29 December 2009

James Cameron's Avatar - My Take

I like to think I'm a smart consumer, so I read up on Avatar before going in. I mean, you pay extra for the 3D glasses to see this thing, so I wanted to make sure I got my money's worth.
The pro reviewers had some praise for the film, and the friends and acquaintances I follow on the social media ranged from "[meh]" to "life-changing experience". Since no one was waving a glowing blue flag yelling "THIS SUCKS" from the mezzanine, the Mrs. and I decided to give it a shot.
Usual Warning: I'm spoilering the hell out of this, so read later if you want to stay clean going in.

[note: check out the Pandorapedia before going in. It enriches your viewing experience, though maybe makes some of the expository dialog feel somewhat forced]

Plot-wise, Cameron tells a fairly generic tale of how the bad White Man is raping pristine Pandora via a weaselly onsite junior exec and the ex-marine mercenary colonel who pulls junior's strings; all of this to get at some shiny rocks. Of course said shiny rocks are muy importante to the natives - a species of 10 foot tall (eerily attractive) cat people - since of course all of the really good veins of the stuff are under the cat peoples' sacred sites. Well Shit.

Stuff goes down, our protagonist goes native, and the ending is bittersweet and totally setting up a second installment. The Mrs. was unimpressed with the plot and the incessant need to jam the environmentalist message down our throats, and summed it all up in a word: "Ferngully". Not having seen "Ferngully", I defer to her knowledge.

I get the feeling that Stan Winston called up his pal Jim and said "Dammit Cameron, I'm tired of making only one creature, or variations on a theme. Let me create a whole world of things that want to eat your face and will make you wet yourself when they show up on screen IN 3D."

After acquiescing to Stan's desires, Ms. Sigourney Weaver called up and said "Jimmy, I'm tired of being the only one to survive. Just let me die in this one, k?" (I haven't seen all of the alien movies, so I might be out of line on that one, but it was funny when I thought of it).

Let's see, plot, musings, what else... Oh yeah! FX! The special effects, the motion capture tech, the CGI - flawless, friends. Sure the boilerplate plot and eco-message were less than riveting, but go see this for the FX is nothing else. Wow-wee. I am willing to believe that there are actually 10 foot tall cat people roaming around an alien moon 4.3 light-years away, it was that realistic.

It was confirmed that this is going to be a trilogy, and here's hoping that Part Deux is more like "Empire" than" Temple", more like "The Two Towers" than "Revolutions" or "Reloaded" or whichever was the second "Matrix" installment. There is some very real potential here for amazing story-telling, and I'm willing to let the fluff of this wild ride slide for a good story to come. I still like Star Wars, and the new Star Trek movie is essentially the same deal - lots of set up with minimal plot to get in the way. Which brings me to the most interesting quandary of the first decade of the 21st century: Red Matter or Unobtanium?

Happy New Year!

I wonder if anyone out there still has this in their RSS feed, or if anyone is even checking in.
According to the suddenly working Google Analytics, you are not.
And that is fine, because I seem to have become among the thousands (millions?) who abandon their web-logs. Please accept my apologies.
I will be posting my most excellent final paper for my Software Maintenance course (I know you are all DYING to read it) when my degree status changes from "Applied" to "Awarded".
While the grades are in, I'm feeling a little superstitious, and don't want to do anything to jinx myself.
I promise to share some more interesting things with you in the coming weeks, like the miracle of the Swedish ivy (is it as delicious as their fish? Find out!), the little basil that could, and maybe, just maybe, I'll wax poetic on how much I want to get back to Hawai'i.

28 September 2009

Responsible Browsing

Obviously I don't write in this web-log for the money. If I did I'd be better off sating my writing jones transcribing Bibles in an itchy rode and a bad haircut.
As a web professional in a vein different from that of the professional "blogger" (ugh for the name, oh how I wish I could be one; to loiter in coffee shops or my house all day, reading articles and composing thoughtful commentary for your consumption), I am acquainted with some of the vagaries of Internet-based advertising, but I found this article on Slate fairly enlightening, since the vagaries with which I am acquainted are of the "upload a banner ad and set it to run on a specific part of the website" variety, not so much the "how the stats are reported" kind.
Remember, knowledge is power, and knowing is half the battle.

23 September 2009

Post Necromancy, Failing Memory?

I'm looking over my Google Analytics for the web-log, and I see a post that got 4 hits (what's up Zagreb!); but, it is a filename I don't remember and it's from July 2008 no less. Not long after I started my word-sharing over here vs. on Myspace. The post was this:

homo-sinister-temporarily-suspend-plans

The problem is I don't remember writing this. I'm really good about citing sources - between High School, Undergrad, and Grad School I've written too many papers to blatantly lift something without giving credit where it's due. I mean, I'm not Eric Bauman (a/k/a "eBaum"). Did I get that right? Bauman? Whatever.

So am I losing my mind, or do I need to edit in a source?

06 September 2009

Tweeting the Words Right Out of My Web-Log

I bought the iPhone, and right around the same time I found out that my username was available on Twitter. I then installed the Twitfon app, and the rest is a series of 140 character or less statements, a good chunk of which may have become full-blown web-log posts.
Depending on how you feel about these web-log posts, that is either a good thing or a bad thing.
Either way I've been neglecting my web-log. I apologize.
I do not make any promises to write more, because that's most likely lying. I'll just drop a list of random thoughts I might write / have written about, twitter style:

-My garden is still growing. Hot peppers, volunteer tomatoes / cantaloupe are the crop of the moment. I'm hoping to get a good fall planting in within the next couple of weeks. I'll grow radishes if it kills me. Swedish ivy is an amazingly hardy plant.

-School, the Final Semester is starting up again THIS WEEK! Oh man, and thanks to a weekend of working on work, I feel like I'm already behind on school stuff.

-Stanza is awesome; I've adapted to using my iPhone as an eBook reader handily.

-Seriously, I'm telling you, the iPhone 3GS is an amazing piece of technology. Snapshot taking, quick videos, surfing the inter-webs, checking email, twitter, playing games, making notes, etc. etc. It's the digital Swiss Army Knife I always knew I needed but could never find.
Did I mention it plays music?
I do still miss album shuffle, though!
Maybe I'll do a search on that.
I promise I'm not a shill for Apple. I just really dig the thing.

Okay, now I'm just rambling.

04 August 2009

Ka'awa Loa Plantation Bed & Breakfast: A Review

We planned to stay an extra few days in Hawai'i after the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival ended. After all, I didn't want to arrive on a Thursday evening just to come back the following Tuesday. Not when I was traveling a quarter-turn away from the old home sod. We needed a place to stay, and since the Mrs. was the expert on the island, she found us a Bed & Breakfast at which to stay. I honestly didn't think that our accommodations in those final days would be noteworthy, but here I am.


All Photos From Hawaii in Brief unless otherwise noted


Delta: It Be Showin'

This originally took form in my head on the flight from Kona to Los Angeles as an open letter telling Delta where to stick it. I must still address the awfulness of that leg of the journey, but now it will stand in some contrast to the remainder of our trip home from paradise (I will live in Hawai'i one day, God willing).
Honestly, we were running a little behind getting to the airport, and when we arrived on line at the Delta check in counter we were faced with an admittedly short line, but one of the check in terminals was broken, with tape covering it in places to prevent anyone from trying to use it. Not a stellar impression. We made the flight, which was our first mistake.
Sure, flying in coach (sorry "economy") is never what one would describe as fun, but it's normally tolerable. Except this time the AC on the plane was wonky, uncomfortably so. And the dude in front of me had a seat back that never made its way to the fully upright position. At least I had an aisle seat. Finally insult, the attendant was borderline rude and dismissive as multiple people complained about the stuffiness and warmth of the cabin. It sucks to fly coach. We got to LAX a little ahead of schedule, but it felt like forever before we got onto the ground and out of that sauna-flight.
Upon arrival at our connecting flight's gate (leg 2 of 3 for the flight home), a short jaunt to the end of the terminal, we soon determined the flight was overbooked, and if anyone of us travelers were flexible in our plans, might we make some alternate arrangements? The Mrs. and I stepped up, to see what was in the offing; we needed to end up in Dulles at some point. The agent offered us a Dulles arrival time of 1140pm EDT. It was around 8am PDT. There was no way I was getting home that late (originally we should have been back in Htown around dinner time); we walked away, and time passed.
We discussed it a little further, and as we were talking it over, events coalesced in our favor: they were very over sold on the flight, and to make matters worse needed to board the plane on the double-quick as an international flight from Sydney was on its way in, and the shared jet way was going to be locked down for quarantine purposes. The gate crew were worried. When we realized that the Mrs.' name wasn't appearing on the voucher list for obtaining a boarding pass while I had my pass, it was time to act. There was no way we were splitting up for the trip home. We returned to the counter.
"We're flexible, what can you do for us?" we asked another gate agent.
She offered us travel vouchers, first class on the LA to Atlanta flight, and some meal vouchers. We'd get free food, we'd get home around 930-10pm, we'd travel in luxury for a good long leg, and we would get some heavily discounted future air travel. We took it.
The flight from LA to Atlanta was the opposite of the first leg. It was comfortable, damned comfortable. The attendant referred to me as Mr. Murray, and I could have had free booze (sorry guys, I stuck to my water), and we sat in the very front-center of the seats. Awesome.
Totally Awesome.
It was everything I'd hoped it would be. Hot towels, even.
We even got to stay on longer because they put us into a holding pattern outside Atlanta. sure, I'll hang out in First class a little longer.
Then we got to Atlanta, and God reached down to keep us humble. Our final flight home was repeatedly delayed (it did give us time to eat some delicious Sbarro at one of the food courts) first because of the weather, and apparently later because someone died on the plane that was coming in to take us to Dulles. Damn.
The final leg was mercifully short (it finally took off at 1040pm), and we landed in VA somewhere after midnight. Our bags were waiting for us outside the baggage office (great security, guys), and we parted ways with Delta Airlines.
All told, I want to say that the later actions of the airline make up for the foul attitude and crap conditions of our first leg, but really, our windfall was largely due to serendipity, timing, and my acquiescing to my wife's insistence. So Delta, if someone is out there reading blogs, we're grateful for the upgrades and vouchers, but maybe you might want to stop over-selling flights, and remind your flight attendants that those of us in coach are people, too. We don't need hot towels or free booze, but as in many things in life a smile and a kind word go a long way.
Thanks for getting us home safe.

