May 2006 Archives

Motorcycles

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1981 CB900F

When I did my list of cars I've owned, I didn't include the other mode of motorized transportation I've used on many an occasion - motorcycles. I had always been around around two wheelers, minibikes and the like, and after I'd gotten started in programming for a bit, I picked up a Suzuki 450. I'm not exactly sure what possessed me to get one. Maybe it was my friend having one; I don't quite remember who got one first.

I had the 450 for a few years, and it was a solid learners bike. But it left a little to be desired for the long haul, and I finally upgraded to a Honda CB900F, very much like the one pictured above. What a beautiful, powerful and flexible bike. It could go plenty fast enough, yet was comfortable enough for the long haul. I drove it from Boston to Baltimore a couple of times, non-stop, without a problem. Well, save for the stupid Garden State Parkway tollbooths, where you had to stop every 5 miles to pay a quarter toll. It is a real drag fishing quarters out of your pocket every 10 minutes. I tried putting some quarters on the faring shelf, but one would pop off every expansion joint.

I was in one big accident while on my CB900F. A teenaged girl ran a red light and hit me broadside. Never even saw her, as I was pulling out from a parking space. Next thing I remember, I'm under the front bumper of the car, running inventory on my limbs. Luckily, nothing major was wrong with either me or my bike. Well, maybe not so much luck, as the fact I always rode "dressed for disaster", with a top notch helmet, leather jacket, heavy pants and leather boots, pretty much no matter what the weather. I had a slightly fractured ankle, and my bike needed some repairs, but that was it. I guess I flew up onto the hood of the car, smashed the windshield with my helmet and then rolled off. My guess is those girls in the car still see me flying around in their nightmares.

Other than that, no other accidents. I dropped the bike once in a rotary when I was cut off, but I just picked it back up and kept rolling. My girlfriend at the time thought I was a much better driver on the bike than in a car. She wasn't much of a motorcycle fan, but she got very comfortable riding with me and we did lots of riding around, using an intercom system for talking. She would even go so far as to nod off while sitting in back; I'd be driving along when I'd feel her helmet hit mine as she leaned up against me! The accident probably wouldn't have happened had it been later in the spring. I had just started riding again and my self-preservation instincts weren't completely honed to a razor's edge yet. I've always said that every driver should be forced to ride a bike for a bit. They'll learn!

She had some Harley driving friends, and we exchanged some good natured barbs. They'd chide me for riding a "rice burner" and I'd wear my t-shirt with the "I'd rather ride a rice-burner than push a Harley" imprint. We got along great, because when you get right down to it, they're still motorcycles. I would usually ride mine until it got too cold for it to start, and then I'd wheel it into the garage until spring.

But I made the mistake of selling my CB900F without already having a replacement for it, and now I'm not allowed to get one. My wife is petrified of them and never rode on mine. Her parent's fears had been too deeply instilled in her. I always think of that Harley commercial where the guy pumping gas into his minivan admires the Harley driven by another guy and says that he was going to get a Harley, but instead got a living room set. Sigh.

And tonight is the absolute perfect riding weather. Mid-70s, a little humid, with dry roads and no wind. I used to just take off on nights like these and find fun roads to ride down, and be gone for hours just riding. Ahh, I can feel it now. Some day again I'll get a bike again.

Anyway, here's the closest I get to doing that these days - riding with the windows down and the sunroof open, playing some tunes. And tonight there was a perfect story playing on the CD to go along with it - Richard Thompson's Vincent Black Lightning, 1952:

Oh says Red Molly to James "That's a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like"
Says James to Red Molly "My hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme"
And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride
Oh says James to Red Molly "Here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.
For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

"Come down, come down, Red Molly" called Sergeant McRae
"For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery.
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.
Oh come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside"
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
He said "I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52"
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home"
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

52 Black Vincent Lightning

Gardening Pratfalls

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Impatiens Garden

Spent another gorgeous day in paradise here yesterday, doing more yard work. As you can see, the back yard annual flower bed came out pretty nice. I love the way everything looks with fresh mulch. Those impatiens will really fill in the entire flower bed and look nice the rest of the summer. We also got in our tomatoes, although we haven't had much luck with those since we moved to Medford. We had a very nice spot for them at our Weymouth house, where they got full sunshine. But there is no spot in our backyard with sun during most of the daylight hours, except for our deck, so the tomato plants, being the sun worshipers they are, suffer.

But, as a famous man once said, "For a price, Ugarte. For a price." And the price I had to pay for my diligence is a case of poison ivy. While our yard itself doesn't have any, the small, untamed patch of woods behind the back fence is rife with the vile plants. So they try to make inroads into our backyard and I guess I must have pulled up one too many "weeds".

I've had a few run-ins with it in the past. I remember working outdoors on a place one summer as a teenager when the owners asked if I "got" poison ivy. I said I didn't know but within the next few days it became painful obvious that I very much did. I'm not wildly allergic to the stuff, though. One childhood friend of mine was so allergic to it she could catch it just being windblown. But I have had some serious altercations with poison ivy and other related noxious plants. One winter, visiting the folks in Oklahoma City, I got a bad rash from some plant or another after going to pick mistletoe. My arms, legs and neck were covered in the stuff. Some pretty funny (in hindsight) pictures of the time, with all the white lotion on me.

I venture out beyond the back fence in a yearly ritual of trimming the tops of the trees, which gives us a very nice view of Boston to the south. The first year I did it, I blithely went about my tree climbing in shorts and a t-shirt and paid a serious price in poison ivy rash. Ever since then, I wait for a cool day and wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, gloves and a hat. I come in and my wife treats me like I've just come back from a radioactive waste site. I slip in and dump all my clothes directly into the washmachine, where they get washed a couple of times. Even better, I wear old clothes so I can just throw them away, as the oils from this pernicious weed are amazingly tough to remove.

Poison Ivy

My wife is understandably terrified of the plants. One summer day, she spent the afternoon tearing down vines from the front of our old house, proudly showing off the results. However, when they turned out to be poison ivy, she paid a terrible price, and spent many days with lotions and potions, trying to ease the itching. So now she is extra careful and avoids anything even remotely resembling the oily, reddish leaves of the plant.

One year, some guys came to cut down some trees behind our house. As they were nice oak trees, I asked if I could have the wood. They said sure, and I started carting it into the garage to dry it out. After I finished lugging the pieces, they asked if I "got" poison ivy. Oh oh. Turns out the trees had a couple of vines wrapped around them. I didn't get it too bad, but I treated them like a toxic waste dump. I let them sit unmolested for a year, and then I carefully, using a pole, pried off the dead vines and put them in the garbage cans.

I'll probably head off to the drug store to pick something up for it. I've seen some new treatment advertised from some big skin creme company (forget who), so maybe I'll give that a try. It isn't too bad though. A hot shower usually does the trick for me for a bit. Those impatiens had better bloom nicely this year!

Update: It was Cortaid with the new poison ivy treatment, But their Poison Ivy Care Treatment Kit was nearly US$40! And the other highly recommended lotion, Zanfel, was US$38 - yikes! Didn't realize curing poison ivy was so expensive. I guess if it is killing you, it is a small price to pay. But my rash isn't $40 worth, so I bought some Tecnu Extreme, which still cost $13. I've been using some Tecnu Outdoor Skin Cleanser, an more basic lotion, and it seems to work okay so far. I'll let you know how it works. We always used to use the old standby, Calamine Lotion, which cost about $5. Ah, the price of progress.

Memorial Day

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It is the Memorial Day holiday here in the US today. It was originally called "Decoration Day", when citizens visited the graves of fallen American Civil War veterans and placed flowers on them. It was officially proclaimed in 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. These days, it is the Monday holiday that marks the unofficial start of the summer season. And it has been remarkably summerlike here in New England too!

I have some connections with the armed forces, although my own personal brush with them remains the year I spent in Air Force ROTC (Reserver Officer Training Corps) while going to RPI. It's a great deal - full tuition, room and books, plus a small monthly stipend. I only had to dress up once a week, and go to a short class, where they mostly showed "wowie" films, like airplanes taking off straight up and the like. I did also get a memorable trip to Cape Canaveral in Florida in December, which made it all worthwhile.

But ROTC was just one of the many things I couldn't hack in college and I dropped out my sophomore year. I wonder whatever happened to my uniform? My Mom probably has it carefully folded away, as my Dad cries over the lost opportunity:-)

Speaking of my Dad, he is a veteran of the Air Force. As a smart fatherless kid, his prospects after graduating high school in Hartford were slim, I imagine. He even had a close friend die of a heroin overdose - that's the kind of crowd he hung out with. And talk about a small world - the girlfriend I had after I dropped out of college, her father graduated from Hartford High the very same year as my dad! They didn't know each other though.

So he went into the Air Force and picked up a trade which would support us until he retired - air traffic controller. It was a good career, although it meant moving quite a bit growing up, even after he got out of the Air Force. And while he worked at Kennedy Airport in New York City, it made for a great place to go to work with him. I'd get my own radar screen up in the tower, and watch the airplanes with binoculars. Great fun for a ten year old!

Luckily, he was between wars - too late for the Korean War and too early for the Vietnam War. I had several cousins who also used the armed forces as an escape from the doldrums. One is still in the Navy, a lifer currently serving down in New Orleans. I think he is an airplane technician, actually.

I do have a nephew who currently in the Army. He is a member of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which meant he was on the front lines of the urban warfare in Iraq. I was worried for him every day. And he is due to go back in July, and I will worry for him again, while fighting in the useless and unnecessary "war" over there. I don't know how we're ever going to extricate ourselves from that morass. It was a lie and a mistake from the beginning and it is only going to get worse.

Workin' 'round the hosue

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I suppose after complaining about the weather here, here, here and here, the least I can do is give a shoutout when the weather is simply spectacular, like it was yesterday and promises to be today and tomorrow. Partly sunny yesterday, with temps near 80. One passing thunderstorm made us stop our yardwork for about an hour, but that's not so bad is it?

In typical New England fashion, we've gone directly from early spring (cold, wet, rainy), right into summer, as temperatures were expected to be in the low 90s on Memorial Day. Hmm, but now that I check the weather forecast, the prediction is back down to the upper 70s, and partly to mostly cloudy. Well, one weather site has it upper 70s, the other has it upper 80s. Guess we'll just have to see. Sounds like the weather pages are "nowcasting", where they succeed in telling me what the forecast is now.

Yesterday, as mentioned, was a work in the yard day. After having been neglected for most of the spring due to inclement weather, we're in catch-up mode. Mow the lawn, get some annuals in, put down mulch, that sort of thing. Today will be more of the same.

The girls were busy busy busy all day. The "toy" of choice for the day was caterpillars. We have the furry ones that keep showing up and they have been collecting them. Don't enlarge the picture at the right if you are at all squeamish about caterpillars! They moved them from container to container, named them, put in leaves and grass, and in general, had a high time of it with them. Of course, once they found out that their mother and the next door neighbor girl were one of the squeamish ones, the fun just increased! The picture on the right is Adrienne, showing off the current collection of five wiggly 'pillars. That's my girl!

The other picture is them on the front porch, during the brief rain shower. Lunch on the porch, with their caterpillars in the box on the right and their mother safely ensconced behind a closed door. As Rhiannon said, "Isn't this the life?"

Summertime Libations

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I went into the liquor store yesterday to stock up on some missing libations. Of course, I completely forgot to buy the main thing I went in there for - a new bottle of Tattoo for the freezer. My memory is even more suspect now than it ever has been. You shoulda heard my youngest lecturing me about "taking my time" and "not being in such a rush" when I complained about forgetting some things on our way to soccer pictures. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Anyway, I decided to look into buying a new rum. Since I've been making the rounds at the cocktail blog circuit, I've noticed some disenchantment with Bacardi Silver. It is my favorite rum, as it is smooth and flavorful without being too sweet. Because its primary use is in a rum & coke, it can't be adding even more sweetener. But I was surprised to find there isn't another "top shelf" silver rum available. I cannot stand any of the "Ron" brands, like Ron Rico or Ron Virgin. Is "Ron" a Caribbean word for "Bottom Shelf"? And that's about the only other silver rums I could see. There were plenty of fancy dark and gold rums, but I've found them to be too sweet for an R&C. Fine for sipping, but not really for mixing. So I've stuck with Bacardi for now.

What did completely bowl me over was the astonishing variety of flavored rums. That was another one of my quest items, to try one of these. I am a big fan of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, but that's not really a flavored rum. I think there were more flavors for rum than there were for vodka! Just about every imaginable tropical fruit was well represented - pineapple, mango, coconut (of course), banana, orange, berry. Bacardi itself had six or seven, including the new "Melon Blast" or something, that was a watermelon-flavored rum - yech! I have tried the Limon on occasion, as it isn't too bad in a R&C. I didn't want to get too wild, so I picked up a bottle of Cruzan Orange Rum. I tried it in an R&C last night - not all that wonderful. Too much orange. I'll have to try one of the recipes it came with, like the one with pineapple juice and cream of coconut. But I just didn't know so many varieties had exploded onto the scene.

For the Carnival of Drinking, where the theme is drinks that you like to serve at the barbecues, grill outs, picnics or what not that you'll be attending this weekend, or in the summer months in general (phew, that's a mouthful!), I thought I'd throw out a couple of long, tall drinks I make when I'm looking for something simple and refreshing. After a hard day in the garden, or mowing the lawn, or a full weekend working on that "Honey Do" list like I anticipate this weekend, you don't want some kind of fiddly drink to make, with measuring and mixing and blending. Just throw some stuff together and go relax already.

