeter) was the best monster movie I've seen in years and years. Really, it was everything that the American Godzilla flick of ten years ago should've been, and wasn't.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Insufficiently Insulated Beagle

Katie the Beagle has decided that she's had quite enough of Winter. Yesterday morning she considered the temperature in Michigan in January and decided to sneak off to Monique's office for her morning pee instead of asking to go outside. So this morning when she started in that direction, I quickly intercepted her and called for her to come outside with me as I went out to get the paper.

She tried to hide in her bed, instead. Then she tried to hide under her bed. Then she tried to hide in our bed, possibly on the theory that she's not supposed to be in our bed, so perhaps we wouldn't look for her there.

It was eighteen degrees outside this morning, so I kinda saw her point, but eventually Monique and I managed to corral her. I put her on her leash and took her out the door and into the cold, and she lingered behind me all the way out to the street, possibly in an effort to stay closer to the warm house. Then, when I stopped to give her a chance to do her business while we were on the way back towards the house she conceded to the inevitable, darted out into the snowy lawn, squatted, and melted a little yellow hole in the snow.

Before the last drop had hit the ice, she was sprinting for the door. As soon as I let her off the leash and into the house she ran for the couch and jumped under the afghan. Since I'm a good owner, I tucked her in and proceeded with my morning. But when I left for work an hour later there was still nothing but a little beagle nose sticking out from under cover.

It's official: Katie the Beagle wants the sun to return, so that she can resume her basking ways.





The *other* weather disaster

Now you might think that having my car crushed by an avalanche would be enough weather-related disasters for one vacation. Alas, there was more to come after we returned home on December 30th.




This is a picture of me watching the NFL playoffs this weekend. What do you notice about it? Let's go through a list of items.




  • Christmas tree? Check!
  • Rocking chair? Check!
  • Bookshelves? Check!
  • Rabbit-ear antenna atop the bookshelves? Check?!
  • Football game on the 12-inch black-and-white TV? Che ...

Hey, wait a second! Why are fifty inches of plasma love sitting behind the little TV like a useless, shiny, black mirror?

That would be because a windstorm shoved our DirecTV satellite dish off its alignment while I was on vacation. This was a first for me in almost ten years as a DirecTV subscriber. Worse yet, the dish is up in a precarious position far up on the side of the house, a position that is most certainly not easily reached by a ground-bound fellow like myself.

So I called up DirecTV and explained the situation and they very happily agreed to schedule the next available technician in the first available slot ... January 12th! It turns out that if you're going to need a service call, it's a really bad idea to try to schedule it after Christmas, when all sorts of people have gotten new HDTVs that need new HDTV dishes.

Two weeks without TV might be no big deal any other time of the year. But for a certified football addict, this means the loss of New Years' Bowl Games, the college football quasi-championship game, and the first two rounds of the NFL playoffs.

Inconceivable! Unbearable!! Unendurable!!!

So, on New Years' Eve there I was, balanced atop the long, long ladder trying to align the dish. The situation, alas, resembled an elephant dancing on 25-foot stilts more than an actual repair operation. Defeated at Rooftop's Edge, I went to Plan B and hooked up the rabbit ears, only to discover that the Fox and CBS stations -- which came in pretty well over their old analog channels -- don't really come in all that well at all on their new digital broadcast signals.

Thus, Plan C, the little old black-and-white portable TV that now sits in front of my mammoth big-screen HDTV. Oh, the ignominy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lenny the Lumpymobile

Okay, for anybody wondering what happened after that long 2008 recap, what happened was a very pleasant holiday vacation -- with one Christmas Eve automotive disaster.

Monique and I decided not to go to the Florida Keys after Christmas this year, but instead planned to go out to Portland, Maine, to visit our friends the Gavens on Dec. 19-20; for me to attend a Patriots game in Foxboro on Sunday, Dec. 21 with my brother; to generally enjoy Christmas in upstate New York with my large and complicated family; and then to come back to Michigan to laze about the house and enjoy a very relaxing start to the New Year.

It all pretty much went according to plan, except for the snow. A giant vast storm was scheduled to crush the Midwest and the East Coast the morning we were supposed to leave on our trip. So we accelerated the journey by a dozen hours, loaded up Lenny the Leftymobile early, started on Thursday night, drove straight through, and arrived in Portland about noon on Friday -- three hours before they got more than a foot of snow.

The score: Hard-Driving Magees 1, Snow 0.

Alas, on Saturday morning when I checked the weather forecast for New England, another giant snowstorm was scheduled to crush New England on Sunday morning. After much soul-searching I was forced to admit that I just wasn't manly enough to drive through a vast blizzard to sit in the sleet in the upper-deck to watch the Patriots slap the Cardinals around for three hours. I called up Mike and cancelled out of the game, citing an attack of extreme cowardice as my only excuse. Instead, we spent a very pleasant Sunday snowbound in Portland as the city got hit with another foot and a half of snow. (In fact, they set the single-day Portland, Maine, snowfall record!)

