Friday, December 29, 2006

Albums that I Love #5: Joyspring


Is it Friday again already?

Given the recent Christmas holiday, I decided that today would be a good week to talk about my favorite album of spiritual music. Joyspring is an instrumental album of piano arrangements of hymns by Kurt Bestor. A companion of mine had this tape when I was on my mission, and I was able to trade him for "The Messiah" by the Tabernacle Choir. When I got home, I asked for the CD for Christmas and its definitely an album that stands the test of time. I just really enjoy these piano arrangements.

Given that the songs are all instrumental, I'm not sure I can think of things to say about each track, but here's whats on the album.

1. Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning
2. Nearer, My God, to Thee
3. Love One Another
4. A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief
5. I Need Thee Every Hour
6. Sweet is the Work
7. Abide with Me; 'Tis Eventide
8. I Know That My Redeemer Lives
9. The Lord's Prayer

Friday, December 22, 2006

Albums that I Love #4: Ocean Avenue

Ocean Avenue

Yellowcard is a band that I first heard about from a punk rock chick I knew. I thought it was funny that there was a band named after a soccer penalty, and I didn't think much of it past that. Then I heard a song of theirs on a snowboarding game I was playing and thought, "Hmmm, not bad", and then 2005 rolled around and they blew up. They had some big hits ("Ocean Aveune", "Only One") and most people have heard of them by now. However, they are more than just a big hits kind of band. Ocean Avenue is strong from start to finish. With songs ranging from upbeat and loud to pensive I can't think of a single song I don't like.

1. Way Away
This was the first Yellowcard song I ever really heard and its pretty indicative of what you're going to get on the album -- High energy, emotion, rock laced with electric violin.

2. Breathing
Similar to "Way Away".

3. Ocean Avenue
Probably Yellowcard's biggest hit to date, the title track on the album talks about rememebering growing up and wondering if it would be possible to recapture that feeling if you could find the person you spent a lot of time with.

4. Empty Apartment
The first slower track on the album, "Empty Apartment" has kind of a sad sound. Sounds like a breakup song. Or a post-breakup song.

5. Life Of A Salesman
This song is one of my favorites. Its an ode to fathers. You'd think that punk rockers would fall neatly into the "I hate my dad" crowd, but this song is about looking up to your dad and wanting to be like him when you grow up.

6. Only One
A love song that was another big hit for Yellowcard. Sung in true belt your lungs out emo fashion.

7. Miles Apart
I think this song is about being in a band and hitting the road, but remembering and loving people who are far away, even though you're "Miles Apart".

8. Twentythree
A song about trying to move past grudges.

9. View From Heaven
Another more mellow song, this is a song sung to someone who's passed on. "I'm sure the view from heaven beats the [heck] out of mine down here."

10. Inside Out
Another slower song about a relationship ending and how when its over, its over.

11. Believe
A song written in reference to 9/11 about the firemen who risked/gave their lives and their families. "Be Strong. Believe."

12. One Year, Six Months
An acoustic song looking back at memories of the times when a relationship was good.

13. Back Home
The last track on the album continues the melancholy mellowness thats been showing up on the 2nd half of the album. This song is about having success and getting what you think you wanted, but being away from the people you love and not being able to share it with them. "Another sunny day in Cal-i-forn-i-a, I'm sure back home they'd love to see it."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My 2006 Christmas Card

Lately I've gotten a few Christmas cards from friends detailing the doings of the year 2006 and what all they've accomplished and where they've been and the like. Rather than spend a lot of money on postage, I've decided to just type on up here and then it will be assured of arriving pre-Christmas regardless of bad weather.

Where to begin...2006 was a year without anything I'd consider as huge milestones -- 28 doesn't seem like an age when anything extra special happens --, but did have a few noticeable steps of progress and/or change.

With regard to my schooling, I started the year with a brand new advisor, as my old one had just told me he'd be leaving the U to take a position at Columbia in NYC. Luckily, my new advisor is one of the head honchos at the place I'm doing my research and being able to drop his name in my emails asking for help comes in handy. I did a lot of preliminary data collection for my project and got IRB approval for my project from both the place I'm doing it, and from the U. I sat in on meeting with the Referring Physician IT Task Group, which basically meant I was getting up really early to sit in a 2 hour meeting and try to not fall asleep. I traveled to conferences in San Diego, Nashville, and Washington DC. I had my first official presentation (a poster on Academic Podcasting at Fall AMIA), actually started doing some programming (albeit not on the right module) and just this month completed the coursework requirements for my degree. So while most of those things felt like givens, things I expected to do without too much trouble, its still very nice to have them done and taken care of.

Exhibit Madness
HIMSS in San Diego

Foosball Mania
NLM in Nashville

AMIA 2006 017
My poster at AMIA

Looking ahead to this next year, I really hope to get my project up and running, get my qualifying exams done with, and start working on my first paper, all within the first 4-6 months of the year.

Aside from school, I think that my responsibilities with my church callings were probably the second most time-consuming aspect of the year. I started the year as 1st counselor in the Elder's Quorum presidency of my singles ward, and then in May on the same day our presidency was released, I was sustained as the new Executive Secretary. Since then I've spent a lot of long hours at the church, especially on Sundays, but also a night or two during the week. Don't get me wrong I enjoy getting to know all the great people in our ward and being able to work closely with the bishopric has been very educational.

In July, we moved from the University down to a building in Murray that's much closer to our ward boundaries and in August we got a new bishop and a few weeks later our boundaries were expanded. As a result of the above (not counting the new bishop) our ward membership has grown about 50% in the last quarter and we are starting to test the limits of our building. Our Relief Society meets in the chapel and the Elders meet in the Relief Society room. If we continue to grow I would foresee a boundary change coming in the next 6 months or so, which will be sad because there are so many great people in our ward.

Aside from church and school, some highlights of the year included a family road trip (minus dad) to California, attending University of Utah football games, camping with friends, blogging (this is approximately my 88th post this year), and even some dating thrown in.

Enjoying the fruits of our labors
Camping in Spanish Fork Canyon - April 2006 (Before all the rain)

Shotgun Formation
Utah's Red and White Scrimmage - April 2006

Logan Demo Derby May 2006 004
Logan Demolition Derby - May 2006

Family Picture at the San Diego temple
Family Trip to San Diego - June 2006

Huh? What?
Barbecue at the Spruces - June 2006

Yes its true, my records indicate that I've been on 14 dates this year, and if you consider the fact that not one of them occurred during the months from June to August (not sure what happened there, too many BBQ parties, I guess) That's better than 1.5 per month. I know I'm stretching here, but I'd have to go back and compare to see if this year was any better than previous ones. I can say that there were a couple different girls that I was genuinely interested in that allowed me to take them out and while they've decided to not continue allowing me to take them out, its a good reminder that there are still other girls out there.

I don't have tons of pictures from the 2nd half of the year, but I just picked out my new camera yesterday (thanks mom and dad!) so hopefully 2007 will be accompanied with more images.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Albums that I Love #3: Donde Estan Los Ladrones?

Donde Estan Los Ladrones? is an album that will forever and always remind me of my LDS mission to Argentina from 98-2000 during which I heard songs from this album nearly continually, and deservedly so. Its jam-packed with Latin rock goodness. It helped me to know that not all music sung in Spanish is played by mariachi bands. Sadly, ever since Shakira came to the states, almost at the same time that I returned, she's turned in dyed-blonde bimbo who pretty much just shakes her hips or lurches like a zombie while singing whatever it is her manager has arranged for her to sing -- at least thats my take on her English career. I'm sure she's made truckloads of cash that she wouldn't have otherwise, but her pre-peroxide albums are definitely much better.

As an example of how great this album is, I went to YouTube in search of videos from songs on this album and found 5 of them for an album that only has 11 tracks.

1. Ciega, Sordomuda

My love for you makes me a "blind, deaf-mute". One of the things I like best about Shakira's music is the rapid-fire delivery of lyrics. Reminiscent of a good rapper, or "The End of the World as We Know It".

2. Si Te Vas
A great angry song for a cheating lover. "If you go" don't come back cuz I'll be gone.

3. Moscas En La Casa
A song about being in the house alone after said lover leaves, with "flies in the house".

4. No Creo

"I don't believe" in me and a bunch of other stuff. But no one knows me like you do.

5. Inevitable

To continue loving you is "Inevitable"

6. Octavo Día
What happened after God created the world on the "8th Day". Humans screwed it up.

7. Que Vuelvas
I want you to "come back." A great song.

8. Tú

I'll give "you" everything. Just don't go.