24 July 2009

Traveling Man, Hawaii Day 1

I'm sitting in LAX as I type this, at the top of a 4.5 hour layover. MY day actually started yesterday (7/22), because since I got home from work yesterday afternoon I've only aught a few catnaps, some watching TV, some while in the plane. I might just be exhausted enough to sleep from LA to HI. Of course, there's a Starbucks 30 feet from where I'm sitting, so bets are off. I do know that I'll sleep the sleep of the dead tonight. Whenever tonight is.
Back home it's 1130 in the morning - it's only 830 here (just in case you couldn't do the math). It took us just about 5 hours to get from Virginia to California.
Speaking of the flight, as I stared down at and took photos of the stark beauty that is the Western half of our nation I had a thought: it's called 'flyover country' by those of us on either coast (East Coast represent) as a derogatory term, but I would state that one of the few ways to truly enjoy the magnitude of the austere majesty of our nation is from the air.
Here's another thought - why not make the seats on the planes out of the same material as the seats in the boarding lounge? These things are comfy! Well, let's see if I'm still saying that in four hours.

Other random thoughts:

§Industry and Government should partner to use commercial aircraft as atmospheric data gathering platforms, if they aren't already doing so. Think about the real-time data that could be gathered as planes criss-cross the country.

§I'm hoping for a few celebrity sitings over the next four hours, but do celebs fly Delta? After all, Delta loves them some flyin, and it be showin'...

§My Teutonic Tourist count is presently at 9. There were 5 young ladies speaking German (I almost understood them ... almost) that shared the flight from Dulles, and there is a German speaking family here in the lounge. What's the deal with German tourists this year?

§I'm not giving it a full review, but "17Again" was the in flight movie, and it didn't suck. Sure, Matthew Perry's acting range makes Jeff Goldblum look positively Shakespearian, but it was a fairly clever retelling of "It's a Wonderful Life". Thomas Lennon was pretty good, and even though it's a goofy movie, it wasn't Twilight bad.

- - - The Next Day (T + 1) - - -

Sat next to a Ms. Swan analog on the flight from LA to HI, and watched the following movies:

§ Dragonball: Evolution; I invested a lot of hours in Dragonball Z years ago, and I was afraid of what this movie was going to be, but maybe it was the sleep deprivation, maybe it was the desire for escapism, but I enjoyed it. Shut off your brain fun, but that's what it was always about. I actually think they did a pretty good job of translating it from animation to live action, of course if they'd been exacting, the fight scenes would have made it a 4 hour movie. I've already typed too much, but I'd pay to see a sequel in theatres. Again, not Twilight bad.

§ Monsters vs. Aliens; Another fun movie. Dreamworks did a good job with this. I enjoyed the jokes, especially those that were intended to go over the heads of kids, which made it even funnier. We need more multi-layered cleverness.

§ Taken; only the first 2/3 I think, but enough time to watch Liam Neeson kick ass on 2 continents. I really want to see the end of this now, because I'm hoping he gets to stick it to the kid's mom and her 2nd husband, because they act like toolbags.

- - -

I've had dinner, half a concert (where the singing was good but I was exhausted), about 12 hours of sleep, and some freakin' awesome breakfast, and I've even managed to get the Internet connection working where I'm staying. Seriously, though, Waimea Coffee Company. They are completely awesome. We got there just in time to get a pretty large piece of Organic Blueberry Coffee Cake with icing to go with my 2 shot Americano.

There's a stream with just enough of a waterfall right outside our window to generate soothing white noise, and the view is amazing. Honestly, though, some of it reminds me of home; the hills, the standardized signage. Down by the shore is definitely a Martian environment, with lava fields just in the first stages of growing grasses and lichens that are breaking down the rocks and generating the biomass so future plants can take root. I'd love to see some of these in 1000 years, it'll probably be jungle.

As you can tell my thoughts aren't incredibly organized at the moment, but I wanted to share in some more detail than Twitter might allow. Check out my Twitter feed (look to your right) for some iPhone photos I've taken so far. I promise to aim for some more coherency as the trip progresses.

Aloha!

17 July 2009

Garden Ramble: WTF Edition - UPDATE 7-24-09

I've mentioned the volunteer cucumbers and tomatoes that choked out what little spinach I grew and have been thriving in a corner of my garden (well, the "cucumber" has been slowly vining out into the rest of the garden) ? Well if not, there you go.
Anyway, I was looking at the garden this evening and I noticed that the babies on the vine looked a lot rounder and fuzzier than any cucumbers I've ever seen.
I, I think I might have some kind of melon or something. Now I'm trying to think of what sort of seeds have been tossed into the compost - watermelon, cantaloupe?
It is a mystery, one that I likely won't find the answer to until after Hawaii.
Nothing like surprise gardening!

7-24-09: Looking like watermelon, based on the WATERMELON I found growing on the vine, all distorted because it (the melon proper) was growing around the handle of the plastic compost can.

T-6: Thoughts

Getting ready for work this morning I was thinking about my impending trip, mostly the flight, whether I'd go contacts or glasses (contacts), and decided that I was probably going to be awake when the plane landed in Hawaii because I'm not going to miss that approach and landing (much like one of Aerosmith's worst songs, I don't want to miss a thing. Hey, wasn't Liv Tyler in Pearl Harbor? This feels like a bad road to follow...anyway...) when I realized that my awesome new 18-70mm 3.5-4.5 lens, with its 67mm diameter glass, doesn't have a polarizing filter. Crap, that means most of my attempts to shoot the shores of paradise from the air would end up with the ghosts of my fellow passengers' reflections in the shot. That might be fine for Pa Kettle's vacation snaps, but I'm practicing my art here, and you never know when luck, preparation, and timing (timing is similar to luck, but something that you can learn, unlike luck, which is probably tied up with quantum theory) will coalesce into a shot for the portfolio. Preparation and timing are the largest parts of the equation ... I wonder what that equation would be, maybe:


Pr = Preparation
T = Timing
l = Luck
Ph = A Good Photo

(Pr3) * (T3) + l = Ph

I'm opening the floor on this one if anyone else feels nerdy enough to help fine tune the formula. Again, I digress.

To the point, I've ordered a circular polarizer for my lens, which means I should be able to cancel the reflective effects and maybe, just maybe, get an awesome shot of the Hawaiian shore. I ordered my filter by first checking out what Ken Rockwell has to say about them. Ken's never steered me wrong, and he's put a lot of work into his site's content. He has links to vendors that get him paid when you click them (you know how it works), so I went through him to Adorama, a vendor I've had good dealings with, and blammo, $30 later I have a Tiffen 67mm circular polarizer on order, should ship today (from NYC), and by the grace of God and a good tailwind should make it to my door tomorrow, or at worst Monday. Definitely by Tuesday, because if it doesn't arrive by Wednesday I'll be sleeping as the plane descends into Kona.
Can you tell I'm ready to go?

15 July 2009

Always Watch Your Six

I was going to call this "Highway to the Body Shop: My Wednesday Morning Commute", but that headline is blatantly sensationalist and my car is fine, and I am fine.
That said, I was riding up South Mountain this morning rolling with the flow (probably following a little too close for regulations -- but no closer than anyone else, commuters know) when suddenly the line of cars snaking its way up the left lane lit up with red.

RED Anger, frustration, Holy Shit everyone is stopping short BRAKE check the rear view - the guy behind isn't going to slow in time release the brake oh crap the angry red line is a lot slower and much closer time to brake nope he's gonna rear end me don't need that time to ditch but let's try to stay on the road swerve left don't hit the guy in front rumblerumblerumblerum - hey it's moving again.
Traffic spread out nicely after that, we all kept a safe distance, and I noticed behind me that the new friend I narrowly avoided making this morning (work through the syntax ... there, you got it) had moved into the middle lane, safely away from the rear of the vehicle he only avoided by the skill of the driver in front of him. Me. This is my web-log so I think a little braggadocio on my part is only warranted because half the point of keeping one of these is to remind people of how clever you are, right? I felt particularly clever, but mostly lucky, after that averted crisis.
To all the kids reading out there pay attention to your Driver's Ed instructors. Mr. Leasure's words rang in my ears today, "always leave yourself an out". If I'd had myself wedged between a few semis and a jersey wall with nowhere to go, I'd still be on the phone with the insurance company.
Oh, and just some generally good advice from me: always watch your six.
Also also: eat your broccoli. It's good for you.

Garden Ramble: I spoke too soon?

