Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why My Father is Still My Hero

Almost every young boy's father is his hero. For some, it sadly wears off when they learn to think for themselves. Not for me. And it probably won't for Demitri's son either. I'll offer two videos on this theme today.

House on Fire

The older I get, the more amazed I am by my Dad. The first video comes from an unfortunate structure fire that happened in my home town back in February. The video is long and probably not something you want to sit all the way through, but if you do, notice this: the house is only burning at one end--the fire, if I remember correctly, began in the garage. Wouldn't it have been nice if the firefighters had gone in the house from the end that wasn't on fire and pushed the fire back toward its source? That's what they used to do back in the 1960s and 70s, back when my father was chief of the department he helped create and make one of the very best in the state, probably the country.

But no, in this case, they don't do that. They do two things I used to hear my dad lament so many other departments did back then. First, they start by setting up a stream of water onto the roof. Precious water. Dad learned to fight fire back when hydrants were rare. The water you brought was the water you had, and you certainly didn't waste that water by soaking down the one feature of every house dedicated to keeping water out--the roof. Secondly, they attack the fire from the burning end. That's intuitive. See fire, spray water on it! So the instinct goes. But wait. Imagine if they'd gone in from the other end, protecting what hadn't burned yet, and forcing the fire back whence it had come. Novel idea? Not during Dad's day. That's how they did it. That's how they saved more homes than some nearby paid departments. You'll find the video and article here. And you can watch and cringe as they herd the fire from the buring end right out the other side.

Lord of the Dance

The second video comes from Britain's Got Talent. It'll start your day with a smile. And the embedding was disabled for it, but you'll find it here. It's worth a watch. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Big Picture: Human Landscapes

The Boston Globe's Big Picture just continues to be one of the coolest things going. From today's:

Maybe "Final" Finally Means Final

Months back, Barry posted a piece about those scum-sucking auto warranty folks who had given me more last chances to "renew" my non-existent and supposedly soon-expiring auto warranty than a permissive parent gives a rotten kid to stop hitting his brother. After pressing the necessary numbers to decline their service "once-and-for-all," on at least three separate occasions I began to figure out that they were only kidding. About the final chance part. About me even having a warranty. About being able to remove my name from their list. I suspect that, even if I'd bought their probably phony (ooh, accidental pun there) warranty, they'd have still kept offering me one last chance to buy it again.

At the time of Barry's post, I completely sympathized with his complaint and put the draft of a seconding post in my Dashboard, but never found time to finish it.

In my case, most of the calls were arriving through my Google Grand Central account, so I was at least able to block each number they called from, for what little good it might do. Actually, I thought it had done some good. The calls finally stopped. But I learned today, again from Barry, that Verizon, bless their hearts, took the scum-sucking bastards to court and won a $50,000 judgment against them, which Verizon is donating to charity. Best line from the article: "The main part is, of course, that Verizon customers won't be bothered by these two jackass companies anymore." :-)

Verizon and I got off to a rough start while they were perfecting their "Easy Move" program, but for the last few years, I've nothing but praise for them. They'll keep my business. And AT&T wouldn't win it back if they were the last communications company on earth--but that's all another story. I carry grudges like that in the business world. Die scum-sucking Palm! (Oops. Was that out loud? Must've been channeling for all of us who are part of the five-to-one shipment ratio of new BlackBerry's to new Palms) . . . Want my business? Work for it. Work for it and you'll earn my steadfast loyalty. It's an old model, but it still works for me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Beowulf Should Have Ended

(Teaser: Funny video at the end of the post.)

We're wrapping up another semester in the world of college academics, and yesterday, my last day of regular classes at The Citadel as a visiting professor, was bittersweet. I still have essays to grade (the ill effect of caving to four sections' pleas to move due dates ever closer to the semester's end) and final exams to administer, but those are quiet times--brief instructions at the outset, the slam of a stapler and a quiet handshake at the end, and sometimes not even that if I've stepped from the room. Yesterday was my last few hours here "on stage," more or less--a whirlwind review of an entire semester's guided tour through British Literature from Beowulf to Samuel Johnson. (I say "an entire semester" as if that's a long time to spend on nearly a millennium's worth of literature, all the while remembering that in grad school we would frequently spend an entire semester on one author, and sometimes, one book. Different goals.)