9. Dónde Están Los Ladrones?
"Where are the Thieves?" A song saying that there are thieves in high places too, you know?

10. Sombra De Ti
This song about "your shadow" is the only song on the album that I just don't especially care for. I always think, "it can't be that bad, maybe its just not as good as the rest." And then I listen and think, "maybe it really is that bad."

11. Ojos Así

I've been around the world and haven't found "eyes like" yours.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Discontinued Fast Food Favorites Hall of Fame

Some of you who've been reading for quite a while now will remember how I used to do a weekly feature on Fridays about some of my favorite fast foods. Eventually that, like all good things, came to an end. However, the other day I stopped by the last Arby's that I knew of that served Onion Petals still (the one closest to my home having discontinued them a couple years ago), and found that, sadly, they too had stopped serving this delectable side dish. It got me started thinking about other discontinued fast food favorites and so, I present to you the Discontinued Fast Food Favorites Hall of Fame. Just to clarify some of these were only limited time availablity, but really is that any better?

1. Arby's Onion Petals
The aforementioned side dish from Arby's was different than your typical onion ring, as it wasn't deep fried until it was black and was actually more onion than batter instead of the reverse.

2. Taco Bell's Club Chalupa
Probably most famous for the commercials it spawned that talked about going "clubbin", this take on the classic chalupa featured ranch sauce and bacon.

3. Panda Express's Beef and Potato
I'm still waiting for them to come out with something that would deter me from getting a double portion of Orange Chicken in my 2-entree plate. The Beef and Potato was a good one. I always want to ask why they have sweet 'n sour pork, but not sweet 'n sour chicken.

4. Wendy's Bacon n' Cheese Baked Potato
The other day I decided I wanted one of these, only to find out that this dish, essential a potato bowl filled with bacon and cheese soup is no longer available. Apparently only healthy eaters want a baked potato and they don't want it with tons of bacon and cheese.

5. Taco Bell's BLT Soft Taco
This taco still holds a place in my heart. Growing up we never went to Taco Bell. One day in high school I went there with some friends and ordered one of these and found it to be delelectable. Sadly, I then found out it was available for a limited time only. Ah, where have you gone BLT Soft Taco.

6. McDonald's Arch Deluxe
"The Burger with the Grown Up Taste" This burger made the list for two reasons. 1) It was actually a pretty decent burger. 2) It came on the scene while I was in the midst of my 2 years of working at McDonalds. And the PR push on this one was something to behold. We got new hats, buttons, etc. Everything was about the Arch Deluxe. They changed some of the other sandwiches as well to look similar with similar buns, packaging, etc. For fun we used to welcome people to the drive-thru by saying, "Welcome to McDonalds, Home of the Arch Deluxe, the Burger with the Grown up Taste". Anyway it was a decent burger. Too bad it didn't last.

7. Arby's Western Chicken Club
I may be messing up the name on this one, but there's no messing up its worthiness of a spot in the Hall of Fame. This Arby's creation was a sliced chicken sandwich (remember when they had sliced chicken there, instead of just Crispy or Grilled chicken fillets) with lettuce, tomato, and bacon. I remember I was always amazed that it would fill me up and I wouldn't even need to order fries to go with it. Very tasty as well.

8. Wendy's Monterrey Ranch Chicken
This one is the granddaddy of them all. During my freshman year of college, I lived just down the street from a Wendys and this special menu item made its debut. Chicken breast fillet with Monterrey Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and Ranch sauce. I know it doesn't sound much different than anything else, but there's just something about this sandwich that has to be tasted to comprehend. It made a brief reappearance a few years ago, when Wendy's was cycling through a whole variety of specialty chicken sandwiches (Jazzy Blue, Wild Mountain, Parmesean Supreme), and I was able to show others why I had always remembered the Monterrey Ranch Chicken Sandwich. Sadly it is gone again now. I guess its possible that you could have ordered this sandwich during the period when Wendy's required you to build your own sandwich each time you wanted to order something, but I was always afraid I'd screw that up and get something terrible.

Feel free to leave your discontinued favorites in the comments.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Albums that I Love #2: The Carnival

The Carnival

My freshman year of college, I lived just down the street from a Fred Meyer and fairly often I'd stop in there and listen to CDs in their music department. This was before you could listen to a whole CD on a machine, before .mp3's really. I'd seen the Guantanamera video on MTV, and when I'd stop in, I'd check out Wyclef Jean's inaugural solo effort, "The Carnival", just to listen to the first 30 seconds of the song.

Finally, I broke down and bought the album, and let me tell you its definitely not your typical hip-hop album. There is a broad range of music here, from the aforementioned "Guantanamera" and other more stereotypical raps like "We Trying to Stay Alive", you also get 'Clef playing the guitar, singing with R&B singers The Neville Brothers, and even throwing in some songs that aren't in English or Spanish at the end of the album (I think they're in French or Haitian or something). The skits are all pretty dumb, and oddly enough, iTunes still wants to charge you .99 for something that's only 20 seconds long. I guess it continues a tradition founded on previous Fugees albums, but frankly they don't add anything to the album. Speaking of the Fugees, it is nice to see the former Fugees showing up and playing nice, as later on there was some serious feuding going on.

Please be aware, this album does contain some explicit lyrics although not excessively so, so you may want to look for an edited version of any songs you are interested in checking out.

1. Intro/Court/Clef/Intro [Skit/Interlude]
2. Apocalypse
Despite recently getting bogged down in not really saying anything (see Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" for example), Wyclef actually can lay down some pretty good rhymes when he cares enough to try. This is a good example.

3. Guantanamera (ft. Celia Cruz & Jenni Fujita)
When I was growing up, my parents had a tape of folks songs from the 60s and Guanatanamera was on that tape. It was one of the first songs I knew that was primarily Spanish (not counting La Bamba and Feliz Navidad). I think that's what drew me to the song in the first place, but its got a lot of the classic Fugee rhymin' that I like. I had no idea who Celia Cruz was when I bought the album, but she had a huge Carnival-themed hit when I was in Argentina. Apparently she's kind of a big deal in the Latin world and has been around for a very long time.

4. Pablo Diablo (Interlude) (ft. Talent, Crazy Sam & Da Verbal Assassins)
5. Bubblegoose (ft. Melky Sedeck)
Not my favorite song, but I really love the last bit of the song where the guitar comes in. Funny how this change really makes the song sound better. Should have used that for more of the song.

6. Prelude to "To All the Girls"
7. To All the Girls
Again, a song that gets good right near the end. Not sure why they don't remix these a little better.
8. Down Lo Ho (Interlude)

9. Anything Can Happen

10. Gone Till November (ft. New York Philharmonic Orchestra)
One of the best songs on the album. Strangely the album version wasn't the same as the video version for reasons that I could never figure out.

11. Words of Wisdom (Interlude)
12. Year of the Dragon (ft. Lauryn Hill)
13. Sang Fézi
First of the non-English tracks. Funny that I like to sing along using nonsense words that I'm sure are nothing like the real songs.

14. Fresh Interlude
15. Mona Lisa (ft. The Neville Brothers)
This is a classic R&B song, and generally I'm not a fan of the whole R&B Slow Jam, but this one works for me.

16. Street Jeopardy
17. Killer MC (Interlude) (ft. Pras)
18. We Trying to Stay Alive (ft. John Forte & Pras)
Great rap song that heavily samples the BeeGees "Stayin' Alive"

19. Gunpowder
Another great song. "Do good things come to those who wait?"

20. Closing Arguments [Interlude/skit]
21. Enter the Carnival (Interlude)
At this point the album totally changes. The skits are over and apparently Wyclef just wants to put some more Caribbean-themed, non-English tracks on the album.

22. Jaspora
That said, Jaspora has a great beat and despite not understanding a word of it, its one of my favorite songs.

23. Yele
24. Carnival (ft. Jacob Desvavieux, Jocelyn Berourard & Sweet Mickey)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

I always check the Apple Movie Trailers website to see if any new trailers are up. Today there was a new one for a movie called "Stomp the Yard" about southern black college fraternity stomping. I can tell already that I'll enjoy the dance scenes, but if my experience with "You Got Served" is any indicator, the plot will be pretty painful to endure. Why can't they just make a movie about breakdancing w/o there having to be a plot? I'd still go see it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Albums that I Love #1: August and Everything After

August and Everything After

In the intro to this topic that I gave on Wednesday, I mentioned Columbia House and their 12 for a penny introductory offer. Well in that first 12, came a CD that was destined to become perhaps my favorite of all-time: August and Everything After by The Counting Crows.

I picked being only really familiar with the song Mr. Jones and perhaps vaguely familiar with Round Here. But as I listened to the CD something in the melancholy sound struck a chord with me. To be honest, its kind of a sad album to listen to. But something in the sadness is cathartic for me. At times when I'm feeling down, I like to listen to this album and sing along and let some of the down-ness out. I've owned it for over 10 years and the songs never get old for me.