The peace lily I had given up for dead has sprouted a new bud!
There's an allegory buried in all this somewhere, which I will leave as an exercise for you, the reader. If you want to see the photo, I posted it to Twitter last night (I'm so current), so hit my just-added Twitter feed in the right hand column.
No, this was not posted just to pimp the Twitter, I really am thrilled that patience, faith, and Grace have brought this plant back from the brink of death. It was just a really good opportunity to mention the Twitter, and because I don't feel like re-posting the photo.

14 July 2009

9 Days 'til Hawaii

In such short time my friends I will board winged Mercury and take flight with old Sol into the West, alighting on the shores of Paradise. For a fortnight's half I will breathe the heady airs and trod the nubile shores wrought of Pele's anger brought cool by Pacific kiss. I will be rejoined with my love, segregated from my toils, and set free to indulge in my passions. I shall enter that burning Ring of Fire seeking transfiguration, but I'll settle for some lazy days, tasty coffee, and abundant margaritas. I'm ready for my vacation.
9 days til Hawaii. I'm so close to mentally checking out. Coming to work next week is going to be painful. I started packing last night, since I've done all the laundry and have more clean clothes than I ought.
While I'm out there I plan to do a lot of photography (duh), drink a lot of good coffee (double duh), and kill off the weaker brain cells (margaritas are my friend).
Actually, it's closer to 8 days at this point. That's just awesome.

10 July 2009

Garden Ramble: A post guaranteed to be as overgrown as my herb garden

It's been too long since I shared the going on in my garden. I've been through life, death, and life again with my botanical treasures. As usual I'll work from from to back. I'd like to make note of something, first. As I was pulling weeds from the sidewalk a few weeks back I noticed an oddly familiar plant sticking up out of the cracks - how did spearmint get in the sidewalk?! But it was there.
Now then, my front porch has faired better this summer than in summers past. The bricks of the house hold that morning heat all day, making it something of a brick oven, meaning that it's impossible for the soil in the pots and baskets to hold water for very long. Marigolds grown from last year's seeds are flourishing, zinnias are fighting the battle (also from collected seeds) but are much more needy in the water department. The ponytail plant I inherited is loving its new pot, and I haven't killed the hanging baskets we bought yet! Dad also gve me an awesome looking colias (sp?) pot with different colored foliage, and it is quite literally the cornerstone of my little front porch garden.
The houseplants are thriving as well! My spider plant has found a happy home in the bathroom, I'll hopefully have some babies this summer! One of my peace lilies has seemingly given up the fight, though; it never recovered after I split the plant in two. The other half is growing nicely, mind you. Likewise the indoor palms I almost killed with too much sun last summer, now split into two pots, are growing nicely.
The back porch has tomatoes and a bean plant (an accidental planting) as well as some seedling cayennes sprouted from seed that had wintered outdoors, mixed in with some flowers. Hanging proudly on the back porch is the officially recognized spearmint, transplanted back in the spring after wintering in the office.
The herb garden is indeed run riot. Several cuttings of peppermint, sage, chamomile, chocolate mint, lemon balm, and oregano are drying in the basement. Smells like tea down there. I need to get out there again soon and take another round of cuttings - oh, and I have an anise hyssop plant I picked up on clearance that has made itself at home. Very licoricey. The poinsettia we bought around Christmas is thriving in its predecessor's pot, and the rubber tree and snake plant are loving the sun and their new large pots.
The vegetable garden has been my largest source of frustration this season. Out of about 100 carrot seeds planted I have maybe a dozen carrots dispersed throughout the garden; the radishes were a huge failure. I mis-calculated my planting location and the hedge blocked too much light making them leggy and more interested in growing leaves than bulbs. Argh. I also got ONE stinking broccoli plant out of a dozen seeds, and that singleton was just transplanted because the squash plants were growing over it. I cut those back some so they wouldn't take over the pepper plants I just a week ago stuck in the ground. Finally, I had brown potato beetles attack my redskin potato experiment (where I stuck redskin potatoes that had grown roots while in the drawer into the ground to see if they would bear potatoes). That said it's not all bad, because...
I got taters, precious! Some things are growing nicely in the patch. I pulled out potatoes this evening, enough for a single serving. I tended to my remaining potatoes; hopefully there'll be enough for me and the mrs. to share after we get back from paradise (more on that in another post). The squash are growing, too! I'll hopefully have one with dinner before heading out. The garlic I stuck into the ground is just about ready to come out also, which elates me because that's just cool. My romaine lettuce is forming some heads, but other heads are pulling a radish, if you will. That corner of the garden is running riot because apparently the compost didn't sterilize all the seed and I have volunteer tomatoes and cucumbers that are growing better than they ever did when I planted them on purpose. I feel like God is looking down and saying "this is how it's done, hah!" Our God is an Ironic God.
As I contemplate the rest of the growing year, I'm going to give radishes another shot in the fall (I'm a glutton for punishment), and some more lettuce, and some onions! Dad has been sharing the largesse of his onion patch with us, and they are delicious. I want to get enough together to freeze for the winter because even thawed onion is better than dried onion, and who wants to pay for onion if you don't have to?
In the end it's all worth it, even if just staring at all the green punctuated by the yellows and blues and purples and reds of flowers and vegetables. It beats the hell out of the brown wasteland we get all winter, or the awful blandness of a manicured lawn.
That reminds me, I have to mow the grass tomorrow morning.

22 June 2009

So this is pretty cool...

This guy's 'blog' post makes me feel good for several reasons:

1. He updates his blog less frequently that I update my web-log.

2. A LEGO CONVENTION! I mean, I knew they had to exist, but oh finely plastic brick nirvana, whence might I snap myself upon thy dimpled green surface to suffer a thousand tiny pricks of plastic bricks, hands sifting to find the gem, the missing piece.

3. The aforementioned gives me a reason to go to Chicago, assuming Heaven descends upon The Second City annually.

4. The iPhone is really cool.

5. I want one even more now.

6. Nerd Justice!

7. I have a reason to consider purchasing MobileMe. (I wanted for a reason, I did).

8. A LEGO CONVENTION - it's worth mentioning twice, and you know it.

That is all.

17 June 2009

From Wired.com's AUTOPIA 'Blog': Autopia Planes, Trains, Automobiles and the Future of Transportation MIT Hopes to Exorcise ‘Phantom’ Traffic Jams

I may have mentioned this before, so bear with me please.
Since my college days, especially since I've begun commuting to Frederick/Clarksburg from Hagerstown daily (almost 10 years now), I've wondered about traffic flow, traffic jams, etc. there's been some research done on it, but I, of course, had largely considered the psychological reasoning behind some of the causes (motivation for goal seeking behavior - e.g. in passing scenarios), but that segued into wondering about traffic jams and the communication of information (watching a series of brakelights flow down a line of traffic is like an ultra-slow fiber-optic situation).
Per the title, they've "blogged", if you will, about some MIT research into this - I think I may have previously discussed the Japanese research referenced in the AUTOPIA posting.
From the post:

"The equations MIT came up with are similar to those used to describe fluid mechanics, and they model traffic jams as a self-sustaining wave.

“We wanted to describe this using a mathematical model similar to that of fluid flow,” Kasimov said.

The researchers hit upon the equation after an experiment by Japanese researchers demonstrated the formation of jamitrons on a circular road. In that experiment, drivers were instructed to travel 30 kilometers an hour (18.6 mph) while maintaining a constant distance between cars. It didn’t take long before disruptions occurred and phantom jams formed. Denser traffic brought quicker jams."


So yeah, fascinating stuff for me. Being able to consider what I'm stuck in scientifically, positing potential solutions while waiting for the jam to clear, has kept me sane more than once.
I'd consider collecting data, but that's as bad as picking the pickles off your burger in traffic, and I don't want to be that guy.

08 June 2009

About to Burst

I've been a nerd my whole life, the smart kid, and a tinkerer. It's genetic, coming down both lines. Later in life I developed an aesthetic sense, and after years of tinkering with Windows, I also needed a new OS to tinker with. It also helped if it Just Worked™ (You're Welcome, Jared). With that, and some encouragement from friends, I started running my first Mac, and eventually became a fan boy, much in the same way I'm a trek nerd - I mostly keep it to myself. Except for web-log posts, but no one reads these anyway, right? Where was I? Right:
Mac, iPod (in roughly that order), and today I'm still rocking out my 5G iPod Video and a 13" 2007 Macbook. I love them, and I love my sister for hooking me up with her old RAZR when I had to give back my company-sponsored blackberry when I switched jobs a little over a year ago, but it's about time for a change on 2/3 of those things, and I'm about to burst in anticipation - you know the super slo-mo video of the apple shot by a bullet? How the apple EXPLODES everywhere when the energy is transferred from the bullet to the apple? I'm the apple, and the iPhone is the bullet. I know, NERD.
I've been following the iPhone, dare I say lusting after it, since it was announced. Since before it was announced. I dare say my own speculation involved some sort of rotary-click wheel dialer to add phone functionality to existing iPods, but oh how deliciously wrong I was.
I've always wanted one, but at the time couldn't justify the expense; my iPod was still working great, and I had a phone, and plus, they were cool, but how much cooler were they going to get? And when was the iPhone going to hit the same level of storage that my present iPod has? 30 GB is that important level for me. Plenty of room for my music collection (quality control keeps it in check) and a few movies.
According to rumor that much like me is nearing the boiling point, the new iPhones that will be announced are going to have 32GB of storage. That alone is enough to put me in line to buy one. If any of the other rumors (the matte redesign, video capture) are true then I'll be even happier, but it's already a bitchin' piece of hardware, and now that it's likely going to have the storage capacity I desire, I'm getting one. If I don't explode first from the anticipation.
But what of the 30GB iPod 5G Video, you cry? eBay, so that I can recoup some of the upfront cost of the iPhone as well as allow someone else out there the chance to enjoy some classic iPod love.