I think people doubt me when I tell them I usually learn as much from my students as they from me, but I mean that. The lessons I take from this year will be the fodder of other blog posts yet to come.

This one, though, is dedicated to a little bit of fun that wrapped up the semester in my final class in my final day in class here. I wish I'd know about it the hour before. As we opened our review with the text that opened our semester, Beowulf, one of the cadets asked if I'd seen, "How Beowulf Should Have Ended," on YouTube. I confessed I'd not, and then we agreed to return to it if there was time at the end of the hour. There was just enough time. It was fun--an entertaining note to end on.

The Beowulf it addresses in this case is the most recent film version rather than the poem, but that is, after all, the version most likely familiar to the greatest number (as even those who've read the poem have likely seen the movie since and now have some conflated version of the tale in their heads). If you've only read the poem, this won't be quite as funny, and the "Did you kill Grendel's mother?" bit won't make sense, but if you've seen the movie, this should get at least an amused chuckle. Enjoy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Economics of Cows

You all need a laugh. Trust me.

It was Barry's post today, over at Enrevanche that turned me on to this. The problem with excerpting some little funny part from a bigger funny post is that, usually, people just read what you post and call it a day.

I'm not going to post any excerpt at all. I'm going to tell you, GO HERE. That's the link for the original post from which Barry borrows only a snippet (on the Royal Bank of Scotland model of Venture Capitalism). Start reading. Laugh. No, wait! Go to the bathroom first. Then start reading. By the time I got to New Zealand, I was crying.


On more time: GO HERE. You will not be sorry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dream Big

First,thanks to JMG for passing this along.

I think I'll just offer it up here without commentary for the moment. Enjoy.

Embedding for the video below was disabled, but if you click on the still, it should open the YouTube page for you. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Do you suppose they can grade student essays?

Outback Steakhouse, 2003-2009

A very small few of you were privy to my postings long before I new what a blog was. When I was in Afghanistan in 2002-03, I used to send out e-mails to a list of friends, who then forwarded them to their own lists. The post below is January, 2003. I dredge it up tonight because, honestly, I haven't been out to eat, all by myself, other than the dollar menu at Burger King, since late last summer. But tonight, I'm at an Outback Steakhouse near my apartment. I'm going to blame it on the effects of a Vesper, made to JB's exacting standards, and some light at the end of the tunnel. At any rate, the text below, an email sent out long ago, should make amply clear why Outback will have my business for a long time to come.

From: Doc, LTC
Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 8:01 AM
Subject: Day 79, Outback

My friends,

Some of you, no doubt, already frequent Outback Steakhouses. Some of you, maybe not. For those that do, or those that will, I've a favor to ask. Next time you eat there, ask to speak to the manager, not just the hostess or your waiter, but the manager. When she or he comes, tell them you want to thank them on behalf of a friend of yours.

Last night, I had the best meal I've had since leaving home some 80 days ago. The best I expect to have until I get back. A steak, at least an inch and a half thick, cooked perfectly, a baked potato with real butter and sour cream, dark, soft bread with real butter, barbequed, unbattered shrimp, (not those frozen deep fried things that I've almost learned to like), a good-sized chunk of a Bloomin' Onion, with sauce, and a slice of cheesecake that, alone, had more calories in it than I've been consuming in a day here.

The line for chow stretched out to and down Disney Drive last night. There are only two fryers in the Dining Facility. The poor girl who was carrying out the Onions said at one point, "You know, I'm the most popular woman here tonight, and I didn't even have to sleep with anyone." True enough. Glad she had a sense of humor about it. We sent an armed escort from our table to meet her as she came out of the kitchen. (Of course, we're all armed, so it's a wonder gunplay didn't break out over the onions.) :-)

We've been grateful for every morale visit here, but more people went out of their way to tell the whole Outback crew THANK YOU than did for any other visitors so far--even the cheerleaders. They don't publicize this. They just do it. They know the word of mouth will get out.