Here's some quick thoughts on each of the tracks:

1. Round Here
This song is perhaps the epitome of who the Counting Crows are and what their music is about. When they play it live it sometimes goes as long as 12 minutes with bits of other songs mixed in. Not my favorite song, but definitely a CC classic.

2. Omaha
This song was probably my favorite when I first bought the album. I like the resonating hum of the organ. When my brother and his wife moved to Omaha, they bought the album for that reason alone. No idea how they feel about the album as a whole.

3. Mr. Jones
This song, while upbeat still exudes a melancholy acceptance of not being all that you'd like to be. Subsequent versions of the song tend to slow the tempo and the underlying wanting for something more comes through even clearer.

4. Perfect Blue Buildings
Not sure what this song is about, but you have to love the line "try to keep myself away from me".

5. Anna Begins
A song that addresses the topic of love and how it can move a person from just wanting a fling to wanting something more and not being ready for that.

6. Time and Time Again
Again, love the organ, and the singing.

7. Rain King
Another rare upbeat track. Again, I've never been able to really figure out what this is about.

8. Sullivan Street
This song, to me, sounds the saddest of all the songs on the album. Kind of a quiet song, resigned.

9. Ghost Train
My least favorite song on the album. Nothing against it, it just doesn't reach me at the same level as the rest of the songs.

10. Raining in Baltimore
I love this piano-solo song about being away from home, alone, and wanting to have someone to connect with. "I need a phone call." Also has a line that I love, "Three Thousand, Five Hundred Miles Away". Like how the songs builds and then fades out again at the end.

11. Murder of One
The title of this song comes from the fact that a group of crows is called a 'murder'. Another upbeat song with the whole band chipping in. Contains the familiar rhyme about "One for Sorrow, Two for Joy..." Good song to finish the album. I'm always amazed at how just repeating the same line over and over again can work. "I walk along these hillsides in the summer 'neath the sunshine, I am feathered by the moonlight falling down on me."

Interesting note: The 'title' track of the album didn't make it on to the album, but behind the words on the album cover, you can see the lyrics. There's no album version of "August and Everything After", but Adam Duritz, the lead singer, was able to get the lyrics put back together and sang the song live in December of 2003. As the Crows encourage their fans to record their shows, the track can be found in various places online if you know where to look.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Albums that I Love

I've been wanting to start doing some reviews of albums that I love for a while now and have been really quite busy and not sure when to start, because I'd like for it to be fairly regular. I've been so busy lately between school and church stuff that I'm not going to promise anything at this point, but I'm sitting here and I might as well start typing.

In way of introduction, I'd like to say that I first started building my music library in 1995, after receiving my first CD player for Christmas in 1994. Given that I started with just a few CDs, I used to listen to them quite a bit all the way through. Probably within that first year, I'd discovered Columbia House and their 12 for a penny deal ("The first 12 were only a penny and then they jacked up the price!"). This allowed/forced me to expand my library quite a bit, but even still this was way before the advent of buying single songs from iTunes, so it was very common to listen a CD all the way through. Listen to every CD all the way through repeatedly made me really appreciate an album that was solid from front to back, that was enjoyable the whole way. It seems like most artists come up with a few solid "hits" and fill the rest of the album with crap. It seems even more rare now in the era of buying one song at a time.

I've decided I want to share some reviews of my favorite albums -- albums that I can listen to in their entirety and really enjoy. I'm hoping this new feature will be more reliable than the book reviews I tried to do. I found it hard to give good reviews to books I hadn't read in quite some time, and listening to an album shouldn't be as much of a time commitment. Look for the first review this Friday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Random Thoughts on the English Language #9

If you can be "nonplussed" can you be "nonminussed"? or "plussed"? or "minussed"? How about "nontimessed"?

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Nation Divided

Over the last few months, we have seen our great nation become divided, sometimes household against household, as things escalated continually til now we find that a rift has opened that may or may not be healed any time soon. No, I'm not talking about the democrats taking a majority in Congress. Rather, I refer to the Jim-Pam-Karen love triangle on The Office.

Quick recap for those of you who haven't kept up. From the beginning, Jim (salesperson) had a crush on Pam (receptionist) who happened to be engaged to Roy (warehouse worker). Pam's engagement had been ongoing for about 3 years and seemed to be headed nowhere til Roy decided to set a date after talking to a war veteran booze cruise captain. Then, in the season finale, in a courageous move, Jim proclaimed his love to Pam, only to be shot down. Here's some of the dialogue:

Jim: I was just..umm..I'm in love with you.
Pam: What?
Jim: I'm really sorry if that's weird for you to hear, but I need you to hear it....Probably not good timing, I know that. I just...
Pam: What are you doing? What do you expect me to say to that?
Jim: I just need you to know. Once.
Pam: Well, I...umm...I...I can't.
Jim: Yup
Pam: You have no idea...
Jim: Don't do that.
Pam: ...what your friendship means to me.
Jim: C'mon. I don't want to do that. I want to be more than that.
Pam: I can't. I'm really sorry...if you misinterpreted things. Its probably my fault.
Jim: Not your fault. I'm sorry I misinterpreted our friendship.

Jim walks away.

Then, even after that, Jim had the nerve to go into the office, find Pam while she was on the phone with her mom and kiss her, and that's how the season ended. At this point, everyone is excited to see how things will turn out. Jim has solidified himself as the guy we can all relate to, and we are cheering for him for laying it on the line in a way that perhaps we wouldn't be able to.

Fast forward to this season's premiere. We have to wait a bit to get what we've been waiting for, a flashback to when Jim kissed Pam. Here's the dialogue:

Jim: You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that.
Pam: Me too. I think we're just drunk.
Jim: No, I'm not drunk. Are you drunk?
Pam: No...Jim...
Jim: You really gonna marry him?
Pam: Nods
Jim: OK.

Following this final rejection, Jim packs his backs and transfers to the Stamford branch. Meanwhile, Pam did not go through with her wedding to Roy and continues on as the receptionist at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton.

This season Jim's found a new pal/love interest, Karen. It was unclear whether we'd be seeing Jim and Pam back together this season or not, but last week the Stamford branch was closed and its employees were given the option of transferring to the Scranton branch (Jim's original location). Jim and several of his fellow Stamford-ites have come to Scranton, including Karen, who we saw this week scratching his back, and Jim told Pam that he's kind of dating someone now. Now that he's back in Scranton, its safe to assume that we'll see him be torn between Pam and Karen throughout the rest of this season, and in Ross and Rachel like fashion, its probably a safe bet that Jim and Pam will wind up together in the end.

All of which brings us to the debate at hand, should Jim take Pam back, assuming she has the nerve to confess her undying love for him. Pretty much all the girls I know are rooting for Jim and Pam to get back together, while most of the guys I know, who were excited for him and Pam last season, are pulling for Jim to give this Karen thing a shot, and things seem to be pretty well divided down the middle of the gender gap. Us guys are saying that Pam had her chance, and Jim took a pretty big leap of faith and was rewarded with a "lets just be friends". He put himself out there, twice mind you, and got nothing in return. Clearly, Jim has no option other than to pursue other options romantically. Why would he assume that now that Roy is out of the picture that its safe to approach Pam again? He's already misinterpreted things once. Clearly the ball is in Pam's court.

Meanwhile, the new girl (Karen) is on his same level professionally and has shown sparks of developing a good friendship with Jim. She's clearly more attractive than Pam, and while Jim clearly has some feeling for Pam, he really doesn't have an chance to act on them, as its now on Pam to say that she was wrong. She can't expect him to just sit around while she makes up her mind, and if he did that he'd just be beating himself up for just sitting around hoping that things will change.

Am I wrong here? What move does Jim have that doesn't either come across as overly egotistical, i.e. you told me you didn't want a relationship, but I'm going to try to force it anyway, or just foolish, i.e. I know I thought you were interested before and I was wrong, but maybe this time things are different?

Tell me what you think, America (or the very small portion of America that reads this blog).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why I Don't Take Presents to Weddings

1) Because I'm cheap. Just wanted to get that out of the way right in the beginning.

2) Because as a single person, I tend to think of weddings as funerals because they actually have a lot in common. Your whole family is there. Your friends come. People cry. There's food. More often than not its at a church. And most importantly, when you are single, you'll never see those people again until you are on the other side.

3)Wedding presents are for married people to give to newlyweds to welcome them to the neighborhood of married couples. They're always excited to get some new blood in to teach that high school aged Sunday School class and inform them of what kids are up to these days. Always looking for potential new couples to invite over for shared dinners and whatever else married couples do for fun.