First up is my very favorite summertime drink - the "Pimm's Cup". Pimm's is an English herbal concoction just brimming with refreshing flavors. During the height of its popularity around World War 2, they made six different kinds, No. 1 through 6, each using a different base liquor. These days, there's only No. 1 left, which is based on London gin. I've heard rumors of No 2, based on vodka, still being around, but I've never seen it.

So you take a tall Collins glass and top it with ice (not chopped or crushed, as it will get too watery). Fill the glass 1/4 to 1/3 full with Pimm's No. 1 and then top with your favorite light colored soda. You could use Sprite, Fresca, or, in my classic version, ginger ale. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and enjoy. Easy to make, easy to drink, and very refreshing!

My second libation is very similar in some ways to the Pimm's Cup. Fill a tall Collins glass with big cubes of ice, fill 1/4 to 1/3 full with your favorite berry flavored vodka, and top with lemonade. I'm partial to raspberry, but you can use whatever kind that wets your whistle. I've tried it with cherry and it works pretty nicely. I have a big bottle of Stoli Beri just waiting for a pour at some point during this long holiday weekend. Of course, the lemonade you use is very important too. Newman's Own is an easy to get favorite of mine, while the one from the local organic supermarket chain (Wild Oats) is also a very nice one.

The raz & lemonade drink isn't very sophisticated (it doesn't even have a name!), but it sure is refreshing. It also goes better with food than does the Pimm's Cup, which I tend to drink by itself later in the evening. I'll try to add some pictures once these drinks get poured. Enjoy!

Lawns...

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Just got back from a lunch time lawn mowing over to my mother-in-law's. The grass had grown an incredible amount in just over a week, as it does here in New England during the springtime. And I'm going to need a machete to hack my way through our backyard if I don't get out and cut it this weekend, again after less than a week. I should really get one of those push rotary mowers, for both ecological and physiological reasons, but I still like whacking my way through with my lawnmower. Hey, at least it is a four stroke engine. Up until a few years ago, I had an old Lawnboy two stroke, which is about as polluting a device as you could buy. I don't even think they sell them any more.

Anyway, all this lawn mowing brings to mind a favorite joke I've kept around:

GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in The world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the Dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a Perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, Withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of Songbirds.

I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are These green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's Temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass Growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and Poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow Really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will Grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and Saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in The spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and Protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to Enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great Piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the Winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy Something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in Place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the Mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us Tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: "Dumb and Dumber," Lord. It's a real stupid movie about -

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Free Booze Schwag

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Here's a couple of cool giveaways I've come across over the past week or so, for cocktail related stuff:

First up is a couple of free videos from Ketel One. Just go here and fill out the form. There are two different videos, both of which are available on DVD and one can also be had on VHS. Not sure exactly what they are, but hey, how can you go wrong when they say "free"?

Secondly is a book called "Wines From Spain". It's put out by a marketing firm, but Days That End In Y gives it a good review nonetheless. But again, it is really free, as in Free Beer - no "shipping" charges, no "handling" charges, nothing. So what do you have to lose? Just go here and ask for it!

So get out there and get those forms filled out!

Thursday Random 10

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TheDarkSideOfTheMoon.jpg

I figure I'd better get my "Friday" Random Ten from last week out there before Friday this week!

Back to the Friday Random Ten. I did finally get a 512mb sD card for my Lyra MP3 player, so I added some more songs. I wish I could convert all the MP3 files that I recorded via Rhapsody in one easy step, to smaller MP3 files, though. I played with a bunch of MP3 encoders, but none were easy enough for me to use. I think a simple 96k stereo recording would work just fine for an exercise "tape", which shrinks the files by half or more. And there is a setting in Rhapsody to convert to this when copying to my MP3 player, but I think it is only invoked if the original song is in a format the player doesn't support.

Anyway, back to my random walk down memory lane, where I pull out a handful of CDs from my CD case and cherry pick my favorite songs from them.

  • Pink Floyd - "The Great Gig in the Sky" (Dark Side of the Moon [1973]) : Man oh man, the stories I could tell... I had a friend in high school who was a huge Pink Floyd fan. Had all their albums, played them incessantly. I liked them well enough, but this was the killer album of my high school years. I can't believe it was released 5 years before my graduation, as it was still an important album. It spent 1,350 weeks on The Billboard 200, 741 on the top 40 list. I also have the SACD version, which is really an amazing listening experience. I think I'm going to have to rip the entire CD, as I don't think it can be listened to standalone. This song gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it, with the plaintive wail of session singrt Clare Torry and Gilmour's slide guitar driving the song home. According to the review on Rhapsody, it's ironic that Syd Barret, the original creative force behind Pink Floyd, was kicked out, in part, because of a desire to add a female singer and saxophones...
  • Patti Smith - "People Have The Power" (Dream of Life [1988]) : Rhapsody gives this a genre of "Old School Punk". Excellent, progressive rock with a political bent - my favorite combination.
  • Fine Young Cannibals - "Johnny Come Home" (Fine Young Cannibals [1986]) : Combine the English Beat with a soulful singer, and you get FYC. This is their debut album and is chock full of great songs, including two versions each of "Johnny Come Home" and "Suspicious Minds", both great songs to add to my workout MP3 player. Listening to this CD for the first time in ages, I'm reminded of just how many solid songs are on it. "Funny How Love Is" also wants to be cranked to 11.
  • Big Pig - "I Can't Breakaway" (Bonk [1990]) : Big splash made by a big percussion band from Australia. Remember Big Pig, with the leather aprons and pounding drums? Hit it big with this song, but then disappeared from the musical map. One of my girls' favorite songs.
  • Richard Barone - "River to River" (Primal Dream [1990]) : Leader of one of my favorite New Wave guitar pop groups of the 80s, The Bongos, Barone's first solo CD, Cool Blue Halo is an all-time top favorite pick of mine, but this followup effort is seriously lacking in originality. This is probably one of the first times I've listened to this CD since I got it and was immediately unimpressed. This song comes closest to re-imagining The Bongos, who's Numbers with Wings ELP will be one of the first I'll do when I get my vinyl-to-CD effort going, as it has some incredible guitar pop. I see that The Bongos' first two albums were combined into one CD, but the only place I can find this CD (Half.com) is asking US$80 for it!
  • Modern English - "Melt With You" (After The Snow [1983]) : A perfect slice of New Wave pop heaven. Hard to believe it never got higher than 76 on the Billboard charts, as it remains a song nearly everyone would recognize. This is probably the only song on the CD I've listened to, although the full CD gets some pretty good reviews.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughn - "Ain't Gone 'n' Give Up On Love" (Soul to Soul [1985]) : Gone too soon, Stevie Ray was a giant among blues guitar players. I'll never forget one time my teen-aged sister came back from a Police concert. I asked her who opened for them. She said she didn't know but it was "some guy who played lots of guitar." Well, it turned out to be Stevie Ray, and I would have wanted to see him rather than the Police! I have a tape of a B.B. King blues special he was on and it is one of my most treasured possessions.
  • Seal - "Crazy" (Just Say Anything [1991]) : Volume 5 of the Just Say Yes series of compilations, this one is actually pretty weak, as you can see by my pick of this Seal mega-hit as the sample from it. The only other interesting song is the low-key "That's Entertainment" cover by Morrissey, but I'll stick with the original, thank you very much. Even a Danielle Dax song isn't enough to rescue this disc from obscurity.
  • TheDreaming.jpgTalk Talk - "Such A Shame" (It's My Life [1984]) : The group's second album, much more "power pop" than their later, more moody albums, one of which I've already talked about. This has some hook-laden songs, including their big hit, "It's My Life". This song is a solid addition to their canon.
  • Kate Bush - "Sat in your lap" (The Dreaming [1982]) : the predecessor to Kate's smash hit album, Hounds of Love, The Dreaming is a solid, very Kate Bush-like album in itself. Her first time wearing the producer's hat, she really tries plenty of different styles and sounds. I love the pounding percussion in this song. There's plenty to like on this CD, including the mysterious CD cover, where she's passing some sort of ring lying on her tongue to her lover.

Woot Wine

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I've been a pretty big fan of Woot : One Day, One Deal for a while now. It isn't perfect. I'm not a big believer in "refurbished" hardware, which is common on Woot. And the prices do need to be checked, although the thriving forum often has plenty of folks doing the checking for you. Just be sure to check out the forum before you purchase. But it's fun to see what is for sale every day. In fact, I'm awaiting my next Woot delivery any day now - a new mouse.

Still, I was please to read about Woot's new venture, Wine.Woot. Here, they put up a few bottles of wine for your wooting pleasure. Of course, given the crazy patchwork quilt of liquor laws in this country, there are all sorts of catches and gotchas and places they can't mail to. But I was glad to see that Massachusetts is one of them, albeit with the caveat "(expect longer delivery times)". Not sure why.

Woot Wine : One Week, One Wine

The theme for the upcoming (June 5) Mixology Monday is mint, so I thought I would check out a couple of mint classics. I'm sure both the Mojito and the Mint Julep will be well represented in the show as they immediately come to mind when you think of a mint drink. Getting fresh mint here in the Northeast US can be a bit of a hit or miss proposition. Sometimes it is just a small package of sickly looking, aroma-free wilted green things. Sometimes nothing at all. But this time, my trip to the grocery store was rewarded with a nice bundle of fresh mint. I suppose we should plant some in our backyard garden, but mint can be quite the pest, growing like a weed.

MM-3.gif

So of course, when I think of doing something a little different to a classic drink, I immediately pull out my favorite cocktail book, New Classic Cocktails by Allan Gage. I've used it on a number of occasions. If you aren't familiar with it, the book shows two recipes on each double page. The top one is the "classic" recipe, while the bottom one is a variation on the theme. Along with high quality pictures, thick, glossy pages, and a nice fold over bookmark, it makes for a great cocktail book. And of course, both the Mojito and the Mint Julep are in the book, along with their paired twists.

    Apple-soaked Mojito

  • 8 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, cut into wedges
  • 2 tsp. sugar syrup (used my Stirrings brand again)
  • 2 oz gold rum (the book suggests Havana 3-year old, but I used Bacardi 8 year old)
  • 1 oz apple juice (Motts Natural)
  • mint spring and red apple slices for decoration

Muddle the mint, lime and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill highball glass with crushed ice. Add the rum to the shaker and shake well. Do not add ice to the shaker. Strain the drink into the highball glass and top with apple juice.

This was a good cocktail, except as a rum fanatic I think it was a little too weak. More rum, I say! But it looked good (I wish I could get my cocktail pictures to come out better) and it went down easy.

    The Vatican Julep

  • 2 oz Bourbon (I used my usual, Makers Mark)
  • 2 tsp. creme de menthe (Marie Brizard)
  • .5 oz fresh lime juice (about 1/2 a nice fat one)
  • .5 oz sugar syrup
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill highball glass with crushed ice. Put the bourbon, creme de menthe, lime juice, sugar syrup, mint and bitters in a blender and mix well. Pour the mixture over the ice and top up with more crushed ice. Decorate with mint sprig.

This was an excellent cocktail. It might not be a favorite if you are a huge bourbon fan, as there was only the hint of the whiskey, but it was enough for me. I was thinking I'd like to try this with Jack Daniels as well, to give it another taste. And, again, I might increase the whiskey a little, to give it a bit more kick. Another thing that just occurred to me is that I should have used a splash of the Fee Brothers mint bitters I have. I could probably have used some in both drinks, but it would work especially well in the julep. Need some way to use it!

As my friend Michael is off traveling the globe, I was on my own this evening. So I decided to watch Ju-on : The Grudge. And man, was that a scary movie! I completely lost track of the timeline (and I think maybe the director did too), but as a series of terrifying vignettes about a haunted house with a grudge, it was outstanding! If you like scary movies, you have to watch this one.

Rechargable Life

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As a sort of adjunct to my Backlogged Life, I've come to realize just what a slave to rechargable batteries I am. I mean, think about it - how many different rechargable items do you have? I spend far too much time worrying about my batteries running down.

    Stuff I Gotta Recharge

  • My cell phone. And as I'm an relatively infrequent user of a cell phone, and none of our cars have a power outlet that gives power with the key off (the Explorer at least had one of them that did), it means my phone is always running low on charge, because I just never remember to put it on the charger.
  • Four (yes four) cordless phones. These usually aren't a problem because you can just "hang them up", but they always seem to be running low on charge anyway. And then they all too quickly stop taking any recharge any more. It got so bad with my office phone, my boss even offered to pay for a regular corded phone so I would be available!
  • My mouse. I have, and really love, my Logitech MX700 cordless mouse, even for highpowered online shooters, but it's always crying out for a recharge. In fact, right now it's little red light is blinking at me. And I will amost certainly forget to put it on its charger tonight and then I'll be out of luck. I try to throw it on before I call it a night every night, but often forget. And I'm probably screwing it up somehow by doing it anyway.
  • My electric shaver. This one is annoying because I'd rather just leave it plugged in, but the instructions warn against it. In fact, I screwed up my previous one because I left it plugged in. And the shame of it is, I rarely, if ever, really need a cordless razor, as I'm almost always by a plug.
  • My Palm Pilot. Again, it's a shame because I rarely actually use it, but it is particularly useless if it isn't charged.
  • My camera flash. I have a "heavy duty" battery for my external flash, giving it extra juice and quick recharge times. But it is currently dead anyway, I think :-(

And that doesn't count the two things Gabrielle has (cell phone and palm pilot), which I sometimes have to worry about. Or the gazillion rechargable batteries we have around for toys, remote controls, etc. Or rechargable toys, like the drivable Corvette the girls have, or my little toy RC car. Or the anciet laptop I have for playing DOS games.

