Thursday, August 31, 2006

You've Got the Whole World in Your Hands

I remember when Google Earth was first released a few years ago. I also remember how me and many of my office mates spent the day zooming around the globe, locating our building and our homes, playing with guided tours that tracked our path from home to work and back again, all fun stuff.

But then I put it aside for a long time and didn't do anything with it. Now, Slate has reminded me of how interesting a program this is.

What now jumps out at me is how Google Earth has become more functional, more addictive, and more "informative" by adding a layer of user interactivity to it. Not only can you see your building, but you can tag that location with additional information that others are able to access.

It's like a real-time, illustrated, Internet. And what could be more fun than that?

Now, if Google will hurry up and make it Mac-compatible I can waste my time at home rather than at work.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Eight is enough

(Sorry, but this is no celebration of the acting chops of one Dick Van Patten.) It's old news now, but the astronomers have spoken. Pluto is out of the bunch.

But what does that mean for us? What are the repercussions of this?

And it could have been this:

12 planets. I think it was the possibility of 12 that pushed the scientists to go the other way. I think they were worried that if they let in the likes of Ceres, Charon, and whoever the hell 2003 UB313 is, then . . . there goes the neighborhood. Soon Titan, Io, Europa, and even the Moon are going to be demanding planetary recognition.

Don't think that it is a coincidence that this official vote came pretty closely on the heels of another presidential reaffirmation that manned space flight was to remain a priority at NASA. Why is that important, you ask? Well, along with going to Mars, another main goal of manned space flight is returning to the Moon. The only reason to return to the Moon is to start the colonization process. And so the astronomers saw that in the future, unless the definition of planet was nailed down air-tight, those uppity Moon-landers would start petitioning for planethood, eventually attempt to secede, then we'd all be facing Solar Civil War.

(And with regards to 2003 UB313, I can't say I disagree with the idea of keeping it out. I mean, if you can't even come up with a decent name, it doesn't belong with the big boys. Try sounding like a mythical god rather than an atomic weight and then we'll talk, okay?)

But whether you prefer the "classic nine" the "Accepted Eight" or the "Terrible Twelve," I think there will be problems going into the future. And the reason is rocketing away from the edge of our solar system into the depths of space, carrying its false advertising with it.

The Voyager spacecraft carries on its side a golden record that contains the sounds of Earth. But etched on the record itself is images that explain how to build a record-playing device and a graphic representation of the solar system. The Pioneer spacecraft that were launched prior to the Voyager program also carry a plaque depicting friendly homo sapiens standing beside the same solar system and above another image of the solar system that depicts the relative path of the Pioneer probe.

This is false advertising and is going to cause a problem someday. When aliens come to call, wanting to talk to the welcoming (if naked) creators, they will notice that planet number 9 is no longer there. This will cause them to wonder what else we might have lied to them about.

Perhaps we're not as friendly (and naked) as we would appear to be?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What I did this weekend

Well, I can't remember what we did Friday night and unfortunately, no alcohol or drugs were ingested to cause this lack of memory. We probably didn't do anything worth remembering.

But things started to pick up a bit on Saturday. As some of you know, I had an eye appointment this Saturday and it was great. You might not think this is such a big deal, but trust me . . . any time I might get to change my glasses and get some sort of a new look, well, I'm really excited about it and while I won't have new glasses for another week or so, you can bet that it'll be glorious. GLORIOUS!!

But the day got even better. We threw caution to the wind and took the girls to the movie theater Saturday afternoon. This is a risky proposition, because in our experience, the kids get pretty overwhelmed by the theater experience and if you aren't careful, you'll spend money that essentially gets thrown away. We were willing to risk it because we were going to use some gift certificates that I have been carrying around for quite a while. So, if things went south, we wouldn't be out a bagful of money.

Well, it started out as I feared. Once the lights went down and the previews started to roll, Sarah started getting fidgety and complaining that the theater was too loud (and to be honest, it was, but we adults have convinced ourselves that it is okay). So, I took Sarah out of the theater, talked to the people at the guest services desk and asked them to turn the sound down. They did and Sarah was able to make it through the movie.