I'm so 5 minutes ago

Yes, I've done it. I'm on Twitter; lefthandrob.
I'll admit I tried to sign up before, but I couldn't ever get that username, so I said F- it.
Now to figure out how to unify posting to Twitter with the Facebooks updates, and I'll be all digitally 5 minutes ago! Time to go check the RSS so I can see what the next fad, er, "trend", is.

01 June 2009

Zack & Miri

I, like most people my age, am a Kevin Smith fan; not quite a Secret Stash-visiting, trench-coat wearing super fan, but I've seen Clerks II, I own Clerks the Animated Series on DVD, and I can quote ("What's a 'Nubian'?"). But I haven't seen Jersey Girl, and until recently I hadn't seen Zack & Miri Make a Porno. Though it was on that mental list of movies to watch that we all carry around with us.
Zack and Miri can't pay the rent or any of the bills, they live in a Pittsburgh suburb (big points for getting out of Jersey, KS, but Pittsburgh? You're trying to make NJ look better by comparison, right?), they are roommates, and they don't have love lives. Cutting right to it, the Mac guy ("Hi, I'm a Mac" - I know it's Justin Long, settle down) does a great job as a gay porn actor, and thanks to him and some YouTube serendipity Zack gets a big idea to make a porn movie to pay the rent and convinces Miri et al to go along.
Of course Jason Mewes is cast as the male lead in the film, and we get some fun work out of Katie Morgan and Traci Lords (Google them at your own risk, oh, and take "fun work out of" as you will...). Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks are completely believable as Zack and Miri.
Yes, the plot is a little contrived and some things seem too convenient, but who cares, because it's funny - I haven't laughed this hard at a movie in a long time; in fact, bonus points if any one can tell me the last time I said that about a film - and it's just fun.
Given that this movie's been out for awhile, this review is about as dated as the Reebok Pumps scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but the movie was good enough that I wanted to drop a few paragraphs on you (a/k/a 'grafs' in the newspaper biz) related to the hilarity. If boobs, brief full-frontal, plenty of farcically simulated sex, and liberal use of the F-bomb don't phase you, then check it out.
If any of these things DO phase you, I'm sorry.

28 May 2009

Arachnis Uvas Mortis

I'm happily plucking grapes one by one from the stem at lunch this afternoon, waiting for my pizza to be done. After I get the pizza from the microwave and sit back down I look at the bunch and think

hmm...that looks like a spider web. It IS a spider web - must have been a spider in the bunch when it was on the vine.

And HOLY SHIT there was, because then I noticed - hey, those look awfully black, shiny and ... clustered to be dead grape stemsHOLYSHITASPIDERISINMYGRAPES.
This is like Superman saying "yeah, kryptonite", or Data telling everyone where his off switch is, but man I HATE surprise spiders. If Charlotte wants to spin her web that's fine by me, because mosquitoes and flies suck more than spiders, but DAMMIT I hate being ambushed by 8 legs of terror. the spider, I assume, was dead. I didn't investigate too closely.
It was a good thing I was alone in the lunch room, else others would have learned Rob's Heebie-Jeebie-creepy-crawly-F%$%$# dance. Whats the word for the sensation of bugs crawling on your skin, formication (huh huh)? That's me - I'm even formicating a bit writing this. Ugh.
Spiders. I'm adding a new phrase to my English - grape spiders: When you're ambushed by your biggest fear while eating, and your biggest fear is in your food.
It's like God was reminding me (after I forgot breakfast and someone brought in banana nut muffins - miracle, score!) not to get too cocky. "I love you and all, but snowflakes are snowflakes, and you're people. They're all unique and fragile, but you lot are in my image, so suck it up."
That said, the Weight Watchers Smart Ones 4 cheese frozen pizzas are really tasty, I highly recommend them and I think they're on special at Weis this week for 2 / $5, or as my mother-in-law might point out - 4 for 10!
Just inspect your grapes before you eat them. I'm taking mine in liquid form for awhile.

21 May 2009

WTF FCPS?

There's an article in today's Frederick News-Post about parents who have created a website to draw attention / rally support against the TERC Math Curriculum that's being phased in in Frederick County.
I don't have kids in Frederick County Public Schools, shoot, I don't have kids, but with family and friends in the education system these are the things I try to pay attention to.
It's bad enough that this program turns basic arithmetic into a long-winded, byzantine process, but it's even worse that when confronted with the reality, and questioned on it, an ASSOCIATE SUPERINTENDENT for FCPS says this:

"We're very pleased with the progress we're seeing," she said. "Every classroom I've visited this year has had a very high level of engagement and a high level of activity."
-(Bonnie Ward, associate superintendent of curriculum, instruction and evaluation)

Folks, friends, readers, this is some of the most obvious political double-speak I've seen in recent years, and I listen to NPR almost daily. Nowhere, you'll notice, does she say that the program is succeeding, only that they are pleased with progress, and that there's "a high level of activity". That could mean anything, people. It could mean that the children are solving problems at a record pace, or that they are rending their garments and wailing in the aisles between their little desks. Part of the reason I'd go into politics is to cut through the bullshit and just be honest. I'd never get elected.

This empty statement, as you can tell, irks me, as does TERC. Check out the FNP article, or I guess the parents' site (I haven't checked the latter). The article has examples of math problems. Someone thought this was easier? I smell cronyism, or worse: incompetence.

11 May 2009

Reporting from the Typhon Expanse

Saw Star Trek Saturday evening for the second time with the in-laws. This movie gets better with each viewing.
When that glorious ship arose from the clouds of Titan, I blurted (only loud enough for the Mrs. to hear) "I want one."
I'm such a nerd.

08 May 2009

I like this ship! [SPOILERS]

To quote the rebooted Montgomery Scott, that is. Because I agree with him. The photos released of the new Enterprise don't do her justice. She's still a proud ship standing tall, and i was in love the moment I saw her on the big screen. Fair warning, I'll probably drop SPOILERS in this, since it is a review of sorts.
As a matter of fact, I am DEFINITELY DROPPING SPOILERS IN THIS - DON'T READ IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW.
We saw Star Trek last night. I was minorly concerned at first; I'd been reading non-spoiler material, listening to the occasional JJ Abrams interview, and generally psyched that my favorite Space Opera was coming back with new material. Ultimately I'm pretty easy to please. As I've said before the only thing in Trek that ever really got me "mad" was lazy writing, but that's another post for another time.
Sure the plot was a little thin in this film, but this film wasn't about the plot. This film was about Abrams & Co. saying "Here's the new take on Star Trek that we came up with, this is who these characters are now and how they came to be." The bad guy and other incidentals like the story are secondary to the characters. And oh what characters:

Thanks to bad-buy Nero, George S. Kirk dies saving his wife and in-delivery son, living long enough to name the boy after his grandfathers: James Tiberius Kirk. Chris Pine's Kirk is an excellent re-casting of the character. Absent his father he has no Starfleet role model to emulate, and grows up brilliant but unruly. It seems like Starfleet was the missing piece in his life, because once he's convinced to sign up, the pieces fall in to place rapidly. Maybe this is the natural order of the universe re-asserting itself? After all, Kirk was always meant to command the Enterprise, just as he was always meant to defeat the Kobayashi Maru - eating the apple was the best part of that scene.
In a delightful twist on the original, it is Spock, not Kirk, who is the instructor at Starfleet academy, and this younger Spock we meet is more willing to access his human emotions as a young man than the uber-Vulcan we first knew him to be. Quinto's Spock is fantastic, and when Nimoy and Quinto stand face to face, it's a fantastic moment. Winona Ryder must be a big ol' Trekkie, 'cos I can't figure out why else they'd get such a big name for the minor role of Amanda.
Karl Urban *is* Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Dammit, man, he's an actor not a brick layer!
Simon Pegg's Scotty is fantastic - almost TOO funny, but Pegg somehow keeps it from going overboard. The whole "Admiral Archer's prize beagle" bit is priceless, and a great nod at continuity, even if it is in reference to the ol' scenery snacker.
Zoe Saldana is sexy, capable, and romantically involved with Spock the Younger - WHAT - Oh hells yes she is. That was the biggest surprise in the whole thing for me.
John Cho and Anton ... Anton ... the kid what played Chekov - they were both good, but other than "good pilot who fences" and "whiz kid with a Russian accent" respectively, we'll have to wait until the next installment to get more into their characters; hopefully. Maybe we'll eventually see that series everyone wants with Sulu captain of the Excelsior?
My fears melted away as I watched the film. I could feel the Star Wars oozing through that Abrams promised to being in, but I didn't mind it. I enjoyed it, actually. After all those years of crap action on the TV shows and lame action in the movies, it was good to see the Trek franchise with some kinetic energy. Kinetic is a word that occurred to me frequently in the watching. The score made me sad, though, only because I think it was a missed opportunity to give us some more iconic movements. Battle in the Mutara Nebula, an Angry God, Life is But a Dream, The Genesis Device, The Enterprise, Stealing the Enterprise, the Opening Credits (VI)... just off the top of my head these are movements from 5 of the first 10 movies that provide a lot of re-listening enjoyment. I did like the inclusion of the drums, though, but the fanfare should have been all over that movie, and it didn't show up until the end.
I know that plenty of nerds out there will hate something about the movie, but I didn't. Go see it many times, because not only is it worth it, but the more money it makes the more likely we get new trek, and I've just about seen every minute of Trek on video, twice. I'm hungry for some new voyages, and the new crew I was introduced to last night are just the people for the job.