Movie Time

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I had time to watch a couple of movies over the weekend. My brother-in-law came over and we watched Following, Christopher (Memento) Nolan's first movie, and Die Hard (my favorite brainless action movie) to show off my sound system. I enjoyed Following, which was a very short, black and white film about double and triple crosses. The twists felt a tad forced, but it was still fun following (nyuk nyuk) the plot. It had a problem a lot of these crime capers have, in that the whole plan seems far too convoluted for what turns out to be a simple mob killing. But it definitely played lots of games with time, and foreshadows his brilliant work in Memento.

Following was a Netflix rental. I've been using Netflix since 2002, although I did stop for about six months when the mailing turn around time became unacceptable. But then they opened a new distribution center in Worcester and now the times are pretty impressive. For instance, I dropped Following in the mail about 1pm Monday, just before collection time, and I got an email yesterday (Tuesday) saying they received it, and now my return film, The Seventh Seal is already winging its way to me. Now that's impressive!

If you are a Netflix member, drop me an email so we can be Friends. With Netflix Friends, you can get recommendations from what others are watching, and see how they are rating films. I've rated 468 films, but a lot of my recent viewing hasn't been rated yet. I've let my movie reviewing blog, The Incredible Brightness of Seeing lag behind lately. I try not to rate them at Netflix until I've written a review for Brightness, and so it lags even further behind.

I have the "Three DVDs Out" Netflix plan, and the DVDs I have out, including the aforementioned The Seventh Seal also include the double feature Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, both the original James Whale productions and Ju-on: The Grudge. I've watched, and thoroughly enjoyed, Frankenstein, and started to watch Bride but ran out of time and haven't been back. Not sure why I have Ju-on, as I'm not much of a horror fan. But I think I got on to it via the Scariest Movies of All Time list I posted a while back, where it came in second to The Thing. Maybe I'll reserve this movie slot for working my way backwards through the list. I can add 28 Days Later... as a movie I've since watched on that list. I do love "apocalyptic" movies, that's for sure.

The top ten in my queue are:

How I Work

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One of my frequent stops these days on the blog circuit is LifeHacker.com. Lots of cool things to do, both at the keyboard and in life. Recently, a couple of questions about How I Work were put to a number of productivity experts and their own staff, and I thought I'd give the questions a try

What desktop software do you use every day?

  • GNU Emacs : I'd say I spend probably 75% of the time in this text editor. Although that barely scratches the surface of what Emacs can do. I've been using it since it first came out, all those years ago, and I'd be lost without it. It gives me a common "desktop" on which to work, and works across many different platforms.
  • Firefox : My browser of choice. I probably spend 10% or more of my time in this web browser, both for work and for play.
  • Thunderbird : for years I used the Mozilla suite, but found it was getting creaky around the edges. Thunderbird gives me the same email client, only modernized and sleek. It has very powerful filters for carefully filing away the hundreds of emails messages I get every day.
  • Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0 : There isn't much "visual" about it, and I think it is a ten year old development platform, and basically I hate it, but it is the industry standard, so that's what we use. We are slowly, every so slowly, making our way over to Visual Studio 2005, but who knows when that effort will begin in earnest. My favorite Windows development platform for personal projects remains Borland's C++Builder, although I haven't moved up to 2006 yet.
  • Cygwin : the Unix compatible commandline environment for Windows. Like Emacs, it keeps me from going crazy as I hop from one platform to another. I use the Bash shell, rxvt terminal and the Cywin/X X server. I still use JPSoftware's 4NT shell. It has taken great care of me for many years, every since the 4Dos days. If you want a real commandline and don't want to bother with the beast that is Cygwin, go for 4NT.
  • PowerPro : Windows utility extraordinaire. I'd be lost without it. I use it mostly for the easy shortcuts it gives me. You can set up your own personal toolbars that can be put almost anywhere. I have one that goes in the title bar of the active window. But there's a million and one things you can do with it, as it has a very powerful scripting engine, adds all kinds of special Windows UI tweaks, notes, virtual desktops, keyboard and mouse macros, you name it. It used to be called Stileto and was one of the few shareware programs I've ever actually used enough to pay for.
  • Perforce : the SCS (Software Control System) we use at work at my prodding. I've been carrying it along to various jobs, and I still have a single user personal copy. It has a wonderful client/server model that works incredibly well for us work-at-home types.
  • Rhapsody : My music player of choice. I was seriously dismayed when they were acquired by Real, who remain, in my book, one of the worst companies out there for installing junk on your computer. I have some computers I'm still trying to erase their remnants from. I use Media Player Classic, an OpenSource program, on those rare occasions when I need to play an RM file.
  • Palm Desktop : Don't really use my Palm much, but I do use the Desktop as my address book and calendar.

What web sites do you use every day?

  • Bloglines : My RSS reader. Easy to use, nice interface and available where ever I am. Perfect.
  • RememberTheMilk : I've started using this site as my "Getting Things Done" list application. It doesn't really have hierarchical items, but other than that I've found it to be easy to use and very flexible. By using Javascript, you get nice keyboard shortcuts (if you turn off the Firefox "search when you begin typing" feature, which I miss).
  • Wikipedia : It is a rare day where I don't end up at the Wikipedia.
  • AllMusic.com : I leave this open to further investigate interesting bands that I hear on the Rhapsody radio stations.

What PDA/personal organizer/system do you use to keep organized?

I have a Palm Treo Color, but I don't use it all that much. Just as a portable address book, really. I spend most of my time at my keyboard, so a portable organize just isn't that important.

More name dropping

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Some more name stuff, to follow up on a recent entry. First, from the World Wide Words mailing list:

NEVAEH It's just been announced, based on US social security data, that the girl's name that's growing fastest in popularity is this head- scratchingly hard-to-pronounce moniker. "Nevaeh" is now the 70th most popular US girl's name, sandwiched between Evelyn and Madeline. Word buffs will immediately note it is "heaven" written backwards, surely among the oddest creations in the history of naming. There have been occasional examples around for many decades (I've found it recorded as far back as 1921 and it's presumably older) but the start of its rise to fame more or less coincided with the announcement in May 2000 by Christian rock star Sonny Sandoval that his daughter had been given that name. Nevaeh first appeared on the list of most popular girl's names at number 268 in 2001 and has been rising ever since. It's popular in particular with African Americans and evangelical Christians. The headline on the front page of the New York Times on Thursday summed up many people's view of it: "And if It' s a Boy, Will It Be Lleh?" It's this whole backwards bit that bothers me. In witchcraft, isn't saying the Lord's Prayer backwards a recipe for calling up the Devil? If so, what are you supposed to get when you say "nevaeh"? A little imp with attitude?

Zoiks! I hate gimmicky names like that. Spelling things backwards, or otherwise twisting normal words to make a cutesy name makes me quesy.

And Mark was kind enough to remind me of a "wicked cool site"® that shows name popularity visually and dynamically as you type letters. It's really an amazing achievement, but it does require Java. One time when it is worth it. I don't allow Java in my normal browser (Firefox), but I turn it on for Internet Explorer, figuring how much more of a pig could it get? But the graph is way cool, showing you the name across time in popularity. What a great toy.

Oh, and if you ever need to name a horse, you can go here. Once again, hat tip to Mark!

Red Sox 9, Yankees 5

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What a game! Once again, my buddy came through with tickets to tonight's Red Sox / Yankees game. He's the same season ticket holder who asked me if I was busy one October evening in 2004. I hemmed and hawed and finally said, no not really. He then asked me if I wanted to go to Game 3 of the playoffs against the Yankees. I, of course, lept at the opportunity. And when he called a couple days later and ask what I was doing that next Sunday, I immediately said I was free:-) And gratefully accepted the offer of another Yankee ticket.

But when we met down at Yawkey Way that Friday night, it was raining hard and the game got canceled. We went and saw Team America : World Police instead. It was a poor substitute, although funny in places. I mean, any movie where watching puppets vomit excessively and make love are the high points you have to wonder about. And the night was topped off when I walked through the pouring rain, only to find my car had been towed. Cost me like $200 to get it back.

So we missed the Game 3 debacle, where the Sox lost 19-8. What luck! But that meant we went to Game 4 with the definite possibility of watching the last game of an heart-rending four games sweep to the Yankees. But, of course, justice prevailed and we went on to watch 2 of the most amazing baseball games in sports history.

So when he called a couple of weeks ago and asked what I was doing Monday, May 22, I immediately said "Nothing!" And so we were at tonight's game and got to watched the Sox smash the Yanqui Devils by a score of 9-5. It shouldn't even have been that close except Foulke spit the bit and gave up a 2 run jack to Rodriquez (what a clutch player, pitching in when down by 8 runs), the another home run to Posada, then back to back doubles. But even despite a 2 run bottom of the 8th for the Sox and 4 runs in the top of the 9th by the Yankees, the game was over in less than 3 hours, and I was home by 10:15pm, which is quite nice.

Nothing really remarkable at the game. We did have a Mattingly uniform sit down right in front of us, but he was pretty good natured about the ribbing we were giving him. And some guys next to us kept bugging us about us keeping score, as both Chris and I a pretty serious scorekeepers. Chris goes one further than me and even keeps track of the pitches. I find it very hard to follow the game if I'm not keeping score. And I always bring a radio to the game, just to clarify what is going on sometimes. And the wave was practically non-existent, so I was spared that pain. And the weather was well nigh perfect. So a good night to be at the old ball park.

malibu-rum-750-web.gif

I was continuing my quest for cocktails less frou frou, so I turned to another favorite cocktail book, Shaken Not Stirred, A Celebration of the Martini by Miller and Brown. There's lots of cool "martini" recipes in there. And by martini, I think they just mean a cocktail based on either vodka or gin. It's a great book, with tons of interesting recipes from bars around the US and the world.

So I settled on the page showing martinis that combine vodka and rum. Specifically, Malibu Rum, the coconut flavored rum found in the solid white bottle. But I hadn't yet picked up a bottle, so I've been using Captain Morgan's Parrot Bay Coconut rum, figuring one coconut rum is as good as another. But maybe that's wrong, as neither of these two cocktails really tasted all that great. The coconut rum just put the body slam on all the other flavors, leaving a blech taste in the mouth.

    Spider Bite

  • 2 oz vodka (the book called for Moskovskaya vodka, but we used Stoli - same difference I'm sure)
  • .5 oz Malibu Coconut Rum (as mentioned, I used Capt. Morgan Parrot Bay)
  • .5 oz Triple Sec (I used Cointreau, as I almost always do when asked for either Triple Sec or white Curaçao)
  • 2 drops Angostura bitters (from Fee Brothers)

Throw them all together over cracked ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with a lime twist.

It really just didn't work. The Cointreau and coconut rum battled it out, while the vodka stood by and watched passively, as vodka often does. The rum finally wrestled the Cointreau to the mat and pinned it, leaving nothing but a vague fake coconut taste in the mouth. Not something we'll probably go back to.

    Tropical Dream

  • 3 oz. vodka (this time, Fris as asked for, but again, Stolichnaya was delivered)
  • 1 oz Malibu coconut rum (again, I used Parrot Bay)
  • splash pineapple juice

Shake over cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

The pineapple put up a better fight than the Cointreau and help make this drink a little more palatable, despite the increase in coconut rum amount. Still not too crazy about it, but at least I might try this one again with real Malibu Rum. I did pick up a bottle of it this weekend, so I hope to try a taste test soon.

We had a long, arduous session at the keyboard too. We decided to ease up on the difficulty level but added the additional constraint where if the game ended at all, we had to start all the way back where we began the night. Sort of like playing "Pimple". It is dice game where you roll a die, adding the score of each roll. You can roll as many times as you want, ending when you want, but if you roll a one, everyone yells out "Pimple!" and your turn is over and you don't get any score. We modified it slightly to play to allowing us to replay boss levels, as those usually require figuring out the boss' weak spot rather than just straight on runnin' and gunnin'. And we played until the wee hours of the morning, which was a mistake, because kids don't care how late you've been up the night before. If they're going to get up at 5am, it is going to happen, no matter how groggy you might be! I'm still trying to catch up on my sleep.

Pondering the imponderable

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  • Why is it any obstruction on the windshield wipers is always at eye level?
  • Why does the car in front of you, after riding their brakes all the way up to a green light, always make it through the intersection, leaving you stuck at the red light?
  • Speaking of red lights, why would a driver, after waiting through a red light and pulling forward ten feet, decide now is the time to put on their left turn signal? Come to think of it, this is about the only time I ever see turn signals used any more.
  • Why would the President's official Press Secretary decide it was a good idea to use the phrase tar baby in an interview?
  • Why would a group of people who claim to support freedom from governmental interference like the right-wing nutjobs out there, still unquestioningly support a president invovled in some of the most invasive (and illegal) domestic spying since World War II?
  • And finally, is there a more heartwarming sight to behold than morning sunshine streaming through your window after it being absent for over ten days? Sure, we were back into rain today, but for one glorious instant, it felt like spring.

What's in a name?

