Monday, March 30, 2009

Dude, Where's My Spring?

So much that I could be blogging about ... the MSU Comics Forum that I attended on Saturday, Obama dropping the hammer on GM and Chrysler, my first day without home delivery of my morning paper, Katie the Beagle's annual checkup at the vet....

But all that flew out of my mind this morning when I awoke to find this view out the front of our house!

It's March 30! What happened to Spring?!! This is not acceptable!!!!

P.S. Worry not, Katie the Beagle fans. All went well at the vet. Our canine heroine is plumping up nicely, having beefed up from 19 pounds to 23 pounds in the last year, which gives us an astonishing 21% more Katie the Beagle to pet.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Anniversary to us!

I believe I've mentioned before that Monique and I aren't generally too big in the way of buying things for each other for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, etc.

Every now and then, though, it makes a great excuse to get ourselves something really nice that we don't necessarily need, but would really enjoy. In this case, after I expressed great admiration for a reference book stand that Phil Gaven had in his living room while we were visiting the Gavens over the holidays, Monique convinced me that we didn't really have a good spot to put such a thing in our reasonably small house. (Phil makes truly lovely handmade wood furniture in his woodworking shop. Check it out at Shininglass Studio.)

So, I started drawing up home renovation plans to create a library that could one day include a lovely handmade wood book stand. That had plan had a few drawbacks, too.

Fortunately, my wife is very sneaky and launched a plot with Phil to acquire a book stand for our anniversary. After much plotting between them, the fruits of their connivance was waiting for me in the living room when I got back from my jaunt out to East Lansing yesterday:

What a nice way for a pair of reference publishing foks to celebrate their anniversary, by acquiring a home for our gigundo Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

Um, no, our gigundo dictionary doesn't contain the word "gigundo."

(BTW, if you came here looking for wedding photos in this anniversary post, you should go check out the anniversary post on my sister's Gettysburg Family blog: On This Anniversary.....)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mike and John's Rebuilding Project, and How You Can Help by Drinking Free Beer in Boston!

As many of you know, my brother Mike and I have co-owned a fantasy baseball team for about ten years now. The team is called the Adirondack Black Dogs and they play in Mike's old work league when he was at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston. The league is a keeper league in which you keep most of your team from year to year, and it only includes players from the American League. (This works just fine for us, since that includes all of the Red Sox and Tigers.)

The team has been a lot of fun over the years, and gives Mike and I a "virtual project" on which we can work together. If we lived within a thousand miles of one another, our joint project would probably be some money pit like restoring an old boat or car. So, our wives should realize that this baseball team has saved them tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

We've usually done pretty well in our league. We haven't won a title, but we finish in the money most years and have turned a bit of a profit overall. But last year was a disaster. We traded away all of our prospects, draft choices, and decent players to try to make a run at the title, only to have the team completely implode due to injuries over the last six weeks. We finished in fifth place out of 12 teams. Worst yet, we had nothing left to build with for 2009.

(I believe it was George Allen who said, "The future is now!" when he was coach of the Washington Redskins in the 1970s and traded away all of his draft picks for a bunch of the over-the-hill players who all got hurt, thus dooming the Redskins to years of cruddiness. Only now do I realize that perhaps he shouldn't have been my GM role model last year. But since my alternative local GM role model was Matt Millen, I guess I could've done worse, too.)

I won't drag any of you through the details of the team or the names on the roster, except to say that we still have Curtis Granderson, so at least we have one good player left to root for.

This is how those of you who have made it this far through a fantasy sports post can help. Mike and I need to get some new players at our annual player auction in Boston. Alas, neither Mike nor I can make it to Boston for our league auction on Sunday, April 5, from about 1 pm to 6 pm. If any of you reading this aren't too far from Boston, we'd gladly pay your bar and food tab for the afternoon if you would take a cell phone to our league auction and place a few bids for us under direction.

It's a pretty easy gig. Free food and drink for the afternoon for occasionally shouting out phrases like "Two dollars for Bonderman." It helps if you don't mind being laughed at when everybody else in the league points out that Bonderman's arm fell off last year, and that he had a rib removed over the winter. (This is true. He actually had one of his ribs removed so that he could pitch this year. Ugh!)

Ideally, you'd also have a laptop with wireless, so that we can set up a Skype call and chat with you directly during the auction. But a cell phone would do.

Let me know if you read this and are interested in being our bidding proxies. Or if you just want to make fun of us for bidding two bucks on a pitcher who had to have one of his ribs removed this winter. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Au revoir la barbe

Before Monique started feeding me the daily fish-oil capsules last week, I looked like this:

Now I look like this:

Methinks I'd better go take another look at those listed side effects.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Furry Friends

The final photo of my facial furriness in full flower:

Katy looks rather dubious, doesn't she? It's probably because she thinks my face resembles the sort of thing she should be tracking and hunting, not the sort of thing she should be held up in the air next to. Or it could be that she's just jealous of the luxurious fur of my face. She is, after all, an insufficiently insulated beagle. If her fur was as thick as my beard we wouldn't have to put that silly coat on her when it gets too cold outside.