05 May 2009

Coffee: Good for the soul

Bitter Ambrosia
Aethereal vapors soothe
twist into my soul
Keystone of my day.

Reborn each morning
Reborn with each inhalation
Reborn with each taste upon my tongue
Reborn as I pour, giving thanks for bitter-sweet salvation.

Ninety-nine names
by these marked for God
He shares with us this gift
Divine deliverance in a cup.

30 April 2009

Playing for Change

A big thanks goes out to my Aunt Robyn for putting me on to this. No matter what your personal politics might be, you cannot argue that these guys are doing something amazing, artistically and technologically.

I know FZ was doing something similar before he died, only he was bringing different musicians from around the world to him.

My only critique is that it needs more trumpet ... I'm here when you're ready for me guys.

Check this out, check them all out:

In Memory of Magical Things

Stroll with me for a moment down memory lane. Years ago I found myself at loose ends, with re-discovered friends, looking for a place to hang out. We eventually found a length of polished wood to hold up, and it was called "Merlin's Tavern".
I was drawn in at first by the computerized trivia that you could play for free, but by the time Blaine (Brodka, until recently the owner of Merlin's) canceled the trivia, I had made acquaintances with the othe regulars. They were a fascinating crowd. Some of them rough around the edges, some of them incredibly successful, all of them just wanted to blow off some steam with a few beers and a game of pool. Some of us played darts on the electronic scoring soft-tip machine that had more plastic in its face that Michael Jackson.
There was a lot of laughter, and more than once someone's extended absence was noted with a simple remark that they were guests of the county. Like I said, a little rough around the edges.
After a lot of Molson, more "rocket fuel" shots than is strictly healthy for anyone, and plenty of free dinners courtesy of my Merlin's Card (spend $60, get $10 free food/drink!), I moved on, though Merlin's kept rocking for a few more years.
I drive by every now and then, and the place looks empty, the soul of fun and a few hours' escape from what life held elsewhere now gone somewhere else. The magic was gone.
I think I still have my official Merlin's Dart Team (yeah, what of it? I had fun) T-shirt in a box somewhere. I may have to wear it in memory of magical things:

---

Former Merlin’s Tavern to become liquor store
By DAN DEARTH
April 29, 2009
dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Washington County liquor officials on Wednesday gave the new owner of the former Merlin’s Tavern in Hagerstown permission to convert the business into a liquor store.

Lucktinny Soeung said after a meeting with the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, known as the liquor board, he intends to close the business this week to make renovations and reopen in about a month.

“We’ll have a carryout — no bar,” Soeung said.

He said he intends to name the business Summit Liquors.

The liquor board gave Soeung its blessing despite opposition from two local liquor store owners, who said the West End didn’t need another liquor store and a trend was being started by allowing bars to morph into carryouts.

On April 15, Mark Svrcek, owner of Captain Benders Tavern and Antietam Cafe in Sharpsburg, told the liquor board he wanted to convert the bar portion of the business into a liquor store, The Herald-Mail has reported.

A liquor board official said Wednesday that Svrcek’s request still is under consideration.

Blaine Brodka, the former owner of Merlin’s Tavern, said after the meeting he decided to sell the business because he couldn’t find competent help.

“I’m disappointed with the quality of employees that I’ve had,” Brodka said. “Over the last eight years ... I’ve had 180 employees.”

Brodka said he always tried to ensure Merlin’s maintained a good reputation.

The liquor board fined Merlin’s $400 on Wednesday for serving alcohol to an underage police agent earlier this month. That incident occurred before Soeung took over the business, a liquor board official said.

27 April 2009

Garden Ramble - Finally Something About Which to Ramble!

[Note: This is a long one kids, so be prepared]


"What is it with men and gardening?" the Mrs. asked me yesterday as we discussed our plans for the garden, driving home from church. "Is it because you can't have babies?"

I suppose there's some merit to that hypothesis; that a garden gives a man the opportunity to nurture a tiny seed into a beautiful plant, sometimes over the course of many years (I know I was happy to see that all of my perennials weathered the winter intact). I mentioned it in one of my early garden rambles last year, how it's in my blood. At least 3 generations of Murray men have been gardeners. The 3 I'm familiar with, anyway. It's what I gotta do, to borrow from Rod Farva.
But what of things horticultural, you cry! Cast off the reminiscences and the meta-physics, and get to the plants. Dammit man, you insist, what of your garlic?
And I reply, the garlic I planted, taken from cloves given to me by my father, is doing nicely. Better than expected, but thou the vegetable garden was planted first, let us begin on the front porch and then move to the back porch, the herb garden, vegetable garden, dog-garden, and the in-progress flower beds of the sidewalk. That last a mighty tale of heroism and long struggle.
But first, the set up. We went shopping for stock with which to garden yesterday after church. Home Depot gift cards were put to good use (Wedding presents - woohoo!) in purchasing flowers, and mulch, and plants, and potting soil. We bought pots at the Lowe's, since none of the Home Depot pots that we saw inspired us. Though while at Lowe's I made to take down an up-turned urn for closer inspection, and got a shirt-full of water for my trouble. The base of the urn makes for a capable holder of water itself. In the 95+ degree heat it made for a pleasant surprise, oddly enough. And a much-needed laugh, as heat wore us down. We returned home with our treasures, and set forth to work on garden things. I transplanted and planted as the Mrs. pulled and tore at vines and branch - more on her later.
The front porch will be gorgeous in a month, if I keep the window boxes and the hanging baskets watered. Flower seeds from last year that I gathered have been planted in the boxes out front, and shade-loving flowers (fuchsia and a mixed-pot) have been hung. The pony-tail plant that I inherited from Mrs. Krumpe has found a new home in a larger pot, and much needed. The poor plant was root-bound, so I freed up the roots and gave it a generous shot of water. Given the oddly arid nature of the front porch, it should be just enough water for the plant to get established in its new pot. We may add more to the porch; I may buy some more flowers as transplanting has found me with many empty square pots that would do very well out front. But that will be then. For now, let's move on.
The back porch is primarily a staging area for potting, transplanting, and plants in transition. It's almost like my own like plant hospital - much to her dismay. I try to make it look as decorative as possible, for a work area. Right now there's a hanging strawberry plant in need of planting, a window box with out a home with flower seeds, and a maple tree sapling that just sprouted. Inspired by my parents I want to nurture it and plant it in a corner of the yard, where I hope it will grow into a big tree. Well, a tree, period, really.
Stepping off the back porch and ignoring the patch of bare ground that I think is poisoned because grass refuses to grow there, we step into the herb garden. Perennial mums sprouted up, giving floral beauty (eventually) to these fragrant rows. Lined up behind these silent sentries (get it, mums, silent?) on the left is Peppermint, freshly planted rosemary (a mistaken purchase. I had a pot of rosemary from Dad that I will discuss later, for some reason I thought it was thyme.), lemon balm, self-seeded chamomile, oregano, chocolate mint, and then more flowers wrapping around to my butterfly bush (weathered the winter much better than the potted butterfly bush Mark I) and flower garden. Eventually - this week - along the fence I intend to plant sunflower seeds.
Walking back to the top of the right row you'll find freshly planted basil interspersed with cilantro and an anise-smelled leafed herb whose name, I am embarrassed to admit, presently escapes me. It smells like licorice, though. Old friends sage and Other Peppermint (spreading like the weed it is) are still strongly represented.
On the patio there is a new player, a nice wide yet low pot into which I have planted lavender, and transplanted my other oregano and the aforementioned rosemary, the latter two refreshed after wintering in the kitchen. Our plan is to move this large pot indoors come cold weather and have fresh herbs all winter long. We plan for a second pot to contain mints and other herbs suitable for teas (perhaps the lavender should have gone here?)For now, however, we must concern ourselves with vegetables.
Vegetables. Delicious, healthy, fun to grow! Yes, friends, the third year of the vegetable garden seems to be the most promising year yet. A path was dug, allowing for beds, compost was mixed in with soil that had been worked last year, and minor expansions were made to reclaim ground laid bare from creeping weed removal. Thus far radishes, lettuces, spinach, peas, and garlic have all sprouted and are in the process of sprouting (about half the pea sprouts are up. I am looking forward to fresh peas this year). Carrots and broccoli are taking their good sweet time. Ah! I bought crook-necked squash at the Home Depot yesterday, and planted those three seedlings, hopefully spaces far enough apart. Double hopefully that the peas and broccoli will grow faster than the squash so that they might share some ground. There is a patch of ground where I planted old seeds that didn't do much last year. I felt it was a waste to not even give them a shot, but nothing as of yet. Hopefully dad will have some peppers for me to transplant in soon, and this is the spot reserved for them. Otherwise I'll have to keep peppers potted until the spring veggies come out. I have to consider what to put in when the spring stuff comes out. Maybe additional peppers? Maybe beans? No, beans are too much work for too little return. I do want to get some onions in the ground, but I fear it may be too late for them and tat they'll have to wait until fall. Anyone have any thoughts as to what to put in the ground after radishes, carrots, and lettuce have come out? Dad will have good ideas, for certain. Oh! Maybe zucchini.
I know you're dying to hear about the hedge monster we're slaying, but first, some fun news from further into the yard. Yes, formerly the domain of dogs, dandelions, and not much else, I have decided to spruce up the back half of the yard a bit. My first decision was, when cutting the grass for the first time (what a jungle) this year I decided to not cut back those few clumps of grass that are of a wildly different species than the rest, looking almost ornamental (Though definitely accidental). It gives a garden feel to that patch of grass. At the back center of the yard I've put the bird bath, with the only working solar lamp, and a small garden that is kind of the step-child of gardens, but I plan to put some work into it after getting the rest of the yard into shape. But Rob - you say - won't we have to walk a potential mine field (try as you may, you never get it all when you have dogs). Nay, nay, I say, Nay! For the brick path that runs between herb gardens bisects the yard nearly to it's lengthwise extent. Alas it is covered with grass for half that length. Well, only about a quarter now. There's some back-breaking labor in the heat; digging up ye aulde sod that covers a brick path. I plan to have that done by week's end also, using the sod to cover the dead patches in the part of the yard that I wish I could just pave over. Hey, that's not a bad idea. Nah. So yeah, brick path all the way back, fun little garden (and eventually tree) and some ornamental grass. Finally, our own green monster.
Photos will show you the hedge that serves as privacy barrier between our yard-garden and the world. Those of you who have been to our house know of it. My parents have helped me tame it in the past. The Mrs. and I have spent long hours on weekends bringing it under control. This Spring our mission is to pull out the ivy (we'll never get it all), and put in flowers and mulch. Thanks to the ivy and birds nesting in the hedge above, the earth on this 37 foot long, 3 foot high, 60 degree incline on the side of out house is fairly rich. I don't plan to use any fertilizer, because this stuff is loam, baby. It's also, however, a pain in the arse to clear out, and apparently the city's auxiliary trash dump. Thus far we have found:
  • several plastic bottles of cleaning chemical, liquor, and soda variety
  • a complete set of metal flatware
  • pieces of plastic flatware
  • a basketball
  • the blades from manual edging trimmers
  • several pens (someone call Papermate, 'cos one of them still worked)
  • shards of glass bottle
  • cans of soda/beer
  • various food wrappers / plastic containers
  • a cassette tape of The Judds
  • a cassette tape of Mariah Carey
No one was nice enough to toss in any money. We've filled 4 yard bags with plant waste, and 1 trash bag with the trash listed above. We are about 40% done clearing the ivy and assorted mess. It would be nice to have the flowers planted by week's end, but this project might carry into May by a week or so. I was tempted to offer $20 to the kids riding by on their bikes to help out. I should make them do it for free because odds are some of the crap belongs to them (or their parents in the case of the flatware). As is the case in such gentrification projects, it appears that we are making homeless several spiders, roly-poly bugs, and centipedes. Likely a salamander or two, as well. Ants and worms are welcome to stay, and all the other bugs are welcome back once the mulch is in place. Especially the spiders. Better them there than in the house! I ask you, though - what possesses people to dump their garbage into a hedge like that? She's going to injure anyone she catches using our hedge as the Resh Rd auxiliary, and I don't blame her. We're putting a lot of work into this. We're putting a lot of work into the whole thing, and that's okay, because come some sultry August evening when the herbs are tall and the flowers radiant we'll sit back - tired from an hour's weeding and picking - on our porch and gaze into the West, into the garden, and feel a distinctly parental pride at what we've made.

