Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Springfield or Bust

This last weekend I drove down to Springfield, MO, to visit my good friend Tony Turner. We hung out in the afternoon and he showed me the revitalization of the old downtown area that has been going on for the last six or seven years. When I was in school at Missouri State, that area was mostly abandoned and very run down. Now there are lots of new restaurants and art galleries and other shops, and that was good to see. That evening Tony and I went to the the Missouri Stave vs. Indiana State basketball game, and the Bears won, which was great. It had been over 10 years since I had been in the Hammons center, and I must admit that it isn't as impressive as it was to me back in 1992 when I was a Freshman. After seeing arenas at other schools the old HSC just doesn't seem like much. They are building a new arena, though, so in a couple years they should have a bigger arena befitting a big-time program.

Tony also hit my car with his SUV on Saturday, which was interesting. In my younger days I would have gotten mad about it, but I have matured over the last few years to the point where I just realized that it was one of those silly things that happens in life (and the damage is very minor), so why get worked up over it?

On Sunday I went to Tony's new(ish) church, Northbridge. It is a "non-traditional" model, and in fact reminded me of the Quest service at my church. Not really my thing, but it is always good to visit other churches and see that it doesn't really matter how you worship God, what matters is that God is worshipped with all your heart and mind.

And I would be remiss if I didn't note that the St. Louis Blues won their game last night against Pittsburgh. Yes, they won for the first time in a month, snapping an 11-game winless streak. So sad, but at least I got to see them win (on TV).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

BattleTech

When I was younger, my favorite board game was BattleTech, a game where you control giant mecha that can lay waste to the countryside, and your foes, if you are so inclined. I haven't played in a long time, but that was because most of my old stuff got destroyed in a flood at my apartment building when I lived in Virginia close to 5 years ago. Lately, I must admit that I have been trolling eBay looking at people selling their collections and pondering buying back in. Not that I would really have the time to play it much at all, but just to have it again would be cool.

However, I just learned of a game, distributed free online, called MegaMek. This game lets you play what is essentially BattleTech on your computer. The game is designed for network play, but you can play hotseat on the same computer by simply launching two separate clients. I just got done playing a rousing battle between two lances of 'mechs and supporting hover craft, and it was a hoot. It doesn't look quite the same, but the designers have done as good as they can with a top down view, and they have tons of optional rules programmed in. As a freeware project, the interface isn't immediately accessible, but you get what you pay for, I guess. Seriously, if you have any interest in BattleTech then you need to check out MegaMek, as it lets you play for free. You don't have to buy anything: no rules, no maps, no miniatures, no nothing.

Now I have to consider simply picking up a few scenario books and just using MegaMek to play some BattleTech battles. Totally sweet!

A Secret Atlas

A Secret Atlas by Michael A. Stackpole, 2005, Bantam Spectra

And now it is time for another book by my favorite author. This one is starting off a new trilogy. The setting is heroic fantasy, but with some differences. First, magic isn't as prevalent, or handled in the same way, as other popular fantasy series. Second, the political setting has many intentional similarities to Europe in the "age of discovery" period of the late 14th through 16th centuries. Two of our main characters are part of a family of map makers, the most famous map makers in the world. This sounds rather boring, but the fact that new maps can only be drawn after people explore new areas of the world provides the key to get the adventures started.


Of course, as a Stackpole story, the internal politics of the existing nations are enough to fill many volumes. Those of you who enjoy Machiavellian twists and turns among the rulers and their pawns will find much to enjoy here. I also like how there is an obvious bureaucracy that follows its own rules, which is a nice touch of realism while allowing for even more plot threads.


The basic plot is that Keles and Jorim Anturasi, the grandsons of the world's most famous mapmaker, are sent on voyages to discover more of the world so their granfather can improve on his maps. While all of this is going on, there are significant political machinations between two of the main powers in the world, and the world may be in danger from even darker forces. This goes on for a good 500 pages or so. The last few chapters, however, really throw a spanner in the works, as there are a number of sudden changes to set up the next book. Overall, it was good and I enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing where things go next.

Hot Times in Bluesville

So, much has happened with my beloved Blues over the past few weeks. The old coach, Mike Kitchen, was fired, and a new coach brought in. I like Mike, I thought he was a good guy. Unfortunately, none of the players wanted to win while playing for him, so out he goes. But it turns out that maybe it wasn't the coach after all, as the Note has dropped another two games after Kitchen got fired. Hey, maybe my boys just suck again this year. Unfortunately, that is looking more and more like what the situation really is.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Terrible Thursday

Yesterday was one of the worst days I have had in a while. It started out innnocently enough. I got up a little earlier than normal so I could get to work at a good time, and I got there a little after 7 A.M. I worked for a few hours, getting all ready to tackle my day (which was going to involve lots of audit documentation writing), when I get a migraine headache. It's not too bad, so I pop 3 Excedrin and hope that the drugs will work for me. The headache starts to go away, and then I lose my network connection. The entire room I was working in lost connection. Since we use electronic workpapers on my current project, that is bad. I need to access the online "file room" to access my work. Over the next hour, the network comes up for maybe 5 minutes, so nothing is happening.

My team leader takes this moment to start sending me emails saying that the work I did the previous day isn't visible in the "file room," and the people I am auditing on Friday are getting all snarky about it. Since I have no network access, it isn't like I can even check and see if what they are saying is true or not. I also have a meeting in the afternoon for which I need network access to run the teleconferencing software. My headache is getting worse, so I decide to head home so I can at least access the network and check email.

When I get home I find I can access email, but the "file room" is down, and I can't access it at all. Everyone else in the world seems to be able to access it (I literally called at least 8 people), but I can't get to it. Eventually I had my team lead copy down the information I needed into a spreadsheet so I could do my audit work, but by 4PM I was totally shot from all of the stress of just trying to access my files. Why can't they give us software and tools that work? And why could everyone else see the files and I couldn't? Crazy. Everything worked fine today, so who knows what was really going on. I just hope I don't have another day like that anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Brett Hull Night

So last night was Brett Hull night, when the Blues retired Brett's number 16 for all time. I missed the very beginning of the ceremony because I had to work late (my supervisor called literally as I was walking to the door), but I was there for all of the important parts. Brett gave a good speech, and it was just as good a ceremony as when they retired Al MacInnis' number at the end of last season. Actually, it was pretty much the same ceremony. It was cool that Bobby Hull was there, and he enjoyed himself razzing the local fans about how he played for CHICAGO, which always drew a chorus of boos, which just made him laugh. I'll bet the Hulls have had some interesting family gatherings while Brett was playing here.

After a great ceremony, I got to watch a horrible game. That may have been the worst hockey performance I have ever seen (by St. Louis; Detroit played well), including the minor league and high school games I have seen in my life. Seriously depressing. The Blues couldn't even pass, and they were always out of synch, almost never having anybody in proper position the entire 60 minutes. I actually left after the second period, as I just couldn't take it anymore. Still, the retirement ceremony was great, and even though Brett Hull is somewhat of a jerk, his performance on the ice was deserving of this honor, so I am glad I was there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

By the Sword

By the Sword by Richard Cohen, 2003, Modern Library

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the seminal modern work on the history of fencing. This book is not really about how to fence, but about its history and many of the colorful characters that have taken up steel over the millenium. For not being an experienced author, Mr. Cohen does an admirable job of covering the subject in a thorough, and thoroughly readable, manner. The stories in here touch on many subjects, from the samurai of Japan to ancient duelling practices, to modern Olympic fencing champions.

One should note, however, that while all of these subjects are included in the book, this book is really about fencing, and not swordsmanship (or swordsmen) in general. The book's subtitle is "A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions." This isn't completely accurate, however, as the gladiators get a page or so, the musketeers get one chapter, and samurai get a few paragraphs and one good story about Miyamoto Musashi. Swashbuckling gets a chapter on swordfighting in movies, but most of the book is about fencing in the modern sense. As an experienced fencing champion, obviously the author knows much about this subject, but I must admit that I was expecting a more broad-based discussion of swordfighting over the years, which isn't what this book is really about. I must also note that the book is rather long, and especially towards the end there is just too much detail for a gneralist to take on all of the travails of fencing over the last 50 years. I just don't care enough, I guess.