The movie, by the way, was Cars. Yeah, we finally got around to seeing it. And if you heard the sounds of weeping around 5:25 pm, it was probably me realizing that yet another medium and group of people were doing great work with my Dissertation topic. I tried to console myself with the idea that it could have been a LOT worse if I had written the whole thing and then everyone around me getting rich off of it. So, at least that isn't happening.

Today we spent lots of time at church getting ready for Sunday School in a few weeks. Lynda and I are coordinating the start up and structure of the classes and today we had a meeting with some of the teachers.

After that we came home and I went to the grocery store with the kids. And when I came home these videos prove that I cooked dinner while Grace played and Sarah made her own dinner.

What I didn't do:
1. Work . . . again! I brought stuff home, but I simply can't force myself to do any of it on Friday night and I can always put it off another day on Saturday night . . . and then comes Sunday night and I'm usually tired and not in the mood to sit down and do boring work that I'll just have to keep on doing on Monday. Heck, that what they build office buildings for isn't it? So people can get uncomfortable, sit around others and try to do the work that they weren't about to do on the weekend? I'll pay for it someday soon, but until there is a gun to my head, I might just keep this up.

2. Live blog the Emmy Awards. Sorry . . . but I'm leaving that up to the professionals tonight.

3. Working on my newest Internet project that hasn't advanced much in recent weeks. But I'm gonna throw in a mention of it just to tease ya'll a bit.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Back to the Art Show

Tonight I'll present some more artwork from Sarah that I have collected. It's been a while since I did this and I think I've got some interesting items to show and discuss.

First, let's look at this piece, obviously entitled Sarah's Map. It's pretty straightforward, I think you'll agree, but to a modern parent or anyone else who is familiar with Dora the Explorer you can see the influence. The map is a sequence of three areas that may be surmounted, exactly the same number that Dora and her animal friend Boots the monkey cross whenever they are completing one of their weekly adventures. Reading from left to right, I would guess that anyone using this map would have to pass through the forest and exit through a wooden gate. Then the map calls for crossing over a lake--a crocodile-infested lake (which is a sure sign of Dora influence). The bridge is a bit rickety, but I am sure it will hold long enough to survive the passage. Finally, one must follow a small (sandy?) pass through a grassy area and exit through another door before finishing the proscribed journey. Please note that the gates have faces--another Dora hallmark--and you probably need a secret word or some other code to gain egress. Just so you know . . .

I call the next one Pilgrim's Progress for what I believe again to be obvious reasons. The figures seem to be a family unit and the clothing seems to be simple in construction, possibly home made. This family didn't have a great variety of cloth, as indicated by the father's vest and wife's dress being made from the same material. Also, the father and the oldest boy (on the right) seem to be wearing the same type of pant. They aren't dirt poor Pilgrims, because while the son doesn't have his shoes on, the young daughter has an expensive-looking teddy bear. The father also seems to have some sort of tool or weapon that probably cost a pretty penny.

I call this one The Homies. There is something about the matter-of-fact expressions on the girl in the foreground and her friend standing behind her to the right that says "urban" to me. Is it the cross necklace? the hats? I don't know. Probably I am admitting more about myself here than anything about Sarah, but that's what I see.

I don't have a good name for this one, but I'll go with . . . and bears. It's not very complicated and seems to be a happy little scene. The clouds don't have faces like you saw in The Homies, but the sun does have a cheerful look. Sarah's love of princesses is evident here. (Placing crowns on her figures has long been a part of her "style.") What jumps out at me, however, is the careful addition of an animal pet accompanying each person. This might not seem noteworthy unless you have spent lots of time opening birthday gifts recently. Then you would know that all Barbie-like dolls come with their own animal familiar.

Finally, we have my favorite item--another map--and one that I've been saving for a while and am finally getting around to scanning and posting.

I really like this one for the amount of detail that it shows and the thought that must have gone into it. I don't know for sure if this is depicting our neighborhood, some compressed version of the city or what. I'll try to give some interpretation of what I see, but I'll leave some of it up to your own imagination.

1. I like the out-of-scale flower on the bottom left. Does that represent the Park of Roses?

2. Who has that ultra-cool tree house with the twisty slide? I'd like to have one of those.

3. Is the building in the middle our house or is it a collection of houses that represent our neighborhood?

4. Is the other building structure at the top the daycare--connected to our neighborhood/house by streets (or maybe by pneumatic tubing?). Is the blank area fenced to the "daycare" the playground behind the daycare?