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Gelf Magazine has an interesting short article doing what it does best - tweak the Main Stream Media for being lackadasical. In this case, it is the reporting done on the annual Social Security Administration list of the most popular baby names from last year. The media says dumb things like :

"When kids born in 2005 head to kindergarten in a few years, a lot of them will be raising their hands when the teacher calls out 'Emily' or 'Jacob'"

Which is, as you might imagine, a vast overstatement, seeing as how it is only about 1% of the boys were named Jacob and a similar percentage of girls were named Emily. And, in fact, the percentage of babies named using the top 100 names has fallen rather dramatically over the last 60 years:

2005:
Percentage of Boys given a Top 100 Name: 48.0%
Percentage of Girls given a Top 100 Name: 34.2%

1985:
Percentage of Boys given a Top 100 Name: 67.1%
Percentage of Girls given a Top 100 Name: 51.6%

1965:
Percentage of Boys given a Top 100 Name: 72.7%
Percentage of Girls given a Top 100 Name: 57.9%

1945:
Percentage of Boys given a Top 100 Name: 75.4%
Percentage of Girls given a Top 100 Name: 65.8%

Geflog: Keeping Up With the Jacobs

When it came to naming our babies, we had two very different processes. The first, like the process of labor, was long and arduous. The second, again very much like the birth, was relatively quick and easy.

For our first, we read books, talked about it constantly, surfed the web, checked lists, you name it. With a last name of Arnold, we really needed a consonant at the end for it to flow easily, so that help whittle the list down. We eventually narrowed it down to ten names in each list, boy and girl. We did as recommended, and actually practiced using the names during the day, just to hear how it sounded out loud.

I don't remember all the names in the girls list. I'll bet Gabrielle has it written down somewhere. We wanted a name that was different, yet not too far out there. The most helpful book was the classic "Beyond Jennifer and Jason", with all kinds of great lists and comments. Both of us love our own names but have also had issues with them. For mine, people have tried far too hard to spell it. There are a few variations on "Jonathan", but I'd have to say mine is probably the most common. Other ones include "Jonathon", "Johnathan" and "Johnathon". So we were certain we weren't going to go with a unusual spelling of a common name. For my wife, "Gabrielle" is reasonably easy to spell but you'd be surprised at exactly how hard it is to pronounce for many people. It isn't the case as much any more, because it is becoming more common, but, much like the spelling of my name, people try way too hard to pronounce it.

So we practiced names on the list. Some from the girls list I remember include Spencer and Bailey (which had the extra attraction of it being my mother's maiden name). We also refused to discuss it with anyone else. You only get into trouble when you ask the opinion of others. When word leaked out about us considering Bailey, my sister got all up in arms because she was thinking of using it (and she eventually did with one of her twins). You get all kinds of unneeded comments if you try bouncing it off other people. We kept it pretty close to the chest and didn't regret it in the slightest, despite pressure from all side.

But we just couldn't get to one name. It wasn't like I had a favorite and Gabrielle had a different favorite. We just couldn't decide on one. It's a very early indication of the pressure you get as a parent, making lifetime choices for your child, and so it was a good introduction for us. We actually didn't decide until the middle of the night, during the long, hard labor, when Gabrielle said to me "It's going to be Rhiannon". Which is a cool name, don't you think? And it fits in a lot of ways. While she isn't named "after" the Fleetwood Mac song, we probably wouldn't have heard of it otherwise, and the song has the added benefit of making it familiar to others. I always thought it was a cool name. And her oldest brother was something of a Celtic scholar, who died the previous year in a fishing boat accident off the coast of Ireland, so it seemed a fitting tribute. And the folklore Rhiannon is something of a moon goddess (as well as a fairy tale witch), and her horoscope (which is, of course, a crock) sign is the Moon; they often call it "Moon Child" now, instead of Cancer the Crab, for obvious reasons. So it is a lovely name and fit in a number of interesting ways. And the day we brought her home from the hospital, there was a Rhiannon pictured on the front page of the local newspaper! She was a high school student, pictured working on something. Too funny!

Rhiannon's middle name was much easier. Both of us wanted to avoid those middle names that you are embarrassed to talk about in school, that become something of a talisman to guard against exposing. And "Elizabeth" was perfect - her mom's name, my sister's name, and a good solid name all around.

But for our second child, the process was much smoother. I'm not sure where it came from or who first proposed it, but "Adrienne" was an immediate hit, and we never varied from it. We each had one other top contender. I liked the name "Cam", for a boy or a girl (or "Cammi"). Cam Neely was, and probably still is, my favorite hockey player and it is a great name. Gabrielle wanted "Lucy", but I wasn't crazy about it. Funny thing is, I don't think any of those names, but especially Adrienne, was on the top ten list for Rhiannon! But "Adrienne" was the top pick all along, and when she showed up 20 minutes after we got to the hospital, we were ready with a name at least. Gabrielle still says, though, that Adrienne would make a good Lucy too. And it does give you a pretty clear picture of her personality.

And her middle name also was pretty easy. Christine is my mom's name, and relatives on both sides have the same or variations on it. And, oddly enough, Rhiannon Elizabeth and Adrienne Christine have the same number of letters - 17. I hate the idea of some kind of cutesy pattern for names, like Roger Clemens' kids' names all beginning with the letter K, but it just worked out that way.

And another thing we liked about the first names - there are no obvious nicknames. Gabrielle and I both have obvious ones, but both prefer to go by the long version of our names, although we're not sticklers. But with Adrienne and Rhiannon, the default is the full version, and so far it has worked. Rhiannon used to call Adrienne "Ay-Ya", and it is still in occasional use. But luckily, Adrienne's early name for her sister, Rhi-Rhi, hasn't come up since then.

Spy Humor

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I found a site (shoutout to JoHo for the link) where our own National Security Agency will answer your questions.  Have any for them?

Dear NSA

Put'em down

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Just got a good one via email: A good dis, when somebody is starting to tell you things that don't make sense:

"That's not even wrong yet"

Cocktail blogs ahoy!

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I went on a Web oddyssey and all I got in return were these links:-) I was looking for some interesting Blog Carnivals to join and before you knew it, I was wandering around in some simply fascinating cocktail blogs, with dozens of great sounding recipes - phew, I'm simply dizzy with the possibilities.  Anyway, here's a sampler of the ones I came across:

And a couple of the "Carnivals" I uncovered:

And even a new magazine to subscribe to, Imbibe. Phew!

Blogger's Fuel coffee review

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So we finished up our four 8oz bags of Bloggers Fuel coffee beans from Boca Java. To reiterate, they sent me the beans free in exchange for reviewing them on my blog. They even included a couple of tchotchkes - a nice hat and a mug (that was unfortunately broken during shipping). I love to try new coffees and I was looking forward to trying out the beans. See this post for a complete introduction to the process. Also, the two bags of flavored coffee beans, which we don't drink, are still available. Just drop me an email with your name and address and I'll ship one off to you (can't seem to give the darn things away).

  • New Media Mavericks
    'Unfiltered Truth' Lead the information reformation with this medium roast from the prized Tarrazu region of Costa Rica with excellent body and robust richness.

    It smelled and tasted vaguely flavored, which I can't stand. It also tasted a little bitter, while missing a full coffee taste. I'd give it a 6.

  • Blogger's Boot Up Blend
    'Blogging Rocks.' Log on to an amazing medium blend of African, Central and South American Coffees. Rich taste and smooth finish for the perfect breakfast blend.

    Still vaguely smelling and tasting of a flavored bean, although much less than the New Media blend. I'll agree with the smooth finish part, but only because it still wasn't that big a taste. Rating: 7

  • Late Night Log-In
    'Bloggers Fuel.' Blog on with a very bold, dark roasted blend of South African and Island Coffees. This coffee is rich with flavor and has a smooth finish.

    Oh oh - a "dark roasted" coffee, and I knew it as soon as I opened up the bag. I'm really not a fan of the dark, shiny "Charbucks" bean, and so I approached my coffee with a great deal of trepidation. And so yeah, dark roasted still isn't my cuppa joe. I love the aroma of a freshly ground coffee bean, but a dark roasted grind even smells too bitter for me. In my personal pantheon of coffee beans, dark roasted remains only a small step ahead of a flavored (shudder) bean. Rating: 5

  • Blogs of Bravery
  • 'The Real Story in Real Time.' Front line fuel from a blend of South American dark and medium roasts to create a well balanced smooth taste.

    This is half dark roasted and half regular roast. Had the "dark roasted", slightly burnt aftertaste, but not too overwhelming. Again, rather underwhelming. Rating: 6

So, all in all, nothing to take over from my regular Armeno Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, which has a "big" taste, full of coffee without any of the bitterness many other coffee drinkers seem to crave these days. I say if your tastes run towards a smoother, more mellow cup of java, then check out BloggersFuel.com. I appreciate Blogger's Fuel giving me the opportunity to taste their beans, and sending me the swag (it'd be great if I could get a new mug - hint hint!).

Walkin' on sunshine

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(Sorry to have to put that classic pop jingle into your head today!)

Hard to believe, but sunshine was actually streaming through our window this morning. Let the record show it was over nine days since we last saw the sun, although it did brighten up a bit yesterday, allowing the girls to play on the playground after school. It's even supposed to reach 70, so I'm wearing shorts and gearing up for a U6 soccer game. What a nice change! Of course, it won't last. There's a good chance of rain beginning late Thursday into Sunday, but at least it will be warmer.

I thought I'd give you a short run down of some other blogs I regularly read, besides the ones in the sidebar on the left. I use Bloglines.com as my RSS reader. It works very well, with lots of features still untapped.

  • The Regligious Policeman : The blog of a Saudi ex-pat living in Britain, it is a scathing, ironic, hilarious look at one of the US's favorite allies, and just how bizarre a Mohammed-driven crypto-Fascist royal regime can be. WIth friends like the Saudis, who needs enemies?
  • The Liquor Snob : Despite the name, they are something of cocktail heathens, saying that they don't like to mix their cocktails and talking about using Rose's Lime Juice, but they do give a sprodic heads up on some interesting libations.
  • Joel On Software : Opinionated writer on software engineering subjects.
  • Mark's Sysinternals Blog : Mark is Mark Russinovich, the man who uncovered the Sony rootkit debacle, and Sysinternals.com is the site for a bunch of indispensible techie tools for Windows.

May Reading Update

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I've actually been doing pretty well in my reading schedule. I finished three books, and am making good progress on another one. Having the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV helps, as I like to get in bed early, turn on the game(s) and read.

    Update from Last Month

  • The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook. I was doing pretty well on this. He had just gotten beyond the background and started to get into the story, when I gave up. I still might try this one more time. (ha)
  • Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier. I almost gave up on this a couple of times, but I pushed on and ended up enjoying it. Like several other fantasy & sci-fi "first in a series" books I've read over the past few months (Old Man's War and Hammered), it spent most of its time setting the situation and was just getting into the main story when it ended. But it was good enough to make me want to try the next in the series (Magic Lessons). The protagonist is a 15 year old girl, just learning about her magic powers after her now-committed Mom spent her formative years shielding her from them. It'll be interesting to see where she goes from here.
  • Now I can die in peace : how ESPN's Sports Guy found salvation, with a little help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank and the 2004 Red Sox by Bill Simmons. I saw this in the New Books shelf at my library, so I took it out again. This time, I just read the last half or so, where things got interesting. This book has probably come the closest to telling the real story of the season, from a fan's point of view, but there are a number of annoying quirks that keep it from being the definitive one. For one, he's too much of a TV culture name dropper and I find it both tiring and boring to read about Survivor, Real Life, OC, etc. I don't watch "normal" TV, and I could care less about it. He also intensely disliked Fever Pitch, which I happened to like. His hatred felt forced, like it was expected of him to dislike it in order to be "cool". In fact, striving to be "cool" was probably the most annoying thing about the writing. I was also surprised at just how much autonomy he lost when he signed on to be an ESPN columnist. They won't let him badmouth announcers on other stations, because it wouldn't be fair as they won't let him badmouth ESPN announcers. And there were numerous examples of where he would say that the editors made him change columns, like when he wasn't allowed to say that working at Taco Bell was a bad thing, due to the fact it might be construed as racist. Huh? But I enjoyed the ending a lot:-)
  • The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr. A book about the search for a missing Caravaggio painting, The Taking of Christ (see above). Interesting book, except I just couldn't feel the passion for Caravaggio that the author and his subjects obviously had. Much ado about nothing to me. And he spent the first part of the book talking about two Italian researchers, when in fact they had nothing to do with finding the painting, as was described in the second half. They did uncover much of the back story, I guess.

    Currently Reading

  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald. A book set in the near future, India 2047. A huge book at nearly 600 pages, with a George RR Martin like "persona per chapter" way of writing. So far, so good. Heavy going, but now that the table is set, the characters are beginning to come alive.
  • Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan. Followup to the classic The Long Season, it follows him playing for the pennant winning Reds of 1961. Seems to be even funnier than the first one.

    In The Queue

  • The Raj quartet by Paul Scott. Ha! I didn't even know that The Jewel In The Crown, a classic historical novel I had borrowed from the library before (also set, oddly enough, in India), was the first of a trilogy. This book contains all three books and clocks in at nearly 2000 pages long! Unlikely I'll ever finish this, but I couldn't resist taking it out when I saw it on the library shelf.
  • Dreaming The Eagle by Manda Scott. Turns out the book I mentioned last month, Dreaming the Bull was, in fact, the second book of the series. So I picked up this one, the initial book. It is about Boudicca's Rebellion, a subject I find pretty interesting.
  • Eats, shoots and leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation by Lynne Truss. I saw the new edition of this classic and popular book for a good price at the local Super Stop & Shop and I couldn't resist buying it.