That aside, the first half of the book is marvelous, touching on such disparate topics as medieval dueling practices, ancient Japanese codes of honor, and why what you see of swordfighting in movies is pretty much all wrong. I really enjoyed the discussions of how different swordfighting techniques evolved over the years, and how each European country tended to develop its own unique styles, even favoring special weapons designed for those styles. If more swordfighting was discussed in schools, the boys at least would likely show more of an interest in history. Pretty much everybody at least knew something of dueling a few hundred years ago, and this book has helped me to understand why that was and how it played into overall society. So, in the end this is a good book, but it is somewhat too long and too exculsively focused on fencing in the end.

In This RPG

Can't ... stop ... laughing ...

Home, Sweet Home

Well, I made it safely back to St. Louis today. I had to spend an hour getting 6 inches of sleet off of my car, and the entire neighborhood was out at the grocery store when I stopped by on my way home, but I made it and I am now here and in no mood to leave. Because I was arriving so late in the afternoon I ended up cancelling my evening plans, so I have found myself with nothing to do. But wait! Is that a hockey game on TV? It is! Must watch...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stuck in Seattle

Well, at this point I am supposed to be at my own home in St. Louis, but instead I am in Seattle, at the airport Hilton, since American Airlines cancelled my flight. I don't blame them, as calls home to my parents and my brother confirmed that the situation is really quite bad back in the Lou. So, even though I am stuck in Seattle, the weather is good and I'm not flirting with death trying to drive on icy roads. So, yeah, stuck without a car at the hotel, so I'm blogging on a Friday night. I should also mention that I am missing my Firm's holiday party tonight, but sometimes there just isn't anything you can do about it. I am in a pretty good mood, overall, which is a nice change from the past when a situation like this would have stressed me out like crazy. Instead, I was nice and relaxed the entire way. And props to my American Express travel assistant for booking me on a first class seat tomorrow to get home, which should make the flight smooth, at least.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Freezing in Seattle

This week finds me in Seattle, WA. I flew in Monday morning, so I was around for all of the snow that came in Monday night. I was around last night when it was 15 degrees waiting outside for the hotel shuttle, and I will be around tonight when it snows again. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that I didn't bring appropriate clothing for such cold weather. Definitely not much fun, though I have to admit that in Bellevue where I am staying the weather was never that bad. Maybe an inch of snow. We'll see if we get more than that tonight.

I am trying to enjoy what should be my last out of town business trip for the year. There are a lot of other PwC people out here with me so we have pretty large groups going everywhere. I am staying at the Hilton in Bellevue, which is quite nice. My room is pretty big, so I have lots of room for doing my exercises. Some hotel rooms are really small and cramped, but the Hilton is working out well. Their restaurant could be better, though. I wasn't really impressed with it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Giving Thanks

I had a good Thanksgiving holiday. I spent ~3 days in the Kansas part of the KC area visiting with family. I have 7 aunts and uncles and 10 immediate cousins in my Mom's family, not counting my cousins children, so there are lots of people to see. I also worked on staining my deck, which is now complete and awesome looking, and other such projects. I also got somewhat caught up on my reading, which is good, as I was falling woefully behind. This week I am flying to Seattle for business, so that should give me some more time to catch up on my reading, as I have always had a hard time working on airplanes, and I don't even have much that I could do on the plane in the first place, except for a couple performance evaluations that I really need to write.

Anyhoo, it was a good holiday. I played games (and won them all!) and ate food and worked on the house and lounged around. I also visited my brother and sister-in-law's church yesterday, Windsor Crossing. It is one of those non-denominational, "seeker-oriented" churches based on the Willow Creek model. It was interesting. A little different from what I am used to, but not too much. An interesting experience, and they definitely seem to have no trouble finding top-notch musicians to lead worship.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Rams are Losers

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!

You know it is a bad season when the San Francisco 49ers have a better winning record than you do. Shoot, the Niners are 5 and 5! It is the year of miracles!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Success

So the eBay auctions I was running last week were very successful. After eBay and PayPal take their cut, I will clear over $250 in revenue, which is great. Yes, I have already made plans for how most of it will be spent. :) I spent most of last evening boxing and packaging all of the items and will be making a huge post office run this evening to mail most of it out. I have a stack of boxes that is about 4 feet tall to have mailed. Have I mentioned that making money is fun? Because it is.

Other than that things have been pretty quiet, which is usually how I like things. I played some Shadowrun on Saturday with the guys, and on Sunday I went to my first Blues game of the season, and watched my boys beat Edmonton 5-3. They have played really lousy over the past couple weeks, but they played quite well on Sunday and it was a joy to get to be there. My seat this year is in section 110, lower bowl behind the goal where the Blues attack twice, so I definitely have it good this year. My next game is in 3 weeks when the Blues retire Brett Hull's jersey, so that should be an excellent game.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The obligatory election post

So, big changes are going down in Washington. Or, at least, the parties in control of Congress look to change. Whether this will lead to significant legislative change is open to debate. Democrats tend to like higher taxes (or, at least, higher inflows of cash) and bigger government, and the Republican congress over the last six years has overseen huge inflows of cash (mainly due to increased tax revenues) and a huge increase in the size of government. That last point traditionally isn't a Republican strength, so I'm not sure how much the Democrats will really change.

Truth be told, I voted for Claire McCaskill on Tuesday. I have nothing against Jim Talent, but I am a small-government conservative, and the current batch of Republican leaders were very much not in line with my thinking, so my vote was less of a pro-McCaskill vote and more of an anti-Republican leadership vote. Other than that, most of the positions I voted for were losers. Todd Akin won, but Sandra Thomas lost (she was really underfunded in comparison to Sue Montee), the stem cell amendment passed, the tobacco tax amendment failed, and the Valley Park-district property tax increase passed.

I take solace in the fact that national Republican leadership was really quite lousy, and seeing them out the door isn't causing me any pain and suffering. Seeing Democrats in charge may cause pain and suffering, but only if they treat their leadership period as an opportunity for endless recriminations and political payback. If they are serious about responsible government, then God bless 'em, as they would have to try really hard to be lousier than the latest Republican leadership.

And for the record, the "mainstream media" (whatever that means, but that is the term everyone is using these days) is saying this whole election was a referendum on Iraq, but I think that is only a minor part of the whole picture. Republicans had become so corrupt that for many of us red-blooded Republicans votes for Democrats were in the books for the first time in years. Look at Virginia: exit polls show that ~4,000 die-hard republicans voted for Webb, which was more than the margin by which he beat Allen. We just got sick of dealing with our own team, so we decided to help them lose to teach them a lesson. Will they learn it? Only time will tell.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Making the Money

For the last few months I have known that it was time to dig through my comic boxes, identify the duplicate books and stuff I don't want anymore, and sell it all on eBay. So, what did I do this last weekend? I went through the boxes of my old games and put those items up on eBay, instead. As someone who has sold over 100 items on eBay over the past few years, I can safely say that it is a major rush to put something up for auction and watch the price get bid up. It can also be rather depressing to put something up for auction and after a week realize that nobody wanted it. However, I am having pretty good results with my latest auction, and stuff hasn't even been up for 2 days yet, so I hope things will turn out pretty good and I will make some good Christmas spending money. If you want to see what I am auctioning off (old minis, board games, and some old RPG books from back in the day), click here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Quiet Week

It has been a pretty quiet week, in general. I was at a brand new client this week, which is only a 15 minute drive from my house, so it has been nice and no-stress going to and from work. Work has been good, as I learn the Real Estate process at this company. All told, I am feeling quite relaxed and happy with things. I am in one of those situations where I have been doing a lot of one of my hobbies (in this specific case, playing computer games), but that is waning and I haven't yet dived into the next thing yet, so I feel like I have lots of time to take care of business, like raking leaves or general clean-up stuff around the house.