For a single person, its really a going away party. You don't give presents at a going away party, generally, at least I don't. You wish them luck and promise to stay in touch, although that doesn't happen too often. Honestly, people getting married ought to give presents to their still single friends. First, as a consolation prize for still being single, but secondly, which of us single folks couldn't use some new dishes or a new set of towels. I could use a crockpot just as much as a newly married couple could. I thought the point of getting married was so that one of you could cook for the both of you. I don't have anyone at home fixing me dinner for when I get home.

So if you didn't get something from me, don't worry. Its nothing personal.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A glimpse into my private madness

Just thought I'd share a little story about me and my love for organizing my iTunes music library. The whole time that I've been an iTunes user (coming up on 2 years now) I had issues with the way that iTunes handles multiple artists on the same song. For example, "Over and Over Again" by Tim McGraw and Nelly. iTunes only allows you one line for Artist, so do you put "Nelly & Tim McGraw", "Tim McGraw & Nelly", "Nelly ft. Tim McGraw", etc.? Lots of hip-hop music lately consists of a main artist with at least one guest artist taking a verse, so its been an issue I've faced many a time. I even sent an email to iTunes asking for multiple artist fields for each song, although I can see how that would open a whole different can of worms. Multiple genre assignments is another change I could see being useful.

Anyway, all this time, I've been putting Artist information as "Artist A ft. Artist B", and I've noticed that a lot of places (GraceNote, iTunes Music Store) were handling the "ft. Artist B" part in the Title of the Song, which really is not something that sat well with me. I mean, its not part of the name of the song. Its information about the Artist, right?

Well, even though its not right, I recently decided to give this alternate classification system a shot for a couple reasons. #1: All the different A ft. B's were taking up a lot of space in my list of Artist in my iPod. #2: Having A ft. B as the Artist meant that if you wanted to look for a specific artist just by their name, you could find them, but then when you want to their albums some tracks would be missing, because they were classified under A ft. B, rather than just A. (Anyone lost yet?) #3: The iPod display scrolls the Title information through the entire Title, but not through the entire Artist information. Thus, if you put the ft. B part in the Title, you can still see it scroll by eventually as you look at the iPod display. If you put the ft. B part in the Artist, all you ever see is "Artist A ft. .... " when the full Artist information is too long to fit on the screen all at once.

The main drawback that stands out to me (other than the obvious semantic blasphemy of putting Artist information in a Title field) is that now the featured Artist's names don't show up at all in the Artist field for those songs, which might make it harder to find a specific duet, and also makes creating Smart Playlists for specific artists a little clunkier, but still doable.

Anyway, I'm pleased to report that this new system has been a smashing success for me. I feel like my library is more concise and that its easier than ever to find what I want. Despite the drawbacks listed above, and having to deal with compromising the semantic integrity of my library, I've been very pleased with the way its turned out.

And anyone who is still reading at this point must be really bored or really nerdy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

39 Things About Me

1. I'm bad at starting new habits.
2. I find that I am fascinated by bizarre things like place value and number systems.
3. I am a staunch supporter of Utah athletics.
4. If I'm not careful I can spend a very long amount of time on the internet.
5. I'm think that generally I am a lazy person.
6. Because I am generally lazy, I have come to appreciate those things in my life that inspire me to not be lazy, like church, being in school, and girls.
7. Either I am great at being in Elder's Quorum Presidencies or I really need to learn something from being in them, since I've been in 4 different ones in the last 4 years, in 3 different wards.
8. I was born in New Orleans, but moved when I was 3, so I really feel no attachment even in the wake of Katrina. Other than wondering if I'll ever be able to see where I was born.
9. One summer I was in charge of feeding fruit flies and collecting their larvae.
10. My first job was at McDonalds. I worked there for 2 years, and was friends with people who I never would have met otherwise. This item deserves its own blog entry.
11. I once spent the morning in a mosh pit and the evening at a musical.
12. I consider myself a frozen pizza connoisseur.
13. I am never sure how many kids to say there are in my family. I have a brother that died, and I sometimes feel like its not right to not count him. But I don't really want to have that conversation with just anyone who asks how many people are in my family.
14. I cheer for the Minnesota Vikings football team, because at the time I decided to choose a team to root for I really liked purple.
15. From 1st grade to 4th grade I ate the same lunch every day. Peanut butter and honey sandwich with chocolate milk.
16. I enjoy being in plays, but really can't sing, so I always was relegated to bit parts in the musicals I was in, except when I was Tevye in 7th grade. I don't know whose great idea that was. Maybe because they needed someone tall. They make do with what they can find in middle school.
17. I currently own 3 iPods.
18. and 3 computers.
19. I won a state championship in football playing Left Tackle on the Offensive Line.
20. I own every DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince/Will Smith album.
21. My mom lied about my age to get me into a reading contest as a child, because I wasn't old enough. I won. I'm pretty sure I still have the plaque.
22. There were approximately 100 people in my graduating class.
23. I have strong libertarian leanings, except for the stuff about legalizing drugs. And I wonder if that means I shouldn't let the government pay for my schooling. Not sure where they stand on that one.
24. Growing up we had a baby-sitter who taught us how to play Dungeons & Dragons and even left us his 20-sided, 12-sided, 8-sided, and 4-sided dies. And also helped us learn words like charisma, hit points, and cleric.
25. I competed twice at the state geography bee, each time losing in the opening round.
26. I once grew a goatee long enough that I could put the end of it in my mouth.
27. I speak fluent Argentine.
28. I've never gotten a speeding ticket, although I have been pulled over a few times for speeding. I never try to talk my way out of it, I think I just get pulled over by cops who are bored, but then think better of ticketing me for going 10 over.
29. I drove a 1987 Toyota Minivan until I was nearly 24.
30. I get creeped out by most insects.
31. My iTunes music library is in pretty great shape. Being passionate about music and passionate about organizing/classifying things, iTunes is pretty much a perfect storm of things I'm passionate about.
32. I've never had stitches, unless you count the ones that I had when I got my wisdom teeth out that dissolve on their own.
33. I've never had a broken bone.
34. I did, however, dislocate my pinky finger once.
35. I once was a box of french fries for Halloween.
36. I've had 24 roommates in my time in Salt Lake, practically all older than myself, and as far as I know only 6 of them are married and only 2 of them have gotten engaged while living with me.
37. During my middle school years, a friend and I kept track of all the games in our basketball league and awarded post-season honors for MVP, first-, second-, and maybe even third-teams and Rookie of the Year. I can't remember if we had a Coach of the Year, but I'm pretty sure we didn't have a comeback player of the year or an all-defensive team.
38. Growing up there was a channel on our TV we called channel U. Only years later did I realize that this was the UHF setting for the top knob and the knob down below was set to channel 20, I think. We just assumed it was called Channel U.
39. The bedroom I grew up in now has a space heater in it, now that its the guest bedroom at my parents' house. Apparently its too cold in there. Maybe thats why I like to sleep with the window open in the winter. And why I start to sweat when the temperature hits 72.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wish I had more to say on the matter...

First off, not sure how Google image search works, but apparently as of October my blog has climbed way up the ladder in terms of image search results, as my number of daily views has approximately doubled (were not talking huge numbers, so doubling wasn't that hard to do) since the beginning of the month, with nearly all of the new visits coming from referrals from Google images.

Secondly, those of you who aren't here just to look for bugs bunny images are probably wondering what's the deal with the possibility of me upgrading the threat level from yellow to orange. Sadly, I'm in the same boat with all of you. I'm at that stage of wondering what's going on. We've been on 3 dates, and as far as I can tell she's had a good time, but its just the little things that make me think that she's not really interested in more than just going on dates right now. And I'm wondering if I should say something, or just wait and see what happens. There's pretty much only one night this week that I could even go on a date, but I'm not exactly jumping at the chance to take her out again right now, since I don't feel like our last date contributed anything to me figuring out what's going on.

Granted, as I write that, I'm thinking, "Well, maybe you should go on a date just to go on a date, and it doesn't have to be a step toward figuring out what's going on." And that's probably true. But if that's the case, then maybe I should find someone else to take out this week, unless something happens here in the next few days to make me think that she'd actually want me to ask her out this week. So for now, we're leaving the threat meter at yellow. No need to start barricading your homes with duct tape and plastic for the time being. In the event that there is a change in status, you will be notified via this same channel.