21 April 2009

Ending the Embargo

I swore I'd never go to a Trek convention. Sure, I've seen just about every minute of Trek that ever aired, and I've read more Trek novels than is recommended for a sane person. But I always kept it in the house. I never let it hurt those I love; so why would I want to go to a trek convention now?
Partly because of the curiosity of what I might see, the deals I might find (I'm always on the look out for a good deal), the photo-ops. I might actually be able to compose a decent shot or two - you look at the photos from these things and you'd think that these people have never heard of off-camera flash, or even bouncing the light.
And that's why I have to go. The pictures. Not the mechanics, but the subjects. The stars. The people we as sci-fi watching nerds all love, love to hate, want to be, or want to be with (watch some TOS, and your hailing frequencies will be open, allright) are up on stage, or at some table, signing autographs, hugging sweaty nobodies in ill-fitting and poorly sewn costumes, and generally looking uncomfortable.
I'm not white-knighting. I don't plan any major SAVE THE STARS campaign. I'm willing to bet the money's even pretty good. But something about the way they look in those photos just doesn't sit right with me. Our idols reduced to common men. Heroes of our youth (and, let's all be honest, not-quite-so-youth) brought down to our level. Not even do they appear to be treated as celebrities, cordoned off from the rest of us by assistants and security and velvet ropes. Plastic folding tables, sharpies, and glossy prints from 30 pounds and a decades past. Is the money worth being on display? They just look borderline miserable to me.
Except when they are on stage. Then they come alive. I mean, they are actors, after all. The photos while they are on stage, performing, reminiscing - the fourth wall ephemeral but still there, almost in phase with our reality (to borrow some technobabble).
Or, I'm completely off base, projecting my own feelings into some inopportune moments captured in jpg format; faces in transition from listening to a smile of warm recognition of a shared experience. Maybe it's too a bit of my naivete that I'm unwilling to part with: I know they are just people working on a sound stage, but in a deep part of me I want it all to have been real. So I want to go to a convention to see for myself. While I'm there maybe I can take some decently lit photos, and capture the moments that I'm hoping I'll see.

20 April 2009

Four Things

It's meant as an email forward, or maybe a Facebook Note - I'm drawing a conclusion with the Facebook, because I'm a bad person and haven't made the time to play with it in a while. Been too damned busy with the school work. Anyway, rather than email this to everyone, only you 4 or 5 people who actually read this non-sense I call a web-log can share in my answers. Maybe after finals I'll get on the Facebook and make an update pointing out this link. Oh yeah:

1.Four places that I go to all the time:
-My Secret Lair
-Higher Ground
-Kitchen
-to sleep

2.Four people who e-mail me (regularly):
-Francesca
-Bobby
-Becca
-Chris M.

3.Four favorite smells:
-The smell my parents' house has when the sun really warms it up for the first time of the year, right around early to mid-May. I catch that same smell in my own house, right by the front door, on warm sunny mornings.
-Cooking Smells
-Coffee
-Clean dog / puppy

4.Four other places I would rather be right now:
-Mexico
-Hawaii
-Anywhere they're serving very large, very cold margaritas - Don't judge me
-Still in bed

5.Four people I think will respond:
-Becca
-Jared
-The other 2 people who read this thing.

6.Four TV shows I watch:
-Scrubs
-Chuck
-Heroes
-Better Off Ted

Here's what you are "supposed to do":
Please don't spoil the fun. Hit 'forward,' delete my answers, type in your answers and send it to a bunch of people, including me. It's only SIX questions. Please take the time. Thank you.

Here's 4 things you can choose to do:
1. Reply to this post and leave a comment with your answers, and share this post with all your pals.

2. Make your own web-log post and share the link here as a comment.

3. Facebook it (is Facebook a verb yet?)

4. Read and move on with your life

18 April 2009

What is the Matrix, Neo-Office?

Through a series of convolutions that you all have come to now as Rob-esque (Robian, Robbiestyle?, whatever), I run NeoOffice, the OS X optimized version of OpenOffice(.org - what is the deal with that nomenclature?).
I had, until last night, kept an old copy of MS Office V.x on my system as an insurance policy even though I greatly preferred NeoOffice. Last night I took the plunge and uninstalled MS Office off my system, partially fortified by third party conclusions in an aticle I read about a staunch PC writer whose editor had him running a mac for a fortnight. Overnight while I was sleeping, apparently my mac fell into a coma. Likely because I never reboot and I am an OS tinkerer. Old habits die hard, right Jared?
Point is I'm working on a huge project and I couldn't remember if I'd saved my final round of changes (at 11:30 last night), so I was resigned to losing some of what I'd typed.
Not So! NeoOffice recovered it all for me, formatting and everything, where any copy of MS Office(Word) that I've ever used recovers a half garbled mess along with what you were lucky enough to save before the fall, uhm, crash.
My conclusions? You all need to go buy Macs (iMacs, Mac Pros, MacBooks, Mac Minis, if you have the cash how about a MacBook Air?) and install NeoOffice to do your work. Virtual Box will fill your needs for any filthy Windows work you need to do (like MS Project - SIGH).
Just a little advice and a love letter to some hard working FOSS programmers out there. Looks like I owe you a donation! Someone hold my feet to the fire on that one, these guys need donations as much as publicity. Because I am a publicity MACHINE.
Right, back to my project.

15 April 2009

Hot Coffee

This is something that I have pondered off and on for a couple of years now, usually while driving somewhere so that it's forgotten by the time I get anywhere it's safe to take notes:

Why does coffee begin to cool more rapidly after you take that first sip, even in an insulated travel mug?

Does the backwash force more circulation and therefore energy loss
Does the increased ratio of air to coffee inside the mug lead to more rapid loss of energy?
Is the reduced volume of coffee related to that (e.g., less energy-holding coffee to share and contain the energy)?
Is it a psycho-sensory effect brought on by the mouth's heat receptors becoming accustomed to the greater heat of the coffee compared to the ambient temperature of the mouth?

