Copyright

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Thursday Thoughts

Mark, the character played by Christian Slater in the movie Pump Up the Volume, had it right. Our generation is looking for someone, anyone, to lead us.

Previous generations had the World Wars to give them focus and conviction. In those wars, good and evil were more defined and clear cut. We had the infrastructure projects to pull the country out of the Depression, when we built huge highways and dams, among other things. Later we had Kennedy and the space race to energize the nation and provide jobs and focus. Even Reagan, taking office when we were still in the grips of the oil embargoes, turned our attention to defeating our old Cold War nemesis Russia and we soon saw the fall of the Berlin wall.

What have we seen since then? A "war" with Iraq that lasted hours and didn't solve anything. A President that had sex with his intern and didn't know the meaning of the word "relations." Now we have another war with Iraq that isn't solving anything and is wasting lives with no apparent plan or purpose. We have an unsteady economy that could topple at a moments notice.

We are losing jobs to outsourcing, losing faith in our country, and we have corrupt leaders who allow the California energy crisis to continue and who open up wildlife preserves to logging and oil drilling in order to make money for the richest one percent.

Once, when you asked children what they wanted to be when they grew up, many used to say they wanted to be a cop, a fireman, a doctor, a teacher, or even President. Most now say they want to be a pop or sports star.

People just don't have faith in themselves or their country any more.

What we need is another mission. We need our leaders to come out and say that, by the end of the decade, we will have the first permanent structure on the Moon or at the bottom of the sea. We will have a manned mission to Mars in 10 years.

Or, just as ambitious but less specific, let's end world hunger in the next 10 years. With proper leadership and coordination, the industrial nations can feed the world today-- why not do it? Or, let's set up inviolable world nature sanctuaries in South America and Africa, to preserve the ever decreasing jungles on this planet. Let's head a global effort to turn away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources. Let's improve the viability of solar panels to 75% or better.

Yes, each of these ideas is a pie-in-the-sky, almost unattainable goal. But the same was said of taming the Colorado River. Peopled skoffed at a man orbiting the planet. Ten years later a man stepped foot on the moon. With the right leadership and direction, human beings can solve nearly any problem.

America's current leadership has chosen to take us in a direction that separates us from the rest of the world and creates divisiveness among our own people. What would happen if we led by example, instead? How many fewer people would join terrorist agendas if they looked to us and said, "Look at America, helping to feed our own people as well as the rest of the world." How many more nations would follow suit if, when the largest tsunami the world has ever seen strikes, America is the first one there offering the most aid money and resources?

Until such time, here's one more listener trying to find Hard Harry on the radio and praying for a voice to lead us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Birthday

On the 26th day of April at 11:40 pm in 1971, I came into this world. Average life expectance seems to be around 76 years old for America, so I am now nearing "midlife" for an American male. It amuses me to state that, because most people think of their late forties or fifties as midlife, even though it is really closer to the end.

Mom always likes to tell (and I enjoy hearing) the story about her being in labor at the military hospital on base, being told to leave and “don’t come back until your water breaks” (this is back when hospitals could do that sort of thing). The mad dash back to the hospital that night where mom pushed her way in and informed them that her water hadn’t broken but I was a-coming. They didn't believe her until they looked and saw my bald head crowning. Mom having her water break as she was cursing and pushing and bringing me forth in the world.

The mix-up during naming where mom thought they had agreed to the name “Eric Allen” but, when dad filled out the paperwork, I became “John Martin.”

There are the funny stories about my attempts to have birthday parties. Mom, being a good baker and cook in general, would make me interesting and unique cakes (the bunny cake, the 3-d castle cake with icing moat and Hershey’s chocolate for doors and windows, etc.), but I usually wound up crying or angry in the end—because I was uncomfortable being the center of attention and never really liked large gatherings. I gave up on birthdays well before my parents did, but they soon followed suit and we would just have a quiet night of just family, with maybe a few close friends.