The Boston SABR chapter, of which I'm a member, is putting on a pretty neat sounding conference this Saturday at the Boston Public Library. And wouldn't you know, I'm going to be at a dance recital, so I can't make it :-( Anyway, it's free, no registration, and there's Yankees at Fenway tickets to win - how can you lose?

BY THE NUMBERS
What does Theo Epstein know that other GMs don't?

(Boston, MA)--The Red Sox are just one of the major league teams to put a greater emphasis on "sabermetrics"--using statistical research to evaluate both player talent and strategy--than the teams of the past. Epstein's pursuit of non-star players ranging from Bill Mueller and Todd Walker to Mike Timlin and David Ortiz (who is NOW a star) created the alchemical mix that led to the 2004 World Championship.

SABR Boston, the regional chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, presents a day-long symposium on sabermetrics that will delve into some of the cutting edge findings of the numbers whizzes, including the latest news about clutch hitting, how to predict a team's likelihood of success, as well as a talk by historian John Thorn on the importance of numerical records as cultural artifacts.

In addition to Thorn (author of The Hidden Game of Baseball among other significant works), the speaker slate includes Tom Tippett, creator of Diamond Mind Baseball, Matt Gallagher, David Grabiner, and university professors including Dr. Andy Andres (Tufts, Harvard) and Steven Miller (Brown).

The gathering is free and open to the public and will take place Saturday, May 20th, from 10am to 4pm (with an intermission for lunch) at the Boston Public Library's Rabb lecture hall. Recognizing the baseball-loving public's hunger for more tangible things, as well, door prizes will be awarded in the afternoon including two pairs of tickets to future Red Sox games (one against the Yankees), as well as books and other baseball-related prizes.

For more information, contact SABR Boston President Seamus Kearney at skearney@tmfnet.org or (617) 536-0501.

Our Doug Calls It Quits

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Us New England sports fans know our local boys playing in the bigs. Maybe it's because the numbers are relatively small, or just our Puritan streak making us support our "family", but we keep track of all those that go on to play at the highest levels of their sport. We were once out with some California friends of ours, and they were amazed at my comments on the local boys playing in the major leagues, wondering how anyone could keep track of them. I suppose I'd find it much harder to follow kids from the entire state of California, or even the local county, but here in New England, we keep track of these things.

And in the pantheon of local boys done good, Doug Flutie is at the pinnacle. Only a few can challenge his ascendancy. A couple of Red Sox players were tragically cut down in the prime of their careers. Harry Agganis, The Golden Greek, from Lynn MA, starred ever so briefly with the Sox before being dieing at the age of 26 of a massive pulmonary embolism in 1955. Tony Conigliaro, Revere MA, was beaned on August 18, 1967, and the youngest player to ever win a home run championship, and the youngest to reach the 100 HR plateau, was never the same player again. Carlton Fisk, born in Vermont and raised in New Hampshire, went on to a Hall of Fame career for the Sox, both Red and White. Patrick Ewing, from Cambridge MA, basketball star, is also up there.

But of them all, none commanded the adoration of the public like Our Doug (yup, that's what we call him). Not quite 5'9" tall in a land where 6'8", 300lbs is consider small for some positions, he stands tall in the eyes of New England sports fans everywhere. From schoolboy All-Star, to Heisman Trophy winner, and many stops in the USFL, NFL, and, most impressively, the Canadian Football League, he retired yesterday at the age of 43, when many of us are just hitting our strides.

He was a school boy star in his hometown of Natick, MA, where there is a street named in his honor (Flutie Pass). He caught the eye of Jack Bicknell, Boston College football coach, and became a starter midway through his freshman year. And the two of them put BC football on the map here in New England. The first football games I ever went to were at the old Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, sitting on the metal benches, watching Flutie lead the BC Eagles to their first bowl games in over 20 years. He held the college record for passing yardage when his time at BC ended.

And, of course, there's The Pass. Up until Vinatieri's kick went through the uprights to win Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, it was easily the most memorable play in New England football history. And like that field goal, any sports fan can tell you exactly where they were when it happened. I was living in Derry NH at the time, watching it on TV and simply couldn't believe what had just happened. I can remember getting the Boston Globe the next day and just reveling in the front page - "A Miracle in Miami". It still give me chills to think about it.

I went to see his final game as an Eagle. It was the 1984 Cotton Bowl in Dallas Texas, the biggest bowl game the Eagles have ever been to. My family lived in Oklahoma City at the time and I prevailed upon my dad to get us a couple of tickets to the game. We drove down the day of the game, trying to guess exactly when Flutie would break the Cotton Bowl passing record, which at the time was something like 250 yards. Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely miserable - cold, freezing rain, sleet and very windy. We had a blast though, as the Eagles romped 45-28, even though Flutie didn't break the passing mark. The drive home was even more memorable, as the road were a sheet of ice. And Texans have no idea how to drive in that stuff, so cars were off into the fields 200 yards or more. But in one of the finest displays of winter driving I've ever witnessed, my dad got us home safe and sound.

Unfortunately, Doug never got a fair shake in the NFL. And any true blue New England sports fan will tell you the same. His skill set was unique, and if it is one thing management in any sports doesn't like, it is a unique skill set; one that forces them to modify their game plan to fit, and not the other way around. I thought when he went to play for Ditka in Chicago that there would be a chance, as Ditka would do what it would take to win, something Flutie excelled at his entire career. But in neither Chicago nor even Foxboro could he find a sympathetic coach, and it took a flight to Canada for him to be able to perform his magic.

Given the wide open nature of CFL football, I guess it is no wonder he did well. But one thing he mentioned yesterday was that another vital part of his success there was the ability to call his own plays, to call plays he was comfortable with and knew he could be successful using. And that's something that just doesn't happen in today's NFL. After seven seasons and five player of the year honors in the Great White North, he came back to the NFL. And once again, all he did was win, for both the Buffalo Bills (leading them to their last two playoff appearances) and the San Diego Chargers. He finally came back home and played a couple of snaps for the Patriots, including one of the most memorable regular season plays of all time - a "drop kick" extra point, the first in over 60 years, a play called by Belichek, of all people, "the most fun" of his whole career.

I mentioned winning, right? How about these numbers - a career 38-28 record, but 23-9 in home games and an amazing 12-2 (including college) in Foxboro, 5-0 as a Patriot. 3 Grey Cups. 5 CFL MVP awards. Given the chance, Our Doug just won, baby.

It's too bad some losing franchise didn't take a chance on the Heisman Trophy winner. I would have signed Jack Bicknell as coach, drafted Flutie, and built a team around them. Bicknell doesn't get enough credit for the success of the BC program and, in fact, I'm still surprised he's never gotten a chance at the NFL. He's been pretty successful in NFL Europe. How exciting it would have been if the Patriots had done just that? Heck, they were a losing franchise at the time, so what would it have cost?

But it was still a fun ride, and I can't believe he is retiring. He's about my age (okay, a couple of years younger), but he's been a part of my football season in one way or another since I really began taking an interest in the sport. Earlier in the year, I was watching a Red Sox game, and a guy caught a foul ball. They showed a quick shot of the catch and went back to the game. But I immediately said to myself "That looked like Doug Flutie!". And sure enough, they went back to it and it was Our Doug. They interviewed him in his seat, and like all real fans, he had brought his glove (despite the knocks you take on some commercial about it). He said he was watching the game with some buddies and that he had caught balls in the previous couple of games he'd been to as well! That's Our Doug, always catching on. He will be missed, although I guess he's signing on to do college football commentary. Good luck!

Free Calls from Skype

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Skype has just announced that you can now make outgoing calls for free using their new software.  Yup, it doesn't look like there are any strings attached at all.  Seems to work fine, with the caveat that the incoming caller ID is strange - 000-012-3456. Very odd!  And it's a little weird to figure out how to add a new number.  When you click "Add Contact", you need to click the "link" to add a "SkypeOut contact".  Then it works fine.

The one catch is that they say it will only be free until Dec 31, 2006.  But hey, why not?

Free calls to all landlines and mobile phones within the US and Canada - Skype Blogs

Riders in the Storm

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TotalRainfall.jpg

The above image is the total rainfall since the storm began, I think since Friday. We're on the edge of the very dark red, right around probably 6" of rain. My sister and her family live in Concord NH, which is in the purple, putting them about 2" more even than us. Three towns around us (Stoneham, Melrose and Winchester) have canceled schooll today due to flooding concerns. We had to detour around the main road at the bottom of our hill because the local swamp flooding over it. Not too deeply, mind you, but still maybe a foot or so. I can't even imagine the shape of the cellars of the homes across the road. And still no clear end in sight. I believe it has been one week since we last saw the sun at all. I think last Monday morning the sun showed up, but disappeared by lunch time and that's been it.

I didn't do my usual "Friday Random Ten" last Friday because I'm still listening heavily to my new CDs. Dresden Dolls "Yes, Virginia" is in heavy rotation, but also my Winterpills CD. I put it on downstairs, on the main system, and it really shines when played through the good speakers. I have an infrared repeater, so I can control the system from upstairs. Turned up loud enough, I can hear it fine from my home office. And I don't have to put up with tinny computer speakers or a loud CD player.

I've also been listening to both CDs of The Go-Betweens "16 Lover's Lane", as well as my Spider "This Way to Bitter Lake". Just haven't had time for a Random Ten!

Raindrops Keep Fallin'

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Day 7 since we last saw the sun. And it is still pouring rain out there. In the map above, the weather pattern is usually west to east. But when we get into this weather pattern, the areas of rain that are to the southeast are actually moving up towards us in a big counter-clockwise motion. And thus we have much more rain in our immediate future.

And with it comes the record for most rain in the month of May. And the month isn't even half done with yet. Boston has had almost 7" of rain as of last night, with the threat of up to 5" more. It is more than making up for a relatively dry March and April, that's for sure.

The Red Sox game was canceled last night and is almost certainly going to be canceled this afternoon, meaning there's going to be a few doubleheaders in their future. It's especially tough with the games being against a non-divisional foe, who we don't play as much, making the rescheduling much trickier. I did watch a little bit of the Revolution game last night from Foxboro. I used to love playing soccer in the rain - you could make some long range slide tackles in the wet grass.

Didn't get as much indoor work done as I had hoped. I took the girls off Mother's Day shopping and we took our time about it. Now to run off and get some bagels for a breakfast in bed for Gabrielle. She works very hard for us. A short list of her regular every day duties for includes:

  • Deliver the girls to school and pick them up after
  • Laundry
  • Make snacks and lunches
  • Bring the girls to swimming and dance
  • Dressing, combing and Putin's bows in their hair
  • Make sure the girls have their homework and other stuff ready for school
  • Do homework with them
  • Practice piano with them

The above list doesn't even include going to work three days a week and working plenty from home. Happy Mother's Day, Gabrielle!

Husband Store

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A store that sells new husbands has just opened in New York City, where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates.

"You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the products increase as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!"

So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband.

On the first floor, the sign on the door reads: Floor 1 - These Men Have Jobs.

The second floor sign reads: Floor 2 - These Men Have Jobs and Love Kids.

The third floor sign reads: Floor 3 - These Men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking.

"Wow," she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads: Floor 4 - These Men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Good Looking, and Help With Housework.

"Oh, mercy me!" she exclaims, "I can hardly stand it!"

Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads: Floor 5 - These Men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak.

She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor and the sign reads: Floor 6 - You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.

To avoid gender bias charges, the store's owner opens a Wife Store just across the street.

The first floor has wives that love sex.

The second floor has wives that love sex and have money. The third through sixth floors have never been visited.

Free online course from B&N

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This is pretty cool - free online course from Barnes & Noble. I haven't check them out much, and they probably have a "required reading" section (wonder why?), but hey, you can do with it as you want.  The first three in the featured course list look interesting:

Featured Courses:
. Discover Dungeons & Dragons
. From Planets to Pulsars: Astronomy Basics
. Writing Science Fiction with Gotham Writers' Workshop

I'll probably check one out.

Barnes & Noble.com - Barnes & Noble University

Thanks to This Mama Cooks for the link

Came Again Another Day

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(title stole from Boston Globe front page weather blurb

Still raining out there, now day 6 without sunshine. And this time, I mean raining - no fake drizzle today. Soccer is, of course canceled. But it should make for a good day to get stuff done inside, which has been put off for a while. I've already been up and cleaning off my desk. Of course, I cheated by dumping the huge pile of papers on it into a big box for later sorting. That's where I'm going to dive into next.

It's been so dark, damp and dreary nothing can get dry. My hockey stuff didn't have a chance to dry out, so I got to put on slightly damp gear yesterday morning - yech! And it is moisture laden indoors too. My washcloth, hung up to dry on a hook in the bathroom, was still wet when I took my shower this morning.

I imagine the chances of them playing the Red Sox / Rangers came is slim to none tonight.I still can't believe they were playing at Fenway yesterday in the pouring rain. I knew they were going to work very hard at getting the game in, because there was simply no hope of postponing the game to a makeup doubleheader this weekend. It was raining as hard as I've ever seen at a baseball game still being played. Of course, given the final score of 6-0 Rangers, with only 6 innings being played, I'm not the only one who wishes the game had been canceled from the start!