I have a hunch this is mathematically solvable using thermodynamics equations, but I think we all know that doing the experiment is more fun than just working some problems. Not that I won't use math to verify my results. I will also conduct a lierature review to see if anyone else has done any work on this phenomenon.
Here's the experiment:

-- START -- EXPERIMENT --

Repeat three (3) times (Weak, normal, strong brews) making coffee as defined here:

A. Weak Coffee - 1 scoop Less than # of cups in pot
B. Normal Coffee - # of scoops = # cups in pot
C. Strong Coffee - 1 scoop Greater than # cups in pot


Materials
  • Drip Coffee maker with pot
  • Water (enough to fill the coffee pot)
  • Ground Coffee (enough to make 3 pots of varying strength)
  • 2 matching ceramic coffee mugs
  • 2 matching insulated travel mugs
  • 5 thermal probes

Procedures

1. Brew a pot of coffee.

2. Pour coffee into all 4 mugs.

2.1 Return pot with remaining coffee to burner.

3. Seal travel mugs.

4. Insert probes into all 4 cups and the pot of coffee.

5. Record initial probe readings.

6. Wait 5 minutes, then record new readings.

7. Take a sip from one ceramic and one travel mug - the other 2 mugs are controls.

7.1 - exclaim about how hot the coffee is.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until the cup of coffee is empty. (For extra fun make a note of when you no longer feel it necessary to perform 7.1)


Expected Results
----------------

The open ceramic mug that is sipped from will lose temperature quickest, followed by the sipped-from travel mug, then the open control, travel control, and the pot. Possible confounding variables include variable air temperature, strong/variable air movement, presence of sweetener (we are conducting this experiment with black coffee), and for step 7.1 the relative sensitivity of the experimenter's mouth.

-- END -- EXPERIMENT --

Feel free to offer constructive criticism, replicate this experiment and send me your results in tabular format to lefthandrob at gmail, or point me to where this very thing has already been done. This is FOR SCIENCE!


p.s. - Save all those used coffee grounds; they're good for your compost.

10 April 2009

It feels so much later...

Why do semesters always end in fevered frenzies to completion? The papers come due, the finals are offered, projects are critiqued. Does anyone REALLY do their paper weeks before it's due?
The good news is that I finished the first of 2 papers and that the second will hopefully be a lot easier. I also found time last night to deploy the compost I started last Spring and get most of the vegetable garden planted! I mean, some of the stuff is either old seed or experiments (let's see if I can get some potatoes to grow), but most of the seed I bought last Summer and spent the Winter nice and dry and not overly cold. A week or so should tell the tale.
If the old seed or the potatoes fail to sprout, more room for peppers and squash when it comes time to plant those favored vegetables.
Can I tell you the satisfaction I felt shoveling that compost out onto the garden beds (looks like a pair of graves for 7' tall people lacking headstones right now), knowing that it all started as garden, yard, and kitchen waste? I'm going to start saving my apple cores and orange peels from my lunches to deposit, knowing that come next Spring I'll have the best kind of fertilizer - effective and FREE.
Does compost count as an Open Source project? I mean, I control what goes into it, other people can contribute, and it doesn't cost me anything. Have I spent too much time this week reading up on FOSS? Probably.
I do know that this brief evening's planting coupled with the promising shoots already coming out of the ground (mint, sage, chrysanthemums, lemon balm, chamomile, oregano, other flowers...) means that in another couple of weeks and with another round of seeding the various pots that your fondest wish will come true and you'll have another season of Garden Rambles to share and enjoy!
Seriously, it feels way later than not-quite-midnight. Happy Easter! Go Jesus!

03 April 2009

Quick Hits Before Work

We went to the store last night, and one of the items on the list was some hair jelly (O reference where art thou?) for me. I haven't bought any hair fixatives in a long time because the last time I bought some there was a great sale so I stocked up, and then I went through an au natural phase. Hey, you are that curious, or else you wouldn't be reading this, Q.E.D.
Since I couldn't find any Dapper Dan around I examined my other options. I had almost decided on one particular tube of follicle goo when reading the label I took note of the warning to keep it out of eyes. The last time I check my hair is pretty close to my eyes. Not that I have a habit of rubbing my eyes with gooey hands, but who knows what might happen when one is half asleep? I did not purchase that brand.
I did however purchase a competing brand which I am using for the first time this morning, and I can still smell it.
In other news, I had a clever though yesterday morning on my way in to work: I then completely forgot it by the time I sat down at my desk to scribble it down, so if you see any errant clever thoughts floating around that look like they might be mine, let me know? Thanks!
Finally, School ends for me 4/26 (until Fall semester). Mark your calendars.

16 March 2009

Garden Ramble: Hello 2009

I know, it's been 2009 for a few months now, but garden-wise all I've been doing is praying that my oregano made it through the dark days without giving up the ghost. It has. It's actually looking a LOT happier these days. Some of my houseplants aren't thriving as I'd hoped they would. I split my peace lilly into 2 back in the Fall and it's been an uphill struggle for both parts ever since. My ficus - which hadn't been doing well for awhile - finally lost its last few leaves over the winter. Successfully, though, I've managed not to kill the spider plant I started with babies from my mother-in-law. It actually seems to be thriving.
Given that my cubicle/desk is right next to a giant west-facing window, I have a small garden of very happy plants - as long as I remember to water them. The air in this place is extremely dry and seems to leech moisture right out of the soil.
My indoor gardens have kept me minorly occupied over winter, but I'm getting itchy to hit the dirt out back and out front of the house, to get the petunias potted and the radishes in a row. I want blossoms front and back and veggies ripe on the vine waiting for a quick trip to the dinner table (and not Zoe's stomach). It's almost that time. Some bulbs my father gave me over a year ago finally went into the ground this past fall, and they have sprouted! Hopefully we'll see some flowers on them soon, as we likely would have the tulips I bought if I'd remembered to put them in the ground. I also planned to start seeds inside this winter, but for whatever reason I never got around to it. The best intentions and such. I may just break down and buy seedlings from the local nursery.
All of this in good time, though. This week, friends, as Spring barrels toward us (Friday!), and I have no school work (Spring Break!) and the weather is meant to be nice (weather! - okay, I'm done) I'm going to get the ground prepared. Soil will be turned over, compost/fertilizer will be added, fences will be put up to keep out dogs who think that flower gardens make excellent places to mark territory, and basically I plan to have the framework in place to which we will lovingly add seeds, seedlings, and full-on plants that will grow into a lush and verdant piece of scenery that will be soothing to both eye, nose, and soul.
I'm looking forward to Spring and Summer, my friends. The next ramble will likely regale you (bore you to tears) with tales of plantings. Maybe I'll remember some photos then.

When I am King

Another in my wonderful series describing how I will make an excellent manager of people, things, and money.
This is a brief one. I came across the Ten Secrets of Successful Tech Support today, and wanted to add this to my growing body of tenets and observations. When I am King, I and my staff will employ these techniques and our customers will be happy! Shoot, they're good to follow right now. They're applicable even beyond tech support.

The New iPod Shuffle

To all the "Bloggers" who are lucky enough to get to play with all the new Apple gear that the rest of us actually have to pay for:
Stop hating, Jerks. Even if it's only because you're trying to foment comments to get eyeballs on your advertising, it's getting old.
Negativity is getting old, people.

11 March 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion

You all know I like to take make photos - did you know I like is so much that I do wedding photography? I do. I do more than that, too. I'll shoot birthday parties, bridal showers, party parties; basically events.
When I say "I" I mean "We", as in my aunt, partner, and friend Robyn.

We're talented, friendly, reasonably priced, and (usually) available on short notice.

There are links right in this here web-log that will show you my work as a photographer, both amateur and pro. Please click on them.

Tell your friends, your family, your acquaintances that if they need a photographer, email us! We even do portrait / head shots (on location).

Thanks.

Rob Murray
photonorthstudios@gmail.com
PhotoNorth Event Photography is Rob Murray and Robyn Miller.

07 March 2009

Rob Watches (the) Watchmen

She was going to drag me to Twilight last night, but a with little luck and a brother-in-law on my side (thank God for Chaz), the three of us went to see Watchmen. I've read the novel, so I knew what to expect coming in. I also knew that I would likely be in close proximity to NERDS.
First things first - this is definitely an R rated movie. It likely pushes the envelope of the R rating. I won't go into too many details, but if you don't like seeing generously proportioned blue-schlong or a tastefully done sex scene between costumed adventurers, then you won't like this movie.
They also use the word "Fuck" in it a few times. I know, right?
Synopses you can get everywhere else on the internet, so I won't carry on with one of those. I will share my impressions:
  • WOW
  • Holy Shit
  • Freakin Awesome
  • How Cool
  • How Clever
  • Nice
That's a good sampling of how I felt.
Moving along, the soundtrack of existing songs was nicely chosen. The songs all trended towards the cliche for me, but it felt like that was intended. After all, Moore was making a similar point when he wrote the novel, so the use of very widely known songs from the mid-late 20th century did a great job of painting mood and feeling with a nice broad brush. Like a 4-color comic book, if you will.
The casting was likewise fantastic. The actors all did top notch jobs, faithful to and fleshing out their previously 2-d characters. I didn't feel like anyone turned in a poor performance. Well, the actor who portrayed Nixon felt a bit TOO charicature for me, but again, I think this was done for effect. If they'd wanted a more faithful to our reality representation, they would have done it.
The camera work didn't make me nauseous and I never felt disoriented. Those are my 2 criteria for "good" camera work.
I did have to sit next to a skinny, bearded, long-haired nerd (who thankful did not have any weird odors) and his buddy. They giggled during the aforementioned sex scene. I wanted to ask them if they'd ever actually been that close to a naked woman that they hadn't paid for (likely they wouldn't do that either, because the stereotype is of the White Knight - obviously those girls need saving! I digress...), but I just sighed quietly to myself and used my Man Power of Selective Hearing to tune them out and get back into the movie. Because after all it was a sex scene.
The NERDS ("basement dwellers" -Chaz) didn't spoil the movie for me, and overall the packed theatre was well behaved. I imagine a 9:51pm showing weeds out most of the idiots.
One weakness that was pointed out was the length. The pacing - such as I am able to speak of such things - did drag a times, but I think this was often when back story was being filled in, or maybe when Doc Manhattan was pontificating. His calm, detached demeanor would be likely boring to anyone who forgets that he is an energy being who comprehends the UNIVERSE.
You saw my impressions above. Go see it. Brace yourself for the slow moments, but if you find yourself getting bored, think about how Doc Manhattan could take out the galaxy at any moment, and pretend that he's thinking about it. Because he probably is.