Then the college years, where mom would come down and we would go to lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant and she would make me open presents and explain why she had given me each one. I still remember the looks on those around us as I unwrapped each present at Olive Garden and correctly guessed the reason for each one. I’m not sure, but I think we started new family trends in those who watched us that day.

The last ten years my birthdays have gotten quieter. In my days at QSI, we would have cake as a group and some would even sing. I miss my hugs from Judith. At FIC, it started bigger, when our department was bigger, and involved glitter-wars with Kari and watching the eager anticipation of Danielle just wanting to get to the damn cake! Now, with a much smaller department and being out of the way, it’s a simple affair—just how I like it.

I’ve mellowed a great deal too. While still a guy with plenty of soapboxes (which you know if you frequent this blog), I am trying to center myself. Actually, writing this has helped a great deal. Matter of fact, I once had a girlfriend exclaim “You’re a fucking robot!” because I am one who doesn’t emote well. I have the emotion, but I discuss, I analyze, and I act on the results instead of just overtly showing them. I’m working on that, too.

I don’t have many regrets.

  • I regret not trying harder to make Jennifer stay. I think many things would be different today if I had done that. I still think of her nearly every day.
  • I regret not asking Cathy out when I wanted to (she met her eventual husband three days later). I think this worked out for the best because, while I know I would have been great for her then, Steve turned out to be great for her long-term.
  • I regret not being closer with dad, but, damn it, he can call me, too.
  • I sometimes, but not often, regret choosing English Literature over a science degree in college. I still think I would make a damn-fine medical examiner, but have no desire to go back to school to change that decision now. And I enjoy Technical Writing and I am good at it.
  • I regret not fighting Paul over Carmen in High School. While not a violent person by any means, I wanted to, but I just couldn’t egg him into it, even when he was threatening me. The ass had too much to lose, but thought he could get away with threatening me.
  • I regret how I let Susan drift away.
  • I regret that my inability to show my emotions and my need to over-analyze keeps a barrier between me and others. This regret I am working on and, I think, making some progress with.
  • And I regret I’ve allowed my autoimmune hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis take things I enjoy from me. And, I regret the fear this chronic illness has put into me.

In taking stock in my 34th year, I have a good life, with good family and good friends. I have many more peaks than valleys.

As I move forward from this day, with an eye toward hopefully another 34+ years to come, I see a few things to work on.

  • Leaving the fear my chronic illness has given me behind. I need to be cautious and listen to my body, but it’s time to stop letting my illness make decisions for me.
  • Continuing to work on my emotional growth and working to be a more open individual.
  • Continuing to foster the great friendships I have and adding new friends to my existing circle.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Horror!

Sacrilege! Horror! A pox on whomever did this!

I just heard the "exclusive" radio dance remix version of U2's "With or Without You," arguably one of the all-time best slow songs EVER. The driving dance rhythm and funky pseudo-70s backing tracks almost smother Bono's singing.

How could they do this? Who said, "Let's take a perfect song, and "improve" it" with dance drum beats and fast rhythm guitar work?

The horror! The horror!


AAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Story Idea

I had the following story seed awhile ago. Not sure what to do with it, if anything, but I like it.
-----
In a time before time, far to the north, in a frost-covered valley ringed on three sides by jagged, rocky mountains, there was a strange rift in the ground. In this rift a pool of molten rock bubbled and seethed. This pool was so hot that the ice and snow turned to steam for a hundred yards around it.

From this pool emerged a large figure. It was tall, taller than the tallest man in our village by half a head or more. It had a broad, muscular, red chest. On its back were two red, bat-like wings, folded. Its powerful legs became hairy and coarse and ended in cloven feet like those of the antelope that leap through our plains. It had a broken visage that looked like somewhat like the big apes that live down by the river. Its mouth and teeth were like those of the powerful hyena that can snap bones and chew through our hardest woods. Its eyes were yellow and reflected light in the darkness like those of the great cats that prowl the savannah in the next valley. Starting at its brow and stretching from a thick bush to small line down his back, it sported a black, coarse mane of hair like those of the horses we ride on the hunt.