Another aspect of the downtime is that one of my old hobbies, which I have not entertained for years, is threatening to make a comeback. Yes, all of those wargaming miniatures in the basement have been on my mind this week. It all started when I got the idea to buy some minis for the RPG game I am running and have a professional paint them up like the characters in the game. In doing that, I was perusing the Reaper site, as well as The Miniatures Page, and man there is some really cool stuff out there. I also found my old Kill Zone game and realized that the minis in there would work well for the Shadowrun game I play in, and I am now threatened with dropping hundreds of dollars on cool miniatures that I will most likely never use. *sigh* It's all so cool in my mind, though. It is probably a very good thing that I am back on my budget austerity plan after the summer, or I would have already dropped $150 on miniatures games this week.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sports Roundup

Alright, so it was a pretty eventful weekend for St. Louis/Missouri sports, at least for me. The obvious component of that is that the Cardinals won the World Series, defeating the Tigers four games to one on Friday evening. Needless to say, the town has gone bonkers. This is probably the most rabid baseball fan base of any place I have lived, so when the Cardinals win it is a big deal. Conversely, when the lose it is also a big deal, so exorcising the demons of two years ago is feeling very good for many people. And, for those of you why wonder how the Cardinals, who barely finished the season over .500 and barely got into the playoffs, could actually win it all, you must consider that this is essentially the same team from the past few years. The big difference is that rather than having a good stretch run and having everyone get injured right at the end of the season, and thus not having them for the playoffs, everyone got injured 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the season this year. The result was that we had a lousy end to the season, but everyone got healthy for the post season, and thus the entire team was available for the post season for the first time in a number of years. So, yes, good times.

Then on Saturday I drove out to Columbia to attend the Mizzou/Oklahoma football game, which was essentially a travesty. The tigers did not play well, and frankly deserved to lose. I was at the game with a bunch of coworkers, and we decided to leave the game right before half-time and start the tailgating early, which frankly was more fun that staying to watch the game would have been. I also got to see my friend Angela, which was cool.

Lastly, I just got off the phone with my account rep. and I have purchased a limited season package for the Blues this year. It was a close-drawn thing, but they are actually winning games this year and I just couldn't restrain myself anymore. The package included the night when they will retire Brett Hull's number, and I couldn't really miss that evening.

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Comic Reviews

New comic reviews are up at my website.

Someone Actually Reads this Thing

Yesterday I recieved in the mail a thank you letter from a staff person at the Civil War Preservation Trust, a battlefield preservation group I belong to. The letter thanked me for my recent contribution. The odd/cool thing, though, was the hand-written note on the lower right side that referred to me as "Midwestern Wanderer." I have never actually written an email to CWPT, nor have I ever written about the CWPT on this blog before, but somehow this fellow found out that I was the blogger using that moniker. Crazy, man. Yet more evidence that when you put yourself out on the Internet pretty much anybody can find you.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Phule's Company

Phule's Company by Robert Asprin, 1990, Ace Books

I picked up this book on the cheap at a local book fair. I am somewhat familiar with the author's previous work through the Thieves' World series he helped edit, but that was it. I figured that this book would be a good way to sample some of his other work. In the end, I must admit that I was underwhelmed. There just wasn't really anything here to capture my interest. There were some interesting characters, but they weren't actually doing anything interesting, and because of that I found it very hard to finish the book, as I simply always had something better to do.

The basic plot is that our protagonist, Willard Phule, is put in charge of a bunch of washouts on a backwater world. He whips the unit into shape, gains face in a contest with an army unit, and fends off an alien "invasion." The invasion and battle with the army unit take up 40 pages, though, so we have a good 190 pages of Phule's interaction with the members of his unit. I found this very boring, and it was almost like the author was secretly writing a management book about getting the best out of your people by focusing on their strenghts. There wasn't any real action, there wasn't any adventure, it was just funny little stories about these quirky people in the unit. Very much not my thing. Other stories in the series are supposed to include more action, but I doubt I will be giving them a try anytime soon.

Livin' Large

So I haven't really written anything in a week. I would claim that I have been too busy to write, but that would be a lie. The truth is, I have been on vacation and have been not spending much time on the Internet at all. Some time was spent working on my deck, and I also have gotten around to finishing off a book I should have finished reading months ago. I also took the opportunity to go to the Jars of Clay show last night, which was good, though the drums were miced so high you couldn't understand what Dan was singing if you didn't already know the songs. The highlight of the show, however, was one of the opening acts, Matt Wertz. It has been a long time since I have seen someone have that much fun putting on a show. I got the sneaking suspicion that he has that much fun all the time, which is so totally not fair.

In other news, I have ordered a new pair of eyeglass today. My current pair is now 2 1/2 years old, and my eyes have continued to deteriorate, so it was time to upgrade my prescription. When I got my last pair of glasses, I was on Davis Vision for insurance, and my glasses were awesomely inexpensive. $135 for glass with UV treatment, scratch resistant coating, and Transitions tinting? Oh, yeah. Now I am on Eye Med, and let's just say that it is costing me noticeably more to get basically the same lenses. Like, over $100 more. Thanks, PwC HR cost cutters! Thanks a lot!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Go Crazy, Folks


So I went to the Mets/Cardinals playoff game in St. Louis last night. I had never been to a playoff baseball game before, so it was quite an experience. I was not prepared for how loud the place got. People were going nuts over every little thing that happened. Yes, some of it was due to the case of beer that each person (on average) was consuming, but everyone was very much into the game. Considering that the Cardinals won, there were many happy people at the ball park last night.

On a critical basis, the Cardinals played a very, very good game. Weaver once again pitched above his usual ability, and the bullpen kept the Mets scoreless. They threatened in the 8th, but were unable to get anybody home due to some key strikeouts by the Cardinals' relief pitchers.

It was a good time, but I didn't get home until after Midnight, and that made my 5AM wakeup time more painful than usual.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Games of All Kinds

Friday night I went to a charity poker tournament that my company was running. We all pitched in $20 to a local charity that helps people with mental handicaps, and then we got 50 chips to play in the tournament. I lived up to my standard, being the 7th guy out at my table of 10. I didn't make it to the championship round, but I made a good showing for myself, which is really all I can expect to do, considering that some of my coworkers play at least once a month at the local casinos and know poker strategies way better than I do. It was a good time, though.

Saturday morning my Dad came over and helped me work on my garage door, which had gotten out of whack. That is one of the benefits of living in the same area as the rest of your family; you can get your Dad to come over and use his experience to help you fix your problems. It turns out that I probably need to have part of my garage door replaced. This helps explain why I haven't saved much money this year: my car repair ($1,500), my dental work ($750), fixing the A/C unit ($375), and who knows how much the door will cost. But as my financial advisor told me, at least I didn't have to put it all on my credit card, as I have the money to pay for it.

I then spent Saturday afternoon playing Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, the latest expansion for the Warhammer 40K RTS computer game. It is great, but the original game was great, so I wasn't expecting much different. They did add a new campaign game that is fun, though, so I have been enjoying playing the game again. Definitely one of the best RTS games ever. Saturday evening was another Shadowrun session. I didn't do too well, to be honest with you. I think my character isn't quite up to snuff. He is the first character I have ever designed for the system, though, so I didn't know all the ways to properly bend the rules to make him super powerful. I'll eventually get him there, if he lives. For now, though, I get to watch everyone else do cool stuff while my guy gets shot. Yeah! So much fun!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dave Checketts Should Guarantee More Wins


So, the Blues won their first game of the season last night, which was also their first home game of the season, after starting 0-2-1 on their West coast trip. The new owner, Dave Checketts had guaranteed that the team would win their first home game back in August. Considering that they didn't even score their first goal until over 56 minutes into the game (that's less than 4 minutes left, for those of you who don't know hockey), he was probably getting a little nervous. Sure enough, though, Lee Stempniak scored 2 goals in the remainder of the game, including the winner in the shootout, so secure the victory. That kid has turned out to be better than expected, and was probably the only real bright spot to come out of last season.