Worry not, beard fans. It's not altogether gone yet. But I've got a couple of politickin' events the next couple of days and I have to admit that the beard was no longer suitable for public appearances in places that don't have words like "Crik" or "Haller" in their name. And the only political offices it looked like I could be eligible for would be in organizations that include the initials "M.C." as part of their name.*

So, I finally broke down and bought a trimmer to get me through until my semi-retired barber returns from his vacation. Um, if he returns from his vacation. There are distinctions to be drawn between vacationing, semi-retired, and fully retired. But any barber who closes the shop for a five-week vacation is rapidly sliding into "fully retired."

*Special bonus prize goes to the first reader to tell everybody what the "M.C." in that reference stands for.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Norman Rockwell at the DIA

In an act of wee rebellion that was good for the soul, Monique and I set aside our massive to-do lists for a few hours today and instead drove down to the Detroit Institue of the Arts to see their new Norman Rockwell exhibit.

I've been a longtime fan of Rockwell's work, which is pretty natural when you consider how much I like narrative art in general. And I've always felt that I've owed him particular thanks for helping me to develop my own sense of truly great art. This is because some twenty-plus years ago I came across an article somewhere in which the writer pooh-poohed Rockwell as a mere good illustrator, and went on to rather obnoxiously claim something along the lines of it being self-evident that he didn't merit inclusion among the truly great American artists of the Twentieth Century, a pantheon that I'm sure for that writer included an assortment of obscure abstractionists.

I thought that over a bit and decided that particular writer was full of beans. It seemed to me that what Rockwell did best was in fact a good deal more of an accomplishment: he told entire stories in a single picture, and he did it in a way that was accessible to anybody with a good pair of eyes. I remember this in particular because it was a concrete example to me of what I think is the greatest failure in academic criticism of the arts: a mistaken core belief that inaccessibility equals quality, and that accessibility is inherently a mark of clearly inferior work.

So it is that a bloated self-indulgence like Ulysses becomes cited as the greatest novel of the 20th century, the complicated puzzle of Citizen Kane gets listed as the greatest movie of all time, and that legions of art critics run down Rockwell's work as "mere Americana" while they worship at the altar of the dull squares of Mark Rothko. Harrumph.

Personally, I quite like Ulysses and Citizen Kane. Though I must admit I could do without Rothko's rectangles. But I truly believe that the only reason they are so prized in academia is because they provide so many opportunities for graduate and doctoral research by way of trying to provide ever-more obscure and circular explanations of what the heck they mean.

Whereas you don't really need me to explain this Norman Rockwell painting:

What does this mean? It obviously means that if a hobo steals a pie, he stands a good chance of getting bit in the ass by the family dog.

The real mistake is in thinking this is all that it means.

So, having now blathered on for a while about one of the origins of my longtime mistrust of academic art and literature criticism, I think you can see why I was especially interested to see the Rockwell exhibit that started up at the DIA this month. Now that I've visited museums all over the world, and had a genuine opportunity to see the world's great artists, would I feel that Rockwell's work still held up?

To save you any suspense, yes, I think it holds up very well indeed. In fact, now that I've seen some of those paintings in person, I have an even higher regard for it than I did before.

I also think that the fact that an exhibit on Rockwell is the feature exhibit at a place like the DIA may say that Rockwell is getting a bit more respect as a great artist. Oh sure, I'd guess that somewhere in the art world there are elitists who think that this is the sort of exhibit that you need to hold your nose and put on every now and then, for mere financial considerations. But they're really missing the point that one of the truest measures of an artist is the impact that his work has on those who see it. And there's no denying the impact of Rockwell's art on his American audience.

I could go on and on, but I'll settle for just urging those of you who live around Detroit and are reading this to check out the exhibit.

One final thought. One of our favorite paintings was this one, which speaks to the difficulties of being a working commercial artist facing deadline pressures:

(I wish I could've found a sharper copy on the Internet, but if you can't tell, the thing on the upper-left corner of the blank canvas is a pocket watch ticking down the time as it hangs on top of a calendar page with the deadline date.)

Not coincidentally, this painting resonated with both Monique and I, since we know the deadline pressures of the publishing industry all too well. It also makes a nice companion piece to the latest addition to the Magee collection, this panel from Ryan Claytor's And Then One Day that we picked up at that fundraiser art auction at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco:

So, um, if you're reading this, Ryan, don't worry about needing deadlines to push along the creative process. You're apparently in good company.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

He's Packing the Slowest Razor in the West

It was 22 degrees Fahrenheit when I got up yesterday morning, and flurries flew outside my window when I woke up this morning. Spring failed to keep its appointment with the Vernal Equinox.

Plus, my barber is on vacation until March 25. So, the beard lives on. Is this like Groundhog Day where my beard sees its own shadow and calls for six more weeks of Winter? It's certainly been called worse than "groundhog-like" lately.

And why is this wanted poster appearing all over my neighborhood?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ten Books

Yup, more "repurposed" content in the form of another list from Facebook. This was a fun Facebook list-y thing that Adam Goodman tagged me with.

"This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it--Ten books you've read that will always stick with you. First ten you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Then tag some folks who you think might be into yet another list..."

So here they are, in no particular order:

The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
The Commitments - Roddy Doyle
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig
The Great Brain - John D. Fitzgerald
The Dharma Bums - Jack Kerouac
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me - Richard Farina
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964 - edited by Robert Silverberg
Dangerous Visions - edited by Harlan Ellison

And a special bonus credit goes to Divers Down! Adventures Under Hawaiian Seas by Hal Gordon, which is the first full-length novel (albeit a young-adult novel) that I remember reading, way back when I was about four years old.