5. Is the green area found on the middle right a park or is it, as I suspect, the zoo? Aren't their animals drawn within the green of that fenced area?

6. Finally . . . why are there teepees?

My final thoughts: While I still see Sarah in these various pieces of art, I also think I see a shifting of her "style." I think things are becoming more realistic, more detailed, less imaginative and full of the random flights of fancy. I find that a little sad; she's growing up, slowly and surely.

True Confessions Time at WWYG?!

Readers have pointed out to me that when I talk about my girls, I focus on the difficulties that I experience with Grace and talk about Sarah's successes.

I can only admit that this is true, but I must beg you to understand that this doesn't mean that Grace means less to me than Sarah does. I think (hope) you know me well enough to know that while my relationships with my kids are different, I dearly love both of them.

It is natural for a relationship between a father and a six-year-old to be conducted differently than one between a father and a three-year-old. The concerns, problems, successes, interactions occur on different levels. When Sarah was three I had similar problems, I just didn't have a blog to write it all down.

I am saying these things to myself to try and understand how things can go wrong between Grace and I (yes, this is one of those stories again).

Last night, Lynda was off to go to a small jewelry party hosted by a friend. I stayed home with the girls to give them baths and get them ready for bed. Lynda wasn't going to be gone that long, but if I could get the bath out of the way, then great. My first mistake was getting a bit frustrated when Grace would not listen as I tried to herd her into the tub. (She has a bad habit of doing the absolute opposite of what I/we ask.) But, eventually she got there and I had the girls in the tub when Lynda left--without announcing to the girls that she was leaving (sometimes it's better that way). This idea was fine with me and would have been my suggestion if she had asked.

Everything was okay for a few minutes until Grace started complaining about a rash that she had and began pulling on her skin in an attempt to show the rash to me. She began to cry. I tried to reassure her that I would put cream on the rash once the bath was finished but she was slipping into the emotional loop that I have seen three-year-olds get into--a loop in which they are so fixated on their current emotional state that nothing can break them out of it. It's like when your computer freezes up while trying to load an internet page. Something isn't connecting from one place to the next, but the computer continues to whir, attempting to finish the task.

Grace was emotionally fixated on the fact that her rash hurt and that she wanted Mommy to fix it for her. I simply wasn't allowed to do it. She began crying and crying and crying and no amount of reassurance and kind words that I could muster would break through the tears. I tried to tell her that Lynda wasn't there and that I could administer the medicine right away, but logic failed to penetrate.

I began to get frustrated as he crying escalated and as Sarah started to get upset as well, as much over the amplified noise in the bathroom as the fact that my daughter seemed to not want me to touch her. My defeatism got in the way of common sense and the reality that I am an adult dealing with a small child. But as the crying continued, my resolve cracked. In desperation, I called Lynda to come back and calm her down (Lynda was only a few streets over, if that matters.)

I have to say, I have never felt like more of a parental failure in my six years in that capacity. My sometimes suspicion that Grace doesn't like me (deep down) was bubbling to the surface, my paranoia that I have yelled in frustration too many times and have convinced her that I am "bad" was growing, and the embarrassment that I called Lynda to diffuse the situation was the final straw. It was an awful stew of emotions.

When Lynda arrived, I had them out of the tub, dried off, and in their pajamas. Grace was calm but I was trying to talk to her about why she had not let me help her. Whether I led her to this answer or whether she came up with it herself, I don't know (don't want to know?) now, but she did say that she "didn't like me" and that I was "a bad daddy." On top of everything else, that really stung.

Lynda calmed Grace down and then tried to talk my emotions down as I was tearing up. (During all of this Sarah had finished drying herself off, put her pajamas on, and was coloring. I went to talk to her while Lynda was negotiating with Grace and apologized to her for making her the odd one out in all of this, making her deal with this by herself while I was handling Grace. She seemed okay about it, but it wasn't fair to her either.)

In the end, we all calmed down. Grace and Sarah watched The Jungle Book and had ice cream while Lynda returned to her party. Grace even came back to me (totally unsolicited) and gave me a kiss and said I "wasn't a bad daddy anymore."