So, now that we know we can win a game, let's win some more, eh?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Yeah, that sounds about right (again)

An amazingly insightful post was put up yesterday at Thomas P. M. Barnett's blog discussing the long-term strategic scenario we find ourselves in dealing with all our lovely "axis of evil" and how badly the current administration is botching it. Key item:
In East Asia, would I have a Six-Party forum on North Korea? No. I'd have an X-party forum on creating an East Asian NATO, within which I'd most deliberately set China up as the mainland mainstay. I'd get them as comfortable as possible strategically, and then I'd talk about North Korea with them within that context. I wouldn't keep up the
Taiwan charade. I wouldn't invite Japan to join my defense guarantee on that. Frankly, I'd tell the whole region that I'm seeking strategic alliance with Beijing and that I want them in on that most important discussion. And when Kim got nervous and jumped up and down, I'd look him in the eye and say, "Don't worry, we're going to get around to you soon enough." And then I'd let Kim's desperation and paranoia set the timetable for the rest of what needed to be done to create an East Asian NATO. But I would most definitely lock in China at today's prices, and travel through Beijing to get to Pyongyang--at a speed of China's choosing but enabled by my rapid embrace of China as a strategic ally.

Yeah, it doesn't jive with much current political thinking that China is the new Soviet Union, but they don't really act like the Soviet Union so why treat them as such? Check out the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Change is In the Air


Yes, friends, autumn is upon us. My favorite time of year, as the weather changes and winter approaches. I have always liked autumn, partly because of the wonderful tree colors, but also partly because when everything dies my allergies get better. It's a "win, win" situation! the photo up front is of the tree in my front yard. I find it interesting how it goes red on the south side before the north side changes. I also like how it turns yellow before it turns red, so I get all the fun autumn colors in one tree. Just don't ask me what kind of tree it is, as I don't know.

Another good thing that is happening this autumn is due to the fact that I am no longer in the Systems & Process Assurance group at work. See, back in the old days, from September to December was "busy season," where we were expected to have at least 55 chargeable hours per week. If you don't count weekends, that is 11 hours per day, not counting any administrative stuff you may have to do. To put it bluntly, it sucked really hard. Now that I am in Internal Audit Services, however, I don't have a busy season, so I just get to work really hard all the time! Uh, I mean, I don't have to meet an artifical chargeable hours limit. Anyway, however you look at it, it means less stress, and that is good.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Documentation

So, I seem to have left my laptop power adapter at the client yesterday. No big, I can just get a new one from our IT guys, as I am working in my own office today (a shocking change, I realize). So 5 seconds of conversation gets me a new power adapter, wonderfully boxed and packaged with lots of Chinese labeling (it is a Lenovo, after all). I'm not sure that I needed to know that my new adapter was tested and packed in the Futian Free Trade Zone Branch of International Information Products (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd., but there you go.

The thing I found most interesting, though, was the User's Guide. Come on, people, it's a power adapter. You plug the two-prong end into the wall and the one-prong end into your computer. Do I really need a 49 page (literally) user guide for a power adapter? No, I do not. To be fair, the user guide is in just about every language in the EU, as well as Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Russian, Japanese and something else I don't recognize, but it's a power adapter. The half-page visual instructions on p. 3 were plenty fine all on their own. I honestly have to wonder why they would actually print that large user manual for a power adapter. It seems like a waste to me, but maybe it is possible their customers are so ignorant they can't plug something in without help.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The New Year has Begun

Yes, I realize that the calendar year begins on January 1, and Lunar new year is in late January or early February, but does that really matter? No, it does not. What matters is that hockey season started yesterday. I watched part of the first game, but not the whole thing, and it looks like I missed some real excitement. Ah, well, such is life. I can't watch everything. I also didn't re-up for partial season tickets this year with the Blues as I didn't like any of the packages they were offering. I'm sure I'll make it to a few games, though. I'll probably do 5 or 6, that is about the right frequency for me.

Is What You are Doing Important?

The ever insightful Seth Godin had a great post today, about how busy we all are and how meaningless it can get. I suffer from this malady, myself, as I believe most people do. Yes, I have a lot of stuff to do today, but how much of it is really important in the long run, and how much of it just seems important at the time? And how much do I let my illusion of busyness keep me from really connecting with people around me? Probably a lot, to be honest with you, and that likely isn't a good thing. When I find out how to counter all of the busyness, I'll let you know. :)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

(Not) Reaping What you Sow

So the Washington Post is reporting that farms and orchards in California are not able to harvest all of their crops due to a shortage of labor. Specifically, of immigrant labor, often times non-documented and illegal. I can't say that I am too upset over all of it, as I see it as a maturing of the labor market, as many of the people that formerly did agricultural work part time during harvest season are now getting full-time jobs in construction or hospitality that pays more overall. This is pretty basic economics, where people are assumed to take jobs where they can make the most money. I agree with the farmers that there should be some sort of ability for non-residents to come to the USA part time and legally work at various jobs, but it is also true that if you can't find people to do the work, you must raise your wages to attract people to actually do the work. Yes, this might mean you have to raise prices on your customers, to cover your costs. Yes, this might mean that your fruit isn't really cost-competitive against fruit from, say, Chile. OK, deal with it. Tell me why I would want to buy your fruit, anyway. What makes it better? Is it? If not, then your choice is clear, you just don't want to face it. Historically, food in the US these days is really inexpensive, as a portion of total expenses we have. Maybe this historical aberration is getting ready to end?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pledge Drive Season Again

Yes, folks, it is once again time for the KDHX pledge drive. I volunteered again yesterday, answering phones from 8 AM to Noon. A good time was had by all, and I got to meet a couple more show hosts that I didn't meet in the spring. After that I went to my folks house and celebrated my brother's 29th birthday. His birthday was actually 7 weeks ago, but this was the first time he was back in town, so there you go. I got him a soundtrack CD from a Japanese animated TV show (look for the review soon on Anime Dream!) and a reproduction of an ancient Greek painted plate, with some god or something on it, as you can see below. Mark likes that kind of thing usually, so I figured it was worth a shot. Anyway, Happy Birthday, bro!

New Comic Reviews

New comic reviews (yes, I know it's been like 2 months) are up at my website.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

$1.989

I drove past a gas station last night that was selling regular unleaded gasoline for $1.989. One month ago it was $2.789. That is an 80 cent drop in 31 days, which seems rather remarkable to me. Could it be that the price from one month ago wasn't really justified? Could it be that all of the oil companies are in league with Evil RepublicansTM and gas is only cheaper because of the upcoming elections? Or could it be that St. Louis, MO simply rocks that hard? Oh, yes, we can rock <$2 gas very hard, indeed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Foo

In many ways this was not a banner weekend. I have been fighting some sort of minor malady all weekend, and it has really sapped my energy badly. I was even running a minor fever this morning so I didn't go to church. Hopefully I will feel better tomorrow so I can go to work, as I have a lot to do. A whole lot to do, actually. I did get some stuff accomplished this weekend, just not everything I had planned. I got a lot of cleaning done, which is good as I was behind on that (this is what happens when you are out of town for 5 weeks). Still, I didn't get everything done, as I was just too tired. I also really haven't been hungry, which is a bad sign, as that usually means I am sick. So, yeah, let's just say I'm sick and leave it at that.

In other news, two of my buddies that I game with have picked up Guild Wars, so I installed my game on my new computer and I have played that a bit. Really good game, and not having played it for about 7 months means that I am getting to enjoy it all over again, as it has been long enough that it doesn't feel boring anymore. I was supposed to play with Roy tonight, but he never showed up. Ah, well, he does have two kids so maybe they are being ornery and he is punishing them or something. I know his son, and that is most definitely a possibility.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

The NHL pre-season has started, just a few weeks until the regular season begins. Let's see if St. Louis still sucks this year, eh?

The greatest uniting element is a common foe

Republicans and Democrats like to fight over everything, but they sure seem to circle the wagons when an outsider begins taking shots, as CNN reports. Yeah, we've got our problems, but at least we aren't destroying our economy and economic infrastructure in the name of "fairness."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I Travel Too Much

So I got back this morning from LA. Yes, you read that right, "this morning." I got to bed at 1:30 AM and then woke up at 5:10 AM to go to work. I also didn't sleep that well. Ah, nothing like 3 hours of sleep to prep you for your day. I was out in LA for a couple days to help get that audit off ot a good start, but I am now back home in St. Louis working on the part of the project that is in town. After this job is done, I think my next project is local, as well. If so, then I probably won't have to travel through the end of the year. Considering how crazy air travel rules have become, that is probably a good thing.