Oh, and I should've included The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, but I've already plopped down ten, and the point of this list is to just throw down the first ten that come to mind and not to overthink it.

It's also kind of interesting to note that nothing that I've read in the last twenty years made the list. That probably means that I should be reading more, and reading more adventurously. (Or it might just mean that it takes time to realize which books really have stuck with you.) Had I thought about it more, I might've included the Rincewind the Wizard trilogy by Terry Pratchett that I read last year, since it really got me into his entire Discworld series, which is a brilliant accumulation of writing. I have a feeling that's going to stick with me.

Yet More Beagle-Based Doggerel...

... generated by FBN e-mail discussion. This time an in-depth analysis of the contents of hot dogs led me to pen these lines about our beloved heroine:

Katie the Beagle barks, "More lymph nodes, please."
Katie the Beagle would eat cow testes.
This could be the reason that her beagle breath
Is more likely than handguns to cause instant death.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Holy Hoopin', Batman! March Madness Is Upon Us! Why Didn't Anybody Warn Me?

I almost forgot to fill out my NCAA tournament brackets this year. Yes, I said brackets, as in plural. My multiple brackets are not quite as degenerate as they may sound. I always fill out one bracket every year for the office pool that I've been in since before I moved from California to Michigan. That's one of my big-money gambling ventures of the year, since the entry fee is twenty bucks. I've come close to winning a couple times, but haven't yet recouped my losses. The former-IAC lunch crew thanks me for my continued generosity.

This year I also filled out another bracket for a pool with some guys from the fantasy baseball discussion board that I frequent. That competition's just for pride.

Whenever I enter more than one pool, I always enter the same bracket. It keeps my rooting interests clear and pure. So my multiple brackets are really just a single bracket in multiple pools. Though Google will undoubtedly throw a few "gambling-problem hotline" ads on this post, I haven't yet become degenerate ten-brackets-in-the-office-pool-to-cover-all-contingencies guy.

And I'm hardly likely to conduct in-depth odds regressions, or to research the scoring and rebounding statistics of the bench players for the #15 team in the East. Mostly I just try to pick teams that I will root for, while keeping in mind that the seedings are usually right. That doesn't sound very scientific, but I've finished above the 90th percentile nationwide the last two years by ESPN's reckoning. So, I figure I'm doing okay. (We do our office pool on, and in addition to tracking your pool, they let you know how you're scoring against all ten-million-plus entries in all of their pools.)

So, how did I almost forget to fill out my brackets? Especially since this event is hyped to the hilt annually and got an extra special Presidential boost when the O-Man released his own picks this year?

I dunno.

I guess I'm so used to ignoring all the ridiculous hype every year that I tuned it out too far this year. Somehow after all the weeks of hype I had forgotten that the tournament finally started this morning. So last night around 1 am, as I was getting ready to head up to bed -- having already stayed up way later than I should while watching the Cuba-Japan elimination game in the World Baseball Classic -- I was suddenly struck by the thought that the tournament really did start the next morning. For some inexplicable reason I thought I had one more day.

Both brackets were filled out fifteen minutes later. I spent approximately twelve minutes digging up the two e-mails with the passwords, and about three minutes making my actual picks. This is a good deal less than the five or six minutes that I usually spend on my picks. In previous years I have even been known to at least read a newspaper story on the entrants before picking teams.

So, I said that I was playing twenty bucks in one pool and for pride in the other pool. How am I doing? I take great pride in having flushed twenty bucks down the drain on what is not just the worst bracket in pool, but is apparently one of the worst brackets in all the nation. ESPN has me somewhere around the 7th percentile nationally. This means that 93% of entries are doing better than me. And, since in a moment of 1 am delirium I picked my alma matter #14-seed Cornell to knock off #3-seed Missouri and sneak into the Sweet Sixteen, I rather suspect the decline will continue.

Brackets selected by a parrot that randomly selected seeds from a printout of the matchups are beating me right now. I badly trail -- not just trail, badly trail -- brackets selected by three-year-old children and by blindfolded dart-throwers.

I can't imagine what went wrong. "Wait until 1 am and then make your picks in a three-minute frenzy" still sounds to me like a perfect strategy for this event.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Puttin' the "Dog" in Doggerel.

My wee little beagle-based poem, I Sing the Beagle Electric, started a bit of an exchange in the FBN's Poetry Coroner that I thought I would share here. It went a little something like this:

Jon Hopwood wrote:
How can you write a poem about a beagle and not mention (or make a pun on) Snoopy?

John Magee wrote:
I had a humdinger of a Snoopy pun ready to go, but the Schulz estate demanded $75,000 up front, plus a taste of the gross receipts.

Mary Campbell-Droze wrote:
The great estate of Chucky Schulz
Takes not kindly to insults.
You'd have to be quite daft or loopy
To lob a pun at good ol' Snoopy.

John Magee wrote:
Snoopy is as Snoopy does.
Snoopy lives while Schulzy was.
Can any beagle catch Snoopy
In cash on hand? Go, Katie!