20 February 2009

Review: The Melting Pot

We love to eat. We've been known to go for the basic (fresh fruit / veggies), the awful (chips and soda), and the gourmet (my own creative cooking). We also like to eat out. We try to keep it to once a week. This time it was Valentine's Day and it was a Saturday. Outback wasn't going to cut it, so I made reservations for The Melting Pot in Towson (they also have a place in Rockville/Bethesda).
We showed up about a half hour early for our seating, and were guided to the bar where I had a Smithwick's draught and she had something deliciously fruity and alcoholic. It was fairly quite in the bar, and we shared a quiet married moment of being dressed up at a nice bar watching the Food Channel. They were not making fondue.
The Melting Pot, you see, is a fondue restaurant. They guided us to our table 15 minutes early (so it was 8:45 pm), and I promptly noticed the large electric burner with the HOT warnings on either side. The table surface itself was made of a ceramic tile of some sort - definitely more heat resistant that your average lacquered wood table. Something I noticed, that had been itching at me since we got there; it's very steamy inside the restaurant because of all the open pots of broth/oil cooking away at each of the tables.
Our waitress - a friendly, polite, and expert professional whose name escapes me - came over and gave us the rundown for the evening, and that we had a few choices to make even though the menu was set. We went with the garlic cheddar for our appetizer, the brothy goodness for our entree, and the chocolate turtle for dessert. Caesar salads came before the entrees.
Everything was delicious, from the first bite of cheese covered bread to the last morsel of marshmallow soaked in melted chocolate. I had some small issue with some of the seasoning choices for the pork and chicken, but overall everything was fantastic - even the coffee we ordered with dessert. Who knew that fillet Mignon boiled in spiced chicken broth could be so tasty?
My only other mark against - mostly my own fault - was the pacing of the meal. Judging by the table next to us they worked on a set timetable for each party. The other couple was abut 5 minutes behind us all evening. I would have preferred a more variable timing to the whole thing since we eat a little faster than most (especially all those pre-cut bites!) but I think this is God's expensive way of telling me to SLOW DOWN when I'm eating. The atmosphere (though steamy) was nice, the bathrooms are clean, and the staff is very helpful. It's incredibly pricey, but then fondue isn't exactly a nightly cuisine option at most dinner tables.
Though the next time I make some beef, I might consider boiling it in chicken broth.
Don't judge me.

09 February 2009

The Decline and Fall of Downtown Hagerstown

In recent years many towns and cities have undertaken revitilization and gentrification projects for their Central Business Districts, to great success. I think of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Downtown Frederick for two. Shepherdstown, WV enjoys a thriving "downtown" also, thanks to the nature of the College Town. Hagerstown, however, has largely failed to capitalize on what has the potential to be a source of civic pride, cultural enrichment, and revenue (both business and tax). I see this failing as being more than the fault of a misguided council or fickle shoppers. There is a larger problem nestled in the Cumberland Valley.
The Hagerstown area is a great destination for shoppers already, with the Prime Outlets - anecdotally - a favorite destination. The trip up Route 65 into Downtown is one only minutes from the Outlets, and is no deterrent for shoppers. If we built it, they would come. Why aren't we building it?
We aren't building it because we are fretting over what tax breaks to give to developers or what sort of window panes we might force them to install, rather than focusing on the real issue: Goods jobs with Good pay. I, along with my wife, and most of my friends who live in Hagerstown, drive to Frederick or points along I-270 for our work. Why? Because there are no competitively paying jobs in Hagerstown. I have been scoffed at, sometimes with great incredulity, when in the past interviewing with potential employers in Hagerstown, and the question of renumeration arises. Because of this I have driven to Frederick for work for a decade.
"This is excellent!", You might cry; bring those dollars home from Frederick and spend them here! And for a portion of it, I do. However, I spend that money where other visitors spend it - national chains who likely have received tax breaks for building their stores here and whose revenues go into a corporate coffer just the same as if I'd shopped at those same stores in Frederick, Chambersburg, or Salisbury. I do not, you see, spend money downtown. I spend my days in Frederick, and I am therefore much more likely to be in tune with what is gong on in Frederick, much more likely to want to stay here, or even drive back down, to enjoy the downtown and all it has to offer.
Because of this downtown Hagerstown suffers. If there were more high paying, technological jobs in Hagerstown, or even Washington County, I would certainly prefer to not commute 30 minutes one way daily, and be much more likely to want to spend my time downtown. Also, think of the increased tax revenue such businesses would deliver, and then there's the ecological factor, growing in importance every day. Taking all those cars off the highway is certain to help us all breathe a little easier.
This has been bothering me for some time, but when people like "bflodave" make their comments on articles that show how we might be making some progress in Washington County (http://www.herald-mail.com/?cmd=displaystory&story_id=216321&format=html), it makes me wonder if he is the same person (people) who laments our declining downtown, failing to realize that in the 21st century, if you do not develop intelligently locally, you will not develop at all.
Hagerstown and Washington County, take heed. Bring the high tech jobs home, and pay us what we're worth, because if you don't, we won't just work in Frederick, we'll likely move here, too. But then maybe downtown will be revitalized: Wal-Mart style.

04 February 2009

When I am King

I'm back in classes for the Spring. After this only one more semester until I have my Master's degree. These new classes make me think, and many of my thoughts are not precisely pertinent to the question being asked in the class, so I turn to my web-log and you, my reader.
The question of teamwork was recently raised in classroom discussion, specifically asking after teams in which we have participated. I pointed out that I've been lucky enough to work on teams where we could each finish the other's sentence, reading minds and anticipating needs. Those have been some good times, and definitely rewarding (and award-winning) circumstances. I've also had the displeasure of working for teams that never seemed to really cohere, that worked at cross-purposes or where getting the job done was like pulling teeth. In one of these cases I was the leader of the team.
There is one common thread that makes or breaks a team, I've found: the leadership. This is where we get to the part about "When I am King".
The leader sets the tone, disperses the information, holds the members accountable, and is himself personally responsible to the customer for the work the team produces.
But Rob, tell us about the time your team sucked! Show us your humanity! Okay, okay. It was only for a school project, and we collaborated exclusively over the internet. I could make excuses that there were cultural differences (like socio-geographic, not corporate) that impeded communication, or that the team failed to respect deadlines, or whatever, but the fact remains that we fell short of our goal (Grade A work. Overall I think we had B/C work) and I was the one in charge. My failure was in my giddiness to lead I didn't make my desires clear, and spent a lot of time clarifiying items that I should have given more thought to before broadcasting to the team. My lesson? Clear communication is paramount when you are king. If your subjects (er, staff), don't understand what you're asking of them, your statue will likely end up with you charging forth mounted on a large ass, rather than mounting a charger while striking down an heroically large asp. You get my point.
When I am King, I will be the leader of my team. I will make certain that I make my requests clearly and with full disclosure. Unless my team has been working with me for years, I will not assume that they are mind readers, swamis of software and hardware, PC augurers who can read silicon entrails to divine my will.
I will lead my team by example, working just as hard - if not harder - than the people for whom I am responsible. This is something I have learned by observing everyone I have had the honor of serving under. I will also, however, groom my staff to be proficient in all areas so that I am not working so hard in a reactive mode.
I will be a source of joy and pride, when I am King. My staff will want to come to work each day because they respect me and want to work for me - not just because the company we all work for pays them to be present. I'll work hard to earn that respect, and I'll hopefully generate laughter with my impeccable sense of humor, though I am more likely to generate some behind-my-back unity in my team as they bond in the face of my sense of humor (if you've been reading these web-log posts, you will understand).
Finally, I will maintain the sort of leadership that allows my staff to come to me when I've asked them to do something and haven't been clear enough for them, and I will help them to understand what needs to be done without making them feel dumb, because I know that the people workingwith and for me will be intelligent people who won't have to divine my will, though hopefully we'll enjoy the sort of career together that will make such a thing entirely possible because we'll have grown together.

27 January 2009

Two Choices: Am I getting soft in my old age?

A few words of preface. This isn't mine, it came to me in an email forward from my mother. I thought about forwarding it on via email, but instead chose to post it here. Who knows if it's even true? Regardless, it is a good story.

--


What would you do?....you make the choice. Don't look for a punch line, there isn't one. Read it anyway My question is: Would you have made the same choice?
At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

"When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.
Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.
Where is the natural order of things in my son?"

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. "I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child."

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.
I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'
Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.
At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.
Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!
Run to first!'
Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'
Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball . the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.
All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'
Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!
Shay, run to third!'
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'
Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.
'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.
Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

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