A Bright Idea

The recent issue of Fast Company magazine had an article about flourescent lightbulbs that I found very interesting. Specifically, the fact that WalMart was really pushing them, and thereby driving down prices on flourescent bulbs, was very interesting. In fact, it was interesting enough that last weekend I drove to WalMart and dropped $30+ on some flourescent bulbs, which I have used to replace 8 of the bulbs in my house, including all of the living room lights and the lights in the guest bedroom. In the process, I have learned some things.

1. Flourescent bulbs are not exactly the same size as regular filament bulbs, and therefore you need to make sure that what you are buying actually fits the space you have. The larger wattage flourescent bulbs are larger than the lower wattage bulbs, whereas with standard bulbs they are all the same size whatever the wattage.
2. Flourescent bulbs are rated by their equivalent wattage, such that a "40" bulb is actually a 10 watt bulb, but gives the equivalent light of a standard 40 watt bulb. According to GE, anyway. My experience is that it is not equivalent to a 40, but is lighter, probably a 30 to 35. Since the actual wattage is so low, you could just buy the next rating up without any fire hazard, to get the equivalent light as your old bulbs.
3. Due to the difference in technology involved, flourescent bulbs take a few seconds to light up after you flip the switch, rather than than the instant on of traditional bulbs.

I still can't believe that they actually got me into a WalMart to buy something. I haven't done that in almost 3 years.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bountiful Savings

One of my favorite anime distributors is The Right Stuf, a large mail-order operation out of Iowa that also produces and distributes a select few anime titles on their own. Interestingly enough, I first became aware of them when I lived in Arlington, VA and they would send me catalogs addressed to a previous occupant of the apartment. Anyway, they are being positively insane this month, and are offering a deal where you can get 10 Geneon titles for $50, or 25 titles for $100. Yes, you can get DVDs for as little as $4 a pop. Needless to say, I took advantage of the offer, and am now eagerly awaiting my 25 shiny new discs. This is a great way for me to check out series that I otherwise wouldn't be viewing, as some things are interesting, but not worth the cover price the company is asking for. But $4? That is as much as a rental at the local Blockbuster, so my risk is essentially nil, especially when you consider that I can always recoup some cost on a title I don't like by moving it on eBay. I really don't know how anyone is making money off this deal, though.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stuck in Sacramento

Well, I have screwed up. When I booked my travel about 3 weeks ago for this trip, I booked myself on a flight out tomorrow afternoon, because I wanted to have plenty of time for our work here. Well, our work is done, and it is Thursday afternoon, so I could have flown out on Friday morning, or even tonight, but I can't actually find a flight with availability. So, since I can't properly estimate the time it will take to do our work, I am stuck in Sacramento without much to do. Maybe I can find a museum to go to in the morning or something. At least I have a 400 page book with me to keep me entertained!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Twelve Kingdoms soundtrack review

My review of four soundtracks for the anime Twelve Kingdoms is up at Anime Dream. It was a lot of work, so check it out.

Sitting in the Sun

I am in Sacramento, CA this week, auditing another lockbox. My colleague and I add a full third to the population of the room the lockbox operates in, so we have been quite cramped. And we have been tired, as well. Yesterday I got up before 4PM, got cleaned up and dressed, and then drove to the airport, fromwhich we embarked on a 7 hour journey from Missouri to California. Interestingly enough, this guy on the flight to Sacramento had a bunch of us take roses and then give them to his girlfriend at the airport in Sacramento, after which he was going to propose. In the airport. With a bunch of strangers around. Maybe I'm just the most un-romantic man in America, but that seemed a little weird to me. Original, yes. Creative, sure. But not something I would do. Actually, the hilarious thing was that the young lady in question got confused and went to the wrong terminal, so 30+ of us were standing around with roses with nobody to give them to. I'm sure the guy felt like a moron, but it all worked out OK.

After that, my colleague Matt and I were completely wiped out. We made it until 3PM local time (5PM St. Louis time) and then headed to the hotel, where I promptly fell asleep for an hour. Then dinner, then back to bed before 9PM. At least I didn't miss much in the football game, as the Raiders sucked hard, which warms the cockles of my cold, dark heart. :)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Eat this Book

Eat this Book by Eugene H. Peterson, 2006, Eerdmans

For the second topic in Eugune Peterson's overview of spiritual theology, he touches on the practice of spiritual reading, or reading the Bible in the proper way, a way that brings you into God's presence and God's work in the world. In comparison to the first book in the series, this book is rather short, clocking in at less than 200 pages. Still, it's quality, not quantity, that counts. Luckily, the quality here is high.

The book is divided into three sections. First, the author gets at Bible reading in general, why it is important, what our real goal should be in reading the Bible, that kind of thing. It was good, but not groundbreaking. Just basic, common sense stuff that I suspect many people need a refresher (or original expsorure) on. The second section gets deeper, beginning with the warning to "let the reader beware" and some cautions about reading too much or too little into scripture, or for taking it out of context. This is good stuff, but once again, not ground breaking. What was ground breaking for me was the last part, the discussion about translations of the Bible. Knowing that the author did most of the work on The Message, a modern-English translation of the Bible, I feared that it would turn into an info-mercial of sorts. Luckily, this turned out to be the best part of the book, with some really great stories of translation, what it means for us that the Bible we read is not the original text, and some warnings about improperly handled translations.

The last section is probably worth the price of the book by itself, but since you get the whole thing for the same price, I highly recommend picking this little guy up. It isn't long, but it will have you thinking long and hard about your Bible before you are done with it.

Busy Days

Wow, that was a busy week. On Monday I painted the guest bathroom and did other cleaning and organizing stuff. On Tuesday I flew back to detroit and ended up working a lot. I even put in one day where I worked over 13 straight hours. Crazy stuff. At least I got done everything that I could. It is one of those projects where a dozen different people roll on and then roll back off two or three weeks later, so I can't feel too much ownership of the work. My next project has lots of ownership, though, as I have been on it since inception and I know it just as well as anybody.

I also had an international experience this week, as I was working with a fellow who is from South Africa. He was in the States for Detroit to learn some American accounting rules and help out on an audit this fall. He was literally two days off the plane when I met him, and we got to talk about all sorts of stuff I take for granted, like how huge our pickup trucks are. Care, too, but Chris was really weirded out by the huge trucks. We also pointed him towards some different grocery stores, and he commented that Whole Foods is "like a traditional South African market." I'm not sure what that really means, never having been in a South African market, but he seemed to be happy with the fact that he could buy foods without all of the sugar we add to everything. Chris' main goal was to not gain weight while he was in America. We all wished him luck on that one, as we make it rather hard to be healthy, sometimes.

Today I finally decided on the paint for the master bathroom in my house and bought some, so now I am ready to paint the final room in my house and be done with it. Lord willing and the creek don't rise, that will happen next weekend. I also bagged and boarded the last couple months' worth of comics and got them organized in my storage boxes. As part of this, I identified about 10 books that I am missing from various series, and a quick trip to Mile High Comics got that problem dealt with. As a collector, let me tell you, it feels really good to plug holes in my collection.

And tomorrow is the Andrew Peterson/Michael Card concert! I'm going with my bro Christopher. We actually do stuff together like maybe 3 times a year so it's pretty cool that he can go. I haven't seen Andy in probably 4 years, so it should be a real good time. Square Peg powers... activate!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day

Well, I got back from Detroit just fine, and things are going okay on my project there. We're not ahead of schedule (based on what schedule there is, which isn't much), but we're not behind schedule, either. I'll take it. This weekend has been pretty good, actually, if somewhat busy. After wrapping up an epic game of Galactic Civilizations II in time to let my dad borrow the game, I have done some window washing and other such house-related chores, and I'm going to paint the guest bathroom tomorrow. I've lived here about 22 months now, so it is time to actually get the final rooms painted, I think.

For the windows I bought that special spray bottle of Windex that you attach to your garden hose. It actually did reach the second floor windows, which was impressive. Sometimes you can't trust the TV ads for those products, but it did get the job done for me. Actually, I had let the windows go so long before cleaning them that I think I need to give them all another go around on the outside. Maybe once the painting is done.