P.S. What kind of built-in blog spelling dictionary doesn't include the words blog and Google (isn't Blogger owned by Google?)? Talk about ironic.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Playing the Permillages

I'm curious about something. Why are we so tied to the percent? By percent, I mean taking everything as a ratio out of 100. Why not out of 10? Or 1000? 99% sure seems like pretty close to the whole, but in some cases its really not going to cut it. When only 1 error can be a huge problem, 1 out of 100 chances is way too high a number. If 99% of people who go on a ride at Lagoon (our Utah amusement park) survive, that sounds pretty safe right? I mean 99% that's pretty high. Obviously there's been some deaths, so 100% would be a lie, so 99% is the next step down. But when you realize that probably close to 50 people get on that rickety white rollercoaster everytime, 99% would mean that someone is dying every other time the car goes out.

We are so tied to 100 in our system that we even have a sign (%) that means out of 100. The word is percentage, and there's no other option like permillage or perbillage (at least not that I'm aware of). So we get stuck using things like 99.9% or 99.99%, but honestly does either of those mean anything different to you? 99.99% is pretty much as close as I can fathom to 100%. 99.999% which is 10 times closer to 100% doesn't really seem much closer than 99.9%, does it? When did we decide that 100 was our reference number of choice for all (and by all, I mean most) ratios? Any one know why this is?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm not dead

in case you were wondering. I just haven't really had much to talk about. While I've been away, I had a birthday and been on a few dates, and watched a couple football games. I'm playing Fantasy Football this year for the first time ever, and have jumped in feet first with two different teams. Its nice that at least one of them is doing really well.

September is my favorite month, and as it winds to close I'm amazed at how fast time is starting to move. Every year seems to go by faster than the one before. I've got at least one more book to review, and then I'll probably need to find something better for my weekly feature. The book reviews just don't seem to get it done for me. I'm thinking perhaps something music-related.

And finally, I'm not quite ready to change the dating threat level, but there's a strong possibility that we could be at orange here before too long. CJ, do you have that widget ready, yet? ;)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

3 Seconds of Fame

I don't know if you caught it or not, but I happened to be on the news tonight, on Fox 13 (Just You Watch the Best!). It was a story related to the college shootings in Montreal today, which were obviously tragic. It just happened to take place in the same week that the Utah State Supreme Court struck down the U's ban on firearms on campus which currently applies also to concealed weapons permit holders. There are still some federal issues being tried in federal court and the U's president, Michael Young, hopes to maintain a gun-free campus.

In response to reading this story, I wrote a letter to the Chrony (the school paper in question) stating that it really didn't matter how this whole thing turns out since even now, with the ban in effect, nothing is being done to ensure that people are abiding by the ban. There are no bag checks or metal detectors. Essentially, the only effect of the ban is to limit law-abiding concealed weapons permit holders from bringing their guns on campus. Anyone who wants to come and shoot people, like the shooter in Montreal for example, can just walk right in and do so. This isn't to say that I support metal detectors on campus. That probably would actually scare students more than would otherwise be. I'm just saying that we seem to be putting a lot of time (over 2 years now) and money (how much did tuition rise this year?) into fighting over something that is purely cosmetic in nature. You can read the letter here. Sadly, neither I nor the paper's editor was able to correct the fact that I wrote medical detector instead of metal detector. Too much medical informatics on the brain, I guess.

Apparently a reporter at our local Fox affiliate, KSTU-13, was on campus today and happened to talk to a University employee who felt it would be inappropriate to state their opinion on the situation, but referred the reporter to my letter in the school paper, saying that he agreed with what I had written. This prompted the reporter to call me and ask if he could meet with me and interview me for the story.

I was more than a little surprised and at first tried to get out of it, informing him that I was not on campus today and would be all over this afternoon. He said, "that's okay, we can come wherever you are", so finally I agreed to let them come to my apartment. I was actually pretty nervous at the prospect of being on television, so I changed into a nicer shirt and made sure I didn't have anything stuck in my teeth.

Half an hour later they arrived and for about 5 minutes they filmed me while I answered about 10 different questions related to my stance and to my thoughts on the situation at the U. I felt like I did a fairly good job of representing myself well and not saying anything that I didn't really believe. Based on some tips from a friend gave me, I made sure to keep my arms at my sides and not wave them around.

Afterwards I sent out an email to most everyone I knew and let them know to watch for me during the 9:00 news tonight. Then I headed to the church for a full night of interviews (I'm the executive secretary). I arrived home around 9:40 and found out that the story still hadn't aired (sorry to everyone who sat through 45 minutes of local news programming), but probably would shortly. Finally the story came on, and sure enough a few minutes in, I appeared and gave my 3 second soundbite. They also mentioned my letter briefly, while showing a screenshot of the online version of the newspaper, that for some reason was focused between the headline and the first line of my letter. Not sure what they were going for there, but oh well.

Anyway, a few people recorded it for me, and there's a chance I could get it burned to DVD. If that happens I'll try to post the video here for anyone who missed it and would love to see me in action. Don't blink you might miss it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Day Late

So as I've been perusing the blogosphere today I've seen a lot of 5 years after 9/11 posts. And as I found them to be interesting, I thought I'd chronicle my experience here, as much for myself as for anyone else.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had a class to attend, taught by Dr. Hanscom. It must have been Computer Architecture. Anyway, I drove over to school, parked in the E lot, and as I was parking the car heard on the radio that "in case you haven't heard, two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center this morning". As I snapped off the radio, I thought to myself, "What are the odds of that happening?", then headed off to class.

When I arrived, my friend Wade came up and asked, "Who do you think did it?" and I said, "Did what?" and he proceeded to spell out for me that the planes crashing was not an accident, and he probably mentioned the name Bin Laden to me, which I hadn't heard before. My professor arrived, and unlike most of the classes on the softer side of campus, he said, "I'm sure you've all got a lot on your minds, but we've got a lot to cover, so lets get to it." And then we had class as usual. Meanwhile, Wade was getting messages on his pager that informed him of the plane crashing into the Pentagon and also of the flight (Flight 93, I believe) that was crashed in the field.

After class, I headed to the Student Union Building. I must have had some kind of obligation over that way, but all I remember was walking into the Union Building and seeing people crowded around the TVs. I watched as they replayed the footage of the plane crashing into the tower and was amazed at how the plane was engulfed by the building, rather than smashing against the side of the tower as I would have imagined it happening. And thats when it finally seemed real to me.

The rest of the week, none of my classes were cancelled, but we (myself, my roommates, and my neighbors) spent plenty of time in front of the TV watching the coverage. We needed a mop and I joked about taking it to school and marching about "mopping up terrorism." This period was followed by endless politicizing, songs, video montages, and telethons (why was a Canadien -- Celine Dion -- singing God Bless America in our telethon).

I remember President Hinckley speaking during conference the next month and mentioning that he'd just been informed that we were bombing Afghanistan. I remember the footage of Baghdad being bombed 2 years later during my Spring Break. I now have a good friend serving in Iraq who returns in November.

It seems long ago now. I guess 5 years is a long time. Kids are entering kindergarten now who had just been born. If I've been changed by the whole thing, I guess its an increased awareness of how people treat our country and our leaders. Both people outside and inside our country. I'm getting tired of people talking bad about our country. Its still a pretty great place. Anywhere else that this would have happened, we'd have been asked to step in, and we would have. Most other places, Muslims and Arabs (and especially Arab Muslims) would have lost a lot of rights. Here, perhaps they are more likely to be "randomly" selected for increased screening at airports, but otherwise most people seem to be giving them a fair shake.

For the most part, I feel like 9/11 is slowing fading into the past. Hopefully it will continue to fade into the past along with other tragedies, as the majority of our days continue to be peaceful and prosperous. Maybe not for those of us who lived through it, and especially not for those directly affected, but for the rest, maybe it will be like JFK's assassination and Pearl Harbor. Years from now, kids in school will be trying to remember on their history test whether it was 9/11 or 11/9 or something else, but at least we managed to get the date into the name, instead of D-Day or VE-Day, so you can thank us for that kids of the future.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Something cool

I've been feeling guilty about not posting a Literature Review on Friday, and thinking that I need to do that before I do anything else here, but you know what? Maybe I'll just do that when I feel like it. Right now, I feel like telling you about an experience I had the other day.

For the very first time, I made a deposit at the bank without using the ATM. Why is that? Because the ATM was broken. In addition to making the deposit with an actual teller, and this is the really exciting part, I also got to use the pneumatic tube system at the bank drive-through window because the inside of the bank had just closed. And seriously, that was almost cool enough to make me want to do it again. As a kid growing up, I always thought it was awesome when my mom would have to stop at the bank and use those, and how the teller would put suckers in it and send them back to us. And as a grown-up? Its still really neat. I would have thought that that kind of system would have become outdated by now, replaced with something more hi-tech, more electronic. Glad to see its still around.