But I need to take lessons away from this event. As Lynda said, I can't let Grace manipulate me so easily and I have to remember that she is not an adult and that everything she says doesn't reflect that level of thinking. But the both of us have a very stubborn streak within us and when we but heads, neither of us wants to back down. Since I am an adult, however, I need to be smarter and not take these dust-ups as a personal attack or a symbol as my failure as a parent.

I went back into her room later that night and watched her sleep. She's a beautiful kid and I love her dearly. I know that our relationship will be challenging and deeply meaningful as she gets older. But it'll be the most rewarding challenge I ever face.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Graphic 9/11

If you make it a habit to visit, you might already know what this is about, but if you don't . . .

Slate has coordinated with two graphic novel artists, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, to adapt the government report on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 into a graphic novel format. Every day until September 7, Slate will release another chapter in this graphic novel. (Each chapter is approximately 25-30 pages long.)

Some will no doubt say that doing this is inappropriate, equating the graphic novel format to comic books and writing the entire thing off as juvenile. Others will say that it cheapens what happened on that day. Still others will claim that it is too soon, too raw, too real to be presented in such a way.

I have a small bit of experience with this subject, as it turns out. In the last few years I have worked with graphic novel artists to tell historical stories in this format. I and one of my colleagues even attempted to do this very thing by telling the story of Flight 93--the plane that was crashed by the passengers in the Pennsylvania field. The first draft of the six-page story we began to develop would have (with the exception of one or two panels of disturbing images) told the story of those passengers in much the same way that I think the Slate graphic novel attempts to do.

I haven't read the released chapters yet, but I will hold an open mind until I do so. (You can begin reading here.) I'll report back what I uncover.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gearing up

It's late August and that means that two things are about to happen.

1) Fall is approaching and that means that new TV shows are going to start--which means that I will soon have to research and write my Fall TV Preview columns.


2) Sarah is beginning 1st Grade next Monday.

First Grade!

That will mean Lynda and I will slightly adjust our work schedule. At least one of us will be arriving at work around 7 am (gulp!) and leaving around 3. Getting up that early will be a challenge, not just for me and/or Lynda but also for Sarah.

- - -

and this has just become the most boring post I have ever written since my series on the air conditioner in our backyard.

Man, I'm just trying to find something to write about and it seems clear that I am failing miserably. I guess it's because I have no original thoughts of my own and am waiting impatiently for qualified journalists to do all the research on the new Fall shows and then I'll just parrot their words back to you.

However, I must try to be original. But it has been hard to get motivated lately (and I don't really know why.) I'll give it a try.

Maybe we'll start tonight with ABC.

The only new show on ABC Sunday Nights is called Brothers and Sisters. I don't know anything about it except that the headliner star is Calista Flockhart. Can she bring the same zeitgeist-stirring power that defined Ally McBeal during its hey day? And what about the presence of Sally Field? Does she have enough Q-rating to matter? I am intrigued by Ron Rifkin, however . . . but is he a bad guy or a good guy? (He'll always be Arvin Sloane to me.)

Monday Night is no longer Monday Night Football night on ABC, so that means for the first time in about 35 years, the network will fail miserably. It a vain attempt to make Monday's relevant to TV viewers, the alphabet network offers us two reality shows (Wife Swap, The Bachelor) and a retread (What About Brian). Will anyone care?

Tuesday Night's new shows are bookended by Dancing with the Stars and Boston Legal. The new sitcoms during the nine-o-clock hour are called The Knights of Prosperity and Help Me Help You. "Knights" is from the creators of Ed . . . and if that isn't exciting enough for you, well then how about this. The funny band of misfits the show centers around is planning to break into Mick Jagger's Central Park apartment to get the money to fund a bar. So, it's sort of like Oceans Eleven meets "Can't Get No Satisfaction." Help me Help You somehow involves Ted Danson and is therefore tainted by the stench of Becker. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday Night on ABC begins and ends with LOST at 9 pm. Incredibly, the 8 o'clock hour is devoted to the Dancing with the Stars Results Show. I've got to think that the producers of LOST are a bit cheesed off about the crappy lead-in they've got. At 10 pm, ABC offers something called The Nine.