Alas, in her effort to overtake the vast Snoopy-based Peanuts marketing empire, Katie the Beagle is still a couple billion dollars short. This can only be because she has not been provided a sufficiently fat Wall Street bonus out of taxpayer bailout funds. Please, Congress, give from the heart. If it's good enough for AIG, isn't it good enough for AIB? (Adorable Insecure Beagle.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Beard, Week 12

Ahh, it was just a month ago when I used to hear descriptions as kind as "homeless guy" and "woodchuck."

As it enters its final week, the beard has taken on a life of its own. In the last two days I have had two neighbors blurt out the same exact words, "My God, what is that thing on your face?!!"

I told them it was my nose, but that doesn't seem to have been their concern.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Signs of Approaching Spring on Wolverine Lake

The thermometer topped 50 degrees this afternoon. It doesn't look as if it's just a temporary winter thaw. There are some definite signs of the approach of Spring.

The neighbor kids fishing off our dock:

The little back-and-white ducks that always follow the melting ice as they migrate North on their way to the Arctic Circle:

And, speaking of waterfowl, there's also the loon perched on our roof:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I Sing the Beagle Electric

With apologies to Walt Whitman

I Sing the Beagle Electric


I sing the beagle electric;
Floppy ears of our sweet beagle so velvet,
And the beagles for adoption at PetsMart
They will not let me off till I talk with them,
Respond to them, scratch their own velvet ears,
Wish them luck in finding a home
As soft as the home of our sweet little beagle,
Once unloved and wishing for a home of her own.
Now rescued and sleeping on our couch.

She will not let me off till I pet her ears, scratch her back,
Pet her belly, and charge it full with the charge of the Soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own beagles spoil themselves?
And yet I must sneak treats to the beagle after dinner.
And if the beagle does not do as much as the Soul?
How can it be? The beagle is Soul.


The love of the beagle balks account.
The beagle herself barks account.
The beagle is perfect,
And her floppy ears are perfect.
Her breath is not perfect. But
The expression of her face balks account;

The expression of a well-made beagle appears not only in her face;
It is in her limbs and joints also,
It is curiously in the joints of her paws and tail;
It is in her trot, the carriage of her neck,
The fur on her snout, the wag of her tail,
Her bare belly so eager to be rubbed.

Her collar does not hide her;
The strong, sweet, supple quality she has
Strikes through the soft brown eyes;
To see her sniff conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see her joy,
At the smell of rabbits yet unseen.

I sing the beagle electric,
But the beagle herself is unplugged;
The beagle is not digital;
The beagle just is.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Brain Tired. No Deep Thoughts. Viking Kittens.

I was going to try to put together a nifty post discussing the psychology of economic recessions and how it played into our village's decision to defer a major infrastructure project, despite the possibility of some money from the big, honkin' federal stimulus package.

But honestly, it's been a long week and I just don't have it in me this evening.

So what do I have for you all to send you into your weekend?

Viking Kittens! <-- Click here.

Hit it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Continuing Decline of Local News Reporting

Yes, it's another post full of more high-quality "re-purposed" content. Most of what's below is copied from some Facebook comments earlier today regarding the accelerating demise of genuine news reporting across our nation. The topic has been on my mind lately, but really struck me today.

This morning I found out that our local beat reporter for the Spinal Column newsweekly was laid off last night. Later today, I saw this Facebook status update from a friend of mine who is an education reporter in Dallas/Fort Worth: "Kent needs a parachute, because the airplane that is my career is about hit a mountain." Apparently his paper's parent company is rolling out a new round of layoffs and pay/benefits cuts.

All of which led to the status update below, and the subsequent comments from myself and others. I don't have a solution to the problem at hand. But I do think that it's a genuine problem and that it will have serious long-term consequences for our society if we don't find a new way to support good local reporting. We need to find a new model for providing this incredibly important service.

John Magee Status Update: John is very sad to have heard of more local news layoffs. I wonder where this will all lead, and I don't like where we're going.

Adam Goodman: Who and where?

John Magee: Our local beat reporter for the Spinal Column. The rapid disappearance of municipal beat reporting around Metro Detroit over the past five years has been truly astonishing. Really, there used to be news reported about things other than "sexting" scandals.

Stacey Tucker-Blosch: Stay tuned for the one-size fits all "news"... Kind of like what's happened to radio stations, generic with a fabricated edge.

Andrew Mutch: No more coverage of Village meetings?

Marti Bush: Maybe we could be come our own reporters and submit local news items to our local papers. And seriously I have no interest in sexting! But am interested in how my community is affected by the changes happening. . .

John Magee: I'm sure they'll re-assign one of the other reporters for at least occasional coverage. But it's really and truly getting pretty thin on the ground all over Metro Detroit. And that's bad for all of us who live here, even the folks who never read the news.

About the best idea that I've seen to reverse the trend is to move towards endowed non-profits that have serious municipal and government reporting as a core mission. I've always gotten along very well with our local press, but -- and I say this *as* an elected official -- we really do need somebody to keep an eye on us and to ensure that government is being conducted honestly, openly, and efficiently.

Andrew Mutch: You should check out the Ann Arbor Chronicle and their coverage of local meetings. That's a great model.