And by the way, the Blogger spellchecker, which doesn't have 'blog', 'Blogger', or 'spellchecker' as acceptable words (does it accept 'ironic' I wonder?), did have the correct spelling for pneumatic. Who'da thunk?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Dating/Relationship Advisory System

Based on a conversation I had with CJ recently, I decided to put together a little something that will officially be known as my "Dating/Relationship Advisory System" to borrow a phrasing from the Dept. of Homeland Security. And much as we call their meter the "Terror Threat Level Meter", this meter also deserves a cooler name that does a better job describing its real meaning. I'm thinking of calling it the "Commitment Threat Level Meter" or "Imminent Threat of Engagement Meter" or maybe the "Chance of Getting Some Metaphorical Rain Here in the Metaphorical Desert Meter". Suggestions are welcome.

Relationship Threat Meter

I think the picture of the meter does a pretty good job of explaining the meter, but I'll give you a quick description of each level.

Low: When I'm at this level, it means that I'm not even interested in dating, that I've given up on the prospect of dating in general, and that I don't even really want to think about it. Thankfully I never seem to last long in this category.

Guarded: When I'm in this category, where from time to time I seem to find myself, its not that I'm not interested in dating, its just that there don't seem to be any real prospects out there. Either the girls I think are worth dating have already made it abundantly clear that they aren't interested, or there just aren't any girls that I am interested in asking out.

Elevated: This category is where I find myself when there are some girls I'd like to ask out and, hopefully, plan to act on those feelings sooner rather than later.

High: This category would indicate that I've been on at least one date with a girl who I'm excited about taking out again.

Severe: This category would only apply in the extreme circumstance that I should happen to find myself in a committed relationship. Please know that I don't mean extreme in a bad way, just in an extreme way.

Some might suggest that an even higher level ought to exist for the event that I've somehow managed to become engaged. And true, perhaps there should, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Anywho, I'm thinking of putting together some way to post the current threat level on the sidebar of my blog (probably just through some little images that I could change according to how things are going), so don't be too surprised if something like that should happen to show up in the near future.

Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering, the current threat level is yellow.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday Lit Review: Wayside School

This week I decided to share a few books that I really enjoyed in elementary school, and which my teachers enjoyed sharing with me. They are the books about Wayside School by Louis Sachar, who also wrote Holes.

The first book, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, introduces us to the horribly misbuilt Wayside School where there are 30 stories, one classroom on each, instead of 30 classrooms on one main floor.

sideways stories

The book has 30 chapters, each one dealing with one of the students of the 30th floor class, or their teacher (Mrs. Jewls) or one of the odd substitutes that show up when Mrs. Jewls isn't feeling well. Each chapter encapsulates a short story where one of the students has an experience where we get to know them better or more about the class.

The 2nd book, Wayside School is Falling Down, continues with more stories about our favorite class.

falling down

And I just recently have learned that there is a 3rd book, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, which I need to check out.

wayside school gets stranger

There are also two books which are titled Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School and More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, which don't really have much in the way of narrative, but are packed full of logic based puzzles, that for the most part are going to be for kids at a higher level of education than the stories are intended for, at least that was my experience.

Sorry for the shortness of this post, but I wanted to make sure I posted something this week, as I skipped last week's review, and am headed out for a camping trip here shortly.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine?

As you may or may not have heard, head astronomers today stripped Pluto of its planet status. Not sure what its status is now. What I'm really worried about is what mnemonic today's rising generation will use to learn the names of the planets. When I was growing up I learned the ever popular, "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas", which I actually once heard (and have forever since been unable to escape) a musical version of that changed Pizzas to Pizzapies, for rhythmic reasons. It seems creatively ignorant to just update the mnemonic by dropping the pizza at the end. So I'm going to suggest some new phrases that could help today's youth to become more familiar with things that are far off in space.


Many Virile Earth Men Just Sleep Under New Pillows

Monday Ve Eat Mangy Japanese Uber-Nasty Potatoes
Part of the new healthier school lunch movement (as described by the German foreign exchange student).

Me: Vegetables? Eeew Man! Junk! U: NP
Who said it had to be all one phrase? Or not use txt-msg slang?

My Venomous Earthworm May Jenerate Some Unseen New Poison
Kids today aren't the best spellers

Apparently its not as easy as it might seem. Anyone have any better ideas?

Update: I actually forgot to take the P off the end of the ones above, so now I will offer you some post-Pluto phrases


Motorized Vehicles Enter Military Junket Sans Ultra Nightvision
The nightvision being removed was one of the stipulations of the meeting.

Murder Victims Elicit Mercy; Jury Says, "Undead Non-eligible"
Much as we'd like to do something for them, we have a strict no zombie policy.

Marriage Vows Encourage Monogamy. Joint Suffering Undermines Nuptials.
Much as the vows say in sickness and in health, its a lot easier in health.

Mental Visions Evoke My Junior Season's Unprecedented Numbers.
And what a season it was.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A late summernight's dream

Futbol En La Nieve

I've been having some pretty wacky dreams lately, and while I don't always remember all the details or even any of them, I usually can get a few of the details straight if I think about it enough while I'm awake before its faded away.

Anyway, last night I dreamed I was in Ushuaia (in Tierra del Fuego), which is actually a place I dream about a lot for some reason. Anyway, in this dream, I remember thinking, "Hey, I usually dream about coming here, but this time I'm really here!" Not sure why I fall for it every time. Anyway, I was there with a few friends and then I got on this little boat to go out in the harbor, and it was spinning around like crazy in the water, but heading over to the end of the bay. There was some kind of rope boundary that I ran into which was subsequently knocked into the water and actually made someone else's boat tip over and pitch its pilot into the water. Unfortunately this section of the bay happened to be full of sharks. Maybe thats why there was a rope there? Not sure. Anyway, at this point, my boat is careening crazily through these shark-infested waters, all the while threatening to pitch me overboard.

I think after an extended period of this, I finally decided to wake up, although I did do some more dreaming about Ushuaia. I always try to go to houses of members that I know there, but they are rarely home, or else I can never quite figure out where they lived. I know we crossed over the border to Chile at one point, and I remember thinking that I wanted to go visit the National Park that I never made it to while I was there as a missionary. Anyway, I think my favorite part of the dream was that part where I was totally convinced that this time it wasn't a dream. I'm so gullible. :)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Lit Review: The Progress Paradox


For this week's lit review, I'm going to give you a review of the book that I just finished reading earlier this week, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook, who you may or may not recognize as's Tuesday Morning Quarterback. (He also happens to be one of the editors of the New Republic.)

The basic premise of the book is that life continues to improve in most measurable ways: people live longer, have more resources, crime is down, democracy is up around the world, etc; meanwhile, people are not any happier, and in some cases are more unhappy.

In a sense, the book discusses the meaning of life and what things really make us happy, which sounds like a fairly religious topic, but the book manages to thoroughly discuss this theme in a fairly scientific/statistical manner, with only a few theological references.

A few reasons Easterbrook gives for people feeling worse is that much of today's media is geared around calling everything a "crisis" and focusing on the negative trends rather than the positive. Politicians also have a vested interested in pointing out problems that need solving. Also, our material wealth has gone way past satisfying needs, but wants unfortunately can almost never been satisfied.

But beyond these external influences, he also talks about how recent studies have shown that gratitude and forgiveness, in addition to be acts of graciousness, also tend to make people happier. And people who are happier tend to live longer, healthier lives and make more money. So even if you don't like other people, its in your own interest to forgive and give thanks. :)

Another point he made that I liked was that we see a lot of problems in society today that seem intractable, insolvable even; but we should realize that many problems that we have solved as a society (polio, smallpox, the cold war) were once viewed the same way. That we should trust in the ingenuity of man to solve problems that may seem unsolvable. We just haven't started working on solutions to those problems yet.

I found a lot of stuff here that were in accordance with my own personal beliefs and it was good to see an optimistic look at the present and the future, as opposed to all the doom and gloom that's out there right now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Resistance is Futile. You Will be Assimilated



I know its not quite as obvious a comparison as the whole pirate pants photo montage, but there's just something about those Bluetooth wireless hands-free cell phone earpieces that some people are wearing these days that reminds me of the Borg from Star Trek.

I mean, honestly, how hard is it to hold a phone with your hand? I can see for someone who is driving, or someone who is working at a job where they need both their hands for typing while they talk on the phone. But almost always when I see someone wearing one of those things its just when they are walking around. At the mall, or on the street, or wherever. Because it sure is inconvenient to have to use your hand to hold the phone.

Do they think that it makes them look cool? Almost always its some business casual type person who probably got their work to buy it for them, and they are feeling like they are pretty much the bomb because of how cool their wireless hands-free adapter is. They probably are the kind of people who get a new phone every 6 weeks whenever the latest trendy phone comes out.