The multi-gendered and multi-racial cast makes me think of LOST's ensemble cast a bit and the premise sounds influenced by it as well. A group of nine strangers is thrown together during a bank robbery and their lives will never be the same. There WILL be flashbacks! It all sounds a bit like Identity. (It might be good, I guess.)

Thursday Night features a show called Ugly Betty. Based upon the fifteen seconds that I spent reading the synopsis of the series, I would call it a cross between Less Than Perfect, Veronica's Closet, and Freaks and Geeks, with just a dash of Project Runway. The other show on Thursday Night at 10 pm is called 6 Degrees and its another show that features a set of strangers who's lives are intertwined in a mysterious way that will change their lives forever. Yeah, it's another LOST clone that plays off the Six Degrees of . . . theory. Now, if Kevin Bacon shows up . . .

No one cares what's on TV Friday night (at least no one who isn't watching Battlestar Galactica.But it's clear that ABC isn't devoting a whole lot of their budget on this night. The only new show is called Men in Trees. It seems to be a show about relationships . . . on a night when people who aren't in exciting relationships are sitting at home watching TV. Seems kind of sad, really.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

. . . Sorry, but I just can't say it!

Last night Lynda and I helped provide food and service at one of our friend's wedding rehearsal dinner. It was fun, the food, provided by some of our other friends, was good, and everything went off without a hitch. The wedding is this afternoon and then its off to the grocery store to by MORE food for coffee hour at church tomorrow. (It's been several days of cake-baking and cheesecake-making. I'm pretty tired of dessert right now.

But that's not what this post is about.

It's about a site that I refuse to reference directly by name. Luckily, the site URL is an acronym of the hated phrase--a certain bit of film dialogue that should NEVER has crossed noted actor Sean Connery's Scottish lips.

The site is

And that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Helpful Hints

While researching to update a graph to show the current supply curve for corn (WHEEEE!!) I was perusing the impenetrable pages of date at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (no, seriously . . . WHEEEE!!).

Through a series of mouse clicks that I can't exactly reproduce for you now, I hit upon the Occupations Classifications System Manual, an amazing list of government-approved Census Bureau job titles. I hope that some of these are more historical than current, because if they are not, the dizzying array of occupations for today's American worker is staggering beyond belief . . . and would emphasize to anyone out there that if you don't like your job, there are about a bazillion other ones that someone is doing.

For example, every wanted to be a Hot-tamale Man? No? Well, what about Hoister. House girl, Horser-up, Hook-Up Man, Hole Filler, High-speed-warper tender, High climber, Herb digger, Hedge Trimmer, or Heddler?

How about Headline Writer, or Headman (sure!)?

Want to be in a position of authority? Okay, then try out Head worker . . . or Head swamper (yes, please!)? Head ironer, Head loader, or simply Head holder.

For variety you could be a Hash slinger by day and a Harpist at night. A Harmonica maker or a Harmonic analyst. A Handy Man (or Handy Girl). A Hand weaver, Hand sander, or Hand grinder (ouch, ouch, and OUCH!).

Maybe you want to be a Hand clerk or a Hand passer (is that government lingo for Center and Quarterback?).

Or maybe working for the Man just isn't for you? Well, sorry bub, but the government even classifies the Hucksters.

So, get out there and follow your Bliss. Do the thing that defines YOU!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"It will be the talk of the town in Prague."

What do you think the quote that serves as this post title is referring to?

A new international agreement hashed out at the UN?

Some new art project by Christo (the one who wraps buildings in colored cloth)?

The latest runway fashions?

Well, the answer is No, N0, and No.

The REAL talk of Prague is in regards to the status of Pluto. And no, I'm not talking about Mickey Mouse's dog.

I mean the planet Pluto.

Or should I say "planet." That's right. Despite what you, I, and everyone around us has been taught for generations, astronomers are disputing the definition of planet--with regards to Pluto and other small astral bodies.

My immediate reaction is conservative--"Don't tread on my planets!" or "Not in MY solar system."

But isn't there a problem either way? If Pluto is too dinky to be a planet, then the holy meme of 9 planets in their sacred, memorized order is forever thrown into question. But if Pluto IS a planet, then maybe the number is expanded and even more dinky space objects get added, throwing off today's accepted grouping in the other direction.

Knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

What do YOU want?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Driveway stories

I've been sick with a head cold since Friday and spent almost all of this past weekend laying in the bed, trying to give my body the space it needs to kick the sickness. (Thanks always goes to Lynda for allowing me the opportunity to even consider such a thing when there is food to be cooked, laundry to be done, kids to be played with and bathed and listened to and etc., etc. . . . You get the idea--she's great.)

But there are things that must be done.

One of those things that must be done is our preparations for a friend's wedding that is coming up this Saturday. MF and his fiance are members of my weekly bible study group and our group decided that in lieu of wedding gifts to them (which they really don't need) we would provide the food for the rehearsal dinner on Friday. Lynda and I volunteered to handle the desserts.

Since I was laid up all weekend and Lynda was otherwise occupied, we REALLY needed to get started with the cake baking tonight. We need to make at least two white chocolate cheesecakes and two pineapple cakes by Friday. Handling one a night won't be too hard.

But then we discovered that our lone springform pan (that is crucial for the creation of the cheesecake) has gone missing. I think it was left at a friend's house when we did a trial run on the cake a few weeks ago.

So, long story short, I found myself driving to Meijers tonight to buy a new springform pan. (We'll get the other one later, but as I mentioned, four cakes in four days doesn't allow for a night off.) On the way I heard an NPR story about painting porch ceilings blue and why that is useful.

It was part of NPR's ongoing collection of porch stories. The idea of the story collection is that the mythical front porch serves as a unique place to set outside of our insular selves and reach out to the strangers who just happen to be our neighbors.

I, myself, have never lived in a house with a porch so I can't contribute a specific story that fits the theme. But I thought about it anyway. I could provide stories that fell under the theme of Driveway Stories, since my childhood home featured a driveway and even those of us without porches do have driveways. So, here are a few driveways stories that immediately came to mind.

Turning 14: Purple Rain

When I turned fourteen years old, I invited a handful of my friends to spend the weekend celebrating at my house. I think there were five or so of my friends that I asked to come. People began arriving in the late afternoon of a Friday. Everything went well until S. Parker showed up. S. didn't have the best of relationships with his parents, especially during those awkward, difficult early teenage years. I had spent weekends over at his place many times before and had witnessed shouting matches and lots of blustery anger.

It was not that much of a surprise, then, when (for some reason which I can't recall) S. got into it with his mom in our driveway as he was being dropped off. I was inside playing pool with the other guests when I noticed the problem through the front windows of the house. After a few minutes I went outside to see if I could resolve the problem, but it had degenerated into a battle of wills. S. wasn't going to give in to whatever had set the two of them off and was demanding (for some reason) to be taken home. He was going to drop off my birthday gift and then he wanted to go. In fact, he was sitting resolutely in the backseat of the car and wasn't going to budge until he got his way.

After a few more minutes of this driveway standoff, it finally blew over. I don't recall if one of my parents came out to smooth things over or what exactly happened. I think I even gave up waiting and went back inside to continue playing pool. But eventually, S. gave up his driveway vigil and came inside.

Other than that, the things I remember about that birthday (1985) was that a. I got Prince's Purple Rain cassette as a gift (which we listened to quite a bit that weekend--especially "Darling Nikki.") and b. I heard the next day that my grandfather had died of a brain tumor and we would be heading up to Kentucky for the burial. He was actually buried on my birthday.

The Great Blizzard of '02

I think it was in 2002; I know we were living in our first house at the time so it had to be between 2000 and 2004. It was February and we drove to Louisville, KY to visit Lynda's aunt and uncle for the weekend. While we were in Kentucky, a severe snow storm blew over the Midwest. In our area of Kentucky it wasn't cold enough for snow, so we had slick sheets of ice everywhere. Lynda's aunt's truck went off the road and hit a tree. My car also went off the road, but luckily we didn't hit anything.

When our visit in Kentucky was over we drove north to get back home to Ohio. Luckily the interstate were well plowed and that part of the journey was fine, but we knew from weather reports that mid Ohio has received somewhere around a foot of snow over the weekend. (That's pretty unusual for central Ohio to get that much all at once.)