Steve Mace: What?!?! Regurgitated, repetitive, sensationalism isn't selling? What gives?!? Perhaps if the majority of editor's and "journalists" of our region had respected and utilized their medium for what it is truly for; and not abused it for so many years with tripe-they wouldn't have to be worrying about what they're going to now. Oh look!... Britney Spears is wearing black on a Wednesday opposed to her usual pink... front page. Economy, world and national news page 23, print it!

John Magee: I'm also in a pissy mood about the lack of news because I noticed today that the Detroit Free Press's DVD review column -- which up until a year ago used to include genuine local reviews by a genuine Detroit-based reviewer -- has now degenerated further from the generic wire reviews that replaced the reviewer into a reprint of synopses and ratings from

Don't get me wrong, I love Rotten Tomatoes as a review aggregator. But I hardly see why I need the Detroit Free Press to print it and deliver it to me. Of course, since the Tuesday edition of that paper (and the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday papers) bites the dust in three more weeks it's rather a moot point, I suppose.

Maybe I should thank them for preparing me for the future of news, an endless web repackaging of press releases and false rumors started in the blogosphere.

Steve Mace: ...and on top of all of that, you're fat!

John Magee: Ah, but am I really fat if there's no beat reporter left around to report on my ever-expanding girth?

Now, for something substantive...

I'd like to pass along a quick recommendation for an interesting blog to read: My Great Big Giant Brain-Expanding Adventure: One Chiarian's path from diagnosis to recovery. For those of you who don't know him, Eric is one of my friends from California. We were on quite a few terrible flag football teams together back then. (How terrible? I often played quarterback. That's how terrible.) And he's still a member of the Lost Souls fantasy football league, though we all know that his wife Stacey has always been the brain behind that franchise.

Eric was diagnosed with a fairly unusual -- though more common than I realized -- brain problem last year that eventually led him to get surgery. I don't want to steal his thunder, but it's a pretty amazing story. The blog itself is only about a dozen posts long, so it's a pretty quick read. The best way is to page to the end and then work your way forward through the posts.

We've had a lot of people try a lot of things to find a way to be a smarter owner in our fantasy football league. But Eric is the first to actually increase the volume of his brain.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Patioboater Sells Out

I thought that I would never see
My blog gone so commercially.
Did I sell out? You bet your ass.
Oh dear, I've used a word that's crass.
Sponsor shock I did not mean,
Though they claim I need a wrinkle cream.

Or, to quote from A Charlie Brown Christmas:

Charlie Brown: Please send TENS AND TWENTIES? Oh, even my baby sister has gone commercial!
Sally: All I want is what I... I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

Yes, indeed, as you can tell from the wee little add to our left, the Patio Boat blog is now a revenue-generating entity. I wouldn't take it too seriously, though. I am not harboring dreams of amassing the wealth or Croesus, or even of earning enough money to neuter my brother-in-law Rich. It's really just a little experiment. This blog is my ongoing experiment in learning the current world of the Internet, and apparently Google AdSense is what makes the current world go 'round.

This development is probably good news for most of you, since apparently I have agreed not to include all sorts of content as part of my contract agreement:

  • Violent content, racial intolerance, or advocacy against any individual, group, or organization
  • Pornography, adult, or mature content
  • Hacking/cracking content
  • Illicit drugs and drug paraphernalia
  • Excessive profanity
  • Gambling or casino-related content
  • Sales or promotion of weapons or ammunition (e.g., firearms, fighting knives, stun guns)
  • Sales or promotion of beer or hard alcohol
  • Sales or promotion of tobacco or tobacco-related products
  • Sales or promotion of prescription drugs
  • Sales or promotion of products that are replicas or imitations of designer goods
  • Sales or distribution of term papers or student essays
  • Any other content that is illegal, promotes illegal activity, or infringes on the legal rights of others.

So, it looks as if I'll have to shelve my planned twelve-part series on naked crack whores who smoke cigars and get liquored up on beer and Johnny Walker before assaulting minority computer hackers with roulette wheels, big jars of Xanax, and Gocci handbags.

Otherwise, it's business as usual around here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nice evening for a walk

Monique and I took advantage of the move to Daylight Savings Time and had quite a nice walk with Katie the Beagle when I got home from work today. It was really quite lively outside. We saw several others dogs out for walks, somebody riding a bicycle, and one enthusiastic front-yard soccer game. Plus, Katie found something stinky to roll in, so a good time was had by all.

It's funny how so much of human perception is relative. In this case, "a nice evening for a walk" could be technically defined as "overcast and 42 degrees Fahrenheit." But the point is that it was above freezing and no form of water -- frozen or otherwise -- was falling on our heads. And everybody was enjoying the respite from the long Michigan winter. In another two months we'll be bitter about an evening like that.

I'm starting to really believe that taking those last two weeks of February was near-perfect timing in terms of getting the heck out of the frozen wasteland. We're still on the Winter side of St. Paddy's Day, so I won't get too giddy. But Spring really does seem to be edging its way closer. I reckon I'd better prune the peach trees this weekend before the sap really starts to run.

Hmmn, "prune the peach trees." Now there's an English-language phrase for ya.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

General weekend wrapup

No deep thoughts or spectacular photos today, just a general weekend wrapup. It's been kind of a nice, quiet, rainy weekend, despite not getting enough stuff done around here. Friday evening Monique and I drove across town to the Commonwealth Club in Warren to work the Friday fish and chips. For those who have never heard of the Commonwealth Club, it's a club of British expatriates who have a nifty clubhouse in Warren with a bar, a dart room, and some nice banquet facilities.