Speaking of the Red Sox, there's a new toy on Google called Google Trends, which shows a graph showing the frequency with which various search terms are being searched. Not sure it really means much, but you can see an obvious trend in here, which shows the graph of Yankees/Red Sox searches. Note the spike in October 2004, a beautiful month for us BoSox fans!

twist_green_apple.jpg

This week's cocktail hook was to use the Green Apple rimming sugar I got for my birthday a couple of month's ago. We've already used both the Lemon Drop (good with Sidecars) and the Vanilla (good with the coffee cocktails) rimmers, so it was time to try the last one. There aren't too many apple drinks, but one comes immediately to mind.

    Jack Rose

  • 1 1/2 oz. Applejack
  • 1 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. grenadine syrup

Throw the ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Decorate with a lime wedge.

You can also make the Jack Rose with lemon juice, but I find it tastes better with lime. I rimmed it with the Green Apple sugar rimmer and it looked really beautiful. I didn't take a picture because I haven't been happy with the way any of them have come out. But the deep red of the cocktail, along with the sharp green of the rimmer and lime slice made it feel all Christmas-y. Unfortunately, I used my bottle of Key Lime juice instead of squeezing fresh limes and it made the lime taste very overpowering. Gabrielle went so far as to say the lime juice was from concentrate, although it wasn't, but that's how strong the taste was. It just isn't prime lime season here, so the available limes are small and dry.

    Apple Martini

  • 1.5 oz vodka (regular or apple - we used Green Apple Smirnoff)
  • .5 oz apple liqueur (Applejack again)
  • splash lemon juice

Shake ingredients over cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with apple slice.

This is a recipe from The Little Black Book of Cocktails, yet another cocktail recipe book I have. It is small (about 4" x 3") but has a nice metal ring binder so it lays flat. It also has an elastic on the back, to wrap around the pages as a bookmark. I haven't really perused it that deeply, but it seems like a good one.

I picked up a bottle of the Twist of Green Apple Smirnoff just for the occasion. Not too bad a taste, although a tad overwhelming. I thought about using Calvados, the French apple brandy, but decided against it, as I'm just not crazy about it. But this was an interesting cocktail and the rimmer went well with it.

We then played about three hours of Serious Sam 2, managing to get past two more levels, including the one that stumped us last week. It's been a long, hard slog, with something like 13 levels to go. This next level promises to be very tough, as it is in really close quarters. And it left no time for Sopranos.

Welcome to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) "Constitution-free" zone.  This is a horror story about one of those quasi-legal governmental groups whose mandate is nebulous and control absolute.  They can pretty much do whatever they want, whenever they want, and you and me, as USA citizens, have little recourse.

This story reminds me of the time my wife got stopped at a metal detector, luckily pre-9/11.  It seems I left behind a .30-.30 shell in the carry on she was using and it set off the detector.  She literally almost fainted when they pulled it out (a single shell).  Nowadays, this would get her detained, questioned and fined up to $1000.  And more if they felt like it.

To me, it is looking more and more like the terrorists are winning, as their whole point is to disrupt our lives.  And the bullies in Washington are more than happy to take advantage of the chaos.

Terrorist watch list follies, and my time in the TSA's Constitution-free zone

Rain Rain Go Away

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mk_raindrops.jpg

Day 5 of cold, drizzly, damp weather. And it'll get worse before it gets better, with some places here in Massachusetts predicted to get over 6" of rain tomorrow! And the forecast is for at least a 50% chance of rain over through Tuesday anyway. So it doesn't look good for the U8 soccer game tomorrow or U8 soccer practice on Monday. Luckily, we don't have U6 soccer practice scheduled for Sunday, so we can stay home and take care of Mom.

I certainly do not miss our wet basement in Weymouth. It was a very nice, little house, right across the street from a small beach on Boston Harbor and a boat launching ramp. And yes, it was swimmable, but it was an especially exciting place for our Labrador Retriever. He just loved to go swimming, fetching his street hockey ball (the only kind of toy that had any staying power - he'd rip up all the others). I'm not sure our current Lab mix, Spenser, has ever been swimming. There just aren't as many places around here for him.

But the house was at the end of a long slope and the basement would always get wet in this kind of weather. I tried a few things but nothing really helped. It never was a complete disaster, like the Great Basement Flood of 1990, where the basement in my rented duplex filled up with water when the stream across the stream got clogged. But pain enough, keeping everything up on pallets. But here in Medford, we're at the top of a nice big, rocky hill, with a finished basement. We've never had a drop of water in it (knock on wood).

I wonder how many games the Red Sox will get in against Texas this weekend. They say the Fenway field drains very well now, but it's going to be some kind of miracle if they get in a game. And I'm glad I don't have tickets for the game - yech! I'm always reminded of a Bob Newhart show where Emily asks Bob, who is peering longingly out the window at a downpour, why they can't play baseball in this weather if they can play football. He does a classic attempt at explaining it, stuttering through a few abortive explanations, before finally giving up and just saying "I don't know, they just don't."

Of course, the girls are not slowed down at all by the rain. Splashing in puddles is one of the great joys of childhood, I think, and our girls are experts at it. Basically, they just don't care about getting wet. And it is so hard in the morning, as they race about in the rain. You don't want to rain on their parade (nyuk nyuk), as it were, but you also don't want them to get soaked through either, just before heading off to school! Just another one of the little juggling acts you have to do as a parent.

SHAM scams

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Very readable take on the SHAM (Self-Help and Actualization Movement) scam, where speakers like Tony Robbins and Mark Hansen (of Chicken Soup fame) sell the same drivel over and over, making themselves rich at others expense.   Some pretty funny stuff, and some sad stuff too.

extensive market surveys revealed that "the most likely customer for a book on any given topic was someone who had bought a similar book within the preceding eighteen months."
Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: SHAM Scam -- The Self-Help and Actualization Movement has become an $8.5-billion-a-year business. Does it work?
Very funny song about evolving from fish:

Every single girl and every little boy
Was born from the clan of the wayward dipnoi

Don't let the preacher man spoil all the fun
Took a lot more than 6 days to get the job done

Amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and man
All belong to the fish tribe, doncha' undertsand?

Your momma was a lobefinned fish
My momma was lobefinned fish

Devonian Blues

Weather Whining

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10dayforecast.gif

Day 4 without seeing the sun and, as you can see to the left, the forecast looks pretty grim for the next ten days. We didn't have our U6 soccer game yesterday, which makes two games in a row canceled for the Stars. This is much like last spring, where Rhiannon's U8 team played got in most of their practices and games, while the U6 Stars missed a majority of their schedule. Weird.

Of course, I can't overemphasize just how big a chunk of salt to take a 10 day forecast with, but that doesn't make it any less depressing. I remember reading something about the miserable accuracy forecasters have beyond about 48 hours. I think that is especially true during the spring here, as they just can never predict how long the rain will last. It got so bad that the business owners on Cape Cod asked the local stations to stop predicting the weekend's weather on Monday or, indeed, any time before Thursday. Because if they predicted rain, even if it didn't rain, business dropped precipitously (pun intended).

But it still makes the over all feel for the day to be oppressive. Everything just has that extra edge, and everyone is just a little more prickly. I hear the sun is supposed to be out up in Burlington, Vermont, which is a very pretty little city. If it weren't for the fact it is Mother's Day this Sunday, I would seriously suggest taking a drive up there, if only to see the sun for a bit. I blame my parents, as the same thing happened last year when they got back from their annual sojourn to Florida. It rained and rained and rained. The have a nice little place on a lake up in Maine, and it practically got flooded out. So far, the rain hasn't been steady, just a gray, overcast, drizzle. Yech.

And to make the day even more depressing, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead, with Curt Schilling on the mound, and ended up getting thumped by the Yanqui Devils 7-3. Not a pretty game at all. It was one that got away, for sure. At least my favorite team left in the NHL playoffs, the Oilers, won their game 3-2 in triple overtime, to bring the series to 2-1 in favor of the San Jose Sharks and a battle of ex-Bruins Thornton, McLaren (Sharks) and Samsonov (Oilers). I made it to the end of regulation, which was after 12:30am. I wish I could've stuck around to the end, but that's probably another hour and half of hockey.

Geek Sleepover

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Now this sounds like fun - a sleepover for geeks like me!  You bring a sleeping bag, offer to give a small presentation or even a 5 minute "Lightning Talk" and get to talk geek with a bunch of other like minded folks.  I might have to see if I can clear off the weekend for this!  See as how I can't go to Ottawa this weekend, this might just fill the geek need.

BarCamp / BarCampBoston

(thanks to Joho for the pointer)

Special Google searches

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Came across this page showing all the various special kinds of actions you can do in the Google search box you can do with Google.  This includes stuff like currency conversion, math equations, file types and music searches.  I knew you could do most of these, but I was looking for a spot where it was all spelled out.  Well, here it is!

Google Help : Search Features

Weather - ugh!

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Weather.gif

Man oh man, can New England weather get depressing. The above is our weather forecast for the next 5 days. And, if you go out even further, it looks exactly the same. Cloudy, periods of rain, temps in the 50s. I doubt we'll get in our U6 soccer game tonight.

But that's just the way it goes around here, especially in the spring. We get crunched between two warring fronts and neither is willing to leave, so they just sit over us. Usually what happens is that the forecaster try to put a rosey picture on things and promise a clearing "tomorrow". And they say that for a week. I was surprised to be watching the Red Sox / Yankees game last night and there was any rain at all in New York. This is pretty localized, I guess.

I still have the 8 oz bags of "Blogger's Pajama Passion" and "Bloggers Beach Blast" beans to give away to any lucky emailer. Just drop me an email with your name & address and a bag will be yours! See this page for a complete listing of the Bloggers Fuel beans: Blogger Blends.

Grant McLennan, 1958-2006

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It's funny how life works.  I was working out at the Y yesterday and my shuffling MP3 player moved on to one of my all time favorite songs - "Clouds" by The Go-Betweens.  I've raved about the album, 16 Lovers Lane, before, and I realized I hadn't listened to it recently. So before heading out to hockey this morning, I dug through the disaster that is my desk and found the first CD from the dual CD package and listened to it on the drive this morning.  And still agree it is "simply breathtaking", as AllMusic.com says. Just some great all around stuff.

And it was in this very frame of mind that I was reading the paper this morning, as I ate my bagel.; Maybe once a week, or even less, I actually sit down to a breakfast with the paper, instead of just a quick glance at the sports pages.  And as I flipped through the paper, I glanced at the obits and there, at the top, was the sad announcement that Grant McLennan, one of the co-founders of The Go-Betweens, had died yesterday of an apparent heart attack at the all too young an age of 48.  He's the one who penned the "dark side of romance" songs for the Lovers Lane album, as he was fresh from his breakup with one of the other band members, while Robert Forster penned the more "upbeat on romance" songs, as he was just beginning with the other member of the group!

So maybe there was some kind of psychic vibe going on here. Ha!  But still, I think I'm going to have to flesh out my Go-Betweens collection, as 16 Lovers Lane remains my lone possession in their oeuvre.  Maybe I'll run out and get the recent DVD from them, That Striped Sunlight Sound.

allmusic ((( Grant McLennan bio )))

Grant McLennan, 48, singer and founder of Go-Betweens - The Boston Globe

Backlogged

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Via Lifehacker comes a link to a blogger talking about his "Backlogged Life". You know, those piles of information that you have been meaning to get to, but haven't?  It's a scary thing to think about.  Here's my "backlogged" life:
  • Read inbox & Unfilter emails : 450
  • Filtered email (unread/total) : 61,600 / 62,500 (I'm not kidding)
  • Unread RSS messages : 23,685 (sic)
  • Read work inBox emails : 523
  • Voice-mail, home : 2
  • Voice-mail, work : 3
  • Unread Library books : 6
  • Books in my nightstand : 23
  • Unread magazines : 34
  • Unfinished installed computer games : over 40 (Comcast Games on Demands feeds this addiction)
  • Unfinished, uninstalled, computer games : over 50 (and that's after giving away a box full when we moved!)
  • Books in my "want to read" list : over 150
  • CDs in my "want to buy" list : about 75
  • Movies in my Netflix queue: 132
  • Unplayed boardgames I own : must approach 500, if you include magazine games. I gave up my subscription to Strategy & Tactics after getting about 30 issues and never playing any of the games
  • Height of paper pile on my desk needing filing : approaching 12"
  • Open bugs : 110
  • Bookmarks : over 1000
Pretty sad, scary, stupid list, isn't it?  Although I suppose as long as I don't let it get to me, it should be okay. I mean, most of the emails I have are for mailing lists I joined but have never actually read, like of OpenOffice.org (over 13,000) and wxWidgets (nearly 9,000). I suppose I could unsubscribe, but that would probably take even more effort than it does to just ignore it.

But I have to admit, the unread books, unplayed games and desired CDs can weigh me down. And with the plethora of information available on the web, there's always a new movie, CD or book I want to check out.  And one of my favorite pasttimes is to flip through Maltin's guide and highlight interesting sounding movies.

I was reading something (maybe again from Lifehacker), where they were talking about sorting stuff like email and mail, into piles.  If you weren't sure you would want it, put it into a "Death Row" folder.  If, after like three weeks, you still haven't gone back to it - poof, it's gone. I may have to do this, just to feel "cleansed".