I thought it was easy to get confused by the person talking right behind you before. Now, you could even be looking at them and not know that they are using the phone. How long before people start getting cellphones implanted in their skull for more "convenience"?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Lit Review: The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald

The Great Brain

I'm going way back this week to some books that I read early on in my reading career. I had probably finished this series by the time I was in 2nd grade. I only know this because I remember choosing one of them as my favorite book when it was my turn to be the class spotlight. The Great Brain series was authored by John D. Fitzgerald and are told in first person by the author chronicling the adventures of him and his older brother Tom, "The Great Brain". Tom uses his "great intelligence and money-loving heart" to set up scams where he swindles local kids out of their money or just finds ways to earn money at little cost to him.

One thing I found interesting about the books was that they take place in Utah around the turn of the century (the last century, not this one). The Fitzgeralds were Catholics growing up in Utah, and the books are set in a fictional town called Adenville, although the wikipedia entry indicates a good guess for the actual location would be Price, which surprised me a bit, as I had always imagined it being more near St. George, but maybe that's just because it said southern Utah somewhere.

Anyway, there were 7 books in the series when I was growing up, although my research tells me that there is now an 8th book that was published post-humously that gets some pretty good reviews on Amazon. I'd post pictures of them all here, but I was unable to find cover photos for about half of them, so I decided against it. The books in the series are:

The Great Brain
More Adventures of the Great Brain
Me and My Little Brain
The Great Brain at the Academy
The Great Brain Reforms
The Return of the Great Brain
The Great Brain Does It Again

The Great Brain is Back

The last one being the one that I have not yet read. Of the original 7, I always liked "Me and My Little Brain" and "The Great Brain at the Academy" the best. In "My and My Little Brain", JD (all the boys in the family go by their first two initials), the author, steps into the role of conniver, as TD (Tom) has gone to Salt Lake City to attend high school (the academy). In "The Great Brain at the Academy", we get to learn about TD's adventures away at a Catholic school in Salt Lake.

I think these books are at a pretty low reading level, but are great stories for anyone who likes great stories about kids. My brother and I found them at my grandparents' house and took them home for ourselves, at least two of them. The rest all showed up shortly thereafter, although I don't know if my parents bought them for us, or if they were also at my grandparents' originally. Either way, I'm sure I read them all through a couple times growing up.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Lit Review: Pretty much everything by John Bellairs

Once when I was growing up, my mother bought me a book titled "The Curse of the Blue Figurine" by John Bellairs. Not sure what inspired her to buy it for me, but I think she also bought one of his books for my older brother. Turns out, the books were pretty downright scary (at least for me, whose imagination tends to run a bit wild) for kids. He's written a whole slew of book where children are the heroes, and the villains, well they range from evil sorcerer's to witches to mummies to ghosts to killer robots and even to demons.

The books for the most part feature one of three teenaged heroes: Johnny Dixon (hero of the Curse of the Blue Figurine and many others), Anthony Monday (first appearing in The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn), and Lewis Barnavelt (who first appeared in the first of Bellairs' young adult books, "The House with the Clock in its Walls"). Each of the respective heroes has their share of adult mentors and child peers who play roles that grow and diminish from book to book.

The subject matter of the books often includes references to the occult and to religious imagery. There are usually supernatural powers at play and some pretty scary stuff tends to happen (in my opinion).

Sadly, I learned while researching for this entry that John Bellairs passed away in 1991, but another author, Brad Strickland, was hired to complete two unfinished manuscripts and to write novels based on some brief descriptions Bellairs left behind. Since completing those Strickland has been authorized to write books with the same characters and has continued to do so with the latest book being published this year. I haven't read any of the Strickland penned books, and on the surface, I hate the idea of someone writing books about characters they didn't invent. Feels too much like fan fiction. But as I haven't read any of them, I hesitate to decry them at this juncture.

A few of the books that stand out most to me from the collection are:

bellairs curse blue figurine
The Curse of the Blue Figurine

bellairs house clock walls
The House with the Clock in its Walls

bellairs treasure alpheus winterborn
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn

bellairs revenge wizards ghost
The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost

bellairs eyes killer robot
The Eyes of the Killer Robot

That said, I think I enjoyed pretty much all of Bellairs' works and highly recommend them for young adults and adults who don't mind reading a book written for young adults (Harry Potter, anyone?).

Good References:
Wikipedia: John Bellairs

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

But my lips hurt real bad!

Napoleon Dynamite

I feel like lately I've let this blog kind of scrape by with my Friday features to help remind me to write a bit, and I've been trying to figure out what topic I could possibly find that would give me a forum to speak my mind. Well I finally found one: chapstick addiction. Now, I realize I am far from the first to address this issue (Lip Balm Anonymous seems to be the main hub for this topic.) But I feel like I need to add my voice to the others crying out "Put the chapstick down and slowly back away." Too many people I know (girls especially) are obsessed with their chapstick/lip balm/carmex/lip gloss/etc and are in constant need of re-application. If the anti-sun/skin cancer people could get people to reapply this obsessively they could stop cranking out weird commercials where the sun is chasing people. These lip products come in many shapes and sizes. Sticks, tubes, squeeze bottles, that thing that looks like a giant Q-tip. But they all share one common characteristic -- they all create dependencies in their users.

Now I'll admit up front that I am not a user of the products mentioned above and perhaps that would make me unqualified to give my opinion on the subject, but I don't smoke and am firmly in the anti-smoking camp, both for my own benefits as for those of the smoker. In this case, I think both of those topics apply. I personally am tired of seeing people bemoan, in Napoleon Dynamite-like fashion, the fact that they've forgotten their chapstick and does someone please have some they can borrow? People who won't share a soda can, have no problem sharing chapstick with another person. Not that I have some, but I get tired of the questions. And seriously, can you really need chapstick that bad? Some people even have those sleeve things that they hook on to their keys (don't get me started on the ginormous keychain conglomeration that some people carry) that carry their chapstick for them everywhere. I can conceive of people's lips getting chapped in the wintertime, but year-round, all-day, non-stop chappiness? I'm having a hard time buying that. Even people who are too obese to leave the house don't need to eat all day long. I never thought they would become our example of moderation.

I've heard (as yet unsubstantiated) rumors that some lip balm makers put shredded glass in their products that actually make your lips chapped, making users want to keep on using the product. Whether this is true or not, something's going on that makes people unable to function without their chapstick, and it needs to stop. Heaven forbid your lips not actually be greased up like the proverbial pig for a few moments. And if you really can't survive without the taste of cherry on your lips 24-7, you might just consider seeking professional help.

Are there any addicts out there who can offer me some kind of explanation for this obsession?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Lit Review: The Dark is Rising Sequence

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone

The Dark is Rising


The Grey King

Silver on the Tree

The Dark is Rising Sequence is another 5 book series that like the Prydain Chronicles draws on English and Welsh mythology for some of its setting. This series describes the culmination of a ages-old struggle between good (The Light) and evil (The Dark). The Light must seek out and acquire 4 separate artifacts (The Things of Power) in order to defeat the Dark. The main characters in the series are mainly children (some teenagers) who under the guidance of Merriman Lyon (Merlin perhaps?) who helps them to acquire the Things of Power and prepare for the final showdown.

I read The Dark is Rising first, and strangely, though it is the namesake of the series, it is not the first book, although the first two books could probably survive being read in any order, as they occur fairly separately, with the heroes of each coming together in the third book.

I like the classic formula of seeking out some mystical objects and preparing for a final showdown. Feels kind of like the plot for the upcoming Harry Potter #7, no? Find the objects (the Horcruxes) in preparation for a showdown with evil. Its a time-tested formula. The Dark is Rising (the book, not the series) actually has a mini object-gathering quest plot in and of itself, as one of the Things of Power is a set of 6 signs that each must be sought out by Will Stanton and joined together.

Just thinking about these books makes me want to re-read them, and luckily my parents gave me the whole set for Christmas one year, so I think they must be on a shelf somewhere at home.

Also similar to the Prydain Chronicles, one of the books, The Dark is Rising was a Newberry Honor book, and a later one, The Grey King, won the Newberry Medal.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Lit Review: The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain is a 5 book series by Lloyd Alexander that few people probably know by name, but many more will recognize the 2nd book in the series, The Black Cauldron.

The books in the series are:

The Book of Three
The Book of Three

The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron

The Castle of Llyr
The Castle of Llyr

Taran Wanderer
Taran Wanderer

The High King
The High King

The main character in each of these books is Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper whose main task in live is taking care of a prophetic pig named Hen Wen. At least until one day the pig runs away and he sets off in search of her. So begins the tale of Taran who while young finds himself thrust into a battle between good and evil against the evil Arawn, possessor of the Black Cauldron that can create armies of the Undead.