The Detroit RFC does quite a few things with them, including providing volunteers to work the kitchen for their Friday fish fry from 5 pm - 8 pm on the first Friday of each month. The clubs within the DRFC (men, women, old boys) rotate the assignment, so each group is responsible for coming up with five or six volunteers once every three months. It's a good gig: free beer and all the fish and chips you can eat, and it's always a good chance to chit-chat with some friends. It's usually an easy "get" for volunteers, but a lot of the usual suspects had other things going on, so I spent more time than usual beating the bushes. Fortunately, all turned out well and a good time was had.

It's been pretty much downhill for me on the productivity front this weekend ever since. Monique and I had been thinking about going out to see "Watchmen", since we found ourselves enmeshed in so much of the publicity last week when we attended the fundraiser shindig at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. But after working the fish fry we were both too full of fish to want to battle the opening-night crowds. Plus, I can't help but look at the reviews and think, "This is a movie that Monique will hate." She's game enough to go with me to it, especially since we did see the display of source material, props, costumes, etc. But I can't help but think she'd really rather catch up on the three or four episodes of "Damages" that have been sitting on the DVR since we got home.

I suspect that I might just wander out and catch it myself during the week. We shall see.

The movie that we did watch Friday night was "In Bruges" on the DVD player. I'm still not quite sure how much I enjoyed it, since I really liked some pieces and didn't like other aspects of it. I did mostly enjoy it for its quirky humor, particularly in the early parts; general weirdness; and the great juxtaposition of this film noir story with the preserved and touristy medieval city of Bruges. But it did get pretty grim at the end in a way that didn't quite feel as if it fit with the movie. Still, it was a heck of a lot more interesting than most of what comes out in the way of thrillers or crime dramas these days, so I'd say it's worth the rental.

After that, it's been a pretty quiet weekend at home for me, and a pretty active weekend of errand-running for Monique. I've been trying to get a few things ironed out on the new laptop, cleaning up and organizing my desk, and doing a bit of general puttering about the house during a rainy weekend. Monique has thrown herself into some general cleanup around this place (which needs it) and a series of errands, most of which have been out of the house.

We often have weekends in which I putt about the house while Monique runs errands. I think that this is probably a reflection of the fact that I spend so little time at home during the week, and since she works at home all week and is quite happy to get out and about. Everybody like's a change of pace and locale during the weekend.

The only downside to the weekend for me has been the re-emergence of the leak in our kitchen skylight. Every few years one of our two skylights springs a leak. The leak usually emerges during a downpour, which is when vast quantities of water shed off our roof, pile up on the upslope side of the skylight, and eventually find their way past the caulk. I really don't mind climbing up on the roof and re-caulking. I just wish I didn't have to wait for decent weather because it means pots and bowls on the kitchen floor until I can caulk it up again.

Oh, and it's been an action-packed weekend for Katie the Beagle, too. After I reassured her that Cruella de Riordan was still in Gettsyburg, Katie emerged from her camouflage towel and is now contributing to the general rainy-weekend atmosphere by laying about on the couch. Here, in a series of action shots that just burst off the page she briefly contemplates standing up and stretching before curling back up to go back to sleep:

She does good work.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hide yer dogs, folks!

Just a quick public service announcement to let all my faithful followers know that you should hide your dogs, immediately!

Hopalong Riordan's on a pooch-rustling rampage: Gettysburg Family Jumps the Shark (aka Susan's Big Dognapping Scheme.)

Here in Wolverine Lake we're taking no chances. Katie the Beagle is safely camouflaged in a beagle-colored towel.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ramblin', ramblin', ramblin' back in the salt mines...

It's always tough to get back to work after a vacation, of course. But for some reason I seem to be more aghast than ever at my daily and weekly schedule. It's Thursday night, but I literally feel as if it can't possibly be any later than Tuesday because when I get up, go to work, work late, come home, eat dinner, go to work, rinse and repeat, the week just flies by.

While vacationing out there in California, Monique and I had a few good discussions about the value of travel outside of just the fun of seeing new things. One of the great things about travel is how getting out of your home turf and out of your comfort zone gives you a new perspective on your own life.

This is also one of the great advantages to reading books. Somebody else's perspective on the world lends you a new perspective on your own life. I never get that sense of an entirely different perspective from movies or television shows, no matter how well done.

The point of this isn't just to bitch that I'm not settling easily back into harness this week. And there's lots and lots that I love about my daily and weekly routine. I guess it's just to say that I'm feeling a bit philosophic about the big picture this week. Where am I going and why? I generally do useful and interesting things, but are they the most useful and interesting things I could be doing?

One thing I had already noticed the last few years is that I very seldom get several hours in a row for genuine uninterrupted thought, especially during the day when my brain is fresh. I know we're all supposedly living in the age of multitasking, but sometimes it really does take my brain a while to set everything else aside and concentrate deeply on something. As a result, I often feel as if I've contracted some form of attention-deficit disorder. But I know that I actually have a darn good attention span when I have time to relax and concentrate on something.