I would love it if you would thank them too. Give them your business because the food is great, but be sure, the next time you go, to tell them thanks for sending people and food halfway around the world to give the troops a taste of home. It was the best treat yet.


"Doc", LtCol, USAF
Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

Update: It tastes just as good six years later and without any poorly aimed rockets sailing overhead. Outback still rocks.

Taken on the way back from the range, a week before Outback arrived, 2003:

Waiting for that Bloomin' Onion, tonight, 2009:

Monday, April 20, 2009


It seems today is my day to be astonished by the physical abilities of others. The video below comes from my friend Phil's blog, The Archer Pelican, where you'll find a fuller explanation of the video and the skill. I used to believe this sort of stuff was all done with wires. Wow.

Danny MacAskill: Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

If you can stop watching this once you start, you're a stronger viewer than I. Simply amazing.

Here's the info straight from the YouTube posting:

Filmed over the period of a few months in and around Edinburgh by Dave Sowerby, this video of Inspired Bicycles team rider Danny MacAskill features probably the best collection of street/street trials riding ever seen. There's some huge riding, but also some of the most technically difficult and imaginative lines you will ever see. Without a doubt, this video pushes the envelope of what is perceived as possible on a trials bike.

I keep hearing Chevy Chase saying, "Be the [bike] Danny."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Viewer Discretion Advised

The following subject matter is not appropriate for all audiences. If you are tender of heart, go elsewhere today. I mean that.

How soulless and perfunctory and heartbreaking and final is the language that ends a union, even read aloud by a gentle and compassionate female magistrate (thus complying, at least in some more limited interpretation of the language than ever was meant, with the pastor's proscription that "no man put asunder" those whom God has joined):

This matter was reviewed by the court on 4-17-09.
Petitioner appeared in person. Co-Petitioner appeared in person.
The Court has considered the testimony and evidence presented.
The Court has considered any Financial Statements filed and makes the following findings and orders:
1. The Court has jurisdiction over the parties because: The parties filed jointly on ____.
2. At least one party was domiciled in Colorado for more than 90 days before the Petition was filed.
3. At least 90 days have passed since the Court acquired jurisdiction over the Respondent or Co-Petitioner.
4. The marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken.
5. The Separation Agreement between the parties is found to be not unconscionable as to support, maintenance, and division of property, and is incorporated herein.
6. All provisions in the parenting plan regarding the children are in the best interests of the children, including residence, allocation of parental responsibility (including decision-making responsibilities and parenting time), and any other orders necessary to effectuate the best interests of the children.
The Court therefore orders:
The marriage is dissolved and a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is entered.
Each party shall perform all of the applicable provisions of the separation agreement or permanent orders.
The Separation Agreement filed on ____ is incorporated into this Decree.
The Parenting Plan filed on ____ is incorporated into the Decree.
Any Support Order entered will become part of this Decree.
It is signed and dated and recorded and it is done.

Beginnings are all hope and promise; endings, all sadness and loose ends. And no matter how inevitable it was or at what point it became so, still, Brian Turner's poem, "Sadiq," is all I can think of today.
It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. -Sa'di

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Gamblers, Foxes, and the Wind in the Wheat

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

"Please, tame me!" he said.

What would it look like? That alternate universe where instead of fearing the happiness we were offered by Fate along the way, we reached out and took it, believed we deserved it, clung to it as if to the razor edge of life itself. What if, at any of those moments when the sheer beauty of love blinded us, caught us all unprepared and unawares, what if instead of running, what if we simply stood tall and let our arms fall to our sides with our palms forward and let it take us, fearless? What if we took a chance? What if we saw? What if we set it free? What if we let it shine? What if we embraced our taming?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Re-invent This: GM's Total Confidence Ads

I'm percolating a post about my incredibly jealous Spitfire, but first this.