It stood at the edge of the pool of molten, bubbling rock and surveyed the icy valley. Coming to a decision, it reached for the large, twisted horn that hung from a simple silver chain stretching over its shoulder and down to its waist. Putting the horn to its thick, black lips it blew one long, discordant note and then let the horn fall to hang once more at its side.

It raised its thickly muscular arms to its chest and crossed them, keeping a massive, coal-black, spiked mace in its hand even as he did. It stood and waited.

Soon, a baying could be heard. From all parts of the cold northern lands figures approached the valley. First to arrive were the fleetest of foot and the closest. The Gresh, the great wolves of the north, with their oversized feet and jaws and grayish fur arrived, howling. The goblins were next, creeping down from the rocks with their gray-white skin, hooked noses, and blood-red mouths and eyes glinting. Next, in a sparkle of magic, arrived the Svartheim elves. Their cotton-white flesh and ice blue eyes seemed perfectly in tune with the snowfields of the north. They approached the figure and bowed. The powerful trolls arrived next. Their misshapen limbs belied their strength. The trolls could be found in nearly every color. Some carried massive oaken branches as clubs while others had thick metal gauntlets with which to rend their prey. Many of the sturdy half-men who live under the ground heeded the horn’s call as well, arriving with tributes of gold and cold-iron weapons that they laid at the cloven-hoofed feet of their new lord. Still others came to the call; the wicked wyverns, distant cousins to the noble dragons, the marsh hags of the east braved the cold and brought their cunning ways to aid this new power, and those we call the Night Horrors from the west glided to the north to lend their craft to this dark master. All those who have a devious nature or an evil heart felt that call and went to their new master, even some from our world, the world of Men heeded that fateful call.

As the valley filled, the winged figure looked on with pleasure. Soon it uncrossed its arms, reached for the massive black and green horn at its hip and once more and raised the horn to its lips. It blew another discordant note that caused the Gresh to howl and the trolls to gnash their teeth in pain.

As the tone ceased ringing through the valley, the half-men and the goblins immediately set to work. Tools were produced and construction began on a great wall around the bubbling pool. The trolls, goblins, and men began quarrying the basalt and granite, the wyverns and Gresh were harnessed to drag the stones to the work site, and the half-men cut and laid them with expert precision. The Hags and the Svartheim elves whispered and chanted near the center of the circle formed by the quickly erected wall. Blue and green sparks and fires issued forth from these powerful mages. The pool of magma writhed and seethed and bubbled all the more. Soon, tendrils of the fiery rock started to rise from the pool. The Gyre had been cast and the liquid fire poured out where the Svartheim directed. A tower started to take shape from the cooling rock.

For three days and three nights, through the worst snows that the north had to offer, those in the valley worked on the wall and the tower. On the morning of the fourth day each group completed their assigned tasks. Within the plain of the valley now stood a perfectly circular wall 75 feet high and 35 feet thick. Facing the southern entrance to the valley stood the gate, flanked by two smaller towers. The gate was also made from stone and only the combined strength of four of the biggest types of trolls, those we call Ogres, could open either one of them. The tower stood in the exact center of the circle formed by the wall and the mountains around the valley. The tower looked like the spiraled horn of the beautiful unicorn, only the molten rock had cooled into a glass-like, black sheen. Seen from above, the tower looked like the black pupil to the eye formed by the mountains and the wall. The hole in which the magma burned and bubbled had been elongated and wrapped around the tower’s base, forming a moat of molten rock.

A stone ramp and draw bridge were added to allow egress into the tower’s main entrance, some thirty feet about the floor of the valley.

For the first time since rising from the molten pool, the figure spoke. Its voice sounded deep, resonate, and clear.

“It is good.”

It then strode up the ramp, its cloven hooves sparking on the spell-hardened obsidian of his newly created keep, and entered its throne room.

And thus evil invaded our world.