I sometimes wonder if the apparent outbreak of ADD/ADHD throughout our society is really just a matter of bad scheduling in most cases. And I sometimes worry that living the daily routine that I do will eventually ruin my own ability to concentrate at length. Right now, I felt as if I had mostly recovered that ability by the second week of our vacation. But what if one day that skill just doesn't come back?

I can't write shorter poems than haiku, no matter how much worse my attention span gets. Watch:


See, that's not a poem. That's a word.

One other thing I noticed during the vacation was that by the second week, I was beginning to feel more and more like "myself" again. What does that really mean, though? If most of my life is spent in my usual overscheduled frenzy of problem-solving alternating with snippets of loafing about, is that actually who I am? Is it who I am becoming? Is it who I am in danger of becoming? If you spend five days a week, forty-eight weeks a year doing or being something, is that who you are?

And what does that thought mean for my tombstone? "Here lies John Magee, cubicle dweller with a short attention span. You can still try to double-book him into meetings, but you better hope he doesn't show up, 'cause he won't just be unshaven and distracted from trying to be two places at once. He'll be all wormy and gross." There are worse epitaphs, I suppose, but it's hardly inspiring stuff.

And what does all of this have to do with Carrie Fisher's key ring? (<-- Foreshadowing, a common literary technique used by those writers who have a sufficient attention span.)

Eeesh, maybe it's just better to just look at the pretty pictures and not think about the broader psychological underpinnings of vacation.

Look, pretty picture:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dinner and Trick Time with Katie the Beagle

With the vacation in the rear-view mirror, we're settling back into our routines here at Casa Magee. In the case of Katie the Beagle, this means that her soul orbits anxiously round our meal schedule.

I fear that I have ruined this once-nice dog by combining my "no feeding the dog at the table" rule with a pathetic soft spot that leads me to always put a little something in her bowl after dinner. After studying our patterns with great intensity, she has decided that the sound of silverware scraping up the remains of a meal, followed by the clatter of silverware being set down, is the greatest sound in the history of beagledom. Indeed, it is a sound that requires up-close investigation. The good news is that Katie snoozes happily on the couch during dinner. But there is precious little in the way of post-prandial digestion at the table that doesn't involve a persistent, insistent, and thoroughly spoiled little beagle who thinks it's time for her share of dinner.

The Katie the Beagle evening routine also includes "trick time" after dinner. She is very much in favor of trick time because at "trick time" I pull out the liver snaps and we work on her two tricks, "sit" and "down." It's fair to say that she's probably more in favor of liver snaps than tricks, but she really does seem to enjoy doing her complete two-trick repertoire.

This is a more challenging assortment than you might think, because after a year of "sit" and "down", she still hasn't really figured out that the words are connected with the action. We have occasionally tried to expand the trick menu a few times to include exotic fare like "shake" or "heel." But Katie seems to interpret any other command as either "roll over on your back so that John can scratch your belly" or "sit up and lie down and sit up and lie down a whole bunch of times until John gives up on whatever it was he was trying to do and hands over a liver snap."

Mind you, I think she would be quite happy to do other tricks if she only understood them. We're trying to work our way up to "fetch." I toss a liver snap across the floor and she "fetches" it. I rather suspect that her interpretation of that trick is pretty much limited to "find and eat the liver snap." Eh, it's a start.

And otherwise, it's "sit" and "down." And "sit" is still pretty iffy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

One last little batch o' photos from the vacation

Hurrah, the film shots finally came in. It seems nobody has much commentary on my photo montages. I can only assume that it's because you're all dumbstruck by my technical prowess and sharp eye.

The last little batch was from the day that the top came down on the convertible and Monique and I cruised along the coast. Here's a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from China Beach:

And, looking West instead of East, we see Monique standing on the beach in front of the Golden Gate itself:

Moving South along the coast a bit, here we're looking North from Moss Beach:

And here's a little iceplant flower on the same bluff:

Farther South along the coast, this is a view standing next to Route One and looking East up the Pescadero Valley. On a sunny day, this valley and the La Honda Valley just to the North are two of the most serene-looking places on Earth:

Just on the other side of Route One, the Pacific Ocean strikes the rocks of Pescadero Beach:

Monique on the rocks at Pescadero:

And we wrap up with a view of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse as the Sun begins to sink slowly into the Pacific:

Good stuff.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vacation Photos, Last Batch

Now that I'm home, I reckoned I'd post the last big batch of vacation photos. These are from the final ten days of our vacation, during which we stayed with my aunt and uncle, Joe & Carol Neil, at their lovely home in Berkeley.

(One caveat: these are just the pictures from the digital camera. My photos from the film camera -- you all do remember film, don't you? -- haven't yet been developed and digitized. I'll probably post whatever's nifty from the film camera later. This is why there aren't a ton of photos of Monique in this batch, since she generally toted the digital camera while I used my film camera. Let's face it, you'd all rather look at photos of Monique than photos of me, especially now that I've embraced the hermit-beard look. I don't blame you. I'd rather look at photos of Monique, too. You'll all just have to suffer along with me.)

First up, a batch of us went up to Sonoma to tour the 2009 HGTV Dream Home. From left-to-right we have Monique's friend Kelley, Me, Monique, my cousin Laura, and Carol.

Monique believes that she looks quite natural going in the side door.