I have also watched a couple anime movies this weekend, Crusher Joe and Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Both were enjoyable, though I think I liked Lupin a little better. Joe definitely had its moments but it was rather weird at times, as well. Lupin was just straight-up action, and tons of fun. Even though it was a Lupin III film, it has Hayao Miyazaki's fingerprints all over it, as many of the characters totally look like his designs. Good times.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Shadows of Sanctuary

Shadows of Sanctuary edited by Robert Lynn Asprin, 1981, Ace Fantasy

More Thieves' World! Yes, I figured it was time to get to the third book in the series, so I took it off the shelf and read it over a couple business trips. It has the same consistency as the second volume in the series, Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, but actually ends up as a better book because the individual stories are better. Where the second volume was all over the map (literally), the stories here focus more directly on Sanctuary itself, which helps focus things in.

The stories here still have the dark, oppressive mood of many of the typical stories in these anthologies, but I did find that a few stories actually broke that mold and went in different directions. A Gift in Parting, by the editor, focuses not on the criminal element in the city, but on the fishing community. Specifically, the focus is on one family, in which the eldest son is preparing to leave home and find his fortune. Through some events, the father finds a way to give his son the real gift that he needs to find success in life. The whole story has a nice, feel-good element to it that is often missing from these stories. In a simliar, but different, vein we have The Rhinoceros and the Unicorn. This story focuses on a local artist and how he gets wrapped up in events that could either destroy him or set his fortunes for life. The nice thing is that it involves someone doing their regular job, but the events he gets involved him help him to notice what is truly valuable in life.

The other stories are generally good, though I found the first story, Looking for Satan, to be somewhat ponderous and preachy. Overall, though, this was a pretty good book, and maybe the best one in the series so far.

The Castle of Cagliostro

Serious anime fans know that Hayao Miyazaki didn't just show up one day, found Studio Ghibli, and proceed to create all of these great movies. Like all people, he started from the ground up, working as an animator on early films and TV shows for different studios. The film that really got him attention as a serious creator for the first time was The Castle of Cagliostro, a Lupin the Third movie (based on the manga by the creator known as "Monkey Punch") about Lupin's adventures in a fictional European country. As usual, our thief is after some fantastic treasure but ends up chasing girls, instead, which some would say is actually another kind of treasure, so there you go. It is interesting to see Miyazaki put his fingerprints on another creator's work, as his more famous films were usually his own original creations.

In case you are wondering why I am writing about this, today is the day that Manga Entertainment is releasing a Special Edition of the movie on DVD in North America. I find it interesting, from my closet marketer perspective, that they are copying the Disney/Studio Ghibli releases as closely as they can in the cover art, with the red banner up top and the single image of the main characters on the front (as you can see below). Probably not a bad idea for those stores that put all the Miyazaki films side-by-side on the racks. Anyway, if you have an interest in the film this is your best bet for checking it out, as there as some solid extras on this edition of the movie, compared with the earlier release put out a number of years ago.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Someone Finally Said It

Many people don't like to admit that the world doesn't fit into their pre-conceived ideas, but sometimes you just have to face facts. The Brazen Careerist is facing facts right now. Like it or lump it, you have to deal with it.

We will send you to Detroit!

Yes, I find myself in Motown this week (and next, as well). I am helping with some SOX 404 work at an automotive manufacturing equipment supplier, which looks to be a barrel of laughs as nobody seems to have time to talk to me until Wednesday. Ah, well. That should give me lots of time to prepare for my meeting, eh?

This last weekend was fairly busy, but good. On Saturday I helped a friend get rid of his old washer and dryer and install a new set, I cleaned my basement, and I went to my older brother's birthday party. On Sunday I had another party as well as preparations for my Detroit trip. And I cleaned my front door and the filthy siding around my porch. I couldn't remember when I had last done that, and it looked like I maybe had never done it since I moved in, so I figured that was a sign that I should get to it. So, yeah, it looks like someone actually lives there now.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Back Home, for two days

My training is complete. Sorry for not posting all week, but we had limited access to the Internet during training and I they kept us quite busy so I didn't have the time to do any blogging. The training that I had was pretty good, over all. Some of the classes weren't very useful, but some were quite useful, indeed. The freebies from training weren't bad, either: Starbucks gift card, free T-shirt (we had choices, but since they were all stupid, it was a "lesser of two evils" situation), and free iPod. Yes, you saw that right. They gave us all free iPod Shuffles. I didn't want a Shuffle, though, I wanted something better. So, I was able to take it to my local Apple store and trade it in for $99 off of an iPod Nano. So, I have a new iPod Nano, 2G, that I am currently playing with. Not too shabby.

In other news, I will be in Detroit the next two weeks helping out another audit team on an automotive client. I will be auditing the sales cycle and the requisite accounting thereof. It shall be thrilling, I am sure.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back in Florida

Greetings from Florida, this time Orlando. I am here for the week as a participant in Advisory University, the annual training shindig for the group I transferred in to on July 1. I'm sure that some of the training sessions will be informative, but I suspect that the only real reason to have this every year is to have a big party every night and let people network and socialize with their colleagues from other offices. I've only been here a couple hours and I have alrady re-acquainted myself with some folks from our Chicago internal audit practice as well as meeting some consultants from Atlanta. I'm sure it will be more of the same as the week goes along. In fact, in a few minutes I am shutting down this computer and heading over to the big social hour party going on at the other end of the building. I'd be there already, but a man has to check his email at least once in the evening. :)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hot Stuff

Sorry for not posting for almost a whole week. I'd say that I was too busy, but that wouldn't be true. In fact, I took time off on Thursday and Friday as I just didn't have anything to do at work. so what have I been doing? Mainly spending too much time playing Galactic Civilizations II (did I mention how much fun it is to design new spaceships?), and working on some Tunnels & Trolls articles for a gaming magazine. Yes, I am back to messing around with the second-oldest fantasy RPG game in existence. Much fun, but I do lose track of time. One of the things that I like to do, other than playing games, is to make fun of the company I work for. It shall remain nameless in this post, but you can probably figure it out pretty easily. This last week was the annual "focus on Information Technology" campaign, entitle "US IT delivers hot stuff." To reinforce this slogan, they gave us all gift bags of "hot stuff," as you can see below.

This is the gift bag from the front...

...and this is the bag from the rear.

My favorite item in the bag was the jar of salsa, labeled "salsa" (the truth in advertising people strike again!) with no notation of who made it or where it was made. The label only says "salsa" and then lists the ingredients. That's it. Maybe it is mystery, communist salsa! Or maybe my company is so cheap that they wouldn't spend more than 10 cents on a jar of salsa. The Hot Tomales were good, though.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Electricity and Bugs

The weekend was a little more interesting than most. Friday afternoon I lost power, as the feeder line for my part of the county went down. I had been planning on paying my parents a surprise visit on Saturday afternoon, but since I had no power and therefore couldn't cook dinner on Friday, I decided to head over on Friday, instead. I live 20 miles from them, you would think I would see them more than once a month. Anyway, on Saturday I drove down to Shaw Nature Preserve in the morning and hiked around for 3 1/2 hours. I learned that when you get to the park at 7:30 AM, you get to be the guy that takes out all of the spiderwebs on the trails. I literally take out 30+ webs, and at times had spiders riding on me. That wasn't cool, but I did hike to the river for the first time, and that was neat. I got some good pictures. Another thing that wasn't cool are the five chiggers currently embedded in my ankles. I guess I didn't spray enough Off! on my shoes and socks.

Later on Saturday I went to my friend Art's house to play some Shadowrun, and then on Sunday was church and The Gathering, which was interesting enough. All told, a more active weekend than I usually have, but sometimes you gotta get out and do stuff, man.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Yo Joe!

We have a Trader Joe's in St. Louis now. When I lived in Virginia, there were a number of Trader Joe's stores around the area, and they were hugely popular. It is a quirky grocery store, at heart, but they produce a lot of their own products, and they have a number of unique organic and free trade foods available. The St. Louis store, on Manchester Blvd. just west of I-270, is small in comparison to what I am familiar with from their other stores, but I can still get Virgil's root beer there, so I really shouldn't complain.