But evil did not stay still. This dark lord of the north had plans for this world. With its army of followers, it bent its will toward the conquest of the world. It used foul magic to strengthen the winter and extend its influence farther south.

Thus started the time we call the Long Winter of a thousand years ago, wherein the Dark Lord stretched its influence as far as it could and all good people of the world had to ban together to repel its advance and send it back to its tower in the north.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Thursday Thoughts

I was originally in favor of an age limit in the NBA. In almost any sport, for that matter, but it seemed that the NFL was self-regulating in that regard (how many High Schoolers really have the size to go into the NFL?), and other sports, such as baseball and tennis, seemed to have decent farm systems or ranking systems that ensured that only the best quality made it to the truly professional level.

An age limit in the NBA, I argued, would allowed people to mature, to learn the game, and to prepare them to some degree for the rigors of the much longer and much harsher world of the professional basketball circuit. I further contended that very few of the straight-to-NBA High Schoolers made an immediate impact. Look at Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnet; both have been successful, true, but both took 2-3 years of playing to learn the ins and outs of the game and reach that "next level" their potential provided. It was only then that they became the big stars they are now. I furthered muttered that, with a couple of years of college, Kobe (and others of his general attitude and disposition) would have learned to get along and understand the personal dynamics of the team sport and Lakers fans would still be enjoying the Shaq/Kobe connection and a lot of championship celebrations. I also agreed that an age limit would likely allow the NBA to present and promote a better "product" to its fans.

While I still firmly believe all of those things, I am no longer in favor of an age limit.

First, this is America, wherein everyone has the right to grasp for that brass ring and make their mark. If one can do it with raw physical talent and little to no education, so be it. Grasp away!

Secondly, no one in the NBA has to draft a High School-aged recruit. It's not a requirement. If the NBA wanted to make a real point, then all it would need is for the owners and personnel managers to just not draft those who are not ready for the NBA level. If one truly thinks a High Schooler is too "raw" or will spend most of their time on the bench for two to three seasons, don't draft them. Go for the more proven talent that has a much better chance of being a star due to the training and experience they have coming out of college. At this point, you would have a High School star who cannot go to college and play ball (as they have most likely hired an agent when they declared for the draft) and they are not in the NBA. That will send a bigger message than any arbitrary age-limit ever would.

Look at the NFL. Maurice Clarrett inadvertently did more for college level players staying in school than any arbitrary rulings the sport could have enacted. He hired an agent, declared for the draft, wasn't allowed in, and couldn't go back to college and play. He screwed himself and learned a very harsh lesson. He then didn't stay in good shape nor did he prepare for the next season's draft, so this year his stock is falling fast and he will not get the same kind of rookie contract he might have gotten if he had just stayed in school, gotten an education and learned to play, and become a better player.

Next, it is true that a person may have a career-ending injury in college and never even make it to the big money in the NBA. Why take that chance? Get in, get a guaranteed contract, make your money and, if that big injury happens, you're still set for life, right? Of course it could be argued that the career ending injury in college means you still can get or finish your college education, and so can make a solid contribution and make good money in a different career-- but can that money ever compare to the millions you could have in the NBA? Also, a good college basketball career does not mean you will be a star in the NBA. So why bother? For every Michael Jordan and James Worthy, you'll have a Sam Bowie.

Lastly, if the NBA was really so concerned with their product, they wouldn't be allowing the kind of thuggery and chicanery that we see in nearly every game. They would do more to help their players manage their money, teach them to stay away from the groupies and hangers-on, and would aid them in their decision making as new millionaires.

It reminds me of the old statistic about lottery winners-- a large percentage of those who win lotteries are functionally broke because they can't curb their spending. The checks each year or the interest on the lump sums isn't enough and they get overwhelmed by purchases, taxes, bad investments, and poor decisions. In the NBA, you've got 18 year olds who are suddenly thrust into multi-million dollar basketball contracts, who become instant celebrities, and who likely get Wheaties and shoe advertising contracts. They become businesses and corporations unto themselves. Let them fail, and crumble under the weight of all that hype, media scrutiny, and expectation. Let them learn the hard way that those "friends" they have coming out of High School are really just looking at him as a dollar sign with legs. Some will survive this rite of passage and be successful. Some will crumble under the pressure and will be out of the NBA in short order, broke and without an education to fall back on.