The score: Cowardly Magees 1, Snow 1.

Now personally, I was willing to call it a tie and move on. But apparently Winter wanted the rubber match, and it got it around 10 pm on Christmas Eve when about a thousand pounds of snow slid off the slate roof of my folks' house and caved in the roof of our new car, which was parked safe and sound (or so I thought) in the driveway. Oh no, that sound above wasn't the click-clack of tiny reindeer hoofs. It was a Honda-crushing avalanche.

When I think of all the pieces of junk I've parked in that driveway over the years it amazes me that the one car-crushing avalanche came the one time I parked a new car there. Good heavens, why couldn't it have crushed that old International Scout with the iffy brakes, the VW Bug with the electrical woes, the Plymouth Volare with the stalling problem, or maybe even the Chrysler Town & Country Wagon with the bad transmission? Those would have been mercy killings!

Fortunately, none of the glass was broken and I was able to push the roof back up enough for us to be able to drive it back to Michigan with a dented and dinged roof. And I've been assured by the mechanic that after a week or two at the body shop this month our little car will be as good as new. But Lenny the Leftymobile is now known as Lenny the Lumpymobile.

The final score: Poorly Parked Magees 1, Snow 1,001.

The 2008 recap

Hmmn ... two posts looks pretty sparse. I reckon it's time to flesh out this alleged blog with some actual words. Am I going to type quickly? Nope. I'm going to dig up a few items from my e-mail and copy them in here. In the publishing biz we call this "repurposing of content."

Remember that folks, you're not getting leftovers here. You're getting prime repurposed content.

In this case, I wrote up a pretty good summary of what Monique and I did with our 2008 in an e-mail to a friend of mine last month. Here it is:

----

So, what have we been up to lately? For starters, Monique and I are once again dog owners. We welcomed Katie the Beagle into our house in February. She's very sweet and not particularly obedient. She had previously belonged to our neighbor, who had gotten her over the holidays for her two small daughters and then quickly came to realize that she travelled waaaaay too much to own a dog. So, we took her in on a trial basis, then quickly made it permanent. Katie's first night with us was the first night of the Westminster Dog Show, when the beagle won the Hound Group. And on the second night of Westminster the three of us watched Uno the Beagle win "Best in Show", so we reckoned it was a pretty good omen. It's worked out very well, especially since the little girls next door still get to play with her quite a bit. Our neighbor had original gotten Katie from a rescue society and we think she was a puppy mill breeder dog before she came to us. She arrived without knowing a single trick (unless you consider "bark at the rabbit" to be a trick) but after a year of work she will now do "sit", "down", and "come" ... as long as you have a liver snap in your hand. I think "heel" may be next year's project. Right now when we try it she starts by lying down next to me, rolling over to show her belly as I walk forward, getting up and running forward a bit, then lying down and rolling over again. It's not "heel", but it is very entertaining.

Beagle ownership hasn't been all that time consuming, though. Most of my time and energy last year went into overthrowing the government. I could go on and on about the national stuff, but I know that everybody's tired of that campaign. Besides, most of my time went into a local campaign trying to help a local state rep named Andy Meisner to get elected as our county treasurer, which would be the first time in more than 30 years that a Democrat won countywide election, and the first time in 40 years that the incumbent or his father wasn't our county treasurer. A countywide race here is a bit larger than you might think. Oakland County has 1.2 million people, which makes it larger than nine states and about the same size in population as Maine or New Hampshire. You can see Andy's web site at: http://www.andymeisner.com/. To cut to the happy ending, it was the single best-run campaign that I've ever been involved in, and we won by almost 30,000 votes, 52.1% to 47.5%. The Dems also won the county prosecutor race. By winning those two seats, the Democrats secured a majority of the redistricting board that will re-draw county commissioner lines after the 2010 census, which pretty much guarantees a Democratic majority on the board of commissioners from 2012-2021. (Come to think of it, there was an interesting post-election piece on Oakland County in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/11/opinion/11greenberg.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)

So, all in all, it was a successful year overthrowing the government at both the national and the county level.

On the village front, I am still our Village President, where I spent most of my attention the first half of the year helping us to work out the details of our police merger with Walled Lake. As near as we can tell, it's the first police department merger of its kind in Michigan, so it involved all the joy you can imagine in working out the details of making municipal bureaucracies and regulations do something good that they're not really designed to do. Out of sheer kindness, I'm not going to drag you through the details, but will just cut to the happy ending which is that we signed a five-year contract that's saves both communities money while building a better police department for both of us. Most of the next year or two is likely to be spent in getting sewers to the North shore of the lake and in the 18-step process of converting from a village to a city. (Again, I'll spare you the details.)

My job has been going pretty well this year: plenty busy, but not a lot new to tell. In a surprising change of pace after years and years of cutbacks, the company I work for is actually hiring some new employees and making new products. This should be good news for Monique and ECDI, too. She's been involved in some work to define some new sets of data and content, which should eventually lead to some new contracts.