Between every story on the CBS Evening News Online last week, I had to listen to the insult below from GM. Why "insult," you ask. Because the clear implication, to me at least, is that GM's current crisis is somehow my fault. That I'm not trying hard enough. That I need to put on my "rally-cap" and "dig in" for America's comeback to work.

News flash for GM: What's needed is for GM to grab GM's ears and pull until GM hears a loud pop. That will indicate the extraction of GM's cranium from its rectal orifice is complete and then perhaps a comeback can begin. Perhaps. I'm not certain it isn't too late. Welcome to the 21st century GM. Who could've seen it coming? Duh.

It ranks up there with the ad that used to play before movies a couple years ago, using a lie to dissuade a theft.

I couldn't find a video of that old ad, but I found another site that said nearly exactly what I was about to say. So to save time, here's someone else's spot-on rant:

The anti-piracy ad running in movie theatres across the country is a big fat lie.

Commercials I Hate: Anti-Piracy Ads in Theatres

The ad features a set painter. He explains that movie piracy hurts him more than it could ever hurt the big fat rich movie producers.
Hmmm, that's interesting, because a set painter isn't affected by piracy at all.
A set painter gets paid the same, whether you pay to see the movie or not.
A set painter's job doesn't depend on the box-office revenue of the film.
A set painter gets paid even if the movie is never released at all.

This set painter is a liar. The MPAA are liars.

Here is what the MPAA says on their website,


The entertainment industry isn't made up only of familiar actors, actresses and directors. It is made up of over 500,000 everyday working people that bring the magic of the movies to you.

But, when movies are illegally downloaded from the Internet, these are the people that suffer the most.
It's the woman who does the make-up,
the guy who rigs the lighting,
the sound technician,
the costume designer,
the set decorator
and the caterer.

Do you really want these people to lose their jobs?

Show of hands, people.
Who thinks they're gonna stop making movies because of piracy?
I already noticed they stopped making good movies.
The price of a movie ticket has tripled in the last decade and the movies get worse and worse.
Here's my advice. Steal from the greedy miserable lying bastards.
Pay for one movie, sneak into two. Download anything you can find.
Show the MPAA that we don't like lies and the lying liars who tell them.
And here's my advice for the MPAA: Don't annoy people who paid for their movie tickets
by forcing them to watch a phony ad about piracy. They bought tickets.
Instead focus your ad campaign on the internet where the piracy is.
Buy ad space on a file-sharing site, Jesus Christ. Don't you ever talk to young people?
Sort of forfeits the moral high ground near the end, but I so understood the sentiment. Used to make me seethe every time I saw that ad before a movie.

GM's new campaign has pretty much the same effect. I can't help but wonder if I'm all alone on this, or if it's going to backfire on them. Then again, maybe they know what they're doing. Maybe they know they're doomed and this is just step one in their plan to put the blame on us. That seems the most likely scenario of all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I am not dead.

There is living life, and there is writing about it. Properly paced, there is time to do these things simultaneously, especially given that the latter is so often necessary in order to understand the former.

When there is time to write again, you'll understand. The last month would fill a book. A book. Sticking with the same title though: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, Vol II.

Eventually. It'll be worth it.

Elation, disappointment, joy, grief, hilarity, heartbreak, loss, finding, finding again.

And, eventually, finding its way here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Forum Icon Fail

I waste a lot of time these days trying to adjust to the shift from Palm to Blackberry. Some things work better (anything to do with communication); some make me really miss my Palm (most things that involve personal information management--tasks, calendar, notes, etc). Today, I'm struggling a little with the Audible software for Blackberry.

I got hooked on Audible when I bought my second Palm back in 2003. Listen to more than I actually read these days, only because I listen constantly.

Searching the forums for improved solutions and hints, I came upon a post from a guy who thought it would be a good idea to insult everyone with his icon. My father would occasionally misspell signs on purpose in his butcher shop just to see who would say something, but I don't think that's what this guy is up to. So, to the "BlackBerry God," I can only say, if you're going to look down on others, you're going to need better grammar to be taken seriously. Dude.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Treo vs Blackberry

More specifically, my Verizon Palm Treo 755p vs the Blackberry 8330 Curve I'll probably have by the end of the day.