I did get a couple good interior photos with my film camera, but I forgot to mark the "Create a CD" option on the envelope when I had the pictures developed. So if you want to see what it looks like on the inside, you'll have to click the link and take HGTV's tour. If you have a beef with that, go read a blog written by somebody who isn't absent minded. I won't be hurt. Much.

Tim & Jennifer Kardos hosted a little Friday night shindig at their place in San Mateo, with much of the old IAC crowd in attendance. We played croquet in the back yard, played an interesting empire-building board game on the coffee table, feasted on a delicious dinner, and did yeoman's work on a 1/4-barrel keg of very yummy Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. From left-to-right, top: Steve Lee, John Magee, Gene Cassaretto, Mark Berger, Jeff Harm, Tim Kardos, Gerry Droze; bottom: Sue Kelsch, Monique Magee, Mary Campbell-Droze.

Here's a photo that I liked of Laura and Carol in Carol's living room:

Speaking of my Aunt Carol's place, it's fabulous. It's located in the Berkeley hills about three blocks North of the University of California campus. We didn't get a lot of great interior shots during our stay, but here's a shot of the garden and the side of the house:

When Monique and I toured the 2008 HGTV Dream Home while vacationing in the Florida Keys last year, we had been sleeping in a tent for a week. This year we were staying at Joe & Carol's.

It's safe to say that your living circumstances certainly color your perception of the Dream Home. And the truth is that while the 2009 Dream Home was very nice, nobody in their right mind would trade two of the 2009 Dream Home for Joe & Carol's. (We would, however, still trade our very nice tent for the 2009 Dream Home.)

Technically speaking, of course, we didn't stay in Joe & Carol's house. We stayed in the guest cottage, which is this really warm and comfortable one-bedroom apartment above the garage. Here's a side shot. The garage is on the left and the pump house is on the right. (Brief aside: the pump house contains a natural spring which runs pretty much year-round and is a key neighborhood resource in case of earthquake.)

One day the sun came out, so we finally dropped the top on the convertible and drove out on the coast. (Here's a link to the blog entry with more detail of that particular excursion.)

Here are a couple shots of the Golden Gate Bridge from China Beach, which is in San Francisco out near the ocean:

Here are a couple of shots from Moss Beach. This is on the cliffside where I used to walk Simeon quite often and where Monique and I once had a lovely, romantic sunset picnic back when she used to visit me in California. The flowering ground-cover plant in the front of the shot is called iceplant:

This is me taking a picture of the harbor seals at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. If you click on the photo and blow it up, you can see the seals, though it's a bit like playing Where's Waldo if you don't know what you're looking for. And it's easy to get distracted by the blubber-laden marine mammal wearing the Detroit Rugby sweatshirt:

Here's a photo of the front of the San Gregorio General Store. And by "general" they do mean "general." Not only is there a wide variety of hardware, cookware, food, beverages, books, office supplies, but it is also San Gregorio's post office, coffee shop, and pub.

Oh, and my sister Susan bought her wedding dress here. You people think I make these things up for comic effect, but that is absolutely true. A general store indeed:

Here's Monique peeking over the windshield when we stopped among the redwoods in Loma Mar:

We stopped back out by the ocean in Pescadero, with more iceplant in the foreground. We have lots of photos of iceplant, which is probably Monique's favorite coastside California flora:
This picture that Monique shot of me of me taking photos of waves hitting the rocks in Pescadero turned out better than any of my photos of waves:

On to other events. One of the fun things we did was to have dinner one night with my cousin Laura at her house out in the Sunset district of San Francisco. We dined with Laura; her ex-husband Deron; and their boys, Nicholas and Alexander. Afterwards, Laura, Alexander, Monique, and I played Clue.

The only photo I have selected from that evening is this one of Nicholas. I have chosen it because he was trying so hard to avoid being in any pictures. Yet his vigilance lapsed for one brief moment and Monique snatched up her camera and captured this action shot of Nicholas Van Hoff trying in vain to leap out of frame before the camera shutter opened.

Wildlife photographers around the world might take it in stride that they can capture images of rare mountain gorillas and cross-billed nuthatches, but any photographer would burst with pride upon capturing an image of the very seldom photographed Nicholas Van Hoff:

Monique also tried very hard to capture the visuals of crossing to San Francisco. I rather suspect we'd need a good wide-angle camera to catch the effect of the view of the skyline combined with the angles of the bridge. But a few of the photos of the bridge itself turned out quite nifty:

Here's a picture of the Small Press Spotlight exhibit at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum. Their current exhibit features Ryan Claytor, whose work I have extolled elsewhere. There are those who say the location of the Small Press Spotlight leaves a wee-wee bit to be desired. But where better to get a lot of traffic?

This is Monique in the Yerba Buena Gardens, with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the immediate background and a skyscraper behind:

That same afternoon we also went to some of Berkeley's remaining used book stores. The once-mighty herd of used bookstores in Berkeley has been thinned considerably over the past few years, but the surviving stores seem to still be thriving. Among the many things we saw in them, we found this evidence that you can still find used copies of some of Arsen's science-fiction books in circulation:

... and that's about it for this batch of vacation photos from California. How do I know this is the end of the California photos? Here's the next picture, this one taken from my porch this afternoon:

Ice? Iceboats? Yup, must be back in Michigan.