Luckily, the phone doesn't play a very central part in our lives.  Almost no backlog there. And my cell phone is about 90% outgoing, and very little incoming.  And I hope to keep it that way.

But it all feeds into a desire to simplify our lives.  It is a tough balancing act as a parent, though. You don't want to take away opportunities for your kids in a misguided, shortsighted drive to simplify, but you want to make sure everything "counts". But if we can just weed out the chaff, get rid of the stuff that just lies around the house, getting in our way, we would go a long way to easing the pyschic burden we bear.

But check out Greg's screed. It's very interesting and thought-provoking.

An Entirely Other Day : The Backlogged Life

Firefox Quick Searches

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There's a cool liltle feature in Firefox that I've been using a lot lately. And that is using "Quicksearchs". These are keywords you type into the address field (where the web site URL normally ends up), add a search term, and it immediately does the search, without having to first go to the search page. So, for instance, you can create a keyword called "map" that does a Google Maps search. Now I can type in:

map 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, DC

And up pops the map of the White House. Very cool and easy to use.

To create your own, just right click on any search edit box and select the "Add a Keyword for this Search..." option. Type in a name ("Google Maps") and a keyword ("map") and save it in your bookmarks (maybe create a folder called Quicksearch). Now you're good to go! LifeHacker.com has a bunch of prepackaged ones for you to add to your bookmarks. Start quicksearching today!

Geek to Live: Fifteen Firefox Quick Searches - Lifehacker
chartreuse_v.gif

Michael has been wondering about all the "fern bar" drinks I have been serving over the past few weeks. And I'll admit they haven't really been strong "cocktails". So I decided to go back to some basics, or at least great twists on them anyway.

    Emerald Martini

  • Vermouth (Nothing but Noilly Prat here)
  • gin or vodka (Bombay Sapphire for us)
  • splash of green Chartreuse

Follow the directions for the Perfect Martini, only add a slight splash of green Chartreuse along with the gin or vodka.

As the recipe says, just add a splash of that unique French liqueur, Green Chartreuse to a perfect martini. Be careful with it, though, as a little goes a long way. You want it to look a very very pale green, and to offer up just the slightest hint of extra taste. This is one Martini recipe that might actually work better with vodka, as the vodka wouldn't cover up any of the Chartreuse taste. I'd go even lighter with the Chartreuse if I used vodka. But this made for an excellent drink to start the evening. Clear, crisp, with just the hint of the herbal liqueur. I wonder how it would work with the Yellow Chartreuse, which I have never tried?

    Nicky Finn

  • 1 oz brandy (Courvoisier)
  • 1 oz lemon juice (the last of the Meyer Lemons - sigh)
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • Splash Pernod

Shake all ingredients over cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

As you might recognize, a very close cousin to the classic Sidecar, with slightly different proportions and, of course, the addition of the licorice-flavored Pernod. Like the earlier use of Chartreuse, you need to go very easy with the Pernod, as just a little bit adds plenty of flavor to the drink. I've also added a splash to a regular Sidecar recipe to great effect. Another very successful cocktail.

We followed that up with a fairly short Serious Sam 2 session. We did get by one more level, and I think we made it to the final part of the next level, but weren't able to push through. And then we watched another episode of The Sopranos. It's the first one on the last disc for Season Three, and was a pretty good one where a couple of them get lost in the woods of New Jersey.

Coffee Schwag and Giveaway

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Thanks to a pointer by Peggy over at ·:[ Blabber Heads ]:·, I looked into BloggersFuel.com, a coffee bean site run by Boca Java. They have a publicity deal whereby I filled out an application for them to send me a "Bloggers Review Pack" of beans, along with a couple of other promotional things, in exchange for mentioning them on my blog and reviewing their beans. I had kind of forgotten about it when the box from them showed up on my doorstep yesterday.

And plenty of cool stuff it is! Six 8oz bags of their coffees, a nice hat and a big mug. Unfortunately, as you can see from the picture, the handle of the mug got pretty well shattered during shipping :-( I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it's such a nice looking mug I'm going to ask for a replacement. This is some cool viral marketing, if you ask me.

The six coffee bags, and the blurbs on the front, are:

  1. Blogger's Pajama Passion "Life's short, blog hard." : Blog the night away with this exotic flavored coffee featuring vanilla, Kahlua and caramel.
  2. Blogger's Beach Blast "Go ahead, make my blog." : This luscious flavored coffee will make your blog! Featuring a tantalizing combination of chocolate kiss and caramel.
  3. Blogger's Boot Up Blend "Blogging rocks." : Log on to an amazing medium blend of African, Central and South American coffees. Rich taste and smooth finish for the perfect breakfast blend.
  4. Blogs of Bravery "The real story in real time." : Front line fuel from a blend of South American dark and medium roasts to create a well balanced, smooth taste.
  5. Late Night Log In "Blogger Fuel." : Blog on with a very bold, dark roasted blend of South American and island coffees. This coffee is rich with flavor and has a smooth finish.
  6. New Media Mavericks "Unfiltered truth." : Lead the information reformation with this medium roast from the prized Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. With excellent body and robust richness.

It's a little quirky, but I'm willing to try out some new coffee beans. Good timing, too, as our last five pound bag of Armeno Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans just ran out. Look for some reviews over the coming week.

Oh, and as a special bonus to both regular readers of this blog, I'll send one of the flavored bags to the first respondents who ask for one. We don't do flavored coffee here, and the thought of actually drinking a "caramel" flavored coffee gives me the willies. So shoot me off an email at jdarnold@buddydog.org, tell me your preference ("Pajama Passion" or "Beach Blast", or either one if you don't care) and your address, and I'll get you out a bag on Monday. Good luck!

Wears the Trousers

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Wears The Trousers is an excellent online PDF music interview and review "magazine". Lots of great interviews with female singers and groups, as well as dozens of CD reviews. This is exactly the sort of thing that could cost me a lot of money, as just a quick glance through the reviews adds about ten CDs to my "buy" list. Be sure to check out the excellent reviews in the new issue three of two CDs featured prominently here - Spider's The Way To Bitter Lake and the Dresden Dolls' Yes, Virginia.

Wears The Trousers magazine :: a women in music compendium

New Music Friday

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AbbeyRoad.jpg

No Random Ten today, for my weekly music posting. Instead, I'm going to do something like I did a few months ago; namely, talk about some recent CD purchases.

First, though, I like to rant a bit about a story I heard on NPR's Morning Edition the other day called iPods Edge Out Home Stereo Systems. The claim is made in the story that iPods are replacing the purchase of "high-end audio equipment", which is as ridiculous a claim as I've heard in a news story in a while. I can barely describe just how wrong that is.

First off, to me, "high end" audio equipment is a system that costs tens of thousands of dollars. You know the system - US$5,000 for the pre-amp alone, because of course they would buy pre-amp and the processor separately. The kinds reviewed in the audio magazines, that you and me would never consider. And these sorts of people, who throw around this kind of money on a true "high end" system, just aren't going to let a US$250 iPod replace it, no matter how "convenient" it might be.

And even at a lower price point, say the US$1,000 for a tuner/amp like I would consider, it just wouldn't pass muster. And I'm not talking about being some kind of audio snob. I'd put myself in the middle tier as far as that goes. I have a real nice Marantz amp and some amazing Phase Technology Teatro speakers, and I'm sure an iPod just wouldn't drive these speakers for crap.

And, most importantly, a real home audio system isn't just for CDs any more. In fact, my setup probably plays CDs only about 25% of the time. An audio system is the very heart of a home theater system. Without a nice amp and speakers, you lose half of the impact of a great DVD. And an iPod isn't going to replace that either. So basically, the story is a crock and I'm disappointed that NPR would stoop so low.

Anyway, back to the music. I took care of the neighbor's dog while they were out in the Midwest checking out colleges for their boys. Elkie wasn't the slightest bit of trouble. At 12 years old, she doesn't move very fast and is a very obedient dog. She gets along great with Spenser and it was nothing to go next door a couple of times a day and let her out to play. But they went above and beyond and gave me a couple of gift cards when they got back. One was for Fuddrucker's, the family restaurant. We went up there the other day and enjoyed a burger and fries.

And they also gave me a Best Buy gift card. So I went up to my local Best Buy and tried to spend it. I did get a SD memory card for my new MP3 player, as I have given up on ever getting the one from CompUSA. But I wasn't sure what else to buy. I didn't want a computer game, as Comcast Games on Demand provides me all the games I want or need. I wasn't looking for a DVD. So I prowled around the CD racks for a bit. And I got pretty depressed, as there just wasn't anything that interesting. Lots of mass market pop junk.

But then I figured this would be a good time to pick up one of the Beatles CDs I was talking about earlier. So I picked up Abbey Road, the last (recorded) Beatles album. Maybe I'll start working my way backward now.

And it is amazing just how many of these songs I've heard. I'm not sure I've ever heard the whole album, but just from the radio and the like, I'm pretty sure I've heard nearly all of these songs before. AllMusic.com has full reviews on every song! My favorites include Come Together, Maxwell's Silver Hammer and Carry That Weight, while the girls really enjoy Octopus's Garden. They're pretty familiar with the Beatles, as they got a Beatles for Kids CD a few years ago, where some big names in children's music each sing a Beatles song. A great CD and worthy of all its praise.

But that was it. I just couldn't bring myself to buy another CD there. But thank FSM for Newbury Comics, a local music chain with its heart in the music and not some mass market pablum. I've only bought a small handful of CDs of the past few months, but pretty much all of them have been from Newbury Comics. And I happened to pass by one of them, so I popped in. And walked out with two new CDs.

One of them was the Winterpills CD. I talked about the great song, Laughing, a few weeks ago, and it is still in heavy play here. And I'm glad to report the rest of the CD is just as solid as this song led me to believe. I would describe the music a either rock with a folkie touch, or folk with a rock touch.

This eponymous CD begins with a really good song, A Benediction. I really dig the bass line, played, I think, with a regular guitar and not necessarily a bass guitar. Very attractive chorus. And that great start is followed up with the aforementioned Laughing:

I started losing you
About the time you told me everyone knew
I felt under the strain
And through the rear-view mirror
watched you circle round the drain

Go back to all the places I know
I knock hard but no one's ever at home
Why does every brilliant color I'm shown
Want to bleed to gray
And I can't hear you laughing... any more
And I can't hear you laughing...

Other highlights to the CD include Cranky (about a disappointed woman), Found Weekend (I think it is sort of a still life in audio), and the final song, Looking Down (about being spurned by a lover). I'm bumming that I didn't make it out to see them last night at a local club. They were headlining a show at the Lizard Lounge, which meant they wouldn't be on stage until after 11:30. And as I have hockey at 6:30 on Friday morning, I just couldn't do it. If it had been tonight, I would have been there. But I'll keep a look out for their next show. Really good stuff.

YesVirginia.jpg

And lastly, a CD that could very well be one of the best CDs I've ever listened to. It has been in heavy rotation ever since I picked it up earlier in the week. If you could wear out a CD, this one would be a mere nub of its original self. I am simply wild about Yes, Virginia by the Dresden Dolls. I carry it from my computer to my car and back, listening to pretty much every track. Wow!

This local duo of Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter and piano player) and Brian Viglione (drummer) make some incredible sounds, filling the sound stage with pounding grand piano and ringing percussion. Each song has a distinct sound and the lyrics are dark and playful at the same time. I've heard it actually has made quite a splash on the national charts even. It is like 51 on the American charts, and number one on specialized charts like "Indie Rock" and the like. And I can definitely see why.

It's amazing how full a sound these two can make, and the first song, Sex Change, really brings this out. Amanda pounds on the keyboard and growls out the lyrics, while Brian really makes some booming percussion.

It is followed by Backstabber, yet another song showing just why you shouldn't cross a good songwriter! In the same vein as songs like Every Breath You Take(Sting stalking his ex-wife) and You're So Vain (Carly Simon ripping into Warren Beatty after being dumped), Amanda tells the unnamed target:

backstabber! hope grabber!
greedy little fit haver!
god, I feel for you, fool...
shit lover! off brusher!
jaded bitter joy crusher!
failure has made you so cruel...

rotten to the core
rotten to the core

Yeah, I think she's pissed. And then she gets seriously angry! Good stuff.

After Modern Moonlight (ragging on the commercial world), comes a real highlight, My Alcoholic Friends. A real bouncy number, hearkening back to the great Coin-Operated Boy from their first album. She's as hard on herself as she is on her partying friends, but the incredibly infectious sound belies any real disgust with drinking, as it sounds like the party is just too much fun.

After Delilah and Dirty Business (where it sounds like she's pissed about prying publicity hounds and hangers-on), comes (heh heh) the sly and dark First Orgasm which is about the first orgasm of the day. But it is a self-administered one, as she's "taking matters into her own hands" because she's not going to "look for love again". So this is more of a lonely call in the dark to see if "won't you hold me?". A song with many different layers and ways to read into it, and one that the lyrics could be sung in many different ways, and nuances abound. Rises way above the risque subject, for sure.