We knew things were rough when we drove up to our house. In our old house, the driveway traveled from the street past the house's south side and into the detatched garage in the back. Our neighbor to the left had a chain link fence dividing their driveway from ours. This made the back half of the driveway a narrow chute from which snow had to be pushed.

Left unattended, the long, narrow driveway was completely blocked with several inches of snow. There was no way the car was making it back to the garage. I parked at the curb and slowly trudged my way to the garage to get my snow shovel. Lynda took young Sarah inside while I tackled the drifts of snow that rose up to my knees (at least). All I had was a shovel and daylight. I started.

After a few minutes of pushing the snow this way and that way, trying to create a pathway for the car to move in and our Monday morning, my neighbor appeared with his brand new snow blower. He immediately began chewing up the snow in the lower part of the driveway with gasoline-powered speed while I focused on clearing a pathway from the back door to the garage.

That was one of the nicest moments of neighborly interaction that I had with those guys. I would have been out there for probably an hour or more trying to shift that stuff. He showed up and we made short work of it in less than half that time.

So, do you have a driveway story? Let's hear about it.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sarah's 6th

There were 16 kids . . .

. . . the horror . . . the HORROR!!

(I'm only kidding. Everything went very well actually.)

I'll try to get more detailed later this week, but for now here are two pictures of Sarah's big birthday party on Saturday.

The big activity on the hot Saturday afternoon was playing in the backyard. We set up the inflatable pool and provided many small buckets of water and lots of sponges. The goal was for the kids to mercilessly pelt each other with sponges, hopefully cooling each other off and not causing grievous bodily injury. The parents that hung around stayed up on the porch to watch.

Everything went well. Only one instance of crying. The kids tended to hoard sponges and unleash a great deal at once against a lesser protected opponent, a sort of sponge arms race. Mutually assured destruction?

In an interesting twist, all the girls gathered in the pool and left the boys on the outside looking in. That later changed as strategies (what there were of them) and alliances (where there any?) declined.

After the water play, everyone came in, dried off, and commenced to eating the cake (which turned out great by the way). The look on Sarah's face in this photo is priceless.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Playing with toys

Sometime last spring I saw an Internet article about a toy/memorabilia company that was hopping on the LOST bandwagon to produce "action figure" like items for the main characters of the show. But don't think these are cheap Mattel 1970s era Star Wars toys.

These are high end sculpture-like figures. They aren't exactly something that you play with, really. You just buy them and signify your nerdiness with their mere presence.

You can read more about the figurines via this Popwatch article, but don't worry. I've got you covered with all the important stuff you need to know.

The first picture they provided a while back was of the Charlie figure.

As I promised, these are high quality items. The level of detail is impressive. But it gets even better. Each figurine also has a voice microchip that delivers dialogue relevant to each character. And each figurine has a character-specific prop. (Charlie's is a Driveshaft ring.) But it's the dialogue chosen for each that I find as funny as anything else about this entire enterprise. I think they really did a good job selecting lines that truly capture the person's essence.

For instance, Charlie sings "You all everybody... You all everybody..." and says: "Guys... where are we?" -"You don't know me! I'm a bloody Rock God!" Perfect Charlie--annoying, self-centered.

Hurley is shown from Season 1 at the makeshift golf game. He comes with a lottery ticket and speaks such pearls of wisdom as: "Dude... I'm starving... I'm nowhere near that hungry." -"You got some... Arzt... on you." -"Stop! Wait! The numbers are bad!" -"Welcome, to the first... and hopefully last... Island Open."

Our main man Jack is shown here in closeup. The figure seems to be depicting him on the beach in episode one as he decided how to save 15 people simultaneously while the plane's wreckage burns around him. Isn't he dreamily authoritative? His prop (for some reason) is a mug shot of Kate. Why? Don't know. But his voice chip tells us that: "If we can't live together, we're going to die alone." -"Everybody wants me to be a leader, until I make a decision that they don't like." -"There's something that you need to know... We're going to have a Locke problem, and I have to know that you've got my back."