In other "interesting grocery stores" news, I finally made it into a World Market yesterday, as well. Now that is an interesting store. My favorite were the bottles of Russian wine, with the lables completely in Russian, such that if you couldn't read the language you would have no idea what you were buying. I was able to get some blackcurrant juice there, however, so I shouldn't complain. Seriously, you just can't get blackcurrant at any of the local chains, so I'm glad I found a place that has it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Good Citizen Day

I am declaring that yesterday was Good Citizen day for me, as I gave blood at a Red Cross blood drive in my office building, and I voted in the Missouri Republican primary. My main concern there was that my pick, Sandra Thomas, get the nomination to run in November for the state auditor position. This makes sense because she is an auditor and a CPA, and therefore actually knows how to run an audit, as opposed to the usual politicans we get in such jobs. She may not win, as she was running neck and neck with her primary challenger and not all votes have been counted yet. We can hope, though.

And the blood giving was not much fun, as always. When you have a phobia of needles, giving blood is difficult. It is a good thing to do, though, and they like my blood because I have a consistently strong red blood cell count, so I try to give every few months. The things we do to help our fellow man.

We Are a Nation of Wusses

I don't always agree with Mike Celizic, but I usually do, and I totally agree with his latest article. International competitions are super important, and we should pursue them with all of our country's assets. This is what chapped my hide during the World Baseball Classic, when George "I'm a big crybaby" Steinbrenner told his players to not compete because they might get hurt. You can always get hurt when you play sports, true. But thank you, George, for not noticing that the USA, and other countries, should have access to its best players when playing on the world stage. Quit yer whinin' everybody, and learn to take a hit for the team.

Materialism

One of the things that I have noticed about myself as I have aged and matured is that my red-blooded American materialism has shifted form somewhat. I used to get very excited about Christmas and my birthday, as that meant people would be buying me stuff. I would prepare detailed lists of the items that I wanted as much as two months out from the event, so that my family had plenty of time to figure out what to get me. The last couple years, though, I haven't been able to muster much excitement about such things, however. In fact, I get more enjoyment now out of giving presents to other people, rather than receiving them. Crazy, I know.

I'm not sure why this is the case. I suspect it has two components. First, I have never been the kind of person that had to have the latest stuff. I have been happy for years to use second-hand kitchen equipment and furniture. In fact, I still have the old, natty couch that I have been talking about getting rid of for years. It is ugly, people. So why do I still have it? Because it is still super comfy and great for sleeping, and the $75 cover I bought for it makes it actually fit the decor in my home, so why buy a new one when what I have still works? I generally wait for stuff to break before I get rid of it, my home entertainment system being a notable exception, but I was buying a home at that time so spending money was the standard thing.

Every once in a while, though, I still get in the mood to buy things. Music is a good example of this. Back a few years ago, whenever I wanted an album, I would go out and buy it. I don't do that anymore, for reasons I don't fully understand. What ends up happening is that two or three times a year I get in the mood for new music, and I get a little crazy and buy a lot of stuff in one fell swoop. Case in point, over the last 3 days I have purchased 8 different albums (one of those actually being a 5 disc set) from Amazon and BMGmusic. When they arrive, I will enjoy an orgy or new music, and then won't buy anything else for months, probably not until the new Christmas music comes in vogue in November/December.

I can still be seduced by good design, but the end result is that I end up just eyeing the item for along time, probably never actually purchasing it. Here is a good case in point. It is a knife block, but the design is so different and compelling that I really want to buy one, even though I have no practical reason for doing so. I already have a knife block (that used to belong to a deceased grandmother) that works just fine. I can probably find a more practical use for the $125 it would cost to buy the new one. But man, is that thing awesome. Another awesome item I really want is this hat. This year I have been intentionally spending more time outdoors hiking and stuff, and a hat like this would be quite helpful on sunny days. And it would be super stylin'. Oh yes. But do I really need it? Well, no. I don't even know what my head size is (nor do I own a measuring tape to find out), so I can't even realistically order one. But it would be awesome.

And to attempt to retain some of my intellectual credentials, I am also very interested in this book. I can even make some claims on usability for this product, as I do a fair amount of writing at work, and improving my writing style would be a good thing. Still, I must admit that the real reason I want it is to read the difference in American and British English. That would be wonderfully interesting and rather useless in my current situation. I still want it, though.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bosses are Good

Granted, it helps when your boss isn't a total jerk or prone to bouts of fire-breathing insanity, but a good boss provides you many benefits, especially if you are like me and have a nasty tendency to get lazy about things. Seth Godin sums up some benefits of bosses, and I agree with his final point about bosses giving you momentum to actually get things accomplished. Check it out.

Expand your Vocabulary

I don't even remember how long I have been on this email list, but A Word A Day has always been an interesting source of new (and sometimes esoteric) words. In today's email, there is a link to a randomizer tool, so that you can pull up a random word to expand our vocabulary.

Give it a try.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Nothing is Happening

So I am supposed to be working on an Internal Audit project at Boeing the next few weeks. I had to fill out paperwork and fax it in to be granted clearance to get a temporary access badge so I can actually get in the building to do my job. I did all this last week, and haven't gotten any direction yet, as we have two projects going on, and the manager, as of Friday, didn't know which one he wanted me to work on. Well, it is Monday, and I am not at Boeing, as I have received no direction as to what I am supposed to be doing. I reminded the manager about this Sunday night, and was instructed to "hang tight" until I receive instructions. So, I am "hanging" in the office, wrapping up some paperwork from another engagement and doing administrative stuff. Excitement!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Best Best Western

So I am enjoying my time in Cincinnati. I am definitely working a lot, but that's the whole reason I'm here, right? As opposed to last year, when I stayed downtown at the Crowne Plaza and had a bad experience, I am staying at the Best Western Mariemont Inn, which has been a great experience. Get over the fact that it is a Best Western. How many Best Westerns have a restaurant in them that serves excellent pork chops with a plum sauce and grilled wild boar sausage? Not too many, I dare wager.

The entire Mariemont area is done up in a Tudor architectural style, and there are a number of great restaurants and shops (and a Starbucks, of course). The rooms are also very old-style, with many different room styles and roomy architecture. It is also 3 miles from where I am working, so the benefits are pretty obvious considering the trouble we had commuting to and from the lockbox last year. I met my friend Laura Werts for dinner at one of the local restaurants on Monday, and it was great. Good atmosphere, good food, good times all around. I can't even complain about the heat, considering it is over 100 back home, so this Cincinnati 92 isn't bad at all.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Catching Up

Sorry, I've been remiss in posting over the last few days. We successfully wrapped up our work in Milwaukee, and it is off to Cincinnati tomorrow. My friend Laura Werts lives there, so I will try to meet up with her for dinner or something and see how things are in Reds country. This trip will mark the first time that I am choosing a Best Western as my hotel for the trip. This isn't from a lack of choices, but rather because this hotel is a) close to the work site, and b) one that has been recommended to me by about half a dozen different people, so I figured I'll give it a shot.

In other news I have purchased the game Galactic Civilizations II for my computer, and it is threatining to take over my life. I played the first Galactic Civilizations game when it came out a few years ago, and it was much fun. This version, however, lets you actually design your own spacehips. And these ships can be visually customized with literally hundreds of items, some of which have game reasons for being there (like lasers and missile launchers and engines and so forth), while others are solely for visual flair. And we know that we all need 14 pieces of flair, minimum, so my ships have lots of flair. It is much fun.

The Mystery of Capital

The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto, 2000, Basic Books

I have been hearing about this book for at least 5 years, and it was supposed to be an amazing, viewpoint-changing experience, so I figured that I should probably get around to reading it. I can't say that it radically changed my views of capitalism in respect to other competing economic systems, but the author does do an excellent job of explaining exactly why the 3rd world always seems to miss out on capitalistic expansions. While "the West" keeps getting richer, other people miss out and stay relatively poor. Why is this? Are they stupid? Are they lazy?

No, they aren't stupid and they aren't lazy. The problem is that everyone seems to have forgotten that capitalsim is all about capital (hence the name). And in the 3rd world, most people are not allowed to develop capital because they don't own official property. Why? I liked the flow chart that showed how it would take literally 18 years to follow all the legal channels to buy property legally in Haiti. It is so ridiculous, that nobody outside of the system bothers trying to get on the inside, so they just squat on land and "own" it in this fashion. Because they lack legal title, however, they can't use that land or house as collateral for a loan, a basic thing Americans like me take for granted. I must say that I had never thought about it before, but it totally makes sense.