A few more songs about love, hate, social issues and, yes, more masturbating, lead up to the final song, Sing. I'd be shocked if this song doesn't penetrate the Top 40, but it is still a great song. I've hit replay on this song more times than I can count. Almost anthemic, it is amazing how much sound these two can generate. A very lyrical song with some nice singing by Amanda:

Sing for the bartender sing for the janitor sing
Sing for the cameras sing for the animals sing
Sing for the children shooting the children sing
Sing for the teachers who told you that you couldn't sing
Just sing

There is thing keeping everyone's lungs and lips locked
It is called fear and it's seeing a great renaissance
After the show you can not sing wherever you want
But for now lets all pretend that we're gonna get bombed
So sing

Wow, I just love this CD. The only drawback, and it is a minor one at that, is that the lyrics can sink to almost puerile. It could just be the effect she is aiming for, and/or just the way the "kids" talk these days, but the off-color language and descriptions can get a little tiring. But it is only a niggle and, while it probably won't be a CD I can trot out for the girls, it is still a special sounding CD. Now I have to get their first one!

John Scalzi's Whatever blog is a regular stop on my blog reading. He writes some cool things, and this is a long letter to teenage writers, brought on by the whole Kaavya Viswanathan plagarism thing, is something more writers should read.  I have my own novel(s) to write, if only I had the time, energy and perseverance to write them!

Whatever: 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing

MySpace.com is odd

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In my admittedly very limited exposure, I've found MySpace.com to be very creepy for some reason.  I have a page there, but only because you need to be a "member" if you want to read someone else's blog there.  And as I'm into everything Spider, I had to read her blog there, as sporadic as it is, so I created a site. My quote, "Batman of the Internet", is what Spider called me after I pointed out a second web problem of hers.  I thought it pretty funny.

So MySpace.com is just a strange spot in cyberspace.  First off, "Tom" became my "Friend" to help me on MySpace.com, without me even asking.  I guess he's an official greeter or something.  Then I got a few more "Friend" requests - just what I need is another way to be spammed. The ads themselves are all creepy Personal ads. And just looking through some of the pages is weird.  I'm just not much of a joiner, and this feels like a spot for lonely geeks to band together against the world or something.  Obviously, I'm not a target demographic, but still, it's a little too cultish feeling for me.

Anyway, it turns out I'm not alone in this anti-MySpace.com feeling.  There's a whole anti-cult going on too.  And this page does a good job of summing up the oddities to MySpace.com :

A Scientific Approach to Myspace’s Failure

Toll Booth Squeeze

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This picture, as posted on Joho The Blog, is just too funny:

tollbooth1_web.jpg

Given our recent history with car accidents, it's a pleasure to see someone else's pain. G and the girls were involved in a minor bumper thumper yesterday morning on the way to school. Someone smacked into the back of the minivan, driving them into the back of the car in front of them. Luckily, no one was hurt and damage to the car was minimal. But still enough to be aggravating, especially seeing as we just got the minivan back from the shop after its last contretemps.

Joho the Blog: American tollbooth

George Bush's Power Grab

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In general, the Cato Institute and I don't really see eye to eye.  I'm sure it really slays them, but their staunch conservative rhetoric on many things from trade to political relationships rubs this here liberal raw in many places.

That being said, they do seem to have a backbone and have written article spelling out Dubya's dismal record vis-a-vis Constitutional rights.  As they say, it is ironic that a President who insists on strict Constitutionalist judges should have such a cavalier attitude towards the same document himself.

It has always stuck me as strange how Dubya is held in such high esteem by the very core group that he seems to have the most disdain for.  That the far right wing, espousing "values" like a hands-off government and no taxes, should still fall for the empty rhetoric of a group of power-mad politicos whose very core ideals are at such odds with this, is hard for me to comprehend. These supporters, who feared the sky falling in if a Democrat should get elected, just can't seem to see it is far worse under the current Republican regime.  I can't see how the Democrats could have been worse as far as an intrusive government than Dubya's minions.

And don't get me started on the tax thing.  The current cynics in office crow about an effective tax break, but of course it only applies to the very rich and is only been documented to have hurt the economy.  But in typical fashion, this regime and its blind, deaf and dumb supporters figure if they just keep saying the economy is getting better, and keep saying it louder, we're not only going to believe the lie, it will almost seem like the truth.

Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush

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May Links of the Month

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Time for another web roundup.  This is a list of interesting links I've gathered up since the last posting:
  • eSnips.com - Let your content take you places : Another uploading place, only it purports to be a more general thing. You have 1gb of room to put up stuff that can be publicly downloaded.
  • The Movie Timeline : A way cool project - the history of everything, as told in the movies, both fact and fiction.  C'mon, help out!
  • Listible! Quick way to get resources : I'm a sucker for lists, and this is a site dedicated to user created lists.  Things like Best Linux Distributions and Best free GTD software. But not only is it lists, but you get to vote on the things in the list to move them up and down the rankings.  Pretty neat.
  • Remember The Milk : A simple, web-based ToDo list.  Added in my quest for the perfect time management software.  Although I leave a browser open at all times, I don't think a browser-based piece of software is really going to work.  But I need to look at it more.
  • co.mments - Track your conversations : I visit a lot of blogs.  I comment in various places.  Some places have RSS feeds for the comments, but even better, I'd like to track the blog posts where I've made comments.  This site will let you do that.  I've added a link to it to automagically track the comments to posts on my blogs. 
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES: Movies and Games, Reviews and Previews : A good place to get movie and video game review collections.  They give you snippets of all kinds of reviews and give a movie an overall rating, for whatever that is worth.  It's nice to get a quick glance at what the "pros" think of a movie.
  • Brammo Motorsports - Ariel Motor Company for USA (Flash site) : An amazing looking little car.  Closer to a motorcycle really.  I don't think you can get these in the US, but I'm not exactly sure.  No roof, just an external rollbar and a serious horsepower-to-weight ratio.
  • 101 Greatest Screenplays : as voted on by the Writers Guild of America.  The top ten is interesting.  Casablanca (1942) at number one is, of course, the correct pick.
  • Award Winning Honda Car Commercial (Flash required) : A link to the awesome Honda commercial, a brilliant version of a Rube Goldberg device. And speaking of Rube Goldberg, apparently there is a Japanese television show a la American Idol, where people compete building their own devices and filming them. Some of them are pretty amazing.  You can see videos of them here : Rube Goldberg Machines
  • Room art - Wall patterns from a single viewpoint : Amazing wall painting jobs, where patterns turn 3d when viewed from the right angle.
  • PIRT - CastleCopsWiki : The Phishing Incident Report and Termination Squad home page.  Let's band together to eliminate Phishing.
  • Trivia_Challenge_Homepage : The International High IQ Society's 2006 Trivia Challenge.  Take it if you dare.
  • Truth in Movie Titles : very funny hacked up movie posters, saying what is the real truth, like "Sharon Stone is Pushing FIfty : Risk Addiction"
  • DropSend | Email large files easily and securely : It can be hard to email large files (and often that is a good thing!). But sometimes, you just need to email that funny video, and this site will let you do it.  Files up to 1gb in size can be emailed. But let's be careful out there, shall we? Nothing is more annoying, even to us broadband users, than when a 1gb file drops out of the sky, holding up email delivery for 30 minutes or more.
  • Windows XP Themes : Themes and purty pictures for WinXP.  Many of them, unfortunately, require the shareware program DesktopX.
  • Democracy - Internet TV Platform : a free "browser" for watching videos.
  • FireAnt: Better than Television : Very similiar to the above - another free "rich" content viewer.
  • Blogdigger Local : Enter in your zip code and you'll get links to local blogs, or at least those that are registered to users nearby.
  • gethuman : This is the site Paul English, of the IVR list fame, started to continue his "IVR" ("Interactive Voice Response") effort.  Figure out how to talk to a human being, rather than a machine, when you call a company. Of course, these days it is apt to be in India or somewhere...
  • HTML Dog : (Geek warning!) HTML and CSS Tutorials, References, Articles and News
  • Pictures of Pennies : More examples of people with far too much time on their hands. This time, they are stacking pennies.


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Thither and Yon

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What has a middle-aged (ouch!), upper middle class, techno-geek father of two young daughters been up to, you might ask? Well, hold on to your keyboards, because whether you like it or not, I'm gonna tell you:

Mostly, I've been working, like most of us. Luckily, I love my job, and I say that even though I know no one in my company reads this blog (heck, practically no one reads it period). I always counted myself as blessed to have stumbled (literally) upon a career choice, computer programming, that I would do for free. I do it in my spare time, I did it when I had no job, and I will be doing it until they pry the keyboard from my cold, dead hands. And, even better, I get paid a pretty good chunk of money for doing it.

I've been programming now since I dropped out of RPI in 1979. I was working for a friend of ours, doing roofing, on the roof of another friend who knew I was interested in computers. My main qualifications for the job was that I knew what a keyboard looked like. I had tinkered some with hand made computers in high school (built a counting 8008 "computer"), and was in the middle of a FORTRAN course in my sophomore year when I dropped out. And that's it. But he took me in for an interview, and this being the height of demand for programmers, I somehow got the job. I'll never forget riding home with Gary and him being embarrassed to offer me a job for what he thought was the paltry sum of US$12,000 a year, while to me, making minimum wage luggin 80lb packs of roofing shingles up tall ladders, it sounded like more money than I could ever spend. And I got to hack around with one of the earliest 32 bit computers with another neophyte and it's been a bonanza ever since.

My current job is for inSORS Integrated Communications. We do "high end" video conferencing and collaboration software. By "high end" I mean we sell only to Fortune 1000 companies, concentrating our efforts as a small privately held company on the most profitable sources. So I get to work on some cool video and audio technologies, with some great people, from home - how neat is that? I've been working from home for ten years or so, and I don't think I could ever go back to commuting. I work on lots of different projects, which is good for someone with my personality, as I don't get stuck on one thing and, being easily bored, get into trouble. I'm constantly jumping from task to task, keeping me hopping, which I also love.

The other major effort this time of year is soccer. I coach the co-ed Under-6 Stars and my daughter Adrienne, while I'm assistant coach for the girls Under-8 Galaxy and my daughter Rhiannon. Soccer was my sport in high school and, although I haven't played it competitively in years, I love to coach these kids. But it does use up four days a week - Saturday morning game for the Galaxy, Sunday afternoon "practice" for the Stars, Monday evening practice for the Galaxy and Wednesday evening games for the Stars. I figure I'm going to be at all of these anyway, so I might as well be involved with the coaching.

Working outside around the house is also a big thing this time of year. Cleaning up from winter, getting the lawn back into shape and putting in flowers is a major effort in the spring. While I don't use any pesticides on the lawn, I do put down fertilizer and seed it; I'm not one of the "natural" types, as we like to use our lawn too much. I think I might get one of those push rotary mowers this year, for the economy, ecology and exercise.

I've been reading before bed at a pretty good rate. I will be posting a reading update soon. Nothing too special so far though.

Another favorite activity is watching movies. I have a blog called Incredible Brightness of Seeing that is supposed to report on my movie watching, but it's been pretty quiet there. I have been watching some movies and will report on those too. Some recent viewings include Stray Dog(a little boring, but the commentary track is great), Little Black Book (okay, with an amazingly cute Brittany Murphy), and Crash (the recent one - okay, but I felt too manipulated).

I've also been busy writing two new biographies for the next project by the Boston SABR chapter. I did a short one on Juan Beniquez for the 75: The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball book. It wasn't a stellar effort really, so I was glad to get another chance. The new book will be on the '67 Impossible Dream Red Sox team, in time for the 40th anniversary. I was originally going to do the Dick Williams bio, but I think they ended up giving this important bio to someone more experienced. So my main bio is on Don Demeter and for this one I think I did a pretty good job. I worked much harder at it and did more research. I think it came out pretty well, although I still have a couple more things I'd like to do on it: a phone interview with Mr. Demeter (we've played telephone tag for a couple of weeks now) and some research at the Boston Public Library, as the online archives for both Boston papers are completely lacking for the '67 season.

I also took on the task of finishing up the Ken Brett biography. Someone else did most of the early work, including writing up a few pages on it. So I'm going to try and finish it up. He was the youngest pitcher at that time to appear in a World Series (19 years old) and also holds the record for most consecutive games with a home run for a pitcher at four (he said it should have been five, but an ump blew a call and said an HR was just a double).

And finally, I play computer games. More than just our usual Wednesday evening cocktails and computer games. I'm just an inveterate player of computer games. Mostly, I played Day of Defeat, an online first person shooter set in World War II. I'm a member of the 95th Rifles Clan, which is a first for me. It's a good group of players, who run a clean, safe and hack-free set of servers. It's nice because you can just pop in, play for 10 minutes or 10 hours, and it doesn't take any real thought. I like to play a few rounds at lunch time. I even wrote a poem for it for The Game Chair, a computer game review and notes site I do the odd bit of writing. You can find this masterpiece here: Ode To Online Mayhem. I'm supposed to be writing a followup Progressive Review on Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, but I'm far behind on that commitment - gee, I wonder why?

I've also been playing the hottest new game in a while, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. It is a single player CRPG, in a vast world with spectacular graphics. I've played for a number of hours. Heck, I even have a blog where I'm writing up my adventures : From Here To Oblivion. It's been kinda quiet there, although I have been playing it some. I've run out of steam a little, which often happens with me in computer games. I'll play for a bit, have a great time, but get a little bored and move on to the next game. That's why Comcast Games on Demand is so cool for me - a pretty big library of computer games I can play whenever I want. Admittedly, they are trailing edge games, but it isn't a big drawback to me. I wrote up a short article comparing some of the online game providers for The Game Chair here: Games Without CDs.

In many ways, the preceding paragraphs show my problem - I get spread too thin, and don't concentrate on any one thing. You might say a jack of all trades, master of none, and you wouldn't be too far from the truth.

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