In the end, I think the entire process is self-regulating. Enough High Schoolers and college drop-outs will be total busts that the NBA will stop drafting them or will draft them much lower. Maybe it will create a farm system that will allow the sport to hire raw talent but teach these kids the game before bringing them up to the bright lights and big money of the professional level.

And, finally, maybe some of the current crop of NBA stars will come out in national publications or on TV and say that they wished they had gone to college, or will promote the education they got through online and summer courses to show that education is still an important aspect of their lives. This will go far in showing the next generation that these stars did not neglect their education and, just maybe, one more person will go to college to be like his/her hero.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Bowling Tournament, Part 2

So today I was feeling more confident about my skills but concerned about the two sets of three games I would need to bowl.

Turns out that was exactly right.

We started with the doubles event, and I was paired with a Jackie against Mike and Karlee. Karlee was still hurting from the day before and she was holding her arm most of the day. Mike looked a bit more focused, but was still more interested in having a good time than anything else.

I started strong, with a 190, then lost it completely as the oil pooled and moved down the synthetic lanes. My next game was a whopping 133! I had no hook at all and had trouble holding any line whatsoever. I got my ass in gear and managed to finish the series with a 168-- only 10 pins off my average.

Two things really got to me: the fast pace (only 4 bowlers total) and the inconsistant lane conditions. It took me time to slow my own pace down and make the others wait for me (as long as it was reasonable, of course). It also took me awhile to find a line that would grant me some success in these conditions.

The singles matches had us moving over one set of lanes (from 5/6 to 7/8). There was no practice time on these lanes. At this point I was matched up against Jackie, but still the same group of four bowling together.

Still struggling with my conditioning, I was sweating and overheated to start and still struggling to find a line-- especially on brand new lanes with different oil patterns. Bowled a 131. However, I managed to slow down, I grabbed a Pepsi (ah, nectar of the gods! Sweet, sweet relief! Bow down before the might of the Pepsi!), and kept slowing my approach, my ball, and myself down until I was able to continue. Found a line by moving 2 full marks plus some boards to the right, changing my hand position, and bowling a nearly straight ball with a slight hook into the pocket. Picked it up in the second game and bowled a 168.

I finally hit my groove and found the exact line and release I needed for these abyssmal lane conditions in the third game. Managed to get some marks in a row and pulled a 182 to be high-man for that game among the four, which was nice.

So, what do I take away from the Tournament experience?
  1. I met some really nice people. A lot of thanx go to Jackie, Karlee, and Mike for two fun afternoons.
  2. If I focus on having fun first, relaxing second, and bowling against myself third-- good things will happen.
  3. I need to improve my ability to adjust to lane conditions.
  4. I need to bowl at my own pace, and not let other bowlers or administrators put too much external pressure on me to speed up.
  5. My conditioning is atrocious.
  6. That, if I wear my brace, tape it securely, and make sure I sit between frames, my knee can survive 6 games of bowling in one afternoon. One note: my hips are sore, which indicates I was favoring the knee, and it is sore, just not too bad.

I don't think I will be doing another tournament for some time, but it was a great learning experience and I have many important take-aways that I can use in my usual league games.

Bowling Tournament, Part 1

So today (Saturday, April 9th) was the first day of the two-day bowling tournament a guy at work talked me into. The team event was held at the lanes right down the street from where I live. While I felt the organization left a little to be desired (if I wasn't hooking up with said friend, I would not have known where to go or what to do), I settled in and found my team.