I'm not the guy that constantly upgrades to the newest, coolest gadget. That would be my cousin over at Enrevanche, who consistently rides the front edge of the bow wave of technology; me, I'm the guy way back in the wake, who finally upgrades only when the time required to learn a new device interface is at last exceeded by the time spent going "WTF!" over the latest crash of the old one. That time has come.

When my Palm stereo headset began to grow weaker and weaker, until finally I could no longer hear either the books I listen to or the person on the other end of the phone, I replaced it with an LG Stereo Bluetooth headset. That worked for a bit--like a day or two, maybe. Then the Treo's Bluetooth began to randomly reject the headset. Different brand of headset, same problem. Third headset, same problem. Conclusion: the issue is the Treo Bluetooth, not the headsets.

I could invoke the warranty and replace the Treo. (Verizon is good about that, and they've done it once already when the wired headset receptacle locked up and believed there was something plugged into it even when there wasn't.) I could order another wired headset from Palm (the Verizon store doesn't carry them, and non-Palm wired headsets--at least in my Treo--only send the sound down one channel), but enough is enough. You'll find that a year ago, when I first replaced my Palm TX and my separate cell phone with a single integrated device, the Treo, I was initially thrilled with the device, but appalled with the "updated" Palm Desktop software. That blog/rant is here. Bottom line: Even a year ago, Palm was not stagnant; Palm was already moving backwards.

Still, as I said, I change my technology only when the benefit significantly outweighs the pain. So, I spent a couple hours over the last few days reading what's out there on the question of a Treo vs a Blackberry. The best thing I've found was written by Matthew R. Streger, in two parts. Part I , on the hardware, appears on (a site recommended to me by the Verizon salesperson as a potential crackberry addict); Part II , on the software, appears on TreoCentral. Here is Matthew's conclusion, with my emphasis:

I think in the end, the strengths and weaknesses of the Treo compared with the Blackberry are based on where they began. The Palm platform began as the best personal information management system in personal computing history. It was originally designed to handle calendar, contacts, tasks and memos. Everything else with the Palm was gravy – the connectivity and tons of other software and accessories all grew from the original primary function of personal information management. In comparison, the Blackberry was originally a mobile e-mail device. In fact, for some time, just like the Palm, it didn’t have a telephone.

Today, the Palm is still better at the core information functions – the native applications offer more options for customizing how to view your information. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of handling telephone calls and e-mail messages very badly. The Blackberry isn’t nearly as good at personal information management or customization, but it does an adequate job, it’s much more stable, and in the end I have some degree of confidence that the Blackberry will continue to evolve and fix many of my issues. I do not have any confidence in Palm any longer, and that’s the ultimate reason for my switch.
Bingo! Condensed even further: while Blackberry has the better hardware by far, and Palm, by a diminishing margin, has the better software for personal information management (when it works), Blackberry has a future; Palm's future is oblivion, only because the people who run Palm have been comatose for years now.

I'm a guy who still believes in loyalty. But loyalty has to flow both ways. Palm has abandoned us. (Sort of reminds me of how I felt about the Air Force when we decided to reduce our personnel strength beyond what was workable, so that we could use the "savings" to buy hardware--but that's another story.) So, Palm, pucker up baby, because you are about to kiss me goodbye. And from what I've read over the last couple of days, I am part of a larger exodus that will spell the end of Palm within a few years at most. If you have Palm stock, sell it now. When the rebound comes, Palm won't be a part of it.

PS: If you need a chuckle, this transcript of an online chat I had with Palm support right after "upgrading" my Desktop software may amuse you. Later. I need to make a trip to the Verizon store.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Afghanistan: The Big Picture

The Boston Globe's Big Picture consistently provides some of the best photography I've seen on the web. This set is from Afghanistan. And though the view of the mountain range below is way too familiar, it's a vastly different land there now from when I was in country. Among the photos is one of a suicide bombing at the main gate to Bagram. None of that while I was there. One anticlimactic rocket attack--the best kind: a miss. Enjoy.