Lovely Kate is here shown escaping from Lostzilla after Greg Grunberg's (the Flight 815 pilot) death in episode one. Her prop, naturally, is the mysterious toy plane that she kept in the bank's safety deposit box. As you might guess, her microchip produces stupid and pointless remarks such as: "Jack!" (thunderclap and rain) -(frightened) "One... Two... Three... Four... Five..." -"If you're thinking about going for the cockpit, I'm going with you." -"I only made-out with him, because torturing him didn't work." Sad, really.

As usual, Locke is looking pretty awesome. The detail in this figurine is very good, right down to his multiple knives and water bottle. Keep in mind that this is season one bad-ass Locke, the one that would do anything to get in the Hatch back before he became Hatch-bound and sad. His prop is a walkabout brochure and he says mysteriously sinister things such as: "I've looked into the eye of this island, and what I saw... was beautiful." -"Don't ever tell me what I can't do! Ever!" -”Do you want to know a secret?"

The company even provides a Shannon figurine, but really, this could be anyone. Her face isn'textremelyy distinct. Her prop is a map of the island. Did she have one? Is it the Rousseau map with the French song lyrics? However, her microchip dialogue is priceless: "What's a four-letter word for 'I don't care'?" -"The plane had a black box, idiot... I'll eat on the rescue boat." -"You want my information? Name: Shannon Rutherford. Age: 20. Address: Craphole Island." A perfect Shannon mixture of disdain, disgust, and rudeness. Bravo on that one.

I am sure they'll eventually get around to Sayid, Zombie Boone, Claire, Ana Lucia, Rose, Bernard, Henry Gale, and the traitor Michael that does nothing but scream "My Boooy!" and "Waaaaaalllt!" until you go nuts and throw it against the wall. And of course, there has to be a shirtless Sawyer figurine that looks extreme angry and recites each and every nickname for each character.

So, keep your eyes open for that.

Thanks to McFarlane Online.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Decked Out: In which Burb details how he has begun refurbishing his backyard deck

Already you should be worried, since this involves home repair and that never seems to work out that well for me.

But, I am determined to learn (either that or I refuse to learn and am denser than most).

So, those of you that have visited my house are aware of my deck. It's approximately 24 x 12, opens off my back door and provides an expansive view of my backyard. It has served its purpose well, but in the last year the paint has begun peeling.

The peeling has gotten worse, but I managed to ignore it and do nothing all of last summer and most of this summer. But for some reason (and I don't recall the specific thing that caused this) Lynda and I decided to tackle this project starting last weekend.

Since the paint was well on its way to peeling off, we decided to remove the existing paint and then put some new stain/sealant on the newly exposed wood.

That's all fine and good. We even borrowed a pressure washer from one of Lynda's coworkers who lives down the street from us, figuring that it would be able to remove the peeling paint.

Last weekend I went to Home Depot and bought the stain/sealant and a sprayer to apply it with. But I also decided to buy a few gallons of a chemical stripper that claimed it would help remove existing paint. Once that was done, I would use a second cleaning agent to condition and clean the wood before applying the new stain/sealer.

The mechanisms of all this aren't very complicated. On Sunday afternoon I put the stripper in the pump sprayer and began laying it down. I waited for it to do its thing and then used the garden hose to spray it off and magically strip the offending paint away.

The chemical had a pleasing offensive smell, signifying that microscopic enzymes or nanobots or something else was breaking down the paint. But then . . . well, it's didn't strip off like butter. Maybe, maybe 65 percent of the paint was removed after a few attempts of application and water spray.

This was frustrating, to be sure, but not debilitating. I hadn't used the pressure washer yet, which would surely crank up the power and blast off that stuff, no problem. The REAL problem was the extreme heat under which I was working. You might know (unless you are one of my overseas readers) that much of the country is under a strong heatwave. You might NOT know whoever that I am mildly to moderately polyhydrotic.

This means that each day that I have been trying to get this deck in shape, I have had to take two showers--one in the morning and one at night.

Yeah, trust me to pick the hottest time of year to take on this task.

By the way, I did use the pressure washer this evening. It did help remove more of the paint, but it didn't take it all off. I am not really sure what I should do at this point. But it'll be tomorrow evening (after shower number seven) that I find out.

Idea rescinded

I have removed the post that I wrote last night.

A reader pointed out (kindly and indirectly . . . but clearly) that it wasn't in the best of taste.

So, easily deleted and I'll try to do better next time.