We wound up being two guys and two girls. The guy and one girl were a married couple, Mike and Karlee. Both were quite nice and seemed like old hats to this; they've done national tournaments, so it probably was. Jackie was our fourth-- very personable, which is good as she is my doubles partner for tomorrow.

We all had scratch averages in the vacinity of the 170s, with Mike and I being the two highest.

I was the rabbit, or first one to throw for my team. I haven't been in that position for many years, as I'm usually the anchor on my regular bowling teams. It was fun and a little nerve-wracking moving out to throw first. Provides a very different overall feel to the game.

I wound up throwing 195, 210, and 186. As I am a 178 average (and improving), I felt really good about the day. Mike was right behind me in the first two, and beat me in the last game. Karlee had an awful first game, but came back and was high bowler in the second, then flattened out in the third. She's battling an injured arm, so every throw was painful. Jackie started okay, then had a crappy second, then stormed back for a 200 in the third.

For some reason, the doubles and singles events are both tomorrow, and at a different alley. The first day's alley uses real-wood lanes (a rarity in today's bowling) and the second day's alley has synthetic. Mike said that the new alley should be very similar to the alley I have my league in, so I should feel a bit more comfortable.

My arthritic knee held up just fine, so I feel pretty good about tomorrow's bowling-- even if there are 6 total games to bowl. I only worry about my conditioning. I'll likely be very tired in the second set of three games. That may wind up helping me (as I'll be more loose) or hurting me (as I'm more likely to have mental mistakes).

I have no illusions that I will win the tournament or even place. I'm doing it more for the experience. I did find it amusing that our team missed the money cut-off by 5 pins!

I'll let you know how tomorrow's bowling goes.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Blogging

For the most part, blogs have atrocious spelling, poor grammar, and abysmal punctuation. Many more people blog than really have anything to say (I may fall into that category-- you be the judge). Although a technical writer in my career, I am frequently surprised and scared by the errors in my own posts (of course, in my career it is important to have someone review your work-- since you wrote it, you are frequently to close to it to catch every mistake. The same holds true for any writing, or course, except I don't have editors in my personal life).

I hear many people both scoff at, and be in a little awe of, those who blog. I've heard this said with both derision and surprise, "You blog?"

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that blogging gets people to do one of two things that have been on a steady decline in this country: read and/or write.

Every single blog you read is one more page of text you read. Every entry you write is one more page of text you wrote. Even if just recounting your day's activities in a journal, laughing at or vilifying those around you, or adding a few more entries to that great American novel, you are being creative and communicating with those in the world around you.

If your blog is the only way you can get what is inside you out, then blog on! It may be the cheapest form of therapy anyone can have.

Don't let the grammar and spelling errors that abound stop you from reading blogs, either. There are a lot of good opinions, interesting ideas, and earth shaking concepts out there in the world of blogs. Seek them out, comment on them, and form your own conclusions. Yes, sometimes you need a lot of patience to read that fusia and olive colored blog with blue lettering and the obligatory animation that takes forever to load and has an annoying looped soundbyte attached, but the person who made that blog may just have something important to say that will change your life.

I use my main blog space (and my mother hates it when I use this allusion) to metaphorically stand naked on the top of a mountain, flipping the world the Bird. It allows me to vent those frustrations and rampant ideas I have in a forum where I believe others will listen. I don't care if you agree, and I love reading your comments whether you agree or not, but that isn't the point-- I get it out of my head.

I also have two side blogs where I express more of my creative side (see sidebar for links to other blogs).

The important thing is, I get the word out there and I feel better, healthier, and more constructive about things afterward. As I stated earlier, it is very cheap therapy.

So, if you have something to say, I challenge you-- grab your virtual pen and join the fray!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Idle Comment

Is anyone else freaked by the King in the new series of Burger King ads? Man, that costume and that perpetually grinning face just weird me out.

I especially don't like the one where the door opens and that grinning face is just standing there-- too Jason-esque/slasher filmish for me, I guess.

It's weird to type that, too. I watch horror films all the time and so rarely get a good fright. Then THAT comes on TV... shudder.