Taran collects a crew of companions throughout his journey: Eilonwy, a girl with a few magical skills who tends to be the typical easily offended woman for the most part. Fflewddur Fflam, a bard with a harp whose strings break when he overexaggerates things, which is fairly common, and Gurgi, a hairy creature from the forest who is always eager to help out.

Taran's adventures provide a nice arc that include his growing up and seeking for the parents he never knew, along with the constant battle against the dark lord Arawn, all the while coming to know many of the magical and mystical peoples of Prydain. The High King, the culmination of the series won the 1969 Newberry Medal (given for the most outstanding book for children each year), and is a wonderful read, enhanced of course if you've taken the time to enjoy the first 4 books in the series. As you'll find is common with me, I was very sad to see this series come to an end.

The Book of Three and the Black Cauldron served as the basis for an animated Disney film titled the Black Cauldron.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

From the Draftbin: Dreams that seem real

In the draft section of my blogs I have a few topics that got started but never finished, or just titles for blogs that haven't happened yet. Among these, I had this title, "Dreams that seem real" and decided to tell you about it.

Do you ever have a dream that seems so real that you wake up and know it was a dream, but are uncertain if the things you were dreaming about were actually something that happened, but as a result you want to verify what the real truth is? This happens to me a few times a year, but the most memorable time in recent years was about a year and a half ago. It was early January and I had just returned from a New Year's trip to the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. I was in the middle of my first year of graduate school, but the new semester of school had not yet.

I dreamed that I had signed up for a semester-long internship doing informatics research in Brazil, and for some reason I really, really did not want to go. I don't remember the exact reason I didn't want to go, maybe something about not having a good project idea? I don't know. The point is, I was desperate to get out of going, and I was talking to my mom (the thing about dreams is that people seem to show up pretty randomly) about not going, and she was adamant that I go, because "you bought non-refundable plane tickets, so you have to go." And I was trying to get her to let me not go and just eat the cost of the tickets.

Now, I know that not all of the dream seemed real. For example, as we were boarding the plane, one of those planes that lands on water, there was a tiger in the water that was trying to eat me. I know that that never happened to me, and I know that the conversation I had with my mom wasn't real, but when I woke up I was feeling really stressed out that maybe I had signed up for a semester in Brazil and had completely forgotten about it. This dream is also a classic example of the kinds of dreams I have. Pretty much they are normal, everyday situations but with some kind of element of stress added in for fun. I don't dream of scary monsters or abstract symbols of my inner-psyche (as far as I know). Rather I dream that I've made some kind of social faux pas or have made a fool of myself, or somehow have been irresponsible regarding something under my stewardship.

Does that ever happen to you?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Friday Literature Review

As promised, today marks the beginning of a new Friday feature. I'm not sure that anyone actually cares about this or not, although if anyone is out there, you probably prefer that I write something as opposed to writing nothing, and if nothing else, having a weely feature helps me remember to keep writing.

The new feature will be a Friday Literature Review (FLitR?), and my original thought is to focus mainly on series of books that I've enjoyed over the years. I should mention that growing up I had a pretty voracious appetite for fiction and would plow through most books in a matter of days. Now that I'm older I can still find this happy place, but time constraints and a more developed set of social skills tend to limit my reading time. Also, its been harder for me to find books that I like as much these days, so feel free to recommend books I might enjoy as you begin to see the kinds of things I've enjoyed to date.

That said, I haven't put a lot of time this week into blog prep, so lamentably (for you the reader) I'm going to hold off on a review until next week. But I will leave you with this quick meme (one of the most common ones I see) as a bribe to keep you coming back:

4 Things About Me

4 jobs I have had in my life:
-McDonalds crew chief
-College of Pharmacy Receptionist
-Computer Science T.A.
-Programmer/Analyst 2 (my official title) in the Temple Department at the COB.

4 movies I would watch over and over:
-Oceans 11
-O Brother Where Art Thou?
-Dumb and Dumber

4 places I have lived
-New Orleans, LA
-Grantsville, UT
-A large portion of southern Argentina (Patagonia)
-Salt Lake City, UT

4 TV shows I watch
-The Office
-Arrested Development (sniff)
-Umm...I don't have cable any more, so I don't watch much TV. Can I count Diggnation?

4 places I have been on vacation
-The Oregon Coast
-Washington D.C.
-Tempe, AZ (Fiesta Bowl, baby!)

4 websites I visit daily

4 favorite foods
-Cafe Rio Pork Salad
-Ham and Cheese Empanadas (fried if I can get someone else to make them, otherwise baked cuz they're easier to make)
-Wendy's Monterrey Ranch Chicken Sandwich (only available as a specialty sandwich)

4 places I would rather be right now
-Eating lunch
-Playing with my niece
-Someplace cooler (temperature-wise. How could anywhere else be cooler than SLC?)

Friday, June 30, 2006

Classic Cartoon Countdown #1: Transformers

Well, I can only drag this thing out so long. If it seems as though I've been neglecting this blog lately, its only because I've been out of town so much lately, first to California and then this week to Nashville. And while I had visions of cranking out a few more honorable mentions, I can't justify putting the actual countdown off any further, so they'll have to go mentionless. Without further ado, I give you the #1 Classic Cartoon of my childhood: The Transformers

Transformers! More than meets the eye!

The Autobots were mainly cars and were the good guys.

The leader of the Autobots was Optimus Prime a big rig truck who in his robot form was only the main engine part of the truck. Where the trailer portion of his truck form came from I never knew. Just when he would transform it would come out of nowhere.

The Decepticons were the bad guys and were a bit more versatile in their forms, although they had a large fleet of jets that was probably their core transformation.

The leader of the Decepticons was Megatron, a robot that transformed into a gun that was like a hundred times smaller than his robot form. He would transform into the gun, and one of the other Decepticons would shoot the gun. In addition to the jets there was also a guy who changed into a tape recorder (Soundwave), and he had some little mini-decepticons who were the tapes and would come out and turn into a dog or a bat and attack the Autobots.

Somehow these robots came from outer space and were here on the earth battling each other. There were always some humans around for us to relate to, and I remember learning from this show that being inside a car during a lightning storm is good because the rubber tires keep you grounded.

Eventually, to keep the interest of the viewers, some new subgroups of robots were introduced. The ones I most remember were the Dinobots, who were autobots who turned into dinosaurs; the Constructicons, decepticons who transformed into construction vehicles, but also could merge all together in Voltron-like fashion to make one super robot; the Aerialbots, Autobots who were jets, and who also formed some uber-robot; and the Insecticons, Decepticon insect robots.

The Constructicons

Transformers was a great show and I really enjoyed it until perhaps they got too successful for their own good. At some point, a Transformers movie was made for theatrical release. I remember we were really excited about it, but never actually went to see it. (We usually only went to 1 or 2 movies a year when I was growing up.) I've still never actually seen this Transformers movie, but there must have been some huge plot points, because after the movie came out, the entire cartoon changed a ton. Most notably Optimus Prime had been replaced by a robot named Rodimus Prime, but also there were some new weird space robots and we never could really figure out what was going on and who everyone was. So we lost interest and stopped watching it. I'm not sure whose idea it was for the movie to completely change the plot of the TV show and leave some of us lost and bewildered.

As I've been reliving this memories from my childhood, I find that a lot of the shows I used to watch were thinly veiled commercials for the toys that were affiliated with the shows. But apparently the veil was thick enough that I never really felt that way about the show. In fact, I always felt that the toys were just a way for us to relive our favorite moments from the shows. That said, the Transformers were by far the coolest toys ever associated with a cartoon. Toys that transformed from robots into jets, cars, guns, tape recorders, even dinosaurs and insects.

I remember one year making a list of Christmas gifts I would like that included probably 20 different transformers. Not that I expected to get them all, just that I would have been happy with any of them. The only drawback I can remember to the toys was that you had to put all the stickers on yourself, and it was no easy task to get them all lined up in the right spot without them getting stuck misaligned. Getting those stickers right could make or break the look of your Transformer and it was a stressful first 30 minutes of having the toy as you got it all set up. I remember my older brother got the whole set of Constructicons one year, and one of the pieces was kind of tricky to transform, at least tricky enough that I broke it once and had to pay to replace it.

The Transformers truly were a great show with a great line of toys associated with it. And for that they have earned the #1 spot on my Classic Cartoon Countdown.


Here's the final countdown:
#10: Underdog
#9: Thundercats
#8: G.I. Joe
#7: Superfriends
#6: Scooby's All Star Laff-a-lympics
#5: Voltron
#4: X-men
#3: Looney Tunes
#2: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
#1: Transformers

Stay tuned next week for a brand new Friday feature.