On the rugby front, after two international tours in 2007 I pretty much devolved into an old-boy-only rugby player this year, in great part because my left knee has developed this lovely new condition called "degenerative arthritis". Who could've known that 25 years of collision sports could be bad for your joints? I spent a lot of time on physical therapy over the summer, which seemed to help. I also spent the year on the Detroit RFC's officers' committee, which pretty much wiped out the six free minutes a day that I might've otherwise had. As part of my effort to regain my life in 2009 I handed over my officers' position to somebody else for next year. My rugby time in 2009 will be mostly limited to drinking beer and telling everybody how good I used to be, though I may trundle about with the old guys again if my leg feels up to it.

As for the rest of the family, I guess the biggest item of news for 2008 is that my brother Mike and his wife Cathy had a daughter named Zoe. Also on the big news front, my brother Bob got married last winter; he and his wife Danielle are expecting a baby in the Spring. My sister Susan started up an interesting and very funny blog at http://gettysburgfamily.blogspot.com/. Its slogan? "Raising Kids: Surprisingly Like Raising Livestock." And overall, everybody's been doing pretty well this year. The annual month-long invasion of the French Foreign Legion (Monique's sister Michelle and her four kids) was once again a lot of fun. This year our 15-year-old nephew Max came early, so we got to spend a couple of months with us, which was both fun and interesting, and gave us a chance to get to know Max much better. Among other things, he took driving lessons and learned to drive, repainted our rowboat, mowed the lawn many times, and generally had a chance to spend a lot of time with us.

And in short news items from the world of consumerism: We have a new couch in the living room, and new sliding glass doors to the porch ... I brewed a bit of beer last Winter that was delicious, but fell off the pace this year once things got hectic. I have ingredients again, though, so I'll probably brew up something new next week ... Monique and I had a nice post-Christmas trip down to the Florida Keys last year. Mostly we just camped out in the middle keys and enjoyed the sunshine. I think we'll do the same this year ... We bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid in August after the engine literally fell out of Monique's venerable Nissan Maxima after 15 years and 175,000 miles, thanks to engine mounts that had rusted all the way through. (Max insists that it's a mere coincidence that the car survived 15 years and then died after he drove it for two months.) We dubbed our new ride "Lenny the Leftymobile" after we slapped our Obama sticker on its bumper. So far it's averaged a fuel-sipping 41 mpg in mostly city driving. ... I have a comic/graphic novel recommendation for everybody, even if (or perhaps especially if) you're not at all interested in comics. It's a series of autobiogrpahical books called "And Then One Day" by a guy named Ryan Claytor. Nary a superhero in sight, just some really interesting thoughts about life and art. You can find them at Ryan's web site: http://www.elephanteater.com/. The books are the collected Vols. 1-4, Vol. 5, and Vol. 6. Ryan just moved to Michigan, which is how I came across his work at our local comic-book shop.

Man, new beagle, new couch, new glass doors, new beers, vacation in the Keys, new car, new comics! It sure isn't our fault the economy's cratering. We seem to be spending as fast as we can.

And that's about it. Wow, that was a lot of typing. No wonder I was busy this year. And now I know why people just send out one Christmas letter and have done with their correspondance for the year.

Second Post

Wow, with imaginative post titles like this, I could have been a member of the Michigan Street Naming Association. (For those of you not in Michigan, most of our major roads have imaginative names like Five Mile, Six Mile, Seven Mile, etc.

"For those of you...." I like that. As if anybody's actually reading this thing. )

Anyway, what I really meant to post about is my new pair of ice skates. My neighbors cleared out a lovely ice rink on the lake in front of their house, and on Friday I finally bought a pair of ice skates on the theory that I was going to do some ice skating this year. It's part of my ongoing effort to not be housebound all winter and to instead try occasional new winter activities like cross-country skiing and ice fishing.

But instead of skating this weekend -- and Saturday would've been a lovely day for it, mid 20s and mostly sunny -- I spent both weekend afternoons setting up accounts here on Blogger and on Facebook.* By the time I got around to thinking about skating, it was already dark outside.

So how pathetic was it that I didn't lace up my new skates once all weekend? I rate it about a 7 out of 10 on the Pathos Scale, since I should've at least taken one spin around the rink. Oh well, I'll try get out there at some point this week as part of my post-holiday return to eating less and exercising more.

*The blog and the Facebook profile are part of a general effort to stay in better touch with my family and friends this year. We'll see how it works. My sister's blog (Gettysburg Family) has been really good for letting me keep track of what she, Rich, Shea, Atlee, and Greeley have been up to this year, and I've really enjoyed reading it.

First Post

Well, as part of my siblings' continuing effort to drag me into the 21st Century, I now have a blog.

This is it. Exciting, isn't it? No? Just wait. It might not get more exciting, but it will eventually get longer.