My only problem with this book is that it felt too long. It's only about 230 pages sans end notes and index, so it isn't physically that long, but it really only takes the author about 150 pages to make his point, and the rest of the book is him hammering the same point over and over and over again. It gets tedious, but this is still an important book for everyone who cares about helping the poor attain the benefits of the global economic system.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Visiting the other beer town

So I'm in Milwaukee this week for another audit project. I like coming to Milwaukee, though I've never been able to pin down why. It is a fairly blue collar town, like St. Louis, and I like places like that. It is the home of Sprecher's root beer, which scores points. Other than that, I can't really say, other than that it simply has a good feel. It is a place that I could easily live, and if I ever needed to move to Milwaukee for work or other reasons, I would not be opposed.

The fact that Milwaukee also holds my favorites restaurant, Mo's Steakhouse, doesn't hurt either. I ate there tonight, in fact. It was excellent, as always.

Outside of that, I saw Al MacInnis at the airport yesterday. We nodded to each other. It was excellent, as always.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Posse

As I play around with my digital camera, I figured I would introduce you all to my posse this week, also known as my brother's animals.


This is Sadie, the dog (obviously). She is very needy and wants my attention all the time. You will note the plush squirrel she has defeated. She likes to use this to play her favorite game, "I have it and you don't." This game involves running around in circles while I chase her. It seems to be very exciting to Sadie, but it just wears me out.


And these are the rabbits (a.k.a., "the boys"), Whiskers and Butterscotch. Butterscotch is my personal favorite, mainly because he doesn't cause any problems. Unlike Sadie, these fellow require about 10 minutes of attention per day.

In case you were wondering, this is a "never the twain shall meet" situation. They have lived in the same house for over 4 years, but Sadie has never actually met the boys, because we don't think the boys would live through the encounter. Sadie likes to play rough.

The unGuide to Dating

The unGuide to Dating by Camerin Courtney and Todd Hertz, 2006, Revell

As a 32 year old man who has never been married, I must admit that I find the general American Christian church's approach to singleness to be disheartening. This is because the standard approach treats us all as glorified youth, and most Christian leaders simply can't imagine what our lives are like. The dating "advice" that they give is also really aimed at teenagers, and not at adults. Hence, the opening for a book such as this. Written by two magazine editors in their 30s who have never been married, the book focuses on the adult dimensions of the dating game. However, it isn't a dating guide as such, hence the rather odd title. I didn't like the title when I first encountered this book, but after reading it I must admit that it is rather apt.

Secular dating books will try to teach you how to be more attractive to the oppostite sex, or great pickup lines, or places to go to meet single people, that kind of thing. This book doesn't do that. This book focuses on how to approach relationships (including potential romantic ones) in a Christian way, as well as relevant topics such as should the man or woman make the first move, body image, inter-gender friendships, and so on. Interestingly enough, while many questions are raised, almost no answers are given. At first blush this might indicate that the book is failing. On the contrary, most of the questions don't have one set answer to begin with, and each individual must answer the questions for themselves.

The book itself is only slightly over 200 pages, and there is liberal use of white space, so it reads pretty fast. Overall, it does a good job with its topic and should prove useful to its target audience.

I've Never Seen Anything Like This

So say the people of St. Louis about last night's storms, according to our local paper. Last evening we had a super crazy thunderstorm tear through St. Louis. I was at my parents' house, as my Aunt Jane and Uncle Henry were in town, and I haven't seen Henry in, what, 10 years? So I had to be there. I also had no idea the storm was coming. First there was crazy wind, upwards of 80 mph. Then just sheets of rain and one hour of constant lightning. Really wild stuff. I thought it was pretty exciting, while my Aunt kept telling me to get away from the window.

The St. Louis area has roughly 2,400,000 residents, and over 500,000 homes lost power during the storm. According to the power company, they couldn't remember anything this widespread before. Last year we had bad storms come through in August, and 250,000 homes lost power, including my brother's, which was out for 3 days. I only lost power for about an hour, though. This year, I didn't lose power at all (or at least, it was on when I got home), but my brother's place did. I was really concerned, because it is supposed to be over 100 degrees today, and I'm watching the dog, and I didn't want to watch the dog in 100 degree weather. Luckily, his power came on about 5AM, so all is well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Being a Responsible Family Man

This week, while my brother and sister-in-law are vacationing in Colorado, I have the job of holding down the fort at their place, which mainly involves feeding, walking, and trying to entertain their dog, Sadie. I have lived by myself for 8 years, so it is always interesting when I have to pay attention to someone or something else rather than just doing whatever I want to whenever I want to do it. Because I have these highly independent tendencies, I sometimes don't realize that the dog wants to play, and wants to play NOW. So, sometimes Saide scratches things and generally causes a scene as a way of getting my attention, because she can't understand why I don't play with her all day long. Of course, Sadie's idea of play is to grab something and then run away and have me chase her. She likes that. My idea of playing with a dog would be to have the dog chase after something and then bring it back to me, like a frisbee or a tree branch or something. Sadie doesn't do that, though. At least she seems to enjoy herself when I take her for walks in the evenings.

On top of dealing with the dog, I also get to take care of the two rabbits that live in the basement. The rabbits have been there a long time, and in fact one of them is old enough that he is having "accidents" on the floor, which I then get to clean up. Every. Day. Fun! Actually, the rabbits are very low maintenance, requiring about 10 to 15 minutes of work each day, which is infinitely less time than the dog wants, which is about 25 hours a day.

I like to think that this experience is helping me grow as a persone, but what is really happening is that I am being reminded why I don't have a dog.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Teavana

So I'm in my local mall this morning to buy some vitamins at GNC, and I notice that someone put in a tea store since my last visit. This is huge news, as I have been unable to find a tea store in St. Louis since I moved back. The place is Teavana, and it is part of a chain of stores. It sells loose leaf tea, as well as having a tea bar to serve tea beverages in the store. This is great. I didn't buy anything, because I am actually quite well stocked with tea at the moment, but the next time that I am low I know exactly where I will go to restock.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Awesome!


California is always pushing the edge with things.

(first noticed at
HotelChatter)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Everyone is talking

Everyone in my office is talking about Jessica Alba being in a movie that is currently filming in St. Louis. In fact, the movie is filming literally across the street from my office, in the old GenAmerica headquarters, which has been vacant for around a year. It looks like they are turning it into a faux government office of some kind. From the best that I can tell, they are working on this film. The silly thing is that I couldn't even find any news about it on my local paper's website. And I have been out of town so much lately, that I didn't even know anything was going on until yesterday, when literally 20 trailers showed up, blocking most of the street I use to get home. Maybe tomorrow I will walk on by and see what is actually going on.

The Dying Earth

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, 1950/1977, Pocket Books

Another cheap book fair grab, I figured I had to give this book a try as I had heard that the magic system in the Dungeons & Dragons RPG was ripped off from Jack Vance's stories. After reading this book, I can say that they ripped off more than just the magic system. I can also say that this book is fairly odd.

The basic premise is that the Sun is dying. The stories are set so far in teh future that the Sun has become a red giant, and will go out soon, leaving the world to freeze in darkness. At some point in the millenia since the present time, other intelligent creatures have appeared, and magic has also (re-)appeared on the Earth. The book contains six separate stories. The first three somewhat tie together, but the rest do not. The only real theme is the age old theme of "boy meets girl," which usually ends with the couple getting together, but in one notable case does not. Granted, that guy was an ass and deserved his fate.

Overall, the plots generally deal with someone trying to get knowledge, either magical, mundane, or metaphysical. There is a quest to some strange place, and the overcoming of obstacles to obtain said knowledge. The way this is done is different in every story, though, so that the stories didn't really feel repetitive. What makes them odd is the fact that the setting seems to be completely a throwaway contraption that doesn't matter. You could set these stories in any generic fantasy setting and they would fit just fine, with the possible exception of "Mazirian the Magician." The writing style is also strange to me, and it seems clipped, like the author is forcing things along swiftly. Maybe I am just used to the 800 page monstrosities that most companies publish these days, with page after endless page of description (which you in no way get here), such that the relative paucity of description is very noticeable. Not bad, just not what I am used to. Still, for $0.50, it was a good buy.